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VF-20 Squadron History
On 15 October 1943, Fighting Squadron Twenty, a unit of CV Air Group Twenty, was formally commissioned at U. S. Naval Air Station, San Diego, Calif. Ceremony was dispensed with and preparations were made for an immediate commencement of training.
On board for the inauguration of activities were the following officers:
After a short period devoted largely to receiving personnel and establishing a tentative administrative and operational organization, the squadron's first aircraft, an F6F-3, was received and commissioned for the squadron by Carrier Aircraft Service Unit Five. Due to the fact that many of the pilots had specialized in types of aircraft other than fighters, an intensive period of ground instruction and cockpit check-outs was deemed necessary, and there was little flying. All but six of the junior officers reporting to this squadron had no time in the F6F type fighter. Most of them had received operational training in SBD's or pre-operational training in SNJ's.
Approximately the first month was spent in learning the airplane. Lectures were required on the operation of the engine and of the aircraft. After ten hours familiarization each pilot was given a place in the tactical organization and became a member of a division or team. Each division was required to fly three one and one-half hours flights per day. In order to do this, the squadron was split into port and starboard watches with one coming to work at sunrise and the other quitting at sunset.
Gunnery was the keynote of our training. All type runs were made using different speeds and altitudes for the tow. Each pilot received at least ten hours of high altitude gunnery with the tow at 20,000 feet. Sixty per cent of the gunnery was done at 15,000 feet with the target at 150 knots indicated. As often as possible this squadron used the metal screen banner target.
Much time was devoted to defensive and offensive tactics. Specific rules and regulations were laid down and adhered to so that any two pilots could work together on defense if necessary. To be successful at this each person must know what the other will or will not do.
This air group participated in an attack as a group against surface vessels at least once a week. These exercises paid tremendous dividends in the combat area as our squadrons were able to make quick coordinated attacks and retire. This method was used by Air Group 20 in an attack on the Jap BB Musashi which sank shortly afterward. Many of those group attacks included pre-dawn takeoffs and rendezvous by squadrons within sight contact of the target.
Each pilot received approximately ten hours of night flying. The first few hours were individual flying and the latter by divisions. Field carrier landing practice was conducted last, followed by carrier qualification aboard ship. This squadron followed and completed the syllabus as prescribed by Commander Fleet Air, West Coast.
The squadron insignia depicting a "Joker coming through", was adopted as a reply to the chiding directed during the early days at the younger pilots of the squadron. This chiding usually took the form of referring to all young inexperienced pilots as "Jokers". The lads of Fighting Twenty said, "O.K., we'll show 'em - the Jokers coming through." Thus was born the symbolism soon to be unpleasantly familiar to the Nipponese from the Napo Shoto to the French Indo-China Coast, from the Nansei Shoto to Palau.
An account of the activities of the squadron would not be complete without some reference to the excellent work performed by the photographic pilots. During the greater part of its operations, the squadron had at least two F6F-5(P) planes and three pilots who had completed training in photography. On virtually every strike day these pilots flew either with the Group Commander or in a division whose mission was solely to obtain photographs of target areas, shipping, and shore lines. In order to obtain the assigned coverage they were frequently required to make low altitude runs near heavy concentrations of AA batteries without being able to resort to evasive maneuvers. It was found that photographs, both verticals and obliques, were of inestimable value, not only in selecting targets for later strikes, but in estimating damage to targets previously attacked. As time progressed increasing importance was attached to this type of work until it finally came to play one of the most essential roles in the squadron operations.
Searches were not conducted by this squadron as a routine matter. However, on a number of occasions fighters were sent out, usually with VB or VT planes, in search of downed pilots or enemy shipping, or to determine and report on weather conditions. Until January 1945, only a few incidental searches were conducted, principally for enemy shipping. For example, on 25 October, two search teams, each consisting of four VB and eight VF, sighted and attacked a formation of Japanese warships. Again on 25 October, a number of teams, each consisting of one VT and VF, were sent out to a distance of 275 miles to locate possible units of the enemy fleet near the Task Force. During January, shipping searches increased in number owing to the ever-present threat of interference by the enemy fleet with landing operations at Lingayen Gulf . The teams making these searches consisted of one VB and two VF planes. They usually covered ten degree sectors out to distances ranging between 360 and 420 miles.
Consistently bad weather conditions during January made flying on such searches extremely hazardous and navigation most difficult. The pilots were forced to fly on instruments much of the time and rely heavily on their plotting-board navigation while maintaining close formation to avoid becoming separated. However, the only loss as the result of weather was suffered on 17 January when one of the search teams missed the disposition on their return trip and when last heard from were 100 miles from base with only 25 gallons of fuel remaining. All three planes and their crews were lost.
In addition to the weather there was always the possibility of surprise enemy attacks such as occurred on 16 January off Samah, Hainan, when one of the teams was caught at a low altitude and slow speed by six Zekes. The bomber and one of the escorting fighters were shot down in exchange for one Zeke.
Perhaps the greatest distinction achieved by any of the search teams was that of being the first regular carrier based planes to fly over China. This occurred on 3 January 1945, when a team skirted the north coast of Formosa and flew west to the China Coast in search of enemy shipping.
The squadron began its combat career with a fighter sweep on Chichi Jima Island on the afternoon of 31 August 1944. This was followed up the next two days with sweeps and strikes on Chichi Jima, Ani Jima, and Haha Jima. In the absence of enemy airborne opposition and shipping of any size, the fighters concentrated on warehouses, harbor installations, and AA positions, making rocket and strafing attacks. In addition a number of SC's and VA's were damaged and destroyed. One photographic plane made a forced landing after being hit by AA fire over Haha Jima, but the pilot was rescued by a submarine.
On 6, 7, and 8 September, the fighters conducted number of sweeps and strikes on Yap Island. Again there were no enemy planes to oppose the attacks, and AA fire was meager though at times very accurate. Three fighters were lost over Yap Town during the first sweep, all three presumably to AA fire. Few suitable targets were found other than airfield which had already been heavily damaged and was inoperational.
Yap strikes were followed up by pre-invasion strikes on the Palau Islands and landing support missions over Peleliu Island. No enemy planes were found in the air, but intense AA fire was encountered over the Koror area. The fighters concentrated rocket and strafing attacks on barracks, warehouses, radio stations, barges, and AA positions. Some experiments were made with napalm bombs on warehouses on Malakal Island and along beach areas during the landings on Peleliu Island.
The strikes on Okinawa on 10 October afforded the pilots the first opportunity to attack targets which had not been previously hit. Although Yonton and Naha airfields were both operational, our pilots did not encounter any planes in the air. However, they found many planes parked on the airfields, fifteen of which were destroyed and twenty-seven more of which they damaged. Two FTC's were damaged by rockets in coordinated attacks with VB and VT planes on shipping off Naha. In addition a number of smaller craft were damaged and destroyed.
The first enemy airborne opposition was encountered on 12 October over southern Formosa when the fighter sweep engaged approximately 30 Oscars and Zekes, 18 of which they shot down without loss to themselves. Three more were shot down by fighters on the first strike the same morning. During the remaining strikes on 12 and 13 October, there was virtually no more enemy opposition in the air, thus enabling the fighters to concentrate on parked planes and aircraft installations at Tainan, Heito, Okayama and Takao airfields and on shipping in Takao Harbor and along the coast as far north as Tainan. In addition to destroying 24 planes in the air, the squadron destroyed 21 planes on the ground, sank one FTD and damaged one FB, 2 FTC, and one FTD.
While the Task Group was returning late in the afternoon of 13 October, it was taken under attack by a number of low flying Frances and Bettys. The eight fighters scrambled to intercept them, splashed five, two of which were inside the destroyer screen when shot down. A sixth was destroyed by one of the night fighters who was making a ferry hop back to base from another carrier.
The strikes on Luzon on 15, 17, 18 October were devoted, insofar as the fighters were concerned, almost entirely to the destruction of enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground.
The escorting fighters on the first strike set the pace by shooting down 12 of nearly 30 planes that rose to intercept them and probably destroying several others. None of our planes were lost or hit. Before the strike planes had returned to base, the first wave of enemy planes approached the Task Group. The remainder of that day consisted of repeated engagements between attacking enemy planes, including fighters, and our F6F's. The final score for the encounters around the Task Force was 24 Jap planes shot down with the loss of two F6F's, the pilot of one being recovered. No ships were hit.
On the 17th, during strikes on Manila airfields and the Clark Field area, an additional 17 planes were shot down and destroyed on the ground.
On 18 October stiff fighter opposition was again encountered over both Manila and Clark Field areas. In a series of engagements, 27 enemy fighters were shot down for a loss of one F6F and its pilot. In addition, 24 enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground, 22 more probably destroyed and 44 damaged. Two of our planes and one pilot were lost to AA fire over Clark Field.
The last strike of the day was carried out on shipping in Manila Bay in spite of an impending typhoon accompanied by a weather front which necessitated a circuitous route to and from the target area. One SB, 2 FTC, and 1 FB were seriously damaged. Landings were successfully made in the dark with as little as eight gallons of fuel remaining in many of the fighters.
The fighters of this squadron participated in attacks on all three of the enemy task forces engaged in the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea.
On the morning of the 24th, two search teams each consisting of 4 VB and 8 VF planes flew west over the Visayans and Sulu Sea in search of one of the enemy formations which was sighted in the Sulu Sea and taken under attack by both teams. The fighters preceded the bombers in the dives accounting for damage to one of the Fuso class BB's, the Mogami class CA and 2 DD's. Comdr. Bakutis made a forced landing after being hit by AA fire from one of the DD's, but was rescued seven days later.
On the afternoon of the 24th, a coordinated attack was made on the enemy formation in the Sibuyan Sea. The fighters, having only rockets and machine guns, attacked a CA and 2 DD's, probably sinking one DD and damaging the other two ships. Although intense AA fire of all types was encountered, no planes were lost.
The following day a series of attacks was carried out on the formation northeast of Luzon which included four aircraft carriers and two Ise class BB's. With the exception of the last attack on which they carried 1,000 lb. bombs, the fighters were loaded with rockets and .50 calibre ammunition and therefore confined their targets principally to CL's and DD's. On the last attack they dropped on a CL and Ise class BB.
Only six Zekes attempted to intercept the first attack in the morning. One was destroyed, one probably destroyed, and a third damaged but not before they were able to shoot down one of our fighters and damage a second so severely that it had to make a water landing near a destroyer. Both pilots were rescued. The results of the attacks on these enemy ships were one DD probably sunk, and one BB and 2 CL damaged.
During 27, 28, and 29 October the squadron furnished combat air patrols over Leyte to augment the Army patrols which were at that time still small in view of inadequate bases. During these patrols our F6F's shot down 9 enemy planes and damaged several others. Planes sent out in search of crippled units of the enemy fleet found and probably sank a destroyer and damaged a minesweeper. Two of our pilots were forced to bail out over Ormoc Bay when their planes were set afire by enemy fighters. Both pilots were later recovered.
On 11 November 1944, planes from all three squadrons in the Air Group made a coordinated attack on an enemy convoy of 4 AK, 5 DD, and 1 DE as it was turning into Ormoc Bay. Although the fighter cover which the enemy had furnished to protect the convoy had been eliminated by Air Groups preceding ours, the pilots encountered stiff opposition in the form of AA fire from the escort ships. However, the fighters pressed home their attacks to score bomb bits on 1 AK and 4 DD's and heavily strafed 3 of the 4 DD's. Two of the DD's and the AK sank.
On 13 and 14 November, strikes were conducted shipping in Manila Harbor and on aircraft and installations in the Clark Field area. Many cargo vessels were found in Manila Bay, four of which were damaged with bombing, rocket, and strafing attacks. A Kuma-Natori class cruiser was also hit with rockets before it was sunk by the bombers. During these two days enemy fighter opposition continued although on a much smaller scale than during the strikes in October. Twelve enemy fighters were shot down on the 13th and four more on the 14th, all but three of which were met over the Clark Field area. Although parked aircraft were more difficult to locate and did not burn as readily as on previous strikes, 12 were destroyed and 27 more damaged.
On 19 November the Group Commander discovered a large concentration of parked aircraft on Del Carmen (Florida Blanca) and Porac airfields, all of which are believed to have been destroyed by the fighters in two concentrated low level attacks which were unhampered by AA fire. The total bag for the day was 92 aircraft destroyed and 68 more damaged. Late that afternoon four Bettys made an attack on our Task Group but all four were splashed by a four plane division of our fighters which was scrambled to intercept them. One of our pilots was shot down by a Betty and not recovered.
The three days of strikes on the Clark Field area in December were perhaps the most trying experienced by our pilots up to that time. Anti-aircraft batteries of all sizes had been greatly strengthened since the previous strikes and were finding their marks with far greater accuracy. Six fighters were shot down by AA fire on the 14th although two of the pilots parachuted safely and were rescued by guerrilla forces. Several other planes were hit but managed to land aboard safely.
Fighter opposition was weak, only seven planes rising to intercept the first sweep on the 14th, all seven of which were destroyed. Lt. (jg) Douglas Baker accounted for four of the Jap planes making a total of 16 for him before he in turn was shot down by AA fire and killed. Nineteen enemy planes were destroyed on the ground that day and twelve more damaged. On the following two days, fewer planes were destroyed on the ground since the fighters were forced to concentrate their dives chiefly on AA positions.
The second strike on the 16th encountered two Bettys, two Oscars, and four Zekes which were crossing the east coast of Luzon with the apparent mission of attacking the Task Force. Our planes shot down five of the fighters while planes from the Hancock took care of the Bettys and the sixth fighter, making a clean sweep.
Although this squadron did not lend direct support to the Army landings in Lingayen Gulf, the missions flown during January were all designed primarily to assist that operation, and since they cannot well be broken down into separate actions, they are all lumped together under the above heading.
During 3 and 4 January, strikes were conducted on aircraft, aircraft installations, and shipping in the vicinity of southern Formosa. Extremely adverse weather conditions over Formosa and to the east of the island hampered attacks considerably and imposed a very real strain on the pilots who were forced to fly a great part of the time on instruments. Since the airfields were closed in most of these two days, attacks were directed at shipping to the west of Formosa where better weather conditions prevailed. In addition to heavy concentrations of shipping in Takao and Toshien Harbors, many ships were found along the coast and a small convoy was sighted fifteen miles west of Tainan. During the two days, the fighters damaged 2 SB, 1 SC, and 3 DE. They also assisted in sinking 1 FTC and probably sank 1 DE. Four enemy planes were shot down, but because of poor visibility over the airfields, only five were destroyed on the ground.
The 6th and 7th of January were devoted to strikes on the Clark Field area and northern Luzon. The foul weather persisted with high winds, overcast extending from 100 feet to 12,000 in many areas and occasional heavy rain storms. Because of the weather and the scarcity of planes and other suitable targets in the Clark Field area, the results of the strikes were not commensurate with the effort expended. One enemy plane was destroyed in the air, four on the ground, and eight were damaged on the ground. In addition, 1 SB, and 1 FTC were seriously damaged. Two of our planes were lost as a result of fighter opposition, but one of the pilots was recovered.
On 9 January strikes were resumed on southern Formosa with better results. Once again shipping constituted principal targets. One PC boat and three SC's were destroyed and an SA was sunk in conjunction with bombers and torpedo planes. In addition, 1 SA, 1 SB, 1 FTC, 3 DE's and 1 SC were seriously damaged along with a number of smaller craft. Following the strikes on the 9th, the Third Fleet passed through the Bashi Channel into the South China Sea.
On 12 January, strikes were conducted on the French Indo-China Coast. Two convoys were sighted, one of 8 ships south of Camranh Bay, and a second of 14 ships off Quinhon, both of which were virtually wiped out. The first convoy was attacked by AG-20 planes alone whereas in the case of the second convoy (off Quinhon), AG-20 planes participated in the attack with Air Groups 11 and 7. The fighters from this squadron sank 2 DE's, assisted in the sinking of a Katori class CL and damaged 1 SA, 5 SB, 1 DE, and 2 gunboats. Most of the damaged ships were left beached and burning. Eight planes were destroyed on the ground or on the water, including 4 at an airfield near Saigon. There was no fighter opposition during any of the attacks, but three of our planes and two pilots were lost to AA fire from the ships.
On 15 January the squadron participated in attacks on shipping west of Formosa, principally at the Pescadores Islands, and in a sweep on airfields in the vicinity of Hong Kong, China. In a coordinated attack with VT planes, 1 DD was probably sunk and an FTC was damaged along with several smaller craft. After a long chase, Comdr. Bakutis destroyed a George which is believed to have been one of the first planes of this type to have been shot down in this war to date.
On 16 January our fighters took part in a series of sweeps and strikes on airfields, shipping, and harbor installations at Hong Kong and Kowloon. The AA fire thrown up by ships in the harbor and shore batteries was as intense and accurate as any that the pilots had ever encountered. Largely as a result of this fire which necessitated evasive maneuvering during the dives, little damage is believed to have been done to the shipping. However, extensive damage was caused in attacks on warehouses, dockyards, and oil storage areas. Miraculously, no planes were lost.
One of the search teams consisting of 1 VB and 2 VF planes was attacked by 6 Zekes off Samah, Hainan. One Zeke was destroyed, but we in turn lost the VB plane and 1 fighter. The fighter pilot was rescued.
By 21 January the Third Fleet had left the South China Sea and on that date the squadron participated in the Air Group's last series of strikes on southern Formosa. Favorable weather permitted attacks on airfields on a somewhat larger scale than earlier in the month. However, excellent dispersal and camouflaging made aircraft difficult to pick out on the ground and only 10 were destroyed and 6 damaged. Considerable damage was done to hangars and other installations. Shipping in Takao and Toshien Harbors was again attacked. One SA was sunk and 3 SA, 1 FB, 1 FTA, 1 FTC, and 1 DD were damaged. One Val was shot down by two rescue combat patrol planes enroute to their stations over the rescue submarine. One of our pilots was rescued by the submarine after making a forced water landing caused by AA fire over Toshien Harbor.
On 22 January, the last day of operations before returning to the States for reforming, the squadron participated in strikes on Okinawa Jima. No enemy aircraft opposed the attacks and few were found on the ground. Other suitable targets were equally scarce. A number of small vessels and several installations including a radio station were destroyed, but the overall damage was not great.
Air Group Twenty was strengthened at Puunene by the addition of night fighters on 23 July 1944. Commanded by Lt. Comdr. James S. Gray, Jr., and consisting of six pilots especially trained for night fighting together with its own complement of AV(S) officers and enlisted personnel, this detachment had an essential role in our combat record.
Night Fighter Squadron 78 bad been commissioned at NAS Quonset Point, R. I., on 1 February 1944, under Lt. Comdr. Gray. The squadron had arrived at NAS Barbers Point on 12 June where they continued training until assignment by detachments to five various carrier air groups. It was not until 2 October that the squadron was decommissioned and our detachment administratively integrated with VF-20.
As Lt. Frank Kennedy wrote in the VF(N)-78 History, the detachment "besides carrying out its night-fighting missions, participated in strikes, sweeps, searches, and patrols that played havoc with the enemy in daylight hours. These six pilots from headquarters detachment alone destroyed 12 enemy aircraft in the air, two of which were at night, besides playing their part in the destruction of enemy surface vessels, aircraft on the ground, shipping, and land installations."