Book Review: Leyte: June 1944 – January 1945 by Samuel Eliot Morison

Topic & Content

Published in 1958, this book is Volume XII of the 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. As with other volumes in this series, this book can be read as a standalone account, and the reader doesn’t necessarily need to have read any of the previous volumes (although having that historical context can help). Also, understand that many of the books in this collection cover overlapping time periods in different theaters due to the global nature of the war. This particular volume covers the time period of June 1944 to January 1945. (The next book covers the rest of the liberation of the Philippines.) The book is organized as follows:

Part I: Strategy and Preliminaries

  • I. After the Marianas, What? June – September 1944
  • II. Morotai, September – November 1944
  • III. The Palaus and Ulithi, September – November 1944
  • IV. Plans and Commands for Leyte, September – October 1944
  • V. Leyte Logistics
  • VI. Formosa Air Battle, 10 – 20 October 1944

Part II: The Amphibious Phase

  • VII. Preliminaries, 7 – 20 October 1944
  • VIII. The Main Landings, 20 – 29 October 1944

Part III: The Battle for Leyte Gulf

  • IX. Moves on the Naval Chessboard, 17 – 24 October 1944
  • X. The Air Battles of 24 October
  • XI. The Battle of Surigao Strait, 24 – 25 October 1944
  • XII. The Battle off Samar – The Main Action, 25 October 1944
  • XIII. The Battle off Samar, Break-off and Pursuit, 25 – 29 October 1944
  • XIV. The Battle off Cape Engano, 25 – 26 October 1944
  • XV. Naval Operations around Leyte, 26 October – 25 November 1944
  • XVI. Leyte Secured, 16 November 1944 – 10 May 1945
  • XVII. Submarine Patrols, September – November 1944

Appendix I – Task Organization for the Invasion of Leyte, 17 – 25 October 1944

Appendix II – Japanese Forces in the Battle for Leyte Gulf

The narrative moves mostly in chronological order with some overlap since the actions that occurred during the Battle of Leyte Gulf were all linked. Still, the book is focused on the operational aspects of the U.S. Navy’s operations around Leyte.

Thesis

There isn’t really a thesis to this particular book, per se. However, the main point of the book is to examine the U.S. Navy’s operations prior to, during, and shortly after the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.

Author’s Background

According to the biographical blurb in the book, Samuel Eliot Morison was originally a professor of American History at Harvard University. Wanting to write a more intimate and insider’s perspective of the war, he convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to authorize him to write a History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. In April 1942, Morison was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Naval Reserve and given free rein to go around to various ships and commands within the Navy to document operations and interview commanders. He spent more than half of his time during the war at sea on 11 different ships and ended the war at the rank of Captain with seven battle stars on his ribbons. He was present during Operation Torch (the North Africa landings), served in the Atlantic, and in various areas of the Pacific Theater. He was put on the Retired List in 1951 as a Rear Admiral.

Morison retired from Harvard in 1955 and continued to write for the rest of his life. Working with a team of researchers, his monumental work, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II was published in 15 volumes from 1947 – 1962.

Critical Observations

Positives

Believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve actually read one of the books in this series cover-to-cover. Morison’s massive 15-volume series of U.S. naval operations in World War II is a classic of military history when it comes to WWII. I’ve previously only used parts of them in research. (At the time of writing, I’m doing research on the Battle of Leyte Gulf, hence why I read this volume.) Even at that, it will be some time before I get around to reading the remaining 14 volumes!

The book is focused on naval operations, so if you’re looking for lots of personal remembrances, then this book isn’t for you. There are recollections from some of the participants involved (usually high-ranking officers), but they’re largely just quotes that are spread throughout the book. Morison doesn’t let the narrative get bogged down with endless personal stories and firmly keeps the focus on the 15,000 ft. operational perspective of the action. You’ll learn about the ships and formations and what role they played in the battles. In these books, the naval vessels and aircraft become the personalities.

Morison is a good writer and the book is easy to read for the layperson, while at the same time having a good amount of details for the more well-informed reader. Subsequently, this is a great book for understanding the large moving parts of the operations and doesn’t bog down too much in the minutiae. While historical scholarship on the U.S. Navy in WWII has progressed substantially in the nearly 80 years since the end of the war, few authors are able to convey the events in writing as well as Morison. His writing just has a really good flow to it!

Negatives

While the book contains quite a bit of detail regarding the overall operations of the time period under discussion, there are occasions when it leaves the reader wanting more details. Some parts of the book are very detailed, and others tend to gloss over things.

As with any source that was published relatively soon after the war, there are some gaps in the information. For instance, much of the intelligence picture is rather vague (given that some of the information was probably still classified at the time) and Morison, while having the connections to interview some of the surviving Japanese officers, probably didn’t have access to nearly as much documentation on the Japanese side as we have today. This is largely what accounts for some of the vague information you occasionally run into with Morison’s books. Consequently, as with the other volumes of this series, some of the information and details may be outdated or inaccurate, and more recent research has corrected some of these deficiencies. Therefore, for anyone doing research on U.S. naval operations in WWII, then Morison’s books are a great place to start, but further research is warranted from more recent sources, particularly when it comes to specific details.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

Overall, based on this one volume, Morison’s work still stands as a landmark study of naval operations in WWII. His writing is smooth and accessible. Morison provides an incredible amount of details considering the no doubt huge amounts of research required for even one of these books. While more recent scholarship has corrected some of the inaccuracies in these books, they still possess great value in helping us understand WWII naval operations.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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