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USS North Carolina vs Bismarck
Operation Compass
Book Review: APc-48
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
The Morality of Okinawa
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Battle of Buna-Gona
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
Lodge Act Soldier
The Fate of the Kido Butai
Air Recon in WWII
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Battle for Seaports
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Lausdell Crossroads
Kasserine Pass
Arnhem Startline
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Offensive Operations
Sir Winston Churchill
American Stubbornness at Rimling
The OSS in Greece
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Breaking Seelow Heights
The Rape of Nanking
Small Battle: Big Implications
Harris Class APA's
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Battle of Surigao Strait
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Failure and Destruction
Winter Warfare
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
Was Hitler right to invade Russia?
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
Surface Actions of World War II
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
Japan's Monster Sub
Popski's Private Army
The Soviet Formula for Success
Japan's TA Operation
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Failure of Operation Barbarossa
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
How Hitler Could Have Won
The Battle of Midway
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Rulers of the World: Hitler Youth
Breakout From the Hedgerows
Memories of D-Day
Motivation of the Einsatzgruppen
Pearl Harbor and Midway
Amphibious Assaults during WWII
The 9th SS Panzer Division
The Warsaw Uprising
Sea Lion vs. Overlord
Maginot Line
Battle of Bastogne
Battle of the Barents Sea
Anzio: The Allies' Greatest Blunder
US Army in WWII
Battle of Mers-el-Kebir
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst
The Wilhelm Gustloff Disaster
The 88th Infantry in Italy

Irwin J. Kappes Articles
Japan's Monster Sub
Japan's TA Operation
Wilhelm Gustloff - Marine Disaster
Battle of the Barents Sea
Battle of Leyte Gulf
Anzio - Blunder of WWII
Mers-el-Kebir: A Battle Between Friends
Hitler's Ultra-Secret Adlerhorst

Recommended Reading

Sea of Thunder: Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign 1941-1945

The Battle Of Leyte Gulf: The Last Fleet Action

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Japan's TA-Operation: A Blueprint for Disaster 
Japan's TA-Operation: A Blueprint for Disaster
by Irwin J. Kappes

One of the key decisions leading up to the end of World War II in the Pacific was the plan to invade the Philippines. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had endorsed Formosa as the main base for the final assault on the Japanese mainland. Strategically, it was the logical choice. But General Douglas MacArthur had served in the Philippines in peacetime and had a special fondness for the Filipino people. In a conference in Hawaii with Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Leahy and the president, he slyly pointed out that bypassing the Philippines would be "politically unwise". He had thereby pressed Roosevelt's most sensitive button. There had been much publicity about Japanese atrocities in the islands, Roosevelt was in the final stage of his campaign for a fourth term, and his re-election was by no means certain. Suddenly, the Commander-in-Chief was on board MacArthur's plan and the Joint Chiefs were overridden.

Upon return to Washington, F.D.R. reported on his Pacific trip to the American people in a radio broadcast that he and the general had reached "a complete accord." War Minister Hideki Tojo knew of MacArthur's affinity for the Philippines so he correctly interpreted this to mean that an invasion of the Philippines was imminent. Initial Allied planning had called for a landing on Luzon. But the main island was well defended and besides, MacArthur had an aversion for doing the expected.

The island of Leyte in the middle of the Philippine archipelago suited MacArthur's predilection for island-hopping. There was the large deep San Pedro bay at the northern end of the Leyte Gulf, capable of accommodating a large fleet, and initial intelligence reports had it that the island was undefended. But reports began trickling in from friendly guerilla groups that there were more than 50,000 Japanese troops present. MacArthur's forces totaled 200,000 men but even so he knew Leyte would be no cakewalk. The 100-mile long island had a mountainous chain running down the middle with muddy roads not traversable by tanks and heavy equipment, and the few mountain passes were well-defended. On the bright side, the landing was planned for the island's northeast quadrant—the location of the island's three airstrips.

Just ten days before MacArthur's invasion of Leyte, War Minister Tojo put one of his most able generals in command of the 14th Army. He was General Tomiyuchi Yamashita. The general was not the bloodthirsty devil so often depicted in Allied wartime propaganda. In fact, as a peacetime member of the War Ministry he unsuccessfully advocated a reduction of the military. And despite his outstanding ability he was sidelined by the army's top generals and often clashed with the infamous Tojo. He became unpopular also for insisting that Japan should maintain peaceful relations with the U.S. and the U.K.

As World War II unfolded Yamashita had been placed in command of the 25th Army and finally redeemed himself by sweeping 1,100 miles down the Malay peninsula to Singapore in only two months—thus earning the sobriquet "Tiger of Malaya". As the war became critical for Japan in 1944 he was placed in command of the 14th Army just ten days before MacArthur's invasion of Leyte. This canny tactician was the general that MacArthur would have to face in one of the pivotal battles of the Pacific War.

General MacArthur saw Leyte merely as his first step toward the conquest of the main island prize, Luzon and the capital Manila—"The Pearl of the Orient", whereas Yamashita saw it much differently. To give ground even on an obscure island in the middle of the archipelago would inevitably lead to further concessions and ultimately to the loss of the entire island chain. And because the Philippines sat midway between Japan and the empire's main source of oil in Borneo, they must all be defended as vigorously as if they were the home islands of Japan.

A lot has been written about the Battle for Leyte Gulf and the Battle of Ormoc Bay that followed. But only recently have many Japanese war records been translated and they offer new perspectives on these historic struggles. We know now that as Yamashita began to suffer continuing losses on Leyte he urgently worked with the Admiralty in Tokyo to establish a series of re-supply missions. Between 23 October and 11 December 1944 there would ultimately be nine in all and they were collectively code-named "Operation TA". In charge was Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi. It was the same Admiral Mikawa who had scored a one-sided victory when he led a surface fleet in the Battle of Savo Island in August 1942. This time Mikawa would not be as lucky.

TA-1 took place during the Battle for Leyte Gulf and had the advantage that American attentions were too pre-occupied with the epic battle on Leyte's east coast to notice the redeployment of Japanese resources on the west. The plan was to transport troops and equipment from Luzon, Mindanao and the Visayas to the western port city of Ormoc on Leyte.

TA-1 consisted of five transports, screened by the light cruiser Kinu and two destroyers. It stood out of Manila on 24 October but was doomed from the start. Though it ended up safely landing two regiments of soldiers, carrier planes from the U.S. Third and Seventh fleets doubled up on it and the Kinu , both destroyers and two of the transports were sunk in the Sibuyan Sea about 150 miles short of their destination. It was not an auspicious beginning for Operation TA.

Admiral Kimura was in charge of TA-2 on 28 October and he upped the ante on protection for his fleet of four large, modern transports, providing six destroyers made up of three echelons. The first landed one anti-tank battalion at Ormoc and returned safely to Manila. The second also landed troops successfully because of poor visibility from the air but later in the day Kimura lost one of his four transports to a U.S. Army B-24 when it was caught in a clear patch. Nevertheless, the operation was considered a success resulting from increased destroyer protection. (Incidentally, it was the very same Rear Admiral Kimura who, just one month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor paid a "goodwill" call at Pearl Harbor aboard his flagship Siritoko . Several of his crewmembers went ashore and were seen snapping photos of sites of interest from all angles).

TA-3 and TA-4 (8 and 9 November) were two separate convoys. Admiral Hayakawa was in command and being short on destroyers he devised a clever strategy. The convoys were spaced one day apart so that the four destroyers escorting TA-3 could double back and escort the second into what had become the cauldron of Ormoc Bay. The dual mission, though brilliantly conceived was star-crossed from the beginning. Five large transports bearing 3,000 men and 9,500 tons of supplies and screened by five destroyers sailed from Cavite Naval Base on 8 November. One of the transports ran aground before leaving the waters of southern Luzon. It was a bad omen.

Then, cruising just off the coast of the island of Samar, Task Force 38 spotted the remaining nine ships. Calling it a "battle" would be a euphemism. It was more like an execution. Admiral Sherman launched 350 fighters and five of Japan's finest fleet destroyers and all four transports were caught in the channel between Ponson island and Leyte. With no escape all but one of the ships were dispatched to the floor of Ormoc Bay in a classic turkey shoot. And the highly-regarded Rear Admiral Hayakawa ended up in a watery grave aboard his flagship Shimakaze. It became one of the most calamitous routs of the Pacific War. The destroyer Asashimo was the only survivor of the bloodbath, emerging with hardly a dent. The devastation was too much for the Japanese. Admiral Okochi had by now succeeded the ailing Mikawa and he ordered TA suspended while remaining resources were regrouped. It was two weeks before Okochi could develop a new plan. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's 77th Division and the 7th Division were putting the finishing touches to a pincer movement on the port city of Ormoc.

TA-5 and TA-6 both ended disastrously as well. Of eight transports involved, six were sunk along with three of the four escorting patrol craft resulting in the loss of ten of the eleven transports involved.

These were shipping losses that eclipsed anything that the Japanese empire had experienced since the Battle of the Philippine Sea and they were resources that Yamashita could ill afford to lose at this critical stage of the war. The Allies learned only after the war ended that Yamashita had at this point concluded that Leyte would soon have to be written off in order to conserve men and materiel for a last stand defense of the main island of Luzon. But Hideki Tojo and the other diehards on the High Command in Tokyo decided on a continuation of their all-out attempts to reverse their bad luck. Besides, bad weather in late November had grounded fighter aircraft of the Third and Seventh Fleets. Tojo reasoned that he had no choice but to take the gamble.

Meanwhile, one of the many coincidences that make up military history delivered three newly commissioned destroyers of a new class with untested crews to Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet in Leyte Gulf on 29 November 1944. Their deployment to the Pacific had been long delayed. Like most new warship classes they were plagued by design flaws, each of which required correction, testing, re-correction, and then further testing—all leading to nine months of delay. Featuring twin 5" guns forward and one aft they could provide double the firing power of previous destroyer classes going into a tight situation like Ormoc Bay. Then too, the Navy brass in Washington was eager to learn how these sleek new SUMNER-class "super destroyers" would perform because the Navy Department had committed itself to build hundreds more. The destroyers were the Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), U.S.S. Cooper (DD-695) and U.S.S. Moale (DD-693).

On 1 December the three ships were anchored in Leyte's San Pedro Bay, which had become home port for hundreds of ships of all description. In the early evening aboard the Moale , the crew heard a familiar voice with an Alabama twang piped over the intercom. Everyone knew instantly that something important was imminent because it was the captain. Lower-ranking officers and CPOs always delivered routine instructions. Of course, a "tin can" is a small, tight community and rumors spread quickly so there already were clues that something big was up. The most ominous was the fact that all of the ship's top-secret documents and the coding machine had just been ordered transferred to a destroyer-tender anchored nearby. To destroyermen this was always a sign that the ship was about to participate in extremely hazardous action. Captain Walter M. Foster spoke with confidence, defining the mission but clearly outlining what he believed to be in store for his inexperienced crew. And he pointed out frankly that there would be no air cover because heavy rains had made the improvised air fields into muddy bogs. At the same time, the Japanese were under no such limitation because their fields were of the so-called "improved" variety.

At 2200, all hands were invited to participate in an inter-denominational service in the mess hall. Destroyers weren't large enough to warrant having a Chaplain, but there was always a devout, self-appointed steward of the faith who could be counted upon to come forward and conduct ad hoc services. Normally, religious services were attended by about a half dozen regulars. Now, the largest indoor space on the ship was filled to overflowing. All knew the next few hours would be their testing, or their redemption. The island's best deepwater port of Ormoc would be the battleground and TA-7 would provide, for many, the challenge of their lifetimes.

A Japanese flotilla had left Manila's Cavite Naval Base on 1 December featuring a beefed-up convoy of one group of submarines and one group consisting of three transports escorted by two Matsu-class destroyers, Take and Kuwa . Under command of Commander Masamichi Yamashita (not related to General Tomiyuchi Yamashita) a U.S. Army reconnaissance plane spotted them as they threaded their way through the islands of the Sibuyan Sea. However, they arrived without a hitch in the early evening of the following day probably unaware of having been detected.

The weather cleared as the three American destroyers rounded the southern tip of Leyte at about 2200 and headed north cautiously through the narrow Matalom channel. It had been swept for mines sealing the bay's southern entrance four days before by the two spunky little minesweepers PURSUIT and REVENGE, but there were dozens of coral reefs in the area, some of them uncharted. And there was always the possibility of stray mines undiscovered by the minesweepers. As they increased speed, their wakes churned up phosphorescent algae making them sitting ducks to Japanese fighters based on nearby Cebu.

Suddenly all three ships were beset by continuous strafing. Aboard the MOALE, one of its own main battery 5-inch shells struck and destroyed the barrel of a 20-millimeter A.A. gun. Though the barrel was red hot, Gunner's Mate Robert W. Johnson wrenched it loose with bare hands, replaced it and simply resumed firing. This calls to mind the old saying, "Anyone who first considers the consequences cannot be brave".

In the Moale's Combat Information Center, Lt. Irving Wiggs, radar officer, watched events unfold amid all the hectic action outside. He had taped white tissue paper over a USCGS chart of the Bay and mounted both on the D.R. (dead reckoning) table in the Combat Information Center. This enabled him to trace the exact tracks of the three ships as they sped north at flank speed. Careful notations were entered as to time and the nature of events, providing a graphic account of the action. It was a step forward in the recording of naval warfare as it happens. The document is today in the collection of the Naval War College in Newport, RI.

On the Sumner, Ashby Jones, Motor Machinist's Mate 2/c was taking a reading on the aft engine machinery and noticed that the thermometer was red all the way to the top. Under these battle conditions it was considered unthinkable to reduce speed, so wet rags were applied in furious succession. In a panic, Ashby's Chief ordered him to go to the forward engine room and bring back a large 60 lb. blower. This required hurrying up a steep ladder, proceeding through a crowded ammunition handling room where shells were being frantically loaded, crawling over huge piles of spent shells and then re-tracing his way with the heavy blower back down to the engine room. When he arrived, out of breath and completely exhausted, his shipmates barely acknowledged his arrival. In the interim they had discovered that the bearing was not hot at all. In all the confusion no one had thought about putting his hands on it. The thermometer had simply broken.

These three tales of heroism, calm logic, and absentmindedness are told here to make the point that the feverish anguish of combat at sea can produce responses worthy of the best naval fiction. From beginning to end, the 2-3 December phase of what came to be known as "The Battle of Ormoc Bay" lasted less than an hour. In that infinitesimally thin slice of World War II, the Jap destroyer Kuwa was taken under fire by the three U.S. ships and sunk, taking along approximately 150 men. Minutes later, the Japanese destroyer Take launched a spread of four long-lance torpedoes, one of which caught the U.S.S. Cooper in a turn. The ship broke in two and sank in less than a minute with the loss of 141 crewmen. (Of Cooper's crew, 168 were rescued the following morning by two very heroic Navy PBY-Catalina seaplane crews). In addition, several small enemy surface craft and approximately nine aircraft were dispatched from the earth's surface. The other two U.S. ships miraculously suffered only three dead and 35 wounded. It is an episode that is recalled today only by the diminishing number of participants but is still memorialized at annual reunions.

Ormoc/2-3 Dec. was a momentous and historic struggle—the only naval battle of World War II in which the enemy brought to bear every weapon in the naval arsenal—torpedoes and gunfire from ships, PT boats, shore batteries, aircraft, submarines, and yes, even the possibility of mines. Every living participant has his own story. Captain Foster's recollections were summarized bluntly in his combat report: "Operations of this sort should not be entered into unless air coverage is assured. Enemy planes continually tracked and attacked our group for one hour prior to the surface engagement until one hour after our retirement. The enemy was thoroughly alerted and had only to wait until our arrival to fire torpedoes at us. This strike was designed as an offensive; however, there was a strong feeling of being on the defensive throughout." Even so, it was a near-miracle that the two surviving ships escaped with only a few fatalities and relatively minor damage. All in all it was the closest thing to a victory that the Japanese were able to achieve in the entire series of TA operations.

In fact, Operation TA-8 gave new heart to the Japanese Admiralty because five large transports escorted by three destroyers and two patrol craft left Manila for Ormoc only three days later. But their "success" of 3 December provided a false hope. While enroute, the Japs learned of the landing of Allied troops at Albuera, a few miles south of Ormoc, so the convoy was quickly diverted to a small port on the northwestern tip of Leyte, about 25 miles north of Ormoc City. While disembarking, the transports were spotted by a swarm of U.S. fighters. All five transports were sunk and two destroyers were damaged.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army's 77th Division landed about 10 miles south of Ormoc City on the infamous day of December 7th. Covering the landings were the destroyers Mahan (DD-364), Lamson (DD-367), Walke (DD-723) and O'Brien (DD-725), and they took a severe pounding from kamikazes. The suiciders also damaged the high-speed transports Ward (APD-16), Liddle (APD-60), LST-737 and sunk the LSM-318. It was a fierce engagement that demonstrated the utter desperation of the Japanese exactly three years after their attack on Pearl Harbor.

Undeterred, the 7th Division was moving up the west coast of Leyte toward Ormoc and met the 11th Airborne Division coming south. The pincer now closed. Unbelievably, shellfire on the retreating Japanese had been directed from unarmed Piper Cubs. General A. D. Bruce, commander of the 77th, later made the following point: "The secret weapons of the South Pacific war were the Piper Cub and the bulldozer". The Cubs could go up and spot artillery fire with impunity because the enemy knew the muzzle blast would give away their position and artillery shells would then come in like rain. The bulldozers could clear an area for an airfield in a matter of days and could make a roadway in mere hours.

With U.S. troops closing in on Ormoc, the High Command had now exhausted even the most extreme measures to avoid defeat. In their eyes, the loss of Leyte would signal the loss of the main island of Luzon. This would in turn spell the end of the Japanese presence in the Philippines with all the ugly consequences. Tojo and his admirals had no choice: One last "near suicide" mission was ordered to leave Cavite Naval Base on 9 December. All the transports that could be mustered--three large ships and two small ones were escorted by three destroyers and two PCs. The end result: All ships of the convoy were either sunk or heavily damaged except for the two patrol craft. What the Japs didn't know was that Ormoc had already been occupied by the 307th Combat Team.

John C. Kriegsman, who was a liaison air officer for the 77th, put it this way. "In stone silence [we waited] for the Jap version of an LST loaded with replacement soldiers to disembark. When the unloading ramp was lowered and men began to pour out, all hell broke loose. In less than one hour only one soldier out of about 750 soldiers remained alive. He was found a week later curled up in the 'crow's nest.' [What happened to the hapless Jap is unknown but is best left to the imagination]. For the next week, the fighting became a slaughter of the enemy. It took six days for two bulldozers to bury the dead." Tojo, General Yamashita and the Admirals had played their hand and lost. Operation TA was over and the Japanese garrison in Ormoc City vanished into the surrounding mountains on 12 December to fend for themselves.

Despite their calamitous losses the Japanese had managed to land an estimated 45,000 troops and 10,000 tons of supplies in the combined TA-Operations. But the cost was about 45 vessels of all types, versus 4 for the U.S. The mopping up would consume another six months on Leyte and much fighting was still ahead elsewhere in the Pacific. While rational leaders without the military mindset would have chosen to seek the best possible deal and surrender, the Japanese fought on, even as the losses at Mindoro, Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa grew ever greater—and as the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki loomed distantly over Hirohito's misbegotten empire.

* * *

The writer gratefully acknowledges the permission of Allyn D. Nevitt to quote from his authoritative "Long Lancers" website, a resource that interested readers may wish to refer to for more comprehensive information on the TA-Operations.

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

* * *

Copyright © 2006 Irwin J. Kappes

Written by Irwin Kappes. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Irwin Kappes at:

About the author:
Mr. Kappes served in U.S. Navy on destroyers in the Atlantic and Pacific during WWII. He holds an MBA from Boston University and retired after a 32 year advertising career with the Du Pont Company. He was also a retired Vice President with United States Hosiery. He is married and his hobbies include painting, writing, and travel. His hometown is New Castle, PA. and presently living in Tinton Falls, NJ.

Published online: 12/17/2006.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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