16. Support for Mindoro Occupation

"The Captain shot down a Jake for the first kill on December 14."

As Task Force 38.3 was refueling and returning to Ulithi for a short R&R, Commander G. O. Klinsmann, CAG-4, prepared comments and recommendations on our operations in the Leyte-Luzon area. He emphasized the following points: (1)

Klinsmann's memo may have helped increase the number of VF, but the major concern of the ship's command was protection against kamikazes: "Because of the suicide tactics of the Japanese, the composition of Air Group Four was changed to include a greater number of fighter planes." (2)

This change also included a reduction in the number of TBMs. Our squadron was reduced from 18 to 15 planes. This left us with a surplus of pilots, so we transferred three of our new replacements back to Guam--O'Brien, Zook, and Pletts. These three had been on very few combat flights with VT-4. Gray and Cannady had joined Torpedo Four at the same time. According to Bill Cannady, our Exec saved him from a similar transfer. (3)

"I owe Hamrick a lot because the next time we came back into Ulithi they cut back one more and I was the excess pilot. I had my orders to leave. At noon that day I went down to lunch and had my gear all packed and on the quarterdeck. I was waiting to go up and see P. J. Davis and I thought, "Oh, you're supposed to go up and see the skipper and nothing happens." Then suddenly over the bullhorn I was told to go to Hamrick's stateroom. I went in there and saw him and he apologized for the fact that P. J. couldn't see me because he was in the briefing for the next big mission. Ham said there was no reflection on me--they were going by the numbers, and I had to be dumped. I told him that I understood and we shook hands and I saluted him and walked out, and I got about 20 feet out of his stateroom and he said, "By the way, if you miss that barge at 1330, I don't know what we can do. I guess we'll have to keep you as excess complement because we're leaving at 1400." With that I went down and got my gear off the quarterdeck, went down into the chief's quarters at the rear end of the ship, and sat there until the Task Force cleared the nets out of Ulithi. Then I went back up into the Ready Room. I was still a member of Torpedo Four--thanks to Ham."

While we were in Ulithi, the US Pacific Fleet was strengthened by the addition of a British Pacific Task Force with 4 carriers, 2 battleships, 5 cruisers, and 15 destroyers. This strike group was under the command of an individual whose name was familiar to Air Group Four--Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. The Brits were assigned to the overall command of Admiral Spruance. (4)

Task Force 38.3 moved out of Ulithi on December 11, 1944. TF38.3 was now under the Command of Admiral F. C. Sherman, who was on our ship. We were in company with the Ticonderoga, San Jacinto, Langley, North Carolina, Washington, South Dakota, Santa Fe, Mobile, Biloxi, Oakland, and 14 destroyers. (2) The next day we joined up with TG 38.1 and TG 38.2 to form Admiral Halsey's powerful Third Fleet.

Under Halsey's overall command we steamed into position to launch strikes against Luzon. The primary concern now was the support of the occupation of Mindoro.

Fighter Sweeps--December 14 - 15, 1944

The Carrier was in a position on December 14, about 150 miles east of Luzon, to maintain continuous fighter cover over Japanese airfields on Luzon and to cover the US invasion forces now landing on Mindoro. The first two fighter sweeps of the day were launched at 0700. Twelve Hellcats were under the command of the VF-4 skipper, Lt Cdr K. G. Hammond, and 12 were under the command of Lt H. T. Houston. These groups flew through a heavy overcast to hit Baler, Carbanatuan, Tarlac, and Lingayen airfields. (5)

Lt L. M. Boykin led another fighter sweep, launched at 0923, against these and other fields on Luzon. No planes were encountered in the air, but several were destroyed on the Japanese air bases.

The next fighter sweep on December 14 was lead by Lt G. M. Harris. The 6-plane group concentrated on Lingayen airfield. After the attack, Ensign R. T. Snider's Hellcat developed an oil leak. (5)

"The oil pressure in the plane flown by Ensign Snider decreased and finally the engine froze. He made an excellent water landing and managed to get in his raft. His scalp was lacerated on the gun sight when impact was made with the water. Ensign Snider stated that his shoulder straps were not locked. His pair leader, Lt (jg) Ginther promptly reported the water landing and remained overhead until relieved by a CAP section from the USS Ticonderoga. The landing occurred at 1500 (I) 40 miles west of the disposition. Ens Snider was picked up by the USS Thatcher at 1630."

Without any rest, the VF-4 skipper, K. G. Hammond, was ordered to lead his second strike of the day "to investigate a report of an enemy convoy" off the coast of Luzon. The 6-plane division "spotted a DD, DE, FTB, and a lugger at Latitude 15° 38' N, Longitude 119° 50' E, course 180°, speed 10 knots." (5)

During the bombing and rocket attacks on the Convoy, Lt Cdr Hammond observed a Jake about 2000 yards north of the Convoy. As he pulled out of his dive, he headed for this enemy plane, attacked from 5 o'clock above, and fired into the engine. As a result, VF-4 reported that "The Captain shot down a Jake for the first kill on December 14" (6)

The next day two VF-4 strike groups were launched at 0640. Targets for STRIKE ABLE were air fields on Luzon, while STRIKE BAKER was ordered to Salvador Island, south of Santa Cruz, to attack a Japanese personnel landing ship (LSM). They left the ship "dead in the water." (5)

"While recovering from this third attack northwestward from the ship, Lt (jg) Watson sighted two Zekes at 1500 feet northwest of Salvador Island on a southerly heading. The Zekes were flying in column and Lt (jg) Watson made a flat side approach on the leading Zeke and closed to a no deflection shot from astern. Hits were observed in the Zeke's fuselage, and its belly tank was ignited. As the Zeke nosed over, Lt (jg) Watson found that the second Zeke was on his tail. He immediately broke off the attack and turned away. In the meantime, Lt Tutwiler, who had followed Watson down in the attack on the ship, observed the encounter and made a high side run on the second Zeke which broke off its attack on Watson and turned into Lt Tutwiler's attack. The opposing aircraft fired on each other in this head-on encounter and Tutwiler could see his tracers entering the Zeke's engine. The Zeke pulled away and was last seen, losing altitude, toward a wooded area near the beach.".

The Essex launched 6 more Hellcats, led by H. T. Houston, later in the forenoon of December 15. The purpose, again, was to sweep and patrol airfields on Luzon. At Tarlac field, the group destroyed two Tojos and damaged airport facilities. They also burned a fuel dump near Lingayen airstrip. This softened the Japanese defense for the coordinated attack scheduled the next day.

Lingayen Airfield, Luzon--December 16, 1944

The next major strike for Air Group Four took place on December 16, 1944. On this date Commander Klinsmann led a morning flight of 8 VF, 14 VB, and 14 VT on a strike against Lingayen Air Field and installations.

Upon reaching the target, VF remained as high cover while VB and VT attacked. Targets were assigned to VB and VT in that order, and upon completion of the attacks, VB and VT were escorted to the east coast of Luzon and were then detached to return to base as there had been no enemy aircraft opposition in the area. VF were ordered to remain over the area as a combat air patrol.

The Torpedo Four tactical organization was as follows: (7)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Gray, R. F.
Schmolke, N. J.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Halvorson, Leo E.
Kelly, R. S.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) (*} Lathrop, C. W.
Christopher, C.
Walker, W. F. (Willie) Hastings, S. A.
Zeimer, G. F.
Stephens, Page P. Beard, A.
Mocsary, Andy (Marge)
Landre, Vernon A. (**) DeCenso, A. (Tony)
Statler, Charlie C.
Thomas, Gerald W. (Jerry) Holloman, J. E.
Gress, Don H.
Hopfinger, R. M. Wilson, F. W.
Yarman, A. W.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Barr, C. W.
Aldrich, J. W.
Bell, G. M. Tankard, A. J.
Pittman, R. R.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) Ballard, J. F. (Forrest)
McConnell, C. L.
Gray, L. C. Ganley, J. E.
Green, H. R.
Binder, Ed S. Jenkins, W. D.
Biddle, R. D.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Montague, R. B.
Campbell, R.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Shirley, E. A.
Gerke, J. C.

Those of us in Torpedo Four, after hearing about the effective fighter strikes the two previous days by our trusty Hellcats, expected a milk run to Lingayen. We climbed above the cloud cover, approached the target at 10,000 feet, made glide bombing runs at "red-mark" speed, and pulled out at about 1200 feet. (7)

"The first division overshot, bombs falling in the dispersal area north of the runway, on the beach, and in the water."
"The second division attacked the barracks west of the runway. One bomb dropped by Lt (jg) Thomas was seen to hit one of the buildings in the area, while the damage by the other bombs was unobserved."
"The third division dropped on the runway and the two maintenance shops northwest of the runway. One hit was scored by Ensign Bell on the eastern-most end of the maintenance shops destroying the eastern end of the building. Three bombs cratered the northern edge of the runway. The remaining bombs fell in the dispersal areas north of the runway."
"The fourth division dropped on the runway with three bombs cratering the runway near the center and the remainder falling in the dispersal area to the north."
"During the attacks, rear seat gunners strafed the installations with unobserved results."

The dive bombers, due to consistently heavy losses to antiaircraft fire, tried different tactics for this strike. Instead of preceding the Avengers, they followed us. And, rather than roll over into the typical near-vertical dive, they used glide-bombing tactics similar to the typical VT runs. They dove out of the sun to minimize exposure. As a result, all of the Helldivers got back to the Essex without losses. (8)

The combined efforts of VF, VT, and VB left the Lingayen airstrip badly cratered and the support facilities with severe damage.

A midday fighter sweep, led by Lt W. W. "Dub" Taylor, followed our coordinated attack. The 8-plane group of Hellcats attacked previously damaged ships and again hit Tarlac, Lingayen, Rosales, and Carbanatuan fields. This flight lasted nearly 5 hours, and: (5)

"At 1700 (I) Lt (jg) Watson was forced to make a water landing when his fuel supply was exhausted. He got clear of the plane but had difficulty in breaking out his life raft and abandoned it. Watson was supported by his life jacket while his pair leader circled the position until a DD, the USS Ingersoll, picked him up at 1710."

Lt (jg) Leonard A. Watson was unhurt and the Essex brought him back aboard two days later--just in time to save him from the discomfort of riding out a major Pacific hurricane on the destroyer Ingersoll.

Note: A complete report by Watson on his water landing and rescue is contained in "A Kamikaze, a Dogfight, a Splash-Down, and a Typhoon " elsewhere on this web site.

Photo: Fighting Four Signatures..

Photo: The "Red Rippers."

(1) Combat Reports, CAG-4. Comments and Recommendations on Air Operations for the Period 22 Nov. - 2 Dec., 1944. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) The USS Essex: CV-9, U.S. Navy Publication.
(3) Taped Interview with Bill Cannady, VT-4 Pilot.
(4) Potter, E. B. 1976. "Nimitz." Naval Institute Press.
(5) Combat Reports, VF-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(6) VF-4, The Red Rippers. A History of Fighting Four assembled by members of the Squadron in 1945. U.S. Navy.
(7) Combat Reports, VT-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(8) Combat Reports, VB-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(*) Downed by hydraulic leak.
(**) Returned with oil leak.

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