Admiral Kurita's Retreat Not likely. The Japanese fleet was already decimated with not enough fuel to return to Japan, which had the only available friendly port. In short, the Japanese naval command saw this as a suicide mission. When the mission was authorized, Admiral Nakasawa, the Japanese Naval Operations Section Chief referred to that area of the Philippines "a fitting place to die", and looked forward to the battle as a "chance to bloom as flowers of death". They had a simple objective: To attack U.S. troop transports off the coast of the island of Leyte before they themselves were sunk. The Japanese fleet was divided into three forces: Northern, Center and Southern, with Adm. Kurita commanding the Center force of 32 ships and lost three heavy cruisers to torpedo strikes, long before he reached Leyte. He lost eight more, mainly to superior air power before he reached the San Bernardino Strait. Many of those ships that were not sunk were heavily damaged. Kurita retreated because he could not continue without air support. The retreat was short-lived, however because U.S. planes broke-off the attack, thinking Kurita's force was no longer a factor. The second and final retreat occurred after Kurita encountered three U.S. flotillas of Escort Carriers which were comparatively small ships used mainly to provide air cover for the Army landing on the Leyte beaches. They had nowhere near the firepower of the Japanese Battleships and Destroyers that remained of Kurita's force and were 2-3 knots slower. Thinking that Kurita had permanently retreated and with the Japanese Southern Force already destroyed, Adm. Halsey concentrated on the Northern Force, leaving the escort carriers unprotected. Unable to outrun the Japanese force, they were ordered to stand and fight. Air reinforcements were called-in and with a total of 450+ attack aircraft, the small carriers inflicted heavy casualties on the Center Force. Thinking that the heart of Halsey's fleet was nearby, and that further engagement was suicide, Kurita permanently retreated. Kurita's force would have eventually decimated the small carrier group, but it would have been a Pyrrhic victory, because with no air defenses U.S. air bombardment, which included torpedoes, was incessant. As soon as the Northern Force was destroyed - which it was- Adm. Halsey was prepared to focus his entire fleet on the crippled Central Force of Adm. Kurita - that is, if it had survived the air attacks.