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Torpedo Squadron Four - A Cockpit View of World War II - Revised, Updated Edition, 2011

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Air Group 4 - Casablanca to Tokyo

Dedicated to those who
served in VT-4, VB-4, VF-4,
VMF-124 and VMF-213

Diary of Col. Kersey -- Marine Pilot

By Col. Robert W. Kersey, VMF-124


Robert W. Kersey entered the Marines via Naval Flight Aviation School in 1942. Following flight training, he was assigned to VMF-124, which hadCol. Robert W. Kersey, VMF-124 been reformed along with VMF-213 in 1944 following its combat actions in Guadalcanal. After training operations for three months in Hawaii, VMF-124 and VMF-213 were assigned to the USS Essex under the command of Col. William A. Millington. Aboard the Essex, these two squadrons operated in many ways as one squadron, as you can see from some of the entries in this Diary. This Diary was made available by Geoffery Kersey, Col. Kersey's son.

Following his service in World War II, Col. Kersey served aboard a carrier during the Korean War. When the Korean War ended, he stayed in the Marines. After assignments which ranged from Albuquerque to Norfolk he served in the Pentagon, and then in 1966 became Chief of Staff at Millington Naval Air Station, Memphis TN. Millington NAS is named after Lt. Col. William A. Millington, who was Commander of VMF-124 during Col. Kersey's service.

In June 1968, Col. Kersey became Commanding Officer of MACG-28. In 1970-71, he was Commanding Officer of 24th Army Corps in Quang Tri, Viet Nam, a rare honor, a Marine in charge of Army Troops. Following his Viet Nam service, Col. Kersey was Chief of Staff of Quantico Marine Corps Air Station, until his retirement in June 1973.

Col. Kersey´s combat experiences in VMF-124 are recorded in this Diary, a vivid picture of the comradery of the pilots, the impact of death, the daily actions of a carrier pilot during war, and Col. Kersey´s thoughts and feelings.

Dec 13, 1944 -- Departed Pearl Harbor this date aboard USS. Hollandia (CVE-97), having been stationed at Marine Airfield Ewa, Oahu, T. H. [Territory of Hawaii], since Sept. 26, 1944. Destination is Quam [Guam], where we go aboard the USS. Essex (CV-9) and will be the first Marine Squadron to operate from a carrier during time of war. We have been crying for action for a long time, and it looks as though we are going to get our wish.

Dec 14, 1944 -- Lectures today by Executive Officer on carrier operation, and some facts on current situation out here. Invasion of Mindoro commences today. 2nd date is set for Luzon invasion.

Dec 15, 1944 -- Had training films and navigation problems today, brushing up for days ahead. Due at Quam on the 23rd.

Dec 16, 1944 -- More lectures today, including topography, climate, etc., of Bonin Islands!!

Dec 17, 1944 -- Navigation classes and lectures today. Radar screen showed sub trailing us last night, but apparently couldn't catch us.

Dec 18, 1944 -- Crossed International Date Line today.

Dec 19, 1944 -- Lectures today on Luzon native tribes, friendly and otherwise, and how to act if forced down among them.

Dec 20, 1944 -- Rendezvoused with destroyer today off Eniwetok, which will escort us the remainder of the way.

Dec 21 and 22, 1944 -- Same old routine - nothing new.

Dec 23, 1944 -- Informed we are not stopping at Quam, but going on to Ulithi, due there on the 25th, Xmas Day. Had hoped we stopped at Quam so I could fly up to Tinian to see Frank.

Ulithi Atoll - Caroline Islands

Ulithi, Caroline Islands. Much of the Fifth and Seventh Fleet of the US Navy at anchorage. February, 1945.

Dec 24, 1944 -- Nothing new. All looking forward to arriving at Ulithi tomorrow, which is the Navy's most advanced anchorage.

Dec 25, 1944 -- Arrived today at 10:00. Went ashore to Mog Mog Island this afternoon where they have an Officers Club. Number of ships in the Lagoon is unbelievable. Must be over 200 first-line combat ships and hundreds of tankers, freighters, tugs, LCI's, etc.

Mog Mog - Ulithi

Mog Mog, Ulithi. Unidentified officer studies island map, December, 1944.

Dec 26, 1944 -- Go aboard the Essex tomorrow. Nothing new to report, except that we are going to be right in the thick of it.

USS Essex - 1945

USS Essex, January, 1945.

Dec 27, 1944 -- Came aboard the Essex today. Assigned room with Dave Barberi, Roy Huston, and Moon Mullins (1).

VMF-124 and VMF-213 - USS Essex

VMF-124 and VMF-213 arrive aboard the USS Essex. Note the Air Group 4 insignia on the tail of the F4U Corsair.

Dec 28, 1944 -- Lectures today lasted from 0815 until 2000. Our first combat mission will be strikes on Formosa and Okinawa in the Mansi Shore Group. On this day (3rd of Jan) McArthur's forces will land at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, and our job is to keep all Jap planes from reaching Luzon, from Formosa and the Jap mainland.

Dec 29, 1944 -- Everything SNAFU in preparation for departure tomorrow. Everyone anxious to see the Corsair perform from a carrier.

Dec 30, 1944 -- Departed Ulithi 0800 this morning. First hops took off today for practice drills. Tom Campion (2) spun in on takeoff and was killed. Belly tank exploded when he hit the water and he never had a chance to get out. Rest of drill went without mishap.

Thomas J. Campion Plane Crash

Lt. Thomas J. Campion´s plane crashes off the starboard bow of the USS Essex. The accident was caused by climbing too steeply and turning to the right too soon. December 30, 1944.

Thomas J. Campion Plane Crash

Lt. Campion´s plane sank extremely rapidly. The tail is visible here.

Thomas J. Campion Plane Crash

The belly tank of Lt. Campion´s plane explodes. Lt. Campion did not survive the accident.

Dec 31, 1944 -- Flew today -- seemed good to get in the air today. We had two more accidents today. Clowand (3) spun in on take-off as he let his left wing get over the gun mounts in the turbulent air and straddled it out. He got out O.K. and a DD picked him up. Then Barney Bennett (4) 10 minutes later took a wave-off and spun out as he turned too quickly. He also never had a chance to get out of his plane. He and Tom were both swell fellows and very good friends of mine.

Jan 1, 1945 -- I flew again today. Today's operations very successful and we received compliments from Air Officer on our procedure.

VMF-124 and VMF-213 - USS Essex

Lt. Col. William A. Millington (center) meets with pilots of VMF-124 and VMF-213 to discuss plans for next day´s operations. Aboard USS Essex, January 1, 1945.

Jan 2, 1945 -- Flight operations today went off without hitch. Tomorrow the Marines (us) hit Formosa, and the Navy (F6F's) hit Okinawa.

Jan 3, 1945 -- Our boys saw their first action today. I flew a C.A.P. and didn't get to see Formosa. Weather was lousy. The Skipper's division and Major Crowe's (5) division escorted TBF's to Formosa and the Skipper drew first blood by shooting down a Nick (Jap twin-engine fighter). Moon Mullins (6) failed to return and is declared "missing in action." He got lost from the rest when letting down through the "soup" and was never seen again.

Jan 4, 1945 -- I went to Formosa today. The weather was terrible. Very overcast and thick fog. We were on instruments all the way to target. Circled the airport above Formosa for 1-1/2 hrs. trying to entice the Japs to come and meet us, but hey wouldn't accept our challenge. AA fire was light. Was unable to strafe the field because of low ceiling. Admiral Halsey complimented all pilots on their excellent flying under very difficult weather conditions.

We lost Don Anderson (7) today. He spun in while climbing up through the soup and crashed beside a destroyer. He never got out of his plane. He also was a close pal of mine. He and his girl used to be with Clare and I a lot back at Mojave.

Jan 5, 1945 -- All ships refueled today. Tomorrow we hit southern Luzon. I flew C.A.P. today.

USS Essex Refueling - 1945

USS Essex being refueled by USS Tallulah.

Jan 6, 1945 -- I went on a fighter sweep over Luzon today. Met no air opposition however. We strafed a freighter, and a warehouse. McQuillan (8) and I found a small freighter which was camouflaged by brush and tied up by a small island in the river. We staffed that and set it on fire. Also he and I strafed a dock at Aparri which was piled up with supplies and damaged that.

VMF-124 and VMF-213 - USS Essex

VMF-124 and VMF-213 pilots leave ready room for strike on Luzon. USS Essex, January 6, 1945.

Jan 7, 1945 -- Only three planes out of eight of our fighter sweep on Luzon today returned to the ship. Other five ran out of gas and made water landing. Two of these pilots were picked up by a DD, but the other three are missing. (9)

Jan 8, 1945 -- Re-fueled today. Only Combat Air Patrols were flown.

Deck Crew - USS Essex

Deck crew examine chart of operations painted on island bulkhead of USS Essex. January, 1945.

Jan 9, 1945 -- A fighter sweep went over Formosa today but met no air opposition. Strafed planes on the ground. Tomorrow we move into the China Sea and will hit targets on the China Coast, including Hong Kong.

Jan 10, 1945 -- In the China Sea today. Search planes were out looking for the remains of the Jap fleet but had no results. Night fighters shot down three or four planes last night.

Jan 11, 1945 -- All ships refueled today. Tomorrow we attack French IndoChina targets. Were issued Chinese Uuan [Yuan] and Jap Yen to be used in the event we are forced down over any target.

Jan 12, 1945 -- Only 60 miles from the China Coast this morning. A 12 plane fighter sweep this AM did quite a bit of damage. "Big Ben" (10) blew up a hanger with his bomb. They also set ships on fire and strafed airfields. Next sweep out destroyed 10 planes on the ground. Joe Lynch  (11) was shot down by ground fire and made a belly landing in a field. Was seen climbing out of his plane. (For more about what happened to Lt Lynch, see "Saigon Takes Its Toll: A Follow-up.")

I shot down a 4-engine Parrot Bomber while on CAP. We were vectored out to it by Fighter Director. Hartsock and Parker (12) made passes at it and then I made one. It blew up at the port inboard engine. This was over Phanjrang [Phan Rang] on the China Coast.

Saigon River - French IndoChina - USS Essex

Japanese ships burning in the Saigon River, French IndoChina, after attack by planes of the USS Essex, January 12, 1945.

Jan 13, 1945 -- All ships refueled.

Jan 14, 1945 -- Report came in that Joe Lynch (11) is in friendly hands, and is on his way out through China. The guerrillas reached him before the Japs did apparently. Continued re-fueling today.

Jan 15, 1945 -- We sent a fighter sweep to Formosa again today. They strafed a destroyer, and also bombed a factory demolishing it. AA was thick. The ship's Air Group Commander (13) was killed today. (See Air Group Commander Lost: Pescadores in Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II.)

Jan 16, 1945 -- Our outfit sent two divisions to Hainan today. They encountered very intense AA, several planes came back with holes. "Big Ben" sunk a small Sugar Dog Freighter with his bomb. George Strimbeck (14) was shot down by six enemy fighters which attacked he and John Wastvedt (15) as they were recovering from their bombing run. His plane caught fire and he bailed out. He may be a POW.

William R. Bennewitz - USS Essex

2nd. Lt. William R. (Big Ben) Bennewitz, VMF-124, discusses bombing cargo ship at Hainan wth fellow Marine pilots. USS Essex, January 16, 1945.

Jan 17, 1945 -- Ships refueling again today. Searches and C.A.P's were flown. Our Skipper (Lt. Col. Millington) was made temporary Air Group Commander. This is unusual to have a Marine in this position aboard a Navy carrier.

Jan 18, 1945 -- Weather average today - visibility about one mile at the most!! This is the lousiest weather imaginable, but we fly just the same. Sure glad I had plenty of instrument time logged!! Tokyo Rose reports they have us bottled up in the China Sea! That's a hot one. We've been looking for their fleet ever since we arrived.

Jan 19, 1945 -- Re-fueling again today. Very nasty and rough the past two days. Three beams were split in this ship. One right in our room! One of the CVL's lost half of her flight deck.

Jan 20, 1945 -- Excitement today. Jap planes intercepted the force as we were going through the straits between Luzon and Formosa. Perhaps we intercepted them ferrying planes, which sounds more probable to me from their actions. Anyway we had three divisions on CAP at the time and unlucky as I am of course I was in the ship. Eleven planes total were shot down, of which our outfit got eight.

Pilot

Shot Down

William G. McGill

3

William J. Bedford

1

Robert W. Kersey

1

George W. Stallings

1

Gilbert D. Boyd

1

Powhatan M. Kehoe [VMF-213]

1


Admiral's comment was "three cheers for the Leathernecks."

Jan 21, 1945 -- Jap planes (Kamikazes) were out after us today. I was on the ship when they came in, having just landed about 30 minutes before -- damn it!! The fleet sent up a terrible barrage, but two "Banzi" boys got through and crashed into the Ticonderoga (CV-14). This is the ship we came over on from the States last Sept. Many men were killed and the hangar deck was gutted by fire, and she took on a 10° list to port. The Ticonderoga is in our group and was right beside us when hit. One DD and the Langley (CVL-27) were also hit. Results -- three ships damaged!!

Lt. Molan (16) made a water landing out of gas beside the ship today. Got picked up O.K.

F4U Corsair Takes Off - USS Essex

VMF-124/213 Corsair takes off from USS Essex, January, 1945. Note Air Group 4 stripe on tail.

Jan 22, 1945 -- The Ticonderoga, accompanied by a cruiser and three or four destroyers left for Ulithi during the night.

I went on a fighter sweep over Okinawa today. Met no air opposition. Dropped my bomb on the runway as per orders, although I was tempted to bomb a ship off the coast that I saw. We strafed a few ships later and damaged a couple.

Yesterday a plane landed on the Hancock (CV-19) with a 500 lb bomb which exploded and killed 200 men. Very unfortunate accident.

F4U Corsairs - USS Essex

F4U Corsair being prepared for take off, USS Essex, January 22, 1945. Note Air Group 4 stripe on tail.

Jan 23, 1945 -- Re-fueled today, and are headed back to Ulithi for a few days rest. Our next tour is to include strikes on Tokyo on the 16th and 17th of Feb and beachhead support on Marine landing on Iwo Jima (Bonins) on Feb 19, 1945.

Jan 24, 1945 -- Still enroute to Ulithi. Results of this tour were not exactly encouraging: started out with 36 planes and 54 pilots. Now have 24 planes, even after getting 7 replacement planes, actually we only have 24 out of 43 planes left -- 19 planes lost!!!

Pilots Killed in Action

Missing in Action, presumed dead

Thomas J. Campion

Daniel K. Mortag [VMF-213]

Barney W. Bennett

Robert W. (Moon) Mullins

Donald R. Anderson

Mike Kochut [VMF-213]

 

Robert M. Dorsett [VMF-213]

 

George R. Strimbeck


Also Joe Lynch (11) shot down but in friendly hands now.

Results of Our Strikes

 

Planes Shot Down

Ships Damaged

Planes Dest. On Ground

William G. McGill

3

 

 

William J. Bedford

1

Several

20

George W. Stallings

1

 

 

Herbert L. Libbey

1

 

 

Powhatan M. Kehoe [VMF-213]

1

One

 

Robert W. Kersey

1

 

Factory Leveled

Gilbert D. Boyd

1

 

 

William A. Millington

1

 

 

 

--------

 

----------

 

10

 

20


Jan 25, 1945 -- Memorial Services were held in the ready room for our missing and dead pilots. Due in Ulithi tomorrow at 0700.

Jan 26, 1945 -- These 14 days were spent in Ulithi Lagoon during which time we relaxed and took things easy while the ships stocked up on supplies and ammunition. I flew one C.A.P. during this time in the F7F Hellcat. It sure doesn't come up to our Corsair in my opinion. Was getting very restless by the time we left. The club on Mog Mog was open every day where we could get beer if you wanted it, but there's not much else to do. But the happy part of these two weeks was mail! Of course we hadn't had any for almost six weeks and it kept coming in while we were there. Guess I must have received almost 75 or 100 letters during this time!!

Mog Mog Officer's Club

Officer´s Club, Mog Mog, February 7, 1945.

Loading Corsairs - USS Essex

Loading F4U Corsair replacement planes aboard USS Essex, Ulithi, February 5, 1945.

Feb 11, 1945 -- We're enroute to Tokyo now. Hit there the 16th and 17th and then go down to support landing at Iwo Jima on the 19th. Twenty four of us from our outfit will strafe the beach at H hour on the 19th and I'm fortunate to be one of them. We flew today in a so-called practice or rehearsal of this affair.

Feb 12, 1945 -- To-day we flew over Tinian and Saipan. We practiced again our strafing on the beach at Tinian. How I was tempted to fake a forced landing and set down on Saipan, where I think Frank is now. If I had been sure of his location I think I would have done so.

Feb 13, 1945 -- All ships re-fueled today, and all pilots drew winter flight gear as it's plenty cold in Japan now.

Maj Fay V. Domke - USS Essex

Maj. Fay V. Domke, VMF-213, makes the 18,000 landing on the USS Essex.

Feb 14, 1945 -- Lectures today on targets in the Tokyo area. It is estimated there are 1200 fighter planes in Japan, with 500 of them around Tokyo.

Feb 15, 1945 -- Still steaming North to Tokyo. One Jap patrol plane was shot down today -- two others got away in the clouds. A Jap Picket Boat was also sunk. Looks like they will be expecting us. This will be no sneak attack. Naval barrage on Iwo Jima will commence today and continue until the 19th.

Feb 16, 1945 -- First fighter planes over Tokyo!! Our outfit shot down 4 Jap planes today -- Capt. Thomas got three and Major Johnson (17) one. I flew a C.A.P. this A.M. and didn't see anything. Only 83 miles off Japan too! Merchant and McQuillan (18) while on a search found two small freighters and a new type Jap DD. They strafed them all, and sank one of the freighters, and left one burning out of control, and left the DD dead in the water.

Capt. Wilbur J. "Gus" Thomas, WMV-213

Capt. Wilbur J. "Gus" Thomas, VMF-213. Capt. Thomas became one the top Marine aces of WWII, credited with 18.5 "kills."

Feb 17, 1945 -- Today I flew over Japan. We didn't see any Jap planes in the air, for a reason I think it best not to state here. However I was so "p____d" off that I was temped to break out of formation and go on a one man hunt myself. If the same thing happens on our next strike McGill (19) and I have decided we'll go looking ourselves!! We did strafe a field and I damaged a twin-engined bomber.

More damage to Tokyo was done these past two days than the B-29's have done in 6 months. One aircraft factory was completely demolished! Over 400 planes were definitely destroyed, and we only lost 50 fighters -- almost unbelievable!!

Feb 18, 1945 -- Refueling and moving in towards Iwo Jima to support landing tomorrow.

Feb 19, 1945 -- Took off at 0645 this mornig on H-45 strike on Iwo Jima beachhead. We carried one Napalm bomb in addition to our ammunition load. H hour came off on the second (0900). We dropped our Napalm bomb at the foot and slope of Mt. Suribachi where a strong concentration of enemy fire was overlooking the landing beach. Also made three strafing runs on this point and three strafing runs o the beach while boats were landing. The whole air support went off without a hitch and we received a "very well done" from the General and Admiral. The first landing was made with surprisingly few casualties.

Had GQ this evening from 1800 to 2100 while ships laid down smoke screens. Two enemy planes shot down. No ships hit.

Iwo Jima Landing - Dog Day

Landing craft streaming toward Iwo Jima beach. February 19, 1945.

Feb 20, 1945 -- Refueling and re-arming continued today. Alert again this afternoon against reported enemy strike supposed to have been observed leaving Japan for this direction. However never materialized.

Feb 21, 1945 -- Now headed back towards Japan. Supposed to hit Nagoya on 23rd and 24th and then hit Tokyo again. Much firing tonight by ships AA, but no planes shot down, not any ships hit.

Feb 22, 1945 -- Still at same place as yesterday. Wrong dope yesterday. The Saratoga (CV-3) was hit 4 times by Banzi boys and has an 8° list. She's headed South for repairs. A CVE was also hit. She exploded and rolled over. Losses were not given out. Marines on Iwo Jima are running into stiff opposition and are suffering heavy casualties.

Feb 23, 1945 -- All ships topped off fuel and we are now headed back to Japan.

Feb 24, 1945 -- Lectures today on target area in Tokyo. May burn out the industrial area North of the Palace tomorrow with incendiary bombs and napalm. Sure hope I get that job.

Feb 25, 1945 -- Had C.A.P. today. We sent some strikes out this morning to Tokyo, but my strike in the afternoon was cancelled because of bad weather over target.

Don Carlson (20) was forced down just North of Tokyo today. His gas was streaming out from underneath the wing, and he made a wheels-up landing in a field. Total of 38 Jap planes shot down to-day, and many more destroyed on the ground. We lost 6 fighters over Tokyo. Two factories were leveled.

2nd Lt Donald A. Carlson, VMF-124

2nd Lt Donald A. Carlson, VMF-124

Feb 26, 1945 -- Were scheduled to hit Nagoya today, but because of very bad weather (rough sea) the ships were unable to move in close to shore and maintain enough speed for safety.

Feb 27, 1945 -- Refueling today. Our position now is close to Iwo Jima. Our Marines have now taken two of the airfields ad have killed about 5800 Japs and taken 7 prisoners. They are behind schedule as they found about 8,000 more Japs on Iwo Jima than was estimated.

Feb 28, 1945 -- Nothing but patrols today. Tomorrow we hit Okinawa. Purpose is for photographs of beaches and installations for future invasion. I'm scheduled for first fighter sweep on Naha A/F where there is plenty of AA.

Mar 1, 1945 -- Flew on strike at Naha Airfield to-day. Strafed the field and AA positions four times. Two runs I made on 5 Tojos parked on the taxiway. Made one burn and damaged the other four. Think the gas had been taken out so they wouldn't burn. AA and small arms fire was very heavy. Fleet lost 10 planes just by AA over Naha Field alone. All our boys in 124 got back O.K. however, except for a few holes of course.

Mar 2-4, 1945 -- Now enroute to Ulithi.

Mar 5, 1945 -- What surprising news. Today the word was passed were leaving for the States about the 11th. Would like to have at least one more tour, but who am I to complain? We are now nervously awaiting shipping orders.

VMF-124 and VMF-213 - USS Essex

VMF-124 and VMF-213 group photo taken last day aboard the USS Essex.

VMF-124 patch with signatures

VMF-124 patch with the signatures of pilots.

Footnotes:

  1. 1. Lt. David A. Barberi, VMF-124; Lt. Roy W. Huston, VMF-124; 1st Lt. Robert W. (Moon) Mullins, VMF-124
  2. Lt. Thomas J. Campion, VMF-124
  3. 2nd Lt. William H. Clowand, VMF-213
  4. Lt. Barney W. Bennett, VMF-124
  5. Lt. Col. William A. Millington, VMF-124 and Maj. William E. Crowe, VMF-124
  6. 1st Lt. Robert W. (Moon) Mullins, VMF-124
  7. Lt. Donald R. Anderson, VMF-124
  8. 1st Lt. Hugh D. McQuillan, VMF-124
  9. The three pilots lost on this mission were 1st Lt. Robert M. Dorsett, VMF-124; 2nd Lt. Daniel K. Mortag, VMF-124; and 2nd Lt. Mike Kochat, VMF-124
  10. 2nd Lt. William R. (Big Ben) Bennewitz, VMF-124
  11. 2nd Lt. Joseph O. Lynch, VMF-124
  12. Capt. Edmond P. Hartsock, VMF-124 and Lt. George B. Parker, VMF-124
  13. Cmdr. George Otto Klinsmann, VF-4
  14. 1st Lt. George R. Strimbeck, VMF-124
  15. 1st Lt. John H. Wastvedt, VMF-124
  16. 2nd Lt. John T. Molan, VMF-213
  17. Capt. Wilbur J. (Gus) Thomas, VMF-213 and Maj. James M. Johnson, VMF-124. Capt. Thomas became one of the top Marine aces of WWII, credited with 18.5 "kills."  Capt. Thomas was killed January 28, 1947 in a weather-related accident. (For more information, see In Their Own Words: True Stories and Adventures of the American Fighter Ace.)
  18. 1st Lt. Clark E. Merchant, VMF-124 and 1st Lt. Hugh D. McQuillan, VMF-124
  19. 1st Lt. William G. McGill, VMF-124
  20. 2nd Lt. Donald A. Carlson, VMF-124

For more information on VMF-124/213 combat losses, see Airmen Missing in Action and Prisoners of War from Air Group 4.

See Also:


Air Group 4 - "Casablanca to Tokyo"
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