Capture and occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls, 31 January to 8 February 1944.
Battle of Kwajalein
In late January 1944, a combined force of U.S. Marine and Army troops launched an amphibious assault on three islets in the Kwajalein Atoll, a ring-shaped coral formation in the Marshall Islands where the Japanese had established their outermost defensive perimeter in World War II. Kwajalein Island and the nearby islets of Roi and Namur were the first of the Marshall Islands to be captured by U.S. troops, and would allow the Pacific Fleet to advance its planned assault on the islands and its drive towards the Philippines and the Japanese home islands.
The Marshall Islands and The U.S. “Island-Hopping” Strategy
The peace settlement that ended the First World War gave Japan a mandate over the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. Kwajalein, in the Ralik (western) chain of the Marshalls, was the world’s largest coral atoll, numbering some 90 islets (with a total land area of six square miles) surrounding a 655-square-mile lagoon. By the beginning of World War II, Japan had established the Marshalls as an integral part of its defensive perimeter, and the islands became an important target for the Allies in their wartime planning.
The "island-hopping" strategy of 1943 represented a compromise between two major U.S. commanders: General Douglas MacArthur, who pushed for the immediate recapture of the Philippines (taken by the Japanese in 1942) and Nimitz, who advocated bypassing the Philippines for weaker-held positions in the Pacific.
In 1943, after Japan had scored victory after victory during the first months of war in the Pacific, Admiral Chester Nimitz proposed an aggressive counteroffensive strategy consisting of a series of amphibious assaults on selected Japanese-held islands on the way to the Philippines and on towards Japan itself. The strategy, known as “island-hopping” or “leapfrogging,” turned on the idea that merely isolating some Japanese forces on their islands–letting them “wither on the vine”–would be as effective as destroying them through a direct attack, and far less costly to Allied forces.
From Tarawa to Kwajalein
The bloody conquest of Tarawa, a small atoll in the Gilbert Islands of the central Pacific, in November 1943 was a crucial precursor to the Allied campaign in the Marshall Islands. The 5,000 Japanese troops garrisoned on Tarawa mounted a ferocious resistance, killing more than 1,000 U.S. Marines and wounding another 2,100. Nearly all of the Japanese troops on Tarawa perished, in a striking example of the never-surrender attitude that would characterize the entire Japanese war effort.
Between Tarawa and Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, were 2,000 miles of sea, plus more than a thousand scattered atolls, many of them fortified with Japanese troops. The lessons of “Terrible Tarawa” (as the Marines dubbed it) helped the Allies prepare for the hard fighting that would characterize the central Pacific campaign. Moreover, because neither the Japanese fleet nor any land-based aircraft from other islands had interfered, Nimitz concluded it would be safe to skip other Marshall Island garrisons and proceed to the westernmost atolls in the chain: Kwajalein and Eniwetok.
Attack on Kwajalein, Roi and Namur
On January 30, 1944, after a massive air and naval bombardment lasting some two months, a U.S. Marine and Army amphibious assault force of 85,000 men and some 300 warships) approached the Marshall Islands. On February 1, the 7th Infantry (Army) Division landed on Kwajalein Island, while the 4th Marine Division landed on the twin islands of Roi and Namur, 45 miles to the north. A single Marine regiment captured Roi on that first day, while Namur fell by noon of the second day. The battle for Kwajalein would prove more difficult, as the 7th Infantry pounded the Japanese garrison there for three days until the island was declared secure on February 4.
Though greatly outnumbered from the start (by more than 40,000 on Kwajalein) the Japanese chose to fight until the bitter end. Japanese casualties on Roi and Namur numbered more than 3,500 killed and around 200 captured, with less than 200 Marines killed and some 500 more wounded. On Kwajalein, close to 5,000 Japanese defenders were killed and only a handful captured; the 7th Infantry counted 177 soldiers killed and 1,000 wounded.
Effects of U.S. Victory
While not an easy victory for the Allies, the capture of Kwajalein was accomplished ahead of Nimitz’s expectations, allowing him to advance by 60 days the planned attack on Eniwetok, 400 miles northwest of Kwajalein. An assault on Truk – a forward anchorage of the Japanese fleet – destroyed 275 Japanese aircraft and sank nearly 40 ships, and Eniwetok fell by February 21, after five days of fighting.
Their success in the Marshalls gave U.S. forces a major anchorage point and staging area from which to continue their amphibious operations in the central Pacific, as they opened the way to the Mariana Islands, including Saipan and Guam. In addition, the victories intensified the isolation of those Japanese island outposts that had been skipped in the Allied island-hopping campaign, including Wake Island, one of the first islands Japan had captured in the beginning stages of the war.
Source: History.com, https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-kwajalein
Admiralty Islands landings, 11 to 12 April 1944.
Admiralty Islands Landings
The invasion of the Admiralty Islands (29 February-25 March 1944) was a major step in the isolation of the powerful Japanese base at Rabaul and saw forces from the US calvary capture the main islands in a series of battles that lasted for one month. The conquest of the Admiralty Islands helped complete the isolation of Rabaul by giving the Allies control of the western approaches to New Britain, as well as a useful site for airfields and control of the massive Seeadler Harbor.
The Admiralty Islands sit at the north-west corner of the Bismarck Sea, west of the Bismarck Archipelago (New Britain and New Ireland) and north of New Guinea. Allied control of the islands would thus help further isolate Rabaul, at the northern tip of New Britain, as well as providing bases for the Allied advance along the north coast of New Guinea. A further bonus would be control of the massive Seeadler Harbor, 20 miles long and 6 miles wide, a harbor capable of sheltering an entire fleet.
The Japanese had recognized the importance of the Admiralty Islands. They were defended by 4,300 men, commanded by Colonel Yoshio Ezaki. They had also built an airfield on the largest island, Manus, and on nearby Los Negros. When the Americans attacked they would be outnumbered, but Ezaki expected the attack to come from Seeadler Harbor and so his defenses were all facing in, towards the harbor.
The Admiralty Islands had been an American target for some time, and the invasion was originally timetabled for April 1944. Early in 1944 aircrews from the Fifth Air Force reported that there was no Japanese activity on the islands. In addition, MacArthur was impatient to speed up his advance towards the Philippines. He decided to push the invasion forwards to late February 1944, but also realized that the aerial reconnaissance might be inaccurate. He decided to make the original landings a 'reconnaissance in force' and to accompany the task force in person so he could decide if the islands could be held or not.
The decision to invade was made on 24 February, with D-Day set for 29 February. Los Negros would be the first target, and the landing would be carried out by 1,000 men from the 1st Cavalry Division (Dismounted). A reserve of 1,500 men was also available. The landings would take place at Hyane Bay, on the east, ocean-facing, coast of Los Negros.
The Admiralty Islands contains eighteen main islands. The largest island, by far, is Manus. The island is about 100km/ 60 miles from west to east and 30km/ 18 miles from north to south. At the eastern tip of Manus is Los Negros, the third biggest of the islands. This island takes the shape of a horseshoe, curving around to the north then to the west. A series of small islands then run west from the north-western tip of Los Negros, running parallel to the north-eastern coast of Manus. The area inside this line of islands is Seeadler Harbor.
On 27 February MacArthur boarded the USS Phoenix, the flagship of the invasion forces. On the same day a force of six scouts landed on Los Negros. They landed safely but found that the island was 'lousy' with Japanese troops. The news reached MacArthur at sea on 28 February, but he decided to press away with the invasion anyway. On the morning of 29 February the 1st Cavalry landed on Los Negros. The Japanese were caught entirely out of position, and the Americans quickly established a beachhead. That afternoon MacArthur paid a two hour visit to the island, and decided that his men should stay. He then left, taking most of the naval support force with him.
That night the Japanese launched an attack on the beachhead, but the Americans held their ground. In some areas the Japanese did manage to get inside the perimeter, and on the following morning the area had to be re-secured. Sixty-six Japanese troops were killed within the main perimeter.
Two days later reinforcements arrived, just in time to help repulse a second major Japanese attack on the night of 3-4 March. This was a more serious attack, and the Americans lost 61 dead while fighting it off. Japanese losses were much heavier, with 750 dead around the perimeter. This was the last major Japanese attack on Los Negros. The last major fighting came on 21-25 March, when the Japanese were forced out of their last organized defenses, on a ridge near Papitalai
Manus Island was the next target. The Manus task force entered Seeadler Bay on 9 March and began by occupying the islands that ran west from the northern end of Los Negros, parallel to Manus. The Japanese put up unexpectedly fierce resistance on Hauwei, but the island was secured on 12 March.
On 15 March the Americans landed at Lugos Mission, west of their main target at Lorengau. Lorengau airfield fell on 17 March, and the town fell soon afterwards. The hardest fighting came when the Americans began to advance south from Lorengau towards Rossum. This battle lasted from 19-25 March and ended organized Japanese resistance in the Admiralty Islands. The campaign officially came to an end on 18 May 1944, but by then the only Japanese left were isolated bands of stragglers.
Effects of U.S. Victory
The two battles cost the Americans 326 dead and 1,200 wounded. The Japanese lost 3,280 dead.
On New Guinea, the fall of the Admiralty Islands convinced General Adachi that he could no longer hold onto his base at Madang. He ordered his men to march west to Hansa Bay and Wewak, where he expected the next American blow to fall. Allied trooped made an unopposed entry into Madang on 24 April, two days after they had leapfrogged Adachi yet again, landing at Aitape and Hollandia, half way along the north coast of New Guinea.
The Admiralty Islands also became an important American base. Seeadler Harbor was a very useful naval base. In addition, a PT base was built at the northern tip of Los Negros, with a 8,000ft airstrip nearby and a 7,000ft airstrip was completed at Momote, near the original landing point at Hyane Harbor.
Source: Rickard, J (5 May 2015), Invasion of the Admiralty Islands, 25 February-25 March 1944
Capture and occupation of Guam, 21 to 25 July 1944.
Battle of Guam
The battle of Guam (21 July-9 August 1944) saw the Americans reconquer an island that had been in their hands before the war after three weeks of fighting, completing the conquest of the Mariana Islands.
Guam was the southern island in the Marianas group. Like Saipan and Tinian, it offered several locations for B-29 airfields, but unlike those islands it also had an excellent protected anchorage that could be used by the US fleet. The island had been in American hands since the Spanish-American War, but it had fallen to the Japanese on 10 December 1941, after three hours of fighting, and had been in their hands ever since.
The original plan had been to invade Guam on 18 June, three days after the invasion of Saipan. However early on 16 June Admiral Spruance cancelled that decision, as a result of the discovery of a massive Japanese naval force heading his way. The invasion of Guam was postponed, and the fleet prepared to fight a major battle. The resulting Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June 1944) was a crushing defeat for the Japanese, effectively destroying the IJN's naval aviation branch. The invasion was then further postponed when the main reserve force for the invasion had to be committed on Saipan. The new reserve force, the 77th Division, had to move up from Hawaii.
The delay meant that Guam was subjected to the longest pre-invasion naval bombardment of the Pacific War, lasting from mid-June, when the US fleet first appeared off the islands, to the invasion, well over a month.
Under the new plan Guam would be attacked first, with the invasion of Tinian starting three days later.
The island was protected by natural barriers. There were cliffs along much of the shore, and reefs blocking the approaches. The northern half of the island wasn't suitable for attack. The best landing points were in the south-west, south of the Orote Peninsula and north of the Piti naval station, north of the Peninsula. The island was long and narrow, with the Orote Peninsula the only major one. The southern half of the island is more rugged than the north, with a line of mountains around the southern half of the west coast. Apra Harbour, the good anchorage, was sheltered by the Orote Peninsula, while the capital city of Agana was further to the north-east along the coast.
Guam was defended by 19,000 Japanese troops under General Takashina Takeshi. There were two operational airfields on the island at the time of the invasion, one on the Orote Peninsula on the west. Takashina realized that the invasion would almost certainly come in the south-west and eight of his eleven infantry battalions were posted in that area and the other three moved slowly closer to that area as the bombardment continued.
The invasion of Guam was carried out by the newly formed 3rd Amphibious Corps (General Roy Gieger). Three forces were involved, all of which were to land on the western coast. On the left the 3rd Marine Division (General Allen Turnage) landed north of Apra Harbor. On the right the 77th Infantry Division (General Andrew Bruce) and the 1st Brigade (General Lemuel Sheperd) landed south of Apra Harbor. The two landing zones were five miles apart, and it would take four days for the two forces to join up.
The invasion began one minute ahead of schedule when the 3rd Marines landed at Asan Beach, on the American left, at 0829. After a day of heavy fighting that coast the Marines 105 dead, 536 wounded and 56 missing, the Marines had established a beachhead that was 4000 yards wide and a mile dead in most places. That night there was a disorganized Japanese counterattack, but nothing like the massive banzai charge that had been expected.
On the right the 1st Marine Brigade ran into heavy Japanese fire while approaching Agat beach, losing 350 men during the day. By the end of the day the Marines had established a food hold 4,500 yards wide and 2,000 yards deep. The major Japanese counterattack of the night came on this front, where there were three large attacks between 0230 and 0400. All three were repulsed, and as was so often the case these wasteful counterattacks achieved nothing apart from weakening the defenders.
The two beachheads remained separate for another four days, fighting largely separate battles.
On the right the 1st Brigade captured the Alifan ridgeline and established a strong right flank. One regiment from the 77th Division took over on the left, allowing the rest of the marine brigade to wheel right and advance north. They were ready to attack the Orote peninsula by 26 July.
On the left the 3rd Division had to capture a series of mountainous ridges before they reached more open ground on the Fonte Plateau. On their right they pushed south towards a junction with the 1st Brigade, leaving their lines dangerously stretched. General Takashina realised that this gave him a chance, and on the night of 25-26 July he committed seven battalions to a determined counterattack. This time the banzai attack came perilously close to success, with Japanese troops breaking into the American positions and the battle descending into a series of skirmishes scattered around the beachhead. Even so US firepower eventually won the battle, and when the fighting finished on the following day the Japanese had lost 3,500 dead (including 95% of the officers involved in the attack), the Americans 166 dead, 645 wounded and 34 missing. On the same night the Japanese troops trapped on the Orote Peninsula carried out an equally costly, but less effective attack. In one night the Japanese had thrown away a large part of their strength.
The surviving Japanese troops made the US advance as difficult as possible. It took four days for the 1st Brigade to capture the Orote Peninsula, which fell on 29 July. By now the Japanese had evacuated the southern half of the island. The Americans concentrated on taking the high ground in front of their beachheads and made secure contact between them on 28 July. They then turned north, with the 3rd Marines on the left and the 77thj Infantry on the right. Once again, the advance north was hard fought, and fairly costly, although not as bad as they might have been if the Japanese hadn't wasted so much strength on the night of 25-26 July. On the right the 77th captured the final Japanese strong point at Mount Santa Roas, while on the left the Marines fought their way to the north coast.
Effects of U.S. Victory
The advancing troops finally reached the northern end of the island on 10 August, and the island was declared to be secure. Even so Japanese troops continued to offer resistance for some time to come, and the last two didn’t surrender until 1960! The fall of Guam ended the major fighting in the Marianas and left the islands firmly in American hands. On Guam they had lost 1,744 dead and 5,970 wounded, while the Japanese had lost over 18,000 dead and 1,250 prisoners. The Americans were now free to use Guam as a naval and air base, and strike deep into the Japanese Empire and even reach the home islands.
Source: Source: Rickard, J (27 February 2018), Battle of Guam, 21 July-9 August 1944,
Capture and occupation of southern Palau Islands, 6 September to 14 October 1944.
Battle of the Palau Islands
By 1944, the Japanese, while being far from defeated, were well and truly on the defensive. In Southeast Asia, British and Commonwealth forces had halted the Japanese offensive towards Kohima and Imphal and begun an offensive of their own which was pushing the Japanese back into central Burma. In the Pacific, the Americans had their two-prong drive well underway with the securing of Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands) and Tarawa (Gilbert Islands), followed up with the landings on Bougainville (Solomon Islands) and New Britain and the Admiralty Islands in 1943 and on Luzon (Philippines), Guam, Tinian and Saipan (Mariana Islands) in 1944, as well as continued fighting in New Guinea. As 1944 progressed, the Americans started to look towards securing targets much closer to the Japanese home base in order to have staging areas to prepare for their final attack on Japan, eventually codenamed Operation Downfall. These were likely to include Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Formosa, all of which had significant garrisons on them, MacArthur favoring the Formosa / China route, while Nimitz favored the Iwo Jima / Okinawa (Ryukus Islands) one.
The Palau Islands
The Palau Islands lie in an archipelago that stretches for over a hundred miles in a line running roughly from the northeast to southwest, starting with the largest island of Babelthuap and then continuing with Koror, Arakabesan Island, Urukthapel, Eil Malk, Ngemelis Island, Ngeregong Island, Garakayo Island, Ngesebus-Kongauru Island, Peleliu and finally Angaur. Peleliu is just over twenty square miles in size, and has a similar shape to that of a lobster claw. The southern end of the island is flat and open (well suited to the construction of an airfield) while the centre is dominated by the Umurbrogol Mountain that is, in actual fact, a series of limestone coral ridges, much of which is blanketed by thick jungle. Spanish missionaries discovered the islands in 1712 (although some claim that Spanish explorers under the Portuguese navigator Ruy Lopez de Villalobos chanced upon the island in 1543) and while the Spanish never really developed the islands, they were sold to Germany in 1899 after its defeat in the Spanish-American War. The Germans started to exploit the extensive phosphate reserves, particularly on Angaur, but their tenancy was short-lived as the Japanese declared war on Germany on 14 August 1914 and seized their Pacific possessions, including the Palau islands by the South Seas Squadron under Rear Admiral Tatsuo Matsumara on 4 October 1914. The League of Nations awarded the mandates to Japan in 1920, despite opposition from the United States, and a civil government (South Sea Bureau) was installed in 1922 with the South Sea Defense Force created to defend the mandate. Between the wars, Japan established a major presence on the Palau Islands that was somewhat shrouded in secrecy - it was on Koror that Lt Col Earl (Pete) Ellis, USMC died in mysterious circumstances in 1922 while touring the Pacific (he was in fact spying for the US Government). With the withdrawal of Japan from the League of Nations in 1935, the islands were closed to Westerners and the military facilities expanded to include airfields, seaplane bases and some coastal defenses. The outbreak of war in 1941 soon saw the importance of the Palau Islands grow, as it soon became a forward supply, training and staging point for the Armed Forces.
The Americans Prepare
The next stage in the Central Pacific campaign under Admiral Chester W Nimitz was seen as supporting General Douglas MacArthur's drive to retake the Philippines as quickly as possible, something he managed to convince both Admiral Nimitz and President Franklin D Roosevelt of, during their meeting in Honolulu in July 1944. He managed to secure the loan (again) of the 1st Marine Division as he had done in the Solomons campaign. The 1st Marine Division had already received a warning order in May 1944 to participate in Operation Stalemate. This plan saw the 1st Marine Division with the 81st Infantry Division (under III Amphibious Corps) assault Peleliu and Angaur (also sometimes spelt Anguar), alongside the 7th and 77th Infantry Divisions (under XXIV Corps) that would land on Babelthuap, all part of the Palau Island group. The 27th Infantry Division would remain in reserve on New Caledonia and the target date was set as 8 September 1944.
The delays in securing the Marianas had three immediate impacts upon the Peleliu operation in that it firstly, delayed the arrival of the new III Amphibious Corps commander, Major General Roy S Geiger until planning (undertaken by a temporary staff headed by Major General Julian Smith commanding Task Force 36, called X-Ray Provisional Amphibious Corps) was at quite an advanced stage and any major changes would be difficult to implement. Secondly, it caused major friction between the Army and the Marine Corps as Lieutenant General Holland ("Howlin' Mad") Smith had relieved Major General Ralph C Smith of his command of the 27th Infantry Division for 'defective performance'. This was to have serious repercussions all the way back to Washington DC and on the Peleliu operation, although the two formation commanders would actually work very well together. Thirdly, it continued to tie up troops, resources and shipping (particularly the III Amphibious Corps and 77th Infantry Division on Guam and the 27th Infantry Division on Saipan). Additionally, intelligence (including the capture of the 31st Army files and a Japanese Intelligence Officer on Saipan) revealed that Babelthuap had only marginal utility in regard to the potential expansion of the airfield facilities there and had a large Japanese garrison, while Peleliu already had an excellent operational airfield that once in American hands, could neutralize the northern one. So the planning was altered and the target date (for the first phase) changed to 15 September 1944, the same day as MacArthur's forces would take Morotai. The new plan would be known as Operation Stalemate II, the first phase of which would involve the III Amphibious Corps (still the 1st Marine and 81st Infantry Divisions) assaulting Peleliu and Angaur. The second phase would see XXIV Corps (now consisting of the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions) attacking the atolls of Yap and Ulithi on October 8th, while the 77th Infantry Division would become the operation's floating reserve and the 5th Marine Division acting as a general reserve on Hawaii. The two phases would be supported by the US Navy's Western Pacific Task Force from the Third Fleet. The Covering Forces and Special Groups (Task Force 30) would remain directly under Halsey, the Third Amphibious Force (Task Force 31) was divided into the Western Attack Force (Task Force 32) bound for Peleliu and Angaur under Rear Admiral George H Fort and the Eastern Attack Force (Task Force 33) bound for Yap and Ulithi under Vice Admiral Theodore S Wilkinson. Task Force 32 was itself split into the Peleliu Attack Group (1st Marine Division) directly under Fort and the Angaur Attack Group (81st Infantry Division) under Rear Admiral H P Blandly.
Halsey Steps In
Admiral William F 'Bull' Halsey, Commander of the Western Pacific Task Force, had overall responsibility for conducting supportive attacks against a number of Japanese bases both in the Palau Islands and in the Philippines. As these raids were taking place, the invasion force was heading towards Peleliu, but to Halsey's surprise, these raids were only lightly contested, making Halsey suspect that the Philippines (in particular) were not as heavily defended as first thought. He ordered his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral R B Carney to send an urgent message to Admiral Nimitz just two days (13 September) before the assaults on Peleliu and Morotai were to take place, recommending that firstly, the assaults be abandoned, secondly, that the ground forces that were to be used be transferred to MacArthur for use in the Philippines and thirdly, that the invasion of Leyte be conducted at the earliest opportunity.
Nimitz in turn, quickly sent a message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who were, at that point, meeting in Quebec for the Octagon Conference with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Joint Chiefs, after consultation with General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, decided on the 14 September (the day before D-Day) that the landings on Leyte should be brought forward by two months, thus accepting the third point in Halsey's recommendations. Halsey therefore, cancelled the second phase of Stalemate II on 17 September, with the exception of the landing on Ulithi, which would be now be carried out by the 323rd Regimental Combat Team (RCT), 81st Infantry Division. The XXIV Corps was transferred to MacArthur's command and landed on Leyte on 20 October 1944, fulfilling MacArthur's promise to return to the Philippines as soon as possible.
The Peleliu and Morotai assaults would go ahead however. While this would have no serious consequences for the 31st Infantry Division assaulting Morotai, the consequences for the 1st Marine and 81st Infantry Divisions would be severe. It was argued that the invasion forces were already at sea and the assault was on the verge of taking place and therefore too late to call it off, the Palau Islands had excellent airfields from which to threaten any invasion force for the Philippines and had a large number of first rate troops that could be used to reinforce them once the invasion was underway. Halsey would always disagree with this decision, claiming these factors could have been neutralised by air and sea bombardment, and whatever their value, the cost in taking them was likely to be too high. The controversy continues to this day.
Planning the Assault
The planning for the Peleliu assault was carried out by the 1st Marine Division's second-in-command, Brigadier General Oliver P Smith, as its commander, Major General William H Rupertus, was away in the United States for a considerable length of time. There were four beaches that the Marines could land on:
Leyte landings, 13 to 21 October and 19 November 1944.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
The Battle of Leyte Gulf (22-26 October 1944) was one of the largest and most complex naval battles in history and ended as a massive American victory that effectively destroying the fighting capability of the Japanese navy.
The American plans had evolved significantly during the summer of 1944. The original plan had been for a landing on Mindanao, the southernmost of the main Philippine islands. Next would be a larger scale invasion of Leyte, nearer the center of the islands and then the invasion of the largest of the islands, Luzon. In mid-June the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested abandoning the invasion of Luzon and instead going straight from Leyte to Formosa. Unsurprisingly this angered MacArthur, who had promised to return to the Philippines after being forced to leave the islands in 1942. In late July MacArthur, Nimitz and Roosevelt met on Hawaii, and the invasion of Luzon was confirmed. The campaign in the Philippines was to begin in December 1944.
Preliminary operations began on 6 September when aircraft from Admiral Mitscher's Task Force 38 bombarded the Palau Islands, 550 miles to the east of Mindanao. That island was attacked on 9-10 September, triggering a false invasion alarm. Next came an attack on the Visayan Islands, in the center of the Philippines. This went so well that Admiral Halsey, commander of the US Third Fleet, suggested a new plan. Instead of waiting until December and then carefully advancing from south to north through the Philippines, he believed that the Japanese were so off balance that an almost immediate invasion of Leyte would be a success. This suggestion reached Roosevelt and Churchill while they were meeting at Quebec. The two leaders were in favor of this daring idea, but MacArthur was un-contactable, having decided to accompany a force that was about to attack Morotai and that was operating radio silence. MacArthur's chief of staff made the decision for him and approved the new plan. Leyte would be invaded on 20 October.
MacArthur's troops were to land on the good beaches on the east coast of Leyte. The engineers would then build airfields on the difficult ground inland and they would be used to support both the fighting on Leyte itself and the landings on Luzon. The 7th Fleet would provide direct support, both from the big guns of the battleships and cruisers and from the aircraft on the escort carriers. The 3rd Fleet would provide cover against any attempt by the Japanese navy to intervene.
The Japanese Plan
The Japanese also spent the summer of 1944 working on a grand plan. They were now entirely on the defense, and so Operation Victory (Sho-Go) was a defensive one. The Japanese high command decided that four different American moves were possible - an invasion of the Philippines or Formosa in the south, the Kuriles in the north or even a direct attack on the Home Islands. In the south Sho-1 was the defense of the Philippines and Sho-2 the defense of Formosa. As had happened repeatedly since Pearl Harbor the Japanese were obsessed with the idea of the 'decisive battle', a single massive battle that if it ended in a Japanese victory could save the day.
By the autumn of 1944 the Japanese fleet was widely scattered. The main battle fleet was based at Lingga, a small island east of Sumatra and south of Singapore. This location had been chosen because it put the fleet close to its main sources of fuel. The carrier force had retreated to the Inland Sea in the Japanese Home Islands where new naval aviators were being trained.
The Sho-1 plan took advantage of this deployment. Admiral Ozawa with his force of carriers was to approach the Philippines from Japan. His role was to pull the main American carriers and fast battleships away from Leyte Gulf leaving the invasion fleet vulnerable to attack. Ozawa's northern fleet was being deliberately sacrificed in an attempt to win a decisive battle. He had the carriers but he didn’t have trained naval aviators, so his ships were effectively toothless. Ozawa's original role had been to take part in the main battle, but after the destruction of his last effective air groups in mid-October he suggested the diversionary tactic.
The main fleet at Lingga was to split into two. Admiral Kurita was to take the largest and most powerful part of the fleet, I Striking Force, through the middle of the Philippines. He was to emerge from the San Bernadino Strait, north of Leyte, and sweep south to attack in the invasion fleet. Kurita objected to the plan - not because he saw any flaws in the operation itself, but because he didn't see the point in risking the entire fleet for an attack on transport ships that would probably already have been loaded when the Japanese arrived. His objections were overruled.
The second part of the main fleet, under Admiral Nishimura, was to pass through the Philippines further south and emerge from the Surigao Strait, between Mindanao and Leyte. He was to attack the invasion fleet from the south.
Finally, Admiral Shima, with the smallest force (II Striking Force), was to sail from Japan via Formosa and join Admiral Nishimura. Shima hadn't originally been included in the plan but had persuaded his superiors to let his small force take part. The Japanese hoped that these three southern fleets could break into Leyte Gulf and inflict crushing losses on the landing craft, supply vessels and smaller warships supporting the invasion of Leyte.
Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet was the main American striking force in the Pacific. At Leyte Gulf it contained fifteen fleet carriers, seven modern fast battleships, twenty-one cruisers and fifty-eight destroyers. His ships were armed for combat with Japanese battleships and carriers. Halsey's main weakness was that he had contradictory orders - his main role was to find and destroy the Japanese fleet, but he was also there to protect the invasion fleets in Leyte Gulf.
Admiral Kinkaid's 7th Fleet was dedicated to supporting the ground troops. He had sixteen escort carriers, six 'old' battleships including several sunk at Pearl Harbor, eleven cruisers and eighty-six destroyers. This was a powerful force but did have one weakness. His carriers and battleships were armed for coastal bombardment, with high explosive shells and bombs, and carried very few armor piercing shells or bombs. When Kinkaid found himself facing Japanese battleships this caused great problems.
Admiral Ozawa's Northern or Main Force was coming from the Inland Sea in Japan, where his carrier air groups had been carefully reconstructed. He had four carriers, including the Zuikaku, one of the best Japanese carriers of the war and a veteran of Pearl Harbor. The other three were all light carriers produced by converting support ships that had been designed with that in mind - Zuiho, Chitose and Chiyoda. Many of the aircraft allocated to the carrier force were lost in the battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944), and at Leyte Gulf he only had around 100 aircraft and very few experienced air crews.
Admiral Kurita commanded I Striking Force, which approached the battle from Brunei. At the heart of I Striking Force were the battleships Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships in the world with nine fearsome 18.1in guns. Kurita also had Kongo and Haruna, two pre-First World War battlecruisers that had been turned into battleships in the late 1920, and the Nagato, a 16in battleship launched in 1919. This powerful force was supported by twelve cruisers and fifteen destroyers.
Admiral Nishimura, coming from Brunei, was given the two old battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, one cruiser and four destroyers. His only chance of success would come if Kurita or Ozawa had drawn almost the entire US fleet north away from the Surigao Strait.
Admiral Shima's II Striking Force (coming from Formosa) was the weakest of the Japanese fleets, and only contained three cruisers and four destroyers.
This gave the Japanese a total of four carriers, nine battleships, nineteen cruisers and thirty one destroyers. Despite the presence of the carriers, the most dangerous units were the battleships, which included the two largest and potentially most powerful in the world.
The Japanese plan came quite close to success. The fighting began when two American submarines discovered Kurita's force on 23 October, sinking two cruisers (Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, 23-24 October 1944). This battle continued on 24 October when American aircraft sank the battleship Musahi. Admiral Halsey then detected Ozawa's carrier force and decided to head north to deal with this apparent threat. The bait had been taken.
The key day of the battle was 25 October when three separate battles were fought. In the north Halsey sank all four Japanese carriers (Battle of Cape Engano). In the south Kinkaid intercepted and destroyed Nishimura's fleet (Battle of Surigao Strait), and Shima decided to turn back.
The Japanese came closest to success in the center. With Halsey in the north and Kinkaid in the south the northern approaches to Leyte Gulf were only protected by escort carriers and destroyers. Kurita emerged from the San Bernardino Strait, turned south, and found Taffy Three, one of three task groups of six escort carriers. The American carriers turned and tried to reach relative safety. Their destroyer escorts made valiant attempts to interrupt the Japanese attack, while their aircraft made repeated attacks on the Japanese battleships. One escort carrier was sunk, but Kurita then decided to regroup and return to his original task in Leyte Gulf (Battle of Samar). Kurita spent the rest of the day chasing ghosts off Samar, before giving up and retiring through the San Bernardino Strait. With a bit more determination he could have inflicted a serious defeat on Taffy Three, and possibly done real damage to the invasion fleet in Leyte Gulf.
Build-up to Battle
The pre-invasion attacks on Japanese bases between the Philippines and the East China Sea soon paid an unexpected dividend. On 10 October Mitscher attacked Okinawa. He then turned south and on 12 October attacked Formosa. This time the Japanese responded in some strength, having mis-interpreted the massive American air strikes as the start of an invasion. Admiral Toyoda issued the instructions to begin Sho-1 and Sho-2, and Japanese navy aircraft rose to attack the Americans. The resulting battle off Formosa (13-16 October 1944) was a massive American victory. Over 600 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. In return the Japanese managed to damage two cruisers. The Japanese claimed a massive victory and the destruction of eleven carriers and two battleships. The belief that they had crippled American naval air power played a part in the planning for the attack on Leyte Gulf. It also helped to convince the Japanese defenders of the Philippines that the first signs of the upcoming invasion weren't genuine, and instead were either false alarms or just American ships fleeing from the defeat.
The invasion began on 17 October when a small force of US Rangers landed on Suluan Island, at the mouth of Leyte Gulf. A Japanese lookout reported sighting two battleships, two carriers and six destroyers off the island (the attack force actually contained two light cruisers, four destroyers and eight destroyer transports). Admiral Toyoda decided this was indeed the start of the invasion and issued the orders that set the Japanese fleets in motion. His colleagues on the Philippines weren't convinced
On 18 October the Americans captured Homonhon and Dinagat Islands, at the entrance to Leyte Gulf, where they erected navigation lights. The defenders of the Philippines still didn't realize the attack was imminent, but back in Japan Toyoda issued the orders for Sho-1, after getting Imperial approval.
The naval bombardment of Leyte began on 19 October and did massive amounts of damage to the Japanese defenses on the Leyte beaches.
A-Day on Leyte was 20 October (MacArthur deliberately didn't use the more normal D-Day, which was now closely linked to the Normandy invasion in the public imagination). The landings went well - the Philippines were far too large for the Japanese to defend in the same way as was familiar from smaller islands, and the garrison of Leyte was both badly outnumbered and in some confusion. The Americans were ashore, and by the end of the first day 100,000 tons of supplies had been landed.
The first preliminary move came on 22 October when the Japanese fleets sailed from Brunei, heading for the Philippines. Kurita left first, as he had the longer journey, and Nishimura followed in the afternoon. Four separate Japanese fleets were now heading for the massive American armada in and around Leyte Gulf.
The battle of Leyte Gulf began well to the west of the Philippines on 23 October (battle of the Sibuyan Sea, 23-24 October, although this battle began outside that sea). Darter and Dace, two American submarines, found Kurita's fleet while it was sailing along the north coast of Palawan Island in the South China Sea. The American subs attacked Kurita and sank two cruisers, including his flagship Atago. A third cruiser was crippled and had to return to Brunei, taking two destroyers as a screen.
On the morning of 24 October, a Japanese scout plane based on Luzon found Task Force 38, sailing to the east of the island. The Japanese Navy had more aircraft based on Luzon than on Ozawa's carriers, and during the morning of 24 October just over 200 Japanese land based naval aircraft attacked the task force. For about an hour the Japanese were fought off, but just as the main attack ended the light carrier Princeton, part of TG 38.3, was hit by a single Japanese dive bomber. Prolonged efforts to save the carrier failed and eventually she was sunk by American torpedoes. Most of her crew survived, but an explosion caused heavy casualties on the cruiser Birmingham, one of the ships taking part in the fire-fighting effort.
Ozawa's carrier aircraft then made an appearance. At about 11.45 about two thirds of his aircraft attacked Halsey's fleet but without any success. The inexperienced carrier aviators then flew on to land on Luzon. At this point Halsey probably didn't realize that these aircraft came from a carrier force, but Ozawa was finally located by American scout planes in the afternoon.
Further south the IV Air Army (General Tominaga) attacked the 7th Fleet in Leyte Gulf, but again with little effect, although the escort carriers were forced to concentrate on air defense instead of close support. The Japanese lost around 70 aircraft in this attack.
Halsey's carriers also went onto the offensive on 24 October, launching five separate air strikes against Kurita, spread out from 9am until the mid-afternoon. The main victim of these attacks (battle of the Sibuyan Sea) was the giant battleship Musashi which sank after being hit by multiple torpedoes and bombs. A heavy cruiser was also badly damaged and forced to turn back. At around 15.30 Kurita decided to temporarily turn back to avoid coming under aerial attack in the narrow San Bernardino Strait. This move was seen by the Americans, who believed that Kurita might be retiring from the area. Instead after just under two hours he turned back east and headed into the San Bernardino Strait unobserved.
Halsey now had a choice to make. His orders from Nimitz were to protect the invasion fleet unless a chance came up to destroy the Japanese fleet. He now knew of three Japanese forces. To the north was Ozawa with four carriers and two battleships. To the west was Kurita, who had been battered all day, lost the biggest battleship in the world and begun a possible retreat. To the south was Nishimura with a force that wasn't really a threat to Kinkaid's 7th Fleet. Halsey decided that he could combine his two tasks by leading his 3rd Fleet north to destroy the Japanese carrier force. In every earlier battle of the Pacific War this would have been the correct decision - the carriers were now the most dangerous weapon in the naval armory and the highly skilled aviators of Pearl Harbor and the year that followed could have caused havoc if they reached the invasion fleets. Halsey's real mistake was that he failed to make sure that someone was watching Kurita and the San Bernardino Strait. He and Kinkaid both assumed that the other fleet was carrying out that task and, in the event, neither did.
Halsey has also been criticized for deciding to attack the Japanese carrier fleet in the first place, largely on the grounds that it was carrying very few aircraft, but there is no way that Halsey could have known this. The Japanese had only recently deployed large numbers of naval aircraft in the battles off Formosa, and Halsey had just been attacked twice by naval aircraft on 25 October. As far as he knew the four carriers and two modified battleships in the north were all carrying their full complement of aircraft. Halsey's mistake was not making sure a suitable force was watching the San Bernardino Strait.
Although there had been some hard fighting on the previous days the main part of the battle took part on 25 October when there were three separate engagements. In the north Halsey attacked Ozawa and sank all four of his carriers (Battle of Cape Engano). In the south Oldendorf's battleships crushed Nishimura's attack (Battle of the Surigao Strait). The crisis came in the center, where Kinkaid's escort carriers were unexpectedly attacked by Kurita's battle fleet (Battle of Samar). Here the Japanese came closest to success, sinking one carrier and threatening to wipe out an entire task group of six, before Kurita unexpectedly withdrew from the battle.
The Battle of Cape Engano
In the north the Americans won an easy victory. Halsey found Ozawa's carriers at dawn and send in five air strikes. He sank all four of the carriers and one destroyer and was about to complete the destruction of the Japanese fleet when urgent signals from Kinkaid and a stinging message from Nimitz finally forced him to turn south in an attempt to intercept Kurita.
The Battle of the Surigao Strait
In the south the fighting was equally one sided. Admiral Oldendorf, with the six old battleships of the 7th Fleet, blocked the exit from the Surigao Strait. Nishimura's ships were attacked by PT boats in the strait and by torpedoes from American destroyers as they approached the exit. One battleship and two destroyers were sunk and a third forced to turn back. By the time Nisihimura reached the American battleships he only had one battleship, one cruiser and one destroyer. In the resulting gun battle the battleship was sunk and the cruiser very badly damaged. It escaped for the moment but was sunk while attempting to escape. Only the destroyer reached safety. Shima realized the battle was lost and turned back, saving his ships. Their escape was aided by news from the north, where Kurita's battleships had emerged into Leyte Gulf. Oldendorf had to cancel the pursuit and turned north to prepare for a possible second battle.
The Battle of Samar
The most dangerous of the battles came in the center. Kurita emerged unnoticed from the San Bernardino Strait, turned south and headed towards Leyte Gulf. He then found Admiral Sprague's Taffy 3, of six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. Sprague conducted a skillful fighting retreat, harassing the Japanese with his aircraft (despite their lack of armor piercing bombs) and destroyers. During the fighting the carrier Gambier Bay was sunk as were three of the escorts. Sprague's small group was close to defeat when Kurita decided to withdraw from the battle, reform his fleet and resume his advance into Leyte Gulf. The Japanese also suffered losses - three cruisers were sunk on the day and a fourth badly damaged.
Kurita turned away at 9.11am. It took two hours for his fleet to come back together. He then turned south and headed towards Leyte Gulf and the American shipping. At about 11.40 his scouts reported sighting a battleship (falsely) and Kurita turned aside to try and catch it. He then turned south again, before at 12.35 he decided to turn back north and try and find an American carrier group believed to be 100 miles to his north. In fact Halsey's carriers were much further north, and out of range. Kurita steamed north all afternoon in an attempt to find this phantom force, before at around 6pm he finally gave up and made his way back into the San Bernardino Strait heading west. The last surface naval battle of the Second World War was over.
The battle of Leyte Gulf rather faded away on 26 October. Halsey sent aircraft to attack the retreating Kurita, but they only succeeded in sinking one cruiser. The battered remnants of the Japanese Navy escaped, but not to fight another day.
The battle of Leyte Gulf was a massive Japanese defeat. The Japanese navy lost three battleships, four carriers, ten cruisers and nine destroyers, a total of 300,000 tons of shipping. The Americans only lost 37,000 tons of shipping, including one light carrier and two escort carriers. The Americans could easily replace these losses - they already had one hundred carriers of various types in the Pacific by October 1944! The Japanese Navy was crippled by its defeat at Leyte Gulf. The destruction of a large part of their surface fleet meant that the Americans were free to advance into the Philippines and then towards Japan without any fear of a major naval clash. The best the Japanese could manage was the final suicidal sortie of the giant battleship Yamato, sunk during an attempt to reach Okinawa.
Even if Kurita had been more determined on 25 October there was a limit to how much significant damage he could have done. As the Japanese commanders were aware, by 25 October most of the American transport ships were empty. He could have inflicted more damage on Taffy 3, but while that would have been embarrassing for the Americans it wouldn't have set them back. The loss of transport ships might have been more significant, but even that could only have delayed the final Japanese defeat. The Japanese Navy had found its decisive battle, unfortunately for Japan that battle had been lost.
Credit: Rickard, J (26 April 2012), Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23-26 October 1944
Lingayen Gulf landings, 11 to 14 January 1945.
Lingayen Gulf Landings, Philippines
The Invasion of Lingayen Gulf (Filipino: Paglusob sa Golfo ng Lingayen), 6–9 January 1945, was an Allied amphibious operation in the Philippines during World War II. In the early morning of 6 January 1945, a large Allied force commanded by Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf began approaching the shores of Lingayen. U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships began bombarding suspected Japanese positions along the coast of Lingayen from their position in Lingayen Gulf for three days. On 9 January, the U.S. 6th Army landed on a 20 mi (32 km) beachhead between the towns of Lingayen and San Fabian.
During World War II, the Lingayen Gulf proved a strategically important theater of war between American and Japanese forces. On 22 December 1941, the Japanese 14th Army—under Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma—landed on the Eastern part of the gulf at Agoo, Caba, Santiago and Bauang, where they engaged in a number of relatively minor skirmishes with the defenders, which consisted of a poorly equipped contingent of predominantly American and Filipino troops, and managed to successfully invade and occupy the gulf. Following the defeat, the next day General Douglas MacArthur issued the order to retreat from Luzon and withdraw to Bataan. For the next three years, the gulf remained under Japanese occupation prior to the Lingayen Gulf Landings.
Beginning on 6 January 1945, a heavy naval and air bombardment of suspected Japanese defenses on Lingayen began. Underwater demolitions began, but found no beach obstacles, and encountered sparse opposing forces. Aircraft and naval artillery bombardment of the landing areas also occurred, with kamikazes attacking on the 7th. On the 8th, it was observed that in the town of Lingayen, as a response to the pre-landing bombardment, Filipinos had begun to form a parade, complete with United States and Philippine flags; fire was shifted away from that area.
At 09:30 on 9 January 1945, about 68,000 GIs under General Walter Krueger of the U.S. 6th Army—following a devastating naval bombardment—landed at the coast of Lingayen Gulf meeting no opposition. A total of 203,608 soldiers were eventually landed over the next few days, establishing a 20 mi (32 km) beachhead, stretching from Sual, Lingayen and Dagupan (XIV Corps) to the west, and San Fabian (I Corps) to the east. The total number of troops under the command of MacArthur was reported to have even exceeded the number that Dwight D. Eisenhower controlled in Europe. Within a few days, the assault forces had quickly captured the coastal towns and secured the 20-mile-long (32 km) beachhead, as well as penetrating up to five miles (8 km) inland.
Despite their success in driving out the Japanese forces stationed there, they suffered relatively heavy losses; particularly to their convoys, due to kamikaze attacks. From 4–12 January, a total of 24 ships were sunk and another 67 were damaged by kamikazes; including the battleships USS Mississippi, New Mexico and Colorado (the latter was accidentally hit by friendly fire), the heavy cruiser HMAS Australia, the light cruiser USS Columbia, and the destroyers USS Long and USS Hovey. Following the landings, the Lingayen Gulf was turned into a vast supply depot for the rest of the war to support the Battle of Luzon.
Zambales-Subic Bay, 29 to 31 January 1945.
Battle of Manila, Philippines
The Battle of Manila (3 February – 3 March 1945) was a major battle of the Philippine campaign of 1944-45, during the Second World War. It was fought by American and Filipino forces against Japanese troops in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The month-long battle, which resulted in the death of over 100,000 civilians and the complete devastation of the city, was the scene of the worst urban fighting in the Pacific theater. Japanese forces committed mass murder against Filipino civilians during the battle. Along with massive loss of life, the battle also destroyed architectural and cultural heritage dating back to the city's foundation. The battle ended the almost three years of Japanese military occupation in the Philippines (1942–1945). The city's capture was marked as General Douglas MacArthur's key to victory in the campaign of reconquest. It is the last of the many battles fought within Manila's history
On 9 January 1945, the Sixth U.S. Army under Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger waded ashore at Lingayen Gulf and began a rapid drive south in the Battle of Luzon. On 12 Jan., MacArthur ordered Krueger to advance rapidly to Manila. The 37th Infantry Division, under the command of Major Gen. Robert S. Beightler, headed south.
After landing at San Fabian on 27 Jan., the 1st Cavalry Division, under the command of Major Gen. Vernon D. Mudge, was ordered by MacArthur on 31 Jan., to "Get to Manila! Free the internees at Santo Tomas. Take Malacanang Palace and the Legislative Building."
On 31 January, the Eighth United States Army of Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, consisting of the 187th and 188th Glider Infantry Regiments of Col. Robert H. Soule, and components of the U.S. 11th Airborne Division under Maj. Gen. Joseph Swing, landed unopposed at Nasugbu in southern Luzon and began moving north toward Manila. Meanwhile, the 11th A/B Division's 511th Regimental Combat Team, commanded by Col. Orin D. "Hard Rock" Haugen, parachuted onto Tagaytay Ridge on 4 February. On 10 Feb., the 11th Airborne Division came under the command of the Sixth Army, and seized Fort William McKinley on 17 Feb.
Swing was joined by the Hunters ROTC Filipino guerrillas, under the command of Lt. Col. Emmanuel V. de Ocampo, and by 5 Feb., they were on the outskirts of Manila.
As the Americans converged on Manila from different directions, they found that most of the Imperial Japanese Army troops defending the city had been withdrawn to Baguio City, on the orders of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander in chief of Japanese Army forces in the Philippines. Yamashita planned to engage Filipino and U.S. forces in northern Luzon in a co-ordinated campaign, with the aim of buying time for the build-up of defenses against the pending Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands. He had three main groups under his command: 80,000 men of the Shimbu Group in the mountains east of Manila, 30,000 of the Kembu Group in the hills north of Manila, and 152,000 in the Shobu Group in northeastern Luzon.
In 1941, General Douglas MacArthur had declared Manila an open city before its capture. Although Yamashita had not done so in 1945, he had not intended to defend Manila; he did not think that he could feed the city's one million residents and defend a large area with vast tracts of flammable wooden buildings. Gen. Yamashita had originally ordered the commander of Shimbu Group, Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama, to destroy all bridges and other vital installations and then evacuate the city as soon as any large American forces made their appearance.
However, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy's 31st Naval Special Base Force, was determined to fight a last-ditch battle in Manila, and, though nominally part of the Shimbu Army Group, repeatedly ignored Army orders to withdraw from the city. The naval staff in Japan agreed to Iwabuchi's scheme, eroding a frustrated Yamashita's attempts at confronting the Americans with a concerted, unified defense. Iwabuchi had 12,500 men under his command, designated the Manila Naval Defense Force, augmented by 4,500 army personnel under Col. Katsuzo Noguchi and Capt. Saburo Abe. They built defensive positions in the city, including Intramuros, cut down the palm trees on Dewey Blvd. to form a runway, and set up barricades across major streets. Iwabuchi formed the Northern Force under Noguchi, and the Southern Force under Capt. Takusue Furuse.
Iwabuchi had been in command of the battleship Kirishima when she was sunk by a US Navy task force off Guadalcanal in 1942, a blot on his honor which may have inspired his determination to fight to the death. Before the battle began, he issued an address to his men:
“We are very glad and grateful for the opportunity of being able to serve our country in this epic battle. Now, with what strength remains, we will daringly engage the enemy. Banzai to the Emperor! We are determined to fight to the last man.”
Battle Santo Tomas internees liberated
On 3 February, elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division under Maj. Gen. Verne D. Mudge pushed into the northern outskirts of Manila and seized a vital bridge across the Tullahan River, which separated them from the city proper, and quickly captured Malacanang Palace. A squadron of Brig. Gen. William C. Chase's 8th Cavalry, the first unit to arrive in the city, began a drive toward the sprawling campus of the University of Santo Tomas, which had been turned into the Santo Tomas Internment Camp for civilians and the US Army and Navy nurses sometimes known as the "Angels of Bataan."
Since 4 January 1942, a total of thirty-seven months, the university’s main building had been used to hold civilians. Out of 4,255 prisoners, 466 died in captivity, three were killed while attempting to escape on 15 February 1942, and one made a successful breakout in early January 1945.
Capt. Manuel Colayco, a USAFFE guerrilla officer, became an allied casualty of the city's liberation, after he and his companion, Lt. Diosdado Guytingco, guided the American First Cavalry to the front gate of Santo Tomas. Struck by Japanese bullets, Colayco died seven days later in Legarda Elementary School, which became a field hospital. At 9 PM, five tanks of the 44th Tank Battalion, headed by "Battlin' Basic," headed into the compound.
The Japanese, commanded by Lt. Col. Toshio Hayashi, gathered the remaining internees together in the Education Building as hostages, and exchanged pot shots with the Americans and Filipinos. The next day, 5 February, they negotiated with the Americans to allow them to rejoin Japanese troops to the south of the city, carrying only individual arms. The Japanese were unaware the area they requested, was the now American-occupied Malacañan Palace, and soon afterwards were fired upon and several were killed including Hayashi.
On 4 February, the 37th Infantry Division freed more than 1,000 prisoners of war, mostly former defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, held at Bilibid Prison, which had been abandoned by the Japanese.
Encirclement and massacres
Early on 6 February, General MacArthur announced that "Manila had fallen." In fact, the battle for Manila had barely begun. Almost at once the 1st Cavalry Division in the north and the 11th Airborne Division in the south reported stiffening Japanese resistance to further advances into the city.
General Oscar Griswold continued to push elements of the XIV Corps south from Santo Tomas University toward the Pasig River. Late on the afternoon on 4 February, he ordered the 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, to seize Quezon Bridge, the only crossing over the Pasig that the Japanese had not destroyed. As the squadron approached the bridge, Japanese heavy machine guns opened fire from a formidable roadblock thrown up across Quezon Boulevard, forcing the cavalry to stop its advance and withdraw until nightfall. As the Americans and Filipinos pulled back, the Japanese blew up the bridge.
On 5 February, the 37th Infantry Division began to move into Manila, and Griswold divided the northern section of the city into two sectors, with the 37th responsible for advancing to the south, and the 1st Cavalry Division responsible for an envelopment to the east. The Americans secured the northern bank of the Pasig River by 6 February, and had captured the city's water supply at the Novaliches Dam, Balara Water Filters, and the San Juan Reservoir.
On 7 February, Gen. Beightler ordered the 148th Regiment to cross the Pasig River and clear Paco and Pandacan. The bitterest fighting for Manila - which proved costliest to the 129th Regiment - was in capturing the steam-driven power plant on Provisor Island, where the Japanese held out until 11 February. By the afternoon of 8 February, 37th Division units had cleared most of the Japanese from their sector, but the residential districts were damaged extensively. The Japanese added to the destruction by demolishing buildings and military installations as they withdrew. Japanese resistance in Tondo and Malabon continued until 9 February.
Trying to protect the city and its civilians, MacArthur had stringently restricted U.S. artillery and air support. Yet, by 9 February, American shelling had set fire to a number of districts. "If the city were to be secured without the destruction of the 37th and the 1st Cavalry Divisions, no further effort could be made to save buildings, everything holding up progress would be pounded." Iwabuchi's sailors, marines, and Army reinforcements, having initially had some success resisting American infantrymen armed with flamethrowers, grenades and bazookas, soon faced direct fire from tanks, tank destroyers, and howitzers, which blasted holes in one building after another, often killing both Japanese and civilians trapped inside, without differentiation.
Subjected to incessant pounding and facing certain death or capture, the beleaguered Japanese troops took out their anger and frustration on the civilians caught in the crossfire, committing multiple acts of severe brutality, which later would be known as the Manila Massacre. Violent mutilations, rapes, and massacres of the populace accompanied the battle for control of the city. Massacres occurred in schools, hospitals and convents, including San Juan de Dios Hospital, Santa Rosa College, Santo Domingo Church, Manila Cathedral, Paco Church, St. Paul's Convent, and St. Vincent de Paul Church.
By 12 February Iwabuchi's artillery and heavy mortars had been destroyed, and with no plan for withdrawal or regrouping, "each man had his meager supply of rations, barely sufficient arms and ammunition, and a building in which his life would end..." The 1st Cavalry Division reached Manila Bay on 12 February, but it was not until 18 February that they took Rizal Stadium, which the Japanese had turned into an ammunition dump, and Fort San Antonio Abad. On 17 February, the 148th Regiment took the Philippine General Hospital, freeing 7,000 civilians, the University of the Philippines Padre Faura campus, and Assumption College San Lorenzo's original Herran-Dakota campus.
Iwabuchi was ordered by Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama, commander of the Shimbu Group, to break out of Manila on the night of 17–18 February, in coordination with counter-attacks on Novaliches Dam and Grace Park. The breakout failed and Iwabuchi's remaining 6,000 men were trapped in Manila. The destruction of Manila, a quarter of a million civilian casualties, and the subsequent execution of General Yamashita for war crimes after the war was the result. Americans, 16,665 Japanese and 100,000 to 240,000 civilians were killed. There was no animosity amongst the liberated Filipinos, claiming, "We were with the Americans! We were safe! We were liberated!"
By 20 February, the New Police Station, St. Vincent de Paul Church, San Pablo Church, the Manila Club, City Hall and the General Post Office were in American hands. The Japanese retreated into Intramuros on the night of 19 February, and the Manila Hotel was liberated on 22 Feb., but MacArthur found his penthouse in ashes. Only Intramuros, plus the Legislative, Finance, and Agricultural Buildings, remained in Japanese hands.
The assault on Intramuros started at 0730 on 23 February, with a 140 gun artillery barrage, followed by the 148th attacking through breaches made in the walls between the Quezon and Parian Gates, and the 129th crossing the Pasig River, then attacking near the location of the Government Mint.
The fighting for Intramuros continued until 26 February. Fewer than 3,000 civilians escaped the assault, mostly women and children who were released on the afternoon of 23 February. Colonel Noguchi's soldiers and sailors killed 1,000 men and women, while the other hostages died during the American shelling. Iwabuchi and his officers committed seppuku (ritual suicide) at dawn on 26 February. The 5th Cavalry Regiment took the Agricultural Building by 1 March, and the 148th Regiment took the Legislative Building on 28th Feb. and the Finance Building by 3 March.
Army Historian Robert R. Smith wrote:
"Griswold and Beightler were not willing to attempt the assault with infantry alone. Not expressly enjoined from employing artillery, they now planned a massive artillery preparation that would last from 17 to 23 February and would include indirect fire at ranges up to 8,000 yards as well as direct, point-blank fire from ranges as short as 250 yards. They would employ all available corps and division artillery, from 240mm howitzers down. (...) Just how civilian lives could be saved by this type of preparation, as opposed to aerial bombardment, is unknown. The net result would be the same: Intramuros would be practically razed." That the artillery had almost razed the ancient Walled City could not be helped. To the XIV Corps and the 37th Division at this state of the battle for Manila, American lives were understandably far more valuable than historic landmarks. The destruction stemmed from the American decision to save lives in a battle against Japanese troops who had decided to sacrifice their lives as dearly as possible."
Before the fighting ended, MacArthur summoned a provisional assembly of prominent Filipinos to Malacañan Palace and in their presence declared the Commonwealth of the Philippines to be permanently reestablished. "My country kept the faith," he told the gathered assembly. "Your capital city, cruelly punished though it be, has regained its rightful place—citadel of democracy in the East."
For the rest of the month the Americans and Filipino guerrillas mopped up resistance throughout the city. With Intramuros secured on 4 March, Manila was officially liberated, albeit completely destroyed with large areas levelled by American bombing. The battle left 1,010 U.S. soldiers dead and 5,565 wounded. An estimated 100,000 to 240,000 Filipinos civilians were killed, both deliberately by the Japanese in the Manila massacre and, from artillery and aerial bombardment by U.S. and Japanese forces. 16,665 Japanese dead were counted within Intramuros alone.
Destruction of the city
The battle for Manila was the first and fiercest urban fighting in the entire Pacific War. Few battles in the closing months of World War II exceeded the destruction and the brutality of the massacres and savagery of the fighting in Manila. In Manila's business district only two buildings were not damaged and those two were looted of their plumbing.
A steel flagpole stands at the entrance to the old U.S. Embassy building in Ermita, which was pockmarked by numerous bullet and shrapnel hits, and still stands today, a testament to the intense, bitter fighting for the walled city. In this category, Manila second to Stalingrad as being the city with the fiercest urban fighting during the war.
Filipinos lost an irreplaceable cultural and historical treasure in the resulting carnage and devastation of Manila, remembered today as a national tragedy. Countless government buildings, universities and colleges, convents, monasteries and churches, and their accompanying treasures dating to the founding of the city, were ruined. The cultural patrimony (including art, literature, and especially architecture) of the Orient's first truly international melting pot - the confluence of Spanish, American and Asian cultures - was eviscerated. Manila, once touted as the "Pearl of the Orient" and famed as a living monument to the meeting of Asian and European cultures, was virtually wiped out.
Most of the buildings damaged during the war were demolished after the Liberation, as part of rebuilding Manila, replacing European style architecture from the Spanish and early American era with modern American style architecture. Only a few old buildings remain intact.
Assault and occupation of Okinawa, 1 to 5 April 1945.
Battle of Okinawa
Okinawa was the largest amphibious invasion of the Pacific campaign and the last major campaign of the Pacific War. More ships were used, more troops put ashore, more supplies transported, more bombs dropped, more naval guns fired against shore targets than any other operation in the Pacific. More people died during the Battle of Okinawa than all those killed during the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Casualties totaled more than 38,000 Americans wounded and 12,000 killed or missing, more than 107,000 Japanese and Okinawan conscripts killed, and perhaps 100,000 Okinawan civilians who perished in the battle.
The battle of Okinawa proved to be the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War. Thirty-four allied ships and craft of all types had been sunk, mostly by kamikazes, and 368 ships and craft damaged. The fleet had lost 763 aircraft. Total American casualties in the operation numbered over 12,000 killed [including nearly 5,000 Navy dead and almost 8,000 Marine and Army dead] and 36,000 wounded. Navy casualties were tremendous, with a ratio of one killed for one wounded as compared to a one to five ratio for the Marine Corps. Combat stress also caused large numbers of psychiatric casualties, a terrible hemorrhage of front-line strength. There were more than 26,000 non-battle casualties. In the battle of Okinawa, the rate of combat losses due to battle stress, expressed as a percentage of those caused by combat wounds, was 48% [in the Korean War the overall rate was about 20-25%, and in the Yom Kippur War it was about 30%]. American losses at Okinawa were so heavy as to illicit Congressional calls for an investigation into the conduct of the military commanders. Not surprisingly, the cost of this battle, in terms of lives, time, and material, weighed heavily in the decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan just six weeks later.
Japanese human losses were enormous: 107,539 soldiers killed and 23,764 sealed in caves or buried by the Japanese themselves; 10,755 captured or surrendered. The Japanese lost 7,830 aircraft and 16 combat ships. Since many Okinawan residents fled to caves where they subsequently were entombed the precise number of civilian casualties will probably never be known, but the lowest estimate is 42,000 killed. Somewhere between one-tenth and one-fourth of the civilian population perished, though by some estimates the battle of Okinawa killed almost a third of the civilian population. According to US Army records during the planning phase of the operation, the assumption was that Okinawa was home to about 300,000 civilians. At the conclusion of hostilities around 196,000 civilians remained. However, US Army figures for the 82-day campaign showed a total figure of 142,058 civilian casualties, including those killed by artillery fire, air attacks and those who were pressed into service by the Japanese army.
By April 1945 German resistance in the European Campaign was on the verge of collapse, but the Empire of Japan continued to defiantly resist American advances across the Pacific. Strategically located some 400 miles south of Japan, possession of Okinawa would enable the Allies to cut Japan's sea lines of communication and isolate it from its vital sources of raw materials in the south. If the invasion of Japan proved necessary, Okinawa's harbors, anchorages, and airfields could be used to stage the ships, troops, aircraft, and supplies necessary for the amphibious assault. The island had several Japanese air bases and the only two substantial harbors between Formosa and Kyushu.
The outbreak of hostilities in China during the 1930s initially had little impact on the inhabitants of the Ryukyu Islands, a chain running southwest from the Japanese home island of Kyushu toward Taiwan. Despite its size, of approximately 480 square miles and its population of perhaps 500,000, Okinawa had neither surplus food nor a great deal of industry to assist the Japanese effort. Its harbor facilities were unsuitable for large warships. The island's main contribution to the war effort lay in the production of sugarcane, which could be converted into commercial alcohol for torpedoes and engines.
From the first days of the Asia-Pacific war, Okinawa was fortified as the location of airbases and as the frontline in the defense of mainland Japan. Land and farms were forcibly expropriated throughout Okinawa and the Imperial Japanese Army began the construction of airbases.
By late October 1944, Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Island chain, had been targeted for invasion by Allied forces. This invasion -- code named Operation Iceberg --- would see the assembling of the greatest naval armada ever. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance's 5th fleet was to include more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battleships, 200 destroyers and hundreds of assorted support ships. Some 1,300 US ships surrounded the island. Of those, 365 were amphibious ships. Over 182,000 troops would make up the assault, planned for 01 April 1945, Easter Sunday. On 29 September 1944 B-29 bombers conducted the initial reconnaissance mission over Okinawa and its outlying islands. On 10 October 1944 nearly two hundred of Admiral Halsey's planes struck Naha, Okinawa's capital and principal city, in five separate waves. The city was almost totally devastated. The American war against Japan was coming inexorably closer to the Japanese homeland.
In mid-March 1945, the American fleet of over 1,300 ships gathered off Okinawa for the naval bombardment The first kamikaze attacks of the Okinawan campaign began on 18 March 1945. On 21 March, the first baka or piloted, suicide rocket bombs, were spotted below Japanese "Betty" bombers.
The invasion began on 01 April 1945 when 60,000 troops (two Marine and two Army divisions) landed with little opposition. The day began and ended with the heaviest concentration of naval gunfire ever expended to support an amphibious landing. Gathered off the invasion beaches were 10 older American battleships, including several Pearl Harbor survivors-the USS Tennessee, Maryland, and West Virginia-as well as 9 cruisers, 23 destroyers and destroyer escorts, and 117 rocket gunboats. Together they fired 3,800 tons of shells at Okinawa during the first 24 hours. Okinawans had long been resigned to the severe typhoons that sweep their land, but nothing in their experience prepared them for the tetsu no bow -- the "storm of steel" -- as one Okinawan characterized the assault on the island. At 0830 the 7th and 96th Infantry Divisions of the XXIV Corps and the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions of the III Amphibious Corps crossed the Hagushi beaches, with 16,000 troops landing unopposed in the first hour. By nightfall more than 60,000 were ashore.
Although Okinawa was strongly defended by more than 100,000 troops, the Japanese chose not to defend the beaches. The uncontested landings of 01 April were part of the overall Japanese strategy to avoid casualties defending the beach against overwhelming Allied firepower. A system of defense in depth, especially in the southern portion of the island, would permit the 100,000-man-strong Japanese 32nd Army under General Ushijima to fight a protracted battle that would put both the attacking amphibious forces and naval armada at risk. The Japanese dug into caves and tunnels on the high ground away from the beaches in an attempt to negate the Allies' superior sea and air power.
The battle proceeded in four phases: first, the advance to the eastern coast (April 1-4); second, the clearing of the northern part of the island (April 5-18); third, the occupation of the outlying islands (April 10 - June 26); and fourth, the main battle against the dug in elements of the 32nd Army which began on 06 April and did not end until 21 June. Although the first three phases encountered only mild opposition, the final phase proved extremely difficult because the Japanese were well-entrenched in and naval gunfire support was ineffective.
On April 6-7, the first use of massed formations of hundreds of kamikaze aircraft called kikusui, or "floating chrysanthemum", for the imperial symbol of Japan, began. By the end of the Okinawan campaign, 1,465 kamikaze flights were flown from Kyushu to sink 30 American ships and damage 164 others. The Japanese had devised a plan to load-up high-speed motorboats with high explosives and have them attack the American Fleet. The boats were hidden in caves up rivers and pulled inside along railroad tracks. The plan never was carried out, however.
The Japanese battleship, Yamato, the largest warship ever built accompanied by the light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers, was dispatched to Okinawa on 06 April 1945, with no protective air cover. So badly depleted was the Japanese fleet by this time, Yamato was reported to carry only enough fuel for a one-way trip to Okinawa. Her mission: beach herself at Okinawa and fight until eliminated. The American submarine Hackleback tracked her movements and alerted carrier-based bombers. Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher launched air strikes on April 7 at 10 a.m. The first hits on Yamato were claimed by the carrier Bennington. San Jacinto planes sunk the destroyer Hamakaze, with a bomb and torpedo hit. The light cruiser Yahagi was hit by bombs and went dead in the water. For the next two hours, the Japanese force was under constant attack. Yamato took 12 bombs and seven torpedo hits within two hours, finally blowing up and sinking. Three accompanying destroyers were so badly damaged they had to be scuttled. Four remaining destroyers could not return to Japan. Of Yamato's crew of 2,747, all but 23 officers and 246 enlisted men were lost. Yahagi lost 446; Asashimo lost 330; the seven destroyers, 391 officers and men. There were few Japanese survivors. Losses to the Americans were 10 planes and 12 men. This was the last Japanese naval action of the war.
By 19 April soldiers and marines of the US Tenth Army under Lt. General Buckner were engaged in a fierce battle along a fortified front which represented the outer ring of the Shuri Line. This fighting contrasted dramatically with the unopposed landings and initial rapid advances of the previous weeks. The Shuri defenses were deeply dug into the limestone cliffs and boasted mutually supporting positions as well as a wealth of artillery of various calibers. As the battle dragged on, American casualties mounted. This delay in securing the island caused great consternation among the naval commanders since the fleet of almost 1,600 ships was exposed to heavy enemy air attacks. The most damage from the Japanese attacks came from operation Ten-Go (Heavenly Operation) which employed mass deployment of the fearsome kamikaze.
American losses mounted as soldiers and marines assaulted points on the Shuri line with the deceptive names of Sugar Loaf, Chocolate Drop, Conical Hill, Strawberry Hill, and Sugar Hill. During the course of the battle American forces were informed of two pieces of dramatic news, one tragic and the other joyous. The first was the death of president Franklin Roosevelt on 12 April and the latter the surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May.
By the end of May, monsoon rains which turned contested slopes and roads into a morass exacerbated both the tactical and medical situations. The ground advance began to resemble a World War I battlefield as troops became mired in mud and flooded roads greatly inhibited evacuation of wounded to the rear. Troops lived on a field sodden by rain, part garbage dump and part graveyard. Unburied Japanese bodies decayed, sank in the mud, and became part of a noxious stew. Anyone sliding down the greasy slopes could easily find their pockets full of maggots at the end of the journey.
Heavy pressure on the Shuri Line finally convinced General Ushijima to withdraw southward to his final defensive positions on the Kiyamu Peninsula. His troops began moving out on the night of 23 May but were careful to leave behind rear-guard elements that continued to slow the American advance. Japanese soldiers, too wounded to travel, were given lethal injections of morphine or simply left behind to die. By the first week of June, US forces had captured only 465 enemy troops while claiming 62,548 killed. It would take 2 more weeks of hard fighting and an additional 2 weeks of "mopping up " operations pitting explosives and flamethrowers against determined pockets of resistance before the battle would finally be over. The so called "mopping up" fighting between 23 and 29 June netted an additional 9,000 enemy dead and 3,800 captured. Among the Japanese, the incidence of suicide soared during the final days. An examination of enemy dead revealed that, rather than surrender, many had held grenades against their stomachs, ending their personal war in that manner. General Ushijima committed ritual suicide (hara-kiri) on 16 June, convinced that he done his duty in service to the Emperor.
The document ending the Battle of Okinawa was signed on what is now Kadena Air Base on 07 September 1945. Long before the firing stopped on Okinawa, engineers and construction battalions, following close on the heels of the combat forces, were transforming the island into a major base for the projected invasion of the Japanese home islands.