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
At the core of "A-Go" was the decision to
make a supreme slashing effort to wrest control
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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