The Battle of Leyte Gulf (also called The Battles of Leyte Gulf) is remembered by many historians as the largest naval battle ever fought in our modern history. It was an epic battle between the Japanese Imperial Navy and the US Navy (with some help from the Australian Royal Navy) that was fought in 4 separate engagements near the islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon from October 23 to 26 in 1944.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf started a few days after the Allied Forces, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, landed in Palo Beach in Leyte on October 20, 1944. Although only a local holiday in Leyte, the Leyte Landing is commemorated every year on the same date by Filipinos and World War II veterans.
The Leyte Landing Anniversary reminds us the landing of General Douglas MacArthur and his troops in Leyte as well as his famous words, “I have returned”. However, many of us are not aware of the great support and gallantry the US Navy’s 3rd and 7th fleets showed to make the Leyte Landing successful. The US Navy’s 3rd and 7th fleets were ordered to support MacArthur’s invasion of Leyte. The 7th fleet gave the amphibious and close naval support while the 3rd fleet provided a more distant naval support.
As one of the greatest naval battles of all time, and in some criteria, the largest naval battle ever fought, every citizen of the world, especially Filipinos should not forget this incredible battle. To refresh our minds of what happened in the Philippine seas in October 1944, here are 8 facts about the battle of Leyte Gulf that will blow your mind.
1. The battle spanned over more than 100,000 square miles of sea.
As a comparison, Luzon (the largest island of the Philippines) is just 42,458 square miles and the total land area of the Philippines is 115,831 square miles (300,000 square kilometers). The battle of Leyte Gulf was an important battle in World War II, as it was the determining point of naval power and control in the Pacific.
The great naval battle between the Empire of Japan and US (with the help of Australia) was actually composed of four separate engagements, namely the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle of Cape Engaño and the Battle off Samar. All of these battles were fought by US Navy’s 3rd and 7th fleets against the Japanese Imperial Navy to support General Douglas MacArthur and the Allied forces in the invasion of Leyte.
2. The largest battleships ever built were in action during the battle.
The Yamato class battleship is the largest class of warships ever constructed in history, and only two of its kind were ever completed: Yamato and Musashi. These two behemoth warships were the heaviest and most powerfully armed warships ever built, with a displacement of 71,659 tonnes (70,527 long tons) at full load and armed with nine 46 cm (18.1 inch) main guns.
The two super battleships were engaged in the battles of Leyte Gulf, where Mushashi was sunk and Yamato was damaged by aircraft deployed from the American carriers. It was also during this war that aircraft carriers were proven more effective than the larger battleships. With the result, most naval forces of the world are now focusing on building aircraft carriers rather than the super massive battleships.
3. The battle involved more than 800 ships and 1,800 aircraft.
The clashes involved the United States 3rd and 7th Fleets (which was also participated by the Royal Australian Navy) against the Japanese Imperial Navy composed of the Center Force (the most powerful of the Japanese forces), Southern Force, Northern Force and some land-based aircraft of the Japanese empire.
The Allied forces consisted of 8 large aircraft carriers (including the large fleet carriers USS Intrepid, USS Enterprise, USS Franklin, USS Lexington and USS Essex of the US Navy’s 3rd fleet), 8 light carriers, 18 escort carriers, 12 battleships, 24 cruisers, 141 destroyers and escorts, and around 1,500 aircraft. On the other hand, the Japanese Imperial Navy comprised of 4 aircraft carriers, 9 battleships (including the giant battleship Yamato and Mushashi), 19 cruisers, 34 destroyers and 700 aircraft.
4. A total of 337,000 tonnage of ships sunk.
The Battle of Leyte gulf is also considered as the largest naval battle in history in terms of tonnage of ships sunk. The Allied forces lost 1 light carrier (USS Princeton, the largest American ship sunk during the battle), 2 escort carriers, 2 destroyers and 1 destroyer escort – a total of 37,000 tons of shipping. The Allied forces also lost more than 200 planes during the battle. On the Japanese side, the Japanese Imperial Navy lost 1 fleet carrier (Zuikaku), 3 light carriers, 3 battleships (including the giant Musashi), 10 cruisers, and 11 destroyers – a total of 300,000 tons of shipping.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf was a massive defeat for the Japanese Empire. It crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy capabilities that it never again engage in a naval battle with a comparable force during World War 2.
5. The opposing armadas carried a total of 200,000 soldiers.
The combined fleets of the opposing forces carried around 200,000 soldiers. Sadly, several thousands of them died on the battle. The Japanese lost 12,500 naval soldiers while the Allied forces suffered around 2,800 casualties in a battle where the latter claimed victory. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is known as the largest naval battle in modern history in terms of the number of soldiers involved in the battle. It’s the 3rd largest in the same category in the known human history, next to the Battle of the Red Cliffs (China 208 A.D.) which involved 850,000 soldiers and the Battle of the Salamis (Greeks vs. Persians, 480 B.C.E.) which involved 250,000 soldiers.
6. First organized kamikaze attack by the Japanese
It was during the Battle of Leyte Gulf that the Japanese forces launched the first organized Kamikaze attacks (suicide attacks by Japanese aircraft pilots against Allied naval vessels). The Japanese “Special Attack Force” was put into operation as a desperate move by Vice Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi during the closing stages of the Battle off Samar on October 25, 1944. The Kamikaze attacks (also called Tokkō attacks) by the Japanese aircraft hit 7 carriers and 40 other ships. Five of them sunk, including the escort carrier St. Lo.
The Japanese continued the Kamikaze operations after the Battle of Leyte Gulf. According to reports, there were approximately 3,800 Japanese aircraft aviators who made such attacks against the Allied forces during World War 2, and 19% of these attacks managed to hit a ship.
7. Japan could have continued the war regardless of the atomic bombings
Many people believed that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945) prompted the Empire of Japan to surrender and end their plan to continue the war. However, the atomic bombings only affected 2 cities of the empire. In fact, there were even cities that were destroyed more severely and suffered more casualties due to the traditional firebombing attacks carried out by the US Air Force. With the Japanese culture, belief and tradition, Japan could still be willing to continue the war if their entire naval forces were not paralyzed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Allied Forces invasion of Leyte and the entire Philippine archipelago deprived the Japanese Empire of all of its oil reserves, causing its surviving warships unable to mobilize again. The US occupation of the Philippines also gave the Americans a great strategic location to control South East Asia and reach the islands of Japan.
8. It happened because of MacArthur’s personal goal.
Before the plan on the Philippine invasion was finalized, General Douglas MacArthur (Commander in Chief of Southwest Pacific Area) and Admiral Chester Nimitz (Commander in Chief of Pacific Ocean Areas) initially had opposing plans. Nimitz’s plan was centered on the invasion of Formosa (Taiwan) while MacArthur, who in 1942 had famously promised to the Filipinos “I shall return”, planned for the invasion of the Philippines. According to Nimitz’s plan, an invasion of Formosa could give the Allied forces control of the sea routes between Japan and Southern Asia. Invading Formosa could also cut the supply lines of Japan to South East Asia.
However, MacArthur stressed out the moral obligation of US to liberate the Philippines, and leaving the country in the hands of the Japanese would be a blow to the American prestige. The Philippines was also a vital source of oil for Japan and the air force the Japanese accumulated in the country could give the Allied Forces a serious threat. The plan to invade the Philippines was confirmed during the meeting between MacArthur, Nimitz and US President Roosevelt in July 1944.
Let’s not forget
I hope that the Philippine government will make the Leyte Landing Anniversary a national holiday so that, not only the people of Leyte, but all the Filipinos will always remember the momentous events in October 1944 that led to the liberation of the entire Philippine archipelago and contributed to the end of World War II.
References and for further reading:
Battles of Leyte Gulf – HistoryofWar.org
Seven Deadliest Sea Battles (Infographic) – HistoryNow.com
10 Battles that Turned the Tide of War – Listverse.com
The Bomb didn’t beat Japan during World War II – ForeignPolicy.com
Battle of Leyte Gulf – Wikipedia.org
Largest naval battle in history – Wikipedia.org
Douglas MacArthur – Wikipedia.org
Kamikaze – Wikipedia.org
About Victorino Q. Abrugar
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Thanks for this interesting article. Leyte claims a number of firsts … among these is Yolanda, and the closure of the biggest and most prestigious school and the only Catholic University in Samar and Leyte: DWU.
Happy 70th Leyte Landing Anniversary! Thank you for commenting.
IAm Ricardo says
every citizens = ?
Hi Ricardo. Thank you for specifically pointing it out. We have already corrected it.
renato de leon says
if anyone of you happen to see the Pacific War Memorial in Hawaii, it is located on the crater of an extinct volcano almost right in the center of Honolulu, you will find on its walls, the maps describing these battles.. perhaps because to the US, those battles were very significant…worth remembering. expect the leftists to protest if the Philippine government makes that day a commemorative holiday..
George Vincent Maglines Calvo says
Lets hope that our government will make the anniversary a regular holiday..
Johnny Wu says
for #8 I think the good general was simply correcting his error several years ago. Having failed miserably in implementing War Plan Orange, he had to save face by leading in the reclamation of the Philippines from the Japanese.
Romeo Dela Victoria says
War Plan Orange was based on naval reinforcements coming from Hawaii …. Japanese planners attacked Pearl Harbor first then the Philippines … War Plan Orange was doomed from then on.
Truly Remarkable..missing HOME..
Thank you for this piece of information!!!!!!!!:)
Brian Johnson says
I hope that the Philippine government does not make this a national holiday,, they have enough!
David Stephens says
They average around 20 national holidays a year, hell Brian, whats one more.
Would rather see this as a national holiday then any of the 16 others the Philippine government was pondering back in 2010, my favorite was a holiday to “commemorate the family pet”. The cock roaches would like that.
Thousands of lives were sacrificed during the battles of Leyte Gulf to liberate the Philippines. I don’t think this doesn’t deserve a national holiday.
Mang Asar says
Making this a holiday would balance the monumental humiliation of celebrating as holiday that cowardly surrender by American officers and soldiers who did not even put up a fight in Bataan.
Here in Leyte it’s holiday 😀
Plymouth Pinoy says
Very good summation of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Let me just point out that the Philippines was not a source of oil for Japan but it controlled the sea lanes that Japan required to transport oil from the Dutch East Indies to the Japanese Home Islands. Also, what was discussed at Pearl Harbor between Roosevelt, MacArthur and Nimitz in July 1944 was whether to bypass LUZON in favour of Formosa.. A part of the Philippines (either Mindanao, Leyte or both) would still be retaken even if the Formosa plan was followed. Quoting from Robert Ross Smith’s “Triumph in the Philippines”:
“Meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Pearl Harbor in late July 1944, both MacArthur and Nimitz again emphasized that MacArthur’s forces would have to be firmly established in the southern or central Philippines before any advance to either Formosa or Luzon could take place–on this point almost everyone was agreed. MacArthur then argued persuasively that it was both necessary and proper to take Luzon
before going on to Formosa, while Nimitz expounded a plan for striking straight across the western Pacific to Formosa, bypassing Luzon. Apparently, no decisions on strategy were reached at the Pearl Harbor conference.”
Also while FDR gave no objection to the Luzon plan, he did not really indicate which of the two plans he preferred. The final decision to go ahead with liberating Luzon was made known on 3 October 1944. Again, quoting Smith:
“After King’s eleventh-hour change of position, the Joint Chiefs were able to attain the unanimity that their major strategic decisions required. On 3 October 1944 they directed General MacArthur to launch the invasion of Luzon on or about 20 December and instructed Admiral Nimitz to execute the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations on the dates he had proposed. Nimitz would provide naval cover and support, including fast and escort carriers, for the invasion of Luzon; MacArthur would provide Nimitz with as much air support as he could from Luzon for the attack on Okinawa. The two commanders would co-ordinate their plans with those of B-29 units in the Pacific and India and with the plans of General Stilwell and the Fourteenth Air Force in China.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff did not formally cancel the Formosa operation. Instead, they left in abeyance a final decision on the seizure of that island, but thereafter the occupation of Formosa as an operation of World War II never came up for serious consideration at the higher levels of Washington planning councils.
The Joint Chiefs had not reached their decision to take Luzon, bypass Formosa, and, in effect, substitute Okinawa for Formosa, either lightly or easily. From the beginning of the Luzon versus Formosa debate they had believed the seizure of Formosa and a port on the south China coast, bypassing Luzon, to be the best strategy the Allies could follow in the western Pacific. In the end, however, the Joint Chiefs had had to face the facts that the Allies could not assemble the resources required to execute that strategy, at least until after the end of the war in Europe, and they could not seriously consider delaying the progress of the war in the Pacific until Germany collapsed. In the last analysis then, logistical considerations alone would have forced the Joint Chiefs to the decision they reached in favor of Luzon, although other military realities, and possibly political factors as well, had some influence upon the outcome of strategic planning for operations in the western Pacific.
For the Allied forces of the Pacific theaters, the Joint Chiefs’ directive of 3 October 1944 ended months of uncertainty. The die was cast. Luzon would be taken; Formosa would be bypassed. United States forces would recapture the entire Philippine archipelago in a consecutive series of advances, just as General MacArthur had been planning ever since he had left Corregidor in March 1942.”
Hi Plymouth Pinoy, thank you for that important additional information. We appreciate it.
Kong An Lan says
How did PH become a source of oil? Did we produce oil back then? Or was PH just a transit point?
Hello. Actually the oil supply line of the Japanese Empire was stretched from the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia, to the Philippines, Taiwan, and on toward the north to Japan. When the Japanese lost the Philippines, that supply line was cut.
Kong An Lan says
thank you for the trivia!
This is important than aquino day.
Dino Villarica says
If the Nimitz plan was implemented against MacArthurs’, would Manila have been saved?
agree! events like this should be the ones celebrated as our national holidays and taught in our schools.
…Philippine history books should contain this kind information and facts.
rolly delgado says
the best info!
Mang Asar says
This reminds me of that week 20 years ago when I visited Leyte for the 50th anniversary commemoration. It went well, except that the actor for Doug the dug out general stumbled on the water in front of everyone 🙂
Panzer Rat says
If it were not because of MacArthur’s “amor propio”, the US will by-pass the Japanese in the Philippines and let ’em wither and die out just like they do to the Japs at Truk Atoll. Now, what if Nimitz’s plan was carried out rather than MacAthur’s, maybe the Pinoys will not lionize MacArthur that much and and maybe the Pinoys will never idolize America that much.
Aurora Abude-Schaefer says
This is interesting. However, please include reading “The Battle Off Samar”. This is the most important part of the Battle at Leyte Gulf. If the U.S. Marines or Taffy III did not fight the Japanese Warship, the Leyte Gulf Battle would not succeed. Please complete the history from the planning start to the end. A “New Independent Film about the Battle Off Samar” (kindly read search Google and read the comments. The construction of GUIUAN Airstrip was also unbelievable. The Guiuan Airstrip is even larger than Tacloban Airport because of the Service Roads. It is a puzzle why there is no economic development in southeastern Samar compared to Subic and others, not even a RORO connection, despite the Natural attractions like Beaches, Caves, Marine bio diversity, etc. that can be reached in Minutes from the Guiuan Airstrip.GOD bless us all !!
Taga Palo Ako says
There were many battles that happened all over the Archipelago and are locally celebrated with their special holiday. If the government will make this event a National Holiday, then other parts which had their own battle will claim too. To some, this day is all about the sensationalized and iconized line “I have returned” by MacArthur. There were enough books, movies, and other documents that glorified this heroism of MacArthur – all were written by foreign authors. Thus, it just lifted the patriarchal and egocentric images of the Americans. It is important to note, that we have our own heroes who were silenced in the written history. They are more deserving to be remembered. Not everyone knows about the three scouts, Valeriano Abello, Antero Junia, Sr. and Vicente Tiston. The natives from Tolosa who sacrificed their lives by organizing the signal efforts and guide the Americans to Japanese encampments while American troupes’ cannons were already killing thousands of Leytenos. I guess, theirs and other unsung heroes’ stories should be in the A-list of facts about the Leyte Gulf.