Battle of the Philippine Sea Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Accompanying the U.S. landings on Saipan, the Battle of the Philippine Sea was one of the greatest carrier battles of World War II. An American naval victory, the battle cost the Imperial Japanese Navy more than six hundred aircraft and three carriers. U.S. submarines played an important, though often forgotten, role in providing American commanders with intelligence on enemy locations. After the battle, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier force was no longer militarily effective.

Summary of Event

By late 1943, World War II was at its height in the Pacific theater. The Japanese had replaced many of the carriers lost during the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. The Japanese believed shortages in airplanes could be addressed with the use of land-based aircraft. In response to the American “island-hopping campaign,” the Imperial Japanese Navy developed Operation A-Go. Operation A-Go[Operation A Go] The Japanese planned to attack the U.S. Pacific fleet as it launched its next offensive. In early May, orders were sent to start Operation A-Go, and the Japanese waited for the Americans to make their next move. The Japanese fleet, under Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa, consisted of six heavy carriers, the Taiho, Shokaku, Zuikaku, Junyo, Ryuho, and Hiyo; three light carriers, the Chitose, Chivoda, and Zuiho; and the battle ships Yamoto, Musashi, Kongo, Haruna, and Nagato. Various cruisers, destroyers, and oilers supported the fleet. Philippine Sea, Battle of the (1944) [kw]Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 12-20, 1944) [kw]Philippine Sea, Battle of the (June 12-20, 1944) Philippine Sea, Battle of the (1944) [g]Pacific;June 12-20, 1944: Battle of the Philippine Sea[01170] [g]Micronesia;June 12-20, 1944: Battle of the Philippine Sea[01170] [c]World War II;June 12-20, 1944: Battle of the Philippine Sea[01170] [c]Military history;June 12-20, 1944: Battle of the Philippine Sea[01170] Ozawa, Jisaburō Toyoda, Soemu Spruance, Raymond A. Mitscher, Marc A. Nimitz, Chester W.

On June 11, 1944, U.S. forces began a series of attacks on the Marianas, persuading Admiral Soemu Toyoda, commander of the Japanese combined fleet, that the United States was preparing to land ground forces. The Japanese had expected the next American assault to occur farther south and so had left the Marianas with an inadequate force of fifty aircraft. On June 15, U.S. forces began their invasion of Saipan and Toyoda gave the order to attack. American submarines sighted the Japanese forces. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, commander of the Fifth Fleet, prepared for battle. By June 18, Task Force 58, Task Force 58 commanded by Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, was formed to meet the approaching Japanese assault. Organized into five groups, Task Force 58 was a formidable assemblage. The task force was made up of fifteen carriers, seven battleships, eight heavy cruisers, thirteen light cruisers, fifty-eight destroyers, and twenty-eight submarines.

Before dawn on June 18, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz radioed Spruance to inform him that the Japanese flagship was less than 400 miles (640 kilometers) from Task Force 58. Mitscher sought to move into a launch position for an attack at dawn; Spruance, however, refused. He was concerned that the Japanese were attempting to draw his fleet away from the landing area, allowing an attack on the invasion ships. Spruance placed Task Force 58 on the defensive.

At 5:50 a.m. on June 19, one of the Mitsubishi Zeros from the fifty Japanese aircraft assigned to Guam located Task Force 58. Over the next hour, the remaining aircraft formed for an attack. Having spotted the Japanese aircraft by radar, the Americans dispatched a force of Grumman Hellcats from the Belleau Wood to intercept the flight. They arrived over Orote Field while Japanese planes continued to take off. The resulting battle cost the Japanese thirty-five planes. An hour later the Hellcats were recalled to the carriers.

Around 10:00, additional contacts were picked up by Task Force 58 radar operators. The first wave of some sixty-eight Japanese aircraft was approaching. The Americans began launching every fighter available. The first group of Hellcats met the approaching enemy some seventy miles out. Within minutes they had downed twenty-five Japanese planes, losing only one of their own. Encountering additional U.S. forces, sixteen more Japanese aircraft were lost.

At 11:07 another, much larger attack was spotted on radar. The second wave of Japanese aircraft included 109 aircraft. American fighters, some sixty miles out, intercepted them. Seventy Japanese planes were shot down before reaching the American ships. Before the raid was finished, ninety-seven of the attacking Japanese aircraft were lost.

Around 1:00 p.m. the third wave of Japanese attackers, consisting of forty-seven aircraft, was intercepted. Seven of the attacking aircraft were shot down within minutes. Many of the remaining planes failed to push the attack. Because of the failure to engage the American ships, forty of the Japanese aircraft managed to return to their carriers.

The fourth raid was launched between 10:00 and 11:30; however, the Japanese could not locate the fleet. They turned toward Guam to refuel. Stumbling upon American ships in the area, many were destroyed in the air. Over Orote Field, American pilots intercepted forty-nine Japanese planes. Thirty were shot down, the rest damaged beyond repair.

In a separate action on June 19, the United States submarine Albacore Albacore (submarine) made contact with Ozawa’s carrier group and immediately began its attack on the Taiho, Taiho (ship) Ozawa’s flagship. Around 8:15 a.m., a torpedo struck the Taiho. Fires would burn throughout the ship until it exploded and sank at 4:32 p.m. The U.S. submarine Cavalla moved into position and attacked the Shokaku Shokaku (ship) around noon. Several hours later, fires aboard ship reached the munitions magazine, and the ship was blown apart.

During the night, Task Force 58 moved west in order to attack the Japanese. Ozawa transferred his command to the Zuikaku Zuikaku (ship) after the Taiho had been damaged. He discovered that only one hundred aircraft remained in his command following the devastating failures earlier in the day.

U.S. troops march across a coral reef to reach land during the invasion of Saipan. The land attack was coordinated with the naval Battle of the Philippine Sea.

(National Archives)

At dawn on June 20, American search planes took to the sky in an attempt to locate the Japanese fleet. The pilots finally located the enemy shortly after 4:00 p.m. Mitscher launched his attack at 6:30 with only a little more than one hour of daylight left. With more than two hundred aircraft, the Americans attacked Ozawa’s fleet. The Japanese were able to launch only about thirty planes to intercept the incoming enemy. The raid damaged the carriers Zuikaku, Junyo, and Chiyoda, as well as the battleship Haruna. The carrier Hiyo was sunk. The Americans lost only twenty aircraft during the engagement.

The American planes began to return to Task Force 58 around 8:45. Despite the risk from submarines and Japanese aircraft, Mitscher ordered the carriers illuminated to aid the returning planes. Despite their best efforts, eighty aircraft were lost, crashing either into the carrier decks or into the sea. Many of the downed pilots were rescued the next day. Darkness brought some relief for Ozawa and his heavily damaged ships. He received orders during the night to withdraw from the Philippine Sea.

Significance

The decisive American victory at the Battle of the Philippine Sea helped spur the recapture of the Philippines and increase the pressure on the Japanese home islands. The heavy damage inflicted to the Imperial Japanese Navy during the battle would leave Japanese ground forces isolated and undersupplied throughout the various islands in the Pacific. The battle cost the Japanese more than 600 aircraft and 3 carriers. U.S. losses for the battle were around 125 planes, of which 80 were lost during night landings. Losses by the Japanese would prove irreplaceable. Japanese naval air power ceased to exist. The loss of experienced pilots would prove costliest of all. Throughout the remainder of the war, the Japanese would never recover from the losses at the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Despite the losses suffered by the Japanese, Mitscher expressed disappointment that the enemy had escaped. Philippine Sea, Battle of the (1944)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Belote, James H., and William M. Belote. Titans of the Seas: The Development and Operations of Japanese and American Carrier Task Forces During World War II. New York: Harper & Row, 1975. Covers American and Japanese naval operations from 1939 through 1945, with heavy emphasis on carrier group activity and the air war. Maps, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grove, Eric. Big Fleet Actions: Tsushima-Jutland-Philippine Sea. Reprint. London: Arms & Armor, 1995. Looks at the development of naval arts and sciences during the twentieth century with naval battle histories. Includes bibliographical references, maps, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lindley, John M. Carrier Victory: The Air War in the Pacific. New York: Dutton, 1978. Considered one of the best works on American naval and air operations against the Japanese during World War II. Includes index, maps, illustrations, and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lockwood, Charles A., and Hans C. Adamson. Battles of the Philippine Sea. New York: Crowell, 1967. Covers all aspects of the American naval operations in the Philippine Sea campaign during World War II. Illustrations, maps, and bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Nathan. War at Sea: A Naval History of World War II. New York: Oxford, 1995. A comprehensive and authoritative history of the war’s naval battles. Notes, extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sherman, Fredrick C. Combat Command: The American Aircraft Carriers in the Pacific War. New York: Dutton, 1950. Addresses American air and naval operations in the Pacific during World War II, with a preface by Admiral William F. Halsey. Bibliography, maps, and illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun. New York: Free Press, 1985. One of the best works and most readily cited sources on American military forces in the Pacific theater. Maps, plates, illustrations, index, and extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Van der Vat, Dan. The Pacific Campaign: World War II, the U.S.-Japanese Naval War, 1941-1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. Covers American naval operations and campaigns in the Pacific theater. Places the Battle of the Philippine Sea in context with the Pacific campaign as a whole. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Y’Blood, William T. Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1981. Examines naval operations during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Makes extensive use of primary military sources and official histories. Maps, illustrations, index, and bibliography.

World War II: Pacific Theater

Canada Declares War on Japan

Japan Begins Attacks on Southeast Asia

Japan Invades the Philippines

United States Interns Japanese Americans

Thai-Burma Railway Is Completed with Forced Labor

Central Pacific Offensive

Superfortress Bombing of Japan

Japan Orders Kamikaze Attacks

Okinawa Campaign Meets Stiff Japanese Resistance

Japanese General Yamashita Is Convicted of War Crimes

Japan Becomes a Constitutional Democracy

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