Saturday, April 21, 2007

Training with Air Group Six--Spring, 1943

When we arrived in San Diego, we were all assigned to Torpedo Squadron Six (VT-6). VT-6 was a part of Air Group Six that was just reforming. Airgroup Six had served on the old Hornet when she was sunk at the Battle of Santa Cruz and the new airgroup contained a contingency of the old airgroup, including our Airgroup Commander "Butch" O'Hare. Comdr. O'Hare had become an Ace and had received the Congressional Medal of Honor, while serving as a fighter pilot with Old VF-6 and flying the old F4F. When President Roosevelt personally awarded him the Congressional Medal, he asked him to give the specifications for a new fighter plane for the Navy and the F6F was built by Grumman according to those specifications and they were already being supplied to the fleet.

An Airgroup consisted of a full complement of men and planes that would operate off a carrier at a given time. It consisted of a Fighter Squadron (VF) containing seventy five fighter planes (F6F-s) and about one hundred fighter pilots, a Torpedo Squadron (VT) containing eighteen Torpedo Planes (TBF's or TBM's) and twenty four flight crews. A flight crew for the three place Torpedo Plane included the pilot, the turret gunner, who was usually an ordnanceman (AOM) and a radioman (ARM) that doubled as a tail gunner. And, a Bomber Squadron (VB) containing thirty six bomber planes (SB2C's) and about forty flight crews. A Bomber Plane crew was just two men, the pilot and turret gunner who was usually a radioman (ARM).

[note: this information from Merlin Dorfman--- A typical carrier air group contained 2 VF, 1 VS, 1 VB, 1 VT (18 each,total 90). The VS and VB aircraft were identical and both performed both missions (scouting and bombing) as required.

So, Air Group Six was reformed, and our Squadron (VT-6) Commander was Lt. Cmdr. Phillips, I was assigned to fly with our Radio Officer, Lt. Larue G. Buchanan who was from Syracuse, N.Y., and our turret gunner was Richard Miller, AOM 3C, from Springfield, Missouri. I will never forget the first flight that we made. I had never even been in an airplane before and the squadron made a glide bombing training flight which was a simulated attack on a sled that was towed by a PC boat off Point Loma. The pilots would drop hundred pound water bombs at the sled, after diving at a sixty degree angle from about 15,000 feet. The water bombs were dropped from around 3000 feet and when the pilots would pull out of their dives, the G's would nearly make you black out. I guess that I was too scared to get air sick on that first flight. I remember that I got cold on that flight. We only had been issued ear phones, and I didn't have on enough clothing, as the temperatures dropped drastically above six or seven thousand feet altitudes. The next day, they issued us all of our flight gear, so when we boarded the plane for takeoff, I had donned it all. Miller did not make that flight for some reason, so I climbed up into the turret to where I had a better view. Well, I guess that was a mistake, because the pilots decided to follow the leader in a tail chase. I thought that they did everything except an outside loop, and did I ever get airsick!! I just happened to have my white hat in my hip pocket and it made a very good sack in which to upchuck and throw overboard. That was the only time I ever got airsick and in retrospect that flight was mild, in comparison to some that I was to fly later. Nevertheless, I was happy to set foot on "terra-firma" after both my first flights. on one of our training missions at San Diego, a wing pulled off one of the torpedo planes and we lost a crew. I don't remember the names of the crew, as we did not keep logs or diaries at that time. I do remember that the radioman was from Helena, Arkansas and it was my first reminder that "except for the Grace of God, there go I". While we were in San Diego, I may have gone on liberty a couple of times. It was very similar to Norfolk, Virginia, in that you might as well stay on the base because if you went to town, all you could see was more sailors and more Navy.

Air Group Six went aboard the USS Prince Williams, a converted carrier in late May of 1943 to be transported to Pearl Harbor.

When we arrived at Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, they sent us to the Navy Auxiliary Air Station at Puunene , Maui, where we were to fly training missions and to await the overhaul of the USS Enterprise, which was at Bremerton, Washington. We were there for four months but the training that we went through in that interval proved to be invaluable to us later on. One of the most spectacular air shows that I have ever seen took place over Puunene Air Field. Our Air Group Commander "Butch" O'Hare, combat tested the Navy's new F6F fighter plane against the F4U Cosair which was flown by [Marine] Pappy Boyington. The dogfight was scored with gun cameras and surely exposed the strengths and weaknesses of both aircrafts and pilots. I am sure that those films are still filed away in Naval Aviation records somewhere. It was two of the best pilots and the Navy's two best fighter planes of that day in time and they both were pushing to the peak of their abilities. It was something, to see!

[note from Merlin Dorfman: The story I heard about FDR and the new fighter was that FDR asked O'Hare what was needed in the Pacific and O'Hare said "something that will get upstairs faster." The F6F was already flying by that time, but not in production or in service. If you get to O'Hare Airport in Chicago, there is an F4F on display there with pictures and stories about Butch O'Hare.]

No comments: