The Battle of Leyte Gulf

by Thomas J. Cutter.HarperCollins, 343 pages, $25.00.
The author is a retired naval officer who believes that the Battle of Leyte Gulf deserves remembrance as the greatest naval action in history, “the last significant sortie of the Imperial Japanese Navy,” and a pivotal point, because although by October of 1944 the eventual defeat of Japan was widely seen as inevitable, “an American defeat would have been a disaster of great magnitude.” His text supports that estimate. His presentation makes the maneuvers of that enormously complicated and wide-ranging battle comprehensible. He covers the capabilities of the various ships involved, both their weaknesses and their sometimes astounding ability to survive heavy damage. He describes the heroism of individual sailors and pilots, American and Japanese, and does not ignore such mistakes and miscalculations as those that destroyed the timing of the Japanese attack or sent the Americans into a duel of ship against ship with ammunition designed for battle between ship and shore. His material is exciting and his analysis of it is thoughtful and generous, because, as a veteran of Vietnam, he can state, “I sincerely believe that only those who have never been shot at would disparage the actions of men under fire.” This is admirable history, but perhaps not for readers squeamish about horrible wounds bluntly described.