Chapter 7

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

Under the ladder to the flight deck, starboard side of the hangar deck was the GEDUNK LOCKER.  Soft ice cream, candy bars, cigarettes, etc.  Sea stores cigarettes were three to 6 cents a pack.  While in flight quarters we would elect one man to go below and get the Gedunks and hope he got back before we had to man the planes.


Sometimes in the evening we would have a movie on the hangar deck with benches set up by the number 2 elevator.  A trip to the Gedunk locker for a can of Planters cocktail peanuts was a must.  Some time was set aside to learn the nomenclature of the ship, 809 ft. long, 19000 tons displacement and all other pertinent data as these were questions asked on the advancement exams.  I had to learn what the plimsol line was and you didn’t refer to a wall, floor, ceiling, doorway, etc., they were the bulkhead, deck, overhead, hatchway and various other terms.  I enjoyed watching target practice at sea.  Once in a while they shoot at released balloons and then the Grumman Duck, a utility plane that could land on either land or water would tow a target sleeve over.  You could judge the distance of an enemy plane by listening to the guns.  First there would be the loud detonations of the five inch thirty eights of which we had 2 below each corner of the flight deck, then you could hear the one point ones or Pom Poms cut loose with their boom ta ta boom boom ta boom.  No regular rhythm at all, then cut in the 20 mm stuff and when the 30 calibers started in they were almost on the flight deck.  Flying over the Coral Sea in early morning was a most beautiful sight with all the shadings of color with the different depths of water.


Scuttlebutt had it that something was brewing and it was going to be big, Truk or Rabaul and to add fuel to the rumor they announced that the insurance office would be open for a few hours in the afternoon.  I had 2 thousand but went in and took the additional 8 to make it the max. of ten thousand which in those days was a bundle.  I tried to talk Johnny into taking out insurance but he said it was a scam.  I was later to wish I had worked on him more.


We had a correspondent named Hipple on board who was to document things which took place from this point on.  We were shifted from the Truk, Rabaul strike to Salamaua and Lae in New Guinea as the Japs were very recently attempting to consolidate there in preparation for moving on Australia.  In order to avoid tipping our hand to the enemy by flying along the coast we had to come in over the Stanley Owen range, in the slot between mounts Chapman and Lawson with a high peak of Mt. Victoria at 13,200 feet.  To make things worse, the pass was only open between 7 and 10 am in the morning, otherwise it was closed in by clouds.  We had no charts of anything inland farther than the coast so we had to guess on a lot of it.


On March 10 at 0545 we went to flight quarters and stood deeper into the gulf of Papua in preparation for a launch.  The mountains of New Guinea became visible 50 miles away about 0630.  At about 0800 VS5 was launched followed by VT5 and then 17 planes of our bombing 5.  I recall coming in low enough over the jungle that I could make out the natives and wondered what they were thinking about the great birds.  One of the pilots had loaded up a gas mask bag with all sorts of survival gear plus shiny buttons, etc. for trading material in case he went down in the jungle.  We negotiated the opening in the range and at 0950 we peeled off one plane at a time over the harbor which contained plenty of targets.  We were carrying one 500 pounder with one 100 pounder on each wing.  We took a ship which was in a tight turn making it difficult to stay on target.  No enemy fighters appeared so I was able to concentrate on observing and of course getting on the altimeter to give the pilot a STANDBY at 3500 feet and a MARK at 2500 and with the lag in the altimeter at the speed which we were coming straight down put us quite low over the ship and the water when we pulled out.


We then turned inland to strafe an airfield and after the strafing I stood up and threw out a hand grenade, then up the hill toward the way back out I strafed a radio station.  Several ships were left beached and burning on the shore where they apparently thought they could retrieve their cargo easier than on the bottom of the bay.  Our only loss had been an SBD from Lexington’s VS2 which had been brought down by antiaircraft fire.


Back on Yorktown the crew and correspondent Hipple were enjoying the radio chatter, “See that explosion”, “this ones sinking”, “Look at that burn”.  It was such a big success that Roosevelt sent a message to Churchill describing the victory.  It did blunt the Japanese advance down the island chain and delayed their occupation of Tulagi and Guadalcanal.


The return trip was uneventful except for a few anxious moments locating the ship due to deteriorating visibility and some jitters aboard ship when one of the returning planes IFF units failed to respond to a RADAR challenge.


After they all were recovered they were rearmed and respotted, the ordinance shack which was just down the passageway from our ready room beneath the flight deck was now buzzing with activity.  Now and then we would assist with belting ammo for the machine guns with about every 5th round a tracer.  The tracers were important as the free or flexible gun in the rear seat had different forces acting on the bullets.  Firing over one side they would climb due to the force of the wind acting on the imprint the rifling left on the bullet from the barrel, the other side they would drop and the forward movement of the plane acted on the accuracy also.  We often had BULL sessions in the ready room where we would share information and experiences, such as don’t throw the empty ammo can over the side until you have installed a new belt and charged the gun.  The Nip is waiting to see the empty thrown and will come in on you thinking you are working on the gun.  Also we were always schooled on the three stoppage positions of our guns and how to best clear them.  For some time in the beginning of the war we were experiencing the problem of stoppages due to the heavy weight grease used on the guns and we finally went to a lighter weight that wouldn’t congeal at the higher altitudes.  We were also warned that the Jap pilots would when out of ammo, try to take your tail off with his prop.


On March 15, the Lexington group left for necessary repairs back at Pearl and left us some of the newer planes as replacements.  As we had not provisioned for some time the quality of food was going down prompting complaints among some of the men.  No longer could you do away with your calendar and say, beans with ketchup and a bar of soap with syrup (cream of wheat solidified and cut into squares) so it must be Saturday morning, or sea gull (chicken) so it must be Sunday noon.  The monotonous diet gave no hint of the day of the week.

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