In December, 1941, the Japanese sowed the wind in the Philippines. Before it went the stubbornly resisting but far outmatched forces of the Americans and their allies. Nearly three years later, the Japanese forces in this area reaped the whirlwind. And what a whirlwind it was! The years between the attack on the seaplane tender William B. Preston on 8 December 1941 and the opening raids of our carrier task force on 10 October 1944 had seen United States naval aviation develop into the greatest naval air striking force in existence. Our materials of war had been wrought on an ever-increasing scale by the willing hands of a free people. Our pilots and other aviation personnel had been trained under improved techniques on sprawling fields throughout the United States and had been tested on the field of battle. Our carrier task forces had been thoroughly tried out under a variety of combat conditions and were well prepared to meet the novel and difficult situations that were to confront them in the Philippines. Our maintenance and supply units had developed a performance that was commensurate with that of their combat brethren.
The successful occupation of Peleliu in the Palau Islands and Morotai in the Halmaheras opened the way to a deeper thrust across enemy lines of communication — the reoccupation of the Philippines. Here was an opportunity not only to recapture territory formerly in our possession, but to gain strategic control of Japanese supply lines in the South China Sea, and secure harbors and depots needed for the concentration of men and supplies for operations against the home islands of Japan.
Support of the Philippines operation required that the personnel of Task Force 38 extend themselves to the limit. No other period of the war in the Pacific up to this time had included as much intensive air action. No previous operation involved quite the same problem. Past operations had been against relatively small islands which were easily isolated. Once the fast carrier task force had gained control of the air p231 over the island by the simple process of destroying its defensive air power, the force needed only to intercept reinforcements which could come in either under their own power, which was seldom possible because of the distances involved, or by a carrier force which the enemy seldom dared to risk. In the Philippines, however, this situation was changed. The land mass, with its widely dispersed airfields and great size, presented a difficult problem for the carrier task forces. To maintain control over even a part of the area, they would have had to remain relatively fixed and to pick off reinforcements as they came in. In view of the long campaign that loomed ahead, it appeared necessary to slow down the rate at which the Japanese Air Force could bring up its reserves by crippling the staging bases in the Ryukyus and Formosa. That control of the air ultimately gained was due to the distances at which the carrier force could strike against reinforcing and staging bases without leaving the landing operation unprotected.
During this period, the task force roamed almost at will, successfully overcoming all opposition by the Japanese Air Force and making considerable progress toward its ultimate destruction. Attacks were made on every operational airfield within range of its planes from Amami O Shima in the Nansei Shoto to Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and through the South China Sea to Saigon.
The campaign for the recapture of the Philippines can be divided into the following phases:
1. Preparatory phase — raids on Nansei Shoto and Formosa 10‑15 October
2. Support of Leyte Landings 18‑23 October
3. Battle for Leyte Gulf 24‑26 October
4. Support of occupation of Leyte 29 October-20 December
5. Support of Mindoro landings 13‑21 December
6. Support of occupation of central Luzon 30 December 1944-19 January 1945.
7. Completion of occupation of Philippines 17 January-15 August.
Strikes on the central Philippines, carried out in support of the occupation of Peleliu and Morotai islands, revealed the weakness of the Japanese defenses in that area. The rescue of an American pilot who had been with friendly guerrillas on Leyte, revealed the small number of Japanese troops on the island. This information, forwarded to higher echelons p232 of command by Commander, Third Fleet, with a recommendation for the cancellation of the planned operations in the western Carolines in favor of the immediate seizure of Leyte, resulted in a change of plans by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
With the date for the landing on Leyte set for 20 October, and with the nearest Allied air base •nearly five hundred miles distant, the task of establishing initial control of the air over Leyte fell to the fast carrier task force. The establishment of this control required the destruction of large numbers of enemy aircraft in the Philippines and the neutralization of surrounding bases through which reinforcing aircraft from the empire would pass. It was, therefore, necessary that the task force penetrate, for the first time, the enemy's inner defense ring.
The opening raids of the first phase of the Philippines operations were made by Task Force 38 on 10 October 1944. The fast carrier task force, operating together as a unit for the first time since the Marianas campaign in June, was divided into four task groups and comprised a total strength of 9 carriers, 8 light carriers, 6 battleships, 4 heavy and 7 light cruisers, 3 antiaircraft cruisers, and 57 destroyers. It was commanded, during October, by Vice Admiral M. A. Mitscher, Commander, First Carrier Task Force, Pacific, and operated with the Third Fleet under the command of Admiral W. F. Halsey.
The first objective was the Nansei Shoto — a •six hundred‑mile chain of islands which extends from the southern tip of Japan to Formosa and forms the inner defense ring composed of strongly protected naval bases and numerous air bases through which reinforcements for the Philippines could be staged. The main effort of the force on the first day was directed against Okinawa, but small attacks were also made against Amami Shima, Daito Jima, Kume Shima, Kerama Retto and Miyako Jima.
The approach of the task force was undetected due to the use made of covering weather conditions and the destruction of picket boats and snoopers by supporting land-based planes from Saipan. The first attack caught the Japanese planes on the ground. Aircraft, airfields, shipping, and ground installations were covered thoroughly. The scale of the attack was one of the heaviest ever delivered by the fast carrier task force in a single day. Strike sorties totaled 1,356, tons of bombs dropped amounted to 541, and 652 rockets and 21 torpedoes were expended. The effectiveness of Okinawa as a staging base was interrupted, at least temporarily.
One day's work at Naha Town, Okinawa. On 10 October 1944, while some Third Fleet carrier planes attacked airfields over the 600‑mile long Ryukyus, others destroyed harbor installations and burned the heart out of this provincial capital.
While the task force fueled next day, a fighter sweep was sent against p233 Aparri on northern Luzon, and on the night of 11 October, under cover of darkness, the entire force began a high-speed approach on Formosa, stronghold of Japanese air power.
In spite of the fact that the enemy was by now aware of the presence of the task force in the area, there were no attacks until after each of the task groups had launched dawn fighter sweeps. These sweeps met strong opposition over the target. The opposition continued to be strong on the strikes that followed the sweep, but fell off considerably during the day. At dusk and after dark, sporadic air attacks were launched against the task force, but night fighters and antiaircraft fire were adequate protection, eleven of the attacking planes being shot down. No damage was inflicted on the ships of the force.
The neutralization of air bases was carried out on the twelfth and thirteenth by bombing attacks on hangars, fuel dumps, shops, and other major servicing facilities. Over half the 772 tons of bombs dropped during the period were expended on these targets alone. Weather conditions hampered attacks on shipping but several profitable targets were found. A total of 26 ships, 8 of which were large or medium transports, were sunk, 14 probably sunk, and 41 damaged. No important naval units were found.
Enemy air attacks during the period 12‑16 October, while the task force was operating off Formosa, were the strongest encountered since the Marianas. During this period nearly one thousand airborne enemy planes were engaged, 43 per cent of which were encountered en route to, or near, the task force. More enemy planes actually reached our surface forces than ever before, and enemy raiding tactics were good. At dusk on the thirteenth the cruiser Canberra was torpedoed, on the afternoon of the fourteenth the carrier Hancock was slightly damaged by a near miss, two hours later the cruiser Reno was hit by a damaged plane, and at dusk on the same day the cruiser Houston was torpedoed. Both of the successful torpedo attacks were made by the fast new Japanese torpedo bomber "Frances."
Salvage Group 30.3 was formed on the fourteenth to escort the damaged Canberra to safety. The group, made up of ships from Task Groups 38.1 and 38.3, included a towing unit composed of 2 heavy and 3 light cruisers, 8 destroyers, and a covering unit composed of 2 light carriers, 1 heavy and 1 light cruiser, and 5 destroyers.
On the fourteenth, in the last action against Formosa, a dawn fighter sweep was made against the airfields, after which the force retired toward the Philippines. Task Groups 38.2 and 38.3 fueled, while 38.4 p234 launched strikes to neutralize the airfields on northern Luzon. Task Group 38.1 protected the cripples. In spite of the severe pounding which the task force had given Formosa on the first three days, the scale of enemy effort on the fifteenth was greater than ever, suggesting that reinforcements had been flown in from surrounding bases. On this day the Hornet was damaged.
The action off Formosa was the cause for much celebration by the Japanese. The Japanese radio broadcast the news that the greater part of our aircraft carriers had been sunk, and that a large number of escorting ships had either both sunk or damaged. It was also reported that orders had been issued to the Japanese Fleet to attack and annihilate the remnants of our force.
Contrary to these jubilant Jap announcements, the facts were that, except for the two cruisers which had been torpedoed, there was little damage to the ships of our force, and the score of the air battle was 658 enemy planes destroyed against our combat loss of 63. In addition, considerable damage had been inflicted on airfields and ground installations, and large numbers of transports and small coastal vessels had been sunk and damaged. Strikes against Formosa were strategically important in that they proved that a fast carrier force could approach the strongest enemy air base outside Japan itself at a time when the enemy was aware of the approach and could then not only protect itself against the greatest aerial opposition which the enemy could mount, but could deliver damaging attacks against shipping and ground installations. In this respect, Formosa was a stunning defeat for the Japanese and indicated that the enemy's strategic plan for the control of areas south of Formosa was in jeopardy.
Navy patrol bomber casts its shadow over small Jap coastal vessel. A few minutes later, the vessel was blown to bits.
Typical, but futile, Jap effort to save a unit of its dwindling merchant fleet.
The next three days were spent in retiring from the Formosa area and in escorting the damaged cruisers toward Ulithi. In view of the Japanese claims of damage to the task force, Groups 38.2 and 38.3 operated within range but off to the east of the crippled division (Task Group 30.3), in an attempt to lure the Japanese into an attack on the "remnants of the force." In effect, the crippled ships and their escorts were offered as "bait" to the Japanese Fleet. A heavy attack by land-based planes was made on this group on the sixteenth at about 1400 in the area northeast of Luzon. Fighters from the Cabot and Cowpens, the two light carriers operating with the crippled cruisers, destroyed approximately fifty of the sixty attacking planes. The attackers were successful, however, in putting another torpedo in the already crippled p235 Houston. This second hit caused her to list badly, but despite some difficulty in towing, she continued to make progress toward Ulithi.
On the sixteenth, a search plane made contact with an enemy surface force of cruisers and destroyers but due to communication difficulties and the coming of darkness, the enemy escaped. On the eighteenth, attacks were launched on central and southern Luzon by Task Groups 38.1 and 38.4, and on Aparri and Laog in northern Luzon by Task Group 38.2. Task Group 38.3 fueled within supporting distance of 30.3. On the nineteenth, additional strikes were launched on the airfields of Luzon and 30.3 passed beyond the range of enemy land-based aircraft and proceeded to Ulithi.
The Third and Seventh amphibious forces, covered by the surface forces and carrier aircraft of the Seventh Fleet, began initial landing operations on 17 October with the occupation of the islands controlling the eastern entrance to Leyte Gulf. Air support for the Seventh Fleet was provided by the escort carriers under the command of Rear Admiral T. L. Sprague. These, organized in three units under Task Group 77.4 were made up of a total of 16 escort carriers, screened by 9 destroyers and 11 destroyer escorts.
On the morning of the twentieth, landings were made on Leyte under cover of a heavy fire from the surface ships and air bombardment of the CVE's and Task Groups 38.1 and 38.4 of the fast carrier task force. Air opposition was negligible. The preliminary strikes by Task Force 38 against airfields on Formosa and the central Philippines, aided by the destruction of some seventy‑six enemy aircraft by CVE planes, was effective in reducing enemy air opposition so that we enjoyed complete but temporary air supremacy.
Task groups of Task Force 38 alternated in supporting ground operations on Leyte and in searching for enemy fleet units. On the twenty-first, Task Groups 38.2 and 38.3 launched strikes against southern Luzon and the Visayans. Strikes on shipping, particularly at Manila, produced good results. Twenty‑two ships were sunk, including 2 large and 5 medium transports, and 2 oilers. An additional 51 ships were reported as probably sunk.
On 23 October, Task Group 38.1 and the carrier Hancock from Task Group 38.2 retired to Ulithi, and the Bunker Hill from Task Group 38.2 departed for Manus to pick up a replacement air group.
All indications pointed to the fact that the Japanese Navy would take vigorous action in opposition to the serious strategic threat to its position brought about by our landings at Leyte. In addition, the Japanese in their broadcasts had minimized their defeats by boasting of the complete destruction awaiting our forces when they had been lured to the westward, and their Navy could not afford to wait. There was also some evidence that they were influenced by their own propaganda and believed that their air attacks at Formosa had been successful in destroying a large part of our Third Fleet. Our position at Leyte favored the Japanese strategically. Our lines of communication were stretched a tremendous distance while theirs had been appreciably shortened.
The reaction of the Japanese Fleet resulted in a series of air and surface actions for the control of Leyte Gulf which developed in the following separate stages: (1) location of enemy fleet units, (2) air attacks on enemy forces in the Sibuyan Sea, (3) the Battle of Surigao Strait, (4) the battle off Samar, and (5) the battle off Cape Engano.
[It will be useful to refer to this map thruout this long chapter. This link will open a copy of it in a separate window, if you like.]
On the basis of submarine reports, Commander, Third Fleet, disposed his forces so that information regarding future movements of the enemy fleet would be learned at the earliest possible moment. Task Group 38.3, with CTF 38, proceeded to the vicinity of Polillo Island off the southern end of Luzon, Task Group 38.2, with ComThirdFleet, operated off Surigao Strait, and Task Group 38.4 was situated •about sixty miles off the southern coast of Samar. Each group launched reinforced search teams at dawn which fanned out to the westward and covered the entire westerly side of the Philippines from northern Luzon to southern Mindanao and its western sea approaches.
At about 0822, CTF 38 received an emergency contact report from a Task Group 38.2 search plane, that an enemy force of 4 battleships, 8 cruisers and 13 destroyers, without transports or carriers, had been sighted in the Sibuyan Sea off the southern tip of Mindoro, on course 050, speed 15 knots. An amplifying report received approximately one hour later, stated that the enemy force was in two groups, the first consisting of 2 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, and 7 destroyers, and the second, •five miles astern, of 2 battleships, 4 heavy and 1 light cruiser and 6 p239 destroyers. Both groups of this force, designated as the Central Force, were reported to be steaming up the east coast of Mindoro Island.
This represented a major portion of the Japanese Fleet strength and constituted a serious threat to the success of our landings on Leyte, which it could approach through any one of the numerous inter-island channels in the central Philippines. Commander, Third Fleet, therefore, directed the immediate concentration of all task groups around Task Group 38.2 off Surigao Strait and recalled Task Group 38.1, then on its way to Ulithi. All task groups were directed to launch strikes on the Central Force as soon as possible.
At about 0905, a search-strike group from Task Group 38.4, the most southerly of the groups, sighted an enemy force of 2 battleships, believed to be the Fuso and the Yamashiro, 1 heavy cruiser and 4 destroyers on a northwesterly course to the southwest of Negros Island. This force, designated in action reports as the Southern Force, was •about 215 miles west of Surigao Strait and was also in a position to reach Leyte Gulf during the night of 24‑25 October. The search-strike group attacked immediately and reported at least three •500‑pound bomb, plus several rocket, hits on each of the battleships and rocket hits on the cruiser and destroyers. All ships were heavily strafed. Before additional strikes could be launched against this force, Task Group 38.4, under orders from ComThirdFleet, moved north and passed out of range.
Task Group 38.3, operating to the north, made immediate preparations to launch a strike against the Central Force but before it could do so three large raids of forty to sixty enemy aircraft each were reported approaching the group. Additional fighter planes were launched and the task group maneuvered to keep under cover of rain squalls as much as possible. The largest raid was the third — a group of fifty or sixty planes about equally divided between dive bombers, torpedo planes and fighters. First intercepting fighters to reach this group were led by Commander David , Essex air group Commander, who accounted for nine planes on his own, while his wing man got six. Approximately 150 enemy planes were shot down during the attacks.
As a result of the efficient performance of the fighters and the use made of the cover of rain squalls, no organized formation of enemy planes was successful in reaching the ships. A few single planes did break through, however, and one of these was successful in placing a bomb in the Princeton. The bomb started large fires and heavy explosions on the hangar deck caused the ship to drop astern. Later, a tremendous explosion, undoubtedly in the after bomb and warhead magazine, blew p240 the stern off the ship. The light cruiser Birmingham, alongside at the time, suffered considerable damage and very heavy personnel casualties. Damage to the Princeton was such that it was necessary to destroy her.
The large number of carrier-type planes present in the raids on Task Group 38.3 led to the conclusion that a carrier force was in the vicinity, and a search was launched at 1230 to the north and northeast, the direction in which it was supposed the carrier force might be. At 1540, a search plane reported contact with an enemy force of 3 battleships, 4 to 6 heavy cruisers, and 6 destroyers in position 18‑10N, 123‑30E, on course 210 at speed 15. A second contact, reported one hour later, identified the force as containing 2 carriers, 1 light carrier, 3 light cruisers, and 3 destroyers on course 270, speed 15, in position 18‑25N, 125‑28E. Other reports established the total of 17 ships in the enemy force, consisting of 2 battleships of the Ise Class (with flight decks), 1 Zuikaku carrier class career, 3 light carriers, 5 light cruisers, and 6 destroyers. Distance to the enemy and the fact that a strike group launched on the Central Force had not yet returned, made it impossible to strike this carrier force before dark.
The major burden for the attack of the Central Force fell on Task Group 38.2 which was not only nearest to the enemy but was unhampered by other attack missions or by major air attack. Three strikes were launched by this group, totaling 146 planes which delivered attacks at 1026, 1245, and 1550. One attack was carried out by planes of Task Group 38.4 and two were made by Task Group 38.3.
Returning pilots reported 2 light cruisers, 1 seaplane carrier and 1 destroyer sunk, 1 heavy cruiser and 1 destroyer probably sunk, and 5 battleships, 5 heavy and light cruisers, and 8 to 12 destroyers damaged. Of the larger ships, one was reported as being afire and down at the bow, and another appeared badly damaged. (It was later established that the heavy cruiser Chokai was sunk in this action, and the battles Musashi damaged so severely that she sank later in the day off the southern tip of Mindoro Island.) At the end of the attack the enemy force was milling around aimlessly and when last seen had reversed its direction and was on a westerly course.
Jap carrier during Battle for Leyte Gulf. Deck painting to resemble a battleship fooled no one and the carrier here under aerial attack, was sunk shortly afterwards.
The general situation was now as follows:
Three enemy forces had been discovered moving in the direction of Leyte Gulf at a speed which might result in a co‑ordinated dawn attack on Leyte on the twenty-fifth. The combined strength of the three forces was almost equal to the assumed total strength of the Japanese Fleet and constituted a serious threat to our operations at Leyte. Surface forces were apparently moving up from the south and west through the Philippines, while a carrier task force was moving from the north on the eastern side of the Philippines. Both surface forces had been attacked, the Central Force much more heavily than the Southern, but the extent of actual damage and its effect on further movements of the forces was not actually known. Opposed to the enemy and in a position between the approaching enemy forces, we had the Seventh Fleet with its old battleships and escort carriers, and the Third Fleet composed of the fast battleships and carriers of Task Force 38. Except in heavy cruisers, we had an overwhelming superiority over the Japanese.
It should be noted that there was no single unit of command over all the forces for the operation in the Philippines short of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. The Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Kinkaid, operated under General MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, Southwest Pacific area, with the following specific responsibilities assigned in the Operation Plan:
This force will, by a ship to shore amphibious operation, transport, protect, land, and support elements of the Sixth Army in order to assist in the seizure, occupation, and development of the Leyte Area.
The Third Fleet under Admiral Halsey, was operating under Admiral Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean areas. Its responsibilities, as shown in the Operation Plan were:
. . . Furnish necessary Fleet support to operations by forces of the Southwest Pacific. . . . Forces of Pacific Ocean Areas will cover and support forces of Southwest Pacific. . . . Western Pacific Task Forces (Third Fleet) will destroy enemy naval and air forces in or threatening the Philippines Area, and protect the air and sea communications along the Central Pacific Axis. In case opportunity for destruction of major portions of the enemy fleet offers or can be created, such destruction becomes the primary task. . . . Necessary measures for detailed coördination of operations between the Western Pacific Task Forces and forces of the Southwest Pacific will be arranged by their respective Commanders.
p242 The Third Fleet was therefore operating in the Philippines area for the purpose of destroying enemy air and naval forces, and was available to the Supreme Allied Commander, Southwest Pacific, for direct support of the occupation upon request. While so operating it was directly responsible to, and under orders of, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. This lack of a single unit of command may or may not have been responsible for further developments resulting in the initial success of the Japanese forces in transiting San Bernardino Strait. It is the first operation in the Pacific war to be carried out without a single unit of command, and in that respect is worthy of note.
Commander, Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral T. C. Kinkaid, assumed that it was his responsibility to protect the forces at Leyte against the Southern Force approaching through Surigao Strait and that the Third Fleet was providing similar service at San Bernardino Strait. The surface forces under his command, 6 old battleships, 4 heavy and 4 light cruisers, 25 destroyers, and the PT boats of Task Group 70.1, were more than adequate to deal with the Southern Force. These ships took position in the lower Leyte Gulf across Surigao Strait to await the approach of the enemy. Task Group 77.4, the escort carriers, remained under way in the open sea to the eastward of Leyte Gulf.
Our battle forces, under the command of Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) J. B. Oldendorf, Commander, Bombardment and Support Groups, were deployed so that the battleships and cruisers were in line across Surigao Strait, with destroyers and PT boats stationed on patrol in the Sunrise.
The Southern Force, approaching through the strait, was divided into two groups. The landing, or attack group was composed of the battleships Fuso and Yamashiro and the heavy cruiser Mogami in column, screened by four destroyers. The transport group, following •approximately four miles behind, was composed of four or five cruisers and six destroyers.
Our forces awaited the approach of the enemy and when the range closed, cut them to ribbons. The first attack was made at 0259 by the PT boats and destroyers in the Strait, and the battleships and cruisers opened fire at 0350. When the cease fire order was given at 0410, 2 battleships and 3 destroyers had been sunk and the cruiser and 1 destroyer, though damaged, had escaped. The trailing group turned away p243 from the trap into which they were moving and evidently escaped undamaged. Thus in a very brief but intensive action, our battleships, which had been "sunk" at Pearl Harbor, removed the threat of the Southern Force without damage to themselves.
At 2025 on the night of the twenty-fourth, Admiral Halsey directed the concentration of the fast carriers in preparation for an attack on the Japanese force reported to be approaching from the north. Search planes, which were watching the Central Force in the Sibuyan Sea, were called in and the concentration of Task Groups 38.2, 38.3 and 38.4 (Task Group 38.1 was still hurrying back from the direction of Ulithi) was effected •about 150 miles northeast of San Bernardino Strait. The carrier task force, under Vice Admiral Mitscher, then proceeded north at 25 knots to attack the enemy at dawn.
First contact with the enemy was made at 0205 by a night radar search plane, and was reported as three large and three small ships on course 110, speed 15. Another group of six ships was reported by the same plane •about forty miles from the first. The nearest of these groups was only •eighty miles from Task Force 38. Because the proximity of the two forces and the fact that they were on approaching courses presented a possibility of surface action, Task Force 34, composed of battleships, cruisers and destroyers from the task groups, was formed and assigned a position in advance and to the right of the carrier groups.
Engine trouble forced the tracking plane to return to the force and a replacement was not able to regain contact with the enemy force.
Preparations for attack were made prior to dawn by all task groups, and at 0555 a search was launched followed immediately by the attack groups from each of the carriers. The attack air groups orbited •fifty miles to the north of the task force to await contact by the search planes.
Contact was regained at 0735 with an enemy force bearing 015 true and •140 miles distant from Task Force 38. Obviously the enemy had changed course and run at high speed after the search plane had lost contact during the night. The weather at the target was perfect. At 0840, the air groups, which had been orbiting, struck.
The enemy was taken by surprise. The fifteen or twenty planes he had in the air were quickly shot down or driven off, and because the planes which had attacked Task Group 38.3 the day before had evidently not returned from Luzon, our planes attacked without air interference p244 during the remainder of the day. Carriers were the primary targets for the first strike. The light carrier which had launched planes received several direct hits with 1,000‑pound bombs, followed by three torpedo hits, whereupon she exploded violently and sank. Several hits left another light carrier dead in the water. Damage was also reported on the large carrier, one battleship, one cruiser and one destroyer.
While this strike was in progress, Commander, Third Fleet, received a series of urgent messages from Commander, Seventh Fleet, regarding the plight of the escort carriers off Samar. The first of these, received at 0822, reported enemy battleships and cruisers firing on the escort carriers from a position •fifteen miles astern. At 0848, Commander, Third Fleet, ordered Task Group 38.1, then fueling in a position nearly within striking range of the enemy, to proceed at the best possible speed and to launch strikes on the enemy fleet. At 1115, Task Force 34, with its fast battleships and Carrier Task Group 38.2, were detached from the fast carrier task force to go to the aid of the forces in the Leyte area.
Before the planes of the first strike against the Northern Force returned, another was launched. This, although consisting of fewer planes than the first, was successful in making several additional torpedo hits on the light carrier. The enemy formation had now broken up into two groups, one standing to the north making good speed away from the area, and the other circling around the crippled ships.
At 1300, a third strike, which included 150 of the planes that had participated in the first strike, concentrated on the undamaged ships in the group attempting a getaway, in an effort to create more cripples which could be disposed of later. The large carrier was hit hard with many bombs and was observed to sink at 1430. The light carrier in this group succeeded in evading serious damage by maneuvering radically at high speed. The fourth and fifth strikes which attacked between 1500 and 1710 finished off another light carrier and seriously damaged a battleship with a torpedo and several bomb hits which slowed her temporarily. A light cruiser was stopped dead in the water by several bomb hits, and a destroyer was reported sunk by strafing.
As the attack developed, it became apparent that there would be many crippled ships which could be overthrown by surface forces and sunk by gunfire. A special group was formed for this purpose with the four heavy cruisers of Cruiser Division 13, and twelve destroyers. In the only instance of the Pacific war in which our surface forces participated in the destruction of a Japanese aircraft carrier, this group had a crippled light carrier, the Zuiho, under fire at 1630, and before the destroyers p245 could close to deliver a torpedo attack she rolled over and sank. Later that night, at 2059, a large destroyer of the Terutsuki class was also sunk. Submarines which had been disposed in the probable path of retirement, accounted for one cruiser sunk and one probably sunk during the night.
No damage was sustained by any of the ships of the task force during this engagement. Although heavy antiaircraft fire was encountered from all of the enemy ships during the entire engagement, only ten of the attacking planes were lost by gunfire during the day.
This engagement was the ultimate in the development of carrier warfare which had been foreshadowed in the Coral Sea, at Midway, and with less success, at the Marianas. With the opposing fleets entirely out of sight and range of each other, one was able to wreak devastating destruction on the other by air power alone. The situation was entirely against the Japanese. Without the protection of their planes, which had not returned from the airfields on Luzon where they had landed after their unsuccessful attack on Task Group 38.3 the day before, they were helpless against the crushing blows delivered by our air groups. Because of this condition, they were also unable to launch counterattacks against our carriers. This situation made it possible for us to release most of our protective forces for the more lucrative business of attack.
By no means the least important factor in the destruction of the Japanese force was the organization of our attack forces. An air co‑ordinator, whose duty involved the assessment of the damage being inflicted and the assignment of attacks on specific targets to each of the striking groups as they came in, was kept over the enemy during the entire attack. Three air group commanders carried out the co‑ordination assignment at different periods of the attack, together completing the best organized aerial attack ever delivered by our carrier planes against a concentrated enemy naval force.
The following summary indicated the devastating damage inflicted on the Japanese Fleet in this engagement:
1 large carrier (Zuikaku)
2 light carriers (Chitose, Chiyoda)
1 light cruiser (Tama)
1 light carrier (Zuiho; later sunk by cruisers)
2 battleships (Ise, Hyuga)
1 heavy cruiser (Ashigara)
2 light cruisers (Natori, Oyodo; Natori later sunk by submarines)
4 destroyers (1 later sunk by cruisers)
Only two ships of the enemy force, a cruiser and a destroyer, escaped without damage.
At 2200, Task Groups 38.3 and 38.4 reversed course and departed for a fueling rendezvous.
Early on the morning of 25 October, the escort carriers and screen of Task Group 77.4 were moving forward from their night positions to their stations nearer Leyte Gulf, where routine patrols and strikes in support of groups of troops and operations in Surigao Strait were to be flown. The three task units were disposed from a point •ninety miles southeast, to a point •sixty miles northeast of Suluan Island, off Leyte Gulf. By 0530 the Leyte CAP (combat air patrol) and the local CAP and ASP (anti-submarine patrol) had been launched. At 0658 the CVE's to the south launched searches for enemy surface ships.
Before this search had departed, however, the carriers in Task Unit 77.4.3, the northernmost group, made an alarming discovery — the stacks and pagoda masts of Japanese battleships were sighted coming up over the horizon. Simultaneously with this discovery, an ASP plane reported the presence of the force. There had been no advance radar or visual contact with this force.
Task Unit 77.4.3 immediately changed course to due east, which was close enough to the wind to permit launching without closing the enemy too rapidly, and all available planes were launched. Flank speed was ordered, and all ships began making smoke. An urgent contact report was broadcast in plain language giving the distance and bearing of the enemy and requesting immediate assistance.
The Japanese force, which had been attacked in Sibuyan Sea the afternoon before, had reversed its course under attack. Apparently, after Task Force 38 planes had withdrawn, it had again changed course and resumed its progress toward San Bernardino Strait. This fact had been reported at 2115 by carrier search planes but no further sightings were p247 made until it appeared over the horizon off Samar. It approached in three columns.
In the center column were 4 battleships, to the port were 2 heavy cruisers and 2 destroyers, while the starboard column contained 4 heavy and 1 light cruiser and 1 destroyer. The enemy opened fire at 0659, and his heavy gun salvos began falling near the CVE's. The enemy closed rapidly, and the volume and intensity of his fire increased. Shells were falling all around the helpless CVE's, every ship being straddled repeatedly.
The situation was extremely critical. Task Unit .4.3 composed of 6 of the relatively slow escort or "baby" carriers screened by 3 destroyers and 4 destroyer escorts, was exposed to an enemy force of fast battleships and cruisers which had approached within range of its big guns before being discovered. Surface forces of the Seventh Fleet were deep in southern Surigao Strait, too far away to be of help, and, due to five days of bombardment plus their brief but destructive engagement with the enemy Southern Force, extremely low on ammunition. The fast battleships of the Third Fleet were operating with Task Force 38, then engaged with the enemy carrier force to the north. It was clear that the CVE's were "on their own" and must protect themselves with their own weapons — one 5‑inch gun each for which only antiaircraft ammunition was available, their screening ships, destroyers and destroyer escorts, and their aircraft.
At 0706 the enemy was closing the range with disconcerting rapidity, and it did not appear that any of the ships could survive another five minutes of the volume of heavy caliber fire that was being put out by the Japanese force.
Planes of Task Unit 77.4.3 had been launched as soon as the attack began. All available planes were scrambled under conditions which had never been met before. Because the wind was from the direction of the Japanese force, planes were launched partly cross-wind while the carriers were under heavy fire from the enemy. The air groups let go with everything they had. Fighters strafed and bombed heavy cruisers and battleships, and torpedo planes attacked with bombs and torpedoes.
When the ammunition had been expended, the pilots made dummy runs in the face of heavy antiaircraft fire. Any tactic which might draw the attention of the enemy away from the "jeep" carriers was used. As the planes ran out of fuel, and it became impossible to land on the carriers, the army airstrip at Tacloban on Leyte, which was not yet operational, p248 was used. Some ammunition was available there, as well as a supply of aviation gas.
Immediate retaliation against the enemy force was also carried out by the destroyers and little destroyer escorts in a series of torpedo attacks.
In one of the most gallant and heroic acts of the war, these little ships advanced against the heavy units of the Japanese Fleet, entirely unprotected by covering fire except that from their own 5‑inch guns, and launched their torpedoes at ranges varying from 9,000 to 4,000 yards. The Johnston and the Samuel B. Roberts were sunk by a concentration of enemy gunfire, and the Hoel went down an hour later after having received about forty hits by 5‑, 8‑, and 14‑inch projectiles.
These determined attacks by the destroyers and destroyer escorts were successful in creating a temporary diversion from the CVE's, and their gunfire inflicted some damage to the superstructure of the Japanese ships. In addition, one torpedo hit was observed on a Kongo-class battleship, and two cruisers may have received fatal torpedo damage.
At about the same time that the torpedo attack was launched, all available aircraft from other units were ordered to strike the Japanese force. Planes from the CVE's to the south were recalled from support strikes over Leyte to a rendezvous point over Suluan Island. Reinforced by additional planes from the CVE's, they joined in the attack on the enemy at 0830.
As the engagement developed, the enemy deployed his force so that the cruisers and destroyers flanked the CVE's, and the battleships followed directly astern. This placed the escort carriers in a position exposed to fire from three directions, that from the flanking cruisers proving particularly damaging. The Gambier Bay took her first hit at 0810 and ten minutes later a hit in the engine room reduced her speed so that she fell out of formation. As he fell back, enemy fire concentrated on her, and in five minutes she was dead in the water. Two or three cruisers poured in their fire, making at least twenty‑six hits in the next twenty minutes, sending her down at 0911. The Kalinin Bay received fifteen hits and the Fanshaw Bay took four. Men on the White Plains were wounded by flying shrapnel from shells exploding all around her.
The CVE's, which had begun their retirement on a due east course, had been forced by the oncoming enemy to swing first to the south and then around to the west until they were being driven directly into the coast of Samar. The spirit of the personnel manning the CVE's faced with those overwhelming odds was characterized by a gunnery officer on one of them. During the worst of the engagement, when the p249 cruisers were closing the range, he told his crew, "Just wait a little longer boys, we're sucking them in to 40 millimeter range."
At about 0930, just as the complete destruction of the CVE's seemed inevitable, the Japanese suddenly broke off action and appeared to retire from the area. However much of a surprise and relief this might have been to the men on the CVE's, the enemy's next move was even more inexplicable. Their force maneuvered aimlessly, remaining in the vicinity of the battle for the next three and a half hours, taking no further action against our forces. During that time it had swung from north to east, then around in a complete circle until it was heading north again. At 1310, it had reached a position only •thirteen miles west of the point at which the battle had started. At that time, however, the Japanese seemed to acquire purpose and retired toward San Bernardino Strait.
With the material now available, only surmise can be made as to the reasoning of the Japanese commander in breaking off the action at a time when everything seemed to be going his way. He held a decided advantage in speed, gun power, and position which placed the entire force of CVE's at his mercy. His decision certainly saved the escort carrier force from destruction and can only be regarded as a lost opportunity for the Japanese.
It can be reasoned, however, that the factors which must have influenced the Japanese commander's decision made it less surprising than it first appeared. The Japanese plan of attack, while it violated a fundamental of naval strategy in that it divided the weaker force into three attacking groups, was cunningly conceived and based on a concentration of these groups at Leyte Gulf at dawn on the twenty-fifth. Air attacks on the Southern and Central forces on the twenty-fourth, although not stopping their approach, did succeed in slowing down the Central Force so that it was behind schedule in arriving at Leyte Gulf. How much information the Japanese admiral may have had about the destruction of the other enemy forces or about the disposition of our units that were hastening to the aid of the CVE's is, of course, unknown; and it is safer simply to state that the enemy commander withdrew for reasons best known to himself, unless one chooses to accept the explanation put forth by the commanding officers of several of the CVE's in their official action reports that it was the intervention of divine Providence.
During the entire period the Japanese had been under air attack by the planes of Task Group 77.4. In addition to the diversionary effect of these attacks, serious damage was inflicted on enemy ships. In 252 fighter‑ and 201 torpedo-plane sorties, 191 tons of bombs and 83 p250 torpedoes had been expended on the enemy force. The confusion of the action and the periods of poor visibility made it difficult to assess the damage to the enemy or to determine the individual effort responsible for it. The results, however, were most gratifying. The combined air and surface attacks sank 2 heavy cruisers (the Suzuya and Chikuma) and 1 destroyer, heavily damaged 1 battleship, 1 heavy cruiser and 1 destroyer, and caused some damage to 3 cruisers and 1 destroyer.
Our losses were the destroyers Hoel and Johnston, the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts, and the CVE Gambier Bay, all sunk by gunfire. In addition, 2 destroyers and 2 CVE's were damaged by hits. Planes lost during the engagement totaled 17 fighter and 18 torpedo planes.
Considering the superior speed and gun power of the enemy, it is surprising that no more damage was sustained. The enemy not only failed to close aggressively, but his rate of fire was slow. Although his salvo patterns were small and often unfortunately close, the number of hits in relation to the number fired was very low. The fact that the Japanese were using armor-piercing ammunition, which in some cases passed entirely through the unarmored merchant hulls of the escort carriers without exploding, undoubtedly saved the two which were hit but not sunk.
Shortly after Task Unit 77.4.3 was engaged by the enemy surface force, Task Unit 77.4.1 to the south was subjected to a determined aerial attack. The attack was not only unexpected, having come in without detection by radar, it was different from any that had previously been experienced.
The gravity of the military situation brought about by our landings at Leyte and the pressure of air strikes against islands near the homelands had driven the Japanese to desperation tactics. Some strange quirk of the Japanese mind had conceived the violent and flaming death of a plane crash on the deck of an enemy carrier as a glorious and desirable end for a true warrior of the Emperor. Significantly, this tactic was called the "Divine Wind" after the storm which had once succored the Japanese homeland from invasion by the Mongols.
In theory the exchange of a plane and pilot for the destruction of one of our ships was profitable for the Japanese. In practice, however, although the suicide attack succeeded in sinking and damaging many ships, it was not effective enough to stop our forces or even to relieve the pressure being brought to bear on the enemy. Prior to this engagement there had been instances of pilots crashing or attempting to crash on carriers and warships after they had been severely hit, but this is the p251 first instance in which the attack seemed to be organized and planned as a suicide maneuver.
Although all methods were used by later pilots, the general pattern of these early attacks was the same. A low approach to escape detection by radar, a fast climb on arriving at the surface force, and a sudden dive into the ship releasing the bomb just before the impact formed the usual method employed. The bomb usually penetrated the ship, and the plane tore up the deck, both exploding and starting fires. The location of the hit and the condition of the planes on the flight and hangar decks generally determined the seriousness of the damage. If our planes were fueled and armed in readiness for a strike, a fire among them spread very fast, and the exploding bombs, torpedoes, ammunition, and fuel tanks resulted in a serious situation.
The first attack occurred at 0740 when the CVE's were landing planes returning from strikes. The antiaircraft batteries opened up on three enemy planes, identified as Zekes, coming in at •8000 feet. One peeled off in a 20‑degree dive, passed through a seemingly impenetrable hail of fire, and exploded violently on the forward flight deck of the Santee. Serious fires broke out on the flight and hangar decks. Accurate antiaircraft fire destroyed suicide planes just before they hit the Petrof Bay and Sangamon. Later, a suicide bomber hit the Suwannee causing a heavy explosion, fire, and many personnel casualties. None of the ships was seriously damaged and all were back in action before the end of the day.
At 1050 the already badly shaken CVE's of Task Unit 77.4.3 were hit by a series of suicide attacks just as they were landing their aircraft. During the attack, eight planes made suicide dives on the five remaining CVE's. The Kalinin Bay was hit, and the White Plains, Fanshaw Bay and Kitkun Bay received minor damage from near misses. One plane penetrated the center of the flight deck of the St. Lô, and it sank without further enemy action. All escorts stood by, leaving the remaining CVE's without screen until late in the day when the task unit made rendezvous with Task Unit 77.4.1 to the south.
The work of an already exceedingly busy day was not yet finished. Remnants of the Japanese forces, fleeing in several directions, were not to escape without further damage. Planes of Task Group 38.1, which had been directed by ComThirdFleet to the aid of the CVE's, hit the retiring enemy forces at 1330. As the enemy ships retreated northward toward San Bernardino Straits, they were continually attacked and p252 harassed by the planes of Task Group 38.1 and those from the CVE's. When the enemy force entered the Strait, several cripples trailed behind and were finished off by the planes of Task Force 38 the next day.
Except for the pursuit phase, this ended the Battle for Leyte Gulf, in which the Japanese Navy had been "beaten and routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets." A total of 3 battleships, 1 large carrier, 3 light carriers, 1 heavy cruiser (XCVS), 3 heavy and 6 light cruisers, and 10 destroyers were reported sunk by the commanders of the Third and Seven fleets, as well as 21 additional combatant ships damaged. Of these, 1 battleship, 1 carrier, 2 light carriers, 4 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, and 3 destroyers were sunk by carrier airplanes alone. In addition, other units except those sunk at Surigao Strait by Seventh Fleet surface forces, were initial damaged and crippled by air attack to the extent that they could be overtaken by surface forces and sunk. Our losses were 1 CVL (Princeton), 2 CVE's (Gambier Bay and St. Lô), 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort, and 1 PT sunk, and 1 light cruiser, 6 CVE's, 3 destroyers, and 1 destroyer escort damaged. The Japanese had paid a heavy price for their all‑out attempt to stop our landing in the Philippines, and in addition had failed to accomplish their mission. The destruction and damage inflicted on the Japanese Fleet had reduced its potency as an offensive weapon.
By the evening of 26 October, Third and Seventh Fleet forces were operating in the vicinity of Leyte Gulf. Land operations were progressing so well that the strategic air support mission of the Leyte-Samar area by the Third Fleet appeared almost completed. On 27 October, the 5th Army Air Force assumed responsibility for the support of land operations and Supreme Allied Commander, Southwest Pacific, directed that Task Force 38 refrain from striking land targets without specific request. It developed, however, that due to the delays in airfield development, land-based aircraft could not perform their task without help from the carrier planes which therefore remained in direct support until 25 November.
Task Group 38.1 had departed for Ulithi on the twenty-sixth, and Task Group 38.3, with CTF 38, departed on the twenty-eighth. The CVE's of Task Group 77.4 had withdrawn in order to rearm and replenish their aircraft. This left Task Groups 38.2 and 38.4 with the entire burden of protecting the ground and surface forces at Leyte. On 30 October, Vice Admiral J. S. McCain, Commander, Second Carrier Task Force, Pacific, relieved Vice Admiral M. A. Mitscher of command of Task Force 38.
p253 Many enemy airfields in the Visayans, Luzon, and Mindanao were still operational and capable of launching air attacks on our ground positions and supply convoys. Enemy planes were also capable of providing cover for their reinforcements moving up through the inter-island channels to Leyte. Attacks on the staging bases through which reinforcements were being flown seemed necessary and the planes of Task Group 38.2, although a much smaller force than needed for the job, struck hard on 28 October. In spite of the destruction of enemy planes in the air and on the ground, air opposition could not be entirely eliminated because of the number of airfields in the area and because of their proximity to bases which linked them to the large concentrations of aircraft in and around the empire.
A series of suicide attacks on 29‑30 October and 1 November was successful in damaging some of the ships of the force. On the twenty-ninth the Intrepid was hit in a 20mm gun gallery causing a fire and some personnel casualties but not affecting her battle efficiency. On the thirtieth, a suicide plane tore a •40‑foot hole in the flight deck of the Franklin causing considerable damage to the hangar deck and destroying many planes. The Belleau Wood was hit in the same attack by a crash on the after end of the flight deck. Both these ships were forced to retire to Ulithi and later to a continental navy yard for extensive repairs. On 1 November, one destroyer was sunk and three damaged in Leyte Gulf as a result of suicide attacks.
It soon became evident that only attacks on these staging bases could reduce the flow of Japanese air power toward Luzon, and that Task Group 38.2 could not of itself muster sufficient force for the job. A long-planned strike by the fast carriers against the Japanese homeland was therefore regretfully postponed and Task Group 38.2 retired to Ulithi to join the remainder of Task Force 38 and prepare for raids on the staging bases.
On 3 November, the newly replenished groups, 38.1, 38.2, and 38.3, rendezvoused at a point about midway between Ulithi and Luzon and began a high speed run on Luzon. (Task Group 38.4 was now retiring to Ulithi for rearming.) While the task groups were assembling, the antiaircraft cruiser Reno was torpedoed by a submarine and so seriously damaged that she was forced to return to Ulithi under escort. The three task groups launched destructive fighter sweeps and strikes against the airfields on Luzon and the Manila Bay areas for two full days on 5 and 6 November. Fourteen different fields were hit, the largest concentrations of enemy aircraft being found at Mabalacat, Clark, and Lipa p254 fields. A total of 729 enemy aircraft were destroyed in the two‑day attack. Damage to shipping in Manila Harbor was also extensive. The heavy cruiser Nachi was sunk leaving the harbor, and a Natori-class cruiser, several large and medium cargo ships, and seven destroyers were damaged. As a result of these strikes there was an immediate improvement in the air situation over Leyte.
From 7 to 11 November the task force retired from the area to fuel and reorganize. Task Groups 38.1 and 38.3 fueled and 38.4 relieved 38.2 which retired to Ulithi. The Wasp with a two‑destroyer escort proceeded to Guam to pick up a replacement air group.
Japanese efforts to reinforce their Leyte garrison continued in spite of the decreased effectiveness of their air power in the protection of convoys. On 11 November, Task Force 38, now operating under the tactical command of Rear Admiral (later Vice Admiral) F. C. Sherman, caught and virtually eliminated an enemy convoy of 3 large and 1 medium transport, 5 destroyers, and 1 destroyer escort. The attacking planes sank the entire convoy (with the exception of one destroyer) just as it entered Ormoc Bay.
Strikes on Luzon were made in the next two days. On 14 November, Vice Admiral McCain resumed command, and the task force, now consisting of two groups, renewed attacks on targets in the Manila Bay area. Much shipping destruction was accomplished, and the installations on Manila docks and at Cavite Navy Yard were given a good going over.
After fueling at sea and being joined by Task Group 38.2, our forces again attacked the Luzon-Mindoro area on 19 November but, except for the destruction of a hundred enemy planes, good targets were lacking and further strikes did not appear advisable. The force withdrew from the area, Task Group 38.1 joining 38.4 in Ulithi. The two remaining groups remained at sea in order to continue support for the Leyte operation as the need arose.
On 25 November these two groups again launched strikes on the Luzon area seeking to destroy crippled enemy combatant ships and to damage further the reinforcement pipe line to Leyte. One heavy cruiser, the Kumano, was found and destroyed along with other important shipping, and many other components of the enemy's merchant and transport strength were damaged.
During this period of operations, the suicide tactics of the Japanese pilots were successful in damaging several ships. On 5 November, a suicide bomber crashed the signal bridge of the Lexington impairing her battle efficiency only slightly but causing relatively high personnel p255 casualties. As a result she was routed to Ulithi for repairs. On 25 November, a well executed and deceptive attack developed shortly after noon which resulted in heavy damage to ships of 38.2 and some damage to 38.3. The Hancock caught fire from the debris of a suicide plane which was exploded by antiaircraft fire just above her deck. The Intrepid's flight deck was pierced by a crashing plane which started a serious fire, and shortly afterward she was hit a second time. The Cabot also took a hit. A second plane crashed close aboard and the exploding bomb caused additional damage. The Essex received only superficial damage from a hit by a suicide diver.
Jap suicide plane — a Zeke — dives for the deck of a CVE as a crewman scrambles for safety.
A split second before the crash. Will he hit?
The crash. Actually, he missed and exploded on impact with the water, showering the flight deck with water and debris.
Crewmen hurry back on deck to clean up the wreckage and resume normal operations.
A Jap Kamikaze that missed. The plane, a two-engine patrol bomber called a Frances, is passing over the deck of a CVE.
A Kamikaze that hit. Burning planes and damage control parties on the bow of an American carrier.
During the period 3‑27 November, which was the closing period of operations in direct support of Leyte-Samar operations, planes of Task Force 38 made 6,062 sorties of which 4,198 were strikes. During this period 54 enemy warships, totaling 140,600 tons, had been sunk, more than three times that tonnage damaged; and 768 enemy aircraft had been destroyed. The fast carrier force had beaten down the Japanese effort to maintain air supremacy over the Philippines and had crushed enemy attempts to reinforce the troops opposing our occupation of Leyte.
By the end of November our troops controlled all of Leyte except for the area around Ormoc Bay, at which point the Japanese, aided by the reinforcements which they put ashore in spite of air attacks, were offering strong resistance. Land-based air, which at the beginning of the month had consisted of only two squadrons of day fighters and one squadron of night fighters, had been reinforced so that by the end of the month the Army had nearly three day fighter groups, two night fighter squadrons, a light bomber group, and a photographic unit operating from airfields on Leyte. Navy units also operating in this area were three VPB (patrol bombing) squadrons, a Liberator (PB4Y) squadron and a Ventura (PV) squadron. Heavy rains and enemy air raids had handicapped the preparation of airstrips on Leyte, but in spite of these, airfields had been completed in the Tacloban, Burauen, and Dulag areas. Land-based air made 2,640 sorties against enemy targets during the month, most of which were directed against air strength and shipping in the Visayans area and the enemy reinforcement pipe line to Ormoc Bay. Toward the latter part of the month, the CVE's of Carrier Division 29 (later relieved by Carrier Division 27) operated in the area •a hundred miles east of Leyte Gulf providing combat air and anti-submarine patrols for the convoys proceeding in and out of Leyte.
Our land-based air offensive against Leyte targets during December p256 was flown entirely by fighters and fighter-bombers. Marine Corsairs of Squadrons 211, 218, and 313 (Marine Air Group 12) were added early in the month to the army P‑38's, P‑40's and P‑47's. Interdiction of the Japanese supply route to Ormoc resulted in the destruction of 2 destroyers, 4 destroyer escorts, 14 supply and personnel transports of various sizes, 3 oilers, and 14 coastal vessels and luggers. The airfields in the Visayan area and on southern Luzon were pounded steadily by the army, navy, and marine fighters, and by bombers from Leyte, accounting for some 145 enemy planes destroyed on the ground and 150 in the air. The ground action for the occupation of Leyte was completed successfully on 20 December.
In order to establish air bases within supporting distance of future operations on Luzon, General MacArthur had determined on the occupation of Mindoro early in December. The establishment of a beachhead on this island required that the landing force approach from Leyte through enemy controlled water of the Mindanao and Sulu seas, and near the islands still under Japanese control. Due to the delays in the development of air facilities on Leyte, this venture was delayed until 15 December.
Air support for the occupation was provided by Third Fleet forces with Task Force 38, which had the responsibility for the neutralization of the hundred airfields on Luzon, and the Seventh Fleet forces which provided cover for the transports and attack groups during passage through the Visayan area, as well as direct support of the landings. The Heavy Covering and Carrier Group (77.12), under command of Rear Admiral T. D. Ruddock, Jr., consisted of 3 old battleships, three light cruisers, 6 CVE's and 18 destroyers. This combination set up here for the first time, paralleled the organization of the fast carrier task force and provided for the protection of the force with the gun power of the battleships and cruisers against surface raiding forces and heavy antiaircraft fire power and air cover against air attack. Further protection for the force was provided by land-based air, particularly at dusk each day.
Considerable enemy air opposition developed during the passage to the beaches. The light cruiser Nashville was hit by a suicide plane on the afternoon of 13 December while passing between Negros and Mindanao and forced to retire to Leyte Gulf. Later the same day the p257 destroyer Haraden was also hit. Eleven enemy aircraft were shot down during this attack by combat air patrols and antiaircraft fire.
Opposition on the beaches was negligible. Troops were landed on schedule with no casualties. Twenty‑two enemy planes were destroyed during the unloading phase of the landings on 15 December which resulted in damage to two LST's, one destroyer, and slight damage from near misses to the CVE Marcus Island. Immediate construction of airfields was undertaken and, by 22 December, San Jose Field was operational for army fighters and bombers.
By far the most amazing performance in connection with the landings on Mindoro was displayed by Task Force 38. Now reorganized and consolidated into three task groups for more adequate protection against suicide attacks, the task force sortied from Ulithi, and after training exercises at sea began a high-speed run on Luzon on 13 December. Armed with a completely new set of tactics — designated by such colorful names as Tomcat, Zipper, Jack Patrol, Moosetrap, and others — designed to provide more adequate protection against suicide attacks, the task force proceeded to spread an air blanket over the airfields of Luzon. So effective was this blanket that not one navy plane was lost as a result of air combat with enemy aircraft during the three‑day period it was spread.
The air blanket, one of the new tactics devised for the Philippines, was essentially a method of maintaining combat air patrols over enemy airfields in sufficient strength throughout the day and night to prevent the take‑off or landing of any enemy aircraft. It began with a strong fighter sweep to clear the sky of enemy fighters. Additional waves of fighters were then sent in to relieve those on station so that a continuous patrol was kept over the field. Once the enemy air power was beaten down only small patrols were needed to keep the fields immobilized, and all remaining aircraft were utilized in attacking ground and shipping targets.
The problem was not simple. There were from ninety to a hundred enemy airfields in the area assigned to the Third Fleet forces. The entire island of Luzon was allotted by areas to the three task groups and further divided within the task groups into assignments for individual carriers and air groups. This insured the complete coverage of all fields, which was essential to the success of the mission.
So successful was this air blanket that, with the exception of one flight of enemy aircraft which took off before the first strike on 14 December, no Luzon-based aircraft attacked the Mindoro-bound convoys, p258 no enemy air attacks on Task Force 38 penetrated the defensive patrols, and none of the ships of Task Force 38 was damaged.
With enemy air power effectively pinned down, the remainder of the striking groups roamed up and down the coast in search of shipping and ground targets. During the three‑day period, 62 enemy planes were destroyed in the air and 208 on the ground, 16 ships (exclusive of luggers and barges) were sunk, and 37 were damaged. In addition, gas and fuel dumps, ammunition dumps, warehouses, hangars and buildings were destroyed, truck convoys and locomotives were strafed and other serious damage inflicted on enemy ground installations.
At the conclusion of the strikes on 16 December, Task Force 38 began its withdrawal toward a fueling rendezvous to the eastward, intending to return to Luzon on the nineteenth for a continuation of the tactics just completed. Plans were nullified, however, by an unusually severe typhoon which formed near the force on 18 December.
As a result of the high-speed approach to the Luzon area and the continuous operations for the following three days, many destroyers were low on fuel, and it was imperative that fueling operations be carried out. Efforts were made on 17 December in spite of increasingly heavy weather, but without much success. A different rendezvous was designated for the following date at a point which was estimated to be south of the track of the typhoon, but a change in the course of the storm placed some of the units of the force directly in its path. The average strength of the wind ranged from 50 to 75 knots, with gusts as high as 120 knots. Mountainous and confused seas built up. Some of the destroyers found themselves unable to change course by any combination of engines and rudder, and experienced rolls in excess of 70 degrees. Those with considerable free liquid surface in their tanks and bilges, as a result of being low on fuel, exceeded the stability range. As a result, the Hull, Spence, and Monaghan capsized, and at least two others, the Dewey and Aylwin, had narrow escapes from the same fate. The lighter aircraft carriers also suffered considerably. A total of 146 airplanes were lost, including 8 blown overboard from the battleships and 11 from the cruisers. Fires broke out on the Monterey, Cowpens, and San Jacinto. These vessels also received considerable structural damage to their hangar decks from planes and other material adrift.
After the storm had subsided on 19 December, fueling was completed, and after spending the twentieth and twenty-first sweeping the area in search of survivors from the lost destroyers, the force retired to Ulithi p259 for repairs and replenishment in preparation for the support of landings at Lingayen Gulf.
The operation for the invasion of Luzon was a natural sequence to the landings on Leyte and Mindoro. It was by far the largest operation carried out in the Pacific war to this date and involved co‑operation between forces not under the same command to a greater degree than had been the case in most previous operations. The Seventh Fleet, which was attached to the Southwest Pacific command, was expected to provide air‑surface cover and support and, along with Pacific Fleet submarines, submarine reconnaissance and interdiction of sea routes from Singapore and the empire. The Fourteenth and Twentieth Army Air forces undertook to attack enemy bases in China, Formosa, and Japan, while navy search planes from the southwest and central Pacific and army planes from China scoured all possible approaches. So far as the Japanese installations in the Philippines were concerned they were to be struck by planes of the Southwest Pacific Force, which included army, navy, and marine units, and by the aircraft of Task Force 38. All these air operations were to be co‑ordinated with amphibious landings in Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945 under the control of General MacArthur.
Task Force 38, which had been in almost continuous operation since the opening of the Philippines campaign on 10 October, had undergone minor repairs at Ulithi and had made preparations for another extensive period of operation. The task force, still under the command of Vice Admiral J. S. McCain, operating as a part of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet, was now organized into three carrier task groups, one night carrier task group, and a service group. The 3 carrier task groups were made up of 7 large and 4 light carriers, 6 battleships, 7 heavy and 6 light cruisers and 48 destroyers; the night carrier group was composed of 1 large and 1 light carrier and 6 destroyers; and the service group of 7 CVE's, 9 destroyers, 18 destroyer escorts and 25 oilers. The fighter plane complement of the large carriers had been increased considerably, and for the first time since prewar training cruises, two marine fighter squadrons (VMF 124 and 213), equipped with F4U's (Corsairs), were operating from one of the carriers of the fast carrier task force.
After training exercises and fueling en route, the task force arrived p260 in launching position on 3 January to begin the operation for the invasion of Luzon. Its mission was the destruction of enemy aircraft on Formosa. With the attacks staged on 3 and 4 January in this area, the task force experienced the first of an almost continuous spell of bad weather that was to hamper its operations during the entire month of January. A considerable number of pilots on the first strike could not make their way through the heavy front that existed between the task force and Formosa and were forced to return to the carriers. During the two days, air opposition was light at the target and practically nonexistent over force. Efforts to "blanket" the target with continuous air patrols were unsuccessful and perhaps unnecessary because of the heavy weather.
Plane sorties totaled 1,595 during this attack, of which approximately half were defensive flights over the force. Thirty enemy planes were shot down, 81 destroyed on the ground, 36 ships of varying sizes were sunk, and 43 damaged. Adverse weather conditions all contributed to the comparatively high aircraft losses suffered in the attack, which were 18 lost in combat and 14 lost operationally.
After a fueling operation, the attention of the task force, in response to a request from ComSeventhFleet, was switched to the airfields of Luzon. Here, also, flying conditions were found to be "from undesirable to bad." Air opposition was light, only 14 enemy planes being destroyed in the air and 18 on the ground. Good targets were reported in the Clark Field area, and afternoon strikes were diverted to this region. Enemy aircraft were difficult to locate, being widely dispersed and thoroughly camouflaged; however, results were satisfactory, 75 being destroyed on the ground and 4 shot down in the air. Shipping attacks resulted in the sinking of 4 medium cargo ships, 2 medium oilers, and numerous smaller craft.
On 9 January, the day set for the landings at Lingayen Gulf, the task force returned to Formosa to support the landings by attacking the bases from which fields on Luzon would be reinforced. Heavy frontal weather continued to hamper flight, but the force was successful in reaching Formosa and the Pescadores Island targets with all but a few of the scheduled strikes. Considering these conditions, results of the attack were good. Nine ships were sunk, including 3 destroyer escorts and 2 large oilers, no enemy planes approached the task force, and no heavy air opposition developed to the landings at Lingayen Gulf.
While Task Force 38 met relatively light opposition, which was possibly due to adverse weather conditions, the Seventh Fleet forces p261 approaching Luzon for the amphibious landings were not so fortunate.
The invasion armada proceeded to the objective in four separate groups, divided according to the speed of the ships and the scheduled time of arrival. All groups were escorted by CVE's of Task Group 77.4 under Rear Admiral C. T. Durgin. The track followed by each of the groups was the same. From Leyte Gulf the route passed through Surigao Strait and the Mindanao Sea, northward through the Sulu Sea, through Mindoro Strait into the South China Sea, thence northward off the west coast of Luzon to Lingayen Gulf.
The first group, consisting of the Minesweeper and Hydrographic Group plus oilers, ammunition ships, salvage tugs, and screen, left Leyte on 2 January and completed its sortie successfully on 6 January. Minor damage to four ships of the group resulted from enemy suicide attacks which were experienced each day except 4 January.
The Bombardment and Fire Support Group and the Escort Carrier Group, (12 CVE's) comprising the second group, sortied Leyte Gulf on 3 January and met serious enemy air opposition. On 4 January the Ommaney Bay (CVE), with its planes on deck fully gassed and armed, was crashed by an undetected suicide plane. Fires and explosions broke out which could not be controlled and the ship had to be abandoned and sunk. The Lunga Point narrowly escaped a similar fate.
Shortly after leaving Mindoro Strait on the following day, this group was the object of three enemy raids. Combat air patrols shot down 18 enemy aircraft during the day and antiaircraft fire destroyed 5 suiciders, but 7 others succeeded in crashing ships. The heavy cruiser Louisville and a destroyer in the van group, and the Australian heavy cruiser Australia, 2 CVE's, Manila Bay and Savo Island, and a destroyer and destroyer escort in the rear group, were hit. All ships were able to proceed with their groups, arriving off Lingayen Gulf on 6 January without further incident.
The third and largest group, composed of the cruisers and destroyers of the Close Covering Group, the transports and landing craft of the San Fabian Attack Force and two CVE's of This Unit 77.4.3, left Leyte on the evening of 4 January. First contact with the enemy was on 5 January when a midget Jap sub fired two torpedoes at the light cruiser Boise. The submarine was damaged by a plane on anti-submarine patrol and then was rammed and probably sunk by a destroyer of the screen.
The only determined air attack on this group developed early in the morning of 8 January. Although combat air patrol planes shot down six and damaged several of the attacking planes, a suicide crash against the p262 side of the Kadashan Bay (CVE) tore a •15‑foot hole at the water line, and the transport Callaway was also hit. Both ships continued with the formation, but the Marcus Island (CVE) had to land and service Kadashan Bay planes until repairs could be effected.
The fourth and last group, containing the transports and landing craft of the Lingayen Attack Force and two CVE's left Leyte Gulf on the morning of 6 January. It was attacked by six enemy planes, one of which dived suddenly on the Kitkun Bay (CVE) striking a glancing blow on the port side. Resulting fires were brought under control, but serious underwater damage caused flooding in the entire and fire rooms. She was taken under tow but was later able to proceed under her own power at ten knots. Four of the attacking planes were shot down by combat air patrols.
During the approach of the third and fourth groups, the first two conducted preliminary operations in Lingayen Gulf. The Escort Carrier Group (77.4) operating northwest of Leyte Gulf provided combat air and anti-submarine patrols over the ships of the force and carried out attack, reconnaissance, and photographic missions on Lingayen land targets according to plan. In spite of the loss of the Ommaney Bay and damage to the Manila Bay, which rendered it incapable of full flight operations, CVE aircraft flew a total of 788 sorties during the three days immediately preceding S‑day.
Serious enemy attacks against the ships in Lingayen Gulf developed on 6 January. By wide dispersal and good camouflage the enemy had succeeded in avoiding the complete destruction of his aircraft, and by taking full advantage of the large land masses surrounding the Gulf other local conditions which made radar detection almost impossible, the Japanese succeeded in sinking and damaging many ships during this preliminary phase. Although the CVE air groups struggled valiantly to intercept the attacking aircraft and shot down large numbers of them, many reached their targets. In three attacks on 6 January, 16 ships were victims of Japanese suicide tactics. Only one of these, a minesweeper, was sunk, but 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1 fast transport, and 1 minesweeper were seriously damaged, and 2 cruisers, 4 destroyers, 1 seaplane tender, and 1 minesweeper received minor damage. More than 50 enemy suicide planes attacked the ships in Lingayen Gulf on this day.
It was apparent from this sudden show of enemy air strength that defensive combat air patrols were not adequate to cope with the situation and that offensive measures were required. Land-based air, due to weather and other conditions, had been unable to provide this p263 offensive as had been planned, and the brunt of the load was borne by the CVE's. The escort carriers and their squadrons performed brilliantly and surpassed themselves in defense of our forces, but lacked the number of planes and type of equipment which the maintenance of both local defensive and distant offensive patrols required. In response to a request for help from Commander, Seventh Fleet, Commander, Third Fleet, directed Task Force 38 to cancel scheduled strikes on Formosa to attack the airfields of Luzon, particularly those in the Lingayen area. As a result of these strikes (already related), the intensity of enemy air attacks diminished sharply on and after 7 January.
Following heavy bombardments by the Surface and Air Support groups on S‑Day, as well as on the three preceding days, landings on the Lingayen and San Fabian beaches were made on schedule against negligible enemy opposition. Smoke screens over the ships in the transport areas and combat air patrols by planes from the CVE's prevented enemy air from interfering with the assault and unloading operations.
At dusk on 10 January the battleships and cruisers of the Bombardment and Support groups were combined with the escort carrier group to form the Lingayen Defense Force under the command of Vice Admiral Oldendorf, as a measure against surprise interference with our invasion by units of the Japanese Fleet. The majority of the escort carriers maintained a covering position to the northwest, while the remainder protected the convoy routes approaching Lingayen Gulf. Tender-based seaplanes conducted barrier patrols and night searches from Lingayen Gulf beginning on the night of S‑Day.
Heavy, medium and fighter bombers of the Far Eastern Air Force concentrated attacks on enemy lines of communication and pounded enemy airfields in the central plains of Luzon. In support of the invasion, 2,238 tons of bombs were dropped on Luzon during the month of January, while islands in the central Philippines received another 600 tons. During the first half of the month, land-based air destroyed or damaged 79 locomotives (50 per cent of the prewar total), 456 railway cars (25 per cent of the prewar total), 468 motorcars, 67 staff cars, 18 tanks, 5 armored cars, 10 fieldpieces, and 3 caissons, in addition to bombing shipping, bridges, and important highways.
The penetration of the South China Sea by our fast carrier task force was an event of outstanding significance. It was the first challenge to p264 Japanese control of these waters since the early days of the war. In this action the task force roamed the sea, sweeping everything before it and leaving destruction in its wake.
The operation was not without its dangers. The South China Sea is a body of water •approximately 600 miles by 1,200 miles long, restricted on all sides by large land masses which at that time were still controlled by the enemy. It was estimated that approximately one thousand planes were based in the area, most of which were Japanese army aircraft. The large number of enemy air bases surrounding the sea would be brought within striking range of our carrier planes by this sortie, but by coming within range a position would be reached at which the enemy could also attack the force. In addition, it was anticipated that the weather would be poor for flight operations.
On the night of 9‑10 January, after striking Formosa during the day, the Third Fleet forces made a high-speed passage through Luzon Strait, followed by the fast fleet oilers and CVE's which passed though Balintang Channel to the south. From that night until the morning of the twelfth, the force proceeded on a southwesterly course, fueling on the way. Long-range searches were kept in the air for the protection of the force and the detection of enemy naval or merchant shipping at sea. Task Group 38.2, which completed fueling before the other task groups, left the force on the eleventh and proceeded at high speed toward the launching point off the Indo-China coast, the other groups joining later.
Strikes, launched on 12 January over •420 miles of the Indo-China coast reaching as far as Saigon, produced devastating results in spite of adverse weather. Forty ships were sunk, including the dismantled French cruiser Lamotte-Piquet, the Japanese cruiser Kashii, 9 destroyer escorts, 4 patrol craft, 4 large oilers, and 3 large freighters. Convoys caught at sea were entirely wiped out and shipping found in harbors was bombed and strafed with excellent results. Total tonnage sunk on this day was 127,000, and an additional 22 ships, totaling 70,000 tons, were damaged. An aerial torpedo demolished the long dock at Camranh Bay, oil tanks and planes at Saigon were seriously damaged, and buildings, warehouses, and hangars all along the coast were fired and damaged. Successful blanketing of airfields resulted in little enemy air opposition. Fourteen enemy planes were shot down and ninety-seven destroyed on the ground. The over‑all results of the day's work were among the best of the war to that time.
On completion of the attacks, the force retired to the northeast at p265 high speed to escape a typhoon to the south. Heavy seas made fueling difficult and two full days were required for its completion. On 15 January, from a position •250 miles from Hong Kong and •160 miles from Formosa, strikes were launched at these targets and at points along the near‑by China coast. Unfavorable flying weather caused the discontinuance of strikes by noon, but a fighter blanket was maintained over the airfields of Formosa.
The attacks were resumed the next day under continuing bad weather. The main assault was launched against Hong Kong, an area particularly rich in shipping and harbor targets. The six strikes launched against this target met the most intense antiaircraft fire ever experienced in carrier operations, one report describing it as varying "from intense to unbelievable." Enemy fire control and accuracy were effective, particularly on the first strike in which one out of every eight attacking planes was lost. In the two‑day period, 30 planes were lost in combat and 31 in operations. Enemy aircraft destroyed amounted to 26 in the air and 21 on the ground, making this one of the few instances of the war in which our losses exceeded those of the enemy. However, damage to enemy installations had been heavy in spite of enemy opposition and unfavorable weather, 12 ships, exclusive of luggers and barges, being sunk, and 27 damaged.
Fueling was again delayed by inclement weather, and it was not until 19 January that the operation was completed. Task Force 38, which the Japanese broadcasts described as "bottled up in the South China Sea," passed through Balintang Channel north of Luzon and into the Pacific, without enemy opposition, on the night of 20 January. By midnight the force had completed passage and was proceeding to a position from which it would attack Formosa the next day.
Aided by the first good flying weather of the month, attacks on shipping were pressed home with vigor. The first strike was launched before sunrise, and others followed regularly throughout the day. More than a thousand sorties were flown. Enemy air opposition was light over Formosa but the day's total of 104 planes destroyed on the ground was the highest achieved by the task force during the month of January. Nine large and medium oilers and freighters, totaling 53,000 tons, were sunk and 11 other ships were damaged.
About noon, Task Force 38 was under air attack for the first time since November. While the force was in a position •approximately a hundred miles east of the southern coast of Formosa, a bogey contact was reported but not confirmed.
p266 Fighters, sent out on an intercepting course, did not make contact. Many friendly planes were returning to the force at the time, and identification was difficult. Suddenly a single-engined plane glided out of the sun and dropped two small bombs, one of which hit the Langley (CVE) on the forward part of the flight deck. Within two minutes another enemy plane, also undetected until the last minute, dove out of the clouds and crashed through the Ticonderoga's (CV) flight deck starting large fires among the planes on the hangar deck below. Eight Cowpens fighters intercepted 18 enemy fighters approaching the force from northern Luzon and destroyed 14 of them, saving the force from another attack. At the same time, however, planes approaching from the opposite direction were successful in evading destruction by intercepting fighters and without warning a second plane crashed the island structure of the Ticonderoga, adding to her damage. Later in the afternoon, the destroyer Maddox, on picket duty •thirty-five miles toward Formosa, was damaged by a surprise attack.
Although this ended the success of the enemy for the day, it was not the end of damage to our ships. Engaged in recovering aircraft returning from strikes, the Hancock (CV) was seriously damaged by a 500‑pound bomb which dropped and exploded on the flight deck from the bomb bay of a torpedo plane which had just completed a landing.
The three carriers were successful in controlling the fires and the Langley and Hancock were able to resume the recovery of aircraft in a few hours. The Ticonderoga and Maddox were unable to continue operations, however, and withdrew to Ulithi.
The force continued operating in the Formosa area, launching strikes on the islands in the Nansei Shotos on the following day. Although attacks were carried out against shipping and aircraft, resulting in the sinking of 4 medium and 25 small cargo vessels and the destruction of 28 planes on the ground, the primary objective was photographic coverage of the islands in anticipation of subsequent landings. Forty-seven photographic sorties succeeded in obtaining an 80 per cent coverage of the priority areas. In one case, a photographic team of four planes flying abreast covered an airstrip in one pass, saving repeated individual runs over a heavily defended area.
After midnight, having completed almost a full month at sea largely in waters hitherto considered to be controlled by the Japanese, Task Force 38 retired to Ulithi to make preparations for the impending conquest of Iwo Jima.
The success of the Third Fleet forces in support of the invasion of p267 the Philippines, climaxed by their sortie into the South China Sea, was acclaimed by Fleet Admiral C. W. Nimitz, Commander-in‑Chief, U. S. Pacific Fleet, as one which "can not be measured alone in the tangible damage inflicted on Japanese ships, planes and shore installations, substantial as that was. Like the first attack on Truk in February 1943, and the first assault on large masses in the Philippines in September 1944, the penetration beyond the islands off the Asiatic mainland to strike at China coast targets had considerable strategic significance. From this time onward, no area outside of the immediate Japanese homeland and northern China was safe from assault by our carrier force, and even Japan itself was to feel the weight of carrier raids during the next month. Third Fleet forces had traversed •3,800 miles during the ten days in the China Sea without battle damage; and the weakness of enemy air reaction had shown the entire region to be wide open for future attack."
A comparison of matériel losses suffered by our forces and those inflicted on the Japanese during the period following the Japanese defeat in the Battle for Leyte Gulf up to the end of January, 1945, indicates the overwhelming superiority of Task Force 38.
Japanese Ships Sunk
Japanese Ships Damaged
U. S. Ships Sunk
U. S. Ships Damaged
(5 CV, 2 CVL,
U. S. Aircraft Lost:
While the fast carrier task force was operating in the South China Sea, the invasion of Luzon proceeded satisfactorily. Only slight opposition p268 was met in the advance through the central plains, but increasing resistance developed on the left flank in the direction of the approaches to the mountain passes to northern Luzon. Guerrilla forces conducted widespread demolition and sabotage, contributing materially throughout the campaign.
Land-based air moved into the Lingayen area on 12 January, operating from the newly acquired and reconditioned air base at Lingayen. These forces relieved the escort carriers of their responsibility for direct support missions on 17 January, the date on which the Lingayen Defense Force was dissolved. Eight CVE's, with screen, departed from the area to Ulithi to prepare for the invasion of Iwo Jima. The six CVE's remaining were re‑formed under Rear Admiral F. B. Stump and departed for Mindoro, to support minor amphibious landings on 29 and 30 January in the Manila Bay area.
The withdrawal of the CVE's ended the support of the Philippine campaign by carrier-based aircraft. Control of the air had been wrested from the Japanese and the strength of land-based air was now such that carrier support was no longer needed.
On the date of the dissolution of the Lingayen Defense Force (17 January) responsibility for the direct support of ground operations and the protection of convoys passed to the Commander, Allied Air Forces. The air forces under his command included those of the army Far Eastern Air Force, the Marine Corps First Marine Air Wing, and the navy patrol squadrons of the 10th and 17th fleet air wings.
Close support missions, pre‑invasion bombings, cover for army landings, fighter sweeps, combat air patrols, and reconnaissance missions were flown by these forces in support of the advancing ground troops. Interdiction of the enemy's rear carried out by land-based air included the destruction of ammunition and fuel dumps, storage and supply depots, buildings, warehouses, and barracks, besides attacks on important highways, bridges and enemy troop movements.
Units followed the progress of the ground occupation, shifting from Luzon, Leyte, and Mindoro, through the Visayans and into Mindanao, eventually extending to include support of the invasion of the islands of the Sulu Archipelago.
The success to airmen of the First Marine Wing in supporting ground operations was expressed by Major General V. D. Mudge, commander of the 1st Cavalry, U. S. Army, as follows: "The Marine dive bombers of the First Wing have kept the enemy on the run. They have kept him underground and have enabled our troops to move up with p269 fewer casualties and with greater speed. I cannot say enough in praise of these men of the dive bombers, and I am commending them through proper channels for the job they have done in giving my men close ground support in this operation."
The same high opinion of the work of the Marines was held by the men of the 41st Infantry Division, who presented a plaque to the Marine Air Group commemorating the efficiency and effectiveness of the work achieved. The letter accompanying the plaque stated:
It is the desire of the Commanding General of the 41st Infantry Division to present this plaque to the officers and men of the Marine Air Group at Zamboanga in appreciation of their outstanding performances in support of the operations at Zamboanga, Mindanao. The readiness of the Marine Air Group to engage in any mission required of them, their skill and courage as airmen and their splendid spirit of coöperation in aiding ground troops have given this division the most effective air support yet received in any of its operations. The effectiveness and accuracy of the support given by this Group proved a great factor in reducing casualties within the Division. The work and coöperation of this Group had given the officers and men of the 41st Infantry Division the highest regard and respect for their courage and ability.
United States troops entered Manila on 26 January, and its fall was formally announced by General Douglas MacArthur on 6 February 1945. It required, however, nearly a month of hard fighting to free the city of the Japanese; this was accomplished on 24 February. The campaign progressed southward, and on 21 April General MacArthur announced that U. S. and Filipino troops were in control of all major and most of the smaller islands of the Visayans. Landings were made on Mindanao in the Davao area on 17 April, and on 4 May the city of Davao was captured. Although the recapture of the Philippines was assured, strong but futile resistance by the Japanese continued in isolated sections of the islands on Luzon and Mindanao until the Japanese surrender on 15 August.
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