7. Introduction to the Philippines

"Carrier planes sank two destroyers, two DEs, and four attack transports."

Ormoc Bay--Strike Able--11 November 1944

The recapture of Leyte in the Philippines, by Army and Marine troops under General MacArthur, began on October 20, 1944. The Japanese had decided to hold the Island by sending 25,000 reinforcements into Ormoc Bay to support some 16,000 troops that were already on the Island. (1) Our task, as a part of the Third Fleet, was to prevent additional Japanese support for the island.

Since this was the first strike for Air Group Four against the Japanese, there was a high level of excitement during the briefing in the Ready Room on the morning of November 11, 1944. We were informed that there would be two strikes during the day. Both strikes would be designed as coordinated attacks involving Hellcats, Helldivers, and Avengers. During the previous short shakedown on the Bunker Hill we had practiced for this type of attack against shipping, but no one knew how well we could carry it out under combat conditions.

STRIKE ABLE was launched from the Bunker Hill shortly after daybreak. It consisted of 20 F6Fs, 8 TBMs, and 11 SB2Cs. The target was the Japanese Convoy entering Ormoc Bay with troops and supplies. Lt Cdr K. G. Hammond, VF-4, was assigned the lead for both fighter cover and attack coordination. Although enemy Zekes and Oscars were observed in the area, our formation was not attacked. Part of the official report follows: (2)

"The target area was approached from the north at 12,000 feet. There was a strike group from Air Group EIGHTY (Ticonderoga) 10 miles ahead and another attack group from Air Group TWENTY (Enterprise) on the port beam."
"The enemy shipping, consisting of 4 APs, 5 DDs, and 1 DE, was sighted on an easterly course in the strait between Leyte Island and Ponson Island entering Ormoc Bay from the west. During the approach the 4 APs were observed burning and smoking. The air group coordinator directed the group to attack the leading AP, but before attack could be executed, APs #1 and 3 exploded, and Aps #2 and 4 were burning fiercely. The group was then ordered to attack DD #10 with bombs and to strafe the other DDs and DE which was putting up AA fire. AP, AO, and AK are designations for Japanese auxiliary ships. DDs are destroyers, and DEs are destroyer escorts." (*)

Fighting Four made the first bombing and strafing runs with fair success. Damaging near-misses were reported by those Hellcats carrying bombs and "The strafing attack was effective in silencing most of the AA fire…." Fighters also reported that, "A small fire was seen to start near the torpedo tubes on one of the DDs." The DE was also burning.

This was the first strike for Bombing Four using the new SB2C Helldivers. Each SB2C was loaded with a 1000-pounder and two 100-pounders. The Helldivers dived almost vertically from 10,000 feet as the last fighters were in the attack. Most of the dive-bombers pulled out at about 1000 feet and proceeded at low level to the rendezvous location. Hits were confirmed by Lt McReynolds and Lt (jg) Jackson. Several near-misses also produced damage. Lt Cdr Johnson, who led VB-4, reported after the strike that, "It was felt that two 500-pound GPs (general purpose bombs) would have been more effective than the 1000-pound SAPs (semiarmor piercing bombs) against this type target."

Those of us in the Torpedo Squadron had the opportunity to see a part of the attack by planes from the Ticonderoga and Enterprise. We also saw some of the results from attacks by our own fighters and dive bombers. There was still some antiaircraft fire coming mostly from the Jap destroyers and DEs as we pushed over.

Our eight TBMs were loaded with four 500-pound SAPs. Our orders were to follow the dive bombers but to come in from different directions to confuse the Jap gunners. The VT-4 tactical organization was as follows: (2) (**)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Gray, R. F.
Schmolke, N. J.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Halvorson, Leo E.
Kelly, R. E.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) Cohen, Joseph C.
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.

We made the approach to Ormoc Bay from the south side of Ponson Island. The Jap ships, especially the DDs and the DE, took evasive action as we dived down for the attack. Even though the fighters and the dive bombers had made their run, the antiaircraft fire seemed to increase. At least there were plenty of tracers floating toward our plane. Because this was my first encounter against the Japanese, I was excited; but I was so busy with the check-off list and attack maneuvers that there was no time for fear.

The first division, led by P. J. Davis, pushed over from 9000 feet at a glide angle of 40-50 degrees. P. J. and Scott Vogt went in on one of the AKs. Davis' bombs failed to release, and Vogt scored a near-miss.

Buck Barnett led the second section in on the destroyer. Buck "released two bombs that struck near the port beam of the DD, but no damage was observed." His other two did not release. Willie Walker, flying on Buck's wing "dropped his bombs on the DD, the last bomb hitting squarely amidships."

Page Stephens led our division in the dive about the time P. J. pushed over. Page and Vernon Landre dived toward one of the other destroyers in a formation run. "One of the bombs hit the DD on bridge. It was impossible to determine whose bomb it was. Stephens brought one bomb back."

Hoppy started out on my wing as I pushed over to attack one of the AKs, then he turned toward one of the Jap destroyers. "Hopfinger released his bombs on the DD, one bomb exploding on the fantail." In the meantime, I held my nose on the AK as it took evasive action. Unfortunately, I "…dropped three bombs along the starboard side of the AK with no damage claimed."

During the attacks, Halvorson, Cohen, Beard, and Mocsary fired on the ships with the belly guns as their planes pulled out of the dive.

In spite of the "hung-up" bombs, the strike was an overall success. We learned from the experience. The official report also states: (2)

"It is assumed that enemy personnel casualties were extremely high for it is believed the shipping attacked was en route to Ormoc to land reinforcements. Several pilots and crewmen reported seeing large numbers of enemy personnel in the water."

Ormoc Bay--Strike Baker--11 November 1944

In the second strike of the day, assigned targets were again the four damaged destroyers and one destroyer escort in Ormoc Bay. Cdr Otto Klinsmann (CAG-4) led this attack. He assigned four Hellcats as high cover, four as intermediate cover, and he and his wingman stayed in close to the bombers. The approach was made southwest-ward across Leyte Island over Ormoc town to the bay. All the ships, except one, were burning at the time the flight arrived.

Enemy Zeros, Oscars, and Zekes were encountered during the strike. As a consequence, Klinsmann ordered his fighters to maintain cover instead of strafing as a part of the attack. Seven Oscars that attacked the formation were engaged by Lt Boykin's fighter division. One Oscar was hit but not observed to crash. Lt (jg) Peabody received damage to the port wing and fuselage.

"Our fighters were able to turn into the enemy attack and scissor with them. At times the enemy VF showed good tactics by bracketing our VF with two planes on either side and leaving the remaining three Oscars as high cover for them. However, they did not press their attacks closely, and neither the Oscars nor our own fighters were in position to fire except in head-on runs." (2)

Lt Keers's division of fighters was engaged by four Jap Oscars at 11,000 feet over Ormoc Bay. Lt (jg) T. J. Graham "got in a good burst on one of the Oscars… forcing it to retire from combat."

Three divisions of dive bombers were also on Strike Baker. "Lt Weeks scored a direct hit on the bow (of the DD) forward of the superstructure with near-misses by Lt (jg) Baker and Ensign Kinder. The DD was left in a sinking condition."

Eight torpedo planes were scheduled for this flight under the leadership of Lt Hamrick. However, when Souza and Cole manned their planes on the flight deck, they found that they were not loaded. Consequently, only six VT were in on the attack as follows: (2)

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
Newell, E. A. (Ted) Lace, W. J
Venderville, D. E
Hopkins, W. J., Jr. Coller, Stan W.
Simendinger, R. E., Jr.

No direct hits were recorded in the glide-bombing attacks by VT-4 due to evasive action by the Japanese ships. Schiesz and Warrington fired on the targets from the turrets while Shirley and Applegate followed up with the tunnel guns as the planes went over the ships.

On the return flight, over Leyte Island, the dive bombers noted seven Zekes engaged by Army P-38s. One of these Zekes made a run on the formation and slightly damaged Lt (jg) Fallgatter's Helldiver. Our bombers confirmed that at least one Zeke was shot down by a P-38.

All planes from our air group returned to the Bunker Hill. Our first day of action in the Pacific left us with a healthy respect for the gunners on the Japanese warships and a fleeting view of fighter interception. The poker game that night was frequently interrupted with war stories.

USS Bunker Hill records show, "On the 11th carrier planes found the ships and sank one large destroyer, one (medium) destroyer, two DEs, and four attack transports." (3)

Photo: Strike on Shipping in Ormoc Bay.

Photo: Strike on Shipping in Leyte Area.

(1) Goralski, Robert. 1981. World War II Almanac, 1931 - 1945. Perigee Books.
(2) Combat Reports, AG-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(3) USS Bunker Hill Operational Records. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(*) AP, AO, and AK are designations for Japanese auxiliary ships. DDs are destroyers, and DEs are destroyer escorts.
(**) Complete names with appropriate ranks for all combat flights are shown in the Index.

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