Battle of Leyte Gulf, part II

"Operation Sho", Japanese battle plan

“Operation Sho”, Japanese battle plan

In the previous post, Admiral Halsey was going north to confront Admiral Ozawa’s decoy fleet, Nishimura’s Southern Force was being crushed and CINCPAC (U.S. Commander-in-Chief – Pacific) continued to have negligible intelligence due to a change in Japanese codes.

Kurita’s force came up against Admiral Sprague’s Taffy 3 group, with 6 escort carriers having only about 28 planes each (also called “jeep,” “baby flattops,” “Tomato cans” or CVEs [ c
Combustible, Vulnerable & Expendable] with about 14 knots being their top speed and 5′ guns) Sprague knew he was in quite a jam. Out of the fog loomed the battlewagons of the enemy – pagoda masts and all (to paraphrase a remark made by Sprague). The Taffy 3 only had 29 guns. Sprague swung east, ordered all planes in the air and every ship to create a smoke screen. He then turned south to hide in a rain squall. The planes continued to land, refuel and rearm until they ran out of torpedoes and bombs. One Avenger pilot recorded, “… hitting the Japs with everything in the armory – including doorknobs.” For three hours this system continued as Sprague repeatedly called to the other fleets for help. The ruse the admiral had staged was working though; the Japanese thought they had come up against a major U.S. fleet. This was a life saver since Admirals Kincaid and Nimitz wrongfully assumed that Halsey would cover the San Bernardino Strait.

After some time elapsed, Halsey finally turned south (against his better judgement) and left Mitscher to finish off Ozawa. Although the Japanese Navy was utterly shattered, they proceeded to initiate the frightening kamikaze attacks. The sailors saw the terrifying “devil divers” approach and began to fire.

The results of the four battles in three days:
U.S. loss – 1 fast carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort and about 3,000 men. The St. Lo was a later casualty due to kamikaze attacks.
Japanese loss – 4 of their remaining carriers (Zuikaku, Zuilo, Chitose & Chiyoda), 3 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers (Kumano, Chokai & Chikuma among them), 4 light cruisers, 9 destroyers and about 10,000 men.

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague thru a porthole of the 'Fanshaw Bay'

Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague thru a porthole of the ‘Fanshaw Bay’

The Japanese plan to vanquish the American Naval Fleet and put a halt to the landings in the Philippines was named “Operation Sho.” (Operation Victory) But, as of 26 October 1944, the battles come to a shuttering close with almost every Japanese ship sunk or spewing the pillars of smoke from their damage. From this point on kamikaze attacks became more frequent as the Japanese desperation increased. Of the mistakes that can be seen in hindsight: Admiral Toyoda directing his operation from an underground headquarters outside Tokyo. This error was compounded by ships trying to use the thick crude oil from Brunei, inexperienced pilots, radio failures, inferior radar equipment and human error. Kurita later confessed that he knew nothing of Halsey “taking the bait” and it had cost him dearly. He was “only aware of what he could see with his own eyes.”

Halsey was censured for failing to cover the San Bernadino Strait which he blamed on “rotten communications.” MacArthur’s troops landing on Leyte could have benefited from some air support. With the defeat of the Imperial Navy, General Terauchi overruled General Yamashita and began pouring heavy reinforcements onto the island. Enemy planes from other islands were ordered in and the U.S. troops received heavy strafing. The American Marines only had 150 planes at the time. This situation caused Smitty and the 11th Airborne Division to be delayed in their own landings until November, waiting for Halsey’s return.

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

Kamikaze commander, Lt. Yukio Seki (why the life preserver?)

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I attempted to interview a neighbor, Jerry Gottlieb, 89 years young, who served on theUSS Intrepid as a First Petty Officer. He was a “Black shoe” aircraft mechanic (old swabby he called himself). He served from 1944-46 and then was recalled for the Korean War. I say attempted to interview, because he, as many other combat veterans said very little about himself, he concentrated on the ship’s performance. The ship is now a museum in New York and he is very much involved with it when he travels north. The Fighting “I” Essex class launched on 26 April 1943 under the command of Admiral Spruance and continued to serve after being hit three times by kamikaze planes.

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Resources for this two-part post: “Return to the Philippines” Time-Life; “Pacific War” John Davison; “The Last Great Victory” Stanley Weintraub; Military History Online; Pacific Naval Battles; HyperWar: US Navy; Naval History.mil; Jerry Gottlieb, interview

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 4, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.

  1. You inspire me with your writing. I have been toying with the idea of making biographies of my ancestors. I think I’m going to spend some time planning how to do it now. I hope you don’t mind if I come in here and ask you questions from time to time, or look up your sources.

    Thanks again for the like/visit to my blog. I have enjoyed yours.

    Warmly,
    Mary

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  2. The scale of these battles is almost incomprehensible to me today. I think one of the only times I fully understood the enormity of WW2 was when I visited the war graves at El Alamein.

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  3. Pierre Lagacé

    I have checked on my list of 23 Squadron followers and you are not on it.
    Try subscribing again by clicking on the Follow button on the top of the page. It should work.
    If not try by the Subscription button on the right side.

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    • I’ll do that. Thanks.

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      • Read these and did some more catching up. I don’t say it enough, you have an outstanding blog, I’m very surprised someone hasn’t offered you a book contract. (Just yesterday received ‘permission to print’ from Random House Publishing, thought they had thrown my paperwork away.)

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        • What you have is the story from your father who wrote letters to his mom during the war. This is quite a story in itself. How he writes is also quite exceptional.

          I have nothing that personal to offer. I am just someone who got overly excited about writing blogs to pay homage to those who kept it up inside for the rest of their lives. I still can see my wife’s uncle saying just a little about his ordeal when his destroyer sank on April 29, 1944. I knew nothing about HMCS Athabaskan even if I knew a lot about WWII and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. So I decided to write a blog about it.
          First in French then an English version.

          http://athabaskang07.wordpress.com/about/

          I do what I like the most… putting on cyberspace what people share with me. I can’t wait for a publisher to publish my work. This is what I like to do.

          This being said, I think your story deserves to be publish.
          It’s so great.
          I am your most avid reader, and you know that’s quite a compliment.

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          • I have always wished I could write like my father, with emotion rather than reporting. Do you know your Google page ranking? I understand a #4 or higher is attractive to publishers. I must say you make me blush with the extent of your compliments – all I can say is Thank You.

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            • Pierre Lagacé

              I always say what I think. Your blog is great. You don’t need to blush.
              About my ranking, let’s just say that I don’t care that much. I like to help people find those who never returned like Arthur James Horrell. When Nicole wrote a comment, I just could not help myself. I won’t write a blog about RCAF 443 squadron, but I will reach out there in cyberspace for people related to these airmen.
              Watch me…

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  4. I apologize for using your comments section but for some reason, I cannot find your contact info. Could you shoot me an email? I wanted to show you a postcard I found. Just take out the spaces and replace the [at] with “@”. floosyjane [at] gmail.com

    Thanks!!

    Stephanie
    http://genspark.wordpress.com/

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  5. Another good read, gpcox. I had never heard of that slang use of CV-E and it was wonderful – although very frightening to have been a young boy sailing on board one.

    Jeep carriers were showcased in the classic John Wayne movie, “The Wings of Eagles”, where he played “Spig” Wead. Of course, it was all Hollywood but I am glad the CV-Es were brought to the public’s eye in the movie.

    Keep writing!

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  6. Excellent post! I really enjoyed both parts and the detail was amazing. I recently read “The Admirals” so this was a great refresher and I especially liked the summary of damage. Great job!

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  7. So many times. it was near misses that gave the advantage. This was one of them. I love the photo Admiral Sprague!

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  8. I am reading your stories and find them riveting. Thank you, Eric

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  9. I read your stories with new eyes. Thank you, you’re able to present the details in a way that somehow makes it real. I find it hard to explain – yet reading your accounts have a lot of impact.

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  10. I say attempted to interview, because he, as many other combat veterans said very little about himself, he concentrated on the ship’s performance…

    Brings too much pain to do so.

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    • I suppose so. The more I tried to maneuver the conversation around to his experiences (even funny ones) the more he returned to the ship.

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    • Pierre gets it…too much pain. The most you can do is let them know why their story is important and if they see merit, they will talk. I worked for twenty years to get a story from a dodger. When I finally did, I understood why they dodged for so many years. I was both glad to have learned, from their perspective and sad that I had made them go through that time again. Truth is sometimes a bit ugly.

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  11. Pierre Lagacé

    A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    Another great post…

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