Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, 1889-1977

Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita (1889-1977) was a senior Japanese admiral who took was present at Midway, the fighting around Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, but who is best remembered for his failure to take advantage of a potentially good position during the battle of Leyte Gulf.

Kurita was born into a scholarly family, but decided to join the navy. He was a rear admiral in 1941, and commander of the Western Covering Force and then the Western Attack Group. He then commanded the amphibious assault on St. Nicholas Point at the north-western tip of Java (28 February 1942).

Kurita's next move was to the Midway Occupation Force (Admiral Kondo). Kurita commanded the Close Support Group, and was meant to provide a pre-invasion bombardment to support the amphibious assault on Midway Island. After the Japanese suffered a heavy defeat in the naval Battle of Midway Kurita was ordered to withdraw.

He remained under Kondo's command during the fighting around Guadalcanal. He now commanded the Support Group of Kondo's Advance Force of the Guadalcanal Supporting Forces. In this role Kurita carried out a devastating bombardment of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal (13-14 October 1942). He was present during the naval battle of Guadalcanal (12-14 November 1942) but didn't make a major contribution.

Late in 1943 Kurita was given command of the 2nd Fleet. When the Americans invaded Saipan Kurita acted as the advance guard for Admiral Ozawa's 1st Mobile Fleet, which contained the main Japanese carrier force. He was thus present at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (or Great Marianas Turkey Shoot) in which Ozawa's fleet suffered a heavy defeat and huge numbers of irreplaceable naval aviators were lost, along with three aircraft carriers.  

After this defeat Ozawa's remaining carriers retreated to the Inland Sea where new aviators were being trained. Kurita, with the main Japanese battleships, moved to the Lingga Roads, south of Singapore, where he was close to the main Japanese sources of fuel.

Both fleets played a part in the Japanese navy's final battle of the war - the battle of Leyte Gulf. When the Americans landed on Leyte the Japanese started Operation Sho-1 (Victory One), the plan for the defence of the Philippines. Ozawa was to sail south from Japan and attack the American fleets from the north while Kurita approached from the west, sailed through the middle of the Philippines and attacked the American shipping in Leyte Gulf. Kurita approved of the overall plan, but didn't agree with the idea of making the American invasion fleet the target - the invasion began on 20 October and his fleet didn't leave Borneo until 21 October with orders to enter Leyte Gulf on the 25th. By the time they arrived the transport ships would be empty. Kurita's protests were overruled, although he was given permission to attack any carriers he encountered. Kurita's junior officers were also opposed to the idea of risking the battleships of the Japanese fleet just to destroy some transport ships, but Kurita was able to win them over.

Things began to go wrong well before Kurita reached the Philippines. In the two day Battle of the Sibuyan Sea (23-24 October) US Submarines sank two of his cruisers (including his flagship) while on 24 October American aircraft sank the giant battleships Musashi. Kurita split his fleet in two. He took the largest part of the fleet and aimed for the San Bernardino Strait, which would bring him out north of Leyte Gulf. The smaller part, under Admiral Nishimura, was sent towards the Surigao Strait.

Early on 25 October this smaller fleet was intercepted by American battleships and almost wiped out (battle of the Surigao Strait). Kurita didn’t know that the main American carriers and fast battleships had gone north to chase Ozawa, and so when he encountered Taffy 3, a group of six escort carriers from the 7th Fleet, he believed he was facing a force of fleet carriers and cruisers. In the resulting battle of Samar (25 October 1944) Kurita's battleships managed to sink one of the six escort carriers, but just as he was on the verge of a major victory Kurita decided to withdraw from combat, regroup and continue south into Leyte Gulf. At 12.30 he gave up on this move and turned north, apparently in an attempt to find a carrier group that had falsely been reported north of Leyte Gulf. After failing to find this phantom group he gave up and returned back down the San Bernardino Strait.

Kurita's actions might well have been justified by the information available to him, but his lack of aggression effectively ended his naval career. He cooperated with American historians after the war and survived until 1977.  

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (8 May 2012), Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, 1889-1977 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_kurita_takeo.html

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