First rule for battle staff: Never plan on a miracle

The <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Battle for Leyte, 1944: Allied and Japanese Plans, Preparations, and Execution

By Milan Vego

2006, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD

512 Pages

ISBN: 1-55750-885-2

List Price: USD $55.00

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First rule for battle staff: Never plan on a miracle

Leyte legacy a commanding list of lessons learned

By Edward Lundquist


In his book, The Battle for Leyte, 1944, Allied and Japanese Plans, Preparations, and Execution, published by the Naval Institute Press, Milan Vego examines the events surrounding the Battle for Leyte not just from a naval or operational perspective, but a comprehensive review.
Vego details the decision of who did what, how decsions were reached and what information was available to make those decsions.  Its a book about planning and execution, and more specifically about all the elements that lead up to a particlar execution and result.
“I teach operational art,” the Naval War Collegeprofessor told me.  “I’m interested in what they did, not what we thought they should do.”
The Allied decision to invade Leyte involved an analysis of alternatives.  Formosa and other islands in the Philippine archipelago were considered.  


Personalities of the key players had a major impact in the strategy, preparation and implementation of the Leyte war plan.  Vego says is a great admirer of the principals involved, but he sees the traits that led them to act as they did.  “Adm. William F. Halsey was aggressive but perhaps impetuous, and made some decisions without sufficient analysis.  In fact, Halsey took tactical control of his forecast the expense of maintaining the bigger picture.  General Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA), may have been pompous and a publicity grabber, but he was competent, concerned with the big picture, and not a micro-manager.  Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, was a good listener, and MacArthur trusted him.” Vego also discusses the strengths and weakness of the Japanese players.


The Leyte operation involved forces of both the SWPA and the Pacific Ocean Area (POA), and thus had two leaders and two staffs, a violation of the basic military tenant of never dividing command.


Much is written about who informed who of what, and when.  But Vego has investigated the root problem.  Who knew what, and when?  What did they do with that information, or who did they share it with?


The book looks closely at various search methods and patterns used to determine enemy locations and movement.  The U.S. was able to read Japanese code, but the Japanese could not do the same with U.S. messages.  Furthermore, Japan was certain its code was unbreakable.


Vego says that the Japanese forces had almost no human intelligence.  In fact, he says, the Japanese Navy and the Army looked down on intelligence, instead using ship and aircraft movement reports and projecting presumed intentions.  “They analyzed Allied operations in the Pacific, which closely followed a pattern.  With luck and creativity they were able to deduce with some degree of accuracy the time or location of the Allies’ moves.”


Allied plans included stepping stones to ensure success, such as capturing Ulithi as a fleet anchorage, Morotai as a base for air search, and Palau to shorten the distance for aircraft to strike targets in the Philippines.  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of the POA and the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPOA/CINCPac), argued that Formosa should be the key objective.  The White House and Joint Chiefs of Staff, however, directed that the Philippines be taken.


The main Japanese ground effort at the time was Manchuria and Korea, not the Pacific.  But the Japanese knew that the Philippines were critical.  Japan was ready to move its might to stop the Allies in a decisive showdown for the Philippines.  The Japanese called it the “Sho-1” (Victory) Plan.  The army wanted to fight a “decisive battle” on Luzon, but the navy kept the army in the dark as it prepared to draw the U.S. Fleet out so that it might destroy it in detail when the Allies attempted a landing at Leyte or Mindanao.


The Allies did land at Leyte, and hampered by rugged terrain and muddy roads and airfields, managed to hold on.  Japan, despite suffering defeat after defeat in the Pacific, was still able to reinforce Leyte and mount a vigorous defense.  But the result was a foregone conclusion.  Japan, by concentrating its defense at Leyte, was unable to defend Luzon.


Japanese battle reports were often overstated, and many assumptions were based on incorrect or exagerated information.  Admiral Soemu Toyoda, commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet, for example, had a high opinion of his pilots and believed their exagerated reports of success.  Japan believed their own rhetoric


Losses of carrier aircraft, and worse, trained carrier pilots, led the Japanese to send their now-ineffective carriers to draw the U.S. carriers away from the landing area.  Once the carriers were gone, the  Japanese heavy surface force under Vice. Adm Takeo Kurita, including the 18-inch gun dreadnaughts Yamato and Musashi, would pummel the Allied invasion force approaching or discharging its men and supplies.  Halsey knew about the gambit.  But he went after the bait anyway, leaving the transports and invasion force exposed.


The Japanese had disdain for the Allies.  Beyond the cultural diferrences, the Japanese soldeirs and sailors were willing to die for their cause, even, Vego says, in actions that had little chance of success.   


As the battle for Leyte took place, the idea of using aircaft for suicide attacks was tried with apparent success.  It would be employed with more vigor at Okinawa in April 1945.  The dawn of the Kamikaze signalled the sunset of the Japanese war machine.


Vego’s book looks at all the salient factors.  How were submarines employed for scouting, against shipping, and to interdict combatants?  How did each side employ their carriers against the opposing carrier forces?  How did each side move troops and materiel?  How did the weather and supplies of fuel and ammunition impact the planning and operations?  How did command relationships affect the progress of the campaign?


The superior Allied forces took weeks to secure Leyte.  Japan continued to get troops and supplies to the island up until the end.  Despite superior intelligence, Allied commanders did not always make the best decisions.


Vego relied heavily on primary sources for this book, including translations of the original Japanese documents.  “I also used the “Magic intercepts transcripts of our code-breakers.  Very few books on Leyte operations used original sources.  Most of them were a rehash of the books written by other authors.”   The book’s appendix offers detailed lessons learned, and numerous charts to help put the geography and orders-of-battle in perspective.


One final observation by Vego should be remembered.  Never depend on the errors of your opponents, “especially not on miracles.”




Lundquist is a retired U.S. Navy captain who writes frequently for Naval Forces.  He is a senior science advisor for Alion Science and Technology in Washington, DC.   He supports the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.

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