We’ll uncover the things you probably never knew about the greatest American aerial victory of World War II – the Marianas Turkey Shoot, where the US Navy managed to shoot down 350 planes in a day.
Everything began in late March of 1944. A Japanese transport plane carries the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese fleet Admiral Mineichi Koga and his briefcase.
Inside was a top-secret document that details the Japanese idea to draw the US carrier fleet into one decisive battle where they would throw everything they had on the US Navy, and gain an upper hand in peace negotiations.
Unfortunately, due to bad weather, the flight crashed. Miraculously, a few of Koga’s chief of staff would survive but the briefcase was nowhere to be found. In the coming days, the briefcase washed up on an island and was recovered by Filipino guerillas who forwarded the plans to American intelligence officials.
A Battle Brewing in the Horizon
During the coming weeks, the US prepared for this large-scale battle, keeping their fleet together and preparing for the massive strike. The Japanese, on the other hand, were unaware that the Americans already knew their plan.
By then the Japanese already experienced a series of losses, losing their most experienced pilots during the Battle of Midway. The US had also a new fighter that was designed to specifically take down the Japanese Zero – the Hellcat. It became the standard carrier-based fighter in the Pacific.
The Japanese expected the US to strike further south and they stationed fewer planes in the Marianas. They were also still confident, expecting their large numbers of land-based aircraft in Guam and other Marianas islands would play a key role in beating the odds.
This decision, however, will ultimately come to haunt them.
Throughout the course of the battle, US submarines sank two of the biggest Japanese fleet carriers. The US carriers went on a protracted strike, sinking one light carrier while significantly damaging other ships.
This event was eventually nicknamed the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot by American pilots because of the disproportional loss ratio done on Japanese planes by American pilots. A pilot from the USS Lexington was quoted, “Why, hell, it was just like an old-time turkey shoot down home!”
In just two days, the Imperial Japanese Navy lost 350 carrier-based planes and 200 land-based aircraft. Many of these were either destroyed on the ground or sunk with their carriers. Hundreds were also shot down by Naval aviators and anti-aircraft.
On the other hand, only one American ship suffered a significant blow and just 23 US aircraft were lost during the first day of the attack. Many more US Navy planes would be lost during the following day. However, the total number of planes shot down in combat was small compared to Japan’s losses.
At this point in WWII, the Japanese would never recover from the losses of their air groups thanks to the Navy Hellcat pilots and their accomplishments during the Marianas Turkey Shoot.