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Battle of Leyte Gulf: October 23–26, 1944

Fold3 Image - Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. 25)
From October 23–26, 1944, the Japanese navy unsuccessfully went up against the American navy off the coast of the Philippines in one of the largest naval battles in history. The Japanese loss at Leyte Gulf effectively finished off their navy and gave the Americans unchallenged dominance in the Pacific for the rest of World War II.

The Philippines were crucial to the Japanese war effort in Southeast Asia. So when Douglas MacArthur‘s troops invaded the Philippine island of Leyte in mid-October 1944, the Japanese sent their dwindling navy—with its now limited air power—to attack the American ships of the Third and Seventh fleets off the east shore of the island, hoping to cut off support to MacArthur’s invasion force. The Japanese planned to send a northern decoy force to draw away Bull Halsey‘s Third Fleet, while a central force (sailing through the San Bernardino Strait) and a southern force (sailing through the Surigao Strait) would cut through the Philippines to attack Thomas Kinkaid‘s Seventh Fleet simultaneously from north and south.

However, very few things went according to plan for the Japanese. The central force was discovered and attacked by American submarines on October 23 and then later pounded by American naval air power on October 24 while still in the Sibuyan Sea, causing the central force to temporarily turn around. However, because the Americans assumed the central force had permanently withdrawn, the Japanese force was eventually able to double back and continue its journey through the San Bernardino Strait unobserved.

Meanwhile, the southern Japanese force met its destruction on the night of the 24th–25th, when it attempted to pass through the Surigao Strait. Alerted to the presence of the Japanese in the strait, Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf was able to deploy his ships perpendicular to the oncoming Japanese vessels and “cross the T,” allowing his ships to fire full broadsides, while the Japanese were only able to use their forward guns.

Fold3 Image - plane lays smoke screen during Battle of Leyte Gulf when Japanese central force attacks Taffy 3
When the central Japanese force exited the San Bernardino Strait on the 25th, it discovered that the plan to draw Halsey’s Third Fleet away had been successful during the night, and it appeared that the Japanese would be able to attack the Seventh Fleet from the north without much trouble. But they soon encountered Taffy 3, the Seventh Fleet’s northernmost escort carrier group. Although it initially seemed that the small American task force stood no chance, the ships and planes of Taffy 3 (eventually aided by Taffy 2) surprised the Japanese with the pugnacity of their attacks, and the Japanese unexpectedly withdrew.

Overall, the casualties for the battle were high, though Japanese casualties far outnumbered the Americans’: 10,000 Japanese casualties versus 3,000 American. The Japanese also lost more ships than the Americans, spelling the end of effective Japanese naval power during the war. The battle was also significant for the use of a new Japanese tactic: kamikaze attacks—which would prove a significant challenge to American naval forces in the Pacific going forward.

Do you have family members who fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf? Tell us about them! Or learn more about the battle by searching on Fold3.

258 Comments

  1. My uncle Pete from San Antonio Texas served in that battle.
    I’m trying to find out more about his unit etc, but haven’t had any success.
    I know his back was injured from a fall off a cliff or something like that.

  2. My father fought at the Battle of Leyte. He was not in the Navy nor was he a marine. He was in the Army and had trained to be a tank commander. However, he ended up commanding an amphibious tractor during the Battle of Leyte. I remember him saying kind of out loud that he was wondering what the Navy ships were thinking and doing at the time of the invasion. Their cover fire was too far inland. The place they needed protection was on the beach itself. The Japanese had dug in, found little holes, etc. Americans could not see them, but they could see the Americans as they landed. My dad said it was a blood bath. It was a miracle that we took Leyte.

    My father’s name was Norman Hill. I have a letter of commendation concerning his active service at Leyte.

    • Sir,
      According to what I have read (and it’s been extensive on WW2), the landing on Leyte were unopposed.

      Was your father speaking of another landing in the Philippines?

  3. My father John S Rice was in this battle, hitting the beach as a combat medic, listened to him all thru my youth talking about this battle, was on the beach when McArthur came ashore. Funny part is many years later when my sister married I found out that her husbands Uncle by marriage was on a navy ship during that same battle!

    • There were about 500,000 men involved, between the Army, Navy and Marines. Much like the Battle of the Bulge, involving about the same number of men, or the fighting in Italy, it almost seems probable that someone you know either was there (or at least involved as support) or someone you know is related to someone who was there.

      My Dad was in the 11th Armored Division, 3rd Army under General Patton, on the way to relieve Bastonge. (Note: The airborne did not need relief by anyone, according to the 101. As General “Nuts” McAuliffe supposedly said, “We’re surrounded. We’ve got them just where we want them.”) Bastonge was not relieved by the 3rd Army, despite what the movies portray, though my Dad claimed to have entered the city in relief of the airborne, but on Dec 29th, three days after the siege had lifted, thanks to US airpower.

  4. My uncle, Lester Pomplun, died at the battle of Leyte Gulf when his ship was hit by a torpedo.

  5. A note to anyone that remembers Curtis Martin gunner USS Bradford DD-545.

    • I will thank him for his service. Many men lost their lives to defend the landing, bravely attacking a much stronger force and driving them back. Had the Japanese realized what they were up against, they would have driven right through Taffy 3 and destroyed the landing support fleet, leaving the American forces on Leyte without reinforcements or supplies, and vulnerable to a planned Japanese land attack. The whole nature of the Philippines campaign would have changed.

  6. THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY
    WASHINGTON

    The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY UNIT COMMENDATION to the

    U. S. S. BRADFORD

    for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
    “For outstanding heroism in action as a Fighter Direction ship on Radar Picket duty during the Okinawa Campaign, May 14 to June 16, 1945. A natural and frequent target of the heavy Japanese aerial attack while occupying advanced and isolated stations, the U.S.S. BRADFORD defeated all efforts of enemy Kamikaze and dive-bombing planes to destroy her. Vigilant and ready for battle, she sent out early air warnings, provided fighter direction and, with her own gunfire downed five hostile planes, routed many more and rendered valiant service in preventing the Japanese from striking in force the Naval Forces off the Okinawa beachhead. A gallant fighting ship, the BRADFORD, her officers and her men withstood the stress and perils of vital Radar Picket duty, achieving a distinctive combat record which attests the teamwork, courage and skill of her entire company and enhances the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service”
    /s/ James Forrestal
    Secretary of the Navy

  7. My father, Edwin J.C. Pajor, was part of Taffy 3 serving as an Electrician’s Mate on the USS Kalinin Bay, one of the escort carriers. He passed away in 2010.

    The job done by the ships planes and men of Taffy # has been overlooked in most histories of WWII and I’m surprised a movie was never made about the action and their heroism.