Battle of Leyte Gulf - Part 1


A close up of a map

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The Battle of Leyte Gulf consisted of four main separate engagements:

1 – Battle of the Sibuyan Sea

2 – Battle of Surigao Strait

3 – Battle of (or ‘off) Cape Engaño

4 – Battle off Samar.

On the map, Leyte Gulf is north of 2 and west of 4. The island of Leyte is west of the gulf. The battle was precipitated by a U.S. amphibious assault on the central Philippines Island of Leyte on Oct. 20.

By the time of the battle, Japan had fewer capital ships (aircraft carriers and battleships) left than the Allied forces had total aircraft carriers, underscoring the disparity in force strength at this point in the war. Regardless, the IJN mobilized nearly all of its remaining major naval vessels in an attempt to defeat the Allied invasion, but it was repulsed by the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet under the command of Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. and Seventh Fleet under the command of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid.

Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.

Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea where the U.S. Navy destroyed three Japanese aircraft carriers, damaged other ships, and shot down approximately 600 Japanese aircraft, leaving the IJN with very little carrier-borne air power and few experienced pilots, the Japanese naval staff began designing a plan for the next battle named Sho-Go or Victory Operation. Four Sho-Go plans were developed depending on strike location. The plan for the attack on Leyte Gulf called for three naval forces to converge on the landing area. The Northern Force, under Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa, would advance on Leyte from the north in an attempt to lure away the American 3rd Fleet. The main striking force, called the Center Force commanded by Vice Adm. Takeo Kurita, would come through the San Bernardino Strait to the east of Samar, then converge on the ships in Leyte Gulf. This force was composed of twenty-five warships, including the Yamato and the Musashi, the largest battleships afloat. The remaining ships, designated as the Southern Force were under the control of Vice Adm. Shoji Nishimura, who had at his command two older battleships, the Fuso and the Yamashiro; one heavy cruiser, and four destroyers. Vice Adm. Kiyohide Shima’s 2nd Striking Force, consisting of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and seven destroyers, would join Nishimura.

Japanese Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita

On Oct. 22 at 8:00 am, the first elements of the First Diversionary Striking Force sailed from Brunei Bay. Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita was in the lead in Atago. He did not want to be aboard her. Before the battle, Kurita had wanted to transfer with his flag and staff to a superbattleship, either Yamato or Musashi, both of which had better communications gear than the Atago. But tradition ruled. Kurita was reminded by headquarters that the proper flagship for a striking fleet was a cruiser, to lead night torpedo attacks.

At the tip of Borneo, the great fleet divided. Admiral Nishimura, the southern arm of the Sho-Go pincer, turned east with his detachment of two battleships, a cruiser, and four destroyers and made for Surigao Strait, the southern entrance to Leyte Gulf. Kurita and the main body continued north on its slow and winding journey to the San Bernardino Strait. Kurita’s course on the first day took him just west of Palawan. The Palawan Passage was only about twenty to thirty miles wide, perfect for a submarine ambush.

His attack force, the strongest to be deployed, was the first to arrive in the Philippines. Two American submarines, the Darter and the Dace sighted the 1st Attack Force heading for the San Bernardino Strait on the morning of Oct. 23 and closed in for the kill.

Darter and Dace traveled on the surface at full power for several hours and gained a position ahead of Kurita’s formation, with the intention of making a submerged attack at first light. This attack was unusually successful. At 05:24, Darter fired a salvo of six torpedoes, at least four of which hit Kurita’s flagship, the heavy cruiser Atago. Ten minutes later, Darter made two hits on Atago‘s sister ship, Takao, with another spread of torpedoes. At 05:56, Dace made four torpedo hits on the heavy cruiser MayaAtago and Maya quickly sank. As the Atago’s bow began to settle and she heeled over, Kurita announced, “This is it.” He turned to Captain Araki, the commanding officer of the Atago, and said simply, “It’s time to go.” He took off his shoes and was the first one over the side and into the water. He was rescued by the Japanese destroyer Kishinami, and then later transferred to the battleship Yamato. A total of 350 officers and men were lost on Atago, Kurita’s flagship. She was gone, sunk in nineteen minutes.

However, Darter and Dace could not stop the gigantic fleet, which included five battleships, among them two of the most powerful in the world, Musashi and Yamato. Switching Kurita’s flag to Yamato, the shaken but implacable Kurita headed for San Bernardino Strait.

Two heavy cruisers were badly damaged: Aoba, which was towed to Manila Bay and Takao, which made its way back to Brunei Bay, escorted by two destroyers, and was followed by the two submarines.

On October 24, as the submarines continued to shadow the damaged cruiser, Darter ran aground on the Bombay Shoal. All efforts to get her off failed. She was abandoned and her entire crew was rescued by Dace. Efforts to scuttle Darter failed over the course of the next week, including torpedoes from Dace and Rock (a Gato-class submarine named for the rock, a striped bass found in the Chesapeake Bay) and deck-gun shelling from Dace and later, Nautilus. After multiple hits from his 6-inch deck guns, the Nautilus commander determined on October 31 that the equipment on Darter was only good for scrap and left her there. The Japanese did not bother with the wreck. Takao retired to Singapore, being joined in January 1945 by Myōkō, as the Japanese deemed both crippled cruisers irreparable and left them moored in the harbor as floating anti-aircraft batteries.

To be continued . . .


The Pacific War by William B. Hopkins

The Story of World War II by Donald L. Miller

Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas

Battle of Bankusay Channel and Macabebe

Battle of Bankusay
Battle of Bankusay, Painting by Dan Dizon. Courtesy of JDN Center for Kapampangan Studies. 
Bankusay refers to the Bankusay creek located off the north shore of Manila Bay. It was here where the bloody Battle of Bankusay took place in 1571, a battle which would immortalize the heroism and extraordinary courage of a young warrior whose name continues to elude the Filipino consciousness.
While several Filipino patriots sacrificed their lives and performed heroic deeds to free the Filipinos from foreign oppressors, some events and people remained unsung, not given proper credit or merely forgotten. Among the battles fought by Filipinos that seemed unremembered was the Battle of Bankusay on June 3, 1571. It was a naval engagement that marked the last or if not one of the last resistance of the natives against the Spanish Empire’s occupation and colonization of the Pasig River delta which had been the site of the indigenous polities of Maynila and Tondo.
Bambalito of Macabebe. Painting by Daniel H. Dizon. 
Macabebe, an ancient town in the province of Pampanga is geographically situated along the shores of Pampanga River (Rio Grande de la Pampanga). The river’s routes and its northern tributaries provided the pathways to the early major settlements in Pampanga. Some called it Macabibi because the river was abundantly grown with corals and shells (bibi) during the early times. The Macabebes were originally known as Kapampangans. During the Spanish Colonial period in the Philippines, Macabebe was considered one of the oldest and most important communities of Pampanga.
While it is not highlighted in Philippine history, the first Filipino martyr who fought for freedom against the Spanish rule was a Kapampangan, (a native of Pampanga Province) and a Macabebe in particular. When Spanish forces under the leadership of Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi landed on the shores of Manila in June 1571, the Tagalog chiefs namely Rajah Matanda, Lakan Dula and Rajah Soliman welcomed them.
Not too distant from Manila was the pre-Hispanic Kapampangan settlement ruled by a young datu who would be known in history as Tarik Soliman or Sulaiman. When Legaspi sent out word to the chiefs of the surrounding country demanding that they too pay allegiance to the king of Spain, it was Tarik Soliman, a Macabebe who raised a fist of defiance against the invaders.
Tarik Soliman also called Bambalito, the chief of Macabebe tribe, exploded with fury and refused to be friends to the Castillians. He called on the chieftains of Pampanga and Bulacan to join forces with him in driving the foreign devils away. A fleet of 40 karakoas (ancient warships) was assembled, each equipped with cannon. Tarik Soliman with his troops of 2,000 composed of Macabebe, Hagonoy of Bulacan and Kapampangan warriors set sail down Pampanga River to Manila on May 31, 1571.
He tried to convince Lakan Dula of Tondo to join his campaign but the latter had already pledge his loyalty to the Spaniards, together with Rajah Matanda and Rajah Soliman of Manila.
Upon their arrival, Legazpi sent two representatives to Lakan Dula’s camp where Tarik Soliman’s troop was to convince Tarik Soliman of their real intentions and talk him out of his plan of an all-out war against the Spaniards. Legazpi’s wishes fell on deaf ears. It dawned on Legazpi that the young Kapampangan warrior was really in the mood to fight so he immediately ordered his troop of 27 vessels, 280 Spaniards and 600 native allies to face the furious Pampanga warrior in Bankusay Channel in Tondo.
On June 3, 1571, a fierce battle ensued. Unfortunately, the native forces could not match the Spanish Army’s might. Bambalito was killed and the rest of his men escaped and fled. After their defeat in the Battle of Bankusay, the Macabebes and Manila natives were forced to accept Spanish sovereignty.
When peace was established, Legaspi was able to establish a municipal government for Manila on June 24, 1571 which eventually became the capital of the entire Spanish East Indies colony and subsequently the capital of the Philippines.
Kapampangans slowly submitted themselves to the colonizers, culminating in the declaration of La Pampanga as Spain’s first province in Luzon in December, 1571. The same people who once defied Spanish rule would later serve as mercenaries for the Spaniards. They would fight against the Chinese pirate Limahong, the Moros, the Dutch, and the British.
It should be noted that “Tarik Soliman" is not the real document name of our young Kapampangan hero. It first appeared as “Toric Soleiman” in Pedro Paterno’s Historia de Filipinos and has since been widely used to prevent people from confusing him with Manila’s Rajah Soliman.
Tarik Soliman may not be the first documented hero who fought against the invaders (Lapu-Lapu holds that distinction), but he was the first martyr killed while fighting for their freedom.
So each time you read about Philippine heroes like Rizal, Bonifacio and Lapu-Lapu, remember that before the Spaniards completely deprived the Filipinos of their freedom, a young man, a brave hero and extraordinary warrior chose to stand up and fight for what he believed was right.
Sources: Wikipedia, The Manila Times - July 5, 2014, National Historical Commission of the Philippines Website

Wang Wanggao in search of Limahong

Limahong Channel – Photo Credit:
The Viceroy of Fokien, having heard of Limahong’s daring exploits, had commissioned a ship of war to discover the whereabouts of Limahong, his imperial master’s old enemy.
Wang Wanggao, known in Spanish sources as Omocon, who was commissioned to capture Limahong dead or alive, arrived in Philippine waters and encountered the Spanish soldiers in Bolinao, Pangasinan.
The envoy was received with delight by the Spaniards. He was invited to accompany them to Manila to meet the Governor. Wang Wanggao went to Manila accompanied by Field Marshal Salcedo where the former was dined and entertained.
To cap it all, the governor ordered Salcedo and the soldiers to deliver to Wang Wanggao all Chinese pirates captured in Pangasinan. Then he ordered everything necessary for the voyage to be fully prepared, which was done within a few days. In return for all this kindness, Wang Wanggao offered to take along with him to China some Augustinian friars to spread Roman Catholicisim. The Governor willingly accepted the offer. Wang Wanggao departed with two priests, Martin de Rada and Gerónimo Martin amidst the salvo of goodwill and friendship. The two priests were commissioned to carry a letter of greeting and presents to the Viceroy who received them with great distinction but objected to their residing in the country.
According to Restituto Basa, author of Footnotes on Pangasinan History and The Story of Dagupan, Limahong married a certain Princess Kabontatala who helped him dig the channel. It’s still possible to see the “Limahong Channel” as it flows from Domalandan between Labrador and Lingayen to the sea. A marker has been placed at the channel commemorating his failed attempts to occupy Manila. A monument of Limahong can also be seen at the wharf in Barangay Lucap in Alaminos, Pangasinan. The Limahong Channel remains a tribute to their endeavor.
On his escape, Limahong had to abandon the troops employed in this maneuver. Many of Limahong ’s people were unable to travel with the reduced fleet and joined the local population. Many Chinese left behind became the ancestors of numerous old mestizo families in Lingayen and Dagupan. Some of these men, losing all hope, and having indeed nothing but their lives to fight for, fled to the mountains to escape the clenched fist of the Spanish rule. Hence it is popularly supposed that from these fugitives descends the race of people in the hill district north of that province still distinguishable by their oblique eyes and known by the name of Igorrote-Chinese.
 Today, many of the native Pangasinenses possess some tint of Chinese blood in their veins, and they are still distinguishable by their oblique eyes and light complexion. Many citizens of Lingayen and other towns in this part of the province and along the Agno River are of Chinese ancestry.
Meanwhile, Limahong and remnants of his forces were able to join up with Li Mao and Chen Dele to pirate the South China coast in 1589. After which, no more news was heard from him.
Philippine Guide by Jill & Rebecca Gale de Villa
Insight Philippines by Discovery Channel
Philippine Handbook by Carl Parkes

On Writings - Quote 1