Leyte 1944 - The Soldiers' Battle, Nathan N. Prefer

Leyte 1944 - The Soldiers' Battle, Nathan N. Prefer

The battle of Leyte was one of the key battles of the Pacific War, but it is generally overshadowed by the massive naval battle of Leyte Gulf that it triggered, and by the better known Marine Corps island battles on the road the Japan. And yet the land battle on Leyte was the decisive battle in the US return to the Philippines - at the last minute the Japanese chose to make their made defensive effort on Leyte instead of Luzon, and strongly reinforced the garrison. When the Americans came to invade Luzon the Japanese garrison there had been greatly weakened, forcing the Japanese into a doomed passive defence. The land battle for Leyte thus deserves to be rather better known and yet there are very few, if any, books that focus on the land battle. 

This was very clearly an infantry battle. Tanks only play a minor role in most of the account, struggling to cope with the swamps in the flatter areas and almost totally unusable during the harsh fights for the ridges. Artillery was hugely significant, airpower apparently less so, at least in part because Leyte turned out to be very short of suitable locations for airfields. Amphibious tanks played a surprisingly large role, being used to outflank Japanese positions. I was surprised at just how many small scale amphibious assaults took place during the wider battle for Leyte, with the sea used to avoid some of the problems of terrain and the lack of good roads.

This is a very detailed account of the battle. As with any really detailed account of a largely infantry battle that does sometimes mean that the overall picture gets a little lost in the detail, but Prefer has done a good job of making sure that happens as little as possible.

One nice touch is the skilful way in which individual acts of bravery are woven into the narrative, especially where the recipient received the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross. Many of these awards were granted for actions that had a real impact on the course of the battle, holding off Japanese attacks or storming difficult defensive positions, and so they fit nicely into the main text.

The maps that are included are good, one shows the original American plan and others focus on particular elements of the battle. I would have liked an overall map of the Philippines to give a clear idea of where Leyte fitted into the archipelago, and a topographical map of Leyte, although the first map does show the higher ground and some key towns.

This should become the definitive history of this important battle, with a good mix of the overall picture and detailed accounts of the hard individual battles that went to make up the overall campaign. 

1 - Decision for the Philippines
2 - I Have Returned
3 - Into the Valleys
4 - Into the Mountains - Breakneck Ridge
5 - Into the Mountains - Kilay Ridge
6 - Into the Mountains - Shoestring Ridge
7 - The 'Old Bastards' Land
8 - The Last Valley
9 - The Japanese Retreat
10 - The Bitter End
US Forces Order of Battle, Leyte 1944
Japanese Order of Battle, Leyte 1944
US Army Battle Casualties, Leyte, 20 Oct 1944-8 May 1945

Author: Nathan N. Prefer
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 394
Publisher: Casemate
Year: 2012

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