Saturday, April 21, 2007

Dec. 1943-Feb. 1944---The Intrepid--The Marshall Islands, Truk

The first week we were back to Pearl, the entire squadron moved into the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a weeks R and R ( rest and recreation). The Navy had reserved the entire hotel for the duration and it was being used for R and R for Navy personnel returning from the combat zones. It was a nice week of easy living ( most of the time on the beach and in the beer garden) but after our week was up, we moved out to NAS, Barber's Point where we spent Christmas day of 1943. We learned that the USS Intrepid had just arrived at Ford Island with Air Group Eight aboard and that we were to exchange ships with them. New Years day caught us on the Intrepid en route to the Marshall Islands with the Enterprise and Air Group Eight, plus the Saratoga and the Essex and the rest of Task Force 38.
When we arrived at the Marshalls, it was pretty much a repeat of the invasion of the Gilberts. We bombed the islands for three consecutive days. Lt. Buchanan, Miller and I flew three missions on the islands of Roi and Namur and again the escort ships moved in close and shelled the shores. And, again, the skipper asked me to fly with him to drop the aerial photos on the Pennsylvania, the Flagship of the Seventh Fleet for the landing forces that were coming in for the invasion.
After the invasion landing was made, Task Force 38 pulled away and headed for Truk in the Caroline Islands, hoping to find and engage the Japanese Fleet. We knew that Truk was the Japanese equivalent of our Pearl Harbor, as it was their most heavily fortified fleet anchorage away from the mainland. When we arrived within striking range of Truk, it was February 16, 1944 and our crew was scheduled for the initial dawn attack on the island. Of the twelve torpedo planes from our air group, six planes would carry two thousand pound armor piercing bombs and six would carry incendiary bombs and fragment bombs. Our crew was loaded with incendiary and frag bombs and our target was gasoline storage tanks located at a sea plane base in Truk Lagoon. The incendiary bombs were about 30 inches long and 2 inches square. They were aluminum housed and contained phosphorous and other inflammable materials and they were in clusters of nine, with one cluster to the bomb shackle. The fragment bombs were about four inches in diameter and 18 inches long and were in clusters of 4 to the bomb shackle. They were impact bombs with fuses (impact fuses) in their nose. So we had 6 clusters of incendiary and 6 clusters of frag bombs on our 12 bomb shackles.

The idea was that the frag bombs would rupture gasoline storage tanks and the incendiary bombs would start a fire. Well, we took off at dawn and when we started our coordinated attack from about 18,000 feet, the air was full of anti-aircraft fire ( ack-ack flak) the likes of which I had never seen. Lt. Buchanan was kicking that TBF all over the sky in every evasive tactic that he had ever learned in order to avoid the flak. I thought Miller was going to melt the barrel off his .50 caliber turret gun and I was firing the .30 tailgun at every target that I could see, when I could keep my feet off the ceiling of the plane, When we finally finished our bombing run and were out of range from the shore guns, I think that it was one of the most disappointing things that I ever witnessed to see that our bomb bay doors were still partially open and that our bombs had not released. A cluster of the incendiary bombs had shaken loose from the shackle and had gotten crosswise preventing the bomb bay doors from opening more than about 12 inches. There was also one cluster of frag bombs that had shaken loose and they were rolling back and forth from one side of the bomb bay to the other. Since they were impact bombs, I'll never know what kept them from exploding. I guess, that even with all the bouncing around that we did there just wasn't enough room within the bomb bay to let them have enough impact to detonate them. When I informed Lt. Buchanan of our situation, he was able to work the switch for opening the bomb bay doors and was eventually able to right the position of the incendiary bomb so that we could jettison our load before we reached the ship to land back aboard. What a relief!! And, how lucky can you get? There were too many chances to get shot down by the enemy for us to be killing ourselves off by making avoidable mistakes. In fact, we lost a plane and crew on that same mission. Richard Gentzknow ARM 2, his gunner, J. A. Green and their pilot who had dropped his bombs in the wrong tank trap in the Gilberts were carrying 2000 pound armor piercing bomb and had made a, direct hit on their target, an ammunition depot and the concussion from their hit knocked them out of the sky, with no hopes for survival.

When we landed back aboard the Intrepid, reconnaissance had spotted two Japanese cruisers, some enemy destroyers and some cargo ships that were en route to Truk. We immediately reloaded with fish (2000 pound torpedoes) and took off to intercept this armada. It was the first real live torpedo run for our crew. Lt. Buchanan had flown bomber planes and had made only bombing missions up until this flight, but we had made many, many practice runs while we were at Maui. We did not get credit for a direct torpedo hit on this run. However, all of the Japanese ships were sunk and all planes and crews made it back to the ship. When we arrived back aboard, the Task Force was in general quarters, as the Japs had some planes airborne
in that vicinity. It was getting dark and Commander O'Hare decided that he, one torpedo plane (equipped with radar, to fly radio and navigation), and one F4U Marine Night Fighter plane whi6b we had taken aboard, would take off on the first night fighter mission ever flown off a carrier. The plan was for the 2 fighters to fly wing on the torpedo plane, using the radar in both the TBF and the F4U to help find and engage the enemy planes that were in flight. They did engage the enemy and shot down all but one of them. We don’t know how it happened, but Commander O'Hare was lost in the process, and did not return to land aboard with the TBF and the F4U.

Loading a 2K lb. bomb on an Avenger TBF--Jan. 27, 1944 on the Intrepid

With only one enemy plane in flight, the Intrepid set condition one and let all of the pilots and crewmen that were scheduled to fly the dawn hop the next morning, go ahead and retire for the night. When we were in General Quarters, all pilots and aircrewmen had to stay at their battle stations, which was the ready room, located just under the flight deck.

But the aircrewmen sleeping quarters were located on the first deck, just under the hangar deck and under condition one, the hatches were closed, but you could enter the compartments below by crawling through a porthole in the hatch. The Chief's (CPO) quarters were located just below the aircrewmen quarters on the second deck. We had 3-decker bunks and I slept in a middle bunk, I remember that night. We had just retired and I was sleeping on my stomach, with my right hand holding the bunk's suspension chain, just almost asleep. All of a sudden, my butt hit the bunk above me, and I think I hit the floor on my feet as I came down. Water was splashing into our compartment through the open ports going down to the chief's quarters. About 25 of us had to single file up the ladder and climb through the port to the hangar deck to escape. The first deck was just at the water line, so it did not immediately fill and we all had ample time to escape before it became half full of water. It all happened very fast but no one had to be told that we had been torpedoed. The torpedo had torn out 3 full compartments and had killed 6 chief petty officers, who were sleeping in the compartment just below us. There was a .40 millimeter machine gun mount located on the catwalk on the starboard side, which was manned by six men and the concussion of the torpedo had clipped it off, in its entirety. So there were six gunners that were also missing. In addition to the three compartments that were knocked out, the ships rudder had been knocked off and the only way the ship could be steered was by varying the speed of the screws on either side. [note: this account is supported at the Intrepid web site] We flew some search missions looking for the ship's company gunners the next day, but no trace of any of them was ever sighted. About noon the next day, we headed back to Pearl Harbor, flying only anti-sub patrols as we were traveling alone. The date was February 17, 1944 and when we arrived at Pearl, the Intrepid went into dry dock for repair and Air Group Six was loaded on a Jeep Carrier and shipped back to Alameda, California.

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