Truk Lagoon lay to the south and east of Kwajalein Atoll and had been a Japanese Naval base since the 1920's. Truk is part of the Caroline Islands of Micronesia. Due to the strategic location of Truk and the Japanese Naval and Air fields located there it was imperative that Truk be neutralized before the US Navy could use Kwajalein Atoll as a base of operations for the Pacific Fleet and as a location for land based fighter and bomber aircraft.
Recognizance over flights of Truk during the month of February 1944 showed a large concentration of Japanese Naval forces and aircraft at Truk Lagoon as shown in the aerial recognizance photo on the left.
February 16, 1944:
Operation Hailstone: Fighter aircraft from VF-31 were assigned CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the task force. No Japanese aircraft threatened the Task Force so no engagements between the pilots of VF-31 and enemy aircraft happened during the attack on Truk. VT 31 participate in the bombing of the airfields on Truk. While on CAP Lt. Cmd Winston experienced a defective canopy that jammed open forcing him to land on the USS Essex and his aircraft taken below to the hanger deck where maintenance crewmen had to cut off the canopy before his aircraft could be returned to the flight deck and re-launched to return to the USS Cabot to have his aircraft repaired.
Most of the fighter engagements were between attack aircraft launched from the larger fleet carriers of Essex, Lexington, and Wasp and the defending Japanese aircraft over the islands.
February 17, 1944:
On the night of February 17, the Carrier USS Intrepid was torpedoed on the starboard quarter by a Japanese torpedo plane. The torpedo hit 15 feet below the waterline, jamming her rudder hard to port. USS Cabot was ordered to escort USS Intrepid back to the fleet anchorage at Majuro Atoll. After refueling at Majuro Atoll USS Cabot was ordered to escorted the damaged USS Intrepid back to Pearl Harbor where she would undergo repairs. Cabot and the pilots of VF31 would miss out on the ensuing air engagements as they were far away from the action, escorting USS Intrepid to Pearl. Intrepid along with Cabot and other escort ships arrived in Pearl Harbor on February 24, 1944.
Task Force 58 destroyed all of the ships that remained in Truk Lagoon which were mainly cargo and transport vessels carrying armaments and supplies as well as all of the aircraft and airfields. Finding little else to keep them there Task Force 58 sailed north towards the Marinas in pursuit of the retreating Japanese fleet.
A second attack on Truk Lagoon would take place in two months.
Because of the large number of Japanese troops stationed on Truk, the lagoon and surrounding islands stayed in the hands of the Japanese until the surrender of its garrison on September 2 1945.
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