of Leyte Gulf and Surigao Strait - October 1944
Biggest Naval Battle in History
- 60th Anniversary of this Battle.
Battle of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait - February/ March
1942 saw the Dutch, Australians, British and American forces in
retreat, suffering tremendous loss of ships and life as the Japanese
Naval & Military advanced south taking Hong Kong, Malaysia, Borneo,
Singapore and the Netherlands East Indies, moving closer to Australia
as it occupied New Guinea.
The Germans captured the Most Secret British War Cabinet Minutes
of 1940 about the indefensibility of the Far East and their inability
to provide any British Far East Fleet for protection. This was
delivered to the Japanese in late 1940 giving the Japanese an
intelligence coup of historic proportions. This long detailed
report outlined the weaknesses and lack of military strength in
Far East Asia and clearly indicated that the Far East was indefensible
and that the most Britian could do would be to issue diplomatic
Britain was unable to provide a fleet of any strength to defend
it, as it was engaged in its European war of survival against
Germany which was demanding all its resources. Churchill kept
the loss of this intelligence from the netherlands Government-in-exile,
Australia, New Zealand and the USA. By so doing he denied these
Governments the time and opportunity to plan during 1941 for the
inevitable invasion of the Far East by the Japanese and the best
method of defense.
Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, previously reluctant to launch an attack
against the Far East which would cause a joint retaliation by
the US and British fleets that would require him to split his
fleet, now re-assessed his plans. With the knowledge of the British
War Cabinet minutes he saw his previous caution unnecessary and
reversed his decision in early 1941. The invasion of the Far East
was planned with a massive strike against the US at Pearl Harbour
so that the Japanese, naval and military, would be rulers of the
Pacific and the Far East.
On 7th Dec.1941 Japan bombed the US Fleet at Pearl Harbour and
the US entered the war.
The Japanese quickly invaded the Philippines and headed for Hong
Kong, Singapore, Malaya, Borneo, Netherlands East Indies and New
The Allies, US, Britain, Australia and the Netherlands formed
the shortlived 'ABDA' command under General Wavell, C-I-C India.
He had been, until recently, C-I-C North Africa and opposed Churchill's
directions to launch an attack in North Africa when his troops
were already fighting in the Greek campaign. Churchill was furious
with his forthright comment, and removed him to India, replacing
him with General Auchinleck.
Churchill had not informed the Netherlands Government-in-exile
in London, the USA, Australia or New Zealand that his top secret
War Cabinet minutes regarding the indefensibility of the Far East
had been in the hands of the Japanese since late 1940. Indeed
he never mentioned it ever again, or up until his death, and all
British files regarding the ill fated SS Automedon disaster
So Australia and New Zealand and the Netherlands East Indies were
deprived of crucial intelligence necessary to determine a Far
East defence strategy and possibly minimise the massive loss of
military personnel who became POWs.
ABDA lasted about eight weeks with the Allies combined naval forces
battling, without air cover, against the three naval battle groups
of the Japanese. They performed heroically against overwhelming
odds with great loss of life, ships and submarines.
Allies retreated quickly to India and Australia with Australia's
north west coast being bombed and the Japanese fleet moving into
the Indian Ocean. HMAS Yarra, retreating as convoy escort in the
north Indian Ocean, was surround by Admiral Kondo's cruisers and
Then came the Battle of the Coral sea three months later where
the Japanese Naval and Military advance halted in a Naval air
A month later the US Battle of Midway saw the Japanese experience
its first major naval defeat and this was the real turning point
in the war.
On through 1943-1944 the American and Australian operations made
steady progress in their battle progress but with large loss of
life. They fought, in New Guinea and island by island, slowly
regaining control of the South West Pacific with Coastwatchers
and codebreakers providing crucial intelligence. The codebreakers
were reading most of the Japanese field codes and were able to
brief General Macarthur as to their state. This led to Macarthur
adopting an island hopping tactic as he now knew the strengths
and morale of the Japanese in the South West Pacific. The codebreakers
also revealed Japanese Admiral Yamamoto's flight to the SW Pacific
and the US was able to find and shoot his plane down.
In the space of 15 months Allied forces (US, Australian, UK) captured
the Gilbert and then the Marshall Islands, expelled the Japanese
from New Guinea, or neutralised them.
June 15th, 1944 US Marines and Infantry landed on Saipan Island
in the Marianas, the Japanese key defence position. Naval and
Naval Air Battles raged over the next few weeks until the US landed
a powerful force on the Philippines at Leyte Gulf on October 20th.
The Japanese manoeuvred its naval fleets in a desparate attempt
to prevent this landing and so commenced the battles in Leyte
Gulf and Surigao Strait commencing on Trafalgar Day 21Oct. 1944,
with the main battle commencing on 23rd. October. The battle raged
for another five days until October 28th - a battle recognised
as the biggest naval battle in history.
Three units of the RAN served with the USN, HMAS Australia,
HMAS Shropshire and HMAS Arunta, but
with the USN providing the the vast bulk of the Allied fleets.
It is interesting to note that 30 months later two of the three
of Admiral Kondo's cruisers that surrounded and sank HMAS Yarra
in 1942 were themselves sunk in Siragao Strait, with the third
Leyte Gulf saw each side employ every type of weapon, except mines,
from every type of ship - Aircraft Carriers down to Motor Torpedo
The Japanese, in desperation, introduced suicide pilots on planes
loaded with explosives. Several of these hit HMAS Australia,
the first allied ship to be hit, and during this raid CAPT Deschaineux
RAN and nearly all officers and sailors on the bridge were killed
and the Task Force Commodore John Collins RAN was seriously wounded.
The US Third Fleet was under Admiral Halsey USN with the
following Task Groups (TG). TG34 Admiral Lee USN
TG 38 Admiral Mitcher USN
TG 38.2 Admiral Bogan USN
TG 38.3 Admiral Sherman USN
TG 38.4 Admiral Davison USN
TG 77.4.3 (Taffy3) Admiral Sprague USN
TG 77.2 Admiral Oldendorf USN
US Cruiser Group - Admiral Dubose USN
Japanese lost 3 Battleships (each 70,000 tons); 1 heavy Aircraft
Carrier (28,000 tons); 3 light Aircraft Carriers (each 7600 tons);
6 heavy Cruisers (each 10,000 tons); 4 light Cruisers(each 8,500Tons);
9 Destroyers (each 1,500 tons) = TOTAL nearly 370,000 tons comprising
US lost 1 Light Aircraft Carrier (33,000 tons); 2 Escort Aircraft
Carriers (each 7,000 tons); 2 Destroyers (each 2,400 tons); 1
Destroyer Escort (1,200 tons) = TOTAL 53,000 tons comprising 6
war in the Pacific dragged on for a further ten months of fierce
fighting at Lingayen Gulf, Iwo Jima and Okinawa until the unconditional
surrender by the Japanese on 15th August 1945 after two Atom bombs
were dropped, one on Nagasaki, the other on Hiroshima with a third
proposed for the northern port of Niagata.
by CMDR John M Wilkins RFD* RANR
Centuries of Sea Warfare -Jaquaes Mordal 1959
Epic Sea Battles -William
Fighting Ships WW2 2001 Edition
Betrayal at Pearl Harbour by Rusbridger and Nave 1991