8. Cavite and Manila Harbor

"As aircraft retired both DDs were seen to explode."

Cavite, Luzon--13 November 1944

After the strikes on Ormoc Bay, Bunker Hill records show that November 12 was used for refueling. Routine combat air patrols and antisub flights were launched.

Although we did not hear the news until later, November 12 held additional significance for us since this could be considered the day for the final destruction of the German Navy. The battleship Tirpitz was finally sunk by the Royal Air Force, taking about 1200 crewmen to their deaths. (1) We couldn't help wondering if the job could not have been done one year earlier by Torpedo Four when our flight was cancelled by the British Home Fleet.

On November 13, 1944, we were again scheduled to go back to the Philippines. Strikes were made throughout the day on Luzon, Manila Bay, and Cavite by various combinations of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo bombers. Statler reported in his diary that "at least 40 or more enemy ships were sunk by our task force (TF 38.3)." (2)

We sent one four-plane F6F Division under Lt H. T. Houston to fly a combat air patrol (CAP) over the "Lifeguard Submarine," which was in the Subic Bay area to pick up airmen shot down by the Japanese. The Sub was never spotted, and attempts to contact it by radio failed. However, this CAP did engage enemy aircraft. Lt (jg) Gilbert shot down a Jap Lily in flames at the entrance to Subic Bay. No one was seen to bail out. Later the group spotted another Lily, which Lt Houston attacked. This plane was also shot down in flames with no apparent survivors. (3)

Lt Cdr K. G. Hammond led 16 planes in an early morning fighter sweep over Clark Field on Luzon. Five Tojos intercepted the Hellcats. Lt G. M. Harris, Jr. and Lt P. H. Gordon shot down two of these and Lt (jg) Hal Avants damaged another. The sweep group destroyed at least seven aircraft at Clark Field and damaged others.

The first coordinated strike group was launched in the morning of November 13. Commander Klinsmann and seven other Hellcats again led the group. Nineteen Helldivers under Lt C. F. Weeks and 14 Avengers under P. J. Davis were scheduled, but Bob Ruth's TBM wouldn't start, so he was left behind. Klinsmann reported that: (3)

"Standard formations were flown by all squadrons, and before reaching land, VF began its escort weave."

The "fighter weave" was developed at an early stage in the Pacific war. The technique was effective in confusing enemy fighters if they had not encountered it before. The major purpose of the weave was to provide continuous cover of the tail of your fellow pilots. In case of an attack, there was always a fighter pointed toward the intruder. It was effective if properly executed. The torpedo planes had a turret gunner to serve this purpose.

Shortly after reaching the area, planes were assigned targets at Cavite. Most of the fighters attacked several of the AKs in the Harbor.

Lt Byrd's and Lt Hancock's fighter divisions were assigned to strafe ahead of the VT but lost the VT as they let down through the clouds. By this time the Japanese AA gunners were well in position and ready for the attack. White puffs of smoke burst in most of the cloud openings. (3)

"Lt (jg) Summer's plane was hit in the engine… forcing him to make a water landing in Manila Bay about four miles east of Corregidor…. He and his radioman, George Bogel, were successful in inflating their life raft." (*)

The 13 Avengers for this strike were loaded with 2000-pound torpedoes. The tactical organization was as follows: (3)

Pilot Crew
Davis, P. J., Jr. Gray, R. F.
Schmolke, N. J.
Vogt, C. N. W. (Scott) Halvorson, Leo E.
Kelly, R. E.
Pletts, D. C. Ganley, J. E.
Mann, R. C.
Barnett, G. M. (Buck) Cohen, Joseph C.
Christopher, C.
Walker, W. F. (Willie) Hastings, S. A.
Zeimer, G. F.
Zook, J. F. Thomas, L. E.
Baughman, P. J.
Trexler, B. R. (Trex) Barr, C. W.
Aldrich, J. W.
Bell, G. M. Tankard, A. J.
Pittman, R. R.
Gray, L. C. Ballard, J. F. (Forrest)
McConnell, C. L.
Binder, Ed S. Jenkins, W. D.
Tranflaglia, A. B.
Deimel, H. J. Ely, C. L., Jr.
Leach, L. S.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Gerke, J. C.
Campbell, R.
Cannady, W. H., Jr. Supanich, J. J.
McGuire, E. A.

Because the TBMs were carrying torpedoes, they had to come in low in a different approach. Davis led the group along the south shore of Manila Bay. All VT attacked the same target, a floating drydock. The dropping altitude was 400 - 500 feet at about 230 knots. At least four torpedoes were observed definitely to hit the drydock. Credit was given to Davis and Vogt for two of the hits. "It was not possible to establish credit for the other two known hits. The attack completely destroyed the 'bay side' of the drydock." (3)

During the attack, Kelly and Zeimer strafed from their turrets, and Halvorson, Hastings, Tankard, and Ely used their tunnel thirties.

As Buck Barnett was recovering from his run, he flew over the top of one of the islands. "Shrapnel from AA fire came through the side of the plane and hit my belly gunner, Cohen, behind the ear. He was bleeding like a stuck pig. We both thought he was dying, but we got him back aboard and into sick bay. His wound turned out to be minor, and he was scheduled out the next day." (4)

Cavite, Luzon--Strike Baker--13 November 1944

Before the second coordinated attack of the day, the USS Bunker Hill launched another fighter sweep over central Luzon. Lt L. M. Boykin led this group of 10 F6Fs to Tarlac and Clark Fields to strafe and damage as many Jap planes as possible.

The fighter runs on Tarlac led to the conclusion that most of the planes on the ground there were nonoperational or dummies. The group then went on toward Clark Field. En route, Lt Hendricks and wingman engaged a Tojo, smoked the plane, and observed the pilot bailing out. (3)

Lt Boykin's division attacked four Tojos just below the clouds east of Clark Field. Boykin's shells caused one plane to burn, but no one verified the crash. Peabody shot down one of the remaining planes. In another encounter, Garrigan and Blackwell both obtained kills. The group returned to base at 1621 hours.

The second major strike of the day in the Cavite area involved 4 fighters, 18 dive bombers, and 14 torpedo planes. I'm not sure as to the reasoning for the lack of fighter cover. At any rate, we did not run into any enemy aircraft.

Cdr Klinsmann led the group to the assigned targets--two Jap destroyers alongside the docks at Cavite. The four fighters went down first--no direct hits but some damage. Lt (jg) Martin pulled out so fast he lost most of his horizontal stabilizer, so he returned directly to the ship. Avant's plane was hit with AA fire, and he too lost about half of his stabilizer and elevator.

The SB2C Helldivers, led by Lt Cdr Johnson, made their customary breakoffs, rollovers, and near-vertical dives. Bevis laid his 1000 pounder on the bow of one destroyer. Guttery hit the second DD with a 250-pound bomb, and several other bombers had near misses which caused damage. Tutwiler hit a Fox Tare Charlie. Kinder scored a direct hit on an AK or AO.

All except 3 of the 14 Avengers were loaded with 4 500-pound SAP bombs. Ruth, Hopfinger, and I carried 500-pound GPs (General Purpose bombs). The Tactical Organization for Torpedo Four was: (3)

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.
Souza, Will S. Huston, D. L.
Sims, T. R.
Cole, L. A. (Cozy) Knox, N. H.
Shiverdecker, N. L.
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.
Ruth, Robert F. (Bob) Ballard, J. F. (Forrest)
McConnell, C. L.
O'Brien, B. O. Stradley, R. H.
Biddle, R. D.
Hopfinger, R. M. Wilson, F. W.
Yarman, A. W.

We flew into the Harbor Area at 10,000 feet. Antiaircraft fire was very heavy--some coming from the ships below and some coming from emplacements on Cavite and on the Luzon shore southwest of Cavite.

Hamrick's four-plane section attacked a medium AK. All drops were near-misses except Hamrick's, which set the ship afire.

Four of us attacked the two Terutsuki-class destroyers docked at Cavite. These two Jap DDs put up more AA fire than any we had experienced so far. I held the nose on the target as long as I could, probably dropping below 2000 feet. (3)

"Lt (jg) Thomas scored with all four of his bombs. Lt Stephens put two bombs on one of the DDs and two on the adjoining dock. Lt (jg) Ruth also scored two hits on the DDs and his other two bombs demolished a nearby building. Lt Newell hit the DDs with two SAPs…. As aircraft retired, both DDs were seen to explode."

Six VT attacked a medium AK or AO. Landre made a direct hit amidships and Souza scored a near-miss on the port bow. "The ship was burning badly as aircraft departed."

Three crewmen, Schiesz, Coller, and Simendinger strafed the targets but were not able to evaluate the extent of the damage.

Ensign "Cozy" Cole was flying on Souza's wing as they pushed over into the glide bombing attack. He stated: (5)

"This was my first strike with VT-4. I saw so dad-gum many ships down there and so much AA fire! I picked out a ship and dove toward it. Just as I released my bombs, I got hit by antiaircraft fire. It was more like a solid 'pop' than an explosion as it went through my port wing. Shiverdecker grabbed his intercom and shouted, 'Are you all right?' I was too busy checking to see if my controls would work to answer immediately, but I was pleased that the crew was OK."
”The projectile, probably more than a 20-mm, had just missed my gas tank. It knocked out my aileron control, but I could skid around with the rudders. I was a little skittish about getting too close to Souza and was dragging behind in the formation. Souza gave me hell for not closing up."
"When we reached the ship, I orbited until they had everyone else aboard. They didn't want me to mess up the deck. But we got aboard OK."

Shiverdecker stated, "That hole in our wing was large enough for one ground-crewman to climb through." (6) The records show that Cole's TBM required a wing change but was repairable on board.

Felix Ward's Avenger was also hit by Japanese gunners. His turret gunner, Norm Applegate, described the experience: (7)

"It was a terrifying moment. I was riding in the turret facing toward the tail. I felt this big thump on my back. I thought, 'Oh my God! to hit behind me it must have got Mr. Ward.' Was I glad when he pulled out of the dive. We made it back with a big hole in the starboard wing."

The rendezvous was all fouled up. Our Skipper, P. J., was not where he told us he would be. There was too much AA fire in the area to hang around long, so I joined up with Page and we headed home on our own.

In the meantime, two other VT-4 planes were in trouble. During the dive on the two Japanese destroyers docked at Cavite, AA fire hit the planes flown by Bob Ruth and by Ensign O'Brien. Bob Ruth stated: (8)

"My plane was hit by a projectile which came up through the bottom of the plane between me and the engine. The cordite odor was very strong, but the plane did not catch fire. No controls were damaged, but we sweated out the 200-mile return flight. My wingman, O'Brien, whose plane also took a hit, requested permission for an emergency landing on the first Carrier he could find, the Langley. O'Brien crashed into the barrier and fouled up the flight deck, so I was sent to another Carrier, the Yorktown."

Forrest Ballard, flying as gunner for Bob Ruth, stated that their Avenger had been hit and they were streaming gas. "I was worried about a fire, but we made it to the Yorktown. They fixed our plane and we flew back to the Essex the next day." (9)

In view of the intense AA fire over Manila, we were lucky to get by with only four damaged planes. Hopkins pulled a very foolish stunt in the raid. He decided to convert his TBM to a fighter and go back down for a strafing run. His crewman, Stan Coller, said, "We dove on this Jap freighter. Hoppy strafed with the forward guns, I opened up with my 30, and Simendinger fired from the turret. When we pulled back into the formation and heard about the other planes damaged or shot down, we considered ourselves very very lucky. No more strafing runs for us!" (10)

November 13 had been a busy day for Air Group Four. We could point to significant damage to the Japanese. But sadly the enemy had taken a toll, particularly, of our dive bombers: (3)

South Harbor, Manila--14 November 1944

Word spread as reveille was sounded about 0400 that we were going back to Manila Harbor. That meant another day of exposure to heavy antiaircraft fire. We were in the Ready Room for briefings at 0600 and launched at 0732. The Torpedo Four Tactical Organization was as follows: (3)

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.
Cristopher, 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.
Makibbin, G. D. (Mak) Gerke, J. C.
Campbell, R.
Gray, L. C. Ganley, J. E.
Mann, R. C.

Twelve TBMs were launched without incident, but Lt Davis returned to base shortly after takeoff because of engine trouble. He jettisoned his bombs before landing aboard. Lt Trexler assumed VT lead for the 200-mile flight to Manila.

We were accompanied on this strike by eight Hellcats and ten Helldivers. Otto Klinsmann served as CAG-4 in his F6F, and Lt Weeks led the dive bombers. All eight F6Fs were loaded with bombs, so they had a multipurpose responsibility.

Cdr Klinsmann and his fighters went in first. Their reports show bomb hits on an AK by C. L. Martin, flying on Otto's wing, and W. C. Guyles. From the second fighter division, Lt Hendricks hit a different Jap AK.

The dive bombers started their attack from 11,000 feet, diving out of the sun to reduce their vulnerability. Lt (jg) Dondero was credited with a probable hit on an AK, and McCanley, flying with VB-20, also hit an AK.

VT pushed over from 9500 feet under heavy AA fire. Seven VT attacked a large AO or AK, two attacked the boats in the seaplane basin, one attacked the Natori-Class CL, and one attacked a large AK. Debriefing reports show the following results: (3)

”Five bombs bracketed the AO, three credited to Ensign Landre and one each to Lt Trexler and Lt (jg) Thomas. Debris was seen to fly with the bomb explosions and the ship was observed to be afire as VT departed. Ensign Landre, Ensign Bell, and Trexler each retained one bomb, which they were unable to jettison on the return trip to base. Lt (jg) Barnett and his wingman, Ensign Walker, dropped on the boats in the seaplane basin. Barnett's bombs were not observed."
"Two of Walker's bombs struck boats and two fell on land installations. Much debris was seen to fly with the bomb explosions. It is believed that at least two boats, possible PT boats, were destroyed."
"Lt (jg) Makibbin attacked a large AK. One of his bombs was a near miss on the starboard quarter which started a fire." (***)

Lt (jg) Scott Vogt picked out the most challenging target in the Bay. He chose a Natori-Class Light cruiser. The final record shows that Scott "scored a hit just forward of the bridge and a near miss on the port bow." Leo Halvorson, one of Scott's crewmen stated it this way: (11)

"Coming out of there the Ack Ack was pretty heavy, but I saw our bombs hit--not one but two direct hits! I called Scott and asked if we were going to attack that cruiser and I asked how he wanted the bombs set. He said 'at 700 feet.' So I set them. But as we got closer I thought 'What the Hell! You're a better bomber than that.' So, I reached in and reset for 400 feet. We ended up with two direct hits."
"But as we were pulling out, I felt a boom over the roar of the plane. I went back to operating my peewee 30-caliber. Then I got this sting in my leg, and the gun jammed. Pretty soon I could feel blood in my shoe. I called Scott and said 'Let's get the hell out of here!' He never answered and I called back. He said, 'We sure fooled the Japs that time.' I said, 'How's that?' and he answered, 'I used the gas in the right wing going to the target, and just before we went in to bomb, I switched to the left wing. Boy did we fool those Japs!' We had a 2 - 3 foot hole in the right wing!"

After the attack, join-up was affected over the center of Manila Bay. This was certainly not the best place to rendezvous! We should have fire-walled it back to a safer area to regroup. Two of our Torpedo Four planes were hit by AA fire, and one rear gunner was wounded.

As the Air group proceeded back to the Bunker Hill, we counted our losses. (3)

Don Dondero was a close friend of the Torpedo pilots--usually accompanying them on liberty or participating in the VT-4 poker games. Don had a rough time after he was shot down, but he was able to return to the States after the war and open a photography shop in Reno, Nevada. (****)

Summary records from the USS Bunker Hill show the following results from this second day over Manila Harbor: (12)

"A destroyer was sunk, a medium AK heavily damaged, and five medium AKs, a large AK, a large AK or AO, a Natori-Class CL, a large destroyer, and a large AP damaged. An antiaircraft battery on the southeast side of the harbor was also hit."

Photo: Strike on Shipping in Manila Harbor.

Photo: Strike on Shipping in Philippines.

(1) Goralski, Robert. 1981. World War II Almanac, 1931 - 1945. Perigee Books.
(2) Statler, C. C., VT-4 Crewman. Personal Journal.
(3) Combat Reports, AG-4. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(4) Taped Interview with G. M. Barnett, VT-4 Pilot.
(5) Taped Interview with L. A. Cole, VT-4 Pilot.
(6) Taped Interview with N. L. Shiverdecker, VT-4 Crewman.
(7) Taped Interview with Norm Applegate, VT-4 Crewman.
(8) Taped Interview with Bob Ruth, VT-4 Pilot.
(9) Taped Interview with Forrest Ballard, VT-4 Crewman.
(10) Taped Interview with Stan Coller, VT-4 Crewman.
(11) Taped Interview with Leo Halvorson, VT-4 Crewman.
(12) USS Bunker Hill Operational Records. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(*) CAG-4 reported the location of the raft to rescue facilities. Final outcome unknown by this author.
(**) Returned to base before attack.
(***) Vogt and his other crewman, R. E. Kelly, were shot down later over Naha, Okinawa, and reported missing in action.
(****) Both Lt(jg) Donald Dondero and his gunner Chester Knozek survived. A detailed account of Dondero's bailout and narrow escape from capture is in the "Supplement to Torpedo Squadron Four" by Gerald W. Thomas.

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