A Brief History
On June 20, 1944, one of the greatest victories in the history of the United States Navy concluded, The Battle of the Philippine Sea, better known as The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. A Turkey Shoot is a shooting competition where the turkeys or targets do not get to shoot back. That is what US pilots compared this aerial battle to!
The Japanese had early in World War II enjoyed an edge over US Navy aircraft carriers by having better planes (longer range, a tad faster, and more maneuverable) and pilots with more training and experience. After the crushing defeat at Midway, the balance of power in the Pacific shifted to the US Navy, and by 1944 the US enjoyed a notable superiority in quality of aircraft, numbers of planes, pilots and carriers, and higher quality pilots as well. Japanese losses could not be replaced as quickly as Americans could build ships and planes, and the US had a much more efficient training program to produce many quality pilots more quickly than the Imperial Japanese Navy.
As the US military progressed deeply into Japanese held territory in an “island hopping” campaign, the Mariana Islands (notably Saipan, Tinian and Guam) became a vital target. The capture of these islands would give the US bases from which B-29 bombers could begin the destruction of Japan from the air. Japan threw a mighty task force at the American assault, with 9 aircraft carriers, 5 battleships, 19 cruisers, 27 destroyers and 24 submarines. Their carriers carried 450 airplanes and another 300 land based planes would fight in the battle. The Americans not only had qualitative superiority (notably the F6F Hellcat over the A6M Zero) , they also had numbers, with 15 carriers, 7 battleships, 21 cruisers, 58 destroyers and 28 submarines. The US fielded 956 carrier aircraft of the highest quality.
The uneven battle that followed on June 19 and June 20, 1944 resulted in damage to an American battleship and the loss of 123 American planes. The Japanese lost 3 full sized carriers (2 sunk by submarines), 2 oilers (tanker ships), and probably over 600 aircraft. Other Japanese ships were damaged as well, and with these losses the Japanese could not stop the invasion and conquering of the Marianas, making an American victory in the war nearly inevitable. Japanese losses meant a lack of aircraft carriers and aircraft for the upcoming gigantic naval battle at Leyte Gulf (perhaps the largest naval battle in history), leaving a brilliantly led Japanese surface fleet to defeat by the American fleet fully supported by carriers and aircraft (US enjoying a 1500 to 300 superiority in aircraft).
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For more information, please see…
Ledwell, Ronald. World War 2 The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. SA Press, 2013.
Purnell. History of the Second World War – Part 67 – The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. Marshall Cavendash, 1974.