Philippines Campaign
Allied invasion of Japanese-occupied Philippines
20 October 1944 - 2 September 1945
author Paul Boșcu, March 2019
By 1944, after 2 years of Japanese occupation, the Philippines again became a theater of war as American and Filipino forces under the command of Douglas MacArthur staged an amphibious invasion of the island of Leyte. The campaign continued until August 1945 when Imperial Japan surrendered after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Philippines campaign, or the Battle of the Philippines, was a conflict fought between the American-Filipino forces and the Japanese Empire during the Second World War. The campaign started when American and Filipino forces fought to liberate the country from Japanese occupation. The battle began with the Allied invasion of the island of Leyte and ended after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender on all fronts.

The campaign for Leyte represented the last struggle between the American and Japanese armed forces within the parameters of conventional warfare. It fully engaged every element of the air, ground, and naval forces the belligerents had deployed to the Pacific War.

While the American armed forces perfected their conventional military operations, the Japanese — in actions fueled by desperation — sought to abandon the traditional definitions of how war should be waged. As the Pacific War approached the Japanese Home Islands, no one on either side could know for certain whether modernized or traditional Japanese values would shape the empire’s ultimate opposition to foreign subjugation.

The Japanese army in Luzon knew that if they tried to hold an untenable perimeter, they would be driven into a siege without adequate preparations to hold out. Instead they followed a far shrewder strategy and kept some of their forces fighting on Luzon until the surrender of September 1945.

After Manila fell, the US Eighth Army under Robert Eichelberger continued successive amphibious operations throughout the Philippines until the end of the war, occupying islands one by one, after battles that were sometimes fierce and costly. MacArthur could claim that he had reconquered the archipelago, and inflicted defeat on its Japanese occupiers. But since those soldiers could not have been transported to any battlefield where they might influence the war’s outcome, they were as much prisoners in the Philippines as Hitler’s large, futile garrison was in the German-occupied British Channel Islands.

The invasion plan as finally approved by the Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur called for the major landing at the southern end of Lingayen Gulf with later subsidiary landings just north of Bataan and southwest of Manila. The obvious place to attack and defend, the Lingayen Gulf also afforded a sheltered bay for the huge conglomeration of ships, a set of very good beaches for the landing, and an open plain toward Manila, 130 miles to the south, for the employment of armor on the main axis of the advance.

Staging from bases on the northern shore of New Guinea and in the Solomon Islands, the invading forces, which would grow to over a quarter of a million men, were supported by a huge array of naval power. Planning for Leyte began at MacArthur’s new headquarters on the banks of Lake Sentani, in the Cyclops Mountains above Hollandia, New Guinea.

Leyte Gulf lies open to the ocean, and thus to an invasion fleet. The immediate American objective after securing the beaches was the rice and corn belt of Leyte Valley. There MacArthur planned to build airfields to relieve his dependence on carrier air support. He would then dispossess the Japanese of the mountainous regions beyond the plain. When the island was secure he would address Luzon, and thereafter liberate the rest of the archipelago.

MacArthur was bent upon personally achieving the liberation of the seventeen million people of the Philippines, where he had spent much of his service life. He remained an immensely formidable figure, hard for the Chiefs of Staff to resist, while his prestige had been raised so high by domestic propaganda that he was effectively unsackable. Although he never gained the formal endorsement of the Chiefs of Staff for his purposes, no one in Washington was powerful or clear-sighted enough to stop him.

A former chief of the army with powerful right-wing friends at home, in 1944 MacArthur flirted with a presidential election run against Roosevelt, abandoning this notion only when it became plain that he could not secure the Republican nomination, far less beat the White House incumbent.

Navy planners argued that, with the Marianas air bases in US hands, the large Japanese army in the Philippines could be left to contemplate its own impotence while American forces addressed Iwo Jima, Okinawa and thereafter the Japanese Home Islands. There was a case for the US to undertake limited operations to secure some Philippine airfields and harbors, but none for what actually followed. MacArthur was bent upon fighting his way through the entire archipelago, and so he did.

Even as the Marianas campaign continued, General MacArthur pressed his argument that the Philippines, not Formosa, should be the focus of the next great offensive, a position still contested by Admiral King. MacArthur advanced one argument that King himself accepted: the Philippines could be a base from which to break off Japan’s trade routes. MacArthur also took the moral-political position that the United States owed the Filipinos their freedom, having abandoned them in 1942.

Not distracted even by annoying bombing raids on his quarters at Tacloban, Leyte, MacArthur pondered the campaign that offered his ultimate revenge and vindication: the liberation of Luzon, the island at the political and cultural heart of the Philippines. Throughout the battle for Leyte, MacArthur prodded his subordinates to move ahead with ambitious plans and timetables for a return to Luzon, especially to the capital city of Manila.

Japanese planners harbored no doubts that the Americans would next attack the Philippines. The Imperial Navy’s general staff concluded that the ample surface forces of its Combined Fleet and land-based aircraft might still deliver a staggering blow to the US Navy and thus repulse or slow any Philippine invasion. The navy and army staffs drafted a national contingency plan called Sho-Go or Operation Victory. The Japanese Navy formed two large task forces: the carriers and their escorts of the First Mobile Fleet of Admiral Ozawa and the Second Fleet of battleships and cruisers commanded by Admiral Kurita Takeo.

Admiral Soemu Toyoda, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, had already concluded that the Philippines would be the next great battleground, and he alerted his air and naval task force commanders to prepare for action in Philippine waters.

Toyoda’s concept for the forthcoming fleet action counted on the US Navy’s continuing fixation with destroying Ozawa’s First Mobile Fleet, which had escaped during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Toyoda considered Ozawa’s four-carrier force a sacrificial diversion and rejected his sensible proposal that the First Mobile Fleet revert to fleet air defense. Toyoda decided instead to depend on land-based air to provide cover for his main effort, a direct thrust by Kurita’s Second Fleet at the American invasion armada and at any carriers that did not go hunting for Ozawa.

The Japanese South Asia Army moved its headquarters to Manila when uncertainty persisted in Tokyo about whether the Americans would land in the Philippines at all. Its commander, Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, had no such doubts. ‘If I was MacArthur, I would come here,’ he said at a staff conference in the summer of 1944. ‘He must know how weak are our defenses.’ Terauchi, once a candidate to replace Tojo as prime minister, was not held in high esteem either by the Americans or by most of his peers. His staff, however, respected the fact that, although a rich man, he succumbed to few personal indulgences. ‘He could have filled his headquarters with geishas if he wanted,’ said one officer admiringly, ‘but he never did. He was a really clean-living soldier.’

Until the autumn of 1944, Terauchi’s principal subordinate was the Philippines’ occupation commander, Lt. Gen. Shigenori Kuroda, a mild-mannered little man devoted to women and golf. Kuroda said cheerfully: ‘Why bother about defense plans? The Philippines are obviously indefensible.’ Such remarks caused Tokyo to conclude that he was a trifle ill-suited to confront an American amphibious assault. Two weeks before MacArthur’s invasion, Kuroda was supplanted by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, who assumed command of 14th Army under Terauchi. The newcomer summoned his staff and addressed them at his headquarters in Manila: ‘The battle we are going to fight will be decisive for Japan’s fate. Each of us bears a heavy responsibility for our part in it. We cannot win this war unless we work closely and harmoniously together. We must do our utmost, setting aside futile recriminations about the past. I intend to fight a ground battle, regardless of what the navy and air force do. I must ask for your absolute loyalty, for only thus can we achieve victory.’ In truth, there was no more chance of the rival services working harmoniously together in the Philippines than anywhere else in the Japanese empire.

In Tokyo en route to Manila, at a series of meetings with the nation’s leaders, Yamashita strove in vain to persuade them to share his own brutally realistic appraisal of the strategic situation. A clever and good-natured man who had travelled widely in Europe, he knew the war was lost. Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, the navy minister, already privately committed to negotiating a way out of the war, merely shook his head sorrowfully in the face of the general’s blunt words and said: ‘Do your best, Hobun, do your best.’ Yamashita attended a formal farewell ceremony with Hirohito, which he seemed to enjoy. He told an aide as he left the Imperial Palace that he felt as happy as he ever had in his life. Having saluted his emperor, he was ready to die.

In Manila, General Yamashita was unimpressed by the staff which he inherited, and even more dismayed by the quality of the troops he inspected, most of them rendered slothful by long occupation duty. Yamashita ordered a supply officer to transfer service troops to combat duty, and to draft Filipino labor to shift stores in their stead. To his chagrin, he was told that local people could not be trusted in such a role. The commander of 14th Army now had only days in which to prepare for the coming of the Americans. He knew that months would not have sufficed.

Yamashita’s subordinates shared his misgivings. Lt. Suteo Inoue of the 77th Infantry Regiment, for instance, recorded in his Philippines diary: ‘Soldiers here lack comradely spirit. I have never seen such an undisciplined outfit as this one. To be strong, units need a sense of shared identity. This regiment is the worst in the Japanese army… It took a hundred men almost seven hours to cross a river 150 metres wide… due to lack of barges. I presume this reflects Japan’s general lack of resources. We have underestimated the importance of material strength, and are now suffering the consequences. If this state of affairs continues for another year, Japan will be in trouble, and our withdrawal from Greater East Asia will become inevitable.’

Japan’s thirty-month-old occupation had been patchy in its impact: oppressive and brutal in some places — the most strategically important naturally including the capital, Manila — while scarcely felt in remote areas. In 1943 the Japanese granted the Philippines, along with most of their other occupied territories, notional self-government under a local puppet regime. Yet such was the mindless cruelty of Tokyo’s soldiers that this gesture inspired little gratitude among Filipinos. The Japanese fully controlled only twelve of the country’s eighteen provinces. Elsewhere, guerrilla bands roamed widely, American-armed and sometimes American-led.

Imperial General HQ reported in March 1944: ‘Even after their independence, there remains among all classes a strong undercurrent of pro-American sentiment… Guerrilla activities are gradually increasing.’

Several US officers, such as the legendary Col. Russell Volckmann, had survived in the hills of Luzon since the spring of 1942, and now directed forces thousands strong. The more idealistically inclined guerrillas inflicted four hundred casualties on Japanese occupation forces in 1944, a modest enough achievement. Others merely pursued lives of banditry.

Admiral Chester Nimitz and MacArthur agreed that the island base of Peleliu should be seized before the army attacked the Philippines. Men of 1st Marine Division made an assault landing with massive air and naval support: 10,000 Japanese defenders, supported by deeply emplaced artillery, resisted fiercely. The ensuing campaign, which also engaged a US Army division, proved a nightmare. Vast quantities of ammunition and effort had to be expended to overcome the enemy’s positions bunker by bunker.

Amid a calm sea, a glittering array of brass watched from the command ship Mount McKinley as shoals of landing craft headed for the shore. Peleliu had received three days of intensive gunfire from five battleships, five heavy cruisers and seventeen other vessels, which periodically ceased fire only to make space for air attacks. Vice-Admiral Jesse Oldendorf, the bombardment commander, declared: ‘We have run out of targets.’ Nine miles offshore the cocky naval skipper of Col. ‘Chesty’ Puller’s transport enquired, as Puller’s men clambered into their landing craft, whether the Marine would be returning on board for his dinner. The colonel responded testily that he expected to be fighting for several days. Surely not, said the sailor. The navy’s bombardment would ‘allow the regiment to walk to its objective unmolested.’ If that proved so, said Puller, the captain should come ashore that afternoon, join the Marines for a meal, and collect some souvenirs.

As the Americans approached Peleliu, smoke from the bombardment shrouded the higher ground inland. Rocket ships fired ripples of projectiles ahead of the infantry pitching in their landing craft, then turned aside to open the passage for the assault waves. AA guns on the ships fired airburst shells at rocks behind the landing places. ‘Chesty’ Puller told his men with characteristic theatricality: ‘You will take no prisoners, you will kill every yellow son-of-abitch, and that’s it.’

The Marines hit the beaches at 08.32. There were no Japanese in their immediate vicinity. Within minutes, however, the invaders found themselves under heavy shellfire, which wrecked dozens of amphibious vehicles, and made the men reluctant to forsake cover and advance beyond the beach. Medical corpsman Bill Jenkins’s unit suffered its first casualty seconds after disembarking. It was ‘Pop’ Lujack, the oldest man in the company, ‘a guy I thought a lot of, and it hurt me badly when I saw he was hit. I didn’t know any better but he was hit in the head and practically the whole back of his head was shot off, and I was laying down there trying to fix him up. One of the guys came up and said, “Doc, get out of there, he’s dead.”’

Rather than attempt to hold the coast under American bombardment, Col. Kunio Nakagawa had deployed his men inland, on a series of coral ridges which offered commanding views of the shore. The beach at Peleliu, flailed by enemy fire, became one of the Marines’ most shocking memories of the Pacific War, and cost them over two hundred dead on the first day. A Japanese counterattack in the afternoon, supported by light tanks, was easily repulsed, and the enemy was shot to pieces.

Peleliu had been a mining site. Each ridge was honeycombed with tunnels, in which the Japanese had installed electricity and living quarters, impervious to shells and bombs. Marine communications proved so poor that commanders were left struggling to discover their own men’s whereabouts, and were thus hesitant about calling in close artillery support.

It took 1st Marine Division a week to secure the key airfield sites. Even then the Japanese overlooked them from the Umurbrogol Ridge, and could sustain observed fire. After the Japanese shot down medics recovering wounded, heavy mortars laid smokescreens to protect stretcher-bearers. The whole island occupied only seven square miles. In General O.P. Smith’s words, ‘For the first few days, real estate was at a premium.’ The beach area was crowded with makeshift bivouacs. There was little scope for outflanking enemy strong points. These could only be assaulted headlong, each yard of progress costing blood.

The army’s 81st Division landed on neighboring Angaur. After an easy disembarkation, inland the invaders met thick, matted, almost impenetrable rainforest. The beaches were clogged with traffic. The soldiers, fresh to combat, readily panicked in encounters with even small numbers of Japanese. Angaur was only two miles long, and after 3 days it was secure, but the conquerors had not enjoyed their experience. They were still less happy to find themselves loaded back onto ships and transferred to Peleliu.

The Japanese, as usual, fought almost to the last man. Peleliu was the Marines’ worst nightmare, costing the 1st Division 6,400 casualties. Unlike the Marianas campaign in which Japanese soldiers had counterattacked and fought in other conventional ways, the Peleliu defenders fought to the last from their holes, thus minimizing American fire superiority. It was an early lesson that perhaps the Japanese had changed their way of battle, but the Americans failed to notice.

No place on the island was safe. Bill Atkinson watched a BAR gunner take up position behind a tank and start firing. To Atkinson’s horror, the Sherman suddenly lurched backwards, crushing the man to pulp. Fifth Marine Virgle Nelson, hit in the buttock, hollered with glee: ‘Oh my God, I guess I get to go back now!’

Bill Jenkins, a medical corpsman from Canton, Missouri, was awed by a tough machine-gunner named Wayley, who was hit four times. Told that he was to be evacuated, Wayley said: ‘No way.’ Jenkins asked his buddy Jack Henry to get a litter. The moment Henry moved, machine-gun fire caught his arms, and he came running back into the tank trap where they lay. ‘One arm [was] 99.9 percent off and the other almost as bad. I could have taken a scissors and clipped both arms off and buried them. I wasn’t trained to try and set the cut-up, broken-up arms… all I did was just kind of put them together, both of them, and I wrapped them up the best I could with T-shirts and used tourniquets. I put his arms over his head to keep him from bleeding to death.’ Against the odds, Henry survived.

‘Our troops should understand,’ a command report admonished waverers, ‘that the Japanese is no better able to go without food than we are, his stamina is no greater, the Jap gets just as wet when it rains and he suffers as much or more from tropical ills.’ All this, however, was often hard for Americans on Peleliu to believe. Seventeen-year-old medic Frank Corry had three platoon commanders killed. The last was hit when he rashly stuck up his head to view a Japanese position. Corry watched wide-eyed as his platoon sergeant, big, tough Bob Canfield, cradled the dead man’s head in his arms and burst into tears, saying: ‘Why did you do it?’

Snipers behind the lines caused chronic jumpiness, intensified by undisciplined rear-area troops firing weapons for the fun of it. After O.P. Smith investigated one panic, he found that it had been provoked by black stevedores on the shore shooting at an abandoned tractor: ‘They claimed no one had ever told them they were not to fire their rifles, which was probably correct.’

Until a well could be sunk, every American was desperately short of water. Emergency supplies were landed in oil drums, which sickened those who sampled them. Temperatures sometimes reached 115 degrees. Scores of men succumbed to heat exhaustion, for which salt tablets proved an essential prophylactic. The jagged coral caused boots to wear out within days. A thousand new pairs of boots and 5,000 pairs of socks were flown in from Guam.

Marines and soldiers were seldom comfortable fighting together. O.P. Smith wrote sceptically: ‘It is hard to put your finger on it, but there is quite a different atmosphere in an army command post as compared to the CP of a Marine outfit. Orders are given like the book says you should give them, but you have the impression they are not carried out.’

Long-range flamethrowers proved the most effective weapons against Peleliu’s cave mouths, but each assault was painfully slow and costly. In October, gales and torrential rain added to the invaders’ miseries. Marine Corsairs at last began to use the island’s airstrip, but organized resistance persisted for weeks more. Almost all the defenders chose to perish rather than quit. A month after Peleliu’s commander, Col. Kunio Nakagawa, committed suicide, his surviving soldiers killed a group of souvenir-hunting American soldiers. The last five known Japanese surrendered on 1 February 1945.

In the weeks preceding the landing at Leyte, American carrier aircraft struck again and again at Japanese airfields and shipping. Over five hundred Japanese aircraft were destroyed, an intensity of attrition dwarfing the 1940 Battle of Britain, and indeed all air combat in the European theater. Even Japanese aircrew being trained on Kyushu for carrier operations were thrown recklessly into the battles. Most were lost, and with them Japan’s last chance of sustaining a seaborne air capability.

A Japanese communiqué announced American losses of eleven aircraft carriers, two battleships, three cruisers and one destroyer, besides eight carriers, two battleships and four cruisers damaged. The nation was urged to celebrate the ‘glorious victory of Taiwan’. In truth, of course, the Americans had achieved overwhelming success. All the Japanese had to show for their efforts was severe damage to two US cruisers.

The 700 ships of MacArthur’s central Philippines attack force began offloading seven miles off the shore of Leyte Gulf. Almost 200,000 men of Sixth Army were mustered in the transports, commanded by Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger. The campaign to retake the Philippines commenced when four army divisions began to land on Leyte island, in the middle of the Philippines. They met light opposition.

American warnings had been broadcast to the local population to move inland to avoid the bombardment. Filipino guerrillas were alerted by radio flashes the day before the landing. So practiced had become the art of amphibious operations that since 1942 the delay between a US fleet’s arrival offshore and its first landings had been cut from four hours to two. The Leyte bombardment force carried heavier metal than that which supported the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Men of four divisions began to land in two main bodies: one at the north end of the gulf near the capital, Tacloban; the second fourteen miles to the south. Conditions were perfect. There were no mines, no surf. Fires blazed along the shoreline in the wake of the naval bombardment. Desultory Japanese artillery, mortar and machine-gun fire began to harass the invaders only after the first waves had landed, since coastal defensive positions were weakly held. American casualties were concentrated in a few unlucky units. In most places, however, resistance was negligible.

Only 20,000 of Yamashita’s 400,000 men were deployed on Leyte. They were deemed low grade soldiers, mostly recruited from the commercial workers of Osaka and Kyoto. Terauchi decreed: ‘The navy and air force will attempt to annihilate the enemy on X-Day… The Area Army will at the same time annihilate the enemy on Leyte.’ Yet despite these grandiose phrases, Yamashita planned to make his principal stand on Luzon.

The first Filipino the Americans met was wheeling a bicycle between the tall palm trees, frantically waving his broad-brimmed hat. ‘As he approached, his face appeared to be composed entirely of smile,’ wrote correspondent Robert Shaplen. ‘It was impossible to understand what he was saying, but it was easy to see that he was filled with an almost hysterical happiness. He grabbed the hand of every soldier he could reach and shook it ecstatically.’ This ‘first liberated Filipino’, as he was dubbed, proved to be Isaios Budlong, a former Tacloban telegraph operator. Soon hundreds of local people were milling around the Americans, brimming with holiday exuberance.

Most of the invaders’ difficulties were created not by the enemy, but by nature. Along the landing frontage it was hard to move even a few hundred yards inland through dense cover and swamps, where heavily laden soldiers could end up mired up to their necks. The landing of stores proved a nightmare. Many ships had been poorly loaded, so that the wrong equipment came off first. Far too few men had been allocated to handling parties. Terrain impeded transfer of rations, ammunition and medical supplies to combat units.

All morning, from the cruiser Nashville, MacArthur watched his men move ashore. Then, after an early lunch, the great man set forth to join them. This was his first visit to Leyte for over forty years, since he was a young army engineer, and he devoted intensive attention to its stage management. ‘Regard publicity set-up as excellent,’ he signalled to his public-relations staff shortly before the landings. ‘I desire to broadcast from beach as soon as apparatus can be set up. After I have done so you can use records made to broadcast to the US and to the Philippines at such times and in such ways as you deem best.’ He stepped down the ramp of a landing craft a few yards off the beach, and waded serenely through knee-deep water and passed a cluster of photographers who immortalised this great symbolic moment of the Pacific War. He said to Richard Sutherland, his Chief of Staff: ‘Well, believe it or not, we’re here.’

Leading his entourage through the low surf, MacArthur waded ashore for the first of several times at Leyte in front of Tacloban, the site of his first duty station after his graduation from West Point in 1903. ‘It was a full moment for me.’ He then made a radio broadcast to the Filipinos that he had kept his pledge to return and that ‘the hour of your redemption is here.’ In his message MacArthur urged all Filipinos to rally and ‘strike’ in the name of Philippine patriotism, Christianity, and the United States. He did caution the Filipinos that they should ‘strike’ when American troops got close enough to rescue them from Japanese retaliation, but the guerrillas had already digested that bit of tactical counsel.

Once on Philippine sand, he ignored distant small-arms fire and greeted a few soldiers. Then, standing beside the islands’ new president, Sergio Osmena, MacArthur broadcast a resounding proclamation: ‘People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.’ His words fell on unsympathetic ears among some American soldiers and seamen who later heard them. More than a few recoiled from the fashion in which MacArthur treated this vast commitment of US power and hazard of American lives as a personal affair.

The campaign to retake the Philippines commenced when four army divisions began to land on Leyte island, in the middle of the Philippines. Thereafter, however, increasingly vigorous Japanese resistance turned the campaign into an ordeal by rain, mud and blood for tens of thousands of US soldiers. Week after week and then month after month, weather and mountains, insects and enemy fire, exhaustion and swamps imposed their toll of misery upon every infantryman on the island.

Unlike prior operations in the Southwest Pacific, the Japanese showed no hesitance in moving reinforcements against the Leyte landing force. They also threw army aviation squadrons into the battle in both conventional and suicide attacks, and they even conducted commando raids upon American airfields. The dogged nature of the Leyte defense stemmed from the decision of the Southern Army theater commander, Field Marshal Terauchi Hisaichi, to commit forces planned for the defense of Luzon.

Locked with the Japanese in Leyte’s mountains, the Sixth Army’s embattled divisions could not expect much air support. Nevertheless, the American infantry pushed forward into the slippery slopes and struggled over the mountain roads toward the Ormoc valley and the ports that welcomed Japanese reinforcements. Basically, only the northern third of Leyte became the battle zone.

MacArthur’s staff had ignored engineers’ warnings that Leyte was unsuitable for airfield building, and American troops found themselves overwhelmingly dependent on carrier planes for air support. MacArthur’s chief of public relations, Colonel Bonner Fellers, had made his reputation in 1942 by dispatching daily signals from Cairo reporting British operations and intentions, which were intercepted by Rommel. Now, Fellers added to his sorry record by repeatedly announcing victory on Leyte while MacArthur’s soldiers were fighting for their lives.

For more than a month, the lines of contact between the Japanese Army and the US Army stalled from Leyte’s north coast road south along the difficult Central Mountain range. The Americans continued their dogged forward movement. Nevertheless, they entered the northern edge of the Ormoc valley and turned south against Ormoc itself, only to discover another system of Japanese defenses that crossed the valley. Three more weeks of battles of attrition were required before the Japanese defense weakened.

Faced with the prospect that his Leyte defense force would collapse, Yamashita accepted a plan from Fourth Air Army to stage a commando raid, supplemented by the drop of an entire crack parachute regiment on Leyte’s airfields. For almost a week in early December, Japanese raiders bedeviled Sixth Army’s rear areas and confounded the base forces of Fifth Air Force, but they did not change the tactical balance. Instead, the ground attack designed to support the raid exposed one Japanese division to punishing artillery fire. By late December the two American forces met, and the campaign, for all purposes, ended.

For ten days following the landings, most invaders found themselves advancing across swamp-ridden flatlands, meeting limited resistance. They gazed apprehensively at the steep, densely covered mountains in the distance. Much more often the enemy exploited local conditions to inflict surprise as the invaders struggled through cover. Even in allegedly secure areas, infiltration by small groups of enemy, assisted by the dense vegetation, remained a hazard. Advancing infantry suffered long waits, sometimes under mortar or artillery fire, while engineers repaired bridges for tanks and checked for mines. The Japanese too were scarcely enjoying their own experience.

Private Jack Norman was a twenty-one year-old from Chester, Nebraska. Drafted at nineteen, he experienced a not unusual odyssey through the US military system. He served in a dozen Stateside camps, first being exhaustively trained as a gunner, then as an engineer, finally becoming a most reluctant infantryman in the 96th Division. He and his comrades landed on Leyte in complete bewilderment about what was going on around them, and learned slowly through the days that followed: ‘You were wet all the time… There were spiders this big.’ He counted eagerly the Japanese whom he thought he killed with his BAR, and got to twenty-five. Once he found an empty gun emplacement, wandered over to it and suddenly saw two Japanese soldiers on the other side. Before bolting, they threw a grenade, fragments of which lodged in Norman’s leg. These removed him from the line for a few days, until they were extracted.

As soon as word reached Manila of the landings, Maj. Shoji Takahashi of South Asia Army’s intelligence staff decided to discover for himself what was happening, although he had been explicitly ordered to remain at headquarters. Takahashi, with some difficulty, begged a lift on an aircraft landing on Leyte, then hitchhiked to the forward area, under constant American shellfire. He spent his first night not uncomfortably, in a civilian house with two other staff officers. Next morning, however, they emerged to find themselves in the path of an American air strike. A bomb buried Takahashi in four feet of earth, killed one roommate and badly wounded the other. After digging himself out, he toured the perimeter under a storm of American shells and bombs. He reflected gloomily that if he was killed while acting in defiance of superior orders, his soul would be denied a resting place at the Yasukuni shrine, and he offered his services to the local regimental commander. ‘Forget it,’ said the colonel. ‘You’ll be much more useful if you get back to Manila and tell them just how rough it is down here.’ Takahashi escaped on a minesweeper to the area army headquarters.

At a little ceremony in Tacloban, MacArthur and Osmena celebrated the restoration of civil government to the Philippines. Sixth Army struggled to grapple with the administrative problems of meeting the needs of local Filipino people, many of whom expected to be fed. Unruly bands of guerrillas and bandits — the two were indistinguishable — milled around the American columns, offering aid that was sometimes useful, often not. Most local people were in rags, and the Americans learned to mistrust those who looked more presentable.

Each day the invaders were killing substantial numbers of enemy, and gaining ground. Yet the Americans were dismayed to discover that on the northern and western coasts beyond the mountains, the Japanese were reinforcing strongly. Units from Luzon were being ferried to Ormoc and several lesser ports. Few ground-based US aircraft could operate from Leyte, and it was weeks before carrier planes effectively interdicted supply routes. Meanwhile, thousands of enemy troops got through.

A local Japanese regimental commander, Lt. Col. Takayoshi Sumitani, issued a defiant handwritten order to his men of the 24th Infantry: ‘The fate of the Empire depends on this decisive battle of the Philippines. This force will fight the decisive battle around Tacloban, and will smash the barbaric enemy. There is no greater glory and honor than this… Now, the rigorous training you have received will be put to the test… Every officer and man will unite to fight courageously in a spirit of self-sacrifice. Annihilate the enemy as his Majesty the Emperor expects, and show your respect for Imperial benevolence.’ This was vain bombast. The Americans were now far too strongly established to be evicted from Leyte. What Sumitani and his kind could and did achieve, however, was to engage Sixth Army in much harder fighting than MacArthur and his staff had anticipated.

Though substantial numbers died or lost their equipment, some 45,000 Japanese troops landed in the west and north of the island. Private Eichi Ogita of the 362nd Independent Battalion experienced the sort of nightmare passage familiar to many Japanese soldiers. He was dispatched from Luzon with his unit on a small wooden schooner, but the vessel was sunk by an American submarine. Ogita and other survivors somehow struggled ashore on the northwest coast of Leyte. When daylight came, they found that their battalion commander was dead, while the adjutant, company commander and Ogita himself were among the wounded. They had salvaged a few weapons, but no food. For a time they squatted on a nearby hilltop, then realised that it was essential to get moving. A lieutenant and ten men went in search of Japanese forces. When they did not return, next day the remainder of the party set off towards their original destination, the port of Ormoc. It proved a terrible journey. They wandered, lacking maps and compasses. Most of their wounded died. When at last the survivors reached the town, they found it under air attack. ‘Enemy planes appear, but ours do not,’ Ogita wrote gloomily in his diary. ‘I wonder why.’ He whistled to keep his spirits up. ‘There are only thirty-four men in our company, but we have confidence enough to take on an enemy battalion.’ This was typical of the manner in which Japanese reinforcements reached the Leyte battlefield, losing many men and much equipment before even encountering American troops. It is astonishing, in such circumstances, that they achieved as much as they did.

Again and again, Krueger’s units found themselves caught off-balance by Japanese entrenched on higher ground. Beyond the grief inflicted by the enemy, there were the problems created by the weather. Within days of the landings, it began to rain. Deluges of tropical intensity persisted through the weeks that followed. Men grew accustomed to marching, fighting, eating and sleeping soaked to the skin. Roads and tracks collapsed beneath the pounding of heavy vehicles.

Captain George Morrissey, a doctor with the 1/34th Infantry, wrote: ‘We had just begun to dig in when an artillery shell lit in the forward part of the perimeter. I ran up there to find three killed, eight seriously wounded. Just then the rain began to pour furiously and it got dark. The first man I saw was bleeding from a jagged hole in the neck. It was a hell of a thing there in the rain not being able to do anything but having to try anyway. This man died on the way in and another next day. No supper. Foxhole full of water. Our artillery thunders and cracks all night… I have never been so filthy before.’

The campaign yielded its share of heroes. On the night of 21 October, the regiment faced a series of violent, almost overwhelming enemy attacks. Dawn revealed foxholes surrounded by enemy dead. Several lay near the body of Private Moon, killed after fighting to the last with rifle and grenades. He received a posthumous Medal of Honor, which roused both admiration and bewilderment among his comrades. ‘I only knew him as a G Company screw-up,’ wrote Private Eric Diller wonderingly.

Tanks and trucks got bogged down or were wrecked. Streams swelled and burst. Liver fluke parasites rendered bathing in rivers hazardous. Batteries swiftly deteriorated. It was difficult for gunners to keep cordite dry. Howitzers had to be cleaned three times a day. Blankets became covered with mildew. Folded canvas rotted. Bolts on vehicles and machinery rusted irretrievably into place. Fungus grew in weapon optics. White phosphorus in shells melted in the heat, which also blew out the safety disks of flamethrower tanks. It proved necessary to keep vehicle fuel tanks fully filled, or moisture seeped in.

A minor typhoon blew away tents and created havoc at stores dumps. Richard Krebs of the 24th Division described a blow which struck the island on 8 November: ‘Floods raced in almost horizontal sheets. Palms bent low under the storm, their fronds flattened like streamers of wet silk. Trees crashed to earth… The howling of the wind was like a thousandfold plaint of the unburied dead.’

Although overall American casualties were not excessive, some units suffered severely in local actions. For instance, in three days at the end of October, the 2/382nd Infantry lost thirty-four men killed and eighty wounded, fighting for the town of Tabontabon. George Morrissey wrote: ‘I saw the creek bed where the fighting had been yesterday, and we brought the bodies out. Thank God I’m not a rifleman. Near the scene were two sad heaps of humanity. In the first were five Filipino men, bound and bayoneted. In the second three women and three children, bound, bayoneted and partially burned.’

Leyte Valley was secured at the beginning of November 1944. MacArthur’s staff persistently and grotesquely misjudged the campaign’s progress. As early as 3 November, SWPAC reports referred repeatedly to enemy ‘remnants’ or ‘final remnants’ in full retreat. ‘The end of the Leyte-Samar campaign is in sight,’ asserted a press communiqué. Yet five days later, a bulletin grudgingly acknowledged ‘sharp fighting… The enemy has rushed reinforcements into this sector.’ Two days later still, SWPAC announced that Sixth Army had destroyed the entire original Leyte garrison — but added lamely that this had been replaced by reinforcements from Luzon.

American intelligence throughout the battle was poor, partly because the Japanese seldom directed local operations by radio, and partly because MacArthur and his subordinates were unwilling to heed what they learned. Sixth Army’s G3 Clyde Eddleman, discussing the role of enemy signal decrypts, claimed that ‘Ultra was of little value to Sixth Army directly. It gave some indication of Japanese morale but little else.’ There were notable disadvantages to fighting an enemy short of sophisticated communications.

The US forces now began the second phase of the Leyte battle: the struggle to clear the mountains which dominated northern and western areas of the island. On the densely covered hills, the enemy could exploit to the utmost his tenacity, fieldcraft and small-unit tactical skills. Krueger’s operations were bedevilled by ignorance of the ground, which was poorly mapped. The Americans suffered two months of pain and frustration. Names such as Bloody Ridge, Kilay Ridge and Breakneck Ridge became etched into the consciousness of thousands of his soldiers as they strove to dislodge the Japanese from their positions, then to hold these against counterattacks.

Private Luther Kinsey of the 382nd Infantry expressed a bewilderment common among Krueger’s men: ‘I’m surprised it isn’t going faster. I knew they were camouflaged and dug in, but I didn’t know so few of them would hold up so many of us.’ The phrase which dogged the experience of every American commander on Leyte was ‘pinned down’.

One of the notable actions of the campaign was fought by the 1/34th Infantry, under Lt. Col. Tom Clifford. His battalion was shipped seven miles along the north coast in landing craft, to a beach in the middle of Carigara Bay. There, they offloaded without opposition, and began marching into the hills. Three days later they took up position on Kilay Ridge, a nine-hundred-foot elevation which commanded much of the surrounding countryside, and provided vital flanking support for American operations on Breakneck Ridge. Clifford’s men were isolated, dependent for supply on Filipino porters and spasmodic airdrops. They suffered much, but held their ground.

Conditions on Kilay Ridge were never less than dreadful. ‘Rained all night and still raining hard,’ medical officer George Morrissey wrote ‘…The ground is a deep gooey churned mixture of mud, urine, faecal matter, garbage. The floor of our aid station is three inches deep with caked mud.’ He described the terror of his helpless patients when shooting came close. It became especially hard to treat men when mud-stained fragments of clothing were blown into their wounds. So tenuous were the battalion’s communications that it took three days to move each casualty to a first-surgery facility. Some did not make it, despite the devotion of their Filipino carriers. Morrissey noted bleakly that the yearning to go home, common to every man in the Pacific theater, was replaced in those days by a much more modest ambition — to get off Kilay. On 26 November, he wrote: ‘No loud talking or laughing around here these days. People converse in low voices, as at the bedside of a sick patient… Platoons have twelve to fifteen men at most… The mortality among our good non-coms has been very high… These are jittery days.’

It sometimes seemed, to commanders and foot soldiers alike, that the Leyte campaign was being conducted in slow motion. ‘The infantry policy was to avoid battle unless great force could be brought to bear on that particular point, and never to substitute courage of men for firepower,’ wrote Philip Hostetter. ‘This meant a long war with much maneuvering.’

The 1944 edition of the US War Department Handbook on Japanese Military Forces described the enemy with something close to contempt: ‘To the Japanese officer, considerations of “face” and “toughness” are most important, and they are therefore prone to indulgence in “paper heroics.” Despite the opportunities presented during six years of active combat, the Japanese have continued to violate certain fundamental principles of accepted tactics and technique… such violations are based… upon their failure to credit the enemy with good judgement and equal military efficiency. Whether or not they have profited from recent experiences remains to be seen… The defensive form of combat generally has been distasteful to the Japanese, and they have been very reluctant to admit that the Imperial Army would ever be forced to engage in this form of combat.’ On Leyte, such assertions were recognized as nonsense by every American from Krueger downwards.

The frustrations of Sixth Army persisted throughout November and December. Krueger’s divisions were gaining ground, and killing many Japanese. But it was all happening painfully slowly. An alarming number of Sixth Army soldiers succumbed to combat exhaustion and disease. The 21st Infantry, for instance, reported 630 battle casualties and 135 losses to ‘other causes’. Replacements were nowhere near keeping pace with such a drain, either in quantity or quality.

The pattern of American activity was grimly monotonous. Each dawn a unit moved out, advancing up some precipitous hill until the enemy was encountered. Companies rotated the dubious privilege of taking point. Captain Paul Austin, leading F Company of the 2/34th Infantry, learned to dread his CO’s phrase, ‘It’s your turn in the morning.’ Often, before the Americans consolidated on new positions, the enemy counterattacked. Important ground left untenanted was swiftly seized by the enemy.

It was a common delusion among MacArthur’s riflemen that they were the principal victims of the Leyte experience. Yet for the Japanese, matters were infinitely worse. Lt. Suteo Inoue wrote in his diary for 3 December: ‘Soldiers have become very weak, and only half the platoon are physically fit… the majority are suffering from fever.’

Bill McLaughlin, a reconnaissance scout, was once exploring his unit’s frontage with another man when, to their horror, they found that they had blundered into Japanese positions. ‘As we crouched there hardly daring to breathe, listening to their jabbering, it came to both of us at once that we were listening to some pretty scared Japanese boys looking for reassurance that they were not alone. It was so absurd, a couple of frightened Yanks playing Indians and crawling around on one side of the grass screen and a bunch of frightened Japs crouching on the other.’ The two Americans crawled thoughtfully away.

Krueger’s men took few prisoners on Leyte: 389 before 25 December and a further 439 thereafter. If this was partly because not many Japanese wished to surrender, it was also because few Americans were willing to accommodate them. A US divisional commander, Maj. Gen. William Arnold, was asked after the war if he encouraged surrenders. His response was ruthlessly pragmatic: ‘No… for the simple reason that an average Japanese prisoner knew nothing whatever about anything… and I doubt whether an officer would know anything.’ Arnold rejected ‘emotional talk of war crimes’ committed by either Japanese or Americans: ‘You’ve got soldiers with no brains at all, some of them, and they’d kill you just as soon as look at you. You have them everywhere. The Americans are just as bad as anybody else as far as that’s concerned. In the heat of combat, you shoot people who would have probably surrendered.’

One of the small number of Japanese who survived in American hands was a twenty-two year-old private named Sumito Ideguchi, who successfully deserted from his unit. A former truck driver, he had endured a familiar sequence of miseries. His transport was sunk en route to Leyte. Rescued by a minesweeper, he was eventually sent into the line. Ideguchi found himself serving alongside strangers from unfamiliar regions of Japan, whom he could not relate to. Perceiving himself banished from home, he told his captors that he would like to settle in the United States.

An amphibious landing south of Ormoc enabled the Americans to seize the port, and cut the Japanese off from further resupply or reinforcement. Afterwards, western Leyte’s Ormoc Valley was secured. MacArthur announced the formal completion of operations across the entire island on Christmas Day, 1944. But as many as 20,000 Japanese remained. Even though they now adopted guerrilla tactics rather than fighting as regiments with support weapons, they sustained the struggle for four more months.

Yamashita signalled General Suzuki that from then on, Japanese troops on Leyte must fend for themselves. There could be no further reinforcement or resupply. The battle for the island was lost. Suzuki’s remaining elements dispersed into the mountains.

A communiqué from MacArthur asserted that 117,997 enemy troops had been killed on Leyte, at least double the real total. MacArthur’s soldiers were infuriated by his public announcement of a victory which was still far from secure. ‘MacArthur’s communiqués are inaccurate to a disgusting degree,’ wrote Lt. Gage Rodman of the 17th Infantry. ‘We who were on the spot knew we were only beginning to fight when he made his ridiculous announcement that our objective was secured.’

The surviving Japanese on Leyte were dependent on local food taken from civilians, and even on growing their own crops. They lacked salt, radio batteries, and ammunition. Many of the stragglers had had enough. Whether they were fortunate enough to be able to surrender, however, depended upon escaping the eyes of their own superiors — and then meeting Americans willing to take them alive. One soldier who did so was a certain Private Saito, who lingered in hiding for weeks after being wounded, and kept a diary. ‘A year ago tomorrow I was inducted,’ he wrote. ‘That was an unhappy day, for I left behind everything worthwhile. Today I experienced the first stage of a new life. I heard the voices and footsteps of American soldiers, and my heart leapt. Instead of fear, I find that I feel a certain warmth towards them. I cannot help but think that those voices have come to save me. Though I wanted to go out to meet them, the wound in my foot prevented it. For forty-three days now, I have been grateful for this hut because of my gangrene. I feel deeply grateful to my friend Nakata, for without him I would have died on 7 December, under that terrific naval bombardment. He saved me at the risk of his own life. To lose one’s life in a war of this kind is extremely regrettable. I could not teach him that the conflict arose from the greed of the military and capitalist clique. My hatred for the army hierarchy is stronger than I can express. I must survive and tell this story to the [Japanese] people, or my soul will never rest. The things that we did in China are being done to us. Japan will soon be defeated. We have learned from this war how inferior are our science and industry to those of the enemy. From the outset, I never thought that we could win.’ Private Saito was fortunate enough to be taken alive by men of the 17th Infantry. It is unknown whether he survived to return to Japan.

While the Americans had prevailed in their largest ground campaign of the eastern conflict thus far, few of those who fought had relished the experience. ‘Perhaps the best way to describe life in the Pacific war would be to say we endured,’ wrote Private Bill McLaughlin, a recon scout with the Americal Division. ‘…The heat, the insects, disease, combat and the boredom in between… We came to expect little, and to be satisfied with little in the way of comfort: a few candles, some playing cards, a little hard candy.’

Even as the Americans hacked a painful path across Leyte island, at sea their foes launched an ambitious and desperate attempt to wreck the campaign. The Imperial Japanese Navy dispatched four carriers scantily provided with aircraft to make a feint from the north, designed to lure away Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet. Meanwhile, Japanese heavy units set forth to converge on Leyte Gulf, where they planned to attack the American amphibious armada and its relatively weak naval support force – Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet. The IJN failed to achieve its objective and suffered heavy losses. Thereafter it never sailed into battle in comparable numbers.

Operation Sho-Go was never likely to succeed: whatever havoc the attackers contrived, American strategic superiority was overwhelming. But a change of Japanese codes and wireless silence imposed on their fleet at sea denied Halsey and Kinkaid foreknowledge of what was afoot.

A powerful Japanese battle squadron, commanded by Vice-Admiral Takeo Kurita, was spotted entering the Sibuyan Sea between Luzon, Panay and Leyte. American submarines promptly sank two of its cruisers, and Third Fleet launched carrier aircraft which sank the huge battleship Musashi and damaged other vessels. Kurita turned away, apparently conceding defeat. The impulsive Halsey then disappeared north with his entire force in pursuit of Ozawa’s carrier decoy force, located by reconnaissance aircraft.

As Halsey steamed towards a far horizon, Seventh Fleet fought a notable battle of its own. A second Japanese battle squadron was sighted closing on Leyte Gulf from the south, up the Surigao Strait. To meet this, Admiral Thomas Kinkaid deployed his old bombardment battleships, together with cruisers, destroyers and PT-boats. Just before 04.00 destroyer torpedoes and radar-guided fire from Kinkaid’s big ships sank the Japanese battleships Yamashiro and Fuso, together with three of their escorts. The heavy cruiser Mogami and the light cruiser Abukuma were also hit, and later sunk by US aircraft. The surviving elements of the Japanese task force turned for home.

During the night, the Japanese battlefleet mauled by Halsey’s planes once more about-turned; after steaming eastward through the San Bernardino Strait, it steered south towards Leyte Gulf, undetected even when daylight came, and meeting no opposition. The six small escort carriers and seven escorts of Rear-Admiral Clifton Sprague’s Task Force – immortalised by its radio call-sign as ‘Taffy 3’ – had just secured from pre-dawn general quarters when a panic-stricken voice transmission from an anti-submarine patrol aircraft reported four Japanese battleships, eight cruisers and escorting destroyers less than twenty miles away and closing fast. Sprague exclaimed with understandable intemperance, ‘That sonofabitch Halsey has left us bare-assed!’ His ships, slow floating platforms providing air support for MacArthur’s troops ashore, strove desperately to open the range, while flying off such planes as they could muster. The Japanese, however, were soon firing hard and fast into Taffy 3.

Admiral Kurita, commanding the Japanese squadron that attacked Admiral Sprague’s forces, was offered an easy opportunity to annihilate the small, pathetically weak American force. Sprague’s destroyers and planes lunged repeatedly at the enemy, but they lacked numbers and armor-piercing bombs. Kinkaid’s battleships were away to the south, many hours away, after fighting their night duel in the Surigao Strait. The escort carriers and aircrew knew that they alone must fight off the enemy battlefleet.

Overwhelming Japanese fire sank three American escorts and one carrier of Taffy 3 in a succession of melees at point-blank range; some fifty American aircraft were lost as they pummelled the Combined Fleet. But the cruisers Chokai, Suzuya and Chikuma sank under air attack, and Kurita’s nerve broke. Dismayed by the energy of American resistance, convinced that he was in the presence of elements of Third Fleet, he broke off the action and turned for home. Taffy 3’s heroics had repulsed a battlefleet in a fashion which bewildered thousands of American sailors, who earlier that morning thought themselves doomed men.

The Americans lost one further escort carrier sunk and two seriously damaged when Philippines-based Japanese planes delivered the first suicide strikes of the campaign. Halsey’s aircraft duly attacked Ozawa’s decoy squadron, sinking all four carriers, a light cruiser and two destroyers. Third Fleet then turned south, to face bitter recriminations about its desertion of the Leyte squadrons. Halsey’s recklessness merited his dismissal. But, given the scale of the American triumph in what became known to history as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval clash in history, his folly was overlooked.

Leyte Gulf vividly demonstrated the collapse of Japanese naval skills: gunnery, seamanship, ship identification – and nerve. Japan’s admirals conducted the operation as if they expected to lose. They seemed more ready to die than to fight, a strange transition for men who, in 1941-42, showed themselves ardent and effective warriors. The destruction of Japan’s naval air arm enabled Halsey’s and Kinkaid’s pilots to fly almost unchallenged. But the essential message of the battle was that the Imperial Navy had suffered a moral as well as a material collapse.

In many of the earlier Pacific battles, signals intelligence gave the Americans a critical edge, which they were denied in the Leyte Gulf actions. Thanks to Halsey’s blunders, the power of Third Fleet was never fully engaged. Yet at every turn, the US Navy outfought its enemies. To be sure, technology and especially radar were deployed to American advantage.

Halsey’s impulsive behavior reflected the mood of a navy which had grown accustomed to overwhelming superiority. His defenders stress the fact that, at Leyte Gulf, Halsey was anxious to ensure that he would not face the charge of over-caution levelled at Spruance four months earlier, following the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Fifth Fleet’s commander was alleged then to have allowed the Japanese carriers to escape destruction, by declining to pursue them. Rivalry with Spruance certainly influenced Halsey’s decisions, but these overwhelmingly reflected his temperament, together with a habitual carelessness about planning and staffwork.

The American victory in the battles of Leyte Gulf was overwhelming. The Japanese lost 285,000 tons of warships, their opponents just 29,000 tons. American casualties of 2,803 were no more than the Red Army lost every four hours of the war. Japanese losses were far greater than at Midway in 1942. Yet this was, of course, a much less critical encounter. Midway changed the course of the war, arresting the Japanese advance across the Pacific. Whatever might have happened at Leyte Gulf, Japan’s fate was already sealed.

Among sailors, Halsey incurred much heavier criticism for another blunder two months later, when he kept his fleet at sea after a typhoon was forecast. When this came, it sank three destroyers, crippled many other ships, and drowned almost eight hundred men. By contrast, Halsey’s Leyte Gulf blunder was redeemed by the follies of Kurita.

Leyte Gulf commands the awe of posterity. At Jutland in 1916, 99 German ships engaged 151 British; at Leyte, 216 American and 2 Australian ships met 64 Japanese. 143,668 American sailors and pilots — more than the combined strengths of the US Navy and Marine Corps in 1938 — met 42,800 Japanese. This was the last great clash between rival surface fleets.

Even in the simplest battle maneuvers, again and again Japanese captains were found wanting. Contrast the development of the American and Japanese navies in the course of the Pacific conflict: the US Navy expanded its strength tenfold, so that it was overwhelmingly officered and manned by amateur sailors. Yet the performance of these men proved remarkable. The Japanese navy, which at the start of the war displayed notable superiority in seamanship and gunnery as well as technology, by the end lagged hopelessly in these skills. Japanese officers and men who perished were replaced by newcomers of steadily diminishing competence.

Admiral James Clark returned from leave shortly after Leyte Gulf, and reported to Nimitz on Hawaii. ‘I guess I missed the best battle of the war,’ said Clark, in some chagrin. ‘Oh, no,’ replied Nimitz with a quiet grin. ‘The best battle will be the last battle.’

Ironically, American victory at Leyte Gulf exercised far less influence upon the last phase of the struggle than another, at first apparently marginal, series of events. Rear-Admiral Masafumi Arima removed his badges of rank and clambered into the cockpit of a plane at Clark Field on Luzon. He then took off at the head of his fliers to attack Halsey’s fleet off Formosa. He sought to make a personal contribution to the art of war by crashing his plane into an American aircraft carrier. In the end, he plunged into the sea alongside a carrier, without damaging it. But he was one among many desperate men who concluded in those days that new methods were required to offer the Japanese any possibility of overcoming their enemy’s overwhelming might.

Since the Marianas disaster, many Japanese officers, including a naval aide to the emperor, had discussed the possibilities of launching a systematic suicide campaign. Captain Renya Inoguchi, senior air staff officer of 1st Air Fleet on the Philippines, wrote gloomily in his diary: ‘Nothing is more destructive to morale than a belief that the enemy possesses superiority.’

Conventional Japanese air forces were being devastated by the Americans. Haruki Iki and his squadron landed at Clark Field to find that a sister unit which arrived only the previous day had already lost its commanding officer and most of its planes. ‘In the Philippines, every day was desperate,’ said Iki. ‘At night, the work of the ground crews preparing aircraft for next day’s strikes was constantly interrupted by American bombing. Even when we drove from the mess up to the strip in darkness, if we showed headlights we were liable to be shot up by American night-fighters, which was no fun at all.’ Every time Iki flew out, he penned a last letter for his wife, Yoshiko, living with their two children at her parents’ house on Kyushu. ‘If I did not leave a letter, she might never even have known where I died, because nobody would have told her,’ said the pilot. When the decision was made to launch suicide missions, Iki welcomed it: ‘At the time, this seemed the only option we had.’

Suicide attack offered a prospect of redressing the balance of forces, circumventing the fact that Japanese pilots were no longer capable of challenging their American counterparts on conventional terms. Instead, their astonishing willingness for self-sacrifice might be exploited. Here was a concept which struck a chord in the Japanese psyche, and caught the Imperial Navy’s mood of the moment. Officers cherished a saying: ‘When a commander is uncertain whether to steer to port or starboard, he should steer towards death.’ An alternative aphorism held that ‘One should take care to make one’s own dying as meaningful as possible.’ The suicide concept appeared to satisfy both requirements.

Four days after Arima’s death, Vice-Admiral Takijiro Onishi, new commander of 5th Air Base on the Philippines, held a meeting with Captain Inoguchi, his staff and some airmen. They agreed that Zeroes fitted with five hundred-pound bombs and crashed headlong into targets could achieve much greater accuracy than conventional bombing. A one-way trip also doubled the range of a plane. Inoguchi proposed calling the movement shimpu, a word for ‘divine wind’. Another word of much the same meaning, however, soon passed into the vernacular of the Second World War: kamikaze.

As the first suicide section took off from Luzon, their comrades stood by the flight path singing. The mission ended in anticlimax, for the planes returned without finding a target. But that day a Japanese aircraft from another field crashed into the cruiser HMAS Australia off Leyte, killing thirty men and inflicting major damage.

In the aftermath of the Leyte Gulf naval battle, kamikazes led by Seki achieved their first important successes, sinking St. Lo, damaging Santee and Suwanee. The carrier Intrepid was struck off Luzon four days later. Onishi now secured the consent of his superior, Admiral Fukudome, to recruit kamikaze volunteers in large numbers. Fukudome had at first resisted, arguing that suicide missions would not play well with aircrew.

Through the weeks that followed, as Onishi and Inoguchi mustered more volunteers, suicide attacks and American losses in the seas around the Philippines mounted dramatically. A hit on the carrier Franklin killed fifty-six men. Vernon Black, manning a .50-calibre machine gun on Belleau Wood, watched a green-nosed Japanese attacker diving on his own ship: ‘He was afire in the engine, then something hit me. Burning gasoline sprayed all over. It got awfully hot… my clothes began to burn.’ Black, like many others, leapt into the sea to escape the flames: ‘There was a lot of screaming in the water and whistles blowing.’ His life jacket immediately burst, burnt through. He scrambled onto a raft with a dozen other men, and forty minutes later was picked up by a ‘merciful can’ — a destroyer.

Admiral Onishi addressed men of the first designated ‘special attack’ unit: ‘Japan is in grave danger. The salvation of our country is now beyond the power of the ministers of state, the general staff and humble commanders like myself. It can come only from spirited young men like you. Thus, on behalf of your hundred million countrymen, I ask this sacrifice of you, and pray for your success.’ A few months and several hundred suicide attacks later, genuine kamikaze volunteers became hard to find. But in those first weeks, a substantial number of Japanese aircrew eagerly embraced the concept.

When Commander Tamai of the 201st Air Group put the idea to his twenty three pilots, all professed enthusiasm. Lt. Yukio Seki said: ‘You’ve absolutely got to let me do it.’ Seki was just three months married, after a correspondence romance. He had received a random parcel from a girl, one of many dispatched by civilian well-wishers to Japan’s soldiers, sailors and airmen. This one, unusually, contained the sender’s name and address. The officer began exchanging letters with her. They met on his leave, fell in love, and married. Before Seki left on his last mission, instead of asserting that he was sacrificing himself for his country, he told war correspondents: ‘I’m doing this for my beloved wife.’ To a Western mind, self-immolation in such circumstances is incomprehensible. To some Japanese of the time, however, it seemed intensely romantic.

Onishi’s vision for achieving Japan’s salvation through the ‘divine wind’ soon attained demented proportions: ‘If we are prepared to sacrifice twenty million Japanese lives in “special attacks”, victory will be ours,’ he declared. Not all officers shared his enthusiasm.

Lt. Cmdr. Tadashi Minobe, who led a night fighter group in the Philippines, was transferred back to Japan after openly denouncing the kamikaze concept. Propaganda, however, immediately set about ennobling this new ideal. The last letters of suicide pilots passed into Japan’s national legend. Petty Officer Isao Matsuo wrote: ‘Dear parents, please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die. This is my last day.’

Next came the American landing on the island of Mindoro to convert it into an advanced base for the American fighter squadrons, which could then provide combat air patrols over the Luzon invasion fleet. The Mindoro operation would require a postponement of the Luzon expedition until mid-January 1945, but MacArthur now thought the delay reasonable. He approved the Mindoro operation. The island was lightly defended by the Japanese, so the US forces had little difficulty in securing it.

The Mindoro operation proved easy only for the landing force, two reinforced army infantry regiments of 12,000 soldiers backed by 16,000 army engineers and service troops. Well within range of Japanese aircraft in the northern Philippines, the invasion force endured its first air attacks. A kamikaze smashed the bridge of the flagship-cruiser Nashville, killing 133 officers and men (including several high-ranking army and navy officers) and wounding over 200 more. Damage to an escorting destroyer made it inoperable.

The island was of comparable size to Leyte, but the Japanese mounted no significant ground defense. The operation became, in the words of an American engineer, ‘just a maneuver for shore party units.’ Within a fortnight, airfield construction teams accomplished on Mindoro what had proved so difficult on Leyte — the creation of strips from which large numbers of aircraft could operate.

After Leyte island was declared secure, US forces landed on the main Philippine island of Luzon, to begin a campaign which lasted for the rest of the war, against Japanese forces directed with stubborn skill by Gen. Tomoyoki Yamashita. Yamashita retreated to the mountainous, densely forested center of the island, where he sustained a shrinking perimeter until August 1945.

With so much of the Japanese navy sunk or disabled in that great battle, Yamashita had to rely on his ground forces, weakened by earlier transfers, to reinforce the army on Leyte. But he had over 280,000 army and navy soldiers left and believed that he had a real opportunity to defeat the landing or at least deny the Americans use of the air and sea bases of Luzon for a very long time. He would certainly keep them occupied in bloody battle for months.

Yamashita divided his forces into four operational groups. The Shobu Group would start in defensive positions in the Caraballo Mountains and look for opportunities to assault Sixth Army’s left flank at Lingayen Gulf; it could then fight delaying actions back to the north in Luzon’s rugged mountains. The Shimbu Group would establish its operational base in the Sierra Madre mountains east of Manila and deploy detachments to the south of Laguna de Bay to block the southern approaches to Manila. The Kembu Group would set up a base area in the rugged western Zambales Mountains, to prevent the easy recapture of Clark Field and stop any force that landed on Bataan from taking Manila from the west. The fourth operational group, largely Japanese naval base forces, would hold Manila long enough to destroy the port facilities and any supplies the Japanese Army could not transport into the mountains.

The push inland was too fast for Yamashita to mount an effective counterattack, which might have contained the Americans for some time, the way the Germans had initially contained the Normandy invasion. As more American troops came ashore, they headed south. Fighting was very bitter with heavy casualties on both sides, but MacArthur was determined to push forward, and prodded his ground commanders. A hard drive into the mountains on the left flank of the advance pushed back the Japanese, destroyed their most dangerous counterattack, and effectively eliminated the main Japanese armored force on Luzon.

Walter Krueger, pushed by MacArthur, now sent forces south to seize the key airfields collectively referred to as Clark Field. In a week's hard fighting, the fields were retaken and, with their paved runways, could provide excellent bases for the American air force.

With some of its divisions and most of its reserves diverted from the Luzon campaign to 8th Army operations further south, the American 6th Army found itself battering the large remaining forces of General Yamashita left on the island. In a long, difficult and costly campaign, most of Luzon was indeed cleared, but in the process the American divisions involved repeatedly faced Japanese forces of equal or superior numbers in well-entrenched positions. With massive assistance from Filipino guerillas, Yamashita's army was steadily battered down.

Yamashita had no intention of making Manila an ‘open city’, thus freeing it from combat, but he also did not intend to turn it (as some of his subordinates suggested) into a second Stalingrad. Iwabushi’s operation would render the city useless for military purposes and then he would join the Shimbu Group. At that point, the three groups would use the mountains to hold MacArthur in the central valley, trapped among the Philippine population whose needs would slow the Americans.

MacArthur’s Sixth Army landed at Lingayen Gulf, halfway up the western coast of Luzon. Kamikazes provided fierce opposition. Fortunately for the Americans, the Japanese as usual focused attacks on warships rather than transports crowded with troops. American troops met only spasmodic artillery and mortar fire as they advanced inland, and there were soon 175,000 Americans ashore.

The enemy’s pilots seemed more skilful than before, their tactics more sophisticated. They approached at deck level, often baffling American radar, and provoking a storm of reckless AA fire which killed men on neighboring ships — the battleship Colorado suffered significant casualties.

While most of the Leyte fighting had engaged only four divisions, Luzon would ultimately involve ten, in addition to huge numbers of support troops. At first, climate slowed the advance more than the enemy. Water was short. Five thousand tons of supplies were landed each day, but shifting them forward proved a nightmare, only marginally assisted by jury-rigging stretches of Luzon’s battered rail system.

In the first three days ashore, the Americans lost just 55 dead and 185 wounded, while claiming 500 enemy killed. When the Americans reached the hills, however, Yamashita’s plan became apparent. Knowing that he could not prevent the Americans from achieving a lodgement, he had instead concentrated most of his forces in the island’s mountain areas. Experience on Leyte had shown how effectively steep uplands could be defended. The Japanese held positions prepared with their usual skill, and were soon killing Americans. In the south, however, at first there was less resistance. XIV Corps advanced towards Manila.

Fourteenth Army’s commander believed that he could inflict pain and delay on MacArthur by exploiting Luzon’s wildest terrain. He had no thought of victory. ‘What is wanted of us,’ he told his officers, ‘is to get in one good blow at the Americans, to strengthen the government’s hand in negotiations at the conference table.’

‘This is terrible country to fight in, jungle thicker than Biak, heat is prostrating… There is an awful lot of combat hysteria among the new recruits and heat exhaustion among all hands,’ wrote Captain Paul Austin of the 34th Infantry. On board the transports to Luzon, his regiment had suddenly received an intake of eight hundred replacements: ‘They had no chance to learn their duties or who their non-coms were. They had a high incidence of hysteria and caused deaths of many of our old men by freezing under fire.’

American forces reached the forward defenses of Clark Field. Around the air base they fought a sluggish series of battles to secure the commanding heights. These provoked bad-tempered recriminations between elements of Sixth Army. The 129th Infantry, for instance, protested at the flight of its supporting tanks, which refused to return to the line even when the regiment found itself facing a Japanese armored attack at Tacondo. MacArthur accused the 37th Division of ‘a notable lack of drive and aggressive initiative.’

Japanese forces held out as long they could. The survivors scattered into the surrounding foothills, leaving a heavily damaged airfield that was of no immediate use to the Americans.

XI Corps made a new beach landing at San Antonio, to the northwest of Manila, and two regiments of 11th Airborne Division came ashore at Nasugbu, some forty-five miles southwest of the capital, and began their own advance on the city, soon joined by a third regiment which parachuted in.

By the beginning of February the first airborne units were on the outskirts of Manila, facing the main southern defense line. A glider infantry company commander famously radioed his battalion: ‘Tell Admiral Halsey to stop looking for the Jap fleet. It’s dug in here on Nichols Field.’

Manila, the capital, was razed to the ground during weeks of fighting, in which forces of Japanese sailors fought almost to the last man. These men also committed massacres of civilians. Many Filipinos who escaped Japanese savagery perished under American artillery fire. Up to 100,000 of its citizens died in the ruins of their capital. The Japanese massacres and the battle left Manila the most damaged Allied capital after Warsaw.

Clearing Manila of the Japanese was to prove far more difficult and costly than the spectacular rush into its northern portion and horrendously different from the victory parade MacArthur had hoped for. Yamashita's original plan to pull all forces out of the city was altered dramatically. His deliberate destruction of the harbor facilities produced an enormous fire which engulfed a very large part of northern and western Manila; American troops found themselves fighting the raging fires, not just the Japanese.

For a month the approximately 20,000 Japanese in the city fought the Americans, who had to batter their way forward block by block and house by house. Both the heavy modern reinforced concrete buildings designed to withstand earthquakes and the ancient solid stone walls of the old core-city fortress Intramuros (‘between the walls’) provided extraordinarily good protection for the defenders and difficulties for the assaulting Americans.

Block by block, ruin by ruin, dash by dash across streets swept by enemy fire, the Americans advanced through Manila. After the first days, Japanese senior commanders could exercise little control. Their improvised battle groups simply fought to the death where they stood. The baseball stadium was ferociously defended — Japanese sailors dug in even on its diamond. They held the post office until it was reduced to rubble. On Provisor Island in the Pasig, American soldiers played a deadly game of hide-and-seek amid the machinery of a power station. Maj. Chuck Henne reflected: ‘Such… are lonely, personal times during which the presence of other troops counts for little. Relaxing is impossible, for uncontrollably muscles tighten and teeth are clenched. The blast of a heavy shell is unforgettable, as is the dud that goes bouncing overhead down a cobblestone street. The close ones leave a chalky taste in one’s mouth. Being bounced in the air and stung by blasted debris gets a trooper counting arms and legs and feeling for blood.’

The Japanese forces under the command of Admiral Iwabachi Sanji decided to hold the southern portion of the city below the Pasig river, which bisects the city as it flows into Manila Bay. Neither Yamashita nor Iwabachi would or could control the Japanese naval garrison and army men who, quite aside from fighting the Americans, proceeded to butcher and rape Filipinos and all others they could get their hands on.

The US Army in the Philippines possessed none of the extensive experience of street fighting acquired by their counterparts in Europe. In Manila, they learned hard lessons. The city’s principal buildings were designed to be proof against earthquakes. Paco police station, for instance, defied repeated assaults by infantry supported by artillery and heavy mortars. Two tanks were lost to mines before the armor suppressed Japanese fire sufficiently to allow a final assault: ‘Even then,’ declared a Sixth Army report, ‘the Japanese did not withdraw and the last of them were destroyed in sandbagged emplacements dug deep in the floor of the basement.’

The most repellent aspect of the Japanese defence of Manila was their systematic slaughter and rape of the city’s civilians. The Japanese justified this policy by asserting that everyone found in the battle area was a guerrilla. There were massacres in schools, hospitals and convents, including San Juan de Dios Hospital, Santa Rosa College, Manila Cathedral, Paco Church and St. Paul’s Convent. Young girls were raped without mercy. One twenty-four-year old named Esther Garcia later gave evidence about the experiences of her fifteen- and fourteen-year-old sisters, Priscilla and Evangeline: ‘They grabbed my two sisters. They were in back of me. And we didn’t know what they were going to do. So my two sisters started fighting them, but they couldn’t do anything. So they grabbed my sisters by the arm and took them out of the room. And we waited and waited and waited and finally my younger sister came back and she was crying. And I asked her, “Where is Pris? Where is Pris?” And she said: “Oh! They are doing things to her, Esther!” So everybody in the room knew what was going to happen to us. When Priscilla came back, she said: “Esther, they did something to me. I want to die. I want to die!”’ A Japanese soldier had cut open her vagina with a knife. The incidents described above are representative of the fates of tens of thousands of helpless people.

The US Army took little pride in its own role. To overcome the Japanese defenses, it proved necessary to bombard large areas of the city into rubble. Before the Philippines landings, MacArthur dispatched a message to all American forces, emphasising the importance of restraint in the use of firepower. Filipinos, he wrote, ‘will not be able to understand liberation if it is accompanied by indiscriminate destruction of their homes, their possessions, their civilization, and their lives… this policy is dictated by humanity and our moral standing throughout the Far East.’ In consequence, and much to the dismay of his subordinates, MacArthur refused to allow air power to be deployed over Manila. One post-war estimate suggests that for every six Manileros murdered by the Japanese defenders, another four died beneath the gunfire of their American liberators. Some historians would even reverse that ratio. ‘Those who had survived Japanese hate did not survive American love,’ wrote Filipino historian Carmen Guerrero. ‘Both were equally deadly, the latter more so because sought and longed for.’

While American divisions were fighting for Manila through February, others recaptured the great symbolic place-names of Bataan and Corregidor. Zig-Zag Pass, on the approaches to the Bataan Peninsula, became the scene of some of the most painful fighting of the campaign. An American parachute assault on the fortress island of Corregidor surprised the Japanese defenders in advance of an amphibious landing, but cost heavy jump casualties, and days of bloody mopping-up. Through the months that followed, Yamashita conducted a highly effective defense of the mountain areas in which he had fortified himself. Japanese units fought; inflicted American casualties; caused days of delay, fear and pain; then withdrew to their next line.

The island of Corregidor had been bombarded and bombed since January, and a combined parachute and amphibious assault was launched in February. Although the Japanese garrison was more than five times as large as estimated and therefore outnumbered the air and seaborne assailants, it was caught by surprise. After the Americans had established footholds on the island, they repulsed a series of uncoordinated banzai charges with heavy losses. A tremendous explosion of ammunition and other explosives in the underground fortifications — set off either by accident or as a mass suicide — killed about 2,000 of the garrison. Two more underground explosions killed most of the remaining Japanese in the following days.

Private Shigeki Hara of the 19th Special Machine-Gun Unit described the misery of retreating in a column of sick men. They abandoned all personal possessions, though Hara sought to sustain the custom of taking home to Japan some portion of every dead fellow soldier: ‘After daybreak, removed arm from the dead body of a comrade and followed the main body… was attacked by a company of guerrillas and suffered one casualty. Killed one enemy with the sword.’

Col. Russell Volckmann, an American officer who had been leading guerrillas against the Japanese on Luzon since 1942, provided a report to Sixth Army assessing the enemy’s tactical strengths and weaknesses. He admired Japanese powers of endurance, and skill in moving men and equipment over harsh terrain. He thought well of their junior officers and NCOs. More senior commanders, however, impressed him little with their ‘absurd orders, assignment of impossible missions in relation to a unit’s strength, utter disregard for the lives of subordinates, refusal to admit defeat or even face the fact that events are going against him [sic] and inability to adjust to a changing situation, proneness to exaggerate success and minimize failure causes higher echelons to get a false picture. Jap small unit tactics are tops but there is seldom any coordination between units. To sum it up — the Jap officer generally has no idea of modern methods of fighting in large mass.’ This seems fair. The Japanese showed themselves superb soldiers in defense, yet often failed in attack because they relied upon human spirit to compensate for lack of numbers, firepower, mobility and imagination.

Disease took its toll of attackers and defenders alike. Japanese soldiers endured hunger always, starvation latterly. ‘Of the forty-nine men who are left, only seventeen are fit for duty,’ wrote Lt. Inoue Suteo of the Japanese 77th Infantry on 19 March. ‘The other two-thirds are sick. Out of fourteen men of the grenade discharger section, only three are fit… 43rd Force [to which his unit belonged] is called “the malaria unit”… The quality of Japanese soldiers has fallen dramatically. I doubt if they could carry on the fight. Few units in the Japanese army are as lacking in military discipline as this one.’

All over the Philippine archipelago in the early spring of 1945, Japanese garrisons waited with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the Americans to come. On Lubang, for instance, an island some eighteen miles by six within sight of Luzon, 150 of Yamashita’s men shifted supplies into the hills, in readiness to maintain a guerrilla campaign. ‘They all talked big about committing suicide and giving up their lives for the emperor,’ said their commander, Lt. Hiroo Onoda. ‘Deep down they were hoping and praying that Lubang would not be attacked.’ A small American force landed on 28 February, inflicting a slight wound on Onoda’s hand as he and his men retreated. Thereafter, hunger and sickness progressively worsened their circumstances. One day, high in the hills, a pale young soldier came to Onoda from the sick tent, asking for explosives. He said: ‘We can’t move. Please let us kill ourselves.’ Onoda thought for a moment, then agreed: ‘All right, I’ll do it. I’ll set a fuse to the charges.’ He looked into twenty-two faces, ‘all resigned to death,’ and did his business. When he returned after the explosion, there was only a gaping crater where the sick tent had been.

To the dismay of Krueger’s Sixth Army, after the fall of Manila MacArthur launched the five divisions of Eichelberger’s Eighth Army on the progressive recapture of the lesser Philippine islands. Strategically, this decision had nothing to recommend it. American forces struggling to defeat Yamashita on Luzon were left grievously shorthanded. Eichelberger’s formations, which carried out fourteen major and twenty-four minor amphibious landings in forty-four days all over the Philippines Archipelago, thereafter spent weeks pursuing small Japanese forces which hit and ran, inflicted casualties, then retreated, day after day and month after month, with worsening weather and American morale.

The struggle to cut and hold Yamashita’s principal supply route, the Villa Verde Trail, became one of the most bitter of the campaign. Yamashita held out until the end of the war in his mountain fastnesses on Luzon, although the Americans had destroyed most of his forces. By August 1945 his Shobu group had been driven back into a forty-two-square-mile redoubt near Bontoc, and its supplies were almost exhausted. In the last six weeks of the war, these remnants killed some 440 American soldiers and Filipino guerrillas — but themselves lost 13,000 men.

Higher commanders had worries of their own. Col. Bruce Palmer, Chief of Staff of 6th Division, was dismayed by the conduct of his general, Edwin Patrick, who behaved recklessly when sober, and worse when drunk, which was alarmingly often. A Japanese machine gunner solved this problem by killing Patrick when he exposed himself while visiting a battalion observation post.

It is a striking feature of the Second World War that the populist media of the democracies made stars of some undeserving commanders, who thereafter became hard to sack. MacArthur’s Philippines campaign did little more to advance the surrender of Japan than Slim’s campaign in Burma, and was conducted with vastly less competence. Its principal victims were the Philippine people, and MacArthur’s own military reputation.

‘The Philippines campaign was a mistake,’ says modern Japanese historian Kazutoshi Hando, who lived through the war. ‘MacArthur did it for his own reasons. Japan had lost the war once the Marianas were gone.’

The Filipino people whom MacArthur professed to love paid the price for his egomania in lost lives – something approaching half a million perished by combat, massacre, famine and disease – and wrecked homes. It was as great a misfortune for them as for the Allied war effort that neither President Roosevelt nor the US Chiefs of Staff could contain MacArthur’s ambitions within a smaller compass of folly.

Although retroactively authorized from Washington, the more than fifty landing operations in which 8th Army assaulted and liberated most of the central and southern Philippines were essentially MacArthur's own project. They provided very significant experience in amphibious operations for those units of 8th Army which were expected to participate in the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, and they opened up a large additional series of ports and bases for the staging of American divisions expected from Europe after the end of hostilities there.

In the Philippines, however, instead of achieving the cheap, quick successes he had promised, his forces became entangled in protracted fighting, on terms which suited the Japanese. MacArthur’s contempt for intelligence was a persistent, crippling defect. On Luzon, where he sought to exercise personal field command, his opponent Yamashita displayed a nimbleness in striking contrast to the heavy-footed advance of Sixth Army. Stanley Falk has written of MacArthur: ‘On those occasions when the Japanese faced him with equal or greater strength, he was unable to defeat them or to react swiftly or adequately to their initiatives… The… South-West Pacific commitment was an unnecessary and profligate waste of resources, involving the needless loss of thousands of lives, and in no significant way affecting the outcome of the war.’