This was the US invasion and seizure of Leyte island in the Japanese-occupied Philippine islands group (20 October/31 December 1944).
Though conceived as the second step in the US complete reconquest of the Philippine islands group, 'King II' was actually executed as the first step in this strategic task, which had been the primary objective of General Douglas MacArthur’s South-West Pacific Area command since the Japanese ‘M’ (ii) conquest of the islands in 1942. Since that time there had developed a basic disagreement about strategic aims between Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commanding the Pacific Ocean Areas, who favoured an east/west thrust across the Central Pacific toward Formosa and China, and MacArthur, who urged a south/north thrust from New Guinea to the Philippine islands group and then if necessary on to Okinawa and the Japanese home islands. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was compelled to adjudicate in this dispute, and came down in favour of MacArthur and an assault on Mindanao, the largest island in the southern part of the Philippine islands group by the combined forces of MacArthur and Nimitz. This decision in favour of the 'King I' and following 'King III' plans was endorsed by the ‘Octagon’ conference held at Quebec in September 1944, which envisaged first the reconquest of Mindanao from 15 October 1944, then the reconquest of Leyte from 20 December 1944, and finally a selection between further progress in the Philippine islands group to take Luzon and Manila, the Filipino capital, the latter by 2 February 1945 in 'Mike I' and following operations, or alternatively an amphibious assault on Formosa and Amoy off the coast of mainland China to secure both islands by 1 May 1945.
At this time there was a considerable reshuffle of the US Navy command structure in the Pacific, Admiral William F. Halsey succeeding Admiral Raymond A. Spruance in command of what now became the 3rd Fleet rather than the 5th Fleet. This change in fleet commander was accompanied by an alteration of amphibious force commander, Vice Admiral Theodore C. Wilkinson succeeding Vice Admiral Richmond K. Turner. Spruance and Turner were thus able to set about the planning of future operations while Halsey and Wilkinson concerned themselves with operations in the Philippine islands. One commander who remained unchanged was Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, whose 1st Fast Carrier Task Force (17 fast carriers, six new battleships, 13 cruisers and 58 destroyers, with 1,100 carrierborne aircraft) was redesignated from Task Force 58 to Task Force 38.
It was Mitscher who was responsible for a considerable modification in the basic plan for the operations in the Philippine islands group, for on 28 August TF38 undertook a series of attacks on Japanese positions on Yap, the Palau and Mindanao islands as a precursor for the joint ‘Stalemate II’ and ‘Tradewind’ operations, to secure Peleliu island in the western part of the Caroline islands group and Morotai island in the Halmahera islands group respectively, in anticipation of the Mindanao landings. TF38’s aircraft flew 2,400 sorties and shot down 200 Japanese aircraft for the loss of only eight of their own number, convincing Mitscher and thus Halsey that the Japanese were far weaker in this theatre than had been anticipated. This suggested forcefully that an invasion of the Philippine islands group was feasible at a date earlier than had been planned. On 13 September Halsey urged Nimitz to consider the abandonment of the Mindanao operation in favour of an immediate assault on Leyte in the centre of the Philippine islands group. MacArthur also thought this an ideal move, and the ‘Octagon’ second inter-Allied conference in Quebec endorsed a revised schedule that called for landings on Leyte on 20 October, to be followed by the invasion of Luzon on 20 December while Nimitz’s primary offensive forces took a base in the Bonin islands group (20 January 1945, and later realised as ‘Detachment’) and Ryukyu islands group (March 1945, and later realised as ‘Iceberg’) with a view to major operations from these bases against the Japanese home islands.
For the Japanese, the retention of the Philippine islands was vital for the continued ability to wage war. The islands were themselves important as sources of strategic raw materials such as rubber, but also for the fact that they controlled the sea routes between the Japanese home islands and the islands of South-East Asia, most especially Borneo and Sumatra, which were Japan’s only sources of oil.
For the USA, the recapture of the Philippine islands group was important strategically as the means of ensuring the severance of Japan’s air and sea links with the South-East Asian resources area of the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’, and was also a matter of national prestige as a means of showing that it could protect its colonial possessions. It was also a personal matter for MacArthur: two years earlier he had been forced to leave the Philippine islands group promising to return, and MacArthur insisted that it was an abiding moral obligation for the USA to liberate the islands.
Leyte is a large island in the Visayan islands group’s eastern part of the Philippine archipelago, about 110 miles (180 km) long and 40 miles (65 km) wide and with a total area of 2,845 sq miles (7368 km²). By 1939 is population was about 915,000 persons.
Leyte valley, in the north-eastern part of the island, was a rice and corn belt, and also accommodated Tacloban, the regional capital. The beaches off Tacloban were highly suitable for landing operations, with tides of just 2 or 3 ft (0.6 or 0.9 m), but the ground inland was too soft to allow rapid airfield development. Coastal roads and a single road through the mountains south of Leyte valley connected Tacloban with Ormoc, located on the northern side of Ormoc Bay on the western side of the island.
Leyte was attractive to the US planners as it offered many deep-water approaches for the close approach of large ships, and also the type of shallow-sloping sandy beaches of the type required for amphibious operations. The roads and lowlands extending inland from the north/south Highway 1 extending along the island’s east coast between the San Juanico Strait, separating Leyte and Samar islands, some 40 miles (65 km) to the south to Abuyog, provided the opportunity for combined armour and infantry operations, and also made it practical to build airfields. Moreover, the fact that Leyte lies in about the middle of the Philippine islands group increased its attractions as US aircraft operating from Leyte could attack Japanese land, sea and air bases anywhere in the archipelago, and also provide air support for US forces undertaking the recapture of the other islands of the group.
So far as its geography is concerned, Leyte is dominated by a central north/south mountain range which was at the time heavily forested, and to each side of this in the north is a sizeable coastal plain separated from the sea only by low hills. The larger of these two valleys is the Leyte valley, which extends from the north coast to the east shore and contained most of the island’s towns and roads, while the smaller is the Ormoc valley, situated on the island’s north-western side, and connected with the Leyte valley by the circuitous Highway 2 running from Palo on the east coast, then to the west and north-west through the Leyte Valley north coast before turning to the south and winding its way through a mountainous neck to enter the northern part of the Ormoc valley before continuing south to the port city of Ormoc, and thence along the west shore to Baybay before veering to the east across the mountainous waist of the island and connecting with Highway 1 on the east coast at Abuyog. To the south of these towns, the mountainous southern third of Leyte was sparsely and generally undeveloped. High mountain peaks more than 4,400 ft (1340 m) high, as well as the jagged outcrops, ravines and cave complexes typical of volcanic islands offered formidable defensive opportunities, however.
Another factor with which the planners had to contend was the fact that the operation was being considered for implementation late in the year, which would mean that combat, support and logistical operations would have to cope with the consequences of the monsoon rains. Most of Leyte’s civilian population gained its living from agriculture and fishing, and the US planners could sensibly decide, on the basis of the fact that many of the Filipinos were already supporting the guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in the face of harsh repression, that the majority of Leyte’s inhabitants would assist the US forces. US intelligence estimated the Japanese strength on Leyte at 20,000 men, mostly of the Lieutenant General Shiro Makino’s 10,600-man 16th Division (9th, 20th and 33rd Regiments as well as the 22nd Field Artillery Regiment) located in the north-east of the island beside the San Juanico Strait, and known to be the most capable fighting formation of Lieutenant General Sosaku Suzuki’s 35th Army.
The US efforts now moved into high gear with the relatively bloodless ‘Tradewind’ seizure of Morotai island on 15 September by MacArthur’s forces and the extremely bloody ‘Stalemate II’ campaign to take Peleliu island on 15 September/25 November by Nimitz’s forces, and on 6/15 October TF38 slashed at all the Japanese air and naval bases in the Ryukyu islands group, Formosa and Luzon from which counterattacks could be made against the Leyte landings. Mitscher’s (from 30 October Vice Admiral John S. McCain’s) TF38 thus operated off Formosa and Luzon to eliminate the Japanese air forces that might be able to intervene from there over Leyte and the waters around this island.
TF38 started the operation with its strength divided into McCain’s Task Group 38.1, Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan’s TG38.2 and Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s TG38.3, which departed Ulithi on 6 October, and these initial three groups were supplemented from 7 October by Rear Admiral Ralph E. Davison’s TG38.4 arriving from a point west of Palau. On 8 October the warships refuelled from eight fleet oilers. On the same day Rear Admiral Allen E. Smith’s TG30.2, in a diversionary raid, undertook a gunfire bombardment of Marcus island with the heavy cruisers Chester, Pensacola and Salt Lake City, and destroyers Dunlap, Fanning, Case, Cummings, Cassin and Downes.
On 9 October TF38 moved to the north-west 1, and on the following day aircraft of one task group attacked Amami-o-shima, two task groups attacked Okinawa and one task group attacked the Sakishima-gunto: 1,936 sorties were flown in all. The Americans lost 21 aircraft in these attacks, but the Japanese lost the submarine depot ship Jingei, minelayer Takashima, escort Kali, landing ship T-158, three smaller ships, 11 motor torpedo boats and four merchant vessels atOkinawa. Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukodome’s 2nd Air Fleet lost 30 of its 400 aircraft in air combat and on the ground. Japanese attempts to attack the carrier task groups, which had been located by air reconnaissance, failed when the attacking formations could not find their targets.
On 11 October TG38.1 and TG38.4 flew 61 sorties against the airfield of Aparri from a point to the north-east of Luzon, and destroyed 15 Japanese aircraft. To the east, TG38.2 and TG38.3 refuel from the 12 fleet oilers of Captain Jasper T. Acuff’s TG30.8, whose overall strength was 34 oilers, 17 destroyers and 26 destroyer escorts, and received 61 replacement aircraft in turns from the escort carriers Altamaha, Barnes, Sitkoh Bay, Cape Esperance, Nassau, Kwajalein, Shipley Bay, Steamer Bay, Nehenta Bay, Sargent Bay and Rudyerd Bay, which were being used as replenishment carriers during October.
On 12 and 13 October all four task groups made a steady stream of attacks on airfields and installations on Formosa: on 12 October there were 1,378 sorties and on 13 October 974 sorties. The US carrier forces lost 48 aircraft, but destroyed many more Japanese aircraft in the air and on the ground. The 2nd Air Fleet tried to make counterattacks from Formosa on the two southern task groups, but these were intercepted and largely destroyed. The so-called ‘T’ Force flew 56 sorties from Kyushu on 12 October and 30 on 13 October, and on both days 52 aircraft operated from Okinawa. The carrier Franklin was narrowly missed by a kamikaze aeroplane and air-launched torpedoes, and one of the four attacking aircraft crashed in flames onto the deck and caused light damage. As night fell, Canberra took a torpedo hit and suffered severe damage. Early on 14 October TG38.1 made another attack on Formosa: 246 sorties were flown and 23 aircraft lost. TG38.4 attacked Aparri. From bases in China, Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers flew 109 sorties against targets in Formosa and Okinawa. The 2nd Air Fleet flew 419 sorties from Formosa, Okinawa and Kyushu against the US fleet, but 225 of the aircraft returned without having found their targets.
In an evening attack on TG38.1, the carrier Hancock, cruiser Reno and destroyer Cassin were damaged, and the cruiser Houston was torpedoed. Canberra and Houston were taken in tow by Wichita and Boston respectively, and Rear Admiral Lawrence T. DuBose’s TG30.3 established a covering force with the light carriers Cowpens and Cabot, cruisers Santa Fe and Mobile, and destroyers Charrette, Conner, Bell, Burns, Cogswell, Caperton, Ingersoll, Knapp, Boyd, Cowell, Miller, The Sullivans and Stephen Potter.
On 15 October units of the 2nd Air Fleet flew 199 sorties against TF38 as it retired, and Houston was again hit by a torpedo. TG38.4’s aircraft attacked airfields north of Manila on Luzon, in the course of which there are fierce air battles with 50 fighters of Vice Admiral Kinpei Teraoka’s 1st Air Fleet and attacks by 130 Japanese aircraft on TG38.4, whose Franklin was damaged. However, the Japanese attacks were generally driven back, and the Japanese lost 32 aircraft shot down.
In all, between 12 and 15 October, in 881 sorties and with 321 losses to themselves, the Japanese claimed to have sunk 11 carriers, two battleships and one cruiser, and also to have damaged eight carriers, two battleships, one cruiser and 13 other ships. The submarines of the ‘A’ Group (I-26, I-45, I-53, I-54 and I-56) and Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima’s 2nd Striking Force (heavy cruisers Nachi and Ashigara, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Akebono, Ushio, Kasumi, Shiranui, Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Hatsuharu and Suzutsuki) were deployed against the damaged ships. Suzutsuki was torpedoed by the US submarine Besugo on 15 October. Skate, another US submarine, reported the force, whereupon TG38.2 and TG38.3 sortied to the north on 16 October, followed by TG38.1 after its ships had finished replenishing. The Japanese torpedo boat Hato was sunk by carrierborne aircraft in the South China Sea, to the west of Luzon, during 16 October.
On 16/17 October the 2nd Air Fleet launched another 107 sorties against TF38 without finding targets but in the process losing 24 of its aircraft. From Luzon, aircraft of the 1st Air Fleet searched without success for TG38.4, which, after replenishing on 16 October, again attacked central and southern Luzon on 17 October. On 17 October the carrier groups in the north had to return for the start of ‘King II’. Shima put into Amami-o-shima, when reconnaissance reports on 16 October indicated that TF38 still had 13 carriers, seven battleships and 10 cruisers intact. In overall terms, TF38’s sweep had resulted in the shooting down of more than 500 out of 1,000 Japanese aircraft and the sinking of 180 merchant vessels for the loss of just 110 US aircraft.
Overall control of the Philippine islands group was vested in Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi’s Southern Expeditionary Army Group, local command being exercised by General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s 14th Area Army, which deployed in the Philippine islands group some 265,000 men in nine divisions and three independent mixed brigades; Yamashita arrived in the Philippines islands group to succeed Lieutenant General Shigenori Kuroda only on 26 September. The defence of the central and southern Philippine islands group was the task of the 35th Army with four divisions and one independent mixed brigade. Of this force only the 16th Division was on Leyte, supported by service units, several air base units, and elements of the Japanese navy’s 36th Guard Unit at Ormoc and Tacloban.
On 16/17 October the US forces started their preparatory air attacks for ‘King II’. From Morotai, Lockheed P-38 Lightning long-range fighters of Major General Ennis C. Whitehead’s 5th AAF within Lieutenant General George C. Kenney’s Far East Air Force sortied over Leyte, and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the 5th AAF and Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith’s 13th AAF from Sansapor and Biak attacked airfields on Mindanao. On 16 and 17 October aircraft from the escort carriers of Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s TG77.4 2 made attacks on Leyte, Cebu and northern Mindanao.
On 18 October Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Miwa’s 6th Fleet, responsible for all Japanese submarine operations, ordered the submarine deployment for the defence of the Philippines: the ‘A’ Group with I-26, I-45, I-54 and I-56 some 345 miles (555 km) to the east of Samar, the ‘B’ Group with I-38, I-41, I-44, I-46, Ro-41, Ro-43 and Ro-46 to the east and north-east of the ‘A’ Group, and the ‘C’ Group with Ro-109 and Ro-112 behind these. On 20 October the orders were changed, and the submarines were now instructed to close the area from east of Mindanao to east of Samar.
TU1 entered Leyte Gulf early on 17 October with the TG77.5 minesweeping and survey force and was reported by Japanese coast watchers. Imperial General Headquarters then launched ‘Sho-1’ and the pre-planned Japanese fleet movements began.
In the north, Mitscher’s TF38 embarked on a series of carrierborne air attacks to neutralise Teraoka’s 1st Air Fleet and Lieutenant General Kyoji Tominaga’s 4th Air Army on Luzon. On 17 October TG38.4 attacked Luzon using the carriers Franklin, Enterprise, San Jacinto and Belleau Wood, battleships Washington and Alabama, cruisers Wichita and New Orleans, and 15 destroyers. On 18 October, TG38.2 (carriers Intrepid, Hancock, Bunker Hill, Cabot and Independence, battleships Iowa and New Jersey, cruisers Biloxi, Vincennes and Miami, and 16 destroyers), and TG38.3 (carriers Lexington, Essex, Princeton and Langley, battleships Massachusetts and Indiana, cruisers Santa Fe, Birmingham, Mobile and Reno, and 12 destroyers) also attacked targets in Luzon, in the process sinking the Japanese minelayer Maeshima and landing ships T-135 and T-136. Counterattacks by 100 and 25 Japanese aircraft on TF38 and TF77 respectively failed to penetrate the American ring of defensive fighters and anti-aircraft fire.
The 5th AAF and the escort and carriers made further attacks on 18 and 19 October on Mindanao and the Leyte area respectively, and sank 13 ships. The destroyer Ross was damaged off Leyte by a mine and the destroyer Aulick by shore gunfire. The surviving elements of the 2nd Air Fleet were transferred to Luzon, where Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi assumed command of the 1st Air Fleet.
Under a massive air umbrella provided by the 5th AAF and carrierborne assets, Vice Admiral Thomas S. Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet (701 naval vessels including 157 warships with an Australian contribution of five warships, three landing ships and five auxiliary vessels.) now entered Leyte Gulf with Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s 6th Army (‘Cyclone’ Landing Force that would then become the Leyte Assault Force). The landings began early on 20 October with Major General Franklin C. Sibert’s X Corps delivered in the north by the ships of Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey’s TF78 (Northern Attack Force) and Major General John R. Hodge’s XXIV Corps delivered in the south by the ships of Vice Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson’s TG78 (Southern Attack Force).
In the north, Rear Admiral William M. Fechteler’s TG78.2 (San Ricardo Attack Group) landed Major General Verne D. Mudge’s 1st Cavalry Division from eight attack transports, two attack cargo ships, two landing ship docks, 14 tank landing ships and nine medium landing ships, and Barbey’s TG78.1 (Palo Attack Group) landed Major General Frederick A. Irving’s 24th Infantry Division (less the 21st Regimental Combat Team) from eight attack transports, four attack cargo ships, three landing ship docks, 12 tank landing ships and smaller craft, fire support being provided by Rear Admiral George L. Weyler’s TF78 (battleships Mississippi, Maryland and West Virginia) and Berkey’s TG77.3.
In the south, Wilkinson’s own TF79 and Rear Admiral Forest B. Royal’s TG79.2 (Attack Group 'Baker') landed Major General James L. Bradley’s 96th Infantry Division from 14 attack transports, four attack cargo ships, four dock landing ship and 24 tank landing ships, and Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly’s TG79.1 (Attack Group 'Able') landed Major General Archibald V. Arnold’s 7th Infantry Division from 13 attack transports, four attack cargo ships, one dock landing ship and 31 tank landing ships, with fire support provided by Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf’s gunfire support group of the battleships Tennessee, California and Pennsylvania, heavy cruisers Louisville, Portland and Minneapolis, light cruisers Honolulu, Denver and Columbia, and a number of destroyers.
Japanese level bombing attacks damaged the escort carrier Sangamon and the salvage vessel Preserver, and artillery fire from the shore damaged the destroyer Bennion and LST-452. In the evening of 20 October the cruiser Honolulu was torpedoed and on 21 October a Japanese aeroplane crashed onto the cruiser Australia: both warships were badly damaged and had to be towed away. The transport Warhawk was damaged in a collision with the battleship Tennessee, and LST-269, LST-483 and LST-704 were damaged by mortar fire.
On 21 October TG77.4’s aircraft supported the land operations while those of TG38.2 and TG38.3 made attacks on the western Visaya islands group. TG38.1 and TG38.4 replenished during this day. On 22 October the escort carriers stood off to the east of Leyte Gulf, and TG38.2 and TG38.3 moved away to replenish. TG38.4, which was proceeding to Ulithi, was recalled on 22 October, and TG38.1, with the carrier Hancock, departed for Ulithi.
The 6th Army was to take and secure Leyte in a three-phase operation. The first would begin on 17 October, three days before and some 50 miles (80 km) east of the landing beaches, with the seizure of three islands commanding the eastern approaches to Leyte Gulf. The second and main phase would start on 20 October as the X and XXIV Corps landed on separate beaches on Leyte’s east coast, the former on the right and the latter 15 miles (24 km) to its south. The X Corps would take Tacloban and its airfield, north of the corps beach-head, secure the San Juanico Strait between Leyte and Samar islands, and then push through the Leyte valley to the north coast. The XXIV Corps would secure the southern part of the Leyte valley for airfield and logistical development. Meanwhile, the 21st RCT would come ashore to secure the strait between Leyte and Panaon islands. In the third phase, the two corps would take separate routes through the mountains to clear the Japanese from the Ormoc valley and the west coast of the island, at the same time placing an outpost on the island of Samar some 25 miles (56 km) north of Tacloban.
Krueger’s 6th Army totalled 202,500 men, and on arrival off Leyte on 17 October had seized the islands of Paneon and Dinagat dominating the entrance to Leyte Gulf. The forces used to take the two islands were TG78.3 (Panaon Attack Group with the 21st Regimental Combat Team) and TG78.4 (Dinagat Attack Group with the 6th Ranger Battalion as one company of the 21st RCT), both under the command of Rear Admiral Arthur D. Stuble. This paved the way for a sustained two-day bombardment of the invasion area, which was undertaken with the support of tactical warplanes from the 18 escort carriers designated to provide the ground forces with support until airfields on Leyte could be captured and brought into use for the 2,500 aircraft of the 5th AAF.
The 6th Army was the primary combat formation committed to the land campaign, and this comprised two corps each of two divisions. Sibert’s 51,500-man X Corps comprised Mudge’s 1st Cavalry Division (1st Brigade with the 5th and 12th Cavalry, and 2nd Brigade with the 7th and 8th Cavalry) on the right and Irving’s 24th Division (19th and 34th Infantry less the 21st Infantry detached for a separate mission) on the left, while Hodge’s 53,000-man XXIV Corps comprised Bradley’s untried 96th Division (382nd and 383rd Infantry less the 381st Infantry reserved as the afloat reserve) on the right and Arnold’s 7th Division (17th, 32nd and 184th Infantry) on the left. The 28,500-man reserve available to Krueger comprised Major General William H. Gill’s 32nd Division (126th, 127th and 128th Infantry), Major General Andrew D. Bruce’s 77th Division (305th, 306th and 307th Infantry) and, as noted above, the 381st Infantry. Other units involved included the 6th Ranger Battalion, which had the task of securing outlying islands and guiding naval forces to the landing beaches, 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, 32nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade, 20th Armor Group and, for arrival in mid-December, 40th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade.
Major General Hugh J. Casey’s new 6th Army Service Command was entrusted with organisation of the beach-head to ensure that supplies reached the formations and units ashore in a timely fashion, and to construct or improve roads and airfields.
On Leyte, some 3,000 Filipino guerrillas of Lieutenant Colonel Ruperto Kangleon’s 92nd Division also waited to support the invasion force.
Preliminary operations for ‘King II’ began at dawn on 17 October with minesweeping operations and the movement of the 6th Ranger Battalion toward three small islands in Leyte Gulf. Although delayed by a storm, the Rangers were on Suluan and Dinagat islands by 12.30. On Suluan the Rangers dispersed a small group of Japanese soldiers and destroyed a radio station, but Dinagat was found to be deserted. On both islands the Rangers erected navigation lights for the amphibious transports to follow three days later. On the next day, the Rangers took their third objective, Homonhon island, without opposition.
Meanwhile, reconnaissance by 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th Underwater Demolition Teams of TG77.6 (Beach Demolition Group) revealed clear landing beaches for assault troops on Leyte.
After a four-hour bombardment by the heavy guns of the US Navy’s supporting ships, the 6th Army’s two assault corps landed on their assigned beaches at 10.00 hours on 20 October. The X Corps pushed across a 4-mile (6.4-km) stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo river, and some 15 miles (24 km) farther to the south the XXIV Corps came ashore across a 3-mile (4.8-km) beach between San José and the Daguitan river. The troops met as much, or indeed more, resistance from the swampy terrain as from the Japanese. Even so, within an hour of landing, units in most sectors had secured beach-heads deep enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supplies. Only in the sector of the 24th Division sector did Japanese fire force a diversion of the landing craft carrying the first follow-on elements. But even that sector was secure enough by 13.30 to allow MacArthur to make a theatrical landing through the surf and announce to the populace the beginning of their liberation ‘People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.’
By the end of the day the 6th Army had landed 132,400 troops and 200,000 tons of supplies, and had moved as much as 2 miles (3.2 km) inland and gained control of the Panaon Strait at the southern end of Leyte. In the sector of the X Corps, the 1st Cavalry Division held Tacloban airfield and the 24th Division had taken Hill 522, the high ground commanding its beach-head. In the sector of the XXIV Corps, the 96th Division held the approaches to Catmon Hill and the 7th Division had taken Dulag, forcing Makino to move his command post 10 miles (16 km) inland to Dagami.
The 6th Army made steady progress inland against sporadic and unco-ordinated Japanese resistance on Leyte during the following days. The 1st Cavalry Division took Tacloban, the provincial capital, on 21 October, and its 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades launched a holding action to prevent a Japanese counterattack from the mountainous interior, after which the 1st Cavalry Brigade was allowed to move out. On the left of the X Corps the 24th Division drove inland into heavy Japanese resistance, and only after several days of fighting, in which they killed some 800 Japanese soldiers, did the 19th and 34th Infantry succeed in expanding their beach-head and taking the high ground commanding the entrance northern part of the Leyte valley. By 1 November, after a seven-day advance by armour and infantry supported by artillery, the two regiments had pushed through the Leyte valley and were within sight of the north coast and the port of Carigara, which was captured on the following day by the 2nd Cavalry Brigade.
In its drive through the Leyte valley, the 24th Division inflicted nearly 3,000 losses on the Japanese.
By this time the advance of the US forces had left only one of Leyte’s major port, Ormoc on the west coast, under Japanese control. From the XXIV Corps’ beach-head the 7th and 96th Divisions advanced in the south of the Leyte valley, which already ready contained four airfields and a large supply centre. The 96th Division was to clear Catmon Hill, a 1,400-ft (425-m) elevation which was the highest point in both corps’ beach-heads, and was used by the Japanese as an observation and firing post. Supported by army and navy gunfire, the men of the 96th Division passed through the swamps to the south and west of the high ground at Labiranan Head and, after a three-day fight, on 28 October the 382nd Infantry took a key Japanese supply base at Tabontabon, 5 miles (8 km) inland, in the process killing some 350 Japanese. Simultaneously, two battalions each of the 381st and 383rd Infantry slowly advanced up opposite sides of Catmon Hill, overcome determined Japanese resistance and, when they completed the mopping-up of Catmon Hill on 31 October, found that they had cleared 53 pillboxes, 17 caves and several heavy artillery positions.
On the left of the XXIV Corps, the 7th Division moved inland to take the four Japanese airfields between the small towns of Dulag and Burauen. On 21 October the 184th Infantry took Dulag airfield and the 32nd Infantry cleared both sides of the Calbasag river, the fight for the airfields and village being decided by deep penetrations by US armour opening the way for the infantry. At Burauen the 17th Infantry overcame suicidal Japanese resistance, and just 1 mile (1.6 km) farther to the north the men of the 32nd Infantry killed more than 400 Japanese soldiers while taking at Buri airfield. While two battalions of the 184th Infantry patrolled the left flank of the XXIV Corps, the 17th Infantry and the 2/184th Infantry turned to the north in the direction of Dagami, 6 miles (9.6 km) above Burauen. Using flamethrowers to root the defenders out of pillboxes and a cemetery, the US troops captured Dagami on 30 October, forcing Makino to evacuate his command post once again and move still farther to the west. Meanwhile, on 29 October, the 2/32nd Infantry, preceded by the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, moved 15 miles (24 km) to the south along the east coast of Leyte to Abuyog for a probe of the area and then, during the following four days, patrolled west through the mountains to bring Ormoc Bay under observation, all without encountering any Japanese opposition.
As the formations of the 6th Army pushed ever deeper into Leyte, the Japanese struck back in the air and at sea. On 24 October, some 150 to 200 Japanese aircraft were spotted as they approached the US beach-heads and shipping from the north, and these were intercepted by 50 US land-based aircraft, which claimed the destruction of between 66 and 84 of the Japanese aircraft. The Japanese air attacks, by night as well as by day, continued over the next four days, damaging supply dumps ashore and threatening US shipping.
On 27 October MacArthur called on TF38 for support as the USAAF could deploy only inadequate forces on Tacloban. Sherman’s TG38.3, with the carriers Essex, Lexington and Langley, was ordered to fly fighter protection for Leyte. An attack by Essex’s aircraft also struck a small Japanese supply convoy and sank the destroyer Fujinami, and aircraft from Enterprise sank the destroyer Shiranui. On the same day Miwa ordered a new disposition of Japanese submarines: I-54, I-38, I-45, I-44, I-41, I-46 and I-56 were accordingly positioned in a circular formation to the east of the Leyte Gulf, and Ro-41, Ro-43, Ro-112 and Ro-109 were deployed off San Bernardino Strait and off Legazpi.
On 28 October Davison’s TG38.4 with Franklin, Enterprise, San Jacinto and Belleau Wood, and Bogan’s TG38.2 with Intrepid, Hancock, Cabot and Independence assumed the support role. TG38.4 fought off an attack by 44 Japanese aircraft, 13 of which were shot down at a cost of four US fighters. On the same day I-46 tried to attack the US ships but but was located and sunk by the destroyer Helm which, with Gridley and aided by aircraft from the light carrier Belleau Wood, also despatched I-54. During the night of 28/29 October I-45 sank the destroyer escort Eversole, which was moving to join an escort carrier group, but the submarine was then sunk by the destroyer escort Whitehurst of an oiler group in the vicinity. In addition, I-53, I-56 (which made several unsuccessful attacks and torpedoed LST-695), I-38 and I-41 operated to the east of Leyte, and Ro-43, Ro-46, Ro-109 and Ro-112 to the east of Luzon.
On 29 October TG38.2’s aircraft attacked airfields around Manila and, while losing 11 of their own number, downed 71 Japanese aircraft in the air and destroyed 13 on the ground. The cruiser Nachi was damaged, but Ashigara escaped.
On 30 October TG38.4 covered Leyte and was attacked by six Japanese kamikaze aircraft, which severely damaged Franklin and Belleau Wood. TF38 then moved off toward the great anchorage in Ulithi atoll: TG38.1 arrived on 29 October, TG38.3 on 30 October, and TG38.2 and TG38.4 on 2 November. Mitscher now passed command to McCain, and Montgomery assumed command of TG38.1.
In Leyte Gulf, Japanese aircraft and kamikaze attackers directed their attacks against the ships used to support the 6th Army. On 27 October the battleship California was damaged by aircraft fire. On 28 October 12 kamikaze machines from Luzon and three from Cebu attacked the US ships, and one of these damaged the cruiser Denver. On 1 November seven kamikaze machines attacked in Leyte Gulf, sinking the destroyer Abner Read and damaging the destroyers Anderson, Claxton and Ammen; and Killen and Bush were hit by bombs from aircraft of the 702nd Kokutai. On 2 November Japanese bombers of the 701st Kokutai attacked the airfield at Tacloban, sank the escort vessel PCE(R)-848 and damaged a transport.
The Japanese defenders of Leyte were reinforced over time by units of the 35th Army's other formations, in the form of Lieutenant General Tadasu Kataoka’s 1st Division, Lieutenant General Kurihanao Yamagata’s 26th Division, Lieutenant General Shinpei Fukue’s 102nd Division and Major General Takeo Kurusu’s 68th Independent Mixed Brigade, together with smaller contingents which were all landed at Ormoc by convoys which suffered very heavy losses in ships as well as men.
The ground situation on Leyte now demanded that TF38 now make another intervention. To support the ships in Leyte Gulf, TG34.5 was despatched on 1 November with the battleships New Jersey and Iowa, cruisers Biloxi, Vincennes and Miami, and six destroyers, together with TG38.2, but was recalled on 2 November so that TF38 (less TG38.4) could attack Luzon. On the way the cruiser Reno was torpedoed on 3 November by I-41, and was detached to Ulithi with an escort of four destroyers. On 3 November a kamikaze attack damaged the freighter Matthew P. Dready. On 5 and 6 November TG38.1 with Wasp, Hornet, Monterey and Cowpens, TG38.2 with Intrepid, Hancock, Cabot and Independence, and TG38.3 with Lexington, Langley and Ticonderoga attacked Luzon. The Americans lost 25 aircraft, but destroyed more than 400 Japanese aircraft. In addition, aircraft from Lexington, Essex and Langley sank the cruiser Nachi and the patrol boat PB-107 in Manila Bay. Off Santa Cruz, aircraft of TG38.1’s carriers struck the destroyer Akebono, frigate Okinawa, landing ship T-111 and three other vessels. The cruiser Kumano was struck by no fewer than nine torpedoes out of 23 fired by a submarine pack comprising Guitarro, Bream, Raton and Ray, but the cruiser’s crew managed to run their ship aground before she sank. Some 12 kamikaze aircraft attacked TG38.3 and badly damaged Lexington.
On 6 November aircraft from Ticonderoga sank a damaged tanker, and on the following day five more kamikaze aircraft searched for, but could not find, TF38 as it pulled back. Despite frequent air attacks by the aircraft of the 5th AAF, Japanese convoys were able to ferry troops and supplies to Ormoc at the beginning of November. On 9 November a convoy carrying 2,000 men of the 26th Division was attacked by PT-492, PT-497, PT-524 and PT-525, which damaged the frigates Okinawa and Shimushu, and also by 30 North American B-25 Mitchell land-based bombers, but was nonetheless able to disembark most of the men. On the next day bombers and fighters of the 13th AAF sank two transports and damaged the destroyer Akishimo, the corvette Kaibokan 13 and one transport; the corvette Kaibokan 11 had to be beached, and two freighters of the returning convoy were sunk. The fast transports T-6 and T-9 and the escort destroyers Take and Kasumi escaped to Manila, as did the destroyers Naganami and Asashimo and the fast transport T-10 after they had rescued survivors from the sunk transports. Under Sherman’s temporary command, TF38 carried out heavy attacks on the reinforcement transports on 11 November (347 sorties) with TG38.1 (Hornet, Monterey and Cowpens), TG38.3 (Essex, Ticonderoga and Langley) and TG38.4 (Enterprise and San Jacinto), in the process losing 11 aircraft but sinking the destroyers Hamanami, Naganami, Shimakaze and Wakatsuki, the minesweeper W-30 and five transports: of the 10,000 troops embarked on the ships, only a few reached shore.
A Japanese attempt to find TF38 with 11 kamikaze aircraft failed, although off Leyte kamikaze machines hit two repair ships and five transports.
On the same day a task force led by Rear Admiral Allen E. Smith and comprising the cruisers Chester, Pensacola and Salt Lake City as well as five destroyers undertook a gunfire bombardment of Iwo Jima.
After replenishing on 12 November, TF38’s three task groups made new attacks on 13 and 14 November on the Luzon area, concentrating on ships in Manila Bay. From 14 November Wasp, which had returned from Guam with a new air group, was once more available to McCain’s force. The Japanese light cruiser Kiso, destroyers Akebono, Akishimo, Hatsuharu and Okinami, and 10 transports were sunk, and the destroyer Ushio and five transports were damaged. Attacks by groups of four kamikaze aircraft were intercepted and destroyed. On 17 November two US transports were damaged by kamikaze attack off Leyte, and on 18 November B-24 bombers again damaged the frigate Okinawa off Labuan, Borneo.
After further replenishment on 16 November and the relief of TG38.3 by TG38.2 (Intrepid, Hancock, Cabot and Independence), the carriers again attacked Luzon and the ships in Manila Bay on 19 November. This time the cruiser Isuzu was damaged, and two transports and one submarine chaser were sunk. Four kamikaze aircraft were intercepted. As it tried to approach TG38.2, the submarine I-41 was sunk on 18 November by aircraft of VC-82 from the escort carrier Anzio and by the destroyer escort Lawrence C. Taylor. The ‘Kikusui’ Force, which departed Japan on 8 November, lost I-38 on 12 November in an attack by the destroyer Nicholas off Palau. On 20 November the group’s submarines attempted to use their ‘Kaiten’ one-man torpedoes for the first time but, while approaching the Kossol Passage in the Palau islands group on 19 November, I-37 was sunk by the destroyer escorts McCoy Reynolds and Conklin. On 20 November, off Ulithi, I-36 and I-47 launched one and four ‘Kaiten’ manned torpedoes respectively: one of the ‘Kaiten’ destroyed the 11,316-ton oiler Mississinewa, but in trying to attack the cruisers Mobile and Biloxi two others were spotted and destroyed by gunfire close to the ships, one by the destroyer Case and the other by an aeroplane of the US Marine Corps.
On 23 November an attack transport was hit and damaged by a kamikaze off Leyte, and a freighter was torpedoed and damaged off Samar.
After two replenishments, on 20 and 23 November, Bogan’s TG38.2 and Sherman’s TG38.3 once more attacked Luzon on 25 November with a force that included four fleet carriers, three light carriers, six battleships, five light cruisers and many destroyers. Aircraft from Ticonderoga sank the cruiser Kumano in Santa Cruz Bay, aircraft from Essex, Ticonderoga and Langley sank the light cruiser Yasoshima and the landing ships T-112, T-142 and T-161 in the area to the south-west of Santa Cruz, and aircraft from Intrepid sank the fast transports T-6 and T-10; Intrepid’s aircraft also damaged T-9 and the destroyer escort Take. In addition, aircraft from Essex and Langley sank one transport and damaged two other vessels.
A pack of Japanese submarines (Ro-41, Ro-43, Ro-49, Ro-50, Ro-109 and Ro-112) tried to get into position to attack the carriers, but only Ro-50 managed to fire a salvo, and this missed. Some 25 kamikaze aircraft enjoyed greater success, however: Intrepid and Cabot were severely damaged, and Hancock and Essex were slightly damaged in these attacks, and Independence was damaged when one of its own aircraft, on landing, crashed into the island. TF38 then headed back to Ulithi, TG38.4 arriving on 23 November, TG38.1 on 25 November, and TG38.2 and TG38.3 on 27 November.
In the meantime, frequent air and kamikaze attacks were made on the ships in Leyte Gulf. On 12 November two repair ships were hit, and on 17 and 23 November a troop transport was hit on each occasion. On 27 November the submarine chaser SC-744 was sunk and the battleship Colorado and the cruisers St Louis and Montpelier were damaged. On 29 November kamikaze aircraft damaged the battleship Maryland and the destroyers Saufley and Aulick. In attacks on Japanese shipping in Ormoc Bay, PT-127, PT-128 and PT-191 sank the patrol boat PB-105 (ex-Philippine Arayat) and the auxiliary minelayer Kusentai 105 and, in the same place, aircraft of the 5th AAF sank the submarine chaser Ch-45 and two freighters. On 28 November Saufley, Waller, Pringle and Renshaw sank the submarine I-46 in Leyte Gulf. By 28 October, therefore, the counterattacks by US aircraft on Japanese airfields and shipping on other islands had destroyed so many Japanese aircraft that conventional air raids ceased to be a major threat.
As their air strength diminished, though, the Japanese resorted increasingly to kamikaze air attacks against the larger vessels of the US transport and escort fleet which had gathered in Leyte Gulf, sinking only one escort carrier and heavily damaging many other vessels. A more serious danger to the US forces then emerged at sea, where the Japanese ‘Sho’ offensive resulted in the four-part Battle of Leyte Gulf, the world’s largest-ever naval battle.
Meanwhile the Japanese had also been moving more soldiers onto Leyte, and by 11 December this reinforcement amounted to more than 34,000 soldiers and 10,000 tons of matériel, most of it through the port of Ormoc on the west coast, despite heavy losses among the vessels of the reinforcement convoys and even in Ormoc Bay to the relentless attacks of US warplanes. As noted above, these reinforcements included Kataoka’s 12,000-man 1st Division (1st, 49th and 57th Regiments as well as the 1st Field Artillery Regiment) which arrived on 1/2 November, Yamagata’s 10,000-man 26th Division (12th and 13th Independent Regiments as well as the 11th Field Artillery Regiment) which arrived on 9 November, Kurusu’s 68th Independent Mixed Brigade which arrived on 7 December but lost much of its 4,000-man strength during the landing operation, and Major General Takeishi Kono’s 3,000-man 77th Infantry Group and the divisional headquarters of its parent formation, Fukue’s 102nd Division, which arrived on 9/11 December.
The arrival of these Japanese reinforcements was a problems for the overall US plan, for instead of the mopping-up operations which had been envisaged for this stage of ‘King II’, the 6th Army was now faced with the probability of extended combat operations in the mountains on Leyte’s western side. This would require the landing of the reserve divisions and impose delays on Arthur’s operations schedule for the complete Philippine islands campaign and the US Department of War’s deployment plans in the Pacific. On the positive side, however, the 6th Army’s situation appeared good. The 1st Cavalry Division and 24th Division met at Carigara on 2 November, and this signalled the successful conclusion of the operation’s main objectives: after 17 days, the 6th Army had all of its first- and second-phase objectives and had also taken Abuyog, a third-phase objective. In addition, elements of the 7th Division had pushed across the island from the southern end of the XXIV Corps’ sector and controlled approaches to the town of Baybay on the west coast.
Only one primary area, namely the Ormoc valley on the western side of the island, remained to be taken. To clear the Ormoc valley, Krueger planned a major pincer operation, with the X Corps moving to the south through the mountains and the XXIV Corps units pushing to the north along the western shore. To overcome the Japanese resistance, which was now expected to become stronger, most especially in the mountain barrier to the north, Krueger decided to use his reserve forces, the 32nd and 77th Divisions, while MacArthur made available Major General Joseph M. Swing’s 11th Airborne Division (187th Glider Infantry and 188th and 511th Parachute Infantry). Another change at this time was the withdrawal of the 21st RCT from the Panaon area to rejoin the 24th Division, and its replacement by one battalion of the 32nd Infantry.
On 3 November, the 34th Infantry moved out from the area to the west of Carigara to sweep the rest of the north coast before turning to the south into the mountains. The 1/34th Infantry soon came under fire from a ridge along the highway but, with the support of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, the battalion cleared the ridge, and the 34th Infantry moved forward without encountering further opposition, passing through Pinamopoan during the same night and finding numerous heavy weapons abandoned by the Japanese, then halted at the point where Highway 2 turned south into the mountains. On 7 November the 21st Infantry entered its first major action on Leyte when it moved into the mountains along Highway 2, near Carigara Bay. The fresh regiment, with the 3/19th Infantry attached, immediately ran into strong defences of Kataoka’s newly arrived 1st Division deployed east/west across the road with a network of fighting positions built of heavy logs and interconnecting trench lines and foxholes in what became known as ‘Breakneck Ridge’. A typhoon, which had begun on 8 November, and the very heavy rain, which followed it over a period of several days, seriously slowed the US advance. Despite the storm and high winds, which added falling trees and mud slides to the effect of the Japanese defences and delayed the timely arrival of supplies to the US forces, the 21st Infantry continued its slow attack, in which the Japanese made excellent use of their tactical mobility to retake hills they had lost earlier, and thereby forced the Americans to backtrack and recapture features they had already taken once.
Fortunately, the US forces had taken the approaches to Hill 1525, 2 miles (3.2 km) east, and this made it possible for Irving to force the Japanese to thin their defence through the widening of the front to 4 miles (6.4 km) along Highway 2. Five days of fighting to seize apparently impregnable hill positions, as well as two nights of beating off counterattacks, gave the Americans little geographical gain, so Irving decided on a double envelopment of the Japanese defensive positions. The 2/19th Infantry moved to the east around Hill 1525 to get behind the Japanese right flank before turning inward once more to reach and cut Highway 2 some 3 miles (4.8 km) to the south of ‘Breakneck Ridge’. To take the left flank of the Japanese position in the west, Irving sent the Lieutenant Colonel Thomas E. Clifford’s 1/34th Infantry by sea from the Carigara area to land at a point 2 miles (3.2 km) to the west of the southward turn of Highway 2 before moving inland. After crossing a ridge line and the Leyte river, the battalion approached the Japanese left flank at the 900-ft (275-m) Kilay ridge, the highest terrain behind the main battle area.
Both battalions were in position only about 1,000 yards (915 m) apart on opposite sides of the road by 13 November despite strong opposition and heavy rains. Clifford’s battalion promptly attacked the Kilay ridge on the west, while the 2/34th Infantry assaulted a hill on the eastern side, but neither unit achieved its objective. It took Clifford’s men two weeks of monumental endeavour through mud and rain, often dangerously close to friendly mortar and artillery fire, to root the Japanese out of their fighting positions on the way up the Kilay ridge. On 2 December Clifford’s battalion finally cleared the heights overlooking the road and units of the 32nd Division units quickly took over. It was not until 14 December that the 1st Cavalry Division and 32nd Division finally cleared the area of the ‘Breakneck Ridge’ and the Kilay ridge, so giving the X Corps control of the most heavily defended portions of Highway 2 between Carigara Bay and the Ormoc valley.
In this stage of the campaign the US forces were increasingly hampered by logistical difficulties. The mountainous nature of the terrain and impassability of the roads forced the 6th Army’s transportation echelon to improvise resupply trains of naval landing craft, tracked landing vehicles, air drops, artillery tractors, trucks, even buffalo-drawn carts and hundreds of Filipino bearers. Not surprisingly, the complexity and unreliability of this improvised system slowed resupply as well as the pace of the advance, especially in the mountains to the north and east of the Ormoc valley and subsequently in the ridge lines along Ormoc Bay.
As the X Corps started to make headway through the northern mountains, the XXIV Corps struggled to muster forces around Baybay for the northward drive up the west coast of the Ormoc valley. By mid-November the XXIV Corps still had only the 32nd Infantry in western Leyte, with the remnants of the 7th Division still securing Burauen. Only the arrival of the main strength of the 11th Airborne Division about 22 November finally persuaded Hodge that the situation now allowed the whole of the 7th Division to be moved to the west.
On the night of 23/24 November, the 32nd Infantry suddenly came under attack by Yamagata’s 26th Division, the 2/32nd Infantry being driven back, but the regiment regained the lost ground during the following day. Arnold ordered his units to dig in and attached the 1/184th Infantry to the 32nd Infantry, and other reinforcements included elements of the 767th Tank Battalion, the 49th Field Artillery Battalion, and a battery of US Marine Corps’ 155-mm (6.1-in) howitzers earmarked for the now-cancelled assault of Yap island in the Caroline islands group. Hit heavily by the fire of these artillery units, the Japanese concentrated on them on the night of 24 November, and put four 105-mm (4.1-in) weapons out of action. The US artillery was reinforced by the 57th Field Artillery Battalion during the following day, giving the 7th Division five additional batteries to support what had now become a major defensive effort.
The battle for ‘Shoestring Ridge’ continued, as the Japanese mounted two more attacks on consecutive nights despite heavy casualties. Not until 27 November were US troops able to go over to the offensive, and then they found some 500 Japanese dead and 29 machine guns inside and outside the defensive perimeter they now penetrated.
Arnold’s final advance toward Ormoc started with a novel tactic. On the night of 4 December vehicles of the 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion put to sea and leapfrogged north along the coast 1,000 yards (915 m) ahead of the ground units. During the next morning, the tanks moved to within 200 yards (185 m) of the shore and fired into the hills in front of the advancing 17th and 184th Infantry. The tactic was very effective and greatly disorganise the Japanese defence except in inland reverse-slope areas, where they were shielded from the tanks’ fire.
The 7th Division pushed north with two regiments, and these ran into heavy Japanese fire from Hill 918, from which the entire coast to Ormoc could be observed. In two days of heavy fighting, the 17th and 184th Infantry cleared this strongpoint, after which the US advance moved forward more speedily. By 12 December Arnold’s leading battalion was less than 10 miles (16 km) to the south of Ormoc.
As Arnold’s units moved closer to Ormoc, the Japanese made a surprise attack on the Burauen airfields with their 16th Division and 26th Division, sweeping to the east from the central mountains, in combination with an airborne attack by Colonel Kenji Tokunaga’s 2nd Raiding Brigade (Major Tsuneharu Shirai’s 3rd Raiding Regiment and Major Chisaku Saida’s 4th Raiding Regiment) from Luzon. Some 350 Japanese paratroopers dropped at dusk on 6 December, mostly near the San Pablo airstrip. Although poorly co-ordinated, the attackers captured some abandoned weapons which they used to help fight off the Americans over the next four days. Hastily mustered groups of support and service troops of the 7th Division held off the Japanese until units of the 11th Airborne Division and 38th Division concentrated enough strength to contain and defeat the Japanese airborne force by dusk on 11 December. As it succeeded in destroying only a few US supply dumps and aircraft on the ground, and in delaying only a small number of construction projects, the Japanese attack on the airfields did not have any major impact on the course of events during ‘King II’.
Meanwhile, on 7 December the XXIV Corps on the western side of Leyte was strengthened by the landing of the 77th Division just south of Ormoc. After a sortie by the destroyers Nicholas, O’Bannon, Fletcher and La Vallette during the night 6/7 December, Struble’s TG78.3, with eight troop-carrying destroyer conversions, 27 infantry landing craft, 12 medium landing ships, four tank landing ships and a minesweeper group, landed the 77th Division with cover and support provided by the destroyers Hughes, Barton, Walke, Laffey, O’Brien, Flusser, Lamson, Edwards, Smith, Reid, Conyngham and Mahan.
After the landing, which met no strong resistance, 21 kamikaze aircraft attacked. Mahan was so badly damaged that she had to be sunk by Walke. The high-speed destroyer transport Ward was hit and had to be sunk by O’Brien. In addition LSM-318 was sent to the bottom and Lamson, the high-speed destroyer transport Liddle, LST-737, LSM-18 and LSM-19 were all badly damaged.
A Japanese attempt to land a reinforced regiment near Ormoc with the escort destroyers Ume and Sugi and the fast transport T-11 was frustrated by aircraft of the 5th AAF operating from Tacloban: T-11 and four transports were sunk and the destroyers were damaged. On 8 December three transports were sunk to the west of Leyte. Also on 8 December, the Japanese midget submarine Ha-81 failed to secure a hit off Ormoc. On 10 December Hughes was damaged in Leyte Gulf by kamikaze attack, LCT-1075 was sunk, and two freighters were also hit. On 11 December the destroyer Reid was sunk by two kamikaze aircraft, and the destroyer Caldwell was damaged in the area to the west of the Surigao Strait. The destroyer Coghlan, from a supply convoy, engaged the Japanese destroyers Uzuki and Yuzuki. On 12 December US Marine Corps and army aircraft sank Yuzuki and the landing ship T-159, and damaged the destroyer escort KM and fast transport T-15, while PT-492 and PT-490, aided by aircraft, sank Uzuki. Aircraft also hit a troop convoy severely near Palompon.
Meanwhile, at Ormoc, the 77th Division’s 305th, 306th and 307th Infantry came ashore essentially unopposed, and the arrival of the fresh division proved decisive, for it allowed the 7th Division to resume its drive to the north, and the Japanese were then caught between the two formations. Suzuki ordered the Burauen task force to disengage and cross the mountains in an effort to help hold the Ormoc valley. Only small groups of these exhausted troops reached the west coast in time to be of any great use.
The 77th Division faced strong opposition at Camp Downes, a pre-war post of the Philippine Constabulary. Supported by the guns of the 305th and 902nd Field Artillery Battalions, the infantrymen of the 77th Division pushed past Camp Downes to enter Ormoc on 10 December 1944. With Ormoc in US hands, the XXIV and X Corps were only 16 miles (26 km) apart. Between them was the last Japanese position with its defences anchored on a blockhouse, to the north of Ormoc, and held by the 12th Independent Regiment. This held out for two days before, on 14 December, the 305th Infantry closed on it with the aid of a heavy artillery bombardment, flamethrowers and armoured bulldozers. Hand-to-hand combat cleared the Japanese from the blockhouse area. After breaking out of Ormoc, the 77th Division took Valencia airfield, 7 miles (11.25 km) to the north, on 18 December, and continued northward to establish contact with the leading units of the X Corps.
On the same day Sibert ordered the 1st Cavalry Division to complete is progress to the south. The 12th Cavalry pushed to the south-west out of the mountains to Highway 2, then followed the fire of the 271st Field Artillery Battalion to clear a 3-mile (4.8-km) stretch of the road. To the north of the Ormoc valley, the 32nd Division had met continued determined opposition from the 1st Division along Highway 2, after moving to the south past the Kilay ridge and entering dense rain forest, which limited visibility and concealed the defenders. Using flamethrowers, hand grenades, rifles and bayonets, the men of the division slowly edges their way forward, and in five days of hard fighting the 126th and 127th Infantry advanced less than 1 mile (1.6 km).
The contact on 21 December between patrols of the 12th Cavalry and 306th Infantry of the 77th Division marked the meeting of the X and XXIV Corps and the closing of the US 6th Army’s pincer movement against the Ormoc valley.
While the 77th and 32nd Divisions converged on the valley, the 11th Airborne Division had moved into the central mountain passes from the east. With blocking positions established to the south of the Leyte valley on 22/24 November, the 511th Parachute Infantry pushed farther to the west into the mountains on 25 November. After an arduous advance, the regiment reached Mahonag, 10 miles (16 km) to the west of Burauen, on 6 December, the day Japanese paratroopers landed at the Buri and San Pablo airfields. On 16 December, the 2/32nd Infantry made slow but steady progress into the mountains from the Ormoc Bay area to meet the airborne regiment and assist its advance in the west.
After fighting scattered Japanese defenders on ridges and in caves, the men of the 7th Division on 23 December met men of the 2/187th Glider Infantry, which had passed through the 511th Parachute Infantry, to complete the US movement across Leyte. Bruce opened the drive on Palompon by sending the 2 and 3/305th Infantry, with armour support, to the west along the road on the morning of 22 December. The 302nd Engineer Battalion followed in their wake, repairing and strengthening bridges for the forward movement of armour, artillery and supply vehicles. The assault units progressed rapidly through sporadic Japanese fire until they hit strong positions about 8 miles (13 km) from Palompon. To ensure that the momentum of the US advance was restored as quickly as possible, Bruce loaded the 1/305th Infantry into US Navy landing craft and despatched it from the port of Ormoc to Palompon. Supported by fire from mortar boats of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade and from the 155-mm (6.1-in) guns of the 531st Field Artillery Battalion, the infantrymen landed at 07.20 on 25 December and secured the small coastal town within four hours.
Learning of the seizure of the last port open to the Japanese, MacArthur announced the end of organised resistance on Leyte. As these sweeps continued, MacArthur transferred control of the operations on Leyte and Samar to Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger’s 8th Army on 26 December 1944. Farther to the north, other US forces made faster progress against more disorganised Japanese troops. Elements of the 1st Cavalry Division reached the coast on 28 December as units of the 24th Division cleared the last Japanese positions from the north-western corner of Leyte, and after another two days met patrols of the 32nd Division. But little packets of Japanese defenders continued to fight as units until 31 December, and the final mopping-up of isolated straggler units, fighting a guerrilla campaign, continued until 8 May 1945. Even then there was the equivalent of one division left in small troublesome pockets, and these remained in action until the end of the war.
The Leyte campaign had been the first and most decisive operation in the US reconquest of the Philippine islands campaign, and cost the US forces 15,584 casualties, of which 3,504 were men killed in action. Australian casualties included 30 dead and 64 wounded when a Japanese kamikaze aeroplane crashed into the heavy cruiser Australia during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese lost an estimated 49,000 combat troops while failing to hold Leyte, and this figure probably rose to some 60,000 by the time the last stragglers had been eliminated by May 1945. Thus the Japanese losses on Leyte proper were heavy, the Japanese army losing four divisions and several separate combat units, while the Japanese navy lost 26 major warships and 46 large transports and merchantmen during the campaign. The struggle also reduced Japanese land-based air capability in the Philippine islands group by more than 50%, forcing the Japanese to rely increasingly on kamikaze operations.
Some 250,000 Japnese troops still remained on Luzon but the loss of air and naval support during the campaign for Leyte so limited Yamashita’s options that he now faced with the prospect of undertaking a wholly defensive battle of attrition when the US forces turned their attention to Luzon, the largest and most important island in the Philippine islands group. Once the battle for Leyte had been lost, therefore, the Japanese themselves gave up all hope of retaining the Philippine islands group, conceding to the Allies in the process a critical bastion from which Japan could be easily cut off from outside resources, and from which the final assaults on the Japanese home islands could be launched.