The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Epilogue, the Battle of Cape Engano

After hours of increasingly frantic messages from Adm Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet asking for assistance from Halsey’s 3rd Fleet, in particular Halsey’s fast battleships of TF 34, Admiral Nimitz in Hawaii got involved. Both Nimitz and Kinkaid assumed TF 34 was guarding the San Bernardino Strait, but Halsey took them north in search of his elusive carrier kills. The exasperated Nimitz finally sent the following message to Halsey:

“–Turkey trots to water where is TF 34 the world wonders—“

The first four words and the last three words were buffer phrases meant to confuse Japanese cryptanalysists. (The last three words were ironically a reference to Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” an event that happened exactly 90 years before the Battle of Leyte Gulf.) But when the message made it to Halsey, it read, “Where is TF 34, the world wonders?” Halsey flew into a rage and began throwing things about the wardroom on the battleship New Jersey. He continued until his chief of staff admonished him and told him “to snap out of it”. Halsey eventually calmed down and sent his six battleships south to assist Taffy 3, but they were too late: Taffy 3 won the Battle off Samar and saved MacArthur’s invasion fleet without them.

Halsey took his frustration out on Ozawa’s decoy Northern Force which he cornered off of Cape Egnano. TF 38, i.e. all of the fleet carriers of the 3rd Fleet, pounded the Northern Force for two days on 25 and 26 October 1944. As almost an afterthought, Halsey mauled the force and sank all four of Ozawa’s carriers, including the Zuikaku, which was the last Japanese carrier still afloat that took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor three years before.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was over. It was the largest battle in naval history. The Allies lost one light carrier, two jeep carriers, two destroyers, and one destroyer escort. The Japanese lost four carriers, four battleships, eleven cruisers, and eleven destroyers. In America, an escort carrier was coming out of the shipyards at the rate of one every two weeks, a destroyer: one a week. The Japanese losses could not be replaced. Even if they could have been, MacArthur’s campaign in the Philippines cut Japanese fuel supplies from the Dutch East Indies. The Imperial Japanese Navy, once the Scourge of the Pacific, would be a non-factor for the rest of the war.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf wasn’t over for Halsey though. He knew he f****d up and so did everyone else. Adm Ernest King recalled Halsey to Washington DC just for an epic hour long ass chewing that was heard by everyone on the floor outside King’s office. Halsey spent the rest of his life trying to justify his actions from 24-26 October 1944.

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