Sins of Omission

The Battle off Samar

One would think that a battle called the most gallant in the history of the U.S. Navy would be prominently featured in our textbooks.  Not only does the Battle off Samar in the Philippine Sea on October 25, 1944, go unmentioned in schoolbooks, but it’s rare for anyone under 60 even to have heard of the fight.  Nonetheless, the victory of our Navy against impossible odds saved MacArthur’s triumphal landing at Leyte from a disaster that would have rivaled Bataan.  One of four furious actions at sea that are cumulatively known as the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the Battle off Samar caught our Navy napping.

The day before, more than two-dozen warships under the command of Takeo Kurita had been attacked in the Sibuyan Sea by Navy pilots, who not only scored hits on most of the ships but disabled the heavy cruiser Myoko and sent the superbattleship Musashi to the bottom.  When last seen, Kurita’s “Center Force” was retreating.  Under the cover of darkness, though, Kurita turned about and headed east for the San Bernardino Strait.  During the night he passed through the strait undetected and by daybreak was steaming south for Leyte.

At 0645 an American air patrol spotted the Center Force.  The pilots couldn’t believe what they saw—4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.  The...

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