The Free Lance-Star (June 22, 1944)
JAP FLEET ESCAPES IN DARKNESS
Four ships sunk, 10 damaged in battle near Philippines
20 planes also downed in brief engagement – U.S. loses 49 planes but no ships; enemy aircraft carrier among vessels sent down
By Charles H. McMurtry
USPACFLT HQ, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (AP) –
Carrier planes of the U.S. Fifth Fleet inflicted smashing defeat on a formidable Japanese naval force trapped Monday off the Philippines, sinking four ships and damaging at least ten before the enemy escaped under cover of night.
The victory, the third great blow since Pearl Harbor against the Japanese Navy, stemmed from Sunday’s great air battle off Saipan Island, in which U.S. carrier planes and warship guns shot down 353 enemy aircraft.
Because of this stunning aerial loss, the Japanese fleet, caught between the Marianas and the Philippines, could send up only a handful of interceptors from its five or six carriers. Of these 15 to 20 were shot down. The American loss was 49 planes.
The enemy lose an aircraft carrier and three tankers sunk, possibly a destroyer sunk, and nine or ten ships (including a battleship and cruiser) seriously damaged. Adm. Raymond A. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet suffered no surface vessel losses.
The Japanese fleet, which for nearly a week dodged contact with the U.S. force protecting the Saipan invasion, turned and fled with all speed toward the China Sea. Nightfall saved it from further battering and there was no indication from Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, who announced the victory today, that the battle had been resumed.
In the Sunday air battle preceding the bigger struggle, U.S. plane losses were 21 against Japan’s 353. The Sunday attack represented an arms-length enemy attempt to break up the U.S. invasion of Saipan, principal island of the Marianas and only 1,500 miles from Tokyo and the Philippines.
Japs flee at nightfall
The Monday action ended at nightfall with the Japanese fleeing and there was no indication that the battle had been resumed.
Adm. Nimitz also announced that 353 enemy planes were shot down in the Japanese futile attempt Sunday on Adm. Mitscher’s force. This added 53 enemy craft to the previous estimate of 300 destroyed.
Two U.S. carriers and one battleship suffered “superficial damage” and 21 aircraft were lost in combat. A Fleet spokesman said superficial damage means the ship’s capacity for battle was not impaired, indicating these three probably participated in Monday’s action.
The attack of the Fifth Fleet under command of Adm. Raymond A. Spruance was such a complete surprise that the Japanese apparently made no counterattack against any of our surface units.
Adm. Nimitz, who stayed at his headquarters past midnight receiving battle reports and still appeared bright eyed despite his 60 years, said the Japanese force consisted of four or more battleships, five or six carriers, five fleet tankers and an unspecified number of cruisers and destroyers.
He listed these casualties inflicted on the enemy:
- One carrier, believed to be the ZUIKAKU, received three 1,000‑pound bomb hits.
- One HAYATAKA-class carrier was sunk.
- One HAYATAKA-class carrier was severely damaged and left burning furiously.
- One light carrier of the ZUIHŌ or TAIHŌ class received at least one bomb hit.
- One KONGŌ-class battleship was damaged.
- One cruiser was damaged.
- Three destroyers were damaged, one of which is believed to have sunk.
- Three tankers were sunk.
- Two tankers were severely damaged and left burning.
- Fifteen to 20 defending aircraft were shot down.
Greatest since Midway
This destruction or damaging of 14 ships was the third greatest single blow dealt the Japanese fleet of the war.
The greatest was the Battle of Midway in June 1942, when another carrier force under Adm. Spruance sank four enemy carriers and near a score of other ships.
The second biggest defeat was Nov. 13-15, 1942, in the battle off Guadalcanal when the enemy lost more than 30 ships sunk and damaged.
The battle summary for Sunday’s and Monday’s action shows conclusively why Adm. Nimitz in a Monday press conference stated he hoped the enemy would close with the U.S. Fleet for a decisive naval action.
On Sunday, Japanese planes attacked Adm. Spruance’s Fifth Fleet. They achieved no surprise. They lost 353 planes – 335 to our fighters and 18 to our ship’s anti-aircraft. They inflicted superficial damage on only three of our ships.
Pursued by carriers
Adm. Mitscher’s carrier force pursued the Japanese. On Monday afternoon, it located the Japanese and attacked. There was time for just one assault before nightfall. But in just those two or three hours of daylight, his bombers and torpedo planes sank or damaged 14 enemy ships.
They destroyed 15 to 20 Japanese planes which rose in weak defense of the enemy’s great force. Adm. Mitscher’s force achieved such surprise that the enemy was unable to counterattack. Adm. Mitscher had one advantage Monday. He caught the Japanese with their planes down – down in the ocean.
This enemy fleet which Adm. Mitscher riddled Monday now has been fairly well established as the one which attacked our force Sunday. The loss of 353 planes from its five or six carriers virtually wiped out its planes so that it had to rely largely on anti-aircraft for defense – a defense which proved pretty futile.
Few planes lost
The fact that only 20 Japanese planes were downed Monday further indicates the enemy had very few aircraft to offer resistance.
Our loss of 49 aircraft does not necessarily mean anywhere near that total was lost to enemy action.
Because the battle was closed so late in the day and at nearly extreme range in order to catch the Jap fleet, all of our planes were unable to return to their carriers. Many of these 49 landed in the water and the crews took to rubber life rafts.
Some of these have already been picked up and others were undoubtedly rescued after dawn Tuesday although reports are incomplete.
The Hyataka carrier sunk in the Philippine Sea was at least the eighth Japanese flattop sent to the bottom. In addition to four at Midway, the Japanese lost two in the Battle of the Coral Sea and one to a submarine.