Battle of Leyte
The Battle of Leyte in the Pacific campaign of World War II was the amphibious invasion of the Gulf of Leyte in the Philippines by American forces and Filipino guerrillas under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, who fought against the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita from 17 October - 26 December 1944. The operation code named King Two launched the Philippines campaign of 1944–45 for the recapture and liberation of the entire Philippine Archipelago and to end almost three years of Japanese occupation.
Japan had conquered the Philippines in 1942. Controlling it was vital for Japan's survival in World War II because it commanded sea routes to Borneo and Sumatra by which rubber and petroleum were shipped to Japan.:7
For the US, capturing the Philippines was a key strategic step in isolating Imperial Japan's military holdings in China and the Pacific theater. It was also a personal matter of pride for MacArthur.:5 In 1942, just a month before Japan forced the surrender of all USAFFE forces in the Philippines, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ordered MacArthur to leave the Philippines and organize the US forces gathering in Australia,:22 which were meant to relieve the USAFFE. Those relief forces were non-existent;:22 Roosevelt's true intentions in ordering MacArthur to flee the Philippines had been to prevent his capture by the Japanese. Still, MacArthur had vowed that he would return to the Philippines. He repeatedly stated that it was a moral obligation of the US to liberate the Philippines as soon as possible. In March 1944, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered MacArthur to plan an attack on the southern Philippines by the end of the year, and Luzon in early 1945.:7–8 In July 1944, Roosevelt met with MacArthur and Chester Nimitz in Hawaii, where the decision was made to invade the Philippines, from which land air bases could be used for the Pacific Theater of Operations.:8–9
Over the summer of 1944, planes from the aircraft carriers of the US 3rd Fleet under Admiral William F. Halsey carried out several successful missions over the Philippines and found Japanese resistance lacking.:9 Halsey then recommended a direct strike on Leyte, canceling other planned operations, and the Leyte invasion date moved forward to October.:10
Leyte, one of the larger islands of the Philippines, has numerous deep-water approaches and sandy beaches which offered opportunities for amphibious assaults and fast resupply. The roads and lowlands extending inland from Highway 1, that ran for 40 mi (64 km) along the east coast between Abuyog town to the north and the San Juanico Strait between Leyte and Samar Islands, provided avenues for tank-infantry operations, as well as suitable ground for airfield construction. American air forces based on Leyte could strike at enemy bases and airfields anywhere in the archipelago.:10
A heavily forested north-south mountain range dominates the interior and separates two sizable valleys, or coastal plains. The larger Leyte Valley extends from the northern coast to the long eastern shore and contains most of the towns and roadways on the island.:10–11 The other, Ormoc Valley, situated on the west side, was connected to Leyte Valley by a roundabout and winding road, Highway 2; it ran from Palo town on the east coast, then west and northwest through Leyte Valley to the north coast, it then turned south and wound through a mountainous neck to enter the northern Ormoc Valley. This continued south to the port of Ormoc City, then along the western shore to Baybay town. The road then turned east to cross the mountainous waist of the island and it connected with Highway 1 on the east coast at Abuyog. Below these towns, the mountainous southern third of Leyte was mostly undeveloped.:10 High mountain peaks over 4,400 ft (1,300 m), as well as the jagged outcroppings, ravines, and caves typical of volcanic islands offered formidable defensive opportunities.:11 The timing late in the year of the assault would force combat troops and supporting pilots, as well as logistical units, to contend with monsoon rains.
Leyte's population of over 900,000 people—mostly farmers and fishermen:11—could be expected to assist an American invasion, since many residents already supported the guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in the face of harsh repression.:12 Japanese troop strength on Leyte was estimated by US intelligence at 20,000; mostly of the 16th Division:16–17 under Lieutenant General Shiro Makino.:1
Preliminary operations for the Leyte invasion began at dawn on 17 October with minesweeping tasks and the movement of the 6th Rangers toward three small islands in Leyte Gulf.:26,37 Although delayed by a storm, the Rangers were on Suluan and Dinagat islands by 0805.:34–35,39 On Suluan, they dispersed a small group of Japanese defenders and destroyed a radio station, while they found Dinagat unoccupied.:35 The next day, the third island Homonhon, was taken without any opposition.:35 On Dinagat and Homonhom, the Rangers proceeded to erect navigation lights for the amphibious transports to follow.:26,35 Meanwhile, reconnaissance by underwater demolition teams revealed clear landing beaches for assault troops on Leyte.:38 Independently, the 21st Infantry Regiment on 20 Oct. landed on Panaon Strait to control the entrance to Sogod Bay.:27
Following four hours of heavy naval gunfire on A-day, 20 October, Sixth Army forces landed on assigned beaches at 10:00.:39 X Corps pushed across a 4 mi (6.4 km) stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. 15 mi (24 km) to the south, XXIV Corps units came ashore across a 3 mi (4.8 km) strand between San José and the Daguitan River. Troops found as much resistance from swampy terrain as from Japanese fire.:41 Within an hour of landing, units in most sectors had secured beachheads deep enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supplies.:40 Only in the 24th Division sector did enemy fire force a diversion of follow-up landing craft. But even that sector was secure enough by 13:30 to allow Gen. MacArthur to make a dramatic entrance through the surf onto Red Beach:47–48 and announce to the populace the beginning of their liberation: "People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil."
By the end of A-day, the Sixth Army had moved 1 mi (1.6 km) inland and five miles wide.:47 In the X Corps sector, the 1st Cavalry Division held Tacloban airfield,:40 and the 24th Infantry Division had taken the high ground on Hill 522 commanding its beachheads.:47 In the XXIV Corps sector, the 96th Infantry Division held the approaches to Catmon Hill,:50 and the 7th Infantry Division held Dulag and its airfield.:54
General Makino spent the day moving his command post from Tacloban, 10 mi (16 km) inland to the town of Dagami.:46 The initial fighting was won at a cost of 49 killed, 192 wounded, and six missing.:343 The Japanese counterattacked the 24th Infantry Division on Red Beach through the night, unsuccessfully.:60–63
Campaign in the Leyte Valley
The Sixth Army made steady progress inland against sporadic and uncoordinated enemy resistance on Leyte in the next few days. The 1st Cavalry Division of Maj. Gen. Verne D. Mudge secured the provincial capital, Tacloban, on 21 October, and Hill 215 the next.:75 On 23 October, Gen. MacArthur presided over a ceremony to restore civil government to Leyte. 1st and 2nd Cavalry Brigades initiated a holding action to prevent a Japanese counterattack from the mountainous interior, after which the 1st Cavalry was allowed to move on. The 8th Cavalry established itself on Samar by 24 Oct., securing the San Juanico Strait.:75
On the X Corps left, the 24th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Frederick A. Irving, drove inland into heavy enemy resistance. After days and nights of hard fighting and killing some 800 Japanese, the 19th and 34th Infantry Regiments expanded their beachhead and took control of the high ground commanding the entrance to the northern Leyte Valley. By 1 November, after a seven-day tank-infantry advance supported by artillery fire, both regiments had pushed through Leyte Valley and were within sight of the north coast and the port of Carigara, which the 2nd Cavalry Brigade occupied the next day after Suzuki ordered a withdrawal.:99–106 In its drive through Leyte Valley, the 24th Division inflicted nearly 3,000 enemy casualties.:106 These advances left only one major port on Leyte—Ormoc City on the west coast—under Japanese control.
From the XXIV Corps beachhead Gen. Hodge had sent his two divisions into the southern Leyte Valley, which already contained four airfields and a large supply center. Maj. Gen. James L. Bradley's 96th Infantry Division was to clear Catmon Hill, a 1,400 ft (430 m) promontory, the highest point in both corps beachheads, and used by the Japanese as an observation and firing post to fire on landing craft approaching the beach on A-day. Under cover of incessant artillery and naval gunfire, Bradley's troops made their way through the swamps south and west of the high ground at Labiranan Head. After a three-day fight, the 382nd Infantry Regiment took a key Japanese supply base at Tabontabon, 5 mi (8.0 km) inland, and killed some 350 Japanese on 28 October. Simultaneously two battalions each from the 381st Infantry Regiment and 383rd Infantry Regiments slowly advanced up opposite sides of Catmon Hill and battled the fierce Japanese resistance. When the mop-up of Catmon Hill was completed on 31 October, the Americans had cleared 53 pillboxes, 17 caves, and several heavy artillery positions.:65–69
On the left of XXIV Corps, the 7th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Archibald V. Arnold moved inland against the Japanese airfields of San Pablo 1 and 2, Bayug, and Buri, using "flying wedges" of American tanks, the 767th Tank Battalion, which cleared the way for the infantrymen.:80–81 Between Burauen and Julita, the 17th Infantry overcame fanatical but futile resistance from Japanese soldiers concealed in spider holes, who placed satchel charges on the hulls of the American tanks.:80 A mile north, 32nd Infantry soldiers killed more than 400 Japanese at Buri airfield. While two battalions of the 184th Infantry patrolled the corps' left flank, the 17th Infantry, with the 184th's 2nd Battalion attached, turned north toward Dagami, 6 mi (9.7 km) above Burauen. Using flamethrowers to root the enemy out of pillboxes and a cemetery, US troops captured Dagami on 30 October, which forced Gen. Makino to evacuate his command post further westward.:95–96 Meanwhile, on 29 October, the 32nd Infantry's 2nd Battalion, preceded by the 7th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop, moved 15 mi (24 km) south along the east coast to Abuyog for a probe of the area, and then over the next four days patrolled west through the mountains to Baybay, all without opposition.:96
With 432,000 Japanese soldiers in the Philippines, General Yamashita decided to make Leyte the main effort of the Japanese defense, and on 21 October, ordered the 35th Army to coordinate a decisive battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy.:64,73 The 16th Division was to be reinforced by the 30th Infantry Division from Mindanao, landing on Ormoc Bay.:64 The 102nd Infantry Division would occupy Jaro, where the 1st and 26th Infantry Divisions were concentrating.:64 Battalions from the 55th and 57th Independent Mixed Brigades were on Leyte by 25 Oct.:73
As the Sixth Army pushed deeper into Leyte, the Japanese struck back in the air and at sea. On 24 October, some 200 enemy aircraft approached American beachheads and shipping from the north.:70 Fifty American land-based aircraft rose to intercept them, and claimed to have shot down between 66:70 and 84 of the attackers. Day and night air raids continued over the next four days,:71 damaging supply dumps ashore and threatening American shipping. But by 28 October, counterattacks by US aircraft on Japanese airfields and shipping on other islands so reduced enemy air strength that conventional air raids ceased to be a major threat. As their air strength diminished, the Japanese resorted to the deadly kamikazes,:71 a corps of suicide pilots who crashed their bomb-laden planes directly into US ships. They chose the large American transport and escort fleet that had gathered in Leyte Gulf on A-day as their first target and sank one escort carrier and badly damaged many other vessels.
A more serious danger to the US forces developed at sea. The Imperial Japanese Navy's high command decided to destroy US Navy forces supporting the Sixth Army by committing its entire remaining surface fleet to a decisive battle with the Americans. The Imperial Navy's plan was to attack in three major task groups. One, which included four aircraft carriers with few aircraft aboard, was to act as a decoy, luring the US 3rd Fleet north away from Leyte Gulf. If the decoy was successful, the other two groups, consisting primarily of heavy surface combatants, would enter the gulf from the west and attack the American transports.
On 23 October, the approach of the enemy surface vessels was detected. US naval units moved out to intercept, and the air and naval Battle of Leyte Gulf—the largest naval battle in the Pacific:70 and also one of the largest naval battles in history—was fought from 23-26 October—the Japanese suffered a decisive defeat. Nonetheless by 11 December, the Japanese had succeeded in moving more than 34,000 troops to Leyte and over 10,000 short tons (9,100 t) of materiél, most through the port of Ormoc on the west coast, despite heavy losses to reinforcement convoys, including engagements at Ormoc Bay, because of relentless air interdiction missions by US aircraft.
Advance Towards the Ormoc Valley
The Japanese reinforcement presented severe problems for both Krueger and MacArthur.:107 Instead of projected mopping up operations after clearing the east side of Leyte, the Sixth Army had to prepare for extended combat in the mountains on its western side,:110 which included landing three reserve divisions on Leyte, this pushed MacArthur's operations schedule for the Philippine campaign back and the War Department's deployment plans in the Pacific.
Gen. Krueger planned a giant pincer operation to clear Ormoc Valley, with X Corps forces moving south, and XXIV Corps units pushing north from Baybay.:111 To overcome the expected increased resistance, especially in the mountain barrier to the north, Krueger mobilized his reserve forces, the 32nd and 77th Infantry Divisions, while MacArthur activated the 11th Airborne Division. The 21st RCT pulled out from the Panaon area to rejoin the 24th Division and were replaced by a battalion of the 32nd Infantry. On 3 November, the 34th Infantry Regiment moved out from west of Carigara to sweep the rest of the northern coast before turning south into the mountains. The 1st Battalion soon came under attack from a ridge along the highway. Supported by the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, the unit cleared the ridge, and the 34th Infantry continued unopposed that night through the town of Pinamopoan, recovering numerous heavy weapons abandoned by the enemy, then halted at the point where Highway 2 turns south into the mountains.:111–113
Battle of Breakneck Ridge, Battle of Kilay Ridge
On 7 November the 21st Infantry went into its first sustained combat on Leyte when it moved into the mountains along Highway 2, near Carigara Bay.:115 The fresh regiment, with the 19th Infantry's 3rd Battalion attached, immediately ran into strong defenses of the newly arrived Japanese 1st Division, aligned from east to west across the road and anchored on a network of fighting positions built of heavy logs and interconnecting trench lines and countless spider holes, which became known as "Breakneck Ridge" to the Americans, or the "Yamashita Line" to the Japanese.:116 General Krueger ordered the 1st Cavalry to join the 24th Infantry Division in the attack south, and the X and XXIV Corps (96th Infantry Division) to block routes through the central mountain range, anticipating General Suzuki's renewed attack with the arrival of his 26th Infantry Division.:120–121 Additionally the XXIV Corps had the 7th Infantry Division in Baybay.:121 Plus, Krueger had access to the 32nd and 77th Infantry Divisions, and the 11th Airborne Division, which MacArthur was staging in Leyte in preparation of the Luzon invasion.:133
A typhoon began on 8 November, and the heavy rain that followed for several days further impeded American progress.:116 Despite the storm and high winds, which added falling trees and mud slides to enemy defenses and delayed supply trains, the 21st Infantry continued its slow and halting attack, with companies often having to withdraw and recapture hills that had been taken earlier. The Americans seized the approaches to Hill 1525 2 mi (3.2 km) to the east, enabling Irving to stretch out the enemy defenses further across a 4 mi (6.4 km) front along Highway 2. After five days of battling against seemingly impregnable hill positions and two nights of repulsing enemy counterattacks proved fruitless, Irving decided on a double envelopment of the enemy defenders.
On the east, the 19th Infantry's 2nd Battalion, under Lt. Col. Robert B. Spragins, swung east around Hill 1525 behind the enemy right flank, cutting back to Highway 2, 3 mi (4.8 km) south of 'Breakneck Ridge', blocking the Japanese supply line.:133–140 On the west, Irving sent the 34th Infantry's 1st Battalion under Lt. Col. Thomas E. Clifford, over water from the Carigara area to a point 2 mi (3.2 km) west of the southward turn of Highway 2, and moved it inland. This amphibious maneuver was made in eighteen LVTs of the 727th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. After crossing a ridge line and the Leyte River, they approached the enemy left flank at 900 ft (270 m) on Kilay Ridge, the highest terrain behind the main battle area.:147 Both battalions reached positions only about 1,000 yd (910 m) apart on opposite sides of the highway by 13 November despite strong opposition and heavy rains. The Americans were aided by the 1st Battalion, 96th Philippine Infantry, a local guide who "owned" Kilay Ridge, and Filipinos carrying supplies.:148–149
It took Clifford's men two weeks of struggle through mud and rain—often dangerously close to friendly mortar and artillery fire—to root the Japanese out of fighting positions on the way up Kilay Ridge. On 2 December Clifford's battalion finally cleared the heights overlooking the road, and 32nd Division units quickly took over. Clifford's outfit suffered 26 killed, 101 wounded and two missing, in contrast to 900 Japanese dead.:162 For their arduous efforts against Kilay Ridge and adjacent areas, both flanking battalions received Presidential Unit Citations.:147,162 Clifford and Spragins both received the Distinguished Service Cross for their actions.:142,152 It was not until 14 December that the 32nd Division finally cleared the Breakneck–Kilay Ridge area, and linked up with the 1st Cavalry Division on 19 Dec., placing the most heavily defended portions of Highway 2 between Carigara Bay and the Ormoc Valley under X Corps control.:266,269
Throughout this phase, American efforts had become increasingly hampered by logistical problems. Mountainous terrain and impassable roads forced Sixth Army transportation units to improvise resupply trains of Navy landing craft, tracked landing vehicles, airdrops, artillery tractors, trucks, even carabaos and hundreds of barefoot Filipino bearers. The 727th Amphibian Tractor Battalion made daily, often multiple, trips with ammunition and rations between Capoocan and Calubian. From Calubian, the 727th tractors would navigate the Naga River to Consuegra and then traverse overland to Agahang. On their return trip, they would evacuate the casualties. Not surprisingly, the complex scheduling slowed resupply as well as the pace of assaults, particularly in the mountains north and east of Ormoc Valley and subsequently in the ridgelines along Ormoc Bay.
Battle of Shoestring Ridge
In mid-November XXIV Corps had the 32nd Infantry Regiment, under the command of Lt. Col. John M. Finn, in western Leyte, and 7th Division remnants securing Burauen, but the arrival of the 11th Airborne Division on 22 November, allowed Gen. Hodge to move the rest of the 7th Division to the west.:182 On the night of 23 November, the 32nd Infantry suddenly came under attack by the Japanese 26th Division, along the Palanas River.:187–188 The regiment's 2nd Battalion was pushed back off Hill 918 to a defensive position along the highway and their artillery base, which consisted of Batteries A and B of the 49th Field Artillery Battalion, and Battery B of the USMC 11th 155mm Gun Battalion.:186 Gen. Arnold earlier had placed the 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry, as a reserve for just such a counterattack.:186 Also, a platoon of tanks from the 767th Tank Battalion was stationed at Damulaan.:186 Battery C, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, arrived the next day.:189 That night, the night of 24 November, Japanese attacks put four 105 mm (4.1 in) pieces of Battery B out of action.:192 The 2nd Battalion, 184th Infantry was then released by Gen. Arnold to Col. Finn.:192 The defensive battle for 'Shoestring Ridge', so named to reflect the supply situation, continued until 29 November, when US troops were able to take the offensive.:199 During their failed attacks of the previous days, the Japanese under the command of Col. Saito, had committed six infantry battalions.:199
Battle of the Ridges
Gen. Arnold finally began his advance toward Ormoc with a novel tactic. On the night of 4 December, vehicles of the 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion put to sea and leapfrogged south along the Leyte coast and positioned themselves west of Balogo.:201 On 5 Dec., the tanks moved to within 200 yd (180 m) of the shore and fired into the hills in front of the advancing 17th and 184th Infantry.:200 This tactic proved effective, greatly disorganizing the defenders, except where ground troops encountered enemy pockets on reverse slopes inland, shielded from the offshore tank fire. The 7th Division pushed north with two regiments which encountered heavy enemy fire coming from Hill 918, from which the entire coast to Ormoc City could be observed. By 8 Dec., the American forces had taken Hills 918, 380 and 606, plus the surrounding ridges.:200–205 By 12 December, Gen. Arnold's lead battalion was less than 10 mi (16 km) south of Ormoc City.
Battle of the Airfields
While Gen. Arnold moved closer to Ormoc, on the 6th Dec., the Japanese made a surprise attack on the Buri Airfield with the 16th, combined with 250 paratroopers of the 2nd Raiding Brigade, the Takachiho Paratroopers.:226–228 At the time, the 11th Airborne Division, commanded by General Joseph May Swing defended the Burauen area.:221,229 The Japanese aimed to recapture eastern Leyte airstrips and use them for their own planes. Descending Japanese paratroopers were "cut to shreds by the antiaircraft and field artillery units," according to one American artillery officer.
Although poorly coordinated - only one battalion of the Japanese 26th Infantry Division reached the battlefield - the enemy attack yielded the seizure of some abandoned weapons which they managed to use against the Americans over the next four days.:232 The 11th Airborne Division, supported by the 149th Infantry, 38th Infantry Division, and the 382nd Infantry, 96th Infantry Division, plus hastily mustered groups of support and service troops, eventually contained the attack, and turned the tide by 9 Dec.:230–231 With a few American supply dumps and aircraft on the ground destroyed and construction projects delayed, the enemy attacks on the airfields failed to have any effect on the overall Leyte Campaign.:233 Gen. Suzuki ordered a retreat so he could deal with the American landing at Ormac, but with only 200 men returning, the 16th Division ceased to exist.:232,251
Fall of Ormoc
Meanwhile, on the western side of Leyte, the XXIV Corps received reinforcements on 7 December with the landing of the 77th Infantry Division under Maj. Gen. Andrew D. Bruce south of Ormoc City.:233 The 77th Division's 305th and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore at 0700 unopposed, supported by a company from the 776th Amphibian Tank Battalion.:233–234 However, Admiral Arthur D. Struble's naval convoy was subjected to kamikaze air attacks, fifty-five aircraft making sixteen raids.:234–236 Yet, the arrival of the 77th Division proved decisive. This enabled the 7th Division to resume its march north, and the enemy defenders were quickly squeezed between the two forces.:234
Moving north, the 77th Division faced strong opposition at Camp Downes, a prewar Philippine constabulary post.:239,360 Supported by the newly arrived 306th Infantry Regiment, plus the 902nd and 305th Field Artillery Battalions, Gen. Bruce's troops pushed through and beyond Camp Downes on 9 Dec., and entered Ormoc City on 10 December.:239–240 The 7th and 77th Infantry Divisions linked up the next day.:242
In its final drive, US troops killed some 1,506 enemy and took seven prisoners while sustaining 123 killed, 329 wounded and 13 missing.:242 With Ormoc City captured, the XXIV Corps and X Corps were only 16 mi (26 km) apart. In between at Cogan, the last enemy salient with its defenses anchored on a concrete blockhouse, north of Ormoc, and held by the 12th Independent Infantry Regiment, resisted the Americans for two days.:257 On 14 December, the 305th Infantry closed on the stronghold, aided by heavy artillery barrages and employing flamethrowers and armored bulldozers. Hand-to-hand combat and the inspiring leadership of Medal of Honor awardee Captain Robert B. Nett cleared the enemy from the blockhouse area, while the leading Company, E, of the 2nd Battalion, 305th Infantry moved forward through intense fire and killed several Japanese soldiers.:258
Westward march to the coast
After breaking out of Ormoc, the 77th Division took Valencia airfield, 7 mi (11 km) north, on 18 December, and continued north to establish contact with X Corps units.:274 That same day, Gen. Sibert ordered the 1st Cavalry Division to complete the drive south. The 12th Cavalry Regiment pushed out of the mountains on a southwest track to Highway 2, then followed fire from the 271st Field Artillery Battalion to clear a 3 mi (4.8 km) stretch of the road. North of Ormoc Valley, the 32nd Division had met determined opposition from the defending Japanese 1st Division along Highway 2, after moving south past Kilay Ridge and entering a heavy rain forest, which limited visibility and concealed the enemy. Using flamethrowers, hand grenades, rifles, and bayonets, troops scratched out daily advances measured in yards, and in five days of hard fighting, the 126th and 127th Infantry Regiments advanced less than 1 mi (1.6 km). Contact between patrols of the 12th Cavalry and the 77th Division's 306th Infantry on 21 December marked the juncture of the US X and XXIV Corps and the closing of the Sixth Army's pincer maneuver against Ormoc Valley.:284
While the 77th and 32nd Divisions converged on the valley, Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing's 11th Airborne Division had moved into the central mountain passes from the east. With blocking positions established south of Leyte Valley on 22–24 November, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment pushed farther west into the mountains on the 25 November. After an arduous advance, the 511th reached Mahonag, 10 mi (16 km) west of Burauen, on 6 December, the same day Japanese paratroops landed at the Buri and San Pablo airfields. On 16 December, the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, made slow but steady progress into the mountains from the Ormoc Bay area to meet the airborne regiment and assist its passage westward. On 23 December, after battling scattered Japanese defenders on ridges and in caves, the 7th Division infantrymen met troops from the 2nd Battalion, 187th Glider Infantry Regiment, which had passed through the 511th, to complete the cross-island move, and basically destroying the Japanese 26th Infantry Division in the process.:258–264
Gen. Bruce opened the drive on Palompon by sending the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 305th Infantry, with armor support, west along the road on the morning of 22 December.:289 The 302nd Engineer Battalion followed, repairing and strengthening bridges for armor, artillery and supply vehicles. Assault units progressed rapidly through sporadic enemy fire until they hit strong positions about 8 mi (13 km) short of Palompon. To restore momentum, Gen. Bruce put the 1st Battalion, 305th Infantry, on Navy landing craft and dispatched it from the port of Ormoc to Palompon. Supported by fire from mortar boats of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade and from the 155 mm (6.1 in) guns of the 531st Field Artillery Battalion, the infantrymen landed at 07:20 on 25 December and secured the small coastal town within four hours.:290
Learning of the seizure of the last port open to the Japanese, Gen. MacArthur announced the end of organized resistance on Leyte.:290 As these sweeps continued, he transferred control of operations on Leyte and Samar to the Eighth Army on 26 December. Farther north, other US forces made faster progress against more disorganized and dispirited enemy troops. 1st Cavalry Division troops reached the coast on 28 December:295 as 24th Division units cleared the last enemy positions from the northwest corner of Leyte on the same day and two days later met patrols of the 32nd Division. But Japanese defenders continued to fight as units until 31 December, and the ensuing mop-up of stragglers continued until 8 May 1945.
The campaign for Leyte proved the first and most decisive operation in the American reconquest of the Philippines. Japanese losses in the campaign were heavy, with the army losing four divisions and several separate combat units, while the navy lost 26 major warships and 46 large transports and hundreds of merchantmen. The struggle also reduced Japanese land-based air capability in the Philippines by more than 50%. Some 250,000 troops still remained on Luzon, but the loss of air and naval support at Leyte so narrowed Gen. Yamashita's options that he now had to fight a passive defensive of Luzon,:325 the largest and most important island in the Philippines. In effect, once the decisive battle of Leyte was lost, the Japanese gave up hope of retaining the Philippines, conceding to the Allies a critical bastion from which Japan could be easily cut off from outside resources, and from which the final assaults on the Japanese home islands could be launched.
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