Chapter 3

Four Japanese surface forces participated in SHŌ-GO, including every type of ship in their inventory. Three surface battleship-cruiser-destroyer forces would drive the Americans from the Leyte beachhead. The fourth force, consisting of aircraft carriers and two old hybrid carrier-battleships, would be used as a decoy to draw ADM Halsey’s Third Fleet northward, away from Leyte. During this stage of the war, due to fuel shortages, the majority of these warships were stationed at two widely dispersed locations. Located in the Japanese homeland at Kure Naval Base in the Inland Sea were the Mobile Fleet’s remaining aircraft carriers. Far to the south at Lingga Roads, near Singapore, were the major surface combatants.

The Northern Force was led by VADM Jisaburō Ozawa. He was considered the most talented Japanese Naval Officer remaining in the fleet. Originally, he was scheduled to attack from the north with Japan's remaining carrier forces. After the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" in June 1944, the Mobil Fleet’s total carrier aircraft strength was depleted to just over one hundred aircraft. Thus Japan had large fleet carriers remaining in her fleet, she just didn't have the aircraft or trained pilots to man them. It was then decided the force VADM Ozawa would take to Leyte would be used as a decoy to draw the American Third Fleet north. The decoy force consisted of:

SeeI.J.N. Warship Pronunciation (opens in new window)

  • Carrier Division THREE's (VADM Ozawa)  29,000 ton large carrier and flagship ZUIKAKU (RADM T. Kaizuka). She was a veteran of the Pearl Harbor attack and nearly every other major Japanese campaign including the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where she was damaged.

To make his decoy force a more tempting target, three light carriers, ZUIHŌ (CAPT K. Sigiura), CHITOSE (CAPT Y. Kishi), and CHIYODA (CAPT E. Zyo) were included:

  • ZUIHŌ, 14,000 tons, was a veteran of the original Philippine invasion. She also served at Midway, the Aleutians, Santa Cruz (where she was damaged), and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf her anti-aircraft armament was increased to sixty-eight 25mm guns.

  • Two 13,600 ton sister carriers completed the bait. CHITOSE and CHIYODA, originally completed as seaplane carriers, were refitted as light carriers in 1943 and 1944 respectively. Both served in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and were capable of operating 30 aircraft apiece.

    Under normal circumstances these four carriers would carry a total of 174 aircraft; but these were anything but normal circumstances. During the slaughter of the Marianas campaign, and most recently, the highly successful American strikes on Formosa, VADM Ozawa’s total carrier aircraft strength was only one-hundred and eight aircraft. As if this was not bad enough, the majority of the remaining pilots were inadequately trained for carrier landings and once launched, they were not expected to return to their carriers successfully.

    The big guns of the Northern Force were laid in the hands of two hybrid battleship-carriers in Carrier Division FOUR (RADM Chiaki Matsuda):

    • Originally built in 1915-1918, ISE (RADM N. Nakase) and HYŪGA (RADM T. Nomura) were later modified twice. After their defeat at Midway which cumulated in the loss of four fleet carriers, the Japanese had removed the after turrets on ISE and HYŪGA and replaced them with make-shift flight decks. This, their last major modification, reduced their main armament from twelve to eight 14-inch, 45 caliber guns. This drastic alteration never realized its full intended potential as the seaplanes they were intended to carry were never made available. Now, going to sea planeless, this wastefulness seemed more apparent than ever. Of special note was the installation of one hundred-eighty 5-inch rocket launchers placed in six thirty-rocket boxes placed near their stern.

National Archives Photograph

Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa, IJN
Commander, Northern Force

Northern Force VADM Ozawa
Fleet carrier ZUIKAKU
Light carriers CHITOSE
Battleships HYŪGA
Light cruisers ŌYODO
The decoy force. 

Escorting the carriers and battleships were the light cruisers ŌYODO, TAMA, and ISUZU. All three ships were capable of speeds up to 36 knots.

  • Completed at Kure Dock Yard on April 28, 1943, ŌYODO was the largest and most capable of the three. She displaced nearly 11,500 tons fully loaded and carried an impressive main armament of six 6-inch, 60 caliber guns.

  • ISUZU was half ŌYODO's size at 5,570 tons and was completed in 1923. After completing modification in 1933, she was finally rearmed as an anti-aircraft cruiser and flagship for anti-submarine groups in 1944.

  • The eldest of the lot was TAMA. Completed in 1921, by July 1944 she was armed with five 5-inch, 50 caliber guns, two 5-inch AA guns, forty-four 45mm AA guns, and six 13mm machine guns.

The screening ships of the Northern Force consisted of six AKIZUJI Class 3,700 ton destroyers.

  • AKIZUKI, SUZUTSUKI, HATSUTSUKI, WAKATSUKI, SHIMOTSUKI, and FUYUTSUKI were all built from 1940 onward. They were highly impressive ships boasting eight 3.9-inch, 65 caliber DP guns, four 25mm AA guns, 72 depth charges, and four 24-inch torpedo tubes. Originally planned as AA cruisers they were completed as destroyers with torpedo armament.

Four lighter warships of the MATSU Class completed the decoy force.

  • KUWA, MAKI, KIRI, and SUGI were all completed within one month of each other in July-August 1944. Built as destroyer escorts they were equipped with Type 31 radar, three 5-inch, 40 caliber AA guns, twenty-four 25mm AA guns, 36 depth charges, and four 24-inch torpedo tubes.

The Northern Force, an impressive array of Japan's few remaining warships, would be the sacrificial lamb, laid on a plate for the Americans to consume. In order for SHŌ-GO to work, this force would have to draw ADM Halsey’s Third Fleet north, away from the Leyte invasion beach. The Japanese striking forces would then have a chance to rush in behind Third Fleet and disrupt the invasion. If VADM Ozawa’s force could achieve this goal his mission would be considered successful.

The strike on the American Leyte invasion force would come from the three remaining forces of the Japanese Combined Fleet. The most powerful group, the formidable First Strike Force "A" and "B", was comprised of thirty-two front-line warships. From their training location near Singapore these two groups would transit together to Leyte Gulf via the Sibuyan Sea and San Bernardino Strait. This route was the long way around and would take a considerable amount of time and consume a large amount of precious fuel oil. In addition, they would have to rely upon friendly air cover if their sortie was to be successful. Upon reaching the Philippine Sea, First Strike Force was to sweep down the east coast of Samar from the north and attack the invasion beach and shipping. Any American warships encountered along the way were to be destroyed. 


 National Archives Photograph

"Opponent at Samar"

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, IJN

Commander First Strike Force "A" and "B"
Later designated as "Centre Force"


 Admiral Toyoda, Commander of the Combined Fleet, placed his trust in seasoned warrior VADM Takeo Kurita to command First Strike Force. Under his experienced guidance, First Strike Force was to lead the Japanese Navy back on the road to victory. Late in the war, he was second in ability only to VADM Ozawa as a tactician. He had under his command five battleships in two divisions:

  • Battleship Division (BATDIV) One's YAMATO and MUSASHI, 71,000 ton giants, with nine 18.1-inch, 45 caliber guns apiece, were the center pieces of First Strike Force. Recognized as the largest and most powerful battleships in the world, their 150,000 shaft-horse-power could propel them through the water at a speed of 27 knots.

  • Their division mate NAGATO, 43,581 tons, had eight 16-inch, 45 caliber guns, and a top speed of nearly 25 knots. Although she was over twenty years old, she was fully capable of causing mass destruction if let loose among the American transports in Leyte Gulf.

  • Slightly smaller were Battleship Division (BATDIV) Three’s 32,000 ton KONGŌ and HARUNA, each carrying eight 14-inch, 45 caliber guns. They were the most "Japanese" looking battleships in the fleet, sporting the oriental-style pagoda masts, from which the battle bridge and lookout posts were situated. Laid down in 1911 and 1912 respectively, they were both rebuilt twice and each carried an impressive secondary armament of fourteen 6-inch, 50 caliber guns, later reduced to eight. This reconstruction added an additional 4,000 tons to their overall weight. Both were capable of speeds approaching 30 knots.
First Strike Force "A" VADM Kurita
Battleships YAMATO
Heavy cruisers ATAGO
Light cruiser NOSHIRO
Destroyers Ten ships
First Strike Force "B" VADM Kurita
Battleships KONGŌ
Heavy cruisers KUMANO
Light cruiser YAHAGI
Destroyers Five ships
Later designated as Centre Force

Though the Americans held the advantage in the total number of ships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Japanese advantage was in their well-seasoned group of heavy cruisers. Cruiser Divisions (CRUDIV) Five and Seven, all veterans of the Pacific war, consisted of ten front-line warships. They constituted the fastest striking power of First Strike Force; each of these magnificent ships weighing in at 13,000 to nearly 15,000 tons. Coupled with their capable speeds well in excess of 30 knots, their main armament of eight to ten 203mm, 8-inch guns had destroyed many American warships through the Pacific war:

  • NACHI Class heavy cruisers MYŌKŌ and HAGURO displaced 14,980 tons, both being built between 1924 and 1929. Modernized from 1939 to 1941 they carried ten 8-inch, 50 caliber guns, eight, 127mm (5-inch), 40 caliber DP guns, AA guns, torpedoes, and 3 aircraft.

  • ATAGO Class heavy cruisers TAKAO, ATAGO, MAYA, and CHŌKAI were the backbone of the fleet. They were a modified MYOKO design, completed in 1932 and modernized in 1938/1939/1941. Originally displacing 12,986 tons, after modernization they weighed 15,781 tons fully loaded. Each ship carried ten 8-inch, 203mm, 50 caliber guns placed in five turrets in a three-forward low-high-low, two-aft, high-low configuration. This class was known for its impressive, almost battleship-like, large bridge structure.

  • The MOGAMI Class heavy cruisers SUZUYA and KUMANO were the last two ships built in their class, both completed on October 31, 1937. Weighing in at 13,887 tons they were capable of sustained cruising at 35 knots. Originally armed with only torpedo tubes, in 1939/1940 they were rearmed as heavy cruisers with ten 8-inch, 203mm, 50 caliber guns, significantly increasing their firepower.

  • TONE Class cruisers TONE and CHIKUMA were designed originally as MOGAMI Class light cruisers. Each had eight 8-inch, 203mm, 50 caliber guns in four turrets forward in a low, high, low, low configuration. Aft, they were able to accommodate five aircraft, as they were designated as float plane-carriers, intended to operate with carrier task forces, providing long-range air scouting.

Destroyer Squadron’s (DESRON) Two and Ten, each led by one light cruiser, boasted 15 capable destroyers, all armed with the dreaded long-lance torpedo.

  • AGANO Class light cruisers NOSHIRO and YAHAGI were both completed in 1943 and were armed with six 6-inch, 50 caliber guns. Secondary armament consisted of AA batteries, torpedo tubes, and two float planes.

  • Destroyer Squadron Ten's five KAGERŌ Class destroyers URAKAZE, ISOKAZE, YUKIKAZE, HAMAKAZE, were all completed in 1940, except NOWAKI, completed in 1941. They displaced 2,490 tons and at the time of Leyte Gulf each carried four 5-inch, 50 caliber DP guns, fourteen 25mm AA guns, 36 depth charges, and four 13mm machine guns. Their most potent weapon were their eight 24-inch torpedo tubes.

  • Destroyer Squadron Two boasted nine destroyers of the YŪGUMO Class. These included NAGANAMI, FUJINAMI, KISHINAMI, OKINAMI, HAMANAMI, ASASHIMO, KIYOSHIMO, HAYASHIMO, and AKISHIMO. These were possibly the best destroyers remaining in the fleet and could maintain 35 knots. Their standard armament was two 5-inch, 50 caliber DP guns, two 5-inch, 40 caliber guns, twelve 25mm AA guns, eight 24-inch torpedo tubes, and 36 depth charges.

DESRON Two's remaining destroyer was of the one-of-a-kind SHIMAKAZE, sole ship of her Class. She was armed to the teeth with six 5-inch, 50 caliber guns, twenty-eight 25mm AA guns, four 13mm machine guns, eighteen depth charges, and fifteen 24-inch torpedo tubes.

Aiding VADM Kurita was Strike Force "C," commanded by VADM Shoji Nishimura. His force was directed to attack the American invasion fleet from the south of Leyte via Surigao Strait. With First Strike Force, they would meet up in Leyte Gulf, close the pincher, and shoot up the transport ships and shell the troops on the beachhead.


Vice Admiral Nishimura had at his disposal the old battleships' YAMASHIRO and FUSŌ:

  • Both 40,000 ton battleships were completed during World War I. Designed as "super-dreadnoughts", each mounted twelve 14-inch, 45 caliber guns in six turrets and fourteen 6-inch, 50 caliber guns in single turrets. In 1930/1935 both were given a pagoda-style mast, new machinery, and boilers enabling them to average about 25 knots.

  • The most capable ship in the Southern Force Van was the heavy cruiser MOGAMI. Lead ship in her class, she had to be rebuilt less than one year after her completion because of design flaws. Severely damaged at Midway, she was rebuilt as a seaplane-carrier cruiser with six 8-inch, 203mm, 50 caliber guns forward in a low, low, high configuration and a seaplane deck aft, able to accommodate eleven aircraft.
 Four destroyers completed the Southern Force Van:

  • Three 2,370 ton ASASHIO Class ships MICHISHIO, YAMAGUMO, and ASAGUMO were completed in 1937/1938. Each carried six 5-inch, 50 caliber DP guns, and by 1944 each had eighteen to twenty-four 35mm AA guns, and four 13mm machine guns. In addition to their depth charges, they all carried eight 24-inch torpedo tubes.

  • SHIGURE was a SHIRATSUYU Class destroyer, the first destroyers armed with quadruple torpedo tubes. She displaced 1,980 tons and was armed with five 5-inch, 50 caliber guns, two 13mm AA guns, and 16 depth charges. She had the reputation as a "lucky" ship, being able to survive each battle she entered.

 National Archives Photograph

Vice Admiral Shoji Nishimura, IJN
Commander, Southern Force Van

Strike Force "C" VADM Nishimura
Battleships YAMASHIRO
Heavy cruiser MOGAMI
Destroyers YAMAGUMO
Later designated as Southern Force Van 

The last leg of the Japanese pincher that was also planned to storm into Leyte Gulf was a cruiser-destroyer force led by VADM Kiyohide Shima. This force was designated as the Second Striking Force by the Japanese GHQ.

The firepower of Second Striking Force came from its two 8-inch gun heavy cruisers:

  • NACHI and ASHIGARA. Both were modern, battle-tested ships displacing 14,980 tons each, fairly larger than their American counterparts. Built between 1924 and 1929 they were modernized from 1939 to 1941, maintaining their impressive armament of ten 8-inch, 50 caliber guns in five turrets. They also operated 610mm torpedo tubes and three aircraft.

Light cruiser ABUKUMA, was a Pearl Harbor veteran.

  • ABUKUMA, completed in 1925, was given a new bow in 1930 after a collision in Tokyo Bay. In 1943 her armament was altered to five 5-inch, 50 caliber DP guns, twenty-two 25mm AA guns, two 13mm machine guns, and twenty-four 24-inch torpedo tubes.

Four supporting destroyers completed the force.

  • Two, of the FUBUKI Class, AKEBONO and USHIO, were completed in 1931. After many modifications they were 2,427 ton ships with four 5-inch, 50 caliber DP guns, twenty-two 25mm AA guns, ten 13mm machine guns, and thirty-six depth charges.

  • KASUMI was completed in 1939. One of ten ships of the ASASHIO Class, three of her sister ships served in the Southern Force Van.

  • SHIRANU was a KAGERŌ Class destroyer. Five of her sister ships served in Destroyer Squadron Ten, under VADM Kurita's First Strike Force.

These ships had sailed from the Inland Sea earlier in the month and, on October 21, were located in Coron Bay on Mindoro Island.

Vice Admiral Shima had not been included in the SHŌ-GO planning initially. Now, as a last-minute ploy, his forces were directed to "cooperate" with those of VADM Kurita’s. In addition, he was also directed to "cooperate" with VADM Nishimura's Striking Force "C." This poor, last minute planning by the Staff at General Headquarters in Tokyo only complicated matters. Not only did the plan suffer from poor organization, but a personal conflict also existed. 

National Archive Photograph

Vice Admiral Kiyohide Shima, IJN
Commander, Southern Force Rear 

Second Strike Force VADM Shima
Heavy cruisers NACHI
Light cruiser ABUKUMA
Destroyers SHIRANUI
Later designated as Southern Force Rear

Vice Admiral Shima's six months' seniority to VADM Nishimura caused the latter much discontentment. The relationship between the two admirals was anything but cordial. Vice Admiral Shima was a political power within the fleet and had thus worked his way up through the rank structure. In contrast, VADM Nishimura was a salty "sailor’s admiral," gaining his flag rank through the command of sea-going ships and squadrons. As it turned out, due to their personal differences or stubborn pride, the coordination of their attack would be non-existent.

The General Headquarters staff's decision to attack during daylight did not sit favorably with VADM Kurita and his senior officers. They had trained for months for a night engagement, a tactic the Japanese Navy had developed a great proficiency in. They knew they stood no chance of victory during a daylight engagement with the Americans with their overwhelming superiority in carrier aircraft.

So great was their distaste for a daylight engagement, VADM Kurita felt a few words of encouragement were needed; here are his words:

"I know that many of you are strongly opposed to this assignment. But the war situation is far more critical than any of you can possibly know. Would it not be shameful to have the fleet remain intact while our nation perishes? I believe that the Imperial General Headquarters is giving us a glorious opportunity. Because I realize how very serious the war situation actually is, I am willing to accept even this ultimate assignment to storm into Leyte Gulf. You must all remember that there are such things as miracles. What man can say that there is no chance for our fleet to turn the tide of war in a decisive battle? We shall have a chance to meet our enemies. We shall engage his task forces. I hope that you will not carry your responsibilities lightly. I know that you will act faithfully and well."

Continue to CHAPTER 4 or INDEX

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