Operation Hailstone Attack, 1944

Japanese shipping being attacked during Operation Hailstone, 1944

Operation Hailstone was a massive attack on the Japanese naval base at Truk Atoll, starting on February 16, 1944. Its goal was to eliminate the threat that the base had posed in the pacific, resupplying the various islands in the area and housing the Japanese fleet. Oftentimes, it was equated to the Japanese Pearl Harbor

In total, the attacks carried on for two days, ending on February 17, 1944. Unlike most other pacific garrisons, Truk could not be bypassed initially like others as would normally be done in the Island Hopping strategy. Being a pre-war territory the island had been fortified for years, with numerous facilities to keep it running and a constant threat. After the battle, the Japanese had lost around 270 aircraft, 200 being destroyed on the ground and seventy in the air.[1] Thirty-two merchant ships were sunk with another fifteen miscellaneous ships also being sunk. These consisted of different types of cruisers and destroyers. American losses were limited to a mere twenty-five aircraft lost and a damaged aircraft carrier.

Preparation and Planning

While the Japanese did not prepare for the attack on Truk in particular, naturally the air base had amassed an impressive amount of defenses consisting of several airfields, numerous anti-air batteries, etc. Furthermore, the Japanese fleet which was typically in the lagoon provided a further layer of defense for the base.

However, prior to the attack on February 10, a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer was spotted conducting reconnaissance and thus tipped off the Japanese to attack. Following this, most major Japanese vessels were moved out within a few days, leaving only several merchant ships remaining.[2] The American plan was to bring in a giant fleet consisting of five aircraft carriers, seven battleships, and various support ships. Following the attack, the fleet would then redeployed to support theinvasion of Eniwetok

The Battle

Aikoku Maru Destruction, Truk 1944

The destruction of the Aikoku Maru, following a hit in the ammunition cache

Operation Hailstone began with the first wave of air strikes which immediately struck hard, sinking several ships. Furthermore, F6F Hellcat aircraft escorting the bombers were used to strafe ground installations. Attacks were carried out day and night by various aircraft. Especially used in the attacks were the F6F Hellcat, SBD Dauntless, and TBF Avenger. Japanese ships attempting to escape the carnage were oftentimes met by American submarines waiting to intercept them.

Notably, F4U pilot Gregory Boyington was present on the atoll at the time as a prisoner of war, and stood witness to the intensive air attacks. The aftermath of the attacks was apparent, with the invasion of Eniwetok being carried relatively smoothly, without Truk resupplying the garrisons and providing air cover. To finally render the atoll un-usable in any way, air raids carried out by B-24 and B-29 bombers were performed from April 29–30, 1944.[3] The airfields were gone and the installations burning wrecks. It was deemed that at that point, there would no longer be a point to securing the island, thus it was bypassed.



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