The Japanese superbattleship Musashi was steaming east along with a fleet of other battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on their way toward what was expected to be a climactic battle at Leyte Gulf. At 8:10 am on October 24, 1944, Musashi’s captain ordered the crew to battle stations. An American scout plane had been spotted overhead. The fleet lacked its own air cover, so it had to endure the American plane and expected an attack any time. The fleet commander, Admiral Takeo Kurita, sent a message to his sailors: “Enemy attackers are approaching. Trust in the Gods and give it your best.”
At 9:30 a lookout spotted a trio of what appeared to be more scout planes. Kurita requested air support from land-based fighters, but they never arrived. Less than an hour later the lookouts spotted the first wave of American planes. They were from the U.S. aircraft carriers Intrepid and Cabot, a few dozen torpedo and dive bombers escorted by 21 fighters. Within a few minutes Musashi’s antiaircraft guns were in action, sending rounds skyward at aircraft that plunged down to deliver their deadly payloads. A bomb hit first, but it struck the forward turret, doing no damage. Then a torpedo impacted amidships and four more bombs were near misses; their combined effects were leaks below the ship’s waterline. Musashi developed a list of 51/2 degrees to starboard, but damage control crews were able to reduce that to one degree. The ship still kept pace with the fleet.
Tragically for the crew, however, Musashi’s trials had only just started. Within an hour another attack occurred; a trio of torpedoes struck the port side along with two more bomb hits. The ship now listed five degrees to port and lost the port propeller. She fell behind the fleet, losing the protection of its escorts. When the next strike arrived, even the main guns fired on it, using nine sanshiki-dan, or beehive shells designed for antiaircraft fire. They had no apparent effect on this wave or the next, but more torpedo and bomb hits followed, leaving Musashi stricken. The goal had been to get the fleet within range of the American invasion force in Leyte Gulf and lay waste to it. The Japanese attack force would still arrive, but it would be short one battleship. Musashi sank beneath the waves just after 7:30 pm, a victim of overwhelming American air power.
The Pacific War extended over an immense expanse, most of it water dotted with thousands of islands, making it essentially a conflict of warships and aircraft. In 1944, the American leadership chose to strike next at the Philippines, which would sever Japan’s link to its oil supply and bring the Allies one step closer to ending the war. Japan’s own war leaders knew this was a likely avenue of approach for their enemy and prepared for it, but they were fast running out of ships, aircraft, and resources and had to make do with what remained on hand. Both sides used intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, and radio interception to determine what their opponent would do. Deciphering an enemy’s intentions and deciding how to counter them is a complex and difficult process. How both sides tried to do this is well recounted in Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy (John Prados, NAL Caliber, New York, 2016, 388 pp., maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index, $28.00, hardcover).
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There have been many books on the Leyte Gulf fighting and for good reason. The battle is full of tough decision making, extreme courage, and hard-fought actions. What makes this new book stand out is the author’s extensive research into the intelligence and reconnaissance efforts that took place before the fighting. The work does an excellent job showing how both sides tried to figure out what the other would do as well as how the various personalities acted, setting the stage for the Japanese navy’s last major battle. The amount of detail included in the author’s assessments shows the immense amount of research taken from intelligence reports and the amount of work done to correlate all the data.
The result is a thoroughly informative book that retells the prelude to the battle before delving into the fight itself in exciting prose. The author’s extensive knowledge allows him to add background information as needed. It is a complete retelling of one of history’s largest naval engagements.