This was a US carrierborne air attack on Japanese targets in the Palau islands group, and Yap and Woleai in the Caroline islands group, by Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher’s Task Force 58 of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s 5th Fleet, and undertaken in support of the ‘Persecution’ and ‘Reckless’ landings at Aitape and Hollandia respectively on the north coast of New Guinea (30/31 March 1944).
For this undertaking TF58 1 deployed three major subdivisions: Rear Admiral John W. Reeves’s Task Group 58.1 was centred on Enterprise, Belleau Wood and Cowpens; Rear Admiral Alfred E. Montgomery’s TG58.2 on Bunker Hill, Hornet, Cabot and Monterey; and Rear Admiral Samuel P. Ginder’s TG58.3 on Yorktown, Lexington, Princeton and Langley.
TG58.1 departed Espíritu Santo on 23 March, and TG.58.2 and TG58.3 departed Majuro. TG58.5, comprising the fleet carrier Saratoga and destroyers Cummings, Dunlap and Fanning, had been detached on 4 March to join elements of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s British Pacific Fleet for ‘Cockpit’.
On 25 March TG58 was located by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft from Truk, and again on 26 March when its components linked and the ships replenished to the south-east of Truk. As a result, major elements of the Japanese fleet was ordered to depart Palau in anticipation of an attack (Vice Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa’s 3rd Fleet and Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s 2nd Fleet had already been transferred to Tawi-Tawi).
On 31 March the Kawanishi H8K ‘Emily’ flying boat carrying Admiral Mineichi Koga, commander of the Combined Fleet, crashed while flying to to Mindanao, Koga being killed. Another H8K, carrying Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukodome, Koga’s chief-of-staff, had to make a forced landing on Cebu and Fukodome was captured, along with valuable documents, by Filipino guerrillas. The interim successor in command of the Combined Fleet was Vice Admiral Shiro Takasu until the appointment of Admiral Soemu Toyoda on 5 May.
The US submarines Gar, Blackfish, Tang and Archerfish were stationed to operate against the withdrawing ships and as planeguards. On 23 March, Tunny sank the Japanese submarine I-42 and damaged the 14,850-ton tanker Iro; on 29 March she torpedoed the battleship Musashi from a departing naval force which also included the light cruiser Oyodo and two destroyers. To the north of Palau, during an attack on 26 March on a convoy, Tullibee was hit and sunk by her own circling torpedo. Bashaw torpedoed a 4,317-ton freighter escorted by the destroyers Minazuki and Yuzuki. During the evening of 28 March Japanese aircraft attempted without success to attack TF58.
On 30 March all three of TF58’s task groups attacked Palau and on 31 March TG58.2 and TG58.3 made further attacks in which aircraft from Lexington, Bunker Hill and Hornet laid mines. In all, the troop transport T-31, four submarine chasers and 31 auxiliary warships and merchant ships, together amounting to 129,807 tons, were sunk.
Outside Palau, the torpedo boat Wakatake and the repair ship Akashi were sunk.
TG58.1 attacked Yap on 31 March, and on 1 April all three task groups attacked Woleai, where the submarine Harder, acting as a planeguard, saved several aircraft crews.
In overall terms, therefore, TF58 sank the destroyer Wakatake, repair ship Akashi, one submarine chaser, four auxiliary submarine chasers, one patrol boat, one netlayer, one cargo ship and aircraft ferry, five transports, seven oilers, two guard boats, one salvage vessel, one torpedo transport and repair ship, and five cargo ships at Palau, and sank nine small transports and damaged four other vessels at Angaur. Twenty-five US aircraft were lost, but 26 out of 44 air crews are rescued. TF58 returned to Majuro on 6 April.