Business Lessons from The Battle of Samar and the US Navy


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If you want to understand the US Navy, then you need to understand the naval battle of Samar in the San Bernardino Strait on October 25, 1944 between the United States Navy and the Imperial Navy of Japan. The naval battle was between a seemingly inferior naval force of US Destroyer Escorts, small ships, against the main battle line destroyers and battleships of Imperial Japan.  The Japanese fleet out-numbered, out-gunned, out-armored and out-manned the Americans.  Yet, the Americans fought their small ships incredibly well and fought the Japanese to a draw.  The intensity and fury of the US Navy’s defense against the attacking Japanese convinced the Japanese to withdraw instead of attacking American troop ships invading the Philippines.  This battle, one of the last “traditional” ship-to-ship battles of World War II, demonstrated what a trained, well led, and motivated naval force could achieve under seemingly impossible conditions. 


Here are four lessons to learn from to improve business results:


Train to succeed when the chips are down. The mission of the small Destroyer Escorts (DE) was to protect the aircraft carriers that were supporting the US invasion of the Philippines.  The Imperial Japanese intended to attack the aircraft carriers as their first objective to stop the American invasion.  The American Destroyer Escorts were outgunned and surprised from the very start of the naval battle.  What eventually saved the day was that the American Navy was well trained in both their primary duties and to assume the duties of others.  The high level of training was a critical element in the ability of the US Navy to withstand the deadly Japanese attacks.  The training of the crews to rapidly adapt to changes was essential.   


Adopt new technology for the most important systems. The attacking Japanese ships relied on visual direction systems to fire their battleship and destroyer guns.  The Americans had developed, tested, and improved the use of radar detection and tracking gun systems that allowed them higher accuracy and rates of fire.  During the battle, the US Navy ships immediately started making smoke to make it harder for the Japanese to find the correct range for their guns.  In a combination of technology and training, one of the American ships was able to fire 325, 5” shells in around 35 minutes at the larger Japanese ships with a high degree of accuracy.  The American adaptation of radar into gunnery systems was a crucial advantage that allowed smaller American warships to hold off the Japanese. 


Be prepared to redefine your vision of victory. In late 1944, the US Navy was becoming used to seeing itself as the victorious force in sea battles against Japan.  The speed, intensity, strength, and surprise of the Japanese attack quickly made the defending US Navy move from victory to survival.  Yet, leadership, technology, and training made the US Navy quickly adapt to a defensive position and strike hard against the attacking Japanese.  This ability to redefine their objectives from success to survival was a critical leadership element that allowed the US Navy to fight to a draw.


Expect the enemy to do the unexpected very well. The US Navy was initially shocked at the speed, coordination, size, and surprise of the large Japanese force.  At this stage in World War II, the Japanese Navy had become increasingly challenged to execute large, coordinated naval attacks.  This failure was a critical lapse for the US Navy to underestimate a seasoned, well trained, and determined foe.  Business always needs to respect, anticipate, war game, and plan to expect the very best from their opponents and to expect the opposition will do the unexpected very well.


The Battle of Samar in the San Bernardino Straight is a lesson from the US Navy for all military services. High levels of individual training, the instrumental use of new technology, junior leaders that took initiative to assume higher responsibility, and the ability to respect a dangerous enemy were all keys to the US Navy not losing the battle.


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Related Information:


  1. 4 Lessons from Military History for Business Innovation
  2. Business Lessons from a Military Mission - The Black Hawk Down Raid
  3. Business Lessons from the Defense of Little Round Top
  4. USAA Leaving the Military Page


Author Biography: Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 360 articles in over 185 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and