During the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the invasion of the Philippines, the Japanese launched a daring plan to destroy the American transports off the coast in the central Philippines and inflict crippling damage on U.S. naval forces. The Japanese plan worked thanks to a ruse that lured the heavy American fleet carriers away to the north. A fleet of Japanese battleships and heavy cruisers caught the depleted Americans completely by surprise. The desperate Americans had six slower, smaller “jeep” carriers, and destroyers whose five-inch guns and thin armor were no match for the Japanese.

Nevertheless, Task Unit 77.4.3 (“Taffy 3”), commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague, wouldn’t go down without a fight. Their delaying action aided by aircraft allowed the slower escort carriers to escape. The Americans suffered as many casualties as at the Battles at Midway and the Coral Sea combined; but it could have been much worse. The “Tin Cans” (destroyers and destroyer escorts) of Taffy 3 saved the day and showed incredible resolve and heroism. 

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese fleet was a shell of its former self. It was rendered incapable of ever again conducting offensive operations. 


The Japanese Ruse

The Japanese Naval General Staff had created four different Shō plans to deal with assaults on the vital island perimeter that guarded Japanese commerce. Shō-1 (Shō-Itchi- Go) was a plan to thwart an invasion of the Philippines.

The Japanese plan was for Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa’s Northern Force was to lure the American Third Fleet under Admiral “Bull” Halsey away from the Allied landings on Leyte using an apparently vulnerable force consisting of one fleet carrier and three light carriers as bait. Ozawa’s four carriers had a total of just 108 aircraft, slightly more than one fleet carrier would normally carry.  

The American assault troops, without the air cover of the Third Fleet, would then be attacked from the west and south by Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Center Force, which would sortie from Brunei, and Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura’s Southern Force. 

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Center Force consisted of five battleships, including Yamato and Musashi, the largest battleships ever built. It was escorted by cruisers and destroyers. Nishimura’s flotilla included two battleships. It would be followed by Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima with three cruisers.