Halsey was commanding the Third Fleet during the battle and had ordered it after Japanese decoy ships, which he had mistaken for the bulk of their fighting power. However, in pursuing them, he had left San Bernardino Strait unattended. This allowed Japanese ships to slip through to confront a small task force of the Seventh Fleet that was protecting the Leyte Gulf landing. Admiral Kinkaid, commanding the Seventh Fleet, sent out a message to Halsey, asking him to send Task Force 34 to his aid. Due to a previous misunderstanding, Kinkaid (and essentially everyone else besides Halsey) thought that Task Force 34 had already been formed and was sailing separately from the Third Fleet, when in actuality it was still attached to the Fleet.
Admiral Nimitz, who was monitoring the messages back in Hawaii, saw Kinkaid’s message and sent Halsey the following question about the task force’s location:
Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty-Four?
However, due to the code tactics used at the time, “padding” was added to the message. The padding was supposed to be two words with alliterative consonants that were added to the beginning and end of the message—and it wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with the context of the message. But the message that got sent to Halsey was
TURKEY TROTS TO WATER GG FROM CINCPAC ACTION COM THIRD FLEET INFO COMINCH CTF SEVENTY-SEVEN X WHERE IS RPT WHERE IS TASK FORCE THIRTY FOUR RR THE WORLD WONDERS
But since “the world wonders” padding at the end of the message made sense, the decoder left it in. So Halsey got this message:
Where is, repeat, where is Task Force Thirty-Four? The world wonders.
Halsey read this as a stinging rebuke from Nimitz, and he later recounted, “I was stunned as if I had been struck in the face. The paper rattled in my hands. I snatched off my cap, threw it on the deck, and shouted something I am ashamed to remember. . . . I was so mad I couldn’t talk.” Finally, his chief of staff had to tell him “Stop it! What the hell’s the matter with you? Pull yourself together.”
For reasons unknown (but generally attributed to his sulking), Halsey didn’t turn around for another hour; and even then he slowed down to allow his ships to refuel, causing further delay and resulting in Kinkaid losing an escort carrier and three other ships.