Battle of Leyte Gulf

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Leyte Gulf

caption=The light aircraft carrier "Princeton" afire, east of Luzon, 24 October 1944.
partof=the Pacific War, World War II
date=23 October 1944 – 26 October 1944
place=Leyte Gulf, The Philippines
result=Decisive Allied victory
combatant1=flag|United States|1912
combatant2=flag|Empire of Japan
commander1=flagicon|United States|1912 William Halsey, Jr
(3rd Fleet)
flagicon|United States|1912 Thomas C. Kinkaid
(7th Fleet)
commander2=flagicon|Japan|naval Takeo Kurita (Centre Force)
flagicon|Japan|naval Shoji NishimuraKIA (Southern Force)
flagicon|Japan|naval Kiyohide Shima (Southern Force)
flagicon|Japan|naval Jisaburō Ozawa (Northern Force)
strength1=8 fleet carriers
8 light carriers
18 escort carriers
12 battleships
24 cruisers
141 destroyers and destroyer escorts
Many PT boats, submarines and fleet auxiliaries
About 1,500 planes
strength2=1 fleet carrier
3 light carriers
9 battleships
14 heavy cruisers
6 light cruisers
35+ destroyers
300+ planes (including land-based aircraft)
casualties1=1,500+ dead; 1 light aircraft carrier, 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers, 1 destroyer escort sunk
casualties2=10,000+ dead; 4 aircraft carriers, 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, 12 destroyers sunk|

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, also called the "Battle "for" Leyte Gulf", the "Battles for Leyte Gulf", and formerly as the "Second Battle of the Philippine Sea", is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and also, by some criteria, the largest naval battle in history. [Woodward, C. Vann "The Battle for Leyte Gulf", 1947]

It was fought in waters near the Philippine island of Leyte, from 23 October to 26 October 1944, between naval and naval-air forces of the Allies and those of the Empire of Japan. On October 20, United States troops invaded the island of Leyte as part of a strategy aimed at isolating Japan from the countries it had occupied in South East Asia, and in particular depriving its forces and industry of vital oil supplies. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) mobilized nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels in an attempt to defeat the Allied invasion, but was repulsed by the US Navy's 3rd and 7th Fleets. The IJN failed to achieve its objective, suffered very heavy losses, and never afterwards sailed to battle in comparable force. The majority of its surviving heavy ships, deprived of fuel, remained in their bases for the rest of the Pacific War. [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.] [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

The Battle of Leyte Gulf included four major naval battles: the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar, as well as other actions.

Leyte Gulf is also notable as the first battle in which Japanese aircraft carried out organized kamikaze attacks. [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.] [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]


The campaigns of August 1942 to early 1944 had driven Japanese forces from many of their island bases in the south and central Pacific, while isolating many of their other bases (most notably the bastion of Rabaul), and in June 1944, a series of Allied amphibious landings supported by the US Fifth Fleet's Fast Carrier Task Force captured the Northern Mariana Islands. This breached Japan's strategic inner defense ring and gave the Americans a base from which long-range B-29 Superfortress bombers could attack the Japanese home islands. The Japanese counterattacked in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The US Navy destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers and approximately 600 Japanese aircraft, leaving the IJN with virtually no carrier-borne airpower. [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.]

For subsequent operations, Admiral Ernest J. King and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored blockading Japanese forces in the Philippines and attacking Formosa to give the Allies control of the sea routes between Japan and southern Asia. General Douglas MacArthur championed an invasion of the Philippines, which also lay across the supply lines to Japan. Leaving the Philippines in Japanese hands would be a blow to American prestige and an affront to the personal honor of MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously pronounced, "I shall return." Also, the considerable air power the Japanese had amassed in the Philippines was thought too dangerous to bypass by many high-ranking officers outside the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Admiral Chester Nimitz. However, Nimitz and MacArthur initially had opposing plans, with Nimitz's plan initially centered on an invasion of Formosa, since that could also cut the supply lines to southeast Asia. Formosa could also serve as a base for an invasion of mainland China, which MacArthur felt unnecessary. A meeting between MacArthur, Nimitz, and President Franklin Roosevelt helped confirm the Philippines as a strategic target, but had less to do with the final decision to invade the Philippines than is sometimes claimed. Nimitz eventually changed his mind and agreed to MacArthur's plan. [cite web
title= Chapter 21: Luzon Versus Formosa
last= Smith |first= Robert Ross
date= |year= |month= |work= |publisher= United States Army
accessdate= 2007-12-08
] (Morison 1956, pp. 3–12).

Perhaps the most decisive consideration against the Formosa-China plan, as envisaged by Admiral King and others, was that the invasion of Formosa would require much larger ground forces than were available in the Pacific in late 1944, and would not have been feasible until the defeat of Germany freed the necessary manpower. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”,pages 3-12. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

It was eventually decided that Macarthur's forces would invade the island of Leyte in the central Philippines. The amphibious forces and close naval support would be provided by the Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. Seventh Fleet at this time contained units of the Australian Navy, including the "County" Class heavy cruisers "Shropshire" and "Australia", and the destroyer "Arunta".

The Third Fleet, commanded by Admiral William F. Halsey, with Task Force 38 (the Fast Carrier Task Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher) as its main component, would provide more distant cover and support for the invasion. A serious and fundamental defect in this plan was that there would be no overall Allied naval commander. This lack of a unified command, along with failures in communication, was to produce a crisis, and very nearly a strategic disaster, for the Allied forces. (Fuller 1956, Morison 1956). By coincidence, the Japanese plan using three separate fleets also failed to designate an overall commander.

The Allied options were equally apparent to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Combined Fleet Chief Toyoda Soemu prepared four "victory" plans: "Shō-Gō 1" (捷1号作戦 "Shō ichigō sakusen") was a major naval operation in the Philippines, while "Shō-Gō 2", "Shō-Gō 3" and "Shō-Gō 4" were responses to attacks on Formosa, the Ryukyu and Kurile Islands respectively. The plans were for complex offensive operations committing nearly all available forces to a decisive battle, and therefore of necessity substantially depleting Japan's slender reserves of oil fuel.

On 12 October 1944, the US Third Fleet under Admiral Halsey began a series of carrier raids against Formosa and the Ryuku Islands, with a view to ensuring that aircraft based there could not intervene in the Leyte landings. The Japanese command therefore put "Shō-Gō 2" into action, launching waves of air attacks against Third Fleet's carriers. In what Morison refers to as a "knock-down, drag-out fight between carrier-based and land-based air" the Japanese were routed, losing 600 aircraft in three days, almost their entire air strength in the region. Following the American invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese Navy made the transition to "Shō-Gō 1". [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.] [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

"Shō-Gō 1" called for Vice-Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa's ships, known as Northern Force, to lure the main American covering forces away from Leyte. Northern Force would be built around several aircraft carriers, but these would have very few aircraft or trained aircrew. The carriers would serve as the main bait. As the US covering forces were lured away, two other surface forces would advance on Leyte from the west. The Southern Force under Admirals Nishimura and Shima would strike at the landing area via Surigao Strait. The Center Force under Admiral Kurita, by far the most powerful of the attacking forces, would pass through San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea, turn southwards, and then also attack the landing area. [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.] [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

This plan was likely to result in the destruction of one or more of the attacking forces, but Toyoda later explained this to his American interrogators as follows:

Should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply. If it should remain in southern waters, it could not receive supplies of ammunition and arms. There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.

: " [ United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific) - 'Interrogations of Japanese Officials'] "

(Main sources for this section: Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001).

The submarine action in Palawan Passage (23 October)

(Note - this action is referred to by Morison as "The Fight in Palawan Passage" [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] , and is elsewhere occasionally referred to as "the Battle of Palawan Passage").

As it sortied from its base in Brunei Kurita's powerful "Center Force" consisted of five battleships ("Yamato", "Musashi", "Nagato", "Kongō", and "Haruna"), ten heavy cruisers ("Atago", "Maya", "Takao", "Chōkai", "Myōkō", "Haguro", "Kumano", "Suzuya", "Tone" and "Chikuma"), two light cruisers ("Noshiro" and "Yahagi") and fifteen destroyers. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

Kurita's ships passed Palawan Island at around midnight on 22-23 October. The American submarines "Darter" and "Dace" were positioned in company with each other on the surface close by. At 00:16 October 23 "Darter"'s radar detected the Japanese formation at a range of 30,000 yards. Her captain promptly made visual contact. The two submarines quickly moved off in pursuit of the ships, while "Darter" made the first of three contact reports. At least one of these was picked up by a radio operator on "Yamato", but Kurita failed to take appropriate anti-submarine precautions. " [Ibid.]

"Darter" and "Dace" - travelling on the surface at full power - after several hours gained a position ahead of Kurita's formation with the intention of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was unusually successful. At 05:24 "Darter" fired a spread of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita's flagship, the heavy cruiser "Atago". Ten minutes later "Darter" made two hits on the "Atago"'s sister ship "Takao" with another spread of torpedoes. At 05:56 "Dace" made four torpedo hits on the heavy cruiser "Maya" (sister to "Atago" and "Takao").". [Ibid.]

"Atago" and "Maya" quickly sank. "Takao" turned back to Brunei escorted by two destroyers - and followed by the two submarines. On 24 October, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, "Darter" grounded on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed, and she was abandoned. Her entire crew was, however, rescued by "Dace".

"Takao" returned to Singapore, where she remained for the rest of the war.

"Atago" had sunk so rapidly that Kurita was forced to swim in order to survive. He was rescued by one of the Japanese destroyers, and he then transferred to the "Yamato"." [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] [Cutler, T: “The Battle of Leyte Gulf”. Naval Institute Press, 1944.] [Hornfischer, J: “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”. Bantam, 2004.]

The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (24 October)

At about 08:00 on 24 October, the Center Force was spotted and attacked entering the Sibuyan Sea by VF-20 squadron F6F Hellcat fighters, VB-20 Helldiver bombers, and VB-20 torpedo bombers from USS "Enterprise" of Halsey's Third Fleet. Despite its great strength Third Fleet was not well-placed to deal with the threat. On 22 October Halsey had detached two of his carrier groups to the fleet base at Ulithi to provision and rearm. When "Darter"'s contact report came in Halsey recalled Davison's group but allowed Vice Admiral McCain, with the strongest of Task Force 38's carrier groups, to continue towards Ulithi. Halsey finally recalled McCain on 24 October - but the delay meant that the most powerful American carrier group played little part in the coming battle, and that Third Fleet was therefore effectively deprived of nearly 40% of its air strength for most of the battle. On the morning of 24 October only three groups were available to strike Kurita's force, and the one best positioned to do so - Bogan's Task Group 38.2 - was by mischance the weakest of the groups, containing only one large carrier - the "Intrepid" - and two light carriers. (The failure to promptly recall McCain on 23 October was also effectively to deprive Third Fleet, throughout the battle, of four of its six heavy cruisers). [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

Planes from carriers "Intrepid" and "Cabot" of Bogan's group attacked at about 10:30, making hits on the battleships "Nagato", "Yamato", "Musashi" and severely damaging the heavy cruiser "Myōkō". A second wave from USS "Intrepid", "Essex" and "Lexington" later attacked, with SB2C Helldivers and F6F Hellcats from USS "Essex" Air Group 15, scoring another 10 hits on "Musashi". As she withdrew, listing to port, a third wave from "Enterprise" and "Franklin" hit her with eleven bombs and eight torpedoes. [Ibid.]

Kurita turned his fleet around to get out of range of the aircraft, passing the crippled "Musashi" as his force retreated. He waited until 17:15 before turning around again to head for the San Bernardino Strait - "Musashi" capsized and sank at about 19:30. [Ibid.]

Meanwhile, Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi had directed three waves of aircraft from his First Air Fleet based on Luzon against the carriers of Rear Admiral Sherman's Task Group 38.3 (whose aircraft were also being used to strike airfields in Luzon to prevent Japanese land-based air attacks on Allied shipping in Leyte Gulf). Each of Ōnishi's strike waves consisted of some fifty to sixty aircraft. [Ibid.]

Most of the attacking Japanese planes were intercepted and shot down or driven off by Grumman F6F Hellcats of Sherman's combat air patrol, most notably by two fighter sections from "Essex" led by Commander David McCampbell (who is credited with shooting down nine of the attacking planes in this one action). However, one Japanese aircraft (a Yokosuka D4Y "Judy") slipped through the defences, and at 09:38 hit the light carrier USS "Princeton" with a 250-kg armor-piercing bomb which caused a severe fire in "Princeton"'s hangar. Her emergency sprinkler system failed to operate, and fires spread rapidly. A series of explosions followed. The fires were gradually brought under control, but at 15:23 there was an enormous explosion (probably in the carrier's bomb stowage aft), causing more casualties aboard "Princeton", and even heavier casualties - more than 300 - aboard the cruiser USS "Birmingham" which was coming back alongside to assist with the firefighting. "Birmingham" was so badly damaged that she was forced to retire. Other nearby vessels were also damaged. All efforts to save "Princeton" failed, and she was finally scuttled - torpedoed by the light cruiser "Reno" - at 17:50. [Ibid.]

In all US Third Fleet flew 259 sorties against Center Force, mostly by Grumman F6F fighter-bombers, on 24 October. This weight of attack was not nearly sufficient to neutralize the threat from Kurita. It contrasts with the 527 sorties flown by Third Fleet against Ozawa's much weaker Northern Force on the following day. Moreover a large proportion of the Sibuyan Sea attack was directed against just one ship, "Musashi". This great battleship was sunk, and cruiser "Myōkō" crippled, but every other ship in Kurita's force remained battleworthy and able to advance. [Ibid.]

As a result of the momentous decision now taken by Admiral Halsey, Kurita was able to proceed through San Bernardino Strait during the night, to make an unexpected and dramatic appearance off the coast of Samar on the following morning.

(Sources for this section: Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001).

Task Force 34 / San Bernardino Strait

After the Japanese Southern and Center forces had been detected, but before Ozawa's carriers had been located, Halsey and the staff of Third Fleet, aboard the battleship "New Jersey", prepared a contingency plan to deal with the threat from Kurita's Center Force. Their intention was to cover San Bernardino Strait with a powerful task force of fast battleships supported by two of the Third Fleet's fast carrier groups. The battleship force was to be designated Task Force 34 and to consist of 4 battleships, 5 cruisers and 14 destroyers under the command of Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison of Task Group 38.4 was to be in overall command of the supporting carrier groups.

At 15:12 on 24 October Halsey sent a radio message to his subordinate task group commanders, giving details of this contingency plan :


This message was also picked up by Seventh Fleet and by Admiral Nimitz' Pacific Fleet headquarters, although it was not intended for them. Halsey had formed the task force "within his existing forces" so that it could be detached without delay when he ordered it, but Seventh Fleet believed that Task Force 34 had been formed "as a separate entity" off San Bernardino Strait. The intercepted message led to a disastrous misunderstanding, and had a profound influence on the subsequent course of the battle. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

Halsey's Decision (24 October)

Third Fleet's aircraft failed to locate Ozawa's Northern (decoy) force until 16:40 on 24 October. This was largely because Third Fleet had been preoccupied with attacking Kurita and defending itself against the Japanese air strikes from Luzon. So, oddly enough, the one Japanese force that "wanted" to be discovered was the only force the Americans hadn't been able to find. On the evening of 24 October Ozawa intercepted a (mistaken) American communication describing Kurita's withdrawal, and he therefore began to withdraw too. However, at 20:00 Toyoda Soemu ordered all his forces to attack "counting on divine assistance." Trying to draw Third Fleet's attention to his decoy force, Ozawa reversed course again and headed southwards towards Leyte.

Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force constituted the main Japanese threat, and he was determined to seize what he saw as a golden opportunity to destroy Japan's last remaining carrier strength. Believing that the Center Force had been neutralized by Third Fleet's air strikes earlier in the day in the Sibuyan Sea, and that its remnants were retiring, Halsey radioed (to Nimitz and Kinkaid):


(Morison 1956 - "Emphasis added by contributor").

The words "with three groups" proved dangerously misleading. In the light of the intercepted 15:12 24 October "…will be formed as Task Force 34" message from Halsey, Admiral Kinkaid and his staff assumed, as did Admiral Nimitz at Pacific Fleet headquarters, that Task Force 34, commanded by Lee, had now been formed as a separate entity. They assumed that Halsey was leaving this powerful surface force guarding San Bernardino Strait (and covering Seventh Fleet's northern flank) while he took his three available carrier groups northwards in pursuit of the Japanese carriers. But Task Force 34 had not been detached from his other forces, and Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the Third Fleet's carriers. Halsey had consciously and deliberately left San Bernardino Strait absolutely unguarded. As Woodward wrote "Everything was pulled out from San Bernardino Strait. Not so much as a picket destroyer was left". [Woodward, C: “The Battle for Leyte Gulf”. Skyhorse Publishing, 1947.]

Halsey and his staff officers ignored information from a night reconnaissance aircraft operating from the light carrier USS "Independence" that Kurita's powerful surface force had turned back towards San Bernardino Strait, and that after a long blackout the navigation lights in the Strait had been turned on. When Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, commanding TG 38.2, radioed this information to Halsey's flagship, he was rebuffed by a staff officer, who tersely replied "Yes, yes, we have that information." Vice Admiral Lee, who had correctly deduced that Ozawa's force was on a decoy mission and indicated this in a blinker message to Halsey's flagship, was similarly rebuffed. Commodore Arleigh Burke and Commander James Flatley of Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's staff had come to the same conclusion. They were sufficiently worried about the situation to wake Mitscher, who asked "Does Admiral Halsey have that report?" On being told that Halsey did, Mitscher, knowing Halsey's temperament, commented "If he wants my advice he'll ask for it" and went back to sleep. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

The entire available strength of Third Fleet - some 65 ships, constituting the most powerful naval force on the planet - continued to steam northwards, away from San Bernardino Strait.

(Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956).

The Battle of Surigao Strait (25 October)

Nishimura's "Southern Force" consisted of the battleships "Yamashiro" and "Fusō", the heavy cruiser "Mogami", and four destroyers. They were attacked by bombers on 24 October but sustained only minor damage.

Because of the strict radio silence imposed on the Center and Southern Forces, Nishimura was unable to synchronise his movements with Shima and Kurita. When he entered the narrow Surigao Strait at about 02:00 Shima was 25 miles (40 km) behind him, and Kurita was still in the Sibuyan Sea, several hours from the beaches at Leyte.

As the Southern Force approached Surigao Strait, it ran into a deadly trap set by the 7th Fleet Support Force. Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf had six battleships ("West Virginia", "Maryland", "Mississippi", "Tennessee", "California", and "Pennsylvania", all but the "Mississippi" having been sunk or damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor and repaired), eight cruisers (heavy cruisers USS "Louisville" (Flagship), "Portland", "Minneapolis" and HMAS "Shropshire", light cruisers USS "Denver", "Columbia", "Phoenix", "Boise"), 28 destroyers and 39 motor torpedo boats (Patrol/Torpedo (PT) boats). To pass through the narrows and reach the invasion shipping, Nishimura would have to run the gauntlet of torpedoes from the PT boats followed by the large force of destroyers, and then advance under the concentrated fire of the six battleships and their eight flanking cruisers disposed across the far mouth of the Strait. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

At 22:36 one of the motor torpedo-boats, PT-131, first made contact with the approaching Japanese ships. Over more than three-and-a-half hours the torpedo-boats made repeated attacks on Nishimura's force. They made no torpedo hits, but sent contact reports which were of use to Oldendorf and his force. [Ibid.]

As Nishimura's ships entered Surigao Strait they were subjected to devastating torpedo attacks from the American destroyers disposed on both sides of their line of advance. At about 03:00 both Japanese battleships were hit by torpedoes. "Yamashiro" was able to steam on, but "Fusō" exploded and broke in two. Two of Nishimura's four destroyers were sunk; another, "Asagumo", was hit but able to retire, and later sank [Ibid.] .

At 03:16, USS "West Virginia"’s radar picked up the surviving ships of Nishimura's force at a range of 42,000 yards (38 km) and had achieved a firing solution at 30,000 yards (27 km). "West Virginia" tracked them as they approached in the pitch black night. At 03:53 she fired the eight 16 inch (406 mm) guns of her main battery at a range of 22,800 yards (21 km), striking the "Yamashiro" with her first salvo. She went on to fire a total of 93 shells. At 03:55 "California" and "Tennessee" joined in, firing respectively a total of 69 and 63 14-inch shells. Radar fire control allowed these American battleships to hit targets from a distance at which the Japanese battleships, with their inferior fire control systems, could not return fire.(Morison 1956, Howard 1999).

The other three US battleships, equipped with less advanced gunnery radar, had difficulty arriving at a firing solution. "Maryland" eventually succeeded in visually ranging on the splashes of the other battleships' shells, and then fired a total of 48 16-inch projectiles. "Pennsylvania" was unable to find a target and her guns remained silent. [Ibid.]

"Mississippi" only obtained a solution at the end of the battle-line action, and then fired just one (full) salvo of twelve 14-inch shells. This was the last salvo ever to be fired by a battleship against another heavy ship, ending an era in naval history. [Ibid.]

"Yamashiro" and "Mogami" were crippled by a combination of 16-inch (406 mm) and 14-inch (356 mm) armor-piercing shells, as well as the fire of Oldendorf's flanking cruisers. "Shigure" turned and fled but lost steering and stopped dead. "Yamashiro" sank at about 04:20, with Nishimura on board. "Mogami" and "Shigure" retreated southwards down the Strait.

The rear of the Southern Force, the "Second Striking Force" commanded by Vice Admiral Shima, had approached Surigao Strait about 40 miles astern of Nishimura. It too came under attack from the PT boats, and one of these hit the light cruiser "Abukuma" with a torpedo which crippled her and caused her to fall out of formation. Shima's two heavy cruisers ("Nachi" and "Ashigara") and eight destroyers next encountered remnants of Nishimura's force. Seeing what he thought were the wrecks of both Nishimura's battleships (actually the two halves of "Fusō"), Shima ordered a retreat. His flagship, "Nachi", collided with "Mogami", flooding "Mogami"'s steering-room and causing her to fall behind in the retreat; she was sunk by aircraft the next morning. The bow half of "Fusō" was destroyed by "Louisville", and the stern half sank off Kanihaan Island. Of Nishimura's seven ships, only "Shigure" survived. (Morison 1956, Howard 1999).

The Battle of Surigao Strait was the last battleship-versus-battleship action in history. It was also the last battle in which one force (the Americans, in this case) was able to "cross the T" of its opponent. However, by the time the battleship action was joined the Japanese line was very ragged and consisted of only one battleship ("Yamashiro"), one heavy cruiser and one destroyer, so that the "crossing of the T" was notional and had little effect on the outcome of the battle. (Morison 1956, Howard 1999).

(Sources for this section: Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Howard 1999, Cutler 2001, Hornfischer 2004).

The Battle off Samar (25 October)


Halsey's decision to take all the available strength of Third Fleet northwards to attack the carriers of the Japanese Northern Force had left San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded.

It had been generally assumed by senior officers in Seventh Fleet (including Kinkaid and his staff) that Halsey was taking his three available carrier groups northwards (McCain's group, the strongest in Third Fleet, was still returning from the direction of Ulithi) but leaving the battleships of Task Force 34 covering San Bernardino Strait against the Japanese Center Force. In fact, Halsey had not yet formed Task Force 34, and all six of Willis Lee's battleships were on their way northwards with the carriers, as well as every available cruiser and destroyer of the Third Fleet.

Kurita's Center Force therefore emerged unopposed from San Bernardino Strait at 0300 on 25 October and steamed southward along the coast of the island of Samar. In its path stood only the Seventh Fleet's three escort carrier units (call signs 'Taffy' 1, 2, and 3), with a total of sixteen small, very slow, and lightly armored escort carriers and their screens of lightly armed (and entirely unarmoured) destroyers and smaller destroyer escorts. Despite the losses in the Palawan Passage and Sibuyan Sea actions, the Japanese Center Force was still very powerful, consisting of four battleships (including the giant "Yamato"), six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and a dozen destroyers. With the exception of Task Force 34, this was still probably the most powerful surface force in the world, although perhaps roughly comparable in strength with Oldendorf's Fire Support Group in Seventh Fleet. The "Yamato" - the largest and most powerful battleship ever to see surface combat - alone displaced as much as all of Taffy 3's ships put together.

(Sources for this subsection: Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001, Hornfischer 2004).

The battle

Kurita's force caught Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 ('Taffy 3') entirely by surprise. Sprague directed his carriers to launch their planes, then run for the cover of a rain squall to the east. He ordered the destroyers and DEs to make a smoke screen to conceal the retreating carriers.

The destroyer USS "Johnston" was the closest to the enemy. On his own initiative, Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans steered his hopelessly outclassed ship into the foe at flank speed. Seeing this, Sprague gave the order "small boys attack", sending the rest of Taffy 3's screening ships into the fray. Taffy 3's two other destroyers, "Hoel" and "Heermann", and destroyer escort USS "Samuel B. Roberts", attacked with suicidal determination, drawing fire and disrupting the Japanese formation as ships turned to avoid their torpedoes.

Meanwhile, Thomas Sprague ordered the sixteen carriers in his three task units to launch their aircraft equipped with whatever weapons they had available, even if these were only machine guns or depth charges. He had a total of some 450 aircraft at his disposal, mostly FM-2 Wildcat and TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers. The air counterattacks were almost unceasing, and some, especially several of the strikes launched from Stump's task unit 77.4.2, were relatively heavy.

The carriers of Taffy 3 turned south and retreated through the shellfire. USS "Gambier Bay", at the rear of the American formation, was sunk, while most of the other carriers were damaged.

(Morison 1956, Cutler 2001, Hornfischer 2004).

Admiral Kurita withdraws

At 09:20—just as it seemed the end was near for Taffy 3—Kurita abruptly broke off the fight and, giving the order 'all ships, my course north, speed 20', retreated towards San Bernadino Strait. The air and destroyer attacks had broken up his formations and he had lost control of the battle. Three of his heavy cruisers had been sunk, and the determined resistance had convinced him that persisting with his attack would only cause further Japanese losses.

Almost all of his surviving force succeeded in escaping. Halsey and the Third Fleet battleships arrived too late to cut him off. "Nagato", "Haruna" and "Kongō" had been severely damaged by the torpedoes of Taffy 3's escorts. Kurita had begun the battle with five battleships. On their return to their bases, only "Yamato" remained battleworthy.

As the desperate surface action was coming to an end, Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi put his 'Special Attack Force' into operation, launching "kamikaze" attacks against the Allied ships in Leyte Gulf and the escort carrier units off Samar. The escort carrier "St. Lo" of Taffy 3 was hit by a kamikaze aircraft and eventually sank. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] [Hornfischer, J: “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”. Bantam, 2004.]


Two escort carriers, destroyers "Hoel" and "Johnston", and destroyer escort "Samuel B. Roberts" were sunk and four other American ships damaged. Destroyer "Heermann", despite her unequal fight with the enemy, finished the battle with only six of her crew dead.

More than one thousand sailors and aircrew of the escort carrier units were killed. As a result of communication errors and other failures, a very large number of survivors from Taffy 3 were not rescued for several days, many dying unnecessarily as a consequence. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] [Hornfischer, J: “The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors”. Bantam, 2004.]

The Battle of/off Cape Engaño (25-26 October)

Ozawa's "Northern Force" comprised four aircraft carriers("Zuikaku" – the last survivor of the six carriers which had attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 – the light carriers
"Chitose", and
"Chiyoda"), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers ("Hyūga" and
"Ise" — the two after turrets had been replaced by a hangar, aircraft handling deck and catapult, but neither battleship carried any aircraft in this battle), three light cruisers ("Ōyodo",
"Tama", and
"Isuzu"), and nine destroyers. His force had only 108 aircraft. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

Ozawa's force was not located until 16:40 on 24 October, largely because Sherman's Task Group 38.3, which as the northernmost of Halsey's groups was responsible for searches in this sector, had been too involved with attacking Kurita and defending itself against the air strikes from Luzon. On the evening of 24 October Ozawa intercepted an American signal describing Kurita's withdrawal. He therefore began to withdraw his force as well, but at 20:00 Toyoda Soemu ordered all forces to the attack, 'counting on divine assistance'. Ozawa therefore turned southwards again - towards Third Fleet.

Halsey was convinced that the Northern Force was the main threat, and was determined to seize what he saw as an almost perfect opportunity to destroy Japan's remaining carrier strength. Believing that the Japanese Center Force had been neutralized by Third Fleet's air strikes on 24 October in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, and that its remnants were retiring to Brunei, Halsey radioed "Central Force heavily damaged according to strike reports. Am proceeding north with three groups to attack carrier forces at dawn." [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.]

The force which Halsey was taking north with him - three groups of Mitscher's Task Force 38 - was overwhelmingly stronger than the Japanese Northern Force. Between them these groups had five large fleet carriers("Intrepid",
"Enterprise", and
"Essex"), five "light" fleet carriers ("Independence",
"Belleau Wood",
"Cabot", and
"San Jacinto"), six battleships("Alabama",
"New Jersey",
"South Dakota", and
"Washington"), eight cruisers (two heavy and six light), and more than forty destroyers.The air groups of the ten US carriers present contained a total of more than six hundred aircraft. [Ibid.]

At 02:40 on 25 October Halsey detached Task Force 34, built around the Third Fleet's six battleships and commanded by Vice Admiral Lee. As the dawn approached the ships of Task Force 34 drew ahead of the carrier groups. Halsey intended Mitscher to make air strikes followed by the heavy gunfire of Lee's battleships. (Morison 1956).

Around dawn on 25 October Ozawa launched 75 aircraft to attack the Third Fleet. Most were shot down by American combat air patrols, and no damage was done to the US ships. A few Japanese planes survived and made their way to land bases on Luzon.

During the night Halsey had passed tactical command of Task Force 38 to Admiral Marc Mitscher, who ordered the American carrier groups to launch their first strike wave, of 180 aircraft, at dawn - before the Northern Force had been located. When the search aircraft made contact at 07:10 this strike wave was orbiting ahead of the task force. At 08:00, as the attack went in, its escorting fighters destroyed Ozawa's combat air patrol of about 30 planes. The US air strikes continued until the evening, by which time Task Force 38 had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, sinking "Zuikaku", the light carriers "Chiyoda" and "Zuihō", and the destroyer "Akitsuki". "Chiyoda" was lost with all hands. The light carrier "Chitose" and the cruiser "Tama" were crippled. Ozawa transferred his flag to the light cruiser "Ōyodo".

(Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001).

The Crisis - US Seventh Fleet's calls for help

Shortly after 08:00 desperate messages calling for assistance began to come in from Seventh Fleet. One from Kinkaid, sent in plain language, read: "MY SITUATION IS CRITICAL. FAST BATTLESHIPS AND SUPPORT BY AIR STRIKES MAY BE ABLE TO KEEP ENEMY FROM DESTROYING CVES AND ENTERING LEYTE." Halsey recalled in his memoirs that he was shocked at this message, recounting that the radio signals from the Seventh Fleet had come in at random and out of order due to a backlog in the signals office. It seems that he did not receive this vital message from Kinkaid until around 10:00. Halsey later claimed that he knew Kinkaid was in trouble, but had not dreamed of the seriousness of this crisis.

One of the most alarming signals from Kinkaid reported that, after their action in Surigao Strait, Seventh Fleet's own battleships were critically low on ammunition. Even this failed to persuade Halsey to send any immediate assistance to Seventh Fleet (Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1963). In fact the Seventh Fleet battleships were not as short of ammunition as Kinkaid's signal implied [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] , but Halsey did not know this.

From 3,000 miles (5,000 km) away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: "TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS" The first four words and the last three were "padding" used to confuse enemy listeners (the beginning and end of the true message was marked by double consonants). The communications staff on Halsey's flagship correctly deleted the first section of padding but mistakenly retained the last three words in the message finally handed to Halsey. The last three words, probably selected by a communications officer at Nimitz' headquarters, may have been meant as a loose quote from Tennyson's poem on "The Charge of the Light Brigade", suggested by the coincidence that this day, 25 October, was the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Balaklava - and was not intended as a commentary on the current crisis off Leyte. Halsey, however, when reading the message, thought that the last words - 'THE WORLD WONDERS' - were a biting piece of criticism from Nimitz, threw his cap to the deck and broke into "sobs of rage." Rear Admiral Carney, his Chief of Staff, confronted him, telling Halsey "Stop it! What the hell's the matter with you? Pull yourself together."

Eventually, at 11:15, more than two hours after the first distress messages from Seventh Fleet had been received by his flagship, Halsey ordered Task Force 34 to turn around and head southwards towards Samar. At this point Lee's battleships were almost within gun range of Ozawa's force. Two-and-a-half hours were then spent refuelling Task Force 34's accompanying destroyers. [Ibid.]

After this bizarre and perverse succession of delays it was too late for Task Force 34 to give any practical help to Seventh Fleet, other than to assist in picking up survivors from Taffy 3, and too late even to intercept Kurita's force before it made its escape through San Bernardino Strait.

Nevertheless, at 16:22, in a desperate and even more belated attempt to intervene in the events off Samar, Halsey formed a new Task Group (TG 34.5) under Rear Admiral Badger, built around Third Fleet's two fastest battleships "Iowa" (BB-61) and "New Jersey" (BB-62)—ships capable of a speed of more than 32 knots—and Task Force 34's three cruisers and eight destroyers, and sped southwards, leaving Lee and the other four battleships to follow. As Morison observes, if Badger's group "had" succeeded in intercepting the Japanese Center Force it would have been seriously outgunned by Kurita's battleships. [Ibid.]

Cruisers and destroyers of Task Group 34.5 did, however, encounter and sink destroyer "Nowaki", the last straggler from Center Force, off San Bernadino Strait.

(Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001).

Battle of Cape Engaño - Final Actions

When Halsey turned Task Force 34 southwards at 11:15 he detached a task group of four of its cruisers and nine of its destroyers under Rear Admiral DuBose, and reassigned this to Task Force 38. At 14:15 Mitscher ordered DuBose to pursue the remnants of the Japanese Northern Force. His cruisers finished off the light carrier "Chiyoda" at around 17:00, and at 20:59 his ships sank destroyer "Hatsuzuki" after a very stubborn fight. (Morison 1956).

When Admiral Ozawa learned of the deployment of DuBose's relatively weak task group he ordered battleships "Ise" and "Hyūga" to turn southwards and attack it, but they failed to locate DuBose's group, which they heavily outgunned. Halsey's withdrawal of "all six" of Lee's battleships in his forlorn and belated attempt to assist Seventh Fleet had now, absurdly, rendered Task Force 38 vulnerable to a surface counterattack by the decoy Northern Force.

At about 23:10 American submarine "Jallao" torpedoed and sank light cruiser "Tama" of Ozawa's force. This was the last act of the Battle of Cape Engaño, and - apart from some final air strikes on the retreating Japanese forces on 26 October - the conclusion of the Battle for Leyte Gulf.

(Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001).

Criticism of Halsey

Halsey was criticized for his decision to take Task Force 34 north in pursuit of Ozawa, and for failing to detach it when Kinkaid first appealed for help. A piece of US Navy slang for Halsey's actions is 'Bull's Run', a phrase combining Halsey's newspaper nickname "Bull" (in the US Navy he was known as 'Bill' Halsey) with an allusion to the Battle of Bull Run in the American Civil War.

In his dispatch after the battle, Halsey justified the decision as follows:

: "Searches by my carrier planes revealed the presence of the Northern carrier force on the afternoon of 24 October, which completed the picture of all enemy naval forces. As it seemed childish to me to guard statically San Bernardino Strait, I concentrated TF 38 during the night and steamed north to attack the Northern Force at dawn.

: I believed that the Center Force had been so heavily damaged in the Sibuyan Sea that it could no longer be considered a serious menace to Seventh Fleet." [Ibid.]

Halsey also argued that he had feared that leaving Task Force 34 to defend the strait without carrier support would have left it vulnerable to attack from land-based aircraft, while leaving one of the fast carrier groups behind to cover the battleships would have significantly reduced the concentration of air power going north to strike Ozawa.

However, Morison states that Admiral Lee told him that he would have been fully prepared for the battleships to cover San Bernardino Strait without "any" carrier support. [Ibid.]

Moreover, if Halsey had been in proper communication with Seventh Fleet it would have been entirely practicable for the escort carriers of Task Force 77 to provide adequate air cover for Task Force 34 - a much easier matter than it would be for those escort carriers to defend themselves against the onslaught of Kurita's heavy ships.

It may be argued that the fact that Halsey was aboard one of the battleships, and "would have had to remain behind" with Task Force 34 (while the bulk of his fleet charged northwards to attack the Japanese carriers) may have contributed to this decision. However, it would have been perfectly feasible (and logical) to have taken one or both of Third Fleet's two fastest battleships ("Iowa" and/or "New Jersey") with the carriers in the pursuit of Ozawa, while leaving the rest of the Battle Line off San Bernardino Strait. (Indeed, Halsey's original plan for the composition of Task Force 34 was that it would contain only four, not all six, of the Third Fleet's battleships). Therefore, to guard San Bernardino Strait with a powerful battleship force would "not" have been incompatible with Halsey's personally going north aboard the "New Jersey".

It does seem likely that Halsey was strongly influenced by his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Robert "Mick" Carney, who was also wholeheartedly in favour of taking all Third Fleet's available forces northwards to attack the Japanese carrier force.

Clifton Sprague, commander of Task Unit 77.4.3 in the battle off Samar, was later bitterly critical of Halsey's decision, and of his failure to clearly inform Kinkaid and Seventh Fleet that their northern flank was no longer protected:

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

Regarding Halsey's failure to turn Task Force 34 southwards when Seventh Fleet's first calls for assistance off Samar were received, Morison writes:

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

Instead, as Morison also observes:

: The mighty gunfire of the Third Fleet's Battle Line, greater than that of the whole Japanese Navy, was never brought into action except to finish off one or two crippled light ships. (Morison 1956, pp. 336-7 – Emphasis added by contributor)

: (Note - Task Group 34.5 in fact only finished off the straggling destroyer "Nowaki", and this was not achieved by the battleships, but rather by their accompanying cruisers and destroyers) (Source: US Naval Historical Center

Perhaps the most telling comment is made laconically by Vice Admiral Lee in his action report as Commander of Task Force 34 -

No battle damage was incurred "nor inflicted on the enemy" by vessels while operating as Task Force Thirty-Four.

: [ Task Force 34 Action Report: 6 October 1944 - 3 November 1944 ]

: (Main sources for this section: Woodward 1947, Fuller 1956, Morison 1956, Cutler 2001, Hornfischer 2004).


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

The Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered its greatest loss since the Meiji Restoration. Its failure to dislodge the Allied invaders from Leyte meant the inevitable loss of the Philippines, which in turn meant that Japan would be all but cut off from her occupied territories in Southeast Asia. These territories provided resources which were vital to Japan, in particular the oil needed for her ships and aircraft, and this problem was compounded because the shipyards, and sources of manufactured goods such as ammunition, were in Japan itself. Finally, the loss of Leyte opened the way for the invasion of the Ryukyu Islands in 1945. [Morison, S: “Leyte, June 1944-January 1945, "vol. 12 of "History of United States Naval Operations in World War II”. University of Illinois Press, 1956.] [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.]

The major surface ships had returned to their bases to languish, entirely or almost entirely inactive, for the remainder of the war. The only major operation by its surface ships between the Battle for Leyte Gulf and the Japanese surrender was the disastrous and doomed sortie in April 1945 (part of Operation Ten-Go), in which the battleship "Yamato" and her escorts were destroyed by American carrier aircraft.

The first use of kamikaze aircraft took place following the Leyte landings. A kamikaze hit the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS "Australia" on 21 October. Organized suicide attacks by the "Special Attack Force" began on 25 October during the closing phase of the Battle off Samar, causing the destruction of the escort carrier USS "St. Lo".

J.F.C. Fuller, in his 'The Decisive Battles of the Western World', writes of the outcome of Leyte Gulf:

The Japanese fleet had [effectively] ceased to exist, and, except by land-based aircraft, their opponents had won undisputed command of the sea.

When Admiral Ozawa was questioned . . after the war he replied 'After this battle the surface forces became strictly auxiliary, so that we relied on land forces, special [Kamikaze] attack, and air power . . there was no further use assigned to surface vessels, with the exception of some special ships'.

: And Admiral Yonai, the Navy Minister, said that he realised that 'the defeat at Leyte 'was tantamount to the loss of the Philippines' . .

: As for the larger significance of the battle, he said ' I felt that it was the end .' [Fuller, J: “The Decisive Battles of the Western World - Volume III”. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1956.]



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title = The Battle of Leyte Gulf: 23-26 October 1944
publisher = Naval Institute Press
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id = ISBN 1-55750-243-9

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External links

* [ United States Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific) - Interrogations of Japanese Officials]
* [ Battle Experience: Battle for Leyte Gulf] [Cominch Secret Information Bulletin No. 22]
* [ Task Force 34 Action Report: 6 October 1944 - 3 November 1944 (VAdm Lee)]
* [ Task Force 77 Action Report: Battle of Leyte Gulf (VAdm Kinkaid)]
* [ "Turkey Trots to Water"] — detailed description of the battle from
*Orders of battle: [ Sibuyan Sea] , [ Surigao Strait] , [ Cape Engaño] , [ Samar] .
* [ The Australian contingent / sixtieth anniversary of the battle]
* [ 'Glorious Death: The Battle of Leyte Gulf'] by Tim Lanzendörfer
* []
* [ The Battle Off Samar — Taffy III at Leyte Gulf] by Robert Jon Cox
* [ Return to the Philippines] : public domain documents from
* [ The Battle for Leyte Gulf Revisited] by Irwin J. Kappes
* [ Japan's TA-Operation: A Blueprint for Disaster] by Irwin J. Kappes
* [ 'Loss of the USS "Princeton" (CVL-23), 24 October 1944' - United States' Naval Historical Center]

Audio/visual media

*"Lost Evidence of the Pacific: The Battle of Leyte Gulf". History Channel TV
*"Dogfights: Death of the Japanese Navy". History Channel. TV
*"Battle 360: "Battle of Leyte Gulf". History Channel. TV
* [ Animated History of The Battle of Leyte Gulf]

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