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Cutler captures the milieu, analyzes the strategy and tactics employed, and re-creates the experiences of the participants--from seaman to admiral, both Japanese and American. It is a story replete with awe-inspiring heroism, failed intelligence, flawed strategy, brilliant deception, great controversies, and a cast of characters with names like Halsey, Nimitz, Ozawa, and MacArthur. Such an exciting and revealing account of the battle is unlikely to be equaled by future writers.
11 March 1942. The relentless shelling of the waterfront area had ceased as evening approached, and in the sudden stillness only the throaty growl of idling diesels and the crackle of flames could be heard. The general paused at the water's edge and surveyed his wilting domain. Where lush vegetation and vibrantly colored tropical flowers had recently flourished, all that remained was the bleak aftermath of battle, the shattered remnants of an army on the verge of capitulation. Trees whose fronds had once brushed majestically against the beautiful Philippine sky had been reduced to mere jagged stumps. Buildings that had housed a proud garrison now lay in ruins, their ragged remnants protruding from a pall of acrid smoke that further subdued the already fading twilight. General Douglas MacArthur, twenty-five pounds lighter than he had been three months earlier, removed his gold-encrusted khaki cap and raised it in a final salute to Corregidor, the island-fortress he had been ordered to abandon.
In the gathering darkness of those early days of the war, when defeat had followed defeat, the brave but futile stand that MacArthur's forces had made on the fortified peninsula of Bataan had been a welcome ray of light. Douglas MacArthur had been elevated in the eyes of the American people to heroic proportions not equaled since Admiral Dewey had defeated the Spanish Fleet in these same Philippine waters at the close of the last century. To allow him to fall into the hands of an enemy whose propagandists predicted that they would see him publicly hanged inthe Imperial Plaza in Tokyo was, simply, unthinkable. So President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ordered the general to leave the Philippines.
This was no simple order. First, there was the general's natural reluctance to abandon his command. Then, there was the realization that escape from the Philippines was more easily ordered than carried out. Japanese forces virtually controlled the air and sea approaches, so only a bold and clandestine move had any hope of success. And finally, there was MacArthur's special ties to the Philippines. His father, General Arthur MacArthur, had been both war hero and military governor there, and young Douglas's first assignment after graduating from West Point had been a tour of duty in the Philippines as a second lieutenant in the elite Corps of Engineers. He returned to the islands several more times during his career, and by the time the Japanese landed troops at Lingayen Gulf in December 1941, MacArthur had become a field marshal of the Philippine Army and commander of U.S. Army Forces in the Far East.
Now, as he stood upon Corregidor Island's weathered wooden dock, preparing to follow his commander-in-chiefs orders to depart his beloved Philippines—leaving behind, to certain defeat, a combined American-Filipino army of nearly eighty thousand—MacArthur felt the color drain from his face and a sudden, convulsive twitch beneath his eyes that threatened to steal the composure he so valued. He turned his back on Corregidor and, stepping aboard the 77-foot patrol-torpedo (PT) boat that was to be his means of escape, said to the young Navy lieutenant in command, "You may cast off, Buck, when you are ready."
As evening darkness descended upon Manila Bay and rain-laden clouds erased the moon, Lieutenant John D. Bulkeley's PT-41 threaded its way through the defensive mine field and headed for the blackened waters of Mindoro Strait where enemy ships were known to prowl. On board, General Douglas MacArthur vowed to recover from this ignominious moment, to avenge the inevitable defeat, to come back as soon as possible with the forces necessary to drive out the invading Japanese, and to restore America's—and his own—honor. In a few days he would voice this determination to the world, capturing the imagination of those Americans and Filipinos who had placed their faith in him, with three small but powerful words: "I shall return."
Six days after MacArthur departed Corregidor, on the other side of the world, one of the guests at a White House dinner asked the President to reveal how General MacArthur had escaped from the Philippines. Franklin Roosevelt, with a mischievous glint in his eye that was not detected by all at the table, replied in a conspiratorial tone, "General MacArthur took a rowboat and, disguised as a Filipino fisherman, rowed to Australia—right past the Japs. Perfectly simple. It was only a matter of twenty-five hundred miles." Not everyone laughed at the President's outlandish explanation. In fact, it appears that at least some of the guests were quite willing to believe it. In retrospect this seems rather naive, but when viewed in the context of the times, such a feat did not seem beyond the capabilities of Douglas MacArthur. Parents were christening their newborn children with his name, colleges and universities were heaping honorary degrees upon him, mothers were reportedly invoking his name to entice their children to eat spinach, organizations of every description were giving him honorary memberships—even the Blackfoot Indian tribe adopted MacArthur, conferring upon him the title of "Chief Wise Eagle." Lapel buttons bearing his image and a film about him entitled America's First Soldier sold well. A widely publicized news story reported that when an Atlanta junior high school teacher asked his class to name an American possession in the Far East, a pupil proudly answered "General MacArthur."
Despite all this adulation, there were many who felt quite differently about Douglas MacArthur. His many achievements—including heroic leadership in the Great War and a meteoric rise through the ranks of the Army, often becoming the youngest ever to hold key positions such as Superintendent at West Point and Chief of Staff of the Army—were offset by a towering ego that frequently manifested itself in Olympian declarations and pompous passages of purple prose. He rarely willingly shared the limelight, and his use of the first-person was legendary. His leadership during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines had been flawed, and his strong will and single-mindedness often took him to the very brink of insubordination. Yet, for all those who saw these shortcomings in MacArthur, there were probably many more who lionized and idealized him. The one constant was that he was rarely treated with moderation.
Because of these antipodal reactions toward MacArthur, President Roosevelt and his Joint Chiefs of Staff had to be very careful how they utilized him. There were those among MacArthur's supporters who advocated giving him command of the entire Pacific war. Indeed, no small bloc wanted him appointed as supreme commander of all American forces, worldwide. MacArthur's enemies, of course, were violently opposed. Additionally, American naval leaders convincingly argued that the aqueous expanses of the Pacific, with so many islands as key strategic points, dictated that the war there would be primarily a naval one and should, therefore, be led by an admiral rather than a general. But, leaving MacArthur out of the war entirely was out of the question. Besides the obvious political problem of his powerful following, there is convincing evidence to indicate that Roosevelt respected MacArthur as a general. The President's personal physician, Dr. Ross T. McIntire, revealed after the war that Roosevelt "may have smiled now and then at some of the General's purple communiqués, but always there was appreciation of him as a military genius who had worked miracles in the face of heart-breaking odds." One of Roosevelt's most trusted advisers, Admiral William D. Leahy, wrote of MacArthur: "I had always entertained an extremely high opinion of his ability." And Roosevelt himself told MacArthur, while the latter was serving as Chief of Staff of the Army, "Douglas, I think you are our best general, but I believe you would be our worst politician." This last statement may contain an underlying reason for FDR's apparent advocacy of the popular general—that by advancing MacArthur's interests to a degree, Roosevelt was controlling those interests to an even greater degree. There is compelling evidence that Roosevelt saw MacArthur as a potential political rival and that keeping the sometimes difficult general in the President's camp was preferable to making him a powerful competitor outside the President's sphere of influence.
The sticky problem of what to do with MacArthur was ultimately handled, as are most political dilemmas, by compromise. General MacArthur was not given command of the entire Pacific theater, nor was he shelved. The Pacific was carved into theaters and MacArthur was named Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), which encompassed Australia, the Solomon Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies (except Sumatra), and the Philippines. The remainder of the Pacific was assigned to Admiral Chester Nimitz, who added the title Commander in Chief Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPOA) to his existing title, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT or, more commonly, CINCPAC. MacArthur was opposed to the idea of a divided command in the Pacific but pragmatic enough to accept the compromise. He did, however, insist upon changing his title from "Supreme Commander" to "Commander in Chief," as Nimitz had been named.
So, in the summer of 1942, the newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area (CINCSOWESPAC) began planning to make good on his promise to the Philippines. But Douglas MacArthur's prophecy of return was not destined for fulfillment in any short order. The course of the war dictated that it would be more than two years before that return would be considered feasible. And even then, one man's promise was not necessarily his government's policy.
It soon became apparent that operations within MacArthur's SWPA theater would have to be conducted within some rather severe limitations. The first of these was imposed by the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff, who were determined to adhere to a policy established in a secret conference held before the United States entered the war. It had been decided that Hitler's Germany was a greater potential threat than the Japanese, so first priority would be given to the war in Europe. This, of course, meant that the bulk of American resources would be channeled to the European theater until Germany could be defeated.
Furthermore, the carving up of the Pacific into theaters had given MacArthur a sizable piece of geography but few assets with which to prosecute his campaign. The most significant factor was that Nimitz retained control of the Pacific Fleet, leaving MacArthur with only the remnants of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, a force that had been severely outdated and poorly maintained in the years prior to Pearl Harbor and, along with most of the British, Dutch, and Australian naval forces in the region, had been virtually annihilated by the Japanese in the first months of the war.
Despite these limitations, MacArthur set out on a campaign that was, over the next two years, to take him up what he called the "New Guinea-Mindanao Axis" toward his return to the Philippines. Simultaneously, Nimitz conducted his own thrust across the Central Pacific, penetrating first the Gilbert Islands, then the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas.
It is interesting to note that MacArthur is deservedly remembered for his flamboyance and dramatic posturing, and Nimitz, on the other hand, is generally characterized as quiet, reserved, and avoiding public attention whenever possible. Yet, Nimitz's Central Pacific campaign is better remembered than MacArthur's Southwest Pacific campaign. Tarawa, Guam, Saipan, and Peleliu are names that most Americans associate with the war in the Pacific, whereas Buna, Lae, Aitape, Biak, and Noemfoor are all milestones in MacArthur's march up the northern New Guinea coast, and few Americans have ever heard of them.
To discredit him, MacArthur's critics complained that the length of time it took for the New Guinea campaign to be completed was excessive, but this argument loses most of its potence when one considers that New Guinea is the second largest island in the world and, when superimposed on a map of the United States, stretches from the Atlantic Coast to the foothills of the Rockies. Initially, the campaign was slow to get rolling, and the earliest engagements were marred by some costly errors, but once the early inertia was overcome and mistakes became lessons learned, MacArthur's leadership, and the tenacity and courage of the forces who served him, made the Southwest Pacific campaign a model of strategic and tactical brilliance. With a paucity of matériel support and an impressively low casualty rate overall, SWPA forces steadily pushed their way up the New Guinea coast—a distance of nearly two thousand miles in some of the worst jungle terrain in the world.
As the war progressed, Nimitz's Central Pacific thrust and MacArthur's Southwest Pacific advance became very different campaigns. The former was an extremely mobile, island-hopping advance across the vast stretches of the Pacific, covered by an umbrella of self-contained air power in the form of a steadily growing fleet of aircraft carriers. The latter was more of a land campaign, employing MacArthur's few ships primarily as transport for his troops as he moved steadily up the New Guinea coast, never extending himself beyond the reach of his land-based air power. Despite their differences, however, the two campaigns complemented one another and kept the Japanese off balance by causing them to shift forces from one theater to another in anticipation of the Americans' next move. And the two campaigns shared one other important similarity: both Nimitz and MacArthur were moving ever closer to the home islands of the Japanese Empire.
Excerpted from The Battle of Leyte Gulf 23-26 October 1944 by Thomas J. Cutler. Copyright © 1994 by Thomas J. Cutler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.
|List of Maps||xi|
|Part I * Preludes *|
|5 "We Will Fight You All!"||45|
|Part II * The Return *|
|6 King Two||53|
|7 "We Sailed Quietly East in the Dark of Night"||62|
|Part III * First Blood *|
|9 Of Sorties, Submarines, and Coffee||83|
|10 Dangerous Ground||94|
|Part IV * 24 October 1944 *|
|11 TG 38.3||113|
|12 Sibuyan and Sulu Seas||135|
|13 "Start Them North"||154|
|Part V * Night of 24-25 October 1944 *|
|14 Exits and Entrances||169|
|15 Midwatch inSurigao Strait||182|
|16 Curtain Call||194|
|17 Friction andFog||206|
|Part VI * 25 October 1944 *|
|18 "Charge of the Light Brigade"||219|
|19 "The World Wonders"||249|
|20 "Divine Wind"||265|
|Part VII * Aftermath *|
|21 Long Nights||277|
|Starting Points and Routes Followed by Japanese Forces||63|
|Approach of the Japanese Forces||90|
|Kurita's Formation in Palawan Passage||97|
|Battle of Surigao Strait||183|
|Situation on the Morning of 25 October||220|
|Battle of Samar Begins||223|
Posted April 6, 2014
I agree that this is one of the best WWII Pacific histories books I have read. Well researched and well written. I enjoyed it thoroughly and learned much. This book has enough background of what was going on in the Pacific at the time making it a captivating story through and through. It holds a particular place for me for my father was there on the USS Monterey. I have his meticulous diaries in my hand as I write this.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 21, 2010
Battle of the Leyte Gulf was one of the best WWII Pacific histories I have read. It was extremely engaging and very well researched. This author is very smart and obviously had a purpose for writing this book. Battle for the Leyte Gulf is both a very educational book and a very engaging one. I enjoyed it thoroughly and learned much.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 10, 2008
This book was well written and a very quick read. It presents a good history of the battle by telling a captivating story through soldiers personal experiences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 31, 2014
No text was provided for this review.