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AG-10 History - Second Tour
Despite the claims of LT Frank J. Russell, author of this history of Air Group Ten's second tour with Enterprise, the Air Group's record was unique in several important ways. At Truk, in February 1944, Torpedo Ten used radar to conduct a night time attack on ships in the lagoon: that single strike accounted for nearly a third of the tonnage of ships sunk in the whole two-day raid. In June, an Air Group Ten search mission was the first to sight and report Japan's Mobile Fleet approaching to contest the US landings on Saipan. And its fighter squadron produced five aces, including William R. "Killer" Kane and Donald "Flash" Gordon.
Air Group Ten has returned to the United States after six action-packed months in the Central and South Pacific aboard the Navy's most famous aircraft carrier.
Its record probably is not unique but its action reports and war diaries comprise a saga of the most successful phase of the war against the Japs - the routing of the enemy from his outer defenses, the neutralization of his key bases, the continued strangulation of his supply lines and the extension of the Navy's "front" to within striking distance of the Philippines and the Empire.
In all, the pilots of Air Group Ten and Night Fighting Squadron 101, which operated with it, made 2,800 combat sorties, shot down 98 enemy planes, probably destroyed 10 others and damaged 23 in aerial combat, destroyed 193 enemy planes on the ground, sank 16 ships, including two destroyers, and damaged 32, including two aircraft carriers, two destroyers and a cruiser. More than 900 tons of bombs were dropped, a record for the carrier, hundreds of thousands of rounds of machine gun ammunition fired and over a million gallons of gasoline consumed.
The record cost the Air Group 12 pilots and seven aircrewmen lost in action.
The plot of the Air Group's travels on a small chart of the Pacific has the appearance of scribblings in a child's picture book, a riot of weaving, chaotic criss-crossing lines, from Pearl Harbor to the Marshalls, from Majuro Atoll to Truk Atoll, from Majuro to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, from Espiritu to Palau Island in the Eastern Carolines, to Hollandia in wild, treacherous New Guinea, to Saipan and Guam in the Marianas, and finally back to Pearl, and to the States, a total of 54,000 miles.
Chronologically, its operations were as follows:
Neutralization of Taroa airfield, Maloelap Atoll, January 29; air support for invasion of Kwajalein and adjacent islands, Kwajalein Atoll, January 30 to February 4; first attack on Truk Atoll, February 16 and 17; attack on Jaluit Atoll, February 20; air support for invasion of Emirau Island, St. Mathias Group, March 20.
Attack on Palau, Yap and Woleai Islands, Caroline Islands, March 30-April 1; neutralization of airfields at and air support for invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea, April 21 to 24; second attack on Truk, April 29 and 30; attacks on Saipan, Tinian and Guam and air support for invasion of Saipan, June 11-18; action against the Japanese fleet, June 19 and 20; attacks on Mariana Island bases, June 25 to July 7.
Fighting Squadron Ten more than doubled the count of old Fighting Ten, shooting down 88 planes and raising the squadron's total to 131. In the process it produced five aces. Lieutenant Richard O. "Rod" Devine, of Walla Walla, Wash., topped the list with eight planes destroyed in aerial combat. Group Commander William R. "Killer" Kane, of San Rafael, Calif., was second with six. Lieutenant Walter R. "Tommy" Harman, Santa Ana, Calif.; Lt.(jg) Joseph S. "Frenchy" Reulet, Vacherie, La., and Lt.(jg) Vernon R. Ude, Robbinsdale, Minn., got five each. Lieutenant Donald "Flash" Gordon, Fort Scott, Kas., got three, giving him a total of five. He shot down two in the South Pacific in 1942.
Although its record was already impressive, Air Group Ten added to its laurels in the clash with the Jap fleet on June 19 and 20. Thirty-two enemy planes were shot down in the two-day operation. Torpedo Squadron Ten's search planes made the contact, leading to the attack on the enemy west of Guam in which pilots of the Torpedo and Bombing Squadrons scored direct hits on two large aircraft carriers.
To Lieutenant Robert S. Nelson, of Great Falls, Mont., and his wingman, Lt.(jg) James S. Moore, Jr., Miami, Fla., went the honor of being the first to sight and to report the position of the enemy fleet.
Lt.(jg) Robert R. Jones, Minneapolis, Minn., and Edward W. Lester, Benton, Ark., flying in a slightly different search sector, also spotted the fleet a few minutes later.
All planes concentrated on the enemy's carrier force. One section of dive-bombers led by Lieutenant Louis L. Bangs, of Olpe, Kas., scored three direct hits with heavy bombs which left a large carrier in flames. Lt.(jg) Cecil R. Mester, Langeloth, Pa., and Lt.(jg) Donald Lewis, Haworth, New Jersey, were Bangs' wingmen. Each got a hit.
Another section of dive-bombers, Lieut-Commander James D. Ramage, Kuhio, Honolulu, T.H., commanding Bombing Squadron Ten, Lt.(jg) Albert A. Schaal, South Lincoln, Mass., and Lt.(jg) Carl N. DeTemple, Denver, Colo., damaged a smaller carrier, Schaal getting credit for a direct hit on the stern and Ramage and DeTemple for damaging near misses very close to stern.
Five planes of Torpedo Ten, led by Lieutenant Van V. Eason, of Marks, Miss., severely damaged the same carrier with eight hits. Getting credit for hits were Eason, two; Lt.(jg) Joseph A. Doyle, Chevy Chase, Md., two; Lt.(jg) C.B. Collins, Silver City, New Mexico, two; and Lt.(jg) Ralph W. Cummings, York, Nebraska, and Lt.(jg) Ernest J. Lawton, Jr., Palmer, Mass., one each.
While the dive-bomber and torpedo pilots were busy bombing the Jap carriers, escorting Hellcat fighters of Fighting Ten, led by Commander William R. Kane, San Rafael, Calif., Air Group Commander, strafed their decks and knocked seven Zeros out of the air.
Earlier in the day, Kane became an ace with six planes to his credit, shooting down two enemy torpedo planes while on a search mission. He bagged three in the first attack on Truk in February, and another in a fighter sweep against Saipan.
The only casualty in this fight was Ensign John I. Turner, of Salida, Colo. He had sent a Zero diving toward the water, smoke streaming from its tail, when he in turn was caught by a Jap. His plane damaged, he landed in the ocean about 30 miles from the Jap fleet. He was rescued 24 hours later.
Getting credit for "kills" in this all-important victory over the Japs were Ensign Jerome L. Wolf, Jr., Sedalia, Mo., two; Lieut. Marion O. "Moe" Marks, Springfield, Ore.; Ensign Charles D. "Bobo" Farmer, Maplewood, N.J.; Ensign William T. Howard, Bell, Calif.; Lt.(jg) Laurence E. Richardson, Washington, D.C.
Commander Kane, Lieut. Harman and Ensign Kenneth B. Walker, LaGrange, Ill., received credit for assists.
Night Fighting Squadron 101 made history and at the same time established an all-time high batting average. Ten night interception sorties against intruding enemy bombers resulted in five shot down, two probably destroyed and two damaged.
Lt.(jg) Robert F. Holden, Kr., Chestnut Hill, Pa., was the top-ranking night fighter of the Fleet, with three twin-engine torpedo bombers to his credit and another probably destroyed. His skipper, Lieut-Commander Richard E. Harmer, Seattle, Washington, was a close second. He shot down two twin-engine bombers, probably destroyed another and damaged a fourth.
The story of Air Group Ten began when the Navy in the Pacific was a pitifully meager, badly wounded force following Pearl Harbor and now continues with a battle fleet the mightiest the world has ever known. In 1942, the Air Group, aboard the famous Old Lady, the U.S.S. Enterprise, engaged in the bitter struggle to prevent the victory-swelled Nips from pouring into the Southern Solomons.
In the Battle of Santa Cruz, October 26, 1942, the "Lucky E" and the U.S.S. Hornet exchanged aerial blows with a strong enemy task force northeast of Guadalcanal. Before the Hornet was torpedoed and sunk, the two carriers and their air groups destroyed 135 enemy planes and damaged two carriers, two battleships and three cruisers.
Air Group Ten was back in the thick of it again less than a month later. On November 13 our task force intercepted a huge Jap armada moving south to reinforce garrisons on Guadalcanal. During the engagement that followed planes from the Enterprise were credited with sinking 20 troop-laden transports, while surface craft accounted for one battleship and several cruisers and destroyers.
In subsequent clashes with the enemy at the Battle of Rennell Island, January 30, 1943, in which the U.S.S. Chicago was sunk, 11 enemy aircraft were shot down, bringing the total to 43. The Air Group returned to the States in May, 1943.
A nucleus of seasoned pilots was retained in reformation of the Group to indoctrinate those joining the squadrons fresh from flight school and operational training. Fighting Ten got the new Grumman Hellcat, bristling with increased fire power, replacing the Grumman Wildcat which, in the hands of skilled pilots, proved more than a match for the best the Japs could offer.
The Bombers got an improved brand of the Douglas Dauntless dive-bomber, while the Torpedoes were pleased with a refined model of the trusted Grumman Avenger.
Months of intensive training in the good and bad weather of northern Washington slipped past quickly. A potentially stronger Air Group Ten, under Commander Roscoe L. Newman, was rapidly in the making to continue the job of driving the Nips back where they came from. A brief interim of final training in the Hawaiian Islands was the final touch before the Squadrons were released to join their carrier and the Fleet, eager and ready for action.
Few, if any, realized when they pulled out of Pearl early in January that six months were to pass before they would return. None probably stopped to think about it. The big show just ahead was on their minds. No official word had been passed, but an amateur prognosticator could, with considerable confidence, point to the Marshalls, a quick follow-up to conquest of the Gilberts.
The Air Group's first job was to knock out the enemy air field on Taroa Atoll, in the eastern Marshalls, while other task forces hit Roi and Kwajalein Islands to the west. Pilots of Fighting Ten, plowing through a heavy overcast following a nasty pre-dawn rendezvous in squally weather, were the first over the target.
As they closed for the attack a flight of Jap fighters rose to intercept. In the ensuing dog fight, four enemy planes were shot down, three probably destroyed, and the remainder driven off. Control of the air was established. Bombing and Torpedo Ten joined with other squadrons in smashing grounded aircraft and defense installations. A thorough job had been done. No enemy aircraft operated from Taroa field during the Marshalls operation.
In support of landing operations at Kwajalein and adjacent islands, January 30 to February 4, the Squadrons of Air Group Ten joined others in the task group in saturating the enemy positions and defenses with high explosives and machine gun fire. On one mission Commander Newman, flying a torpedo bomber, blew up a large ammunition dump, the explosion of which left a huge crater in the center of the island. On another the "Killer" Kane touched off a big dump with a strafing attack on a suspicious target. On "D" day all squadrons teamed up to drench the invasion beach with bombs and bullets as troops moved ashore with a loss lighter than in any previous, similar operation.
Fighting Ten was a bit peeved because of the lack of fighter opposition. Another task group which visited the island the previous day knocked out a number of Jap float-type planes. But they didn't have long to wait. They didn't know it then, but Truk was just around the corner.
Following the Kwajalein operations, Commander Newman was succeeded as Air Group Commander by Kane, then skipper of Fighting Ten. Newman, now Rear Admiral Frank D. Wagner's chief of staff, became the carrier's assistant air officer, while Lieut-Commander Roland W. Schumann, Jr., succeeded Kane as Commander, Fighting Squadron Ten.
There followed the triumphant fleet parade into Majuro Atoll which meanwhile had been occupied by a separate task force without opposition, a few days of rest, then the surprise attack at Truk.
Everyone swallowed hard two or three times when the objective was made known. We were going to hit Truk - the enemy's mighty naval bastion in the Central Pacific, the giant staging point for aircraft and shipping supplying the enemy's bulwarks to the south - remote and foreboding.
Those first fighter sweeps and bombing strikes over Truk will long be remembered by those who took part in them - dog fights all over the sky, sinking and exploding ships and others racing to escape from the big lagoon and anti-aircraft fire thicker than any of us had ever seen before.
The first fighter sweeps and flights tangled with a large group of interceptors over the lagoon. "It was our first real chance at the Japs," one recalled, "and we were glad they were waiting for us." In a matter of minutes 14 Zeros and other enemy fighters were shot down, another probably destroyed and six were damaged. The Hellcats were looking for more.
Pilots of Bombing and Torpedo Ten followed with repeated strikes against shipping in the lagoon. What targets! Big cargo ships and tankers everywhere. That partly made up for the fact that major units of the Jap fleet had fled. But it was no cinch. There was plenty of machine gun and five-inch fire protection. Bombing was a bit erratic at first, it was recalled. Everyone was too busy at the time to think much of it. Hits began to increase as they steadied down to the job of destruction.
By nightfall of the second day, Torpedo Squadron Ten got nine ships, including one destroyer, and had damaged 10, while Bombing ten scored two sunk and 11 damaged, including a destroyer and a cruiser which was later sunk by our battleships.
Fighting Ten chalked up 29 planes shot down, one probably destroyed and 10 damaged. The three squadrons accounted for 45 planes on the ground.
Lt.(jg) Hubert F. Grubis, Youngstown, Ohio and Lieut. James G. Leonard, Island City, Ore., who later was lost in the attack on Saipan, drew first blood for Bombing Ten, sinking a large tanker in Truk Lagoon. Masters and Lt.(jg) Hilbert H. Dawson, Dunn, N.C., blew up a large freighter.
Highlight of the second day at Truk was Torpedo Ten's night bombing attack. Forty-five minutes of masthead bombing left Truk Lagoon a mass of sinking and exploding ships. It was estimated that eight cargo ships and tankers were sent to the bottom and five others seriously damaged.
The night attack, together with day operations, gave each of the following one or more ships to his credit: Eason, Nelson, Moore, Cummings, Lieut. Russell F. Kippen, Gloucester, Mass., Lt.(jg) Charles E. Henderson, Gibson Island, Md., Lt.(jg) Clifton R. Largess, Jr., Worchester, Mass., and Lt.(jg) William H. Balden, Harrodsburg, Ky.
Ensign Joseph W. Jewell, Jr., Summit, N.J., who on February 22 sank a freighter in the raid on Saipan while on detached duty with another Air Group, and Lt.(jg) Shannon W. McCrary, Alameda, Calif., damaged destroyers while Lt.(jg) Ernest J. Lawton, Jr., Palmer, Mass., crippled a Natori-class cruiser.
During the retirement from Truk, Jap night bombers endeavored to attack. Harmer caught one near the task force, set one engine on fire and chased it 70 miles. There was no attack that night.
What next after Truk? That was the big question. Speculation covered a broad field. Finally it became known that Palau Island in the Carolines would be the objective, with support of a landing at Emirau Island in the St. Mathias group as a preliminary.
Palau, a powerful Jap base almost as mysterious as Truk, deeper in enemy territory than any American Task Force had been since the early months of the war - 300 miles west of Tokyo.
The weeks passed quickly, and before they knew it, the operation was at hand. After supporting the invasion of Emirau, the task force moved up the New Guinea coast toward Palau. It was no surprise as at Truk. The Japs were alerted. The search planes were being shot down in surprising numbers. It seemed the more they lost, the more they sent out.
As at Truk, the first fighter sweep revealed that heavy units of the Jap fleet had fled in advance of the attack, but the enemy had not had time to evacuate valuable cargo ships.
At the end of the day, March 30, Air Group Ten had sunk three ships and damaged 28; seven planes had been shot down in aerial combat and four destroyed on the ground.
Lt.(jg) John S. "Pierre" Boudreaux, Gloucester, Mass., of Bombing Ten, spotted a large oil tanker in the lagoon. He was all alone as he pushed over in his dive. He prayed all the way down that he would get a hit. He did. His heavy bomb landed squarely amidships. The tanker belched flame, smoke and debris, then sank.
Torpedo Ten accounted for two ships sunk. Ensign Carroll L. Farrell, Ada, Okla., sent a medium tanker to the bottom of the lagoon, while Henderson and McCrary did the same to a large cargo ship.
The following day aircraft facilities and military installations at Yap and Ulithi received a drubbing. Thirty-six tons of well-placed bombs caused plenty of damage. The Hellcats looked in vain for competition.
On April 1 the operation was repeated at Woleai Island, the principal difference being that four enemy planes were caught on the ground and were destroyed. Radio stations, the airfield and military installations in general received a good working over by Bombing and Torpedo Ten, and the fighters strafed for good measure.
A welcome rest followed, but it wasn't long before everyone was eager to move again. This time it was Hollandia - to support General Douglas MacArthur's invasion of that highly important New Guinea base. A stiff fight was expected. The Japs couldn't fail to spot the large task force and invasion fleet. Intelligence showed a large number of planes on Hollandia's airdromes despite the destruction of more than 250 by Army bombers earlier in the month.
Something went wrong for the Japs. The first fighter sweeps and bombing strikes caught the enemy flat-footed with his planes down. None got off the field. Soon the fields were littered with burning wrecks of all types of aircraft. Air Group Ten alone accounted for 79 destroyed, the figure being conservative.
Three enemy bombers appeared from nowhere, tried to land on one of the fields. Immediately so many Hellcats were diving on them they had to form a traffic circle. The bombers landed - in flames.
With the enemy's air force entirely neutralized, the Army moved ashore without difficulty. Fighters strafed ahead of the front lines, cleaning out small pockets of resistance, while the bombers concentrated on gun positions near the fields.
Released from the Hollandia operation, the task force moved against Truk for the second time, striking at dawn on April 29. Air opposition was weak. The fighter sweep knocked down six planes, damaged three. Seventeen planes were destroyed on the ground. Five ships were damaged.
This time however, shipping was not the primary target. There wasn't enough of it. Orders were to level aircraft installations and neutralize gun positions. This was done with a vengeance. More bombs were dropped than in any other operation to date. Anti-aircraft fire, intense at first, gradually diminished, but still was deadly accurate.
Two torpedo pilots, Nelson and Laster, went down outside the lagoon. They and their crewmen, together with Lt.(jg) Robert Kanze of Star Route, Freehold, N.J., fighter pilot, who was shot down over the lagoon the previous afternoon, were rescued. It was more than a month, however, before they rejoined the group. One fighter pilot was missing, believed shot down.
Few would minimize the strain of two days' flying through a curtain of flak. "The stuff was everywhere," one pilot said. "If you went in high, it was up there. If you went in low, it was there too. All you could do was duck the closest burst and hope you didn't run into the next one."
Another changed of command followed Truk. Lieut-Commander Richard L. Poor, commanding Bombing Squadron Ten was named to succeed Newman as assistant air officer, Ramage assuming command of the squadron. Poor shortly became commander and air officer.
A few weeks' rest found the Air Group in top form for its most important operation - the invasion of Saipan, the neutralization of Guam and a possibility that materialized - a clash with the Jap fleet.
It played an important part in knocking out the enemy's airfields and defense installations in preparation for the invasion of Saipan and, until the fleet action, June 19-20, provided continuous bombing and strafing strikes in support of advancing ground forces.
Heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire made the missions particularly dangerous. Two fighter pilots, a bomber pilot and his crewman and two torpedo plane crewmen were lost. Others landed at sea when their planes were damaged and were rescued.
Commander William I. Martin, skipper of Torpedo Ten, was shot down in flames by anti-aircraft fire over Saipan on June 13, while pressing home a bombing attack on important coastal gun positions. He escaped injury when his parachute opened just before he hit the water. His crewmen were lost.
Three days later Commander Kane was forced down by AA fire which damaged his plane. He was rescued by a destroyer. Returning to the carrier following the attack on the Jap fleet, Kane landed in the ocean with several others. He again was picked up by a destroyer.
Bombing Ten accounted for two ships sunk at Saipan and Guam, Lt.(jg) Oliver W. Hubbard, Bedford, Ind., and Lt.(jg) DeTemple sinking a freighter in Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, while Lt.(jg) Orville O. Peterson, Seattle, Wash., and Lt.(jg) Erling E. Jacobsen, Portland, Ore., sank a cargo ship off the coast of Guam. McCrary, Torpedo Ten, exploded a tanker off the west coast of Saipan. Several survivors were picked up.
On June 19, Fighting Ten contributed to the decimation of the Japs' carrier-based air force by shooting down 19 planes over and near Guam. One four-plane division, led by Devine, accounted for 12 planes.
Devine, who previously had four to his credit, knocked down four - two fighters, a dive bomber and a torpedo bomber. Ude and Lt.(jg) Philip L. Kirkwood, Wildwood, N.J., shot down three each, while Lt.(jg) James F. Kay, Washington, D.C., who had become separated from the rest of his division, shot down a fighter and a dive bomber, while looking for it.
The attack on the Jap fleet and 10 days' action against Guam provided a fitting climax to a long tour of combat duty.