WORLD WAR II FROM A TO Z
The Commonwealth of the Philippines was invaded by the Empire of Japan in December 1941 shortly after Japan’s declaration of war upon the United States of America. The United States controlled the Philippines at the time and possessed important military bases there. The combined American-Filipino army was defeated by April 1942, but guerrilla resistance against the Japanese continued throughout the war. Uncaptured Filipino army units, a communist insurgency and supporting American agents all played a role in the resistance. Due to the huge number of islands, the Japanese did not occupy them all. Japanese control over the countryside and smaller towns was often tenuous at best. Allied forces liberated the islands from Japanese control in 1944, in a naval invasion. To write about the Philippines in the Second World War would take a significant commitment beyond the scope of the A to Z Challenge. Today, for P is for the Philippines, I present one of the most significant battles, the Battle of the Philippine Sea known as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.
The Battle of Philippine Sea – the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot
There were eleven US aircraft carriers involved in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (or the Great Mariana Turkey Shoot). They belonged to Task Force 58, under Marc Andrew Mitscher. Five of them were fleet carriers (USS Yorktown CV-10, Hornet CV-12, Enterprise CV-6, Lexington CV-16, Essex CV-9) and the six remainder were light carriers (Bataan CVL-29, Belleau Wood CVL-24, Langley CVL-27, Cowpens CV-25, San Jacinto CVL-30, Pinceton CVL-23). They were escorted and protected by seven fast battleships and several cruisers and destroyers. Each of the fleet carriers could carry up to 100 aircraft, which included fighters and dive bombers, such as the F6F Hellcat and TBF Avenger respectively.
Nearly every Japanese aircraft was shot down in the great air battles of 19 June that became commonly known as “The Marianas Turkey Shoot”. As the Japanese Mobile Fleet fled in defeat on 20 June, the carriers launched long-range airstrikes that sank Japanese aircraft carrier Hiyō and so damaged two tankers that they were abandoned and scuttled. Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa’s own flag log for 20 June 1944 showed his surviving carrier air power as only 35 operational aircraft out of the 430 planes with which he had commenced the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Aircraft from Japanese carrier striking force attacked our sea forces covering the Saipan operation in the first stage of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The enemy attack continued for several hours. The Japanese aircraft were intercepted and a high percentage of them shot down. Enemy losses for the day: 402 aircraft, all but 17 of which were destroyed in the air; two carriers damaged. Our losses: 17 aircraft and superficial damage to two carriers and a battleship.
Aircraft from our carriers attacked the Japanese carrier striking force, in the second stage of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Japanese losses: 1 aircraft carrier, 1 light aircraft carrier, 2 destroyers, 1 tanker sunk; 1 aircraft carrier, 1 destroyer and 1 tanker possibly sunk; 1 aircraft carrier, 1 or 2 light aircraft carriers, 1 battle ship, 2 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, 1 destroyer and 3 tankers damaged. 26 Japanese aircraft were shot down. Our losses: 93 aircraft (many of the personnel were rescued from these planes, a large percentage of which had been forced to land on the water in the darkness that night). From this date until 7 July Guam and Rota were attacked each day by at least one strike from our carrier forces. On that day continued heavy surface bombardment‑coordinated with the air strikes‑began.
According to the ship’s log for the USS Hornet (CV-12)’s bombers were credited with sinking the Japanese carrier Shokaku and damaging another carrier and cruiser. Hornet fighters splashed 52 Japanese planes in the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Other sources credit U.S.S. Cavalla (SS-244), a submarine with the sinking of the Shokaku.
Clearly June was a successful month for the USS Hornet (CV-12) and the entire Task Force 58. The Battle of the Philipine Sea is among the top battles of the war in the Pacific. Labeled as a carrier vs carrier battle, the Battle of the Philippine Sea was crucial in abolishing the Imperial Japanese Navy’s ability to organize large-scale carrier action. While Japan suffered a heavier loss – three aircraft carriers, up to 645 aircraft, and hundreds of pilots – the training of US pilots and crew was accredited with a lighter loss for the United States.