|USS Lexington CV-16||
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THE GREAT MARIANAS TURKEY SHOOT
IN JUNE, 1944, JAPANESE FORCES IN THE PACIFIC LAUNCHED THEIR AERIAL FLEET
OF 440 FIGHTERS, DIVE BOMBERS AND TORPEDO PLANES INTO AN ALL-OUT ASSAULT AGAINST THE MORE
THAN 900 PLANES SUPPORTING THE AMERICAN FLEET. THE RESULT WAS PERHAPS
THE MOST LOPSIDED AIR BATTLE OF WWII -- A CRUSHING BLOW FROM WHICH
THE JAPANESE FORCES NEVER RECOVERED.
BY ALVIN S. FICK
The months of planning, the disagreements over strategy, the innumerable mock battles fought on the big game board at Japan's Naval War College--all came out of the small end of the funnel in a terse radio message from Admiral Toyoda, the new Commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet, to Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa. As has been the case so often with messages which have profoundly affected history, the communication was a masterpiece of brevity: "Activate 'A-Go Operation' for decisive battle." The date was June 15, 1944. "A-Go" was the code name for an all-out attempt on the part of the Japanese fleet to stop the U.S. juggernaut which was roaming the Pacific nearly unchallenged.
At the core of "A-Go" was the decision to make a supreme slashing effort to wrest control of the seas from the United States and crush the invasion of Saipan (called Operation Forager by the Americans) which began on the morning of June 15. Saipan, Tinian and Guam are the principal islands in a coral chain of fifteen called the Marianas.
Because this 425-mile arc lay only a thousand miles from Japan, it was considered part of the Japanese homeland. The planners of Operation Forager knew it would be fiercely defended. An armada of 535 ships, including the combat vessels of Task Force 58 and troopships carrying 127,500 troops, converged on the eastern reach of the Philippine Sea for what was the greatest invasion thus far in the war. Vice Admiral Ozawa left Tawi Tawi in the Philippines on June 13 as Commander of Mobile Fleet One, consisting of 9 carriers, 15 battleships, 11 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 28 destroyers. His flagship was the new carrier Taiho, a 33,000 ton product of the Kawasaki Dockyard near Tokyo which had been commissioned in March 1944. It was equipped with new planes, including a heavier armed Zeke fighter, the new torpedo plane called the Jill, and Judy dive bombers which were a big improvement over the slow old Val. In addition to the new Taiho, Ozawa numbered among his carriers the Hiyo, Shokaku and Zuikaku. His air arm included 440 fighters, dive bombers and torpedo planes. His opposition in the air was formidable--900 planes of which 475 were F6F3 Hellcat fighters. It was the Hellcats which would rule in the forthcoming engagement--the most lopsided air battle of the Second World War.
On June 18 Ozawa was prowling the Philippine Sea 700 miles west of the Japanese stronghold of Siapan, searching for the American fleet. Near 3 o'clock that afternoon one of his search planes found it. "Why don't we hit them tonight--a dusk torpedo attack?" one of Ozawa's officers urged as evening approached a favorite ploy of Japanese air-to ship warfare. Even as junior officer spoke, at 7:07P.M. lookouts on the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16), an Essex class carrier and flagship of Vice Admiral Marc A. ("Pete") Mitscher's Task Force 58, opened fire with its automatic batteries when 8 land-based "Frances" bombers were plainly visible on both port and starboard bow. The intense fire from the Lex's guns splashed five of the attacking planes. Patches of flaming wreckage marked watery graves around the ship. Capt. Ernest W. Litch skillfully maneuvered between two torpedos which passed the length of his ship close aboard. One of the attacking planes, This is a test to see the margins on this page I hope I can widen the sheet and fix this problem of having to see it so narrow and then it would be better to see the report that way. Flaming and out of control, flew the length of the flight deck so close that the faces of some of the crew topside were scorched. In addition to the five planes it destroyed unassisted, the Lexington shot down two more of the attackers with the aid of other ships in the group. A Life magazine photographer aboard the carrier described the engagement as the greatest demonstration of self defense he had ever seen. Aboard the Taiho, Ozawa stood for a long time looking out over the the calm sea which was reflecting shades of rose and gold from a setting sun. He was a thoughtful, deliberate even cautious tactician. Few of his pilots had no more than six months of training, and some-- incredibly--had less than two months.
"We will launch our attack at dawn," he told his staff. Thus the stage was set for one of the greatest aerial victories and smashing defeats of the war-- a crushing blow to Japanese air power from which it never recovered. An important part of Ozawa's plan was foredoomed to failure. Because his planes were relatively lightly armed and had a greater range than the American aircraft, he counted on launching his strikes from a greater distance than could the U.S fleet. Also he intended to land his attacking planes on the Japanese held islands of Rota and Guam to refuel, thus enabling them to attack the U.S. ships a second time on the way back to their home carriers. However, most of the attacking planes going on to Japanese air fields received a torrid welcome from Hellcats which swarmed into the landing pattern and picked off Rising Sun meatballs like kids grabbing gumdrops in a candy store. Admiral Ozawa had been relying on support from Mariana-based planes, but a surprise strike by 200 Task Force 58 planes in the early afternoon of June 11--suggested by Air Group 16 aboard the Lexington--had left the Japanese airfields strewn with the flaming wreckage of 154 aircraft and the runways pocked by bomb craters. The Japanese admiral had no more than 50 flyable land-based planes left. That was the least of his troubles. The inexperience of his pilots flying into the cauldron of battle must have haunted his sleep that night. Many things contribute to success of failure in aerial warfare, but ultimately it comes down to the planes and the men who fly them.
Early in the war the Japanese Zero was the dominant plane. But when the F4F Grumman Wild- cat fighter was replaced by the F6F Grumman Hellcat, the Zero was clearly outclassed. In June of 1942 Grumman Aircraft sent its general manager, Leon Swirbul, to Hawaii to talk to Navy combat fighter pilots in search of suggestions for an improved version of the Wildcat on which the Grumman plant was already working.
ADMIRAL OZAWA HAD BEEN RELYING ON SUPPORT FROM MARIANA-BASED PLANES, BUT A SURPRISE STRIKE BY 200 TASK FORCE 58 PLANES LEFT THE JAPANESE AIRFIELDS STREWN WITH THE FLAMING WRECKAGE OF 154 AIRCRAFT AND THE RUNWAYS POCKED BY BOMB CRATERS
Already the Navy's combat experience had shown the need for more range, firepower and armor. Lieutenant Commander John S Thach an outstanding fighter tactician and Commander of Fighting 3, summed it up for the pilots in one succint sentence: "Give us more speed and climb." They got it--and more. The contract for two Hellcat prototypes had been awarded June 30, 1941. The first production contract was awarded May 23, 1942, and XF6F-1's maiden flight was on June 26, 1942. On August 31,1943, the Hellcats made their combat debut--twelve months from the award of the contract to the first flight, followed by a span of fourteen months to first combat. Although most people remember the Vought F4U Corsair much more vividly than the F6F Hellcat, the latter far outstripped the Corsair in combat during the war. The F6F was officially credited by the Department of the Navy with the destruction of 5,156 enemy aircraft to a total of 2,140 for the Corsair. This in spite of the fact that more Corsairs were delivered during the war, and they went into action six months earlier than the Grumman fighter. A high landing speed and poor visibility from the cockpit for carrier landings kept the Corsair from becoming the major carrier fighter the Navy had anticipated. The F6F fitted the role almost perfectly. I was a solid and stable gunnery platform, as proved by its amazing record. One need look no further than the statistics of the Navy's top four aces of the war to confirm the Hellcat's combat and operational effectiveness:
Cdr. David McCampbell--34 kills Lt. Eugene Valencia--23 kills
Lt. Cecil Harris --24 kills Lt. Alexander Vraciu--19 kills
All flew Hellcats, contributing to an overall F6F kill-to-loss ration of nineteen to one, significantly better than the touted Corsair's respectable eleven to one ratio. In combat air patrols and strikes ranging from Tarawa in the Gilberts to Wake, Palau, Hollandia, and in a massive raid on Truk, the Hellcat won its spurs. It was a big, rugged plane, standing 11 feet 3 inches high. With 334 square feet it had the largest wing area of any single-seat fighter of World War II. In spite of its of its size and weight--12,400 pounds when loaded--it was about 60 miles per hour faster than its smaller Wildcat predecessor, and had a one-third better rate of climb. Powered by an 18 cylinder 2,000 Horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 engine, it carried six 50 caliber machine guns with 400 rounds per gun. Range on internal fuel was increased by 27 percent over the F4F. Its stall speed of 55 knots meant a landing speed of only 5 mph faster than the Wildcat, making the F6 a pussycat rather than a hellcat when it hooked an arresting gear cable on a carrier.
Pulled by its Hamilton-Standard prop, the F6F's diving speed exceeded 550 mph. In the words of the men who flew it, the Hellcat was some airplane. Captain David McCampbell, Ret., of VF-15, the Navy's top ace, says:"the flight characteristics of the Hellcat were excellent. I had the greatest respect for the Grumman F6F Hellcat and think it was the greatest plane of the war. I owe my life, my career, and such honors as I have received to this plane and the great crew at Grumman who worked overtime to give us
those fighters when we really needed them. The experiences of VF-16 with the F6F aboard the Lexington were typical of the carrier based groups. During the hard fought landings in the Gilberts, including Tarawa, Sixteen's fighters drew their first blood in the air. On November 23, 1943, 12 Hellcats shot down 17 of a flight of 20 Japanese planes. On the following day another 12 scored 12 more victories. This inspired the commanding officer of the Lexington, Captain Felix B. Stump (later made a rear admiral and transferred) to report on the engagement as follows: "The Commanding Officer would be interested to know if, in the brilliant records of other fighting aircraft units of this war, such a record has been equaled. It is probable that the courageous and aggressive action on the part of Fighting 16, in promptly intercepting and shooting down 29 Japanese planes, demoralized
the Japanese Air Command in the Marshalls to such an extent that they were temporarily unable to send any more planes toward the Gilberts while we were on station; and by thus stopping air attacks from the Marshalls, Fighting 16 contributed an appreciable share to the successful conclusion to the conquest of the Gilberts."
A few days later, on December 4, 12 of VF-16's Hellcats destroyed in the air 19 Zeros out of a flight of 30, plus one Betty bomber and three on the ground. Meanwhile, Air Group 16's SBDs (Douglas Dauntless dive bomber) got into the act, flaming six Zeros and one Betty in the air. In spite of the heroic work of its pilots, the Lexington was torpedoed that night, a crippling blow that sent her back to the states where she was repaired at the Bremerton, Washington, Navy Yard, and returned to action in time for strikes on Mille and Wojte on March 18, 1944.
Under the command of Vice Admiral Marc A. ("Pete") Mitscher, Fast Carrier Task Force 58, battle hardened and forged in the fires of action into the most formidable seagoing unit in history, had as its primary mission the protection of the Saipan invasion forces. Because of the presence of the Japanese fleet an earlier timetable to invade Guam first was scrapped. Mitscher was ideally suited for his assignment. A 1910 Annapolis graduate, he had been flying since 1915, and in 1928 made the first takeoff and landing aboard the carrier Saratoga. In addition, he was the old Hornet's first captain, and was in command during the launching of Colonel James Doolittle's B-25 raid on tokyo early in the war.
Perhaps the most accurate description of Mitscher came from an officer on the Lexington who described the weathered and leathery little man as looking "like a cherubic hickory nut." His fliers held him in high regard. Events which transpired on June 20, the day following the Turkey Shoot, increased manyfold the affectionate regard the pilots and air crew personnel felt for Mitscher.
Aboard the cruiser Indianapolis, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, over-all commander of the fleet, had received intelligence about the developing Japanese attack. U.S. submarines Redfin, Seahorse, Cavalla and Flying Fish had made contact with Ozawa's forces. On June 14 Spruance ordered the beginning of air searches. On the night of June 18/19 the Japanese main force was 400 miles distant, with its carrier group 300 miles from Task Force 58. A wrong estimate of the enemy's position and, perhaps more important, a misinterpretation of his intentions were sent to Vice Admiral Mitscher. Mitscher disagreed with Spruance's strategy, and asked for permission to attack. Spruance, fearful of a Japanese sweep around Task Force 58 which would endanger the Saipan landings, said no. It was an angry Pete Mitscher who took his place in a canvas and steel swivel chair facing aft on the bridge of the Lexington on the morning of the 19th. (Asked why he always watched flight deck activities while facing aft, he answered that nobody but a damned fool would ride with his face into the wind.) Word about the disagreement had leaked out aboard the Lexington. The plane captains and handling crews on the flight deck looking up at the familiar face on the bridge in the early morning of June 19 could see the rumors confirmed in the frustration etched in Mitscher's lined face. The piercing blue eyes beneath the green cap with the huge visor brooded over the planes spotted in launch position. Shortly after 5:30 a.m. a Hellcat from the Monterey spotted two Judys and shot down one of them. At 6:00 a destroyer splashed a second carrier-based Japanese aircraft. THE MARIANAS TURKEY SHOOT HAD BEGUN At approximately 7:15 the Hellcats of Task Force 58 had their first opportunity to demonstrate how well they were made for the task which was about to catapult them into the record book of aerial warfare. They had demonstrated their rugged dependability during air attacks on February 17 and 18, 1944, against Truk in the Caroline Islands, a vaunted Japanese stronghold in the Pacific. During the foray, carrier based planes had sunk most of the 50 ships they found in the harbor, including at least one cruiser and three destroyers, along with 200,000 tons of shipping. The
score in the air was equally impressive--nearly 300 enemy planes destroyed in the two-day action, marking the first time a major Pacific base was neutralized through air power. Task Force 58 had proved itself superior to island bases, and with no need for support from land- based planes to carry out its missions. Now fighters from the Belleau Wood, orbiting above Guam, and aided by fighters scrambled from other carriers, engaged a swarm of Japanese fighters based on the island. Although the swirling battle lasted but a short time, the Hellcats destroyed 35 enemy aircraft at a cost of only one of their own. It was a portentous omen casting a long shadow over coming events. Aboard the Lexington tension was mounting in the fighter ready room following the first letdown after the securing of general quarters at dawn. Breakfast had been eaten and the pilots were slouched in their chairs reading, checking their chartboards and .38 revolver sidearms. Some were making sure favorite good luck charms were in the pockets of their flight coveralls. just before 10:00 radar screens on Task Force 58's ships began to pick up blips of Ozawa's first large raid. At 10:04 the Lexington sounded general quarters. As the general alarm gonged throughout the ship, Lieutenant (JG) Alexander Vraciu and his fellow pilots of VF-16 raced for their planes on the flight deck.
It was Mitscher himself who radioed "Hey, Rube!" to the fighters orbiting over Rota and Guam, calling them back to help intercept the attacking Japanese planes with the old circus rallying cry. Ozawa's Raid 1 consisted of 69 planes, nearly all Zeke fighters, intercepted 60 miles west of Task Force 58 by fighters from the Essex, joined by elements of four other fighter squadrons. They flamed 26 attackers. Another 16 were shot down be Enterprise and San Jacinto hellcats. Of the few planes to penetrate to the ships, one bomb hit was made on a battleship. The few remaining Japanese planes limped back to their carriers. Lieutenant Vraciu had learned his deadly trade as wingman of Medal of Honor winner Lieutenant Commander Edward H. ("Butch") O'Hare, skipper of Fighting Squadron 3. O'Hare's death--he was shot down during a night mission--gave Vraciu powerful motivation. He was fifth off the deck behind the first division headed by Fighting 16's skipper, Lieutenant Commander Paul Buie. Buie's plane, recently equipped with a new engine, outdistanced the planes with him. Even his wingman could not keep up with him. As Vraciu and six Hellcats which had joined him headed west toward the enemy 100 miles away, first interception was made by Commander David McCampbell's VF-15 from the Essex. During this amazing day his squadron would destroy more than 60 enemy aircraft. When Vraciu reached 20,000 feet he found the high blower on his Pratt & Whitney engine was not operating. Time and again he tried it, only to have it cut out each time. When he radioed his predicament to the Lexington he was ordered to orbit near the carrier with his six fighters. After a half- hour the radar screens began to show another large force of enemy planes approaching. Vraciu checked his wing-mounted .50 caliber guns, banked and took the 265 degree given to him by the combat information center. It led him to a gaggle of Judys, Jills and Zekes. In the next few minutes of dog fighting, much of it visible as vapor trails criss-crossing the clear blue sky, Alex Vraciu shot down six Japanese dive bombers. Destroyers on picket duty flanking the carriers and some of the cruisers and battleships, joined in the fray. Their fire dotted the sky with black puffs of smoke through which the fighters raced and twisted in their grim duel. When he landed on the Lexington Vraciu taxied forward with a broad smile and six fingers held aloft. He was congratulated personally by Admiral Mitscher for becoming the Navy's leading ace with eighteen victories. He finished the war fourth-ranked. Lexington's Hellcats accounted for 45 Japanese planes by day's end.
In one of the ironies of the Pacific war, Lieutenant Commander Buie of VF-16, the man who coined the term "Turkey Shoot" by which the aerial engagement came to be known, was destined to go without a victory on that fateful June 19. Raid 2 was composed of 128 planes, of which 109 found the American Task Force. Of these, only six got through to the ships where they inflicted minor damage. Ninety-four attackers were shot down.
Of the 47 planes in Admiral Ozawa's Raid 3, only 20 found the American fleet, and seven of these were splashed. True to the game plan of "A-Go," Ozawa sent his Raid 4 aloft in the form of 82 planes launched in three waves. One small group penetrated beneath the combat air patrol, and of these, five were shot down by the intense anti-aircraft fire. Most of the remaining Japanese planes headed for Rota and Guam where Hellcats from the Essex, Cowpens, Hornet and Enterprise were waiting for them. The American fighters mixed with the Japanese in the landing pattern in a wild melee. Those they failed to shoot out of the air they ripped up with strafing runs after they landed. Raid 4: 73 enemy planes notched . While his planes were being slaughtered, Ozawa was having his own brand of trouble on the Taiho. The submarine Albacore spiked the carrier with a torpedo on her starboard side, near the forward gasoline tanks. Although the explosion ruptured some of the tanks, damage seemed slight and she continued to operate normally. Just before Ozawa sent off his fourth wave, the submarine Cavalla struck the carrier Shokaku. with four torpedoes, setting off explosions which caused her to fall apart after two hours. The gloom was deep among Ozawa and his staff. No word had been heard from the raids he had launched. The silence was ominous--and more trouble was building. A junior-damage control aboard the Taiho opened the ship's ventilating ducts in an effort to clear the fumes coming from the ruptured gasoline storage tanks. Instead of clearing, this action spread the volatile fumes throughout the ship. Within a few minutes the Taiho was racked by a tremendous explosion which was described by an officer on a nearby destroyer as having burst the flight deck upward into the shape of a mountain top. Ozawa was transferred to an accompanying destroyer. The Taiho sank almost immediately in 2500 fathoms with the loss of more than three-quarters of her crew.
Meanwhile, the pilots of Raid 4 were milling around in total disorganization. Some were led astray by a disoriented reconnaissance pilot. Finally, after aimless wandering, 49 headed for Guam where they were shredded by waiting Hellcats. Between Guam and Task Force 58 one American pilot counted "seventeen fires or oil slicks within
the radius of a mile." The superiority of the Hellcat was starkly pronounced throughout the two days of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The VF-24 aircraft action report stated the case without frills: "The Hellcats experienced no combat disadvantage at any altitude (mainly 15-20,000 feet). The Japs made quick runs at the Hellcats, from astern or ahead and either below or above. But they could not withstand a frontal attack and could not escape unharmed when the Hellcats pressed home an attack as they dove away."
Although the F6s had very little difficulty handling all the Japanese planes at altitudes of 15,000 feet, they found the Mitsubishi A6M3 (Hamp) and A6M5 (Zeke) troublesome down on the deck where the Jap fighter planes were more maneuverable. One pilot reported that a Hamp he was chasing did a snap split-S to the left. The F6 pilot reported, "I'm sure I could not have pulled through over the water at a safe margin.
"The two planes were at 1,000 feet when the maneuver started. A single Zeke was reported to have outclimbed three F6F3s at 11,000 feet, but was caught by a fourth
equipped with water injection. The F6F armament of six .50 caliber guns was vastly superior to the Zeke's 7.7's and 20mm. The 20mm had such a low muzzle velocity that many of the Navy's fighter planes returned with holes in their wings and fuselage without serious impairment to flight operation. Even when they sustained serious engine hits, the Pratt & Whitney engines often churned on, merely spewing oil beyond the usual copious amounts spraying from their plumber's nightmare of pushrod tubes and rocker arm covers. On one occasion a fighter plunked down on the deck with a sizeable chunk of cylinder wall shot away on a front bank cylinder. The piston could be seen pumping up and down through the gaping hole. One pilot from the Bataan estimated that he had only a 15-20 knot speed advantage over a Judy at 18-19,000 feet with 40 inches of manifold pressure and 2500 rpm in straight and level flight. In his debriefing session, Lieutenant (jg) P.C. Thomas, Jr. gave a graphic description of the Zeke's maneuverability. He had tailed in on a Zeke who was maintaining altitude to protect a low flying Judy. The Zeke, seeing Thomas coming, nosed over slightly and tried to run. Almost immediately four other F6Fs joined in the chase behind Thomas. His account follows:
"The Jap's flying was expert and his maneuvers well timed. Just as I would get into a position to open fire, he would pull up in a tight wingover, then duck for the water, but only for a second before jinking up again and going into a violent turn. It was like catching a flea on a hot griddle, and the Zeke's maneuvers would have enabled him to escape several times if it had not been that every way he turned some F6 would be in a position to start a run on him and he would have to turn back to his original course. Finally he stayed one one course long enough for me to get in a good no-deflection shot from dead astern about 600 feet. The Jap plane exploded violently." Much of the combat was carried on between 20 and 27,000 feet. An occasional F6 had heater problems which caused windshields to fog up when enemy planes were pursued to low altitudes. VF-2 from the Hornet was vectored to Orote Field on Guam where they observed 20 to 30 Vals, 20 to 30 Zekes and two Hamps. Of these they engaged nine Vals, 10 Zekes and both Hamps. VF-2 destroyed in the air seven of the Vals, seven Zekes, and had one Hamp and two Zeke probables. The report of Lieutenant (jg) Charles H Carroll was typical of the VF-2 pilots on this mission: "There were two Vals in the traffic circle. They were below 1,000 feet coming into Orote. I saw as many as 12 Vals--three flights of three, and three breaking up and coming into the field in a left hand turn, singly. There was a big flight 10-15 miles to sea and another over Agana to the north. I got into the circle at 800 feet The first Val was fish-tailing to let his rear gunner shoot at me. I got him from 6 o'clock level. He went into the water but didn't burn. I must have hit the pilot. "Then I pulled around but didn't see any more Vals. The water was covered with fires from burning planes. I went back up to 2,000 and went north to Agana where the fight was going on. I pulled up to 3,500 and ran into four Hamps. I pulled my nose up to one Hamp's belly and shot at it from below at 11 o'clock. I almost stalled and had to dip my nose to regain flying speed. There was a Hamp in a turn and I got a full deflection shot at it and hit it in the fuselage and wings and slightly above as it was in the turn. It pulled around and dropped off and started down, smoking. I started to follow it but another got a full deflection shot on me. ( I don't know where this came from.) It hit my plane in the port wing (6-7 holes), and one shell went into the fuselage (probably 20mm). Fragments hit me in the knee and in the arm. I was trying to get back in range of the other Hamp but I looked back and there was another one on my tail. I forgot the first and was chased."
Ensign William H. Vaughan, Jr. was also part of the same VF-2 engagement. His account of his victory over three Zekes in the air, plus a probable, is brief but nevertheless the product of keen observation under tense circumstances. "My first Zeke was a 6,000 trying to evade our attack. I made a level run astern from 6 o'clock. The pilot bailed out and the plane went in without burning." "My second was at 700 feet in a tight turn and evading our attack. There was another plane shooting at him. I was on his tail level and shot him down from 6 o'clock. He exploded and went in." "Number three I got in a high side run from 5 o'clock above, at 1500 feet. A fire started in the cockpit and the plane broke in half. The pilot tried to bail out but the plane broke in two and tore his parachute." "There was another plane on this one's tail and I was on his tail also. He was at 1,000 and started to smoke as we both shot at it. It rolled over on its back and went down ina split-S. Then another Zeke distracted me and I cut to the outside of the Zeke's turn and shot from 4 o'clock level. I didn't see any evidence of his being hit. I believe another plane got it. I shot at two others but no evidence of their being hit was seen." VF-2 also had nine Zeke victories in a scramble intercept with one of Admiral Ozawa's strikes. During that scuffle Lieutenant (jg) David R. Park scored a single: "I tally-ho'd and my earphones weren't working so I didn't get any acknowledgment. The skipper pulled away from me and went out of sight. I circled and saw a bogey below. I kept my altitude. The Zeke came up toward me; I did a wing-over and came down on it from 5 o'clock. He jinked by, wobbling his wings. Then he did a split-S. I hit his wing tips. Two-thirds of his starboard wing came off and he spun in." VF-2 Lieutenant (jg) Daniel A. Carmichael, Jr. described his aerial victories over a Zeke and two Jills as follows:
"The skipper (Commander Dean) talley-ho'd at 9 o'clock. I saw a plane blow up at 7 o'clock, and another large group below me at 11 o'clock which I tally-ho'd. Harrigan (lt. jg) and I went down in a high side from 5 o'clock from above. I shot down a Jill, and saw it go in spinning and smoking as I pulled up to look at it. "I dropped my left wing and saw a Jill alone below me. I went down and tailed in behind it. I could hardly gain on him. I rode him and he wobbled his wings violently from port to starboard. I was having a hard time getting to him. He finally burst into flames at 10,000 feet. "I pulled into a tight turn and saw five planes chasing each other around. I recognized the leading plane as a Zeke. It dove down across in front of me and I got a full deflection shot from above. It pulled up in a steep climb which I followed. I caught it in doing so. I continued to shoot until it burst into flames and went in." All three of Carmichael's kills were confirmed by Lieutenant Harrigan.
During a VF-2 strike against Orote, eight F6F's escorting nine TBF's (Grumman torpedo bombers) and 11 SB2C's (dive bombers) destroyed 11 Vals in the air and had two probables. On this escort mission Ensign W.B. Webb was the busiest of the trigger-happy F6 gang. Probably no gunnery achievement of June 19 typified more graphically the turkey shoot aspect of the battle. "I was circling a man in the water west of Orote," he reported, "to rendezvous with a cruiser plane [a float equipped rescue aircraft launched from a cruiser by catapult] and effect a rescue. I looked up and saw 35-40 planes coming into Orote Field in divisions of three at 1,000. I was down on the water at the time. All I did was enter the traffic circle at Orote Field and slip in behind a division of three." No.1 -- "I fired on the port plane from 6 o'clock level. It burned." No.2 -- "Then I shifted to the center one and did the same thing and it burned." No 3 -- "Then I shifted to the starboard one and did likewise and it burned. I saw the pilot of the latter plane bail out. All three planes exploded. Then I whipped around over the field and got behind another division of three." No 4 -- "I fired on the one to port; he made a quick flipper turn to the right and the pilot bailed out. His chute opened." No 5 -- "I came back to the one in the center but it pulled away and I got the one to starboard." No 6 -- "By this time the Vals were gaining altitude and the Zekes came in above me. I made a head-on run on one from below 1,500 feet. I fired and saw pieces fly from the plane. It returned fire. A few seconds later a parachute was in the air and the plane crashed." Probable -- "All this time there were only a few shots of A/A fired from the field. I was coming in around the point and there was another Val coming in, 20 feet off the water. I got on it from above at 7 o'clock. I fired at it and it started to smoke. I looked up and another F6F was behind me. I quickly pulled up to miss both of them. then I saw the Val go in the water. The other F6 may have finished it off Probable -- "I had been having gun trouble and by the time I got the sixth plane only one gun was working. I circled to the north of the point just off of it to check my guns. I saw two Vals asking passes at the field and an F6F shot one down and it hit the runway. The one to port went out over the harbor. I went back and killed the rear seat man. The plane was smoking when I left and I pulled up quickly to clear the hill, and didn't see it again." Such slam-bang action took place almost faster than the telling which followed on the carriers, where tired and emotionally drained pilots slumped in the ready room chairs. In spite of the speed of the action, the intensity of battle and the exhilaration of superb victories, the pilots gave remarkably cool and unemotional accounts during the debriefing sessions. These pilot reports devoid of histrionics, are on file in the U.S. Navy's historical archives in Washington, D.C., and provided much of the information in this article.
The battle reports of the carriers are even more laconic, couched in official report language which altough embellished contained penetrating analyses whose accuracy foreshadowed the future of the war in the Pacific.
The Essex report is typical. Its planes were in continuous action throughout the day from the first launching shortly after 10:00 when the ship's radar first picked up bogey contacts on the screen. Essex Air Group 15 shot down 67 Japanese planes with a loss of three pilots, including Fighting 15's skipper, Lieutenant Commander C.W. Brewer. The Essex report states that 353 planes were shot down, with many more probables. Later refinement of figures indicated the total to be more than 400 which is generally accepted by historians. The Essex summary and evaluation is notable for its perceptive overall view of the Japanese situation in the Pacific. How a naval air force of such dimensions could sustain a disastrous loss of such magnitude is made clear in the Essex report. The seeds of defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea were planted in the many engagements which preceded it. "It is probable that the enemy's heavy loss in trained flight personnel (previously) has simply reduced his overall ability to fight, and certainly we have no evidence of any material improvement in his aircraft types." the Essex report stated. There were, to be sure, American losses. Early in the day, at 10:35, Lieutenant Commander C. W. Brewer of Fighting 15 from the Essex was the first to tally-ho enemy planes from Ozawa's attacking Raid 1. Leading 11 Hellcats stacked from 17 to 23,000 feet, he streaked into a clutch of 24 bombers and fighters at 18,000 feet. Sixteen other Japanese planes were above and strung out behind the leaders. Brewer's first burst blew up a Judy, followed almost immediately by another Judy from which he shot a wing. There was no time to watch it spiral into the sea. His next score was a Zeke which exploded when his .50 caliber shells hit from 400 feet. When he looked up he saw a Zeke diving at him. In the ensuing tangle both planes executed violent maneuvers, the Jap trying frantically to stay out of Brewer's gunsight by a half roll, flying on his back, then into a series of barrel rolls. Brewer caught him on a wingover, and watched as a sheet of flame billowed along the fuselage of the Zeke. A plume of smoke strung out and marked its tight spiral down to the sea. Just as Lieutenant Commander Brewer was in on the beginning of the day's action, so was he involved
at the end. At dusk as he was leading his fighters in a last sweep over Orote Field, he and his wingman, Ensign Thomas Tarr, saw a Jill going in for a landing. As they pursued, they were jumped by 16 Zekes lurking in the uncertain twilight of early evening. Although Brewer's accompanying Hellcats wiped out the Zekes, neither he nor Tarr was seen again. It was 6:45p.m. The day's fighting was ended. "A-Go" had failed. Ozawa had lost all but 35 of his carrier based aircraft. Total Japanese losses was a staggering 426, compared to 29 U.S. planes. A third of the pilots of those 29 planes were saved. The Turkey Shoot was over. Late the next day June 20, Task Force 58 launched strikes against the fleeing Japanese fleet at maximum range. The recovery of those planes after dark, when Admiral Mitschner in a daring move to save his pilots ordered the fleet to turn on the lights of the ships in dangerous waters, was yet another page in the saga of carrier action in the Pacific. It was one which very nearly evolved into one of the Navy's greatest disasters--on the heels of one of its greatest victories.
That strike against the Japanese fleet totaled 85 fighters, 76 dive bombers and 54 torpedo planes. Twenty were shot down in the attack. More than 80 were ditched when they ran out of fuel, or were lost in night landing accidents. Despite the heavy loss of planes, only 16 pilots and 22 crewmen were lost. But the cost in lives and planes was miniscule compared to the one paid by Admiral Ozawa's forces. The price tag on operation "A-Go" was one of the highest ever recorded in aerial warfare.
This article, researched and written by Alan Fick, was published in the AVIATION QUARTERLY in the 3rd Quarter 1979 issue. It is copied here, without its many pictures, with his permission to make it available to his shipmates with e-mail capability and hopefully beyond. For reference, Al wrote the nostalgic article, "Gone to Glory" printed in SP 28 of the Sunrise Press.
While the success of the F6F was spectacular, one should also note the modest record for the SBD.
© Copyright February 2011 by Paty Cannon Johnson... All Rights Reserved
© Copyright February 2011 by Paty Cannon Johnson... All Rights Reserved
© Copyright . February 2001 by Paty Cannon Johnson. All Rights Reserved