WE WERE ALWAYS TOLD THAT THE AMERICANS WERE SISSIES. But when a combination of errors in judgement and garbled information left three escort carrier task forces guarded by destroyers and destroyer escorts exposed to long-range shelling by what remained of Japan's battleships, the destroyers went straight at those battleships. We started the year's book reviews with H. P. Willmott's The Battle of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action (joining an August 2005 review of Thomas Cutler's The Battle of Leyte Gulf) and we'll post Book Review No. 50 on Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945, by Newsweek's Evan Thomas.
The four commanders are Admiral Ugaki Tomoko, chief of staff to Yamamoto Isoroku, who survived the P-38 attack on Admiral Yamomoto's staff planes in April 1943 and led Japan's last kamikaze flight on the evening of 15 August 1945, after hearing the Emperor's radio broadcast noting that "the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage"; Admiral Kurita Takeo, who survived the torpedoing of his flagship Atago (Japanese naval doctrine had flag officers in cruisers to lead the torpedo attacks that preceded shelling from the battleships) and an afternoon and evening of dithering to catch the escort carrier task forces unguarded only to break off the attack, fearing the loss of his remaining ships and sailors; Admiral William Halsey, commander of the U. S. Third Fleet (when Raymond Spruance was in command, the same fleet was called the Fifth Fleet), who may have been undone by poor radio communications or led astray by his hopes for one great fleet battle; and Captain Ernest Edwin Evans, killed commanding destroyer Johnston, which the Japanese heavy ships sank off Leyte Gulf.
Although much of the writing focuses on that confrontation, there is a great deal of character development, tracing the struggles and triumphs of each man from their time at Eta Jima or Annapolis to the end of the war. The background details about the ships are themselves instructive: for instance, the Third Fleet included "eighteen fast carriers, six battleships, seventeen cruisers, and sixty-four destroyers." We've apparently learned how to make carriers more effective since then, projecting more force from fewer decks. In subsequent operations off Okinawa, the fleet sustained damage to 368 ships (compared with a current fleet strength of 278 ships.) Different circumstances, different forces mobilized.
The stories about intelligence, counterintelligence, and radio deception are also instructive reading.