This document presents a view of WW II as seen from the cockpit of a torpedo plane and later rehashed in the Ready Rooms of three aircraft carriers. The focus is on the activities of one squadron, Torpedo Four (VT-4).

There were no identifiable heroes or aces in our squadron--just ordinary young men caught in an extraordinary World War, taking orders from a high command that we recognized by name but never met on a personal basis. The Squadron lost many pilots and crew members during operations and combat duty. Others were rescued from water landings or flight deck crashes.

VT-4 was commissioned January 10, 1942, aboard the original USS Ranger while at anchor off Bermuda. It was the Navy's first torpedo squadron commissioned at sea. Serving in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters of operation, VT-4 was credited with destruction of more than 160,000 tons of enemy shipping and numerous shore-based military installations.

Torpedo Four was assigned to three different aircraft carriers during World War II. On the Ranger, the squadron was commissioned with six Douglas "Devastators". Later, VT-4 became a nine-plane unit flying some of the first Grumman TBF Avengers. Aboard the USS Bunker Hill and USS Essex in the Pacific, the squadron operated with 15 - 18 TBMs. Some highlights of the VT-4 record include:

Supporting the Allied invasion of North Africa and conducting antisubmarine patrols in escort of Navy convoys in the North Atlantic.

Operating from the USS Ranger to participate with the British Home Fleet in a major strike against German shipping and port facilities near Bodø, Norway (this was six months after a German submarine commander had been credited with sinking the Ranger).

Supporting the Allied invasions of several of the Philippine Islands, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Participating in the first U.S. carrier air attacks against Formosa.

Conducting torpedo and glide-bombing attacks on Saigon (French Indo-China), and Hainan (China), as well as attacking many Japanese ships and shore installations in the Pacific.

Participating in the first carrier-based naval strikes on Tokyo and other targets on the Japanese Mainland.

Planes from Torpedo Four were on the flight deck ready for launch on November 25, 1944, when a kamikaze flew through heavy flak and exploded on the port bow of the USS Essex.

Torpedo Four (VT-4) operated with Bombing Four (VB-4) and Fighting Four (VF-4) as a coordinated strike group, designated as Air Group Four. In late December 1944, the dive bombers, because of heavy combat losses, were replaced on the Essex with two Marine fighter squadrons (VMF-124 and VMF-213). Thus, this historical account must include a part of the combat records of these additional squadrons who played an essential role in the effectiveness of all Air Group operations.

This brief history of our Torpedo Squadron was compiled from declassified records in the Naval archives, from personal journals, from interviews with pilots and flight crew, and from selected historical documents. The extensive quotes used, drawn directly from the debriefings after each mission, serve as a base for the factual history of strikes on the enemy. As one pilot in the squadron, I have inserted personal accounts which reflect part of the emotion, tension, frustration, and sense of humor of squadron members.

I have purposely shown the tactical organization of the squadron, listing the pilots and flight crew assigned to each strike. It was these individuals, coming from various backgrounds, who made our squadron an effective fighting unit. Some of us stayed together for almost four years--much of the time confined to a Ready Room or the small living quarters on an aircraft carrier. We were almost like a family unit. When we lost a squadron member, we did not have time to properly mourn the loss because of the continual pressures of the next combat operation. This historical record, compiled 35 years after the end of WW II, is one way to recall and acknowledge those who made the sacrifice.

Gerald W. Thomas

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