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June 19-20, 1944: The Battle of the Philippine Sea

The Battle of the Philippine Sea was a naval battle fought June 19-20, 1944, in the Philippine Sea several hundred miles west of Saipan near the Mariana Islands between the United States Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy. It resulted in a decisive American victory that put American forces within bombing range of the Japanese mainland. It was the largest aircraft carrier action in WWII.

Guam, a U.S. territory and part of the Mariana Islands, was captured by Japan in 1941. Japan established airbases on Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. In an effort to capture the Marianas, U.S. Marines stormed the beaches of the northerly island of Saipan on June 15, 1944. They hoped to place the US within striking distance of Japan and block their supply lines.  

Grumman F6F-3 fighter lands aboard the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Philippine Sea

In response, Japan sent the Japanese Combined Fleet to the Marianas. The Japanese fleet was spotted by US subs, who alerted Task Force 58 comprised of 15 aircraft carriers to intercept. On the morning of June 19, 1944, Japan launched an attack, sending aircraft in four waves to attack the American fleet. In response, the U.S. scrambled 450 fighters and the ensuing Battle of the Philippine Sea became the largest aircraft carrier battle ever fought.

Having lost many of its experienced pilots in the Solomon and Marshall Islands, Japan’s pilots lacked the experience of their American counterparts. Some had just three months of training. The Americans also had superior technology and equipment, including the highly classified new proximity fuses. The aerial battle became known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” when an American aviator compared it to Turkey hunting back home. More than 400 Japanese aircraft were destroyed.  

The USS Wasp under attack during the Battle of the Philippine Sea

As the day progressed, U.S. subs sank several Japanese aircraft carriers. Japanese fighters did manage a direct hit on the deck of the USS South Dakota, but the ship remained operational. On June 20th, the US Navy spent most of the day trying to locate the remaining ships in the Japanese fleet. They were finally spotted in the afternoon and a risky decision was made to proceed with another attack. It meant that pilots would fly in the dark and risk running out of fuel. During the attack, US forces managed to sink a third Japanese carrier. While returning to their home carriers and low on fuel, pilots struggled to find their ships in the darkness. Some had to ditch in the sea. Finally, despite the danger, the carrier’s lights were ordered illuminated to guide the pilots safely back. Despite the efforts, more than 80 American planes were lost.

A Japanese bomb barely misses the USS Bunker Hill during the Battle of the Philippine Sea

Japanese losses were far greater, with three carriers sunk and most of their aircraft destroyed. The battle allowed the US Navy to dominate the Pacific and open access to the Philippine and Japanese islands. The operation also allowed US forces to provide support to the ongoing Marine invasion of the Marianas Islands.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of the Philippine Sea and see other WWII records, search Fold3 today.

114 Comments

  1. My brother , Nelson Burke Junior better known as Jack , Fought in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He was in the hall of the shop where a fire took place after the kamikaze‘s hit, and he along with a couple other sailors put out the fire and saved a lot of lives. He was only 17 at the time. He received multiple awards but he also carried a lot of shrapnel in his body from the hit. He was very proud of his service in the Navy although he never talked about it very much. He passed away a few years ago.

    • A hero for sure. R.I.P.

    • God Bless his Soul. Like so many Veterans, he did not discuss the horrors of war. When my Dad was in his late seventies and eighties he wanted to share the memories he could not talk about for all those years prior. We made many trips and visited many of the sites he experienced and had memories of. He wanted to be sure that the future generations of our family knew and valued the price of their freedom. Those memories haunted him. It is now a series of vivid memories, so clear to me. I have to find the way to be sure that the memories and stories stay with the future generations.

    • What a crazy scene that must have been there – imagine a modern day 17 year old coping with it, not many could I’m afraid. My grandfather was chief Yeoman on the Independence at Leyte, he didn’t talk about it much either..

  2. My father was at Leyte, Edward Joseph Sweeney. He was considered in the medic field as he was a trained pharmacist. Assigned to the USS Ward, supposedly a troop carrier, he was on board when it was sunk. No lives were lost as all were picked up by a nearby ship. That’s all I know. Looked for years about the sinking but never found anything. He was deeply traumatized.

  3. My father, Frank Janczewski Jansen was an Army staff seargant who fought in Leyte Gulf. He sustained a cut and subsequent scar on his chin while jumping off the ship onto land.He died in 1999.

  4. My uncle, Frrank G Sparkman Jr. was there, as well as nearly every other Pacific battle after 1943. He served as a Gunnersmate on the USS Langley, CVL 27, a light aircraft carrier. Speaking as a former Tank Crew member, his was a really tough life that seemingly had no ending.

  5. How can I find out for my only child more about military history for his family lineage as I know & would like to see his great-grandfather properly honored with the Purple Heart he earned but never received before passing away so it also needs to be put on his military tombstone also he is the only great-grandchild grandson?

    • Trinity,
      Fold 3 research may show something on your military family history. Also, The Naval person who served in WW II was given a NOTICE OF DISCHARGE form which gave individuals personal particulars plus dates of service, campaigns he participated in, ships and stations served on and awards and decorations. This form and a discharge certificate could be registered in home county register of deeds as was my fathers and mine also. If your research there discloses nothing, you may check with your county’s VSO (Veterans Service Officer) about requesting records from stored military records, or a local American Legion organization may assist you.

    • Trinity, you can go to archives.gov and it will guide you to what you have to do to request his records. You will have to wait until the government opens their offices but you can research what you need now. Rosemarie

  6. Was the USS Makin Island a coverted flat top part of this battle? My father in law was assigned to the Makin Island during WWII in the Pacific. Just curious.

  7. My father, TM/c 1C Harris Adams served in the battle of the Philippine Sea and the Leyte Gulf battle on the carrier USS Manila Bay. The Manila Bay took a Kamikazi hit. My father who manned a 50 cal. machine gun during the attack was later reprimanded for shooting a kamikaze pilot who missed the aircraft carrier and splashed into the water without an explosion. Emotions ran high during events like that.

    • There is a B&W movie from 1942 about the raid on Makin Island; Ill try to find the title.

    • Hello. I wonder if the movie Petie3 was thinking of, ..is called. GUNG HO, the Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders .

      I must say, I absolutely love the spirit of everyone on this website and all the kind comments to others regarding their loved ones. Makes me quite emotional and so proud of our many generations of HEREOS.

  8. My dad served aboard the USS Washington (BB-56) from Jan 1941 until the end of the War. The Washington was there. He operated 16” guns and 50 cal. He stayed in after the war and became a diver, but left in1948. He retired from Coast Guard Reserves as CWO4 and Police Lieutenant.

  9. God Bless our soldiers. The Greatest Generation with their bravery and sacrifices helped save the world. My father and 5 of his brothers served during WWII. My father and one brother were Army in the Philippines. My father contracted serious malaria. Was hospitalized for about a year. His brother was shot by a sniper the day after the war was declared over. Like all my dad didn’t want to speak of the war. What little he did say through our mom was horrifying.

  10. I’d like too know more about the roll the see bees served in the Philippines islands. My father was in the Navy seebees in 1942/44 Jeff Ray Stafford.

  11. Marianas Islands. Both the Army and Marine Corp were involved in the campaign, not just the Marines as you indicated.

  12. My father served in the Army in the Phillipines until he got malaria. I know he was at Luzon and after getting ill was then sent to Okinawa Where he recovered and worked in the motor pool. The only time I heard him speak about his service was when my children had to interview him for their school’s 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Project. He said very little.
    My father in law was in the Navy and served in the Pacific and was on the Lexington when she went down. He too, never spoke about his service. Both of these men loved going to the WWII Museum here in New Orleans even though it was clear that it brought up so many memories Of what they endured during WWII.
    My husband was in SE Asia during Vietnam era and still will not speak as to exactly where he was nor what happened to him. He has nightmares still.c

    • my wife’s grandfather George Plumley (in his 30s) served aboard the USS Sterett DD409 and saw a lot of action, just read the book tin can sailor, they would go out looking for a fight! crazy! and her dad John Emmel Sr was in the merchant marines. my dad Matthew Chrzanowski Sr was on a troop carrier USS Barnwell APA 132 (Tokyo Special) (18yrs old). i served on the USS Lexington CVT 16 from 1976 till 1977 (training aircraft carrier) nothing like those guys had to go through!

  13. My Dad, David Shaker was manning the 40mm gums on the Lexington during this battle and many others in the pacific. It was only when he was in his mid eighties did he start sharing the many stories. He served on the Lexington from 1943 -1945. He passed away 2 years ago at age 95!

    • My Uncle Haskell B French was a navigator on the Louisville from 1939 until 1943. I was never able to speak with him much about. He said most of it should not be told as he lost many friends over the years.

  14. My father Michael P Peluso Cox 3 class served and was a plant owner on the USS Franklin ( Big Ben). As a child going up I knew the stories of the Franklin
    so well you would have thought that I served on her. When I joined the Navy in 1964 to 1968. I was at the Brooklin navy station when a chief ask for volunteers
    to move a carrier Brooklin down to Virginia. So I asked what carrier. He said the Franklin and I replied the Big Ben. I proceeded to tell him how I knew about it. I was picked as one of the volunteers. Of coarse I called my Dad and he call two shipmates who served on it with him.

  15. Is there any information about the LST’s used by the Navy in WWII? My dad, Peter G. Jacob served on LST-721. The only thing he told us was about his pet monkey he had on the ship. He said he was in the Phillipines most of the time. Again, he didn’t talk much about it.

  16. Benita A Jenkins
    June 12, 2020

    My father, Benjamin E Jenkins, shipped out on the USS Intrepid, and was then in CASU(F) 34. He died when I was young and I am trying to get information on where his Forward CASU 34 was during the years of 1944 till the duration of the war. I have pictures, but can’t identify locations. He Never mentioned one word about the war, but I was very young and didn’t ask. He is in Arlington Cemetery.

  17. Leyte gulf was the largest naval battle in history. Max Hastings’ book, Retribution, writes incredibly about it, noting that ships were firing broadside into each other, like the Spanish Armada.

    Battles, such as these are incomprehensible, unless you were there. No movie can capture it, no book can adequately describe it, as soldiers and sailors had been fighting, and dying since Pearl Harbour. Day after day, week after week.

    My father (died 2017) was an LSO (night) on the Block Island. He was not in Leyte gulf, but other Pacific areas. I kick myself over and over for not getting his perspective.

    God bless and keep every single daughter and son that remembers, and honors these people. IMHO, they really were The Greatest Generation.

  18. My 4 brothers served in the US Navy In the Pacific and Atlantic during the
    2nd WW.
    Joseph H. Zeallor USS James E. Craig CV 25 Pacific
    John T. Zeallor USS LCI (G) 226, 337 Pacific
    Thomas M. Zeallor USS Sierra AD 18 Pacific
    James W. Zeallor USS LST 295 Atlantic
    Richard L. Zeallor USMC Port Lyautey Morrocco 1956-1960

  19. My Dad was on a “floating bomb”, a tanker to refuel the aircraft.
    He was a gunner on the Tonto, I would love to know anything or anybody about it.
    I know he was in at least 2 battles, he was very tight lipped about fighting in WWII. Up until he died, recently, he still had nightmares. Thanks!

  20. I believe my father Herman Gartner was also there but maybe on the outskirts. I have a photo of my fathers and on the back in his handwriting is “Battle of Leyte Gulf”. He was on the USS Vincennes.

  21. My uncle Sylvester Warnimont was killed in the battle of Normandy on June 25, 1944. He is buried in France. I wish I could know more about what happened. He was in the army and only in active duty 3 months before his death.

  22. My Dad Leo Joseph Julich wa sin the US Army and wa sin th elanding at Leyte Gulf , Phillipine Islands in 1944

  23. My huband’s uncle was a the Battle of Leyte on the USS Kalinin Bay.
    He use to go to reunions with other Navy buddies…I know he really enjoyed it. I wish we could have heard some of their stories.

    My dad and mom both served in the US Navy during WWII. Dad talked about becoming a pharmacist mate because they heard his mom was once a nurse. I know he said he saw too much…hit him hard.

  24. A cousin, Haskell Shaw, was on the USS LEXINGTON, but was it this one; weren’t there two of that name? Hack’s carrier was – I was told – was sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea… is that right? Family story stated he had just left his post on one of the gun turrets when it was hit by a Japanese plane. I’d like to know more; can anyone help?