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The Battle of Leyte Gulf, A Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    The Battle of Leyte Gulf, By Adrian Stewart, Charles Scribner's Sons Publishing, 1979, 224 pages, 27 Photos, Index, Amazon New, $ 50.34, Used $.99 cents

    This account by English author Adrian Stewart is a straiforward and decent account of this massive Pacific war battle. It does however in my opinion have some flaws, but not all of them the fault of the author.

    In general he treats both sides even handedly and gives equal time and space to both sides. He tries hard to make the positions and thinking of both sides balanced and fair. He spends a good deal of effort trying to accurately credit who did what to whom, when in the very confusing battle fought over a vast area of ocean. His description of the actual battle is generally clear and understandable. In these respects, a solid short history of the battle.

    I do have a few issues with the book however. These first ones probably must lay at the feet at the books editor/proofreader. The photo's are standard for the material and not something that stand out, indeed I have seen all of them multiple times in other works about the Pacific War. His maps are small and difficult to read without the aid of a magnifying glass. Worst of all the ship designations used for the maps are non-standard and could be quite confusing to someone un-familiar with the ship names.

    As an example, the maps designate Light Carriers as CL's and Light Cruiser's as LC's. In any other book I have read a CL has always refered to Light Cruiser's. As Stewart uses standard ship designations in the body of his text, this must most likely be blamed on the editor who 'farmed' out this part to someone not familiar with the subject.

    I also have some problem's with his conclusion's. In the second paragraph the author calls the Leyte Gulf invasion the most important one of the Pacific War. While I have no wish to down play it, in my mind Okinawa and Guadelcanal rate a bit higher in my opinion.

    He faults Halsey for not having a complete understanding of both Japanese intentions and capabilities, and while there is a fair maeasure of truth to this observation, he is far more forgiving of Japanese commander Kurita in this reguard. He echoes the statement by Kurita that when he first sights 'Taffy 3' he mistakes it for Halsey's 3rd Fleet Carrier force. The author goes farther to state this is understandable as the American CVE's were something of a surprise to him, almost a secret weapon if you will. This seems hard to imagine as even Japan was operating CVE's by this stage of the war.

    I agree with the author that Kurita 'lost his nerve' when he gave his recall order, but the stated reason to get through the srait before Halsey could cut him off is difficult to credit if Kurita still thought 3rd Fleet was in front of him. I also agree with the author that Kurita should have pushed on to do as much damage as possible to the invasion force. That was why the whole elaborate plan was set in motion after all.

    Stewart's conclusion that had Kurita reached the Beachead, his bombardment would have been devastating to American forces and likely to kill MacArther and his senior commanders, resulting in the destruction of the American foothold by IJA troops seem a little outthere. First Kutita had not yet gotten past Taffy 3 without losing several ships to this little but gallent force.

    He still had two more such formations to push aside, plus those guarding the transports unloading. Then how Kurita was going to hit a specofic handfull of officers ashore when his dreadnought's had trouble hitting ships hundreds of feet long is never adequately explained. With Oldendorf coming from the south and Halsey the north, Kurita's force would not have had long to land this killing blow to American troops ashore before they would have been wiped out.

    While I do not think the Invasion was in danger of destruction, the dislocation and disruption of Kurita pushing to as far as he could would have prolonged the Phillipines campaign considerably and had serious political ramifications. It might also got Halsey 'beached' as a fleet commander.

    In Stewart's view Kurita's decision to turn about to save his fleet to fight another day, while wrong, was understandable. Kurita had his 1st flagship sunk under him, watched Musashi go down to American airstrikes, been under near constant air and submarine attack and under extensive mental strain for days.

    The problem with this observation is that there really is no comdemnation greater to a Japanese military man of this era than to say he lost his nerve in the face of the enemy. Later in his book Stewart eloquently defends the Japanese embrace of the Kamakase. It was not an act of madness as many westerners then and now see it but the natural extension of the Bushido spirit. The Sho-Go plan was start to finish a Kamakase operation if it had that name or not. Further it was pointless to 'save the fleet' for future operations as when the Phillipines were taken the fleet would no longer have access to oil. Part of the reasoning for this desparete plan was because Japan knew this was the inevitable outcome to a successfull American Invasion.

    Stewarts book taken as a history of the battle is worthy of the time it takes to read, but when he draws his conclusion's I feel he is on far less solid ground. Worth a read but do not rely exclusively on this one book for a difinitive account of this epic battle.

    BR-XXIII

     
  2. gtblackwell

    gtblackwell Well-Known Member Patron  

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    belasar, thank you for the nice review. . I understand MacArthur generated a personal force field around his person that would easily deflect an 18.1 " projectile so no way he could have been in danger.... On a more serious note why did Halsey take Task Force 34 with him. I can only presume to provide AA cover. would seem he had enough resources to cover both contingencies.....But then hindsight is much easier!

    Gaines
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    Halsey gave the warning message to organize TF 34 so clearly he considered sending it to cover the San Bernadino Strait. Stewart offers two reasons why Halsey took the fast BB's with him which I tend to aggree with. First the initial scouting report on Ozawa's carrier group location as being much closer to the 3rd fleet than it actually was so he could be excused for thinking a surface battle could happen, and so he could crush Ozawa before Kurita could clear the strait.. Secondly, and more importantly, he had a deep contempt for the Japanese and did not think they had what it takes to reach 7th Fleet quickly.

    A battle between Kurita and Lee would have been epic. Kurita had overall greater weight of shot, but Lee would have had position and Radar. I suspect Lee to win, but Kurita would have gotten some shots home and his Destroyer's Torpedoe's might have made a hard day for Lee. After sun-up of course, the planes of Taffy 1-3 would have finished off any remnants of Kurita's fleet if Lee had not already done so.

    I aggree with you, had Kurita began a shore bombardment, MacArther would have taken some prominate position to observe the show so he could have been more likely to be killed rather than say a more prudent commander. Still even with his 'heroic' death in battle, his army would have held fast until resupplied.
     
  4. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    Thanks, seems like maybe an interesting book for someone not familiar with the battle, but it doesn't seem to contribute much new information.

    CL, CVL, etc. are US Navy designations, an excuse for the average Englishman, but not for one choosing to write about this particular topic.

    Taffy 2 was to the east, out of Kurita's path. Its three destroyers, which positioned themselves between their own CVEs and Taffy 3's battle, were briefly engaged by either Kongo or Haruna on the fringe of Kurita's force.

    Taffy 1 was well to the south and I suspect would have gotten out of the way, especially since steaming eastward was also into the wind for flight operations.

    The key opposition would have been Oldendorf's force. His BBs at the northern end of Surigao Strait were already within gun range of the eastern entrance to Leyte Gulf. With an hour's warning he could have had his forces appropriately deployed to engage Kurita. The Japanese would be subject to continual air attacks while steaming south and while trying to fight a surface engagement. There was no possibility of attacking the American transports until Kurita defeated six American BBs, eight cruisers, etc.

    Anthony Tully has a new and informative book called Battle of Surigao Strait which posits that Nishimura's attack was a diversion like Ozawa's, intended to draw American surface forces out of Kurita's way, if necessary at the sacrifice of Nishimura's own ships. It was intended that Kurita would arrive just as the Americans were being drawn down Surigao Strait, shortly before dawn; this was confounded by Kurita's temporary reversal of course in the Sibuyan Sea.

    The big lesson of WWII was that aircraft carriers displaced battleships as the arbiters of sea power, so it is ironic that Halsey's mistake was giving priority to Ozawa's carriers over Kurita's battle line. Halsey's concept of a carrier battle on this occasion also involved closing to within gun range, sending Task Force 34 even further north than his carriers (apparently he didn't use them for AA support). He would have done better to keep the force together and just hit Ozawa with air attacks. I wonder if his plans had anything to do with the fact that he personally was aboard New Jersey?
     
  5. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I don't think so. Yamato may have had a higher throw weight per salvo than any of the fast battleships but Yamato and Nagato together are ~ = to two of the fast battleships and it gets worse from there. It does depend on how many of the fast battleships Lee has though. If it's all 6 he's got a very comfortable edge in throw weight.
     
  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester Staff Member

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    My reading of Stewart's book it had Lee to get 4 fast BB's, 3 -4 Cruiser's and 1 Desron. If accurate Kurita would have a slight advantage in Cruiser's and DD's, but otherwise roughly equal. Lee of course still would have had the better position and able to bring all guns to bear. Had it occured as such, Oldendorf's battle would have taken a back seat historicly, so yes in a real way it would have been epic in my opinion.
     
  7. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    There were plans for him haveing both 4 and 6 of the fast battleships I beleive.
    I wasn't debating the epic part. Indeed probably should have trimmed that sentence as well. I was debating the "greater weight of shot" comment.
     

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