32. Okinawa

"Cahoon disappeared… Vogt bailed out."

Admiral Mark Mitscher ordered Task Group 58.3 out of the Tokyo area on February 26. Records from the Essex show: (1)

"February 26: Retiring to southward. Scheduled strikes against Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaha cancelled when high seas prevented reaching a favorable launching position."
"February 27: Fueling and receiving replacement aircraft in area about 100 miles SW of Iwo Jima."
"February 28: Steaming in TG 58.3 en route initial launching point SE of Okinawa Jima for air attacks against the same."
"March 1: Operating in TG 58.3 about 75 miles SE of Okinawa Jima, launching strikes against enemy installations on Okinawa Jima."

Naha Airfield, Strike Able--March 1, 1945

Aircraft launches began at 0715 with a major strike group under the command of Cdr F. K. Upham, CAG-4. There were 16 VT-4 pilots flying Avengers with fighter cover and strike support from 16 VMF Corsairs and 15 VT Hellcats. The target was Naha Airfield on Okinawa. (2)

"…Upon reaching the field, VMF pushed over first, followed by VF. VT dropped last. VF and VMF returned for repeated strafing runs against a/c, buildings, and AA positions."

The two Marine divisions were led by Major F. V. Domke and Capt Edward P. Hartsock. They dived through intense AA fire to strafe and bomb several planes that were on the service apron and in revetments.

The first four VF-4 fighter-bombers went in on the tails of the Marines, pushing over from 14,000 feet in 60-degree dives. One of the first four Hellcats was carrying a 1000-pound bomb and three were carrying two, 500-pound bombs each. The bombs exploded on the building and revetment area.

While the fighters were still in the dive, Lt "Ham" Hamrick led the Avengers into a 35-degree dive from the strike altitude of 13,500 feet. There was a dense undercast of clouds at about 4000 feet. "Ham" reported that this cloud layer and the intense antiaircraft fire forced a high pullout. Hamrick's strike group consisted of: (2)

Pilot Crew
Hamrick, Lee L. (Ham) Hardin, W. M.
Goodwin, H. L.
Gardner, Keith Wilson, P. J.
Hewett, J. E. Lathrop, C. W.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Warrington, C. J.
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J.
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Coller, Stan W.
Souza, Will S. Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Shiverdecker, N. L.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Barr, C. W.
Bell, G. M. Pittman, R. R.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) Ballard, J. F. (Forrest)
Gray, L. C. Green, H. R.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Gerke, J. C.
Madden, P. J.
Landre, Vernon A. Statler, Charlie C.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Schiesz, A. G.

It was hard to assess the damage from the VT bomb drops due to the scattered clouds. However all of the bombs hit the airstrip and supporting facilities. (2)

"The 8 VF armed with 6 - 5" HVAR followed the VT in their attacks on Naha and fired 48 rockets into the revetment and building areas. The damage accomplished by these hits was unobserved."

Following the bombing and rocket attacks, the VF-4 and VMF fighters made three strafing attacks on aircraft in the revetments and along the airstrip. They also attacked antiaircraft emplacements, which were giving us plenty of trouble. (2)

"In the last attack Lt (jg) [Doug R.] Cahoon disappeared and has not been recovered. Members of the division reported that he was with the flight just as they commenced their last strafing run of the day and failed to join up when the group rendezvoused west of the airfield over the sea."
"On return to base a special search was expedited but was in vain."

Final Toll at Okinawa--March 1, 1945

The Essex launched a photo mission and fighter sweep at 1300 under Lt P. H. Gordon. There were 15 Hellcats scheduled for this flight over Okinawa. The weather at the time of takeoff was extremely bad. (2)

"The plane piloted by Lt (jg) [W. R.] Puryear made a water landing off the starboard bow of the Essex immediately after becoming airborne…. The pilot was rescued by the destroyer, USS Waldron."

Twenty minutes after the VF photo flight cleared the deck, the second coordinated strike group for the day was launched. While still on the flight deck one of our TBMs chewed up [initials?] Dunlap's tail. He did not notice this damage and was moving into the takeoff spot when a flight-deck Chief stopped him.

It was my turn to fly with STRIKE BAKER. We were going back to Naha-- and the stories about the intense AA defenses were not encouraging.

Our strike group consisted of 8 F6Fs, 16 F4Us, and 15 TBMs. (2)

"This flight was under the leadership of Major [David E.] Marshall. Plans of approach and attack were made prior to takeoff, provided for 2 divisions of VMF to attack first, concentrating on AA positions, VFB and VT to follow. Adverse cloud conditions hindered the attack, and bombing results were not fully observed. Repeated strafing runs produced damage as shown."
"One division of VF attack Machiato airfield but cloud conditions were only slightly better and results unobserved."

Lt P. J. Davis was leading our Torpedo Four flight. Our tactical organization was as follows: (2)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Gray, R. F.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Kelly, R. E.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) Christopher, C.
Walker, W. F. (Willie) Hastings, S. A.
Stephens, Page P. Beard, A.
Landre, Vernon A. DeCenso, A. (Tony)
Thomas, Gerald W. (Jerry) Holloman, J. E.
Hopfinger, R. M. Yarman, A. W.
Binder, Ed S. Biddle, R. D.
Deimel, H. J. Ely, C. L., Jr.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Campbell, R.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Schiesz, A. G.
Ward, Jr., Felix E. Applegate, Don M.
Souza, Will S. Huston, D. L.
Hewett, J. E. Lathrop, C. W.

The debriefing report as summarized by P. J. Davis from VT-4 states: (2)

"The island of Okinawa was entirely obscured by clouds and had to be located by radar after the flight had passed approximately 35 miles west of target. The target, Naha airfield, could be seen through holes in the undercast only in part and from very few positions. Attack was initiated from southeast to northwest, VT pushing over from 12,000 feet and dropping through the undercast. Average speed in glide was 305 knots indicated…. Propaganda leaflets were dropped manually over target by rear seat crewmen…."

I knew we were in trouble when we approached the Naha airfield. There was only one small hole in the clouds, and P. J. circled before he led the group through this opening. This gave the AA gunners plenty of time to blanket the hole. It was black with bursts of Ack Ack as I pushed over, but I followed the other planes. I saw one of the Avengers in front of me explode in the dive. This plane was piloted by Scott Vogt. (2)

"As Lt (jg) Vogt dropped his bombs, the first three or four were soon to release in train and then the remainder fell in salvo, exploding approximately 100 feet below the plane. The after part of the plane was blown off and the plane spiralled left. One parachute was observed to open over target at approximately 6000 feet. (A search was conducted by two OS2Us from the USS Astoria with fighter escort from the USS Essex over the waters near the target, since it might have been possible for the parachutist to have drifted over water. Results of the search, however, were negative.)…"

Most of us who saw the plane explode and someone hit the silk did not see any possibility that the parachute would drift over water. We believe that due to the nature of the explosion it was the pilot, Scott Vogt, who was able to get out of the Avenger. Furthermore, it is highly possible that, as the airman drifted down, he served as target practice for the Japanese machine guns.

"Scott Vogt's real last name was Wright. He took the name Vogt from his stepdad Bill Vogt who ran a clothing store (in Danville, Illinois). Mr. Vogt put 12 other guys like Scott through college, and he wanted Scott to take over his clothing store and carry the name. Scott was married just a month before we left the States." (3)

Perhaps our strike made a small contribution to the eventual capture of Okinawa by the Americans. D-Day for the invasion of Okinawa took place on April 1, 1945, in the last--and the bloodiest--major amphibious operation of the Pacific War. "In almost three months America had lost 12,520 GIs, Marines, and sailors…. The Japanese lost 110,000 troops." (4)

This was the last combat mission for Air Group Four. The loss of Doug R. Cahoon of Fighting Four on the morning strike and Scott Vogt (with R. E. Kelly) of Torpedo Four on STRIKE BAKER was very depressing. Doug was the artist of VF-4. His combat paintings were later exhibited in Salt Lake City, Utah. Scott was the remaining transfer from the ill-fated Torpedo Eight.

(1) USS Essex Ship's Log. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Combat Reports, VF-4, VT-4, VMF 124, and VMF 213. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(3) Taped Interview with Leo Halvorson, VT-4 Crewman.
(4) Toland, John. 1971. The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire. Bantam Books.

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Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II
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