The Allied island-hopping campaign began in earnest in 1943. After the Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal, the Gilbert Islands were among the first in which U.S. Marines landed. At the Battle of Tarawa they occupied Beito and the rest of the Gilberts in late 1943. Once these islands had fallen, the path was clear for further advances toward the Marshall Islands.

The Marshall Islands were the next target for Allied landings. The Allies required further harbors and airfields here that could support operations in the Marianas. In early 1944 U.S. Marines landed at Kwajalein Atoll, where they defeated the Japanese garrison stationed there.

After the fall of the Kwajalein Atoll, the next landing point for the Allies in the Marshalls would be Eniwetok Atoll. As a precursor to an amphibious landing here, the Allies had to ensure naval and air superiority in the region. The only notable Japanese naval and air base within the proximity of Eniwetok, and the Marshall Islands, was Truk.

Truk was in many respects Japan's Pearl Harbor. Like Pearl Harbor, the IJN stationed a considerable assortment of warships such as battleships, cruisers and destroyers there. Here the IJN had established submarine bases and dockyards for ships of variable sizes. Hundreds of planes were also stationed at its surrounding airfields. This was a notable base that could potentially provide further support for the Japanese troops in the Marshalls.

However, the rise of Task Force 58 in 1943 provided the Allies with a considerable assortment of feet aircraft carriers. With these the U.S. Navy could strike at the IJN naval base at Truk to wipe out ships and planes stationed there. An effective carrier airstrike there would cut off the Japanese garrisons in the Marshall Islands.

Task Force 58 sailed for Truk in early 1944. By February 1944 TF 58 scout planes were within range of the naval base, and they were among the first U.S. aircraft to fly over. The Japanese spotted one of those planes, alerting them to the approaching U.S. fleet. They had given something away, and TF 58 had lost an element of surprise.

Shortly before Task Force 58 arrived, the IJN began to move some of its larger capital ships at the harbor. Among them included the Yamato-class battleships that sailed for Palau. Aircraft carriers and heavy cruisers also departed the harbor.

Thus, when the Task Force 58 reached its rendezvous point on the 17th, the largest Japanese capital ship had vacated the harbor. But there were still a number of warships left in port, as well as Japanese aircraft at nearby airfields. A few flew to intercept the U.S. planes, but they were quickly shot out of the sky.

On February 17 the raid at Truk began. The airstrike reduced much of the harbor to rubble, and wiped out about 270 aircraft surrounding airfields. Most of the ships at the port, which included cruisers and destroyers, were also destroyed during the bombing. Cargo, tanker and transport vessels were also lost. U.S. surface fleet warships intercepted those ships that weren't taken out by aircraft. [1]

Truk RaidCredit: The image is licensed under public domain.

The two-day raid had cut Truk off from supplies, and with the harbor destroyed Japanese soldiers in the Marshalls could not count on any notable reinforcements or air cover. U.S. troops bypassed Truk and landed at other Japanese territories in the Pacific. Aircraft carriers and battleships previously stationed there had evaded Task Force 58 at Truk, and they would have more impact in further battles with the U.S. Navy at the Marianas and Leyte Gulf.

After the raid, Japan also moved further aircraft to Truk in April. An extra 100 planes arrived at the base. Consequently, the U.S. Navy sent a second U.S. fleet to Truk for an additional airstrike targeting Japanese planes stationed there. In May U.S. aircraft wiped out a further 120 enemy planes.

The IJN's Truk BaseCredit: Image licensed under public domain.

As no further IJN ships were found within the Truk lagoon, there were no more raids. The airstrike cut off remaining Japanese troops stationed there, who gradually ran low on supplies. Truk sat out the rest of the war, cut off from the ongoing Allied advances that gained considerable momentum in 1944.

The Marshall Islands Campaign continued after the Truk Raid. U.S. Marines landed at the Eniwetok Atoll, where they defeated the Japanese garrison stationed there. After the Truk Raid the Japanese troops could not be reinforced, and Eniwetok was quickly taken by the U.S. Marines.

After the Marshall Campaign the IJN sent warships, stationed at Truk shortly before the airstrike, to further battles. The IJN dispatched aircraft carriers to the Mariana Islands, and sent battleships such as the Yamato to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Allied surface ships and aircraft sank them during the naval battles.

By the end of 1944 the Japanese Empire was collapsing. It had lost the Marshall Islands, the Marianas and much of the Philippines to the Allied armies. The Truk Raid ravaged another key Japanese base in the region, which further reduced naval and air support for Japan's armies scattered across the Pacific.