The Ship - All Hands - Decorations - Remembrance
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Sections: Fall 1944 Jan 1945 Feb 1945 Mar 1945 Apr 1945 May 1945
In their final days of combat, Night Air Group 90 gave a impressive demonstration of the value of naval night squadrons, neatly tag-teaming with the day flyers to keep Japanese aircraft on southern Kyushu pinned down due to continual harrassment. But NAG-90's final mission was cut short by a determined Kamikaze pilot who succeeded where hundreds of aviators before had failed: knocking the Big E out of the war.
Our two weeks vacation is apparently definitely over and we went back to work today in earnest. The ship sortied at 0730. As on the previous trial run, we had engineer observers from the Jason to check operating conditions. The last glimmer of hope flickered and died when they were ferried back and the Big E settled down on a northerly heading with one lonely little destroyer as escort and "screen".
The main air operations for the day were qualification landings - touch and go affairs - stuff for cadets, not for full fledged and experienced pilots like ourselves. Frankly, however, LSO [Landing Signal Officer] Lt. Ray Tennant gave us to understand that we looked pretty sorry. Luckily (and Ray says it was luck and nothing else) we had only one operational accident. Joe Doyle [LT Joseph A. Doyle Jr.] caught a barrier after making an apparently perfect landing - he simply bounced over all the wires - just another one of "them which has". The wires were in the wrong places. No one was hurt fortunately.
At a squadron meeting this evening the advance in rates of several of the enlisted men was made public. Five were advanced to Chief - Watts [Thomas T. Watts ACRM], Peterson [John R. Peterson], Thornton, Grenier, and Pfeiffer [George F. Pfeiffer Jr.]. Others to make first were Nelson [Armando Nelson AOM 1/c], Fields [John H. Fields Y 1/c], Adams [Alvin C. Adams PR 1/c].
Top item of interest for the day was Captain Halls' short talk to the ship this evening. He told us that the tests had been successful and that we were enroute to rejoin the task force near Okinawa. He also passed on the word that the present plans are for the Enterprise to be relieved "on or about" June first and that the Big E will then keep her scheduled period in the yard, sometime during the latter part of that month. At last we have something definite and official.
These two days have been busy ones for the air group and air department. Numerous training hops plus the usual ASPs [Anti-Submarine Patrols] and CAPs [Combat Air Patrols]. Yesterday an attack group of six planes was scheduled, one purpose of the flight being to try out the new wing tanks. Unfortunately most of them leaked so badly that the planes were dudded - these plus one or two other duds resulted in just one plane getting off - Waldo Cummings [LT Ralph W. Cummings] - he carried out the exercise alone and reported very little trouble in getting joined up!
In general yesterday's operations went very well - no accidents of any kind. We've gotten so we land these airplanes like there was nothing to it - Ray Tennant says "almost". The same can be said about today's operations.
Last night at 2400 we had practice night landings - four VF and four VT took off at the same time and landed again as soon as possible - twenty minutes for the whole bunch. We didn't go anywhere or do anything - just took off and landed. In all there were thirty-two night landings and not a single accident - a hot outfit!!
Today is Commander Martin's birthday - his thirty-sixth according to some sources but all he'd say was quote, "I'll never see twenty-eight again!" A cake with candles was presented to him at dinner and just to prove that "twenty-eight" isn't so old, he blew all the candles out with one puff. The squadron trio sang "Happy Birthday" and "When Your Hair Turns To Silver" with appropriate rewording.
Those who flew the late afternoon ASP today saw a rare example of a rainbow. It was perfectly formed, both ends of the semi-circular arch touching the sea and the colors as distinct and true as though laid out by an architect and painted by a watercolor maestro. That was the one item to relieve the monotony.
Seldom indeed is a squadron able to boast that it has a flying ACI [Air Combat Intelligence] officer but VT(N)-90 can do just that, for today Ed Hidalgo flew on an ASP! Not only that, but he actually flew with Charlie Henderson [LT Charles E. Henderson III]! Reports say he behaved himself very creditably and even seemed to enjoy the experience. There's no accounting for the whims of some people!
About mid-morning today we effected a rendezvous with the tanker fleet and those units of the force which are not in Ulithi (58.1) at present. It was a welcome sight to look out and see more than one small destroyer for a screen.
Shortly after we joined up a despatch was received from the force commander to the effect that in view of the Big E's pending return to the States for overhaul, our fighter pilots (loaned out to other ships before we put back into Ulithi last time) would not be returned to us at present. Furthermore, he suggested that we spend the next month "training" the air group for night operations. What a laugh that handed us! We wondered what gave rise to the oft repeated declaration that we were "much missed and sorely needed" by the force. It was evident, however, that we were mistaken for another group thought to be aboard.
Comdr. Martin [CDR William I. Martin] and Comdr. Blitch [CDR Jack Blitch] lost no time in flying over to the Bunker Hill, Admiral Mitscher's flag ship, for a counsel. They succeeded in straightening out the misconception concerning our veteran's standing in the night game. Apparently they convinced the Admiral that we weren't exactly a new group and obtained promise of many offensive missions in the near future. Ens. "Old Rob" Roy [ENS Robert Roy] accompanied the "three-stripers" - his mission was on some vital and highly secret matter, having to do with Buildings and Grounds, of which department he is the august head. Roy says he rode in the bomb bay, slung from the torpedo shackle!! - but we think he was just kidding.
All day we steamed along with supply ships and tankers and finally left them to proceed northwest with the force late this afternoon. Activity in the air was practically nil except for an early ASP but preparations about the ship bespoke our proximity to "bogie" country. Plan of the day for tomorrow calls for all day GQ stations so it's back to battle-rations and "designated heads". Tomorrow morning the fighters are scheduled to have some intruder missions tomorrow night over Kyushu.
The ready room is thick with the blue-haze and acrid odor of cigar smoke these days. What with our five new Chiefs and a new ALNAV, everyone smokes cigars by the handful. Jim Plummer [LT James W. Plummer] and R. Raeburn Jones [LT Robert R. Jones] are looking a bit heavy and shiny about the collar with their new double-bars and Gordy Hinrichs' [LT(jg) H. Gordon Hinrichs] "gold" has changed to silver. We congratulate them - God knows they waited long enough.
Air Group Ninety is back in its usual form with bad weather and canceled flights. We spent most of the afternoon in briefing sessions and generally getting ready to send out three hops (ten planes in all) starting at 1730. At 1700 word came down that all flights were canceled due to bad weather - an excuse we'd practically never heard of before - they usually fly us anyway. Now, no one in this squadron at the present time is particularly eager about these flights since our primary interest and concern is to get home (and we make no bones about it), but when we do get scheduled and gradually get all prepared it's quite discouraging to get those last-minute cancelations, especially after all the talk about this being the chance we've been waiting for to prove the value of night carriers in an offensive sense.
Admittedly the weather was bad but not as bad as some we've flown in before with no trouble.
The ship was at general quarters or "one easy" all day and we ate rations or nothing at all. There is no excitement, however, other than the splashing of one Frances [a twin-engine medium bomber] several miles from the force and occasional cases of friendly planes showing "bogie". A hot meal was served at 2000 and was as usual very welcome after a day of semi-fasting. We are, of course, again in a night schedule with all its abnormal situations and irregular routine.
A war correspondent, Phelps Adams of the New York Sun, came aboard at Ulithi. He seems a very pleasant fellow and interesting to talk to - probably because he's a good listener. Mr. Adams has taken over the nightly news broadcast over station WENT and has considerably revitalized that program by his bits of humor and keen observations. We're all pleased to have him aboard.
It was pleasant to awake today and hear the muffling roar of the ventilation system signifying that the ship was in condition Baker. One look at the weather gave the answer. It rained most of the day and high, gusty winds blew from the northwest. The ceiling was so low that it frequently obscured the other ships in the force. It certainly was no weather for bogies! Consequently, regular meals were served and life for one day, at least, was back to normal. Other than this, the day was an uneventful - no flight operations of course.
Someone in the wardroom suggested that by the use of sound effects equipment and a hose trained on the captain's porthole we might be able to make this weather last for several days. No one seems to be at all sorry to be deprived of the "fun" and "privilege" of flying.
Biggest news item today was the unofficial but apparently authentic report of the unconditional surrender of all Nazi armed forces. The day we'll all be waiting for is when thousands of those Flying Forts, based on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, make daily and intensified raids on the Japanese homeland.
Another "strike day" and hence spent at general quarters, but completely free of all excitement as far as we were concerned - no air-raids and no flight operations. Tomorrow we refuel.
Yesterday was indeed quiet; condition Baker being the order of the day. We had retired during the night and refueled from the tanker force during the morning. By evening we were back in position and heckler missions to Tokuno, Minami, and Kikai were scheduled. Three six-plane hops got off during the night from 1730 to 0300. The aces are: Lawton [LT(jg) Ernest J. Lawton Jr.], Thomas [LT(jg) William R. Thomas], Toar McLaughlin, Heid [LT(jg) Robert S. Heid], Roy, Balden [LT(jg) William H. Balden Jr.], Largess [LT Clifton R. Largess], Landon [ENS James D. Landon], Jewell [LT(jg) Joseph W. Jewell Jr], McCrary [LT(jg) Shannon W. McCrary], "El Gruppo" Martin, Blazek [ENS James A. Blazek], Doyle, Moore [LT James S. Moore], and Scarborough [LT(jg) Joseph M. Scarborough].
The planes to Tokuno and Kikai were on station about two hours dropping incendiary and 100# general purpose bombs and rockets. Several fires were started. Kinami is a small island between Iwo and Okinawa, the main installation being an airfield used for staging planes for raids against the force. Last night several cruisers and destroyers bombarded it and our planes added to the general demolition by heckling attacks. Cliff Largess "spotted" for the bombarding units and put them "right on". It was a new and successful "first" in night operations. Blazek started a sizeable fire there, possibly an oil dump. He also got quite a scare when he saw tracers coming up at his tail. He spent a few busy moments taking evasive action until his crewman objected to the rough ride and confessed that he'd taken the liberty of shooting his thirty-eight revolver out the tunnel door. Again, Yankee ingenuity furthers the great effectiveness of the Avenger type aircraft and widens its versatility.
A small amount of AA was reported at Tokuno and Kikai but all was light and inaccurate. "Dude Boy" Heid left his running lights on when he made a strafing run just to make it a sporting proposition and was fired at - he turned off his lights. Joe Scarborough at Kikai strafed what seemed to be a truck, but it turned out to his considerable surprise, to be a plane moving along a taxiway.
Again today we're in the combat area and things weren't "quiet". About mid-morning Kamikazes attacked a sister carrier [Bunker Hill] riding about 2500 yards off our port beam. Shortly after the initial attack, five more planes came in. It looked as if they had the "Big E" centered in their sights. They sheered away, however, and all five were shot down when an anti-aircraft cruiser went to work on them.
Vice Admiral Mitscher and his staff of officers and men transferred this afternoon to the Enterprise. Hence the Big E is now the task force flag ship - from training ship to flag ship in one day!!
Operations were again scheduled for tonight - to Tokuno, Kikai, and Kyushu. The first flight of four planes was the only one to take off before all hops were canceled by the task force commander. Henderson, Blake [LT(jg) Gilbert S. Blake], and Cummings reached Kyushu but Bruehl [LT(jg) George W. Bruehl] turned back because of radar failure. They seemed to have a pretty good time up there - weather was fine, nobody shot at them and most of the towns were lighted up. Henderson even got them to turn on the field and obstruction lights for him and they sent him blinker messages in the friendliest manner. In fact, they were so nice that he hated to drop his bombs - he says. Numerous planes on the ground were sighted but none in the air. The whole trip of better than 340 miles one way took six hours - long enough to make sitting down awfully uncomfortable. Lindsey [Joseph D. Lindsey AMM 1/c], Waldo's crewman, says he saw one of their flares land on the roof of a small house and that the landlord came out, hauled it down, and put it out. Others think that Waldo blew it off with his slip stream - he was low enough.
Best laugh of the day came with Charlie Henderson's story about wing tanks. It seems that the skipper had one tank under each wing. He carefully emptied the starboard one first and then with extreme finesse jettisoned the port one!
There's so much we could tell today (in a secret document) about the climax of our cruise. The incidents vary in nature from the tragic to the sublime.
Saturday May 12 the force steamed toward Kyushu and that evening we kept VT hecklers over Southern Kyushu fields all night - three, four plane flights each lasting six hours. Charlie Henderson was one of the boys to go to Omura where he started some good fires in the hangar area. Coming back he ran across a George [a single-engine Japanese fighter] and chased him for fifteen minutes before he finally gave up and headed for home once more. A little later down near Tanego he found a Rufe [a single-engine Japanese floatplane fighter] float plane and again gave chase. The chase rapidly devolved into a contest to see who could "wrap it up" the tightest - Charlie won when the Rufe "wrapped it" a little too tight and spun into the water from about 300 feet. We certainly have to give Charlie credit for having more damn nerve that seems healthy to most of us and also the skill to go with it. We don't, however, much envy Ted Halbach [LT(jg) Edwin H. Halbach] who rides with him as Radar Officer or his other crewman turret navigator namesake, Henderson [Thomas M. Henderson ARM 2/c]. This was Charlie's fourth plane which darn near made him a TBM ace - at present there are none in captivity that we know of. We doubt if anyone else can claim coming this close to becoming an ace with a "Torpedo Bomber".
The fellows who went to the Kanoya - Doyle, Scarborough, Moore, Gerbron [LT(jg) Charles E. Gerbron], Denhoff [Wallace W. Denhoff], and Commander Martin - ran into the first really stiff searchlight opposition that we've hit so far. At times it was alarmingly accurate. It's hard to imagine a more completely naked or exposed feeling that occurs that when about four beams pin you down simultaneously. The other pilots who raided Kyushu were: Largess, Blazek, Gerbron, Balden, Roy, McCrary, Toar McLaughlin, "Coke" McLaughlin, Brooks [LT(jg) Charles E. Brooks] and Thomas.
Sunday morning, May 13, the day carriers began launching their strikes and kept it up all day. Apparently they had a regular turkey shoot with planes in the air and on the ground. All day not a single attacking plane got through our screen.
Again Sunday night we kept hecklers over Kyushu, this time covering all the major fields. This was to be our last mission - the final climax of all our efforts, sorrows, uncertainties and achievements as a pioneer squadron. We are told and believe that these Kyushu raids clinched the case for VT(N) and its offensive-defensive power. History will write the full story with less strain on our modesty that we could do ourselves. Our pilots in this swan song were: McCrary, Gerbron, Bruehl, Cromley [LT(jg) William L. Cromley], Landon, Scott [Knox O. Scott], Doyle, Lawton, Blake, Thomas, Cummings, and Balden. Opposition both from searchlights and AA seemed meagre and ineffective. Many large fires were started. Admiral Mitscher seems to be much impressed as well as Commander Flatley, his operations officer.
Monday morning, May 14, at 0645 came a moment long to be remembered by every man aboard the Enterprise for all time to come. The last VT hop had just come aboard and the pilots and crews were eating breakfast. A thirteen-fighter sweep had returned but was still airborne over the force preparing to land. Suddenly a bogie was announced at four o'clock, six miles. The five inch guns opened up soon after and then the word came that a Kamikaze plane was diving at six o'clock. All we can say is that our untold story is one miraculous escape, one after the other, too numerous to recount. The fabulously lucky USS Enterprise again.
As is always true in the successes of life, luck must share its glory with courage and wisdom. These three elements scored historically during the attack.
The rest of the day stretched interminably before us. There could be no thought of retiring before late afternoon and only darkness would bring us any feeling of security. The force was alerted several times during the day but our CAPs and screen kept us relatively safe. Reports this evening told us that 160 planes had been involved in the force launched from the Jap homeland in this desperate all-out effort to smash our fleet. Of those original 160 planes more than a hundred were accounted for by fighters and many more by the ship's batteries. Comparatively few even got within striking range.
It is rumored that the Jap pilot [Chief Pilot Shusasuka Tomiyasa] who came at us from six o'clock was dressed in the uniform of the Kamikaze corps, bearing the Cherry Blossom (what a sweet thought) insignia. He was a "Chief Pilot" which is equivalent to our rank of Lt(jg). In his pocket they found several name cards and a code book, all in Japanese of course. To us, products of a country where individual, free thinking is the keynote of all the things we hold most valuable and for which we fight, it is utterly impossible to understand the mentality, philosophy or outlook on life for a man deliberately to give up his life so definitely and irrevocably. Of course, American lives for our cause sent out to attack the enemy with the absolute command that it is to be a one-way trip is just something beyond the realms of our comprehension.
On the other hand, the average attitude of our soldiers, sailors, and marines is reflected in the oft repeated story of the outfit that, just before a particularly dangerous mission, was frankly told that only about ten out of hundred could expect to come through it alive. Every one of them looked around and felt very sorry to think that all those other poor fellows were about to be killed. Everyone of them definitely expected to be of those to come back. That's the difference between our fighting men and the Japs. We're taught that our best service to the country is to live for it, not to die for it and that's the philosophy that makes us unbeatable. How can you beat the guy who, in the face of grave danger, absolutely refuses to admit defeat or death and then goes ahead to prove that he was right?
The longest day of our lives ended, practically speaking, about 2000 when the ship secured from general quarters and a hot meal was served all hands. Darkness had settled its quiet, protecting cloak about us and gave us the first feeling of partial safety we'd experienced in many long hours. Phelps Adams, war correspondent, in his nightly news broadcast told us that at last the Enterprise was definitely homeward bound. There was little or no wild celebrating. The hardships of this day are too vivid. But the feeling of vast relief was apparent on every side. Home!! The most wonderful word and most wonderful place in the world. Everything else seems dwarfed and unimportant as we realize that the day has actually come when we can say at last "It's over for a while - WE'RE GOING HOME!"
The story of VT(N)90 has, to all intents and purposes, run its course and this seems a timely moment to close our chapter in the war against Japan and turn to the task of publishing this story. In a day or two, we shall be heading back to Ulithi to strip ship, then on to Pearl Harbor and finally the last leg back to the good USA. Torpedo Ninety will soon be merely a paper bound record in the Navy's files but to us at least, fond memories of friends and experiences will live for all the years to come. To say that we've enjoyed every moment of the cruise would be a gross falsehood, but bad times, tragedy, danger and hardship have been liberally mixed with unforgettable experiences and friendships. All of these elements are the "stuff" of which our "memory book" is made.
This story reflects many months of effort, disappointment, planning, and careful training. The conception of night operations from a carrier is a comparatively new one and in every sense of the word, this has been a pioneering outfit. As such, obstacles and prejudices, many of which have seemed almost insurmountable, these we have been confronted with, and won over.
The first germ of the idea was born in the minds and imaginations of a small group of resolute and determined men led by Ninety's present Air Group Commander, Commander W. I. Martin, USN. Night flying itself was not new and numerous night-fighters were already operating from carriers. But few had considered the possibilities of an entire carrier or task group operating at night, and the proposal for night torpedo bombers was a new one. While acting as commander of Torpedo Ten aboard the Enterprise in early 1944, Commander Martin had a chance to test the practicability of full-scale night work when he participated in several night missions such as the attack against shipping at Truk.
We have told the story of our training period at Barbers Point. Then in December, we went aboard the Enterprise. She also had been changed to meet the unusual demands of night operations. Then came the practical test of all of our efforts. A new set of problems replaced the older ones. Certain routines and procedures developed in training, failed to meet the demands of actual combat and had to be changed or altered as we went along. During the month of January in the South China Sea bad weather beset us but we flew anyway - we waged a continual fight for offensive missions - we experienced numerous, discouraging last-minute cancellations of flights - the hops we did get were pitifully few and unimportant - the prejudice of those still unconvinced balked us at every turn - since our organization, we found the whole aspect of the war had changed. We were trained primarily in shipping attacks but as we pressed nearer to the Japanese homeland the importance of shipping as a priority target became secondary to aircraft and airfields. This meant that much of our success depended on our skill in operating to and over mountainous terrain, a phase we had failed fully to foresee. This called for new and different tactical methods, and accurate navigation became more important than ever.
Let us not forget to pay homage to our enlisted aircrewmen that flew with us as navigators and radar technicians, for their contribution to the success of our missions and safe return.
Gradually, as time went by and our skill increased with combat, the squadron developed into a smooth running machine. We became accustomed to the dark hours, gaining confidence and realizing that the night could be more friend than enemy. We became more convinced than ever that we could do an offensive job if given the chance. Outside skepticism persisted though more and more concessions were being made.
Finally, fate led Admiral Mitscher and his staff to the USS Enterprise and gave us a chance to show them first-hand what we could do. Our heckler hops against fields in the northern Ryukus proved very successful. We reached the peak of our career during the three nights of missions versus Kyushu. We made good use of that opportunity. We proved conclusively that night operations are offensively and defensively valuable to the fleet.
We showed that we could harass the enemy so as to deny him the use of his aircraft, as far as we know. Not a single field that we heckled launched planes against the force either during the night or the following morning. The damage we inflicted on installations was substantial. Perhaps the most spectacular phase of those operations was that not a single plane or human life was lost and yet each of our planes stayed on station over Japanese industrial, naval, and aerial strongholds for two or more hours at a time. We felt that at last we had vindicated the hours of labor, the painstaking plans and the many disappointments and frustration. One of the most gratifying moments of the cruise came with the recognition of our efforts in the following letter from Admiral Mitscher himself; addressed to the Enterprise:
"I was impressed with the enthusiasm, efficiency and effectiveness of your squadrons. In this comparatively new art of night combat your squadrons have fully demonstrated the possibilities and have my utmost admiration for their flying ability, and their very damaging night harass."