Chapter 10

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

Back to the ship and a rest I hoped for didn’t materialize as Moose Mohler had a bad sinus blowup due to having a head cold and the pull out from the dive was quite painful even if you didn’t have a head cold.  I was told to grab my chute and get in with Ens. Leif Larsen for the second wave.  Rearming and respotting of the planes was done in record time and we were soon off again.  I was at some later date informed by the squadron yeoman who kept our flight logs that this one extra flight gave me the dubious honor of having the most combat time of any one in our squadron.  On this run we practically obliterated three gunboats, the F4Fs dispatched about 4 Jap planes and went on to strafe.  A total of three of our planes, 2 F4Fs and one TBD were lost due to weather and bad radios, the F4F’s ditching on the island and the TBD at sea.  The destroyer Hamman went to pick up the fighter pilots (McCusky and Adams of the sea plane shoot down at Jaluit) and Perkins not finding the three men in the rubber raft from the TBD, returned to the ship.  Getting McCusky and Adams turned out to be a three hour ordeal for the crew in the life boat from Hamman.  The boat could make it no closer than 150 feet in the surf, then while rescue was being made they had forgotten to destroy the ZB and IFF equipment on the planes, small arms fire did not set them ablaze, and after a third attempt of going ashore to set it afire manually, it went out.  Now time was of the essence so they had to get back to the Hamman and left the planes there hoping the natives would take anything they could get loose.

 

The three men from the TBD were adrift for some time hoping for favorable currents to take them to Australia however they had not had time to get the emergency rations from the plane so it looked like a mighty thin chance.  Then on the 7th a ship hove into view, a Jap destroyer looking for 2 lost airmen of theirs.  They came close enough and apparently didn’t feel these three were important enough to interrupt their search and seeing sharks in the area steamed away.  The current was not toward Australia but took them toward Guadalcanal where they were able to effect a landing and natives and missionaries took them in.  From here is a story in itself but they did make it back to the United States eventually.

 

Our total loss, 6 SBD’s, 2 F4F’s and one TBD and 2 more TBD’s damaged.  Add that to all the ordinance expended and it wasn’t the success we had hoped for, especially since we had made three separate attacks for the day.

 

On the morning of May 5, one of the SBD’s spotted a Jap sub and torpedo planes were sent out but were unable to make contact.  Then the Hamman sighted a Kawanishi type flying boat like the one shot down near Jaluit.  The F4F’s came in on it and had it burning and splashed in thirty seconds.  It apparently had not had time to send out a report on our task force.   Yorktown’s CXAM RADAR was paying off in being able to direct the fighters to the “BOGEY”.

 

Today NEOSHO returned and refueled YORKTOWN and HAMMAN and departed for her journey back to Pearl.  As Neosho was preparing to depart Yorktown George Mansfield had just received his orders to report stateside for Navy flight school as an enlisted pilot which was a dream many of us held.  Mansfield and 3 other Yorktowners were transferred to Neosho via the Bosuns chair.  It all happened so fast I didn’t even get to wish Mansfield the best on his trip.  On the 7th NEOSHO was sighted along with SIMS and put to the bottom with a loss of many lives including Mansfield and the three other Yorktowners.  I think most of us had a spot aboard ship to retreat to a time such as this to think and consider our own future.

 

One of the cruisers in the task force, the Chicago had received a camouflage paint job and we used to laugh and say that at some angles it resembled a country schoolhouse.

 

Little did we know what was in store for us on the morning of the 7th.  Christie and I were assigned a port search sector and Nielsen and Straub were on a starboard sector.  They had sighted 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers and promptly encoded this along with their position on the coding board, lifting up the top cover Straub sent out the 5 letter code groups beneath back to Yorktown.  Fletcher was elated to receive a report of them sighting TWO CARRIERS AND 4 CRUISERS.  At last we had located the Jap carrier task force.

 

We had returned aboard, refueled and were ready for launch when Fletcher ordered 50 planes from Lex and 43 from Yorktown launched toward the Jap fleet.  Upon landing back aboard Neilsen and Straub were called up to the bridge to confirm their report and give any additional information.  Both turned white when confronted with the report of 2 carriers and 4 cruisers, what they had sighted was 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers.  The coding pad beneath the top cover had slipped one line and everything came out wrong, even the position of the Japs.  Fletcher turned livid and proceeded to give a chewing that could be heard down on the flight deck and ordered a recall.  At that instant the radio came to life and excited conversations were heard, SCRATCH ONE FLAT TOP, YOU TAKE THE CRUISER OVER THERE, LOOK AT HIM BURN.

 

This was in Fletcher’s words, the luckiest mistake of the war.  I was in the 18th plane in VB5 to dive and there wasn’t enough of the flight deck of the carrier SOHO visible to make a good target so we broke off and took a cruiser.  The Soho appeared to just plow herself right under the water.  Nielsen, Bigelow and 2 others had accounted for 4 Jap sea planes that were on reconnaissance patrols.  I had been selected by a persistent Jap which appeared to be a Zero but where did a Zero come from.  It appeared that he had run out of ammo and was boring in for what I had been told to expect, an attempt to divest us of our tail section.  I got off one short burst and got a stoppage, stood up and fired my 45 at him and by this time I don’t see how I could have missed as all I could see was  that big black shiny engine and the pilots face.  With this he broke off and disappeared. Had I scored a hit, certainly I hoped so.  Now down low we were joined by Rowley and Musgrove for the return trip.

 

Suddenly out of nowhere came a Zero on floats with vengeance on his mind.  The three of us were twisting and turning attempting to get a good angle.  I had corrected the stoppage on my gun and Rowley and Christie were making passes with their fixed 50s while pulling away giving Musgrove and I angles for the 30s.  This was becoming a fiasco as no one was getting hits and at this stage all were out of ammo, even the Zero who had escaped being hit due to the maneuverability for which the Zero was famous.  He had to take one parting shot from the rear seat though and it took me several seconds to figure out what had taken place.  It looked like a huge fiery cannon ball coming at me but was actually a round from his verys pistol which is a flare gun or signaling device.

 

We had expended more fuel than intended with all this activity with the float plane and headed back for the Yorktown.  Musgrove and Rowley disappeared while we were busy taking stock of our damage.

Copyright ©2004-2007 Lynn R. Forshee.  All rights reserved.
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