The U.S. Philippine invasion had three main phases: first, the capture of Leyte Island, between the big island of Luzon to the north and Mindanao to the south; then, the capture of Luzon; and finally, the clearing of other Japanese-held islands to the south. A precondition to such an undertaking was the neutralization of Japanese airpower. In wide-ranging preinvasion operations between 7 and 16 October, Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet and Lieutenant General George C. Kenney's Far East Air Force struck all Japanese bases within range, while XX Bomber Command B-29 Superfortress bombers attacked Formosa from bases in China, decimating the rebuilt Japanese naval air arm and destroying some 700 Japanese planes and 40 ships.
Japanese leaders knew that they would have to hold the Philippines to prevent the severing of the supply route between Japan and the vital oil and other resources of the Netherlands East Indies. Tokyo was thus prepared, once U.S. forces committed themselves, to gamble what remained of the Japanese fleet on a vast and complex naval operation. This action would culminate in the great Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Japanese commander in the Philippines, General Yamashita Tomoyuki, had some 350,000 troops to defend the islands. The Japanese miscalculated American intentions, believing that the U.S. effort would be against the big island of Luzon, where Yamashita had placed his Fourteenth Area Army and prepared defensive positions. Meanwhile, U.S. invasion forces headed for Leyte. U.S. planners assembled a vast amphibious force. The 700 vessels of Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet transported Lieutenant General Walter Krueger's 194,000-man U.S. Sixth Army, consisting of Major General Franklin C. Sibert's X Corps and Major General John Hodge's XXIV Corps. Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's air-support escort carrier group consisted of 16 escort carriers, 9 destroyers, and 11 destroyer escorts. Rear Admiral R. S. Berkey commanded a close covering group of 4 cruisers (2 of them Australian) and 7 destroyers (2 Australian). Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet was to provide covering protection and engage the Japanese fleet should it decide to do battle.
On 20 October, following a heavy naval bombardment, four divisions went ashore on Leyte's east coast on a 10-mile-wide front. The landing forces achieved surprise, and Major General Tomochika Yoshiharu's 16,000-man 16th Division offered scant resistance. By nightfall, some 132,400 men were ashore, along with 200,000 tons of supply and equipment. U.S. forces soon seized port and coastal air facilities. An important element in the initial American successes was intelligence provided by Philippine guerrillas who were in continuous communication with the invasion forces. They cooperated closely with the U.S. forces throughout the campaign and also assisted in the rescue of thousands of American civilians and prisoners of war.
MacArthur, complete with corncob pipe and aviator glasses, and Philippine President Sergio Osmeña went ashore on Red Beach with the third wave at 1:00 p.m. on 20 October, and within an hour, MacArthur had announced, "People of the Philippines I have returned." On 23 October, despite the fighting only 2 miles away, MacArthur installed the Philippine government in a formal ceremony in the damaged Tacloban Municipal Building. Meanwhile, Krueger's troops drove inland. By 24 October, they had captured airfields and Tacloban, Dulag, and the provincial capital of Leyte.
Immediately on learning of the landings, the Japanese navy initiated the sho-go plan, and between 23 and 26 October, the U.S. Navy won a decisive victory, defeating the Japanese effort to attack the landing site from the sea. The naval Battle of Leyte Gulf smashed the Japanese navy, ending its days as a major fighting force.
Meanwhile, Yamashita was reinforcing Leyte. Between 23 October and 11 November, he managed to send Leyte some 45,000 reinforcements and 10,000 tons of supplies from Luzon and the Visayas, using destroyers and transports that chiefly entered through the western port of Ormoc. By 25 October, the Japanese had concentrated their defensive efforts in the northern part of the island, digging in on "Breakneck Ridge" near the port of Carigara and engaging the 24th Division of X Corps in a month-long battle there.
By 2 November, however, U.S. forces had taken Carigara Bay and Abuyog and all of Leyte's airfields. Gradually, Kenney's Far East Air Force and Halsey's Third Fleet aircraft also choked off the stream of Japanese reinforcements. Then, on 11 November, attacks by Third Fleet aircraft decimated a Japanese convoy with 10,000 troop reinforcements.
After the U.S. 7th Infantry Division crossed the center of the island, General Kreuger split Japanese defenses by landing the 77th Infantry Division 3 miles south of Ormoc on 7 December. This assault came only hours before Japanese Field Marshal Terauchi Hisaichi's convoy of reinforcements attempted a landing and was driven back. Ormoc fell on 10 December when American tanks broke through Japanese defenses there. The 7th Division linked up with the 77th Division the next day. Japanese forces in the north were now cut off. Organized resistance on Leyte ended on Christmas Day 1944. Sporadic fighting continued into the next spring, but there were no survivors from the Japanese 16th Division, responsible for the infamous Bataan Death March.
Although the unexpected Japanese reinforcements and heavy rains had delayed the conquest of Leyte, the outcome was never in doubt. The Japanese lost some 70,000 men on the island, most of them dead. In addition, another 135,000 Japanese soldiers were cut off, caught behind the American advance. U.S. losses were about 3,500 killed and 12,000 wounded. Meanwhile, in late October, U.S. forces had landed on the adjoining Samar Island, and in mid-December, U.S. forces seized Mindoro in the northern Visayas, just south of Luzon, as an air base for the coming assault on Luzon. Claude R. Sasso and Spencer C. Tucker
Cannon, M. Hamlin. The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific—Leyte: The Return to the Philippines. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1954.; Costello, John. The Pacific War, 1941–1945. New York: Rawson, Wade, 1981.; MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.; 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.; Spector, Ronald H. The American War with Japan: Eagle against the Sun. New York: Free Press, 1985.
Claude R. Sasso and Spencer C. Tucker