The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot

Among the doctrines of Navy history, carrier battles were amongst the highest level of complexity and importance during WWII. After the battle of Midway, the US Navy went on to fight the Japanese at strategic points during the island hoping campaign along the road to Japan. On June 19th, 1944 the last major carrier battle was held in the Philippine Sea. The goal was take the Marianas and the battle would later go down as the great Marianas Turkey Shoot. The plan had called for a Northern and Southern attack force by the US but Japan had prepared for a battle for the Marianas and planned a strategy that would destroy the American fleet.


Admiral Toyoda planned to lure the American fleet to either the Palau’s or the Western Carolina’s where shore based planes would destroy the fleet. The Japanese had 1,700 planes based out of Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and New Guinea, with another 500 planes out of Tinian, Guam and Saipan. Task force 58, compiled of 6 carriers, 7 battleships, 12 escort carriers, 11 cruisers and 91 destroyers or destroyer escorts, began the campaign of air superiority over the Marianas before the invasion took place. By June 13th, most of the planes on Saipan and Tinian had already been destroyed. Of the 896 aircraft on the carriers, most were F6F Hellcats. As American forces had already invaded the island of Saipan, the Naval battle was in the same vicinity. On June 19th the battle began and lasted only till June 20th. Admiral Spruance, commander of the 5th fleet, knowing that the Japanese were in the area kept a continuous aerial blanket of Hellcats to protect his fleet. On the morning of June 19th after a swarm of Japanese planes had been picked up on radar, Spruance ordered more planes in the air, 300 in total. After the battles at Coral Sea, Midway and the Solomon islands, the lose of experienced Japanese pilots was never replaced. Of the 373 Japanese planes launched from their carriers, only 130 returned. Only 29 American planes were destroyed.

At 16:30, 77 dive-bombers, 54 torpedo-planes and 85 fighters took off from American carriers headed for the Japanese fleet. With very few fighters left the loses were great. The carriers Hiyo, Zuikaku and Chiyoda were hit as well as the battleship Haruna. 14 American planes were lost during the offensive but a challenge remained of landing in the dark. Breaking all rules, the carriers turned on their lights so that the pilots could land. 80 planes crashed or went over the side as fuel was low and visibility low. Most were rescued but 16 pilots and 33 aircrew went missing on June 20th.


The F6F Hellcat played a vital role in the success for the American Navy. Grumman has had a long line of successful planes built and delivered to the US Navy. In 2012 at the Reno Air Races, we did a solute to the Grumman family, as a portrait was done of 3 of the 4 WWII Grumman fighters. The F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat and F8F Bearcat.

Some Old Friends

Last year at the races I was able to work with some really great people and some great aircraft. The CAF SoCal out of Camarillo, CA has some great aircraft and for the last couple of years they have brought a large portion of their fleet to the air races. This year they brought their Mustang, Bearcat, Hellcat, Spitfire and Zero for rides, opening ceremony and simulated dogfight. Having worked with the wing previously I knew that they would always want more images. The second morning I was there, Dad had already set up a great morning static shoot with the aircraft from the wing, minus the mustang. Now we had been having great clouds that whole and thankfully they lasted a little too much towards the end as Saturday rolled in with a massively heavy storm. It poured. Nevertheless the Thursday morning shoot was great!


Of particular interest to us was the A6M3 Zero, an original Vet from the Solomon and one of only five flying originals left in the world. We parked it separate from the others in order to get more time with it and more detail shots. One of the benefits of working a subject for the second time is knowing what images you already had and what ones to work on. In this case having previously worked with the Bearcat, Hellcat and Spitfire, quite successfully I might add, my attention was on the Zero.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

How do you get those shots?

One of the responses I get a lot are compliments on my static aviation images. Which i deeply appreciate. Afterwards the inevitable question comes out, “how did you get those shots?” It’s a fair question. If you have ever spent time at an airport, which at this point in life about 80% of people in this country have been to an airport at least once, then you know that most airports aren’t that attractive. They are surrounded by homes, power lines, highways, cars, other buildings, you name it. So how then do these shots occur? Well it comes from planning, friends and coffee.


The planning part is pretty simple. You find a place you like, wait till there is an event going on there and then go. These days a lot of that information can be found out online. There are places where it’s easier to get those great scenic looking shots with planes. For instance Reno Stead Airport. For the places where you can’t do much about, well in comes Photoshop. The second part is harder. Making friends never is but with time and just talking it happens. Pilots are a lot like car guys in the respect that they both like to talk about their machines! You go up and start talking about their plane, ask questions and they open right up. The third part is, well, tough. You have to get up really early. I mean before the sun comes up, pull the plane out to position it and shoot. To my knowledge that is some of the best light and that is often when there is less people. Coffee helps afterwards. It may sound tough at first and it is, but the rewards are unbelievable. Best part, besides the images, you meet a lot of good people this way.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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