January 2001 Volume 9 Number 5 Published by The ww II history Roundtable Edited by Jim and Jon Gerber

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January 2001

Volume 9 Number 5

Published by The WW II History Roundtable

Edited by Jim and Jon Gerber

Welcome to the January meeting of the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War Two History Roundtable. Tonight’s program is presented by one our regular speakers, naval author and historian, John Lindley. His topic is the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This battle was a desperate gamble by Imperial Japan when she risked the remnants of her fleet in an all-out effort to retain her conquests and safeguard her supply routes against the mighty American Pacific forces. This was a great sea battle which saw the use of the suicidal Kamikaze units for the first time.

The Kamikaze

Nearly 4000 Kamikaze aircraft managed to sink or damage over 300 Allied ships and kill or injure more than 15,000 Allied sailors. Named for the “Divine Wind” which had twice saved Japan from from Mongol invasion during the 13th century, the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps was a logical, almost reasonable measure. Japan’s pre-war pilots were very capable, possibly the best in the world. But there were relatively few of them and Japan had an inadequate replacement program. From the moment that Japan entered the war, it began to lose pilots faster than they could be replaced. By mid-1944, new Japanese pilots were being sent into battle with less than one third of the flight training time that US pilots received and were being shot down in disproportionate numbers. Meanwhile, the anti-aircraft defense capability of the US Navy had increased to the point that a pilot who attempted to attack a US ship was more or less committing suicide anyway and not likely to do very much damage. Given the sacrificial myths of the Japanese military, the Kamikaze was a relatively logical step. How much more practical and profitable to deliberately plunge one’s aircraft into the enemy, thereby insuring his destruction along with your own.

The Kamikazes were actually quite effective. From October 24 through November 1, 1944, Kamikaze attacks off Leyte Gulf in the Philippines sank one escort carrier, one destroyer, and an ocean going tug while damaging two fleet carriers, one light carrier, seven escort carriers, one light cruiser, and three destroyers, at an expenditure of 51 Kamikaze aircraft and fifteen escorting fighters. During the Philippine campaign as a whole, the Japanese sank sixteen US vessels and damaged another eighty seven, at a cost of 378 kamikaze aircraft and 102 escorts. Japanese air power had not done so well since Pearl Harbor, nor was it ever to do as well again.
The success of the Kamikaze off of the Philippines alerted the US to the threat posed by this new weapon. Defensive weapons and tactics that were adequate to deal with aircraft attacking in the usual manner were inadequate to cope with the Kamikazes. Machine guns were too light, 20mm guns were not much better and the 40mm guns were barely enough. The problem was that these weapons wouldn’t break up an in-coming plane. Even a wounded, dying pilot could guide his plane the few extra moments needed to crash it into a ship. What was needed was something explosive. The most effective gun was the Navy’s standard 5 inch dual-purpose rapid-fire cannon. Combat air patrol was also much less effective. Standard doctrine assumed that defensive fighters could handle an attacking force of roughly twice their number, since it was your fighters against his bombers. But this didn’t work with suicide attackers, for which you needed as many defenders as there were attackers and escorts. Another advantage of the Kamikazes was that the aircraft making such attacks had a much greater range than those making conventional attacks. After all, they were not planning on returning to base. This was particularly evident off of Okinawa. During the Okinawa campaign (April - June 1945), the Japanese expended 1465 aircraft in Kamikaze attacks, sinking 21 ships and damaging 217, of which 43 were constructive total loses and 23 required at least a month’s repair before returning to service.
Altogether about 3900 aircraft were expended by the Japanese as Kamikazes, counting army and navy attacks together and excluding escorts. Several thousand aircraft sortied on Kamikaze missions but returned to their base having failed to locate targets worthy of their sacrifice. Many of these were eventually used in successful attacks and inflicted considerable damage on US and Allied ships.
Kamikazes were the most serious threat to the safety of the fleet during the war. They were also the only major development in the war that US Navy brass had not anticipated during prewar planning. As bad as the attacks were, it could have been worse. The Japanese could have resorted to kamikaze tactics earlier, when antiaircraft defenses were not as good. Or they could have attempted mass attacks rather than piecemeal attacks during the Philippine campaign. Had the war lasted longer, it would certainly have been worse. In anticipation of a US invasion of the home islands, the Japanese had some nine thousand aircraft on hand, of which one third were earmarked for Kamikaze attacks.
Worse Than The Japanese

Stalking the US sailors in the Pacific was another lethal enemy that did not speak Japanese. These were the typhoons that regularly swept across the Pacific. On December 17, 1944, Task Force 38 was blind sided by a typhoon off the Philippines. Over 800 sailors were killed; three destroyers and 20 other ships were severely damaged, as were numerous aircraft. This was not the only time a task force got hit, simply one of the worst. One reason for the seriousness of this incident may be due to the fact that Admiral Halsey flew his flag from a battleship which was more stable in foul weather than a destroyer. Halsey was accused of underestimating the danger of this storm, some saying that the rough seas didn’t seem as rough to him as he stood on the bridge of his battleship.

MacArthur’s Family Ties

Three prominent WW II leaders had a common ancestor, Sarah Barney Belcher, of Taunton, Mass. As a result of this common ancestry, US General Douglas MacArthur was an eighth cousin of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a sixth cousin of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Further Readings on Tonight’s Topic:
The Battle of Leyte Gulf

by Thomas J. Cutler

Harper Collins Pub.

New York, New York 1994

Decision at Leyte

by Stanley Falk

W.W. Norton, Pub.

New York, New York 1966

The Japanese at Leyte Gulf

by James Field

Princeton University Press

Princeton 1947

The Battle of Leyte Gulf; the death knell of the Japanese fleet

by Edwin P. Hoyt

Weybright and Talley

New York, New York 1972

Carrier Victory:the air war in the Pacific

by John Lindley


New York, New York 1978

Leyte Gulf; armada in the Pacific

by Donald MacIntyre

Ballantine Books

New York, New York 1970

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

by Adrian Stewart

Scribner, Pub.

New York, New York 1980

The Battle of Leyte Gulf

by C. Vann Woodward

Macmillan Co.

New York, New York

The Men of the Gambier Bay

by Edwin P. Hoyt

Paul S. Eriksson, Pub.

Middlebury, Vermont 1979
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