Marianas Turkey Shoot: Battle of the Philippine Sea
In mid June, 1944, the ships of Task Force 58 were carrying out Operation Forager – the retaking the Mariana Islands from Japan. US invasions of Tinian and Saipan set in motion the Japanese defensive strategy “Z-Go” – the utilization of land based aircraft in the Marianas (especially on Guam), and the mobilization of a huge armada of warships to attack the US land invasion and supporting warships. This was planned to be the “final battle” in which Japan would destroy their enemy.
On June 11,12 and 13, the four task groups of TF58, launched strikes against Guam, Saipan and Tinian. On the 16th, Task Groups 58.1 and 58.4 refueled and headed north to bombard Iwo Jima, a move to deprive Japan from shuffling planes south to defend Saipan. On the 18th, the two groups were ordered south at Battle Speed. They rejoined the rest of the Task Force. A fifth group of battleships was merged into the Task Force. In anticipation of the attack by the Japanese fleet (which mobilized and sailed north on June 15, “D Day Saipan” – the day US Marines invaded), the huge US armada formed a huge “T” that spread over more than 25 miles of the Philippine Sea (west of Guam).
A series of air battles developed throughout the day on June 19, 1944 between Japanese carrier planes and US carrier fighter planes. In the years that had elapsed between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of the Philippine Sea, our pilots eclipsed enemy pilots in both training and skill. What ensued throughout the day came to be known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” as US pilots outmaneuvered and outgunned their counterparts, mowing down each attacking wave as if it were target practice. We also engaged their fleet in counter-attacks on June 20th, sinking three carriers.
The final tally for the two-day battle, counting planes shot out of the sky and land-based planes destroyed on the ground on Guam before they could refuel and attack “from behind” was 450 carrier based and 200 land-based planes destroyed.
During the first day, when most of the air battles occurred, we lost only twenty-three planes. During the late afternoon counter-strike against Japanese ships, twenty planes were shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft, and 80 were lost at sea trying to make it back (in the dark) to their carriers.