Mark Stille, Philippines Naval Campaign 1944-45 (Osprey, 2024)
A new addition to Osprey’s Campaign series is Mark Stille’s survey of the campaign that came after the massive Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. For those who think that ended the naval campaign, think again because there was much hard fighting to come before the Philippines were secured.
The Campaign series follows a template, beginning with the origins of the campaign. In this case, that is the cataclysmic Battle of Leyte Gulf that shattered the IJN. Casual readers of the Pacific Campaign may not know that this US victory failed to secure the island of Leyte, so the fighting continued. The Japanese spearhead for this new phase was their land-based aircraft that increasingly turned to suicide attacks, the infamous kamikaze, but the US proved relentless in its ambition to retake the Philippines. Stille turns to survey the opposing commanders; the Americans, including Halsey, Nimitz, and MacArthur, being more familiar to western readers. Then we have the opposing forces with the impressive US Third and Seventh Fleets taking on the remnants of the IJN and land-based forces – the orders of battle Stille includes highlights the disparity.
Stille continues his survey with the US plans to liberate the Philippines, which were not universally agreed by the US generals, but the ‘Luzon first’ approach won out. The author notes that the Japanese defence of Leyte was doomed from the start, but that did not stop them trying, which had a knock-on effect on the defence of Luzon. That the Japanese had no chance, according to Stille, colours his narrative of operations that follows, though it is no less fascinating for knowing the outcome as the US naval commanders worked through the problems presented by the resilient Japanese. This was particularly evident in the battles for Ormoc Bay in November 1944 and the bold actions of the Japanese ‘San Jose Intrusion Force’ in December. Stille also notes that fighting the Japanese was not the only problem; the weather could interrupt operations, as the typhoon of December 1944 demonstrated. The action continued into 1945, but the Japanese were running out of resources and time. ‘Halsey’s rampage’ stunning raid against Japanese convoys in the South China Sea in January encapsulates the campaign. Stille concludes by reiterating his view that the Japanese had no chance of succeeding against an overwhelming US force, though American mistakes ensured this campaign would not be a walk in the park.
Although this campaign does not rank highly among the great battles of the Pacific War, Stille does a great job of bringing out the drama of the intense combat fought around the myriad Philippine islands. He also manages to bring some suspense into a foregone conclusion as the kamikazes rained down on the American ships. Stille’s book is therefore engaging and informative. It is also well supported by maps, colour graphics, and some stunning photographs of ships in combat. Anyone interested in the Pacific War or naval and air warfare will enjoy reading this.