Harold Jansen spoke about his experiences at a meeting of the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group on Saturday, August 8, 2015, at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum.
For a fun refresher on the Battle of Leyte Gulf, try an animated tutorial or a longer C-Span lecture or article by a WWII historian. Want more? Then check out the evolution of the .50-caliber machine gun that fired at kamikazi pilots from PT boats, or see how a photo of the Leyte battle can serve as an aid to memory and writing.
Jansen, in 1944 at the age of 21, as seen on a LCT (Landing Craft Tank) in the battle of the Philippines
Jansen was aboard a small landing craft that sat unguarded, along with the rest of the American invasion fleet, off the coast of Leyte Island in the Philippines on Oct. 25, 1944. The fleet of U.S. warships protecting the transports had been lured away by a Japanese decoy force.
The U.S. transport ships were sitting ducks for a large Japanese fleet of battleships and cruisers approaching from the north. The enemy warships almost certainly would have annihilated the U.S. invasion fleet if they had broken through a thin group of small American warships.
Jansen, a 20-year-old ensign, was the second in command of a 200-foot-long landing craft, LCT 958. Jansen and the rest of the crew prepared to scuttle their ship if the enemy battleships broke through.
“We were nervously sitting there hoping they wouldn’t get through,” said Jansen, who now lives in Rapid City. “They would have had a field day with us.”
Luckily for the U.S. transports, the small force of outgunned American destroyers, along with planes from several small aircraft carriers, fought ferociously against the bigger Japanese warships, which eventually retreated, their commanders mistakenly thinking they had encountered the main force of large American warships. The invasion fleet was saved, but at a high price.
The big Japanese warships sank two U.S. escort carriers, two destroyers, and a destroyer escort and damaged four other American ships. More than 1,000 American sailors and air crew men were killed.
That battle, off Samar Island, was one of four major engagements that, together, were called the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Japanese navy suffered major losses in the rest of the battles, which effectively ended it as a major force for the remainder of the war, according to World War II historians.
Adapted from front-page article by Steve Miller and photographer Toby Brusseau for The Rapid City Journal, March 7, 2010.