Post-War Commentary on
"The Red Rippers"

By Gerald W. Thomas, VT-4

The book Fighting Squadron Four: The Red Rippers was compiled by Lt (jg) Clifford M. White and fellow pilots as Air Group 4 was completing combat duty in the Pacific. The notation in the book “Not to be released for other publications except by US Naval Authority” was included because the book was censored and care had to be taken to prevent vital military information from reaching the enemy. The fleet operational archives have now been declassified so it is possible to add some important facts to the Red Ripper story. Some of these details are contained in my book Torpedo Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II.

Air Group 4’s first tour of duty in the Pacific was aboard the USS Bunker Hill. The “shakedown” began on November 5, 1944. The strikes reported in The Red Rippers on Ormoc Bay, Clark Field, Manila, and Central Luzon were launched from the Bunker Hill. Two fighters were lost during this period. The archives show:

November 14, 1944 -- “Ensign William N. Ostlund, Fighting Four, was not seen after the dive. It is believed that his plane was hit by AA and he crashed. He is listed as MIA.”
November 14, 1944 -- “Ensign Kenneth W. Watkins, VF-4, was hit by AA fire and crashed in flames.”

In a summary report written onboard the Bunker Hill on November 20, 1944, Cmdr Otto Klinsmann stated: “The continued increase in the accuracy and intensity of Japanese antiaircraft fire must receive serious consideration of all concerned.”

Air Group 4 was transferred at Ulithi from the Bunker Hill to the USS Essex on November 21, 1944. We replaced the famous Air Group 15 where the Navy’s top Ace had just completed his record of 34 confirmed kills. As stated in the book, it was difficult for Fighting Four to step into the shoes of such a distinguished group as AG-15, and there was some reluctance aboard the Essex to accept the new group. Nevertheless, Fighting Four and the other squadrons of AG-4 soon established an impressive combat record aboard the Essex. I cite only a few reports from the archives, which add details to the Red Ripper story.

November 25, 1944 -- The Essex was hit with a Kamikaze while launching the second strike of the day. No mention is made of this suicide bomber in the Red Rippers book because all AG-4 personnel had orders not to mention the word “kamikaze” when we reached the States in May, 1945. The Navy did not want the general public or the Japanese to know the extent of damage done by these suicide attacks. We now know that Yoshinori Yamaguchi flew the Judy to his death, taking the lives of 16 Essex crewmen, as reported by Dr. Richard W. Streb in his book Life and Death Aboard the USS Essex.

December 16, 1944 -- The Red Ripper book reports that “Snider and Watson each had to make water landings, one for lack of fuel and the other because of engine failure and both were rescued.” My report in Torpedo Squadron Four is incorrect in stating that Watson was picked up by the destroyer USS Ingersoll and transferred back aboard the Essex before the big typhoon. Actually, Watson rode out the typhoon on the Ingersoll (see his article A Kamikaze, a Dogfight, a Splash-Down, and a Typhoon).

December 28, 1944 -- Two Marine fighter squadrons (VMF-124 and VMF-213) replaced our VB-4 dive-bombers. The Marines lost 13 planes while assigned to the Essex. Reports on these losses are in my book on Torpedo Four.

January 3, 1945, Formosa and Okinawa -- The Red Ripper book reports that Lt W. T. (Hubie) Huston was hit, compelled to make a water landing, and believed to be captured by the Japanese. The book lists Houston among those deceased and memorialized. However, he survived the war and we are now trying to get his story.

January 6, 1945, Luzon -- “On this latter flight one of our greatest losses occurred when Lt. Cmdr Keene G. Hammond was shot down.” The book is dedicated to Hammond, the Skipper of VF-4. Additional information on this tragic loss from the archives is given in More Strikes on Philippines of Torpedo Squadron Four.

January 15, 1945, Formosa, Pescadores, and China Coast -- More details on the unbelievable loss of our Air Group Commander George Otto Klinsmann are reported in Air Group Commander Lost: Pescadores of my book on Torpedo Four. Cmdr Klinsmann’s Plane Captain John Selka and Chief Yeoman Don Anderson add their comments. Otto had been with us since the early days on the USS Ranger. He was a good pilot; respected by the dive bombers since he led their “Top Hat” Squadron; supported by VT-4 since he knew how to bomb; and acknowledged by his fellow fighters since he readily adapted to the Hellcats and never hesitated to lead his group into the most intense action.

January 22, 1945, Mayako Jima -- “Lt (jg) Robert W. Ginther was caught in the explosion of his own bomb as he attacked a ship and was killed.” This report on Ginther provided additional evidence of the determination of VF-4 pilots to drive home their attacks to low and effective levels.

February 16, 1945, Tokyo -- The report on the loss of Lt (jg) William C. (Dusty) Rhodes on a strike on the Japanese Mainland is brief. Evidently he was shot down in aerial combat.

March 1, 1945 -- This was the last day of combat in the Pacific for AG-4. The Red Rippers reports that “Puryear made a water landing and was picked up. Lt (jg) Douglas R. Cahoon disappeared during attacks on Naha Airfield, and no trace of him was discovered after diligent search.” Torpedo Four also lost Scott Vogt on that day. The Red Ripper book contains photographs of some of Doug Cahoon’s watercolor paintings made aboard the Essex. These paintings were photographed by Bill Wade, Air Group 4 Photographer. A moving biography of Lt (jg) Cahoon was written by Esther L and Douglas W. Cahoon in 1998. The Lost Pilot/Artist is adapted from this biography. This article also reproduces some of his paintings.

We only know the following sketchy details about the other men which this book memorializes (if you have any additional information about these men, please contact us):

Cliff White and his fellow pilots are to be commended for this excellent and straightforward history of Fighting Squadron Four. The book is of special value because it was written while the memories were still fresh. It reflects much of the emotion, tension, humor, and tragedy of this wartime period in American history.

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Fighting Squadron Four: The Red Rippers