MARIANAS 'TURKEY SHOOT'


A massive air battle ensued, known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot." Beginning shortly before sunrise on 19 June when fighter pilots shot down one of two dive bombers, all the American forces were alerted to the strong likelihood of heavy air attacks. When reports came in that enemy land‑based planes were being readied from airstrips on Guam, our naval bombers were launched to give the airstrips a good pounding. At 0950 many bogies (enemy aircraft contacts) were picked up across the full perimeter of Task Force 58's radar screen. The bogies were closing fast.

From the American ships, fighters rose to meet the attacks and our counter punch of bombers, torpedo planes, struck at the enemy base. The bombers and torpedo planes flew east for the airstrips on Guam while the fighters were vectored to intercept enemy concentrations. Then the sky became a blazing inferno as the forces met, continuing on into the night and through the following day. Of 545 Japanese planes launched against Mitscher's task force, 420 were destroyed. During the melee, the STEPHEN POTTER rescued seven downed pilots and crewmen returning from the late afternoon strike on the Japanese fleet.

With these fast carrier groups the STEPHEN POTTER made raids on Iwo Jima and other Bonin Islands during the early part of July, and later in the month on Palau, Yap, and Ulithi Islands. Then the task force headed for Eniwetok for rest, recreation, and repair.

Admiral Spruance's FIFTH fleet now became the THIRD fleet under Admiral William F. Halsey. Mitscher's famous Task Force 58 was now Task Force 38 of which the STEPHEN POTTER was a part. The September cruise of the force proved to be more than a watch dog affair. It was their mission to neutralize air activity on Mindanao Island during the Palau operations.

By early morning of 9 September, three task groups cruised undetected about fifty miles off the coast of Mindanao and sent off the early fighter sweep. Little opposition was encountered and a convoy of thirty‑two cargo vessels was destroyed. Original plans called for a four‑day attack on Mindanao, but since all worthwhile targets had been destroyed in two days, Admiral Halsey used his spare time in attacks on the islands of Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Negros, and Panay.

It was then decided to hit Luzon. By midnight of 20 September, the three task groups had reached a position three hundred miles northeast of Manila. The STEPHEN POTTER in western picket station for the force became one of the first U.S. surface vessels to come this near to the island since the fall of the Philippines in early 1942. For four days, strikes were made upon Manila and Central Luzon. Nothing was left floating in Manila Bay. The Japanese lost 66 planes while Task Force 38 lost only six.

In order to obtain air superiority for the American Invasion of the Philippines, it was necessary to prevent the enemy from concentrating his aircraft from other areas. Okinawa was the first target. On 8 October Task Troupe 38.1 which included the STEPHEN POTTER, rendezvoused with her sister groups north of Palau. Using a typhoon as camouflage, the task force steamed toward Japan's home waters in the storm's wake. A group of three cruisers and six destroyers were detached to act as a diversion by attacking Marcus Island. The feints all worked. Okinawa was caught by surprise and the strike was completely successful.

Steaming to the southwest, the STEPHEN POTTER joined Task Group 38.2 and participated in the first attacks on Formosa. Diversionary tactics were employed, but this time the Japanese were not fooled.

This was the beginning of the most violent air activity of the war. By dusk of the first day, the Japanese had shot down forty‑three American planes, but had lost over two hundred of their own. At twilight of the second day, seven torpedo bombers were sighted coming in low.

Amid intense anti‑aircraft fire, three were downed, but the four remaining veered sharply and headed for the CANBERRA. In a simultaneous eruption of fire from all the machine guns on the starboard side of the cruiser, three of the attackers were splashed. The fourth, though hit, continued on, crashing into the CANBERRA. In a matter of minutes, the ship was dead in the water with all power lost.

The STEPHEN POTTER was detached from her group and assigned to Task Group 30.3 to protect the crippled cruiser until she could be towed clear of the Japanese air threat from Formosa.

The USS HOUSTON was ordered to take the CANBERRA's place.

By noon the THIRD Fleet began retirement to the southeast. That afternoon, the enemy resumed an all‑out attack on our forces. Most of the Japanese planes were destroyed, but not before the HOUSTON was torpedoed and badly damaged. She joined the STEPHEN POTTER's slow moving salvage group.

As a small force, now with the two damaged cruisers under two by fleet tugs, proceeded at 4.3 knots in the direction of Ulithi, enemy planes appeared and made repeated attacks. Although most of the attacks were intercepted or repelled by aircraft from the two light carriers which remained in the area to provide air cover, the group was under alert much of the time. On the afternoon of 16 October, a single twin‑engine bomber approached at high speed out of the cloud cover to the west.

Standing by the HOUSTON, taking aboard refugees:

Taken under fire by the STEPHEN POTTER and other units of the towing group, it passed under the STEPHEN POTTER's stern, and pressed home a perfect torpedo attack upon the towed HOUSTON, ripping open her stern. The plane, after several hits by automatic weapons, finally splashed into the sea. Then a small group of enerr aircraft closed rapidly from astern of the group. The STEPHEN POTTER opened fire on a single "Jill" as it came in from the starboard quarter and passed the stern. Heavy anti‑aircraft fire enveloped the plane and it burst into flames as it attempted to drive its torpedo into the SANTE FE.

Burning furiously, the "Jill" crashed into the water only 25 feet off the starboard bow of the cruiser. The twice‑hit HOUSTON, now with a gaping hole in her stern that opened her hangar space at the sea, seemed lost. Along with several other destroyers, the STEPHEN POTTER was directed to lie astern of the cruiser and to pick up he survivors as they went over the side. The STEPHEN POTTER picked up ninety men, many of whom were injured and badly shaken from the second torpedoing.

Taken from "USS Stephen Potter - The Story of DD538" compiled and edited by Lt. Wilson F. (Bill) Minor USNR (Ret).