CARRIER FORCE TO CLAIM SKIES FOR U.S.

Ulithi Atoll, Western Pacific · February 10, 1945

On this date in 1945 Task Force 58 under Vice Adm. Marc “Pete” Mitscher steamed out of its anchorage at Ulithi Atoll in the Caro­line Islands, 1,700 miles south of the main Japa­nese island of Honshū. Except for the Coral Sea stand­off (May 4–8, 1942), Mitscher had been en­gaged in every major naval battle in the Pacific. As the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s senior car­rier admiral, Mitscher now com­manded the greatest assem­blage of naval power on earth—16 fast carriers with close to 1,200 aircraft, 8 battleships, 15 cruisers, and 77 destroyers.

On Febru­ary 16, Task Force 58 parked 60 miles off Honshū Island and began nine hours of almost unin­ter­rupted com­bat—the biggest day of air com­bat since the Great Mari­anas Turkey Shoot (the Battle of the Philip­pine Sea) the pre­vious June. A pilot him­self and a bril­liant tac­ti­cian, it was as if the 58-year-old ad­miral had spent his life­time pre­paring to fight this air battle. When the dog­fights ended the next day, Task Force 58 and Amer­ica con­trolled Japa­nese air­space. Mitscher’s avi­a­tors claimed 341 Japa­nese kills in the air and 190 on the ground. Task Force 58 lost more than 80 planes to all causes, but the U.S. Navy could ab­sorb such losses and con­tinue oper­ating. That month, Amer­i­can fac­tories pro­duced nearly 900 re­place­ments. Japa­nese air­craft and en­gine com­plexes, the tar­gets of much of the Navy’s anger, simply could not compete.

Mitscher’s carriers spear­headed the thrusts against Iwo Jima (Febru­ary 19 to March 26, 1945) and Oki­nawa (April 1 to June 22, 1945). In July the Navy Depart­ment an­nounced that Task Force 58 had de­stroyed or damaged 3,259 Japa­nese air­craft in the Oki­nawa cam­paign alone. (Oki­na­wa was the high water mark for Japa­nese kami­kaze pilots, who managed to sink 26 Allied ships and damage 160, including Mitscher’s carrier flag­ship USS Bunker Hill.) Mitscher received high praise for his Paci­fic record from Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: “It is doubt­ful if any officer has made more important contributions than he toward extinction of the enemy fleet.”




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Adm. Marc A. “Pete” Mitscher, 1887–1947

Mitscher, Doolittle, and Tokyo Raiders aboard the "Hornet," April 1942 Grumman Hellcat lands aboard the USS "Lexington"

Left: Facing the camera Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, com­mander of the USS Hornet, chats with Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doo­little, the leader of the Army Air Forces attack group that carried the war to the Japa­nese capi­tal, Tokyo, on April 18, 1942, nearly five months after Pearl Harbor. Behind the two men are the crews of the 16 B‑25B Mitchell medium bombers that the Hornet deposited with­in takeoff dis­tance of the Japa­nese home­land. The Doo­little Raid demon­strated that Japan itself was vul­ner­able to Amer­i­can air attack, though it wasn’t until late 1944 that another air attack, this by B‑29 Super­for­tress heavy bombers flying from China, in­flicted any damage on the Japanese Home Islands.

Right: During the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20, 1944), a Grum­man F6F‑3 Hellcat is seen landing aboard the USS Lexing­ton, the flag­ship of Vice Adm. Mitscher’s Task Force 58. The deci­sive naval battle, which took place during the U.S. am­phi­bious in­vasion of the Mari­ana Is­lands, elimi­nated the Japa­nese Navy’s capa­bility to con­duct large-scale carrier actions. It proved to be the last of five major “carrier-versus-carrier” engage­ments between the two nations’ naval forces.

"Pete" Mitscher, June 1944 Truman and Mitscher, July 1946

Left: Mitscher aboard the USS Lexing­ton during the Battle of the Philip­pine Sea. Mitscher’s fast carriers con­tinued their assault on the Japa­nese Em­pire, taking part in the liber­ation of the Philip­pines (1944–1945) and the con­quest of Iwo Jima (Febru­ary–March 1945) and Oki­nawa (April–June 1945). Upon Mitscher’s return from the Oki­nawa cam­paign, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Com­mander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, called Mitscher “the most experi­enced and most able officer in the han­dling of fast carrier task forces who has yet been developed.”

Right: President Harry S. Truman congratu­lates Adm. Mitscher, now Com­man­der in Chief, U.S. Atlan­tic Fleet, during a White House cere­mony in which eight U.S. car­riers were awarded Pre­si­den­tial Unit Cita­tions, July 16, 1946. Besides being honored by the com­mands he held, Mitscher was the recip­i­ent of two Gold Stars in lieu of a second and third Navy Cross, the Dis­tin­guished Service Medal with two Gold Stars, and the Legion of Merit.

Short Biographical Tribute to Admiral Marc A. “Pete” Mitscher