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Second World War History > The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot: The Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot - The Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Battle of the Philippine Sea turned out to be a resounding success for the Allied and the Americans, sending several enemy carriers under with hundreds of enemy aircraft destroyed.

Authored By Staff Writer

The Battle of the Philippine Sea (nicknamed the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" by American pilots) was the Japanese Navy's attempt to hold the Marianas Islands. It marked the five and final large-scale carrier-versus-carrier battle of the Pacific and resulted in heavy losses on the part of the Japanese - in men, planes and carriers. The Americans fielded 7 fleet carriers and 8 light carriers against the Japanese 5 fleet carriers and 4 light carriers. In all, 956 American aircraft were pitted against 750 Japanese Army and Navy aircraft (300 being land-based types) in what would become a decisive American victory of the war.


A massive American flotilla numbering over 500 ships reached Saipan on June 15th, 1944. Saipan was part of the Marianas Island chain just east of the Philippines and the Philippine Sea and southeast of Japan proper. Key to the force's success was in its carrier air group which was looking to draw an equally powerful enemy force out from hiding. The Japanese military committed to the advance and launched a large response in turn out of Japanese-held Philippines. In addition to the hundreds of carrier aircraft on hand through the IJN, hundreds more land-based aircraft from surrounding airfields were brought into play by way of the IJA. At any rate, the Japanese forces were outnumbered from the start.


The Americans maintained several advantages apart from numbers. Their pilots had garnered the necessary experience in dealing with Japanese airmen and radar support proved critical to ultimate success. Aerial patrol boats and floatplanes scanned the horizon mercilessly while submarines kept a watchful eye on the enemy's movements. The latter was the case in the IJN leaving the Philippines, giving ample time for the Americans to prepare.


The Japanese were first to strike on June 19th, 1944, launching a 68-strong strike group which was immediately picked up on Allied radar 150 miles away. The Japanese force was repelled with heavy losses, managing to land just one bomb on a US battleship (USS South Dakota) while losing 41 aircraft. The American response involved the famous and high-capable Grumman F6F hellcat fighter with its battery of six 0.50 caliber Browning heavy machine guns.


The first attack group had been immediately followed by a second and this numbering 107 aircraft. American fighter aircraft, as well as ship-based anti-aircraft gunfire, cut the Japanese force by 97 additional aircraft.


American submarines then went into action. USS Albacore engaged the aircraft carrier IJN Taiho with torpedoes and landing its fish successfully. USS Cavalla then loosed her torpedoes into the side of the carrier IJN Shokaku. While the damage was violent, the vessels maintained their stay until leaking vapors aboard ignited and developed several more catastrophic explosions which doomed both ships.


A flight of 47 enemy aircraft then followed the first and second waves to which 7 of were downed. This left the final assault wave - an 82-aircraft effort - to deliver a reasonable blow to the American fleet. Misdirected near American air bases, many were intercepted and shot down. Amazingly, only nine of these aircraft returned to their home carrier intact. Grumman F6F Hellcats, once again, ruled the day. At the end of the day, the Japanese counted 30 American aircraft against his own 346 losses. However, the statistics were not accurately reported and relayed, leaving Japanese commanders with a false assurance of their remaining inventory. The Japanese force (the main part still undetected by the Allies) removed itself from the battle to refuel and commence the assault the following day.


The Japanese force was spotted the following day (June 20th) and the American force made their way in pursuit. The IJN Hiyu was struck by two torpedoes and ultimately sank after an onboard explosion committed her to her fate. The IJN Zuikaku and IJN Chiyoda were also damaged in the assault. 65 enemy aircraft were destroyed against 20 American mounts. The victory was decisive for the Americans which utterly embarrassed and defeated the mighty Japanese Navy's air arm which early on in the war seemed invincible. The Battle of the Philippine Sea would be the last notable IJN aerial engagement of the war for the fleet was now forced to sail home and regroup.


In all, the Americans lost 123 aircraft while one battleship was damaged. 80 aircraft fell victim to night landings on the moving carriers during recovery or simply ran out of fuel forcing their pilots to ditch and await rescue. Comparatively, the Japanese suffered mightily with 3 fleet carriers sunk and 2 oil transports lost. However, it was in the 600+ aircraft that the IJN/IJA lost during the fighting that garnered the battle the nickname of "turkey shoot". Six other IJN vessels were damaged before retreating.

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Total Great Marianas Turkey Shoot Events: 17

1944
Friday
June 16th

The 1st Mobile Fleet of the IJN meets up with the Japanese Southern Force west of the Philippines.

1944
Saturday
June 17th

US amphibious assault elements arrive to take Saipan.

1944
Monday
June 19th

The first Japanese raid assaults US Task Force 58 through a combined force of IJN and IJA aircraft commitment. The American response nets 35 enemies in the first phase of the attack.

1944
Monday
June 19th

The second raid of arriving Japanese aerial strike force is identified and attacked by the Americans resulting in some 97 Japanese aircraft downed.

1944
Monday
June 19th

At 9:05am, the USS Albacore lands a fish into the side of the IJN Taiho aircraft carrier.

1944
Monday
June 19th

At 12:20pm, the USS Cavalla attack submarine hits the IJN Shokaku with torpedoes.

1944
Monday
June 19th

The third Japanese attack includes 47 aircraft which are met by 40 American fighters resulting in 7 enemies downed.

1944
Tuesday
June 19th

A fourth Japanese flight group of 49 aircraft is assailed by 27 American Hellcats netting 30 more Japanese targets.

1944
Monday
June 19th

At approximately 4:24pm, the carrier IJN Shokaku, suffering extensive damage from American warplanes, goes under.

1944
Monday
June 19th

Around 4:28pm, the carrier IJN Taiho joins the IJN Shokaku.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

At 4:30pm, some 216 American aircraft are launched in response to the Japanese attacks.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

American dive bomber aircraft successfully attack, and subsequently sink, the aircraft carrier IJN Hiyo.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

The American aerial force claims another two IJN tanker vessels.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

The aircraft carrier - IJN Zuikaku - takes heavy damage from American warplanes.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

The aircraft carrier - IJN Chiyoda - takes heavy damage from American warplanes.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

During the attack, American fighter pilots score a further 65 enemy aircraft.

1944
Tuesday
June 20th

By 8:45pm, the American attack shows a loss of 100 aircraft with 80 being lost to landing accidents at night or lack of fuel, forcing many airmen to ditch into the sea.
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