Ulithi Atoll, Western Pacific February 10, 1945

On this date in 1945 Task Force 58 under Vice Adm. Marc “Pete” Mitscher, assigned to U.S. Adm. Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, 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 Japan’s 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. On the water, shipping around Tokyo suffered heavily, with one escort car­rier, three destroyers, and nine coastal ves­sels sunk. More than 20 other ships were damaged. 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 water­mark for Japa­nese kami­kaze pilots, who managed to sink 26 Allied ships and damage 160, including Mitscher’s carrier flag­ship USS Bunker Hill and the battle­ship USS Missouri, which sur­vived its deadly encounter to host Japan’s sur­ren­der cer­e­mo­nies in Tokyo Bay on Septem­ber 2, 1945.) 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.”

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

Mitscher, Doolittle, and Tokyo Raiders aboard the "Hornet," April 1942Grumman 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. With­out the loss of a single bomber over Japan, the Doo­little Raid demon­strated that the island nation 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.

Marc "Pete" Mitscher, June 1944Truman 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 to March 1945) and Oki­nawa (April to 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