The Battle of Leyte Gulf - The History and Legacy of World War II's Largest Naval Battle
- United States
More informationThe waters of the Pacific Ocean – stretching deep blue under the tropical sun, or scourged by typhoons – provided World War II's most far-flung battlefield. Two of the world's premier mid 20th century maritime powers, the United States of American and the Empire of Japan, grappled for supremacy across that pelagic expanse. In the process, they forcefully sounded the knell of battleships and naval gunnery, ushering in the era of the aircraft carrier and the submarine.
As 1944 passed, the U.S. Navy (USN) steadily drove the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) westward, closer to the Japanese home islands and defeat. Nevertheless, the IJN remained aggressive, hoping to launch a devastating attack on the American fleets to improve their nation's bargaining position, or perhaps even reverse the fortunes of war. This, of course, ignored a pair of previous catastrophic failures of similar plans, at Midway and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, otherwise known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” due to the loss of around 480 Japanese aircraft at a cost of 49 US planes.
The Americans forced the Japanese to abandon their forward base at Truk. At the same time, the USN moved its main fleet base westward, first to Eniwetok. Due to the constraints of the era's technology, plus the necessity to maintain a robust logistics chain across the Pacific's vast spaces, the island-hopping campaign represented a strategic necessity, with only the specific islands taken or bypassed open to debate.
The U.S. aimed to take Ulithi as the new site for a new forward base in early autumn 1944, pushing fleet resupply even closer to Japan's last bastion. From there, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, swayed by the plans and arguments of General Douglas MacArthur, planned to seize a number of islands and then Leyte in the Philippines as a prelude to invasion of Luzon, then Formosa.
Conducting massive air raids on Leyte in September, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey's air groups destroyed 500 Japanese aircraft and 59 ships at a cost of 9 aircraft shot do