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76 Years After the Historic Leyte Landing of MacArthur, And the Largest Naval Battle In History that Followed

In the photo (from left to right): Philippine President Sergio Osmena, Lieutenant General George Kenney (almost completely hidden), Colonel Courtney Whitney, Philippine Army Brigadier General Carlos Romulo, MacArthur, Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland, CBS correspondent Bill Dunn, and Staff Sergeant Francisco Salveron, wading ashore in what was considered a historic Leyte Landing (just south of Tacloban in Palo, Leyte) on October 20, 1944. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Did you know that the largest naval battle in history was fought in the Philippines during World War 2? It was a major naval battle (which also includes warplanes) that was fought simultaneously in: The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, The Battle of Surigao Strait, The Battle Off Samar, and The Battle off Cape Engaño. The Americans decisively defeated the Imperial Japanese Navy.

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76 years ago, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was one of the most significant combined military, naval, and air force incursions led by General Douglas MacArthur that turned the tide of the Pacific theater of World War 2. MacArthur and his armada, which many historians considered as the largest navy ever launched in modern warfare history, reached the seas off Leyte just before midnight on a dark, moonless night.

Fortunately for MacArthur and his invading armada, the weather seems to cooperate because the total darkness only served to cover them as they crept forward. The armada led by MacArthur stood motionless in the dark and waited for the dawn before entering the Gulf of Leyte. MacArthur likes to call it “A-Day,” in what was his own version of the D-day landing in Normandy.

The defending Japanese forces were caught off guard by the invading American forces. And by midmorning that same day, heavy naval bombardment had pushed most of the defenders inland, and there was only little resistance. Then in the early afternoon, around 1 p.m., MacArthur decided to head for the coast along with his team of generals and a Philippine president to accompany him.

The recapture of Leyte from the Japanese forces was at the center of MacArthur’s plan to liberate the entire Philippines and ultimately bring the war directly to Japanese soil, as he later wrote in his memoirs: “Leyte was to be the anvil against which I hoped to hammer the Japanese into submission in the central Philippines–the springboard from which I could proceed to the conquest of Luzon, for the final assault against Japan itself.”

Ignoring the dangers of enemy sniper fire, MacArthur and his entourage, dressed in khakis, unloaded and walked from knee-high water to the beachhead. That was not the MacArthur that some soldiers who were with him defending Bataan and Corregidor have called “Dugout Doug.” But that was the MacArthur who led, risked, and had personal command of the operation.

Upon reaching the assigned location where MacArthur would deliver his speech via a portable transmitter that would relay his words to a larger transmitter on the USS Nashville, a few mortar and rifle shots could still be heard from a distance. MacArthur was able to finish his speech in just 2 minutes, which is necessary at the time, as the longer he stayed exposed in that war zone, the greater the chances of getting shot.

“People of the Philippines, I have returned,” MacArthur begins his speech with a voice that is quite deep and shaky and his hands also seem to be shaking. “By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil–soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.”

The Largest Naval Battle In History

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was considered by many historians to be the largest naval battle in history. The battle, which involved more than 200,000 naval personnel, consisted of four separate and simultaneous main engagements on 23-26 October 1944: The Battle Off Samar, The Battle of Surigao Strait, The Battle Off Cape Engano, and The Battle Of the Sibuyan Sea.

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