|Battle of Leyte|
| United States
| Empire of Japan
Second Philippine Republic
| Douglas MacArthur
Franklin C. Sibert
John R. Hodge
Ruperto C. Kangleon
| Tomoyuki Yamashita
| 200,000 Americans
3,189 Filipino guerrillas
More than 94 Australians
|Casualties and Deaths|
3,504 killed and 12,080 wounded
30 killed and 64 wounded
|Part of World War II|
During World War II, the Battle of Leyte was the invasion of the Gulf of Leyte in the Philippines. This was accomplished by amphibious guerrilla Filipino and American forces, commanded by United States General Douglas MacArthur. The battle lasted for a little more than two months at the end of 1944 and is notable for marking the debut of kamikaze suicide pilots on the Japanese side. The battle was a decisive victory for the Allies, allowing them to begin a full-scale liberation of the Philippines.
Japan relied on the Philippines for a number of essential supplies, in particular rubber. The archipelago also occupied a key strategic position with regard to the shipping routes to Sumatra and Borneo, along which petroleum was transported to Japan. For the United States, taking the Philippines was a major objective, as it would isolate Japan from many of its Pacific Theater possessions. MacArthur himself also took a personal interest, as when forced to leave the islands in 1942 he had famously told the civilian inhabitants, “I shall return.”
In the fall of 1944, the success of American aircraft carriers in other Pacific campaigns suggested that a full-scale Philippine invasion was a realistic possibility. Leyte was selected as a suitable location to mount the assault on account of its large number of sandy beaches and deep-water approaches, allowing relatively straightforward landing and resupply of an amphibious invasion. Once U.S. aircraft had been established on Leyte, they would be able to reach targets anywhere else in the Philippines. It was also considered that the civilian population of almost a million would be helpful, having experienced repression under Japanese occupation.
Minesweeping operations began in the morning of October 17, 1944. Despite a storm which caused a slight delay, by early afternoon members of the 6th Rangers were establishing themselves on the islands of Dinagat and Suluan. The former was unoccupied, but on Suluan some limited resistance was encountered and a radio station destroyed. The Rangers put up lights to assist navigation for the main transports later on, and on the following day the island of Homonhon was captured without a fight.
On October 20, forces of the Sixth Army landed at ten o’clock in the morning. Although there was some danger from Japanese fire, the biggest concern in some areas was the highly marshy ground. Nevertheless, by one-thirty that same afternoon, MacArthur was able to announce in person that the Philippines were beginning to be liberated. By nightfall, the army had taken control of a strip of land two miles from the beaches, while the 7th Infantry Division had pushed a full ten miles into the interior and taken the town of Dagami.
Advances in the South
Over the next few days, the Sixth Army advanced steadily in the south, with Tacloban, the provincial capital, being captured on October 21. Two days later, MacArthur himself formally announced the restoration of civilian government in Leyte. Meanwhile, General Irving’s 24th Infantry Division was encountering much stronger resistance in the interior, having to fight hard for several days in order to reach their beach-head. The 19th and 34th Infantry Regiments finally came in sight of the coast and the town of Carigara on the first day of November.
From their beach-head, divisions of the XXIV Corps under General Hodge had penetrated the southern part of the Leyte Valley, which contained a supply depot and four airfields. The 96th Infantry Division was sent to clear Catmon Hill, which the Japanese had been using as both a lookout post and a place to fire on landing craft. The hill was successfully taken on October 31, by which time more than 50 pillboxes and 17 caves had been cleared, as well as a number of heavy artillery positions.
The 7th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Arnold, mounted an attack on four inland airfields near the town of Dulag. A bloody encounter took place, finally decided in favor of the Americans when a wedge of tanks was used to clear a path for the infantry. Another fierce battle took place at Buri a little way to the north, where 400 Japanese men were killed defending another airfield. By the start of November, units of the 32nd Infantry had reached within sight of Ormoc Bay without having been seriously opposed.
The Fall of Ormoc
As Arnold’s troops approached Ormoc, the Burauen airfields in the mountainous interior became the subject of a surprise airborne attack by the Japanese. Around 350 paratroopers were dropped in the evening of December 6; although the attack was not tightly coordinated, the Japanese did manage to seize a certain number of weapons, which they then used against the U.S. forces. However, apart from the destruction of a small number of aircraft and supply caches, the attack had little lasting significance to the Leyte Campaign as a whole.
Further west, the XXIV Corps were reinforced by the newly-landed 77th Infantry on December 7, the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor. This was to prove a decisive moment, despite the use of kamikaze attacks on U.S. Navy ships. The extra troops allowed the 7th Division to renew its northward push, forming a pincer movement against the Japanese defenders.
Although the Japanese commander, General Suzuki, ordered his task force to move to Ormoc Valley, the under-nourished and tired soldiers were of little use by the time small bands of them reached the west coast. Ormoc City was entered by U.S. forces on December 10.
Later Stages and Aftermath
Once Ormoc had been liberated, the American advance accelerated in both the west and the north, with the object of securing the final ports that remained open to Japanese shipping and thereby taking the island as a whole. Blocking positions were established in late November along a line south of Leyte Valley, while the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment came within ten miles of Buraden on December 6.
Infantrymen landed near Palompon on the morning of Christmas Day, 1941, and by noon the town had been secured by U.S. forces. This was the effective end of organized Japanese resistance on Leyte, and by the New Year only isolated stragglers remained.
The Battle of Leyte was a major defeat for the Japanese Empire, with almost 50,000 combat troops lost in its failed defense. 26 substantial warships were also lost, as well as several hundred merchant ships. Conventional Japanese air power was cut by half, forcing Japan to rely increasingly on the desperate measure of using kamikaze pilots.
Although 250,000 soldiers were still on Luzon, without air and sea support from Leyte, the only option for General Yamashita was a defensive one. Losing the battle allowed the Allies to establish a base from which Japan itself could much more easily be attacked.