One Big Turkey Shoot

By Captain J.S. "Jimmy" Thach and Chief Warrant Officer Cecil King, U.S. Navy (Retired)

There were numerous reports that airplanes were being fed into Guam and to some of the other islands from the Philippines. You got the feeling that something was going to happen and that there was going to be an attack. So it came, and we had submarines and patrol aircraft out at distances from the task force and had pretty good warning of this large strike force of enemy airplanes coming. When they were first picked up, they were high, and there were so many of them that they showed up a long way on the radars.

All of our dive bombers and torpedo planes were ordered to be put below on the hangar deck, and all the fighters were put on the flight deck. We simply kept running the fighters through to refuel and launch again to have the maximum in the air at the time the brunt of the enemy attack arrived. After the first fighters were vectored out, we just kept vectoring them out in groups, toward the enemy large formation.

Not very many enemy aircraft got anywhere near our carriers. I was on the bridge of the Lexington , and I saw one enemy dive bomber come in from medium altitude and dive on the Cabot (CVL-28). It was the most amazing thing. The Cabot apparently didn’t see the airplane soon enough, and only one twin 40-mm on the Cabot opened up and fired two bursts, a total of four rounds of ammunition—boom, boom, a twin amount—and split that airplane wide open. It missed the Cabot , splashing nearby. That was the one enemy airplane I saw that day, and yet there were, I believe, over 300 shot down. Our fighters really had a field day.

Don’t forget, success in the battle was due to the fighter pilots’ ability to shoot and hit! The first ones to intercept the enemy—already on combat air patrol—ran out of ammunition, and they came back and landed on board, were reloaded, and actually got back in the air. I think some of them actually got two separate combat flights that day, which is amazing, all in one strike.

I definitely remember one pilot reporting that a group of six enemy planes had come in when they attempted to land at Guam and that we had burned them all, and he said, “Now there are no more active airplanes on Guam.” Then, we sent some fighters over there, and there was another group coming in, so they were bringing them in all the time.

It was a kind of all-day affair with the enemy fields on those islands.


Chief Warrant Officer Cecil S. King, Jr., from his perspective on board the USS Hornet (CV-12):

The “Turkey Shoot” really stands out in my mind, because it was a spectacular thing from a spectator’s standpoint. I remember very vividly when they were out there, mixing it up with the Japs, and we’d get these fragmentary reports in: splashed one, splashed two, splashed three, and so on. It just seemed like this was what we went out there to do. We were shooting up the whole damn Japanese Navy. It seemed like the greatest thing in the world.

The next day, it was high feeling and emotion about the distance our planes had to go in trying to intercept the Japanese fleet as it steamed away. I was just close enough that I could sense that this was a big damn decision, about whether to send them off or not—and the distance involved, and all that kind of thing. I remember all the suspense involved in that.

That night, when they came back in, I was up topside, at my battle station. It was a memorable evening, because there were planes landing all over the place. It didn’t matter what carrier they were from.  The minute anybody flashed ready deck, somebody landed on it. Almost every landing was some kind of deck crash—they were running on fumes. There were planes going in the water everywhere. That’s when Mitscher lit up the fleet: searchlights—the whole damn thing. (Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher, Commander Task Force 58, ordered the carriers’ lights to be turned on to aid the pilots in the return from their long flight toward the Japanese fleet.) It was a spectacular, memorable occasion.

I remember on the Hornet they passed the word to throw over anything that would float—wooden orange crates, anything. These guys out in the water—there were just people everywhere. It was an extremely dramatic occasion. I just couldn’t believe what was happening. When it was all over, we went down to the chief’s quarters and said, “Boy, this is it. We’re going to break three or four regulations.” Somebody had some booze of some kind. We all gathered in the compartment I shared with several other chiefs, and we all had a drink.

A good friend of mine named Duke Helms was the chief photographer’s mate. He’d often wanted to take a picture of my tattooed feet. He said, “We’re going to make this a real occasion. I’m going to take a picture of your damn tattoos.” So he had me take off my shoes and socks, and took a picture. I remember that battle more than anything else that happened all the time I was on the Hornet . It was a great occasion.


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