Know Your Military

WWII Battle Helped Secure Philippines 75 Years Ago

Oct. 23, 2019 | BY David Vergun

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement of World War II. It raged in the Philippines from Oct. 23 to 26, 1944, pitting Japan against the U.S., some Australian naval assets and some Mexican air force units.

Meanwhile, a parallel land battle — in which Philippine guerrillas aided U.S. forces — didn't end until February 1945.

Smoke pours from an aircraft carrier.
USS Princeton
The aircraft carrier USS Princeton is bombed by the Japanese, Oct. 24, 1944, and subsequently sinks.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 441024-O-ZZ999-002C
Smoke pours from battleship.
Yamato
The Japanese battleship Yamato is hit by a bomb in the Sibuyan Sea, Oct. 24, 1944.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 441024-O-ZZ999-001C

The goal of the battle was to block Japan from its Southeast Asian sources of rubber, oil and other raw materials used for military purposes. 

The other goal was to retake the Philippines, which had been captured by the Japanese in 1942. Before the Japanese occupation, the Philippines was a commonwealth of the U.S.; its status was similar to that of Puerto Rico today, said Glenn F. Williams, senior historian at the Army Center of Military History, in Washington. 

There had been debate about invading Taiwan instead — a position favored by top Navy leadership — but Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur wanted to keep his pledge to return to the Philippines. 

MacArthur got his way.

Troops wade ashore.
MacArthur Arrival
Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte, Philippines, Oct. 20, 1944.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 441020-O-ZZ999-001C

As a result of a series of naval battles, the Imperial Japanese Navy suffered its greatest loss of ships ever — 26 warships, including four aircraft carriers. The U.S. lost seven warships, including three aircraft carriers.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was notable for another reason. It was the first time the U.S. Navy was struck by organized kamikazes, or suicide attacks.

In the end, the aims of the Battle of Leyte Gulf were achieved, but there were heavy U.S. casualties: 16,043 soldiers and 7,270 sailors were killed. 

The Japanese also suffered tremendous losses, with 419,912 deaths and those injured. 

The outcome of the battle also resulted in the U.S. maintaining undisputed command of the sea and the air until the Japanese surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.

Men crowd the deck of a sinking aircraft carrier flight deck.
Zuikaku Salute
The crew of the Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku salute their flag, Oct. 25, 1944. Their ship slowly sinks into the ocean after being torpedoed during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 441025-O-ZZ999-001C

One Japanese soldier never got the word that the war had ended.

Imperial Japanese Army 2nd Lt. Hiroo Onoda had lived in the mountains of the southern Philippine island of Mindoro for three decades. 

His former commanding officer flew to the island from Japan to convince him that the war was over. Onoda surrendered in 1974.