31. Bombs and Propaganda for Japan

"Oscars and Tojos harassed the formation as it proceeded westward… Carlson was forced down in enemy territory."

Japan Diversion--Koizumi and Ota--February 25, 1945

Task Group 38.3 left the Iwo Jima area on February 23 and steamed north toward Japan. Another diversionary strike on the enemy homeland would limit the possibilities of further support to Iwo.

As we made preparations for this next attack on Tokyo, part of the discussion in the Ready Room focused on the mechanical problems we were experiencing with the newer TBMs. We had consistent trouble with our radio compass, bomb hangups were too frequent, and cockpit hatches exploded outward in the fast dives or near-miss AA bursts.

The sudden loss of a cockpit hatch was demoralizing to our crew. As the pieces of plexiglass flew by, our turret gunners, facing backwards in the dive, never knew if AA fire had killed the pilot or if the plane was out of control. That few seconds of push-over, dive, and questionable pull-out seemed like an eternity to the crew.

"One time over Manila, I thought Scott, my pilot, had been hit. It seemed that he would never pull out--we just kept going down. I thought he was dead, so I snapped on my parachute, kicked the hatch, but it wouldn't open. (I was too excited to pull the pin.) About that time, Scott pulled out." (1)
"I was flying with Mr. Cole on a Formosa strike. The CO found a hole in the clouds, and we went in. The first planes cleared with no problems, but we were on the tail end of the formation. The AA fire was increasing and the plexiglass was shot out of our plane. I looked at those mountains, and I didn't want to jump…. We iced up on the return trip to the Essex." (2)
"We were in a dive and the engine skipped. I thought 'My Gosh, here we go!' and I looked for a spot to bail out." (1)

Other examples of crew reactions are in the reports of earlier strikes. The sacrifices made by these turret and belly gunners, for the most part, were not acknowledged. Nor were there appropriate medals to partially compensate them for their bravery.

On February 25, the Essex was in position for aircraft attacks on Japan "about 175 miles SE of Tokyo." (3)

A VMF fighter sweep, led by Lt Col Millington, was launched at 0727 hours. The flight immediately ran into Japanese opposition and several dog fights took place. Reported enemy kills were as follows: (4)

Capt Finn and 2nd Lt Carlson joined in damaging another Oscar, and Oscars were hit but not confirmed as kills by J. M. Johnson, Pfremer, and W. S. Todd. Unfortunately 2nd Lt Carlson was forced down in enemy territory due to a gas leak after an attack. He was reported as a probable prisoner-of-war.

The VMF squadrons strafed Kumagaya and Matsuyama airfields, then attacked 8 picket boats along the coast.

The primary strike group was launched at 0815. This flight consisted of 36 VF and 15 VT. Commander F. K. Upham was CO, but he was forced to turn back due to engine trouble. He released the command to Lt P. J. Davis, the Torpedo Four Skipper.

The USS Essex strike group joined with planes from the USS Bunker Hill and the USS Cowpens. Our assigned targets were the Nakajima aircraft factories at Koizumi and Ota, Honshu, Japan.

Our Fighting Four Hellcats were loaded down with bombs and rockets. Their debriefing reports read like a novel. (5)

"…when about half way between the coast and the target area enemy fighters were tallyhoed diving out of the overcast down on, abeam and astern of the formation. There were about 8 attacking enemy aircraft, four Oscars and four Tojos, which harassed the formation as it proceeded westward. The VF and VFB increased speed and weaved violently in order to meet and discourage the attacks. The enemy pilots all employed similar tactics in that they would make high beam and storm runs on the protective screen of VF, dive past their adversaries, recover in a wide chandelle into the clouds only to repeat the process. Their attacks were not pressed close and their fire was never from effective ranges."

A second division of Hellcats sighted a FTB anchored in Naha Ko. They dropped their 1000 pounders on the ship, then returned for strafing runs. The Fox Tare Baker was left smoking after the attack.

"In these encounters three Nips were shot down. The first, when an Oscar dived from 2 o'clock above on the VFB guarding the VT starboard beam. Lt [Lykes] Boykin's and Lt [J. A.] Smith's divisions turned and pulled up into this attack, and firing from head on Lt Smith got in an effective burst; the Oscar smoked heavily, rolled in a dive and was observed to spin downward and crash. This kill was also confirmed by a VT crewman."
"Lt ["Dub"] Taylor's division, in the high cover position, was weaving by sections. Four Tojos were harassing this division with timid runs from astern and above. Lt Taylor got in a good long burst at a Tojo diving from 8 o'clock above, from 12 o'clock below as the sections crossed over, and observed his tracers going into the rats engine which began to smoke. The Jap pilot was either killed or lost control because this Tojo spun to the earth and crashed."
"A single Oscar dived in from above and dead astern and getting hits on the empennage of Lt (jg) Lew Lepp's plane. As he overshot, Lepp nosed over after him and got in an accurate burst from 4 o'clock. Tracers entered the cockpit and engine, the Oscar began to smoke, continued in the dive, and crashed."
"Lt Taylor's division jettisoned their 500-pound bombs and squared away for additional attacks. A Tojo using the now familiar tactics dived on Lt Taylor. As he shot past, Taylor pushed over, getting in an effective burst from 8 o'clock above. The Tojo started rolling as in a barrel roll and then appeared to execute a falling leaf as he went down. Although Taylor saw his tracers hitting the Nip in the cockpit and engine regions, the Nip's maneuvers led him to believe his fire had not been fatal. However, a VT gunner confirmed this kill reporting that the 'falling bird' terminated in a crash."
"An Oscar approached the formation from the port beam. Lt [W. H.] Longley's division turned and pulled up toward the Oscar as it attempted to climb over the group. Lts. Longley and {D. A.] Morken each got in a short burst before they nearly stalled out under the weight of their 500-pound bombs. No evidence of damage to the enemy was reported."

From the cockpit of my Avenger, I could see very little of this action. We held our formation during the attacks by the Japanese and listened to the excited voices of our Hellcat pilots as they engaged the enemy. Our Torpedo Four bomber group consisted of 15 TBMs led by P. J. Davis. Our Squadron tactical organization was as follows: (5)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Schmolke, N. J.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Halvorson, Leo E.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) Cohen, Joseph C.
Walker, W. F. (Willie) Zeimer, G. F.
Stephens, Page P. Mocsary, Andy (Marge)
Landre, Vernon A. DeCenso, A. (Tony)
Thomas, Gerald W. (Jerry) Gress, Don H.
Hopfinger, R. M. Yarman, A. W.
Binder, Ed S. Biddle, R. D.
Deimel, H. J. Leach, L. S.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Campbell, R.
Rundall, P.S.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Gerke, J. C.
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Cook, W. B.
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Simendinger, R. E., Jr.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Knox, N. H.

Our formation rendezvoused near the water and gradually climbed to strike altitude on a westward course toward the Ota and Koizumi assembly plants. As we made landfall, P. J. had some difficulty with orientation. There was a large amount of snow on the ground.

The smaller rivers were frozen over making them practically invisible from the air. Nevertheless, we had studied the maps and been briefed on other landmarks. Before long, the cleared-off runway near the target became obvious.

"VT approached slightly north of target to cut back and attack the Ota plant from west to east. Pushing over from 10,500 feet in glides of 35 to 40 degrees, VT acquired an average speed in glide of 310 knots indicated. After VT had committed themselves to the attack it was observed that portions of the plant had been gutted by previous attacks, so sections of the plant which appeared to be still undamaged were used as aiming points. Ens ["Willie"] Walker chose as aiming point the previously undamaged row of buildings housing a trade school immediately north of and adjoining the plant."
"Medium and heavy antiaircraft fire over target was intense but inaccurate and late in opening up. VT made extensive use of window and five of the planes were equipped with radar jamming devices."
"After the attack VT effected a running rendezvous eastward. Lt [Ed] Binder, flying low on retirement, spotted an IRVING before him, parked on Tatebayashi airfield. He strafed the plane and set it afire. Shortly thereafter while he was still retiring low, his gunner, [R. D.] Biddle, strafed with the turret gun a long building near KOGA which appeared to be a warehouse. The building was set afire."

Lt Lykes Boykins' VF4 division, loaded with bombs, followed the Avengers in the attack on the Koizumi plant. Several scored hits on the plant. Two of the pilots, Lt (jg) Van Sluyters and Ensign P. E. Gannon were unable to get their 1000-pound bombs to release. The ship was not happy to see them request permission to land, but it had no choice but to bring them back aboard. Theoretically, the bombs would not arm themselves until a short time after release.

After the bombing and strafing attack on the aircraft factory, Fighting Four continued to engage Japanese planes.

"…When about 5 miles east of Tatebayashi, at 2500 feet, Lt (jg) [F. D.] Sears tallyhoed a Tony diving down from 2 o'clock above. As Sears turned toward the Tony, the Jap turned left, which gave Sears an opportunity to get in a burst from 4 to 5 o'clock. The Tony smoked and Sears had to break off as he was getting slow. The Tony was not observed again. The flight joined up as it proceeded eastward toward the coast."
"In the meantime the photographic division had been engaged in its mission and in the vicinity of Tsukoba airfield they were engaged by two Oscars at 6000 feet. The enemy planes were first sighted 2000 feet above just as Ens [K. K.] Fewell was finishing a photo run. The Oscars executed an overhead on the planes and scored hits on Lt (jg) [W. R.] Puryear's plane. The first Oscar pulled up in front of the formation as the Jap pilot recovered. Lt [J. G.] McReynolds and Ens [F. J.] Dailey got in good bursts which caused the Oscar to smoke heavily on fall out. Further observation was prevented by an attack by the second Oscar which continued in its dive past the planes. The F6Fs gave chase but were unable to catch the Oscar."
"The four planes joined up and when at 8000 feet encountered a mixed flight of 6 Tojos and Oscars and a general melee ensued. Ens Dailey engaged a Tojo in a head-on encounter from below. He fired two good bursts and observed his tracers entering the Tojo's engine and port wing root. A flash occurred in the wing root and the plane was smoking heavily as it passed overhead."
"The enemy planes soon broke off their attack and the photographic division joined the strike group at the coast as it was returning…."

In the various dog fights with the Japanese on February 25, five VF-4 Hellcats were hit. The Japanese pilots knew by now that our F6Fs could take a tremendous number of slugs without going down. Of course, a lucky shot that killed the pilot or a gas-tank explosion was a sure credit to the enemy. After this flight our fighters reported: (5)

"The Tojo exhibited remarkable climbing ability and maneuverability. The Enemy pilots, had they been aggressive and capable, could easily have been much more effective."
"Both the Tojo and the Oscar could easily out turn the F6F but the 'protection weave' enabled our pilots to counter the enemy attacks. The Tojo does not burn easily." (*)

Something else was new on this attack on the Japanese homeland. This was the first strike during which we dropped propaganda leaflets from the bomb bay as the bomb load was released. Two of these leaflets have been translated by Nobuko Fukunaga (**) who was in Tskyo at the time they were dropped.

  1. Leaflet No. 407 shows the Emperor speaking to young Japanese people. It emphasizes the importance of education. "Hard study and do good work… you must be happy to help other people." The more subtle message is to caution the people against suicidal attacks or fanaticism. "…Do best for Japan and don't die easy way… if stay alive best for country."
  2. The second leaflet (No. 519) is more direct. "Do you know that a very powerful American Base is only 1500 miles from Tokyo. …American Navy is operating freely in Japan Sea… Japan is entirely alone… American submarines are very fast and sink Japanese ships faster than Japan can build them… Japanese people say get rid of Japanese Military before too late so Japan don't end up like Germany."

Photo: Planes Fly Past Mt Fujiyama.

Photo: Propaganda Leaflet - "Help Other People."

Photo: Propaganda Leaflet - "Japan Is Entirely Alone."

(1) Taped Interview with Leo Halvorson, VT-4 Crewman.
(2) Taped Interview with Noel Shiverdecker, VT-4 Crewman.
(3) USS Essex Ship's Log. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(4) War Diary, VMF 124 and VMF 213. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(5) Combat Reports, VF-4 and VT-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(6) Goralski, Robert. 1981. World War II Almanac, 1931 - 1945. Perigee Books.
(*) Nine Japanese "Aces" shot down over 50 Allied planes. The leading Ace was Hiroyishi Nishizawa with 87 credited kills. The leading Navy Ace, Capt David McCampbell scored 34 kills. The top Marine Ace, Lt Col Gregory (Pappy) Gregory Boyington was credited with 28 planes destroyed in the air. Air Force Major Richard Bong shot down 40 enemy aircraft. Ten German pilots were credited with more than 200 planes each, with the top world Ace being Major Erich Hartmann--352 confirmed kills. (6)
(**) Nobuko Fukunaga, now Mrs. Bassett, was not only in Tokyo at the time of this propaganda drop, but she also was in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, when the US B-29 "Enola Gay" released the atomic bomb.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
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