restricted access Five Advance and Contact: 18–24 October 1944
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c h a p t e r f i v e Advance and Contact 18–24 October 1944 After two days of initial sweeping, clearance, and fire upon Japanese positions ashore in the course of which one LCI was lost and one seaplane tender and two destroyers were damaged,1 American troops were put ashore on northeast Leyte on 20 October. On the day of the assault landings the American formations put ashore were not able to register inland advances of much more than a mile even though it was not until the third day ashore that real resistance was encountered. Nonetheless, on this first day, and at a cost of just forty-nine dead,2 American formations were able to secure the Tacloban airfield and link the various beachheads across a front of some seventeen miles. Tacloban itself and the Dulag airfield were secured the next day, and American formations thereafter advanced in two separate directions, after coming south to Abuyog, to secure Baybay on 1 November and across Leyte to reach and take Carigara on the following day. There­after, even though on 29 October the 77th Infantry Division was transferred by MacArthur to reserve because it seemed it would not be needed, the Leyte campaign really began.3 Nonetheless, the landings on the offshore islands had been enough to set in train the Japanese naval effort that resulted in the battle of Leyte Gulf, and indeed the main Japanese formation, Kurita’s battle force, sailed from the Lingga Roads at 0100 on 18 October.4 With the Americans on 20 October deciphering a Japanese naval signal of the previous day that ordered two tankers then being held off Hainan to make their way to Coron 80 The Battle of Leyte Gulf Bay to fuel Kurita’s force,5 the Americans had fair warning of Japanese intent, and, having refueled all four of the carrier task groups between 16 and 19 October, were able to deploy their full strength in support of the landings on the 20th. Two formations, Task Groups 38.1 and 38.4, were held covering Leyte and in a position to move against Japanese airfields and units in the Visayans. The other formations were held in the general area 15°30'North 128°00'East, south of Okinawa and east of Luzon. After a series of operations by carrier formations against Luzon after 17 October, the Americans held such massive superiority of numbers in theater that on 20 October Japanese air formations on Luzon managed just two attacks on American formations, one with two aircraft and the other with three.6 In looking at the Japanese services and subordinate formations one is reminded of the dictum that the weaker the formations the greater their number. The Japanese ultimately had six separate naval task groups committed to battle in the Philippines, plus a minimum of three air formations employed in or off the Philippines between 12 and 25 October. The complexity of Japanese arrangements can be gauged by the fact that when the SHO GO option was implemented it was afforded a date of 25 October, which meant that air reinforcements bound for the Philippines had to be on station at least one day previously in order to make their maximum effort at the same time as the surface formations. For the 4th Air Army, which in reality was a reinforced 2nd Air Division, this meant the concentration of heavy and light bombers on Clark Field and Lippa, both on Luzon, and of shorter-ranged fighters, fighter-bombers, and reconnaissance aircraft at bases around Bacolod in northern Negros. What this meant in practical terms was that various fighter formations from Luzon, plus other units from Formosa, Celebes, and northern Borneo, were directed to Bacolod, which rapidly became a quagmire. While fighters from the Japanese home islands and from China made their way to Clark Field, bombers from Formosa and Celebes were directed to Lippa, while heavy bombers from as far afield as Malaya and Formosa were sent to Clark Field. At the same time naval aircraft from the 2nd Air Fleet moved into the Philippines. The end result was the gathering of some 400 army and navy aircraft in the Philippines by the evening of 23 October, a remarkable achievement in light of the defeats of the previous two weeks.7 But even with this effort the Japanese in the Philippines were no better provided than at any time in the previous seven weeks. Whatever...


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