On February 10th, 1945, Task Force 58.1 with Air Group Seventeen aboard the Hornet, set sail for the Japanese Homeland. We reached striking distance of Tokyo on February 16, 1945, a year to the day from my last combat mission at Truk, where the Intrepid had been torpedoed.
This was the first full carrier aircraft attack on the Japanese Mainland, although General Doolittle had led an attack of Army B-25 planes that were launched from carriers prior to this. Those planes could not land back aboard and had to land somewhere in the China-Burma-India territory. During the year’s time that I had been away from, combat, there had been a lot of hard fighting in the Pacific. I was glad that I had missed the invasions of Siapan and Tinian, Guam, Formosa and the first and second battles of the Philippine Sea. I had tasted enough of combat during the invasions of the Gilberts and the Marshalls to know that we still had plenty of hard fighting ahead of us in the months ahead.
Our first target over the Japanese homeland was to be Youkasuka Naval Base in Tokyo Harbor and some of the Air Group were to hit Hammamatsu Air Field on Hachijo Shima. When we approached Yokasuka, there was a heavy overcast and since our targets were obscured, we were diverted in flight to Toyohashi Air Field. The anti-aircraft fire over Toyohashi was relatively light and all our planes returned to the ship from the target. The only mishap of the day was that LT. McCubbins spun in on the take-off and although we lost the torpedo plane, all the crew were picked up safely by one of our destroyers. From February 18th to the 22nd, we were flying air support for the invasion of Iwo Jima in the Bonins. My log book shows that I flew nearly five hours and that we made three strikes on February 20th Lt. Traxler and his crewmen, Colp and Klunder were shot down over Iwo but were able to make a water landing and were picked up by one of our destroyers. During the month of February, I logged 24 hours flight time, with nearly ten hours on two combat missions.
On March l, 1945, our Task Group encountered some enemy shipping at Miyako Shima in the Nansie Shotos, and we flew our first torpedo mission for VT-17. There were only three cargo ships and one destroyer and our squadron was credited with two of the cargo ships and the destroyer. Lt. Durkin, Lt. Sullivan and Lt. Nielson were all credited with torpedo hits. My pilot, Lt. Hill, didn't get a hit on this one, but not every torpedo that is dropped hits a target, though every plane in the attack diverts its portion of anti-aircraft fire.
I don't know what we were doing between March lst and 15th, unless we were refueling and taking on supplies. I logged a bombing flight on the 15th, but it isn't marked a combat mission so apparently it was a practice mission. The next combat mission that I logged was March, 18, and we hit Kanoya Air Field on the southern tip of Kyushu. The Task Force was in General Quarters all day and as we were getting ready to launch for Kanoya, with all planes fully loaded with bombs and fuel, two Kamikazes dropped out of a cloud and were shot down by our twenty and forty millimeter guns. Even though they burst into flames, they kept coming at us and barely missed our carrier. One of them hit so close that the fantail of the ship swept through the flames the enemy plane left on the water. We heard later that day that all of our ships were not so lucky. The USS Franklin, in another Task Group of the Task Force, was hit under similar circumstances. The loss of planes, personnel and the damage to the ship was extremely great. They estimated that about 40% of the Air Group and ships company personnel were wiped out by that one Kamakazi hit., The Kamakazes liked to die for their country and we liked to make them happy, but those one-way missions that they flew, could be quite devastating. The Franklin was able to make it back to Pearl Harbor but it's a wonder she didn't sink.
On March l9th, our Squadron and Air Group made a strike on Kure Naval Base, and some shipping in the East China Sea. My crew did not fly on this mission, but it was undoubtedly one of the hottest missions that was flown by the Task Force. We lost Lt (J.G.) Westmoreland, his gunner Harold West and his Radioman, Fred Cropp. Lt. Tew's plane was badly hit by a five inch shell that demolished his windshield and canopy. His face was badly lacerated, but he was able to return to the ship and land aboard. The attack on Kure inflicted severe damage on three battleships, four light cruisers and a destroyer. Also, several cargo ships and freighters were heavily damaged.
My log book showed that we flew a four hour search mission, looking for Lt. Westmoreland but we found no trace of them.
On March 23rd, we flew a three hour mission, a bombing strike, on Tokashiki Shima and the next day a five and one half hour torpedo run on a Japanese convoy in the East China Sea. The convoy consisted of nine ships and we sunk all of them. Lt. Hill was credited with a torpedo hit on the largest cargo ship and Lt. Livengood was credited with sinking the destroyer. We weren't without loss, however, as Ens. Hooten, his gunner, Frank Keener, and his radioman, Robert Warren failed to return. Another one of our pilots, Russell Miller had to make a water landing, due to engine failure on the way to the target. They made their life raft, but our search for them the next day failed to find them. They spent 11 days on the raft and were finally located and picked up by one of the Navy's Patrol Planes (PBY) and flown to the hospital at Guam. Nielson and Young returned to the Hornet to fly again but Miller had died on the raft.
On March 25th, we were making strikes on Okinawa. The first strike was a daylight attack on Naha, the Capital of Okinawa, It was the one and only high level bombing mission that we ever flew. The Skipper's plane was equipped with a Norden Boinbsight and we all flew a tight wing on him, with orders to drop at the same time that he made his drop. We flew at about 20,000 feet and were carrying 2000 pound bombs. The antiaircraft fire was the heaviest that I had seen since Truk when I was with VT-6. Unlike our glide bombing attacks, where our pilots could fly evasive tactics, we had to fly the same altitude and direction and at constant speed. This permitted the ground gunners to effectively track us. We were lucky that we did not lose any planes on this strike. We did lose a plane on the way to the target, however. Lt. Livengood and James Berryhill, his radioman and Ted Keffer his gunner had to make a water landing due to engine failure. They were able to make their raft and were picked up by one of our destroyers with no injury to any of the crew.
On March 28th we were still flying bombing strikes on Okinawa. I flew one 4 hour mission that morning and when we landed back aboard, the Hornet had received word from reconnaissance that the Japanese Fleet had been sighted in the East China Sea. So, we loaded with torpedoes, and our Air Group started searching in the East China Sea, around Kyushu and Amani O Shima. All we could find were some Sampans and one Jap destroyer escort, all of which were sunk. We went loaded for bear but only found a sparrow. A 600 mile search and five hours of flying time. Oh well! You can't win them all. Nine hours of flying time and two combat missions in one day made for the longest day of flying that I had ever experienced.