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Battle of the Philippine Sea
Part of World War II, Pacific War
Zuikaku and two destroyers under attack
The carrier Zuikaku (center) and two destroyers under attack by U.S. Navy carrier aircraft, June 20, 1944
Date June 19–20, 1944
Location The Philippine Sea
Result Decisive American victory
Belligerents
United States United States Navy Fifth Fleet Japan Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet
Commanders
United States Raymond A. Spruance Empire of Japan Jisaburō Ozawa
Empire of Japan Kakuji Kakuta
Strength
7 fleet carriers,
8 light carriers,
7 battleships,
79 other ships,
28 submarines,
956 planes
5 fleet carriers,
4 light carriers,
5 battleships,
43 other ships,
450 carrier-based planes,
300 land-based planes
Casualties and losses
123 planes destroyed (about 80 of whose crews survived) 3 carriers sunk,
2 oilers sunk,
about 600 planes destroyed,
6 other ships heavily damaged

The Battle of the Philippine Sea (aka "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot") was a decisive naval battle of World War II, and the largest aircraft carrier battle in history. It was fought between the navies of the United States and the Empire of Japan. Part of the wider Pacific War, this action occurred on June 19–20, 1944 off the Mariana Islands and also involved Japanese land-based aircraft. The engagement proved disastrous for the Imperial Japanese Navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and some 600 aircraft, termed by Americans the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. These losses are largely attributed to the obsolescence of the Japanese aircraft and the inexperience of the Japanese carrier aircrew (many experienced pilots had died during the Guadalcanal campaign, Midway, and other engagements) in contrast to the U.S. Navy's more modern Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter, its better-trained and more experienced airmen, and its radar-directed combat air patrols.

Contents

Background

In September 1943, Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters decided the time was right to return to the offensive in the Pacific. Because U.S. forces were attacking Japanese-held islands in the course of its “island hopping campaign” the lack of sufficient naval aircraft could be addressed by deployment of strong land-based air forces. Operations were planned for early 1944, attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet whenever it launched its next minor offensive. Under direction of the newly appointed Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, a finalized plan for the new offensive—dubbed "Plan A-Go", or "Operation A-Go"[1]—was adopted in early June, 1944.

The Japanese fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, consisted of five large carriers (Taihō, Shōkaku, Zuikaku, Junyō, and Hiyō), four light carriers (Ryuho, Chitose, Chiyoda, and Zuihō), five battleships (Yamato, Musashi, Kongō, Haruna, and Nagato) and supporting cruisers, destroyers, and oilers.

On June 12, 1944, U.S. carriers started a series of air strikes on the Marianas, convincing Admiral Toyoda that the U.S. was preparing to invade. This move came as a surprise; the Japanese had expected the next U.S. target to be farther to the south, either the Carolines or the Palaus. Therefore the Marianas were protected with only a weak force of 50 land-based aircraft. On June 13, U.S. forces began bombardment operations for invading Saipan; in response, Toyoda gave the order for the fleet-based counterattack. The main portions of the fleet, consisting of six carriers and several battleships, rendezvoused on June 16 in the western part of the Philippine Sea, and completed refueling on June 17.

American response

The Japanese fleet was sighted on June 15 by American submarines, and by the next day Admiral Raymond Spruance, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, was convinced that a major battle was at hand. By the afternoon of June 18, Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, aboard his flagship (the carrier USS Lexington) had his Task Force 58 (the Fast Carrier Task Force) formed up near Saipan to meet the Japanese attack.

TF-58 consisted of five major groups. In front (to the west) was Vice Admiral Willis Lee’s Task Group 58.7 (TG-58.7), the “Battle Line”, consisting of seven fast battleships (Washington, North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Alabama). Just north of them was the weakest of the carrier groups, Rear Admiral William K. Harrill’s TG-58.4 of three carriers (Essex, Langley, and Cowpens). To the east, in a line running north to south, were three groups each containing four carriers: Rear Admiral Joseph Clark’s TG-58.1 (Hornet, Yorktown, Belleau Wood, and Bataan); Rear Admiral Alfred Montgomery’s TG-58.2 (Bunker Hill, Wasp, Cabot, and Monterey); and Rear Admiral John W. Reeves’s TG-58.3 (Enterprise, Lexington, San Jacinto, and Princeton). The capital ships were supported by eight heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 58 destroyers, and 28 submarines.

Shortly before midnight on June 18, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz sent Spruance a message from Pacific Fleet Headquarters indicating that the Japanese flagship was approximately 350 miles (562 km) to the west-southwest of Task Force 58. This was based on a "fix" obtained by radio direction-finding.

Mitscher realized that if Task Force 58 were to advance westwards there was a strong chance of a night surface encounter with Ozawa's forces. He therefore conferred with Lee, commander of the Fifth Fleet Battle Line, and inquired whether Lee favored such an encounter. The battleship commander was not enthusiastic about a night engagement with Japanese surface forces, despite his new ships outclassing most of the Japanese battleships, feeling that his crews were not adequately trained for such an action. Shortly after his discussion with Lee, Mitscher asked Spruance for permission to head west during the night to reach what would be an ideal launch position for an all-out aerial assault on the enemy force at dawn.

However, Spruance refused. Throughout the run-up to the battle he had been concerned that the Japanese would try to draw his main fleet away from the landing area using a diversionary force, and would then make an attack around the flank of the U.S. carrier force — an “end run” — hitting the invasion shipping off Saipan. He was therefore not prepared to let Task Force 58 be drawn westwards, away from the amphibious forces.

Spruance was conscious that Japanese operational plans frequently relied heavily on the use of decoying, diversionary forces. Ironically, however, on this occasion there was no such aspect to the Japanese plan. There was no ruse, no diversionary force.

Spruance was heavily criticized by many officers after the battle, and continues to be to this day, because he allegedly missed the chance to destroy all of the Japanese strike force, but it is instructive to compare Spruance’s caution with Admiral “Bull” Halsey’s later impetuous pursuit of a diversionary force of Japanese carriers at the Battle of Leyte Gulf that left inferior U.S. forces open to attack off Samar by a Japanese surface action group composed of cruisers, destroyers and battleships.

Battle

Map of Battle of the Philippine Sea
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Early actions

At 05:30 on June 19, TF-58 turned northeast into the wind and started to launch their air patrols. The Japanese had already launched their morning search patrols using some of the 50 aircraft stationed on Guam, and at 05:50, one of these, a Mitsubishi Zero, found TF-58. After radioing his sighting of U.S. ships, he attacked one of the destroyers on picket duty and was shot down.

Thus alerted, the rest of the Guam forces began forming up for an attack, but were spotted on radar by U.S. ships, and a group of F6F Hellcats from the Belleau Wood were sent to investigate. The Hellcats arrived while aircraft were still launching from Orote Field. Minutes later, additional radar contacts were seen, which were later discovered to be the additional forces being sent north from the other islands. A huge battle broke out; 35 of the Japanese planes were shot down, and the battle was still going an hour later when the Hellcats were recalled to their carriers.

Japanese raids

Fighter plane contrails mark the sky over Task Force 58, June 19, 1944

The recall had been ordered after several ships in TF-58 picked up radar contacts 150 miles (240 km) to the west at about 10:00. This was the first of the raids from the Japanese carrier forces, with 68 aircraft. TF-58 started launching every fighter it could, and by the time they were in the air, the Japanese had closed to 70 miles (110 km). However, the Japanese began circling in order to regroup their formations for the attack. This ten-minute delay proved critical, and the first group of Hellcats met the raid, still at 70 miles (110 km), at 10:36. They were quickly joined by additional groups. Within minutes 25 Japanese planes had been shot down, against the loss of only one U.S. aircraft.

The Japanese planes that survived were met by other fighters, and 16 more were shot down. Of the remainder, some made attacks on the picket destroyers USS Yarnall and USS Stockham but caused no damage. Three or four bombers broke through to Lee's battleship group, and one made a direct hit on the USS South Dakota, which caused many casualties, but failed to disable her. Not one aircraft of Ozawa’s first wave got through to the American carriers.

F6F-3 landing aboard 'Lexington' (CV-16) — Task Force 58 flagship

At 11:07, radar detected another, much larger attack. This second wave consisted of 109 aircraft. They were met while still 60 miles (97 km) out, and at least 70 of these aircraft were shot down before reaching the ships. Six attacked Rear Admiral Montgomery’s group, nearly hitting two of the carriers and causing casualties on each. Four of the six were shot down. A small group of torpedo aircraft attacked Enterprise, one torpedo exploding in the wake of the ship. Three other torpedo-planes attacked the light carrier Princeton but were shot down. In all, 97 of the 107 attacking aircraft were destroyed.

The third raid, consisting of 47 aircraft, came in from the north. It was intercepted by 40 fighters at 13:00, while 50 miles (80 km) out from the task force. Seven Japanese planes were shot down. A few broke through and made an ineffective attack on the Enterprise group. Many others did not press home their attacks. This raid therefore suffered less than the others, and 40 of its aircraft managed to return to their carriers.

USS Bunker Hill is nearly hit by a Japanese bomb during the air attacks of June 19, 1944.

The fourth Japanese raid was launched between 11:00 and 11:30, but pilots had been given an incorrect position for the US fleet and could not locate it. They then broke into two loose groups and turned for Guam and Rota to refuel. One group flying towards Rota stumbled upon Montgomery’s task group. Eighteen aircraft joined battle with American fighters and lost half their number. A smaller group of nine Japanese dive bombers of this force evaded U.S. planes and made attacks on the USS Wasp and the USS Bunker Hill, but failed to make any hits. Eight of these aircraft were shot down in the process. The larger group of Japanese planes had flown to Guam and were intercepted over Orote Field by 27 Hellcats while landing. Thirty of the 49 Japanese planes were shot down, and the rest were damaged beyond repair. Aboard the Lexington afterwards a pilot was heard to remark "Hell, this is like an old-time turkey shoot!"[citation needed] Since then this lopsided air battle has been known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

Submarine attacks

At 08:16 the submarine USS Albacore had sighted Ozawa’s own carrier group and began an attack on the closest carrier, which was Taihō, the largest and newest carrier in the Japanese fleet and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s flagship. As Albacore was about to fire, however, her fire-control computer failed, and the torpedoes had to be fired “by eye”.

Taihō had just launched 42 aircraft as a part of the second raid. Four of Albacore’s torpedoes were off-target. Sakio Komatsu, the pilot of one of the recently-launched aircraft, sighted one of the two which were heading for Taihō and crashed his aircraft on it, but the last torpedo struck the carrier on her starboard side, rupturing two aviation-fuel tanks. At first, the damage did not appear to be very serious.

Another submarine, USS Cavalla, was able to maneuver to an attack position on the 25,675-ton carrier Shōkaku by about noon. The sub fired a spread of six torpedoes, three of which struck the Shōkaku. Badly damaged, the carrier came to a halt. One torpedo had hit the forward aviation fuel tanks near the main hangar, and planes that had just landed and were being refueled exploded into flames. Ammunition and exploding bombs added to the conflagration, as did burning fuel spewing from shattered fuel pipes. With her bows subsiding into the sea and fires out of control, the captain gave orders to abandon ship. Within minutes, total catastrophe struck the vessel. Volatile gas fumes had accumulated throughout the vessel, and when an aerial bomb exploded on the hangar deck, a series of terrific explosions simply blew the ship apart about 140 miles (230 km) north of the island of Yap. The carrier rolled over and slid beneath the waves taking 887 navy officers and men plus 376 men of Air Group 601, a total of 1,263 men in all, to the seabed. There were 570 survivors, including the carrier's commander, Captain Hiroshi Matsubara.

Meanwhile, Taihō was falling victim to poor damage control. On the orders of an inexperienced damage-control officer, her ventilation system had been operating at full-blast in an attempt to clear explosive fumes from the ship. This instead had the effect of spreading the vapors throughout Taihō. At 17:32, she suffered a series of catastrophic explosions caused by the accumulated fumes igniting near an electric generator on the hangar deck. Of her complement of 1,751, a total of 1,650 crewmen were lost.

U.S. counterattack

Japanese Carrier Division Three under attack by United States Navy aircraft from Task Force 58, late afternoon, June 20, 1944. The heavy cruiser circling at right, nearest to the camera, is either Maya or Chōkai. Beyond that, is the small aircraft carrier Chiyoda.

TF-58 sailed west during the night in order to attack the Japanese at dawn. Search patrols were put up at first light.

Admiral Ozawa had transferred to the destroyer Wakatsuki after Taihō had been hit, but the radio gear onboard was not capable of sending the number of messages needed, so he transferred again, to the carrier Zuikaku, at 13:00. It was then that he learned of the disastrous results of the day before and that he had about 150 aircraft left. Nevertheless, he decided to continue the attacks, thinking that there were still hundreds of planes on Guam and Rota, and started planning new raids to be launched on June 21.

American searches failed to locate the Japanese fleet until 15:40. However the report made was so garbled that Mitscher knew neither what had been sighted nor where. At 16:05, another report was received which was clearer, and Mitscher decided to launch an “Alpha strike” even though there were only 75 minutes until sunset and his aviators did not normally land at night because of the risk of significant losses due to landing mishaps. The attack went in at 18:30.

Ozawa had been able to put up very few fighters to intercept the incoming U.S. attack — no more than 35 according to later estimates, but these few were skillfully handled, though the Japanese antiaircraft fire was intense. The U.S. raid, however, contained 550 planes, and the majority were able to press the attack.

The first ships sighted by the U.S strike were oilers, and two of these were damaged so severely that they were later scuttled. The carrier Hiyō was attacked and hit by bombs and aerial torpedoes from four Grumman Avengers from Belleau Wood.

Hiyo was set afire after a tremendous blast from leaking aviation fuel. Dead in the water, she slipped stern first under the waves, taking the lives of 250 officers and men. The rest of her crew, about one thousand, survived to be rescued by Japanese destroyers. The carriers Zuikaku, Junyō, and Chiyoda were damaged by bombs, as was the battleship Haruna. Twenty American aircraft were lost in this strike.

At 20:45, the first U.S. planes began to return to TF-58. Knowing his aviators would have difficulty finding their carriers, Mitscher decided to fully illuminate his carriers, shining searchlights directly up into the night, despite the risk of attack from submarines and night-flying aircraft. Picket destroyers fired starshells to help the planes find the task groups. Despite this, 80 of the returning aircraft were lost, some crashing on flight decks, the majority going into the sea. Many of the crews were rescued over the next few days.

Aftermath

That night, Admiral Ozawa received orders from Toyoda to withdraw from the Philippine Sea. U.S. forces gave chase, but the battle was over.

The four Japanese air strikes involved 373 carrier aircraft, of which 130 returned to the carriers, and many more were lost on board when the two carriers were sunk on the first day by submarine attacks. After the second day the losses totaled three carriers and over 433 carrier aircraft and around 200 land based planes. Losses on the U.S. side on the first day were only 23, and on the second 100, most of them resulting from the night landings.

The losses to the Japanese were irreplaceable. Of the Japanese naval air arm, only 35 out of Admiral Ozawa's 473 planes were left in a condition fit to fly. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf a few months later, their carriers were used solely as a decoy because of the lack of aircraft and aircrews to fly them.

References

Notes

  1. ^ "History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II" pp. 260-61; http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/III/USMC-III-IV-2.html; Strategic Victory in the Marianas Liberation of Guam; Capture of Saipan and Tinian

Bibliography

  • Bryan III, Lt. Cmdr. J. Mission Beyond Darkness The story of USS Lexington's Air Group 16 June 20, 1944 attack on the Japanese carrier fleet as told by the men who flew that day (1945)
  • Buell, Thomas B. The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (1987).
  • D'Albas, Andrieu (1965). Death of a Navy: Japanese Naval Action in World War II. Devin-Adair Pub. ISBN 0-8159-5302-X. 
  • Dull, Paul S. (1978). A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1941–1945. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-097-1. 
  • Lacroix, Eric; Linton Wells (1997). Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-311-3. 
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot, New Guinea and the Marianas, March 1944–August 1944, vol. 8 of History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (1950).
  • Smith, Douglas V. (2006). Carrier Battles: Command Decision in Harm's Way. US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1591147948. 
  • Tillman, Barrett, (2006) Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II.
  • Y'Blood, William T. (1981). Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea. Annapolis, Maryland: US Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-994-0. 

External links


Simple English

Battle of the Philippine Sea
Part of World War II, Pacific War
Date June 19–20, 1944
Location The Philippine Sea
Result Decisive American victory
Combatants
United States Navy Fifth Fleet Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet
Commanders
Raymond A. Spruance Jisaburō Ozawa
Kakuji Kakuta
Strength
7 fleet carriers,
8 light carriers,
7 battleships,
79 other ships,
28 submarines,
956 planes
5 fleet carriers,
4 light carriers,
5 battleships,
43 other ships,
450 carrier-based planes,
300 land-based planes
Casualties
123 planes destroyed (about 80 of whose crews survived) 3 fleet carriers sunk,
2 oilers sunk,
about 600 planes destroyed,
6 other ships heavily damaged

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was an important naval battle of the Second World War between by the navies of the United States and Japan. This battle took place on June 19 and June 20 1944 near the Mariana Islands, and involved two big naval forces and many Japanese aircraft from bases on land. The battle was a great defeat for the Japanese Navy, which lost three aircraft carriers and some 600 aircraft in two days of combat. This happened because the Japanese airplanes were getting old and their pilots had little training, compared to the more modern and better trained American forces. After the battle, the Japanese Navy was almost completely destroyed. This victory for Allied forces opened the door for the invasion of Iwo Jima.

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