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Shortly before dawn on October 23, I received a dispatch from a Seventh Fleet picket submarine, the Darter: Many ships including 3 probable BBS [battleships] 08‑28 N 116‑30 E course 040 speed 18 × chasing. This position is near the southwestern tip of the Philippine group, and the course is toward Coron Bay and Manila. The main strength of the Japanese Fleet was based, we knew, at Singapore and Brunei, in Borneo. If it stayed holed up there, we planned to go down and dig it out. On the twenty-second, however, our submarines and patrol planes had reported that enemy units were restless, and the Darter's dispatch was proof that a major movement was afoot.
Certain details of fleet organization are essential to an understanding of the tremendous battle that now loomed. The key point is that we had two fleets in Philippine waters under separate commands: my Third Fleet was under command of Admiral Nimitz; Tom Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet was under command of General MacArthur. If we had been under the same command, with a single system of operational control and intelligence, the Battle for Leyte Gulf might have been fought differently to a different result. It is folly to cry over spilled milk, but it is wisdom to observe the cause, for future avoidance. When blood has been spilled, the obligation becomes vital. In my opinion, it is vital for the Navy never to expose itself again to the perils of a divided command in the same area.
The Third and Seventh Fleets also differed in functions and weapons. The Seventh Fleet was defensive; having convoyed MacArthur's p211 transports to Leyte, it stood by to protect them with its cruisers, destroyers, old battleships, and little escort carriers. The Third Fleet was offensive; it prowled the ocean, striking at will with its new battleships and fast carriers. These powerful units were concentrated in Pete Mitscher's Task Force 38 which was made up of four task groups, commanded by Vice Adm. Slew McCain and Rear Adms. Gerald F. Bogan, Ted Sherman, and Ralph E. Davison. The task groups were not uniform, but they averaged a total of twenty-third ships, divided approximately as follows — two large carriers, two light carriers, and two new battleships, with a screen of three cruisers and fourteen destroyers. My flagship, the New Jersey, was in Bogan's group; Mitscher's flagship, the Lexington, was in Sherman's.
October 1944: Battle of Leyte Gulf
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The morning of October 23 found McCain's group on its way to Ulithi for rest and replenishment. The other three were standing eastward of the Philippines, awaiting their turn to retire, and meanwhile preparing further strikes in support of MacArthur. On the basis of the Darter's report, I ordered them to close the islands and to launch search teams next morning in a fan that would cover the western sea approaches for the entire length of the chain. Experience had taught us that if we interfered with a Jap plan before it matured, we stood a good chance of disrupting it. The Jap mind is inelastic; it cannot adapt itself to an altered situation.
The three task groups reached their stations that night — Sherman, off the Polillo Islands; •140 miles southeast of him, Bogan, off San Bernardino Strait; •120 miles southeast of Bogan, Davison, off Surigao Strait. Their search teams flew out at daybreak on the twenty-fourth. At 0820, one of Bogan's teams reported contact with five battleships, nine cruisers, and thirteen destroyers south of Mindoro Island, course 050, speed 10 to 12 knots. (This force, the Central Force, was the same that had been dimly sighted by the Darter; she and a sister sub, the Dace, had already sunk two of its heavy cruisers and damaged a third.)
My log summarizes the events of the next few minutes:
At 0822, I rebroadcast Bogan's report at the top of my radio voice.
At 0827, I ordered Sherman and Davison to close on Bogan at their best speed.
p214 At 0837, I ordered all task groups by TBS, "Strike! Repeat: Strike! Good luck!"
And at 0846, I ordered McCain to reverse course and prepare to fuel at sea. If the battle developed as I expected, we would need him.
Our planes hit the Central Force again and again through the day and reported sinking the battleship Musashi (Japan's newest and largest), three more cruisers, and a destroyer, and inflicting severe damage on many other units. These seemed to mill around aimlessly, then withdrew to the west, then turned east again, as if they had suddenly received a do‑or‑die command from Hirohito himself. (A year later I learned that our guess was close. Vice Admiral Kurita, commanding the Central Force, had strongly considered retiring, but had received this dispatch from Admiral Toyoda, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet: With confidence in heavenly guidance, the entire force will attack.)
That they might attempt to transit San Bernardino Strait, despite their fearful mauling, was a possibility I had to recognize. Accordingly, at 1512 I sent a preparatory dispatch to all task-force commanders in the Third Fleet and all task-group commanders in TF 38, designating four of their fast battleships (including the New Jersey), with two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and fourteen destroyers, and stating that these ships will be formed as TF 34 under VADM [Willis A.] Lee, commander battle line × TF 38 will engage decisively at long ranges.
Official USN Photo
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Task force and task group commanders of the Third Fleet, and Ray Spruance, Commander Fifth Fleet
This dispatch, which played a critical part in next day's battle, I intended merely as warning to the ships concerned that if a surface engagement offered, I would detach them from TF 38, form them into TF 34, and send them ahead as a battle line. It was definitely not an executive dispatch, but a battle plan, and was so marked. To make certain that none of my subordinate commanders misconstrued it, I told them later by TBS, "If the enemy sorties [through San Bernardino], TF 34 will be formed when directed by me."
Meanwhile, at 0943, we had intercepted a message from one of Davison's search teams, reporting that it had sighted the enemy's Southern Force — two old battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and eight destroyers, southwest of Negros Island, course 060, speed 15 knots — and had scored several damaging hits p215 with bombs and rockets. We did not send a strike against this comparatively weak force for two reasons: it was headed for Surigao Strait, where Kinkaid was waiting with approximately three times its weight of metal — six old battleships, four heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and twenty‑six destroyers, plus thirty PT's; second, Davison's planes, the only ones able to reach it, were more urgently needed at the Central Force, now that Sherman's group was under violent attack by shore-based planes from Luzon. He shot down 110 of them, but they succeeded in bombing the light cruiser Princeton. The fires reached her magazines and fuel tanks, and late that afternoon he had to order her abandoned and sunk — the first fast carrier that the Navy had lost since the Hornet was torpedoed at the Battle of Santa Cruz two years before, almost to the day.
(The captain of the Princeton was Capt. William H. Buracker, who had been my Operations officer at the beginning of the war. He would have been detached in a few days, and his relief was already aboard — Capt. John M. Hoskins. The bomb that gave the Princeton her deathblow nearly gave Hoskins his; it mangled one foot so badly that the ship's medical officer, himself wounded, cut it off with a sheath knife. Hoskins was then put into a stretcher and carried through the flames to the fo'c'sle, but before letting himself be lowered to a whaleboat standing by, he smiled, saluted Bill Buracker, and asked, "Have I your permission to leave the ship, sir?")
(Later, fitted with an artificial foot, he requested command of the new Princeton and recommended himself as being "one foot ahead of the other applicants"; further, he said, he could beat them all turning out for general quarters, because he was already wearing a sock and a shoe. I am happy to say that Hoskins put the new Princeton in commission and is now a rear admiral.)
The discovery of the Southern Force buttressed my conviction that the Japs were committed to a supreme effort, but the final proof was still lacking — their carriers. Neither our submarines nor search planes had found them yet, but we were dead certain that they would appear; our only doubt was from what direction. Mitscher thought from the China Sea. My staff thought from Empire waters. I agreed with my staff and ordered a thorough search northward. While we waited for a report, Doug Moulton must have p216 pounded the chart fifty times, demanding, "Where the hell are they, those goddam carriers?" At 1730 our guess was proved correct. Sherman informed me, 3 carriers 2 light cruisers 3 destroyers 18‑32 N 125‑28 E course 270 speed 15.
This position, •200 miles east of Cape Engaño, the northeastern tip of Luzon, was too far for us to reach, even if dusk had not already fallen. But now we had all the pieces of the puzzle. When we put them together, we noticed that the three forces had a common factor: a speed of advance so leisurely — never more than 15 knots — that it implied a focus of time and place. The crippled Central Force's dogged second approach to San Bernardino, and the weak Southern Force's simultaneous approach to Surigao against overwhelming strength, were comprehensible only if they were under adamant orders to rendezvous with the carriers — that Northern Force — off Samar next day, the twenty-fifth, for a combined attack on the transports at Leyte.
We had no intention of standing by for a test of our theory. Our intention was to join battle as quickly as possible. Three battles offered. The Southern Force I could afford to ignore; it was well within Kinkaid's compass. The Central Force, according to our pilots, had suffered so much topside damage, that it could not win a decision; it, too, could be left to Kinkaid. (The pilots' reports proved dangerously optimistic, but we had no reason to discredit them at the time.) On the other hand, not only was the Northern Force fresh and undamaged, but its carriers gave it a scope several hundred miles wider than the others. Moreover, if we destroyed those carriers, our future operations need fear no threat from the sea.
We had chosen our antagonist. It remained only to choose the best way to meet him. Again I had three alternatives:
1. I could guard San Bernardino with my whole fleet and wait for the Northern Force to strike me. Rejected. It yielded to the enemy the double initiative of his carriers and his fields on Luzon and would allow him to use them unmolested.
2. I could guard San Bernardino with TF 34 while I struck the Northern Force with my carriers. Rejected. The enemy's potential surface and air strength forbade half-measures; if his shore-based planes joined his carrier planes, together they might inflict far more damage on my half-fleets separately than they could inflict on the fleet intact.
p217 3. I could leave San Bernardino unguarded and strike the Northern Force with my whole fleet. Accepted. It preserved my fleet's integrity, it left the initiative with me, and it promised the greatest possibility of surprise. Even if the Central Force meanwhile penetrated San Bernardino and headed for Leyte Gulf, it could hope only to harry the landing operation. It could not consolidate any advantage, because no transports accompanied it and no supply ships. It could merely hit and run.
My decision to strike the Northern Force was a hard one to make, but given the same circumstances and the same information as I had then, I would make it again.
I went into flag plot, put my finger on the Northern Force's charted position, •300 miles away, and said, "Here's where we're going. Mick, start them north."
The time was about 1950. Mick began to scramble a sheaf of dispatches: McCain to close us at his best speed; for Bogan and Davison, course 000 [due north] speed 25; Sherman to join us as we dashed by; for Kinkaid, Central Force heavily damaged according to strike reports × Am proceeding north with 3 groups to attack carrier force at dawn; for the light cruiser Independence, which was equipped with night fighters, At 2400 launch 5 planes to search sectors 320‑010 [roughly, from northward to north-by‑east] to •350 miles; finally, at 2330, for Mitscher, Slow down to 16 knots × Hold present course until 2400, then proceeded toward lat 16 long 127 [northeastward].
The purpose of this was to avoid overrunning the Northern Force's "daylight circle," the limit which it could reach by dawn from its last known position. If the enemy slipped past my left flank, between me and Luzon, he would have a free crack at the transports. If he slipped past my right flank, he would be able to shuttle-bomb me — fly from his carriers, attack me, continue on to his fields on Luzon for more bombs and fuel, and attack me again on the way back. I had to meet him head‑on, and I was trusting the Independence's snoopers to set my course.
They began to report at 0208: Contact posit 17‑10 N 125‑31 E × 5 ships 2 large 2 small 1 size unreported.
At 0214: Correction × 6 ships 3 large 3 small course 110 speed 15.
At 0220: Another group •40 miles astern of first.
p218 At 0235: Scouting group 6 large ships.
We had them!
Later sightings, in daylight, established the composition of the Northern Force as one large carrier, three light carriers, two hermaphrodite battleships with flight decks aft (a typical gimcrack Jap makeshift), three light cruisers, and at least eight destroyers.
I ordered TF 34 to form and take station •10 miles in advance, and my task‑group commanders to arm their first deckload strike at once, launch it at earliest dawn, and launch a second strike as soon afterward as possible. Our next few hours were the most anxious of all. The pilots and aircrewmen knew that a terrific carrier duel was facing them, and the ships' companies were sure that a big‑gun action would follow.
The first strike took off at 0630. An hour and a half passed without a word of news. . . . Two hours. . . . Two hours and a quarter. . . . God, what a wait it was! (Mick admitted later, "I chewed my fingernails down to my elbows.") Then, at 0850, a flash report reached me: One carrier sunk after tremendous explosion × 2 carriers 1 CL [light cruiser] hit badly other carrier untouched × Force course 150 speed 17.
We had already increased our speed to 25 knots. If the enemy held his course and speed, he would be under our guns before noon. I rubbed my hands at the prospect of blasting the cripples that our planes were setting up for us.
Now I come to the part of the narrative that I can hardly bring myself to write, so painfully does it rankle still. I can reconstruct it best from a sequence of dispatches in my war diary:
At 0648, I had received a dispatch from Kinkaid: Am now engaging enemy surface forces Surigao Strait × Question is TF 34 guarding San Bernardino Strait. To this I replied in some bewilderment, Negative × It is with our carriers now engaging enemy carriers. Here was my first intimation that Kinkaid had intercepted and misconstrued the preparatory dispatch I had sent at 1512 the preceding day. I say "intercepted" because it was not addressed to him, which fact alone should have prevented his confusion. I was not alarmed, because at 0802 I learned from him, Enemy vessels retiring Surigao Strait × Our light forces in pursuit.
p219 When the Southern Force pushed into Surigao soon after midnight of the twenty-fourth, it pushed into one of the prettiest ambushes in naval history. Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, Kinkaid's tactical commander, waited until the enemy line was well committed to the narrow waters, then struck from both flanks with his PT's and destroyers, and from dead ahead with his battleships and cruisers. He not only "crossed the T," which is naval officer's dearest ambition; he dotted several thousand slant eyes. Almost before the Japs could open fire, they lost both their battleships and three destroyers. The rest fled, but Kinkaid's planes caught and sank a heavy cruiser later in the morning, and Army B‑24's sank the light cruiser the following noon. One of Oldendorf's PT's was sunk, and one destroyer was damaged.
October 1944: Battle of Leyte Gulf — Oldendorf & McCain's attacks
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At 0822, twenty minutes after Kinkaid's second dispatch, I received his third: Enemy Bbs and cruiser reported firing on TU 77.4.3 from •15 miles astern. Task unit 77.4.3, commanded by Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague and comprising six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts, was the northernmost of three similar task units in the Seventh Fleet's TG 77.4, assigned to guard the eastern approaches of the Leyte. The enemy ships were evidently part of the Central Force, which had steamed through San Bernardino during the night. I wondered how Kinkaid had let "Ziggy" Sprague get caught like this, and why Ziggy's search planes had not given him warning, but I still was not alarmed. I figured that the eighteen little carriers had enough planes to protect themselves until Oldendorf could bring up his heavy ships.
Eight minutes later, at 0830, Kinkaid's fourth dispatch reached me: Urgently need fast Bbs Leyte Gulf at once. That surprised me. It was not my job to protect the Seventh Fleet. My job was offensive, to strike with the Third Fleet, and we were even then rushing to intercept a force which gravely threatened not only Kinkaid and myself, but the whole Pacific strategy. However, I ordered McCain, who was fueling to the east, Strike enemy vicinity 11‑20 N 127‑00 E at best possible speed, and so notified Kinkaid.
At 0900 I received his fifth dispatch: Our CVEs [escort carriers] being attacked by 4 BBS 8 cruisers plus others × Request Lee [commanding TF 34, the battle line] cover Leyte at top speed p220 × Request fast carriers make immediate strike. I had already sent McCain. There was nothing else I could do, except become angrier.
Then came the sixth dispatch, at 0922: CTU 77.4.3 under attack by cruisers and Bbs 0700 11‑40 N 126‑25 E × Request immediate air strike × Also request support by heavy ships × My Obbs [old battleships] low in ammunition.
Low in ammunition! Here was a new factor, so astonishing that I could hardly accept it. Why hadn't Kinkaid let me know before? I looked at the date-time group of his dispatch, which told when it was filed. It was "242225," or 0725 local time, an hour and fifty-seven minutes ago! And when I compared it with the date-time groups of the others, I realized that this was actually his third dispatch, sent eighteen minutes after he had first informed me that TU 77.4.3 was under attack. What had delayed it I have never learned.
My message was on its way to him in five minutes: I am still engaging enemy carriers × McCain with 5 carriers 4 heavy cruisers has been ordered assist you immediately, and I gave my position, to show him the impossibility of the fast battleships reaching him.
The next two dispatches arrived close to 1000, almost simultaneously. The first was from Kinkaid again: Where is Lee × Send Lee. I was impressed less by its desperation than by the fact that it had been put on the air "clear," not in code. I was certain that the enemy had intercepted it, and I was speculating on its effect, when the second dispatch drove all other thoughts out of my mind. I can close my eyes and see it today:
|COM Third Fleet
|The whole world wants to know where is Task Force 34.
I was as stunned as if I had been struck in the face. The paper rattled in my hands. I snatched off my cap, threw it on the deck, and shouted something that I am ashamed to remember. Mick Carney rushed over and grabbed my arm: "Stop it! What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together!"
I gave him the dispatch and turned my back. I was so mad I p221 couldn't talk. It was utterly impossible for me to believe that Chester Nimitz would send me such an insult. He hadn't, of course, but I didn't know the truth for several weeks. It requires an explanation of Navy procedure. To increase the difficulty of breaking our codes, most dispatches are padded with gibberish. The decoding officers almost always recognize it as such and delete it from the transcription, but CINCPAC's encoder was either drowsy or smart-alecky, and his padding — "The whole world wants to know" — sounded so infernally plausible that my decoders read it as a valid part of the message. Chester blew up when I told him about it; he tracked down the little squirt and chewed him to bits, but it was too late then; the damage had been done.
The orders I now gave, I gave in rage, and although Ernie King later assured me that they were the right ones, I am convinced that they were not. My flag log for the forenoon watch that day, October 25, gives the bare bones of the story: "At 0835 c/s [changed speed] to 25k to close enemy. At 0919 c/c [changed course] to 000. At 1115 c/c to 180" — or from due north to due south. At that moment the Northern Force, with its two remaining carriers crippled and dead in the water, was exactly •42 miles from the muzzles of my 16‑inch guns, but — I quote from my war diary —
In view of the urgent request for assistance for Commander Seventh Fleet, Commander Third Fleet directed Task Force 34 [Lee] and Task Group 38.2 [Bogan] to proceed south toward San Bernardino Strait, and directed Commander Task Force 38 [Mitscher] with Task Group 38.3 [Sherman] and 38.4 [Davison], to continue attacks against the enemy carrier force.
(The period between 1000, when I received CINCPAC's dispatch, and 1115, when we changed course, was spent in reshuffling the task force and refueling Bogan's nearly empty destroyers for our high-speed run.)
I turned my back on the opportunity I had dreamed of since my days as a cadet. For me, one of the biggest battles of the war was off, and what has been called "the Battle of Bull's Run" was on. I notified Kinkaid, TG 38.2 plus 6 fast Bbs proceeding Leyte but unable arrive before 0800 tomorrow.
While I rushed south, Sherman and Davison struck the Northern p222 Force again and again, and late that afternoon it retired in straggling disorder, with four of our fast light cruisers in pursuit and two wolf packs of our submarines waiting across its course. When the butchery was done, the score for the Northern Force was
|4 carriers, 1 light cruiser, 2 destroyers.
|2 battleships, 2 light cruisers, 4 destroyers.
A curious feature of this engagement is that air duel never came off. Our strikes found scarcely a handful of planes on the enemy carriers' decks and only fifteen on the wing. We assume that the rest had ferried into Luzon and that our attack had caught them by surprise, because during the morning our radars picked up large groups of bogeys — unidentified planes — approaching from the westward, but they presently reversed course and disappeared. They must have been unarmed, expecting to arm aboard, and when they saw that their mother ships were afire, they could do nothing but fly back to Luzon again.
Meanwhile, Kinkaid had been sending me another series of dispatches: Enemy retiring to northeastward. Later, CVEs again threatened by enemy surface forces. Still later, Situation again very serious × Your assistance badly needed × CVEs retiring Leyte Gulf. Finally, at 1145, Enemy force of 3 BB 2 CA 9 DD 11‑43 N 126‑12 E course 225 speed 20.
This position was •55 miles northeast of Leyte Gulf, but the course was not toward the entrance. Moreover, the dispatch had been filed two hours before I received it, and I had no clue as to what had happened since then. The strongest probability was that the enemy would eventually retrace his course through San Bernardino Strait, and my best hope of intercepting him was to send my fastest ships in advance. The only two battleships I had that could sustain high speeds were the New Jersey and Iowa. I threw a screen of light cruisers and destroyers around them, as TG 34.5, and told them on TBS, "Proceed at 28 knots on course 195. Prepare for 30 knots. Be ready for night action," and I notified Kinkaid that we would arrive off San Bernardino at 0100 next morning, seven hours earlier than my original schedule.
I was puzzled by the Central Force's hit-and‑run tactics and still more puzzled when I learned the complete story. Four battleships, p223 six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers had survived our air attacks on October 24 and had transited San Bernardino that night. When they were sighted next, at 0631 on the twenty-fifth, they were only •20 miles northwest of Sprague's task unit. His 17‑knot escort carriers were no match for the enemy in either speed or gun power, and at 0658 he was taken under fire at a range of 30,000 yards.
Sprague immediately turned east, into the wind, launched his available planes, and ordered all ships to make smoke. The enemy formation now divided, the heavy ships advancing to his port and the light to starboard, thereby forcing him around to the southwest, in the direction of Leyte Gulf. When the cruisers had closed to 14,000 yards, Sprague ordered his screen to fall back and deliver a torpedo attack. Two destroyers, the Hoel and Johnston, and the destroyer escort Samuel S. Roberts reversed course, ran within 10,000 yards of the battleships, and fired a half-salvo, then fired the other half within 7,000 yards of the cruisers. Smoke concealed the effect of their torpedoes, but it lifted to show that all three of these heroic little ships had been sunk.
The enemy continued to close, and presently his fire began to take toll. If he had had the elementary intelligence not to use armor-piercing projectiles, many of which ripped through our ships' thin skins as if through a wet shoebox, without detonating, he might have annihilated Sprague's unit, since every ship in it suffered hits. As it was, except for the three ships from the screen, Sprague's only loss to the guns was the carrier Gambier Bay. At 0820 she dropped astern under continuous fire, and after being riddled with 8‑inch shells from the murderous range of 2,000 yards, she blew up at 0900.
For these first two hours, Sprague's gallant men fought entirely alone, at such close quarters that his CVE's' single 5‑inchers were registering hits on the cruisers, and with such valor that his Avengers, their bombs and torpedoes expended, were making dummy runs to distract the battleships. Oldendorf's force not only was •100 miles away, deep in Surigao Strait, but was practically impotent. Its action early that morning, following five days of shore bombardments, had severely reduced its fuel and ammunition. The other two carrier task units that made up TG 77.4 were obligated p224 to flying support missions for the troops on Leyte. In addition, the southern unit had been shelled, and the central unit's carriers had been subjected to a violent shore-based air attack — the Sangamon and Santee by suicide planes, and the Santee had been further damaged by a torpedo. However, planes from both these task units were able to reinforce Sprague's by 0900. One of his destroyers had already crippled a heavy cruiser; and when the combined air attacks succeeded in sinking three others, the enemy was panicked into breaking off the engagement. I opened my hand and let the bird fly away off Luzon. So did the enemy off Samar.
Now came an intermission during which the offensive passed to us, but at 1050 the enemy's shore-based air struck again, this time on Sprague's wounded, exhausted carriers. One plane plunged into the Kalinin Bay's flight deck, causing a small blaze; another crashed through the Kitkun Bay's catwalk; a third dropped a bomb on the Saint Lo and itself crashed close aboard. The Saint Lo's fires could not be controlled; she was abandoned with heavy losses. The enemy still did not exploit his overwhelming advantage, and soon it was gone forever. At 1310 McCain's planes arrived. In the emergency, he had launched them from far outside their range of return; after their attacks, they had to land and rearm at Tacloban and Dulag Fields on Leyte, which had fallen to MacArthur only a few days before. Together with planes from TG 77.4, they sank a light cruiser and a destroyer and damaged most of the other ships. Sprague had lost five of his thirteen ships. TG 77.4 had lost 105 planes.
The Central Force was in full retreat by late afternoon, and by 2200 it was reentering San Bernardino, with my force still two hours away. However, shortly after midnight one of my van destroyers made contact with a straggler. I was able to watch the action from the New Jersey's bridge — the first and only surface action I saw during my entire career. The cruisers poured in their 6‑inch shells, then a destroyer delivered the knockout with torpedoes. They must have touched off her magazines, because I felt the explosion distinctly, •15 miles away.
At that distance, none of us on the New Jersey could tell what type of ship had been sunk, so we put the query on the TBS. The p225 roundup is a commentary on the accuracy of observation during a night engagement.
The light cruiser Vincennes reported, "She was a heavy cruiser of the Aoba or Atago class."
The light cruiser Miami, "A destroyer of the Fubuki or Asashio class."
The light cruiser Biloxi said cautiously, "A cruiser."
The destroyer Miller, which had fired the torpedoes, "A Terutsuki-class destroyer."
The destroyer Owen, "A Fuso-class battleship."
The commander of our destroyer squadron, "A Yubari-class light cruiser."
The commander of our cruiser division, "I have an open mind. I'll settle for a cruiser of any sort."
And that's as close to the truth as we ever came.
This was our last surface action. The air phase resumed at dawn next morning, the twenty-sixth, with McCain's and Bogan's planes harrying the Central Force's scattered remnants, still fleeing westward, while our ships searched east of Samar for other stragglers and for our airmen who had ditched the day before. We found no Jap ships, but Jap swimmers were as thick as water bugs. I was having breakfast when Bill Kitchell burst in and cried, "My God Almighty, Admiral, the little bastards are all over the place! Are we going to stop and pick 'em up?"
I told him, "Not until we've picked up our own boys."
We charted their position, along with wind and tide data, and when we had recovered all the Americans, I ordered our destroyers, "Bring in cooperative Nip flotsam for an intelligence sample. Noncooperators would probably like to join their ancestors and should be accommodated." (I didn't want to risk their getting ashore, where they could reinforce the garrison.) The destroyers brought in six.
Foul weather hampered McCain and Bogan, but that night they reported, 1 Nagato-class BB hit with 2 torpedoes many bombs, last seen stopped and blazing off south tip Mindoro × •10 miles south of her, 1 Hoshiro-class CL hit with 1 torpedo 2 bombs × Northwest of Panay are 2 BBs Yamato- and Kongo-class hit with rockets and half- and quarter‑ton bombs × Also at this p226 position 1 DD with bow blown off but still underweigh and 1 CA [heavy cruiser] dead in water after hits with bombs and 2 torpedoes × 1 CL damaged in Tablas Strait × 1 seaplane tender hit in Guimaras Strait blew up and sank × We shot down 40 planes and lost 11, mostly to intense Jap warship AA.
Thus ended the three‑day, threefold Battle for Leyte Gulf. Six of our ships had been sunk and eleven damaged. Twenty‑six enemy ships had been sunk, and twenty-five damaged. In my official report, I was able to write with conviction that the results of the battle were "(1) the utter failure of the Japanese plan to prevent the reoccupation of the Philippines; (2) the crushing defeat of the Japanese fleet; and (3) the elimination of serious naval threat to our operations for many months, if not forever."
COMINCH's endorsement of my second and third claim was reluctant at first. On the night of October 25, I had radioed CINCPAC, The Japanese Navy has been beaten and routed and broken by the Third and Seventh Fleets. I heard later that COMINCH had told CINCPAC that nothing in the reports he had received could justify my optimism. On the twenty-ninth, however, COMINCH was telling Kinkaid and myself, A large part of the enemy navy has been effectually disposed of forever and the remainder for some time to come × All officers and men of your fleets have the heartiest admiration of all hands × Well done.
A Japanese carrier of the Zuiho class, afire and her flight deck buckled, at the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 25, 1944
That's something, coming from Ernie!
When I reported to him in Washington the following January, my very first words were, "I made a mistake in that battle."
He held up his hand. "You don't have to tell me any more. You've got a green light on everything you did."
But I wanted to get it off my chest. I said, "I still think it was a mistake to turn south when the Japs were right under my guns.
Ernie said, "No. It wasn't a mistake. You couldn't have done otherwise."
All the bigwigs sent us congratulations. General MacArthur's message was particularly warming: We have cooperated with you so long that we expect your brilliant successes × Everyone here has a feeling of complete confidence and inspiration when you go into action in our support. General Marshall told p227 us, A splendid and historic victory × The Army owes you a debt of thanks. From Secretary Forrestal, The Third Fleet has done it again.
Such praise from such men is agreeable to read, but I would gladly forgo every word of it if I could also forgo a few words of my own. These are the ones: "At 1115 c/c to 180."
I have attempted to describe the Battle for Leyte Gulf in terms of my thoughts and feelings at the time, but on rereading my account, I find that this results in an implication grossly unfair to Tom Kinkaid. True, during the action, his dispatches puzzled me. Later, with the gaps in my information filled, I not only appreciate his problems, but frankly admit that had I been in his shoes, I might have acted precisely as did he.
— Which urges me to reemphasize a point I made earlier: although our naval power in the western Pacific was such that we could have challenged the combined fleets of the world, the fact that it was not coordinated under any single authority was an invitation which disaster nearly accepted. What brought us victory instead was simply this: all hands thought alike. And that we did so is a tribute to our indoctrination in the United States Navy.
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World War II
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Page updated: 4 Jul 17