Warship sea battle in WW II. U.S. aircraft fail to find U.S. & Japanese fleets off Komandorskis despite better weather.
Copyright 2011 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Triumph of Instrument Flight
Key airbase events in the year it took to dislodge the Japanese occupying
forces on Attu and Kiska were the Navy's occupation of Adak on August 30,
1942 and Amchitka on January 12, 1943. At Adak, an aircraft runway was operating
in an incredible twelve days after groundbreaking and on Amchitka it took
about five weeks to begin flight operations. In March 1943, there occurred
a stirring sea battle that marked the end of any Japanese hopes to retain
a foothold on U.S. soil. Then in May 1943, with the U.S. landings on Attu,
the beginning of the end for the Japanese was in sight.
Admiral Theobald had won an important top level argument that Adak was the proper location for a base from which to support air operations against the Japanese on Kiska. The final element that tipped the scales toward Adak and away from Tanaga, the site that others favored, was that Adak could become an air and sea base, with supply available from the sea. The belated discovery by the Japanese of our expanding facility on Adak led them to send troop reinforcements north for Attu and Kiska. For its part, the U.S. added motor torpedo boats to their Adak inventory of "assets." Admiral Theobold then pushed for and won approval to occupy Amchitka.
The interservice command structure, if it could be dignified as such, vibrated enough over the Amchitka decision, wise though it was, to shake Admiral Theobold off the tree. Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid was appointed as his replacement.
General Buckner's tactical involvement was waning. The task force structure for the Army's amphibious assault operation that took Amchitka and would retake Attu did not include him in the chain of command. That did not seem to dismay Buckner whose advice was sought by all involved, and whose advice was considerately and effectively given and put to good use. Interestingly, General Butler, who had gradually built the strength of his XI Air Force, was also given force command over the Navy's Catalina patrol squadrons. Butler, too, was not a part of the command structure for dislodging the Japanese from their Aleutian successes. Unlike Buckner, General Butler remained a more aloof figure during most of the important U.S. sea, land, and air campaigns in the Aleutians in 1943. Lack of air navigation capability under instrument conditions, air traffic control limitations and great gaps in weather forecasting facilities hamstrung effective use of the U.S. air capability. Dreadfully inadequate communications infrastructure in the area was at the root of all problems.
The sea force that Admiral Theobald had brought north from Hawaii underwent a revolving door change of ships though its strength remained relatively stable. Theobald had set up his command ashore at Kodiak and had eventually placed Rear Admiral Charles McMorris in command of the force afloat. By March of 1943, now under Kinkaid, McMorris had established an intervention sea patrol west of Attu.
The Japanese under Vice Admiral Hosagaya had mounted a number of sea supply efforts for Attu and Kiska and even had one group of ships with personnel detailed to occupy Shemya. (The Japanese found Attu's terrain very resistant terrain to airstrip construction.. Shemya undoubtedly looked more malleable in that respect.) In its final major re-supply effort, the Japanese would be thwarted as Rear Admiral McMorris' sea force, though under strength in comparison with the strong escort force that Hosagaya brought along for that major supply attempt, aggressively dulled all Japanese appetite for twitting the Yankee in the Aleutian Island chain. The Battle of the Komandorski Islands is an event that marked a change in the fortunes of war in the North Pacific.
This sea battle took place roughly along Latitude 53 degrees, 20 minutes North, about midway between Attu and Siberia's Kamchatka Peninsula, in a sea space just south of the Komandorski Islands. McMorris' force consisted of the 1923 vintage light cruiser, USS Richmond CL-9, on which McMorris flew his flag, the thirteen-year old heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City CA-25, and four destroyers, the USS Bailey DD-492, USS Coghlan DD-606, the USS Dale DD-353, and the USS Monaghan DD-354. Bailey, DD-492, commissioned in May of 1942, was a Bristol class 1620-ton destroyer. Coghlan was closely related in configuration to Bailey while Dale and Monaghan were older, commissioned in 1935. Salt Lake City was notable in its configuration for this battle-she sported ten 8-inch, 55-cal. guns, two more than most of our heavy cruisers of that era. Salt Lake City had just been repaired and re-crewed from wounds incurred in an early South Pacific sea battle against the Japanese. The Japanese under Vice Admiral Hosagaya had two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and five destroyers. This force constituted all of the Japanese Fifth Fleet warships that Hosagaya could pry loose. These were escorting two fast, armed, merchant cruisers and one slower transport. These latter three carried the supplies and reinforcements for Attu and Kiska. The heavy cruiser Nachi took the lead for the Japanese in the first phase of the melee that ensued and when Nachi became temporarily disabled by Salt Lake City and Bailey gunfire, Maya, their other 8-inch gun cruiser took over.
In his Volume VII, "Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls," of the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Samuel Eliot Morison sets the picture that now unfolded:
"At 0730 March 26 (1943), an hour before sunrise, this (the McMorris) task group lay 180 miles west of Attu and 100 miles south of the nearest Komandorski Island. The ships were strung out in scouting line six miles long, steering N. by E. Destroyer Coghlan was in the van, flagship Richmond next, followed by Bailey flying Captain Rigg's (Commodore of the squadron from which Bailey had been drawn) pennant, then Dale. Salt Lake City steamed next to last in the column, Monaghan in the rear. They were making 15 knots and zigzagging. Temperature was just above the freezing point."
Eyewitness Lieutenant (jg) Stanley Hogshead, USN, in charge of the main battery plotting room on the destroyer Bailey tells what happened next. (Hogshead graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy on June 19, 1942 and immediately reported to the destroyer, USS Bailey, DD-492.) Built in the Boston Navy Yard, DD-492 was brand new when Ensign Hogshead arrived. She was 347 feet long, with a beam of 36-feet and a draft of 17-feet. She had four 5" 38-cal. dual-purpose guns, two twin mount 40-mm AA guns and eight 20-mm AA guns. She carried depth charges and torpedoes. Her design complement was 276 officers and men but she had over 300 aboard for the Komandorskis' action. The following paragraphs in quotes were adapted from a talk that Captain Stanley Hogshead, USN (Ret) gave to an audience of veterans in California on February 7, 2001. In Hogshead's account, ship's names are not italicized.
"The Battle of the Komandorskis of March 26, 1943
Bailey departed the U.S. east coast and after transiting the Panama Canal, arrived in San Francisco. We were instructed to draw foul weather gear. That was a strong clue as to where we were headed, cold waters, probably Alaska. We then departed for Kodiak Island, Alaska. We fueled, took on provisions, and thence proceeded to Dutch Harbor. After fueling there and taking on stores we were formed into a Task Force (Task Group 16.6) with an older heavy cruiser, the Salt Lake City with 8-inch guns, and an older light cruiser, the Richmond, with 6-in guns. In our task force, there were three other destroyers, the Dale, the Coghlan, and the Monaghan."
"My destroyer, the Bailey, had the destroyer screen Commander, Commodore Riggs on board. General Quarters on a Navy vessel begins with an alarm designed to awaken the dead. Every weapon is manned and ready. Every engineering space is fully manned with all available power ready for instant use. Every officer and enlisted man has an assigned duty station. The person assigned is trained as an expert in that special piece of equipment. My station was in Plot. On Bailey, Plot is mid-ships, directly below the main mast and Main Battery Director, one full deck below the water line. It is one compartment forward of the forward fire room and one compartment below the forward damage control party station and the galley and food storage locker. Plot is the location of all electrical panels for guns, main battery director, ship's gyrocompass and main battery computer. During General Quarters, Plot is a watertight compartment, sealed off from any escape. The main battery computer was huge and totally archaic by today's standards. It was 30-inches by 36-inches, and 40-inches high. That was my duty station in charge of 7 men and the operation."
"The Weather: The Aleutians are known for wind, very rough seas, fog, often rain and frequently hail. Ice often formed on all exposed surfaces. Rough seas washed away lifelines on main deck, crushed depth charge racks, and jammed depth charges so you couldn't use them. Lost one man overboard due to mountainous seas."
"On March 14, 1943, we left Dutch Harbor on a westerly track. I had no idea where we were going. But the Admiral and Captains did. Naval Intelligence had broken Jap codes and what we learned was that they (the Japanese) were ready to attempt to reinforce men and supplies on Attu and or Kiska. We were sent to prevent that from happening."
"Let me set the scene. Time 0630. At Dawn Alert (an hour before sunrise), on March 26, 1943, we went to General Quarters as was customary. We are in a scouting line, steering 020 degrees. (just slightly to the east of due north) We are west of Attu. Each ship is 12,000 yards (6 miles) from the next. Speed 15 knots. We were 1200 miles west of Dutch Harbor, 500 miles west of Attu, near the Komandorski Islands, close to Siberia."
"Daylight occurred during this alert. The visibility is 13 to 19 miles--VERY UNUSUAL. The air temperature is 30 degrees Fahrenheit. CONTACT! This is no drill. ADRENALIN FLOWS. Radar contacts are made at 0730 by Coghlan and Richmond at the head of the scouting line. Five targets in the original radar contact, between 7 and 12 miles due north. By 0800, range had increased to 27,000 yards (13.5 miles). Ships thought to be large merchant ship plus 3 smaller merchant ships and 1 DD. This will be a picnic! OH YEAH!"
"At 0824, 4 more ships detected at 40,000 yards, identified at 2 CAs (heavy cruisers), 2 CLs (light cruisers), and shortly thereafter, 4 destroyers. My GOSH--we are outgunned better than 2 to 1! Not going to be a picnic as first thought. To make matters worse--enemy to our East, between us and Dutch Harbor, where our puny air force was based and SAFE HARBOR for us."
"At 0840, Richmond taken under fire; endured for 2 minutes. Japanese ships out of range for us. Richmond commenced firing at 0842. Maximum range of 8-inch gun is 30,000 yards (effective range is 19,500 yards); 6-inch maximum range is 22,000 yards (effective range is 14,000), and maximum range of our 5-inch guns is 18,000 yards (effective range is 12,000)."
(Author's Note: As related by Historian Samuel Eliot Morison, Rear Admiral McMorris, despite the two to one odds in warship strength, decided immediately to fight it out and brought Salt Lake City to the fore just as the Japanese warships turned south to engage. Salt Lake City became the centerpiece of the U.S. sea fighting force and McMorris broadcast that the other U.S. ships would conform to Salt Lake City's movements, which was the U.S. Task Group's only heavy-gunned cruiser. Now back to Lieutenant (jg) Hogshead.)
"In plot, we knew the shooting had started by Salt Lake City. We couldn't shoot, as the enemy ships were outside of our maximum range of 18,000 yards. We could hear the salvos from enemy cruisers landing close aboard and we knew we were well within the range of both the enemy light cruisers and the heavy cruisers."
"Courses now brought the two forces down to a range of 18,000 yards so the Bailey could join the fun! Battle continued off and on as the range opened and closed. Hits were observed on one of the Jap heavy cruisers by shells fired by the Salt Lake City and by our Bailey. Salt Lake City used orange dye on her shells. At 0900, Japanese-launched torpedoes observed passing close to Salt Lake City."
" At 0910, Salt Lake City, Richmond, and Bailey all reported incoming near hits. A ship shudders as a salvo lands close aboard and shells explode. During all of this, we in plot did our jobs, no panic, no visiting, no complaining. Just worried, but you worried to yourself! Wondering if in the next minute you would be blown to bits. No one in plot lost his cool, just did his job. Result of Training-Drills. Drills and more drills."
"By 1000, we had been under continuous fire for an hour and a half. No American ship had taken a single hit, a miracle in itself. Lull in action. (Nachi had been hit, which led to a casualty that temporarily put her main battery out of action.) Had been too busy to pray, but now I took time. Gathered the men, held hands as I asked God for Protection. All I prayed was "Lord, Protect Us! Didn't even say Please!"
"Observers noted: The Japanese cruisers had taken a number of hits. At 1010 Japs scored a direct hit on Salt Lake City; she suffered steering problems. Bailey and Coghlan ordered to make smoke screen to screen the Salt Lake City from (Japanese) view. At 1044 Bailey taken under direct fire. At 1103 Salt Lake City suffered a direct hit, much damage, including severed fuel lines. Salt water put out her boiler fires. Salt Lake City signaled MY SPEED ZERO. At 1115 Bailey, Coghlan and Monaghan ordered to make torpedo attack on enemy cruisers. TORPEDO ATTACK! Word Flashed throughout ship. Ordnance & Gunnery classes at the Naval Academy always taught that you get as close as possible to increase the probability of a hit. I began to closely observe and study two dials on my computer, range and speed."
"Range began to decrease rapidly from 18,000 yards, speed increased from 25-knots, to 28, to 30, to 31 and finally 32 knots-OUR MAXIMUM SPEED. Very near miss at starboard side, forward fireroom. Tremendous explosion! DEAFENING. WE HAVE LOST POWER. We were instantly in the dark except for the bluish light from two Battle Lanterns. Water began coming in, stuffed blankets and life jackets in a seam that had parted. COLD. Temperature 33-degrees. Speed slowed to 12-knots, then to 5-knots. Then ZERO SPEED! Sitting ducks! We FIRED A SPREAD OF TORPEDOES AT 9500 YARDS."
"For their 8-inch guns, like looking down the rifle barrel, they can't miss. HERE WAS OUR SITUATION. We had lost electrical power, and were in the dark except for Battle Lanterns. We were dead in the water. Range to the enemy 9500-yards. In our plotting room, I could observe profiles only. I could read our luminescent dials for range, speed, etc. We in plot were in a watertight compartment from which there was no escape. But, there was 33-degree temperature water now up to my ankles, rising fast. Wondering how long I had to live. AGAIN, PRAYED FOR GOD's protection. God you got me in this mess-NOW GET ME OUT! Again, didn't say please! At almost that exact instant, ship vibrated. We had miraculously somehow regained steerage-way, Speed up to 6, then 8, then 10 and finally 12-knots. Don't tell me God doesn't hear and answer prayers!"
"But Always In His Own Way and His Own Time. Thought to myself , When I first see Him, GIVE GOD The Medal of Honor. What we in plot didn't know, forward fire room and forward engine room both flooded to the water line, accounting for loss of speed. Only one engine operating. The Bailey by now was down to 6-inches of freeboard."
"Upon launching of our torpedoes, Japanese ships turned away and broke off action. Threat of torpedoes was what did it. Range opened rapidly. We looked at each other, incredulously. Tears of emotional joy. Battle Over at 1230. We had been in six hours of hot surface warfare. Longest daylight action by our Navy ever. One hour later, secured from General Quarters. Limped back to Adak on one boiler and one engine, then to Dutch Harbor."
"Casualties-4 Dead, 5 Wounded, two seriously, one later died. I am living proof that God answers prayers. Exchange of Messages."
"Bailey received recognition-- 9 Battle Stars (for this and later actions), the Navy Unit Commendation. Individual awards included 1 Navy Cross, 2 Silver Stars, 5 Bronze Stars, and 36 Purple Hearts."
Illustration 9 -Navy Ship Thanks Navy Ship
Stanley Hogshead understated the role of his destroyer, the Bailey. Morison's Volume VII quotes an unnamed Japanese participant. "Our flagship, the Nachi, was hit by effective shots from an outstandingly valiant United States destroyer, which appeared on the scene toward the end of the engagement." Morison then identifies Bailey as "the outstandingly valiant destroyer." With Coghlan and Monaghan, at McMorris' instructions when Salt Lake City lay dead in the water, Bailey was attempting to overtake Nachi and Maya to make a torpedo attack to ward the Japanese off while Salt Lake City lay disabled. The Japanese pounded the U.S. destroyers and Bailey herself was hit twice, finally rendering her immobile, but not before she got off a spread of torpedoes. This was the turning point. The Japanese did not know, because of the destroyer smokescreen protecting Salt Lake City, that the latter was badly wounded. Witnessing a fresh attack from torpedoes that they most feared, and worried about the arrival of U.S. bombers from the Aleutians, Vice Admiral Hosagaya decided it was time to break off the action. He and his damaged ships limped away to the west. Their transports had already turned back. The McMorris force, with Salt Lake City and Bailey's crews that had acted like men possessed, got underway at 15 knots, moving toward Adak.
The bitter war in the bitter Aleutian weather was doggedly contested for the entire one-year period of the Japanese occupation of Attu and Kiska. The tri-service command structure did begin to function better after the arrival of Rear Admiral Kinkaid. He and General Buckner had similar views of the strategic implications of Alaska.
The lack of communications infrastructure in the region worked against any command and control coordination among the service elements. Even when the parties were persuaded of their common interest, the results were far from satisfactory. Each service had its own communications doctrine, and the equipment to support it, but it stopped there. The Navy fought a major surface battle. McMorris sent word immediately to U.S. shore installations when the battle was about to commence, and included the coordinates of where it would take place. Aircraft were actually launched from Adak and Amchitka but never arrived in the battle area despite the exceptionally rare good visibility at sea. The inability to get all land, sea and air units working together became the trademark of the U.S. Aleutian effort in 1942 and 1943. Had Admiral Hosagaya persisted, the results might have been entirely different.
General Buckner's base legacy, originating in 1940 for the future support of U.S. military operations, particularly air operations, was huge, and it had its payoffs, although communications gaps and incompatibilities limited the results. As to Buckner's airfield program, in the year 2001, in the friendly confines of the United States' "lower 48", it takes ten years to build a major commercial aviation facility and few are being built. If any would doubt the Buckner legacy, certainly the passengers and crew of a Delta MD-11 in March 2001 would not. Enroute to Japan, this aircraft made a cautionary landing at Cold Bay, Alaska, due to smoke in the cockpit.
The Corps of Engineers had performed miracles in laying miles of Marsden matting for Alelutian-deployed aircraft to land on, and in providing, wherever possible, sea access for supply purposes to these new bases. In addition, most of the land plane bases were situated so that they could also support the PBY, the Navy's patrol seaplane for water landings, and the PBY-5A for airfield or water landings. Buckner's vision still left much to be done. Air Corps pilots, according to author Garfield, in 1941 and 1942 used Rand McNally road maps. The sea charts that existed were based on Russian surveys done in 1864. The progress outweighed the omissions.
To maintain a consistent aeronautical presence, air operations need to be coordinated over reliable radio communication channels. Light beacons will not do. (There were two light beacons for night navigation in mainland Alaska in 1942.) Blinker signals will not do. Smoke signals will not do. After the debacle in air to ground communications revealed in the defense against the second Japanese air attack on Dutch Harbor, the U.S. Signal Corps was ordered in. They were told to start from scratch and provide Alaska a desperately needed communications capability. It was also time, past time, to consider the introduction of low frequency radio range transmitters for radio beam generation, both for point to point aircraft transit and for aircraft let down to safe landings in instrument conditions. No place in the world was subject to instrument conditions as much of the time as the Aleutians.
The lesson for the military and indeed for Alaska was the need for the reliable air navigation and communication installations. Until those needs were met, the military for its part could not begin to address "command and control."
As noted, the Signal Corps was ordered to remedy the situation. But, that realization came late, and when I arrived in the Aleutians almost three years later, the remedial process was still in progress. Radio range stations, furnishing "beams" to fly, and voice communication systems for air and ground control, required planning first, and then time to install. The Aleutian experience in air traffic control implementation involved one added factor when contrasted with the earlier progress in the North Atlantic rim. Aleutian-based folks could say, "There was a war going on here!"
A major change in strategic posture came with the construction of the U.S. Naval Base at Adak. Accommodations for land and water based aircraft plus ship and submarine berthing were effected in record time. From the summer of 1942 to the summer of 1943, Adak went from practically unoccupied to a city of over 50,000. It first became paired with Kodiak in major importance for naval operations. The military pressure vector that had pointed so ominously west to east at Pearl Harbor, turned around and became east to west after Midway, despite Japan's face saving occupation of Attu and Kiska. Conditions for the full turnaround would not exist until the Japanese were eliminated from their Aleutian foothold. We have seen how the U.S. Navy had first interdicted and then shut off the Japanese re-supply efforts for Attu and Kiska. It would shortly become necessary to dislodge them completely.
History has a way of making some decisions into afterthoughts, or at least second thoughts. Military objectives in WW II moved westward. Sitka was left much too far to the east to be a base of significant influence in the main effort against the Japanese in World War II, or even for projecting our electronic surveillance against the USSR in the Cold War which followed. Sitka had fulfilled its important early role. It was the staging base for Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Dutch Harbor was primarily a seaplane base. The seaplane had an important military role early in World War II but the landplane gradually displaced it. Aviation's progress can be marked by the abandonment of military airbases, sometimes because their location has been over-flown and sometimes because their support facilities are no longer relevant.
The U.S. took maximum advantage of the Japanese decision not to occupy Adak and established its own important base there. With the addition of wheel-sets for the PBY Catalina, to upgrade it to amphibian status, resulting in the PBY-5A model, Adak could handle both Catalina configurations. This diminished the importance of Dutch Harbor, which base then receded into history. For the Navy, then, in World War II and for a short period into the Cold War, Kodiak and Adak became the principal bases in this theatre
Every aircraft introduced into the Alaskan theatre had to undergo climatic modifications. Some made the transition by little more than the introduction of new procedures. The Navy's PBY fared better than most. Although it could carry armament, it was designed primarily as a patrol plane. When it became an amphibian, capable of setting down on land or water, its landing options were increased. Landing options could make a plane especially endearing in Alaska. Even without the wheels, since landing fields were so scarce in the region, a PBY pilot was probably envied because he could land in more places, and that meant more places that might provide a ceiling and visibility welcome.
Even the B-17 Flying Fortresses of World War II fame had to undergo configuration changes to make them suitable for flight in the region. For the fighter aircraft, the P-40s and later the P-38s, aircraft life could be demanding and the attrition was high. By May 1943, with a landing strip on Amchitka in use in support of the U.S. effort to retake Attu, some of the Army Air Corps fighter inventory was moved out to Amchitka. By then, the Navy PV-1, Vega Venturas, had also been introduced to the Aleutians. The positive impact that this aircraft brought to the area was its airborne radar. In addition to the military surveillance use in finding enemy ships, airborne radar on more than one occasion has been the means for a crew to get a plane back safely on the ground when all other alternatives had been foreclosed. From personal experience, I can attest to the value of radar in an aircraft, especially in a region devoid of land based radio aids to air navigation.
The Ventura stemmed from the Lockheed family of aircraft which had included the early Electras and Lodestars, and later the PV-2 Harpoon and much later the P-2V Neptune. Unfortunately, the Ventura member of the family had some drawbacks. Captain Harry Carter USN (Ret.) had unusually good credentials for his comments that follow.
Captain Harry Carter USN (Ret) comments (in quotes) on PV-1 training ,and how he lucked out to go to PB4Y-1s and Dunkeswell England instead of an Attu PV-1 squadron.
"My initial introduction to the PV-1 Lockheed Vega Ventura aircraft was at the aircraft's Lockheed Vega assembly plant in Burbank California. The PV-1 has been called the Lockheed Ventura and the Vega Ventura but it was both.. She was a descendant of the Lockheed Vega Electra of Amelia Earhart fame. The Lockheed Electra line included the Lodestar, and the Army B-34. The immediate forerunner of the PV-1 was the light bomber, the Hudson, flown extensively by the British Coastal Command against the U-boats. My first job was working on the engine nacelle units of the PV-1. I progressed through several assembly jobs with my last one being instructor for newly arrived Rosie and her riveter cohorts, teaching them how to drive and buck rivets. The men were rapidly leaving for war and the female population of the San Fernando Valley was taking their place on the PV-1 assembly line. I did not have the remotest idea in my mind at the time that I would be flying the same airplane less than two years later."
"Many of these aircraft were built for the Royal Air Force (RAF), and the U.S. Army Air Corps. The bulk of the British order was cancelled, as was most of the Army order. I'll leave it to the reader to guess why after reading the following paragraphs. The Navy, looking for a plane to use in its recently acquired role of land based anti-submarine operations and also in quest of a land based medium bomber, picked up the cancelled orders and all production of the PV-1 went to the Navy."
"Following graduation at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas and receiving my wings, I arrived at Lake City, Florida in December of 1943 for flight training in the PV-1. Understandably, the instructor pilots weren't about to take us green multi-engine pilots up in a Ventura right away. We were relegated to the SNB, the "Beech" as it was fondly called, to go through emergency procedures that applied to the PV-1. As with all Navy outfits there was much scuttlebutt going around and in our case it was about the merits of the Ventura. The older trainees (those that had been in Lake City for a month or more) told us that the airplane was so "hot" that when the (Navy) instructor pilots went to pick up their first Lockheed Vega aircraft, the Army pilots refused to give them an airborne checkout. These instructor pilots, on their return to Lake City, then checked out the other instructor pilots and eventually they had enough aircraft to start our flight school."
"We also heard that the torque was so great that if you lost an engine on take-off you had two choices: (1) Cut the other engine and crash into the trees at the end of the runway. Or (2), try to continue to take off and snap roll into the asphalt with a wing and cartwheel down the runway in a ball of flame. We weren't too happy about this but fortunately for the three months I was there we never had an accident. Our instructors never gave us a loss of engine drill on takeoff. It was always done at altitude. The first time the instructor pulled a throttle on me I shoved hard on the opposite rudder and then literally stood on it with both feet to try to keep the aircraft level. I was convinced that there was no way I could keep that airplane in the air on one engine; and we weren't even combat loaded."
"In reviewing patrol squadron histories, I discovered that the scuttlebutt was correct to a disturbing degree. Time after time I have read about a PV-1 crashing on takeoff. Here is an example: 'Lieutenant (jg) Wolfe and his crew and four passengers were killed on takeoff from Pici Field, Fortaleza, when the port engine exploded and the aircraft spun into the ground inverted. The crash resulted in a general squadron stand down while all of the aircraft were inspected. Several were found to have major deficiencies requiring several months to make them airworthy.' And another; 'Spun-in during attempted single engine landing: Crew killed'. The other thread in PV-1 squadron histories is the number of reports of planes reported as 'failed to return from a patrol mission and the crew listed as missing.' We had several PV-1 squadrons deployed at one time or another to the Aleutians where proficiency in instrument flying was necessary for survival. I cannot imagine trying to fly one of those planes on one engine under instrument conditions. Perhaps that would account for many of the 'failed to return' reports. Another disturbing problem with the aircraft was the heavy smell of gasoline in the cockpit during take-off. None of the instructors commented on it and therefore I presumed it was normal in all PV-1's. One historical comment made on a PV-1 taking off on a navigation training flight was 'Gasoline fumes in plane during take-off roll, plane exploded. Three of the crew were killed, three seriously injured.' There are other reports of engines catching fire prior to or after take-off."
"Following completion of familiarization in the PV-1 at Lake City we were sent to NAS Beaufort, South Carolina for operational training. I traveled with a friend of mine, Ralph Burnett, stopping along the way for a little liberty in Miami. We barely made it to the base a few minutes before midnight on the last day to report. Being the last two to report would prove to be a very lucky incident for us. Operational training at Beaufort consisted of gunnery, bombing, night flying and instruments. Upon completion, we found out that orders would be issued on the basis of our reporting time. Two pilots were needed to fill out some crews set to begin PB4Y-1 training at Chincoteague, Virginia in July of 1944. They took the last two names on the list and Ralph and I headed north while the rest of the pilots headed way north or way south to join PV-1 squadrons. To this day I thank my lucky stars that I was not one of them."
Glenn Lee Terry, artilleryman: Pearl Harbor, then retaking Attu, then retaking the Phillipines
Removal of the Japanese occupying forces from Attu and Kiska was on the United States' agenda if only to boost the U.S. war morale. But, in 1943, the military could cite legitimate war objectives as well. While not seen as an invasion path to Japan, the Aleutians offered air bases for attacking the Japanese homeland. This was 1943, many , many months of fighting before the United States had Tinian and Guam for launch of its new long-range B-52 aircraft. The mission of retaking of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese would lead to the construction of an important U.S. airfield on Shemya atoll. And finally, with Alaska secured, the job of creating a communications infrastructure and an air traffic control system that would support instrument flight in all weather conditions could move ahead. It should be emphasized that instrument flight missions were being undertaken all through the period. These, however, were executed at great risk to flight crews who could not depend on the gap-ridden ground-based radio aids to help them get off on their missions and help them get back. The U.S. had broken the back of re-supply for the Japanese occupying forces on Attu and Kiska and would now turn its attention to removing the Japanese altogether.
Glenn Lee Terry was born in Courtland, Alabama on May 27, 1918. He was at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and suffered a broken jaw jumping from a ship to safety during the attack on Pearl Harbor. His unit was sent back to states to train with the 7th Division being readied for combat in Alaska. The 7th had originally been a motorized division in training for deployment to North Africa. It had undergone a rapid makeover to prepare for an Aleutian campaign, shedding tanks and adding artillery. Some of the artillerists had been in the U.S. Coast Artillery. These men would now be deployed offensively with 105-mm guns. Glenn Terry suffered his second physical setback when he broke a collarbone trying to help a trainee get out of the way of an artillery powder case that was ejected during a live firing drill with his new unit.
Terry and his new artillery unit were deployed with the 7th Division to Cold Bay, Alaska, a staging area for the U.S. invasion forces organized to retake Kiska from the Japanese. At a late hour, Attu replaced Kiska as the main target for the initial landing effort. The bulk of the task force arrived at Cold Bay on the last day of April 1943. The soldiers and most of their equipment arrived in five transports. While at Cold Bay, Glenn Lee Terry's artillery group bunked in cabins ashore.
The main Attu invasion forces left Cold Bay on May 4, 1943. The weather south of the Aleutian Chain did not disappoint. Heavy rolling seas forced even the big warships, including some battleships, to keep their guns elevated. In an area known for foul weather, Attu was acknowledged to have the worst weather of all. D-day had been set for May 7 but a fast series of weather fronts dictated day by day postponements. Though conditions were not much better on May 11, the order was given to begin the landings. Surface temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of the men did not have adequate clothing for Alaska. Amputations from frostbite proved to be a significant part of the high casualty rate encountered.
There were four main landing points. The main artillery force would enter Attu through Massacre Bay that faced south to the North Pacific. Artillery observers assigned to the main force went ahead. The artillery pieces were landed about two hours later. Four 105-mm howitzers towed by caterpillar drive units struggled to make progress once ashore. Both the artillery pieces and the tractors towing them broke through the tundra. Drive wheels spun uselessly in the black mud below. The struggle to get artillery to a firing line was arduous.
The unit gave up any thought of achieving a site even partially hidden from the defenders. After prodigious human effort, the guns were faced toward targets in the hills called for by the observers. It was after 6 p.m. that these artillery pieces spoke for the first time, opening the active phase of what would be the bloody battle to retake Attu. Battery C of the 48th Field Artillery Battalion gave a magnificent account of itself in the hands of dedicated men
.While engaged on the second day after the landings, Glenn Lee Terry and the men on his artillery piece were hit with an incendiary shell or bomb. Terry was badly burned from the waist down. Amputation was a real possibility. He was evacuated with many others and ultimately loaded aboard a train to a destination hospital in Walla Walla, Washington. One section of his train stopped in Prince Rupert, British Columbia to take off men whose condition was such that they might never make it to a U.S. hospital. The train section that carried Glenn Lee Terry stopped in Jasper, Alberta, to be de-fumigated and change soldier's bandages that had become fouled with blood. This train section became known as the 'blood train.' While in Jasper, the citizens of that town took all the soldiers to their homes so that the train could have all the blood washed out of it. There was a nurse that all the men referred to as "Olive Oil." According to Terry, she saved his legs and many of the men's extremities from burn and frostbite wounds by rubbing viable skin surfaces down with olive oil.
From the first day, U.S. casualties were heavy in the Attu campaign. Forty-four were killed during the landing phase, including one Colonel Earle, a capable commander whose decisions on shore before his own demise proved critical to the ultimate re-taking of Attu. The campaign took from May 11 until May 29, when the last Japanese defender was dead. The United States' forces lost 600 killed and over 1200 wounded or put out of action by severe frostbite. The Japanese subsequently evacuated their larger garrison on Kiska under cover of fog. The Aleutians returned to undisputed possession of the United States. While control of the island chain, its harbors and forts, and control of its sea approaches, passed back to the United States by June 8, 1943, these can rightly be called the "means." The strategist always tries to keep the "means" and the "ends" in perspective. Control of the skies was the ultimate goal in U.S. efforts in the North Pacific in World War II. The ground support for air operations could now proceed so that the weather impediment could be minimized in Alaska and its Aleutian Chain of islands.
For at least one critical aircraft operation, the atoll, Shemya, just to the east, was also quickly put into service. Shemya could recover aircraft when all other airfields were shut down.
Bombing attacks on Paramushiro in the Northern Kuriles commenced with both U.S. Navy aircraft and U.S. Army Air Corps planes taking part in separate missions. Adak and Amchitka were used and the recovery of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese meant no hostile interference on the front end of our air effort. These attacks proved to be irritants to the Japanese but were not decisive.
Like Sgt. Schoenacker whom we first met in Iceland, and who then served in a completely different war theatre in China, Glenn Lee Terry's sacrifices in World War II did not end with Attu. He was still to serve under MacArthur in the battle for Leyte Gulf. I thank Glenn Caraway for providing these insights on the sacrifice his soldier - grandfather made to retake our westernmost Aleutian possession.
The PV-1 Venturas and the later PV-2 Harpoons were gone from the Aleutians by the time I arrived there with VPB-107, a PB4Y-2 Privateer squadron, in 1946. Despite progress in electronic ground installations, and the sophisticated electronics carried aboard later aircraft, I can relate that there were flights that departed from an Alaskan or Aleutian airfield and never returned during my time there. In a later chapter, I will provide what is known of the story of one of them. Objectively, for Alaskan flying in the 1940s, the disappearance of aircraft without a trace was not confined to the PV-1 by any means. But, the PV-1 flight crews operating out of Attu in 1943, 44 and 45, made history that is still coming alive in the 21st century as evidence including human remains aboard their crash-landed aircraft is recovered in such remote places as the Kamchatka Peninsula.
Postwar air travelers between the United States and Japan became accustomed to landing at Anchorage, Alaska, for refueling and changing of flight crews. Subsequently, when the trip became non-stop with the Boeing 747, on a good day, the air traveler could see, on the window side toward the north, that impressive rim formed by the Gulf of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. That was my experience on one non-stop as a civilian passenger traveling from Dallas to Tokyo.
Immediately following World War II, with a new mission at hand, the key bases for aircraft patrolling the Aleutian Chain, were NAS Kodiak, NAS Adak, and the U.S. Army and Army Air Corps Base, Ft. Glenn. The fourth important air base was the Army base at Cold Bay on Unimak Island. This is the airfield that we knew in 1946 as Ft. Randall. It had been one of Buckner's "secret" bases and figured in the defense against the Japanese in 1942. By 1946, the airfield at Cold Bay had become the home of the U.S. Army Air Force's 10th Rescue Squadron, flying OA-10 aircraft. The OA-10 was a PBY-5A Catalina pressed into Army use. Navy patrol plane pilots in 1946 used the designations "Cold Bay" and "Ft. Randall" interchangeably when referring to the place as a destination.
By 1946, Shemya was no longer a military operations base. Unencumbered by mountains, this atoll just east of Attu, had an excellent approach right down on the water, and was used as an emergency alternate airport when NAS Adak, Ft. Glenn or NAS Attu were socked in.
This story will now take some space to cover one student pilot's military flight training experience. The first of these two chapters covers primary flight training and has little to offer on the subject of instrument flying. I include it to give the reader a full picture of flight training. It will also reveal that many who are dedicated to the objective of becoming fully proficient pilots never become instrument pilots because they just did not get over the first hurdle, primary flight training. The second of these two student pilot chapters emphasizes the instrument training stage of this student pilot's career in flying.
The pilot training experience covered here is typical of the training that was given to thousands of aviators who learned to fly military aircraft in World War II. While that training experience is not always representative of the pilot training conducted in civil aviation, the basics are the same. Many of the WW II instructor pilots came from civil aviation. When U.S. military pilots returned from war, they exercised a major influence on postwar civil aviation in the United States.
At the conclusion of my own pilot training in early 1946, I headed for duty in the Alaska/Aleutian region, a region whose aircraft control structure had been considerably upgraded from the spotty condition it was in at the end of 1943.