Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944) was a decisive naval battle of World War II which effectively 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 fifth of five major "carrier-versus-carrier" engagements between American and Japanese naval forces, and involved elements of the United States Navy's Fleet as well as ships and land-based aircraft from the Imperial Japanese Navy's Combined Fleet and nearby island garrisons.

The battle was nicknamed the 'Great Marianas Turkey Shoot' in American accounts, for the severely disproportional loss ratio inflicted upon Japanese aircraft by American pilots and anti-aircraft gunners. American forces suffered much lighter losses, and a pilot from the U.S.S. Lexington supposedly remarked that "This is like an old-time turkey shoot!" during the battle. The lopsided outcome is generally attributed to American improvements in pilot and crew training and tactics, war technology, and ship and aircraft design, which the Japanese war machine could not match over the course of the war. Ultimately, the Imperial Japanese Navy lost three aircraft carriers, between 550 and 645 aircraft, and hundreds of pilots.

That night, Admiral Ozawa received orders from Toyoda 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, and many more were lost on board when the two carriers were sunk on the first day by submarine attacks. After the second day the losses totaled three carriers, more than 433 carrier aircraft, and around 200 land-based aircraft. Losses on the U.S. side on the first day were only 23, and on the second 100, most of them resulting from the night landings.

The losses to the Japanese were irreplaceable. Of the Japanese naval air arm, only 35 out of Admiral Ozawa's 473 aircraft were left in a condition fit to fly. In the Battle of Leyte Gulf a few months later, their carriers were used solely as a decoy because of the lack of aircraft and aircrews to fly them.

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