Saturday, April 21, 2007

May, 1945--Okinawa, Kyushu, Shikoku, Tokuno Shima,

On May 10th, we flew a four hour practice gunnery mission, (our aerial gunners shooting at tow sleeves). And on May 12th, I logged a three and one half hour support mission to the ground forces on Okinawa.

May 13th, we flew a four hour bombing mission on Kanoya Air Field at Kyushu and part of our Air Group hit Izumi and Saeki sea plane bases at the same time we were hitting Kanoya. On this mission, we lost our Executive Officer, Lt. Durkin and his Radioman, T. J. Tindall and his turret gunner, Cecil Stewart. They were forced to land at Kanoya, because their engine had been hit. I did learn after the war was over and when I was in college at the University that this crew was in a prison camp with Bill Dean Holt, a boy from home, who had been an Army Air Corps pilot and was also shot down and taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The Task Force was always in General Quarters and we could not tear up the Japanese Air Strips fast enough to keep them from launching their suicide planes. We kept most of them from filtering through to the landing fleet but I am sure a few of them filtered through to them as they did to us. Those boys (Kamikazes) that don't have any regard for their own lives, make about as formidable opponents as you could ever run up against.

On May 14th, we flew two four hour bombing missions. Our first target was Kumamota, an industrial center on Kyushu; and the, second target was Matsuyamo Air field on, Shikoku. I had made a notation, that we had flown over the Inland Sea and that it had given me the impression of what I had always pictured the Fjords of Norway to look like. Eight hours of flying in one day would have been enough had we not made two bombing attacks. When we returned, the Task Force had shot down 3 enemy planes and our fighter squadron had bagged a few over Kanoya. It seemed that we were never without losses. Lt. Comdr. Nicholson (no relation) from Indiana, who was the Skipper of the Fighter Squadron (VF-17) was shot down on the last hop over Kanoya Air Field.

On the 15th and. 16th, we were refueling, and the Task Force was conducting gunnery practices. We resumed Air Support Missions to Okinawa and I flew a three and one half hour mission over Okinawa on the 17th. On the 18th and 19th, we were refuelling again and the Task Force was having gunnery practice.

I know it seems like we spent a lot of time refuelling but you have to understand, the Task Force was split into 4 different Task Groups. Each group consisted of 2 Air Craft Carriers, 2 Battleships, 2 heavy cruisers and 4 Fletcher Class Destroyers. Our group, for instance, (Task Group 58.0) included our ship the Hornet, another Essex Class Carrier the USS Bennington, the USS Indiana, two battleships and the Cruisers, Pittsburg and Birmingham and I don't know the specific names of the Fletcher Class Destroyers. But in addition to these ships, each Carrier had to take on enough aviation fuel for supplying over 100 airplanes. So the tankers had to be along side once and maybe twice a week. We didn't mind taking on fuel because if we ever received any mail, it came with the tankers.

On May 20th, we flew another tow target mission for the Task Group and on the 20th, we logged a four hour bombing mission on Tokuno Shima. The weather was so bad that we had to release our bombs on Tokuno Shima by radar. I doubt if the damage from the bombing was very successful, but it was better than either jettisoning them at sea or carrying them back aboard ship. At least they fell on enemy soil.

On the 22nd, our crew did not fly the mission but our Squadron encountered and sunk three light cargo ships in the same area (Tokuno Shima).

From May 23rd until the 1st of June, we flew Air Support missions for the invasion forces on Okinawa. Our Fighter and Bomber planes were actually doing more flying during this time than we were; because more strafing sweeps and intercepting flights were needed, most of the time. But on June 2nd and 3rd, the heavy rains had bogged down our ground forces that were fighting around Suri and Yonabaru and our forces were running out of food, ammunition and water. So we flew to Kadena Air Field near Naha, which had already been secured by our forces and loaded our bomb-bays with food, water and ammunition which were rigged to parachutes. The parachutes were color coded with red for ammunition, yellow for food and blue for water. We would fly low level over the front lines (about 500 feet) and drop these supplies to them. So when the trucks couldn't get the supplies to them by land, we were able to fly them in. We were flying so low that one of our planes was shot down by mortar fire. However, they were able to land behind our lines and were returned to the squadron later. It took about an hour to make a round trip to the front line from Madena and we (our crew) made six trips. On each load, we would carry from 1200 to 2000 pounds of supplies.

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