Battle of Leyte Gulf, part II
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.
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.
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.
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
Posted on March 4, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged ancestry, family history, History, Leyte, Leyte Gulf, Military, Military History, Navy, Pacific War, Philippines, veterans, WW2, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 40 Comments.