9. Bunker Hill: Recap and Critique

"…Increase in the accuracy and intensity of Japanese antiaircraft fire must receive serious consideration."

Flight operations in the Manila area were concluded on November 14, 1944. The USS Bunker Hill then departed for Ulithi, with a refueling stop en route on November 16 in a "safe area." The ship finally dropped anchor in Ulithi Lagoon on the 17th.

The return trip was utilized for the necessary reports to the higher levels of command. Air Group Four had flown 277 Target Sorties, 38 Search Sorties, 102 Combat Air Patrol Sorties, and 46 antisub patrols. We had dropped 91.8 tons of bombs and fired 13 aerial torpedoes against the Japanese. (1)

During this 12-day period, Air Group Four had lost seven pilots and four crewmen in combat. Torpedo Four had lost only one plane, but combat (combined with operations) had cost us four F6Fs and seven SB2Cs. VF-4 fighters were credited with shooting down seven Jap planes, plus two more "probables" and two "damaged."

We had made a good record for the Bunker Hill in terms of the loss of Japanese ships, damage to shore installations, and the destruction of more than 15 enemy planes on the ground. Nevertheless, there was plenty of room for improvement.

Report by Commander, Air Group Four

Under the date of November 20, Cdr Klinsmann presented a summary report on Air Group Four's operations in the Leyte-Luzon combat zone over the period 5 - 17 November 1944. (2)

Included in this report are the following observations (emphasis added):

"An analysis of the forwarded reports reveals that too many targets were attacked scattering light damage to many ships rather than concentrating on the destruction of particular targets. When a large number of targets of equal importance are present, pilots naturally tend to attack readily available targets in the vicinity of their division leader's attack. Further indoctrination in divisions attacking as a team will bring about a selection of fewer targets and a greater number of sinkings.”
"The continued increase in the accuracy and intensity of Japanese antiaircraft fire must continue to receive the serious consideration of all concerned. It is believed that shipping in well-protected harbors will receive greater damage during continued strikes if the antiaircraft positions are first attacked, and that during strikes, VF equipped with rockets, make diversionary attacks on these installations. We must accept losses of personnel in these attacks; however, it is firmly believed that we could greatly reduce the number and increase the percentage of hits. At MANILA HARBOR heavy and medium antiaircraft fire encountered was of the barrage type making it necessary to pass through it to reach a target. A diversionary attack by VF in coordination with the strike group would divert the volume of fire during the attack.”
"Radio discipline must be improved, especially when a large number of planes are in a target area. Unnecessary transmissions often prevent target assignments from getting through resulting in attacks not being properly coordinated and delivered against less profitable targets."
"It is believed that every effort should be made to give spare air groups more carrier work during their training, either on the mainland or in the forward areas."
"The group also reported aboard without an experienced signal officer."
Signed: G. O. Klinsmann, Commander, CAG-4

All of these observations by Otto Klinsmann were valid--targets too scattered, increasing losses from AA fire, poor radio discipline, the need for more training, and the value of a good LSO (Landing Signal Officer).

The problem of radio communication deserves special mention. During the confusion of the strikes, the airways were so cluttered with frantic calls that we couldn't tell whose message was getting through. It was particularly important to receive acknowledgement for "May Day" or rescue calls. At this time we were all using channel "Charlie." The final Bunker Hill action report recommended that two other VHF channels be utilized for part of the transmissions. (1) This change was not made until much later. In the meantime all pilots were again reminded of the importance of strict radio discipline--no frivolous or unnecessary calls!

As we completed our tour of duty on the Bunker Hill, we were again asked to send a "form letter" home. Evidently, some service men were not communicating very well with their parents or relatives. Personally, I think this form letter was designed by someone who had little concept of its possible adverse impact.

"Dear (fill in name of parent or guardian)"
"Hold on to this letter; it will tell you a lot of things you may need to know while I'm away. The Navy wants you to have this information."
"First, there's my service number: ______________. Always use it when writing the Navy Department…."
"If you are unable to pay any federal income tax I may owe when it is due, go to any office of Collector of Internal Revenue and fill out their form explaining the reason you can't pay, and requesting that payment be deferred until six months after my naval service ends."
"If I am wounded, you may be notified, although of course I will probably be writing you myself. If I am disabled, and entitled to disability benefits after my discharge, these will be arranged through the US Veterans Administration, Washington 25, D.C."
"If I am reported missing, missing in action, or captured by the enemy, my pay and allowances will go right on. My insurance and war bond allotments will continue, and so will any allotment for the support of a dependent, if designated as such."
"If I should die while on active duty, you are entitled to six months' pay in a lump sum. Claim blanks for this will be sent to you. If you do not receive them, write the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Navy Department, Washington 25, D.C. Settlement will also be made of any pay remaining due me, and savings on deposit with the Paymaster."
"If the landlord should want to evict you get legal advice."
"Signature ______________________"
"File No."

I have quoted only part of this "encouraging" letter which we were all required to mail home. I could get some feel for the impact of letters and news that reached home from a letter written to me by my Dad:

"I am sure proud of you boys. I think you are the best in the world. I want you to give your Mother all the credit for your schooling. You have the best mother in the world. Tell her something nice every time you write. She has got the blues most of the time since you went to war."

Air Group Four transferred off the Bunker Hill at Ulithi on November 17, 1944. She went home for repairs and was back on duty in the Pacific for the February strikes on Japan. On May 11, 1945 the ship was put out of action by a kamikaze attack.

Photo: Kamikaze Hits USS Bunker Hill.

(1) Declassified Memo from C.O., USS Bunker Hill to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
(2) Confidential Memo from Commander, Air Group Four, to C.O., USS Bunker Hill. U.S. Navy Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.

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