Philippine Sea, North Pacific Ocean June 19, 1944

On this date in 1944 a huge gale hit the two gigan­tic arti­ficial harbors known as Mul­berry har­bors that the British had built in England, floated across the English Chan­nel, and depos­ited on Normandy’s beaches seve­ral days after the Allies’ June 6 inva­sion. The gale inflicted losses greater than the Germans had been able to inflict since D-Day. The Mul­berry harbor at Omaha Beach was demol­ished, 800 ships were lost or beached, and more than 140,000 tons of supplies were destroyed. Allied soldiers were down to two days of ammu­nition. The nearest replace­ment harbor was German-held Cher­bourg on the Cotentin Penin­sula, 25 miles north­west of Utah Beach, the westernmost of the five invasion beaches.

As Allied forces struggled to replenish war material for their push off the Normandy beach­heads, U.S. Marines and Army troops on the other side of the globe assaulted Japa­nese bases on Saipan (starting on June 15, 1944), Guam, and nearby Tinian in the Mari­ana Islands, some 1,200 miles south­east of the Japa­nese Home Islands. Japan’s First Mobile Fleet steamed into the Philip­pine Sea north­west of the Marianas with three chief aims: destroy U.S. naval power in the area, deny Amer­i­cans a foot­hold inside Japan’s so-called inner defense line, and reinforce Japanese holdouts in the Marianas.

The Battle of the Philippine Sea began on this date, June 19, 1944. It was the greatest flat­top duel of the war, nearly four times as big as the Battle of Midway (June 4–7, 1942). Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s U.S. Fifth Fleet, comprised of 15 fleet carriers and 956 planes, 7 battle­ships, 28 sub­marines, and 69 destroyers, as well as several light and heavy cruisers, engaged nine-tenths of Japan’s fighting fleet, which included 9 carriers with 473 planes, 5 battle­ships, several cruisers, and 28 destroyers. The two-day naval and air battle signaled the effec­tive demise of the Imperial Japa­nese Navy’s carrier force. Three of Japan’s nine flat­tops were damaged. Three carriers were sunk—two by sub­marines (Japan’s largest, the Sho­kaku, and Vice-Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s carrier flag­ship, the Taihō)—for a com­bined loss of 2,922 sea­men. Further­more, 426 Japa­nese carrier-based planes were destroyed (they were out­classed by the Navy’s new Grum­man F6F Hell­cat fighters), along with most of Japan’s care­fully hoarded cadre of trained aviators. The lop­sided U.S. victory in the skies over the island of Guam (close to 400 Japa­nese planes lost as opposed to 26 Amer­ican) entered legend as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Following its crushing defeats on June 19–20, the enemy fleet retreated full speed toward Okinawa. Exactly a month later Japan’s prime minister, Gen. Hideki Tōjō, resigned his office in disgrace.

Victories ashore provided the U.S. with B‑29 Super­fortress bases more secure than those in main­land China, and within easy striking dis­tance (1,500 miles) of Tokyo, the Japa­nese capi­tal with its 3.5 mil­lion inhabi­tants and thou­sands of small-to-large war-related indus­tries. The Mari­anas con­flict essen­tially ended on August 10, 1944, after Tinian and Guam had been secured. That victory gave the U.S. the final advan­tage neces­sary to defeat Japan’s war machine and bring an end to the Pacific conflict on August 15, 1945, the date Emperor Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) ordered his country’s surrender.

Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944: U.S. Navy Waves “Sayonara” to Japanese Navy

Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944

Above: Map of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944.

Battle of the Philippine Sea: Japanese carrier group under attack, June 20, 1944Battle of the Philippine Sea: Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku under attack, June 20, 1944

Left: Japanese Carrier Division Three under attack by car­rier planes from Adm. Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58, part of Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, June 20, 1944. The battle­ship in the lower center is either the Haruna, sunk on June 20 along with the escort carrier Hiyo, or the Kongō, torpe­doed and sunk on Novem­ber 21, 1944. The light carrier Chiyoda is at right. Damaged in the Battle of the Philip­pine Sea, the Chiyoda was sunk on Octo­ber 25, 1944, with all hands at the Battle of Cape Engano, one of four major engage­ments that comprised the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–26, 1944).

Right: Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku (center) and two destroyers maneu­vering while under attack by U.S. Navy car­rier air­craft, June 20, 1944. Zuikaku was hit by several bombs during these attacks, but the flat­top sur­vived. She was sunk on Octo­ber 25, 1944, by air attack in the Battle of Leyte Gulf—the last sur­vivor of the six Japanese carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944