Sipan - Tinian

June 6 - 8 1944:

When Task Force 58 left Majuro Atoll on June 6th it was made up of over 600 ships of all types from troop transports, to supply ships, to battle wagons, to the carriers.  This would be the last time that the Pacific Fleet would use the anchorage of Majuro Atoll as its forward base of operations. After this time the new fleet anchorage would be located at Kwajalein Atoll which was much closer to mainland Japan.

Task Force 58 was made up of 4 separate Task Groups and had a formidable air arm which was made up of the following 15 aircraft carriers that had a total of 885 aircraft on board them.

 Task Group 58.1
   USS Hornet (CV 12) - 91 aircraft
   USS Yorktown (CV 10) - 86 aircraft
   USS Belleau Wood (CVL 24) - 35 aircraft
   USS Bataan (CVL 29) - 33 aircraft

  Task Group 58.2
   USS Bunker Hill (CV 17) - 92 aircraft
   USS Wasp (CV 18) - 97 aircraft
   USS Monterey (CVL 26) - 29 aircraft
   USS Cabot (CVL 28) - 34 aircraft   (Air Group 31)

 Task Group 58.3
   USS Enterprise (CV 6) - 71 aircraft
   USS Lexington (CV 16) - 92 aircraft
   USS San Jacinto (CVL 30) - 32 aircraft
   USS Princeton (CVL 23) - 33 aircraft

 Task Group 58.4
   USS Essex (CV 9) - 93 aircraft
   USS Langley (CVL 27) - 32 aircraft
   USS Cowpens (CVL 25) - 35 aircraft

June 11, 1944:

Operation Forager:  On this engagement it was decided that the fighter sweeps would occur in the afternoon instead of in the early morning as had been previously done. VF-31 was given the task of top cover and ordered to "drop down and take out" any fighter opposition that the attack group might run into on the way to the target. Once over the target they were to drop down and engage any opposition launched from the Japanese air bases. For fighter pilots this was the best of the best as they would be in the center of the action.

The target for the attack group that VF-31 was to provide cover for was the bomber base at Ushi Point on the northern tip of Tinian Island.  There would be two other fighter squadrons providing top cover above VF-31.

Only twelve fighters of VF-31 would be used in the operation, the remainder would be kept in reserve aboard Cabot. All of the pilots wanted to be in on this action and the only fair way to determine who would go and who would set and wait was to draw straws.  The senior pilot who drew was Lt. Mulcahy and he would lead the squadron along with Lt. Turner and Lt. Kona as the flight leaders of the other 2 divisions.

Twelve F6Fs of VF-31 were launched at 1300 hours to join with planes from other carriers for the afternoon sweep.  The flight to the target was uneventful as the Japanese were taken off guard and did not locate the Task Force as it approached

The 12 Hellcats of VF-31 were jumped from above by a flight of 20 to 30 Zeros.  Even though VF-31 had been involved in plane to plane combat on other missions only one of the pilots who drew for this mission, Lt. Mulcahy,  had been engaged with an enemy aircraft, for the other 11 pilots this would be their first air to air action. Lt. Mulcahy's radio malfunctioned shortly after take off so Lt. (jg) Galt took over as flight leader on the mission.

Lt. (jg) Driscoll's account of his first enemy engagement:
Arriving over the target, we ran into about 20 Zeros, and soon after the fight started, a couple of them got on my tail. I fought them from 10,000 down to 3,000 feet, and I was hit several times on the way down.  Finally, I tricked the Zeros into over shooting and shot down one of them as he passed over. Climbing again, I met another Zero coming head-on, but my shots stopped him, and he went down burning. Our 12 planes got 14 in all on the flight.

In the ensuing dog fights and strafing of the airfield, the following pilots destroyed enemy aircraft.

Lt. Turner:  2 aerial victories, 2 probables
Lt. (jg) Rieger:  2 aerial victories, 3 damaged on the ground
Lt. (jg) Driscol:  2 aerial victories
Lt. (jg) Galt:  2 aerial victories
Ens. Andrews:  1 aerial victory, 3 destroyed on the ground
Lt. Mulcahy:  1 aerial victory, 3 damaged on the ground
Lt. (jg) Bowie:  1 aerial victory and 3 damaged on the ground
Lt. Kona:  1 aerial victory, 2 damaged on the ground
Lt. (jg) Zimmerman:  1 aerial victory, 1 damaged on the ground
Lt. (jg) Kona:  1 aerial victory, 2 damaged on the ground
Lt. (jg) Free:  1 damaged in the air, 1 destroyed on the ground (a 4 engine bomber)

This engagement lasted approximately 1 hour and in that time the 12 pilots of VF-31 are credited with damaging or destroying 34 enemy aircraft, in the air and on the ground.

Ensign Richard Whitworth did not return from the mission and was listed as missing.  He was last seen engaged in a dogfight with several Zero's over Tinian Island. He was picked up on the 15th by the destroyer USS Caperton (DD 650) after spending several days adrift in his life raft and returned to the Cabot.  This time the destroyer demanded 40 gallons of ice cream for the fighter pilot's return.

June 12 - 16, 1944

Aircraft from VF-31 fly CAP over the Task Force and support ground troops landing and fighting on Siapan Island. Daily bombing and strafing raids on the airfields of Tinian and Guam also take place.

A Japanese Judy dive bomber was shot down by Lt. Stewart.

June 18, 1944:

Fighting on Saipan, as well as the smaller islands of the Marianas group would continue for another month so the Naval support ships were moved to the east side of Saipan to give them protection from the Japanese fleet which was gathering to the west. This left the carriers in Task Force 58 free to seek out the Japanese fleet which was gathering to the west.

The 15 carriers and their escort ships disengaged in their support of ground troops on Sipan this day and stationed themselves to the west to meet the approaching Japanese fleet which had been under surveillance since their departure from the Philippines on June 13th.

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