Saturday, March 28, 2020

On the Marianas Turkey Shoot

Had it been up to Admiral Mitscher, commander of Task Force 58, there never would have been a Turkey Shoot.  He was itching to send his planes after the Japanese fleet which was just out of range in an unknown direction.   He asked permission of Admiral Spruance to go after the Japanese carriers (the Japanese had in the time since Midway added three carriers, bringing their total [I think] to four. 

Admiral Spruance refused Mitscher permission.  The American fleet’s primary task was to provide support for the landing forces on Saipan.  The Japanese were dug in such that bombing and shell-fire couldn’t dislodge them.  That the task was difficult could in part be seen by the Army force being unable to keep up.  The Marines on either side of the Army advanced much more quickly leaving the American forces in a deep U shape which put the Marines at risk.  General Howling Mad Smith complained to Spruance and got him to give the order that the Army General (also named Smith) be replaced.  Much interagency acrimony was to ensue, but the General Smith’s replacement got the job done.   Saipan was bloody and difficult.  Spruance promised not to leave the landing forces unsupported as the Navy had done earlier at Guadalcanal. 

Mitscher hated not being able to go after the Japanese forces, but he followed orders and waited for the Japanese to land the first blow.  The nature of the Japanese was to exaggerate their successes and lie about their failures; so the Japanese Admiralty believed its pilots were more successful than they were and that far fewer of them had been shot down.  They believed they were sending a large competent fleet of planes toward the Americans at Saipan.  The Japanese planes with their inferior pilots that were supposed to be sent in irresistible waves to bomb the American carriers failed except in three cases to hit a carrier with a bomb.  They were either shot down by American pilots (one shot down 6 Japanese aircraft and another 7) or were hit by flak once they got near the American carriers.  Of the three Japanese pilots who managed to hit a carrier, the damage was minor and didn’t inhibit the carrier’s operation.  No carrier or any other ship of Task Force 58 was sunk.  Had the Japanese admiralty known the condition of their fleet, the true nature and quantity of their aircraft, and such matters as not having nearby land-based aircraft ready to assist in the attacks on the American carriers, they wouldn’t have ordered the attack.

It wasn’t Mitscher’s first choice to wait for the Japanese to strike the first blow, and Spruance probably thought Mitscher’s Task Force 58 would suffer more than it did; so the “turkey shoot” surprised everyone on both sides.

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