13. San Fernando Harbor

"Lt Newell and Lt (jg) Souza each scored direct hits on the port beam both torpedoes exploding."

The kamikaze attack was only one of a series of events that involved Air Group Four on November 25, 1944. Declassified records show that our Essex Combat Air Patrol already in the air sighted a flight of six Zekes flying at 9000 feet on an easterly heading.

"Lt Hendricks made a high side run on one Zeke as the Zeke turned toward him. Lt Hendricks continued toward the enemy making a head-on run. Just before getting in range, the Zeke made a steep climbing turn to the left. Lt Hendricks and his wingman Lt (jg) Hovey turned with him and fired short bursts. The Zeke began to trail smoke and the pilot bailed out."
"Lt Burnett, after making a high side run on another Zeke, saw the enemy trail smoke, lose altitude fast, and go out of sight."
"In the meantime, Ensign Zdancewicz made a high side on a Zeke, which burst into flames and crashed into the water."
"The remaining enemy had apparently seen enough for they scattered among the clouds and disappeared from the screen." (1)

Since most of our fighters were launched from the Essex before the kamikaze hit, they were vectored to bogeys sighted by the Task Force. How many of these were potential suicide bombers no one knew, but the word from the ship was "Get those SOBs before they hit any more ships!"

The Combat Air Patrol under Lt L. M. Boykin was vectored out on a bogey which proved to be a Jap "Frances." Lt (jg) Peabody and Ensign Keenholts were able to bracket the enemy. It burst into flames and crashed near the beach on Ildefonso Peninsula, Luzon. (1)

A two-plane "Jack Patrol," with Lt Blackwell and Ensign Olson, sighted a Zeke at 700 feet being pursued at a distance by 4 F6Fs. (1)

"Lt Blackwell initiated a beam run on the Zeke which turned into the attack. Both aircraft fired but neither was effective. As Lt Blackwell passed over the Zeke he anticipated that the enemy would turn back to his westerly heading and away from the division of F6Fs engaged in the pursuit. Accordingly, Lt Blackwell turned west and his foresight was rewarded in that this maneuver placed him on the Zeke's tail. As the Zeke dived for the deck, Lt Blackwell gave it several good bursts of effective fire. Debris began to fly from the Zeke and at an altitude of about fifty feet it started a roll to the right and crashed into the sea."

Back on the ship, after the flight deck was repaired, the remainder of Strike Baker was launched. Commander Klinsmann was designated strike leader and target coordinator to lead strike groups from the Essex as well as Air Group 80, each composed of 8 VF, 18 VB, and 9 VT.

Concussion from the explosion of the Jap suicide bomber had damaged the elevator and rudder of four of the SB2Cs, so only 14 dive bombers were launched from our ship. Air Group Four rendezvoused and departed for the target area at 1330 hours.

Otto assigned Air Group 80 to a camouflaged cruiser in the southern part of Santa Cruz Bay. "Our flight arrived just in time to witness two torpedo hits on this cruiser causing her to capsize and sink with her bottom awash." (2)

Will Souza added "That Ticonderoga air group made a beautiful coordinated strike on that Jap cruiser… and they sank the darned thing! Then we had to look for other targets." (3)

The Essex strike group was ordered by Cdr Klinsmann to proceed northward to San Fernando Bay where several Jap ships were spotted. Antiaircraft fire was very intense from several gun emplacements on San Fernando Point. Fighting Four strafed these positions as the dive bombers and torpedo bombers pushed over into their runs.

The Helldivers had climbed to 11,500 feet before they started their attack. Lt Weeks, leading VB-4, reported that the Japanese withheld their AA fire until the divers started, in order to avoid disclosure of the gun positions. Then they really laid down a barrage.

One Helldiver was shot down. This plane was piloted by Ensign Billy Nye Kinder.

It was believed that the pilot was hit by AA fire since the plane went directly into the Bay. ARM3c Donald R. Follweiler also went down with the plane. Three other SB2Cs were hit by Aak Ack but made it back to the Essex.

The dive bombers of VB-4 had dealt a hard blow to the enemy ships. One medium AK "was probably destroyed as a result of a hit on the stern with a 1000-pound bomb by Longley and 2 hits with 250-pound bombs… by Tutwiler and Zaremba…. The small AK was smoking from the attacks by McCauley and Peters." (2)

The nine Avengers from Torpedo Four were loaded with torpedoes. Our Exec, Lee Hamrick, was leading the group.

After circling off San Fernando Point, five VT broke off to attack a Fox Tare Charlie beached between San Fernando Point and Darigayos Point. The remaining four planes turned southeastward to attack a Fox Tare Charlie which appeared to be beached between San Fernando Point and Bauang Town. The Fox Tare Charlie to the north appeared to be previously damaged and abandoned; the Fox Tare Charlie to the south was in good condition. (4)

The Torpedo Squadron Four tactical organization consisted of: (4)

Pilot Crew
Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) Hardin, W. M.
Trembley, R. A.
Henry, Don A. Shirley, E. A.
Schiesz, A. G.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Applegate, Don M.
Warrington, C. J.
Hewett, J. E. Lathrop, C. W.
Shuman, L. P.
O'Brien, B. O. Stradley, R. H.
Biddle, R. D.
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J.
Venderville, D. E.
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Montague, R. B.
Simendinger, R. E., Jr.
Souza, Will S. Butler, A. W., Jr.
Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Knox, N. H.
Shiverdecker, N. L.

Hamrick's 4-plane division made a torpedo run on the beached Fox Tare Charlie, dropping from 1500 yards at about 215 knots.

"Lt Hamrick and Lt (jg) Ward each scored hits on the starboard quarter of the ship, the explosions blowing the stern off the ship. Two torpedoes missed the target on either side; one was seen to explode on the beach while the explosion of the other was not observed. A fifth torpedo made an erratic circular run." (4)

The four torpedo planes led by Ted Newell attacked a Fox Tare Charlie which had not been damaged by previous runs. The planes went in low (275 feet), kept the air speed below 210^knots, and dropped from 1400 yards.

"Lt Newell and Lt (jg) Souza each scored hits on the port beam, both torpedoes exploding. A third was seen to explode on the beach. The performance of the other torpedo was not observed."
"During the attacks, rear gunners strafed the targets with turret and tunnel guns."
"Both ships were rendered useless as a result of the torpedo hits." (4)

As the last strike group and fighter sweep returned to base on November 25, the Essex could claim one of the most exciting days of the Pacific war. Our fighters had shot down at least 15 Japanese planes, we had sunk or destroyed several enemy ships, the Essex gun crews had fired at several bogeys, and, most important, we had survived our first kamikaze.

Photo: Strike on San Fernando Harbor, Luzon.

Photo: TBM Recovery Procedure.

Photo: USS Essex Gets Great Publicity.

(1) Combat Reports, VF-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Combat Reports, VB-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(3) Taped Interview with W. S. Souza, VT-4 Pilot.
(4) Combat Reports, VT-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
Copyright © 1990-2000 by Gerald W. Thomas