"Dahl, guns frozen, found an Oscar on his tail."
To inflict the maximum damage to Tokyo aircraft factories and production facilities at Nakajima Tama, two other air groups were ordered to join air group four. Due to bad weather we did not get off the flight deck until 0845. The rendezvous brought together. (1)
Lt Lykes Boykin from Fighting Four was in command. He ordered VT-4 to take position as the base element, with AG-46 next, and AG-84 in the rear. Our Essex Marines were stationed as high cover for the flight to Japan, with Hellcats as intermediate cover on both sides.
"The coast of Honshu was crossed between Oiso and Opowara at 16,000 feet on a northerly course. The flight passed west of the north-south line of airfields until east of Takahagi airfield. Two groups of enemy VF attempted passes at the flight that were effectively dealt with by the escort."
"West of Takahagi airfield the flight turned eastward and passed between Takahagi airfield and Sakato airfield, and then turned southward between Tokorozawa airfield and Narimasu airfield, in order to attack the target from north to south. Enemy VF heckled the flight throughout the approach attack and retirement."
"A well coordinated and effective attack was delivered on the target, bombing was accurate and undoubtedly caused considerable damage." (1)
Our Torpedo Four Executive Officer, Lt "Ham" Hamrick, led the TBMs on this strike. The VT-4 tactical organization follows: (1)
Pilot Crew Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) Trembley, R. A. Gardner, Keith DeYoung, W. A. Ward, Jr., Felix E. Applegate, Don M. Hewett, J. E. Shuman, L. P. Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J. Hopkins, W. J., Jr. (*) Simendinger, R. E., Jr. Souza, Will S. Huston, D. L. Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Shiverdecker, N. L. Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Aldrich, J. W. Bell, G. M. Tankard, A. J. Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) Ballard, J. F. (Forrest) Gray, L. C. Ganley, J. E. Binder, Ed S. Jenkins, W. D. Deimel, H. J. Ely, C. L., Jr. Cannady, W. H., Jr. (**) Schiesz, A. G.
"Ham" reported that "near the town of Yoshimo, four Tojos intercepted the formation, making one pass from 180 degrees. They were engaged by fighter escort." Three Oscars came up from behind the formation as it reached the target and two of these enemy planes fired on the Avengers as they went into their bombing runs.
"In a well coordinated attack from north to south VT, preceded by one division of VFB, pushed over from 14,000 feet. In steep glides of 45 to 55 degrees, an average speed of 355 knots indicated was acquired. Average altitude of release was 3500 feet. Interrogation of air crewmen and VMF pilots who were flying high cover indicates that VT bombing was highly accurate. As far as can be determined, all bombs dropped by VT struck within the 'vital area' of the target (north wings) or on the two southern wings housing administration and laboratories and research. No misses were observed. The exact nature of the damage could not immediately be observed because of smoke and flying debris rising from the target. VT were followed in the attack by VFB and by aircraft of the Cowpens and Bunker Hill groups."
"Retirement was made as planned, southward 'on the deck' and giving wide margin to heavily defended Chofu airfield to the west. Once Chofu was passed, aircraft turned westward toward their rendezvous point over the town of Kawajiri, staying clear of Shimonizo and Haramachida airfields to the south." (1)
Keith Gardner, who was flying wing on "Ham," described the strike in these words: "We dove on the Nakajima Tama Engine Plant from about 13 - 15,000 feet. I kept pushing over until my airspeed passed the red mark. I still hung in on the dive. Just as I dropped my bombs, the hatch blew in on my shoulder. My turret gunman spotted this glass going by. He grabbed the intercom to see if I was OK. I couldn't answer, since I was still in the dive. I hoped he wouldn't panic and jump because he didn't know whether I was dead or alive." (2)
During this second day of attacks on the Japanese homeland, our torpedo bombers were protected with excellent fighter cover by Hellcats and Corsairs. (3)
"Northeast of Fujiyama, 4 Tojos dived on the formation from 12 o'clock above. Lt Hendricks' division at 16,500 feet pulled up into the attack. Lt Hendricks gave one of the Tonys a good burst which started it smoking and caused large pieces of cowling to tear off. This plane was last seen in a steep dive and smoking. Unfortunately the kill could not be confirmed by others and is scored as a probable. Lt [J. H.] Burnett met another of the Tonys head on and two or three pieces of metal were ripped from the Tony's engine area by his fire. This plane was not smoked and only damaged, it is claimed. The aggressive action on the part of the top cover probably accounts for the complete failure of the enemy to inflict any damage to any plane in the flight."
"As the flight approached the target from the northeast 4 Tonys dived on the formation from 12 o'clock above. Lt (jg) [G. A.] Peabody pulled up slightly as the rats shallowed out in their dives and got in a long burst into the engine of one of the Tonys. This Tony was smoking heavily as it passed beneath Peabody and was observed by others in the flight as it spiraled downward and crashed."
As the fighters and bombers pushed over in their attack on the Nakajima Tama factories, 5 Tonys made a run on the base element of VT-4. Our Hellcats followed these Tonys down. Peabody smoked one of these planes, and it nosed over into a very steep dive. "Laird shot down a Tony on the tail of a Torpecker, and while he was so engaged, an Oscar got on his tail. Avants came to Laird's rescue and exploded the Oscar."
"Ens K. Peters sighted an Oscar at 10 o'clock level near Tachikawa airfield on a converging course. Peters closed rapidly with the tremendous speed from his dive and just had time to get in a short burst before overshooting the enemy. His fire must have killed the Nip pilot because the Oscar nosed over sharply and crashed."
"Lt (jg) ["Hal"] Avants found an F4U bracketed at 500 feet by two Oscars. Avants made a pass at one of the rats and they started working on him. Just as one Oscar was in the act of making a run on Avants from 8 o'clock level the F4U returned the favor by engaging this Oscar in a head-on run and smoked him. This Oscar was not seen again. During these maneuvers Avants got in a burst from head on, a deflection shot from 10 o'clock level and one last pass from head-on which caused the Oscar to nose over and crash."
"Lt [D. S.] Laird had jumped a Tojo near the rendezvous point and followed him on the deck through gullies and around hills northeastward toward Tokyo. He fired about 6 separate bursts one of which started the enemy a/c smoking. During the chase the TOJO flew under a high-tension line and finally spun in attempting to climb over a hill near the outskirts of Tokyo." (1)
In addition to the main strike group, several fighter sweeps were sent over Japan.
On one of the early Hellcat flights, "Ensign [C. E.] Gustafson was forced to make a water landing because of a serious hydraulic leak and electrical failure." He made contact with the rescue picket and was picked up by the USS Callahan.
The Marines flew high cover for the major strike group, which was launched at 0845 for Nakajima Tama. After we completed our attacks, the VMF squadrons hung around to engage more enemy aircraft. Some quotes from their action reports seem appropriate, because they present another perspective on the Tokyo strikes.
"First to attack were 4 Zekes, reddish-brown with big red meatballs. Making an opposite pass outside the fighter cover, they slow-rolled as they went by. Our flight was high cover, at about 17,000 feet and had just crossed the coastline. They made stab passes, possibly trying to force our cover off after them. Five Oscars then appeared above and at 10 o'clock, and followed the planes into the target area, where two more appeared. Four Oscars followed the VT down, but could not get through the fighter cover."
"[W. A.] Dahl, guns frozen, found an Oscar on his tail and executed a 360 degree turn, with [F. J.] Goetz sticking by. The maneuver relieved Dahl's situation, but put the Jap on Goetz's tail. Doing a wingover, Dahl sliced toward the Oscar, relieving Goetz's tail position (the Jap got one hit in his wing), and the section rejoined. Falling on Oscar's tail, the old weave when he turned did the trick, and Goetz got a burst in from 11 o'clock at the Jap's engine, flaming it. Capt [W. J.] Thomas saw it hit the deck in flames, and the kill goes to Goetz."
"[Capt] Thomas (from VMF 213) and [W. E.] Reynolds (from VMF 124) found themselves attacked by four Oscars, and in the ensuing melee, Reynolds flames one when he turned into Reynolds' guns to get away from Thomas. A second Oscar made the mistake of getting in front of Thomas's guns for a brief instant, and was last seen smoking around the engine nacelle. A fourth, intent on getting in position to fire at Reynolds, came under Thomas's guns and fell away with 'probables' to Thomas, one destroyed for Reynolds."
"While proceeding to the rendezvous area, two Oscars came down through astern of [A. K.] Kercoude's 3-plane division above. The division immediately went into a defensive weave. A 20-mm shell exploded in [J. W.] Deboeuf's cockpit. A piece of shrapnel entered his shoulder and minute fragments splattered into his face." (3)
After these high altitude encounters with Japanese fighters, Col William Millington reported some problems with the Corsair, "In recent operations over Japan, serious trouble was experienced with guns freezing on the F4U-1D. We lost 40 percent of the firepower above 16,000 feet at 30 degrees F.". Millington recommended that the ship's plane mechanics install gun heaters to prevent this problem.
Returning pilots from these Tokyo raids reported that antiaircraft fire over the target and at points along the flight path was most intense, but that "bursts from heavy batteries en route to target were off altitude, an unusual error factor in Japanese heavy antiaircraft firing." (1)
The reports indicated that no planes from the Essex were shot down by Ack Ack on this strike. This was probably related to the fact that 5 of the Avengers were now equipped with a new radar jamming device. In addition, all of the VTs and some of the fighters made extensive use of "window" on the strike.
The "window" we carried in the TBMs consisted of strips of tinfoil laminated to paper. "The strips were about 18-inches long and carried by the turret gunner in a quiver. As soon as we spotted AA bursts, or if we were over gun emplacements, we would push 5 or 6 of these strips of foil through the air control vent in the turret." (4) Thus, the "window" would simulate several planes and tend to confuse the radar-controlled guns.
When all planes were back aboard the Essex, and we had secured "flight quarters" for the night, there were many exciting stories of dogfights, close calls, and first impressions of the snow-covered Mt. Fujiyama.
On February 17, the Fighting Four Red Rippers reported 8 confirmed kills, and the Marines were credited with seven.
Hellcats Corsairs Laird, D. S. (Diz) - 1 Tony and 1 Tojo Green, Robert D. - 1 Judy Avants, Hal H. - 2 Oscars Hendricks, C. G. - 1 Tony Peabody, G. A. - 2 Tonys Burnett, J. H. - 1 Tony Peters, K. - 1 Oscar Reynolds, W. E. - 1 Oscar Kelley, R. S. - 1 Jill Goetz, F. J., Jr. - 1 Oscar Thomas, W. J. - 2 Oscars
"Cozy" Cole sort of summarized many of our feelings. "One of my most satisfying moments of the war was that first strike on Tokyo! I had saved up for the occasion, and when we flew over Japan, I used the 'relief tube' with pleasure." (5)
(1) Combat Reports, VF-4 and VT-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Taped Interview with Keith Gardner, VT-4 Pilot.
(3) War Diary, VMF 124 and VMF 213. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(4) Taped Interview with Bob Campbell, VT-4 Crewman.
(5) Taped Interview with Lloyd Cole, VT-4 Pilot.
(*) Returned to base (landed aboard Hancock).
(**) Downed: Empennage damaged while taxiing.
Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of
World War II
Copyright © 1990-2000 by Gerald W. Thomas