Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa was the only Japanese Admiral who successfully carried out his mission at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. His assignment was to take his Northern Force to a position northeast of Luzon Island and lure Halsey’s Third Fleet northward and leave San Bernardino Strait unguarded. Ozawa sent radio messages and some of his aircraft out to make sure Halsey’s search aircraft found his force. And Halsey’s aircraft did find them, inflicting crippling damage, and ended Japan’s presence as a world naval power.
Calling his collection a “force” was a grossly overstatement of fact. His carriers only had about 100 aircraft on board thus leaving his force totally defenseless against any air attacks. The Northern Force did have two 35 year-old battleships, the Ise and the Hyuga, which had been converted into carriers when their rear 14-inch gun turrets were removed and replaced with a flight deck. While these ships did not engage in any surface battles with the Americans, they did put up a highly effective antiaircraft defense against American air attacks.
Ozawa was one of leading advocates of naval aviation in the Japanese Navy. His career was filled with distinction and conducted himself with dignity and honor. Although he was the senior admiral at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, he was not given a leading command position since the Japanese battle plan meant to have his force sacrificed so Kurita’s Center Force could traverse San Bernardino Strait and freely fall upon MacArthur’s invasion forces on the Leyte beaches.
Of all the senior Japanese commanders at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Ozawa escaped the Japanese debacle with honor. Like his entire naval career, he carried out his orders with dedication although the same could not be said for one of his fellow officers.