The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf

The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf

The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf

The Last Epic Naval Battle: Voices from Leyte Gulf


This moving tale uses personal accounts of the veterans who achieved victory in the biggest and last great naval battle, largely fought with aging ships, untested reserve crews, and teenaged combat aircraft pilots. Often overshadowed by other Pacific War engagements such as Midway or Guadalcanal, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was characterized by some of the most gallant hours in seagoing history: the U.S. Navy's defeat of the combined Japanese fleet during the invasion of the Philippines in October 1944. Involving more ships than even the gargantuan First World War Battle of Jutland and two hundred thousand men, it was the biggest naval battle in world history. It marked the last time huge capital ships fought within sight and sound of each other. Using the personal accounts of the men who were there, Sears tells this mammoth and compelling story. The Battle of Leyte Gulf could have been the Pacific War's Battle of the Bulge. In a space of 12 hours, Japan, a beaten, cornered enemy, was able to devise and execute a strategy that very nearly pierced the heart of America's war machine. The real margin of victory would come from surprising quarters: from aging ships risen from the graveyard of the war's infamous first day; from small, hastily constructed ships with largely untested reserve crews; from fragile support ships never intended to be anywhere near battles of this scale; and from combat aircraft piloted by teenagers.


The story of the Battle of Leyte Gulf has been told many times—and well it should be. Often described by such superlatives as “the greatest sea battle of all time” and “the end of the Japanese navy,” it is indeed a battle of epic proportions and great importance. Yet it is a battle that, although ending in a “must have” victory for the United States Navy, is tarnished by the near miss that David Sears so effectively describes in this book.

Despite its weakened condition by this point in the war, the Imperial Japanese Navy nearly pulled off its desperate plan to disrupt the landings in the Philippines. Had it done so, it might have had profound effects on the war and possibly on the coming elections back in the United States. At the very least, it would have been a major setback to the Allied march across the Pacific that by then had great momentum and was on the fast track to ending the war.

The reasons that the Japanese nearly succeeded at this critical moment in the war are, of course, complicated—war always is. But chief among the reasons were some critical decisions made at the high command level. Among these was the unwieldy command structure that had two fleet commanders operating independently in the area with no common superior until their respective chains of command reached Washington, D.C. And of course there is the famous decision by Admiral Halsey to take all of his very powerful fleet northward on what turned out to be a decoy chase.

The tarnish that these things put on this battle is polished away, however, at the deck plate and cockpit level. The actions of thousands of sailors— from destroyer captains to seaman gunners—offset the mistakes that had been made, and turned a near certain defeat into the needed victory, and in so doing, wrote one the most heroic chapters in American history.

And that is what makes this most recent telling so worthwhile. David Sears has told this awe-inspiring story through the recollections of those . . .

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