Contents - Hirohito's War
31 The Battle of Leyte Gulf: ‘Bull’ Halsey’s Mad Dash for Glory
[Maps: 31.1, 31.2, 31.3, 31.4, 31.5, 31.6]
Scale and Historic Importance of the Battle of Leyte Gulf (p 887) Pacific Theater Turf Wars: MacArthur, Nimitz and FDR in Honolulu (p 887) Admiral Toyoda’s Grand Strategy (p 891) Admiral Halsey Waits off the San Bernadino Straits (p 894) The Battle of Sibuyan Sea: The Sinking of Musashi and USS Princeton (p 896) “Where in hell are those goddam Nip carriers?” Admiral Halsey Swallows the Bait (p 900) The Battle of the Surigao Straits (p 903) Halsey Confuses Nimitz and Kinkaid (p 905) ‘Small Boys Attack’: The Battle of Samar (p 907) Why Did Admiral Kurita Retreat? (p 909) The Battle of Cape Engano: Halsey’s Hollow Victory (p 910) Victory and a Cover-up of Halsey’s Mistakes (p 913) Post-War Recriminations between Halsey and Kinkaid (p 914) Perfect Storm: Typhoon Cobra (p 916) Carnage at Sea (p 918) The Rescue (p 920) Court of Inquiry at Ulithi Lagoon (p 921) Halsey’s Second Typhoon (p 924)
Scale and Historic Importance of the Battle of Leyte Gulf: In terms of scale, the Battle of Leyte Gulf deserves to be considered one of the greatest naval battles of history. In effect it was the last fully-fledged fleet battle in history and brought an end to the last vestiges of the ‘Dreadnought Era.’ The combined forces in the battle comprised over 280 frontline warships and almost 1,000 vessels in all if submarines, escorts, PT boats, and fleet auxiliary ships (both supply and repair) are included. Deployment of the respective Japanese and American navies took place over 450,000 square miles, an area the size of France, while the engagement itself occupied an area the size of Great Britain. Curiously, in spite of the name given to this largest of naval battles, not a single action took place in Leyte Gulf, which was simply the landing point for General MacArthur’s amphibious forces as he initiated his return with the American Army to the Philippines. [For the Battle of Leyte Island see Chapter 32: “I Have Returned”: MacArthur Regains the Philippines]
In fact the Battle of Leyte Gulf is the name given to a collection of five naval battles that took place over three days: the Battle of Palawan Passage, the Battle of Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Samar Island, and the Battle of Cape Engano. If the Battle of Leyte Gulf has not achieved the historical prominence that its scale would indicate, the reason perhaps lies in the fact that even if the Japanese Navy had won, the final outcome of the war already seemed certain. Unlike the battles of Salamis [490BC], Actium [31BC], Lepanto , or Trafalgar , the Battle of Leyte Gulf was never going to change the course of history; it did not decide the outcome of a war, merely its duration. The power of Japan’s all-important aircraft carrier force had already been destroyed at the Battle of the Philippines Sea (the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot).
For the Japanese, the battle was the last throw of the dice by its navy to achieve an overwhelming victory that might force the Americans to the negotiating table. While Leyte Gulf could be seen as a final banzai charge of the Japanese Navy, its outcome, as a result of serious strategic and tactical mistakes made by Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey, was for a time in the balance. In short, it was a ‘close-run thing.’
Pacific Theater Turf Wars: MacArthur, Nimitz and FDR in Honolulu: The location of the Battle of Leyte Gulf reflected yet another battle: a turf war between General