Halsey and Kurita at Leyte Gulf

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by XBe02Drvr, Oct 2, 2016.

  1. XBe02Drvr

    XBe02Drvr Active Member

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    Just finished reading "Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James Hornfischer, and it leaves me with the following question:

    Who committed the greater dereliction of duty, Halsey by leaving the beach head undefended to chase Ozawa's decoy aircaft carriers, or Kurita by retiring from the scene when victory was within his grasp?
    Come on scholars, what think ye?
     
  2. pinehilljoe

    pinehilljoe Member

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    #2 pinehilljoe, Oct 26, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2016
    Even in hindsight it is hard to be kind to ADM Halsey. Several times during the late hours of the 24th, Allied intelligence assets spotted the Japanese in the San Bernardino Strait. More than once messages were sent to Halsey in regards to the sightings, but for whatever reason he pressed on in pursuit of the elusive Japanese carriers to the north. He could have formed VADM Lee's TF-34 and detached it to guard the straights. Spruance had formed and detached Lee's force at the Philippine Sea. He could have divided TF-38, to guard the straight and hunt Ozawa. Halsey had the forces to do both. The 3rd Fleets mission was to protect the landings. With Leyte, and the two Hurricanes, Halsey did not end his career on high note. He was personally liked by King and Nimitz, had Congressional support and got the 5th star that Spruance also deserved.

    Had Kurita encountered TF-34, I think he would have retreated. If he had pressed, the RFC of the TF-34 would have had the same results as the engagement in the Suriago Straight. VADM Lee understood how to fight with RFC as well as anyone, even in daylight the RFC would have been key.
     
  3. Capt. Vick

    Capt. Vick Well-Known Member

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    I think Kurita. What was his mission? Stop the landing I believe. I have to assume that the whole operation from the standpoint of the Japanese was a gamble. If that was the case, when not see it through to the end? Sure you took a beating earlier, but what are you saving your ships for? So you can fight on the doorstep of Japan itself? Didn't even the most diehard Japanese admiral really know that they were just fighting for time? Then was not the time for half measures.
     
  4. pinehilljoe

    pinehilljoe Member

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    #4 pinehilljoe, Oct 30, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2016
    I just started reading James Hornfischer's new book, The Fleet at Flood Tide. He spends time on the exchange between Spruance, Mitscher and Lee regarding TF-34 being used for a night engagement. On 17 June, Mitscher recommended to Spruance that at 1800 Task Force 58 steam on course 270°: due west. He felt that a night surface action could occur and that a daylight carrier strike would follow. Mitscher queried Vice Admiral Willis Lee, the battle line commander, "Do you desire a night engagement? It may be we can make air contact late this afternoon and attack tonight. Otherwise we should retire to the eastward tonight." Lee replied, "Do not, repeat, not believe we should seek night engagement. Possible advantages of radar more than offset by difficulties of communications and lack of training in fleet tactics at night." This has been well documented, Morrison recounts the exchange in Vol 8.

    Lee knew first hand from the Second Battle of Guadalcanal how a surface night action can turn into a bar brawl, and how effective even 8" shells were against a battleship at a close range.

    Hornfischer implies that Lee's restraint in the Phillipine Sea, "raises the intriguing prospect that Halsey's refusal, four months later at Leyte, to turn Lee's TF 34 to confront the Japanese battleships coming through the San Bernadino Straight might have had the same taproot."

    I've never read a historian making the connection. Hornfischer's new book is a good one.
     
  5. Wavelength

    Wavelength Member

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    That is a pretty damning example of the unrealistic battle scenario expectations, battle doctrine, and subsequent ship design, that existed in the USN prior to WW2 and continuing on through the war. Indeed many of these same doctrinal fallacies continue today on the internet.

    One of mine own personal critics of the USN fast battleship designs is that they were poorly designed for the type of battles actually fought during WWII. Long range gunnery duels during daylight with aircraft (or later radar) spotting is a fantasy scenario for WWII in practical sense. After 1941, 90% of surface battles were night battles. Night naval combat will almost invariably be not much greater than about 20,000-yard range, even with radar. USN battleships and cruisers had no specialized night optics. Radar did not prove a panacea.

    Perhaps even more damning is Lee's admission that USN personal were poorly trained to fight at night, even as late as 1944, when night battle for surface combatants had become a well established rule.
     
  6. pinehilljoe

    pinehilljoe Member

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    #6 pinehilljoe, Feb 6, 2017
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2017
    Unfortunately ADM Lee died in August '45, so he never published his memoirs. He fought the BB engagement in Nov '42, and knew what could happen. Balance that with ADM Oldendorf's handling of the Suriago Straight, which was text book. Its only my conjecture, but perhaps if there was no alternative, Lee would have planned and fought the surface battle off Samar, but he new the overwhelming air power available and assumed Halsey would cover Samar?
     
  7. mikewint

    mikewint Well-Known Member

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    #7 mikewint, Feb 6, 2017
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2017
    Seems to me that we've done this before in another thread but, nay the less...
    I vote for Halsey, but first let’s give him his due. Halsey spearheaded what early response there was to Pearl Harbor: hit and run raids on the Gilbert and Marshall islands in February, 1942, and on Wake island in March; command of the “Doolittle Raid” (to many at the time, the “Doolittle-Halsey Raid”) in April, then those tough naval battles off Guadalcanal in the fall. To an American public looking for heroes in a dark time, Halsey was the man. A fortuitous typo by a reporter even turned “Bill” Halsey into “Bull,” and a legend was born.

    Unquestionably a hero–at least that’s how the U.S. public saw him. And yet, the very qualities that made him a hero also amounted to his undoing. Sure, war requires killing, but it also requires thought, a cold eye, and careful planning. Such qualities were not always high on Halsey’s list of priorities. The battle of Leyte Gulf is the classic example, where he abandoned his post at the San Bernardino Strait to chase down a force of Japanese carriers deliberately dangled as a decoy. If it wasn’t for those brave “tin can sailors” manning the escort carriers of “Taffy 3,” the Japanese might well have smashed the U.S. invasion force off Leyte. That was bad enough of course, but even worse was his deliberate hesitation to admit error and return when summoned by Admiral Chester Nimitz, a result of a message that looked to Halsey like it was framed in insulting terms. Indeed, he didn’t even RESPOND to the message for an hour, while Taffy 3 fought for its life. And then there was the great typhoon of December 1944, with Halsey ignoring the warnings and continuing operations in the face of worsening weather conditions. Three destroyers capsized and 790 U.S. sailors paid with their lives.

    As to Kurita there were a number of factors that lead him to turn away. First, Japan was trying to win this battle, which meant that they needed a navy after the battle. If they lost the Philippines, they could no longer protect their supply line, if they keep the Philippines, they still needed a fleet to protect them again. Kurita didn't know the situation around him. He was heading to Leyte Gulf, and was changing formation from night submarine defense to day air defense when he ran into Taffy 3. He thought this was part of Halsey's 3rd fleet, so the carriers would be fast carriers. This was his major mistake.
    He had 2 options. Continue to Leyte and risk air attack, or attack Taffy 3. His decision was to attack the carriers, but just to knock out the flight decks so he could continue to Leyte. Fast carriers are faster than much of his force. If he spent time organizing his fleet into a battle line, the carriers would be gone. So he ordered his forces to attack from where they were. He knew he and his 2 battleships would fall behind, but thought that his 2 battlecruisers and 6 heavy cruisers would damage the carriers quickly, and they could continue on to Leyte. This decision came back to haunt him when the battle did not end quickly.
    The carriers were able to launch their aircraft, and now Kurita was fighting an air and surface engagement. This type of fight had never occurred before. For accurate surface gunfire, the ships must travel in a fairly steady course. To avoid air attack, they must turn wildly. The ships were not in protective groups, so they were falling prey to either the American aircraft or surface combatants. Kurita had lost 1 battleship and 4 heavy cruisers prior to this engagement. As the engagement went on, he lost 3 more heavy cruisers and 1 disabled. If he continued this fight, he would have nothing left afterward. He was down to 2 heavy cruisers. Being left behind, he had little idea on what was happening and why it was taking so long. His only recourse was to disengage and reorganize. Once he disengaged, his only options were to continue to Leyte or leave. If he went to Leyte, he would face the same fight again, against a superior (to Taffy 3) surface force, as well as air attack. He would be unlikely to survive. So he chose the only option left, he withdrew.
     
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