Chapter 5

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

We set sail New Years Day with Admiral Fletchers’  flag aboard.  The next day was a poor one for VF42 aboard the “Y”. VF42 lost 3 planes to various troubles and all pilots were picked up by destroyers and returned to Yorktown via the bosuns chair method, sorta like a basket on pulleys over a rope between ships.

 

We refueled at sea which could be very tricky if there was much of a sea.  We were escorting troops of marines to Samoa to reinforce the garrison there.  After the landing was complete we roamed the area to make sure of no enemy activity and were ordered to proceed to attack the Marshal and Gilbert islands held by Japanese forces.

 

At approximately 0400 on Feb. 1 we went to flight quarters under a heavy overcast and rain squalls.  Our skipper, Commander Armstrong was first off and we had difficulty in joining up due to poor visibility.  It was a disorganized group that set out for Jaluit, some 3 plane sections, some stragglers and some SBDs with TBDs from torpedo five.  We eventually descended to 500 feet above the water due to the overcast and rain.  Lousy luck to come this far to try to crank up the Navys and the countrys morale only to have this kind of weather.  Now it began raining with a fervor.  The largest group of planes was a 3 plane section.  Fierce lightning and torrential rains now hit us as we neared the island.  It was find whatever target you could and hope for the best.  On the pull out of our low altitude dive we flew over the beach and I strafed a ship in the harbor. The Jap presence was over rated, not too much military targets on jaluit but the planes of scouting five did find seaplanes at their location and some ships that were hit.  We had joined up with two torpedo planes and picked our objective as what was shown on the charts to be an administration building.  We signaled the torpedo planes to circle while we climbed to 8000 feet.  We made a dive and scored a hit on this building.  Debris, smoke and flames shot up and there seemed to be quite a fire.  On our pull out we passed over a ship in the harbor and Mr. Crawford strafed with his 50’s.  I began strafing with the 30 caliber and Mr. Crawford  thought my tracers were enemy fire and banked to take me off target.  (This taken from my debriefing statement).

 

It was a disaster on attempting to join up also, we were joined by a TBD from torpedo five and I recognized Ace Dalzell in the rear cockpit.  He went down shortly after and the next time I saw him was in Japan when they released American prisoners upon our occupation.

 

All squadrons except Fighting 42 lost planes and crews on this raid and rescues were impossible due to a vicious storm, 50 knot winds, high seas and driving rain.  Our losses for the morning were 3 TBD’s, 3 SBD’s, and an SOC from the cruiser Louisville.  Two of the TBD’s were lost near Jaluit and one splashed only a few miles from Yorktown and was sighted by two other plane crews returning, one dropping a smoke bomb to let them know they had been sighted.  The floatation bags in the wings of the downed plane had been deployed and the men were in the rubber life raft.  They had most likely run out of fuel as many of the returning planes were landing with from 2 to 10 gallon remaining in their tanks.  Search and recovery efforts for the 3 men were fruitless, no trace was found.  Of our squadron Bellinger and Mckillop, Fishel and Costello were never heard from or sighted since takeoff for the mission.  The 3rd SBD from VS5 went down close by the destroyer Hughes and the crew of 2 was picked up for later transfer back to Yorktown.

 

As we had not secured from flight quarters I made a fast trip below to get a cup of coffee and returned to the hangar deck just in time to hear reports of a 4 engine Jap flying boat being picked up by RADAR and sighted in and out of the partial cloud cover.  Yorktown being one of the first ships equipped with CXAM RADAR which was all very hush hush at this time, gave us an edge on the enemy.

 

As the Kawanishi flying boat came in the Yorktown and Sims maneuvered in such a way to train most of the 5 inch batteries on her.  It seemed to dissuade them as they turned around and retreated.  A bit later another plane of the same type approached and we had scrambled F4F’s to go after the Jap.  Adams and McCusky attempted to make runs on her but she was dodging in and out of the clouds.  Then on the last pass they both found her and coming in from high side angles they blew the big boat to tiny pieces with an awesome lighting display.  The radio came to life on the bridge with a report, “We just shot his ass off”.

 

Shortly after this, plans were being discussed on a second attack on the islands but this would entail night landings back aboard and there didn’t seem to be enough military targets there to justify another attempt that day and the weather didn’t appear too promising either.  Combat air patrol overhead was continued for the rest of the afternoon while outside the ready room in the passageway we swapped “scuttlebutt” as to what comes next.  Admiral Halsey ordered Admiral Fletcher to return to Pearl so we started refueling the destroyers enroute.

 

On the morning of Feb. 6 we entered the channel at Pearl Harbor, everyone on the flight deck in dress whites as we passed by other ships receiving salutes from their whistles and with a feeling of elation until the shambles of Dec. 7 came into view.  Soon it was a very muted atmosphere as the harbor with its blackened hulks that had once been the pride of the Navy and the fuel oil covered beaches and piers gave realty to what had been abstract visions till now.

 

Everyone was anxious to take off on liberty, shoes shined, uniforms pressed (by turning inside out and placing under the mattress thus giving them the inside out crease which was used by the Navy) and all ready to take in the sights which we had only seen in the movies.  We took in the usual tourist attractions, the Hulas etc. and Johnny K and I and a couple others went to a Chinese cafe on the Alawai (canal) where we spotted Boris Karloff at the next table.  I obtained his autograph to send home impress the family with my worldly travels.

 

We were given 5 days at the Royal  Hawaiian Hotel on that famous Waikiki beach.  The cost was 25 cents per night and I awoke in the middle of the first night with a terrific back ache due to sleeping on the softest mattress I had ever used.  I got up and slept on the floor the rest of the time there.  As you may recall, Johnny K and I had slept on a single layer of blanket on the steel deck following loss of our bedding in the incinerator fire and my poor back just couldn’t take that soft mattress.

 

There were days of sightseeing, lolling on the beach and Johnny was always the center of attraction playing the piano out on the lanai.  McGowam asked me to go with him to visit an acquaintance of the family, Mae Atcherly who lived at 414 Launiu just a short walk from the hotel where she lived with a sister and a son and daughter.  These folks were to play a part in our being guests of the city of Honolulu as I will explain later.

 

Our planes were on the beach at Ewa Field and we were there for pre dawn exercises.  One morning when we were placed on alert, the plane captains (mechanics) were cranking up the inertia starters (similar to the old cream separators).  I noticed my pilot was not at the plane so when they gave the command to start engines I climbed into the front cockpit, started the engine and ran it up to check the mags,  figuring he would be along in time to taxi out and takeoff.  They gave the signal to taxi out and here I was holding up the ones behind me and if this was for real we had to get them in the air.  Just as I released the brakes and started the turn to the runway we got the signal to CUT and did I ever breath a sigh of relief.

 

Our stay was all too brief and we were originally scheduled to leave Pearl on Friday the 13th.  I think some serious thought went into this and they delayed our casting off until Monday the 16th.  We departed with a new exec. Dixie Kiefer, the cruiser Louisville, Astoria which later would figure in our welfare at Midway, the oiler Guadalupe Destroyers Sims, Anderson, Hammann and Walke.

 

My first contact with Dixie Kiefer proved to be a bit of embarrassment.  In those days the flight deck was of red cedar and while messing around with my knife I tossed it down on the flight deck and it stuck there.  Kiefer was right by my side at the time and with no insignias on him I had struck up a conversation with him assuming him to be a marine.  We chit chatted about weather etc. and upon my knife being stuck in the deck I commented that I guess I should have been more careful to which he agreed and moved off.  Later he was to become one of the most respected and revered officers in the Navy.

 

 

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