Contents - Hirohito's War
29 The Great Marianas ‘Turkey Shoot’
[February 1944–June 1944]
[Maps: 29.1, 29.2]
The Navy’s Strategic Plan for the Marianas (p 831) Japan Prepares for a Naval Showdown (p 832) The Bombing of the Marianas and Operation A-GO Set in Motion (p 835) Avalanche of New US Navy Matériel (p 838) Advances in Radar, Flight Direction Operation, Computer Driven Anti-Aircraft Gun Systems (p 839) US Superiority in Aeronautics Technology and Combat Tactics (p 843) US Naval Logistics and Operating Practices (p 847) The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (The Battle of the Philippine Sea) (p 848) The Sinking of the Taiho (p 853) The Last Hurrah of Japan’s Carrier Fleet (p 854) Cuckoos in the Night (p 857) Reflections and Recriminations (p 858)
The Navy’s Strategic Plan for the Marianas: Successes in the Gilberts, Marshalls and Carolines left Nimitz’s forces strung across a long line of islands in the Central Pacific. Thus far the advance toward Japan, as a result of America’s victory in the air in the South Pacific and Central Pacific areas, had been unimpeded by Japan’s Combined Fleet. That pacificity could not be expected to continue as Nimitz embarked on the next stage of his advance toward Japan. From the start of the war the occupation of the Marianas Islands (Saipan, Guam, Rota and Tinian) had been Admiral King’s prime target for Nimitz’s sweep through the Central Pacific. King saw them as the essential location for naval and airfield bases from which an attack could be launched on Formosa and then southern China. From here the Navy would be able to apply the economic strangulation of Japan that King and others believed would force Japan to surrender.
Even within the US Navy, the Marianas strategy did not necessarily carry unanimous support. Vice-Admiral Raymond Spruance had, since his victory at Midway, become, along with Halsey, the Navy’s highest profile combat commander, and preferred to stay silent or neutral on plans of broader strategy. However, his Chief of Staff, Captain Carl Moore, forwarded a strategic paper that advanced the proposal that the capture of Truk and the Marianas was a potentially costly distraction from the strategic priority of getting to the coast of southern China. Turning Japanese logic on its head, Moore argued that the garrison at Truk was a logistical liability rather than an asset to Japan because it would need to be resupplied by sea. Similarly he argued that the Marianas were an unnecessary diversion. Spruance, a close friend of Moore, was happy to give his views a hearing. General Marshall, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was also firmly opposed to the Navy’s Marianas strategy. King and Nimitz agreed with the bypass of Truk but not the Marianas, which they believed were an essential logistical stepping stone to Formosa. However, whereas Admirals King, Nimitz and Spruance saw Formosa as the natural take-off point for the invasion of Japan, Marshall, in line with MacArthur’s wishes, pressed for a military invasion of the Philippines and the use of the northern island of Luzon as the launch pad for the conquest of Japan. The Joint Chiefs of Staff did ultimately accept Moore’s logic on the matter of bypassing Truk, but the contentious issue of whether to take the Marianas divided the Army and Navy.
General ‘Hap’ Arnold broke the strategic stalemate. Although the US Army Air Force was a division of the Army and nominally reported to Marshall, Arnold’s long-term plan