Dive Bombers and Other Birds

Tudor Richards, USNR

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At Ulithi we got our first look at the Fifth Fleet and Task Force 58, its striking force. Admittedly the lagoon was big enough to hold all the World’s navies, but the number of ships, especially the carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of Task Force 58 seemed almost incredible. Here, in fact, were all the available new ships of these types, just back from their latest series of strikes, and their train or supply ships, as well as the ships, especially the CVE’s and old battleships and cruisers of the 7th Fleet. The small islets forming the lagoon seemed puny by comparison. Only one of them, Mog Mog, was used for shore liberty parties, the natives originally having kindly consented to leave to make this possible, but I can’t say much for Mog Mog. It was only a few hundred yards long by perhaps half as wide, but even so some of it was restricted, being used for a rest camp. There were sections reserved for officers and enlisted men, but the emphasis in both areas was beer. The only area good for swimming seemed too small or crowded to be worth it. There were, however, a few compensations, the beautiful all white Love Tern being much in evidence, and a flying fox was seen on one occasion.

After a few days in port we went on a shake-down cruise for a few days, making practice attacks on the ship. An unfortunate accident occurred when a division of fighters pulled up from below and right through our division, led by Doug Yerxa. By almost a miracle there was only one collision, though both divisions were in close formation, one fighter ploughing into Jim Sipes, flying on Doug’s right wing, killing Jim, his aircrewman and the fighter pilot. The fault was the fighter division’s leader 100 per cent.

We had got word where our first strikes were to be soon after getting aboard and hearing that they were to be around Tokyo, we felt sort of hollow inside. Japan had never been attacked by carrier planes before except by Doolittle’s B–25’s nearly three years before. The Hornet, captained by Capt. Doyle, turned out to be the flagship flagship of our task group under Admiral “Jocko” Clark*. Other carriers in our group included the Wasp and the new Bennington, both also Essex class, and the Belleau Wood, a CVL or light carrier (Independence class) converted from a cruiser, as well as two South Dakota class battleships, several cruisers and a whole bunch of destroyers. There were other task groups and 18 carriers altogether (11 large, 7 light).

Our course would have been straight north for about 25 degrees of latitude or 1500 miles except that an arc to the eastward was judged as having better chances for a surprise. On this trip north we had another practice attack or two, and the bombers had their only anti-submarine patrol the whole time we were out there.

On Feb. 16, by a curious coincidence my 30th birthday, came the real thing. The skipper led the first hop, which, as a matter of fact, attacked Hachigo Jima, an island some distance south of Tokyo Bay, and those of us who didn’t go on that strike felt very anxious about things until everyone came back safe and sound saying it wasn’t so bad, there having been moderate anti-aircraft fire and no fighter opposition.

* My Groton and Harvard classmate, John Roosevelt, was on his staff.