Back to June 19th, 1944

The Marianas Turkey Shoot

Jack McKillop

The Battle of the Philippine Sea opens pitting the USN's Fifth Fleet against the IJN's First Mobile Fleet. The aviation component of the Fifth Fleet consists of seven fleet carriers, eight light carriers and twelve escort carriers. The First Mobile Fleet consists of five fleet carriers, four light carriers, five battleships, 12 heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 28 destroyers. The total carrier-based Japanese aircraft are 431 consisting of 223 fighters, (Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighters, Allied Code Name "Zeke"); 113 dive-bombers (97 (Kugisho D4Y Navy Carrier Bomber Suisei, Allied Code Name "Judy" and 16 Aichi D3A Navy Type 99 Carrier Bombers, Allied Code Name "Val"); and 95 torpedo bombers (78 Nakajima B6N Navy Carrier Attack Bomber Tenzan, Allied Code Name "Jill" and 17 Nakajima B5N Navy Type 97 Carrier Attack Bombers, Allied Code Name "Kate"). 

The first attack against Task Force 58 is by a large flight of land-based IJN aircraft from Guam and possibly other islands in the Marianas. Between 0630 hours and 1005 hours local, carrier-based FM Wildcat and F6F Hellcat pilots shoot down 49 enemy aircraft and also "Kate" search aircraft from the Japanese aircraft carriers.

0547 hours: Two Fighting Squadron Sixteen (VF-16) Grumman F6F Hellcats from the USS Lexington (CV-16) shoot down one of two Yokosuka D4Y Navy Type 2 Carrier Reconnaissance Planes, Allied Code Name "Judy," which have been launched by the Japanese First Mobile Fleet to find the American carriers.

0550 hours: A Mitsubishi A6M Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter, Allied Code Name "Zeke," based on Guam, attacks two US Navy picket destroyers operating west of the main body of TF 58. The "Zeke" drops a bomb that misses one destroyer and it is shot down by the second destroyer.

0630 hours: US radar detects a large group of Japanese aircraft over Guam; it is believed that these aircraft are based on Guam plus some additional aircraft that have flown from other islands. F6F Hellcats are dispatched to attack these aircraft.

0630-1005 hours: F6F Hellcat pilots from TF 58 and Eastern Aircraft FM Wildcat pilots from TF 52 shoot down 49 of the land based Japanese fighters and bombers plus a number of Nakajima B5N Navy Type 97 Carrier Attack Bombers, Allied Code Name "Jill," that were launched by the Japanese carriers.

0830 hours: The Japanese aircraft carriers begin launching their aircraft. A total of 326 aircraft in four waves are launched including 48 B5N "Kates" and Nakajima B6N Navy Carrier Attack Bomber Tenzan, Allied Code Name "Jill:" 89 Aichi D3A Navy Type 99 Carrier Bombers, Allied Code Name "Val" and D4Y "Judys;" and 189 A6M "Zekes."

USN radar picks the first of these aircraft up at 0950 hours when they are 130 miles (209.2 km) away. TheUSNfighters, approximately 475 in all, are recalled from combat strikes or launched and the other carrier aircraft, 59 SBD Dauntlesses, 174 SB2C Helldivers and 192 TBM Avengers, are vectored to an area 100 miles (160.9 km) from the fleet and 200 miles (321.9 km) off Guam.

0910 hours: The newest IJN aircraft carrier, the 31,000-ton, HIJMS Taiho is torpedoed by the submarine USS Albacore (SS-218), 180 nautical miles north-northwest of Yap Island, while she is launching her aircraft. One torpedo hits and the explosion jams the forward aircraft elevator, and fills its pit with gasoline, water, and aviation fuel however, no fire erupts, and the flight deck is unharmed. IJN escorts drop 75 depth charges but the submarine escapes. Meanwhile a novice officer takes over the damage control responsibilities on Taiho and he believes that the best way to handle gasoline fumes is to open up the ship's ventilation system and let them disperse throughout the ship.

0950 hours: TF 58 radars pick up the first of the incoming Japanese carrier-based aircraft when they are 130 miles (209 km) away. TF 52 and TF 58 recalls all fighters and begin launching those still on the deck. A total of 475 F6F Hellcats and FM Wildcats are available. At the same time, TF 58 orders the 192 Eastern Aircraft TBM Avengers, 174 Curtiss SB2C Helldivers and 59 Douglas SBD Dauntless' to disperse 100 miles (160 km) from the TF and 200 (320 km) from Guam. This eliminates a major fire hazard on the carriers and makes it easier to rearm and refuel the fighters.

1025-1215 hours: The American F6Fs and FMs attack the incoming Japanese aircraft and shoot down over 300 of the Japanese aircraft.

1049 hours: A Japanese carrier-based bomber from the first attack group scores a direct hit on the battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) killing 27 sailors and wounding another 23, and blowing a large hole on the main deck, cutting wiring and piping.

1100 hours: 17 Bombing Squadron Two (VB-2) SB2Cs and seven Torpedo Squadron Two (VT-2) escorted by 12 VF-2 Hellcats from USS Hornet (CV-12) attack Orte Airfield on Guam.

1200 hours: A Japanese carrier-based bomber drops an incendiary bomb that explodes over the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) killing one sailor and wounding 12 others. A D4Y "Judy" drops a bomb alongside the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill (CV-17), which scatters shrapnel, killing 2 sailors and wounding over 80. The heavy cruiser USS MINNEAPOLIS (CA-36) is damaged after taking a bomb miss close aboard.

1220 hours: The submarine USS Cavalla (SS-244) fires a spread of six torpedoes at the aircraft carrier HIJMS Shokaku, which is landing aircraft, three hit. The Shokaku later sinks 140 nautical miles north of Yap Island. IJN escorts drop 106 depth charges but the submarine escapes.

1300 hours: SBDs of VB-16 in USS Lexington (CV-16) that have been circling to avoid the Japanese aircraft, attack Orote Field on Guam without orders. TF 58 commanders then order all dive and torpedo bombers that are airborne to attack Orote and Agana Airfields on Guam.

1330 hours: A tremendous explosion jolts Taiho and blows out the sides of the carrier.

1500 hours: The American fighters have been rearmed and refuelled and are ordered to attack the airfields on Guam and Saipan. As F6F Hellcats attack Orote Airfield, 49 Japanese carrier planes low on fuel attempt to land and the majority are shot down or destroyed on the ground.

During the afternoon, Ensign Wilbur B. Webb of VF-2 in USS Hornet (CV-12) shoots down six Judys; Captain David McCampbell of Air Group 15 personally shoots down 7 Japanese aircraft with two probables; six other airmen achieve "ace" status this afternoon.

1700 hours: After a second explosion, the Japanese aircraft carrier HIJMS Taiho, which was torpedoed at 0910 hours, sinks, stern first, carrying down 1,650 officers and men.

During the night, TG 58.4, the carriers Cowpens, Essex and Langley, remains off the Marianas while the rest of TF 58 pursues the Japanese First Mobile Fleet.

One other casualty of this battle is the submarine HIJMS I-184 which is sunk by a TBM of VT-60 in USS Suwanee (CVE-27).

The Japanese have lost two aircraft carriers and one submarine plus 380 confirmed victories and 55 probables. U.S. losses are 17 carrier aircraft plus one battleship and one cruiser damaged. U.S. casualties are 58 killed, 20 pilots, seven aircrew and 31 aboard ships. 

During the night of 19/20 June, Task Force 58 begins pursuing the Japanese fleet while leaving Task Group 58.4 behind to refuel and support ground forces on Saipan and the other Mariana Islands.

Two of the heroes of this action are Commander David McCampbell, USN, Commanding Officer of Carrier Air Group Fifteen (CVG-15) in USS Essex (CV-9) and Lieutenant (jg) Alexander Vraciu of Fighting Squadron Sixteen (VF-16) in USS Lexington (CV-16). McCampbell leads the fighters of VF-15 in attacking a force of 80 IJN aircraft and he shoots down seven aircraft while Vraciu of downs six aircraft. Twelve other fighter pilots achieve "ace" status in the morning.

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