The Battle of Leyte Gulf (a.k.a. the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea) was fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was one of the largest naval battles in modern history. Fought in the seas surround the island of Leyte in the Philippines from 23 October to 26 October 1944, this battle cut Japan off from her Southeast Asian colonies and therefore all of Japan's oil. When the Imperial Japanese Navy attempted to repel the attack, they were stopped in their tracks, suffering heavy losses including: the super-battleship Musashi; four aircraft carriers (the Zuikaku, Zuihō, Chitose, and Chiyoda).

Battle of Leyte Gulf
Part of the Pacific Theatre of World War II
Date 23 October 194426 October 1944
Location The Philippines
Result Decisive Allied victory
US flag 48 stars.svg United States
Flag of Australia.svg Australia
Template:Country data Japan Empire of Japan
US flag 48 stars.svg William Halsey, Jr
(3rd Fleet)
US flag 48 stars.svg Thomas C. Kinkaid
(7th Fleet)
Naval Ensign of Japan.png Takeo Kurita (Centre Force)
Naval Ensign of Japan.png Shoji Nishimura(Southern Force)
Naval Ensign of Japan.png Kiyohide Shima(Southern Force)
Naval Ensign of Japan.png Jisaburo Ozawa(Northern Force)
17 aircraft carriers
18 escort carriers
12 battleships
24 cruisers
141 destroyers and destroyer escorts
Many PT boats, submarines and fleet auxiliaries
About 1,500 planes
4 aircraft carriers
9 battleships
19 cruisers
34 destroyers
About 200 planes
3,500 dead;
1 aircraft carrier,
2 escort carriers,
2 destroyers,
1 destroyer escort sunk
10,000 dead;
4 aircraft carriers,
3 battleships,
8 cruisers,
12 destroyers sunk

Template:Campaignbox Philippines, 1944–45

Overview of the battle[]

The battle consisted of four large, distinct engagements.

  1. On the night of 23 October, two American submarines, USS Dace and USS Darter, spotted Kurita's Center Force entering the Palawan Passage. The two subs submerged and fired torpedos, sinking two cruisers and crippling a third. One of the sinking cruisers was the flagship of Center Force. Admiral Kurita went into the water, leaving Center Force in chaos for several hours, until he was finally rescued. Kurita transferred his flag to the battleship Yamato. The order was then given to continue on to Leyte Gulf. Kurita's force entered the Sibuyan Sea, northwest of Leyte, on 24 October. In the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea it was attacked by carrier aircraft and Musashi was sunk. When Kurita turned around, the American pilots thought he was retreating, but he turned again and made his way through the San Bernardino Strait in the night, to appear off Samar in the morning.
  2. Nishimura's fleet headed for the Surigao Strait to the south, where at 03:00 on 25 October it ran into an American battlegroup. In the Battle of Surigao Strait the Japanese battleships Fusō and Yamashiro were sunk, Nishimura was killed, and his surviving ships retreated west. Shima's flotilla arrived shortly after Nishimura's force was devastated, and after finding the still floating wreckage of the Fusō, ordered a retreat, during which Shima's two cruisers collided.
  3. Halsey learned of the approach of Ozawa from the north and took the bait, taking his carriers in pursuit on 25 October. In the Battle off Cape Engaño four Japanese carriers were sunk by air attacks. Ozawa's surviving ships fled for Japan.
  4. Kurita arrived off Samar at about 06:00 on 25 October. With Halsey away in pursuit of Ozawa, only the light force of Task Unit Taffy 3 of destroyers and escort carriers stood in the way of heavy cruisers and battleships attempting a daylight attack against the unprotected American vessels supporting the landing. In the Battle off Samar, fierce attacks by nine American destroyers, only armed with 5-inch guns and torpedoes, and relentless air attacks by Task Unit Taffy 3 convinced Kurita that he had engaged Halsey's fleet carriers, which caused him to turn back.

Battle of the Sibuyan Sea[]

File:Yamato at Sibuyan Sea.jpg

Yamato under attack in the Sibuyan Sea.

Kurita's powerful "Center Force" consisted of five battleships (Yamato, Musashi, Nagato, Kongō, and Haruna), and twelve cruisers (Atago, Maya, Takao, Chōkai, Myōkō, Haguro, Noshiro, Kumano, Suzuya, Chikuma, Tone, and Yahagi), supported by thirteen destroyers.

As Kurita passed Palawan Island shortly after midnight on October 23, his force was spotted by the submarines Dace and Darter. Although the submarines' report of the sighting was picked up by the radio operator on Yamato, the Japanese failed to take anti-submarine precautions. Kurita's flagship Atago was sunk by Darter and Maya by Dace. Kurita transferred his flag to Yamato. Takao was also severely damaged and turned back to Brunei with two destroyers, shadowed by the submarines. On October 24, Darter grounded on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed, and she was abandoned; her entire crew was rescued by Dace.

At about 08:00 on October 24, the force was spotted entering the narrow Sibuyan Sea by planes from USS Intrepid. 260 planes from carriers Intrepid and Cabot of Task Group 38.2 attacked at about 10:30, scoring hits on Nagato, Yamato, Musashi and severely damaging Myōkō. The second wave of planes concentrated on Musashi, scoring many direct hits with bombs and torpedoes. As she retreated, listing to port, a third wave from Enterprise and Franklin hit her with eleven bombs and eight torpedoes. Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of range of the planes, passing the crippled Musashi as he retreated. He waited until 17:15 before turning around again to head for the San Bernardino Strait. Musashi finally rolled over and sank at about 19:30.

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Onishi Takijiro had directed his First Air Fleet of 80 planes based on Luzon against the carriers Essex, Lexington, Princeton and Langley of Task Group 38.3 (whose planes were being used to attack airfields in Luzon to prevent Japanese land based aircraft attacks on the Allied ships in the Leyte Gulf). Princeton was hit by an armor-piercing bomb and burst into flames. At 15:30, the aft magazine exploded, killing 200 sailors on Princeton and 80 on the cruiser Birmingham which was alongside assisting with the firefighting. Birmingham was so badly damaged that she was forced to retire, and other nearby vessels were damaged too. All efforts to save Princeton failed, and she was scuttled at 17:50.

Battle of Surigao Strait[]

See the main article here: Battle of Surigao Strait

Battle off Cape Engaño[]

See the main article here: Battle off Cape Engaño

Battle off Samar[]

Main article: Battle off Samar

The battle off Samar.

File:Yamato off Samar.jpg

The Yamato and a heavy cruiser, possibly Tone or Chikuma, in action off Samar.

Kurita's center force passed through San Bernardino Strait at 03:00 on 25 October 1944 and steamed south along the coast of Samar, hoping that Halsey had taken the bait and led most of his fleet away.

To stop them, there were only three groups of light ships of the Seventh Fleet commanded by Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. Each had six small escort carriers, and seven or eight lightly armed and unarmored destroyers and/or smaller destroyer escorts. Admiral Thomas Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.1 ("Taffy 1") consisted of the escort carriers Sangamon, Suwannee, Santee, and Petrof Bay. (The remaining two escort carriers from Taffy 1, Chenango and Saginaw Bay, had departed for Morotai, Indonesia on October 24, carrying "dud" aircraft from other carriers for transfer ashore. They returned with replacement aircraft after the battle.) Admiral Felix Stump's Task Unit 77.4.2 ("Taffy 2") consisted of Natoma Bay, Manila Bay, Marcus Island, Kadashan Bay, Savo Island, and Ommaney Bay.

Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") consisted of Fanshaw Bay, St Lo, White Plains, Kalinin Bay, Kitkun Bay, and Gambier Bay.

Fortunately, each escort carrier carried about 30 planes, making available more than 500 planes in all, though many were armed with machine guns and depth charges effective only against submarines or destroyers. The escort carriers were slow and lightly armored and stood little chance in an encounter with a battleship. They were, however, "screened" by destroyers and destroyer escorts affectionately known as "tin cans."

A mixup in communications led Kinkaid to believe that Willis A. Lee's Task Force 34 of battleships was guarding the San Bernardino Strait to the north and that there would be no danger from that direction. Halsey had radioed "am proceeding north with three groups to attack enemy carriers at dawn", which did not cause alarm because Halsey had four carrier groups. Thomas Sprague assumed that Halsey was taking three of his carrier groups to attack and would be leaving one group behind to guard the Strait. But Lee had gone with Halsey (who had, in fact, taken all four of his carrier groups) in pursuit of Ozawa. The Japanese came upon Taffy 3 at 06:45, taking the Americans completely by surprise. Kurita, not seeing the silhouettes of the tiny escort carriers in his identification manuals, mistook the escort carriers for fleet carriers and thought that he had the whole of the American Third Fleet under guns of his battleships including the 18.1-inch (460 mm) guns of the Yamato.

When Taffy 3 discovered they were coming under attack, Clifton Sprague (no relation to Thomas Sprague) directed his Taffy 3 carriers to turn to launch their aircraft and flee towards a squall to the east, hoping that bad visibility would reduce the accuracy of Japanese gunfire, and ordered the destroyers to make smoke to mask the retreating carriers, which drew fire from the Japanese ships. The History Channel's 2006 Dogfights would call it the naval mismatch of the century, wherein David would send Goliath fleeing for home. Yamato was the largest and most powerful battleship to ever see combat; it alone displaced as much as all of Taffy 3 put together.

Concerned about the splashes of incoming fire, Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans, skipper of the destroyer Johnston, which was the closest to the attackers, suddenly took the initiative to order his ship to "flank speed, full left rudder," ordering Johnston to directly attack the greatly superior oncoming Japanese ships on his own in what would appear to be a suicidal mission.

The Johnston was a relatively small and unarmored destroyer, completely unequipped to fight Japanese battleships and cruisers. Designed to fight other destroyers and torpedo boats, she was armed with only five 5-inch guns and multiple anti-aircraft weapons which were ineffective against an armored battleship. Only the Johnston’s 10 Mark-15 torpedoes launchers could be effective, but they had to be launched well within range of enemy gunfire.

Weaving to avoid shells, and steering towards splashes, the Johnston approached the Japanese heavy cruiser Kumano for a torpedo run. When Johnston was 10 miles (17 km) from Kumano, her 5-inch guns rained shells on Kumano’s bridge and deck (where they could do some damage - the shells would simply bounce off the enemy ship's armored hull). Johnston closed to within torpedo range and fired a salvo, which blew the bow off the cruiser squadron flagship Kumano and also took the cruiser Suzuya out of the fight as she stopped to assist.

From seven miles away, the battleship Kongo sent a 14 inch shell through the Johnston’s deck and engine room. Johnston’s speed was cut in half to only 14 knots, while the aft gun turrets lost all electrical power. Then three 6-inch shells, possibly from Yamato's secondary batteries, struck Johnston’s bridge, killing many and wounding Comdr. Evans. The bridge was abandoned and Evans steered the ship from the aft steering column. Evans nursed his ship back towards the fleet, when he saw the other destroyers attacking as well. Emboldened by the Johnston's attack, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's destroyers on the assault. Even in her heavily damaged state, damage-control teams restored power to 2 of the 3 aft turrets, and Evans turned the Johnston around and reentered the fight.

The other destroyers attacked the Japanese line with suicidal determination, drawing fire and scattering the Japanese formations as ships turned to avoid torpedoes. The powerful Yamato found herself between two torpedoes fired from the destroyer Heermann which were on parallel courses, and for ten minutes, she headed away from the action, unable to turn back for fear of being hit. Heermann, meanwhile, closed with the other Japanese battleships, advancing so close to her huge targets that they could not fire for either inability to depress their main guns enough or fear of hitting their own men and ships.

At 07:35, the even smaller destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts turned and headed toward the battle. On the way, the Roberts passed by the mangled Johnston and saw an inspirational sight in the person of Comdr. Evans standing on the Johnston’s stern, his left hand wrapped in a bandage, saluting the captain of the Roberts. With only 2 5-inch guns, one fore and aft, and just 3 Mark-15 torpedoes, her crew lacked the weapons and training in tactics to take on the much larger attackers. Still, she charged in to attack the heavy cruiser Chokai. With smoke as cover, the Roberts steamed to within two and a half miles of Chokai, coming under fire of her two forward 8-inch turrets. But Roberts was so close that the shells passed overhead. Once in torpedo range, Roberts' 3 torpedo salvo struck the cruiser. Following this Roberts dueled with the Japanese ships for an hour, firing over 600 5-inch shells, and raking the upper works with 40 mm Bofors and 20 mm anti-aircraft guns while maneuvering at close range. At 08:51, the Japanese finally landed two hits, the second which destroyed the aft gun turret. With her remaining 5-inch gun, she set the bridge of the cruiser Chikuma afire and destroyed the number 3 gun turret, before being pierced again by three 14 inch shells from the Kongo. With a 40-foot hole in her side, the Roberts took on water, and at 09:35, the order was given to abandon ship, sinking 30 minutes later with 89 of her crew.

Meanwhile, Sprague had ordered all three Taffy groups to launch their planes with whatever they had, even if they were machine guns or depth charges. Even after many aircraft expended their ammunition they made dry runs to threaten and distract Japanese warships and their gunners. Instead of rolling over Taffy 3, the Americans had turned it into a bloody all-out brawl with their attackers.

File:Samar (AWM 302773).jpg

USS Kitkun Bay prepares to launch her Wildcat fighters while USS White Plains is straddled by 14 inch shells

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and fled through shellfire. The armor-piercing (AP) shells intended for Halsey's battleships flew right through the thin-skinned escort carriers without triggering their fuses. A switch to High Explosive (HE) shells holed, slowed, and sunk the Gambier Bay at the rear, while most of the others were also damaged. Their single stern-mounted five-inch (127 mm) anti-aircraft guns returned fire, though they were ineffective against surface ships. Yet, the St. Lo scored a hit on the magazine of a cruiser, the only known hit inflicted directly by a gun on an aircraft carrier against an opposing surface vessel.

The tide soon turned against Taffy 3's destroyers. Two hours into the attack, Comdr. Evans aboard the Johnston spotted a line of four destroyers led by the light cruiser Yahagi making a torpedo attack on the fleeing carriers and moved to intercept. Johnston poured fire on the attacking group, forcing them to prematurely fire their torpedoes, missing the carriers. Their gunfire then turned to the weaving Johnston. At 09:10 the Japanese scored a direct hit on one of the forward turrets, knocking it out and setting off many 5-inch shells that were stored in the turret, and her damaged engines stopped, leaving her dead in the water. The Japanese destroyers closed in on the sitting target, and the Johnston was hit so many times that one survivor recalled "they couldn't patch holes fast enough to keep her afloat." At 09:45 (2 hours and 45 minutes into the battle), Comdr. Evans finally gave the order to abandon ship. The Johnston sank 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Commander Evans abandoned ship with his crew, but was never seen again. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Just as it seemed the end was near for the Taffy 3 and the other two Taffy groups, at 09:20 Kurita suddenly broke off the fight and, giving the order "all ships, my course north, speed 20", retreated north. Though many of his ships were not even damaged, the air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations, and he had lost tactical control. The heavy cruisers (Chōkai, Kumano, Chikuma) had been sunk, and the ferocity of the determined concentrated sea and air attack had led him to calculate that continuing was not worth further losses.

Signals from Ozawa had disabused him of the notion that he was attacking the whole of the 3rd Fleet, which meant that the longer he continued to engage, the more likely it was that he would suffer devastating air strikes from Halsey's main attack carriers which were even more threatening than the tiny force of Taffy 3. He retreated north and then west through the San Bernardino Strait. Nagato, Haruna and Kongō were severely damaged from the torpedoes of Taffy 3's destroyers. Kurita had begun the battle with five battleships. On return to Japan, only Yamato remained combat-worthy, and she had not even taken a major part in the battle.

The spirit of Taffy 3 was shown when, while watching the Japanese retreat, Sprague heard a nearby sailor exclaim: "damnit boys, they're getting away!"

The American destroyers Hoel and Johnston, and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts were sunk and four others were damaged. The destroyer Heermann, despite her duel with Japanese battleships many times her size, finished the battle with only six of her crew dead. In total, over a thousand American sailors and pilots were killed.

Taffy 3 was awarded the following Presidential Unit Citation: "For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. ...the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy ...two of the Unit's valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy's heavy shells ... The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."



A 60th Anniversary ceremony in Tacloban, Philippines, on October 20, 2004

The battle of Leyte Gulf secured the beachheads of the U.S. Sixth Army on Leyte against attack from the sea. However, much hard fighting would be required before the island was completely in Allied hands at the end of December 1944: the Battle of Leyte on land was fought in parallel with an air and sea campaign in which the Japanese reinforced and resupplied their troops on Leyte while the Allies attempted to interdict them and establish air-sea superiority for a series of amphibious landings in Ormoc Bay — engagements collectively referred to as the Battle of Ormoc Bay.

The Imperial Japanese Navy was not destroyed or eliminated, as some accounts have described, since the greater part of the fleet survived the battle. However, their failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from Leyte meant that Japan would be cut off from her colonies in Southeast Asia, which provided crucial war resources such as oil for their ships, and the problem was compounded because the shipyards and ammunition were in Japan. The fleet returned home to sit inactive for the remainder of the war. The loss of Leyte opened the way for the invasion of the Ryukyu Islands in 1945. The only significant Japanese naval operation for the rest of the war was the disastrous Operation Ten-Go in April 1945.

By now, Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi had put his "Special Attack Force" into operation launching kamikaze attacks against the Allied ships in Leyte Gulf, but it was hampered by bad weather and fuel shortages. On 25 October, Australia was hit for a second time and forced to retire for repairs, while the escort carrier St. Lo was sunk. Due to communication errors, the Taffy 3 survivors of the Battle off Samar who had abandoned ship were not rescued for a few days, by which time many more had gone mad or died because of sharks or thirst. Finally, the captain of a LST took his ship to rescue the Americans, using a rather peculiar method of identifying who was American, as survivor Jack Yusen related:

"We saw this ship come up, it was circling around us, and a guy was standing up on the bridge with a megaphone. And he called out 'Who are you? Who are you?' and we all yelled out 'Samuel B. Roberts!' He's still circling, so now we're cursing at him. He came back and yelled 'Who won the World Series?' and we all yelled 'St. Louis Cardinals!' And then we could hear the engines stop, and cargo nets were thrown over the side. That's how we were rescued."

Criticism of Halsey[]

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take Task Force 34 with him in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to dispatch it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. US Navy slang for Halsey's action has ever since been Bull's Run, a neologism combining Halsey's nickname "Bull" and the Battles of Bull Run in the American Civil War. In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey justified the decision as follows:

Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of 24 October, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn. I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet.

Furthermore, to leave Task Force 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left them vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft. From previous experience, Halsey knew that the Japanese had the ability to move planes from Japan into the area very quickly. Leaving one of Third Fleet's three remaining Task Groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the amount of air power, although Admiral Lee would later state that "one or two light carriers" might have been sufficient cover. Finally, the fact that Halsey was aboard a battleship and would have to remain with Task Force 34 while the majority of the fleet sailed north might also have contributed to his decision.

Clifton Sprague, commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later critical of Halsey's decision:

In the absence of any information that this exit [of the San Bernardino Strait] was no longer blocked, it was logical to assume that our northern flank could not be exposed without ample warning.

Naval historian Samuel Morison wrote:

If TF 34 had been detached a few hours earlier, after Kinkaid's first urgent request for help, and had left the destroyers behind, since their fueling caused a delay of over two hours and a half, a powerful battle line of six modern battleships under the command of Admiral Lee, the most experienced battle squadron commander in the Navy, would have arrived off San Bernardino Strait in time to have clashed with Kurita's Center Force… Apart from the accidents common in naval warfare, there is every reason to suppose that Lee would have crossed Kurita's T and completed the destruction of Center Force.

A message from Nimitz asking for the location of Task Force 34 led to ill-feeling between him and Halsey, owing to a misunderstood piece of security padding (see "the world wonders").



  • Cutler, Thomas (2001). The Battle of Leyte Gulf: 23-26 October 1944. Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-243-9.
  • D'Albas, Andrieu (1965). Death of a Navy: Japanese Naval Action in World War II. Devin-Adair Pub. ISBN 0-8159-5302-X.
  • Dull, Paul S. (1978). A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1941-1945. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-097-1.
  • Field, James A. (1947). The Japanese at Leyte Gulf;: The Sho operation. Princeton University Press. ASIN B0006AR6LA.
  • Friedman, Kenneth (2001). Afternoon of the Rising Sun: The Battle of Leyte Gulf. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-756-7.
  • Hornfischer, James D. (2004). The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. Bantam. ISBN 0-553-80257-7.
  • Hoyt, Edwin P., Thomas H Moorer (Introduction) (2003). The Men of the Gambier Bay: The Amazing True Story of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Lyons Press. ISBN 1-58574-643-6.
  • Lacroix, Eric, Linton Wells (1997). Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-311-3.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot (2004 (reissue)). Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, vol. 5 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Champaign, Illinois, U.S.A.: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0-252-07063-1.
  • Potter, E. B. (2005). Admiral Arleigh Burke. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-692-5.
  • Potter, E. B. (2003). Bull Halsey. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-691-7.
  • Sauer, Howard (1999). The Last Big-Gun Naval Battle: The Battle of Surigao Strait. Glencannon Press. ISBN 1-889901-08-3.
  • Thomas, Evan (2006). Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-5221-7.
  • Willmott, H. P. (2005). The Battle Of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34528-6.


Template:Portalpar Template:Commons

Audio/visual media[]

  • Lost Evidence of the Pacific: The Battle of Leyte Gulf. History Channel. TV. No writer given.
  • Dogfights: Death of the Japanese Navy. History Channel. TV. No writer given.


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