The Battle of the
Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944) was a major
naval battle of
World War II
World War II that eliminated the Imperial Japanese
Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions. It took place
during the United States' amphibious invasion of the Mariana Islands
during the Pacific War. The battle was the last of five major
"carrier-versus-carrier" engagements between American and Japanese
naval forces, and pitted elements of the
United States Navy's Fifth
Fleet against ships and aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy's
Mobile Fleet and nearby island garrisons. This was the largest
carrier-to-carrier battle in history.
The aerial part of the battle was nicknamed the Great Marianas Turkey
Shoot by American aviators for the severely disproportional loss ratio
inflicted upon Japanese aircraft by American pilots and anti-aircraft
gunners. During a debriefing after the first two air battles a
pilot from USS Lexington remarked "Why, hell, it was just like an
old-time turkey shoot down home!" The outcome is generally
attributed to American improvements in training, tactics, technology
(including the top-secret anti-aircraft proximity fuze), and ship and
aircraft design.[N 1][N 2]
During the course of the battle, American submarines torpedoed and
sank two of the largest Japanese fleet carriers taking part in the
battle.:331–333 The American carriers launched a protracted
strike, sinking one light carrier and damaging other ships, but most
of these aircraft returning to their carriers ran low on fuel as night
fell and 80 planes were lost. Although at the time the battle appeared
to be a missed opportunity to destroy the Japanese fleet, the Imperial
Japanese Navy had lost the bulk of its carrier air strength and would
2 Opposing forces
2.1 U.S. fleet
2.2 Japanese fleet
3 Initial stages
4.1 Early actions
4.2 Japanese raids
4.3 Submarine attacks
4.4 U.S. Counterattack
6 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed on April 18, 1943. The following
Mineichi Koga succeeded Yamamoto as
the Combined Fleet. Koga wanted the
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy to engage
the American fleet in a single decisive battle in early 1944.
From the very start of the conflict in December 1941, the Japanese war
plan had been to discourage America by inflicting such severe and
painful losses on its military that the public would become war weary
and the American government would be convinced to sue for peace and
allow Japan to keep her conquests in east and southeast Asia.
Though at a numerical disadvantage from the outset, and an industrial
disadvantage that would add to that disparity over the course of time,
the Japanese high command believed they could fight the
U.S. Navy in a
single, decisive engagement, known as the Kantai Kessen, which would
allow them to defeat the Americans. However, their ability to fight
and win such a battle was slipping away. Imperial Navy aircrew losses
suffered over the course of the earlier carrier battles at Coral Sea
and Midway, and the long
Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign of 1942-43, had
greatly weakened the Japanese Navy's ability to project force with its
Solomon Islands campaign
Solomon Islands campaign was largely fought by the Imperial
Navy, losses suffered there drastically reduced the number of skilled
carrier pilots available to fill the carrier air groups. Losses
suffered in the Solomons could be readily absorbed, replaced and made
good by the U.S. Navy, but not by the Japanese. It took nearly a year
for the Japanese to reconstitute their air groups following the
The initial Japanese plan was to engage the
U.S. Pacific Fleet
U.S. Pacific Fleet in
early 1944, whenever it launched its next offensive, but the decisive
battle consequently had to be delayed. Meanwhile, American material
production capacity, aircrew training, and technological advances made
a Japanese victory increasingly difficult to achieve. By the end of
1942, the Allied navies had overcome most of the technological edges
Japan's ships and planes had held at the start of the war.
Furthermore, by mid-1943 mass production of ships and improved
aircraft began to tip the balance of forces in the favor of the
Allies. Allied training practices similarly adapted to new
developments. The US revised fleet operations, with parallel
developments in both the
Combat Information Center
Combat Information Center and in doctrine,
training, and practices to get the most out of the new communications
and sensor technologies.
After puncturing Japan's 'outer' defensive ring at the costly Battle
of Tarawa in late 1943, the
U.S. Navy brought these improvements
together in the form of the Fast Carrier Task Force, under Admiral
Marc Mitscher (known as
Task Force 58
Task Force 58 when part of Admiral Raymond
Spruance's Fifth Fleet and Task Force 38 when part of Admiral William
F. Halsey's Third Fleet). Led by this main strike force, in early 1944
the U.S. fleet continued its advance in a steady progression across
the islands of the central Pacific. After achieving their goals in
the Gilbert Islands campaign, the Americans began a series of
softening-up missions aimed at weakening Japanese land-based airpower
to limit Japan's ability to interfere with future amphibious
invasions. Few U.S. commanders realized how powerful
Task Force 58
Task Force 58 had
become. Though initially undertaken with trepidation, the raids proved
to be successful beyond anything U.S. planners had imagined—notably
with Operation Hailstone, which effectively neutralized the primary
central Pacific base of the
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy at
Truk Lagoon and
changed the manner in which the war would be pursued.
While U.S. commanders, particularly Admiral Spruance, were concerned
about the Japanese trying to attack U.S. transports and newly landed
forces, the Japanese objective was actually to engage and defeat the
Fast Carrier Task Force. The Japanese commanders saw the Marianas
island group in the central Pacific, including Guam, Tinian, and
Saipan, as their inner circle of defense. Land-based fighter and
bomber aircraft on these islands controlled the sea lanes to Japan and
protected the home islands. As the Americans prepared for the Marianas
campaign, the IJN concluded that the
Kantai Kessen could be delayed no
The Japanese had a number of advantages they hoped would turn the
battle in their favor. Though outnumbered in ships and aircraft, they
planned to supplement their carrier airpower with land-based
aircraft. In addition, the Japanese aircraft had superior range,
which could allow them to engage the American carriers beyond the
range of American aircraft. Furthermore, with island bases in the
area, the Japanese hoped to launch at distance, have their aircraft
attack the U.S. fleet and then land on island airfields. They then
could shuttle back and attack again on the return flight. Thus the
U.S. fleet would be in the position of receiving punishment without
being able to deliver it. Lastly, the area was dominated by the
easterly trade winds. Naval aircraft of the era needed a head wind
blowing across the flight deck to enable the aircraft to launch. The
easterly trade winds that dominated the Central Pacific seas meant
that aircraft carriers would necessarily have to be steaming eastward
to launch and recover aircraft. This meant that a fleet located to the
west of the Marianas would be in position to initiate and break off
the battle, placing the initiative in the hands of the
In March 1944, Admiral Koga was killed when his aircraft flew into a
typhoon and crashed. A new
Commander-in-Chief of the Combined
Fleet, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, was appointed. He continued the current
work, finalizing the Japanese plans known as Plan A-Go or Operation
A-Go. The plan was adopted in early June 1944, then within weeks
quickly put into place to engage the American fleet now detected
heading for Saipan.
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For this battle, the American force was designated the Fifth Fleet,
under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance. The Fast Carrier group
was designated Task Force 58, commanded by Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher.
Spruance flew his flag aboard the heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis,
which was sailing in the outer defensive ring of Task Group 58.3.
Mitscher's flagship was USS Lexington, also in Task Group 58.3.
TF 58 was made up of five task groups. Deployed in front of the
carriers to act as an anti-aircraft screen was the battle group of
Vice Admiral Willis Lee, Task Group 58.7 (TG-58.7): seven fast
battleships (Washington (flagship), North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, New
Jersey, South Dakota, and Alabama), and eight heavy cruisers
(Baltimore, Boston, Canberra, Indianapolis, Wichita, Minneapolis, New
Orleans, and San Francisco). Just north of them was the weakest of the
carrier groups, Rear Admiral William K. Harrill's Task Group 58.4 of
one fleet carrier (Essex) and two light carriers (Langley and
Cowpens). To the east, in a line running north to south, were three
groups, each containing two fleet carriers and two light carriers:
Rear Admiral Joseph Clark's Task Group 58.1 (Hornet, Yorktown, Belleau
Wood and Bataan); Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery's Task Group 58.2
(Bunker Hill, Wasp, Cabot, and Monterey); and Rear Admiral John W.
Reeves's Task Group 58.3 (Enterprise, Lexington, San Jacinto, and
Princeton). These capital ships were supported by 13 light cruisers,
68 destroyers, and 28 submarines.
F6F-3 landing aboard Lexington —
Task Force 58
Task Force 58 flagship
The Fifth Fleet also controlled the
Saipan invasion force, Task Force
52, under Vice Admiral Kelly Turner. TF 52 included two Fire Support
Groups with seven older battleships, three cruisers, two Carrier
Support Groups with seven escort carriers, and a number of destroyers.
None of these ships participated in the carrier action; planes from
the escort carriers engaged the Japanese land-based aircraft along
with TF 58's planes.
The Japanese fleet, commanded by Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa,
consisted of three large fast fleet carriers (Taihō, Shōkaku, and
Zuikaku), two slower second-rate fleet carriers converted from ocean
liners (Junyō and Hiyō), four light carriers (Ryūhō, Chitose,
Chiyoda, and Zuihō), five battleships (Yamato, Musashi, Kongō,
Haruna, and Nagato), 11 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 31
destroyers, 6 oilers, and 24 submarines.
On June 12, 1944, U.S. carriers made air strikes on the Marianas,
convincing Admiral Toyoda that the U.S. was preparing to invade. This
move came as a surprise; the Japanese had expected the next U.S.
target to be farther to the south, either the Carolines or the Palaus,
and had protected the Marianas with only 50 land-based aircraft. On
June 13–15, American carriers made additional airstrikes while
surface forces bombarded the Marianas. On June 15, the first American
troops went ashore on Saipan.
Since control of the Marianas would bring American strategic bombers
in range of the Japanese home islands, the IJN decided it was time for
Kantai Kessen (decisive battle). Toyoda immediately
ordered a fleet-based counterattack, committing nearly all of the
Japanese navy's serviceable ships.
The main portions of the fleet rendezvoused on June 16 in the western
part of the
Philippine Sea and completed refueling on June 17. Ozawa
commanded this force from his newly commissioned flagship, Taihō. In
addition to extensive command facilities, reinforced torpedo blisters,
and a large air group, Taihō was the first Japanese carrier to
possess an armor-plated flight deck, designed to withstand bomb hits
with minimal damage.
At 18:35 on 15 June, submarine USS Flying Fish sighted a Japanese
carrier and battleship force coming out of San Bernardino Strait. An
hour later USS Seahorse spotted a battleship and cruiser force
steaming up from the south, 200 miles east of Mindanao. The submarines
were under orders to report sightings first, before attempting to
attack. Thus Flying Fish waited until nightfall, then surfaced to
radio in its report. Fifth Fleet commander Spruance was convinced
that a major battle was at hand. After consulting with Admiral Chester
Nimitz at Pacific Fleet Headquarters in Hawaii, he ordered Task Force
58, which had sent two carrier task groups north to intercept aircraft
reinforcements from Japan, to reform and move west of
Saipan into the
TF 52's old battleships, cruisers, and escort carrier groups were
ordered to remain near
Saipan to protect the invasion fleet and
provide air support for the landings.
Shortly before midnight on June 18, Nimitz radioed Spruance that a
Japanese vessel had broken radio silence. The message intercepted was
an apparent dispatch from Ozawa to his land-based air forces on Guam.
Radio direction-finding placed the sender approximately 355 miles
(560 km) west-southwest of TF 58. Mitscher considered whether
the radio messages was a Japanese deception, as the Japanese were
known to send a single vessel off to break radio silence, to mislead
their adversaries about the actual location of the main force.
Mitscher realized that there was a chance of a night surface encounter
with Ozawa's forces. Arleigh Burke, Mitscher's Chief of Staff (a
former destroyer squadron commander who had won several night battles
in the Solomons), assumed that battle line commander Lee would welcome
the opportunity. But Lee strongly opposed such an encounter.
Having personally experienced a confused night action off Guadalcanal,
Lee was not enthusiastic about a night engagement with Japanese
surface forces, believing that his crews were not adequately trained
for it. Shortly after learning Lee's opinion, Mitscher requested
permission from Spruance to move TF 58 west during the night, to reach
a launch position at dawn that would allow for a maximum aerial
assault on the enemy force.
Spruance considered for an hour, then refused Mitscher's request.
Mitscher's staff was disappointed with Spruance's decision. On the
situation, Captain Burke later commented: "We knew we were going to
have hell slugged out of us in the morning. We knew we couldn't reach
them. We knew they could reach us." Spruance said "if we were
doing something so important that we were attracting the enemy to us,
we could afford to let him come—and take care of him when he
arrived." This was in stark contrast to the
Battle of Midway
Battle of Midway in 1942,
where Spruance advocated immediately attacking even when his own
strike force wasn't fully assembled, as neutralizing enemy carriers
before they could launch their planes was the key to the survival of
Spruance's decision was influenced by his orders from Nimitz, who had
made it clear that the protection of the invasion fleet was the
primary mission of Task Force 58. Spruance had concerns that the
Japanese would attempt to draw his main fleet away from the Marianas
with a diversionary force while slipping an attack force in to destroy
the landing fleet. Locating and destroying the Japanese fleet was
not his primary objective, and he was unwilling to allow the main
strike force of the Pacific Fleet to be drawn westward, away from the
amphibious forces. Mitscher accepted the decision without comment.
Spruance's decision in this matter, although subsequently criticized,
was certainly justified; by this point in the war, it was well known
that Japanese operational plans frequently relied on the use of decoys
and diversionary forces. However, in this particular engagement (and
in sharp contrast to the subsequent Battle of Leyte Gulf), there was
no such aspect in the Japanese plan.
Before daybreak, Spruance suggested if the daybreak searches revealed
no targets, the bombers could be sent to crater the airfields on Rota
and Guam. But the fleet's contact-fused bombs had been largely used up
in the earlier strikes. Mitscher was left with only the armor-piercing
bombs needed to combat the Japanese fleet, so he informed Spruance he
could not launch such strikes. As the morning broke, TF 58
launched search aircraft, combat air patrols (CAP), and anti-submarine
patrols, and then turned the fleet west to gain maneuvering room from
the islands. The
U.S. Navy had developed a sophisticated air
control system, which vectored
Combat air patrol
Combat air patrol (CAP) fighters by
radar to intercept enemy bombers well before they reached the fleet.
Any attackers that got through the CAP would then face a "gun line" of
screening battleships and cruisers who would put up devastating
barrages of VT-fuzed anti-aircraft fire, before reaching the aircraft
carriers.[N 1][N 2]
Map of Battle of the Philippine Sea
The Japanese had already launched their morning search patrols, using
some of the 50 aircraft stationed on Guam, and at 05:50, one of these,
a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, found TF-58. After radioing his sighting of
U.S. ships, the bomb-carrying Zero attacked picket destroyer Stockham
and was shot down by destroyer Yarnall.
Alerted, the Japanese began launching their Guam-based aircraft for an
attack. These were spotted on radar by U.S. ships. A group of thirty
Grumman F6F Hellcats were dispatched from the USS Belleau Wood to
deal with the threat. The Hellcats arrived while aircraft were still
launching from Orote Field. Minutes later, additional radar contacts
were seen, which were later discovered to be the additional forces
being sent north from the other islands. A battle broke out in which
35 Japanese aircraft were shot down for the loss of a single Hellcat.
It was a pattern that would be repeated throughout the day. At 09:57
large numbers of bogeys were picked up approaching the fleet. Mitscher
said to Burke "Get those fighters back from Guam". The call "Hey,
Rube!" was sent out.[N 3] The fleet held steady until 10:23, when
Mitscher ordered TF 58 to turn into the wind on course east-southeast,
and ordered all fighter aircraft aloft, deployed in several layers of
(CAP) to await the Japanese. He then sent his bomber aircraft
aloft to orbit open waters to the east, so they wouldn't be in danger
of a Japanese bomb going off in a hangar deck full of aircraft.
Fighter aircraft contrails mark the sky over Task Force 58, June 19,
The recall had been ordered after several ships in TF 58 picked up
radar contacts 150 miles (240 km) to the west around 10:00. This
was the first of the raids from the Japanese carrier forces, with 68
aircraft. TF 58 started launching every fighter it could, and by the
time they were in the air, the Japanese had closed to 70 miles
(110 km). However, the Japanese began circling to regroup their
formations for the attack. This 10-minute delay proved critical, and
the first group of Hellcats met the raid, still at 70 miles
(110 km), at 10:36. They were quickly joined by additional
groups. Within minutes, 25 Japanese aircraft had been shot down,
against the loss of only one U.S. aircraft.
The Japanese aircraft that survived were met by other fighters, and 16
more were shot down. Of the 27 aircraft which now remained, some made
attacks on the picket destroyers USS Yarnall and
USS Stockham but caused no damage. Between three and six bombers
broke through to Lee's battleship group and attacked; one scored a
direct hit on the main deck of USS South Dakota, which killed or
injured over 50 men, but failed to disable her. South Dakota was the
only American ship damaged in this attack. Not one aircraft of Ozawa's
first wave got through to the American carriers.
USS Bunker Hill is nearly hit by a Japanese bomb during the air
attacks of June 19, 1944.
At 11:07, radar detected another, larger attack. This second wave
consisted of 107 aircraft. They were met while still 60 miles
(97 km) out, and at least 70 of these aircraft were shot down
before reaching the ships. Six attacked Rear Admiral Montgomery's
group, nearly hitting two of the carriers and causing casualties on
each. Four of the six were shot down. A small group of torpedo
aircraft attacked Enterprise, one torpedo exploding in the wake of the
ship. Three other torpedo-aircraft attacked the light carrier
Princeton but were shot down. In all, 97 of the 107 attacking aircraft
The third raid, consisting of 47 aircraft, came in from the north. It
was intercepted by 40 fighters at 13:00, while 50 miles (80 km)
out from the task force. Seven Japanese aircraft were shot down. A few
broke through and made an ineffective attack on the Enterprise group.
Many others did not press home their attacks. This raid therefore
suffered less than the others, and 40 of its aircraft managed to
return to their carriers.
The fourth Japanese raid was launched between 11:00 and 11:30, but
pilots had been given an incorrect position for the U.S. fleet and
could not locate it. They then broke into two loose groups and turned
Guam and Rota to refuel.
Alexander Vraciu downed six Japanese dive bombers in a single
mission, June 19, 1944.
One group flying toward Rota stumbled upon Montgomery's task group.
Eighteen aircraft joined battle with American fighters and lost half
their number. A smaller group of nine Japanese dive bombers of this
force evaded U.S. aircraft and attacked Wasp and Bunker Hill, but
scored no hits. Eight were shot down. The larger group of Japanese
aircraft had flown to
Guam and were intercepted over
Orote Field by 27
Hellcats while landing. Thirty of the 49 Japanese aircraft were shot
down, and the rest were damaged beyond repair. Aboard the Lexington
afterward, a pilot was heard to remark "Hell, this is like an old-time
Including the continued aerial slaughter over Orote Field, Japanese
losses exceeded 350 planes on the first day of battle. American losses
were relatively light, with about thirty planes being lost. Damage to
American ships was minimal, and even the damaged South Dakota was able
to remain in formation to continue her anti-aircraft duties.
Most of the Japanese pilots who successfully evaded the U.S. fighter
screens were the small number of seasoned veterans who had survived
the six-month Japanese advance early in the Pacific war, the Battle of
Midway, and the Guadalcanal campaign.
Throughout the day, American scout aircraft had been unable to locate
the Japanese fleet. However, two American submarines had already
spotted Ozawa's carriers early that morning, and were about to provide
important assistance to the Fast Carrier Task Force.
Japanese aircraft carrier Taihō
At 08:16 the submarine USS Albacore, which had sighted Ozawa's
own carrier group, had maneuvered into an ideal attack position;
James W. Blanchard
James W. Blanchard selected the closest carrier
as his target, which happened to be Taihō, the largest and newest
carrier in the Japanese fleet and Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa's
flagship. As Albacore was about to fire, however, her fire-control
computer failed, and the torpedoes had to be fired "by eye".
Determined to go ahead with the attack, Blanchard ordered all six
torpedoes to be fired in a single spread to increase the chances of a
Taihō had just launched 42 aircraft as a part of the second raid when
Albacore fired its torpedo spread. Of the six torpedoes fired, four
veered off-target; Sakio Komatsu, the pilot of one of the recently
launched aircraft, sighted one of the two which were heading for
Taihō and dove his aircraft into its path, causing the torpedo to
detonate prematurely. However, the sixth torpedo struck the carrier on
her starboard side, rupturing two aviation-fuel tanks. After coming
under depth charge attacks from the carrier's escorting destroyers,
Albacore escaped with only minor damage.
Initially, the damage to Taihō seemed minor; the flooding was quickly
contained and the carrier's propulsion and navigation were unaffected.
Taihō quickly resumed regular operations; however, gasoline vapors
from the ruptured fuel tanks began to fill the hangar decks, creating
an increasingly dangerous situation on board.
Japanese aircraft carrier Shōkaku
Another submarine, USS Cavalla, was able to maneuver to an attack
position on the 25,675-ton carrier Shōkaku by about noon. The
submarine fired a spread of six torpedoes, three of which struck
Shōkaku on her starboard side.:329–331 Badly damaged, the
carrier came to a halt. One torpedo had hit the forward aviation fuel
tanks near the main hangar, and aircraft that had just landed and were
being refueled exploded into flames. Ammunition and exploding bombs
added to the conflagration, as did burning fuel spewing from shattered
fuel pipes. With her bows subsiding into the sea and fires out of
control, the captain gave orders to abandon ship. Within minutes,
there was a catastrophic explosion of aviation fuel vapor which had
built up between decks, which blew the ship apart. The carrier rolled
over and slid beneath the waves about 140 miles (230 km) north of
the island of Yap, taking 887 crew plus 376 men of the 601st Naval Air
Group, a total of 1,263 men in all, to the seabed. There were 570
survivors, including the carrier's commanding officer, Captain Hiroshi
Destroyer Urakaze attacked the submarine, but Cavalla
escaped with relatively minor damage despite near misses from depth
Meanwhile, Taihō was falling victim to poor damage control. Hoping to
clear the explosive fumes, an inexperienced damage-control officer
ordered her ventilation system to operate at full blast. This action
instead spread the vapors throughout Taihō, putting the entire vessel
at risk. At approximately 14:30, a spark from an electric generator on
the hangar deck ignited the accumulated fumes, triggering a series of
catastrophic explosions. After the first explosions, it was clear that
Taihō was doomed, and Ozawa and his staff transferred to the nearby
Zuikaku.:332 Soon thereafter, Taihō suffered a second series of
explosions and sank. From a crew of 2,150, 1,650 officers and men were
Japanese Carrier Division Three under attack by
United States Navy
aircraft from Task Force 58, late afternoon, June 20, 1944. The heavy
cruiser circling at right, nearest to the camera, is either Maya or
Chōkai. Beyond that is the small aircraft carrier Chiyoda.
TF 58 sailed west during the night to attack the Japanese at dawn.
Search patrols were put up at first light.
Admiral Ozawa had transferred to the destroyer Wakatsuki after Taihō
had been hit, but the radio gear on board was incapable of sending the
number of messages needed, so he transferred again, to the carrier
Zuikaku, at 13:00. It was then he learned of the disastrous results of
the previous day and that he had about 150 aircraft left.
Nevertheless, he decided to continue the attacks, thinking there were
still hundreds of aircraft on
Guam and Rota, and started planning new
raids for June 21.
The main problem for TF 58 was locating the enemy, who had been
operating at a great distance. Early-morning American searches on June
20 found nothing. An extra mid-day search flown by Hellcat fighter
pilots also came back empty. Finally at 15:12 a garbled message from
an Enterprise search plane indicated a sighting. At 15:40 the sighting
was verified, along with distance, course, and speed. The Japanese
fleet was 275 miles out, moving due west at a speed of 20 knots.
The Japanese were at the limit of TF 58's strike range, and daylight
was slipping away. Mitscher decided to launch an all-out strike. After
the first attack group had launched, a third message arrived,
indicating the Japanese fleet were 60 miles farther out than
previously indicated. The first launch would be at their limits of
fuel, and would have to attempt landing at night. Mitscher canceled
the second launch of aircraft, but chose not to recall the first
launch. Of the 240 planes that were launched for the strike, 14
aborted for various reasons and returned to their ships. The 226
planes that continued on consisted of 95 Hellcat fighters (some
carrying 500-pound bombs), 54 Avenger torpedo bombers (only a few
carrying torpedoes, the rest four 500-pound bombs) and 77 dive bombers
(51 Helldivers and 26 Dauntlesses). The TF 58 aircraft arrived
over the Japanese fleet just before sunset.
The fighter cover Ozawa was able to put up would have been good by
1942 standards, but the 35 or so fighters he had available were
overwhelmed by the 226 incoming aircraft of Mitscher's attack. Though
these few were often skillfully handled, and the Japanese antiaircraft
fire was intense, the U.S. planes were able to press in on the
The first ships sighted by the U.S. strike were oilers, thirty miles
before the carrier groups. The strike group from the Wasp, more
concerned with their low fuel levels than with finding the more
important Japanese carriers and battleships, dove on the tankers.
Two of these were damaged so severely that they were later scuttled,
while a third was able to put out fires and get under way.
The carrier Hiyō was attacked and hit by bombs and aerial torpedoes
from four Grumman TBF Avengers from Belleau Wood. Hiyō was set afire
after a tremendous blast from leaking aviation fuel. Dead in the
water, she slipped stern first under the waves, with the loss of 250
officers and men. The rest of her crew, about one thousand, were
rescued by Japanese destroyers.
The carriers Zuikaku, Junyō, and Chiyoda were damaged by bombs.
Returning American strike pilots generally assessed these carriers as
more crippled than they actually were, mistaking for devastating
direct hits what Japanese post-war records revealed to have actually
been huge geysers caused by near misses. The battleship Haruna was
also hit by two bombs, including one directly on a main battery
turret. Damage was contained and she was able to keep station,
however, in some part thanks to her captain's prompt decision to flood
the turret's magazine to avoid a chance of an explosion.
Twenty American aircraft in the strike were destroyed. These were lost
both to Japanese fighters and to anti-aircraft fire that made up for a
relative lack of accuracy with high volume of fire.
After the protracted strike, it became clear that most of the aircraft
returning to their carriers were running dangerously low on fuel, and
to worsen matters, night had fallen. At 20:45, the first returning
U.S. aircraft reached TF 58. Knowing his aviators would have
difficulty finding their carriers, Mitscher decided to illuminate his
carriers, shining searchlights directly up into the night, despite the
risk of attack from submarines and night-flying aircraft. Picket
destroyers fired starshells to help the aircraft find the task groups.
Planes were given clearance to land on any available flight deck (not
just their home carriers, as usual), and many did land on other
carriers. Despite this, 80 of the returning aircraft were lost. Some
crashed on flight decks, but the majority ditched into the sea. Some
pilots intentionally went down in groups to facilitate rescue, and
more ditched individually either in a controlled landing, with a few
gallons of fuel left, or in a crash after their engines ran dry.
Most of the crews (approximately three-quarters) were fished from the
seas, either that night from crash locations within the task forces,
or over the next few days for those further out, as search planes and
destroyers criss-crossed the ocean looking for them.[N 4]
That night, Toyoda ordered Ozawa to withdraw from the Philippine Sea.
U.S. forces gave chase, but the battle was over.
The four Japanese air strikes involved 373 carrier aircraft, of which
130 returned to the carriers. Many of these survivors were
subsequently lost when Taiho and Shōkaku were sunk by submarine
attacks. After the second day of the battle, losses totaled three
carriers, more than 433 carrier aircraft, and around 200 land-based
These losses to the already outnumbered Japanese fleet air arm were
irreplaceable. The Japanese had spent the better part of a year
reconstituting their carrier air groups, and the American Fast Carrier
Task Force had destroyed 90% of it in two days. The Japanese had only
enough pilots left to form the air group for one of their light
carriers. As a consequence, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, four
months later, their carriers were used merely as decoys.
The Japanese military, which had shielded the Japanese public from the
extent of their losses, continued this policy. Though the occurrence
of the simultaneous Battle of the
Philippine Sea and the Battle of
Saipan were made known to the public, the extent of the disasters was
Losses on the U.S. side on the first day were only 23 aircraft. The
second day's airstrike against the Japanese fleet saw most of the
aircraft losses for the U.S. Of the 226 aircraft launched on the
strike, only 115 made it back. Twenty were lost to enemy action in the
attack, while 80 more were lost when they ran out of fuel returning to
their carriers and had to ditch into the sea, or crashed attempting to
land at night.
Spruance's conservative battle plan for Task Force 58, while sinking
just one light carrier, severely weakened the Japanese naval aviation
forces by killing most of the remaining trained pilots and destroying
their operational reserves of naval aircraft, a blow that effectively
shattered the Japanese naval air arm from which it never
recovered. Without the time or resources to build sufficient
aircraft and train new pilots, the surviving Japanese carriers were
almost useless in an offensive role, a fact the Japanese acknowledged
by using them as sacrificial decoys at Leyte Gulf. With the effective
crippling of her best striking arm, Japan chose to rely increasingly
on land-based kamikaze suicide aircraft in a last-ditch effort to make
the war so costly that the U.S. would offer peace terms (other than
Spruance was heavily criticized after the battle by many officers,
particularly the aviators, for his decision to fight the battle
cautiously rather than exploiting his superior forces and intelligence
data with a more aggressive posture. By failing to close on the enemy
earlier and more forcefully, his critics argue, he squandered an
opportunity to destroy the entire Japanese Mobile Fleet. "This is what
comes of placing a non-aviator in command over carriers" was the
common refrain. Admiral John Towers, a naval aviation pioneer and
Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet, demanded that Spruance be
relieved. The request was denied by Admiral Nimitz. Moreover,
Spruance was supported in his decision by Nimitz, Kelly Turner, and
the top naval commander, the acerbic and highly demanding Admiral
Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations.
Spruance's caution (in particular, his suspicion of a diversionary
force) can be compared with Halsey's headlong pursuit of an actual
diversionary force at Leyte Gulf four months later. Halsey left the
American invasion fleet weakly protected during the Battle off Samar,
a nearly successful attack by Japanese heavy surface units. In
addition, by focusing on defense first, the carrier forces under
Philippine Sea suffered no harm. This was in contrast to
Leyte Gulf when Halsey's carriers were trying to neutralize the enemy
airfields and attack the enemy fleet simultaneously, such that a
Japanese bomber managed to evade the Combat Air Patrols to fatally
cripple the light carrier USS Princeton. Likewise during the
carrier-based air raids, US carriers were in a vulnerable position due
to readiness to launch strikes, and the low visibility coupled with
radar confusion let a Japanese bomber slip through and severely damage
Although the American carrier aircraft strikes caused less destruction
to enemy naval vessels than earlier battles, American submarines made
up for it by sinking two of the three Japanese fleet carriers, which
left the Zuikaku as the only remaining operational IJN fleet carrier.
F6F Hellcat fighter proved its worth, as its powerful
engine generated superior speed, while its protection and firepower
made it rugged and deadly. The Japanese were still flying the A6M Zero
which, though highly maneuverable and revolutionary during the early
stages of the Pacific War, showed its age by 1943 standards as being
underpowered and fragile, and quickly became obsolete in 1944. In
addition, the D4Y "Judy", though fast, was also fragile and easily set
afire. The Japanese naval airmen were also inadequately trained. The
Japanese training programs could not replace the quality aviators lost
during the past two years of the Pacific Campaign. Flying against the
well-trained and often veteran U.S. aviators, it was a one-sided
contest. The Americans lost fewer than two dozen Hellcats in
air-to-air combat. Naval aviation and AA fire garnered nearly 480
Japanese kills, 346 of those carrier aircraft on 19 June
United States Navy in World War II
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy of World War II
Imperial Japanese Navy
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
Z Plan (Japan)
^ a b The Americans now used and were becoming practiced with the new
radar-based Command Information Center, and anti-air defensive
firepower was delivered on target. Unlike the overburdened radio
channels and lost messages experienced in the Battle of Midway, the
U.S. fleet had sufficient frequencies and communications training,
discipline, experience and doctrine to maintain good command
coordination and control during the largest such battle ever.
^ a b Radar directed detection and interception allowed the American
Combat Air Patrol
Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to intercept and surprise 370 inbound Japanese
over fifty miles from the carriers and destroy about 250 in just that
one encounter. ("The Race for Radar and Stealth", 2006, Weapons Races
program on the
Military Channel affiliate of the Discovery network,
rebroadcast periodically.) Japanese aircraft which managed to get
through the CAP faced a well-organized line of cruisers and
battleships, thanks to the new command and control philosophy which
concentrated anti-aircraft firepower, and they were equipped with the
highly effective VT-fuzed anti-aircraft shells. None of the American
carriers were damaged, despite several near misses, while one
battleship suffered a bomb hit but remained fully operational.
^ "Hey Rube!" was the old circus cry used to call for help in a fight.
The navy borrowed it to signal fighters they were needed over the
United States Navy customarily rewarded the crew of a ship that
returned a downed pilot to his ship of origin with several gallons of
ice cream. (Stark, Norman (2002-09-17). "My True Worth – 10 Gallons
of Ice Cream". Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved
2015-08-26. ) (John, Philip (2004). USS Hancock CV/CVA-19
Fighting Hannah. Turner Publishing Company. p. 122.
ISBN 1-56311-420-8. )
^ Crowl 1995, p. 441
^ a b c Shores 1985, p. 205
^ Polmar 2008, pp. 377–400.
^ Shores 1985, p. 189.
^ Potter 1990, p. 160.
^ a b c d e Roscoe, T. (1949) Pig Boats New York: Bantam Books,
^ a b c Willmott 1984, p. 143.
^ Willmott 1984, p. 175.
^ Willmott 1984, p. 176.
^ Willmott 1984, p. 181.
^ Willmott 1984, p. 200.
^ a b c Willmott 1984, p. 182.
^ Potter 1990, p. 146.
^ History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, pp. 260-61.
"Strategic Victory in the Marianas Liberation of Guam; Capture of
Saipan and Tinian"
^ Morison, Samuel Eliot, "History of
United States Naval Operations in
World War II: Vollume Eight - New Guinea and the Marianas March 1944 -
August 1944," Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1953, 1989, Library
of Congress card number 53-7298, page 221.
^ Potter 1990, p. 152.
^ Potter 1990, p. 145.
^ a b Potter 1990, p. 148.
^ Taylor 1991, p. 220.
^ Potter 1990, p. 149.
^ Potter 1990, p. 150.
^ a b Potter 1990, p. 151.
^ Taylor 1991, p. 222.
^ The Battle of the
Philippine Sea 19-20 June 1944
^ C. N. Trueman, "The Battle of the Philippine Sea" The History
^ Taylor 1991, p. 223.
^ a b Potter 1990, p. 154.
^ Battle of the
Philippine Sea at Combinedfleet.com
^ Morison, Samuel Eliot, "History of
United States Naval Operations in
World War II: Vollume Eight - New Guinea and the Marianas March 1944 -
August 1944," Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1953, 1989, Library
of Congress card number 53-7298, page 262.
^ Potter 1990, p. 155.
^ Potter 1990, pp. 155-156.
^ Hearn, Chester G. Navy: An Illustrated History: The
U.S. Navy from
1775 to the 21st Century. Page 80.
^ Taylor 1991, p. 231.
^ Taylor 1991, p. 232.
^ Y'Blood 1981, p. ?.
^ Taylor 1991, p. 233.
^ Potter 1990, p. 166.
^ Tillman 2006, p. ?.
^ Tillman 2006, p. ??.
^ Tillman 2006, p. ???.
^ Tillman 2006, p. ????.
^ Hoyt 1986, p. 352.
^ Potter 1990, p. 170.
^ Willmott 1984, p. 204.
^ Potter 1990, pp. 174.
^ Potter 1990, pp. 173-174.
^ Potter 1990, pp. 175.
^ Morison 1953, p. ?.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Battle for the
Mariana Islands on YouTube
Order of battle
WW2DB: The Marianas and the Great Turkey Shoot
Battle of the
Philippine Sea at Combinedfleet.com
Animated History of The Battle of the Philippine Sea
The Controversy over Spruance's Decision
Air Group 31's participation in the Battle of the Philippine Sea
A Brief Account of the Battle
Coordinates: 20°00′00″N 130°00′00″E / 20.0000°N