Truk was the major Japanese naval base in the Caroline Islands, 600 miles southeast of Guam and 770 miles west of Eniwetok Atoll. It is now known as Chuuk, a member of the Federated States of Micronesia.
From July 1942 to February 1944, Truk was the forward headquarters of the Japanese Combined Fleet (First, Second and Third Fleets and the Sixth Submarine Fleet). From that geographically favored location, with its magnificent harbor and four airfields, the Combined Fleet projected its power eastward and southward into the Pacific. Eten field was the best in the Pacific, built in stages starting in 1934. From August 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet, located his headquarters on board the battleship Yamato in Truk harbor. When Admiral Yamamoto was ambushed and killed by American aircraft near Rabaul on 18 April 1943, he was replaced by Admiral Mineichi Koga, whose own flagship, the Musashi, anchored at Truk.
Japanese fleet in Truk Lagoon, photographed by a Marine Corps flying boat, 4 February 1944. Eten airfield is in center.
After the Kwajalein Campaign in the Marshall Islands, Admiral Raymond Spruance's Fifth Fleet moved on to the invasion of the Eniwetok Atoll, 380 miles to the northwest. To cover the Eniwetok operation, Spruance dispatched a carrier attack group (Operation Hailstone) of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers to neutralize Truk. The Truk attack was considered risky, the relatively small U.S. Navy Fast Carrier Task Force (or TF 58) against the reputed impregnable Japanese fleet base, compared to Pearl Harbor or Gibraltar. Reconnaissance flights over Truk on 4 February 1944 (top photo) showed the large Japanese fleet at anchor along with an array of strategic support installations.
Vought OS2U-3 "Kingfisher" piloted by Lt. JG Denver F. Baxteris is recovered by USS Baltimore (CA-68) after rescue of Lt. JG George M. Blair from Truk Lagoon. Blair's F6F Hellcat, of Fighting Squadron Nine from USS Essex (CV-9), had been shot down during the dawn fighter sweep over Truk, 18 February 1944. Radioman ARMC Reuben F. Hickman, is on the wing, preparing to attach the plane so it can be hoisted on board.
The Japanese knew the U.S. Navy was coming and withdrew their principal ships from Truk around 10 February, leaving the rest as a decoy. In two days and one night of attacks, 17-18 February 1944, Task Force 58 attacked Truk systematically, sinking or incapacitating most of the ships and aircraft they found there. Japanese losses at Truk included 200 planes destroyed on the ground and 41 ships sunk.
The Battle of Truk was one of the most significant air battles of World War II. The Japanese losses were a record for any one action in the war. The submarine USS Tang (SS-306) rescued 22 Navy pilots who had been shot down, a rescue record unsurpassed until near the end of the war. The action was also the first combat role for the battleship New Jersey (BB-62), serving as Spruance's flagship. Task Force 58 returned to the Marshalls 19 February.
A second massive raid on 29-30 April 1944 eliminated anything militarily significant on Truk, taking out the navy yard, aircraft service facilities and other military targets that had survived. US Army Air Force B-24s and B-29s from island bases pounded the island with bombs. Ground installations were reduced to rubble. The attacks were so successful that there was no need to invade the island and Truk was bypassed for the remainder of the war, although routine bombing continued. For example, on 28 October 1944, when B-29s began operating from airstrips in the Marianas, their first raid was a 14-plane "shake down" mission against Truk.
On 2 September 1945, the remaining Japanese at Truk surrendered to U.S. Navy officers aboard USS Portland (CA-33).
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