Philippine Sea, Battle of the

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Philippine Sea, Battle of the. Much larger than the Battle of Midway and the Battle of the Coral Sea combined, the Battle of the Philippine Sea was the largest carrier duel of World War II. The invasion of Saipan on 15 June 1944 brought out the Japanese Mobile Fleet, under Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa, to seek a “decisive” battle with the Americans. Ozawa's fleet was formidable—9 carriers, including the big new armored‐deck Taiho; 450 planes; 5 battleships; 13 cruisers; and 33 destroyers. But Ozawa was saddled with inexperienced and ill‐trained air groups.

Ozawa's operational plan, A‐GO, envisioned fighting in the Palaus and western Carolines because the Japanese Navy was short of refined fuel. If the Americans attacked the Marianas, the Japanese would use 172 land‐based aircraft in the Marianas, along with planes flown from the home islands through Iwo Jima, and the Fleet would use unprocessed Borneo fuel.

Indeed, the battle took place off the Marianas. On 11 June, the Americans attacked Saipan, wiping out a third of the enemy planes there. Vice Adm. Raymond A. Spruance's Fifth Fleet covered the landings. His main striking force, Task Force (TF) 58, under the command of Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, included 5 task groups, 15 carriers with 902 aircraft, 7 fast battleships, 21 cruisers, and 67 destroyers. Backing them up were seven old battleships and their screening cruisers and destroyers responsible for shore bombardment. Eight escort carriers carrying 201 planes were assigned to the Saipan invasion, while another 3 “jeeps” with 93 aircraft aboard were available from the Guam invasion force.

American submarines spotted Ozawa's ships leaving Tawitawi on the 13th and again on the 15th as they exited San Bernardino Strait into the Philippine Sea. The Japanese Mobile Fleet was again spotted on the 17th by the submarine Cavalla. That afternoon, Mitscher proposed to move west and flank the Japanese. Spruance concurred, but also issued his own aggressive plan, urging his forces to destroy the Japanese Mobile Fleet completely. But worried about a diversionary attack, the next day Spruance reconsidered; he directed TF 58 to advance westward, but to retire eastward at night so that the Japanese could not flank him and attach the American transports invading Saipan.

The Battle of the Philippine Sea opened on 19 June, as Ozawa launched 197 aircraft against the Americans, a force larger than Admiral Nagumo had sent against Midway. But in 1944, the odds heavily favored the Americans. Shortly before 10:00 A.M., Japanese planes were picked up on radar 140 miles away. The ensuing battle became known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Ozawa started the day with 430 carrier aircraft and 43 floatplanes, and launched 355 carrier planes and 19 floatplanes. Only 130 returned to the Mobile Fleet. To the 244 planes that Ozawa lost should be added 50 more land‐based aircraft. The Americans lost only twenty‐two fighter aircraft in dogfights or to flak over Guam; nine more planes were lost operationally or on search missions. Fifty‐eight aircrewmen or sailors died.

Ozawa's losses were not just over TF 58. The Cavalla sank the Shokaku, which took over half of her crew of 2,000 and 9 planes with her. Another submarine, the Albacore, hit Ozawa's flagship, the big new Taiho, with one torpedo. Poor damage control and the volatile Borneo fuel she used proved fatal. She took almost 1,700 men of her crew of 2,200, plus another 13 planes, to the bottom.

Shortly before 4:00 P.M. on the 20th, searchers finally sighted Ozawa's ships 275 miles from TF 58. It was a long way to fly and night would fall before the planes could return to their carriers. But Mitscher launched 240 aircraft, of which 14 aborted. The rest pressed on and were over the Mobile Fleet by 6:30 P.M. In growing darkness, the Americans attacked, damaging several vessels and sinking three, the carrier Hiyo and two oilers. Besides the need to attack quickly because of low fuel, the attackers' apparent lack of success was a result of the fact that only 24 of the 54 Avengers engaged carried torpedoes. Nevertheless, Japanese carrier aviation was finished for the remainder of the war. Ozawa had just 35 planes left out of the 430 he started with two days before.

The flight back to TF 58 at night and the recovery of the planes was as chaotic as the attack on the Mobile Fleet. Because many planes were almost out of fuel, Mitscher ordered his ships to turn on their lights to guide his aviators in. Of the 226 planes that reached the Mobile Fleet, 99 were lost. Only about 17 went down in combat; the rest succumbed to ditchings and deck crashes. Thanks to extensive search and rescue efforts, only forty‐nine aircrewmen were lost.

The victory brought little satisfaction to the U.S. Navy. Some critics blamed Spruance for wasting the opportunity to destroy the enemy fleet. Others defended him stoutly. Nonetheless, no one can deny that the Japanese Mobile Fleet had been grievously hurt and its aviation arm never recovered from the losses sustained in the Philippine Sea.
[See also Carrier Warfare; World War II, U.S. Naval Operations in: The Pacific.]


Theodore Taylor , The Magnificent Mitscher, 1954; rev. ed. 1991.
Samuel Eliot Morison , History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. VIII: New Guinea and the Marianas, 1964.
Clark G. Reynolds , The Fast Carriers, 1968; rev. ed. 1992.
Thomas B. Buell , The Quiet Warrior, 1974; rev. ed. 1987.
William T. Y'Blood , Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea, 1981.

William T. Y'Blood

Philippine Sea, Battle of the

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PHILIPPINE SEA, BATTLE OF THE (19–20 June 1944). During the offensive against Japan in the central Pacific beginning in November 1943, the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, led by Adm. Raymond A. Spruance, assaulted strategically important Saipan in the Mariana Islands in June. Japan's under trained pilots were quickly shot down by seasoned American navy airmen; Japan's sea command fared little better. In June 1944, two Japanese heavy carriers sank from torpedoes from the American submarines Albacore and Cavalla, and a third fell prey to American planes as it tried to escape westward. The Japanese fleet surrendered control of the Marianas and the central Pacific to the U.S. Navy; from these islands, long-range bombers reached Tokyo in November 1944.


Lockwood, Charles A. Battles of the Philippine Sea. New York: Crowell, 1967.

Miller, Nathan. The Naval Air War, 1939–1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1991.

Smith, Robert Ross. The Approach to the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1996.

Y'Blood, William T. Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1981.

Clark G.Reynolds/a. r.

See alsoAircraft Carriers and Naval Aircraft ; Japan, Relations with ; World War II ; World War II, Air War Against Japan ; World War II, Navy in .

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