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Battle off Formosa, 12-16 October 1944
The battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) was an air battle between Japanese naval aircraft based on Formosa and the aircraft of the US 3rd Fleet that ended with an overwhelming American victory that crippled Japanese naval air power just days before the battle of Leyte Gulf (23-26 October 1944).
In the summer of 1944 the Japanese were aware that the Americans would probably soon invade the Philippines or Formosa, and put in place a series of plans that they hoped would result in a 'decisive battle' in which the big battleships of the Japanese navy would finally earn their keep. Sho-Go, or Operation Victory, was split into Sho-1 for the defence of the Philippines and Sho-2 for the defence of Formosa. Most of the naval forces involved in these plans were under the command of Admiral Toyoda, commander of the Combined Fleet. When the American air attacks began he was visiting Formosa, and witnessed some of the fighting. Formosa was defended by the Sixth Base Air Force, commanded by Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome.
The forces that were allocated to Sho-Go were effectively withdrawn from combat in the build-up to the battle, to avoid wearing down their strength before the decisive battle. This also helped convince the Americans that Japanese air power was even weaker than it actually was.
The battle was triggered by a series of heavy American attacks that were designed to reduce Japanese air power before the landings at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. On 10 October Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet began a new wave of attacks with a massive strike on Okinawa, part of the Japanese Home Islands (although some way to the south of the main islands). After unleashing his four carrier groups on Okinawa, Halsey then moved south to attack Formosa.
Admiral Toyoda believed that such heavy air attacks had to mark the start of an invasion, and so he issued the orders to begin Sho-1 and Sho-2. When the Americans send the first of three waves of attacks against Formosa on 12 October they were faced with an unexpectedly heavy level of opposition. Two hundred and thirty Japanese aircraft were sent into the attack, outnumbering the incoming American fighters by about 3 to 2. Unfortunately for the Japanese most of their pilots were very inexperienced, and a shortage of fuel meant that they were barely trained. One third of the Japanese fighters were lost in the battle against the first wave of Americans and most of the rest in the second wave. The third wave was thus almost entirely unopposed.
On 13 October the American air attacks met with little opposition, and inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese airfields. That evening the Japanese finally managed to strike back. A force of just over 30 night bombers was sent against the American fleet. The carrier Franklin was hit by bombs but only suffered minor damage. The cruiser Canberra, a rare example of an US warship named after a foreign city, was hit by a torpedo below the armour belt (commemorating HMAS Canberra, lost at the battle of Savo Island in 1942). She was stopped in the water and was in a very vulnerable position, close to enemy territory and over one thousand miles from a safe base. Halsey decided to try and tow the Canberra out of the danger zone.
In order to try and divert attention away from the Canberra, Halsey decided to launch a third series of strikes against Formosa on 14 October. Once again the Americans dominated in the air, but once again the Japanese were able to get through to the fleet, and the light cruiser Houston was hit near the engine room by a torpedo. By the end of the day both the Canberra and the Houston was being towed toward safety.
Those inexperienced Japanese pilots who did survive the battle reported a series of dramatic successes, and their accounts were believed. On 16 October the Japanese announced that they had sunk eleven aircraft carriers, two battleships, three cruisers and one destroyer or light cruiser. They did admit to the loss of 312 aircraft but claimed to have shot down 112 American aircraft in return.
On 15 October the Japanese thus believed that they had inflicted a major defeat on the Americans, and the existence of 'Cripple Division 1', the force attempting to get Canberra and Houston to safety seemed to confirm this. Toyoda ordered Fukudome to go after what he believed were the fleeing remnants of the 3rd Fleet. Another 600 naval aircraft were transferred from Japan to Formosa, including the aircraft that were allocated to the remaining aircraft carriers. Three strikes were launched on 15 October. Two failed to find the Americans and the third was repelled, again with heavy losses.
The final Japanese attacks came on 16 October. This time 107 aircraft found the American ships but only three managed to get past the fighter screen. One of these aircraft managed to get a second torpedo into the Houston, but the badly damaged cruiser remained afloat and with the Canberra reached safety.
The only failure on the American part came when Halsey attempted to use 'Cripple Division 1' to lure part of the Japanese fleet out of the safety of the Inland Sea. At first Toyoda fell for this, and ordered Admiral Shima to bring his II Striking Force out to take part in what he believed was the pursuit of a defeated enemy. Shima's fleet almost fell into the trap, but it was withdrawn after a clash with American aircraft and survived to take part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The battle off Formosa had a major impact on the course of the battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese had managed to gather together a large number of naval aircraft and at least partly trained crews to take part in Sho-Go, but over 600 of them were lost off Formosa. This meant that the Japanese carriers had no air groups and could only be used as a decoy, and the rest of the Japanese fleet lacked any air cover, making it much easier for the Americans to find them and make repeated heavy attacks on them.
The T-Buntai Radar Torpedo Bombers in the Formosa Air Battles
Post by Mil-tech Bard » 08 Apr 2016, 19:09
I am looking for assistance to run down the Japanese side of the Formosa Air Battles of October 1944, specifically anything involving the radar equipped night torpedo bomber force used during the engagements there.
Task Force 38 was attacked by an elite Japanese combined service force of 83 to 100 radar equipped twin engine torpedo bombers of the IJNAF and IJAAF off Formosa on the nights of 12/13 and 13/14 October 1944. The force suffered over 50% casualties and had only the heavy cruiser of TF38.1 USS Canberra and (possibly) the light cruiser of TF38.2 USS Houston torpedoed to show for it.
Neither ship was sunk, but both were out of the war for months.
From the American side I have the following --
1) Page 92 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: Leyte, June 1944 refers to this as the "T-Force." No mention is made of the radar capability of the torpedo bombers.
2) Alfred Price's The History of US Electronic Warfare. Volume 1 - "The Years of Innovation-Beginnings to 1946" at page 200 referred to this as the "T-Buntai" force. http://www.amazon.com/History-Electroni . CG4HBZAHX4
This book was also his PHD paper at Loughborough University titled The Evolution of Electronic Warfare Equipment and Techniques in the USA, 1901 to 1945 and available for download here -- https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui . /2134/7410
The feint was entirely successful As well as drawing to their
destruction many of the aircraft based on Formosa, it forced the
Japanese high command to commit the 'T-Buntai': its elite force of
radar-fitted twin-engined torpedo bombers being held back on the
home islands for the decisive battle against the US fleet,. On the
evening of 12 October about a hundred aircraft of the ' T-Buntai'
took off from Kyushu and Okinawa to launch a large scale night
torpedo attack with radar assistance on the US Task Force - the
first of its kind ever attempted by the Japanese (5). Most of the
aircraft involved were Navy Mitsubishi G4M 'Betty' bombers fitted
with the 150 to 160 MHz Air Mark VI search radar. But there were
also twenty-three of the new Army Mitsubishi Ki-67 'Peggy' bombers
carrying the 200 to 209 MHz Taki-1 search radar - neither this
aircraft nor its radar had previously been encountered by US forces (6).
The Japanese raiders arrived in the area of the warships to find
heavy rain squalls which prevented effective torpedo attacks. However
these same weather conditions did not hinder the radar- fitted
Hellcats of night fighter squadron VFW-41 operating from USS
Independence. The US fighters fought a running battle with the torpedo
bombers and claimed five shot down (7) others fell to the guns
of the US warships. A similar Japanese air attack on the following
evening resulted in a hit on the cruiser Canberra and a very near
miss on the aircraft carrier Franklin this, for the loss of 42 or
nearly half of the T-Buntai's aircraft (8)
Although the night torpedo attacks achieved little success they
caused a flurry of excitement in the US Pacific Fleet: the Japanese
airborne radars operated on frequencies well below the cover of the
high power TDY jammer and the lower power jammers designed for
aircraft use could not be guaranteed to conceal warships on the
radars of bombers closing to short range to launch torpedoes. On this
occasion the US warships had been lucky - the weather had been bad
and the Hellcats had been able to spoil many of the attacks. Another
time the ships might not be so fortunate. It was essential that US
warships receive an effective high-powered jammer to counter the
enemy airborne radars operating on frequencies in the 150 to 210
MHz band, and quickly. A cry for help reached Division 15 and Dr
Guy Suits described what happened next:
Somebody pushed the panic button and Division 15 was tasked with producing a Under our sponsorship Albert Hull and his team at the General Electric laboratories
modification of TDY to enable it to counter the radar, as rapidly as possible.
redesigned the TDY magnetron to cover the lower frequencies and
within a week they had hand-built fifty examples. These were rushed to the
Pacific by air and within two weeks of the initial request the first had been
installed in ships and were ready to go into action.(9)
Under our sponsorship Albert Hull and his team at the General Electric laboratories
In 1944 the official term for the procedure to deal with such high
parity orders was ' Crash Procurement Procedure' the modern term
'Quick Reaction Capability' had yet to be coined, but there can be
no doubt that the capability itself existed in full measure.
3) I ran down the Dr Guy Suits quote down in Radio Countermeasures RCM - A Brief Look at NDRC Division 15's Impact on Radio Countermeasures (RCM) Activities During the Second World War (Alfred Price editor)
Full Dr. C. Guy Suits interview "T-Buntai" excerpt from pages 6-7
So far as I recall there was only one authentic flap in the Pacific theater
leading to demands for urgent countermeasures help and that, perhaps surprisingly,
came from the Navy. In October 1944 a U.S. task force operating off
Formosa came under attach at night from Japanese aircraft using a new type of
radar to aim their torpedoes. The new radar worked on frequencies lower than
those covered by the U.S. ships' TOY jammers and so posed a grave threat. **
Somebody pushed the panic button and Division 15 was tasked with producing a
modification of TDY to enable it to counter the radar, as rapidly as possible.
Under our sponsorship Albert Hull and his team at the General Electric laboratories
redesigned the TDY magnetron to cover the lower frequencies and
within a week they had hand-built fifty examples. These were rushed to the
Pacific by air and within two weeks of the initial request the first had been
installed in ships and were ready to go into action. I think one might find
it difficult to get inside that time scale even today!
**Note by Alfred Price. The new radar was a special version
of the Air Mark VI fitted to many Japanese aircraft and worked
on frequencies between 135 and 170 MHz. The prev1ous
lowest frequency encountered from the Japanese shipborne
radars had been the warning and fire control sets
working on 190 MHz.
How America Won History's Largest Naval Battle at Leyte Gulf
Most of Tokyo's navy was ruined and Washington inched closer to invading the Japanese homeland.
Here's What You Need to Know: At stake would be the survival of the Japanese Empire.
In late October 1944, the United States and Japan fought what was, by the most useful metrics, the largest naval battle in history. An American armada of more than 300 ships intended to begin the liberation of the Philippines at the island of Leyte. Nearly seventy Japanese warships sought to stop that invasion. The fleets collided in dramatic fashion, with moments of terror and heroism on both sides. By the end, the United States had established a foothold in the Philippines, and the Imperial Japanese Navy was finished as a major fighting force.
Japan’s military situation had become dire in the wake of the Battle of Philippine Sea. In that battle Japan had lost three fleet carriers (including its newest, Taiho, and one of the survivors of Pearl Harbor, Shokaku), and a tremendous number of pilots and aircraft. U.S. advantages after Philippine Sea only grew, as more American ships and planes came into service. Japan’s outer ring of island defenses had been pierced, and its central supply lines to the resources (particularly oil) of Southeast Asia were now vulnerable. The United States Navy, for its part, had flexed its muscles at Philippine Sea and in other raids along the Japanese periphery, and was now confident of its advantages. Moreover, despite the setback at Arnhem it had become clear that the victory over Germany was only a matter of time.
The United States had the luxury of determining where the next battle would be fought. After debating whether to invade Formosa or the Philippines, the United States decided to concentrate its attention on the latter. Considerations included the promise that General Douglas MacArthur had made when he left U.S. forces in 1942, the continuing pro-American resistance on the islands, and the belief that they would provide a base for straddling Japan’s remaining supply lines to Southeast Asia. Decisionmakers also worried that the Formosa operation would take up too much manpower, and that it had the potential to draw the United States too deeply into China.
Once the decision to invade the Philippines was made, the American settled on Leyte as the primary invasion target. The island of 900,000 was thought to have a particularly sympathetic population, good invasion beaches and terrain well-suited to U.S. military strengths. The Americans began by launching raids against Formosa and the Ryukus in mid-October, designed to degrade Japan’s land-based air. These raids succeeded not only in destroying a large portion of Japan’s air forces, but also in temporarily leaving the Japanese in the dark about U.S. plans.
U.S. intentions became clear on October 17, when American troops began landings on outlying islands off Leyte. The main landings commenced on October 20. Admiral Thomas Kincaid, commander of the 7 th Fleet, was tasked with softening up the beaches on Leyte, as well as protecting them from Japanese attack. His battle squadron, under the command of Jesse Oldendorf, consisted of six older battleships (several of which were attacked at Pearl Harbor), eight cruisers and twenty-eight destroyers. Twelve small escort carriers, screened by destroyers and destroyer escorts, would protect the actual landing sites.
The cream of American naval power lay in the 3 rd Fleet. At his disposal Admiral William “Bull” Halsey had the most powerful naval formation in the world. It included eight fleet carriers, eight light carriers, six fast battleships, and a multitude of cruisers and destroyers. Halsey wanted to ensure the security of the landings, but also hoped to destroy what was left of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Japan’s ability to resist was waning rapidly, leading Imperial Japanese Navy commanders to believe that they had to take high risks to have any chance of prevailing. The Japanese prepared a variety of contingency plans for defeating invasions of probable U.S. targets, including Formosa and the Philippines. When the raids began on October 12, the Japanese initially thought the blow would fall on Formosa. Once it became clear that the Philippines would be the target, the Imperial Japanese Navy put its Victory plan into effect.
The massive loss of carrier and pilots at Philippine Sea meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy could no longer rely on its carrier force as a useful strike arm. Instead, to distract American carriers away from the battleships and cruisers of the Combined Fleet, the Japanese decided to create a sacrificial force of four aircraft carriers (along with attendant escorts) in order to lure American forces away from the main effort.
Three other Japanese task forces would approach Leyte on different headings. Admiral Shoji Nishimura would command a force of two battleships, one cruiser and four destroyers headed for the Surigao Strait, the eastern gateway to the landings at Leyte. Admiral Kiyohide Shima would support Nishimura with three cruisers and four destroyers. The cream of the Imperial Japanese Navy would approach Leyte from the west. A massive battlefleet under Admiral Takeo Kurita included five battleships, twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers. HIJMS Yamato and HIJMS Musashi, the world’s largest battleships, formed the core of Kurita’s force.
The Japanese plan required careful timing and an enormous amount of luck. If it worked, it would bring the soft underbelly of the 7 th Fleet under the guns of the most powerful battleships in the world. If that happened, the invasion of Leyte could be delayed, or even defeated, setting back U.S. war aims by months at least.
The stage was set. The most powerful naval task force ever assembled would meet one of the world’s largest remaining fleet of ships and aircraft. At stake would be the survival of the Japanese Empire, the independence of the Philippines, and the lives of nearly 200,000 sailors. By the end, the Imperial Japanese Navy would be broken as a fighting force, and the liberation of the Philippines would have begun.
Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to the National Interest, is the author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a senior lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money, Information Dissemination and the Diplomat.
The Invasion that never was.
"The (US) Joint Chiefs of Staff have decided that our first major objective in the war against Japan will be the vital Luzon-Formosa-China Coast area. with an occupation of Formosa by target date 15 Oct. 1945.
It may be expected that the enemy will oppose the operation with full strength. and this opposition may be of an all out character."
Operation Causeway Preliminary Report June 21, 1944.
PHELIM KINE looks back at the decisions that saved Taiwan from what would have been one of the biggest invasions of modern military history.
The China News © Sunday, August 10, 1997, wishes to gratefully acknowledge the generous assistance of Mr. Robert B. Sheeks, Major, USMCR Retired, as the primary source of information for this article.
Half a million American troops. More than 4000 ships. Thousands of aircraft. In the summer of 1944, American military stratagists had begun preparartions for Operation Causeway, the codename for a massive invasion of Taiwan by air, sea and land.
Chronicle of an invasion survivor
Piles of books and historical texts about the Pacific war, sheaves of declassified US government documents. Copies of military maps detailing the Taiwan invasion landing zone as well as submarine and supply ship routes. For former US Marine intellegence officer, Robert B. Sheeks, the decades of interest and accumulation of data about Operation Causeway is rooted in very personal reasons. "I discovered after the war that my division (US Marine Corps 2nd Division) had been scheduled to be in the initial landing force on Taiwan," he explains. Cancellation of Operation Causeway, Sheeks admits, "greatly increased my chances of surviving to the end of the war."
Sheeks is no stranger to the grim calculus of invasion casualties. After several months of Japanese language training in the US in 1942, then Marine Lieutenant Robert B. Sheeks was assigned to assist in the interrogation of Japanese prisoners taken during the bloody island-hopping campaigns of Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan and Tinian Islands. "The Tarawa Japanese military garrison consisted of 5000 troops. In the end I only escorted 19 (Japanese) survivors back to Pearl Harbor," Sheeks says sadly.
On Saipan, Sheeks was awarded the Bronze Star for "heroic achievement" due to his efforts in convincing hundreds of Japanese to surrender rather than fight to the death or commit suicide. "When large numbers of civilians were driven into hiding by our advance during the latter stages of operations, he moved with frontline units despite considerable personal danger, and utilized public address systems to call civilians and soldiers out of hiding, thereby effecting the surrender of large numbers of the enemy." Sheeks' Bronze Star citation reads.
In spite of the brutality of the Pacific campaign, for Sheeks and his fellow officers, the prospect of an invasion of Taiwan filled them with anticipation. "The prospect of invading Taiwan was important to us because it was so close to Japan," he explains. "It would have meant that the end of the war would have been in sight."
For Sheeks, the son of an American business family in Shanghai, a Taiwan invasion was also a symbolic step closer to "home" in China.
While the cancellation of Operation Causeway forstalled Sheeks' dream of returning to China through Taiwan, he did finally arrive in Taiwan as a US Consulate officer in 1949, as a result of another twist of history. "In 1948. I was assigned to the US Consulate General in Shanghai," he writes in a brief autobiography. "I was reassigned to the Consulate in Taipei, which later became the American Embassy."
Sheeks' tenure at the US Consulate and Embassy in Taipei as Public Affairs Officer and Director of the United States Information Service (USIS) from 1949-1951, began a five-decade relationship with Taiwan that continues to this day. Now working as a management consultant, Sheeks continues to do research on the aborted invasion of Taiwan for a series of articles he plans to write on that part of WWII. "It's one of the most facinating 'what-ifs' of the Second World War." Sheeks says, explaining his interest in the plan that he himself would have taken part in, "but it's something that most people have never heard of."
Targeting Fortress Formosa
It almost happened. Fifty-three years ago, military planners in Washington and the Pacific Command were putting the final touches to a plan to accelerate the defeat of Japan through the invasion of the Japanese home islands. The target: Taiwan.
In 1944, Taiwan, or Formosa as it was still known in the West, was entering it's 49th year within the Japanese empire, a part of the euphemistically-titled East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. From the earliest days of the Pacific war, Taiwan had proven its worth to its colonial masters, making considerable contributions to the Japanese war effort. From Taiwanese ports and airfields a reliable stream of men and material for Japanese operations had poured into the Philippines, the Malayan Peninsula and Indonesia.
"Taiwan was a transfer base for troops going between Japan and Southeast Asia, it was a good place to stockpile supplies," explains amateur military historian and former US consular officer in Taiwan, Robert B. Sheeks. "Taiwan also produced a lot of rice and other food the Japanese needed. "For the Japanese, Taiwan was like Japan's food bowl," Sheeks says.
Manpower was also a significant contribution Taiwan made to the Japanese war effort. Taiwanese conscripts were assigned to fight in the Pacific theater. Taiwanese aboriginal recruits in the Japanese Imperial Army proved particularly valuable in the Japanese offensive against American forces in the Philippines in 1941 and 1942. "Some of the aborigines from Taiwan were specially recruited to take part in the assault on Corregidor and Bataan," Sheeks says.
In spite of its role within the Japanese military machine, until mid 1944, the Pacific war remained, for most Taiwanese, a matter of newsreel footage and reports from Japanese troops in transit between combat areas. However, by the second half of 1944, events on the other side of the world had conspired to transform Taiwan from its position of safe obscurity to a point of essential strategic importance for the Allied Command.
For officers in Washington and throughout the Pacific, Taiwan was increasingly perceived as a key jumping-off point for the long-anticipated invasion of the Japanese home islands. "The Anglo-American invasion of France had succeeded and Army General MacArthur and Naval Admiral Nimitz were battering the inner ring of Japan's defenses from the Marianas and Western New Guinea." writes Phil Spector in his history of the Pacific war, "Eagle Against the Sun." "The question was where to go next."
Admiral Ernest King, US Chief of Naval Operations, was determined that Taiwan would be next. According to historian David Sommerville in his book "World War II, Day By Day," King perceived the capture of Taiwan as essential for "strangling" the Japanese home islands. "Admiral King believed that all sea and air lines of communication from Japan south could be effectively throttled by holding the Marianas, Formosa and a foothold on the China coast," Sommerville writes.
To invade and occupy Taiwan, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff' planned the largest invading force yet seen in the war. An attacking force of 302,000 US Army troops and 100,000 marines supported by thousands more in planes and ships, matched even the huge force which had taken part in the June 6 D-Day landings in France. However, later estimates regarding the scale of the invasion indicate that the numbers of troops required would have been even higher.
"I think the official estimates of what the invasion would have required were optimistic," Sheeks says today. "Considering the size of Taiwan and the traditional military ratio of having an invasion force at least three times larger than the defending forces, the true number of US forces necessary for the invasion would have been closer to 500,000, including land, sea, air and logistical support," he says.
Landing at four beachheads on Taiwan's southern coast between Kaoshiung and Kenting, the attacking forces would have consolidated control of the southern third of the island and then proceeded northward along the west coast toward the Japanese colonial administrative center at Taipei. "Development of airfields and port facilities devoted to bombing Japan would have been operational within the first couple of weeks of the invasion." Sheeks says. "Within 2-3 months, the island would effectively have been under Allied control for all practical purposes."
In spite of the intricately painstaking detail of Operation Causeway's preliminary draft, Taiwan was spared the onslaught of American military might by problems caused by the sheer scale of the invasion. Estimates of the troop numbers necessary for the invasion exceeded the number available in the entire Pacific area at the time, requiring the invasion to be postponed until a massive transfer of troops from the European theater of the war could be transferred to the Pacific. In light of this fact, General MacArthur's promise of a faster, easier route to the Japanese home islands by bypassing Taiwan and pursuing an invasion of the island of Luzon, proved persuasive to military planners at the time.
At the same time, one of the main strategic attractions and assumptions of the proposed invasion - the access to Allied-controlled air bases on the East China coast - vanished, as the result of a preemptive strike by Japanese forces. "The Japanese had correctly guessed that the US would try to support an invasion of Japan from China," Sheeks explains," so they quickly launched their own attacks to forestall this possibility, and occupied all airfields and ports along the East China coast."
In the end, General Douglas MacArthur's promise to "return" to the Philippines he abandoned in 1942 proved to be the decisive factor in shelving Operation Causeway. The proposal to take Taiwan was a threat to MacArthur's ambition to fulfill his dramatic vow, and he fought Operation Causeway tooth and claw in favor of "island-hopping" up the Philippines archipelago. "MacArthur had tunnel vision," Robert Sheeks says of the famous general's desire to reconquer the Philippines. "He wanted to return to the Philippines to the exclusion of other alternatives."
Map shown above provided, Courtesy of Robert B. Sheeks. A copy of the original battle plan for the military assault codenamed Operation Causeway, which would have sent hundreds of thousands of US Army, Navy and Air Force personnel pouring into Taiwan in an attempt to overwhelm the occupying Japanese forces. This top secret 1944 document has recently been declassified by the US Government.
MacArthur's popularity with the American public has led some military historians to conclude that President Roosevelt secretly traded his support for a Philippines invasion in return for the general's support in the upcoming presidential election in 1945. "MacArthur had not only force of personality, he had appeal to the American public who agreed with him when he said 'We should go back (to the Philippines)," Sheeks says. "MacArthur had the ability to attract or deflect votes for Roosevelt and some analysts conclude that a deal was struck between them."
On October 3, 1944, the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to bypass Taiwan in favor of MacArthur's Philippine island strategy spelled the end of Operation Causeway. Taiwan was left, in MacArthur's words, "to wither on the vine." Although Taiwan was still subject to continual air attacks from 1943 to 1945, the abandonment of Operation Causeway spared the island massive devastation and the lives of thousands of Taiwanese civilians as well as those of Japanese and American troops. "A terrible tragedy was averted," Sheeks points out.
Invading Taiwan: inside Operation Causeway
TAIWAN'S SOUTHERN COAST IS NOW synonymous with the last vestiges of Taiwan's tropical seaside beauty. A half century ago, however, American military planners had very different plans for the beaches of Pingtung County. On detailed maps of the island, American strategists plotted naval artillery barrages, strafing runs, napalm attacks and troop landings in the heart of what is now the outdoor recreation center of Taiwan. A look through the former "top secret" plans for Operation Causeway reveals America's step-by-step plan to wrest Taiwan from control of the Japanese.
1. Blinding the Enemy: "Prior to the operations, the sea communications of Formosa and the Pescadores (Penghu) will be destroyed to the maximum extent practicable by the operations of submarines and by surface and air attacks on shipping." (Operation Causeway preliminary draft).
2. Invasion Day -3: Three days before the actual landing of troops, ships stationed off the south coast of Taiwan would "initiate intensive attacks by (aircraft carrier-based planes) in preparation for the assault."
3. Invasion Day -2: Air attacks would have been coordinated with bombardments of naval gunfire by the hundreds of gunships around the coast.
4. Invasion Day: On the day of the invasion itself, American army troops and marines would have hit the beaches at four different points. From each beachhead, the American troops were assigned specific targets such as airfields and river crossings. Their overall objective was the same, however. ". capture, occupy and defend and develop the western coastal plain of Formosa south of an east-west line through Tainan."
Talinpu Beachhead: The task force that landed at Talinpu was assigned to capture the City of Fengshan and then proceed on to take the port city of Kaohsiung.
After consolidating control of the southern third of the island, Navy "Seabee" engineering units would have begun work on making the airfields suitable for fighter and bomber sorties on Northern Taiwan and the home islands of Japan.
"Thereafter, the expeditionary troops will advance northward and secure additional areas on the western coastal plain of Formosa to the maximum extent permitted by the means available." the draft states.
5. In a seamless sequence unknown outside of a small circle of military planners, the American strategists foresaw the landing of troops on Matsu and a further invasion of nearby coastal regions of China, twenty and forty days respectively after the initial Taiwan D-Day.
Amidst the dry, technical phraseology of the American invasion plans for Taiwan, the unusually blunt warning about the expected Japanese resistance to the attack stands out. But by mid-1944, American military planners were under no illusion about the ferocity of Japanese opposition to American landings. The thousands of American lives lost on the blood-soaked beaches of Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian and Guadalcanal had vanquished the hopes of even the most optimistic military planners that the Japanese would loosen their grip on their remaining Pacific holdings without a fight.
Throughout the American campaign to retake the Pacific islands lost to the Japanese forces at the outset of the war, the invaders had learned hard, costly lessons on how the Japanese could turn the most barren atolls into deathtraps that they were willing to defend to the last man. The intensity of the Japanese defense of Taiwan would, military experts agree, have matched the savage fighting of earlier Pacific campaigns.
Unlike previous invasion sites, Taiwan had remained relatively unscathed by military operations throughout much of the war. "On Taiwan (Japanese) morale was still high in 1944," Sheeks notes. "Taiwan was a nice place and it felt a lot like home (to the Japanese)."
The proximity of Taiwan to the home islands of Japan gave the defenders of the island an added sense of urgency. "Even though Taiwan was just a colony, it had been part of the Empire for a long time and was close enough to the home islands to make the Japanese want to fight to keep it." Sheeks adds.
Unlike previous military engagements in the Pacific war, the duration of the Japanese occupation on Taiwan had allowed the colonizers to develop valuable links with the local Taiwanese population. "Taiwan would have been an entirely different battle," Sheeks says, "Unlike the Philippines and other places, the local (Taiwanese) population had been "Japanized" to some extent."
"Japanization," Sheeks explains, meant that the Japanese defenders on Taiwan could count on the assistance of local Taiwanese troops and labor battallions to assist them in the event of an Allied invasion.
Indeed, the size of the Japanese forces lying in wait on Taiwan for invading American forces would have been exponentially higher than the relatively smaller groups of defenders encountered in previous battles. "There are now approximately 50,000 ground troops based on Formosa," a top secret US Army logistics memorandum on Operation Causeway reported on Aug. 17, 1944. "It is believed that (the Japanese) will probably have twice that number there by Jan.1945 in addition to 70,000 air force and service personnel."
The huge numbers of US troops needed to overwhelm this number of Japanese defenders of Taiwan would have been subject to torturous and possibly unreliable lines of supply that would have complicated their task immensely.
"There are no bases or depots to support the operation from an Army point of view, west of the West Coast of the US," the invasion plan's preliminary draft states soberly.
In contrast the Japanese defenders would have been able to count on reinforcements and resupply from the relatively near home islands of Japan. "If (US forces) had been confined to the (landing points in the) south, (the Japanese> would have been bringing (reinforcements) into Keelung and other places up north." Sheeks states.
While the decision of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 3 to abandon Operation Causeway makes any discussion on the possible course and conduct of the US invasion of Taiwan highly speculative, Robert' Sheeks believes that history has provided a credible model for what such an invasion would have entailed. "(The battle of) Okinawa is a pretty good indictor of what would have happened on Taiwan. (Although) Okinawa is much more concentrated (in size) and closer to Japan than Taiwan the Taiwan invasion could have been very similar," he says.
As they did on Okinawa, Sheeks says that defending Japanese forces on Taiwan, would probably have followed a "defense in depth" strategy. Invading forces would have been allowed to land, relatively unopposed, then would have been attacked in earnest as they gathered on the ground. "This type of strategy offered the Japanese three advantages," Sheeks explains. "They could conserve ammunition, have concentrated, easier targets, and expose more US supply ships anchored offshore to Kamikaze attacks."
Like Okinawa, Taiwan offered unique geographical formations that would have maximized the defense capabilities of the Japanese forces dug in against the invading Americans. "On Okinawa the Japanese used traditional Chinese style graves dug into hillsides as ready-made machine gun and mortar bases," Sheeks says, "and no doubt they would have used similar tactics here in Taiwan."
Advancing northward up Taiwan's western coast, the western foothills would have offered the defenders an age-old natural advantage. "The western coast area doesn't offer much in the way of natural cover," Sheeks notes, "It's basically agricultural plain with some shallow rivers running across it." "The Japanese would have attacked the Americans from the hills in the same way that aborigines had attacked Japanese forces when they first arrived in Taiwan."
Progress up the island to the northern tip would be characterized by "meter-by-meter-fighting," Sheeks says, culminating in a "prolonged battle" with retreating Japanese forces in the mountains near Keelung. "I don’t think (the invading force) would have been driven off of Taiwan by the Japanese" Sheeks concludes, "but there would have been some costly warfare, particularly around the mid-western coast of the island."
The victory of Allied forces over the Japanese in Taiwan that Sheeks assumes in retrospect would have been costly indeed. Estimates by wartime planners of the predicted casualties involved in the taking of Taiwan were, some analysts contend, the final decisive factor in favor of MacArthur's long-sought Philippine island invasion instead. Based on estimates extrapolated from the casualty figures of the Saipan invasion, the US military predicted at least 150,000 American dead and wounded resulting from an invasion of Taiwan.
More tragic still would have been the even higher civilian casualties resulting from the intense, extended bombardment the island would come under from both the sea and land. "(The Americans) would have pounded (Taiwan) and just kept pounding it," Robert Sheeks observes. "The civilian population of Taiwan would have suffered tremendously, as it did in Okinawa."
Most interesting in the contemplation of the 'what-ifs' of the results of a successful American invasion of Taiwan is the effect an extended American occupation of the island would have had on the relationship of mainland China and Taiwan. "Taiwan would inevitably been under a post-war American occupation, similar to that of Okinawa and the rest of Japan, for at least two years," Sheeks observes.
The effects of such a large American presence so close to the Chinese mainland during the throes of the Chinese civil war could very well have changed world history. "The US perhaps would not have allowed the Nationalists to come to Taiwan from the mainland immediately," Sheeks says, "but the chances are the US would have been inclined to give more (military) backing to the Nationalists on the mainland against the Japanese, because of the large American presence on Taiwan."
For the people of Taiwan, the bloody and brutal invasion of their island might have fundamentally changed the destiny of their homeland. "Eventually," Sheeks says, "the US occupation forces would probably have had to turn Taiwan back to the Nationalists or allowed the island to determine its own future."
Reflecting on his own experiences in other liberated areas of the Pacific, Sheeks raises one other intriguing possibility of what may have become of Taiwan in the wake of a successful American invasion of the island. "People (in Taiwan) might have done what people said to me in Saipan and Okinawa after the invasions there," Sheeks says with a smile. "People would come up to me and say 'Can we come under American protection?' 'Can we become part of the US?"
NEW LIST OF BATTLE-STAR OPERATIONS
A revised list of operations and engagements for which stars may be worn on area service ribbons has been issued by Cominch. The new list (NDB, 30 June, 45-712) follows:
PEARL HARBOR-MIDWAY (7 Dec. 1941)
WAKE ISLAND (8-23 Dec. 1941)
PHILIPPINE ISLANDS OPERATION
Including concurrent Asiatic Fleet operations (8 Dec. 1941-6 May 1942)
NETHERLANDS EAST INDIES ENGAGEMENTS * (23 Jan.-27 Feb. 1942)
Makassar Strait (23-24 Jan. 1942)
Badoeng Strait (19-20 Feb. 1942)
Java Sea (27 Feb. 1942) PACIFIC RAIDS-1942
Marshall-Gilbert raids (1 Feb. 1942)
Air Action off Bougainville (20 Feb. 1942)
Wake island raid (24 Feb. 1942)
Marcus Island raid (4 March 1942)
Salamaua-Lae raid (10 March 1942)
CORAL SEA (4-8 May 1942)
MIDWAY (3-6 June 1942)
GUADALCANAL - TULAGI LANDINGS, including First Savo (7-9 Aug. 1942)
CAPTURE AND DEFENSE OF GUADALCANAL (10 Aug. '42-8 Feb. '43)
MAKIN RAID (17-18 Aug. 1942)
EASTERN SOLOMONS (Stewart Island) (23-25 Aug. 1942)
BUIN-FAISI-TONOLAI RAID (5 Oct. 1942)
CAPE ESPERANCE (Second Savo) (11-12 Oct. 1942)
SANTA CRUZ ISLANDS (26 Oct. 1942)
GUADALCANAL (Third Savo) (12-15 Nov. 1942)
TASSAFARONGA (Fourth Savo) (30 Nov.-1 Dec. 1942)
EASTERN NEW GUINEA OPERATION * (17 Dec. 1942-24 July 1944)
Designated duty in connection with motor torpedo boat operations (17 Dec. 1942-24 July 1944)
Lae occupation (4-22 Sept. 1943)
Finschhafen occupation (22 Sept. 1943-17 Feb. 1944)
Saidor occupation (2 Jan.-1 March '44)
Wewak-Aitape operations (14-24 July 1944)
Supporting and consolidating operations designated by Commander 7th Fleet (17 Dec. 1942-24 July 1944)
RENNELL ISLAND (29-30 Jan. 1943)
CONSOLIDATION OF SOLOMON ISLANDS * (8 Feb. 1943-15 March 1945)
Consolidation of Southern Solomons (8 Feb.-20 June 1943)
Consolidation of Northern Solomons (27 Oct. 1943-15 March 1945)
ALEUTIANS OPERATIONS * (26 March2 June 1943)
Komandorski Island (26 March 1943) Attu occupation (11 May-2 June 1943)
NEW GEORGIA OPERATION * (20 June-16 Oct. 1943)
New Georgia-Rendova-Vangunu occupation (20 June-31 Aug. 1943)
Kula Gulf action (5-6 July 1943)
Kolombangara action (12-13 July 1943)
Vella Gulf action (6-7 Aug. 1943)
Vella Lavella occupation (15 Aug.-16 Oct. 1943)
Action off Vella Lavella (6-7 Oct. 1943)
PACIFIC RAIDS-1943 *
Marcus Island raid (31 Aug. 1943)
Tarawa Island raid (18 Sept. 1943)
Wake Island raid (5-6 Oct. 1943)
TREASURY - BOUGAINVILLE OPERATION * (27 Oct.-15 Dec. 1943)
Supporting air actions (27 Oct.-15 Dec.1943)
Treasury Islands landing (27 Oct.-6 Nov. 1943)
Choiseul Is. diversion (28 Oct.-4 Nov.'43)
Occupation and defense of Cape Torokina (1 Nov.-15 Dec. 1943)
Bombardment of Buka-Bonis (31 Oct.-1 Nov. 1943)
Buka-Bonis strike (1-2 Nov. 1943)
Bombardment of Shortland Area (1 Nov. 1943)
Battle of Empress Augusta Bay (1-2 Nov. 1913)
Rabaul strike (5 Nov. 1943)
Action off Empress Augusta Bay (8-9 Nov. 1943)
Rabaul strike (11 Nov. 1943)
Battle off Cape St. George (24-25 Nov. 1943)
GILBERT ISLANDS OPERATION (13 Nov.-8 Dec. 1943)
MARSHALL ISLANDS OPERATION * (26 Nov. 1943-2 March 1944)
Air attacks designated by CincPac on defended Marshall Islands targets (26 Nov. 1943-2 March 1944)
Occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls (29 Jan.-8 Feb. 1944)
Occupation of Eniwetok Atoll (17 Feb.2 March 1944)
Attack on Jaluit Atoll (20 Feb. '1944)
BISMARCK ARCHIPELAGO OPERATION * (25 June 1943-1 May 1944)
Designated duty in connection with motor torpedo boat operations (25 June 1943-1 May 1944)
Supporting air actions (15 Dec. 1943-1 May 1944)
Arawe, New Britain (15 Dec. 1943-1 March 1944)
Kavieng strike (25 Dec. 1943)
Cape Gloucester, New Britain (26 Dec. 1943-1 March 1944)
Kavieng strike (1 Jan. 1944)
Kavieng strike (4 Jan. 1944)
Green Islands landing (15-19 Feb. 1944)
Bombardments of Kavieng and Rabaul (18 Feb. 1944)
Anti-shipping sweeps and bombardments of Kavieng (21-25 Feb. 1944)
Anti-shipping sweeps and bombardments of Rabaul and New Ireland (24 Feb.-1 March 1944)
Admiralty Islands landings (29 Feb.-17 April 1944)
Supporting and consolidating operations designated by Commander 7th Fleet (25 June 1943-1 May 1944)
ASIATIC-PACIFIC RAIDS-1944 *
Truk attack (16-17 Feb. 1944)
Marianas attack (21-22 Feb. 1944)
Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai raid (30 March-1 April 1944)
Sabang raid (19 April 1944)
Truk, Satawan, Ponape raid (29 April-1 May 1944)
Soerabaja raid (17 May 1944)
WESTERN NEW GUINEA OPERATIONS * (21 April-15 Nov. 1944)
Designated duty in connection with motor torpedo boat operations (21 April-15 Nov. 1944)
Hollandia operations (Aitape-Humboldt Bay-Tanahmerah Bay) (21 April-1 June 1944)
Toem-Wakde-Sarmi area operation (17 May-21 June 1944)
Biak Is. operation (27 May-21 June '44)
Noemfoor Is. operation (2-23 July 1944)
Cape Sansapor operation (30 July-31 Aug. 1944)
Morotai landings (15 Sept. 1944)
Supporting and consolidating operations designated by Commander 7th Fleet (21 April-15 Nov. 1944)
MARIANAS OPERATION * (10 June-27 Aug. 1944)
Neutralization of Japanese bases in the Bonins, Marianas and Western Pacific (10 June-27 Aug. 1944)
Capture and occupation of Saipan (11 June-10 Aug. 1944)
First Bonins raid (15-16 June 1944)
Battle of Philippines Sea (19-20 June 1944)
Second Bonins raid (24 June 1944)
Third Bonins raid (3-4 July 1944)
Capture and occupation of Guam (12 July-15 Aug 1944)
Capture and occupation of Tinian (20 July-10 Aug. 1944)
Palau, Yap, Ulithi raid (25-27 July 1944)
Fourth Bonins raid (4-5 Aug. 1944)
WESTERN CAROLINE ISLANDS OPERATION * (31 Aug.-14 Oct, 1944)
Raids on Volcano-Bonin Islands and Yap Islands (31 Aug.-8 Sept. 1944)
Capture and occupation of the Southern Palau Islands (6 Sept.-14 Oct. 1944)
Assaults on the Philippine Islands (9-24 Sept. 1944)
LEYTE OPERATION * (10 Oct.-16 Dec. 1944)
Leyte landings (10 Oct.-29 Nov. 1944)
Battle for Leyte Gulf (24-26 Oct. 1944) (Including Battle of Surigao Strait, Battle off Samar, Battle off Cape Engano, submarine participation)
3d Fleet supporting operations
Okinawa attack (10 Oct. 7944) Northern Luzon and Formosa attacks (11-14 Oct. 1944)
Luzon attacks (15, 17-19 Oct., 5-6, 13-14, 19-25 Nov., 14-16 Dec. 1944)
Visayas attacks (20-21 Oct., 11 Nov. 1944)
Ormoc Bay landings (7-13 Dec. 1944)
LUZON OPERATION * (12 Dec. 1944-date to be announced later)
Mindoro landings (12-18 Dec. 1944)
Lingayen Gulf landings (4-18 Jan. 1945)
3d Fleet supporting operations
Luzon attacks (6-7 Jan. 1945)
Formosa attacks (3-4, 9, 15, 21 Jan.)
China Coast attacks (12 16 Jan. 1945)
Nansei Shoto attack (22 Jan. 1945)
Bataan-Corregidor landings (13-18 Feb.)
IWO JIMA OPERATION * (15 Feb.-16 March 1945)
Assault and occupation of Iwo Jima (15 Feb.-16 March 1945)
5th Fleet raids against Honshu and the Nansei Shoto (15 Feb.-16 March 1945)
ESCORT, ANTISUBMARINE, ARMED GUARD AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS (one star for each):
USS Navajo-Salvage Operations (8 Aug. 1942-3 Feb. 1943)
Naval Group China (19 Feb. 1943-date to be announced later)
Action off Vanikoro (17-21 July 1943)
Units defending Piva Yoke air installations designated by CincPac (8 March-12 April 1944)
Task Group 12:2 (5 July-9 Aug. 1944)
NORTH AFRICAN OCCUPATION * (8 Nov. 1942-9 July 1943)
Algeria-Morocco landings (8-11 Nov. 1942)
Action off Casablanca (8 Nov. 1942)
Tunisian operations (8 Nov. 1942-9 July 1943)
SICILIAN OCCUPATION (9-15 July 1943 28 July-17 Aug. 1943)
SALERNO LANDINGS (9-21 Sept. 1943)
WEST COAST OF ITALY OPERATIONS * (22 Jan.-17 June 1944)
Anzio-Nettuno advanced landings (22 Jan.-1 March 1944)
Bombardments Formia-Anzio area (12 May-4 June 1944)
Elba and Pianosa landings (17 June 1944)
INVASION OF NORMANDY, including Bombardment of Cherbourg (6-25 June 1944)
NORTHEAST GREENLAND OPERATION (10 July-17 Nov. 1944)
INVASION OF SOUTHERN FRANCE (15 Aug.-25 Sept. 1944)
ESCORT, ANTISUBMARINE, ARMED GUARD AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS (one star for each):
Russian convoy operations (16 Dec. 1941-27 Feb. 1943)
Convoy ON-166 (20-25 Feb. 1943)
Convoy UC-1 (22-24 Feb. 1943)
Convoy SC-121 (3-10 March 1943)
Convoy UGS-6 (12-18 March 1993)
Convoy HX-233 (16-18 April 1943)
Task Group 21.12 (20 Apr.-20 June 1943)
Task Group 21.11 (13 June-6 Aug. 1943)
Task Group 21.12 (27 June-31 July 1943)
Convoy MKS-21 (13 Aug. 1943)
Task Group 21.14 (25 Sept.-9 Nov. 1943)
Norway raid (2-6 Oct. 1943)
Convoy KMF-25A (6 Nov. 1943)
Task Group 21.13 (11 Nov.-29 Dec. 1943)
Task Group 21.14 (2 Dec. '43-2 Jan. '44)
Task Group 21.12 (7 March-26 April 1944)
Task Group 21.16 (11-31 March 1944)
Convoy UGS-36 (1 April 1944)
Convoy UGS-37 (11-12 April 1944)
Convoy UGS-38 (20 April 1944)
Task Group 21.11 (22 April-29 May 1944)
Convoy UGS-40 (11 May 1944)
Task Group 22.3 (13 May-19 June 1944)
Task Group 22.5 (3 June-22 July 1944)
ESCORT, ANTISUBMARINE, ARMED GUARD AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS (one star for each):
Convoy ON-67 (21-26 Feb. 1942)
Convoy TAG-18 (1-6 Nov. 1942)
Convoy SC-107 (3-8 Nov. 1942)
Task Group 21.13 (12 July-23 Aug. 1943)
Task Group 21.14 (27 July-l0 Sept. 1943)
Task Group 21.15 (24 March-11 May 1944)
For listing of merchant ships participating in Armed Guard operations, see ALL HANDS, May 1945, pp. 69-70.
* Only one star authorized for participation in one or more of the engagements listed under this heading.
Clash at Surigao Strait: How U.S. Battleships Took Revenge Against the Japanese in 1944
The Battle of Surigao Strait was a major portion of the titanic Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest and last major naval battle ever fought.
In the distance, they could see the jagged flashes of lightning, an incoming squall in the dark. Just before the rain arrived, so did St. Elmo’s Fire, and the gun barrels and radio antennas on the PT boats crackled with blue sparks and streamers of static electricity.
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Then there was another lightning flash, and suddenly Lieutenant (j.g.) Terry Chambers, the executive officer of PT-491 saw them—a column of seven Japanese warships advancing in the dark, headed for Surigao Strait and the waiting U.S. Seventh Fleet. It was the extremely early morning of October 25, 1944, and two battleships and a heavy cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy were steaming toward what would become one of the most one-sided battles in naval history, and the last duel between battleships of the line.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was a major portion of the titanic Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest and last major naval battle ever fought, an epic engagement that saw the use of every type of naval warfare except the mine.
The Leyte Gulf battle began with the American decision on July 27, 1944, to target the Philippines instead of Formosa as their next invasion site. General Douglas MacArthur would redeem his pledge to return to the Philippines. The initial objective was the invasion of the island of Leyte to secure air and sea bases for the next stages: seizing Mindoro and the climactic assault on the main island of Luzon.
Codenamed King II, the invasion of Leyte would involve two U.S. fleets, the 7th, under Vice Admiral Thomas Cassin Kinkaid, and the 3rd, under Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.
Sho-1: The Imperial Navy Strikes Back
The 3rd Fleet was the offensive arm of the invasion, with nine fleet carriers, eight light carriers, and six fast battleships at its heart. The 7th Fleet was the amphibious force, with more than 100 transports and other vessels (including the British minelayer HMS Ariadne), protected by a swarm of cruisers, destroyers, and escort carriers for close air support, backed by six old battleships configured for shore bombardment, in a Fire Support Force, headed by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf, flying his flag in the heavy cruiser USS Louisville. Among his ships were the Australian cruiser HMAS Shropshire and the destroyer HMAS Arunta. A-day for the invasion was to be October 20, 1944.
The invaders were not spotted by the Japanese until October 17, when the whole American armada appeared at the mouth of the Gulf of Leyte. When they did so, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, who headed the Imperial Japanese Navy, ordered their long-planned response, Victory Operation One, or Sho-1, into operation.
Sho-1 was one of four plans the Japanese had prepared in anticipation of America’s next offensive move, and they all called for the same reaction: the bulk of the Imperial Japanese Navy steaming forth to attack and destroy the U.S. fleet, regardless of losses to themselves.
Sho-1 was like most Imperial Japanese Navy plans of World War II: a decoy force would lure the Americans in one direction, while the real punch would come from other directions in a complex series of coordinated movements. This time, the decoy force was Japan’s surviving aircraft carriers, under Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, steaming down from the home islands. With barely 100 planes between them, these carriers lacked offensive punch, but the Japanese believed the aggressive Halsey would race after them with his entire 3rd Fleet.
While Halsey was drawn off, the powerful battleships and heavy cruisers of the Imperial Navy, mostly based at Lingga Roads near Singapore and the Borneo fuel stocks, would strike east and ravage the 7th Fleet’s amphibious forces while they lay in Leyte Gulf. The surface ships would pound the 7th Fleet to death with torpedoes and shells, isolating the American invaders on shore. The combination of a trapped army in the Philippines and a smashed navy in the Pacific might at least buy Japan time, or even persuade America to make peace.
The Task Forces of Kurita and Nishimura
The battlewagons at Lingga were commanded by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita and consisted of a powerful force. They were headed by two immense dreadnoughts, the Yamato and Musashi, sister ships that packed the heaviest armament ever loaded on a battleship, 18.1-inch guns. They were supported by five more dreadnoughts and a screen of cruisers and destroyers, all of which brandished the legendary Type 95 Long Lance torpedo, one of the best in the world. The Imperial Japanese Navy may have been worn down by hard war, but it was still a powerful force with highly skilled sailors and officers well trained in night fighting.
Toyoda and Kurita planned a pincer attack on Leyte Gulf with their battleships. Kurita would take one force, with five battleships, including Yamato and Musashi, through the San Bernardino Strait to hit Leyte Gulf from the north. A second force, under Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, a veteran seadog, would steam through the Surigao Strait and smash into Leyte Gulf from the south, the anvil to Kurita’s hammer, just before dawn.
A Naval War College graduate of 1911, Nishimura had commanded destroyers in the invasion of the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies in 1941. His son, Teiji Nishimura, a naval aviator, had been killed in the former invasion. In 1942, Nishimura commanded cruisers in the grueling struggle for Guadalcanal, suffering some bad luck but displaying skillful planning and “lion-like fury” in battle.
On September 10, 1944, Nishimura was given command of Battleship Division 2, which consisted of the dreadnoughts Fuso and Yamashiro and their destroyer escorts. The two battlewagons, sister ships, dated back to 1911 and were known throughout the fleet for their tall pagoda masts—44 meters above the waterline—and for having sat out most of the war in home waters, mostly as training vessels. The emperor’s brother had served on Fuso twice.
These battleships had never fired their guns in anger. They were the first battleships built with Japanese engines and guns, the most powerful dreadnoughts in the world at the time. But Fuso and Yamashiro were slow and outdated by 1944’s standards, armed with six 14-inch guns each. They were sister ships, but not twins, and regarded as the “ugliest ships in the Imperial Navy.” Both had crews of about 1,600 officers and men. Yamashiro flew Nishimura’s flag.
To support Nishimura’s force would be four destroyers, Michishio, Yamagumo, Asagumo, and Shigure, and a veteran heavy cruiser, the Mogami.
Failed Coordination With the Second Striking Force
Studying his war maps, Toyoda did not think that Nishimura had quite enough punch, so he added a second task force to the southern wing, under Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima, swinging down from the Pescadore Islands off Formosa. The second striking force would consist of the heavy cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, both veteran ships the light cruiser Abukuma, which had escorted Japan’s carriers to Pearl Harbor and four destroyers, Shiranuhi, Kasumi, Ushio, and Akebono.
Unlike Nishimura, Shima was a desk sailor. Like Nishimura, Shima had graduated from the Naval War College in the class of 1911. He had served in a variety of shore posts, mostly in communications.
Neither force commander coordinated his movements with the other—nor were any orders given to do so. Neither commander was fully briefed about the other’s operations. As far as historians could tell, Nishimura was to clear a path with his battleships so that the cruisers and destroyers behind could finish off the transports with torpedoes. Nishimura’s group was to be called the Third Section, while Shima’s group was the Second Striking Force.
With the Americans moving on Leyte, the Japanese launched their intricate countermoves. Ozawa sortied from Japan, Shima from the Pescadores, and Kurita and Nishimura from Lingga Roads, headed for a refueling stop at Brunei.
On October 20, the Americans invaded Leyte with massive power. Landings began at 10 am, and General MacArthur strode grimly ashore four hours later, making his famous “I have returned!” speech from the invasion beach amid a steady downpour.
Spotted in the Sulu Sea
The next day, Kurita summoned his senior officers to a conference on his flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago. Kurita explained his plans to the assembled admirals, including the decision to split off Nishimura’s force to head for the Surigao Strait. If the complex ship movements worked, the two forces would slam into the American 7th Fleet just before dawn on October 25. The next morning, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s battle line headed out for sea for the very last time, with Kurita and his five dreadnoughts steaming north to the Sibuyan Sea and the San Bernardino Strait.
At 3:30 pm, Nishimura’s ships put to sea. Shima’s ships were already en route. All through the afternoon and night, the two forces steamed along unimpeded into the Sulu Sea. Not so Kurita’s force, which was spotted by two American submarines, which slapped torpedoes into three of Kurita’s cruisers, sinking two—including his flagship Atago—and damaging the third. Kurita shifted his flag to the battleship Yamato and sailed on.
THE BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF: DAY TWO
Shortly past dawn on October 25, Vice Admiral Kinkaid’s three escort carrier groups had patrols airborne. An Avenger sighted large ships with pagoda masts emerging from San Bernardino strait and radioed the alarming news.
All that stood in Kurita’s path was Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s Task Group 77.4.3, with six CVEs and seven escorts, off Samar’s east coast. “Taffy Three” turned away, making smoke, launching aircraft, and hollering for help. Sprague faced four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers. But support from Taffy Two added more Avengers and Wildcats to Sprague’s numbers.
As the “smallboys” attacked with torpedoes and five-inch gunfire, aviators made repeated runs with bombs, torpedoes, and strafing passes. One Wildcat pilot made twenty-six runs, most of them without ammunition.
Unable to outrun the enemy, the 19-knot CVEs were chased down. Gambier Bay (CVE-73) succumbed to cruiser guns, as did three of the escorts. After HMS Glorious in 1940, she was only the second aircraft carrier sunk by surface ships. But Kurita, impressed with the ferocity of the “jeep” carriers’ response, and mindful of the pummeling he had taken the day before, called off the chase. Just as an historic victory lay on the horizon, he disengaged. Kinkaid’s transports—and MacArthur’s source of supply—were safe.
Still, Taffy Three remained in peril. That afternoon St. Lo (CVE-63), originally named Midway, was attacked by a single Zero that made no effort to pull out of its dive. Wracked by fire, the little flattop went down, first victim of the Special Attack Corps: the Kamikaze had arrived. Six more CVEs were tagged that day.
While the drama played out near Samar, the Japanese waved an irresistible target under Halsey’s nose. Ozawa’s four carriers steamed off the northeast Philippines, seemingly representing the third major threat after the surface forces in San Bernardino and Surigao straits. Once ComThirdFleet got the news, Halsey reacted predictably: he rushed to destroy Tokyo’s remaining flattops. In his haste, he committed a severe blunder, leaving San Bernardino unguarded. He assumed that battleships of Vice Admiral Willis Lee’s powerful Task Force Thirty-Four would prevent an enemy force from entering the gulf. He did not realize as he pounded north that all seven battleships and their screens in Lee’s contingency force remained integrated into the fast carrier task groups.
Bull Halsey was more a fighter than a thinker. An instinctive warrior, he rode to where he imagined the guns were sounding. Only when the stunning news arrived of Japanese battleships pounding Taffy Three did he realize that he had been snookered. Worse, he wasted an hour or more ranting and sulking before deciding on a course of action.
Ozawa lay more than four hundred miles from the Taffies, and Halsey was in between. The Bull finally ordered Lee’s battlewagons— racing ahead of the carriers—to reverse helm and move southward, although everyone knew it was far too late.
The four carriers in Ozawa’s Mobile Fleet had deployed with just 116 aircraft, but by the morning of October 25 they retained only twenty-nine. The ensuing clash could only go one way.
Starting at 8:00 a.m. Mitscher launched 180 aircraft, the first of six strikes totaling more than five hundred sorties. The on-scene coordinators were air group commanders from TG-38.3: first from Essex, then from Lexington. The F6Fs brushed aside the dozen or so Zeros trying to defend their flight decks as “99 Rebel” and “99 Mohawk” assigned targets. Lexington and Langley’s aircrews wrote the final log entry for Zuikaku, survivor of Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons, and Santa Cruz. Other air groups sank CVLs Chitose and Zuiho as well as a destroyer.
Ozawa shifted his flag to cruiser Oyodo.
The Burmese frontier and China, November 1943–summer 1944
For the dry season of 1943–44 both the Japanese and the Allies were resolved on offensives in Southeast Asia. On the Japanese side, Lieutenant General Kawabe Masakazu planned a major Japanese advance across the Chindwin River, on the central front, in order to occupy the plain of Imphāl and to establish a firm defensive line in eastern Assam. The Allies, for their part, planned a number of thrusts into Burma: Stilwell’s NCAC forces, including his three Chinese divisions and “ Merrill’s Marauders” (U.S. troops trained by Wingate on Chindit lines), were to advance against Mogaung and Myitkyina while Slim’s 14th Army was to launch its XV Corps southeastward into Arakan and its IV Corps eastward to the Chindwin. Because the Japanese had habitually got the better of advanced British forces by outflanking them, Slim formulated a new tactic to ensure that his units would stand against attack in the forthcoming campaign, even if they should be isolated: they were to know that, when ordered to stand, they could certainly count both on supplies from the air and on his use of reserve troops to turn the situation against the Japanese attackers.
On the southern wing of the Burmese front, the XV Corps’s Arakan operation, launched in November 1943, had achieved most of its objectives by the end of January 1944. When the Japanese counterattack surrounded one Indian division and part of another, Slim’s new tactic was brought into play, and the Japanese found themselves crushed between the encircled Indians and the relieving forces.
The Japanese crossing of the Chindwin into Assam, on the central Burmese front, when the fighting in Arakan was dying down, played into Slim’s hands, since he could now profit from the Allies’ superiority in aircraft and in tanks. The Japanese were able to approach Imphāl and to surround Kohīma, but the British forces protecting these towns were reinforced with several Indian divisions that were taken from the now-secure Arakan front. With air support, Slim’s reinforced forces now defended Imphāl against multiple Japanese thrusts and outflanking movements until, in mid-May 1944, he was able to launch two of his divisions into an offensive eastward, while still containing the last bold effort of the Japanese to capture Imphāl. By June 22 the 14th Army had averted the Japanese menace to Assam and won the initiative for its own advance into Burma. The Battle of Imphāl–Kohīma cost the British and Indian forces 17,587 casualties (12,600 of them sustained at Imphāl), the Japanese forces 30,500 dead (including 8,400 from disease) and 30,000 wounded.
On the northern Burmese front, Stilwell’s forces were already approaching Mogaung and Myitkyina before the southern crisis of Imphāl–Kohīma and the subsidiary Chindit operation against Indaw was going well ahead when, on March 24, 1944, Wingate himself was killed in an air crash. Meanwhile, Chiang Kai-shek was constrained by U.S. threats of a suspension of lend-lease to finally authorize some action by the 12 divisions of his Yunnan Army, which on May 12, 1944, with air support, began to cross the Salween River westward in the direction of Myitkyina, Bhamo, and Lashio. Myitkyina airfield was taken by Stilwell’s forces, with “Merrill’s Marauders,” on May 17, Mogaung was taken by the Chindits on June 26, and finally Myitkyina itself was taken by Stilwell’s Chinese divisions on August 3. All of northwest and much of northern Burma was now in Allied hands.
In China proper, a Japanese attack toward Ch’ang-sha, begun on May 27, won control not only of a further stretch of the north–south axis of the Peking–Han-K’ou railroad but also of several of the airfields from which the Americans had been bombing the Japanese in China and were intending to bomb them in Japan.
Wednesday, October 25, 1944
The American Army had returned to the Philippines, a collection of islands south-southwest of Japan and east of Vietnam. Taffy 3 was a collection of small carriers, about half the size of a standard aircraft carrier, escort ships, and a few destroyers that guarded them. The carriers were made from merchant ships that had been turned into carriers to meet wartime needs and were designated CVE’s. Veteran soldiers claimed that CVE was an acronym for “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable.”
The purpose of Taffy 3, as was the same for Taffy 1, and Taffy 2, was to provide reconnaissance and ground support for the troops that five days earlier had landed in the Leyte Gulf. Together, the three Taffy groups made up the Escort Carrier Group 77.4 of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. Shortly after the crews sat down to breakfast at 6:30 a.m., Japanese voices were picked up on the radio. As it was assumed that the Japanese fleet was over 100 miles away, the radiomen believed the chatter must be coming from one of the many Japanese controlled islands in the Philippines. However, 11 minutes later, a scout plane reported enemy forces were 20 miles out and closing quickly.
Surprised by this development, Admiral Sprague, the skipper of the Taffy 3 flagship U.S.S. Fanshaw Bay, quickly launched every plane he had under control with whatever weaponry they had on board at the time. The crews of the carriers settled behind their five-inch guns, the largest they had on board. By 11:58 a.m., flashes of light appeared on the horizon and were soon followed by geysers of water as shells hunted for the American ships.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf Begins
To delay the end of the war and give themselves a better position at the bargaining table for peace, Japan had multiple plans designed to blunt the American advances into the Pacific. The Japanese Navy began heading towards the Philippines in mid-October of 1944. On October 18, Japan Combined Fleet commander Admiral Soeniu Toyoda received the command, “Execute Sho Plan Number One.”
Two U.S. fleets were in the area to cover the invasion beaches: the Third Fleet, commanded by Admiral William Halsey, and the Seventh Fleet, commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. The Third Fleet was made up of big carriers and new battleships, while the Seventh Fleet, which contained Taffy 3, was made up of pre-Pearl Harbor cruisers and battlewagons. The Third Fleet was acting as a roving watchdog, as the Seventh Fleet oversaw the landing on Leyte Island.
Sho Plan No. 1
Sho Plan Number One was a three-pronged attack. The first prong was a decoy designed to distract the Third Fleet and take them out of the battle. It contained four carriers, two converted battleship carriers, and some smaller screening ships. The second prong was to attack the Americans in the Leyte Gulf from the southwest. This prong was composed of 17 total ships, including battleships, destroyers, and cruisers.
The third and final prong was made up of the heavy hitters and contained the world’s two largest warships: the Musashi and the Yamato. These ships displaced 68,000 tons of water, compared to the American’s largest ships that displaced 45,000 tons. The Musashi and Yamato also had 18-inch guns, compared to the American’s 16-inch guns. The third prong also contained three more battleships, 15 destroyers, 12 cruisers, and was designed to come in through the backdoor from the east.
Americans Strike First
Luckily for the Americans, two submarines spotted the third prong first and took down the flagship heavy cruiser Atago and cruiser Takao with torpedos. This left the Japanese fleet down five ships, including the three destroyers sent to rescue the crews of the sunken ships. Having already lost some of their early advantages, the Japanese continued their poor form to start the battle.
Anticipating airstrikes from American planes, antiaircraft from the third prong fought heavily to take down the first planes they saw. Unfortunately for the Japanese, these were land-based Zeros that had been sent to provide air cover. And after being shot at, they returned to their land base, leaving the third prong with no air support.
The good fortune for the Americans continued as a scout plane spotted the Japanese armada of the third prong at 8:10 a.m. on October 24. After sinking the massive Musashi and badly damaging another heavy cruiser at the cost of 18 torpedo planes and dive bombers, a false sense of security overcame Admiral Halsey and his Third Fleet. Under the assumption that the third prong was no longer a serious threat, Halsey fell for the bait of the first prong intended to take his fleet out of the main battle. By 8:30 p.m. on October 24, the Third Fleet was in pursuit of the Japanese first prong decoy.
The Battle off Samar Begins
Just past midnight on October 25, the Japanese third prong, led by the massive Yamato, entered the Philippine Sea. In addition to the Yamato, the fleet now contained the battleships Kongo, Haruna, and Nagato, along with heavy cruisers Suzuya, Kumano, Tone, Chokai, and Chikuma. Expecting to have to fight their way to Leyte, the Japanese were thrilled to see nothing but open sea. All that remained between them and the beachhead was Taffy 3.
Admiral Kurita, now aboard the Yamato, believed that he must have run into the American Third Fleet when he first came across Taffy 3. This led to a sudden change in formation, which led to a disjointed attack on the Americans. At 6:58 a.m., the Yamato fired its 18-inch guns at another ship for the first time. Three minutes later, Admiral Sprague was sending out an urgent transmission for help, and planes from Taffies 1 and 2 were sent for assistance.
Sprague’s plan was to lead the enemy in a circle southwest to meet up with the Third Fleet. Kinkaid’s Third Fleet had just been in a battle overnight with the Japanese second prong, so they were not fully prepared for another fight so quickly. However, luck would strike again for the Americans as Sprague suddenly found himself in a squall of rainfall.
A Welcome Rain Delay
Disrupting the radar of the quickly approaching Japanese ships, the rain squall provided a 15-minute respite for Taffy 3. At this time, air fighters from Taffies 1 and 2 had reached the Japanese fleet and began peppering them with bombs and depth charges. Having not been prepared for all-out battle, though, those munitions quickly ran out, and the fighters began attacking with machine guns. Once the machine gun ammo ran out, the air fighters continued to buzz the Japanese ships hoping to provide a distraction for Taffy 3.
Taffy 3 Fights Back
Admiral Sprague then made the decision to order his destroyers to fire torpedoes at the Japanese fleet. After refueling ammunition, the American Wildcat fighters and Avenger bombers were back in action. First blood was struck as a bomb hit the deck of the heavy cruiser Suzuya, taking it out of battle. Soon after, the first destroyer to respond to Sprague, the Johnston, veered course and headed straight at the heavy cruiser Kumano.
The Johnston let loose its ten torpedoes, and one struck the nose of the Kumano, causing it to dip deep into the swells and taking it out of action. However, after the direct hit, the Johnston took a massive blow of her own by three 14-inch shells and three 6-inch shells. Two more American destroyers, the Heerman and Hoel, then entered the fight to aid the Johnston. The injured Johnston joined behind them to provide cover from her guns.
The Heerman and Hoel provide a much-needed distraction for the carriers to flee, but it was at the cost of the Hoel, while the Heerman received reparable damage. At 8:51, the destroyer Roberts entered the fight trading blows with its 5-inch cannon against the 14- and 8-inch shells of the Japanese cruisers. Despite taking blow after blow, the Roberts continued fighting for another 45 minutes. The Roberts fired off 608 shells before succumbing to the sea.
The Battle off Samar Concludes
Without their air support, the Japanese fleet was vulnerable to the continued salvos from refueled American planes. In total, the American forces lost two destroyers, a destroyer escort, two escort carriers, and several aircraft. Over 1,000 Americans died in the battle. The Japanese losses totaled three cruisers, three disabled cruisers, and enough damage and confusion to the Yamato that it was forced to retreat. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 3,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese sailors lost their lives.