In the fourth week of October, 1944, the United States Navy sank the Japanese fleet. Nearly all of it. Japan lost twenty-eight major surface combatants and more than 300 aircraft in the four-day Battle of Leyte Gulf, fought off the east coast of the Philippines. Leyte Gulf was the final throw of the dice for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which never recovered from the loss.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is well-remembered as the swan song of the battleship, with radar-guided American gunnery scoring dozens of hits on Japanese targets. Less well-known is the fact that it also marked the end of the carrier duel. Leyte Gulf was the last time that opposing fleets launched large numbers of carrier-based aircraft to seek out and destroy their opponents on the high seas.
If the dreadnought battleship era lasted less than forty years, the carrier duel era lasted less than four. The first major carrier-launched naval engagement in history was the November 1940 Battle of Taranto, when British aircraft from the HMS Illustrious struck the Italian fleet at anchor in a miniature Pearl Harbor. The last was Leyte Gulf.
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