Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Battle of Truk, 1944

The Battle of Truk* ("Operation Hailstone"), fought on February 16-17, 1944, was a massive U.S. naval air and ship attack on a major part of the Japanese fleet in the South Pacific.

Truk, a South Pacific atoll in the Caroline Islands, was a significant logistical base for the Japanese fleet. The atoll was the only major Japanese airbase within range of the Marshall Islands, offering support for enemy garrisons located there and on islands throughout the central and South Pacific. Gaining Allied naval and air superiority was vital if planned operations against other enemy island defenses were to be successful.

In fact, crippling the Japanese support from Truk was essential for a successful invasion of Eniwetok, 670 miles northeast, which was occurring almost simultaneously.

Battle of Truk Atoll, February 16-18, 1944
Source: National Archives
For 2 days, the U.S. directed airstrikes, surface ship bombardments, and submarine attacks against Japanese airfields, aircraft, and shore installations on the atoll, as well as against ships in and around Truk's lagoon.

The U.S. scored a major victory at Truk. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison calls the raid one of the most successful in the war. The Americans sank numerous naval and merchant ships. They also destroyed over 250 Japanese planes. Thirty-two American planes were lost and 2 ships were damaged.

The success at Truk essentially ended it as a major threat to Allied operations in the Central Pacific. The Japanese garrison on Eniwetok was denied reinforcement and support during the invasion that began on February 18, allowing the U.S. to capture that stronghold without threat of a single enemy plane.

Battle of Truk Atoll, February 16-18, 1944
Source: National Archives

*After the war, the name was changed to "Chuuk" in most western countries, a more accurate spelling for the local name for the island.

Source: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morison

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