20. More Strikes on Philippines

”We lost the VF-4 Skipper and 3 Marine Pilots, Jan. 6 - 7, 1945."

January was producing a lot of bad weather and green ink for the pilots of AG-4. Green ink was used in our log books to denote strikes; red ink meant night operations.

Busy schedules meant an increase in complaints. This was a good time to contrast our treatment on the three carriers. The quality of Navy meals was one popular topic of contrast. The food on the Essex was vastly inferior to that on the Ranger or Bunker Hill. Scuttlebutt placed the blame on the ship's supply officer. He wanted the high command to know that he could feed the crew on less--or maybe he was trying to promote the war effort. We enjoyed coffee and cinnamon toast on the Ranger but, even coffee was rationed for flight crews on the Essex. It became a custom when we dropped anchor in Ulithi to take a short R&R to Mog Mog, and then head for a different ship in the harbor for some decent food. Our next stop in Ulithi would be no different.

The Essex, however, was not headed back to Ulithi where we could get a good steak. Rather, we were scheduled for more strikes on northern Luzon.

In the meantime our Carrier was steaming from Formosa to an attack position off northern Luzon. On January 5, Statler recorded that "several Jap planes were around the Task Force." (1) We were constantly harassed by these Japanese bogeys.

More than 50 kamikazes were active against the Naval units carrying MacArthur's troops headed for Luzon. The Escort Carrier Ommanney Bay was sunk by a suicide plane on January 4. On the 5th, kamikazes flew into the cruiser Louisville, CVEs Manila Bay and Savo Island, one destroyer and one destroyer escort. Before the landings on Luzon, scheduled for January 9, Jap suicide planes had struck two more CVEs (the Kadashan Bay and the Kitkun Bay), sunk three minesweepers in Lingayen Gulf, and damaged 2 battleships, 2 cruisers, 2 more destroyers, one APA, and another minesweeper. (2)

"It was blood-curdling to watch a plane aim relentlessly at your ship, its pilot resolved to blast you and himself to hell." (3)

Convoy as Alternate Target--January 6, 1945

Our first major strike on January 6 was focused on clearing northern Luzon of aircraft and rendering the fields inoperable. The Essex launched nine F6Fs and 15 TBMs with Aparri airfield as the preferred target.

"The airfield and area assigned to this group was closed in by the weather. Upon orders from Commander Klinsmann the group proceeded westward and crossed the coast near Laoag to attack shipping reported there…." (4)

The AG-4 flight found some excellent targets just west of Laoag. Boykin's fighter division attacked 3 Sugar Charlie type vessels. Otto Klinsmann's Hellcats made strafing and bombing runs on two medium AKs or AOs. Some of the VF then went south to Currimao, exploded a small ammunition ship, and strafed a freighter west of Cabucao. Fighters reported light-to-medium AA fire. (4)

The tactical organization for Torpedo Four for this strike was: (4)

Pilot Crew
Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) Hardin, W. M.
Henry, Don A. Shirley, E. A.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Applegate, Don M.
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J.
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Coller, Stan W.
Souza, Will S. Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. Knox, N. H.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Barr, C. W.
Bell, G. M. Tankard, A. J.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) McConnell, C. L.
Gray, L. C. Ganley, J. E.
Binder, Ed S. Biddle, R. D.
Deimel, H. J. Ely, C. L., Jr..
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Campbell, R.
ontague, R. B.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Gerke, J. C.

Since Aparri field was ruled out as a target because of weather, the Torpedo planes were ordered to attack a convoy previously attacked by other planes from Task Force 38. (4)

"One FTC, 2 SBs, and 5 SDs were found still afloat and underway, scattered along the northwest coast of Luzon close to shore between Darrena Point and Vigan. VT each made 3 individual 35 - 40 degree glide-bombing attacks on the ships, dropping four bombs per run. The ships attacked by VT were the FTC, 2 SBs, and 1 SD."
"While very many damaging near misses were scored, several direct hits furnished the main contribution to the destruction of the ships attacked."
"Lt Hamrick, leader of the flight, scored two hits amidships on the FTC near the mouth of the Abra river on his third run setting the ship afire."
"Lt (jg) Souza and Lt (jg) Henry each scored two hits on the SB later shown burning."
"An SB was hit by Lt Newell on his third run and by Ensign Bell on his second run."
"A camouflaged SD was hit by Lt Trexler and Ensign Deimel, each scoring one hit. All four of the ships attacked were heavily strafed by the wing guns of all the VT."

The Japanese ship that Ensign Cannady picked out for his bombing run was almost below him. Consequently, his dive was too steep. (5)

"I was forced to make about a 4-G pullout. As we leveled out over the water, the plane lurched. I looked in the mirror, and my gunner, J. C. Gerke, was wiping his forehead. I wondered why. Then I saw the tail of my plane--the left elevator and stabilizer were gone! Only about 2 inches were left hanging out from the fuselage. No wonder Gerke was shaking his head."
"I was plenty worried because we had a long haul back to the Carrier. I did not call in an emergency because the plane seemed to be flying OK. Later, I got chewed out because I did not alert the Carrier to my condition. I was flying one of those new TBM-3Es that had been flown aboard as replacements."

The first strike group from the Essex had imposed serious damage to a number of Jap ships. Returning pilots also had enthusiastic praise for the AG-80 Ticonderoga strike in the same area; "An effective dive bombing attack… with spectacular explosions." (4)

A 12-plane fighter sweep, launched from the Essex, arrived near Laoag shortly after the departure of Torpedo Four. This group of Hellcats was under the leadership of Lt Cdr K. G. Hammond, VF-4 Skipper. "With their rockets, bombs and .50 calibers they claimed four vessels destroyed and three seriously damaged." But this was a sad day for "The Red Rippers" as the debriefing report shows. (4)

"During the attack intense light and medium AA fire was experienced from batteries along the shore. In the second attack Lt Cdr Hammond's plane was mortally damaged by heavy AA in the engine and empennage. Lt Laird's plane received a 20-mm shell aft of the cockpit which did considerable damage."
"As the flight rendezvoused out to sea from Darrena Point Lt Cdr Hammond reported that his oil pressure was decreasing rapidly and that he was going to try to make the Lingayen Gulf area. As he made his way south the planes in the flight joined up on him. When about 8 miles southwest of Vigan Lt Cdr Hammond turned his plane into the wind for a water landing when his engine froze. The landing was made in a slightly nose down attitude and without dropping the belly tank."
"At the moment of impact there was a flash believed to have been caused by the explosion of the belly tank and the plane skipped or cartwheeled. The plane sank in a matter of a few seconds and the only trace on the surface was an oil slick and part of the belly tank. The aircraft circled the area for 20 minutes but nothing was observed on the surface in the area."

Marine units from VMF 213 and 124 were also launched from the Essex on January 6. Major W. E. Crowe led a fighter sweep directed at Aparri, but diverted to secondary targets due to weather. The Corsairs strafed some small merchant ships and warehouse facilities at the mouth of Aparri River but clouds obscured the results. No airborne enemy aircraft were encountered. (6)

Aparri Airfield--January 7, 1945

For the second time, the assigned mission for Essex planes was to knock out all enemy airborne aircraft and any aircraft found at Aparri airfield.

"Eleven VF and 12 VT were scheduled, all VF and 11 VT rendezvoused and proceeded to the target area in a slow climb to 11,000 feet at 145 knots true airspeed."
"Upon reaching the target area one division of VF remained high as cover, and the remaining divisions ordered to precede the VT in a rocket and bombing attack. VF divisions took turns acting as cover while remaining divisions made rocket and strafing runs…." (4)

The Torpedo Squadron Four tactical organization was as follows: (4)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Schmolke, N. J.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Halvorson, Leo E.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) Christopher, C.
Walker, W. F. (Willie) Hastings, S. A.
Stephens, Page P. Beard, A.
Hewett, J. E. Lathrop, C. W.
Thomas, Gerald W. (Jerry) (*) Holloman, J. E.
Montague, R. B.
Hopfinger, R. M. Yarman, A. W.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Aldrich, J. W.
Bell, G. M. Pittman, R. R.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) McConnell, C. L.
Deimel, H. J. Leach, L. S.

Shortly after I became airborne, Gress and Montague called me on the intercom to report a gas leak. I was forced to jettison my bombs and return to the Carrier after the remainder of the strike group had been launched. My return meant that photographic coverage of the strike would be limited. The other Avengers, with Davis leading, climbed to 11,000 feet and proceeded to the target in stepped-down diamond formations. (4)

"VT attacked Aparri airstrip from east to west, pushing over from 9000 feet and employing glides ranging from 35 to 45 degrees. Average speed in glide was approximately 310 knots indicated. Practically all bombs dropped hit the runway and severely cratered it. The strip was left entirely unserviceable, at least temporarily. During the attack VF heavily strafed dispersal areas adjoining the runway, the revetments at the west end of the runway, and the silent antiaircraft positions flanking the strip."

The strike group reported two probable Zekes and one twin-engine bomber among the five aircraft on the ground. Two wrecks or dummies were also reported.

A fighter sweep led by Boykin arrived at Aparri shortly after the strike group. These Hellcats also attacked the field and support facilities. "Tutwiler noticed an SB anchored in the river nearby and dropped his bomb on it, scoring a hit." (4)

This was the worst day to date for the new Marine pilots. Capt W. J. Thomas led a target CAP, consisting of eight F4Us, toward Aparri in "exceptionally foul weather in which the flight became separated, and three members, apparently lost, are reported missing in action, and two others were rescued after forced landings when their fuel became exhausted. Thomas, alone, found Aparri Airfield and strafed it." (6)

The three pilots who got lost in the overcast and crashed at sea were:

The two pilots who ditched were 2nd Lt Robert D. Green and 2nd Lt William H. Cloward. These Marine pilots were rescued, after about one hour, by the destroyer, USS Cotton.

One of our Torpedo planes, evidently damaged by AA fire, had trouble with the approach and landing. This Avenger crashed into the barrier and was so badly damaged that it had to be pushed overboard. When word spread that there was no room on the hangar deck for repairs, one of our mechanics jumped into the cockpit and quickly disconnected the clock. The TBM was shoved off the fantail and hit the water on its back. The extended wheels reminded me of a dead duck with feet in the air. In a few seconds, the TBM sank and the ship sent word to the fleet commander to order a replacement.

Clark Field--January 7, 1945

In spite of the bad weather, with five planes from the Essex already down, another strike was launched at 1300 hours. This strike consisted of nine Hellcats and nine Avengers. A new target was assigned--Clark Field on Luzon. Under Cdr Otto Klinsmann's leadership, the target was located. (4)

"VF were ordered to attack, followed immediately by VT. Commander Klinsmann led his division down from 12,000 feet, attacking from south to north, pulling out at 3000 feet, and followed VT in another strafing run from north to south."

VF bombed, rocketed, and strafed enemy aircraft at the field. Tonys, Sallys, and unidentified T/E bombers were observed.

The Torpedo Squadron Four tactical organization follows: (4)

Pilot Crew
Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) (*) Hardin, W. M.
Henry, Don A. Schiesz, A. G.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Warrington, C. J.
Landre, Vernon A. DeCenso, A. (Tony)
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Venderville, D. E.
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Simendinger, R. E., Jr.
Souza, Will S. Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Shiverdecker, N. L.
Binder, Ed S. (**) Biddle, R. D.
Jenkins, W. D.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Gerke, J. C.

Lt Newell assumed the lead of the Torpedo squadron when Ham's propeller started "surging," and he was forced to go back aboard. (4)

"Nine VT took off and rendezvoused without incident, but Lt Hamrick returned to base shortly after takeoff because propeller was surging. Lt Newell then assumed lead of the VT."

The strike group "proceeded to target area at 12,000 feet at 150 knots indicated." As the flight approached Clark Field, 2 Oscars and 2 Frances attacked the Torpedo planes. Three of our turret gunners, Warrington, Simendinger, and Venderville, claimed hits and damage to one of the Frances. This damage was confirmed, but no kill was credited to VT-4 crewmen.

The attack on Clark Field was made from northwest to southeast.

"…pushing over from 10,000 feet. VT acquired an average speed of 330 knots in glides varying from 30 to 40 degrees. Two VT dropped on the wooded dispersal area between runways #1 and #2, 2 VT dropped on the barracks immediately west of runway #2, and 4 VT attacked the revetment area between runways #1 and #3. Of the last 4 VT, one was unable to get his bombs to release over target and later jettisoned them over water. In all 32 clusters were jettisoned, including those mentioned above and those of the pilot returning to base early."
"Antiaircraft fire over the target was intense, and though none of the VT were hit, several aircraft of Task Force 38 flying low over target were observed to be shot down." (4)

Photo: Torpedo Four Strike Areas.

Photo: Strike on Lapog Bay, Luzon.

Photo: VT-4 Heads for French Indo-China.

(1) Statler, C. C., VT-4 Crewman. Personal Journal.
(2) Sherrod, Robert Lee. 1952. History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. Combat Forces Press.
(3) Toland, John F. 1971. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire. Bantam Books.
(4) Combat Reports, VF-4 and VT-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(5) Taped Interview with W. H. Cannady, Jr., VT-4 Pilot.
(6) War Diary, VMF 124 and VMF 213. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(*) Returned to base.
(**) Downed because of gas leak.

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