THE BATTLE OF THE SIBUYAN SEA
On the eve of the Battle for Leyte Gulf the men who manned the ships and planes of the Third Fleet carrier groups had almost completed two months of grueling action of which Admiral Mitscher wrote: "No other period of the Pacific War has included as much intensive operating." During the two previous weeks of strikes on Luzon, Formosa, and Okinawa fighter pilots and ships' crews had stood off the heaviest series of air attacks the enemy had launched against our naval forces up to that time. These strikes came at the end of a period of ten months of operations in the tropics throughout which men had been living between steel decks and bulkheads, under constant pressure, and in large part under actual combat conditions. Shore leave, except for a few hours on some barren atoll, was very rare. "Probably 10,000 men have never put a foot on shore during this period of ten months," reported Mitscher. "No other force in the world has been subjected to such a period of constant operation without rest or rehabilitation."
While all four task groups needed rearming, the primary need was rest for everyone--from flag plot to engine room, from admirals to mess boys. Ships' medical officers commented on the symptoms of fatigue in their reports. "The spirit of these ships is commendable," said Mitscher. "However, the reactions of their crews are slowed down. The result is that they are not completely effective against attack." Yet the ships of Task Force 38 were about to face their severest test.