(October 17, 1944 – July 1, 1945)
The campaign at Leyte, a large island centrally located in the Philippine archipelago, was key to the Allies’ war strategy. Leyte would be the staging area from which the US major operation in Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines and the location of Japan’s main defenses in the islands, would take place.
Leyte was the planned site at which the US forces under General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz would converge to retake the Philippines from Japan, which had taken control of the island nation in 1942.
American troops landed on Leyte on October 20, 1944, and combat would continue through December, with clean-up operations lasting through mid-1945. Until then, the Sixth Army would engage in intense fighting on land, where they faced mountainous terrain and heavy monsoon rains. At sea, the 7th Fleet, led by Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, and the 3rd Fleet, led by Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, confronted the largest assembly of Japanese naval vessels during the war.
In the waters around Leyte, American forces engaged in a fierce battle with the Japanese. Over four days of fighting, the US Navy dealt a crippling blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy. While the US lost ten ships, Japan suffered a total loss of 35 ships. Japan’s losses included three battleships, including its super-battleship, Musashi, the carrier Zuikaku, three light carriers, twelve destroyers, six heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, four submarines, an oiler and a destroyer transport. The Battle at Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle in the Pacific.
Immediately following the landing at Leyte, the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) was put to work, sorting through piles of captured documents and also engaging in direct combat. About 120 MIS Nisei served at Leyte. Due to the translation of the “Z Plan,” US troops were already aware of the Japanese offensive. But as the fighting continued, the MIS gained additional vital information through POW interrogations and translating captured documents. They also created and distributed surrender leaflets.
One such MIS soldier, Sergeant Stanley S. Shimabukuro, extracted significant information from captured documents and aided in the completion of the victory at Leyte. He worked tirelessly translating documents, at one time working nonstop for 51 hours.
The Leyte Campaign represented the most decisive operation in the Philippines, essentially neutralizing Japan’s dominance there. But the campaign was a costly one. American forces suffered more than 15,500 casualties, including about 3,500 killed in action. The Japanese lost an estimated 49,000 troops, and were dealt a huge blow against their air and naval support, thereafter assuming a defensive position for the rest of their time in the Philippines. The Japanese fleet was nearly destroyed. In a desperate move, the Japanese launched kamikaze attacks all around the Philippines. However, their actions proved unsuccessful in thwarting the Allied forces. For the rest of the war, Allied naval forces virtually dominated the Pacific Theater.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
Victor Abe [tape 094]
Starts on Tape Four, between 0 and 2 minute marks
It was like a plantation with a lot of palm trees and we landed in there and then they finally cleared the place for the headquarters and then they cleared places for us and then we slept in, (00:02:00) put up our own shelters, for pup tents, for two of us but one guy didn’t have a partner so three of us got in there. So in that heavy rain, one of the guys on the sides got wet and our blankets got soaking wet. But the guy at the center was the lucky guy, but I was the guy on the sides so we got soaking wet but then, the monsoon, it rained and then the sun would shine, then rains again so that so far, I can’t recall what we did to the soaking blanket but we’ve aired it out, did the same thing the next night then, well, that kind of gives you a slight picture of what our camp grounds look like. All those palm trees that were hit and they were demolished and then kinda holes with artillery shells hit but that was about it and then tents.
Frank Mori [tape 700]
Starts on Tape Two, between 18 and 20 minute marks
Yeah, we were, the Division was gonna be sent for rest and rehabilitation to New Caledonia, and so we were looking forward to that. We were south of the equator, I do not know how close to New Caledonia we were, but suddenly I was on topside once and I saw the whole armada, you know, change directions, and I says, “Oh-oh,” said, “we’re not going to New Caledonia.” You know, we’re not told where we’re going, I mean, or—the orders are all secret. And so, we didn’t know where we were going but later we found out that General MacArthur, you know, called us, our division, which we weren’t under his command but in a sense we were, because he was, you know, able to call the division like ours to his war in the Philippines.
And so we came to an island called Leyte, and that’s where the main fighting was, the principal fighting of the Philippines. And so we came to Leyte. And there were, two divisions, [20:00] they were kind of stalemated: the 7th Infantry which was a California Division [and the] 11th Airborne Division. And so, they were stuck up in the mountains and that was during the rainy season, and the war just was stalemated and nothing was happening. And then so our, the General of the 77th, he submitted a strategy to General MacArthur, said, “I’ll take my Division and go behind the enemy lines in Japanese-occupied area and just take that part of the island.” And so there was a port city called Ormoc, and we landed south of Ormoc. And when we landed it just turned out to be December 7th. We landed on December 7, 1944, yeah, 1944, and of course we were met with only just one zero fighter that came and swooped down on the landing force.
And then I was just slightly inland at that time, well, maybe, just a hundred yards or so. And then I seen this plane veer up, you know, right in front of me and that red ball on the wings just appeared so large. That’s the closest I’ve seen an enemy plane. But there was very few casualties and so we all landed safely, at least the interpreters.
- 1Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, vol. 1, US Army Center of Military History, p. 196, last updated June 20, 2006, accessed January 16, 2015
- 2Edward Furgol, “The Battle of Leyte Gulf,” Navy Museum, Washington Navy Yard, Navy and Marine Corps WWII Commemorative Committee, accessed January 22, 2015
- 3Ibid, and Charles R. Anderson, “Leyte: The US Army Campaigns of World War II,” US Army Center of Military History,” last updated October 3, 2003
- 4James C. McNaughton, Nisei Linguists: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service during World War II (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 2006), p. 291.
- 5Ibid, p. 295.