Mariana Islands, Central Pacific · 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 of German-occupied France. The gale in­flicted losses greater than the enemy 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 most westerly of the five invasion beaches.

As Allied forces struggled to push inland from the Nor­mandy coast, U.S. Marines and Army troops in the Cen­tral Paci­fic assaulted Japa­nese bases on Sai­pan, Guam, and Tinian in the Mari­anas, some 1,200 miles south­east of the Japa­nese Home Islands. Japan’s First Mobile Fleet steamed into the Philip­pine Sea with three chief aims: destroy U.S. naval power in the area, deny Amer­i­cans a foot­hold within Japan’s so-called Paci­fic inner defen­sive circle, and reinforce Japanese troops in the Marianas.

The two-day 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). It also signaled the effec­tive demise of the Japa­nese carrier force. Three of Japan’s nine flat­tops were damaged. Three 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, along with most of Japan’s care­fully hoarded cadre of trained air crews. The lop­sided U.S. vic­tory entered legend as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.”

Vic­tories ashore provided the U.S. with B‑29 Super­fortress bases more secure than those in main­land China, and all within easy striking dis­tance (1,500 miles) of Tokyo, Japan’s capi­tal, with its 3.5 mil­lion inhabi­tants and thou­sands of small-to-large war-related indus­tries. The Mari­anas con­flict, which essen­tially ended on August 10, 1944, gave the U.S. the final advan­tage neces­sary to defeat Japan’s war ma­chine and bring the conflict in the Pacific to an end.

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Battle of the Philippine Sea (aka “Great Mari­anas Turkey Shoot”), June 19–20, 1944

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

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

Japanese carrier group under attack, June 20, 1944Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku under attack, June 20, 1944

Left: Japanese Carrier Division Three under attack by car­rier planes from Adm. Ray­mond Spruance’s Task Force 58, June 20, 1944. The battle­ship in the lower center is either the Haruna or Kongo. 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 carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

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