I have been lately learning about the nature of ancient warfare, and how it was far more about breaking the enemy's morale than about trying to kill every enemy soldier. This makes sense even in the modern day -- war is still about taking territory, and to do so you only need to make the opposition break formation and run, not kill them all.

Yet there are arenas of war which are far more often about contests of weaponry than of will -- naval warfare and air war. With war in the air, the technological and tactical edge is paramount; in naval warfare it is slightly less so, but metal still decides most things. And sailors on a ship can't exactly scatter and run, can they? They could only go into the drink. The fleet can rout, but not sailors.

And sometimes fleets DO rout. Case in point: the Battle off Samar, during World War II. Admiral Kurita led a battlegroup of the Imperial Japanese Navy, consisting of multiple large warships, and the biggest of all, the biggest there would ever be -- the battleship Yamato. VERSUS: a few destroyers, destroyer escorts, and escort carriers. No contest, right? Blow those little twerps out of the water and keep going to smash the American landing force. Easy as pie!

Except that's not what happened at all. The small American force ran right up to the Japanese ships and fought so ferociously that they managed to sink three cruisers and make Kurita think he was facing a battleship task force. So he turned and ran. Kurita lost the battle not through failure of arms, but failure of will. But why? If he thought that he was facing a bigger force than he was, why did he not seek to test the vaunted capabilities of the world's biggest battleship? Why would he not wish to prove the technological might of the Imperial Japanese Navy?

Well, the fact of the matter was that Yamato was only one of two of her kind. She and the Musashi had taken up a huge chunk of Japan's resources and industrial capability to construct -- even the netting that concealed them under construction caused a shortage of fishing nets. Which meant that Japan couldn't make any more Yamato-sized battleships. Which meant that once those two ships were used up, that was it. No more.

Which meant that it was all too easy to treat them like precious resources to be hoarded, instead of tools of war to be used. I believe this is what Kurita did, at the Battle off Samar. He treated his flagship like she was a brand-new sports car that he would only drive at 20 MPH, on Sundays, when it wasn't raining. He treated her like a family heirloom made of glass. The moment he thought he was facing a fellow battleship, he was like "Fuck it, we're out."

Especially considering that the Musashi had been sunk recently. Yamato was the only Wunderwaffen Battleship left in the fleet. If Kurita came back into port on a rubber raft, Hirohito was probably going to hand him a short sword and tell him to do the right thing. So the only way to save his hide was to run.

Thus the Battle off Samar was won, in part, because Kurita's own battleship broke his will. Far from being an unstoppable force, it was a fatal weakness. All the tiny American force had to do was put up enough of a fight to make Kurita worry. The Yamato did the rest.