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    Anchored in History: The End of an Empire

    As the waves of the western Pacific Ocean rock the Iowa-class battleship USS New Jersey (BB 62), Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, Commander, 3rd Fleet, contemplates his next move. Halsey has his adversary in his cross-hairs. He methodically breaks down each of his three options: Stay put and wait for the enemy to attack him, split his forces to aid the fight south of him, or take it straight to the enemy. With a full house, Bull goes all in. The many ships under his command as part of 3rd Fleet steam toward the remaining strength of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the dog days of World War II.

    The Battle of Leyte Gulf (Oct. 23-25, 1944) changed the balance of power in the Pacific Ocean. Often overlooked in history, Leyte Gulf established the U.S. as the dominant force in the Pacific and ultimately destroyed the operational capabilities of the Japanese Navy.

    The impact of Leyte Gulf reaches us in the present as Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 3, comprised of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), goes forward into extended underway operations and demonstrates power projection in the Pacific.

    The U.S. objective during the Battle of Leyte Gulf was to gain control of the Pacific by cutting off a direct line from Japan to Japanese-occupied Philippines. The 3rd Fleet ships, under Halsey’s command, and the 7th Fleet ships, under Vice Adm. Thomas Kinkaid, were the U.S. Naval forces charged with this mission. Kinkaid was tasked to defend amphibious landings on Leyte and the surrounding islands. Halsey’s mission was to support the landings by going on the offensive. Halsey was to gain air supremacy, using his aircraft carriers, over the Philippines and crush the Japanese through any means, but he would need to find the remaining Japanese fleets to do so.

    Communicating with the aircraft and ships screening his fleet, Halsey identified two major Japanese battle groups entering Filipino waters; a southern force and a stronger central force to the West. With the southern force heading towards Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet battle group, Halsey believed the 7th Fleet ships could fend off the weaker southern force while also protecting troops landing on Leyte and the surrounding islands. Halsey ordered his vessels full speed ahead to meet the central force.

    Halsey’s gamble appeared to pay off: The 3rd Fleet ships blitzed the central force in the Sibuyan Sea with air strikes, and waves of aircraft bombarded the ill-prepared Japanese. They crippled the central force by sinking a battleship, three cruisers, a destroyer, and damaging various other units. Despite the overwhelming success of his attack, Halsey was missing one major piece of the puzzle to supremacy: Where were the remaining Japanese carriers?

    U.S. carrier and land-based aircraft extensively searched for the Japanese carriers. They spotted a northern force with Japan’s remaining carrier strength sailing south, from the Japanese mainland, towards the Philippines and Leyte. Halsey had to make his decision; stay put, split his forces, or face the enemy with all his might. Halsey pushed his ships to the center of the table and set a course for the northern force. This left the crippled central force an open path to Leyte, but Halsey held firm that Kinkaid’s 7th Fleet battle group could handle the weakened central force and the southern force along with protecting the amphibious landings.

    At approximately 0630 on Oct. 25, the northern force sailed into Halsey’s range. The determined Halsey sent his aircraft to deal the final blow to the Japanese Navy, nearly three years after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Halsey’s aircraft hit the Japanese northern force with fatal precision. By 0850, Halsey received reports that his strikes engulfed one carrier in a fireball, sinking it, along with damaging two more carriers and a cruiser. The northern force would eventually retreat after losing all four remaining carriers, a cruiser, and two destroyers. Halsey had not only gained air supremacy over the Philippines, but had ended Japanese air power in the Pacific.

    However, Halsey’s gamble did have consequences. A breakdown in communication occurred between Halsey and Kinkaid as the 7th Fleet ships fended off the southern force and protected MacArthur’s troops. The central force proceeded to freely attack the surprised Kinkaid, focusing on his light carriers and putting pressure on the entire battle group. Kinkaid messaged Halsey, desperate for support, unaware that the 3rd Fleet battle group had made its way north. Initially, Halsey declined to send support as he fought the northern force. After wreaking havoc on the northern force, Halsey decided to send help to the ailing Kinkaid. Aircraft from the 3rd Fleet battle group began supporting Kinkaid, and by 2200, the Battle of Leyte Gulf had ended along with the Japanese Navy as a potent opposing force.

    While CSG 3 might not be facing the same challenges that Halsey did, CSG 3 has the ability to continue the U.S. Navy’ legacy as the dominant force, not just in the Pacific, but worldwide. The world is a dynamic place, and it is the responsibility of every Sailor in CSG 3 to support the demonstration of the Navy’s ability to fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows.

    This account of the Battle of Leyte Gulf is based off Halsey’s article from the U.S. Naval Institute, according to his war-time journal.

    For more news on John C. Stennis, visit www.stennis.navy.mil or follow along on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stennis74.
    This story was originally published Oct. 26, 2018 in the Statesman Magazine on page 12 of volume 6, issue 5.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 10.26.2018
    Date Posted: 12.30.2018 08:51
    Story ID: 305769
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

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