Saturday, April 21, 2007

April, 1945--Okinawa--Sinking the Yamato--Kikai Shima

The Yamato exploding

Although the squadron continued glide bombing attacks on Okinawa prior to the invasion and support attacks after the invasion of April 1, 1945, 1 did not fly another mission until April 2nd. On that date, we flew three and one half hours on a strike against Japanese shipping that was anchored in Kakeroma Shima and Amami O Shima in the Nansie Shotos. All ships in the harbors were hit. The anti-aircraft fire was relatively light, and all planes returned to the ship safely.

On April 3rd, we were making bombing attacks against Miyako Shima, Nansie Shotos. The Task Force was under attack from Kamakazes most of the afternoon and evening. Most of these suicide planes were being launched from Kanoya Air Field on the southern tip of Kyushu and we seemed to make more attacks there than anywhere else, in order to keep the air strip torn up to prevent their launchings. We were refueling and taking on mail and supplies on April 4th, so there was no flying activity.

My log book shows that we flew a three hour bombing mi6sion against shore installations on Kikai Shima on April 5th, 1945. The anti-aircraft fire was moderate to heavy. Two fighter planes were shot down but the pilots made water landings and were picked up by our destroyers. It was always our destroyer's missions to pick up any survivors from downed planes, as they were faster and could get to the scene so much more quickly. Water landings were much more preferable to bailing out in a parachute, because your chances of survival were so much greater if you could retrieve the life raft which was stored in a compartment just above the wing of the plane.

On April 6th, there were only interception flights by the fighter planes to pick up the hacki-sacki drivers who were flying their one way missions to Okinawa. The Task Force sat between Okinawa and the Japanese Mainland for the sole purpose of intercepting any forces that the Japanese might send down. Of course, they were sending down everything that they could muster. Our fighter planes alone (VF-17) were knocking out from 25 to 50 enemy planes a day but invariably some of them would filter through the fighter screen and would have to be shot down by the shipboard gunners. On this date, the shipboard gunners were credited with 5 Kamakazes and as usual, our squadron bagged their share.

The Hornet Under Attack--April 1945

April 7th, 1945 was the date we finished off most of what was left of the Japanese Fleet, At 9:50 A.M., we received word from recon that their fleet was spotted at 123.10 Long., and 30-40 Lat., in the East China Sea headed for Okinawa. So, we loaded our fish (torpedoes) and took off on a five hour mission to engage the enemy. Commander Conrad's Air Group Seventeen, off the USS Hornet, was the first to arrive on the scene. There was one battleship (later confirmed to be the Yamato), one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and seven destroyers. We peeled off into our attack from 20,000 feet, and, in no other attack had I seen the likes of the antiaircraft fire that we encountered on this mission. Our coordinated attacks had the torpedo planes converging from all angles at 100 feet altitudes, the bombers (SB2C's) diving in from 60 to 80 degrees from all angles and the fighters (F6F's) coming in strafing from all directions and all degrees of descent. The torpedo planes would release the fish at about 2000 yards from the target and the bombers would release their two thousand pound Armor Piercing Bombs from 2000 feet altitude and, of course, the fighters would strafe at any distance they deemed effective. Of course, every aircrewman was firing his guns all of the time they were in range of the target. Our Air Group was credited with 3 torpedo hits and three bomb hits on the Yamato alone and there was one Terutsuki class destroyer that was credited to one of VT-17 pilots, So, out of 8 torpedo hits and eleven bomb hits on the Yamato, Air Group Seventeen had scored a good percentage of what it took to sink her. After we were out of shipboard gun range and were rendezvousing, to fly back to the Hornet, we noticed that the Yamato was firing her 18.1 inch guns into the water, trying to knock out the oncoming torpedo planes that were attacking her, by putting up a wall of water from the explosions of the projectiles.

The Yamato was the largest battleship afloat up until that time but that attack marked her last day afloat. When we landed back aboard the Hornet, 8 of our 13 torpedo planes had been hit by enemy gunfire. We had a hole in the starboard wing of our plane just outside the tire well, that was large enough to stuff a football through. It was probably caused by a 20 MM projectile. I've forgotten whose plane it was, but one of the 8 planes that was hit nearly lost its horizontal tail plane. The hole in it was so large that someone took a picture of all three crewmen standing inside the hole. It was a wonder they could have even landed it back aboard. Shortly after we landed back aboard, our shipboard gunners knocked down two twin engine enemy bombers that dropped down on us from out of the clouds. They came so close to us that Admiral Jocko Clark, the Hornet's Skipper, cited the shipboard gunners on the spot for their marksmanship and bravery. As usual, we had to pay the price for success on our sinking of the Yamato. Ens. Leo O'Brien, his radioman, Opheim and his gunner, Ricketson failed to return from the mission.

My notes show that on April 12th, our Fighter Squadron alone shot down 32 enemy planes and that the task force had shot down 3 that filtered through the fighter screen. We were in General Quarters for four days aboard ship and the Japs were sending out everything they could get airborne and our fighter planes were knocking them down like flies. We had to have the hottest fighter squadron in the fleet because they had bagged 271 enemy planes in the two and one half months. When you consider that there were at least eight other air groups operating in the-task force, there would have to have been over 1000 enemy planes shot down by the entire group.

My flight log shows that we continued to fly air support missions for the invasion forces on Okinawa. I flew a two and one half hour mission on the 19th as our ground forces were-making a big push on the southern end of Okinawa and a new landing was in progress. We were dropping 2000 pound Armor Piercing (Daisy Cutters) and I had made a notation that the anti-aircraft fire had diminished to the extent that it felt like we were flying "milk runs" as compared to hitting the Jap Fleet.

On April 20th, we flew a three hour combat mission against shore installations on Kikai Shima. All planes returned safely but the Task Force was in General Quarters all day, although the Japanese never came on in for an attack. We did not fly any bombing attacks on the 21st but our fighter planes (F6F's) were flying patrols and the ta8k force was sitting only eight miles off shore at Minavri Diato and our destroyers were shelling the beach with their five inch turrets.

On April 22nd, we were refueling and taking on mail and on the 23rd, we started flying air support missions again to the forces on Okinawa. These were low level runs and we were releasing our bombs around 600 feet. My log book shows that I flew 2 of these low level missions, one on the 23rd and one on the 27th.

On April 28th, we set sail for Ulithi to the fleet anchorage. While en route, our crew and our wingman, Lt. Cooke flew a tow sleeve mission for the shipboard gunners target practice. We pulled the sleeves attached to the end of a 500 foot cable, which was reeled out through the flair tube, from the tail section of the radio compartment. This target practicing was limited to the 20 and 40 Millimeter guns, but you still had to have lots of faith in the shipboard gunners, even though the target was 500 feet aft. This was the second time we had pulled target for the task force, but what made this flight different was the fact that after the firing was over and we had reeled in our target, we started to rendezvous with Lt. Cooke in order to land back aboard. What we did not know was that Lt. Cooke's target had been shot away and that the radioman, Robert Frieze had not yet finished reeling in his tow cable. Lt. Hill caught the cable with his starboard wing, and had Frieze not have seen what was happening, and had not severed the cable with a pair of cutters, the cable would have cut the wing of the plane off entirely. When we landed back aboard, examination showed that the cable had cut within six inches of the main spar of the wing. Had the main spar been severed, we would have been another casualty. This happened to be one of the many incidents that proved to me that you did not have to be on a combat mission to get killed out there, as many of our casualties were not combat related and we lost some of the most experienced and best trained Airmen in the outfit for reasons that could not be explained.

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