Leyte Gulf is where the war's largest naval battle took place in late October 1944. The American fleet, including both the Seventh Fleet under General MacArthur was responsible for the invasion in central Philippines and the Third Fleet headed by Admiral Nimitz. The Third Fleet's main objective was to protect the landing forces in and around Leyte Gulf. This responsibility to protect the invasion forces was given to Admiral "Bull" Halsey.
The Japanese had no choice but to try to stop the Americans by meeting them head on before the invasion would begin. The Imperial Navy would split their attacking forces into three separate groups with the northern group being a diversionary force for the two main forces in the south and central. The two southern forces would try to surprise Halsey by going through the Surigao Strait. Over 132,000 troops, 200,000 tons of material on 750 transports and landing crafts were poised to land on the island of Leyte.
The ultimate goal is the complete liberation of the Philippines. The Third Fleet boasted nearly a dozen aircraft carriers and six battle wagons, including four raised from the depths of Pearl Harbor: West Virginia, Maryland, California and Tennessee along with two of the newest and fastest in the world: USS New Jersey and the Iowa. The massive fleet under Halsey would sit off the coast of Samar. The two Japanese southern forces would split into two, with the main force traveling through the San Bernardino Strait in central part and was headed by five battleships (including the Yamato and Musashi), twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers.
The smaller southern force would try to sneak through Surigao Strait to attempt a surprise attack upon the Seventh Fleet. All three Japanese forces were soundly defeated with thousands of casualties. In just 4 days of fighting, the Japanese lost 3 battleships, 1 large carrier, 3 light carriers, 6 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 9 destroyers. Japan ceases to be a naval power. In fact, the battleship Musashi is the first battleship ever to be sunk entirely by airplanes. At midnight of the 25th, the biggest battle occurred off the coast of Samar as the Japanese southern forces met the Seventh Fleet head on.
The Americans poured salvo upon salvo on the unsuspecting Japanese forces in the Surigao Strait. Well over 5,000 Japanese sailors are lost in the battle. Even the survivors refused rescue and the southern force is destroyed almost entirely. The main force led by the Yamato, the largest battleship ever, tried in vain to defeat the American navy but also failed, as 100's of American carrier planes would pummel the Japanese naval forces as they really had no planes left since the great Marianas Turkey Shoot, thus ending any hope that Japan would be able to save the Philippines. It is just a matter of time now when Japan will be forced to end the war and surrender. World War II Victory at Sea Leyte Gulf MacArthur Nimitz Halsey Pearl Harbor Yamato Japanese American Americans Carrier