During World War II, Japan suffered defeat in the Pacific due to the decisive victories of the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers. These carriers proved to be an indispensable asset for the U.S. military, enabling it to establish supremacy over the seas and project military power across vast distances. The Pacific battles fought between the U.S. and Japan were characterized by fierce naval combat, with the Americans leveraging their superior technology and tactics to outmaneuver and overpower their opponents. The use of aircraft carriers enabled the U.S. to launch devastating aerial attacks on enemy ships and shore installations, paving the way for a successful military campaign in the Pacific. 

The Naval Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in World War II and one of the largest in history and a decisive victory for the Allies, and it had far-reaching implications for the course of the War in the Pacific. The battle demonstrated the superiority of Allied naval power and marked the end of Japan's naval dominance. It took place in the waters near the island of Leyte in the Philippines from 23 to 26 October 1944. The battle was fought between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Allied naval forces, mainly from the United States.

The Japanese Imperial Navy, led by Admiral Ozawa, launched Operation Shō in October 1944 with the goal of interdicting and destroying the Allied landing forces off Leyte and inflicting severe damage on the US naval forces. The operation involved a multi-pronged attempt by Japan's remaining battleships, cruisers, and carrier forces to stop the Allied momentum in the Pacific.

Initially, the Japanese plan was working as they were successful in luring the US Third Fleet, including its powerful fast battleships, away from Leyte Gulf. This exposed the northern flank of the US Seventh Fleet invasion force. However, the Northern Group was largely destroyed by the carrier air wings of the Third Fleet in the Battle of Cape Engaño on 24 October. Meanwhile, the Southern Force was soundly defeated by the US Seventh Fleet's Bombardment and Fire-Support Group in a surface engagement on 24/25 October in the Battle of Surigao Strait.

The Center Force, which was based in Brunei and approaching the Philippines from the Southwest was hit by the US submarines in the Palawan Strait on 23 October and by US naval air attacks as it transited the Sibuyan Sea on 24 October. After being sighted by American carrier pilots in apparent retirement to the west, the force resumed its eastward passage and broke out of the San Bernardino Strait north of Samar, focused on destroying US amphibious shipping to the south in Leyte Gulf. However, the US Seventh Fleet escort carrier task units were providing close air support and an ASW screen for the Leyte landings, and they were all that was left to face the Center Force once it emerged from the strait on 25 October.

In the ensuing clash, known as the Battle off Samar, the US task units were outnumbered and outgunned, but they were helped by the bravery and skill of their commanders and crews. The US forces deployed smoke screens, used evasive maneuvers, and made use of their small size to launch surprise attacks against the much larger Japanese force. The result was that the Center Force was ultimately forced to withdraw, having suffered heavy losses.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a turning point in the War in the Pacific. It marked the end of Japan's dominance of the seas and the beginning of the decline of its naval power. The Japanese Navy lost four aircraft carriers, three battleships, six cruisers, and nine destroyers, along with thousands of sailors. This was a crippling blow to the Japanese war effort, as they could not replace the loss of such critical vessels. Furthermore, the battle ensured that the US Sixth Army could establish a beachhead on Leyte and continue its offensive in the Philippines. The victory also meant that the US had secured the sea lanes needed to transport troops and supplies in the Pacific. It was a significant moment in the war and one that would pave the way for the eventual defeat of Japan.

12130512295?profile=RESIZE_400xDuring the course of the battle, the United States suffered significant losses, including the sinking of at least 12 warships. Among the ships lost by the United States were one light aircraft carrier, the USS Princeton, and two escort carriers, the USS Gambier Bay and USS St. Lo, which was the first major warship to be sunk by a kamikaze attack. Additionally, two destroyers, the USS Hoel and USS Johnston, two destroyer escorts, the USS Samuel B. Roberts and USS Eversole, and one PT boat, the USS PT-493, were also lost during the battle. Other ships, including the submarine USS Darter, were damaged during the fighting.

Tragically, more than 1,600 Allied sailors and aircrewmen were killed during the battle, with most of the casualties occurring in the escort carrier units. The losses were not evenly distributed, with Allied forces suffering minimal casualties during the Battle of Surigao Strait and the Battle off Cape Engaño. However, at the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Japanese attack on the light aircraft carrier USS Princeton resulted in more than 108 deaths on the ship and 233 deaths and 426 injuries on the light cruiser USS Birmingham due to secondary explosions.

The kamikaze attacks during the conflict were particularly damaging, with the first pre-planned attacks of their kind resulting in the deaths of 123 troops and injuries to over 150 others near Surigao Strait. The Battle off Samar was particularly devastating, with five of the seven ships involved in the battle lost, along with 23 aircraft. The total casualty count for this battle was over 2,000, which was comparable to the combined losses at the Battle of Midway and Battle of Coral Sea.

Even ships that managed to survive the battle were not unscathed. The destroyer Heermann, for example, despite fighting bravely, finished the battle with only six of her crew members still alive. Moreover, communication errors and other failures meant that many survivors from Taffy 3 were unable to be rescued for several days, resulting in avoidable deaths.

The losses were not limited to surface ships alone. During two American submarine battles related to Japanese naval convoys involved in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, two U.S. submarines were lost, and close to 2,000 U.S. troops died. USS Tang (SS-306) sank numerous ships in a large Japanese convoy on its way to Leyte and Leyte Gulf but accidentally sank herself in a circular run on the last torpedo, killing 78 crew members and capturing 9. USS Shark (SS-314) sank the unmarked hell ship Arisan Maru, which was transporting American POWs from the Philippines to Formosa. The Japanese escort ships immediately sank the Shark after the attack, leading to the death of all 87 crew members.

The Japanese also suffered significant losses during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, with the sinking of 28 warships. Among their losses were one fleet aircraft carrier, three light aircraft carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and eleven destroyers. The flagship of the decoy Northern Forces, Zuikaku, and the last of the original attacking Pearl Harbor carriers was the only fleet aircraft carrier lost during the battle.

Historian and US Navy veteran Samuel E. Morison wrote of the battle's aftermath "The Battle of Leyte Gulf did not end the war, but it was decisive. And it should be an imperishable part of our national memory." Speaking specifically of the actions, Morison writes "The night action in Surigao Strait is an inspiring example of perfect timing, coordination and almost faultless execution. And the Battle off Samar had no compeer. The story of that action, with its dramatic surprise, the quick thinking and resolute decisions of Clifton Sprague; the little screening vessels feeling for each other through the rain and smoke and, courting annihilation, making individual attacks on battleships and heavy cruisers; naval aviators making dry runs on enemy ships to divert gunfire from their own; the defiant humor and indomitable courage of bluejackets caught in the 'ultimate of desperate circumstances,' will make the fight of the 'Taffys' with Kurita's Center Force forever memorable, forever glorious." (Morison 1963, 470.)



Dull, Paul. A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy: 1941-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007.

Mawdsley, Evan. The War for the Seas: A Maritime History of World War II. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019.

Morison, Samuel E. The Two Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963.

Stille, Mark. Leyte Gulf: A New History of the World's Largest Sea Battle. London: Osprey Publishing, 2023.

Symonds, Craig L. World War II at Sea: A Global History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Toll, Ian W. Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945 (Vol. 3) (The Pacific War Trilogy). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2020.

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