Made a vice admiral in May 1942, Kurita commanded the Close Support Group in the Battle of Midway. Then, in August 1943, he took command of Second Fleet. In the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf, Kurita commanded the 1st Strike Force (the central force) in executing Operation sho-go (victory one). Kurita's force was the most powerful of those that were to converge on the U.S. landing site on Leyte Gulf; it was to proceed through San Bernardino Strait and then join up with the 3rd Force under Vice Admiral Nishimura Shoji, which would pass through Surigao Strait to the south. Kurita's force had five battleships, including the Yamato and Musashi. The two forces were to come together at the U.S. landing site and destroy the support ships there, while the U.S. covering force was drawn off by a decoy Japanese carrier force under Vice Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo.
As it worked out, Nishimura's force was destroyed, and Kurita's force was discovered by U.S. aircraft; the Musashi was sunk. Kurita then reversed course, but unknown to the Americans, he turned around again. Meanwhile, Admiral William F. Halsey took his entire covering Third Fleet to engage Ozawa's decoy force, as Kurita's force issued from San Bernardino Strait to engage Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet in Leyte Gulf.
In the early morning of 25 October, Kurita's ships approached the unprotected U.S. transports and their weak support force off Leyte, and they were on the verge of being able to annihilate them when Kurita decided to withdraw. He never explained his decision publicly, but apparently, he mistakenly believed that the aircraft attacking his ships were from Halsey's force. Several days of near incessant air attacks on his ships may also have impacted the exhausted Kurita, but the reasons for his decision are still debated. Not censured for the "mysterious u-turn," as his action is known in Japan, Kurita subsequently returned to Japan. He commanded the Naval Academy from January 1945 until the end of the war. He died in Hyogo, Japan, on 19 December 1977. Kotani Ken
Cutler, Thomas J. The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 23–26 October 1944. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.; Wooldridge, E. T., ed. Carrier Warfare in the Pacific. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993.