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Cape Engaño

Relief map of Leyte Gulf and surroundings

Cape Engaño (Spanish: Cabo Engaño, "Cape Deception") is the northeasternmost point of the island of Luzon in the Phillipines. It lent its name to one of the four major engagements of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which took place in October 1944  between the U.S. and Japanese fleets.

Battle of Cape Engaño

During the Leyte invasion of October 1944, Nimitz placed the commander of 3 Fleet, Halsey, under orders to make the destruction of the Japanese Fleet, not the protection of the amphibious forces, his highest priority. This played into the hands of the Japanese, whose contingency plan for the defense of the Philippines, Sho-go, called for the remaining Japanese carriers (under the command of Ozawa) to act as a decoy force to lure Halsey away from Leyte. Ozawa's carriers lacked the aircraft and pilots to pose a credible threat to 3 Fleet, but the Japanese still had powerful surface forces (under Kurita) built around the Yamato and Musashi. In order to give Kurita a chance to reach and destroy the American amphibious force, Ozawa was ordered to deliberately allow his force to be spotted and pursued by 3 Fleet.

By 24 October 1944, Halsey had spotted Kurita's main force and was launching heavy and damaging strikes against it. Meanwhile, Ozawa was trying to be detected by the Americans, unaware that his radio transmitter was malfunctioning and preventing his radio traffic from being heard by either friend or foe.  The Americans finally spotted him at 1540, and Halsey, overestimating the damage to Kurita's force and believing it was retiring for good, took off in hot pursuit of Ozawa with all his forces. Now it was the Americans whose plans were thrown into confusion. Halsey had transmitted a contingency plan for detaching his battle line as Task Force 34 to guard San Bernardino Strait. However, with Kurita seemingly in retreat, Halsey decided this was unnecessary. But the original message was the only one seen by other commanders (principally  Kinkaid with 7 Fleet in Leyte Gulf) and they were left with the mistaken impression that San Bernardino Strait was being watched.

At 1935 a night reconnaissance flight from Independence found that Kurita's force had returned to a course for San Bernardino Strait. It is unclear why Halsey did not then detach Task Force 34 to cover the strait. Mitscher, possibly smarting from having been bypassed all day by Halsey (who issued orders directly to Mitscher's task group commanders), declined to radio such a recommendation to Halsey. Three of Halsey's task force commanders also wondered at the order, and Bogan went so far as to contact Halsey's staff with the information that the navigation lights in San Bernardino Strait were lit. He was brushed off, and made no further protest. Lee, the battle line commander, correctly deduced that Ozawa's force was a decoy with little striking power, but his signal to Halsey warning that Kurita was likely to come out of San Bernardino Strait was also brushed off. Halsey's failure to guard the strait must be judged one of the great blunders of the Pacific War.

By 2022, 3 Fleet was headed north towards Ozawa's force. Ozawa had already launched most of his aircraft against Halsey, the few survivors of which landed at Clark and Tuguegarao. The remaining aircraft were launched by 0930 on 25 October, with just 11 fighters sent up to constitute a pitifully weak combat air patrol. Ozawa split his force into two, one force including Zuikaku and Zuiho and the other the remainder of Ozawa's carriers. The attacking Americans were spotted at 0707 and the first wave also split their force. Eighty went after Zuikaku and Zuiho and fifty after the other carriers. Zuikaku was soon hit by a torpedo and dropped out of formation, Oyodo was damaged by a bomb hit, Akizuki was sunk by a magazine explosion following a bomb hit, and Chitose was damaged. The second wave attacked from all directions and smothered Zuikaku with additional bomb and torpedo hits and Zuiho with two bomb hits and numerous damaging near misses. Tama was torpedoed and Chitose left dead in the water by a well-placed bomb. The third American wave  came in shortly after noon, finishing Zuikaku and Zuiho but failing to sink Ise. The fourth wave, the largest of all, came in at about 1510 and concentrated on Ise and scored thirty near misses, but the tough old battlewagon still refused to go down.

Halsey's cruisers and destroyers now closed for the kill, finishing Chiyoda at 1547 with gunfire and torpedoes and sinking Hatsuzuki after she had put up a plucky fight.

Halsey was in the process of annihilating Ozawa’s force when a message reached him from Nimitz in Hawaii. The original message was a simple query: “Where is Task Force 34?” However, Nimitz’ communications technician, sensing a certain urgency in the query, saw fit to slightly strengthen the message. A further gaffe occurred due to a poor choice of padding: Like all coded U.S. messages, the message had been padded at its beginning and end with phrases that were supposed to be nonsense. The end padding sufficiently resembled part of the message that it was left in place by Halsey’s decoders, and the message ultimately handed to Halsey read: “WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE 34 XX THE WORLD WONDERS”. Halsey reportedly threw his hat on the deck and started weeping with rage, then returned with his battleship force and one of his carrier task forces to San Bernardino Strait — too late to catch Kurita. It hardly mattered; the Japanese Navy was practically finished as a fighting force.

Allied order of battle

3 Fleet (Halsey)     

  
Task Force 38 (Mitscher)      


  
Task Group 38.2 (Bogan)     



 
CV Intrepid




CVL Cabot




CVL Independence



BB Iowa




BB New Jersey




CL Biloxi




CL Vincennes



CL Miami



DD Owen




DD Miller



DD The Sullivans




DD Tingey



DD Hickox



DD Hunt



DD Lewis Hancock




DD Marshall



DD Cushing



DD Colahan



DD Halsey Powell




DD Uhlmann



DD Yarnall



DD Twining



DD Stockham



DD Wedderburn


Task Group 38.3 (Sherman)     




CV Essex



CV Lexington



CVL Langley



BB Massachusetts




BB South Dakota




CL Santa Fe




CL Mobile



CL Reno




DD Porterfield



DD C.K. Bronson




DD Cotten



DD Dortch



DD Healy



DD Cogswell



DD Capterton



DD Ingersoll



DD Knapp



DD Callaghan



DD Cassin Young




DD Preston



DD Laws



DD Longshaw


Task Group 38.4 (Davison)     




CV Enterprise




CV Franklin



CVL San Jacinto




CVL Belleau Wood




BB Washington




BB Alabama



CA New Orleans




CA Wichita




DD Maury



DD Gridley



DD Helm



DD McCall



DD Mugford



DD Ralph Talbot




DD Patterson



DD Bagley



DD Wilkes




DD Nicholson



DD Swanson


Japanese order of battle

Mobile Force (Ozawa)     

 
Carrier Division 3     
Total aircraft strength:
19 A6M "Zero" fighters
5 A6M "Zero" light bombers
4 B6N "Jill"
1 D4Y "Judy"

 
CV Zuikaku
Sunk


CVL Zuiho
Sunk


CVL Chitose
Sunk


CVL Chiyoda Sunk

Carrier Division 4 (Matsuda)     
No aircraft


BBCV Ise
Lightly damaged


BBCV Hyuga

Screen



DD Akizuki
Sunk


DD Hatsuzuki Sunk


DD Wakatsuki


DD Shimotsuki

Escort Squadron 31 (Edo)     



CL Isuzu



DE Maki
Damaged


DE Sugi


DE Kiri


DE Kuwa

Supply Force



DD Akikaze


2 AO



6 escort vessels


CL Oyodo
Lightly damaged

CL Tama
Sunk


References
Dull (1978)
Morison (1958)

Thomas (2006)



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