The Battle of Leyte Gulf – Most INSANE Naval Battle in History


It’s October 25th, 1944, and off the coast
of the Philippine island of Leyte, American battleships are trading blows with the remnants
of the Japanese fleet. Cruisers and destroyers cut through the waters
at high speed, laying withering barrages against each side’s most vulnerable ships. In the air, fighters screen the skies from
opposing dive bombers and torpedo planes. Japanese naval aviation has been decimated
by a year and a half of fierce combat across the Pacific, and now its surviving pilots
are inexperienced raw recruits, thrown into the teeth of American aces. For Japan, the battle is dire- if it loses
the Americans and their Australian allies will sever Japan’s supply lines and cut off
its access to the oil it so desperately needs to keep its ships at sea. For the US and Australia, a defeat of the
Japanese here means the protracted war will be cut dramatically short, potentially leading
to victory in just a few months. Both sides know that the outcome of the war
hangs on a knife’s edge, and are throwing everything they have at each other in what
will become the greatest naval battle in history. Between august 1942 and 1944 the americans
have pushed the Japanese steadily back across the Pacific. Their losses in Pearl Harbor have been quickly
replaced, the full might of the American economy turning to a wartime footing. In June 1944 the Americans launched an invasion
of the Mariana Islands, with the Japanese counterattacking in the battle of the Philippine
Sea, resulting in a disastrous defeat of the Japanese Imperial Navy which cost it 600 aircraft
and the loss of three of their remaining aircraft carriers. This defeat has left Japan with virtually
no naval airpower and struggling to replace its losses with inexperienced pilots fresh
from a training program which has been slashed in half. America on the other hand has started rotating
its combat pilots back to the states where they do short tours as combat instructors,
giving new American airmen an unparalleled training advantage compared with their Japanese
counterparts. The seizing of the Mariana Islands has penetrated
Japan’s inner defense ring and made the mainland vulnerable to long range attack by B-29 Superfortress
bombers. America’s next move is now carefully being
calculated, with Admiral Ernest J. King, supported by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advocating
for a blockade of Japanese forces in the Philippines and focusing on an attack on Taiwan in order
to give the US and Australia control of the sea trade routes between Japan and southern
Asia. The plan is solid, and with Japanese forces
blockaded in the Philippines they will be unable to resupply and eventually, perhaps
in a few months, forced to surrender. Any attempts by the Japanese to break out
their besieged forces will end in disaster, as they will be sailing straight into the
teeth of a combined US/Australian naval task force supported by air power from surrounding
islands. The seizing of Taiwan will also give the US
a second launching-off point for air attacks against the Japanese mainland, and allow medium
range bombers to join in the strikes. Yet General McArthur disagrees with this plan,
partly because he sees leaving the Philippines in japanese hands as a blow to American prestige
and because it would be a personal affront to the man who had claimed in 1942, “I shall
return” after his forced retreat. The General also highlights the considerable
land-based air power that Japan has amassed in the Philippines, a threat significant enough
that it is considered too dangerous to ignore by many high-ranking officers outside of the
Joint Chiefs, to include Admiral Chester Nimitz. Eventually President Roosevelt lends his support
to taking back the Philippines, and thus the greatest naval battle in history is set into
motion. General McArthur and his forces would invade
the island of Leyte in the central Philippines, with close naval support provided by the Seventh
Fleet which was at the time made up of both American and Australian units. The US 3rdFleet, commanded by Admiral William
F. Halsey Jr. would provide long-range cover for the invasion. From the onset, the plan held a critical flaw:
no single American officer would be in command of the overall attack, a flaw which combined
with failures in communication would result in a crisis and nearly a complete strategic
disaster for the US. The Japanese, who by pure coincidence also
lacked an overall commander, drew up four “victory” plans in response to the obvious
pending invasion. The plans however all called for Japan to
commit almost all of its forces in response to any single attack, falling within the lines
of Japanese wartime strategy of seeking the decisive battle- a strategy which had failed
them repeatedly throughout the war in the Pacific. Most of the times the Japanese had overcommitted
their forces and attempted to force a decisive battle against the US fleets, the Americans
had simply withdrawn- the US could afford to replace its loses and oil supplies, while
Japan could not. Hence the Japanese desperate attempts to force
one single decisive battle that would cripple the Americans for good. It’s early in the morning on October 12th,
and Admiral Halsey has ordered the launching of massive air strikes against the Formosa
and Ryukyu islands. American dive bombers climb through a sky
filled with enemy fighters and anti-aircraft fire, struggling to deliver their payloads
against Japanese air fields. All around them American Wildcat fighters
scream through the sky, goading what’s left of Japans air power into a fight and protecting
their bomber escorts. Japan’s naval airpower may have been severely
diminished, but its land-based forces have long been itching for a fight versus the American
aviators that have scored such catastrophic losses against their fleets. From sunup to sundown waves of fighters and
bombers swarm the skies above Japanese airfields. The Japanese try to retaliate by targeting
the American carriers but are intercepted by American fighters. After four days of non-stop air battle, the
Japanese have lost hundreds of fighters and bombers and their airfields and support facilities
have been taken out of commission. The Americans meanwhile have lost only 89
aircraft and suffered 1 light cruiser damaged with 1 heavy cruiser seriously damaged and
in need of repairs. The battle over Formosa has been a stunning
American success, and has taken Japanese air power out of the equation for the invasion
of Leyte. In response to the pending American invasion,
Japan orders a force of five battleships, ten heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and
fifteen destroyers to set sail from Brunei to the Philippines. Squarely in their path though are the American
submarines Darter and Dace, which at 0016 hours on October 23rd, make radar contact
with the incoming Japanese while they wait on the surface. Facing off against a force of 32 combat ships,
the two submarines decide to engage anyways, knowing that this fleet could inflict serious
damage to the rest of the American forces. The Darter shoots off three contact reports
to the rest of the US Navy, one of which is intercepted by a radio operator on Yamato,
but Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita orders no anti-submarine action, believing an attack on his superior
forces to be too suicidal for the Americans to consider. Unbeknownst to the Admiral, that’s exactly
what the Americans are considering though, and the two submarines steam at full speed
for several hours to get ahead of the Japanese ships. Submerged and lying in wait, the Japanese
sail straight into the planned ambush, still taking no anti-submarine actions to protect
themselves. At 0524 hours Darter fires a rapid-fire salvo
of six torpedoes, and hydrophone operators aboard the heavy cruiser Atago raise the alarm-
but too late. Explosions rack the heavy cruiser as four
torpedoes score a direct hit. The fleet now scrambles, Admiral Kurita incredulous
that a single American submarine would dare to threaten his fleet. Ten minutes later, the Darter lines up for
a firing solution on the heavy cruiser Takao, scoring two more hits. The Japanese fleet begins dropping depth charges
at random, hydrophone operators unable to pinpoint the American submarine and at times
getting what they believe to be false positives from locations the attacking submarine could
not possibly be at. At 0556 hours, Dace breaks its cover and fires
a spread of torpedoes that scores four hits on the heavy cruiser Maya, and the japanese
realize that they’re not dealing with one sub, but two. The Atago and Maya have taken catastrophic
damage and quickly sink, and the Takao is so damaged that her seaworthiness is in question. After being rescued from the water, Admiral
Kurita orders the Takao to retreat back to Brunei, escorted by two destroyers. The rest of the fleet is on high alert, and
the American subs are in serious danger of being blown out of the water if they remain,
so instead they break off their attack and follow the Takao, hoping for a chance to finish
her off. Three of Japan’s most formidable ships have
been knocked out of the fight, and her sailors rattled by the seeming impunity in which American
submariners attack them from out of the deep. On the 24thof October Admiral Kurita’s force
continues towards the Philippines, where it makes contact with the US 3rdFleet. Despite being superior in firepower, the 3rdfleet
is missing two of its carrier groups which had been detached and sent to provision and
rearm. As the Darter’s contact report comes in, Admiral
Halsey recalls one of the groups, but lets the other continue on its resupply mission-
this leaves the Americans with only 60% of their air power. To support the incoming Japanese fleet, aircraft
based out of Luzon are dispatched against the American carriers. Three waves of 50 to 60 aircraft scream towards
the American carriers, but long range radar has warned them of the threat. Combat air patrols made up of Hellcats rise
up to meet the incoming attack, and the majority are shot down or driven off in fierce fighting. Only a single Japanese aircraft carrying an
armor piercing bomb penetrates the heavy air cover, and at 0938 hours the light carrier
USS Princeton is struck. The resulting explosion knocks out her emergency
sprinklers and fire spreads throughout the ship. The light cruiser Birmingham pulls up alongside
her to assist in the fire fighting when suddenly a massive explosion rocks the Princeton, killing
233 sailors. Alongside her, the Birmingham is so badly
damaged that the ship is forced to retire, her crew transferred to another vessel. The Princeton is a total loss, but the Americans
have decimated the Japanese aircraft further clearing the skies of hostile fighters and
bombers. An hour and a half after the Japanese launch
their attack, the Americans launch their own against the Japanese fleet. The battleships Nagato, Yamato, and Musashi
are struck, along with the heavy cruiser Myoko which is forced to retreat. The Musashi is hit another 10 times in a subsequent
wave and Admiral Kurita orders his fleet to retreat in order to get out of range of the
aircraft. Later that night and under cover of darkness,
he orders the fleet to turn back around. The Musashi has been sunk and the Myoko crippled,
but the rest of the fleet is still battleworthy. Meanwhile the Japanese Northern Force, made
up of a large formation of Japan’s remaining carriers, steams south towards the Americans. The move is a feint however, the carriers
are only lightly armed and only have about 100 aircraft between them- they are bait for
the Americans to engage and thus pull their battleships and other defensive vessels from
the San Bernardino Strait, which will leave the amphibious landing force vulnerable to
Admiral Kurita’s forces. The Americans suspect that the Northern force
is a feint, but a series of bad radio communications and poorly worded orders have sown confusion
amongst the American commanders. Without a single unifying leader to command
the entire operation, Admiral Halsey takes three of his carrier groups north to chase
down the Japanese carriers. This leaves the American landing vessels completely
unprotected from Admiral Kurita’s battleships except for a single escort carrier group. With the landing forces vulnerable, Japan’s
Southern Force attempts to link up with Admiral Kurita’s ships, but to do that it must sail
through the narrow Surigao Strait. Yet as the fleet enters the strait at 0300
hours on the 25th, it runs directly into an American trap set by the US’s 7thFleet Support
Force. Scores of PT boats swarm the Japanese ships,
loosing torpedoes at close range- though miraculously not a single one manages to land a hit. Yet as the fleet pushes through the strait,
it runs straight into the main American battle line and its two battleships are struck by
torpedoes from American destroyers. The Yamashiro is able to power through the
ambush, but the Fuso is badly hit and sinks forty minutes later. Two of the Japanese destroyers are also immediately
sunk, and a third forced to retreat only to sink later. The rest of the fleet tries to escape the
deadly ambush, but waiting past the destroyers are six American battleships. The Japanese are decimated, and with a single
salvo of twelve 14 inch shells, the Mississippi fires off the last battleship-to-battleship
attack in history, closing a chapter in naval warfare forever. At the same time, Admiral Kurita’s force has
sailed through the San Bernardino Strait completely unopposed- the American carriers and battleships
meant to defend the landing craft off on a wild goose chase for the Japanese Northern
Force. Now a force of four battleships, six heavy
cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers steam down on a small force of American escort
carriers protected by destroyer escorts and light destroyers, catching them completely
by surprise. Yet Admiral Kurita is unaware that the Northern
Force has successfully lured away the bulk of the US fleet, strict radio silence does
not allow the three fleets to coordinate with each other. Thus he orders his ships into an anti-aircraft
formation in order to defend against an overwhelming air attack he believes is coming. It’s only a half hour later that he realizes
that the force he is facing is not the feared 3rdFleet, and immediately orders a General
Attack. This sows confusion amongst the Japanese ships,
who must now break their formation and link up for independent division attack. Closest to the enemy, the destroyer USS Johnston,
commanded by Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans, is first to respond. He sees the situation before him and knows
that the landing vessels are doomed if the Japanese break through. On his own initiative, he steers his ship
directly into the Japanese formation at top speed, firing her torpedoes and scoring direct
hits on the heavy cruiser Kumano, which is forced to drop out of the fight. Upon seeing the reckless charge by the Johnston,
the order is given for the rest of the American destroyers and destroyer escorts to attack. Hopelessly outgunned and dwarfed by the mighty
battleships and heavy cruisers, the smaller American ships nonetheless take the Johnston’s
lead and sail straight into the teeth of the Japanese fleet. The Americans swarm the Japanese, who were
not expecting this suicidal rush and are forced to drop out of their formations in order to
avoid the spreads of torpedoes coming their way. Getting into knife-fight range, the small
American vessels are savaged by Japanese fire, but the determined ships manage to sow major
confusion and seriously damage several of the larger Japanese ships. The escort carriers meanwhile launch every
available plane, armed with anything that they can carry. The carriers know they are in a fight for
their lives, and planes are launched with nothing more than depth charges and machine
guns if need be. As escort carriers they are primarily armed
for long range recon and anti-submarine warfare, and are lacking the anti-shipping munitions
carried by the larger main carriers. Yet because the Japanese have no air cover,
450 American planes swarm the Japanese ships. Even inadequately armed as they are they manage
to cause serious damage to several vessels. Believing that he is facing the main American
fleet due to the ferocity of the attack instead of just a lightly armed escort group, Admiral
Kurita orders a general retreat for his forces. Incredibly the Japanese thus pass up their
opportunity to seize victory and score catastrophic losses on the poorly defended troop transports. Kurita would go on to regroup his forces,
but ultimately the Battle of Leyte Gulf is won here, and the Japanese defeat is ensured. Had Kurita correctly ascertained that he was
facing no more than a light escort group the US and Australian invasion force would have
been decimated with severe loss of life, and Japan’s sea trade routes would have remained
open. With his withdrawal however, Kurita has ensured
that Japan’s critical link to its oil supplies is forever severed, and a total defeat is
inevitable. Since you got all the way to the end of the
video, may I suggest watching Battle of Thermopylae – Spartans vs Persians. Click that thumbnail in the next 5 seconds
or it’s too late. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bye

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