Fast Carrier Task Force
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The Fast Carrier Task Force was the main striking force of the United States Navy in the Pacific Ocean theatre of World War II from January 1944 through the end of the war in August of 1945. As a general rule it was made up of four separate task groups, each of which comprised three to four carriers and their supporting vessels. The carriers were supported by destroyers, cruisers, and the newly built and faster battleships. The ships of each task group sailed in a circle formation centered around the carriers. By concentrating the carriers together, the numbers of aircraft available to protect any one carrier was greater. The supporting ships sailed relatively close by, and added their anti-aircraft fire to that of the carriers to help ward off attacking aircraft. When under attack by torpedo aircraft, the task group would turn in toward the oncoming aircraft to limit attack angles. Other than this measure, the carriers in the task group would not take evasive action from their attackers. This made for more stable platforms for the antiaircraft fire of all the ships in the task group and allowed the ships in the group to sail more closely together. The primary defense of the group against air attack was the group's own fighter cover. The individual primarily responsible for the development and operations of the task force was Admiral Marc Mitscher.
Each task group could operate independently or combine with the others as needs dictated. When the force was part of Admiral Raymond Spruance's Fifth Fleet, it bore the designation Task Force 58. When led by Admiral William Halsey as part of the Third Fleet, its designation was Task Force 38. Planning for upcoming operations was completed when each admiral and his staff rotated out of active command. This allowed the Navy to perform at a higher operational tempo, while giving the Japanese the general impression of naval assets greater than what were actually available.
The fleet designation also changed with each command change, with Third Fleet being the designation used for the fleet when under the command of Halsey, and the Fifth Fleet being used when Spruance held command. The fleet itself was made up of the Fast Carrier Task Force, the much larger Amphibious Force, and the hundreds of support vessels of the Service Squadron which resupplied and maintained the fleet. When under the umbrella of Fifth Fleet, the invasion force was called the Fifth Amphibious Force. When Halsey had command of the fleet, Third Amphibious Force was the designation. By the time of the Battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, the FCTF included eighteen aircraft carriers, eight battleships and two battlecruisers, along with numerous cruisers and destroyers. Task Force 58 alone commanded more firepower than any navy in history.
TF 38 came into existence in August 1943, built around USS Saratoga, and under the command of Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman. TF 58 was created on 6 January 1944 with Rear Admiral Marc Mitscher commanding, serving under the fleet command of Admiral Spruance in the Fifth Fleet. TF 38 continued to exist, but as a command structure only.
With command change from Spruance to Halsey on 26 August 1944, all units changed designations again. Mitscher, who was an aviator from early training and had a masterful command of the airgroups, requested he retain command of the Fast Carrier Task Force until his replacement, Admiral John McCain, could have proper time to become more familiar with the handling of a carrier task force.[N 1] King and Nimitz concurred. Fleet Admiral Halsey, like Spruance before him, sailed with the Fast Carrier Task Force. The force grew to nine CVs and eight CVLs in preparation for the landings on Leyte. Task Force 38 was composed of four task groups: Task Group 38.1 was commanded by Admiral McCain, with its previous commander, Admiral Joseph "Jocko" Clark, remaining on as advisor, Task Group 38.2 was under the command of Admiral Gerald Bogan, Task Group 38.3 was led by Admiral Frederick Sherman, and Task Group 38.4 was under the command of Admiral Ralph Davison.
Following the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Mitscher went on shore leave and planning duty, and Vice Admiral McCain took over as commanding officer of TF 38, which continued under Halsey and the Third Fleet.
On 26 January 1945, Halsey and McCain went on shore leave and planning duty, while Spruance and Mitscher returned to their previous commands. Third Fleet became Fifth Fleet, and TF 38 became TF 58. They led the fleet through the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, facing sustained attacks from land-based Japanese kamikaze aircraft. As the Okinawa campaign dragged into its second month, the presence of the carriers was still required to provide close air support to the soldiers on the island as the Army and its Air Corps were not as adept as the Marine Corps at quickly establishing airfields over newly occupied territory. At the end of April, Admiral Nimitz came out to review the situation. After two months operating off the coast of Okinawa in support of Army forces engaged in battle on the island, the command staff was exhausted from the continuous pressure of fending off kamikaze attacks. On his return to Pearl Harbor, he notified Halsey that he would have to take over command from Spruance in thirty days, whether or not the mission was completed. On 28 May 1945, Halsey arrived aboard Missouri, his new flagship, whereupon he relieved Spruance, while McCain relieved Mitscher. Spruance and Mitscher returned to Pearl. Fifth Fleet once again became Third Fleet, and Task Force 58 became Task Force 38. Halsey remained in command until the Japanese surrender ended the war on 2 September 1945.
- Quoting Admiral Nimitz: "He is the most experienced and most able officer in the handling of fast carrier task forces who has yet been developed. It is doubtful if any officer has made more important contributions than he toward extinction of the enemy fleet."
- Taylor p. 170
- Potter p. 123
- Taylor p. 304
- Reynolds p.
- Potter p. 182
- Potter p. 184
- Willmott p. 180
- Video: Carriers Hit Tokyo! 1945/03/19 (1945). Universal Newsreel. 1945. http://www.archive.org/details/1945-03-19_Carriers_Hit_Tokyo. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Potter p. 183
- Taylor p. 248
- Potter pp. 257–258
- Potter, E. B. (2005). Admiral Arliegh Burke. U.S. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-692-6.
- Reynonds, Clark (1968). The Fast Carriers. U.S. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557507015.
- Taylor, Theodore (1954). The Magnificent Mitscher. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-850-2.
- Willmott, H.P. (1984). June, 1944. Blandford Press. ISBN 0-7137-1446-8.