Chapter 13

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

On the morning of 30 May, 1942 Yorktown departed Pearl Harbor with her escorts, Hamman, Russell, Hughes, Morris and Anderson all wearing new measure 12 camouflage, cruisers Astoria and Portland and the “Y” bringing up the rear still in her weathered paint job from the Atlantic.

 

Spruance with his TF 16, Enterprise and Hornet of the Doolittle raid had already departed Hawaiian waters and Halsey was in sick bay back in Pearl.  Almost immediately we held gunnery practice with towed sleeves and sleds and to say that it left something to be desired is a gross understatement.  There were some good chewings of the ships gunnery department and gun crews were told there would have to be more hits per gun per minute if they intended to survive coming events.

 

About noon the PA system came alive and we were told to standby for a message from Adm. Nimitz.  The following statement was read by Capt. Buckmaster.  Men of the Yorktown you have quit yourselves well and made us proud of you.  I am sorry that you will not be returning to Bremerton for long overdue repairs but there is work to be done and when it is finished you will be going back to Bremerton and I don’t mean for just 30 days either.  We were also informed by the Captain that he was aware that the Yorktown was not in a state of full readiness but if it was any consolation we would be bringing up the rear.  We were to discover later that this was the direction the Japs would come from.

 

With nothing to do except to check over equipment there was much time for thinking.  I thought about packing Musgrove’s stuff for shipment to his family, and Johnny, I would liked to have had one picture of him but figured his family would want it, his Spanish book from which he was learning the language and then trying to instruct me.  I thought of the times he would borrow five bucks to get into a crap game back in the after store room with a promise that if he ever hit it big some day, we would buy a sail boat after the war and sail to South America.

 

We had flown our planes aboard and as the first F4F landed the eager deck crews went to fold the wings and broke a flap.  The pilot jumped down and instructed them in the proper way of doing this, no more incidents of this kind.  Lovelace of VF2 landed and was in the process of taxiing forward when Ens. Evans came in hot, missed the cross deck pennant and landed on top of Lovelace, the prop slicing through the cockpit.  He died almost immediately.  He was in plane number 13.  One of the destroyers had made an entry in the log upon watching some of the landings that this appeared to be a bunch of green pilots.

 

Hornet and Enterprise had launched search planes but they had been recalled due to weather, fog and rain and one pilot remarked, cold as the devil.

 

At about 4:30 on June 2 we refueled from oilers Cimarron and Platte and prepared to join up with TF16.  Both forces launched search planes and found nothing yet reports were coming in from the PBYs out of Midway.  The PBYs could go out to about 700 miles.  Fletcher was wary of the Midway reports remembering the land based scouting reports in the Coral Sea that turned out to be reefs.  We were given a course that took us to a point about 200 miles north of Midway on the morning of June 4 just about daybreak.  We launched another search group out to about 175 miles and again came up dry.

 

At 0730 on the morning of June 4 we received reports of enemy carriers and many planes heading for Midway and as a number of carriers were not given TF16 was sent out and Yorktown’s planes held in reserve in case this was not the main attack force.  Soon after the last of the attack group rolled down the flight deck, headed for the same targets as TF16s planes, the flight deck was respotted and 12 F4Fs and 17 of us from VS5 (old VB5) were launched.  Four pilots from bombing three had malfunctioning bomb release circuits and dropped their bombs in the water amid the F4Fs below.  This shook up the F4Fs no small amount until the cause was located.

 

At this point I would like to mention how we stacked up against the enemy.  Their fighters were lighter, faster and more maneuverable than the F4Fs, their torpedo planes were almost twice as fast as our TBDs, their dive bombers were faster and up till now we had not had one torpedo hit as they were running erratically, diving beneath the targets and one that did hit was observed to bounce off the target.  We were outnumbered and their pilots had the advantage of dropping live torpedoes in practice which was denied our aviators before the war.  We had malfunctions in the electric release devices for our bombs, we had the troubles with the self sealing tanks and it seems that everywhere we turned “Murphy” was there.

 

Now, at about the time we had launched planes, the enemy had not sighted our TF16 and TF17 and was proceeding to Midway with 36 fighters, 36 bombers and 36 dive bombers.

 

A navy patrol plane spotted the incoming planes and alerted Midway Island.  Midways defenders with their older planes and some SBDs were no match for the Jap planes.  They dropped 30 tons of bombs on the island killing 24 and wounding 18.

 

The Japs not having sighted us yet had a second launch of a second group getting ready, bombs, torpedoes and gasoline on the flight and hangar decks.  This was a situation of which a pilot dreams.  There was one glitch however, the group had not coordinated their approach, the old lumbering TBDs came in low over the water first and were easy marks for the Jap fighters who tore them to pieces.  Four of our torpedo squadrons were decimated with ensign Gay being the only survivor of his entire squadron and he escaped the plane alone and clung to a seat cushion and when later recovered told of a ringside seat for the battle.

 

In that the torpedo planes had been sacrificed, the SBDs came in from above with no fighter opposition and the Japs were still all down where they had been drawn by the TBDs.

 

Just prior to this attack by our planes Yorktown had sent out a scouting mission in which I participated and we had no idea of what had taken place.

 

I was flying with Horenburger and our mission was to try to locate the rest of the Jap carrier force.  We flew our complete search sector and assumed that there was no activity anywhere as it was completely quiet.  We had been observing radio silence and our old friend Murphy had visited us again.  The radio was clear dead so after going out to the end of our sector we started the return flight to the Yorktown.  It was getting to be about time we should have sighted Yorktown and nothing yet.  We continued on beginning to be concerned about our fuel situation and it had been some time since I had manned the wobble pump to change tanks.  Soon we sighted an oil slick and made a turn to follow it.  The Yorktown finally came into view, nearly dead in the water and with a decided port list.  We knew we wouldn’t be landing there so sought out the Enterprise.  On approaching her I sent, “PC, PC” with the signal light which is a request to land.  She quickly sent “N, N” which is negative.  We knew we wouldn’t have enough fuel remaining to circle so we started to make a gear up, flaps down pass alongside the antiaircraft cruiser Astoria.  She had been picking up survivors and had a boat boom rigged out on starboard and was dragging a cargo net in the water.  Our thinking was that if we could splash just ahead of her we could jump out on the wing for the few seconds the plane would remain afloat and reach up and grab the cargo net.

 

Just as we slowed and started to flare out I took one last look aft and the Enterprise was frantically signaling “PC, PC, PC”.  We didn’t know it at the time, but she had lost so many planes that she needed every one she could get.  I told Horenburger and he pulled up, dropped the gear and circled to the left to get in the pattern as the Enterprise turned into the wind for us.  We made the approach and at this time I will describe the approach.  You are in a left turn with left wing low, getting ready to line up straight aft of the ship.  At the point where you transition to a straight approach the left wing comes up and the nose is pulled up in preparation to flare out and at this point you have absolutely no visibility ahead.  The only thing you have is the LSO, the landing signal officer Soupy Campbell.  He makes all decisions for you and you watch his two flags very closely, you are high or low, wings not level or your heading is off in which case he raises the corresponding leg and kicks mightily to one side or the other.  If at the last minute he decides you have a bad landing going, he waves both flags in a criss cross motion over his head and that means a wave off, go around.  We knew we could not make a go around and the pressure was really on Horenburger and I had my fingers crossed.  We hit the second cable and the arresting gear crew came out, unhooked the cable from the tailhook and gave us the go signal.  Throttle forward and starting up the deck and the engine died.  We had landed on the fumes.  They pushed us to the forward elevator and took us down to the hangar deck and spotted us aft.

 

We crawled out of our plane, threw our parachutes back in the cockpit and jumped off the wing and were met by someone whose horsepower we didn’t know.  He advised us to report to sick bay and then come back up and meet him here.  Upon our arrival at sick bay we were given a shot of whiskey and sent back up.  I was met by a Bosuns mate who took me down to compartment D201L which was my own sleeping compartment on the Yorktown.  It was familiar because they were sister ships and practically identical.  I was instructed to pick out a bunk, I asked which one and was informed, “any one you want as they are not coming back”.  I didn’t even take off my flight gear except for the mae west and picked out one of the middle bunks.  I guess the whiskey was taking its effect as I was becoming very sleepy.  Just before drifting off I raised my head to look at the name stenciled on the mattress cover, it was “Red Durawa” a kid I had been in aviation radio school with in San Diego.  Another name and face to add to my memories.

 

 

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