On April 3rd, I was assigned to a flight in a division lead by
Lieutenant Varney Lieb. This, again, was a pre-dawn flight. Back
to the fly-away take-off again. Again it was a solid black night.
We were launched and rendezvoused. At 1,000 feet we were placed
on a vector to intercept a bogey coming in from the west just
above the water. The fighter director was on our own ship, the
Petrof Bay. Our ship had been detached from the formation of
six carriers and was 10 miles outside the Kerama Retta anchorage
waiting for dawn to go in and rearm. The vector we received placed
us on a course that took us directly over the anchorage. Because
of the bogey the condition was "Flash red". Needless
to say that when we reached the anchorage every ship in the anchorage
opened fire on us. With shock and extremely fast reactions, the
four planes dispersed themselves in four different directions.
My immediate thought was that the quickest way out was the way
we came in. I reversed course and dove the plane to gain speed.
The tracers from the 30 caliber machine guns, the fifty caliber,
the 20 mm, the 40 mm, the 3 inch cannons and the five inch cannons
chase me for a considerable distance. My plane wasn't touched
nor were any of the other three. Lt. Lieb called for us to rendezvous
again a few miles south of the island. By the time we got together
it was daylight and we could see a black cloud over the anchorage
where we had been fired upon.
It was by this time the end of our flight period and we were
given a vector of 090 degrees to return and land on the USS Tulagi
CVE-72 since the Petrof Bay was in the anchorage. Having gotten
the direction to the ship Varney put us on course, trimmed the
plane for level flight, pulled out a cigarette, lit up and settled
back for a leisure ride home. I was a little puzzled and after
a minute or two I Looked back at my wing man. He had a puzzled
look and shrugged his shoulders. Varney's wing man looked back
with a questioning look. I increased the speed of my plane, took
over the lead from Varney and reversed our course 180 degrees.
For some reason Varney had without thinking placed us on a course
directly opposite to direction of the ship. We were headed for
China. We would never have made it.
We would be on the Tulagi until the next morning at which time
we were scheduled for another pre-dawn LCAP flight. After this
flight we would return to the Petrof Bay which should be returning
to the formation during the night. We had nothing to do all day
but wander the ship and sit in the ready room. That evening we
were having dinner in the wardroom with the Tulagi's squadron
when "General Quarters" sounded. Everybody in the wardroom
bailed out. One of the guys said to us on his way out that when
this ship sounded "General Quarters" the bogey would
almost be in his dive. The four of us just sat there and finished
dinner, then ambled up to the ready room. When we got in side
we were informed that the Kamikaze had in fact dove on and struck
the USS Wake Island, CVE-65. The previous night the Wake Island
had taken the place of the Petrof Bay in the southwestern corner
of the group of six destroyers. The following morning the Wake
Island, with a hole in the forward end of her flight deck and
one in the side of the hull where the plane had passed through,
had departed for Pearl Harbor and the Petrof Bay was back on
station in it's usual position. Strange turn of fate!
On April 6th my division was launched on a pre-dawn flight over
the target. We were under the direction of a "fighter director".
This is an officer on a "Picket" destroyer who with
the aid of a radar screen will put you on a course to intercept
incoming Kamikazes. We had several vectors that morning but could
not make contact. If it sounds like we had lots of pre-dawn hops,
it is true. More than our share because the skipper chose the
times he wanted and these were the dawn and dusk flights when
the Kamikazes were the thickest. Our luck was just not good enough
to make contact.
On this particular flight, immediately after take-off, we were
given a vector to intercept a bogey at sea level but could not
find him. His altitude was changed to 3,000 feet with no luck,
then to 15,000, no luck, then to 24,000 feet where a marine in
an F4U shot the enemy down. Don't ask me whether this guy had
been at 24,000 feet all the time or not. All I know is that if
all our other information had been no better than this it's no
wonder we couldn't find the enemy. Not everyone in our squadron
was so unlucky, though. The squadron scored several victories.
All of our LCAP flights were relatively uninteresting contrary
to the TCAP flights. On one TCAP occasion, we spent nearly four
hours over the target area with no activity. Upon release by
the fighter director the skipper requested permission to seek
targets of opportunity in the enemy occupied portion of the island.
He was given permission and we ran the island from north to south
shooting at anything and everything we could see. This included
houses, barns and any other structure that came in
to view. It also included several objects that were circular
in shape and appeared to be gun emplacements. In the center of
each was a long slender barrel appearing object we took for a
gun. Needless to say we poured quite a bit of ammunition on these
things. Later we were to learn that these objects were grinding
mills. The long shaft was a wooden pole that was tied to a horse
walking in a circle rotating the grinding stone. Maybe a little
embarrassing, but it was fun!