Intense photos show the WWII Battle of Leyte Gulf — the biggest naval battle of all-time

US NavyView of Princeton’s after port side and flight deck, seen from the light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) as she came alongside to help fight fires during the afternoon of 24 October 1944. Note the aircraft elevator blown out of position and turned upside down, and the flight deck buckled by the hangar deck explosions that followed a Japanese bomb hit

The World War II Battle of Leyte Gulf, a decisive Allied victory that decimated the Japanese Navy, began on Oct. 23 74 years ago.

And it’s considered to be the largest naval battle of all-time.

A few days before the battle began, the Allies (and even General Douglas MacArthur himself) had landed on Leyte island to begin liberating the Phillippines, which the Japanese were intent on stopping.

The result was a horrific three-day battle (which was actually several smaller battles, namely the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Battle off Samar, and the Battle of Cape Engaño) that involved several hundred ships.

In the end, the US had lost three aircraft carriers, two destroyers, several hundred aircraft, took about 3,000 casualties. But the Japanese Navy had lost four carriers, three battleships, six heavy cruisers, nine destroyers, took about 10,000-12,000 casualties, among other losses.

Check out some of the intense photos from the battle.

The USS Princeton light aircraft carrier was hit by a Yokosuka D4Y dive-bomber’s 550-pound bomb. It was the most crucial vessel the US Navy lost during the three-day battle.

US NavyThe Princeton’s flight deck after getting struck during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea on Oct. 24, 1944.

The USS Gambier Bay billowing smoke after likely getting struck by Japanese cruisers, which are credited with sinking the US escort carrier.

Wikimedia CommonsUSS Gambier Bay (CVE 73) and another escort carrier, and two destroyer escorts smoke from battle damage during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.

Read more about escort carriers here.

The USS St. Lo escort carrier just moments after getting struck by a Japanese Kamikaze, pilots trained for suicide attacks meant to destroy US ships. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the first time Japan used Kamikaze fighters.

US NavyThe USS St. Lo (CV 63) burning during the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944.

Despite the US losses, the Allies hit back hard during later engagements of the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

US NavyThe US escort carrier USS Kitkun Bay prepares to launch Grumman FM-2 Wildcat fighters during the Battle of Samar on 25 October 1944. In the distance, Japanese shells are splashing near the USS White Plains.

Perhaps the biggest Japanese loss was the fleet carrier Zuikaku, the flagship of the Japan’s Northern Force, which had also launched planes during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour.

US NavyThe Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.

Here’s a wider shot of the Zuikaku under attack from the air. The Allied planes eventually sunk the Japanese carrier.

US NavyThe Zuikaku under attack during the Battle of Cape Engaño on Oct. 25th, 1944.

The cruisers USS Louisville, USS Portland, USS Minneapolis, USS Denver, and USS Columbia fire simultaneously on Japanese ships.

US NavyUS cruisers fire salvoes on Japanese ships during the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

Two Japanese battleships, the Fusō (front) and possibly the Yamashiro (back), under attack from US planes. Both battleships were sunk during the engagement.

US NavyThe Fusō under air attack just hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

And here’s a view directly on top of either the Fusō or Yamashiro as it’s bombed by US aircraft from above, some of which were launched by the famed aircraft carrier USS Enterprise.

US NavyThe Yamashiro or Fusō under air attack by US aircraft hours before the Battle of Surigao Strait on Oct. 25, 1944.

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