Great Marianas Turkey Shoot Timeline (June 19th - 20th, 1944)
The Battle of the Philippine Sea turned out to be a resounding success for the Allies in the Pacific Theater, sending several enemy carriers under with hundreds of enemy aircraft destroyed.
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.