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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

"Bring Back the Handles"

By Bill Wade, AG-4

The date was November 1942. A large armada of British and US warships gathered off the northwest coast of Africa for the start of the "Torch" campaign. This was the beginning of the allied invasion of Africa.

Among these ships was the USS Ranger, the first ship designed and built as an aircraft carrier by the US Navy. In this campaign, she launched planes for bombing and strafing sorties against German and Vichy French targets around Casablanca.

One of the primary targets was a Vichy French battleship, the Jean Bart, at a pier in the harbor of Casablanca. Dive bombers from the Ranger attacked her many times, but pilots brought back conflicting reports of the resulting damage. Some of Ranger's pilots stated that they had blasted this battleship unmercifully, while other pilots reported she was undamaged. To resolve this confusion, the Ranger decided to send a photographer to bring back photos that could be closely analyzed.

When I was assigned to this mission, I was a 21-year-old Photographers Mate Third Class, recently graduated from the Naval School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida. With an aerial camera almost a yard long, I climbed into the rear cockpit of an SBD dive bomber piloted by Lt (jg) Clyde A. Tucker (*). Our carrier takeoff and flight to French Morocco were routine as I double checked camera settings and reviewed my recent schooling, hoping for good photos in the target area.

Bill Wade with Graflex, USS Ranger

Bill Wade with SBD and Graflex camera on USS Ranger, 1942

As we approached Casablanca, I could see the large battleship tied up to a pier in the harbor. I directed the pilot to fly lower and to circle the Jean Bart several times as I shot photos at all angles. I was too busy for sightseeing, but I did notice the occasional gray-white bursts of gunfire below us. Our plane remained unhit, and with my photography completed, we flew out to sea and set a course for the Ranger.

After hours of flying over the empty gray sea, Lt (jg) Tucker told me over the intercom that he was having trouble find the ship and that our fuel supply was getting low. He told me to throw everything I could out of the rear cockpit to lighten the plane.

I jettisoned everything removable from the cockpit but could not bring myself to throw out the camera. As I wrestled with this decision, the term "direct disobedience of orders" went through my mind. Then I thought of a class at the photo school taught by a crusty old Chief. One of my fellow students asked him what would happen if we dropped a camera from a plane. He replied, "No problem, if you bring back the handles." Since the handles are permanently attached to the camera, we got the message. This firmed up my decision.

After what seemed an eternity, we saw the Ranger in the distance and with our gas running low, we were given permission for a direct approach and landing.

Bill Wade's Flight Log, 1942

Bill Wade's flight log book for the November 11, 1942 photo flight. The pilot was Lt (jg) Clyde A. Tucker, the plane was an SBD-3.

When we developed and printed the photos, small, round holes could be seen in the deck of the Jean Bart. The bombs had penetrated the deck and blown out the bottom of the battleship. She had then settled a few feet in the shallow water and was resting on the bottom in an upright position. The mystery of the conflicting reports had been solved!

Months later, I found that LIFE Magazine had published one of the Jean Bart photos as one of "the best battle photos of the war" in the February 22, 1943 issue. I couldn't help feeling a little proud and very glad that I "brought back the handles!"

Jean Bart Sinking

Bill Wade's photo of the Vichy French Battleship Jean Bart. The photograph was published in the February 22, 1943 issue of Life Magazine.

(*) Tragically, Lt (jg) Clyde A. Tucker was shot down by German AA fire near Bodĝ, Norway on October 4, 1943. See Norway: A Grateful Nation Remembers.

After the War

I was discharged on November 14, 1945 (I joined November 4, 1939 on a 6-year enlistment). I took advantage of the GI Bill by attending Cornell and obtaining a degree in Civil Engineering. I then worked for Chiquita Brands International (formerly United Fruit Company) for 26 years. While this by no means left me wealthy, it did give me the chance to travel on business all over the world, which I enjoyed. After retiring from Chiquita, I operated my own consulting firm doing engineering for banana producers (irrigation, drainage, packing stations, etc.), but am now almost fully retired.


Navy Combat Photos

February 22, 1943 LIFE CoverThe Feburary 22, 1943 issue of LIFE Magazine, featuring the greatest Naval war photos, published Bill Wade´s photograph of the Jean Bart. Here´s what they said in the article:

"Since the war began, virtually every one of the US Navy´s daylight battle actions have been photographed by one of the Navy´s own photographers. From their cameras have come some of the greatest war pictures ever taken. Recently, LIFE asked the Navy´s Bureau of Aeronautics, which is in charge of Navy photographers at sea, to choose the best pictures taken by its cameramen during the first year of the war. Here is the Bureau´s own selection, most of which LIFE printed in reporting the news."

"The Navy now has 2,800 officers and men assigned to photographic duty. Some take movies. Some do reconnaissance and observation work. Others take action shots. Every battleship, cruiser, and carrier has on board at least one trained photographer, most of whom learned their business in four months´ training at Pensacola. The photographers have repeatedly risked their lives in action, have suffered some casualties. Two have received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action."


Air Group 4 - "Casablanca to Tokyo"
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