Category Archives: aircraft

103 Years of Naval Aviation: Celebrating Eugene Ely and the First Flight on and Off a Ship

First_airplane_takeoff_from_a_warship

On a blustery November 14th in the year 1910 a young civilian pilot hailing from Williamsport Iowa became the first man to fly an aircraft off the deck of a ship.  At the age of 24 and having taught himself to fly barely 7 months before Eugene Ely readied himself and his Curtis biplane aboard the Cruiser USS Birmingham anchored just south of Fort Monroe in Hampton Roads.

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Eugene Ely (above) Captain Washington Irving Chambers (below)

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Ely was there because he was discovered by Navy Captain Washington Irving Chambers.  Chambers had been tasked with exploring how aircraft might become part of Naval Operations. Chambers had no budget or authority for his seemingly thankless task nor any trained Navy aviators. But when he heard that a German steamship might launch and aircraft from a ship Chambers hustled to find a way to stake a claim for the U.S. Navy to be the first in flight.

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Weather was bad that day as is so typical for Hampton Roads in November. Between rain squalls Ely decided to launch even though Birmingham did not have steam up to get underway to assist the launch.  Ely gunned the engine and his biplane rumbled down the 57 foot ramp and as he left the deck the aircraft nosed down and actually make contact with the water splintering the propeller. The damage to his aircraft forced Ely to cut the flight short and land on Willoughby Spit about 2 ½ miles away. This is not far from the southern entrance to the modern Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

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Chambers would talk Ely into making the first landing on a Navy ship the Armored Cruiser USS Pennsylvania in San Francisco Bay on January 18th 1911. In this flight his aircraft was modified and equipped with an arrestor hook, a standard feature on carrier aircraft since the early days of US Navy aviation.

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Ely landing on USS Pennsylvania (note the “arrestor cables” on the deck)

Ely desired employment in the Navy but the Navy Air Arm had not yet been established so he continued his exhibition flying around the country. Ely died in a crash while performing at the Georgia State Fairgrounds on October 11th 1911 less than a year after his historic flight off the deck of the Birmingham.

Ely would not be forgotten. Though he was a civilian he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Congress in 1933. The citation read in part: “for extraordinary achievement as a pioneer civilian aviator and for his significant contribution to the development of aviation in the United States Navy.”

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It is hard to believe that Naval Aviation traces its heritage back to this humble beginning. However the next time you see whether in person or on television aircraft taking off and landing from a modern super carrier remember the brave soul named Eugene Ely who 103 years ago gunned his frail aircraft down that short ramp aboard the Birmingham. To Ely and all the men and women who would follow him as Naval Aviators.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy

The Rebirth of the Divine Wind: Kamikazes at Leyte Gulf

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“In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of A6M Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier…” Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi

It was a tactic born of desperation but one that fit in well with the philosophy of Bushido. After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in June 1944 and the slaughter of land based Japanese Naval and Army air forces based in Formosa in September of that year Japanese leaders began to look to a tactics born of desperation but which fit their Bushido based ethos of sacrifice.

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Lt. Yukio Seki

Suicide attacks were nothing new to the Japanese, but until October 1944 they were tactics decided on by individuals who saw no alternative to the choice. In October 1944 that calculus changed, instead of individuals or isolated units which had no hope of victory conducting suicide attacks, commanders decided to employ suicide attackers as a matter of course.

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When the American forces invaded the Philippines Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi was commander of the First Air Fleet based in the Northern Philippines. He was not a fan of Kamikaze tactics and viewed them as heresy. However after the slaughter of the reconstituted Naval Air Force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea he reluctantly changed his mind. I say reluctantly based on his previous views and because after he committed ritual suicide following the Japanese surrender he apologized to the estimated 4000 pilots that he sent to their death and their families.

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Admiral Ōnishi

But in October 1944 with Japan reeling from defeats in the Pacific and its supply route for oil and other raw materials threatened desperation was the order of the day.

The 201st Navy Flying Corps based out of Clark Field near Manila was the major land based Japanese Naval Air Force unit in the Philippines. Among its pilots was a young Naval Officer and Aviator named Lt. Yukio Seki. Seki was a graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima and was recently married. He was not an ideologue or believer in suicide attacks. When questioned by a reporter before his squadron launched the first Kamikaze attacks he remarked to Masashi Onoda, a War Correspondent :“Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire… I am going because I was ordered to!” 

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On October 25th 1944 Seki led his group of 5 A6M2-5 Zero fighters, each carrying a 550 pound bomb took off and attacked the Escort Carriers of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s “Taffy-3.” The five pilots all died in their attacks but two damaged the USS Kalinin Bay and USS Kitkun Bay while two aircraft, one believed to be Seki’s hit the USS St Lo causing mortal damage which sank that ship in less than half an hour with the loss of over 140 sailors.

The attacks of Seki’s small squadron were a harbinger of what was to come. Over the next 10 months over 4000 Japanese pilots would die in Kamikaze attacks against US Navy and Allied Naval units. Numbers of ships destroyed or damaged by Kamikazes are debated by some historians believe that 70 US and Allied ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair and close to 300 more damaged. 2525 Imperial Japanese Navy pilots and 1387 Imperial Army pilots died in Kamikaze attacks killing almost 5000 sailors and wounding over 5000 more.

Admiral Ōnishi who made the decision to make Kamikazes a part of Japan’s offensive strategy in 1944 appeared to regret that decision. In his suicide note he urged young Japanese to rebuild the country and seek peace with all people and offered his death a penance for the nearly 4000 pilots he sent to their deaths. Accordingly when he committed ritual suicide (seppuku) he did so alone, with a second to finish the job and died over 15 hours after disemboweling himself.

The Kamikaze campaign did not alter the course of the war, but it did introduce a new dimension of terror and misguided sacrifice. I do pray that one day war will be no more and that even though I expect war to remain part of our world until longer after my death  that nations, peoples or revolutionary groups will no longer send their v=best and brightest to certain death.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under aircraft, History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

Knight’s Cross with Golden Oak Leaves Swords and Diamonds: Hans-Ulrich Rudel and the Problem of Soldiers Serving Evil Governments

Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel was undoubtably the greatest ground attack pilot that ever lived. His record is unsurpassed by any combat pilot flying ground attack missions. According to official Luftwaffe records he flew 2350 combat missions beginning in June 1941 and ending when he led the remains of his squadron to crash land on the American occupied airfield in Kitzingen on May 8th 1945.

Born in Rosenheim Bavaria in 1916 he joined the Luftwaffe as an officer cadet. Like many of his era Rudel was an ardent Nazi. Despite that and his unrepentant admiration for Adolf Hitler his combat achievements are unmatched.

His early career was inauspicious. He was not regarded well as a pilot and spent the Polish campaign as an observer and did not take part in a combat role during the campaign in the west, the Battle of Britain or Crete in 1940 to May of 1941. Assigned to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2) Immelmann he finally saw combat in June 1941 in the Soviet Union and thereafter was almost always in combat.

Flying various models of the Ju-87 Stuka Rudel was one of two pilots credited with sinking the Soviet Battleship Marat at Kronstadt harbor near Leningrad (Petersburg) on September 23rd 1941. During the war he was never shot down by an opposing aircraft but was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery or forced to land 32 times. He destroyed over 2000 targets including 519 tanks, hundreds of other vehicles and artillery pieces, he previously mentioned Battleship Marat, several other ships, 70 anding craft, bridges, armored trains and 9 aircraft in air to air combat. His accomplishments during the latter part of the war are remarkable because of the Soviet dominance of the airspace on the Eastern Front. Losses among ground attack pilots flying the venerable Stukas were high and the fact that he flew multiple missions on a daily basis for a sustained period is unsurpassed in modern warfare.

He was critically wounded by the explosion of a 40mm anti-aircraft shell on February 8th 1945 and saved by the quick action of his observer. His right leg was amputated below the knee and despite his wound he returned to combat on March 25th 1945.

He was spent 10 month in American captivity and after his release moved to Argentina where he became a friend of the dictator Juan Peron. He returned to Germany and became active in right wing nationalist politics. He became a successful businessman but his still openly National Socialist political views kept him marginalized in the West German Bundeswehr.

However, with the threat of a Soviet armored assault across the German plain during the Cold War Rudel was tapped to assist the U.S. Air Force in the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft. Despite its ungainly appearance the A-10, known by its nickname Warthog” has proven to be one of the most successful combat aircraft produced by the United States. His writings on tactics were required reading for pilots involved with the aircraft’s development by the A-10’s lead designer Pierre Sprey.

 

Rudel was the most highly decorated officer in the Luftwaffe, holding the highest decoration awarded to anyone other than Herman Goering. Alone the holders of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, he was awarded the gold Oak Leaves.

Rudel was a remarkable pilot and combat flyer. His valor and combat accomplishments are unquestioned but his undying attachment to Nazi ideology following the war caused a scandal that claimed the careers of two Bundeswehr Luftwaffe Generals including World War Two fighter ace Walter Krupinski (197 kills) clouds his legacy. He died in 1982 admired by British and American combat pilots including the legendary British ace Douglas Bader, who did not know his political activities; as well as Germans of Nazi or right wing political leanings. As a Luftwaffe pilot he was not a part of atrocities committed by the SS or Wehrmacht and never tried as a war criminal.

In retrospect it is important to understand that Rudel’s political views were shaped by the times in which he lived and the radicalism that swept Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. Likewise it is also important to note that unlike many others who grew up during the same period like fellow Luftwaffe aces Johannes Steinhoff and Adolf Galland, Rudel never recanted his views and published a tract in the early 1950s that condemned German officers who did not wholeheartedly support Adolf Hitler. He also recommended attacking the Soviet Union in the 1950s in order to reacquire Lebensruam.  

I think it is important to be able to recognize military accomplishments but also to recognize that even valiant soldiers can serve evil governments, and some of them give their unrequited support to the evil ideology of those regimes. Thus Rudel is not alone. He stands with other Nazi, Communist, Fascist and others soldiers of totalitarianism whose valor and deeds are tainted by evil and the crimes of the regimes that they supported.

Rudel’s mixed legacy, like many from the Nazi era as well as from other nations should serve as a reminder to any soldier, sailor or airman. That warning is to always be careful to ensure that honest patriotism does not become corrupted by the ideology of those that appeal to fear, hate and revenge as the source of their power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Anxiety: Padre Steve and Flight Delays

 

I am not as good of air traveler as I used to be. I get anxious when I travel by air now.  Sometimes when I fly it feels like I am Mel Brooks at the beginning of the movie High Anxiety http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_phD__FPsQ or Robert Hays in Airplane. The only thing missing from modern air terminals are the incessant bands of religious zealots that used to be a staple of large airport lobbies back in the 1970s.

Almost every time I travel by air I have the title song from High Anxiety going through my mind: “High Anxiety, it’s always the same. High anxiety, it’s you that I blame. It’s very clear to me I’ve got to give in, high anxiety, you win.” 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grLM1WrivPA

Despite the absence of those bands of zealots, who I almost miss going to the airport is never fun. It starts with long lines at the check in counter and through the TSA checkpoints, endure more lines at the gates and get stuffed into a packed aircraft next to someone who insists on taking up their seat plus a third of your seat. It finally ends when you pull out of the parking lot after waiting an unbearable length of time at the baggage carousel of doom for the checked bag that may or may not arrive when you do.

However I have this miserable experience down to a science.  I make sure that everything in my pockets can fit in my baseball hat, I wear shoes that come on and off easily and may backpack is set up so that my computer can be taken in and out quickly. I don’t carry any liquids whatsoever even those that are allowed by TSA. I find the trouble of bagging tiny containers in quart size plastic bags to be too much effort to make it worth while.  My backpack which has accompanied me since Iraq fits well in the overhead compartments of most aircraft and I only carry it so I don’t have to check anything at the gate.

Today has been another adventure in air travel. At Houston Hobby Airport the TSA operates the new scanning devices which enable the agents to look at your naked body. This is not new technology. I saw it used the first time in the movie Airplane. Somehow the thought of my naked body being exposed to anyone other than Judy is not comforting. I wonder what TSA does with these images.

Today I flew out of Houston on the American Airlines subsidiary American Eagle. To make it to the airport I had to catch a cab from the hotel and build in enough time for Houston morning rush hour traffic, so I was on the road by 0720. I had, the operative word had a flight that was to depart at 1020 and be in Dallas by about 1130. My connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 1335. That would have been great. Two hours to make connections right? But no, the scheduled aircraft had a mechanical problem and the replacement did not arrive in Houston until 1145. By the time I took off it was 1225 by the time I landed it was too late. I missed my flight by about 5 minutes. It was pushing away from the gate when I got off of the Sky Link train. I was able to get a picture of it as it left.

Now I get to wait until 1830 local time to take off to arrive in Norfolk about 2220. That is 10:20 PM to the no-military types. Thankfully I was able to get some Tex-Mex food and a couple of beers as I wait out the nearly 5 hour interval between flights. At least I don’t have Robert Hays’s “drinking problem.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl4plPGRG8o

By the time I get home, Lord willing, or as my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah” it will be nearly midnight, about 18 hours after I left the hotel. I could have driven Judy’s Mustang straight through in just a few hours more.

Oh, High Anxiety, you win… looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue…

Oh well… c’est le vie.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Flying the Friendly Skies and Crossing the Pond

1970 American Airlines Advertisement

Back when I was a kid I remember going on my first plane flights without adult supervision. I would fly from Stockton California to Long Beach to see my friend Chris who had been my next door neighbor when my dad was stationed in Long Beach. Back then I flew on Pacific Southwest Airlines whose aircraft featured a smile on the nose.  PSA is now part of US Air but my memories of flying as a kid are much more enjoyable than flying now.  I don’t do air travel and crowded airports well after Iraq so I do what I can to make the travel as easy as possible but certain things can get to me, especially on the American side of the pond.

When I was a kid air travel was considered to be somewhat of an adventure. In fact until the major railroads ended their passenger service in the early 1970s and left us with Amtrak my family almost always travelled by train. Even the commercials made air travel seem almost magical. Advertising lines like “Fly the friendly skies” “The big bird with the golden tail” and “First Class leg space even in Coach” went another. Even coach passengers were treated with a modicum of respect and while meals and leg room may not have been what it was in First Class you didn’t feel like you were traveling steerage either, which is what I equate flying in “Coach” to be.  Likewise because we didn’t perceive a terrorist threat we didn’t have to deal with the now common TSA agents and security screenings that take one back to the good old days of when a Gestapo Agent politely asked “your papers please.” But I digress…

Steerage of course was what steamship lines used to call 3rd Class where immigrants and other less than desirable passengers sailed to ensure that they did not trouble the elites traveling in First Class. As I said I equate Coach with Steerage without the ability to throw a party with dancing, singing and beer for everyone.  Little has changed and while all air travelers occupy a high tech metal cylinder propelled by tremendous jet engines those little curtains that separate the First Class from Business or Coach are as  impenetrable as were the locked doors on the Titanic.

Today so far has been yet another adventure in air travel.  It began with a delay due to weather on the inbound flight which resulted in such a tight turn around that it affected my follow on flight. Since that flight involved an different airline I spent an hour at the check in desk as the lady helping me worked her hardest to get me rebooked and out of the other airline’s system. So I had a well deserved beer while waiting for that flight prayed that the aircraft would leave on time.

It left the gate on time but alas the Air Controllers at Newark had other plans. As we taxied out to take off we pulled over off of the runway. The Captain announced that Newark had told us to sit on the Tarmac in Norfolk for 40 minutes. We arrived at Newark less than an hour before takeoff. Thankfully there was a shuttle bus between terminals and I hitched a ride to make it on time even finding a few minutes to do a “defueling operation” in the men’s room and a refuel my bladder with an overpriced soda before boarding the aircraft.

No my flight has been interesting. I flew to Newark on United Express. I flew to Frankfurt on a United flight that used to be a Continental aircraft that still had its Continental crew. The aircraft, a very nice Boeing 777 was thankfully not full and I got a full row to myself back in steerage.  The service on the Continental/United flight was good.  Unfortunately unlike the American Airlines flights that I took to Houston and back last week this aircraft did not have any wireless free internet, so I had no ability to communicate in the air. So after we were airborne I pulled out my Kindle and did my Evening Prayer liturgy before reading a book about the Battleship Bismarck.

I landed at Frankfurt just before 630 AM local time and of course passed through the Customs and Border Police. Now unlike the TSA agents, the German Border Police or Grenzschutz command respect. There is something about Germany where you do exactly what the police tell you to do. I remember back when I was stationed in Germany in the 198-s and it was quite common to see Grenzschutz officers walking the airport with automatic rifles and machine guns. That of course was in the era of the Rad Brigades and the Bader-Meinhoff terrorist group as well as the beginnings of PLO and Libyan sponsored terrorists.  I remember once when Judy and I saw a person that we believed was a Bader-Meinhoff terrorist in Wiesbaden and went to report it to the Polizei. That was an interesting experience as we were interrogated about the report for over an hour in German. Now days the Polizei are just as efficient but compared to our airport security seem so much more efficient and less obtrusive.

Since I read, speak and write German and have studied copious amounts of German history I go through those security points like a pro, like Newman going through the line at the Soup Nazi kitchen.

While in Frankfurt I have a couple of hours to relax, if that is possible at an airport. Unlike major American and British Airports which have almost the feel of going to a mall, albeit a mall that you have to get a full body scan, fondled and possibly strip searched to enter many European airports are all about air travel with very small areas devoted to shopping or being able to drink beer with breakfast. I actually like it when I have to travel through London’s Heathrow airport because I know a couple of pubs where I can have fried eggs and bacon rashers with a sliced tomato and a couple of pints of beer between flights. Heathrow is amazing, it is like an upscale mall packed with people from the world over and it has a couple of decent bookstores which I always found something interesting to read, usually books about military history not easily available in the United States.  But while I can read German fairly well it is not what I do for fun or relaxation so what I find in the a German airport is not as entertaining as in the UK.

Upon arriving at Frankfurt I did get a salad and beer and the airport has changed some over the years, a few more places to eat and shop but nothing like Heathrow.  I guess the weirdest thing is looking across the runway to where Rheim Main Air Base used to be. Back in January 1984 when I first arrived in Germany it was massive. You looked across the runway from the German side and there was line upon line of C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transports. Even in 1996 when I came to support the Bosnia mission Rhein Main was still busy though being reduced due to the end of the Cold War. As late as 5-7 years ago you could see the old USAF hangers and buildings. Now the area is being redeveloped and it is hard to tell the airbase was ever there.

Long Gone…Rhein Main Airbase in its Heyday…

So I post this from Frankfurt International Airport while waiting for my final flight of this very long day. It will be on a Lufthansa flight and a relatively short commuter type flight. When I get to Stuttgart I will be picked up from the airport by staff from the Judge Advocate’s office and believe that I will be offering my testimony today. That may change with the delay in my flight and so I will see. I am scheduled to fly back Saturday from Stuttgart back through Newark and Norfolk and should be home in time for dinner with Judy at Gordon Biersch.

So until my next post…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wings of Gold: U.S. Navy Carrier Fighter Aircraft 1941-1945

F4F-4 Wildcat of VF-41 in 1942

In 1941 with war raging inEuropeand the Japanese continuing their war in China  and occupied French Indo-China theUnited States rushed to build up its Naval Air Arm and the Arm Air Corps.  New models of aircraft of all types were being rushed into production to replace aircraft already known to be obsolescent.  The Navy brought aircraft already accepted into full production even as it planned more advanced models.  The events in Europe and Asia demonstrated that new fighter designs were needed quickly.

As 1940 dawned the standard fighter aircraft found on U.S. Navy carriers were the F2-A Brewster Buffalo, the Grumman F-3F biplane.  In February 1940 the Navy accepted its first F4F-3 Wildcat which in an earlier for had been rejected in favor of the Brewster Buffalo.  The new Grumman fighter was powered by a 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 double row radial engine, mounted 4 .50 cal. Machine guns and was heavily armored.  It had a maximum speed of 331 mph range of 845 miles and ceiling of 39500 feet. This would serve it and its pilots well as they aircraft was incredibly tough, often amazing experienced Japanese pilots in their A6M2 Zeros in their ability to suffer heavy damage and remain in the air.  The plucky Wildcat would become the main line of defense in the Pacific against the advancing Japanese Imperial Navy in the months following Pearl Harbor.

The early F4F-3s were superseded by the F4F-4 model which incorporated folding wings, additional armor and an extra two machine guns.  This decreased its maximum speed to 320 mph, rate of climb and ceiling but nonetheless the aircraft gave a good account of itself in Navy and Marine Corps service.  F4F-3’s and F4F-4s served in the British Royal Navy where it was called the Martlet until the end of the war.  When Grumman closed out F4F production in 1943 to concentrate on its replacement the F6F Hellcat production was continued by General Motors and Eastern Aircraft as the FM1 and FM2 Wildcat. The FM1 was identical to the F4F-4 but armament was reduced to 4 machine guns and bomb racks for two 250 lb bombs or depth charges were added.  The FM2 was based on an updated version of the F4F and had a more powerful engine as well as a higher tail assembly to account for the increased torque of the engine.  These aircraft served aboard the tiny Escort Carriers and performed valiantly, especially in the Battle off Samar during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  A total of 7860 Wildcats of all varieties were built.  They accounted for 1327 enemy aircraft shot down with the loss of only 191 Wildcats.

Aces Capt Joe Foss USMC and CAPT David McConnell USN both Medal of Honor Winners and CDR Jimmy Thatch (below)

The top aces who flew the Wildcat were all Marines, CAPT Joe Foss (26 victories) MAJ John Lucian Smith (19 victories) and MAJ Marion Carl (16 victories in the F4F and 2 in the F4U Corsair). Foss and Smith both won the Medal of Honor.  Foss would go on to become Governor of South Dakota and the first Commissioner of the American Football League in 1959. Smith retired as a Colonel in 1960 and Carl as a Major General.  Other distinguished F4F aces included LT Butch O’Hare, the first U.S. Navy ace and Medal of Honor winner and LCDR Jimmy Thatch who developed the highly successful “Thatch Weave” which enabled the U.S.pilots whose machines were slower and less maneuverable than the speedy and nimble Zeros to achieve good success against their Japanese foe.  Thatch retired as an Admiral in 1967.  O’Hare rose to become commander of the Enterprise Air Group and was killed in action in November 1943. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is named for this brave aviator.

F6F Hellcat

The Grumman F6F Hellcat took over front line fighter duties on the Fleet Carriers from the Wildcat in early 1943 and established itself as the dominant fighter in the Pacific Theater of Operations.  Although it had a resemblance to the F4F the F6F was a totally new design built on combat experience against the Japanese.  The aircraft was built around the powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine which produced 2000 hp.  The Hellcat mounted six .50 caliber machine guns and had a rate of climb of 3500 feet per minute and a 37300 ft operational ceiling.

Faster than the Zero and other Japanese fighters and piloted by more experienced pilots the Hellcats took a brutal toll of Japanese aircraft.  They accounted for more Japanese aircraft kills than any other with 5163 confirmed kills with a loss of 270 aircraft an overall 19:1 kill ratio. They were piloted by 305 Navy and Marine Corps aces including Meal of Honor winner Captain David McConnell the Navy’s Ace of Aces, and highest surviving United States ace of the war that scored all 34 of his victories in the Hellcat.  The greatest achievement of the Hellcats were when they swept the rebuilt Japanese Naval Air Arm from the skies in the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. By November 1945 12275 Hellcats had been built with 1263 going to the British Royal Navy. After the war the Hellcat was replaced by the F8F Bearcat as the primary fighter and served in a night fighter and trainer role until the 1950s.  The French Navy used the Hellcat in to provide heroic close air support to beleaguered French Soldiers in Indochina.

USMC F4U-4 Corsair providing close air support

Flying alongside the F6F was the Vaught F4U Corsair. The Corsair first flew in 1940 and the Navy was slow to adopt it due to difficulties in carrier operations and negative reviews of Navy pilots.  However Marine Corps aviators flying the Corsair had great success and legendary aviators like MAJ Gregory “Pappy” Boyington and VMF-214 the Black Sheep.  The Navy would adopt the aircraft later in the war as the Corsair’s carrier operation deficiencies were remedied, but its real success was a land based aircraft operated by the Marines.  Likewise the first squadrons to operate the aircraft successfully from carriers were the Marine Corps VMF-124 and VMF-213.

Early F4U-1

The Corsair mounted the same Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine as the F6F but had a highly streamlined gull wing design as well as a turbo-charger which allowed it a top speed of 425 mph.  Later models such as the F4U-4 had a top speed of 445 mph. The F4F was armed with six .50 cal machine guns as well as rockets and a bomb load of 2000 pounds and the F4U-4 could carry 4000 pounds of ordnance.

Less than 10000 of the over 64000 combat sorties flown by F4Us were flown from carriers, the vast bulk of the sorties coming from land based Marine Corps squadrons.  The Corsair was often used as a fighter bomber where its capabilities to drop sizable amounts of ordinance including rockets, bombs and the nearly developed Napalm in a close air support role cemented the importance of Marine Air for future generations.  They were beloved by the Marine Corps and U.S. Army infantrymen in their brutal battles with the Japanese on many hellish island battlefields.  Corsairs accounted for 2140 confirmed kills during the war against a combat loss of 189 aircraft. The aircraft remained in production until 1952 with 12571 aircraft of all variants being built.  Many Japanese pilots considered the Corsair to be the best fighter of the war.

During the war many served in the British Royal Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force with good success and after the war the French Navy had success with them in a close air support role in Indochina and Algeria.  Following the war the Corsair remained in service for many years in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as well as the French Navy and other smaller navies and air forces until the 1960s.

These amazing aircraft and the men that flew them established a tradition of excellence that the Naval Aviators of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps continue today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death: The Death of the Torpedo Bombers at Midway

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Charge of the Light Brigade

They were not six hundred and they were not mounted on horses but the Naval Aviators of Torpedo Squadrons 3, 6 and 8 and their aerial steeds 42 Douglas TBD Devastators and 6 TBF Avengers wrote a chapter of courage and sacrifice seldom equaled in the history of Naval Aviation. Commanded by veteran Naval Aviators, LCDR Lance “Lem” Massey, LCDR Eugene Lindsey and LCDR John Waldron the squadrons embarked aboard the carriers flew the obsolete TBD Devastators and the young pilots of the Midway based Torpedo 8 detachment under the command of LT Langdon Fieberling flew in the new TBF Avengers.

The TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world when it entered service.  It was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp.  The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational by the beginning of the war.  They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not available for service in large enough numbers to replace them before Midway.  The TBDs performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 aircraft surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.

The Torpedo squadrons attacked independently of each other between 0920 and 1030 on June 4th 1942. Only

The Japanese Combat Air Patrol ripped into the slow, cumbersome and under armed TBD Devastators as they came in low to launch their torpedoes.  Torpedo Eight from Hornet under the command of LCDR John C Waldron pressed the attack hard but all 15 of the Devastators were shot down.  Only Ensign George Gay’s aircraft was able to launch its torpedo before being shot down and Gay would be the sole survivor of the squadron to be picked up later by a PBY Catalina patrol plane.

Torpedo Six from the Enterprise under the command of LCDR Eugene Lindsey suffered heavy casualties losing 10 of 14 aircraft with Lindsey being one of the casualties.  The last group of Devastators to attack was Torpedo Three from the Yorktown under the command of LCDR Lem Massey losing 11 of 13 aircraft with Massey a casualty last being seen standing on the wing of his burning aircraft as it went down.  These aircraft were also decimated and Massey killed but they had drawn the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to the deck leaving the task force exposed to the Dive Bombers of the Enterprise and Yorktown.  The six aircraft of the Torpedo Eight detachment from Midway under the command of LT Fieberling lost 5 of their 6 aircraft while pressing their attacks.  Only Ensign Bert Earnest and his aircraft survived the battle landing in a badly damaged state on Midway.  Four U.S. Army B-26 Marauder Medium Bombers were pressed into service as torpedo bombers of which 2 were lost.  No torpedo bomber scored a hit on the Japanese Task force even those torpedoes launched at close range failed to score and it is believe that this was in large part due to the poor performance of the Mark 13 aircraft torpedoes.

Despite the enormous losses of the torpedo squadrons their sacrifice was not in vain. Their attacks served to confuse the Japanese command and delay the rearmament of aircraft following the Japanese strikes on Midway. They also took the Japanese Combat Air Patrol down to sea level and opened the way for American Dive Bombers to strike the Japanese with impunity fatally damaging the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu in the space of 5 minutes.

After Midway the remaining TBDs were withdrawn from active service and no example survives today. The TBF became the most effective torpedo bomber of the war.

As we remember the brave men that fought at Midway it is imperative that we remember the brave aircrews of the torpedo squadrons that like the Light Brigade rode into the Valley of the Shadow of Death against the First Carrier Strike Force and Midway.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wings of Gold: U. S. Navy Carrier Aircraft 1935-1941

Curtiss BF2C Goshawks (US Navy Photo)

As the United States Navy built up its Carrier Force in the mid to late 1930s it continued to develop aircraft specifically designed to operate from aircraft carriers.  It continued its development of fighter, dive bomber and torpedo bomber aircraft.  In 1935 the Navy was operating the Grumman FF-1 biplane fighter which it had began using in 1933 and the Curtiss F11C and BF2C Goshawk. The Curtiss aircraft were built in fighter and bomber variants and while initial aircraft had an open cockpit and fixed landing gear later aircraft had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. They had top speed of 157 miles an hour and due to limited success and were retired from service by 1939.  The Goshawk was operated against the Japanese by Nationalist China and also served in a number of air forces including Thailand where they were used against the French and Japanese.

Grumman FF-1 (US Navy Photo)

The Grumman FF-1 was a two-seater that had a enclosed cockpit with retractable landing gear and a top speed of 201 miles an hour.  The FF-1 was faster than any naval aircraft of its era, a follow-on variant designated the SF-1 followed and 120 aircraft were built. Most of the operational aircraft served aboard the USS Lexington CV-2 in a fighter and scouting role. The FF-1 and SF-1 were withdrawn from first line service and placed with the reserve as well as being used in aviation training commands. The aircraft was manufactured under license by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company and served in the Canadian Air Force until 1942 as the Goblin and 40 of the Canadian aircraft were used by the Spanish Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Grumman F2F-1 (US Navy Photo)

The FF-1/SF-1 was followed by the Grumman F2F a single-seat model with improved speed and maneuverability over is predecessors.  54 F2F’s were ordered in 1934 with the production models being delivered between April and August 1935.  The aircraft were armed with 2 .30 machine guns mounted above the cowl and had a top speed of 231 miles an hour and maximum range of 985 miles.  The aircraft would remain in service until they were replaced in 1939 with the Grumman F3F. However they remained in service as utility and training aircraft until retired from service toward the end of 1940.

Grumman F3F (US Navy Photo)

The Grumman F3F followed the F2F with 157 production models. It was more aerodynamic and had a more powerful engine that the F2F which enabled it to achieve a top speed of 264 miles an hour.  It was operated by seven Navy and Marine Corps Squadrons and entered service in 1936 and would serve aboard carriers until replaced in late 1941. It continued with 117 aircraft being stationed at naval air stations and used for training until 1943.

F2A Brewster Buffalo (U.S. Navy Photo)

The first monoplane fighter developed and placed in service by the Navy was the F2A Brewster Buffalo. The Buffalo served with Navy and Marine Corps squadrons and was purchased by Great Britain for service in the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Air Forces which received 202 Buffalos. They would also serve with the Royal Navy. The Royal Netherlands Air Force received 144 most of which served in the East Indies. The final nation to receive the Buffalo was Finland which received 44 aircraft.  Buffalo was underpowered and the addition of armor and added fuel capacity further diminished the speed and performance of the aircraft.  The Navy placed its Buffalo’s in advanced training squadrons in early 1942 and one of the two Marine Corps squadrons (VMF-221) operated it at the Battle of Midway where they endured fearful losses at the hands of Japanese Zero fighters.

Brewster Buffalo 239s of the Finnish Air Force

Despite the lack of success in U. S. service the Buffalo performed in a heroic manner for the Finns destroying over 500 Soviet and German aircraft and producing 36 Buffalo Aces.  The highest scorer was Captain Hans W. Wind with 39 of 75 victories flying a Buffalo.  British Commonwealth and Dutch aircraft did not fare as well as the Finns as the tropical climate degraded the aircraft considerably.

Martin T4M over Lexington or Saratoga (US Navy Photo)

The Navy also developed aircraft for bombing missions as well as that could launch aerial torpedoes. The first aircraft built were dual purpose in that they could be used in level bombing and torpedo missions. In 1935 the primary aircraft of this type was the Martin T4M which had entered service in 1928 and replaced the Douglas DT and Martin T4M aircraft.  The T4M was a biplane with a crew of three that had a maximum speed of 114 miles an hour (I have driven much fast than this on the German Autobahn but I digress) and it could carry a torpedo or bombs.  155 were purchased by the Navy and the Marine Corps between 1928 and 1931.  They were operated from the Lexington and Saratoga until 1938 as no replacement aircraft offered enough improvements for the Navy to purchase and were instrumental in the development and demonstration of the capabilities of naval air power.  They were finally replaced by the Douglas TBD Devastator.

TBD Devastator (US Navy Photo)

The TBD which first flew in 1935 entered service in 1937 and at the time was possibly the most modern naval aircraft in the world and was a revolutionary aircraft. It was the first monoplane widely used on carriers and was first all-metal naval aircraft.  It was the first naval aircraft with a totally enclosed cockpit, the first with hydraulic powered folding wings.  The TBD had crew of three and had a maximum speed of 206 miles an hour and carried a torpedo or up to 1500 pounds of bombs (3 x 500) or a 1000 pound bomb.  129 were built and served in all pre-war torpedo bombing squadrons based aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Hornet with a limited number embarked aboard Wasp.  The Devastator saw extensive service prior to the war which pushed many airframes to the end of their useful service life and by 1940 only about 100 were operational.  They were still in service in 1942 as their replacement the TBF Avenger was not ready for service.  They performed adequately against minor opposition at Coral Sea and in strikes against the Marshalls but the squadrons embarked on Yorktown (VT3), Enterprise (VT-6) and Hornet (VT-8) were annihilated at Midway with only 6 of 41 surviving their uncoordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Strike Force.  They were too slow, had poor maneuverability, insufficient armor and defensive armament.  Only a few were able to launch their torpedoes as the Japanese Combat Air Patrol tore through them. Their sacrifice was not in vain as the Dive Bombers arrived facing no opposition and sank three of the four Japanese carriers getting the fourth later in the day. After Midway the remaining aircraft were withdrawn from active service in the Pacific. The Ranger’s VT-4 operated them until September 1942and Wasp’s VT-7 operated them in the Atlantic until she was transferred to the Pacific in July 1942.   By 1944 all remaining aircraft had been scrapped.

Vought SBU Corsair

In the mid 1930s the Navy began to develop Scout and Dive Bombers for use in carrier scouting (VS) and bombing (VT) squadrons.  The first of these aircraft types were biplanes.  The Grumman SF-1 was used in a scouting and bombing role and was joined by the Vought SBU Corsair in 1935 and by 1937 both were being replaced by the Curtiss SBC Helldiver, a biplane with a 234 mile an hour maximum speed, retractable landing gear, enclosed cockpit which could carry a 1000 bomb.

Curtis SBC Helldiver

However the era of the biplane was drawing to a close and the Helldiver would be relegated to training squadrons based in Florida.  Although they had a brief service career they were instrumental in develop dive bombing tactics at which the U.S. Navy excelled and which were copied by the German Luftwaffe with the Junkers JU-87 Stuka and the Japanese with the Aichi 99 Val naval dive bomber.  50 aircraft were transferred to the French and served aboard the carrier Bearn but due to the French surrender in June of 1940 saw no action and spent the war rotting in Martinique.

Vought SB2U Vindicator

The Helldiver’s were joined by the first monoplane dive bomber in U.S. service the Vought SBU2 Vindicator in 1937. The Vindicator was used by the Navy and the Marine Corps serving aboard the Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger and Wasp. They would remain in service until September 1942. The Marine aircraft equipped two squadrons VMSB 131 and VMSB-241, VMSB 241 suffered heavy casualties at Midway as the aircraft were underpowered and were limited to glide bombing missions.  After they were taken out of the operational squadrons the Vindicator served as a training aircraft until retired in 1945.   A French Naval Air Squadron was equipped with the Vindicator but they served ashore against the German invasion.  Most were lost to enemy action.  The Douglas SBD Dauntless was introduced in 1940 and 1941 but I will cover that aircraft in the World War II aircraft article that will follow this in a week or two.

These aircraft helped pave the way to aircraft that would be the mainstays of the Navy in the Second World War, aircraft with names such as Dauntless, Helldiver, Avenger, Hellcat and Corsair.  Naval aviation earned its “wings of gold” in these early years wings that continue to shine in the 21st Century.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Favorite Fighter Aircraft Part One: The Messerschmitt 109 Introduction to a Legend

The Me-109-B2. The B Variant was first tested in Combat with the Condor Legion in the Spanish Civil War

This is a three part series on my favorite fighter aircraft of all-time, the Messerschmitt 109.

I have always had a penchant for fighter aircraft.  I can remember as a child the roar of jet aircraft including the Blue Angels over my house when my dad was stationed at NAS Whidbey Island Washington back from 1965-1969.  I remember the trips through the local hobby shop and my dad teaching me to build model aircraft.  One of the first models I got to build was a Messerschmitt 109 E which I think was produced by Aurora or Monogram models. Regardless I fell in love with the Me-109 when still in grade school and have never lost my love for that aircraft.

Me-109 of Stabs JG2 during the Battle of Britain

When I began to read I read books on military history as well as weapons systems, especially fighter aircraft.  There is something attractive, even sexy about a well designed fighter aircraft.  Who can forget the movies “The Blue Max,” the “Battle of Britain” or “Top Gun?”  There is something inherently exciting about fighter aircraft.  I don’t like flying as a passenger but have a feeling that if I were at the controls things would be different.  Maybe it is my need for some kind of control but whatever there is something, especially for guys that appeals to our “need for speed.”

Me-109F’s

The Me-109G in a number of variants was the most numerous of the series produced

The Messerschmitt 109 which was designed in the mid 1930s became one of the premier and longest lived fighter aircraft in history with over 30,000 of all variants built during the Second World War and which was continued in production after the war by Spain and Czechoslovakia.  Developed for a civilian aircraft and light military transport the Bf-108 Taifun the Messerschmitt 109 cut its teeth with the Condor Legion in Spain and served in every European campaign used by the German Luftwaffe and allies such as Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Finland and Italy.  The 109 would continue in service after the war in Finland and Romania as well as Spain where a variant was built by Hispano-Aviacion HA-1109 and by Czechoslovakia as the Avia S-99, 199 and 299.  It would continue in service in Finland and Romania until the mid 1950s and in Spain until the mid 1960s.  In an Ironic twist the Czech variant was acquired by the fledgling Israeli Air Force and used in the Israeli war for Independence in 1948 where Israeli pilots flew the Czech built German fighter against Egyptian pilots flying the British Supermarine Spitfire.

Avia S-199 in Israeli Colors. In an ironic twist Israeli pilots would fly missions in the Czche variant of the 109 against Egyptians in British built Spitfires

The Me-109 was flown by many of the most decorated and successful aces of World War II including Erich Hartmann the highest scoring ace ever with 352 areal victories, Werner Molders and Adolf Galland.

Personally I like to build 1:72 scale me-109′s.  I probably have a hundred or so that I have stashed away in boxes in my stuff of almost all variants and many color and national markings.

These will be several short articles about the Messerschmitt 109 on this site in the next week or two, so aircraft aficionados enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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