Chapter 9

Standby,     Mark!
by Lynn Forshee

One of the nicer afternoons we held target practice again with the ships guns going first at the balloons, then one plane was rigged to take off towing a “SLEEVE” which was a white canvas material and our rounds were painted, each gunner having his own color.  The projectile would leave the color around the hole in the sleeve if you got a hit.  The hardest shot was a parallel pass alongside the tow plane and just ahead of the sleeve you would bank the plane so as to cross the target at right angles.  This made for three angles of deflection and unless someone got very lucky the sleeve didn’t have much ventilation.  Most of our actual gunnery in combat would be planes coming in from straight aft or a slight angle.  In the event that someone did claim a lot of hits on the sleeve we would check him for crayons in his pocket.

 

By late March of  ’42 the carrier situation was not the best as Saratoga had taken a torpedo off Oahu, Lexington and the Enterprise were both in need of repairs and alterations as they had been at sea for some time prior to Dec. 7, Hornet had not arrived from the East coast yet, Wasp was enroute the British Isles and Ranger was in the Atlantic.  The Long Island which was our first smaller escort carrier was also in the Atlantic.  This left Yorktown all alone in an extremely large ocean.  This meant a “HIT AND RUN” technique with 30 knots all night to come up far enough away that it would appear as though we had more than one carrier out there.

 

By the second week of April Yorktown was experiencing food shortage problems and it seemed that the regular diet for a while would be rice and tea and the beans were becoming scarce.  April 10 it was determined that there was a need to boost morale and break up the monotony.  Three steaks were found in the freezer and about 5 potatoes. Drawings were made to select 3 names of 2,500 aboard ship to partake of a repast of steak and french fries.  To kick it off a parade was held down the flight deck with the steaks on a tray held aloft with the Navy band, a guard for the steaks carrying a sign “large T bone steak, 10 cents a peek, but do not touch.  Following was a marine guard with fixed bayonets.

 

This was all photographed by Hipple of the Honolulu Star Bulletin and got full coverage in LIFE magazine.  Below on the hangar deck preparations were being made for an afternoon of fun.  The ever cooperative parachute loft made a miniskirt, padded bra and a wig which was worn by a mess cook who served the meal of steak and french fries to the 3 lucky swabbys.  In that they were seated on #2 elevator which was raised about 2 feet for the occasion and seating provided all around with chairs and bleachers they were hard pressed to enjoy their good fortune.  There was much drooling from the audience.  This was followed by various acts of amusements, pieces by the band and highlighted by a hypnotist who had volunteers eating large onions thinking they were apples.  One group was told they were on a beautiful beach and they could pick up the most shiny stones and it was suggested they put them in their pockets for safekeeping.  Almost immediately they were informed the stones were burning them.  All the dungarees were shucked and fell to the deck whereupon they were handed swabs and told they were pretty blondes and to dance with them.

 

After watching the steak and french fries it was a long slow trip below to the mess deck for some spaghetti which had been covered with an unidentifiable liquid.

 

About this time we had begun experiencing problems with the self sealing gas tanks in VF42’s F4Fs deteriorating with the loss of planes as the carburetors would plug and in the drink they went.  Admiral Fletcher conveyed his concerns to CINPAC and was immediately ordered to retire to our intermediate base back at Tongatabu on the Tonga islands to take care of that problem and to reprovision.  On the morning of April 20 we put into Nukuloafa harbor where Yorktown and her support fleet was reprovisioned to the tune of 578 tons of sea stores in 11 hours for the Yorktown alone.  Refueling was completed and our SBD’s had flown ashore before putting into harbor.  Two days later the tanks for the F4F’s came in and were rapidly installed.

 

At this time we were joined by aviators from Australia and we sat around a campfire at night learning their songs and  teaching them some of ours.  Some refreshments were enjoyed by all and  we stayed up till a very late hour.

 

Admiral Nimitz was becoming alarmed by Jap buildup in the area of the Coral Sea and on 0900 on the 27th of April we stood out to sea once more.

 

Mansfield and I busied ourselves with removing the tuning coils from the GP7 transmitters, which were separate from the receivers, taking them to a completely shielded compartment port side beneath the flight deck and tuning them against a frequency standard so they would all be on the same frequency.  Our primary frequencies were 3105 and 6210 kcs. however radio silence was maintained so that only in battle conditions would they be put on the air.  Another job I fell heir to was maintaining the antennas.  The wire antennas running from a mast just ahead of the front cockpit to the tail was stranded copper and subject to corrosion so they must be replaced from time to time.  We had one other antenna which was little used, intended to give greater range it was a long trailing wire wound up on a reel in the rear cockpit.  It had a pear shaped lead weight on the end and it would be reeled out to the rear and below the plane until resonance was indicated on the transmitter meter.  Once in a while an absent minded operator would forget to reel it back in again, in fact that happened in Norfolk Virginia and it went through the roof of a house when the plane landed.

 

Well, at least we were eating a little better now except that one thing still hadn’t changed.  Milk an eggs were only known to be in powdered form although it was rumored that up in officers country they might be eating the real thing.  They had their little black mess boys all dressed in starched whites.  I was convinced that somewhere back in the states, someone in a lab was working on a method to make a powdered chicken.  The mess deck also doubled as a sleeping compartment for overflow personnel, hammocks all hung from the overhead after the mess tables were stored up there.  As flying personnel I was fortunate to inherit a regular bunk.

 

Two days out of Naukaulofa we slowed to put a motor launch over the side and take nine ensigns aboard for later transfer to the Lexington with which we would rendezvous shortly.  We then worked up to 22 knots to resume our position in the group heading for task force 17.  On the morning of May 1 we refueled from the oiler NEOSHO.  Also, one other occurrence, 5 of the ensigns we had taken aboard for the Lex were kept on the Y and Ens. Chaffee was assigned to VB 5 and would become Johnny K’s pilot, but for a very short time.  On the afternoon of May 2 our scouts sighted a Jap sub on the surface (later known to be the I21 4 days out of Truk enroute the Noumea area) and made a bean bag message drop advising of the sub only 32 miles away.  Planes were sent off with depth charges set for 50 feet but no confirmed hit was achieved.  A second attempt was made but the sub dived again to escape.

 

It was later learned that the Jap had not sighted the main force but only reported being bombed by planes which they may have presumed to be land based.  Admiral Fletcher now ordered our destroyers to refuel from the NEOSHO so as to be topped off then the destroyer RUSSELL was sent to guard NEOSHO.  Now we received reports of 5 or 6 Jap ships just out of Santa Isabel heading for Tulagi and some ships off loading at Tulagi.  At 0700 May 3 we started launching planes for Tulagi and we could have not asked for better weather conditions.

 

A front stretching east to west from 70 miles south of Guadalcanal to the north coast.  Up to 20,000 feet and using oxygen we readied ourselves for that dive, secure everything in the cockpit, hit the foot pedal to release the gun covers and get the machine gun out and charged and check the altimeter one last time, check the intercom to make sure that the pilot and I could communicate when time came for the pull out.  I had flown with J T Crawford at Salamaua and Lae,  but Crawford had come down with pneumonia and while recuperating was taken off the flight list, then sent back to Pearl from Tongatabu.  W.F. Christie and I were teamed together for this one and he was an experienced pilot.  The skipper Wally Short divided us up into three five plane sections.  We were assigned cargo ships and got a near miss, very few direct hits were made on this run by any of the planes but I did see some ships beached and one burning.  On heading back to the Yorktown we discovered via radio that an F4F that was assigned escort had gone down on the south side of Guadalcanal and later learned that one of the destroyers had gone on in close and rescued him.

 

 

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