Jul 05, Marc rated it it was amazing Shelves: favorites , submarine-warfare , ww-ii-pacific-theater. In the entire history of naval warfare, there has never been a battle as large as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Fought between the juggernaut U. Navy and the desperate Imperial Japanese Navy in October, , this battle saw the last attempt by the Japanese to inflict a crushing blow upon the Allies and swing the tides of war back into their favor.
John Prados does a wonderful job of setting up the scene for this titanic clash, providing lots of information and detail on the planning which went In the entire history of naval warfare, there has never been a battle as large as the Battle of Leyte Gulf. John Prados does a wonderful job of setting up the scene for this titanic clash, providing lots of information and detail on the planning which went into the battle, the forces involved, and the commanders calling the shots.
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He sheds light on the key role the Allied intelligence services played in deciphering Japanese plans and movements, as well as how key decisions in crucial moments came to play a major part in the outcome. Much has been written about the battle from an American standpoint, and this book helps balance things a bit by providing a good look at the Japanese viewpoint. Even though the Japanese faced long odds, they still felt a major victory could stem the Allied tide heading towards their shores.
Prados examines the Japanese commanders, forces and decisions in great detail, thus helping the reader understand they hows and whys of their actions. He doesn't go into as much detail on the Allied predominantly American side, possibly because so much has previously been written from their viewpoint. Now, in a battle of this magnitude, decisions are made which don't always work out for the best. There's an old adage that no plan ever survives an encounter with the enemy, and this certainly applies in many aspects of the battle.
While others have found fault in the decisions or indecision of both American and Japanese commanders, Prados examines things carefully and puts forth interesting and thought-provoking evidence which shows the decisions or lack thereof were actually not as bad as some have claimed, or else were simply the inevitable result of the mindset and training of those involved. Overall, a really excellent book which is heavier on the strategy and decisions involved than the actual combat, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't read it.
Having read several books on the battle, I was pleased to learn much more about the Japanese side of things, as well as how much the role of intelligence gathering played in the planning and outcome. Pick this one up--you won't be disappointed. Aug 22, Christopher rated it really liked it. The author's most famous for his Combined Fleet Decoded , and account of how US intelligence was able to break various Japanese codes naval and others and use that information in planning the war against Japan.
He's gone on to become a popularizing "historian," and this is his latest effort. As with his Islands of Destiny , an account of the Solomons campaign, he has a tendency to overdo the intelligence aspect of the topic in question though that fault is less evident here. Prados is an The author's most famous for his Combined Fleet Decoded , and account of how US intelligence was able to break various Japanese codes naval and others and use that information in planning the war against Japan. Prados is an example of the sort of writer who thinks the term "historian" is reserved for those with academic credentials, so he refers to certain writers as "historian X," implicitly suggesting that he isn't one himself no academic historian singles out historians as historians.
I always find this quirk annoying. In any event, the book has very much an 'ipse dixit' presentation. That is, the narrative is presented for the most part without any indication of there being any dispute over what 'really happened' though he does occasionally allude to conflicting interpretations. There are general notes in the back, but these too don't go into much detail. In particular, there is only one footnote in the text p. After mentioning that Samuel Elliott Morrison official historian of the US Navy got the breaking apart of the Fuso wrong, Prados simply indicates that unnamed others continue to confuse the two ships.
In the actual text of the book, there is no indication that anybody thinks anything other than the narrative that the Prados presents. Yet, clearly some do. Who exactly confuses the two ships and why? What evidence is there for the fates of them? Why did some people think that the Fuso split in two and the two halves floated as burning wrecks? The pertinent reference is actually listed vaguely in the endnote to p.
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Prados is presumably relying on Anthony Tully's Battle of the Surigao Straight an online version of his arguments for what happened to the two ships can be found on the visually childish looking Combined Fleet website. The book is of course about the interconnected naval battles that resulted from the Japanese attempt to repulse the American landings on the Philippines. The title is a bit bizarre. The battle was in the waters around Leyte Gulf, not over it.
On October 23, , the Japanese still had a high-seas fleet worthy of the name. Three days later they no longer did. The book is mostly an investigation of how the Japanese navy's plan had such a disastrous outcome from their point of view. The book is at its best in setting out the strategic situation in the first few chapters. That is, instead of being merely a tactical analysis of the ship actions though it has that too , it attempts to analyze Japanese planning in terms of the overall situation both the military situation, like the previous defeat of the Combined Fleet at the earlier Battle of the Philippines Sea, and the strategic one in terms of Japan's loss of oil supplies due to the action of US submarines and the recent capture or isolation by the US of various Japanese strongholds.
The basic idea is that the Japanese determined that the best course of action would be to husband all forces, air and naval, till the US intentions were clear and then hit them with everything available in a last-ditch effort to at least slow down the US juggernaught with an eye to securing a settlement of the war short of complete annihilation. This plan was then screwed up when US admiral Halsey went on a rampage around Taiwan in early October and the Japanese reacted by throwing all their air resources at him instead of ignoring Halsey and conserving their aircraft and pilots, as war games had suggested they should do.
The outcome was the annihilation of the Japanese air strength. The result is that once Combined Fleet was set in motion against the American landing on Leyte later that month, they would go into battle without any air cover. Of course, if the Japanese air forces were destroyed in dealing just with Halsey, it's hard to see what use they would have been in practice giving cover to the naval forces, since then the American airpower would have been even stronger.
The author's main analytical framework is the idea that both the US and the Japanese commanders both suffered from the notion that their main mission was to attack the other side's naval forces especially aircraft carriers rather than attack the other side's troop ships or defend one's own. This thesis is generated by the two main controversies of the naval campaign, namely Kurita's decision at the Samar battle to turn away from pressing on with his attack in order to sink US troop ships on the morning of October 25, a possibility made available to him by Halsey's decision and the second source of controversy to head after the Japanese carriers with his own carriers and battleships, which left the US position in Leyte Gulf exposed to the Japanese attack.
For what it's worth, I've never really understood the problem with Halsey's decision. The question is not what eventually transpired but what the situation was when he headed after the Japanese carriers.
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At the time, it seemed clear that the Japanese naval forces were in disarray, so what else was he supposed to do? It's not his fault that after turning back on his way to the Philippines Kurita returned to his original direction towards the Philippines. And Prados' discussion of what Kurita was up to isn't very satisfying. There's some suggestion that he was turning away in the face of the enemy as a ruse like that of Hipper at Jutland in This seems to be retrospective justification, and it's still opaque to me why Kurita gave the initial order to turn around and why he soon changed his mind.
As for Kurita's decision to turn away at the actual battle on the morning of October 25, there is much discussion of the various explanations Kurita gave subsequently, but the outcome is inconclusive. The book is very much oriented towards the Japanese side. As someone who's had a long-standing interest in the Japanese navy, this was pleasant reading. In terms of the overall narrative, it was less than satisfying.
The US side does get taken into consideration, but mainly in terms of overall strategic planning. The US perspective is very much downplayed in the tactical sense. In particular, the heroic defense of the US light carriers by their destroyers that threw Kurita's force into chaos and led at least in part to his bizarre decision to turn away is hardly given any prominence at all. The only US ship whose actions are described in any detail is the destroyer Johnston , and this only for the PC reason that her commander was a Navajo. Other ships like the Hermann and Hoel are hardly mentioned at all.
This is in stark contrast to the loving detail given to the Japanese major units though their destroyers aren't given much attention, either. The bravery in the face is vastly superior odds shown by the US ships is given a great disservice here. For all the attention given to the Japanese planning, the actual details of what they were attempting to achieve in their multi-prong attack on the Philippines isn't presented clearly at all.
The discussion of the subsidiary Japanese attempt to transit the Surigao Strait after the destruction of the two battleships is confusing. Particularly confusing from a narrative point of view is the decision to describe Halsey's chase of the carriers and the ensuing controversy before the Japanese attack on Samar that was allowed by it. If you already know the story, it's not so bad, but in terms of the discussion here, the consequences elsewhere of Halsey's decision have to be treated before the situation at Samar has been relayed, which makes for a certain amount of confusion in the narrative in that the reader needs to be apprised of events not yet mentioned.
The reason for this is that Prados wants to act as if the really crucial element of the story was the surprise of the Japanese turning up in Samar and being in a position to attack the US transports if things had turned out differently. But as the author makes clear, there were only 30 transports left by this point and nothing of any permanent consequence would have resulted if the Japanese had in fact manage to keep going and sink them which seems unlikely even if Kurita hadn't decided to turn away.
And in terms of the interpretation of that plan, the author has clearly developed a pronounced aversion to Admiral Ugaki, whose surviving diary is a major source. Ugaki had a jaundiced view of a lot of what was going on in the navy, and in particular wasn't too keen on Kurita, upon whom he cast much of the blame for the failure of the Japanese attack.
Since Prados seems to want to salvage Kurita's reputation, he needs to discount Ugaki's views. In addition, one of the big Japanese mistakes at Samar was when two battleships including the flagship Yamato , on board of which were both Kurita and Ugaki turned port rather than starboard to avoid torpedoes, thus diverting them from the line of attack at a crucial moment.
Who exactly gave the order is open to question, but Prados opts for Ugaki, mainly, it seems, because he doesn't like him. As a final point, the book like Destiny is written in a colloquial style that I find very annoying. It's full of vulgarisms that sound like the writing aimed at ten-year-olds ca. The author's command of esoteric vocabulary is sometimes shaky for instance, some fancy words are given incorrect constructions. Perhaps the intended audience is thought to enjoy this sort of writing, but I don't. Anyway, for all these complaints it's a readable enough account, and it's particularly enlightening for those interested in Japanese thinking.
You just have to ignore the author's overall analysis everybody was caught in the "strike the carriers" frame of mind and this is the key to understanding the way things played out , which doesn't seem very plausible. May 07, Margaret Sankey rated it liked it. Nov 03, JL rated it liked it.
Many are never mentioned again. Parts of the action are contextually incomprehensible, even for a naval battle. The maps are either useless or lack detail. The battle detail is impressive, but not clear. May 30, David Watts rated it it was amazing Shelves: A great follow up to the Solomons campaign by the same author has the benefit of many previous works on the invasion of the Philippines and the battle of Leyte Gulf to draw from. A great read - enjoyed it more than Islands of Destiny. May 12, Bob H rated it liked it Shelves: history , maritime-naval-history.
A brisk retelling of the naval battles during the landings on Leyte. The prose is a bit florid: torpedoes "smacked" into a ship. Little discussion of the land battle and not much new in terms of a story already told many times. Readers should probably turn to Samuel Eliot Morison's authoritative account instead.
Dec 28, Fredrick Danysh rated it liked it Shelves: history , world-war-ii.