6. Japan’s All-Or-Nothing Gamble to Reverse the Tide of Defeat
By late 1944, WWII was going terribly for Japan, and all signs indicated that worse was in store. Things had started well for Japan, after it kicked off the war by mauling the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor. Over the following six months, Japanese forces achieved a series of stunning victories. They overran Hong Kong, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, the Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Burma, sundry Pacific islands, and knocked on the doors of India. Then came a severe check at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, in which the Japanese suffered a stunning defeat that turned the tide.
US forces gathered their strength, and went on a counteroffensive that steadily picked up the pace as it rolled back Japan’s conquests and rolled over the Japanese. By October 1944, a series of defeats had severely reduced Japan’s might in the Pacific, and the gap between its strength and that of US kept growing. So the Imperial Japanese Navy decided upon an all-or-nothing gamble, to throw virtually all of its remaining strength at Americans recently landed in the Philippines. The result was the Battle of Leyte Gulf, history’s biggest naval engagement. It witnessed one of the most dramatic examples of poise under pressure, as an unheralded American admiral averted disaster by successfully leading a tiny force in turning back a massive Japanese armada.