Jonathan D. Beard
Anthony P. Tully,
Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2009. Pp. xvii, 329. ISBN
Leyte, June 1944-January 1945,
published in 1958 as volume 12 of Samuel Eliot Morison's History of
United States Naval Operations in World War II,
provided the first detailed account in English of the Battle of
Surigao Strait and has been the source for countless books and
articles over the last fifty years. Now, at last, we have a monograph
on the battle by Anthony Tully, an independent scholar who has written
extensively on naval history.
There are striking similarities between Morison's 43 pages, and
Tully's 273, and there are significant differences.
Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle, not just in World War
II, but in history, was a series of air-and-sea engagements fought
around the Philippines from 23 to 26 October 1944.
The night action in Surigao Strait, while dramatic, was the smallest
piece of the overall battle.
Morison, working from U.S. Navy records, interviews with American
personnel, postwar interrogations of Japanese officers, and a limited
number of translated Japanese records, seems--if Tully's detailed
account is correct--to have gotten the basic history of the action
right. The ships engaged, their actions the night of October 24-25,
and their fates are almost all described the same way in both books.
What is different is the tremendous detail Tully adds and a
fundamental shift from an American to a Japanese perspective. Not only
has he drawn on sections of the official history--the Senshi sosho,
he has also obtained translations of dozens of documents seized by the
United States in 1945 and interrogation reports compiled by the Allied
Translator Interpretation Section after questioning five Japanese
prisoners only days after the battle. These men were among the small
percentage Japanese who survived the battle and included one each from
battleships Fuso and Yamashiro. Morison did not make use
of those records. Finally, Tully has consulted almost twenty Japanese
books and articles published since Morison wrote. These sources allow
him to focus on the experiences of particular individuals. All the
commanders in this battle, fought at night amid frequent rain squalls,
had trouble discerning where friendly and enemy ships were. The
Japanese, with their inferior radar, were in an especially difficult
But the increase in visibility did not happen quite fast enough, and
Nishimura had relaxed his own apparent anxieties about it. About 0105
the lookouts on battleship Fuso saw a suspicious silhouette ahead off
the port bow. This was the wrong place to be, and Fuso's secondary
battery officer Lieutenant Takatsugu Yamagata was taking no chances.
Whether or not Yamagata asked Masami Ban's permission is unknown, but
Fuso's port secondary battery now opened fire, aiming for the lights.
Six-inch shells hurtled out into the night....
No return fire came from the darkness, but the voice-radio circuit
suddenly burst into life with emphatic shouts in Japanese: "Cease
firing, cease firing! Friendly ships!" It was Mogami, and Toma was
turning sharply to port to draw away and switched on his cruiser's
recognition lights. Too late! One of Fuso's six-inch shells struck
Mogami aft, penetrating into the rear sickbay on the middle deck on
the port side. By a great mercy, it failed to explode, but even so,
the dud shell killed three Mogami sailors. Even more tragically, the
three men were in the aft sickbay because they had been wounded by
enemy strafing of the aircraft deck in the morning air attack and were
being ministered to there. Having been injured by the enemy's fire,
they were now slain by their own (120).
carefully recounts the entire battle, from initial Japanese plans for
Operation Sho-GO to the eventual sinking of most of the Imperial
Japanese Navy (IJN) ships that survived the battle in air attacks
during the week after it ended. The new detail here is mostly, but not
entirely, on the Japanese side of the fighting. While Morison had
information about the two Japanese admirals--Kiyohide Shima and Shoji
Nishimura--and the captain of the destroyer Shigure, one of the
few IJN ships to survive, Tully quotes dozens of Japanese officers and
men. He also corrects one significant error in Morison's narrative
that has been perpetuated in every subsequent non-Japanese account: the fate of battleship Fuso. Specifically, Morison states that
"Fuso blew into two halves, which drifted slowly southward; the
bow part sank around 0420 and the stern within an hour."
Both halves supposedly burned for perhaps an hour, confusing American
ships about the number of adversaries they faced. In fact, as Tully
shows, the Fuso slowly foundered and sank, intact, as torpedoed
battleships always have. Large pools of oil from the wreck remained on
the surface, burning, and these confused American observers.
respect, both Morison and Tully commit the same error of emphasis.
Historically, the battle is interesting because it was the last
battleship vs. battleship action, and because the Americans used a
battle line formation and "crossed the T" of Nishimura's little
squadron. Both Morison and Tully make much of Admiral Jesse
Oldendorf's task force of old battleships, which included several
veterans of Pearl Harbor. Both note which vessels had modern fire
control systems, and that all the American ships were short of
armor-piercing shells. They mention the "arched line of tracers" as
dozens of American shells raced toward the unfortunate Yamashiro
and the heavy cruiser Mogami. But the drama is misleading. The
Fuso and Yamashiro both sank because of multiple hits
from U.S. Navy destroyer torpedoes, not gunfire. The cruiser Mogami
was finally scuttled the next day after surviving air attacks during
withdrawal from the strait. The hundreds of 14-inch and 16-inch shells
fired had little effect; the American destroyers and their slow but
reliable torpedoes sank Nishimura's battleships. In fact, the Battle
of Leyte Gulf was a remarkable display of USN destroyer torpedo
prowess: off Samar, hits by the scratch force guarding Taffy 3's
escort carriers damaged a cruiser and slowed the Japanese battleships;
at Surigao, the destroyers were more effective than the large cruisers
and battleships (not to mention PT boats) with which they shared the
Overall, Battle of Surigao Strait is a fine battle monograph,
carefully researched using materials old and new in both Japanese and
English. Tully is even aware of what divers have found in Surigao
Strait in recent years. The writing is good, and the photos, maps, and
drawings clear and well chosen. This is a book for people who love
reading military history and want a modern, non-partisan account of a
unique fleet action.
New York City
 Fifteen volumes (Boston: Little, Brown, 1947-62;
rpt. Urbana: U Illinois Pr, 2001-2).
 See, e.g., Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of
the Battle of Midway (Washington: Potomac Books, 2005), coauthored
with Jonathan B. Parshall.
 For excellent coverage of all the phases of the
battle and the controversies about the failures of both Admiral
Kurita and Admiral Halsey, see Wikipedia, s.v. "Battle of Leyte
 Morison, Leyte, 220 n. 28.
 See also Jeffrey R. Cox, "The Fuso
Mysteries--What Happened to the Fuso?" Pro Cynic (31 Oct 2007) <link>,
for a very detailed discussion.