John Prados, Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy. New York: NAL Caliber, 2016. 400 pp.
Review By Lt. Col. Courtney Short USA, PhD
Department of History, United States Air Force Academy
In Storm Over Leyte: The Philippine Invasion and the Destruction of the Japanese Navy, John Prados argues that the Battle of Leyte Gulf was a pivotal, if not the most important, event of the Pacific War. According to Prados, combat at Leyte Gulf achieved the most thorough destruction of the Imperial Japanese Navy and created conditions that limited strategic options for American leadership. Specifically, action at Leyte Gulf committed the United States to selecting the Philippines, as opposed to Taiwan, as the hub of a blockade against the Japanese. Geographically, a blockade centered on the Philippines lacked the ability to effectively seal off Japan from its resources. Continued access to resources prevented a more immediate collapse of Japanese war-making capability, thereby forcing American strategists, desperate to hasten the end of the war, to favor more expedient and violent military options – such as an invasion of Japan or use of the Atomic Bomb.
Prados bases his work on previously unknown and unused sources, gained through his position as senior fellow at the National Security Archive, such as newly discovered diaries, Prisoner of War interrogations, privileged military communications, and once unavailable intelligence reports. Despite analyzing unexamined evidence, Prados finds that the new sources only verify what is already known about the historical event; he is able to draw a more complete picture of the events, but rarely does the new information counter the canon of knowledge about Leyte that already exists. Prados admirably uses the collaborating evidence to effectively enhance the accepted Pacific War scholarship. His research, for example, reinforces the known idea that the Emperor had limited influence over his military leaders yet also acknowledges that the Emperor issued orders and attempted to direct action despite ultimately getting overruled. The more comprehensive, and therefore more accurate, image of the Emperor expands on our understanding of the Japanese ruler by drawing a believably complex picture of a man that desired a more assertive role in his country’s affairs despite his failure to achieve such a position. Prados also develops the personalities of Japanese Admirals and Colonels. He takes great care in depicting them as dynamic people with full opinions and temperaments. The extensive descriptions of the Japanese leaders’ character traits help the reader better understand the motivations behind Japanese actions at Leyte. The Japanese are portrayed as thinkers, planners, strategists, and opponents worth analyzing.
On rare occasion, the new sources do reveal a crucial detail absent from other scholarly works. Prados unveils two secret dispatches that demonstrate that Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey knew the location of Admiral Takeo Kurita’s fleet. Unlike previous accounts that gently admonish Halsey for a poor but understandable decision to head north, Prados holds Halsey accountable for a prideful singular focus on only one objective, a careless disregard for the larger situation, and a pompous commitment to his decision. When armed with new information, Prados provides quality analysis that contributes to the historical dialogue.
Prados limits his focus to the Battle of Leyte Gulf and provides only information before and after the event as needed for understanding. The work benefits from such succinct organization by building a solid frame within which Prados masterfully builds characters, crafts an accessible narrative, and writes in an easy, conversational tone. He wisely eliminates casual vignettes and tangential story-telling to streamline his history along a chronological path.
A prolific author and Pulitzer Prize nominee, Prados has experience with both writing and publishing. His handling of the material exposes a clear passion for his subject and, regardless of any existing gaps in scholarly knowledge of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Prados needed to write this book for his own indulgence as well. Informal readers of military history will greatly appreciate the robust depiction of the event and the inclusive, fair treatment of both Allied and Axis players. With the exception of the rare offering of a few new analytical viewpoints, however, the book’s confirmation of already accepted conclusions may prove tiresome to strict academics. Overall, Prados does offer a well-executed, richly detailed account of the Battle of Leyte Gulf that should find a home on most military history enthusiast’s book shelves.