Editor's Pick

When America Was Great – June 1944 Showed the World America’s Military and Industrial Power

FROM OUR PRINTED JUNE 2021 EDITION

by Ted Tripp

Seventy-seven years ago this month the United States Armed Forces achieved defining military victories that altered the course of World War II.

At the beginning of the war, America had the distinction of having the 21st largest Army in the world, right behind Bulgaria. Fortunately, General George C. Marshall would oversee it growing to the largest Army in the world by war’s end. 

The first battle of note that June of 1944 was in Italy. After taking Sicily, U.S. and British troops fought their way up the Italian boot in late 1943. Then in a bold move, Allied forces landed behind enemy lines at Anzio on January 22, 1944 in Operation Shingle. While the Italians had already surrendered to Allied Forces in October of 1943, the occupying Germans were determined to hang on to Italy at all costs.

In March of 1944, Lt. General Mark Clark of the U.S. Fifth Army split his forces and sent some of his troops directly from the Anzio beachhead towards Rome. This was against the orders of British General Sir Harold Alexander, overall commander of the Anzio operation, but Clark wanted to make sure Americans were the first to liberate Rome.

On the evening of June 4th, 1944, U.S. Fifth Army troops rolled into Rome, which became the first enemy capitol city to be liberated in World War II. A London broadcast called Lt. General Mark Clark’s campaign “daring, unconventional and brilliant.”

June 6, 1944, of course, was D-Day and the beginning of the liberation of the European Continent from German control. The invasion force consisted of 6,939 ships, 2,395 aircraft, 867 gliders and 156,000 troops from all the Allied countries. For Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history, the U.S. provided the bulk of Army forces with 73,000 men, 13,000 of which were paratroopers assigned to the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. By the end of June, the total of Allied troops landed at Normandy had grown to 875,000.

Leading up to the invasion, the U.S. had shipped 7 million tons of supplies to England, 450,000 tons of which were ammunition.

The planning for D-Day had taken over a year and was launched under the overall command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. British General Bernard Montgomery was named commander of all ground forces involved in the invasion.

This huge amphibious landing force came just two days after Rome fell to American Forces and showed how Americans could fight and win far from home on two widely-separated fronts.

Next brewing this same month was an epic showdown in the Pacific.

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and his Fifth Fleet with 127,000 Marines and GIs in 535 ships were headed to Saipan in the Marianas to wrest the island from 60,000 Japanese defenders. Saipan was just 90 miles north of Guam, also under Japanese control, and once back in American hands would be close enough to the Japanese home islands to launch B-29 air attacks.

The Fifth Fleet consisted of 15 aircraft carriers, 7 battleships, 8 heavy and 13 light cruisers, 68 destroyers, and 28 submarines. The carriers flew 905 aircraft in the upcoming battle. In terms of offensive striking power, this was the largest task force ever assembled by any country.

The Japanese knew what the U.S. intended to do and the decision was made to confront the U.S. with all the forces the Imperial Navy could muster. Eventually, Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa steamed east to meet the Americans with a fleet of 9 aircraft carriers, 5 battleships, 13 cruisers, 31 destroyers, 24 submarines and 6 oilers. Ozawa managed to launch 440 aircraft from his 9 carriers. This was basically all that remained of the once-invincible Japanese Navy after two and half years of war against the U.S.

In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the two great fleets opposed each other on June 19, 1944 near Saipan. Japan would see an additional advantage of 300 aircraft which joined the battle from land-based airstrips on nearby islands, but in the end it would make little difference.

At this point in the war the U.S. had superior planes, superior ships, better tactics, better-trained pilots and new technology in the “proximity fuse” which allowed Navy gunners to more easily shoot down enemy planes attacking their ships.

The two-day battle which took place mostly in the air became known as “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” U.S. pilots shot down or destroyed 550-645 Japanese aircraft while losing only 123 of their own. Three Japanese fleet carriers were sunk as well as 2 of the oilers. The U.S. suffered only 1 battleship damaged.

This was the largest and last carrier-to-carrier battle of any war and the U.S. scored a decisive victory. Japan lost a third of the carriers it had brought to the battle and 90% of the airplanes within the fleet. The Imperial Navy never recovered and the end of the war in the Pacific was just a matter of time.

Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto said in 1941 after his fleet had just attacked Pearl Harbor: “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Little did he know – and the Germans as well – what it meant to awaken a sleeping giant.

June of 1944 should remind us that the Arsenal of Democracy and the American Fighting Spirit are not just meaningless phrases.

June of 1944 should also remind us of When America Was Great and What Makes America Great.♦

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