How the Navy’s Fast Carrier Task Force Swept the Pacific


America was inexorably drawn into the Pacific Warfare, and certainly World Warfare II, by Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, shock assault on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Nicely-trained Japanese naval aviators from the carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku attacked in two waves, sending 4 battleships to the underside, sinking or damaging many different ships, destroying or damaging greater than 300 plane and killing some 2,400 American servicemen. The assault demonstrated the fight vary of recent plane carriers and the vulnerability of conventional floor warships. Inside days Britain’s vaunted Royal Navy misplaced its latest battleship, Prince of Wales, and its consort battlecruiser, Repulse, to Japanese air assaults off the coast of Malaya.

The teachings of such actions weren’t misplaced on Rear Adm. Chester Nimitz, whom President Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly promoted to admiral and appointed to command the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Nimitz reorganized the fleet into 4 activity forces centered on the carriers Lexington, Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown. The admiral then deliberate counteroffensive service raids in opposition to the Japanese, probably the most dramatic of which was the April 18, 1942, bomber strike on the Japanese house islands by 16 B-25s launched one-way at excessive lengthy vary from Hornet.

Hornet’s commander, Capt. Marc. A. “Pete” Mitscher, was a pioneering Navy flier and aggressive fighter who went on to command Process Pressure 38/58, arguably probably the most highly effective armada in navy historical past.

Regardless of such proof of plane carriers’ effectiveness, senior American naval officers remained typically satisfied the battleship was the dominant weapon at sea. Its adherents have been often known as the “gun membership.” The ocean energy doctrine of naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan dominated twentieth century navy considering on the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and the Naval Warfare School, in Newport, R.I. The battle between the “battleship admirals” and the widely youthful technology of “aviation admirals” continued throughout the battle.

Having escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor, the plane service USS Lexington (CV-2) met its finish on Could 8, 1942, in the course of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Right here the crew of a rescue ship haul aboard surviving Lexington crewmen. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

Dealing with the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) within the Pacific, the U.S. Navy initially performed a weak hand. Fielding simply 4 serviceable carriers with inferior plane, with the battleships broken in Hawaii months from being serviceable, the Navy had few alternatives to mount an efficient offense whereas ready for American business to provide ships, plane and weaponry. Nonetheless, the Navy had necessary belongings. One was its cryptology division at Pearl Harbor, often known as “Station Hypo,” which regardless of being understaffed and underfunded had been deciphering the IJN’s principal communications code, JN-25, since 1940. Pushed onerous by Hypo’s director, Lt. Cmdr. Joseph J. Rochefort, the code breakers have been in a position to unravel sufficient Japanese transmissions to furnish key intelligence to Navy brass by early 1942.

The import of their work was proved within the Battle of the Coral Sea, southeast of New Guinea. In April Adm. Ernest J. King, commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet and chief of Naval Operations, requested an evaluation of Japanese strategic intentions. Rochefort responded that an enemy assault on Port Moresby, in Papua, New Guinea, was probably imminent. Nimitz responded by sending Yorktown and Lexington to the Coral Sea. The following struggle, in early Could, was historical past’s first carrier-on-carrier engagement and was riddled with mishaps. Either side misplaced a service—Lexington and Shoho—leaving the end result one thing of a draw.

Giving up their try and take Port Moresby, the Japanese targeted on tiny Halfway, the westernmost of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the IJN’s Mixed Fleet, was decided to destroy the remnants of the U.S. Pacific Fleet that had escaped destruction at Pearl, particularly the plane carriers. Hoping to lure these carriers right into a deadly lure, he devised a shock assault on the American base at Halfway with a strike drive centered on 4 of the carriers—Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu—that had attacked Pearl Harbor.

An avid poker participant, Yamamoto went into motion believing he held all of the aces, however issues didn’t go his method. Rochefort’s cryptanalysts realized the goal and approximate date of the assault, the entire Japanese order of battle and the probably location of the attacking fleet. On June 3 the pilot of a Consolidated PBY Catalina scout airplane noticed the approaching enemy invasion fleet.

The information galvanized Nimitz, who dispatched his three carriers—Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown—to an meeting level northeast of Halfway. With Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey hospitalized at Pearl with an an infection, Nimitz put Rear Adm. Raymond Spruance in control of Enterprise and Hornet, with Rear Adm. Frank Fletcher over Yorktown and in general command.

The approaching Japanese fleet underneath Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo was unaware of the proximity of the American carriers and launched greater than 100 plane to assault Halfway early on June 4. Concurrently the Halfway forces dispatched all accessible fight planes to assault the Japanese. Within the ensuing aerial melee most of these attackers have been shot down. Whereas Nagumo’s fliers did average harm to island installations, they misplaced 11 plane and sustained heavy harm to scores of others from the extreme antiaircraft fireplace. To wreak a extra damaging raid, Nagumo ordered his service commanders to rearm and alter armaments on the Japanese planes—a time-consuming activity.

In the meantime, Fletcher had Enterprise and Hornet steam within the route of the Japanese fleet to scale back distance to the targets. In session with Halsey’s chief of workers, Capt. Miles Browning, Spruance ordered an all-out launch whereas nonetheless at lengthy vary from Nagumo’s carriers, and Fletcher quickly adopted swimsuit from Yorktown. Browning figured there was a very good probability of catching the Japanese rearming and refueling, and he was proper. Three squadrons of out of date Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers have been shot down or turned again with out scoring a single hit earlier than the duty drive’s Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers saved the day. Placing when the Japanese decks have been jammed with plane, bombs, torpedoes and gas traces, the SBDs hit and mortally broken Akagi, Soryu and Kaga.

Hours later one other two dozen dive bombers converged on and pummeled Hiryu, which finally sank. In a single afternoon the U.S. Navy’s three-carrier strike drive had modified the course of the Pacific Warfare. Japan misplaced 4 of its fleet carriers, a heavy cruiser, some 250 assault plane and plenty of of its greatest aircrews at the price of Yorktown. Yamamoto ordered a retreat that night time. The withdrawal marked the efficient finish of his drive to ship a knockout blow to the U.S. Navy, leaving the IJN to face a naval battle of attrition in opposition to the aroused industrial would possibly of the USA.

The American victory at Halfway had different penalties. The primary was an pressing drive to improve all service plane, together with the introduction of fighters in a position to greatest Japan’s A6M Zero. Grumman responded inside months by rolling out the primary manufacturing mannequin F6F Hellcat. It may outrun, outclimb and outshoot the Zero, attain the next operational ceiling, and it higher protected pilots with armor and a self-sealing gasoline tank. The primary combat-ready F6Fs reached the Pacific Fleet in February 1943. It proved the perfect carrier-based fighter of the battle. Grumman additionally produced an exemplary carrier-based torpedo bomber, the TBF-1 Avenger.

Whereas the reliable Dauntless remained the mainstay dive-bomber, Curtiss-Wright launched a extra highly effective carrier-based bomber, the SB2C Helldiver, although it was plagued with early issues and didn’t attain operational standing till late 1943.

On the outset of the battle Congress had appropriated funds to construct extra plane carriers, ensuing within the development and launching of 13 Essex-class flattops, the 27,100-ton workhorses of the quickly to be overpowering Pacific activity forces. These have been to be accompanied by dozens of escort (or “Jeep”) carriers carrying smaller enhances of plane.

After Halfway fight within the Pacific devolved right into a sequence of skirmishes as both sides constructed up its floor fleets and aerial forces. In early August 1942 a shock amphibious touchdown by the first Marine Division at Guadalcanal, Tulagi and neighboring islands within the Solomons sparked weeks of onerous combating on land and sea with heavy losses. The ocean battle—which concerned the carriers Wasp (struck by three Japanese torpedoes, deserted and scuttled), Saratoga and Enterprise (each closely broken and despatched to Pearl for repairs)—was pricey on either side. For a time the newly arrived Hornet was the lone operational U.S. fleet service within the Pacific, earlier than it too was sunk, leaving the quickly repaired Enterprise as the only real operational American fleet service. The Japanese practically recaptured Guadalcanal, however it in the end remained in U.S. palms.

In 1943 the stability of naval energy shifted to the Individuals because the Essex-class carriers and their improved plane arrived within the Central Pacific underneath Nimitz’s command. Main U.S. shipyards labored across the clock, launching some Essex-class flattops in solely 16 months. Six have been commissioned in 1943 and 7 extra in 1944. The brand new carriers featured improved radar and communications. Every bore 36 fighters, 36 dive bombers and 18 torpedo bombers. The carriers additionally bristled with antiaircraft weapons: a dozen turret-mounted 5-inch weapons with a variety of 10 miles, as many as 18 quad-mounted 40 mm Bofors weapons and upward of fifty-five 20 mm Oerlikon cannons. On this industrial/weapons race, it was already clear in 1943 that Japan couldn’t hold tempo with U.S. shipbuilding. Furthermore, given the character of its in depth pilot coaching, Japan could be unable to exchange its hemorrhaging losses of 1000’s of first-rate pilots.

In 1943 a brand new American doctrine of carrier-based warfare cut up naval belongings within the Pacific into two giant fleets: the Third (within the South Pacific underneath Halsey) and the Seventh (within the Southwest Pacific underneath Normal Douglas MacArthur). In 1944 the Third shaped the idea of the Fifth Fleet (within the Central Pacific underneath Spruance), the fleet designation and command toggling forwards and backwards between Spruance and Halsey. Most new fleet carriers and Independence-class mild carriers have been assigned to the Central Pacific. That summer time Essex and the brand new Yorktown and Lexington arrived at Pearl Harbor together with the sunshine carriers Independence, Princeton and Belleau Wooden. Right here started the multicarrier activity teams that, as naval historian Clark G. Reynolds defined in his definitive 1968 ebook The Quick Carriers, shaped the “principal offensive component” that might assault the Japanese-held Gilbert and Marshall islands.

Deployed in September 1943, the Grumman F6F Wildcat proved greater than a match for the Japanese Zero and shortly turned the dominant carrier-borne fighter within the Pacific. (Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

Recognizing the vulnerability of a activity drive constructed round one or two carriers, the brand new doctrine posited deploying three to 6 fleet carriers on the middle of a round formation, ringed by cruisers and destroyers bristling with antiaircraft weapons, and escort carriers, every carrying 30 assault plane, accompanied by the most recent quick battleships with velocity to match the carriers. The primary offensive weapon of those activity forces was their 500-1,100 assault plane, in a position to vary out to 1,500 miles.

The progressive offensive doctrine underneath which the brand new quick service activity teams would function was basically created by then Vice Adm. Marc Mitscher. In late January 1944 Mitscher ready to launch Operation Flintlock, the battle to take the Japanese stronghold of Kwajalein within the Marshalls. By then his fleet was working as Process Pressure 58 (TF 58) and comprised a dozen carriers in 4 activity teams of three carriers every, with a mixed complement of 650 assault plane.

The Battle of Kwajalein started on January 31 with aerial assaults and the bombardment of its defenses by battleships and destroyers. By midday the service fighters had cleared the skies of Japanese plane. Marine and Military forces landed on February 1. After three days of combating and relentless air assaults the island was in American palms. So too was the huge anchorage at adjoining Majuro Atoll, which turned the brand new ahead base for the Central Pacific fleet.

From Majuro TF 58 moved in mid-February to assault Truk, the closely fortified “Gibraltar of the Pacific” and capital of the Carolines.

As Reynolds wrote in The Quick Carriers:

A predawn-launched 72-plane fighter sweep on 17 February opened the air assault in opposition to “impregnable” Truk.…About 80 Japanese planes and heavy, inaccurate flak challenged Mitscher’s sweep, however solely half the Zeros sought to have interaction. For a lot of the morning the air battle raged, ensuing within the lack of 50 Zeros and 4 Hellcats.…The service planes then strafed the parked plane on three strips and destroyed or broken about 150 in all, leaving one other 100 undamaged.…The bombers went on to work and had a subject day. Earlier than Process Pressure 58 left Truk, about 140,000 tons of enemy transport lay sunken or piled up on the seaside.…One aviator who noticed this handiwork identified: “That is how we will win battles sooner or later. Teamwork is the reply.”

Certainly, the Truk assaults served as prototypes for TF 58’s 1944 and ’45 victories over Japanese air forces and their many island bases. Key American benefits enabled these wins. Shock was usually an element, because of the duty drive’s unprecedented mobility—and because of the very fact the Japanese by no means realized their naval code had been damaged. Japanese pilots diminished in proficiency, as lots of their preliminary elite flyers have been misplaced by 1944, and their substitutes have been no match for veteran American pilots.

As a rising variety of U.S. carriers and battleships arrived within the Pacific, the Navy’s success in neutralizing Japanese strongholds within the Marshalls and Carolinas opened the best way to all-out assaults on the Marianas—Tinian, Saipan, Guam and Rota. That island group’s strategic significance loomed giant: American air bases on these islands would allow the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber—with its 3,250-mile vary and talent to hold as much as 10 tons of bombs—to rain destruction on the Japanese house islands.

Code-named Operation Forager, the 1944 assault on the Marianas proved decisive, and its chief weapon was TF 58. It was at that time King cut up the fleet into two instructions—one to strike, the opposite to plan. The identical highly effective quick service activity drive often known as TF 58 within the Fifth Fleet underneath Spruance and Mitscher was known as TF 38 within the Third Fleet underneath Halsey and Vice Adm. John McCain. The flip-flopping designation understandably confused the Japanese. In June TF 58 steamed towards the Marianas with 15 flattops carrying greater than 900 plane, seven battleships, 20-odd cruisers and dozens of destroyers. The Individuals would make use of that mighty armada simply within the preparation of the Marianas landings. The whole didn’t embody the scores of ships that might transport practically 130,000 Marine and Military troops to the seashores.

Led by the sunshine service Langley, the ships of Process Group 38.3—one among 4 TF 38 subgroups—enter Ulithi anchorage within the Caroline Islands in 1944. (Nationwide Archives)

Mitscher kicked off Forager on June 11 by sending some 200 F6F Hellcats to ravage Japanese air bases on Saipan. That strike kicked off per week of carrier-based raids, adopted by a two-day bombardment. The preliminary touchdown came about on June 15, some 20,000 Marines making it ashore that day.

Determined to hold on to the Marianas, Japanese Vice Adm. Jisaburo Ozawa mustered his complete 1st Cellular Fleet—5 battleships and 9 carriers, together with the newly launched Taiho, Ozawa’s flagship—to counterattack in what’s remembered because the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the biggest carrier-on-carrier engagement of the battle. Mitscher and Ozawa every perceived it as a chance to destroy his enemy’s principal Pacific fleet.

Because the Japanese fleet approached Saipan from the west, U.S. submarines tracked and reported its progress. Ozawa opened the struggle round 10 a.m. on June 19, launching the primary of 4 waves of 373 carrier-based plane. American radar operators noticed them 100 miles out, and Mitscher despatched each Hellcat he had—practically 300—screaming into the air.

The Japanese pilots have been outmatched, and the best naval air battle of the battle was a slaughter, dubbed by one jubilant American flier as “an old-time turkey shoot.”

It was over by 3 p.m. Ozawa misplaced two-thirds of his plane. Mitscher misplaced 20 Hellcats.

That very same day U.S. submarines made the victory much more lopsided by torpedoing and sinking two Japanese fleet carriers, Shokaku and Taiho. It was a portent of issues to return within the Pacific. American submarines armed with improved torpedoes performed a rising position in destroying not solely IJN belongings but additionally service provider ships carrying oil and different strategic supplies.

The summer time of 1944 was characterised by a sequence of raids and invasions of minor islands within the Marianas and elsewhere. The subsequent main battle, for the Leyte Gulf in late October, marked the opening of the MacArthur-driven marketing campaign to liberate the Philippines. Leyte proved historical past’s final battleship-on-battleship struggle, in addition to the biggest naval battle in fashionable historical past in numbers of warships engaged—greater than 280, together with the ships of Halsey’s Third Fleet. It additionally marked the top of the IJN as an offensive combating drive.

Ominously, the Battle of Leyte Gulf additionally noticed the primary organized assaults by Japanese kamikaze (“divine wind”) plane. As most of their veteran aircrews had perished, the IJN as a substitute educated its younger inexperienced pilots to crash into Allied warships. Within the struggle for the Philippines the kamikazes represented a severe menace, sinking the escort service St. Lo and damaging the fleet carriers Essex, Franklin, Hancock, Intrepid and Lexington, the sunshine carriers Belleau Wooden and Cabot, and greater than a half dozen escort carriers, all of which retired for repairs. The one actual protection in opposition to such assaults was correct and relentless antiaircraft fireplace—however in opposition to dozens, even a whole lot, of kamikazes it could by no means be one hundred pc efficient.

With the Marianas in American palms by yr’s finish, and the battle to liberate the Philippines properly underway, the following islands to be contested have been Iwo Jima, within the Bonin Islands, and Okinawa, within the Ryukyus. The Individuals invaded the previous in February 1945, the latter in April. Iwo Jima lay some 760 miles south of Tokyo, shut sufficient to allow land-based fighter planes to escort squadrons of B-29s.

Each Iwo Jima and Okinawa are volcanic in origin, with rugged mountainous topography, and have been desperately defended by fanatical Japanese troops for whom there could be no going house. Process Pressure 58, then at its peak in power and expertise, dedicated to extended aerial assaults on each islands and took the brunt of swarming kamikaze assaults. These assaults proved extra lethal and damaging than encounters with the carriers and battleships of the IJN, which by then was basically toothless.

En path to Iwo Jima on February 16 and 17 Spruance was granted his long-standing want to strike the Japanese house islands and launched greater than 1,000 plane from TF 58 to assault enemy air bases, factories and different installations and have interaction any remaining fight plane. The assaults have been successful, inflicting widespread harm, sinking a number of ships and downing some 500 Japanese planes at a value of 88 U.S. fighters, 60 of these in fight.

At Iwo Jima TF 58 supplied pre-landing bombardment assist and aerial assaults via late February whereas persevering with raids in opposition to the house islands. On February 21 kamikazes severely broken Saratoga and sank the escort service Bismarck Sea. The invasion price the lives of practically 7,000 Marines and greater than 500 sailors with one other 20,000 wounded. On the Japanese aspect the 21,000-man garrison was all however worn out.

As soon as in American palms Iwo Jima served as a invaluable emergency haven for broken B-29s and a base for fighter escorts assigned to bomber strikes on the house islands.

Approaching the heels of Iwo Jima, the April 1 invasion of Okinawa proved the bloodiest single battle of the Pacific. As at Iwo Jima, Process Pressure 58 supplied pre-landing bombardment assist and aerial assaults in opposition to Okinawa whereas heading off repeated kamikaze assaults by greater than 300 planes in simply the primary week of battle. A protracted sequence of kamikaze assaults stretched via Could, costing the Japanese at the very least 1,500 plane (and pilots) and the Individuals a dozen misplaced destroyers and a whole lot of broken ships. By way of battle’s finish kamikazes managed to cripple the fleet carriers Bunker Hill, Enterprise, Hancock, Intrepid and Wasp.

Among the many determined Japanese measures to carry Okinawa was a activity drive centered on the brand new outsize battleship Yamato, dispatched to disrupt the U.S. invasion. Mitscher launched practically 400 carrier-based plane to intercept the formation. The huge Yamato lastly capsized and sank after hits from at the very least 11 torpedoes and a half dozen bombs.

Altogether Allied naval forces misplaced greater than 30 ships and greater than 760 carrier-based plane within the Okinawa marketing campaign. Almost 5,000 U.S. sailors have been killed, as have been some 7,600 troopers and Marines. Japan misplaced an estimated 110,000 troopers and Okinawan conscripts by the point combating there ended on June 21.

Process drive raids on Japan then complemented the continued incendiary B-29 devastation wrought by U.S. Military Air Forces Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay’s XXI Bomber Command. All through the summer time of 1945, as Allied planners ready for the invasion of Japan (Operation Downfall), air and sea assaults on the house islands mounted.

The ultimate curtain was about to fall on the Pacific Warfare, which it did abruptly with the dropping of the 2 atomic bombs. Solely on August 15, when Emperor Hirohito declared Japan’s unconditional give up, did Nimitz halt all fight operations of the storied quick service activity teams.

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