The Ship - All Hands - Decorations - Remembrance
Edwin "Bud" Jenks enjoyed a long Navy career, his prewar sea service beginning as an enlisted man aboard the heavy cruiser Indianapolis. Thanks to his typing skills and training, he earned his Radioman's rating and was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1940 as RM 1/c.
At the start of the war, Jenks re-entered service as a Warrant Officer, eventually leading a force of 200 radiomen, signalmen and radio technicians. Following his participation in the Gilbert Islands landings in late 1943, he was appointed an Ensign in the US Naval Reserve, and six months later received orders to attend a Radar Counter-Measures (RCM) course.
At the time, RCM was a very new and very secret speciality. For example, his orders regarding Night Air Group 90 were communicated verbally only: there was no written record indicating that he was to equip squadron aircraft with RCM equipment. As his story indicates, however, the effectiveness of the equipment he maintained and operated was well-known.
The most memorable and cherished of my experiences during World War Two were the several months spent on combat operations with Night Air Group 90 aboard USS Enterprise CV-6.
Radar countermeasures (RCM) were a natural and most important addition to the Night Air Group bag of capabilities. At night, the enemy had to rely almost exclusively on radar to acquire targets, aim and guide weapons.
On 9 December 1944, my class of Electronics Officers arrived at Pearl Harbor and were billeted in Bachelor Officers Quarters at Ford Island, Oahu, Hawaii. We had recently graduated from SPSA - Special Projects for Air, a secret radar countermeasures school - and were waiting to be assigned by Commander Naval Air Forces, US Pacific Fleet.
After several days, I was called in to COMAIRPAC headquarters. An officer handed me orders dated that same day: 23 December 1944. The orders directed me to report to Commander Night Carrier Air Group 90 for duty and to Commander Carrier Division Seven for additional temporary duty. The officer also gave me verbal orders: that he was providing me a truck and driver, and I was to visit designated Navy facilities and obtain enough RCM equipment to configure five TBM Avenger aircraft with radar countermeasures capability. It was further made known to me that it was strongly desired that two of the TBM planes get RCM equipment installed and tested before we reached the combat area. The verbal instructions that the officer gave were the only orders I ever received about what to do.
We managed to acquire the necessary RCM components and related material, including a set of installation drawings, and drove the truck alongside Enterprise at about 1630 on 23 December 1944. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) provided a working party and the load was moved aboard. Soon a Boatswains Mate took charge and had it all stowed in the hangar deck overhead. None of the Air Group Officers were to be found aboard. No one could be found to assign a room, so I helped myself to a room for the night and was ousted the next morning.
Shortly after we cleared the harbor on the 24th, I went to the hangar deck to look over a TBM. A voice spoke behind me, asking who I was and what I was doing. I said my name was Ensign Jenks, I had been told to configure two TBMs with RCM in a very short time, and added something like "I'm not very happy about it, but I will do the best that I can." The owner of the voice was Commander William I. "Bill" Martin, my new boss. He replied, "I'm sure you will."
It's important to mention that the combat tour of USS Enterprise, with Night Carrier Air Group 90 embarked, was the first time that a full Night Air Group on a large carrier was deployed. Formerly, night-trained pilots were assigned to various day carriers in four plane units. As a Lieutenant, Bill Martin was aboard Enterprise in 1942 commanding VS-10, when he initiated recommendations and worked toward developing night capabilities. In February 1944, then-Lieutenant Commander Martin's VT-10 made a successful night raid on Japanese ships in Truk harbor. Finally, Bill Martin became the commander of Night Air Group Ninety, which was commissioned at Barbers Point, T.H., in August 1944. The air group was composed of VF(N)-90 and VT(N)-90. Captain Grover B.H. Hall commanded Enterprise. A former CO, Rear Admiral Matthias Gardner, was on board as Commander Carrier Division Seven. A number of senior naval aviators, as well as many more junior ones, stayed with the program from the early days off the Gilberts until 1945 when we were closing in on the the Japanese Home Islands. They were the best!
After meeting Cdr. Martin, I went directly to the Metal Ship, because the first thing to be done was to mount some special external antennas, and make mounting brackets for the RCM components. Knowing that time was of the essence, I had decided to not put in a Work Request. I went directly to the Metal Shop and found the chief petty officer (CPO) in charge. Introducing myself, describing the task and its importance and urgency, I asked the CPO if he would help. He agreed. I gave him the drawings, had two planes set aside and the work started that day. Three stub and one cone antenna were needed on each aircraft. They were mounted that day, while the ship started fabricating mounting brackets, fuze and junction boxes and conduit. I went to work on the first plane, wiring, soldering, fitting the RCM components, and conducting a hangar test. The first TBM RCM installation was ready in about a week.
The first flight was scheduled for 1 January 1945. It was a very dark, moonless night. Commander Martin piloted the plane and I flew with him. The ship's CIC (Combat Information Center) Officer told us he was familiar with radar jamming and did not think our jamming would prevent his controllers from vectoring the fighters to intercept us. We flew out over 50 miles, turned about and headed toward the ship with my electronic jammer turned on, tuned to the ship's air search radar frequency.
We flew for what seemed a long time. Nothing happened and nothing was heard. Finally, as we were getting fairly close to the ship, a radio call was received from CIC requesting we turn off the jammer so the fighters could be vectored back to the ship. The flight test was a success. The jamming signal, modulated with random noise, caused the solid white-out of an inverted pie-shaped sector on the PPI (Planned Position Indicator) radar scope. No targets could be seen in this sector. As our aircraft closed on the ship, the sector became wider and finally, as the jammer drew even closer, the signal was picked up by the side lobes, causing much confusion on the entire scope.
Thereafter I flew with Commander Martin on most of his missions. We joined up with Fast Carrier Task Force 38 near the Philippines on 5 January 1945. When in or near a combat area, Combat Air Patrols (CAP) were maintained, which kept fighters overhead around the clock. Shortly, we entered the China Sea. Fighter and TBM strikes were conducted against enemy bases in Formosa. The Japanese had quite strong anti-aircraft defenses. The TBMs had RCM and chaff, but the fighters needed help. We had no external pods for the fighters to carry chaff or RCM. The best thing I could think of was to place three or four packages of metal foil called "rope" in each map case at the side of the cockpit. The pilots were told that if caught in a searchlight beam - which were directed by radar, as were the guns - to throw out a package of rope and make a sharp, downward turn. More than one pilot informed me that the tactic worked for him.
The "rope" consisted of three intertwined strands of very light metal foil, about six or seven feet long, folded to fit in a cardboard package about seven inches long and two and a half inches wide. The three strands were fastened to a square of cardboard that acted like a parachute. When the package was dispensed, the wind would tear the package apart and the foil would deploy rapidly. It was effective against a wide band of radar frequencies.
My first mission was a scouting sortie on 12 January to Camranh Bay, Vietnam, to look for Japanese ships. We found none, but made a report on a Japanese air search radar located there. On our return flight, it was getting light and we were flying low. A Japanese convoy moving southward from Hong Kong had been detected, and the day carriers' planes were streaming out to work it over. Three times, an outgoing plane made runs on us but each recognized us in time and turned away.
While in the China Sea, a typhoon developed. We were still flying however. One of the young pilots asked me to fly with him one night and I agreed because Commander Martin was not going that night. I was in the Ready Room preparing my navigation when Cdr. Martin came in and told me not to go out that night: that I was flying too much. That pilot's flight never returned and we did not know what happened to him.
Enterprise left the China Sea with Task Force 38 on 20 January 1945, then took part in various attack and heckler missions in the Philippine Sea for a short period. After a last strike on Formosa on January 22nd, we proceeded to Ulithi to take on supplies and fuel. At Ulithi, the command changed and the task force was now known as Task Force 58. We found 15 large carriers, several jeep carriers, some heavy cruisers and destroyers and many other ships. On the 19th of February, TF 58 took position off Iwo Jima to cover the US Marine landings. On about the 21st, USS Saratoga, several jeep carriers and destroyers were positioned to support the Marine landing force, Leaving Saratoga behind, the task force was to proceed toward Japan to conduct large scale operations against the Japanese home islands. Only a day later, Enterprise was ordered back to rescue Saratoga flight crews who had to ditch in the sea. Saratoga had been hit by Kamikazes, was badly damaged and pulled out for Pearl. It was hazardous finding and saving Sara's downed flyers. Much firing prevailed. We lost one TBM and crew at that time.
While off Iwo Jima, the fighters flew CAP for the Marines and also for our ship. The TBMs made a number of strikes on the island of Chichi Jima, which was in a direct line between Iwo and Japan. Japanese planes could stage there on the way to Iwo Jima. Four- or five-plane strikes were led by Cdr. Bill Martin, and I was with him. We usually flew in first and my jammer would be on, tuned to the enemy fire control frequency. We made low level approaches and fired rockets to demolish buildings, fuel tanks, radar sites and searchlights. Then we made bombing runs at higher altitude to damage the air strip. The Commander circled in the vicinity and we jammed the local radars while the other planes went in. The TBMs also flew barrier patrols at night to intercept and enemy planes that might come to Iwo Jima to harass the US Marines.
Cdr. Martin took me on a number of night heckler missions. On one we were just finishing our turn as day was breaking. We discovered we had been flying around among barrage balloons. Our wings could have been clipped. We were lucky. We commented on that for years afterward. On another heckler mission we were over Kanoya Air Base on southern Kyushu. We had already made a few bombing runs when all of a sudden a number of searchlights locked on us. It was noticed instantly the signal we had been jamming was gone. I started searching and found another fire control signal about 50 megacycles lower than the 200mc one we had been jamming. As I tuned my transmitter to it, the Commander asked if anything could be done. I told him I had a new frequency and had tuned to it. He said to turn the jammer on, so I did. The searchlights left us! We made three more runs and it worked every time.
A couple interesting events occurred when returning at dawn from night missions. The task force was usually under attack. We had to fly through the action to get back aboard. On the 18th of March 1945, I was in a TBM piloted by LT(jg) Cromley, returning from Honshu. At 0730 we were in the downwind leg for landing. We saw a dive bomber drop a bomb on the forward part of Enterprise's flight deck. It did not explode, but skipped up through the left wing of the bridge, then came down and skidding to the aft end and was shoved overboard.
The event was described in CDR Stafford's book, "The Big E". At the end of the description, it was stated "The Judy got away." We had to take a wave-off. The Judy flew up behind us and passed us very close. A US Navy fighter whizzed by us and shot the Judy down in flames about a half mile ahead. On the 19th of March, I was in a TBM piloted by LT(jg) Balden. Again we were in the downwind leg for landing and were just passing USS Franklin when we saw the first bomb hits on that ship. After landing on Enterprise, parking and disembarking, we looked across at Franklin and observed it being gutted by numerous explosions. We were told that about 800 men were killed.
On the 11th of May 1945, about two months after Franklin was hit, I was in the Air Group office helping write action reports. An officer came in and said Bunker Hill had been hit. We looked and saw the clouds of black smoke coming from that ship. It was Vice Admiral Mitscher's flagship. He shifted his Flag to Enterprise that day. A few days later, in the early morning of 14 May 1945, Enterprise was 100 miles southeast of Honshu. I had been over Kanoya with Commander Martin. We had returned aboard at dawn and had been in our bunks about an hour when all the guns started firing. Soon, a hard jolt was felt. The guns stopped firing. A Kamikaze had dived through the forward flight deck and exploded in the forward elevator well. It blew the elevator about 400 feet in the air.
Enterprise could not operate her planes any longer. On the 15th of May 1945, Admiral Mitscher again moved his Flag, that time to USS Randolph. On the 16th, Enterprise was detached and started home via Ulithi and Pearl Harbor, back to the USA.