World War II Pacific Naval Campaign: Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (June 19, 1944)


Figure 1.--.

The Japanese began their air assault in the morning (June 19). Japanese reconnaissance planes in the Philippine Sea found Task Force 58. Admiral Ozawa immediately launched 372 aircraft, in four waves. The American carriers of Task Force 58 had about 950 planes, incuding the powerful F6F Hellcat. The Japanese were using the same increasingly outdate planes with which they lunched the War. The Americans from USS Belleau Wood intercepted the Jpanese Guam strike force while it was stll forming which largely disabled the threat from the south. American radar provided advanced warning of the four waves of Japanese attackers from the west. Each Japanese attacking force was intercepted. Many Japanese planes were shot down by American figters and more were destroyed by fleet anti-aircraft fire. The American victory at Midaway had been achieved against a superior Japanese force in large part because of the use of intelligene intercepts. In the battle of the Philippine Sea it was soon clear that it was the Americans who had developed and deployed a vastly superior naval force. Thete would be no great Japanese naval victory. In fact, the Japanese carrier attack was ineffective. Only the USS South Dakota was hit by a single bomb. The Americans then struck at the Japanese carriers. A counter strike at the Japanese carriers late in the day requiring the Americans pilots to return in the dark. The Japanese lost about 300 aircraft and many of their dwindling number of trained pilots. The Americans lost only 29 pilots. The battle because of the large number of Japanese planes shot down has come to be called the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

Overview

The Japanese Imperial Fleet after withdrawing from the South Pacific (Solomons) and Central Pacific (December 1942) began rebuilding for a climatic naval action with the American Pacific Fleet. Key to that effort was launching new carriers and training new air groups. The Americans used the more tha a year well, theJapanese did not. Japanese pilots stayed in the theater until they were lost in combat meaning all their hard won battle experience was lost. The Americans brought their ace pilots home to paricipate in pilot training. The Japanese plot training program was poor and impaired by the developing fuel shortages. Most of the Japanese pilots were now the 2nd and 3rd generation of war time trainees with little or no combat experience. Many of the American pilots had gained combat experiece in 143 nd even the bnew pilot wre well trained. The General Staff had hoped that a wellarmed and dug in island bastiions could repel American landing forces without the need or a fleet action. The United States Marines proved this not to be possible. As result, the Japnese decided to employ the Fleet to protect their inner ring of defense--the Mariana Islands which as afesult of the B-29 would bring the Home Islands within the range of aerial bombardment. The Japanese Combined Fleet commander in chief issued plans for Operation A-Go that would mass Japanese naval power, incluing aircraft carriers and land-based airpower to repel the aticipated Amnerican invasion force. Adm. Raymond Spruance commnded the American Fifth Fleet with its powerful carrier component--Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher’s Task Force 58. The Americans landed on Saipan (June 15), encontering aarge, well dug-in Japanese force. The Japanese commander, Adm. Jisaburō Ozawa received orders to execute A-Go and made for the Marianas to rlieve the defenders on Saipan.

Japanese Attacks

The Japanese began their air assault in the morning (June 19). Japanese reconnaissance planes in the Philippine Sea found Task Force 58. Admiral Ozawa immediately launched 372 aircraft, in four waves. The American carriers of Task Force 58 had about 950 planes, incuding the powerful F6F Hellcat. The Japanese were using the same increasingly outdate planes with which they lunched the War. The Americans from USS Belleau Wood intercepted the Jpanese Guam strike force while it was stll forming which largely disabled the threat from the south. American radar provided advanced warning of the four waves of Japanese attackers from the west. Each Japanese attacking force was intercepted. Many Japanese planes were shot down by American figters and more were destroyed by fleet anti-aircraft fire. The American victory at Midaway had been achieved against a superior Japanese force in large part because of the use of intelligene intercepts. In the battle of the Philippine Sea it was soon clear that it was the Americans who had developed and deployed a vastly superior naval force. Thete would be no great Japanese naval victory. In fact, the Japanese carrier attack was ineffective. Only the USS South Dakota was hit by a single bomb.

Guam force

The Americans had destroyed Japanese air units on Saipan. Air units, however, still existed on Guam. Adm. Ozawa ws unable to coordinate his attacks withb the Guam group. The Guam gtoup attackedas soon as the Japanese reconisance aircraft locted TF-58. The the USS Belleau Wood and other U.S. carriers detected the Japanese forming up for an attack. They immediately struk. Many Japanese planes were shot down while taking off or on the ground. The threat from the south was thus eliminated before Ozawa's strike groups neared the Amrican carriers.

First wave (Morning strike)

American air-search radars detected the first of Ozawa's four attack formations from the west. The first wave total 69 planes. Earlier in the War, the first force to find the enemy and launch an attack woukld be victoious. The situation was now different. The Americans now had a much larger fleet and a much improved fighter (F6F Hellcat) for air cover as well as improved anti-aircraft guns. Naval Reserve Lt. Joseph R. Eggert, the task force fighter director from the new USS Lexington oversaw the fighter creen defending TF-58. The F6Fs were vectored to the Japnese attacking dirce by radar well out from the fleet and decimated the Japanese force. The few attackers making it through the F6F fighter screen faced the battyleships bristling with anti-aircaft guns, The guns were also vastly improved an fired shells equipped ith the new proximity fuses. Vice Adm. Willis A. Lee Jr. commanded the battleships. These ships were once the Nvy's cpital ships. Now they protectd te carries. One Japanese plan hit the South Dakota, but did only minimal damage. The all important carriers were untouvhed. Less than a third of the first Japanese wave survived to return to the carries.

Second wave (Mid-day)

Ozawa's second wave was larger, more than 100 planes, approached the American fleet around mid-day. Cmdr. David McCampbell, joined by fighters off the USS Essex led the fighter screen. Again large numbers of attackers were shot down. Some of the attackers reached the carriers and intense anti-aircraft fire. There were several near misses, but none of the carriers were seriusly danaged. Again the attakbng forcewas savaged. More than 70 attackers were shot down.

Third wave

All but 7 Japanse planes in the third wave mnagd to make it back to thir carries, but only because they failed to find TF-58.

Fourth wave

Ozawa’s fourth wave was aniother filure. It consisted of 82 aircraft from anow seriously depleted air component. Part of the fiorce suceeded on evadig tghecAmerican fighter screen. They concentrated on USS Wasp and USS Bunker Hill, butfailed to deliver any hits. The rest of the attackers faied to find TF-58 and running low on fuel headed for Guam. Few found safety. The American air attacks on Guam had included SB2C Helldiver bombers that left the Orate Field runways badly cratered. The flight group led by McCampbell from Essex as well as Hellcats from the USS Cowpens shot down 30 of 49 Japanese aircraft trying to land on Guam. McCampbell psonally shot down seven Japanese planes. He would shoot down another nine Japanese planes during the sunsequebnt Battle of Leyte Gulf.

American Attack (late-afternoon)

The Americans did not locate Ozawa's carrirs until late in the day. The Americans finally struck at the Japanese carriers. A counter strike at the Japanese carriers late in the day requiring the Americans pilots to return in the dark.

Results

The Japanese lost about 300 aircraft and many of their dwindling number of trained pilots. The Americans lost only 29 pilots. The battle because of the large number of Japanese planes shot down and minimal American losses, a 12-to-1 kill rate, has come to be called the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. Te American victory was due to superior American tactics, training, aircraft, anti-aircraft guns (and proximity fuses), and air defense coordination. Areader tells us, "Most accounts of the Turkey Shoot tend to emphazize the fighter screen which was certainly important, but the anti-aircradt fire was also critical. In most accounts the Turkey Shoot is referred to as aerial victories or just a composit total. I would say that most of your visitors are not very familiar with war history and that really needs an explanation.

Sources

Goodspeed, M. Hill. U.S. Navy: A Complete History (Naval Historical Foundation, 2003).

Morison, Samuel E. "New Guinea and the Marianas: March 1944-August 1944" Vol. VIII, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (Edison N.J.: Castle Books, 2001).





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Created: 4:36 AM 10/11/2012
Last updated: 4:36 AM 10/11/2012