Skip navigation

Tag Archives: tanaka

Leyte - New Jersey

(USS New Jersey — heading north in heavy seas to intercept Ozawa’s fleet – Leyte; September 1944)


Surigao Strait

“Well. Here we are.”

Admiral Jesse Oldendorf, on the bridge of the heavy cruiser USS Louisville had spoken half to himself. His battle-line, first of cruisers, then with the old battleships behind him, and with his remaining destroyers in front, formed a layered defense-in-depth to the southern entrance of Leyte Gulf.

“Sir?”, replied Oldendorf’s aide.

“Nothing.” Oldendorf paused for a moment, then said, “Do you remember the story of Gordon, at Khartoum?”

Oldendorf’s aide paused. “Can’t say that I do, Admiral.”

“British general. He’d been sent to defend the city of Khartoum against an Arab fanatic. He’d put together a defense based on the Nile – literally dug a large moat – but when the Nile dropped, his defenses were open, and he had to defend the city being outnumbered over ten to one. Day of the battle – or so some of the survivors told it – rather than give a great speech, he said, ‘Well – here we are.’”

“Well – here we are.”, replied his aide.

“INCOMING AIRCRAFT!!”, shouted one of the lookouts.

This had become harrowing, and routine. “Battle stations!!” shouted Louisville’s captain. Klaxons hooted, and the thud of antiaircraft fire erupted, unbidden, from the rest of the fleet.


I-58

A hollow boom echoed through I-58, as Captain Hashimoto watched his own boat reach periscope depth. “One of our brothers has found a mark!”, he said. Suzuki grinned. It felt good, hunting rather than performing picket duty or something similar. The submarine force had been wasted for far too long. Tanaka’s replacement of Kurita had changed all that.

“Sonar – where’s the American?”, said Suzuki.

“He did a 90-bender to port. He’s trying to run.”

“We’re better underwater than he is, although he’s more maneuverable.”, Suzuki said to himself. “Do you have a course and speed, Sonar?”

“340 degrees; twelve knots. About 150 feet.”

Hashimoto said, “We’re going to try something here.” Into the squawk, he said, “Torpedo room! Open outer doors on one through six! Prepare to fire!” Switching to fire-control, he said, “Set torpedoes one and two to 150 feet. Bearing 340 relative. Set three and four to 220 feet. Set five and six to fifteen feet. Five degree angle on all.”

“Hai, Captain!” A moment later, “Fire control – torpedoes ready to fire, sir!”

“One through four – fire!”

I-58 lurched as four torpedoes left their tubes. “Five degree down-bubble. Compensate forward trim.”, said Suzuki. The loss of so much weight in the bow meant that action had to be taken immediately to prevent the bow from ‘porpoising’ to the surface.

Suzuki stood by with his stopwatch. “Captain – you know you don’t have a chance of hitting the American with sonar only!”

“Yes, Suzuki – but once again, imagination’s the key here. He’ll do one of two things – he’ll either go deep – in which case we can try it again – or he’ll pop to the surface and try to make a run on top. I’m betting he’ll try to run, rather than let us shoot at him again. That’s what the last two are for.”

“Sonar – what do you have?”

“Our screws in the water – hard to pick him out – HE’S GOING SHALLOW, SIR!”

Hashimoto hit the squawk-switch again “Torpedo room – ready five and six!”

Down the hallway to the sonarman, he shouted, “Course and speed, sonar?”

“355 degrees; twelve knots”

“Helm! Come starboard to 355 degrees!”, said Hashimoto. “Now, Suzuki, we’re going to earn out pay.”

Hitting the squawk again, he said, “Torpedo room! Fire five and six!”

Two more torpedoes left their tubes. “Now – they have to get there before the American can get off his message. If he pulls the plug again, we can try this one more time.”


Darter

Commander Claggett said, “Radio! Stand by to send that message as soon as we surface!”

Darter’s sonarman shouted, “HIGH SPEED SCREWS IN THE WATER! THESE ARE NEW, CAPTAIN!”

Claggett, nearly to the surface, said, “Distance from us, Sonar?”

“Three hundred yards, Captain!”

He thought for a moment. “Let the air out of this thing!”, he shouted to his exec. “Take us to 300 feet!” The message would have to wait.


Yamato

Tanaka received Nishimura’s communication with a broad grin. “Toyama! Nishimura is almost to Surigao. He’ll be engaging the Americans within four hours. Our aircraft have pounded the Americans – I’ve issued strict orders that Fukudome’s aircraft are to attack the destroyers – we’ll leave the cruisers and battleships to Nishimura.”

Motioning Morishita and Toyama to the plot-table, he said, “We are here.”, he placed his pointer just to the south and east of the northern point of Dinagat Island. “The invasion fleet arrived last night. They have every reason to believe that they are protected by the American battleships. Our air-cover will be thin from now on – but we’ve almost achieved our surprise.”

“So, the entire plan was to ‘pincer’, but using Dinagat as a shield?”, said Morishita.

“Yes, Morishita,” said Tanaka. “Islands are useful in many ways, aren’t they? Arriving at night, we prevented locals from informing the Americans. After dawn, there won’t be any need to worry about them. We’ll be there – right behind them, where we want to be.”


I-53

Tomayasu turned to his exec. “I wanted that damn destroyer.”

“But we were ordered to follow and harass the Americans.”, said Tomayasu’s executive officer.

“I know that. Still, I wonder where it went. First, depth charges – then they disappeared. Where is the rest of the American fleet? They couldn’t have just – vanished!”

Tomayasu had received the cryptic message that evening when he surfaced. The American destroyer had, after dropping its last depth-charges, simply turned and left. The rest of the American fleet, save for three small carriers to shepherd the invasion transports, had vanished.

Tomayasu couldn’t believe his luck. Apparently, neither could the others. Low on torpedoes by this time, they wasted no time torpedoing two of the remaining three small carriers. Tomayasu had been maneuvering for a shot at the last one when two torpedoes from I-68 slammed into it.

“We’ll be in sight of shore soon, Captain.”, said Tomayasu’s exec. “We should submerge for the rest of the run.”

“We have five ‘fish’ left. Let’s feed ‘em to the Americans for breakfast!”, said Tomayasu.

The remaining submarine commanders had much the same idea. One by one, armed support and supply ships began exploding and sinking. Two troop-transports were torpedoed as well; the men on board trying to get into the water by any means possible, if that included jumping from the decks.


New Jersey

“Admiral, is this wise?”, said Halsey’s aide.

“Goddammit, yes!”, replied Admiral Halsey. “The Nips are gonna run head-on into Oldendorf’s destroyers. They’ll wish they’d never been born when that happens. Meantime, I’m going to sink every carrier I find!”

Like Ahab on the deck of his whaling-ship, Halsey paced the bridge of New Jersey. The only thing that man lacks,” thought his aide, “is a wooden leg, and a gold-piece for the mainmast.”


Tacloban

Sakai was exhausted.

He’d slept four hours in the past twenty four, and was preparing to go out again. Putting tobacco in the corners of his eyes to make them water and keep him awake with the stinging, he climbed the wing-ladder to his Raiden. “Dawn. Destroyer time,” he thought. We’ve lost so many. He looked down the fuselage of his Raiden, with its bullet-holes and shrapnel hits “And they’ve taken a piece of me, too.”

Sliding his canopy shut, he pressed the starter-switch. As the engine coughed to life, he said, “If I survive this – I’m never going to kill another thing again. Not even a mosquito.”


I-58

Hashimoto had played cat-and-mouse with the American for over two hours. It was time to get the destroyers up to finish this one. He brought I-58 to periscope depth, then radioed for destroyer assistance. Fifteen minutes later, he didn’t need the help of his sonar-crew to hear the propellers of Yukikaze, closing on the American’s position.

“Poor devils,” he thought. “This is no way to die. Hounded for hours, driven, then finally killed almost for sport.” Hashimoto knew, though, that this wasn’t sport.

It was called war.

The sonarman interrupted his reverie.

“Conn! Sonar! Yukikaze has broken off its attack. Multiple screws; destroyers ahead; they’re Americans!”

Hashimoto hit the squawk. “Battle stations, torpedo!”

Less than two minutes later, Suzuki said, “All stations manned and ready, sir. All tubes loaded and ready.”

“Open outer doors and raise the ‘scope. Let’s have a look.”

One look through the scope, and he knew why Yukikaze had broken off the attack. There was a destroyer screen about 1,000 yards ahead – the American submarine had been ‘running home to Mama.’

No help now. Hashimoto began lining up his shot; a six-torpedo pattern, just as he’d discussed the tactic during his briefing with Admiral Tanaka.

After course, speed, and bearings were fed, Hashimoto gave the order to fire.

Almost immediately, there was a torpedo hit on one of the American destroyers. Excellent!”, thought Hashimoto. The rest are attacking as well. Now — ”

His thought was rocked by an earsplitting explosion close-aboard. The concussion shook the teeth in his head – Hashimoto looked around to see if they’d been hit, then hit the squawk “Damage control – report!”

“No damage, sir! It was – one of our submarines.”

“Conn! Sonar! High speed screws in the water!”

The American destroyers had wasted no time in getting their own ‘fish’ in the water. One had already claimed a Japanese submarine.

Giving the order to take I-58 to 100 feet, he pressed the squawk-button and said, “Torpedo room! Half a degree angle – depth twenty feet. Open outer doors. Fire when you’re open!”

The sonarman confirmed that the other submarines in the screen were doing the same. There would be nearly one hundred torpedoes in the water within the next few moments.

American and Japanese torpedoes passed each other. Hatsushimo and Kasumi, two destroyers in the forward-screen, were hit and out of action. The heavy cruiser Mogami exploded, her light armor-belt proving inadequate for the American torpedoes. Nishimura stayed his course.

In the meantime, the invasion-fleet had arrived off Leyte.


Louisville

Admiral Oldendorf’s aide rushed to the Admiral’s side with a dispatch. “Multiple torpedoes in the water, Admiral! The Japanese have launched a massive torpedo attack!”

Oldendorf replied, “We can’t move the battleships! Run the destroyers in a screen. God help me, but we’re going to have to take as many hits as we can to save those battlewagons!”

Over half of the Japanese torpedoes passed harmlessly between ships. Thirty five of them, however, did not. When the attack was over, fifteen American destroyers had taken at least two torpedoes. The rest made a run at the Japanese submarines, taking the battle to them. What their own torpedoes didn’t do, they were going to do with depth-charges.

While the battlewagons fought it out on the surface, the American destroyers in the middle were going to be hunting submarines.


Sakai

Saburo Sakai saw the beginnings of the battle from his cockpit at 15,000 feet. “Keep it tight, men! Don’t tangle with any American aircraft. Destroyers are your targets today!”

He chose a destroyer which had just completed the broad-arc of a torpedo run. He put the Raiden over in a steep dive; thumbed the switch to his 20MM cannon, and opened up at 3,000 feet, at the same time he pulled the lever to release his 500KG bomb.

Two of his flight exploded in midair, the result of the well-trained anti-aircraft crews on the American destroyers. Sakai felt the concussion of the 20MM’s recoiling in the wings; actually slowing his dive. He waited until the last moment, then pushed his throttle to the firewall and pulled his stick up, letting up on the firing-switch at the same time.

The huge radial engine in front of him howled like something from another world, and he was over the destroyer as the secondary concussion of the explosions rocked his plane. He didn’t dare circle back – no doubt the other destroyers had his range.

Looking to the left, he saw the line of battleships. Tempting as they were, shooting 20MM at a battleship was like using a peashooter.

Sakai climbed back to 12,000 feet, and headed back to Tacloban.

Where is the American air cover?”, he thought. There are no aircraft opposing us!”


Yamato

Toyama handed a heavy sheaf of dispatches to Admiral Tanaka. “Toyama! I don’t have time for all this! What do they say?”

Toyama had a hard time concealing his enthusiasm. “Better than we had dreamed. Halsey took the bait. He’s headed north to take on Ozawa’s ‘fleet’. Our submarine force with the tactics you mandated have destroyed the Americans screen, plus the carriers which were guarding the invasion fleet.”

He continued,“Nishimura has taken some losses; four submarines, mainly due to American destroyers. Four of his destroyers and one heavy cruiser are either sunk or out of action.”

“Better than we had dreamed.”, said Tanaka.


Zuikaku

Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, on the bridge of His Imperial Majesty’s carrier Zuikaku, was, if anything, fatalistic. He’d written his will, sent a lock of his hair to his family and to the shrine at Yasukune, and was in every respect a samurai awaiting his fate.

Still, he was determined to take as many Americans with him as he could. If he could do so, and delay the return of the main American fleet to Leyte, this was his job. He would do it as well as he could.

He turned to his aide, and said, “Do you wonder about the afterlife?”

“Yes, Admiral. Much; lately.”

“Let us delay it a little longer!” He offered his hand to his aide; in a society of superiors and inferiors, this was an uncommon gesture. They shook hands. Ozawa continued. “I was just informed that the Americans are about fifty miles out, and running at flank speed. With nothing but observation aircraft, we can’t do much but track their movements. We’re running as fast as we can in the opposite direction of Leyte. I’d like to think the Americans are smarter than this, but Tanaka will not radio me, and we’re under radio-silence ourselves.”

Ozawa’s aide said, “You are right, Admiral. Let us delay it a little longer!”


New Jersey

“Admiral, sir?”

“What is it?”, said Halsey.

“Recon-patrol just back. Enterprise reports the Japanese fleet less than fifty miles away. They don’t even have a combat-air-patrol up.”

“Very well. Order all aircraft readied for launch. Incredible. No CAP! They’re literally sitting ducks. Right where we want them. Launch as soon as they’re ready!”

Halsey’s aide ducked out of the wardroom and down the hall. Right where we want them.”, he thought. It can’t be this easy….”


Yamashiro

Vice-Admiral Nishimura, on the bridge of his flagship, Yamashiro, was taking his battle-line right to the Americans, who were in line ahead, across his ‘T’.

Since before Nelson, this was the worst possible place to be. It would be a matter of minutes before the Americans opened fire – and with their radar-controlled guns, it would be an uneven fight, indeed.

Nelson.

Nishimura ran to his plot-table, and motioned Yamashiro’s captain to his side.

“Kogure, remember the academy, and how we all thought ‘how brilliant!’ at Nelson’s maneuver at Trafalgar?”

Captain Kogure’s eyes widened. Nishimura finished, “We haven’t much to lose at this point. Let’s split the line – here!” Nishimura pointed to the center of the line, where the battleship Fuso was stationed. “Split the line, and bring the two lines abreast of each other. If we make it – we can attempt to crash the American line.”

Kogure said, “Admiral, there isn’t a hope. The Americans –”

“Do you have a better idea, Kogure? If you do, I want to hear it now.”

Kogure thought a moment, and said, “No, Admiral. I don’t.”

Nishimura gave the orders. Yamashiro and her group cut speed and dropped to starboard as Fuso’s group crowded on steam to come abreast. If by some miracle they survived the remaining American destroyers, they could make an effort to break the American line in two places.

Almost on cue, the USS West Virginia opened up with a broadside. Her twelve 16” guns stabbed huge orange flames into the sky; moments later the sound overhead of Yamashiro’s bridge was like the very air itself was being rent apart.

Great gouts of water shot several stories into the air as the West Virginia’s shells landed around Yamashiro and her escort-ships. Nishimura responded by calling for flank speed.

“Give me every pound of steam you’ve got!”, he shouted into Yamashiro’s voicepipe. With that, it may well not be enough.

The American line erupted into flame; all six battleships opened up with broadsides against the Japanese. Two salvos from the American guns at 30,000 yards, and they began to find targets.

Fuso was the first to feel the wrath of Pennsylvania. Her magazine detonated with a huge explosion, sending ragged pieces of her deck and superstructure into the clear air along with an orange fireball.

Mogami and Ashigara, the two heavy cruisers in Nishimura’s fleet, were the next to be hit. Ashigara was the victim of a near-miss, which sprung her plates and flooded her engine room. She lost headway and came to a dead stop, smoke pouring from every open port.

Mogami took two direct hits from the Maryland. When the smoke and flame cleared, Mogami wasn’t there; having been shredded by nearly 4,000 pounds of explosive.


Yamato

Admiral Tanaka heard the explosion of Fuso. “Nishimura is taking a pounding. Helm – when do we round the point?” Tanaka was now champing at the bit. He could see the last of the air raids against the American transport-fleet, which had taken a mauling at their hands; soon, the remnants would attack the American battle-line which was busy with Nishimura.

“Order our submarine screen to torpedo as many of those battleships as they can. Order a destroyer-torpedo run, also. As many of them as we can take out. All of them if it’s possible.”

Toyama said, “Admiral? The transports?”

“We will take care of the transports, Toyama.”

Turning to Morishita, Tanaka said, “Morishita. It’s time.”

Admiral Morishita turned to his executive officer. “Signal the fleet – all guns; load and prepare to fire.”

On Yamato and Musashi – – together, over 140,000 tons of fighting-power – as well as the other ships of Tanaka’s fleet, crews sprang to life. Shells were placed on hoists and lifted from magazines; powder-bags were readied by crews wearing static-resistant clothing; the huge 18” guns of Yamato and Musashi, along with the secondary batteries of rapid-fire 6” guns in twin turrets – were loaded, and readied for battle.

This was the task for which the large surface-ships of Japan’s navy had been built.


This was their destiny.


(Next – Leyte Gulf)


Advertisements

Leyte - USS Darter

USS Darter – SS-227



Surigao

Dawn lifted roseate fingers to the sky. Sakai noted the impending sunrise over his left shoulder, thinking, “This would be a beautiful day on any other occasion. A good day for fishing.” He’d kept his small group of Raidens down to the treetop-level – better to avoid detection by enemy aircraft or naval-spotters out in Leyte Gulf. He then radioed the other pilots in his squadron. “Men – remember; don’t engage any American aircraft. Our recon-aircraft have reported a large fleet of battleships and small carriers approaching Leyte Gulf. This is an excellent craft for its purpose – but it doesn’t handle like the Zero. You cannot outmaneuver a Grumman with this plane – you don’t have the turning radius; high-speed turns are difficult, and your visibility is poor, except for forward.”

After receiving acknowledgement from the other four, Sakai advanced his throttle and began the climb to 12,000 feet.

Down, and to his left, he saw their target, right where the reconnaissance pilots had told him it was – a quickly-constructed and hidden base, where some 30-odd American PT boats could easily take cover.

Oil drums had been hastily-stacked on a rough wooden dock; two of the Americans’ odd-shaped half-circle metal buildings were on raw ground; a bulldozer was back in the trees. Everything was there to complete the base – save for the PT’s themselves.

Sakai opened his radio circuit. “It looks like the locals have informed the Americans we were coming. Save your ammunition. Bombs only on that base facility.”

One by one, the Raidens banked and followed Sakai. In their turn, the Quonset huts, fuel storage, and dock disappeared in flame and explosion.

Pulling out at 2,000 feet, Sakai noticed several PT’s around the point. He knew further radio contact was unnecessary. Banking right, he nosed down to attack the first of ten PT’s in a column.

50 caliber tracers arced up to greet him, forcing him to ‘juke’ in a slalom-pattern to throw off the aim of the PT’s machine-gunners. Thumbing the switch to his 20MM cannon, he fired two bursts at the lead PT, two at the second, and two at the third.

One by one, each PT boat, made of light-plywood and offering little protection to their gasoline tanks, exploded. The others in his flight made short work of the rest.

They’ll regret not having found a river or even a beach,” thought Sakai, as he roared back over Panaon Island again, headed for Leyte and Tacloban. Noticing smoke to the east, he thought, “The others have begun their raids, too. Good.” What he hadn’t told his men was that the raid on which they had embarked was part of Combined Fleet’s plan to put-paid to the American fleet at the entrance to Leyte. Many good men would die that day; the Zero was little better in the hands of an inexperienced pilot – and that was all Japan had left. With luck, they’d do the damage they’d set out to do.


I-53

Tomayasu had kept I-53 at ‘decks-awash’; this limited the range of its radar somewhat, but also limited its radar ‘signature’ in return. The twenty-five submarines in the ‘screen’ to the east of Leyte Gulf had detected the main invasion fleet, as well as Admiral William “Bull” Halsey’s main carrier force.

The other submarines in the screen, hearing I-53’s message, ‘pulled the plug’ and went to battle stations. Soon, they’d be converging on I-53’s location. Their time on picket-duty was over; now, they became hunters.

I-68 was the first to draw blood, firing a spread of six torpedoes at the ‘target-rich’ environment. The rest of them fired spreads at the same time, working their torpedo-crews to reload the six forward tubes as fast as possible. One hundred and fifty oxygen-powered Type 95 torpedoes were on their way to the American fleet.



Yamato


“Excellent!” said Tanaka, after reading the last of the radio messages.

“Sir?” said Toyama.

“Admiral Fukudome’s land-based air arm has destroyed a PT-boat base. Most of the PT’s escaped, but they now have no fuel with which to attack Nishimura. The Americans have managed to slip a battleship fleet into the south end of Leyte Gulf, though.” Tanaka motioned Toyama and Morishita to the bridge-plot table and pointed to the confined area at the southern end of Leyte Gulf, with Dinagat Island forming the eastern barrier. “The Americans have taken position just beyond the northern cape of this island,” he said, pointing to Dinagat, then scribing a circle in the blue area to the west of it. “This is where the Fukudome’s men jumped the American carriers this morning just after dawn. Unfortunately, we lost about 150 aircraft, but the Americans lost seven of their small-carriers which were supporting the fleet, as well as eight destroyers. Quite evidently, those small carriers are very vulnerable to large bombs on their decks.” Tanaka smiled at this; he remembered all too well what dive-bombing could do to carriers from the Midway disaster.

“Do the Americans know that Nishimura is coming?” said Morishita.

“Probably. Their aircraft-reconnaissance is quite good. No matter. Look.” Tanaka scribed another arc on the map, out to sea from the south, then back again. “During the night, when we split off from Nishimura’s group, we headed this direction. We’ll be back on the far side of Dinagat Island by early tomorrow morning. Everything now depends upon surprise.”

Morishita was the first to speak.

“Nishimura, too, is bait.” His flat statement was part admiration, part incredulity, and part indictment.

“Yes, Morishita. Nishimura is bait. So far, the Americans have acted as I thought they would.”

Tanaka continued. “You see, Morishita – the Americans believe they can beat us. In using this against them, we’re seeing to it that the bulk of their fleet will be occupied by the time we arrive. When the landing is ready to commence – we’ll be there.” Tanaka stared out the forward bridge-windows of Yamato. To himself, he thought, “What did the Englishman, Shakespeare, say about revenge?



I-58

“Your problem, Suzuki, is that you lack imagination.” Commander Hashimoto turned to face him. “We can launch a torpedo attack from twice the distance the Americans expect. The Type 95 torpedo allows this. A half-degree spread allows us to fire torpedoes at a target, setting varying depths. If only one of these monsters is a hit – the enemy ship is out of action.”

“Conn! Sonar!”

Hashimoto ducked to yell into the passageway through a watertight-doorway. “Where away, sailor?”

“Over 15,000 yards, Captain!” replied the sonarman.

Hitting the switch on the squawkbox, Hashimoto yelled, “All hands! All hands! Battle stations, torpedo!”

Pressing another switch, he shouted, “Radio!”

Hai, Captain?”

“Get this off to Yamato – ‘have contacted American submarine picket. Am closing for attack.’ ”

Hai!”, replied the radioman. The speaker went dead before Hashimoto could kill the switch. Hashimoto half-smiled; knowing his crew, the radioman was signaling Yamato before he’d finished talking.



New Jersey

“Goddammit!”

Admiral William Halsey, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, shouted at no one in particular. “How the hell did the god-damned Nips get past my destroyers!”

“Sir – they fired from over six miles away. By the time we heard the high-speed screws — ” Halsey cut off his aide. “I know; the only thing we could do was sacrifice the destroyers to save the invasion fleet. God-Damn-It!”, Halsey finished, as he’d begun the conversation.

“Twelve destroyers out of action. One hit each on Wasp and Hornet, and two transports dead in the water. Two destroyers left to go chase God-Damn-It-All-Knows how many Nip subs, and we’re sitting here at ten knots like overfed GEESE!”

“Sir – we’ve got plenty of air cover. The cruisers can support the landing, and we can chase the real problem.”, said Halsey’s aide, who handed the admiral a dispatch.

As Halsey read, his aide continued. “They’ve found the main Japanese carrier fleet. They’re steaming to the north of us. We’ve caught them napping, sir!”

Halsey pondered this for a moment. “Get Wasp and Hornet to the rear. Have the ASW teams from the small-carrier groups go subchasing.” Halsey emphasized his next point by pounding his right fist into the dispatch, which was in his left-hand. “We’re going to destroy the Japanese fleet.”



I-53

“Four hundred feet, Captain.” Tomayasu’s dive-control officer quietly announced the depth. Above them, they could hear depth-charges exploding. “Come starboard; 180,” said Tomayasu, equally as quiet. “We’ll dust off his keel and keep going. If we’re lucky, we can pop to periscope depth and get off another salvo at that fleet.”

Tomayasu’s exec said, “Captain, shouldn’t we make a run for it? I mean, we heard four other submarines breaking up from their depth-charge attack. The Americans are good at this game.”

Tomayasu replied, “No. There’s a huge fleet up there – with a very few destroyers to run screen for them.” Turning to the plot table, he asked the assistant sonarman, “How many so far?” The assistant sonarman had a small chalkboard on which he was tallying depth-charges. “Twelve, sir.”

Tomayasu thought for a moment. There wasn’t an accurate count of how many the American destroyers carried –and in any event they had no idea which class of destroyer was up there, pounding away. The American had to be running low.

“Prepare to come to periscope depth.”, said Tomayasu.



Tacloban

Sakai settled to a quick breakfast/lunch of miso, rice, and fish. Tea was also abundant here, which was a good thing.

He’d lost two of his Raidens; one to PT-boat fire; the other to an American patrol over Leyte. I told them to drop low and run”, he thought to himself. Saichi decided to try to fight it out with two Grummans. He’d paid the price, too, within two minutes.

Finishing his lunch, Sakai dashed out of the ready-room and back to his Raiden. No rest today,” he thought. His craft had been readied with another 500KG bomb and topped off with fuel and ammunition. Now, to see if we can make these tactics work on destroyers —



Yamato

Tanaka watched as the sun went down. “Tonight”, he told Morishita, “The older fleet under Nishimura arrives at Surigao Strait. He’ll be preceded by a submarine screen, and by destroyers. The American torpedo-boats have been scattered by our aircraft, and their battle-line has been pounded three times today from the air, as well. Initial reports are that their destroyer-screen has been seriously reduced by air attack. Nishimura will have to go toe-to-toe with the Americans tomorrow morning.”

Morishita whispered a prayer under his breath.

“Say one for us all, Morishita.”, said Tanaka. “We’re going to need it. Tomorrow, after the Americans begin their landing, we arrive at Leyte.”



Darter

“Conn! Sonar!”

“What’ve you got, Sonar?” Commander Bladen “B.D.” Claggett shouted down the hallway to the sonar room. “Contact – bearing 185 relative! Looks like a submarine!”

Commander Claggett hit the switch for the squawkbox. “Radio – this is the Captain.”

“Radio room here, Captain!”

“Get this off to Halsey. Give our position, and say, ‘sonar contact with possible Japanese submarine.’ Let me know when that’s –” Claggett was interrupted by a shout from the sonarman down the hall.

“CAPTAIN! HIGH SPEED SCREWS IN THE WATER!”

Commander Claggett instinctively hit the dive alarm. Any thought of sending a message was now out of the question.



Surigao

Nightfall.

Silent and stentorian, the first of the Imperial Navy’s submarine screen entered Surigao Strait. Some miles behind them followed fifteen of the Imperial Navy’s remaining destroyers. Behind them were two of Japan’s oldest and most-venerable battleships, along with the remainder of Nishimura’s fleet.

On the bridge of one of those battleships, IJN Yamashiro, Admiral Nichimura reviewed the day’s dispatches by the low-red ‘blackout’ light. They said that the U.S. Navy was waiting for him, and that while their destroyers had been pounded and over half of their small carriers were out of commission or sunk, there remained a formidable fleet of battleships.

They were waiting for him. It was now his duty to break through and assist Tanaka.

Where is Tanaka?”, thought Nishimura.


(Next – Surigao Strait)


Leyte - Raiden at Tacloban
(Mitsubishi J2M5 ‘Raiden’ at Tacloban Airfield)


“And Amaterasu, the sun-goddess, left her cave each morning, having been teased from it by promises of a celebration. Thus, she brings light to the world….”
— Japanese mythology



Tacloban

“Sakai-san!”

Flight-Lieutenant Yamashita ran to Ensign Sakai to introduce himself. Sakai saluted, then shook the younger man’s hand. “I had heard you were coming!”, said Yamashita. “It’s an honor to meet you!”

Saburo Sakai was a living-legend among pilots from every country, Allied or Axis. Nearly blind in one eye after being wounded in 1942, Sakai had convinced his superiors to let him fly again after a stint training pilots.

“Thank you,” said Sakai, smiling. “I don’t know what a one-eyed pilot can do, but I’ll do my best, sir.”

“It is I who should salute you, Sakai-san,” said Yamashita. Sakai waved off the demonstration from Yamashita. “You outrank me, sir. I observe formalities” he said. “Meantime – what do you think of her?”, he said, patting the side of the Raiden he’d flown in three ‘hops’ from Yokosuka.

“She’s” – Yamashita searched for the word – “HUGE!” The Japanese military had never commissioned nor produced a fighter this large and powerful before. Powered by a massive 14 cylinder radial engine and carrying four 20MM cannon in twin wing-mounts, the plane was a stubby and somewhat-ungainly looking-thing; clearly designed to climb, dive, and hit hard.

“They sacrificed maneuverability for speed and hitting-power, sir,” said Sakai. “She’s far different than the Zero. She has the new 20MM cannon – they’re a little slower-firing, but the punch they carry is the best anywhere. What they’ve asked me to do is to take five of your better pilots, and give them a quick course in shipbusting tactics.”

“I don’t follow, Sakai — ” Yamashita let his words trail off, hoping for an explanation.

“I’m being asked to set up a squadron which will attack American ships exclusively. Four more of these should arrive by nightfall.” Sakai handed his operational orders to Yamashita, then waited at attention.

“I see,” said Yamashita, reading Sakai’s orders. “Who came up with this idea?”, said Yamashita.

“It was Admiral Tanaka’s idea,” said Sakai. “Evidently he got the idea from the Americans. Ironic, don’t you think?” Sakai grinned again. His confidence was infectious.

Yamashita grinned in turn. “I have just the men. How long do we have?”

“Between these air-raids? Maybe a few days; no more than that. The Americans are going to hit this island hard. The air-raids prove it. Let’s get this girl undercover.”, he finished, patting the side of his Raiden again.

Yamashita motioned four of his ground-crew; they quickly took positions at wingtips and tail, wheeling the Raiden into a camouflaged revetment. Sakai and Yamashita walked back to the ready-area, where Sakai would meet his new pilots and begin his training. They didn’t have time to waste.

Tacloban airfield was a well-developed field for fighters, but couldn’t handle anything more than a medium-range aircraft, and bombers were out of the question. There were four other airfields in the Dulag valley, and Sakai recommended to Yamashita that he relocate the incoming fighters there.

“I’ve already had the Marines building revetments for them,” said Yamashita. “By the end of the week ,we should have nearly 1,000 aircraft here – just as long as we can keep the Americans from destroying them.” He added, grinning, “Having the name ‘Yamashita’ has its advantages.”

Sakai chuckled. “I imagine having the same last name as the overall field-commander in this district could only help.”

Sakai’s face clouded again, as he thought of something else. “Something we tried in Rabaul was dummy-aircraft”, said Sakai. “They kept the Allied pilots busy shooting up the dummies while our real aircraft were camouflaged. I’m betting we could build some more right here. The Americans could shoot them up just as they did at Rabaul. That’ll save quite a few of our real aircraft.”

“I’ll get my men on it. We’ve got building materials lying about, and one thing we do have is plenty of paint.”

As the week wore on, the Japanese ferried aircraft to the outlying airfields. Revetted away under camouflage, American carrier-pilots contented themselves with shooting up the mock-Zeroes; occasionally, the Americans would catch some aircraft after having just landed – but by week’s end, minus those destroyed in the air-raids, the Japanese had 800 aircraft under cover on Leyte Island.


I-53

Lieutenant-Commander Seihachi Toyomasu was in his cabin when the squawk box startled him out of a nap.

“Captain! Contact – bearing 5 degrees port relative!”

Toyomasu was off his bunk and out the door before the sound faded. “Make way!”, he shouted as he ducked and wove his way through the compartments and bulkhead-doorways toward the conning-tower.

Arriving at his command-station, he saw his radarman and executive-officer staring intently at the screen. “What do you have, sailor?”, said Toyomasu. “Looks like two – no, make that three – no; FIVE ships – all headed west!”,said the radarman.

Toyomasu’s exec said, “Captain, do we go to battle stations?”

“Not just yet,” said Toyomasu. “Kill the radar. Get this message off to Combined Fleet. Ensure you observe Admiral Tanaka’s code.” Toyomasu had been writing on a message-pad the entire time he’d been speaking. It was a verbal-code instituted by Admiral Tanaka prior to the fleet weighing-anchor from Brunei, and was intended to prevent the Americans from determining the fleet’s actions.

Higashi no kaze ame”, read the message. “East wind; rain”. This was the signal that the American invasion fleet was on its way. “Get this out immediately along with our position. Don’t lose a moment.”

“Now,” said Toyomasu. “You may go to battle stations; torpedo.”


Yamato

Tanaka was on the bridge. A petty-officer brought him a message from the radio room, and stood by for a response.

Tanaka slapped the paper and shouted, “Excellent!”

Admiral Morishita, also on Yamato’s bridge, said “What, Admiral? News?”

“News, all right! One of our submarine-screen has spotted the Americans.”

Turning, he continued, “Petty officer! Have the radio room send this message to Admiral Ozawa, immediately – ‘Climb Fujiyama’.”

“Now,” thought Tanaka, “Let’s see if our submarine-screen can prove their worth ahead of time. A bloody nose might shake the Americans’ resolve a bit.” Turning to Morishita, he said, “What news of Nishimura and the other fleet?”

“They split off three days ago, as you know. They’ll be arriving off Dinagat Island in Surigao Strait in 24 hours.”

Tanaka thought for a moment. “Radio Combined Fleet. Request aerial reconnaissance of Surigao. If there’s anything the naval air-arm can do from Leyte, tell them to do it.”

Tanaka stood by one of the bridge-observation windows and pulled his binoculars to his eyes out of habit. “If the Americans take the bait — ”


Tacloban

“Men,” said Saburo Sakai, “I can’t tell you any more. We’ve trained hard for four days. We’re not getting any more training – today, we go on a mission.” Sakai held up the wireless message. “We’re going on a raid today. Drop tanks are not necessary; we’ve got more than enough fuel to fly there and back.”

Sakai continued. “At the south end of Surigao Strait, naval reconnaissance aircraft have reported a large American patrol-torpedo boat installation. They’ve got upwards of forty of those devils under netting there, and if we don’t take them out, they can be used to ambush our fleet. I can’t tell you the details, but it’s absolutely necessary for us to take them out.”

One of Sakai’s pilots raised his hand.

“Yes, Saichi?”

“If we see other targets, what are your orders?”

“Report them immediately, and return to base. Your job is to destroy those PT’s and get back here in one piece.”

“Remember,” he added, “You have 800 rounds total – that’s 200 per cannon. Make every round count. Dismissed; and to your planes!”

Each of the Raidens coughed and sprang to life as the pilots pressed the start-switch; advancing the throttles, the aircraft left their revetment-areas and reached the airstrip. Advancing his throttle to the firewall, Sakai listened to his craft; she was heavy from the 500KG bomb which had been installed in place of the usual long-range drop-tank.

Climbing, he circled to pick up each of his squadron-mates; on a mission for the first time since 1942, he felt strangely peaceful.


(Next – Surigao)


Leyte - I-58

(Japanese submarine I-58; at Brunei, preparing to weigh anchor for the Philippines)


“Musashi plunged his spear into the ocean bed. Pulling it up, sand and earth dripped from its point. This became the Home Islands.”

Japanese creation myth




Northward


Yamato

IJN Yamato plowed easily through the small swells, making a firm 15 knots as she and her ‘core’ force of four additional battleships (including Yamato’s sister-ship, Musashi), ten heavy cruisers and two light cruisers steamed north toward the Philippines. Ahead of and beside the core were fifteen destroyers in a screen-formation. Ahead of the destroyers and unseen over the horizon were ten submarines, acting as screen-and-picket for the fleet.

Admiral Tanaka raised his right index finger, catching the eye of the yeoman in the wardroom.

Yeoman Hishida trotted to face the admiral, and stood to attention.

Ocha”, said Tanaka. Hai!”, responded Hishida, and trotted to the door.

He returned in a minute with a tea service, pouring Tanaka and Admiral Morishita a cup each, returning to his station by the door.

“To victory, Morishita.”, said Tanaka, holding his ceramic cup in front of him. Morishita returned the gesture, and they drank.

“Morishita, do you know why I’ve asked to see you?”, said Tanaka, standing in front of the map-board with his pointer.

“I imagine it’s to ensure I’m on board, as they say.” said Morishita.

“It’s more than that, Morishita. Look here.” Tanaka nodded to the map of the United States which he’d has the yeoman put on the map board a few minutes before. Tanaka used his pointer to touch a spot in the north-central part of the country.

“Can you read that name, Morishita?”

“Man-ee-tow-wock”, said Morishita, doing his best to pronounce the unfamiliar word.

“Manitowoc.”, corrected Tanaka, still looking at the map. “And, do you know what they make there?”

“I haven’t a clue, Admiral.”, said Morishita.

“Submarines. They manufacture submarines in the north-central part of the United States.” Morishita’s eyes grew wide.

“I processed intelligence reports for over a year while I was commanding a desk in Burma,” continued Tanaka, “and I learned a lot about the Americans. They build submarines in Manitowoc; a city in their state of Wis-kahn-sinn.”, Tanaka said, working his Japanese tongue around another unfamiliar Native American word.

He then scribed his pointer in a broad arc across the map. “They then sail them through these lakes and through the seaway here to the Atlantic. Let that soak in for a moment. The Americans have the resources to build submarines in the center of their country, and send them over 1,500 miles to the sea.”

Morishita looked sober. Tanaka continued. “Morishita, we have no hope of beating these people if this war continues. This is the last battle. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” replied Morishita. “Although, it is wise not to say these things too loudly.”, he added.

Tanaka quickly turned to face Morishita. “Was that a threat, Admiral? Because if you don’t agree with me, you can tell me now.”

Morishita paused. He knew that to state any disagreement with Tanaka now would result in his immediate dismissal and confinement to quarters. He said, “No, admiral – I’m simply stating a fact. Better me than someone else.”

Tanaka grinned. “Sorry, Morishita. My apologies. My mouth has gotten me into trouble since the beginning of my career, and I’m not likely to change. However, I need to know that you are in this with me, completely. I’ve made a lot of changes which I know are unpopular with Admiral Toyoda, but which are necessary for victory. I will need your help to run the coming battle from Yamato.”

Morishita said, “You mean — ” He cut himself off, knowing the obvious answer.

“Yes, Morishita. I’ve been given complete command of this operation, effective today.” Tanaka showed Morishita the communication. “Let me show you what I’ve done.”

Tanaka turned to the wardroom-table, where the map of the Philippines and the operational movements and order-of-battle for Operation Sho-Go 1 was still laid out. “This operation was conceived during the first part of the war. It had a number of flaws which we did not anticipate.”

Using his pointer, he touched Leyte Island. “We have 400 aircraft ratholed in and about Tacloban, including some of the later-model J2M Raiden interceptors. The Americans, however, have been raiding the airfield for the past few days.”

He continued, “I’ve requested 100,000 Marines to be landed here,” he pointed to the northern part of the island, “but Combined Fleet headquarters can only promise me half that number. We’ll have to use them to keep that airfield. The Americans never attack something they don’t want to capture – -and that field will either be ours for combat air patrol over the fleet, or it’ll be a sanctuary for them.”

“This,” Tanaka pointed to the eastern part of the island, “is the only place the Americans can land in force. This is where we will drop our bombardment anchors, and sink anything we see.”

Morishita said, “Will the Americans have disembarked by then? No sense in sinking empty transports.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Toyoda wanted me to wait a month to attack. A MONTH! The Americans would have been ASHORE by that time, Morishita! They’ve assembled one of the biggest invasion fleets in history, and they wanted me to WAIT!”

Tanaka took a deep breath. “Apologies. However, you see what I mean.”
“What of the other two groups?” said Morishita.

“Ozawa has broadcast a LOT of clear-traffic, along with coded material, to see that Halsey gets it. To our knowledge, the Americans still don’t have our code, but I’ve been suspicious for several months. Regardless, Ozawa should be enough ‘bait’ to draw Halsey away.”

Tanaka continued, “Admiral Nishimura is under my direct command, with the second force here,” he pointed in an arc from Brunei to the eastern Philippines. “They are steaming at flank speed to get here, as the other ‘arm’ of the pincer. We’re bringing additional aircraft to outlying bases on Luzon to support our fleet.”

“You see,” he continued, “we are going to have to deal the Americans an overwhelming blow – something which will force their people to demand peace.”

“Is that possible?” said Morishita.

“Yes,” said Tanaka. “It is possible. You see, the Americans have two things which are their greatest strengths, and also their greatest weaknesses. It is their unbridled freedom, combined with their belief in themselves.”

Tanaka continued, “Morishita, after the Philippine Sea engagement, the Americans believe that they’ve won the war. They believe they’ll be largely unopposed from here on. They believe we’re beaten. Did you know, however, that one of their newspaper publishers, a man named Hearst, has been calling for an end to this war for nearly a year now? I’ve seen his writing. The Americans permit this. You see, the American people actually elect the government there. That’s hard for us to understand, but they do everything that way. They even choose their own marriage partners.”

Morishita shook his head. “Strange.”, he replied.
Tanaka finished, “If we can deal them a blow which their newspapermen and radio will report widely, we have a chance to force them to seek peace. Otherwise, the war is lost.”

Morishita said, “Why is the war lost?”

Tanaka pointed to the outer ring of islands north of the Philippines. “Because the Americans will take these next, and then bring their heavy bombers to airfields within striking distance of Japan. With the Philippines gone, the Americans will have a perfect staging-ground to launch attacks against the Home Islands.”

“Their navy is a sledgehammer, Morishita,” said Tanaka. “They will use it again and again to beat the door open. When they are done, it is their air force which will do the real work. No, Morishita – the real threat is from the air. That’s why we have to win. Even if it costs us everything.”

Morishita nodded, understanding the enormity. “You have my support, Admiral.” said Morishita, offering his hand. Tanaka shook it enthusiastically.

“Now, go get some sleep,” said Tanaka, “because you’re going to need it.”


I-58

Lieutenant-Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto was on the squawk-box with his engineering officer. “Yoshida! What’s the engine-status?” Hashimoto didn’t like yelling, but it was necessary to be heard over the deafening roar in the engine room. He was also worried about the engines – I-58 had been launched not two months earlier, and the engines hadn’t been properly run-in yet.

“We’re fine, Commander! Thank you!” replied Ensign Yoshida. “Fifteen knots are a bit high as a cruising speed, but the engines are holding up well!”

Hashimoto killed the squawk and turned to his executive officer. “So, the men are disgruntled?”

Lieutenant Suzuki, Hashimoto’s executive officer aboard I-58, replied, “They’re wondering why we put to sea with torpedoes in the tubes, especially when we’ve trained them that it’s dangerous to do so. They also wonder why we’ve stacked torpedoes two-deep on the floor of the torpedo room as well as the torpedo-racks. They’re wondering why we’re pushing the engines. What do I tell them, sir?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Yoshida, you may tell them through their petty-officers that, offhand, we imagine Combined Fleet expects us to fire them all at the enemy, and to get there as soon as possible to do so.”

Yoshida smiled in return. “I see your point, Captain. Regardless, removing our float-plane from the deck-hangar and loading that with torpedoes also is a serious risk. What if one is dislodged? How will we even use them?”

“Yoshida, first, there’s something you know well. Orders come from above, not below. Secondly, I imagine they’ll want us to surface, use the floatplane-crane, and load the spares through the torpedo-hatch. This, of course assumes we can surface and do so without risk of aircraft attack.”

Hashimoto continued. “Tanaka, the new fleet-admiral, came up with a plan. I might as well tell you now, as we’re at sea.” Yoshida leaned forward over the cutaway-plan of their submarine, I-58.

“This boat is new. We put to sea early, and that was because Combined Fleet needed every ship it could muster for this operation. You see, we’re going to do something other than what we were designed to do. We’re not carrying kaiten on this mission, you know that. We’re carrying torpedoes – and we’re going to fire massive spreads of them. Tanaka has a theory that if we act as a ‘torpedo shotgun’, we can cover the fleet BEFORE they engage the enemy. We’ll be doing this just as a destroyer would do – fire, turn, and run. Prior to that, we’ll be lining up targets and firing just as we would normally – but we’re going to be a picket-screen for the fleet, rather than hunting independently.”

Yoshida’s eyes widened. “I see. And, due to the narrow passages in which we’ll be operating in the Philippines, the enemy will not be able to fan-out as he would normally.”

“Exactly, Yoshida. Normally, a confined area is a disadvantage to an attacker. Tanaka is turning the tables on the Americans, just as he did at Tassafaronga. We’re under orders to get there first, and sink anything we can see. That’s why we and the other boats in our class are up front – – we’ve got radar, and we can ‘see’ for the fleet before they reach the horizon.”

Yoshida said, “Thank you, Captain! How much of this may I tell the men?”

Hashimoto smiled. “Just that first part. About firing our torpedoes at the enemy and getting there first.” he said.

Hashimoto turned to the conning-tower ladder and undogged the hatch. He wanted some fresh air – and he liked the camaraderie of the lookouts. Their raunchy jokes aside, salt air, spray, and the sun on the sea would do him good.


“A raunchy joke or two wouldn’t hurt, either.” he thought, as he climbed the ladder….


(Next — Tacloban)



Yamato

(IJN Yamato – departing Brunei; September, 1944)

(Knight’s gambit – a chess-opening, sacrificing a pawn in order to open a larger area of operation and enable a quick checkmate solution.)


A Change of Command

Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka was lost in thought.

It had been almost a year since Tanaka had been ignominiously sent to Burma – ‘shore duty’ was what the fools in Tokyo called it, but Tanaka’s transfer was a clear message that he’d been ‘scapegoated’ for the failed strategy at Guadalcanal.

His mind drifted, as he re-read the letter from Tokyo – back to the night of last November, off Tassafaronga Point. He’d used the flames in the water from one of his own sinking destroyers to screen his attack, after the Americans had ambushed him and used their radar to launch torpedoes. One by one, with his flagship Naganami in the lead, he launched over twenty torpedoes at the main line of American cruisers.

For the loss of one of his destroyers and damage to a second, he’d put-paid to four heavy cruisers – one, the Northampton, sank from its damage; the others were now just returning to duty, having been so severely damaged that getting them to drydock had been a dicey affair, if Japanese intelligence was right.


“Admiral?”

“Hai!”, replied Tanaka; almost a reflex; pulled from his reverie, he was ready for the task at hand – even if it might be the analysis of more nearly-useless information.

“I was wondering – if you don’t mind – the personal message from Tokyo…” Captain Yasumi Toyama allowed his question to trail off, allowing Tanaka some space to either respond or dismiss his question entirely. Personal business was personal – but the captain had some right to know if a transfer was impending.

Captain Toyama had been Tanaka’s chief-of-staff since their service on the light-cruiser Jintsu at Midway. Toyama had followed him ever since, even to exile in Burma.

“Ah! Toyama! Thank you for interrupting me. I was reliving the past. Not a healthy thing to do. We’re leaving Burma.” Tanaka lifted the letter, then dropped it on his desk. “Pack. We leave tonight.”

Toyama’s eyes got wider. “Where are we going, sir?”

“Tokyo. Then, to Brunei – – you, however, don’t know any of that.”

“Yes, sir!”, replied Toyama. Mentally, he began making a list.

“May I ask if this is permanent?”

“Yes, Toyama. It is. They’ve decided to close this operation and send me back to duty.”

Toyama thanked his personal gods for this. Action again, at last – and with the most aggressive commander in the navy, now that Yamamoto was gone….


Tokyo

Leaving Combined Fleet headquarters, Tanaka stood in the crisp fall air and collected his thoughts. Toyama was stunned.

Tanaka, as was his place, spoke first.

“Kurita is an old and tired man. He’s not well. They were right to pass him over for command of the center force – but me? Most of my career has been spent in light cruisers and destroyers.”

“Your tactics at Tassafaronga, Admiral – that’s what they said. Time for fresh thinking and aggressive tactics, if we’re to win.”, said Toyama.

Tanaka found it hard to hide his exhilaration. “How am I going to DO this, Toyama? I leave tonight. Brunei is a long way.”

“Then I’d best be getting everything together.”, replied Toyama. He hailed a taxi which was passing. “By the way – congratulations!”, added Toyama. Tanaka had just been promoted two grades to full admiral.


Brunei

The wardroom of His Imperial Majesty’s Ship Yamato was larger than the conference room at Combined Fleet headquarters. Tanaka felt like he was swimming in it. Yamato’s captain, Rear Admiral Morishita, was a bit rankled. Five days before, Tanaka’s official post was as a glorified messenger boy in Burma with the same rank. Regardless, this operation was important, Morishita decided, and Combined Fleet made the decisions. “I’ll go along,” thought Morishita. “I’ll go along to win.

Tanaka opened the meeting. “Many of you do not know me. A couple served with me in the Guadalcanal campaign. I want to put some things to rest. Combined Fleet picked me for my unorthodox tactics. These won’t change. I intend to win this one, and I expect everyone to work with me to do so.” He let those words sink in for a moment.

Nodding to the two yeomen, he watched as they unrolled the plan-map for Operation Sho-Go 1 – the defense of the Philippines.

“We know the Americans are planning an invasion of the Philippines here,” Tanaka said, placing his pointer on Leyte Island, and the gulf which bore the same name. “The islands will offer natural courses through which an enemy will have to maneuver. Combined Fleet has decided to send three separate fleets to the Philippines in order to destroy the American invasion fleet.”

While the other officers were studying the complex map of the Philippine archipelago, Tanaka continued. “I’ve suggested some strategic and tactical changes to the campaign, which Tokyo and Combined Fleet headquarters have accepted.”

“First, we are going to make aggressive use of our submarine fleet, which has not been done to date. We are going to use submarines both as a screen and as separate attack squadrons.”

Morishita spoke up. “Kaitens?

Tanaka continued. “Good point. We won’t be using them. They hamper maneuverability, and they’re a waste.” Some of the officers appeared shocked. Criticism of Combined Fleet’s strategies regarding the kaiten mini-submarine suicide-corps were known, but not voiced. “Small wonder he wound up in Burma, as blunt as he is.”, thought Morishita. “I see.”, said Morishita, aloud.

Tanaka smiled. He continued. “Ozawa’s force will be stripped of its aircraft. I had to argue this one, but we need the Navy aircraft on the ground at Tacloban. The Zero is aging, and no longer the equal of much – the American Grummans had them for breakfast at the Philippine Sea engagement; we can’t afford to sacrifice them, also.”

“So, Ozawa is a – sacrifice?”, said one officer.

“Yes, said Tanaka. “Here,” he pointed, showing the relative position of Ozawa’s force, comprising the carriers Zuikaku, Chitose, Chiyoda, and Zuiho. “Ozawa is bait, pure and simple. Combined Fleet believes, and I agree, that Halsey will be far too aggressive and foolhardy to refuse – he’ll take the main American carrier fleet north and east and destroy Ozawa.”

The size of the sacrifice began to dawn on the officers at the table. Ozawa descended from a long line of samurai. He would earn that title by this action – along with a place at Yasukuni. “Once Halsey’s carriers are attempting a repeat of the Philippine Sea action – what they laughingly call the “Turkey Shoot” – we will be here.”, Tanaka said, his pointer at Samar Island.

“We will round the point,” he explained, “and catch the American landing force from behind.”

Several officers coughed. One said, “Sir – the American aircraft. How do we deal with them?” Uncomfortable silence followed.

“Admiral Nishimura and his battleship fleet will be here,” continued Tanaka, placing his pointer on Surigao Strait as if nothing had been said. “He will occupy any Americans here. Prior to that, we’ll sweep the area with aircraft raids and submarines, making long-distance torpedo attacks. We have the best torpedo in service. We’re going to use it.”

No one needed to remind the men present about the legendary attack of the I-19; six torpedoes fired from a distance of over three miles – one carrier, and a battleship (the North Carolina), plus a destroyer so severely damaged that they were effectively out of the war. The Long-Lance torpedo was wakeless, with no telltale bubble-stream to give it away – and it was the largest and fastest torpedo in any navy. Perhaps Tanaka was right here. Submarines might just be the key…

Tanaka continued. “That’s the plan. Three prongs of attack. One is bait – Ozawa’s carriers will lure Halsey’s fleet north and east. Nishimura will be preceded by three squadrons of submarines into Surigao – and we’ll use our own two squadrons to screen our movements and take out opposition before we reach Samar, round the point, and destroy the American landing.”

Finishing, Tanaka said, “We’ve ordered every available aircraft not defending positions in the homeland to the Philippines. Ozawa’s aircraft are here – the only thing he can do is send up observation aircraft. Tacloban airfield has 400 planes; our other Philippine fields have the balance of nearly 600. Some are Kamikaze. We even have a few of the new Raidens – they’re not tasked with fighter duty, as they’re interceptors – but we’ve fitted them with 500kg bombs to interdict the American fleet. Their new 20MM cannon should prove useful, also, especially against the American destroyers.”

As an afterthought, Tanaka said, “Remember – this force is the backbone of the fleet. We’re to intercept and destroy the American landing force. That is our job. Questions?”

The stunned officers looked at each other for reassurance. This was outside the dictum of the Japanese navy – aggressive tactics like this had never been used since Tsushima in 1905. Was Tanaka another Togo?


That decision would be made in the tropical waters off Samar Island.


(Next – Northward)