Battle off Cape Engaño

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File:Zuikaku at Cape Engano.jpg
The Japanese aircraft carriers Zuikaku, left, and (probably) Zuihō come under attack by dive bombers early in the battle off Cape Engaño.
File:Oyodo alongside Zuikaku.jpg
The Japanese cruiser Oyodo comes alongside the damaged Zuikaku so that Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa can transfer his flag.
File:Lowering the flag on Zuikaku.jpg
The crew of Zuikaku salute as the flag is lowered, and the Zuikaku ceases to be the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Japanese Decoy Force Components[edit]

Ozawa's "Northern Force" had four aircraft carriers (Zuikaku — the last surviving carrier of the Attack on Pearl HarborZuihō, Chitose, and Chiyoda), two World War I battleships partially converted to carriers (Hyūga and Ise — the aft turrets had been replaced by hangar, deck and catapult, but neither carried any planes in this battle), three cruisers (Ōyodo, Tama, and Isuzu), and nine destroyers. He had only 108 planes.

Third Fleet Components[edit]

The U.S. Third Fleet was formidable and completely outgunned the Japanese Northern Force. Halsey had six fleet carriers (Intrepid, Franklin, Lexington, Bunker Hill, Enterprise, and Essex), five light carriers ( a sixth, Princeton was blown up by a Japanese air attack just as its planes were taking off to attack Center Force) (Independence, Belleau Wood, Langley, Cabot, and San Jacinto), six battleships (Alabama, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Washington), seventeen cruisers and sixty-three destroyers. He could put more than 1,000 planes in the air. It left the landings on Leyte covered only by a handful of escort carriers and destroyers.

The Beginning[edit]

Ozawa's force was not spotted until 16:40 on October 24, because the Americans were too busy attacking Kurita and dealing with the air strikes from Luzon. On the evening of October 24, Ozawa intercepted a (mistaken) American communication of Kurita's withdrawal, and began to withdraw as well. But at 20:00, Toyoda Soemu ordered all forces to attack.

Halsey saw that he had an opportunity to destroy the last Japanese carrier forces in the Pacific, a blow that would completely destroy Japanese sea power and allow the U.S. Navy to attack the Japanese homelands. Believing that Kurita had been defeated by the airstrikes in the Sibuyan Sea, and was retiring to Brunei, Halsey radioed Admiral Kinkaid at Leyte: "Central Force heavily damaged according to strike reports. Am proceeding north with three groups to attack carrier forces at dawn." From this dispatch, Kinkaid assumed that Halsey had left one of his groups behind to cover San Bernardino. What he had no way of knowing was that Halsey only had three carrier groups in the area. Admiral McCain's TG 38.1 was some 600 miles to the east conducting refueling operations. Halsey set out in pursuit of Ozawa just after midnight with his three carrier groups and the battleships of Admiral Willis A. Lee's Task Force 34. In so doing, Halsey or members of his staff ignored reports from scout planes from the USS Independence that Kurita had turned back towards San Bernardo Strait and that the navigation lights in the strait had been turned on. When Admiral G.F. Bogan, commanding TG 38.2, radioed this information to Halsey's flagship, he was rebuffed by a staff officer, who replied "Yes, yes, we have that information." Admiral Willis A. Lee, who had correctly recognized that Ozawa's force was a decoy and indicated the same in a blinker message to Halsey's ship, was similarly rebuffed.

The Attack on the Decoy Force[edit]

On the morning of October 25, Ozawa launched 75 planes to attack the Americans, doing little damage. Most were shot down by the American covering patrols. A handful of survivors made it to Luzon.

The American carriers launched their first wave, 180 aircraft, at dawn, before the Northern Force had been located. The search aircraft made contact at 7:10. At 8:00, the American fighters destroyed the defensive screen of 30 aircraft. Air strikes began and continued until the evening, by which time the American aircraft had flown 527 sorties against the Northern Force, sinking Zuikaku and Zuihō, "seaplane tender" Chiyoda, and the destroyer Akitsuki. "Seaplane tender" Chitose was disabled, as was the cruiser Tama. Ozawa transferred his flag to Ōyodo.

With all the Japanese carriers sunk or disabled, the main targets remaining were the converted battleships Ise and Hyūga. Their massive construction proved resistant to the air strikes, so Halsey sent Task Force 34 forward to engage them directly. During the entire battle, Halsey had been ignoring repeated calls for help from Taffy 3 and the other escort groups. At 10:00, Halsey received two messages. The first was from Kinkaid, which read: "MY SITUATION IS CRITICAL. FAST BATTLESHIPS AND SUPPORT BY AIR STRIKES MAY BE ABLE TO KEEP ENEMY FROM DESTROYING CVES AND ENTERING LEYTE." Halsey was shocked at this message. The radio signals from the Seventh Fleet had come in at random and out of order (communications had to be sent first to an overworked signal office, and then the message would be routed to the other fleet. The backlog in this office was tremendous); Halsey knew that Kinkaid was in trouble, but he hadn't dreamed of the scale. From 3000 miles away in Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nimitz had been monitoring the desperate calls from Taffy 3, and sent Halsey a terse message: "TURKEY TROTS TO WATER WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR REPEAT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS" The first four words and the last four were "padding" used to confuse enemy listeners (the end of the true message was marked by a double consonant, followed by nonsense words.) The communication's technician on Halsey's flagship correctly deleted the first section of padding but mistakenly kept the last four words in the message draft that was handed to Halsey. The last four words, probably selected by a communication's officer at Nimitz' headquarters, may have been meant as a loose quote from Tennyson's poem on "The Charge of the Light Brigade," in honor of the October 25 anniversary of the Battle of Balaklava and wasn't intended as a commentary on Halsey's current situation. Halsey, however, upon reading the message, thought that the last four words comprised a biting piece of criticism from Nimitz and broke into "sobs of rage." Realizing their mistake, the communications staff on Halsey's ship later explained to Halsey what had happened.[1]

Halsey reluctantly abandoned the pursuit and turned south, detaching only a small force of cruisers and destroyers under Laurence T. DuBose to sink the disabled Japanese ships. It was too late; Kurita had already turned for home. In what became known as the "Battle of Bull's Run", Halsey accomplished absolutely nothing except sinking a crippled Japanese cruiser. Ise and Hyūga returned to Japan, where they were sunk at their moorings in 1945.


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  1. Potter, E.B., Admiral Arleigh Burke, (2005), Naval Institute Press.