Appendices - Hirohito's War
E. Typhoons and Divine Winds: Kamikaze
Halsey: After Leyte Gulf: The overwhelming victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 26 October should have provided a period of respite for Halsey’s battle weary ships and sailors. Furthermore it should have given Halsey, chastened by his mistakes at Leyte Gulf, time to plan for the first strikes to be made against Japan’s home islands since his daring ‘Doolittle Raid’ two and a half years earlier. However, these plans were interrupted. Torrential rains and topographic problems on Leyte Island put back the Seabees’ construction of airfields, which prevented General Kenney from advancing his Air Force to their planned bases. As a result the Third Fleet remained stationed off the Philippines to provide air cover.
Between 5 and 25 November 1944, Halsey mounted seven mass attacks on Luzon’s airfields. 800 Japanese aircraft were destroyed. In addition five enemy transports were sunk with the loss of 10,000 Japanese troops along with their three escorting destroyers. Even by sea, by 1944, the US could deliver devastating air power against Japan’s land based forces. The old shibboleth that aircraft carriers should always stay out of range of land-based airfields had been reversed. It was a superiority that reflected massively improved American equipment against a Japanese Air Force that was never able to produce a mass produced fighter plane to succeed the Zero; in just three years, the Mitsubishi Zero had become technologically outdated. As an American ace pilot wrote, “The Corsair was a sweet-flying baby if I ever flew one. No longer would we have to fight the Nip’s fight, for we could make our own rules.”1 [The Vought F4U Corsair, mainly built under contract by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, was designed principally as a carrier aircraft though, because of its poor landing characteristics, it ended up mainly being used by the Marine Corps land based forces. It was introduced at the beginning of 1943. Heavily armed with six machine guns and four cannon, the Corsair was also faster (+37 mph) and had a 5.5 per cent faster climb rate than the American carrier fleet’s Grumman F6F Hellcat, itself a replacement for the Grumman F4F Wildcat, that was already significantly outperforming the Japanese Zero.]
Such was the success of Admiral Halsey’s mission and the increasing paucity of the Japanese opposition that the last major air strike against Luzon took place on 18 November. Halsey cancelled further major operations and set up a system of patrols. “Bull Halsey’s Third Fleet has been doing quite a job on the Japs on Luzon,” gloated Seaman James Fahey.2 But, in spite of Halsey’s air superiority over the Philippines, a new threat emerged to quickly dampen any lasting joy from the victory at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.