3 astonishing battles that came to be called 'Turkey Shoots'

There have been many closely-fought battles that could have gone either way.

The Battle of Midway was one. The final outcome of Japan losing four carriers and a heavy cruiser compared to the United States losing a carrier and a destroyer looks like a blow out. But that doesn’t reflect the fact that the Japanese fought off five separate attacks before Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers fatally damaged the carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

Other battles, though, were clearly blowouts from the beginning. As in, you wonder why the losing side even wanted to pick that fight in the first place. Three of these battles were so one-sided, they were labeled “turkey shoots.” Here’s the rundown.

1944: The Marianas Turkey Shoot

Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese captured Guam. Two and a half years later, the United States Navy brought the Army and Marines to take it back.

It was arguably a finer hour for Raymond Spruance than the Battle of Midway, when on June 19, 1944, the United States Navy shot down 219 out of 326 attacking Japanese planes. By the time the battle was over and done, Japan’s carriers had just 35 planes operational.

Sailors aboard USS Birmingham (CL 62) watch the Marianas Turkey Shoot. (U.S. Navy photo)

1982: The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

In the Yom Kippur War, the Syrians and Egyptians surprised the Israelis with very good ground-based air defenses. The Israelis overcame that to win, but it was a very close call. When Syria and Israel clashed over Lebanon in 1982, three years removed from the Camp David accords, it was the Syrians’ turn to get handled roughly.

In the nine years since the Yom Kippur War, Israel started adding F-15 and F-16 fighters to their arsenal, but the real game-changer for the two-day battle of June 9-10, 1982 was the E-2 Hawkeye, which was able to warn Israeli planes of over 100 Syrian MiGs.

Final score over those two days: Israel 64 Syrian jets and at least 17 missile launchers, Syria 0.

Israeli Air Force

1991: Desert Storm

While the air campaign was noted for what some sources considered a perfect 38-0 record for the Coalition (recent claims that Scott Speicher was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-25 Foxbat notwithstanding), there was one other incident called a “turkey shoot.”

That was a large convoy of Iraqi tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least one pilot labeled that a “turkey shoot.”

USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman

(USAF photo by Tech. Sgt. Joe Coleman)

These one-sided fights still didn’t come without costs for the winners. But you have to wonder what the losing side was thinking when they started them.

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