From Leyte to Bessang Pass



Ignacio R. Bunye

Ignacio R. Bunye

Yesterday (October 20) marks the 75th anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Leyte.

It was the first day (D-1) of a nearly one-year campaign to liberate the Philippines from Japanese Occupation.  The occupation effectively ended on September 2, 1945 (D-318) with the surrender of the Japanese overall commander in the Philippines –  General Tomoyuki Yamashita.

In a forthcoming book, From Leyte to Bessang Pass, this writer retells the Liberation story simply and sequentially as it unfolded. This writer also endeavored to retell the story – minus the military jargon – from a Filipino perspective.

We started our narrative  with the Leyte landing (D-1) and re-traced the Allied and Filipino offensives through Mindoro (D-55 to D-58), Lingayen (D-79 to D-82), Manila (D-107 to D-135), Corregidor (D-120 to D-130) …. the various battles to retake Visayas (D-150 to D-170) and Mindanao (D-142 to D-266)…. the final battles at Bessang Pass (D-81 to D-228) and Yamashita’s surrender on September 2, 1945. (D-318)

The series ends with what, at that time, was a highly controversial and very unpopular pardon granted by President ElpidioQuirino to the Japanese “war criminals.”

Like most Filipinos who suffered during the war, President Elpidio Quirino had every reason to hate the Japanese. He lost his wife and three children as desperate, beleaguered Japanese soldiers went on a rampage during the Battle of Manila.

Yet when he had the opportunity, he never exacted revenge. In an extraordinary display of national forgiveness and statesmanship, Quirino pardoned the Japanese war criminals.

This act of national forgiveness is credited for  hastening the conversion of two peoples – the Filipinos and the Japanese – from the worst of enemies to the best of friends.

Here are excerpts from the book:

The Battle of Leyte (D-1 to D-71)

The Battle of Leyte was the start of a US land offensive to recapture the Philippines and to end the 3-year Japanese occupation. US Forces landed in three points in Leyte.

The most publicized of these landings took place on Red Beach, in Palo, Leyte.

After hours of continuous bombardment of Japanese positions, MacArthur waded ashore.

Among the landing party were President Sergio Osmeña and General Carlos P. Romulo.

It was on Red Beach where Mac Arthur announced : “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

On D-1, Japanese resistance was relatively light and elements of the US 6th Army were able to advance 6 miles. But as US soldiers moved farther inland, they met with heavy resistance from reinforced Japanese troops.

It took the US troops until around New Year’s Eve of 1944 (D-71) – or more than two months –to completely retake Leyte.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf (D-4 to D-7)

As this happened, another very important battle (or battles) took place at sea between October 23 and October 26, 1944. (D-4 to D-7)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf actually consisted of several naval and aerial engagements over a wide area. Heavy fighting took place in Palawan Passage, the Sibuyan Sea, Surigao Strait, off Cape Engano and off Samar.

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) desperately attempted to stop or, at least, slow down MacArthur. The IJN’s objective: to destroy the US ships that had participated in the Leyte landing.

The Japanese realized that if they lost Leyte, they would inevitably lose the Philippines. Japan would then lose control of the vital sea lanes that connected the Japanese mainland to its sources of war materials in the East Indies.

Highlights of the sea battles

it was in the Battle of Leyte Gulf that the Japanese forces first used kamikaze (literally, “divine wind”) tactics with devastating results. On October 25,1944, the Kamikaze Special Attack Force carried out its first mission.

One of the US casualties was the carrier USS St. Lo. A kamikaze pilot plowed into its flight deck, causing fires that resulted in the bomb magazine exploding, sinking the carrier.

In two days, the kamikazes inflicted varying degrees of damage on seven US carriers and 40 other ships.

Despite the Japanese heroics, however, the Battle of Leyte Gulf ended disastrously for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The Japanese lost 26 front-line warships (against the US Navy’s loss of 6 front-line warships.)

Japanese losses included the Mushashi, one of the two biggest battleships built in WWII.

In the air, the results were just as lopsided. Carrier-based US planes outgunned the Japanese almost 10 to 1. What was left of the Japanese fleet limped home to Japan or nearby bases for repairs.

After the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Imperial Japanese Navy ceased to function as an effective fighting force.

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