Attack on Truk
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseTruk in the Caroline Islands had been the main base for Combined Fleet since the pre-WW2 days and had since been the home-away-from-home for the Combined Fleet vessels operating in the South and Central Pacific. For the first two years of the conflict, Truk was considered an unassailable bastion. However, by early 1944 the American carrier forces in the Pacific had grown so monumentally in strength that attacks that would have been unthinkable a mere six months earlier became possible. In early Feb 1944, Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Task Force 58 was so powerful and had such a good recent history that he thought he could arrange an attack on Truk, which was code named Operation Hailstone. The presence of Japanese land-based aircraft on the island did not deter his wish to conduct this raid. Strategically, an attack on Truk by the Americans was also important, as the Japanese garrison might interfere with American operations in the Marshall Islands.
ww2dbaseMitscher arrived with an enormous force of five fleet carriers (Enterprise, Yorktown, Essex, Intrepid, and Bunker Hill), four light carriers (Belleau Wood, Cabot, Monterey, and Cowpens), seven battleships, and a full compliment of cruisers and destroyers. The fleet brought with it 500 aircraft. To prevent this very kind of devastating attack, the Japanese had already withdrawn the majority of the heavy vessels to Palau a week earlier. A few light surface warships, merchant vessels, and transports were left behind. Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome noted post-war that these ships remained in Truk mainly because they had been so damaged that either they were not worth saving or could not get underway. In early Feb, United States Marine Corps B-24 reconnaissance aircraft appeared above Truk, and it confirmed the American intention to strike to the Japanese.
ww2dbaseA small group of Japanese aircraft struck first between 1300 and 1500 on 16 Feb. With the exception of a bomb hit on the starboard bow of battleship Iowa (which caused only light damage), the Japanese fighters were fought off with relative ease with anti-aircraft fire. A night time torpedo bomber attack damaged the carrier Intrepid, killing 11, and sending her to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco for repair for the next four months.
ww2dbaseBetween 17 and 18 Feb, aerial strikes, surface engagements, and submarine attacks rained devastation upon anything Japanese on and near Truk. The most damaging aspect was the loss of 270 aircraft, for that they had been the force that checked back American shipping. The importance of this function for Truk was reaffirmed on 20 Feb, two days after the Truk strike, when Admiral Mineichi Koga ordered naval aircraft from Palau and Rabaul to transfer to Truk.
ww2dbaseJapanese naval losses were also significant. Some of the ships were destroyed in anchorage, while most others were intercepted by American vessels that enveloped the area. A total of 191,000 tons of shipping, which included three light cruisers (Agano, Katori, and Naka), six destroyers (Oite, Fumizuki, Maikaze, Hagio, Isogu, and Tachikaze), three smaller warships, two submarines, and 32 transports and merchant ships, were destroyed.
ww2dbaseAmerican losses were comparably minimal. A small number of men were killed in the Japanese attack before the main American strike, as previously stated. During the main strike, 21 American aircraft were lost to anti-aircraft fire, though many of the downed crew were rescued by naval vessels.
ww2dbaseTruk was cut off from supplies and was reduced to near-uselessness. The garrison sat out the remainder of the war. Starvation nearly wiped out the garrison by the time Japan surrendered.
ww2dbaseSources: Interrogation of Japanese Officials, Nihon Kaigun, Operational Experience of Fast Battleships, the Pacific Campaign, Wikipedia.
Last Major Update: Feb 2007
Attack on Truk Interactive Map
Attack on Truk Timeline
|16 Feb 1944||USS Yorktown (Essex-class) launched highly successful raids occurred on Truk (Chuuk), Caroline Islands.|
|17 Feb 1944||USS Yorktown (Essex-class) launched highly successful raids occurred on Truk (Chuuk), Caroline Islands.|
|18 Feb 1944||US carrier aircraft destroyed 270 Japanese aircraft at Truk in the Caroline Islands after a two-day raid.|
|19 Feb 1944||Armed merchant cruiser Akagi Maru, cruiser Katori, destroyer Maikaze, destroyer Nowaki, and minesweeping trawler Shonan Maru No. 15 departed Truk, Caroline Islands at 0430 hours for Yokosuka, Japan. After 0500 hours, Truk came under attack by many US carrier aircraft. A number of aircraft spotted the group and attacked, sinking Akagi Maru and damaging Katori and Maikaze; at least one US F6F fighter was shot down during the attack on this group. Battleship New Jersey, battleship Iowa, cruiser Minneapolos, cruiser New Orleans, destroyer Bradford, and destroyer Burns then approached at about 1300 hours about 64 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Truk. Maikaze fired a spread of torpedoes, which missed the two battleships. Gunfire from Minneapolis and New Orleans started a fire on Maikaze, causing an explosion, and leading to her sinking at 1343 hours; all aboard were lost. Then, New Jersey sank Shonan Maru No. 15 with her port side 5-inch battery. Next, Iowa opened fire on Katori, straddling Katori with the first salvo. Katori fired torpedoes, but all of them missed. Iowa's gunfire eventually overwhelmed and sank Katori; Captain Tamekiyo Oda was among those killed. Nowaki alone escaped the attack.|
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937