Activation of Sho Operation No. 1

In the growing light of dawn on 17 October, the Japanese naval radar station and lookout post on Suluan Island, lying athwart the entrance to Leyte Gulf, suddenly discovered the presence of an enemy task force standing inshore.1 At 0719 an urgent warning was flashed to all Navy headquarters, reporting the approach of one enemy battleships, and six destroyers. This was followed an hour later by a second terse report: "Enemy elements have begun landing". Then the Suluan radio ceased transmitting.

Admiral Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, was still at Shinchiku, Formosa, when these reports were received.2 Promptly interpreting the landing as preliminary to an invasion, he issued an order at 0809 alerting the entire Combined Fleet for Sho Operation No. 1.3 This was followed at 0928 by an order directing Vice Adm. Kurita's First Striking Force to advance at once from Lingga anchorage to Brunei Bay, North Borneo, in preparation for a sortie against the enemy invasion fleet. A further order issued at noon directed the Task Force Main Body, under Vice Adm. Ozawa, to prepare for a coordinated sortie from home waters to facilitate the attack of the Kurita Force.4

Meanwhile, the Fourth Air Army had vainly been endeavoring to clarify the situation in Leyte Gulf. At 0800, the 2d Air Division was ordered to conduct search operations and pre pare to attack any enemy shipping which might be discovered. However, bad weather hampered reconnaissance flights, and the situation remained obscure throughout the morning.5 Lacking confirmation of the enemy landing


from Army sources, Southern Army headquarters at Manila regarded the Suluan reports with some suspicion in view of the earlier false landing scare at Davao.

In the early afternoon, however, corroborative evidence began to appear. At 1230 naval reconnaissance planes from Legaspi, favored by a brief break in the weather over the gulf, spotted the enemy task force off Suluan. The First Air Fleet immediately ordered an attack, but by the time the attack group of 13 planes reached the scene, the weather had closed in again, and the enemy ships were invisible. Enemy carrier aircraft had meanwhile launched attacks, beginning shortly after 0800, on air bases in the Manila area, at Legaspi and on Cebu, clearly indicating that hostile surface forces were operating off the Philippines.

These developments convinced Army headquarters by the afternoon of 17 October that the Suluan landing was indeed a fact, but there was still doubt as to whether or not it represented the beginning of a major invasion operation. The scattered enemy air attacks did not for the moment appear to point to imminent invasion,6 and belief persisted that a major enemy venture was unlikely in view of the damage believed inflicted on the enemy's naval forces in the Formosa air battle. Both Southern Army and Fourteenth Area Army thus remained undecided.

By the night of 17 October, however, a more serious view began to prevail. Fourth Air Army headquarters concluded that the carrier air strikes, carried out in the face of extremely bad weather, indicated that some major enemy move was afoot. In addition, intercepts of enemy tactical radio messages gave evidence of unusual activity. Lt. Gen. Kyoji Tominaga, Fourth Air Army Commander, immediately relayed this information to Southern Army headquarters and recommended that steps be taken to activate Sho Operation No. 1.7

Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Southern Army Commander-in-Chief, now agreed that the weight of evidence pointed to a probable invasion of the Philippines. He therefore sent an immediate recommendation to Imperial General Headquarters for the activation of Sho Operation No. 1 and ordered the Fourth Air Army to launch attacks on the enemy ships off Leyte without delay. Lt. Gen. Tominaga promptly assigned this mission to the 2d Air Division and also ordered the newly-organized 30th Fighter Group to assemble its strength with all possible haste at forward bases in the central Philippines.8

As day broke on 18 October, a violent storm with 65 mile-per-hour winds enveloped the entire Leyte Gulf area, preventing the 2d Air Division from executing its attack orders. During the morning, 16th Division lookout posts along the Leyte coast reported sighting an undetermined number of enemy ships inside the gulf. The division radioed this information to Thirty-fifth Army headquarters on Cebu and also to Fourteenth Area Army headquarters at Manila. The report, however, noted the possibility that the enemy ships might have entered the gulf merely to take temporary refuge from the storm, a hypothesis which was supported by the fact that they had as yet


taken no hostile action.9

Despite the indecisive nature of the 16th Division report, the Thirty-fifth Army and Fourteenth Area Army commands shared Field Marshal Terauchi's estimate that the enemy was about to begin an invasion. It was still considered premature, however, to assume that the enemy's objective would necessarily be Leyte, though this appeared to be the greatest probability.

Meanwhile, Combined Fleet, in close consultation with the Navy High Command, had hastily drawn up a new battle plan for Sho Operation No. 1 to conform to changes in fleet disposition and carrier air strength resulting from the Formosa Air Battle. This plan, issued to the Fleet at 1110 on 18 October, was considered tentative, to apply only in the event of an immediate enemy invasion attempt at Leyte. Its essential points were as follows:10

1. The enemy's over-all landing plans have not yet been ascertained, but judging from the landing on Suluan Island, the sweeping of Surigao Strait, and the air attacks on Manila and Cebu, the possibility of a landing in the Tacloban area is considered great.

2. In the event such a landing attempt materializes, Combined Fleet surface and air forces will operate as follows:

a. The First Striking Force will advance through San Bernardino Strait and attack the enemy invasion forces.

b. In coordination with this attack, the Task Force Main Body will lure the enemy to the north and attack elements of the enemy forces at the most favorable opportunity.11

c. The Second Striking Force will come under the command of Southwest Area Fleet and will cooperate with the Army in executing counter-landings.12

d. The base air forces will concentrate in the Philippines for an all-out attack on the enemy carrier groups.

e. The Advance Submarine Force will attack damaged enemy vessels and amphibious convoys with all forces at its command.

f. The First Striking Force will execute its attack against the enemy invasion forces at the landing point on X-Day. The Task Force Main Body will advance to the area east of Luzon on X-1 or X-2.

g. X-Day will be announced by separate order. It is tentatively set at 24 October.


Plate No. 87, Military Topography of Leyte

Military Topography of Leyte


In Leyte Gulf, events now began to move more rapidly. During the afternoon of 18 October, enemy naval units unleashed a heavy gunfire bombardment of the Dulag, Catmon Hill, and Tolosa sectors, while minesweepers boldly penetrated into the northern part of the gulf and began sweeping operations. Enemy carrier planes meanwhile flew a total of 400 sorties throughout the day against airfields on Luzon and in the Visayas. It was becoming clear that amphibious operations would be launched momentarily.

In Tokyo, the Army and Navy Sections of Imperial General Headquarters had been closely watching developments. Following receipt of Field Marshal Terauchi's message recommending activation of Sho Operation No. 1, the Army Section decided that the situation had become sufficiently clear to warrant such a step. Joint consultations had already been held with the Navy Section to secure coordinated action.

As a result of these consultations, the Navy Section, at 1701 on 18 October, issued a directive to Combined Fleet ordering the execution of Sho Operation No. J.13 This was followed immediately by an Army Section order activating the same operation for all Army forces concerned. The latter order stated:14

1. The Philippines are designated as the area of decisive battle for the Japanese armed forces.

2. The Commander-in-Chief, Southern Army, in cooperation with the Navy, will conduct decisive battle operations against the main strength of the United States forces attacking the Philippines.

3. The Commander-in-Chief, China Expeditionary Army, and the Commander, Tenth Area (Formosa) the Army, will take all necessary action to facilitate above operations.

Simultaneously with its decision to activate the Sho-Go Operation, the Army Section re-examined the existing plan to withhold decisive ground action until the invasion of Luzon. The High Command was now convinced, on the basis of the results believed obtained in the Formosa Air Battle, that conditions had become highly favorable to the conduct of decisive ground operations in the central Philippines.

More than one-half of the American fleet's known carrier strength was still believed to have been destroyed or put out of action in the Formosa Battle. It consequently appeared that the enemy, counting upon the heavy damage he had inflicted on the Japanese air forces, was undertaking the invasion of the Leyte area with seriously reduced carrier strength. Land-based air support would have to come from the distant enemy bases on Palau and Morotai, neither of which was within effective fighter range.

Although Japanese air losses had admittedly been severe, the High Command estimated that these could be replaced with relatively greater speed than the enemy could replenish his carrier forces. The Japanese air forces therefore had good prospects of gaining at least temporary local superiority over the Philippines. This would make possible the safe movement of troop reinforcements and supplies to the Leyte invasion area, thus eliminating the major reason for the original decision to attempt only a delaying action in the central or southern Philippines.

Imperial General Headquarters therefore made the crucial decision to set aside the previous Sho-Go plan and throw all available ground strength into Leyte. The disadvantages inherent in a last-minute change of plan were believed greatly outweighed by the better


prospects of dealing a crushing defeat to the enemy through simultaneous and concerted commitment of air, sea and ground forces.15

To transmit this decision to the theater command, the Army Section of Imperial General Headquarters decided to dispatch a staff liaison group to Manila. This group, headed by Col. Ichiji Sugita of the Operations Section, left Tokyo by air on the morning of 19 October, stopping at Taihoku, Formosa, to effect necessary liaison with Tenth Area Army. Meanwhile, Field Marshal Terauchi and General Yamashita at Manila continued to shape their plans on the basis of the standing instructions to fight only a strategic delaying action in the central Philippines.16

Southern Army, early on 19 October, had issued an order to Fourteenth Area Army and Fourth Air Army, implementing the Imperial General Headquarters order of the 18th for activation of Sho Operation No. 1. This stated in substance:17

I. Activation of Sho Operation No. 1 has been ordered.

2. The Southern Army, assembling all its fighting power, will seek decisive battle with the main strength of the enemy forces landing in the Philippines.

3. All forces must fulfill their assigned missions by every means at their disposal and must fight this battle to a successful conclusion.

Pursuant to this order, Fourteenth Area Army on the same day directed Lt. Gen. Suzuki, Thirty-fifth Army Commander, to commit maximum strength to Leyte for the execution of the Army's assigned mission of strategic delay in that sector.18 Lt. Gen. Suzuki simultaneously ordered activation of the Suzu No. 2 Operation (Cf. Chapter XI) and directed the 16th Division to repel enemy landing forces and secure the Leyte airfields.

Enemy activity in Leyte Gulf meanwhile was accelerating rapidly. Beaches along the Leyte east coast were aggressively reconnoitered by small landing parties.19 Shore installations were shelled and bombed. Various types of shipping continued to enter the gulf in ever increasing numbers. The main enemy landing effort was obviously imminent.

Despite the optimism of the Army High Command with regard to the prospects of gaining eventual air superiority in the battle area, it was already evident that the air phase of the Sho-Go Operation plans was not working out as intended. Those plans had envisaged mass air attacks against the invading enemy naval forces and troop convoys beginning prior to their arrival at the landing point. Thus, the enemy would suffer severe losses before his troops could hit the invasion beaches.20

The enemy, however, had forestalled these


plans by striking at Leyte before the planned concentration of Japanese air strength in the Philippines had been completed, and before the Navy's base air forces had time to recover from losses sustained in the Formosa Air Battle and earlier enemy carrier strikes on the Philippines. The First Air Fleet, already in the Philippines, had been reduced to an operational strength of less than 50 aircraft.21 The Second Air Fleet, which had lost half its strength in the Formosa Battle, had not yet begun its redeployment from Formosa to the Philippines.

Although the Fourth Air Army had sustained relatively lighter losses, its strength was widely dispersed. Before it could operate effectively in the Leyte area, it had to concentrate at forward bases in the central Philippines,22 an operation rendered both difficult and dangerous by enemy action, bad weather, and the virtually useless condition of many of the forward fields due to continuous rains. Under such unfavorable conditions, the concentration required a minimum of several days, and in the meanwhile the enemy was able to operate in Leyte Gulf against extremely light air opposition.

On 19 October, when weather conditions finally permitted an air attack against the enemy invasion fleet, no more than five naval and three Army aircraft could be mustered against the steadily increasing concentration of enemy shipping in Leyte Gulf.23

Defensive Dispositions

Air reconnaissance during 19 October gave the first clear indication of the size of the invasion force which the enemy was throwing against Leyte. At 0810 only 18 transports were reported in the gulf, together with some 34 naval ships, including six carriers. By 1800 of the same day, the number of transports reported in or near the gulf had increased to 100, and the naval units to 46, including six carriers and ten battleships. At the same time, two covering naval task groups, one with four carriers and the other with two, were reported maneuvering off the east coast of Luzon.24 In the Admiralties and at Hollandia, further large concentrations of invasion shipping were reported in readiness for departure.25

It was evident from these reports that the invading forces would be formidable. The only major combat unit available to counter the first wave of the assault pending the concentration of forces from other sectors of the Philippines was Lt. Gen. Shiro Makino's 16th Division, veterans of the initial Japanese conquest of the Philippines and strongest of the Thirty-fifth. Army's field divisions.

Estimating that enemy landings would most probably occur in the Dulag-Tarragona-Abuyog sector, Lt. Gen. Makino had disposed the bulk


of his troops in prepared coastal positions between Abuyog on the south and Palo on the north, with the heaviest concentration of strength in the vicinity of Dulag. Construction of a secondary defense line through Tabontabon and Santa Ana and of the projected main line along an axis running through Dagami and Burauen, was still incomplete due to terrain difficulties and guerrilla in terference.26 Division headquarters and rear installations remained in the Tacloban sector, to the north of the main defensive dispositions.27 (Plate No. 88)

Except for minor elements left on Luzon and Samar, Lt. Gen. Makino had at his immediate disposal the full combat strength of the 16th Division, in addition to 4th Air Division ground units in the area, and part of the service forces of Thirty-fifth Army. Elements of the 36th Naval Garrison Unit at Ormoc and Tacloban were to come under his command immediately upon an enemy invasion.28

Tactically the main combat forces were organized in two groups, the first responsible for defense of the right flank sector south of and including Dulag and Burauen, and the second charged with operations in the sector extending from Catmon Hill (inclusive) to Palo (exclusive). The main strength of the division reserve (33d Infantry, less 2d Battalion) was stationed in the Palo sector, with elements at Dagami (1st Battalion, 20th Infantry), Tagungtong (2d Battalion, 33d Infantry), and north of Burauen (7th Independent Tank Company). Artillery


Plate No. 88, Disposition of 16th Division-Leyte, 17 October 1944

Disposition of 16th Division-Leyte, 17 October 1944


retained under division control was emplaced at Catmon Hill, San Jose, and Tolosa. The tactical allocation of units was as follows:29

Southern Defense Unit: 20th Inf. (less 1st Bn.)
2d Bn., 22d Arty Regt. (less 6th Co.)
Northern Defense Unit: 9th Inf. (less 2d, 5th, and 7th Cos.)
Division Reserve: 33d Inf.
1st Bn., 20th Inf.
7th Ind. Tank Co.
Division Artillery: 22d Arty. Regt. (less 5 cos.)

These dispositions remained in effect until 18 October, when the enemy's pre-landing operations in Leyte Gulf afforded Lt. Gen. Makino his first definite clue as to where the invading forces would go ashore. These operations appeared to confirm the previous estimate that the major landing effort would be made in the Dulag area. However, the presence of a large number of enemy ships, as well as minesweeping activity in the northern section of Leyte Gulf also gave ominous indications that the enemy might execute a secondary landing closer to Tacloban, outflanking the main concentration of 16th Division strength and immediately threatening the division headquarters itself.

To meet the completely unexpected threat on the north,30 Lt. Gen. Makino swiftly ordered the 33d Infantry to move its main strength, supported by two batteries of division artillery, into positions in the Palo-San Jose coastal sector.31 Simultaneously, the 2d Battalion of the regiment, which was standing by at Tagungtong in the southern sector, was released from the reserve and assigned to reinforce the Southern Defense Unit. This battalion moved up to Julita to give closer support to the southern flank. The 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, stationed in reserve at Dagami, was ordered to prepare for rapid motorized movement to any sector where further reinforcements might be required.32 Execution of these orders got under way late on 18 October.

Despite these last-minute moves, Lt. Gen. Makino's forces were ill prepared to meet the overwhelming assault which impended. Defensive works, where they had been completed, were weak and imperfectly disposed.33 Many positions were demolished by the heavy naval gunfire preparation, which continued


throughout 19 October. The bulk of the 22d Artillery Regiment's guns, with the exception of the battery emplaced on Catmon Hill, were also put out of action by the rain of shells. Effective resistance was further handicapped by a general breakdown in division communications as a combined result of the enemy bombardment and damage wrought by the typhoon of 17-18 October.34

Launching of the Invasion

On the morning of 20 October, the enemy finally began his main landing operations. While naval units subjected the shore defenses to a final preparatory bombardment, the enemy's vast transport convoy maneuvered into take-off positions and put more than 200 assault craft into the water. The first waves of the invasion force, now estimated at about three divisions,35 began hitting the beaches at 1130 Japan time (1030 Philippine time).36

The assault was delivered in two main thrusts, one aimed at the Dulag sector, and the other at San Jose, just five miles southeast of Tacloban. (Plate No. 89) As the enemy troops moved ashore, they were subjected to scattered fire from artillery emplacements not destroyed by the naval gunfire and air preparation.37 In the Dulag sector, Col. Keijiro Hokoda's 20th Infantry Regiment put up what initial resistance it could from its shore positions but was unable to prevent the establishment of a small but firm enemy beachhead.

The simultaneous landing near Tacloban was far more critical. The two battalions of the 33d Infantry, which Lt. Gen. Makino had ordered to the Palo-San Jose coastal sector on 18 October, had barely enough time to move into position before the enemy assault began, and the absence of adequate prepared defenses in the area made effective resistance impossible. These elements and the small number of naval troops already in the San Jose sector were forced to fall rapidly back from the beaches. The 1st and 3d Battalions, 33d Infantry, took up strong positions on the heights north and northwest of Palo. The naval troops withdrew northward to Tacloban. By nightfall of 20 October the enemy had overrun Tacloban airfield and penetrated into the outskirts of the town itself.38

Already on the day prior to the enemy landings, Lt. Gen. Makino had decided to establish his command post at Dagami in order to be in a more central location for directing subsequent operations. The division commander and his staff moved out of Tacloban during the night of 19-20 October. Most of the division headquarters and special troops were ordered to


Plate No. 89, Invasion of Leyte, 20-21 October 1944

Invasion of Leyte, 20-21 October 1944


follow as soon as possible. The command group was proceeding along the highway west of Palo when reports of the first enemy landings reached them about midday on the 20th.

Immediately perceiving the serious danger to his northern flank as a result of the San Jose landing, Lt. Gen. Makino ordered the division mobile reserve (1st Battalion, 20th Infantry) at Dagami to proceed at once to the Palo-San Jose sector to back up the 33d Infantry. Meanwhile, to bolster the equally hard-pressed forces in the south, the 7th Independent Tank Company was released from division control and ordered to move up from Burt to the Dulag front. Lt. Gen. Makino and his staff continued on to Dagami, arriving early on 21 October.39

The evacuation of Tacloban by the division rear echelon, which began early on 20 October, necessitated the abandonment of permanent wireless installations and resulted in complete severance for forty-eight hours of all contact between the 16th Division and higher headquarters at Cebu and Manila.40 During this critical period, Fourteenth Area Army and Thirty-fifth Army were completely without knowledge of developments on Leyte.

Swiftly exploiting their success on the northern flank, the enemy pushed ahead to occupy Tacloban completely during the night of 20-21 October. The naval garrison elements and 16th Division rear echelon personnel retreated into the hills west of the town. These small forces were all that remained on the extreme north flank, and they now found themselves cut off from the main Japanese forces to the south.

On the southern flank of the San Jose beachhead, the enemy also pressed forward vigorously against the 33d Infantry positions on the heights northwest of Palo. Although enemy elements infiltrated past this strongpoint, the regiment held its positions throughout the 21st and even launched minor counterattacks against the enemy left flank.

In the Dulag area to the south, the enemy forces, after completely occupying Dulag itself, drove on to take the airfield west of the town. They then continued to exert heavy pressure in the direction of Burauen, opposed by the Southern Defense Unit and airfield garrisons of the 34th Air Sector Command. Artillery emplaced on Catmon Hill, which had not yet come under ground assault, shelled the enemy beachhead area, while 9th Infantry elements engaged advancing enemy forces along the northern perimeter of the beachhead above Dulag. Enemy naval bombardment slackened on 21 October, but carrier planes immediately took over the task of supporting the ground forces.

Despite a gradual stiffening of 16th Division resistance, the enemy, by noon of 21 October, had succeeded in extending his northern beachhead from Tacloban south to the mouth of the Palo River, while his southern foothold had been expanded to a roughly semi-circular beachhead about two miles in depth, centered on Dulag.41

Air opposition to the enemy invasion remained on a minor scale as Fourth Air Army and the naval air forces continued the gradual


concentration of their strength in the Philippines in preparation for the all-out air offensive tentatively set to begin on 24 October.42 On 20 October, 37 Army and Navy planes attacked invasion shipping off Leyte, claiming to have sunk or damaged several enemy craft. The number of attacking planes dropped to 21 on 21 October, and on 22 and 23 October no attacks were carried out.43

Both the 2d Air Division, containing the major combat flying elements of the Fourth Air Army, and the First Air Fleet had undergone command changes just as the enemy invasion of Leyte got under way. Lt. Gen. Isamu Kinoshita took over command of the 2d Air Division from Lt. Gen. Masao Yamase after the latter was wounded in the enemy air strike on Clark Field on 19 October. On the 20th, Vice Adm. Takijiro Onishi relieved Vice Adm. Teraoka as First Air Fleet Commander.44

The assembly of Fourth Air Army strength for the big offensive was proceeding less rapidly than anticipated. Not only was it proving extremely difficult to move already available fighter strength to forward bases, but it appeared unlikely that the transfer from the Homeland and China of the 30th Fighter Group's most powerful units, the 12th Fighter Brigade and tooth Fighter Regiment, could be completed before 22 or 23 October. Second Air Fleet, however, had completed its transfer to Clark and Nichols Fields by the 22d.

Action by Army Headquarters

Urgent 16th Division dispatches reporting the launching of the enemy invasion reached Thirty-fifth Army headquarters at Cebu and Fourteenth Area Army and Southern Army headquarters at Manila around noon on 20 October. These headquarters tensely waited for further information, but before any detailed reports could come through, the blackout of 16th Division communications drew a cloak of obscurity over the situation on Leyte.

Though handicapped by inadequate information, Thirty-fifth Army took immediate action to move reinforcements to Leyte in accord ance with the Suzu No. 2 Operation plan, which had already been activated on 19 October. Orders were issued during the 20th directing the following units to advance immediately to Leyte, where they were to come under 16th Division command:45

1. 41st Infantry Regiment (less one battalion) of the 30th Division (Army reserve from Mindanao.

2. 169th Infantry Battalion of the I02d Division from the Visayas sector.

3. One infantry battalion of the 57th Independent Mixed Brigade, from Cebu.46

Since Imperial General Headquarters' decision to fight a decisive ground action on Leyte had not yet been transmitted to Southern Army, all Army headquarters in the Philippines were


still operating on the assumption that only a strategic delaying action would be conducted in accordance with the original Sho-Go plans. The staff mission dispatched by Imperial General Headquarters to transmit this vital decision reached Manila at about 2000 on 20 October, immediately launching into a series of night conferences.47 Developments on Leyte subsequent to the enemy landing remained entirely unknown at this time.48

The High Command directive evoked diametrically opposite reactions from Southern Army and Fourteenth Area Army. Field Marshal Terauchi was entirely in agreement with the decision to wage a decisive ground action on Leyte, since Southern Army headquarters had become increasingly skeptical of the practicability of the original Sho-Go plans.49 Field Marshal Terauchi and his staff held that not only the sea and air forces, but the ground forces as well, must be fully committed in defense of Leyte, since the establishment of an enemy foothold in the central Philippines, involving the acquisition of air bases, would render decisive ground action on Luzon an impossibility.

The reaction of General Yamashita and the Fourteenth Area Army staff, on the other hand, was one of shocked surprise.50 The principal reasons for this doubt on the part of the Area Army command were the following:51

1. Judging from the strength of enemy air attacks in support of the Leyte invasion,52 it appeared highly questionable that the enemy's carrier air strength had been so seriously depleted in the Formosa Air Battle as to assure Japanese ability to gain air superiority. Without such superiority, the movement of large-scale reinforcements to Leyte would be subject to grave risk.

2. The transport of the requisite troop strength to Leyte, and its logistical support, would require shipping far in excess of the amount available to Fourteenth Area Army, and the assembly of shipping from other areas would so delay troop movement as to weigh heavily against the chances of success on Leyte.

3. It was still difficult to determine with certainty whether the invasion of Leyte was the main enemy effort, or whether it would prove to be a limited objective operation preliminary to a quickly following, major attack on Luzon.


4. Luzon was eventually certain to be invaded by reason of its strategic and political importance to the enemy. Therefore, if Luzon were stripped of troops to reinforce Leyte and, despite this, Leyte were lost, a decisive ground defense of the more strategically important area of Luzon would be seriously prejudiced.

Despite these views, General Yamashita recognized that much depended upon the actual development of the situation on Leyte, and even more upon the outcome of the impending sea and air offensive. He therefore proffered no formal opposition at this time and directed the Area Army staff to begin working out plans to implement the revised operational policy.

Pending the elaboration of these plans, Fourteenth Area Army took steps to obtain Navy cooperation in transporting the 30th Division elements already ordered to Leyte by Thirty-fifth Army. Southwest Area Fleet promptly assented to a request that the 16th Cruiser Division and available naval transports be dispatched to Cagayan, northern Mindanao, by the evening of 24 October to pick up these troops and ferry them to Ormoc, on Leyte.53 Fourteenth Area Army also confirmed Thirty-fifth Army's decision to use the Tempei Battalion and decided, in addition, to make available the 20th Antitank Battalion from Luzon. An Area Army order implementing these arrangements was issued at 1700 on 21 October.54

The following morning Field Marshal Terauchi summoned the Fourteenth Area Army and Fourth Air Army commanders to Southern Army headquarters and transmitted to them a formal order directing compliance with the decision to fight the decisive ground battle on Leyte. This order stated:55

1. The opportunity to annihilate enemy is at hand.

2. The Fourteenth Area Army, in cooperation with the Navy and the Air forces, will muster all strength possible and destroy the enemy on Leyte.

In accordance with this order, General Yamashita promptly ordered the 26th Division, presently on Luzon, to prepare for early shipment to Leyte.56 He also decided that the 1st Division and 68th Brigade, scheduled to reach the Philippines shortly, would be allocated to Thirty-fifth Army as additional reinforcements.57 An urgent dispatch was immediately sent to the Thirty-fifth Army Commander


notifying him of the vital change in the Army's mission and the reinforcement plans.

Upon receipt of this dispatch, Lt. Gen. Suzuki and his staff began formulating a new operational plan covering the deployment of forces on Leyte. This plan, completed within the next few days, was essentially as follows:58

1. Operational policy:

a. The Army will act immediately in cooperation with the decisive operations of the naval and air forces.

b. Reinforcements will be concentrated on the plain near Carigara.

c. Enemy troops which have landed near Tacloban and in the Dulag area will be destroyed.

d. The direction of the initial main effort will

be against the enemy in the Dulag area.

e. The general attack will begin on or about 10 November.

2. Allocation of missions:

a. The 16th Div. will hold the Dulag area, Catmon Hill, and the heights west of Tacloban in order to cover the concentration of the main forces of the Thirty-fifth Army.

b. The following units, after landing at the ports indicated, will concentrate on the Carigara plain:

1st Div.-Carigara

26th Div.-Carigara

102d Div. (Hq. and three battalions)-Ormoc

c. After the concentration of the Army's main forces on the Carigara plain and adjacent areas to the southeast, operations will begin with the objective of destroying the enemy in the Dulag and then the Tacloban area.

d. In conjunction with the Army counteroffensive from the Carigara plain, the following units will perform the indicated operations:

(1) 30th Div. (Hq. and three battalions) will land at Albuera or Baybay, advance to the Dulag area, and operate against the enemy's left rear.

(2) If circumstances permit, the 68th Brig. will stage a counterlanding south of Dulag. Failing this, the brigade will land at Ormoc, advance to the Dagami area, and join in the main assault.

3. The headquarters of the Thirty-fifth Army will advance to Leyte.

Owing to the obscurity surrounding the situation on Leyte, the Thirty-fifth Army plan of operations was formulated on the basis of serious miscalculations. First, the enemy invasion force was estimated from the initial intelligence reports at not more than three divisions. Second, it was estimated that the enemy, as in previous instances, would not attempt to advance inland until his Tacloban and Dulag beachheads were joined, thus allowing adequate time for the planned concentration of reinforcements in the Carigara area. Third, even if such an attempt were made, Thirty-fifth Army overconfidently believed that the combat-tested 16th Division would be able to contain the enemy in the eastern part of Leyte long enough to cover the assembly of reinforcements.59

Preparations for Sea-Air Attack

While plans were being made for committing maximum ground strength in the defense of Leyte, the sea and air forces were rushing to complete preparations for the concerted assault on the enemy invasion fleet, which constituted the first phase of the Sho-Go Operations.

At 0813 on 20 October, a few hours prior to the Leyte landings, Admiral Toyoda issued a Combined Fleet order confirming, with minor changes, the tentative battle plan issued two days earlier. The essentials of this order were


as follows:60

2. The Combined Fleet, in cooperation with the Army, will annihilate the enemy invading the Central Philippines in accordance with the following operational plan

a. The First Striking Force will penetrate to the Tacloban area at dawn on 25 October (X-Day) and destroy the enemy transport group and its covering naval escort forces.

b. In coordination with the attack of the First Striking Force, the Task Force Main Body will maneuver in the area east of Luzon in order to lure the enemy to the north. It will also attack the enemy at the most favorable opportunity.

c. The Southwest Area Force (Southwest Area Fleet) will command all naval air units assembled in the Philippines and will utilize them to destroy the enemy carrier and invasion forces in conjunction with the penetration of the First Striking Force. It will also effect immediate amphibious counterlandings on Leyte in cooperation with the Army.

d. The main strength of the 6th Base Air Force (Second Air Fleet will advance to the Philippines and come under the command of Southwest Area Force. It will execute a general attack against enemy task forces on 24 October (Y-Day).

e. The Advance Submarine Force will continue its previously assigned missions, as will other forces participating in the Sho-Go Operation.

While this order was being disseminated, the surface forces scheduled to participate in the attack were already maneuvering into position. Vice Adm. Kurita's First Striking Force reached Brunei Bay, North Borneo, at noon on 20 October, and began making final preparations. Far to the north, Vice Adm. Ozawa's Task Force Main Body sortied from the Bungo Channel, at the southern entrance to the Inland Sea, on the afternoon of the same day, immediately after receiving the Combined Fleet battle order.

The mission of the Ozawa force was of vital importance to the success of the over-all plan. It was to act as a decoy to draw off the main strength of the enemy naval forces covering the invasion operations in Leyte Gulf, thus allowing the First Striking Force to penetrate to the landing point and smash the enemy's troop and supply ships. To heighten its effectiveness as a lure, the Ozawa Force sortied with all of the 3d Carrier Division, made up of the regular carrier Zuikaku and the light carriers Zuiho, Chitose, and Chiyoda. The total number of aircraft available to put aboard these ships, however, was only 108. These belonged to the poorly trained air groups of the 1st Carrier Division and represented about half the normal complement. In addition to the half-empty carriers, the force comprised two battleships (Ise, Hyuga),61 three light cruisers(Oyodo, Tama, Isuzu) and eight destroyers (31st Destroyer Squadron).62 Vice Adm. Ozawa fully anticipated that his fleet would be completely wiped out, but this sacrifice was deemed essential to achieve the primary objective-destruction of the entire enemy invasion force.63


Plate No. 90, Tactical Grouping of Japanese Naval Forces for the Leyte Batte

Tactical Grouping of Japanese Naval Forces for the Leyte Battle


Vice Adm. Kurita's First Striking Force, by the night of 21 October, had almost completed final preparations for its sortie from Brunei. By order of Admiral Toyoda, it was to operate henceforth under direct Combined Fleet command instead of under Vice Adm. Ozawa, who thus became responsible only for directing the Task Force Main Body.64 Late on 21 October, Vice Adm. Kurita issued to his subordinate commanders a final battle plan calling for twin, coordinated thrusts at Leyte Gulf from north and south. This plan was as follows:65

I. Mission: In accordance with Combined Fleet dispatch order No. 363, this Force, in cooperation with action of the base air forces and the Task Force Main Body, will sortie to the Tacloban area at daybreak on 25 October.66 After destroying enemy naval forces in the vicinity, it will annihilate enemy transports and landing forces.

2. Dispositions and Operational Procedure

a. 1 will personally lead the 1st and 2d Task Groups, starting from Brunei at 0800 22 October. After penetrating through San Bernardino Strait at sunset on 24 October, I will destroy the enemy surface forces in night battle east of Samar and then proceed to the Tacloban area at daybreak on 25 October to destroy the enemy transport convoy and landing forces.

b. The 3d Task Group under command of Vice Adm. Nishimura will leave Brunei at a time fixed by the commander and move up separately. At daybreak on 25 October, this force will sortie to the Tacloban area through Surigao Strait and cooperate with the main body in annihilating the enemy transports and landing forces.

While the Kurita Force was preparing to weigh anchor, the Second Striking Force under Vice Adm. Shima was enroute from the Pes cadores to Manila, where it was to operate with the 16th Cruiser Division in moving troops to Leyte. Since Fourteenth Area Army had indicated that no troops were ready to embark, however, Combined Fleet suggested to Southwest Area Force, now commanding the Second Striking Force, that Vice Adm. Shima's ships be utilized temporarily to support Vice Adm. Kurita's attack. Southwest Area Force concurred and radioed Vice Adm. Shima to take his force to Coron Bay and refuel there from fleet tankers in preparation for a possible sortie through Surigao Strait.67

At 0800 on 22 October, the main body of


the First Striking Force sortied from Brunei Bay as planned, and seven hours later Vice Adm. Nishimura's 3d Task Group cleared the anchorage en route for Surigao. Far to the north, Vice Adm. Ozawa's imposing but actu ally weak decoy force was due east of Okinawa, heading south into the Philippine Sea. The surface phase of the Sho-Go Operation plan had swung into action.

Meanwhile, the Army and Navy air forces were speedily concentrating their strength in the Philippines for the start of the coordinated air offensive on 24 October, one day in advance of the fleet attack. (Plate No. 91) This was essential to the success of the entire plan, both to cover the penetration of Vice Adm. Kurita's attack groups to the landing point and to destroy a portion of the opposing naval strength, particularly carriers, in advance of Kurita's attack.

The Second Air Fleet was assembled in the Manila area (principally Clark Field) with all units expected to reach full operational readiness at their new bases by 23 October. Fourth Air Army, however, was experiencing more difficulty in assembling its scattered forces and barely expected to get them deployed at their battle stations in time. Lt. Gen. Tominaga, Fourth Air Army Commander, nevertheless had issued the following order on 21 October directing final dispositions for the attack:68

1. The enemy is continuing to land on Leyte. The main strength of our Navy has started operations with the objective of destroying the enemy in the waters east of the Philippines.

2. Fourth Air Army will employ its entire strength in an effort to annihilate enemy ships engaged in landing troops in the Leyte Gulf area.

3. Pending concentration of the 30th Fighter Group in the central Philippines, the 2d Air Division will continue attacking the enemy on the present basis. Upon arrival of the 30th Fighter Group, the division will assume command of this unit and launch attacks in force as soon as possible. These attacks will be continued in full strength thereafter.

4. The 30th Fighter Group will deploy in the central Philippines by the evening of 23 October and come under command of the 2d Air Division.

5. Fourth Air Army will establish an advance command post at Bacolod by the evening of 23 October.

The deployment plan of the 2d Air Division, which was to command all Army combat flying elements assembling in the Philippines, envisaged retaining heavy and light bomber units at Clark Field and Lipa, on Luzon. Fighter, fighter-bomber, and reconnaissance units, be cause of their shorter range, were to operate from bases around Bacolod, on Negros Island. As the deployment of the latter progressed, the taxi strips at the Negros bases became so soft and muddy under prolonged rainfall that the useability of the fields was seriously reduced. However, alternate bases were lacking, and time was so short that plans could not be changed.69

In spite of many difficulties, Fourth Air Army succeeded, by late on 23 October, in gathering together the bulk of its widely scattered units and deploying them for the decisive battle. This redeployment operation was as follows:70


Plate No. 91, Air Reinforcements of the Philippines, October-December 1944

Air Reinforcement of the Philippines, October-December 1944


To Bacolod:

16th Fighter Brigade from Clark Field

22d Fighter Brigade from Manila

Fighter complement of the 9th Composite Air Brigade from Celebes

6th Fighter-Bomber Brigade from North Borneo 2d Air Reconnaissance Regt. from Clark Field 10th Fighter Regt. From Formosa

To Manila:

One-half of the 12th Fighter Brigade (30th Fighter Group) from the Homeland and China

To Lipa:

Bomber complement of the 3d Composite Air Brigade from Celebes

3d Light Bomber Regt. (25th Bomber Brigade) from Formosa

To Clark Field:

7th Heavy Bomber Brigade from Malaya

14th Heavy Bomber Regt. (25th Bomber Brigade) from Formosa

On the evening of 23 October, Lt. Gen. Tominaga proceeded from Manila to Bacolod and established the advanced command post of Fourth Air Army. Nearly 400 Army and Navy craft were now poised at Philippine bases in readiness for the decisive air and sea battle.71

Leyte Sea Battle : First Phase

At dawn on 23 October, the main body of Vice Adm. Kurita's powerful surface attack force, speeding northward from Brunei, sustained the first of series of telling blows which ultimately reduced the force of 32 ships to less than half its original strength before it had reached the objective. This initial blow was struck by enemy submarines. (Plate No. 92)

At 0634, as the Force passed up the western side of Palawan, a spread of torpedoes suddenly entered the cruising disposition. Four of these squarely hit the flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago, which sank inside of 19 minutes, the destroyer Kishinami taking off Vice Adm. Kurita and his staff. Two more torpedoes struck the heavy cruiser Takao, inflicting such severe damage that she had to be ordered back to Brunei under destroyer escort.

Twenty-two minutes after the first attack, another spread of torpedoes found its mark on the heavy cruiser Maya, which blew up and sank in four minutes. Within the space of less than half an hour, the Kurita Force had thus lost three major combat units, not counting the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo detached to accompany the crippled Takao back to port. Far more serious, the submarine contact had alerted the enemy two full days in advance of the scheduled assault on Leyte Gulf.

Vice Adm. Kurita's undamaged ships sailed on at high speed after the submarine attacks, not slowing down until 1623, when it was considered safe to effect the transfer of the commander and his staff from Kishinami to the super-battleship Yamato, which he had decided to make his flagship. The force then continued northward, heading into Mindoro Strait during the night.

During the 23d, Vice Adm. Nishimura's southern force (3d Task Group) had meanwhile negotiated Balabac Strait without incident and begun crossing the Sulu Sea. Vice Adm. Shima's Second Striking Force, now under definite orders to penetrate Surigao Strait on the night of 24 October in support of the


Nishimura group,72 had reached Coron Bay on schedule and was making final preparations to sortie.73 To the north, Vice Adm. Ozawa's decoy force, after refueling its destroyers from larger units about 800 miles east of Formosa, had set a southwesterly course, at the same time opening up a powerful long-wave radio transmitter aboard the flagship in order to attract enemy attention.

At dawn on 24 October, the critical air phase of the battle plan swung into action. At 0630, the full strength of the First and Second Air Fleets-199 planes-took off from Clark Field to sweep the waters east of Luzon.74 This force, after nearly two and a half hours' flying, finally spotted an enemy group with a nucleus of six carriers 160 miles east of Manila and immediately attacked. Action reports claimed one battleship set afire, one carrier and one cruiser damaged, and 32 enemy planes shot down. Japanese losses were heavy, 67 planes failing to return to base.75

While this attack was in progress, a search plane discovered a second enemy group with two carriers about 40 miles to the north, and at 0940 a third group including three carriers was spotted due east of San Bernardino Strait. The importance of knocking out this third group to facilitate the penetration of Kurita's force was fully realized, but the all-out effort of the morning made it impossible to mount another attack until early evening. An attack group of 24 planes then sortied but, unable to locate the enemy force off San Bernardino due to poor visibility, turned north to attack the enemy groups east of Luzon instead. The results of these attacks were not ascertained.76

Army air units had meanwhile launched full-scale attacks against enemy invasion shipping in Leyte Gulf itself. Beginning at 0800, the 2d Air Division mounted three major attacks during the 24th, using 80 planes in the first attack, 38 in the second, and 29 in the final attack at dusk. Results reported, however, were extremely meager. In all three attacks, only one seaplane tender, one cruiser and one landing craft were believed sunk, with five transports and two cruisers damaged.77

The first day of the land-based air offensive had thus failed to achieve one of its most vital objectives, the neutralization of the enemy carrier forces threatening Vice Adm. Kurita's two-pronged thrust toward Leyte Gulf. At the same time, Vice Adm. Ozawa's parallel effort to lure these forces to the north, where they could not interfere with Kurita's advance, had produced no apparent results by late afternoon of the 24th, a failure that was not, however, attributable to lack of persistence on the part of the Task Force Main Body. Indeed Vice


Adm. Ozawa, convinced that the luring opera tion could only succeed if the enemy were given a physical demonstration of the proximity of his force, had actually closed to within 150 miles of the northernmost enemy task group and sent all his operable aircraft, totalling 56 of all types, to carry out an attack.78 When this attack still drew no enemy retaliation, Vice Adm. Ozawa in mid-afternoon ordered his advance guard (Ise, Hyuga and four destroyers) under Rear Adm. Chiaki Matsuda to break away from the carriers, proceed south, and forcibly divert the enemy by a night attack.79

The combined ineffectiveness of the air offensive and of Vice Adm. Ozawa's decoy operation had meanwhile brought further disaster to the Kurita Force as it headed across the Sibuyan Sea toward San Bernardino Strait. At 0810 on the 24th, enemy scout planes spotted the Force in Tablas Strait, and at 1025 a group of about 30 carrier aircraft swept in for the first attack. The super-battleship Musashi and heavy cruiser Myoko both sustained aerial torpedo hits, and in addition Musashi was hit by a heavy bomb. Damage to the strongly-armored Musashi was negligible, but Myoko, her speed cut to 15 knots, dropped out of formation and was ordered back to Brunei.80

Almost simultaneously with this first attack on the Kurita Force, Vice Adm. Nishimura's 3d Task Group diving across the Sulu Sea was discovered and attacked by 22 enemy carrier planes just south of the Cagayan Islands. The battleship Fuso and destroyer Shigure received bomb hits which caused only superficial damage, and the force raced on toward Surigao Strait,81 followed closely by Vice Adm. Shima's Second Striking Force, which had sortied from


Plate No. 92, Battle for Leyte Gulf, Phase I, Prior to 0600 25 October 1944

Battle for Leyte Gulf, Phase I, Prior to 0600 25 October 1944


Coron Bay at 0400.

Enemy air attacks on the Kurita Force were renewed with deadly intensity on the afternoon of the 24th. At 1207 the second wave of about 30 carrier aircraft attacked, concentrating on Musashi, which took three more torpedoes and two large bombs. The speed of the 64,000-ton battleship was reduced to 22 knots, and the disposition had to slow down to keep her in formation. At 1315, hoping to spur the air forces and the Ozawa Force into more effective action to ease enemy pressure on his group, Vice Adm. Kurita dispatched the following radio to Vice Adm. Ozawa and Southwest Area Force:82

I am receiving repeated torpedo and bomb attacks by enemy carrier aircraft. Request urgent information concerning situation as regards attacks on, or contacts with, the enemy by your forces.

Immediately after the dispatch of this message, a third enemy attack wave swept in to inflict new damage. Five more aerial torpedoes struck Musashi, while four bomb hits shattered her superstructure. Down badly at the head, the huge ship lost further speed and fell slowly astern of the disposition. Vice Adm. Kurita's flagship Yamato also received a torpedo hit, but damage was superficial. A fourth attack one hour later resulted in further slight damage to Yamato and to the battleship Nagato.

With Musashi too badly damaged to continue, Vice Adm. Kurita at 1452 ordered the destroyer Kiyoshimo to escort her back to Mako in the Pescadores. Just as the retirement was getting under way, however, the fifth and heaviest air attack of the day began, enemy carrier aircraft completing the destruction of Musashi with 11 more torpedoes and ten large bombs.83 A bomb also hit the escorting Kiyoshimo, reducing her speed to 20 knots.

Vice Adm. Kurita was now convinced that to continue would risk the destruction of his entire force before it could reach the objective.84 He therefore decided to execute a temporary retirement and, at 1530, ordered his force to reverse its course to the northwest. At 1600 he originated a dispatch to Combined Fleet reporting this action and indicating that he deemed it best "to withdraw temporarily outside the range of enemy planes while awaiting the results of our other operations and standing by to cooperate as developments warrant "85.

For an hour and a half the force continued to retire until approaching nightfall brought safety from further air attacks. Vice Adm. Kurita was now expecting fresh instructions from Combined Fleet in response to his message of 1600, but since the retirement had put his force dangerously behind schedule in case Combined Fleet ordered execution of the attack as planned, he ordered his ships at 1714 to put about once more and head for San Bernardino.


The force was already one hour along on its new heading when, at 1815, the following message, addressed to all naval units engaged in the Sho-Go Operation, was received from the Commander-in-Chief, Combined Fleet:86

All forces will dash to the attack, trusting in divine assistance.87

Now committed to carry out the attack, Vice Adm. Kurita studied the situation in the light of meager reports received from the Ozawa and Nishimura Forces. A dispatch from Vice Adm. Ozawa, which had been received at 1603, confirmed the conclusion which Vice Adm. Kurita had drawn from the fierce air attacks on his force, namely that the decoy operation had not yet taken effect, and disclosed Ozawa's plan to divert enemy attention forcibly by a night attack.88 Actually, less than three hours after this dispatch was sent, a search plane from the enemy's northernmost task group had finally spotted Ozawa's carriers, starting a chain of reactions that soon brought the decoy plan into belated but effective operation.

From the Nishimura Force, now well into the Mindanao Sea, Vice Adm. Kurita received a dispatch at 2020 indicating that the force expected to penetrate through Surigao Strait into Leyte Gulf by 0400 on 25 October. This was much earlier than his own force, delayed by its retirement, could possibly reach the objective, and a revision of the coordinated timetable was clearly necessary. Vice Adm. Kurita therefore sent off a dispatch at 2145 modifying the attack plan as follows:89

1. The main body of the First Striking Force will pass through San Bernardino Strait at 0100, 25 October, and will then proceed southward down the east coast of Samar, reaching Leyte Gulf at about 1100.

2. The 3d Task Group will penetrate into Leyte Gulf as scheduled and will then join the main body at a rendezvous point ten miles northeast of Suluan Island 0900, 25 October.

Less than three hours later, the Kurita Force sped through San Bernardino Strait slightly ahead of schedule, debouching into the Philippine Sea at approximately 0035 on 25 October. Vice Adm. Kurita now headed around the northeastern tip of Samar, expecting to encounter enemy surface opposition at any moment. In fact, far less was in opposition than he knew, for the bulk of the enemy naval forces covering the northern approaches to Leyte Gulf was already speeding to attack the Ozawa group.90 The lure had begun to work.

Now, however, sudden disaster enveloped the southern prong of the attack. The Nishimura Force, ignored by enemy aircraft since the morning of the 24th, entered Surigao Strait at 0130 on the 25th, immediately becoming the target of continuous torpedo attacks by enemy PT boats. His ships maneuvering sharply to


avoid being hit, Vice Adm. Nishimura pressed on, making brief contacts at 0300 and 0315 with small enemy destroyer groups, which retired as the Japanese force opened fire.

At about 0320, a heavy torpedo attack struck the formation from both flanks, setting fire to the flagship Yamashiro, badly damaging the heavy cruiser Mogami, and sinking the destroyers Yamagumo and Michishio outright. Another destroyer, Asagumo, received heavy damage and dropped out of formation, sinking a few hours later.91 Yamashiro and Mogami, though damaged, moved on with the formation.

With the destroyer Shigure in the van, Yamashiro, Fuso and Mogami pressed on through the strait, dodging spread after spread of enemy torpedoes. At 0350 shells from heavy enemy surface units at the northern end of the strait began crashing into the formation. In five minutes, Mogami, heavily hit and afire, was forced to withdraw. The flagship Yamashiro sank a few minutes later under a hail of shells, and Fuso followed her to the bottom at about 0410. Shigure, well out in front, had sped on, toward the enemy until 0403, when she turned back to find that the rest of the force had vanished. Her commander decided to retire, and the destroyer ran south to become the sole survivor of the Nishimura Force.92

Vice Adm. Shima's Second Striking Force had meanwhile entered Surigao Strait at 0300, approximately two hours behind the 3d Task Group. Aboard his flagship, the heavy cruiser Nachi, Vice Adm. Shima overheard Vice Adm. Nishimura giving orders by radio-telephone for evasive action against torpedo attack, and before long enemy PT boats were attacking his own formation. At 0321 the light cruiser Abukuma was suddenly hit and fell out of formation. The rest of the force plunged on through heavy smoke drifting down from the battle ahead, and at 0420 the burning Mogami was sighted off the starboard bow.

At this juncture enemy targets were identified by radar off the port. Nachi and the heavy cruiser Ashigara immediately swung to starboard to fire torpedoes, and in executing this maneuver Nachi collided with the crippled Mogami, receiving underwater damage which reduced her speed.93 From Mogami, Vice Adm. Shima learned that both Yamashiro and Fuso had been sunk.94 Rather than sail into the evident enemy trap, he decided to execute a temporary withdrawal from the strait in order to regroup his strength. Laying a smoke screen, the force put about at 0450 and ran south.

Actually, the Surigao battle was now at an end. Vice Adm. Shima's Force, after safely emerging into the Mindanao Sea,95 underwent


two enemy air attacks, which indicated that a renewed penetration attempt in daylight would almost certainly risk destruction.96 All ships were running short of fuel, and the situation of Vice Adm. Kurita's main striking force remained unknown. At 0900, therefore, Vice Adm. Shima finally abandoned all thought of penetrating Surigao.97

The task of destroying the enemy invasion fleet in Leyte Gulf now rested solely on the shoulders of the Kurita Force, already heavily engaged off the coast of Samar.

Leyte Sea Battle: Finale

Daybreak on 25 October found Vice Adm. Kurita's battle formation speeding south toward Leyte Gulf, now less than 100 miles away. At 0623 Yamato's radar screen suddenly showed the presence of enemy aircraft, and Vice Adm. Kurita ordered the force to shift to antiaircraft cruising disposition. The signal for this maneuver was being.sent out from the flagship when, at 0644, lookouts in her crow's nest spotted the masts of enemy ships on the horizon to the southeast. One minute later the contact was identified as a group of about six carriers in the act of launching their planes.

Since the enemy ships were erroneously identified as Fleet carriers, Vice Adm. Kurita believed that he had surprised an element of Admiral Halsey's fast carrier Task Force and was thus presented with an opportunity to strike a telling blow at the enemy's main carrier strength.98 He immediately decided to attack and ordered his ships to deploy for action. (Plate No. 93)

With the wind from the northeast, Vice Adm. Kurita set the mean course of deployment at 110 degrees so as to bring his force around to the north of the enemy group. This was to permit the attack to be delivered downwind, forcing the enemy carriers to run in that direction and preventing them from launching more of their aircraft. The maneuver, however, had the effect of partially nullifying the advantage in speed which Kurita's ships possessed and lengthening the time required to close.

The order to engage was given at 0658. Yamato opened fire with her 18-inch batteries, marking the first and only time in naval history that guns of this caliber were used in surface action. The enemy carriers, with their screening ships, began fleeing eastward, engaging in evasive action and laying down heavy smoke.99 The smoke and scattered rain squalls gave effective concealment, and Kurita's ships had to cease firing temporarily for want of targets.


Plate No. 93, Battle off Samar, 25 October 1944

Battle off Samar, 25 October 1944


At 0710 planes from the enemy carriers began scattered attacks, causing superficial damage to some of the Japanese ships. Enemy escort vessels simultaneously dashed through the smoke and rain making torpedo runs. At 0725 Yamato drew first blood when she brought her main battery to bear on an enemy ship believed to be a cruiser, sinking her in two minutes. Almost immediately, however, an enemy torpedo caught the heavy cruiser Kumano, causing her to lose speed and fall behind the formation. At 0729 Vice Adm. Kurita released his cruisers, ordering all ships to pursue the enemy at full speed.

Still receiving intermittent air and torpedo attacks, the Kurita force gradually closed on the fleeing enemy ships, the direction of the pursuit swinging from east to south. At 0754 Yamato and Nagato were forced to maneuver to evade a spread of six torpedoes and fell several miles astern of the lead ships-the fast battle ships Haruna and Kongo and four heavy cruisers: Chikuma, Chokai, Tone and Haguro. The latter drove on at top speed, narrowing the range to about ten miles and gradually maneuvering the enemy into position for a torpedo attack by the 10th Destroyer Squadron.

At 0826 Kongo reported that she had knocked out one of the enemy carriers, and fifteen minutes later Yamato sank another ship believed to be a cruiser. From about 0830 enemy planes again began attacking in increasing numbers, concentrating on the cruisers which were leading the Japanese pursuit. Chikuma and Chokai were both hit and put out of action by 0900. At 0902 Kongo reported that she had sunk an enemy destroyer attempting a torpedo run on the outside of the formation.

Leaving the crippled Chikuma and Chokai astern, Tone and Haguro pressed on, closing the range to about six and a half miles by 0910.

The enemy ships were now running southwest, with Tone and Haguro taking them under fire from off the port beam and the 10th Destroyer Squadron attacking with torpedoes from the starboard.100 The complete destruction of the enemy appeared imminent.

Yamato's evasive maneuvers under torpedo attack had meanwhile put her still farther astern of the lead cruisers and battleships. Between the flagship and the scene of action lay rain squalls and several curtains of smoke, which made direct observation of the progress of the battle impossible. Due to overloaded battle circuits, radio reports from the ships engaged were fragmentary, and attempts at air observation by means of spot planes launched from Yamato netted little additional information due to enemy fighter interference.101 Vice Adm. Kurita consequently did not know that, beyond


the smoke and rain, his cruisers and destroyers had barely begun the destruction of a virtually helpless enemy.

Although ignorant of the situation in the van, Vice Adm. Kurita was forced both by events and by consideration of the basic mission to make a rapid decision concerning his next move. At this point enemy air attacks, steadily mounting in frequency, had inflicted considerable damage to the First Striking Force. In addition-and even more important-there was a danger that further continuation of the fight would exhaust the fuel needed for execution of the primary mission-a penetration into Leyte Gulf. Vice Adm. Kurita still labored under the misapprehension that he was pitted against a group of Admiral Halsey's fast carriers and that it would be impossible to close the enemy with his main battle strength. All these considerations impelled the First Striking Force commander to seek an early opportunity to disengage.

The moment now seemed propitious. Knowing that the 10th Destroyer Squadron had already launched its heavy torpedo attack on the fleeing carriers and estimating that the cruisers out of sight in the van had, after a two hour action, inflicted devastating damage on the hapless enemy, Vice Adm. Kurita decided to reassemble his force for the final penetration attempt. At 0911 the flagship began sending out the order to break off action and reassemble on a northerly course. By 0930 the order had reached all units, scattered over 25 miles of ocean, and the cruisers and destroyers hammering at the fleeing enemy carrier group imme diately put about to the north. The reassembly, carried out under sporadic air attacks, was not completed until 1030.102

Vice Adm. Kurita now had an opportunity to evaluate the results of the battle on the basis of initial reports made by the returning units. Three or four enemy fleet carriers were believed to have been sunk, in addition to two heavy cruisers and a destroyer also sunk and several other units heavily damaged.103 These optimistic figures totaled up to a substantial victory, but the cost had not been light.

The heavy cruiser Kumano and destroyer Hayashimo, both heavily damaged, were retiring independently. Chikuma and Cbokai, mortally wounded by enemy aerial torpedoes and bombs, remained on the scene of action with two destroyers standing by.104 At 1114 the heavy cruiser Suzuya was added to the casualty list when an enemy bomb hit started uncontrollable fires.105 Thus, for the final thrust into Leyte Gulf, Vice Adm. Kurita could muster but 15 of his original 32 ships-four battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and seven destroyers.

The regrouping of his units completed, Vice Adm. Kurita at 1120 gave the order to change course to the southwest for the crucial run into the gulf. Some members of his staff, however, were now of the opinion that the penetration attempt should be abandoned, and discussion continued even as the force headed toward its final objective. Vice Adm. Kurita now had to make the most fateful and dramatic decision of the entire Leyte sea battle.

The background against which this decision was finally taken was as follows: Dispatches from Vice Adm. Ozawa reporting that the


decoy force was under heavy attack by enemy carrier planes had not reached Vice Adm. Kurita, who therefore had no certainty that the luring operation had been effective. On the other hand, enough was now known of the events which had occurred in Surigao Strait to make it plain that the southern prong of the attack had failed, and that any penetration into Leyte Gulf would have to be made by Kurita's depleted force single-handed.

The question of time was of even more vital importance. The engagement off Samar had, in conjunction with the time consumed in regrouping his scattered force, so retarded Vice Adm. Kurita's advance toward the gulf that it would be mid-afternoon before he could reach the objective. With ample warning of his approach, it seemed highly probable that the enemy would have evacuated his transports and supply ships from the gulf.

There were also indications that the enemy was mustering strong forces for the defense of the gulf. Radio intercepts revealed not only that enemy carrier aircraft were concentrating on Tacloban airfield, but that powerful enemy surface reinforcements would reach the Leyte area within about two hours. Without any visible support by friendly air forces,106 it seemed likely that a thrust into the gulf would therefore be not only fruitless but suicidal.

Reports had meanwhile been received from Southwest Area Force to the effect that an enemy carrier task force had been spotted northeast of Samar. Vice Adm. Kurita and the majority of his staff, increasingly dubious of the prospects of success in a thrust into Leyte Gulf, estimated that a more effective blow could be struck by running north to deliver a surprise attack on the newly-reported enemy carrier force.107

At 1236, with the entrance to Leyte Gulf only 45 miles away, Vice Adm. Kurita made his definitive decision. Ordering his force to put about to the northwest, he radioed Combined Fleet and all other naval commands concerned that the penetration of Leyte Gulf had been abandoned, and that he was proceeding north to seek battle with an enemy task force, after which he would retire through San Bernardino Strait.108

Enemy carrier planes continued to harass the formation during the afternoon but inflicted no serious damage. Just before sunset, Vice Adm. Kurita's ships reached the area in which the enemy task force had been reported, only to find that the force had vanished.109 With nothing to attack and his destroyers beginning to run short of fuel, Vice Adm. Kurita ordered his force to turn west and run for San Bernardino.

The message communicating Kurita's last-minute decision to abandon the penetration of Leyte Gulf caused disappointment and indignation in Combined Fleet headquarters. To Admiral Toyoda and his staff, Kurita's action, especially after the success reported in the battle off Samar, seemed tantamount to throwing away an excellent opportunity. With the First Striking Force rapidly steaming north, it was recognized that a fresh order to execute the attack


Plate No. 94, Battle for Leyte Gulf, Phase II, after 0600 25 October 1944

Battle for Leyte Gulf, Phase II, after 0600 25 October 1944


as planned could probably not be carried out. Nevertheless, hoping to spur Vice Adm. Kurita into a more positive course of action, Admiral Toyoda at 1647 originated the following dispatch order:110

1. If the opportunity arises, the First Striking Force will tonight attack and destroy remnants.111 Other forces will cooperate with this attack.

2. If no opportunity presents itself, the Task Force Main Body and the First Striking Force will return to their supply bases, such movement to be carried out as ordered by the respective commanders.

By the time this message was received by Yamato at 1925, the First Striking Force was about to begin its run through San Bernardino Strait. Vice Adm. Kurita, since he had failed to make contact with the reported, but actually non-existent, enemy task force northeast of Samar, now saw no hope of carrying out a night attack, and the fuel situation of his ships was becoming steadily more critical. He therefore decided to continue on to Brunei.

Vice Adm. Kurita steamed away from the scene of battle unaware that the naval air forces,112 resuming their offensive on the morning of the 25th, had actually scored results which would have facilitated his penetration into Leyte Gulf. Kamikaze units of the First Air Fleet, in the first real demonstration of their effectiveness, had heavily hit one enemy carrier group to the east of Surigao Strait,113 following this up with a damaging attack on the group with which the Kurita Force had just broken off action east of Samar.114 Second Air Fleet units based at Legaspi also flew repeated regular sorties throughout the day, but these achieved little or no success.115

Vice Adm. Kurita also did not know that the Ozawa Force had so effectively fulfilled its sacrifice mission that it had lost a total of seven ships, including all four of its carriers, during 25 October. At 0630 of the fateful day, Vice Adm. Ozawa, after rendezvousing with Rear Adm. Masuda's advance guard, turned his force northward and ran away from the Philippines at top speed in order to lure the enemy after him. At 0815, just at the height of the critical battle off Samar, planes from Admiral Halsey's fast carriers, which had sped northward during the night, began attacking Vice Adm. Ozawa's


ships in the last dramatic act of the battle for Leyte Gulf.

Between o815 and 1700 wave after wave of enemy planes drove in to pound the empty Japanese carriers and their protecting units. In the first attack the carrier Chitose and destroyer Akitsuki were sunk, the light cruiser Tama seriously damaged,116 and minor damage received by other ships, including Vice Adm. Ozawa's flagship, the regular carrier Zuikaku. During this action, Vice Adm. Ozawa radioed to Vice Adm. Kurita that the decoy force was under attack by huge numbers of enemy carrier planes, but this message was never received.

By noon the light carrier Chiyoda had received such heavy damage that she had to be abandoned.117 Meanwhile, communications on the Zuikaku had broken down due to bomb damage, and at 1100 Vice Adm. Ozawa transferred his flag to the light cruiser Oyodo. Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier which had taken part in the raid on Pearl Harbor, went down under heavy enemy attack at 1414. Zuiho followed her to the bottom at 1527.

Having knocked out all of Vice Adm. Ozawa's carriers, enemy planes now began concentrating their attacks on the battleships Ise and Hyuga. Both ships were rocked by scores of near misses but escaped with only minor damage. Darkness finally brought respite, and the battered remnants of the decoy force, leaving three destroyers behind to pick up survivors, withdrew northward.118

The main action in the historic battle for Leyte Gulf was now ended, but still further losses were sustained by the retiring forces as they made their way back to base under continuing enemy air attacks.119 These losses brought the total destruction suffered by the Fleet to four carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and nine destroyers, representing almost half the participating tonnage and 34.4 percent of Japan's total naval surface tonnage at the start of the Leyte battle.120

Exaggerated estimates of the losses inflicted on the enemy served, temporarily at least, to obscure the disastrous nature of the setback suffered in the Leyte battle.121 It nevertheless


was soon apparent that the sea-air phase of the Sho-Go plan to crush the enemy invasion of the Philippines had failed of its objective.

Deterioration on Eastern Leyte

On Leyte itself, the ground situation had deteriorated rapidly during the period of the vital sea and air operations. In the northern beachhead, although the 33d Infantry continued to hold its key hill positions west and northwest of Palo, blocking an enemy thrust inland over the Palo-Carigara highway, the enemy on 22 October began driving in the makeshift Japanese defenses west of Tacloban and at the same time pushed south from Palo to widen the beachhead to the Binahaan River. In the south, a powerful enemy thrust from Dulag toward the Burauen airfields was simultaneously gaining momentum, the spearhead of the attack reaching a point three miles west of Dulag by 22 October. (Plate No. 95)

Watching these developments from his com mand post at Dagami, Lt. Gen. Makino decided on the night of the 22nd that an immediate realignment of the southern sector forces was imperative. Since commitment of the main strength of these forces in frontal resistance to the enemy drive along the Dulag-Burauen road would leave the flank of the 9th Infantry in the Catmon Hill-Tanauan coastal sector

dangerously exposed, he ordered the 2oth Infantry to disengage along the road and shift its main strength northward to the Hindang area, where it was to occupy prepared positions and make ready for a possible counterattack on the enemy flank. One element of the regiment was to be left at San Pablo to join ground personnel of the 34th Air Sector command in defending the Burauen group of airfields.122

Swift developments, however, soon rendered this plan ineffective. Weakened by the shift of the 20th Infantry's main strength, the right-flank positions on the Dulag-Burauen road gave way under heavy enemy assault, and by 24 October the easternmost of the three Burauen airfields, near San Pablo, had been overrun. At the same time, the main body of the 20th Infantry, moving into its new positions in the Hindang sector, was suddenly hit and driven into retreat by enemy elements which had infiltrated inland, by-passing the 9th Infantry strongpoint on Catmon Hill.123

Lt. Gen. Makino now recognized that the loss of the eastern coastal plain could not be averted and laid plans to pull back the division main strength to rear-line positions in the mountains west of Dagami and Burauen, with the 33d Infantry to continue covering the divi sion left flank north of the Binahaan River.124 Orders for the execution of the withdrawal were transmitted to the 9th and 20th Infantry Re-


Plate No. 95, Leyte Campaign, 21 October-1 November 1944

Leyte Campaign, 21 October-1 November 1944


giments-the latter already retreating from Hindang-on 26 October. The 9th Infantry was directed to start evacuating its Catmon Hill positions after the 27th.125

In the meantime the situation throughout the southern sector had deteriorated still further. By 27 October, enemy forces pushing on from San Pablo had taken both North and South Burauen airfields, as well as Burauen itself, placing all five major airfields on eastern Leyte in enemy hands.126 Other enemy elements were hammering at the 9th Infantry's secondary positions at Tabontabon, three miles northwest of Hindang, while on the coast a juncture of enemy forces in the vicinity of Tanauan had linked the northern and southern beachheads.

Although rendered hazardous by the speed of the enemy's advances, the withdrawal of the southern forces proceeded with reasonable success. The remnants of the 20th Infantry reached their assigned positions northwest of Guinarona by 27 October, and at the same time the airfield troops driven out of Burauen took up positions on the right flank. Except for a small rear-guard, the 9th Infantry troops on Catmon Hill pulled out on the night of 29 October and carried out a dangerous but successful infiltration past Tabontabon and Dagami, both of which had fallen to the enemy in the interim. What remained of the regiment closed into its new positions northwest of Dagami by 31 October, completing the withdrawal. Approximately 3,500 troops were now assembled in the heights west of the Burauen-Dagami road.127

Meanwhile, resistance in the north had crumpled disastrously after 25 October. West of Tacloban, the enemy had crossed the Tigbaw River against scattered resistance and were now in a position to launch a flanking drive up the west side of San Juanico Strait. Simultaneously the 33d Infantry was forced to yield its positions west and northwest of Palo,128 and the enemy immediately drove through the breach to begin a swift advance toward Jaro along Highway 2. Resistance in the northern sector was now so disorganized that 16th Division headquarters had no exact knowledge of the extent of enemy penetrations inland.129

During the final week of October, the Fourth Air Army and First Combined Base Air Force (Navy) kept up a sustained effort in support of the ground operations, gradually shifting the main weight of their attacks from amphibious shipping and carriers to the enemy-occupied airfields at Tacloban and Dulag.130


This air support bolstered 16th Division morale but did not perceptibly slow the enemy's ground offensive. Moreover, the scale of the effort gradually declined as losses mounted131 and as increasing air force strength had to be diverted to the protection of convoys carrying troop reinforcements to Leyte.132

In conjunction with the main air effort against enemy supply shipping and airfields, Navy Kamikaze units continued to carry out suicide attacks against enemy carrier task forces operating off the east coast of the Philippines. These attacks were carried out by small numbers of aircraft but continued to show a relatively high degree of effectiveness.

Initial Reinforcement

Back at Cebu, Thirty-fifth Army headquarters had received virtually no information regarding the critical developments on eastern Leyte and had deferred the advance of the headquarters to Ormoc pending the arrival of a liaison officer from Fourteenth Area Army bringing essential data with regard to general operational plans and the scheduled movement of troop reinforcements from Luzon.133 In the meantime, the initial reinforcements ordered to Leyte by Thirty-fifth Army and Fourteenth Area Army had already begun arriving at Ormoc.

Beginning with the Tempei Battalion, which arrived from Cebu on 23 October, a total of approximately 6,150 troops mainly of the 30th and 102d Divisions disembarked at Ormoc from naval transports, warships, powered sailing vessels and small craft over a period of eight days ending on 30 October.134 Despite spo-


radic enemy air attacks, no serious troop losses were sustained during these movements. Re-turning to Manila, however, the 16th Cruiser Division, with two naval transports, was severely attacked by enemy carrier planes in Jintololo Channel on 26 October, losing the light cruiser Kinu, the destroyer Uranami, and one transport.135

At Ormoo, the reinforcement units found themselves completely unable to establish communications contact with 16th Division head quarters, under whose command they were now supposed to operate, and began advancing independently via Highway 2 with the intention of joining the division in the Dagami-Burauen area. The 41st Infantry (Tempei Battalion attached), starting soon after its disembarkation on 25 October, led the van and by the 28th was passing through Carigara. Immediately behind it came the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions.136

The 41st Infantry had proceeded only a short distance east of Carigara when it suddenly came into contact with a small enemy force, which withdrew northward after a brief skirmish. Despite this indication that the enemy had already infiltrated into the coastal area northeast of Carigara,137 the 41st Infantry commander decided to continue the advance along Highway 2, leaving the Tempei Battalion to secure the east flank.

On 30 October, as the regiment moved down the road toward Jaro, it again ran into the enemy, this time in considerable strength. Taken badly by surprise, the regiment was forced to fall back through the hills toward Carigara. The enemy continued up the road to attack the 169th Independent Infantry Battalion, which had advanced behind the 41st to the vicinity of Tunga, and the battalion was likewise driven into retreat through the hills to the southwest. The Tempei Battalion, at this time, had just moved into Carigara, toward which the enemy pressed on unopposed.

The situation was in this precarious state when the advance party of Thirty-fifth Army headquarters, led by Maj. Gen. Yoshiharu Tomochika, finally reached Ormoc on the night of 30 October. Nothing was yet known at Ormoc, however, regarding the developments near Jaro and Tunga; nor was Maj. Gen. Tomochika able to obtain any clearer picture of the situation from an Army liaison officer who had left 16th Division headquarters for Ormoc on 27 October. The report of this officer indicated an enemy breakthrough on the division's northern flank but gave no clue as to the extent of penetration.

Consequently unaware that the enemy was already preparing to strike at Carigara from two sides, Maj. Gen. Tomochika believed that the Thirty-fifth Army plan to use the Carigara


Plate No. 96, Reinforcement of Leyte, October-December 1944

Reinforcement of Leyte, October-December 1944


area as the massing point for the main forces scheduled to undertake the recapture of eastern Leyte was still feasible. However, it was obviously necessary to set up a unified command over the reinforcement groups already moving forward and to secure the Carigara area against a possible enemy penetration. Since 16th Division could not exercise this command effectively, Maj. Gen. Tomochika decided to undertake temporary direction of the reinforcement units himself.

To implement this decision, Maj. Chuji Kaneko, 102d Division staff officer, was dispatched to Carigara on the morning of 31 October carrying instructions from the Army chief of staff. These instructions called for the 41st Infantry, if possible, to continue its advance toward the Dagami area, and for the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions, the Tempei Battalion and 10th Antitank Battalion to take up positions on a river line three miles east of Carigara for the purpose of covering the assembly of the main Army forces.

While Maj. Kaneko was on this mission, three naval transports entered Ormoc harbor in mid-afternoon of 1 November and swiftly disembarked the Imabori Detachment of the 26th Division,138 representing the first element of the major troop reinforcements allocated by Fourteenth Area Army. The same night, the main body of the convoy, with four large transports, reached Ormoc and began unloading the veteran 1st Division from Manchuria.139 By noon of 2 November, a total of 13,000 troops had safely landed, concluding the most successful major reinforcement operation of the Leyte campaign.140 (Plate No. 96)

Meanwhile, on the basis of staff studies completed between 22 and 25 October, Fourteenth Area Army had estimated that five additional divisions were needed to fill long-term operational requirements in the Philippines, three for Thirty-fifth Army use on Leyte and two as strategic reserve on Luzon.141 This estimate was submitted to Southern Army on 28 October, and on the 30th the latter forwarded an initial request to Imperial General Headquarters for the earliest possible shipment


of one to two more divisions.142 Shortly thereafter Southern Army was informed that the transfer of the 23d Division from Manchuria was tentatively scheduled.

Plans for the continuing reinforcement of Leyte underlined the necessity of bolstering air strength, since the diversion of planes to convoy escort duty was seriously reducing the ability of Fourth Air Army and the First Combined Base Air Force to carry out primary operational missions. An Army-Navy Central Agreement was therefore concluded on 28 October, ear-marking the bulk of new aircraft and flying units for the Philippines as they became available.143 Under this agreement, the Army planned to dispatch a number of additional air regiments and earmarked all available replacement pilots and aircraft for the Fourth Air Army. The Navy planned to deploy no additional units but to replenish the existing base air forces through the allocation of maximum replacements.

Limon Battle : Phase I

On the morning of 1 November, Maj. Kaneko reached the Carigara area to discover that the situation was actually so critical as to render Maj. Gen. Tomochika's instructions to the reinforcement groups, as well as the general plan to hold the Carigara plain as the assembly area for the Army main strength, impossible of execution.

The enemy's drive along Highway 2 to within a few miles of Carigara not only blocked the 41st Infantry's route of advance to the Dagami area but outflanked the proposed river line east of Carigara even before it had been established. Troop strength immediately available to defend this line was inadequate. The 41st Infantry and the Tempei Battalion were in the general vicinity of Carigara, with the 171st Independent Infantry Battalion about a day's march to the west, but the 169th Independent Infantry Battalion was far off in the mountains southwest of Tunga, and the 10th Antitank Battalion was still at Ormoc. (Plate No. 97)

Since immediate action was necessary, Maj. Kaneko decided to abandon Maj. Gen. Tomochika's instructions and effect new dispositions. Contacting the commanders of the reinforcements units in the Carigara area, he advised them to occupy the heights southwest of Capoocan instead of the river line east of Carigara. By the night of 2 November, the 41st Infantry and the Tempei Battalion had pulled back from Carigara, joining the 171st Independent Infantry Battalion in the new positions.

Maj. Kaneko had dispatched a courier to Ormoc on 1 November with a report of the situation and the emergency dispositions he planned to effect. The courier, however, did not reach Army headquarters until the morning of 3 November. In the meantime, on 2 November, the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Suzuki, had arrived at Ormoc from Cebu and, on the basis of an outdated briefing by the chief of staff, had drawn up a plan for an early counteroffensive from the Carigara area. Aware of the fact that the heaviest enemy pressure was being brought against the northern flank


Plate No. 97, Battle at Limon, 1 November-3 December 1944

Battle at Limon, 1 November-3 December 1944


of the 16th Division, the Army Commander decided to shift the main weight of the counter-offensive toward Tacloban instead of Dulag as originally planned. This plan provided:144

1. U pon completion of the assembly of the 1st Division in the Carigara area, the Army will begin an offensive in the direction of Tacloban and will destroy the enemy.

2. The 1st Division will make the main effort.

3. The Imabori Detachment will occupy northeastern foot of the heights southwest of Jaro and cover the assembly of the main body of the 26th Division.

4. After landing, the 26th Division will assemble in the vicinity of Dolores. It will then advance to the the Jaro area and launch an attack toward Tacloban.

The 1st Division was meanwhile beginning its march northward to Carigara. The advance guard, consisting of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment (reinf.), moved out of Ormoc on Highway 2 at 1430 on 2 November. The division commander, Lt. Gen. Tadatsu Kataoka, and the first serial of the division main body, composed of the 57th Infantry Regiment (reinf.), followed about nine hours later.

When Maj. Kaneko's report finally arrived, the full seriousness of the situation in the Carigara area became clear. Lt. Gen. Suzuki immediately approved the emergency dispositions already taken and issued orders temporarily attaching the various reinforcement units to the 1st Division. It was impossible, however, to notify Lt. Gen. Kataoka immediately of the changed situation, and the division advance guard moved into the vicinity west of Capoocan at 0900 on 3 November to find itself unexpectedly engaged by the enemy.145

Badly surprised, the advance guard fell back toward Colasian with the enemy in pursuit. Meanwhile, at 1000, Lt. Gen. Kataoka reached the high ground south of Managasnas. Finding his advance guard engaged, he immediately ordered the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment and the 20th Antitank Battalion146 to check the enemy advance. At the same time he dispatch ed an order to the division main body to close up at forced march.147

While the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment fought in Colasian during the afternoon to check the enemy push from Capoocan, an enemy amphibious force estimated at one battalion, with more than four tanks, suddenly landed in the regiment's rear at Pinamopoan, just east of Managasnas. Lt. Gen. Kataoka thought that this small force could easily be pinched off, and he ordered the 57th Infantry to move up from the Limon area and attack, with the remainder of the division to complete its concentration in the vicinity of Cananga as rapidly as possible. Meanwhile, however, the enemy, after a heavy artillery bombardment, had moved into Managasnas. The 1st Reconnaissance Regiment fell back to the southwest and occupied the east end of a long ridge overlooking the coast.

At 1800 on 4 November, the 57th Infantry began moving up into attack positions on the left of the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment. During the 5th and 6th, attacks were launched toward Managasnas, but enemy artillery superiority caused heavy casualties, and the 57th


Infantry was obliged to yield part of the coastal ridge.

The 1st Division main body had by this time almost completed its concentration in the Cananga area. On 6 November Lt. Gen. Kataoka issued a new operational plan envisaging commitment of the division's full strength, plus the reinforcement units under division control, in a wide four-pronged attack. The essentials of this plan were as follows:148

1. The 1st Division will attack the enemy in the Carigara area, the 41st Infantry on the right, the 1st Infantry on the right center, the 49th Infantry on the left center, and the 57th Infantry on the left. The line of departure for the attack and unit fronts will be as indicated below.

2. The 41st Infantry, reinforced by the Tempei Battalion, will secure the division right flank by occupying the heights west of Santo Nino to Hill 582.

3. The 169th Independent Infantry Battalion will advance to the upper reaches of the Naguison River and, upon arrival, will be attached to the 1st Infantry.

4. The 171st Independent Infantry Battalion will assemble near Hill 517 and will be attached to the 49th Infantry.

5. The 1st Infantry (reinf., less 2d Bn.) will advance to the high ground astride the Naguison River, maintaining liaison with the 41st Infantry on the right and the 49th Infantry on the left.

6. The 49th Infantry (reinf., less 3d Bn.) will advance to a line extending from the northern foot of Hill 517 to the northern foot of Hill 465 and prepare to attack in the direction of Capoocan.

7. The 57th Infantry (reinf., less 1st Bn.) will continue its present mission in the sector south of Managasnas.

8. The 1st Artillery Regiment will support the attack from positions around Mt. Catabaran.

Two factors, however, rendered Lt. Gen. Kataoka's planned scheme of maneuver difficult to execute. First, the 1st and 49th Infantry Regiments had to deploy over the mountainous terrain to the east of the Ormoc-Limon Highway to reach their assigned line of departure; and second, the reinforcement units were widely scattered and, in some cases, far from their designated sectors. Progress of the deployment was extremely slow, and the 57th Infantry, with the 1st Reconnaissance Regiment and loth Antitank Battalion, meanwhile had to carry the attack alone. These units fought a savage two weeks' action but were barely able to hold their own in the strategic heights south of Managasnas.149

While the Limon battle thus entered a temporary stalemate, over-all developments in the battle for Leyte were impelling higher Army headquarters in Manila to undertake a serious review of both tactical plans and strategic policy.

Command Decisions

Two main factors led Fourteenth Area Army to decide early in November on a revision of the tactical plan being followed by the Thirty-fifth Army on Leyte. The first of these factors was the enemy's unexpectedly rapid sweep across northern Leyte to the Carigara area. The second was the steadily increasing use by enemy land-based air power of the captured airfields in the Tacloban and Dulag-Burauen sectors.150


Thirty-fifth Army had formulated its initial plan of operations on the basis of the estimate that the enemy could be contained on eastern Leyte until the main Army forces could be concentrated in the Carigara area. The concentration completed, these forces were to move up to the Jaro sector, on the left flank of the 16th Division, and from this line of departure launch the main counteroffensive effort toward Dulag.

The enemy's penetration of the Carigara area even before the 1st Division had time to move up from Ormoc, changed the tactical picture drastically. If Thirty-fifth Army now adhered to its plan of advancing via Carigara and Jaro, it would face enemy resistance from the start. It would also be seriously handicapped by the necessity of conducting operations on two widely separated fronts, with the main forces engaged around Carigara and the 16th Division fighting an isolated action to hold its positions west of Dagami and Burauen.

The Area Army command estimated that the combined effect of these disadvantages would be to prolong the operations for recapture of eastern Leyte to such an extent that their ultimate success would be jeopardized. Speed was of the utmost importance since the enemy, if left free to expand the use of the eastern Leyte airfields, would gain a steadily increasing air advantage fatal to the reinforcement and supply of the Thirty-fifth Army. It therefore seemed imperative to modify the operational plan with the primary objective of recapturing the airfields as quickly as possible.

Since the 16th Division in the Burauen-Dagami area still held advantageous mountain positions within striking distance of three of the five major airfields occupied by the enemy, Fourteenth Area Army decided that the most effective plan was to restrict operations in the Carigara area to a holding action and throw the main weight of the Thirty-fifth Army's forces into an offensive on the 16th Division front. About 5 November, therefore, an order was dispatched to Lt. Gen. Suzuki directing him to deploy the Army main strength toward Burauen and launch offensive operations in that sector as speedily as possible.151

At the same time that this modification of the tactical plan was ordered, General Yamashita and his staff were becoming increasingly convinced that the overall situation afforded scant hope of victory on Leyte and that the whole strategic policy of fighting decisive ground action there should be abandoned, involving the cancellation of further reinforcements to Thirty-fifth Army. On 7 November, one day prior to the scheduled embarkation for Ormoc of the 26th Division, this view was verbally transmitted to Lt. Gen. Iimura, Southern Army Chief of Staff, by Lt. Gen. Muto, Chief of Staff of Fourteenth Area Army. The major reasons advanced in support of the Area Army view were as follows:152

1. The evident failure of the decisive operations carried out by the sea and air forces to bring about any significant weakening of enemy forces on Leyte or of enemy carrier air strength supporting the invasion.

2. Deterioration of the overall air situation due to attrition of Japanese air strength as against a steady build-up of enemy air forces operating over the Philippines.153


Plate No. 98, Transport Division Proceeding Through Fog

Transport Division Proceeding Through Fog


3. The extremely unfavorable development of the tactical situation on Leyte.

4. The increasing difficulty of transporting troop reinforcements due to enemy air activity, coupled with inability to check the steady reinforcement of enemy forces on Leyte.

5. The danger of stripping the defenses of Luzon without reasonable prospects of securing a decisive victory on Leyte.154

Despite these representations, the Southern Army Chief of Staff declined to consider any departure from the policy fixed by Imperial General Headquarters, and the embarkation of the 26th Division proceeded on schedule. The convoy carrying the division main strength, together with the remaining three infantry battalions of the 1st Division, sailed from Manila on the morning of 8 November under strong air and surface escort.155

The first section of the convoy, carrying the 1st Division elements, reached Ormoc on 9 November, unloaded, and left the harbor without incident. The 26th Division transports, however, underwent air attack as they neared Ormoc, resulting in damage to one ship. The transports entered the harbor at 1830 and began disembarking troops, severely hampered by heavy seas and a shortage of landing craft.156

By morning of 10 November, all troops were ashore, but no machine-guns, heavy weapons, supplies or equipment had been unloaded. Despite this, the convoy commander, in order to escape the enemy's regular morning air attack ordered the transports to suspend


unloading and sail for Manila. This precaution proved fruitless, for enemy planes caught the convoy shortly after it left the harbor, sinking two transports and one escort vessel. The surviving ships continued on to Manila.

On 11 November, a follow-up convoy of five transports reached Ormoc with ammunition cargoes and elements of 26th Division special troops. Just as unloading began, 300 enemy planes unleashed an attack which sank all the transports and five of seven escort vessels. The reinforcement operation, at an exceedingly heavy cost in ships, had ended in partial failure.157

At Manila, Fourteenth Area Army meanwhile pressed its recommendation for abandonment of decisive ground operations on Leyte. Following a direct interview on 9 November between General Yamashita and Lt. Gen. Iimura, Southern Army Chief of Staff, Field Marshal Terauchi summoned a conference of the Southern Army staff on 10 November to discuss the issue. On the basis of the decision reached at this conference, Field Marshal Terauchi personally summoned General Yamashita to Southern Army headquarters on 11 November and informed him that the following basic decision had been reached:158

1. The Leyte decisive operation will be continued to the best of the Army's ability, and, at the very least, the enemy will be denied the use of the Leyte airfields.

2. The defenses of Luzon will be strengthened but not so as to compromise the successful continuation of the Leyte operation.

In compliance with this decision, Fourteenth Area Army proceeded to draw up long-range plans for the continuation of the campaign, taking into account a notification to Southern Army on 10 November that Imperial General Headquarters planned to assign the 10th and possibly one other division to the Area Army in the near future.159 On 15 November, a general directive incorporating these plans was issued:160

1. The Thirty-fifth Army will endeavor to accomplish the destruction of the enemy on Leyte, setting as its minimum objective the disruption of the enemy's use of air bases.

2. Forces

a. (Troop units already on Leyte enumerated)

b. Projected reinforcements:

68th Brigade (main part to arrive Manila 17-18 Nov.)

23d Division (main part to arrive Manila 22-23 Nov; remainder from mid to late Dec.)

10th Division (arrive Manila early Dec.)

3. Dependent upon the availability of sufficient air cover and surface escort, these reinforcements will be transported to Leyte as required by the local situation. Under unfavorable conditions, the transport of troops may be delayed or temporarily suspended, but every effort will be made to maintain supply shipments adequate for the existing forces.

4. In the event that further troop shipments cannot be accomplished, Luzon will become the main theater of future operations in the Philippines.

Expansion of air force strength in the Philippines was meanwhile progressing under the


Plate No. 99, Advancing Infantry Machine Gun Unit

Advancing Infantry Machine Gun Unit


Army-Navy Central Agreement of 28 October. Of eleven fresh Army air regiments scheduled for deployment during November and December, five (29th, 54th and 246th Fighter Regts.; 74th and 95th Heavy Bomber Regts.) had reached the Fourth Air Army by mid-November, and shipments of replacement aircraft were increasing.161 On 23 November, the Air Army reorganized its subordinate units, making the 4th Air Division, hitherto charged only with base activities and anti-submarine patrol, fully operational, with responsibility for the Luzon and Mindoro sectors, the 2d Air Division remaining responsible for operations in the central and southern Philippines.162

Replenishment of naval air strength was also proceeding satisfactorily, replacement aircraft to the First Combined Base Air Force exceeding losses by 26 per cent during November.163 On 15 November Combined Fleet decided to discontinue the training of carrier air groups in favor of concentrating on the expansion of the base air forces,164 and the Third Air Fleet, stationed in the homeland, was assigned the primary mission of training replacement units for deployment to the Philippines. At the same time, the "T" Attack Force was ordered to advance from Formosan to Philippine bases, and its missions were expanded to include attacks on transports and enemy airfields.165

With plans completed for continuing the decisive battle on Leyte, Field Marshal Terauchi and his staff departed Manila for Saigon on 17 November in order to establish the Southern Army command at a more central location within the Army zone of responsibility. The transfer had been authorized by Imperial General Headquarters prior to the Leyte invasion but had then been deferred so that Southern Army could more effectively direct the preparations and planning for the decisive battle.166


Execution of the transfer involved no change in the chain of command, Southern Army retaining control of both Fourteenth Area Army and Fourth Air Army. Subject to this control, the Area Army and Fourth Air Army remained equal theater commands for ground and air operations respectively, and were to effect local coordination between themselves and with Southwest Area Fleet.167

Limon Battle : Phase II

The debarkation of the 26th Division and the second echelon of the 1st Division at Ormoc on 9-10 November found the situation on the Limon front still stalemated. The 1st Division elements set out immediately for the Limon area, while the 26th Division main strength, despite its lack of weapons, was ordered to assemble at Dolores, five miles north of Ormoc, in preparation to move up and join the Imabori Detachment engaging the enemy southwest of Jaro.168

The 1st Division elements were well on the way to Limon when the Fourteenth Area Army order of 5 November, delayed in transmission, reached Thirty-fifth Army on 10 November. To comply with the directed shift of the Army's main front toward Burauen, Lt. Gen. Suzuki abandoned his plan to commit the 26th Division on the Jaro front and ordered Lt. Gen. Tsuyuo Yamagata, the division commander, to move his troops as rapidly as possible to Albuera, nine miles southeast of Ormoc, and prepare for operations eastward. To replace the 26th Division in future operations on the Jaro front the Army Commander planned to use the 30th Division. The division, which had not yet left Mindanao, was accordingly sent orders to land at Ipil, concentrate north of Ormoc, and prepare to reinforce the Imabori Detachment.

By 13 November the newly-arrived battalions of the 1st Division closed into the Limon area, and Lt. Gen. Kataoka immediately decided to regroup his forces for a new offensive. The scheme of maneuver embodied in the 6 November battle plan was discarded, since the 1st Infantry had still not reached its scheduled attack positions astride the Naguison River. Lt. Gen. Kataoka decided to launch the offensive on a narrower front, shifting the 1st Infantry to the left flank to support the 57th Infantry, under heavy enemy pressure to the south of Managasnas. On 14 November the following dispositions were ordered:169

1. Disposition of second echelon units: The 1st Battalion, 57th Infantry, will revert to 57th Infantry control. The 3d Battalion, 49th Infantry, will be attached to the 57th Infantry. The 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry, will be the division reserve.

2. The 57th Infantry (reinf.) will attack along the main road toward Managasnas.

3. The 49th Infantry (less 3d Bn.), with the 171st Independent Infantry Battalion attached, will envelop the enemy left flank in the direction of



4. The 1st Infantry (less 2d Bn.) pill concentrate in the sector south of Limon.170

5. The 1st Field Artillery Regiment will support the advance of the 57th and 49th Infantry from its present positions, priority of fire to the 57th Infantry.

6. The 41st Infantry (reinf.) will cover the division right flank by operations from the heights southwest of Capoocan.

7. The 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry, will be the division reserve.

In execution of these orders, the 57th Infantry launched an attack on 14 November, pushing forward to the summit of the ridge overlooking Managasnas but suffering heavy casualties in an enemy counterattack with flame-throwing tanks. The 49th Infantry, which did not attack until 16 November, made even slower progress in the densely-forested foothills to the southwest.

While the battle continued, the commander and headquarters of the 102d Division, together with a battalion of field artillery and part of the divisional engineers, landed at Ormoc from Iloilo on the night of 17 November.171 Thirty-fifth Army immediately ordered the reversion to 102d Division control of the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions and also directed the division to take command of the 41st Infantry Regiment (reinf.) and the 364th Independent Infantry Battalion.172 With these forces, Lt. Gen. Shimpei Fukue, 102d Division commander, was assigned the mission of securing the heights south and southwest of Capoocan and harrassing enemy artillery and rear installations by raiding tactics.173

The force of its attack spent, the 57th Infantry was now losing ground south of Managasnas and fighting desperately to prevent an enemy breakthrough into the Pagsangahan Valley corridor leading south to Ormoc. On the right flank, however, the 49th Infantry succeeded on 18 November in infiltrating the enemy left to launch a two-pronged thrust toward Colasian and Capoocan. Using raiding tactics, the 1st Battalion reached the sea west of Capoocan, while the 2d Battalion penetrated to the vicinity of Colasian.

This pressure on the enemy's rear line of communications brought no let-up in his attack on the 57th Infantry front. A fresh enemy division (32d) was thrown into battle on 18


Plate No. 100, Leyte Campaign, 2-26 November 1944

Leyte Campaign, 2-26 November 1944


November, the left flank of the 1st Division was turned, and the strategic heights north of Limon were lost. Lt. Gen. Kataoka now decided to commit the 1st Infantry around the left of the 57th Infantry to restore the line. Before this could be done, however, enemy elements drove between the 57th Infantry and the Leyte River to capture Limon on 24 November, and a second enemy spearhead crossed the Leyte River west of Limon, threatening the positions of the 1st Artillery Regiment.174 The 1st Infantry, reaching its scheduled attack positions on the left rear of the 57th, found itself already outflanked and forced to go on the defensive.

The 1st Division was now in a tenuous situation. With no reserves available for commitment, Lt. Gen. Kataoka had to suspend the 49th Infantry's operations in the Colasian-Capoocan sector and make these troops available to support the division left flank along the Limon-Ormoc highway:175 The withdrawal of the 99th opened a wide gap between the 1st and 102d Divisions, and the enemy swiftly advanced through the breach to attack rear echelon elements of the 1st Division along the highway south of Limon.

On 5 December the Thirty-fifth Army Commander ordered the Imabori Detachment to disengage its main forces leaving only a security detachment on the front southwest of Jaro, pull back to Dolores, and then hasten northward to bolster the disintegrating 1st Division. While the detachment was engaged in this maneuver, the situation on the north grew steadily worse. The 1st Division was now enveloped on both flanks, and the offensive to retake Carigara had become a desperate struggle to hold the enemy away from Ormoc.

Battle of Burauen

On the 16th Division front west of Burauen and Dagami, November witnessed determined Japanese efforts to break the enemy's grip on the Burauen airfields, but these efforts, too, proved unavailing.176

The beginning of the month found the division, reduced to less than 3,500 effectives and with almost no heavy weapons, endeavoring to consolidate its positions in the hills west of the Burauen-Dagami road.177 On the


night of 6 November, the enemy launched a savage attack, supported by armor, which pushed Lt. Gen. Makino's troops back to the foot of Mt. Lobi and a point about three miles southwest of Burauen. The supply situation was critical, but the division continued small-scale night raids on enemy positions and ambush attacks on enemy patrols. In order to aid the 16th Division in these efforts, Thirty-fifth Army hastily organized and dispatched to the Burauen front a provisional infantry company.

The 26th Division was meanwhile preparing to move up from Albuera toward the Burauen front. As far as Lubi, a road unusable by vehicles was the only route of advance, and beyond Lubi even foot-trails were non-existent. Lt. Gen. Yamagata ordered the 3d Battalion of the 13th Independent Infantry Regiment ahead as an advance guard, with the 26th Engineer Regiment to follow and repair the road to Lubi. On 18 November the advance guard reached Lubi and moved on into uncharted terrain. Behind it, the engineers made slow progress, hampered by bad weather, lack of equipment, and constant enemy air interdiction.

Meanwhile, a new threat was developing to the south. On 10 November, an enemy force had been reported moving up the western coast al road north of Baybay, and Lt. Gen. Yamagata had ordered the 2d Battalion of the 12th Independent Infantry Regiment to move down the road from Albuera to verify the report and cover the division right flank. On 15 November, the battalion was attacked by guerrillas and shortly thereafter made contact with elements of an enemy force which was apparently concentrating in the vicinity of Caridad.178 Notified of this development, Thirty-fifth Army ordered the 26th Division to contain any eventual enemy thrust north toward Albuera while proceeding with the movement of its main strength toward Burauen.

It was apparent, however, that the division would remain only effective unless its lack of heavy weapons, ammunition and equipment was remedied. To meet this need, Fourteenth Area Army planned to run two supply convoys into Ormoc sometime after 23 November and requested Fourth Air Army to provide adequate cover against enemy air attack.

In view of the increasingly stringent enemy air blockade around Leyte, Fourth Air Army recognized that the usual escort measures would probably be insufficient. Lt. Gen. Tominaga therefore planned to supplement these by a large-scale offensive against enemy air bases and shipping, coupled with a neutralization attack on the Burauen airfields by a small force of airborne troops. The latter mission was assigned to the Kaoru Airborne Raiding Detachment, with a strength of 80 men.179 On 22 November this unit was alerted, and the following operational instructions were issued:

1. The Fourth Air Army will cover the movement of transport convoys to Leyte during the period 23-27 November.

2. Throughout this period enemy airfields will be subjected to concentrated neutralization attacks, and attacks will also be carried out against enemy vessels


in anchorage.

3. In the evening of 26 November the Kaoru Raiding Detachment will be transported by air to the Burauen North and South Airfields. The transports will crash land on the airfields with landing gear retracted and the detachment will then demolish airfield installations. After landing, the detachment will come under the command of the Thirty-fifth Army.

The airborne attack on the Burauen airfields was thus conceived as a limited hit-and-run operation. Fourteenth Area Army and Fourth Air Army immediately proceeded, however, to draw up a more ambitious plan for a coordinated airborne and ground offensive to effect the permanent recapture of the Burauen airfields. On 23 November Fourteenth Area Army issued a series of orders embodying the plan for this offensive, henceforth designated as the Wa Operation. The essential points of the plan were as follows:

1. General outline: As much air power as possible will be assembled in order to gain temporary air superiority. Airborne forces will be utilized to seize the Burauen and San Pablo airfields in a surprise attack. To further insure capture of the above areas, the 16th and 26th Divisions will launch a general land offensive.

2. X-Day to be announced. It will fall in the period 5-10 December.

3. Preliminary Attacks

a. 1-3 December-General air offensive aimed at airfields.

b. 4-7 December-Naval air support of ground operations in the Limon sector to create a diversion.

4. Main Attacks

a. The 2d Parachute Group180 will secure an airborne lodgement at Burauen Army Airfields (North and South) and at San Pablo Airfield on the night of X-1.

b. Thirty-fifth Army will execute strong patrolling and infiltration operations on the Dagami-Burauen front on X-1.

c. On X-Day, the 16th and 26th Divisions will execute a coordinated attack. The 16th Division objective will be Burauen North Airfield and the 26th Division objectives will be Burauen South and San Pablo Airfields.

On 24 November the air offensive to cover the moment of the supply convoys got under way, with sixty 2d Air Division planes striking at the Leyte airfields and 30 Navy aircraft attacking enemy shipping in Leyte Gulf. Daily attacks were mounted over the Leyte area during the next four days, while the 7th Air Division carried out coordinated strikes against enemy bases on Morotai. On the evening of 26 November, transports carrying the Kaoru Detachment took off from Lipa Airfield, on Luzon, reporting by radio two hours later that they were over the target area. No further reports were received, but since no enemy planes appeared over Ormoc Bay on 27 November, it seemed that the operation had been at least partially successful.181

Despite these measures, the supply operation proved a failure. The first section of the first convoy, consisting of three transports with one escort, was caught by enemy carrier aircraft on 24 November off Masbate, and all four ships were sunk. The second section, identically composed, was attacked the following day


Plate No. 101, Wa Operations, 26 November-9 December 1944

Wa Operations, 26 November-9 December 1944


northeast of Mindoro, losing two ships while the remaining two put back to Manila. The second convoy, with two transports, two sub-chasers and a patrol boat, reached Ormoc safely on 27 November, only to be attacked the same night by enemy PT boats operating in Ormoc Bay. Enemy land-based planes followed up with a dawn strike, and every ship in the convoy was sunk.

Thirty-fifth Army now faced almost insuperable obstacles to the execution of its mission under the Wa Operation plan. Of the two divisions earmarked for the ground assault, the 16th Division was down to 2,000 men by the end of November and was losing an average of about 75 men per day. The main body of the 26th Division was not yet moving toward the attack area and still lacked weapons and supplies. The battalion guarding the division flank against the enemy threat from the south had been pushed back, forcing Lt. Gen. Yamagata to move his main strength from Albuera toward Caridad to relieve the pressure. At the end of November, the 3d Battalion of the 13th Infantry in the Lubi area was the only element of the 26th Division within a week's march of Burauen.

Under these circumstances, Thirty-fifth Army felt that no coordinated attack on the Burauen front could be mounted before 7 December. Fourteenth Area Army nevertheless designated 5 December as X-Day, and Lt. Gen. Suzuki was forced to try to meet the deadline. Instructions were sent to the 16th Division to launch an attack toward the Burauen North Airfield on the night of 5 December, and, the 26th Division, newly reinforced by the 3d Battalion of the 77th Infantry, 30th Division, which had just landed in the vicinity of Ipil, between Ormoc and Albuera, was ordered to move immediately to the Lubi area and prepare for an attack on Burauen South Airfield. Three battalions were to remain at Albuera to contain

the enemy moving north on the coast highway. The 68th Brigade, scheduled to arrive about 6 December, was to land at Ipil and assume the role of Army flank guard against the threat from the Caridad sector, thus relieving the balance of the 26th Division for operations on the Burauen front.

Pursuant to instructions, the 9th and 20th Infantry Regiments, 16th Division, hastily drew their remaining effectives together into provisional composite assault units. The 9th Infantry, 400 strong, and the 20th Infantry, with 800, assembled west of Dagami. Meanwhile, the main strength of the 26th Division disengaged in the Caridad sector and began advancing toward Burauen. So slow was its progress that by 3 December it had only reached Lubi, and it was apparent that the movement could not be completed in time for the attack. Despite this, the advance battalion of the division assembled in a mountain defile west of Burauen and prepared to attack on 5 December as planned.

On 1 December, the Thirty-fifth Army Commander left Ormoc to establish an advance command post at Lubi. Two days later, advice was received from Manila that the airborne assault had been postponed until the night of 6 December due to predictions of adverse weather. Thirty-fifth Army immediately took steps to notify the 16th and 26th Divisions, but a communications breakdown made it impossible to get through to General Makino's headquarters.

On the night of 5 December, the 16th Division composite assault units, unaware of the change in schedule, set out from their assembly point west of Buri, infiltrated the enemy lines, and attacked Burauen North Airfield during the morning of the 6th. Initial enemy reaction was confused, and the Japanese had successfully occupied about half the airfield by the time the first wave of airborne troops parachuted


down on the target area at 1920. The combined forces renewed the attack, completing the occupation of the airfield during the night of 6-7 December.

This initial success was shortlived. Planes carrying the second wave of airborne troops from Lipa were forced back to base by bad weather, and the third wave, also waiting at Lipa, never got off the ground. On 8 December the enemy launched a strong counterattack on Burauen North Airfield, supported by artillery, mortars and tanks. The small Japanese force resisted stubbornly for three days but, by 11 December, was forced to withdraw into the mountains to the west after demolishing a number of enemy aircraft, guns and vehicles.

Simultaneously with the attack on Burauen North Airfield, other parachute units had jumped on Burauen South and San Pablo Airfields, but these units were never heard from and were presumed to have been wiped out.182 A coordinated ground attack toward Burauen by the 3d Battalion, 13th Independent Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division, on 6-7 December had likewise ended in failure due to stubborn enemy resistance. The bid to regain possession of the eastern Leyte airfields was at an end.

Ormoc-Final Collapse

While the abortive Wa operation was in progress, the already critical situation on northwestern Leyte was rendered still more desperate by a sudden enemy amphibious landing directly on the eastern shore of Ormoc Bay.183 Thirty-fifth Army, though aware of increasing enemy patrol boat activity in the Camotes Sea, had had neither time nor adequate forces to remedy the almost complete lack of defenses in the bay area.184

To the authorities in Manila, the latent enemy threat to the Camotes Sea area was a source of great concern. Southwest Area Force headquarters had for some time been studying possible countermoves to an enemy penetration of the area, and, on 4 December, Fourteenth Area Army issued an order establishing a Camotes Islands Garrison Detachment, the strength being fixed at two provisionally organized infantry companies, a battery of artillery, and an engineer platoon. This


detachment was to leave Manila for the Camotes Islands as soon as possible.

At 0305 on the morning of 7 December, naval patrol bombers operating over the Camotes Sea detected an 80 vessel convoy of cruisers, destroyers, and transports about ten miles southwest of Baybay on a northerly course. The alarm was flashed to Manila and to Army and Navy units throughout the central Philippines. At 0800, the gunnery ships of the enemy formation began a violent bombardment of Ipil and Albuera. Between 0920 and 1100 enemy amphibious troops estimated at more than a regiment swarmed ashore at Albuera.

Meanwhile, the wheels of Japanese counteraction had been set in motion. Southwest Area Force ordered First Combined Base Air Force to hit the enemy amphibious force immediately and in full strength. At 0940 Fourth Air Army ordered the 2d Air Division to throw its full strength against the enemy landing force as soon as its planes could be put into the air. The 5th Air Brigade, comprising the main heavy bomber strength of the Air Army, and special attack units of the 4th Air Division were likewise ordered to begin attack operations immediately. Fifty planes of the 2d Air Division, 12 heavy bombers of the 5th Air Brigade, and 20 suicide aircraft promptly sortied against the enemy landing point. In addition, 56 naval aircraft of the First Combined Base Air Force from Clark Field joined the attack.185

Fourteenth Area Army meanwhile dispatched orders to the Thirty-fifth Army commander to suspend the Wa operation at once and throw the main strength of his forces against the new enemy landing. The 68th Brigade, which was already,enroute to Leyte under orders to land at Ormoc, was ordered to go ashore instead at Palompon, 15 miles west of Ormoc, from which a first-class metalled road gave quick access to Highway 2 and the Ormoc corridor.

After landing, the 68th Brigade was to rush north and shore up the disintegrating lines of the 1st Division, thus making it unnecessary for Lt. Gen. Suzuki to weaken his forces in the south for that purpose. Fourth Air Army meanwhile agreed to land the remaining strength of the 2d Parachute Group at Valencia airdrome, eight miles north of Ormoc, for use against the enemy beachhead. Fourteenth Area Army also began considering the advisability of shipping additional ground units from Luzon to northwestern Leyte.

The situation on the Ormoc front was desperate in the extreme. The only troops within close striking distance of the enemy's Albuera beachhead were the Mitsui Shipping Unit reinforced by newly-arrived minor elements of the 77th Infantry, 30th Division, the 26th Division flank guard detachment already engaging elements of the U. S. 7th Division south of Albuera, and some 26th Division and Thirty-fifth Army rear echelon personnel. Beside these fragments, the only regular line unit within reasonable distance was one battalion of the Imabori Detachment at Dolores. The remainder of the detachment was strung out in march column along the mountain trails to the east, still engaged in its withdrawal from the Jaro front.

At Thirty-fifth Army headquarters in Ormoc, the deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Tomochika, in the absence of the Army Commander


Plate No. 102, Battle of Ormoc, 4-19 December 1944

Battle of Ormoc, 4-19 December 1944


on the Burauen front, took immediate steps to meet the situation.186 The Mitsui Shipping Unit was instructed to occupy defense positions on Red Roof Hill, a commanding terrain feature about one and a half miles southeast of Ormoc, while the Imabori Detachment was ordered to rush south through Ormoc and engage the enemy advancing from Albuera.

The Mitsui Shipping Unit immediately moving into its assigned positions, while the commander of the Imabori Detachment hurried to Ormoc, arriving there late on the 7th. Pending the arrival of the detachment main body, the battalion already in the Dolores sector was ordered to move south toward Ipil as an advance guard. In the Albuera sector, the enemy landing was being opposed only by small elements of the 26th Division flank guard detachment and by division and Army rear echelon troops. Brushing aside this weak opposition, the enemy advanced the beachhead north to take Ipil late on 7 December.

On the evening of 8 December, Lt. Gen. Suzuki received word from rear headquarters at Ormoc that Fourteenth Area Army had ordered suspension of the Wa operation, and he immediately directed the 16th and 26th Divisions to initiate a general withdrawal from the Burauen-Dagami front. The 26th Division was to move back through Lubi and attack the enemy on the Albuera front, while the 16th Division was to follow the 26th over the Lubi trail to be available for possible use in the Ormoc sector. Early on 9 December, the Army Commander left the advance command post at Lubi to return to Ormoc.

Meanwhile, the battle for Ormoc had already begun. On the night of 8 December, the advance guard battalion of the Imabori Detachment arrived in the vicinity of Ipil and began to dig in. On the morning of the 9th, before it had been able to complete organization of the position, the battalion was subjected to a counterattack by elements of the enemy 77th Division. Heavily outnumbered, the battalion was driven back to the Mitsui Shipping Unit positions on Red Roof Hill. While this action was being fought, the balance of the Imabori Detachment arrived in the Ormoc sector and was joined by elements of the 2d Parachute Brigade, which had begun to land at Valencia Airfield on the 8th. In view of the precarious situation south of Ormoc, Col. Imabori decided to station the detachment main strength on the heights northeast of the town and ordered the hasty preparation of defense positions.

As the opening round of the battle for Ormoc was being fought, Fourteenth Area Army and Southwest Area Force completed plans for counteraction. On 8 December, the Camotes Islands Garrison Detachment finally left Manila. The next day, the Area Army further designated the Takahashi Detachment (5th Regimental Combat Team, 8th Division as an emergency reinforcement to leave for Leyte immediately. Southwest Area Force ordered the Ito Naval Landing Unit187 to accompany the Takahashi Detachment, and both units embarked for Palompon late on 9 December.

Fourteenth Area Army regarded the dispatch of these units only as an emergency measure and proceeded to plan further counteraction. On 10 December, when the 39th Infantry Regiment, 10th Division arrived on Luzon, General Yamashita promptly ordered the regiment to prepare for a counterlanding in the Carigara Bay area on the night of 16-17 December. This


was to be known as the Ketsu Operation.

Enemy air attacks were meanwhile disrupting troop movements to Leyte. On 7 December, the 68th Brigade,188 scheduled to land at Palompon, was forced ashore by air attack at San Isidro, on the northwest tip of Leyte, where it was unable to establish communication with Thirty-fifth Army. Headquarters and one battalion of the 77th Infantry, 30th Division landed successfully at Palompon on 9 December, but the convoy carrying the Takahashi Detachment from Luzon underwent a heavy air attack which sank one ship with the loss of an entire battalion of the 5th Infantry Regiment. The remainder of the detachment landed at Palomp on on 11 December, together with the Camotes Islands garrison unit, which was unable to carry out its planned mission due to strong enemy forces in Ormoc Bay. The Ito Naval Landing Unit moved further south and landed near the mouth of the Pagsangahan River, west of Ormoc.

The situation by this time was virtually hopeless. On 11 December, the Mitsui Shipping Unit and advance guard battalion of the Imabori Detachment, after delaying the enemy for two days, were forced to evacuate Red Roof Hill under heavy pressure. While these units assembled astride the road north of Ormoc, the enemy moved into the deserted ruins of Ormoc on the same day. The Thirty-fifth Army had now lost its main supply port, and the retirement route of the 16th and 26th Divisions was completely severed.

Lt. Gen. Suzuki reached the Army command post at Huaton, five miles north of Ormoc, at 2020 on 13 December. By this time, the 1st and 102d Divisions to the north were engaged in desperate, last-ditch fighting east and west of Mt. Catabaran. To the south, only miscellaneous elements, including the Imabori Detachment and Mitsui Shipping Unit, stood between the command post and the enemy.189

Despite this hopeless situation, Lt. Gen. Suzuki, counting upon the arrival of additional 77th Infantry reinforcements from Palompon, decided on a final offensive effort. On 14 December he issued the following order to activate the operation, fixing 17 December as the attack date:

1. The Imabori Detachment (reinforced by elements of the 2d Parachute Group and the Ito Landing Unit will, on 15 December, gradually push attack positions forward. At dusk on 17 December, the detachment will assault Red Roof Hill, southeast of Ormoc, and thence will penetrate into the outskirts of the town.

2. The 77th Infantry (less two battalions) will relieve the Imabori Detachment on the main road north of Ormoc on 15 December, and, on 17 December, will attack Ormoc from the north.

3. The 1st Division will dispatch a battery of field artillery to the south of Huaton and will support the Imabori Detachment's assault on Red Roof Hill.

4. The Mitsui Shipping Unit will hold its present position northeast of Ormoc and facilitate the Imabori Detachment's attack.

Although there was considerable doubt at this time as to the situation of the 26th Division south of Ormoc, Lt. Gen. Suzuki felt that it could play a part in the forthcoming operation by harrassing the enemy's rear. Accord-


ingly, at 1700 on 14 December, he dispatched the following order:

1. The 26th Division will endeavor to secure the heights around Talisayan with its main strength and interrupt the enemy's northward advance.

2. An element will be stationed on the heights east of Albuera to cover the rear of the 16th Division.

As for the 16th Division, marooned in the mountain fastness of central Leyte, its plight seemed utterly hopeless. The Thirty-fifth Army Commander, however, hoped to extricate a portion of it for further operations, and, on the afternoon of the 15th, sent the following order to Lt. Gen. Makino, the division commander:190

The main strength of the 16th Division will move to the sector north of Talisayan via Lubi and aid the 26th Division in interrupting the enemy's northward advance.

Before preparations for the 17 December offensive against Ormoc could be completed, the enemy again seized the initiative with a series of surprise thrusts. Advancing through the swampy lowlands of the Pagsangahan River valley on the west side of Highway 2, an enemy force attacked Valencia airfield on 15 December. The next day the Imabori Detachment found itself beating off a strong enemy assault on its right flank at the juncture of Highway 2 and the Antilao River. The 77th Infantry, which had just come up to relieve the right flank elements of the detachment, was also hit by the enemy attack, suffering heavy casualties. On the morning of 17 December, an enemy combat patrol raided the Army command post at Huaton and almost captured the Army commander.

Although these developments entirely disrupted Lt. Gen. Suzuki's attack plan, the Imabori Detachment nevertheless assaulted Red Roof Hill on the evening of 17 December and succeeded in carrying the summit. The detachment subsequently encountered such severe resistance, however, that it was unable to approach Ormoc and finally had to yield Red Roof Hill and retire to the 77th Infantry and Mitsui Shipping Unit positions in the hills northeast of Ormoc.

In the meantime, the enemy had completely overrun Highway 2 as far north as Valencia, and Lt. Gen. Suzuki, at his new command post at Libongao, was cut off from all units to the south. On the night of 17 December the Army commander committed one battalion of the Takahashi Detachment southward along the highway in an abortive attempt to restore Communications. The same day, a discouraging message was received from Fourteenth Area Army that the Ketsu Operation had been cancelled. No reason was given.

On 18 December, whatever fleeting hopes were still entertained that the Leyte decisive battle could be continued were dealt a final, crushing blow when the news arrived from Fourteenth Area Army that the enemy had landed a force of about one division on Mindoro, at the very threshold of Luzon. It was plain that no further reinforcement could possibly be sent to Leyte. This message was quickly followed by another containing a policy guide from Gen. Yamashita with the following general provisions:

1. It is contemplated that the mission of Thirty-fifth Army will be changed to one of strategic delay.

2. In preparation for official notification of such a change, the Army should promptly plan for self-sufficient, sustained resistance.

Lt. Gen. Suzuki and his staff therefore, drew


up a tentative plan for self-sufficient action in the Palompon area and issued it to the troop units at noon on 19 December. The 1st and 102d Divisions, which were still holding off the enemy in the north, were instructed to await further orders before initiating a withdrawal toward Palompon, but in case such orders were never received, they were to act on their own initiative.

At 1400 on the 19th, the Thirty-fifth Army command post at Libongao was raided by the enemy. As a consequence, the headquarters was displaced to Kompisao, a small barrio about five miles northeast of Palompon, closing into the new location on 20 December. Meanwhile, the Takahashi Detachment arrived at Libongao on the evening of the 19th.

Reports received during 20-21 December at the new Thirty-fifth Army command post were extremely fragmentary, but they all continued to reflect the hopelessness of the situation and the imminence of total collapse. Although no official order confirming Gen. Yamashita's policy guide of the 18th had been received, the circumstances were such that Lt. Gen. Suzuki saw no further reason to delay the planned general retreat. Orders were therefore dispatched on 21 December to the Takahashi Detachment to cover the withdrawal of all Army forces into the Palompon area.

The huge and costly effort to turn the tide of battle in the Pacific by a defeat of the enemy on Leyte had ended in complete failure. Japanese air, sea and ground force strength had been consumed in vast quantities, and the enemy now possessed a forward base in the heart of the Philippines, from which to continue operations northward and expand his range of air control over the slim remaining lifeline between the homeland and the southern area.

Already, by his advance to Mindoro, the aggressive enemy served notice that the invasion of Luzon was rapidly approaching.





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