A different Leyte Gulf-Redux

NOTE: As I stated earlier, I intended to bring this back and "tidy it up." I will post it up in chunks at intervals as I continue with my other T/L "Consequence of an Errant Shell". This timeline makes certain assumptions, namely no Shinano or Ibuki to carrier conversion, no waste of time hybrid conversion to Ise and Hyuga, freeing up some yard space to construct four more Atkizuki Class DD's. Anyway, onwards.

0832 17 October 1944

Nobutake Kondo was philosophical in the extreme about the plan as submitted. Never the less, he had never expected to be mounting the bridge of an Imperial Navy battleship operationally again, either. Probably would not have been if Toyoda had been less than impressed by Kurita's lack of "offensive spirit" as Kurita had poured cold water on the proposed operation.

Even as a battleship admiral, the American's huge superiority in aircraft would make this a nightmare. It was hoped that the resources husbanded for the "special attacks" would throw them off their game, a game that had proved itself completely superior in the Philippines Sea engagement. Toyoda had been blunt in his assessment of what needed to be done and was clearly prepared to sacrifice most of the fleet to achieve it. He seemed convinced that the Americans would not be able to cope with heavy losses. If the Philippines, which clearly the attack must hit, were captured, then there would be no oil to operate the fleet anyway. To that end the whole fleet had essentially been committed.

He was quite sanguine in regards to his own fate. The death of his beloved mother in an ironically small raid on Nagasaki in August had made him even more so. The forces under his command were vast, it was true, even counting those forces the plan called to be detached under Shoji Nishimura and Ozawa's decoy force.

As he looked across the bay at the vast bulk of Shinano, which had arrived only four days ago on the 13th, he gave thanks to the gods twice. Firstly that Toyoda had duly kept his promise and provided whatever reinforcements that could be garnered, including most of 5th Fleet. Secondly, he had been able to use what little influence he had with the His Majesty due to their previous ties as his aide de camp to suggest that his friend Abe had not been retired and that together they had scuttled two ridiculous plans put forward by the aviation admirals, namely cutting down two battleships to hybrid carriers for low performance planes and secondly that he had her built as a battleship. Converting her would have required more resources than not.

He reviewed the forces assigned to the operation and it's smaller brother, Operation T, the reinforcement of Morotai and it's component parts, almost every operational ship in the navy. They consisted of:

Center Force (Kondo)
Yamato Class BB Yamato, Musashi, Shinano*(completed September 1944)
Nagato Class BB Nagato
Kongo Class BB Kongo, Haruna
Unryu Class CV Amagi(28 planes only)
Myoko Class CA Myoko, Nachi, Haguro, Ashigara
Takao Class CA Takao, Atago, Maya, Chokai
Mogami Class CA Kumano, Suzuya
Tone Class CA Tone, Chikuma
Ibuki Class CA Ibuki*(not converted completed September 1944)
Agano Class CL Yahagi, Noshiro, Sakawa*(completed August 1944)
Kuma Class CL Kiso
Atkizuke Class DD Akzikuke, Hatsuzuki, Shimotzuki, Wakatzuki, Yamazuki*, Urazuki*, Haratsuki*, Natsuzuki*
Yagumo Class DD Naganami, Fujinami, Okainami, Hamanami, Okinami, Kishinami, Agashimo, Hayashimo, Akishimo, Kiyoshimo
Shimakaze Class DD Shimikaze
Kagero Class DD Yukikaze, Urakaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Nowaki, Shiranui
Fubuki Class DD Akebono, Ushio

Southern Force (Nishimura)
Hyuga Class BB Ise, Hyuga
Fuso Class BB Fuso, Yamashiro
Mogami Class CA Mogami
Nagara Class CL Abukuma
Asashio Class DD Michishio, Yamagumo, Asagumo, Kasumi
Shiratsuyo Class DD Shigure
Hatsuharo Class DD Hatsushimo, Wakaba, Hatsuharu

Northern Force (Ozawa)
Shokaku Class CV Zuikaku
Unryu Class CV Unryu, Katsuragi
Zuiho Class CV Zuiho
Chiyoda Class CVL Chitose, Chiyoda
144 planes only total
Oyodo Class CL Oyodo
Nagara Class CL Isuzu
Kuma Class CL Tama
Matsu Class DDE Maki, Sugi, Kuwa, Kiri, Momo, Ume, Momi, Hinoki, Kaya, Kashi

Northern Force Refueling convoy
DD Akikaze
3 PG
2 AO

Aircraft Ferry Mission to Formosa
CVE Shinyo, Kaiyo
DD Shiokaze
2 DE

Troop reinforcement convoy to Philippines
CVL Hosho
CL Kashii, Kashima
DD Yukaze
2 Chidori Class TB
2 PG

Ammunition resupply and post operation support convoy to Brunei
CV Junyo
AMC Yukishima Maru
DD Uzuki, Yuzuki

Operation T, reinforcement convoy to Morotai (Admiral Hashimoto)
CVL Ryuho
(18 aircraft)
CA Aoba
CL Kinu, Kitikami
DD Yukaze, Uranami, Sawakazi, Asoga, Kamikaze, Hatakaze
TB Kiji, Kari

Convoy bearing Philippines treasury and strategic materials to Japan(Tominaga)
CL Yasoshima
DD Harukaze, Take, Kuratake
3 PG
2 MS
10 Transports
2 Fleet Supply ships

It was a seemingly vast force. He wondered how long it would last in the face of the huge American fleet.
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You have made changes to the Japanese fleets, are the US fleets the same?

Yes, after I finished my Australian timeline I thought I would tidy up this. No changes to the US fleet as such, although some of these forces are ones that I had operating in the background in my own mind anyway. Very few ships have been added that were actually "doing nothing." The only group I have added is a group out of Singapore to reinforce Morotai, which was still the subject of dispute at the time.
1035 17 October 1944

Kondo was in his day cabin when his steward came with the telegram. "Activate Sho 1". From Toyoda. It contained the usual exhortations and wishes of success. Well, he thought, the die is cast. He had a duty to his family, his mother and his Emperor. Chances of success may be small, but surely there was some chance.

Air cover was the main issue. He could expect little from Amagi. She carried only 28 planes. All her pilots were very experienced being "dredged up" from the IJN Pilot training school normally based on Hosho but numbers were too small for them to be any more than a reconnaissance force really.

Putting aside the telegram, he read about the recent supplement to the air strength in the Philippines. The "Special Attack Unit" that was in training had been moved from Formosa to Manila last week. It contained 58 planes. Another 38 conventional aircraft had also been striped from Formosa. That may be some sort of boost for the First Air Fleet. "First Air Fleet" seemed an amusing moniker to Kondo for a unit with 46 planes all up, 6 of those obsolete trainers.

Pulling on his coat and cap, he quickly climbed to the bridge of the Yamato and began giving the orders. Nishimura and Shima were called aboard for conference and a departure time was set. By tomorrow at noon the fleet would weigh anchor and depart Lingga Roads. A refueling stop would be required at Brunei Bay and then the forces would be split.

According to Toyoda, Ozawa would be leaving the Inland Sea on approximately the 20th. Hashimoto's force for Operation T would depart Singapore for Surabaya on the same day. It was all going according to plan so far. I wonder how long that will last he thought with a snort.
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1834 17 October 1944

Commander Gerd van Nord had the submarine patrolling the Java Sea and had finally struck pay dirt. HNLMS Zwaardvisch had a beautiful setup on both ships, having dived under the port flanking escort and the second escort being well to starboard. Two minelayers, one towing a seemingly crippled second ship. he determined that he would fire a full spread of torpedoes, four at the crippled ship, two at the far escort and two external tubes at the leading minelayer.

He was rewarded with one solid hit on each minelayer. For the damaged Itsukushima, her stern blown off, it was a quick death. The towing vessel, the 1,300 ton minelayer Wakataka, it was to take 12 hours before the flooding was to result in her settling gently by the bow.

Zwaardvisch was able to escape unscathed.
1212 19 October 1944

Jisaburo Ozawa watched as the fleet made ready for departure from his flagship. He had no illusions in regards to all their fates. He was saddened by the thoughts of the sufferings of the men under his command that he was certain was to come. Hopefully something could be achieved in exchange for their sacrifice.

The fact that the fleet was a paper tiger was well known to him. It would look impressive steaming at sea, without doubt, which is what it's purpose was, after all. With only 144 aircraft between his 6 carriers they were woefully undermanned. Unfortunately 86 of those were A6M's. Good for fleet defense but not effective as an attacking forces. Only 88 pilots were qualified for deck landing, meaning that most of the attack wave he hoped to launch could not reland on the carriers and would have to carry on to land bases. There would only be one wave of attackers, although perhaps an initial wave of A6M's may distract the Americans before the second, real launch..

He watched the Shinyo and Kaiyo at the dock rapidly being prepared. They were slated for an air transport mission to carry aircraft to Formosa to replace those redeployed to the Philippines. Three old Minekaze and Kamakaze Class destroyers had been rapidly assembled as a screen.

Even his escorts, all Matsu Class destroyer escorts, were not normally used as fleet destroyers, being built originally for escort command. Only the Oyodo, his flagship, was designed for fleet service. At least the formation had an impressive number of anti aircraft mounts fitted. They would need them, he was sure.
1916 22 October 1944

Admiral Marc Mitscher was happy with proceedings so far. His fast carrier aircraft had been sweeping the Philippines area looking for targets and had so far bagged a minelayer, two escorts, two minesweepers, three landing craft and 8 transports

US submarines had also taken their toll, sinking 10 transports and a small liner. Unbeknownst to Mitscher, five of these had been carrying troops for the Philippines, with over 5,000 Japanese soldiers killed at sea.
1933 22 October 1944

Commander James Ashley's USS Seadragon had been lucky. The small Japanese formation, one carrier, two cruisers, one destroyer and four escorts had zagged back onto a track that brought them into almost the perfect 90 degrees firing solution relative to the submarine. He had fired five torpedoes at the small carrier and then turned and fired two more at the cruiser directly behind her.

He was to gain more hits on the cruiser than the carrier, however, one hit on the small carrier Hosho was enough to ensure her destruction. Small, poorly protected and always unstable in running seas due to her large top weight, the small carrier was to turn turtle a bare 40 minutes later. The second cruiser in line, the former training cruiser Kashii, was hit by two torpedoes. One had hit amidships under the funnel but the second had hit directly under the forward 140mm twin gun turret, the explosion detonating the magazine and sheering off the bow of the ship. As a bonus, one torpedo had gone head of the carrier and impacted on the old destroyer Yukaze, quickly sealing her doom.

With two of the three largest ships in the troop carrying convoy to Manila both sinking quickly, the sea was littered with struggling IJA infantrymen and loss of life was to be very heavy indeed.

It was only that morning that the Seadragon had sunk two small liners and a cargo vessel out of a small convoy and escaped unscathed. With now only one torpedo left aft, it was almost time to conclude an incredibly successful patrol, though her captain, as she slunk away unscathed again.
0456 23 October 1944

It had been a fitful sleep for Kondo. Somewhat uselessly, he had been turning over in his own mind the wisdom of the option that he had chosen, as he had many times since splitting with Nishimura's Southern Force. Had he miscalculated using the Palawan Passage? It's shallow waters and lack of room to maneuver offered all that would be required for a submarine commander. Yet the other two possibilities were either unattractive or impossible.

The first option, sweeping out into the South China Sea and then East into Mindoro Straight would have been his preferred option, however, the lack of tankers and shortages of fuel in general made this non starter. The second option he had weighed up was using the Balabac Strait, then crossing the Sulu Sea. Much less dangerous from a submarine perspective, but within range of American and Australian air recon units based at Morotai. The element of surprise was, after all, paramount to this plan.

He could only trust the gods he had made the right decision. He had ordered anti submarine patrols to start at first light using aircraft from Amagi. Hopefully that should be enough. The fleet was spread in a five column cruising formation used for night steaming with destroyers on both flanks and in the middle row. Two picket destroyers patrolled ahead. He would be glad when they were out of such confined waters.

He duly finished the small snack that had been laid out, took a final sip of his tea and moved out of the cabin.

Kondo looked at his watch. 5.33am. He had just received a routine report from Captain Yammamori that the Amagi had launched this morning's air patrol. The dawn was just breaking, the scene overwhelmingly peaceful as the battleship made a routine heel to port as part of her zig zag routine. He was woolgathering again about his choices when distracted by the sudden yells of his staff. Immediately obvious off the port bow was a huge column of flame emerging from the sea. The enemy had drawn first blood.
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0512 23 October 1944

Of all the nightmare scenarios that had played out in his mind during last nights on and off sleep, this ranked right up there. Hit by 5 torpedoes the Atago had gone down very rapidly, sinking at 0523. The ship had gone down so quickly it seemed a miracle that nearly 500 survivors had been rescued. As a consequence of the same attack the Takao was also hit badly, two hits on the stern blowing off the rudder and shearing two screws. Clearly crippled and unable to continue he had ordered her back to Brunei with the destroyer Naganami. After the initial attack and a turn away to port he had been hoping that it was perhaps only a destroyer that had been hit. The bitterness at seeing two huge columns of smoke from both ships was keen indeed.

He had then made possibly his second mistake for the day. Ordering an increase in speed to clear the danger area he had run straight into a second ambush in the confusion. The recently completed heavy cruiser Ibuki would never see combat now. Yet another cruiser hit by five torpedo strikes, she had been struck at 0557 and gone down at 0603 in only 6 minutes. Again, surprisingly, over 600 men were rescued.
The seemingly successful prosecution of the attack against the submarine by the fleet's destroyers and planes from the Amagi had seemed like scant consolation. Also, the likelihood of the submarines in question sending sighting reports back to their own HQ had not passed him by. Surprise would be hard to achieve now.
1806 23 October 1944

Rear Admiral Shintarō Hashimoto's had transited from Singapore to Surabaya for the prosecution of Operation T without incident, although he was not naïve enough to assume that it had not been noticed.

It was a disparate force, his flagships, the heavy cruiser Aoba, never properly repaired from engine damage in 1943 that limited her speed to 24 knots. The carrier Ryuho, with boiler damage also that limited her to 26 knots and only 18 aircraft. Two old light cruisers, five old destroyers out of six, plus two torpedo boats. In addition, he would sail that night with his ships packed with troops, another distraction.
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0805 24 October 1944

Kondo perused the dispatches one last time. The fleet was steaming steadily through the Mindoro Strait. Today was crucial day. If things went according to plan the Americans should receive a visit from 3 separate strike forces.

Firstly, Ozawa was in position and should be launching a strike very soon. He was also, as arranged, to start radio broadcasting at the same time in the hope of attracting the American's attention. General Tominaga had planned a strike by much of the 4th Air Army's strength on the carrier groups off Samar. He hoped to have almost 150 planes available. Lastly, the First and Second Air Fleets had over 200 airplanes they hoped to use on the American carrier group operating off central Luzon. This would exhaust nearly all strength aside from the "Special Attack Units." Kondo would have counseled using those to but Toyoda had wanted to see the results of more conventional strikes first.

No further mishaps had occurred and his mood had brightened somewhat. The Americans seem not to have detected his presence. 2nd Air Fleet had even provided a CAP. Four planes! He smiled wryly. Today and tonight would go a long way towards deciding not only the course of the war but his own place in history.
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0829 24 October 1944

Admiral William "Bull" Halsey was a happy man. Finally the Japanese had emerged from their rabbit holes and he would have his chance to crush their fleet after all. Kenney had been wrong. Halsey had thought pre invasion that the Japanese would be likely to contest the possession of the Islands. Yet Kenney had been adamant that after June humiliation that they would not have the resources to do so. Well, one thing about the Japs is that they sure did not know when they were beaten.

He looked at the first signal. "5BB, 10CA, 21DD". Mindoro Strait. It had arrived only 8 minutes ago. Coincidentally only 6 minutes after that "5BB, 10DD". Heading towards the Suragio Strait. This must be it. It seemed their whole strength. Except their carriers. He'd give his left arm to know where they are, he mused.

He gave the necessary orders to "Mick" Carney to implement, concentrating Task Groups 38.3, 38.2 and 38.4. He also issued a recall order for McCain's 38.1 from it's planned rest and replenishment at Ulithi.

He wondered about the Japanese force that had been sighted moving to Surabaya. That contained a carrier and a cruiser, as well as five destroyers some patrol vessels. If it was to be attacked, it would have to be via land based air, as the only major surface asset in the area was the USS Indianapolis and a few US and Australia destroyers.
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0814 24 October 1944

Kondo scanned the information on submarine dispositions. 14 submarines committed plus 3 more to the attack on Ulithi, plus two more nearing the combat area. It may be some help. Nishimura confirmed uninterrupted progress so far and did not believe he had been spotted. Kondo worried whether he was the right man for the job. Nishimura had been silent and withdrawn at Brunei. He knew his only son had recently been killed in a seaplane accident. It seemed to affect him with a fatalistic lassitude of dangerous proportions.

An aide passed over another message that fully confirmed Kondo's fears. The fleet had been likely both sighted and reported. One of the B6N's from Amagi running unexpectedly into a lone American dive bomber. After some moments of indecision at 0832 he ordered the fleet brought to 25 knots. It was the maximum that could be expected of the lumbering Nagato.
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0842 24 October 1944

Rear Admiral Frederick Sherman scanned Halsey's communication, routed direct to himself rather than through Mitcher. It ordered a strike on the force transiting the Mindoro Strait. May be a mite difficult at present, was his first thought. Radar had picked up a large Japanese raid of 70+ aircraft closing on the fleet. The CAP currently aloft amounted to only nine Hellcats, admittedly led by the vastly experienced Essex air group commander David McCampbell. More fighters had been launched, of course, but would take some time to reach altitude.

The Task Group should not lack for AA firepower, boasting as it did no fewer than four battleships, namely Alabama, Washington, Massachusetts and South Dakota, in addition to Essex, Lexington and the two CVL's Cowpens and Independence.

By 0912 the initial attack was all over. Upon interception the Jap bombers had scattered and the fighter formed a defensive Lufberry circle. McCampbell had waited for this to break up before savaging the Japanese formation. Within 20 minutes he had personally shot down nine aircraft. Indeed 28 had been "splashed" by the nine Hellcats- only one of which had been lost in return. AA fire had been particularly devastating on the small number of TBF's the Jap's had deployed and if claims were to be believed another 16 planes had been brought down by the Task Groups AA fire.

The only hit obtained during the melee has a 60kg bomb hit on the Alabama, smashing a 20mm mount and killing one man even though the bomb itself had ironically failed to explode. Radar had detected another strike, perhaps slightly smaller, inbound, however. Going to be a busy morning, he thought.
0844 24 October 1944

Rear Admiral Ralph Davison scanned Halsey's order before turning again to the two contact reports. Obviously the main threat was the force heading to the San Bernadino Strait. However, TG 38.4 were in the best position to hit the smaller group to the South. He was tasked to "keep an eye on it" with recon planes in any case. Perhaps a smaller strike to attack this force whilst most of the Task Force prepared a major strike against the main target.

Like many admiral so far in this war, he looked across the way with confidence at the Enterprise steaming to port. Perhaps a small element of VB-20 combined with the San Jacinto's air group may sow some confusion in this Southern Force. It was worth a try he thought.
0910 24 October 1944

Rear Admiral Gerald Bogan looked aloft with profound satisfaction. TG 38.2 had launched it's first strike with a second on the way. They were the closest placed to the enemy force in the Sibyuan Sea and therefore the best placed to attack. Unlike Sherman's task force, they had not seen any enemy planes and his crews had worked like the well oiled machine they were. 21 Hellcats, 12 Helldivers and 12 Avengers circled aloft as a testament to their labours.

He was confident he could crank out another strike of 30+ machines in the next hour and a half or so. That should give the Japs something to think about.
0913 24 October 1944

Kondo had issued the necessary orders to close up the fleet into a steaming formation for air attack. It would seem a matter now only of time before American aircraft arrived. He had high hopes for the San Shiki 18 inch anti aircraft rounds. They had supposedly been tested quite successfully.

He had no illusions that the small number of aircraft protecting the fleet would be able to keep the American aerial armada off his back for long. Four fighters still droned overhead plus he had ordered a CAP flown from the Amagi of 6 more A6M's. Looking over at the Amagi from his flagship he could make out the new, larger fighter parked in the "ready" spot on the deck. Shame they had only one. Well, they had wanted a combat trial, he mused. At least they had given him the best pilot. Aside from the fighters aloft he only had six other fighters available. The 15 others being dive and torpedo bombers respectively, little use in aerial combat.

Unless one counted the two A6M's that had arrived crated at the dockside just prior to departure with no real explanation, according to the Amagi's Captain. The ship's maintenance and technical staff were assembling the two extra now. It seemed almost as mysterious as the pallet full of anmitsu dessert, a delicacy he had not seen since 1942, that had arrived for loading on Shinano. In his years in the navy he had met many incompetent officers. Yet it seemed more than a coincidence that so many seemed to reside in the IJN Supply Branch. What use they thought he could find for a pallet full of desserts he had no idea, let alone where they had been found in a country where food was increasing hard to find.
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