Colorful History of the Combat Operations of
Patrol Bombing Squadron One Hundred Eight
In World War II
In early March 1945, VPB-108 completed its advanced training in the Hawaiian area and prepared to move out to its first advanced base, the island of Peleliu in the Palau Islands Group, via Johnston, Kwajalein, and Guam. Between 12 and 17 of March, all hands left NAS Kaneohe, T.H., and arrived at Peleliu between 16 and 21 March. On 16 March, Lt. Cdr. Muldrow, our commanding officer, reported to Commander Fleet Air Wing One for duty. The squadron had been well trained, had experienced personnel, and was ready for combat.
[Privateer picture added]
Three Privateers were ferried by Lt. (jg) Hill, Lt. (jg;) Panther, and Ens. Moore from Kaneohe to Commander Seventh Fleet Log Pool at Samar, P.I., via Peleliu. Living conditions at Peleliu were rather primitive. Personnel were quartered in tents without wooden docks, and frequent rains, a variety of insects, including mosquitoes, lack of fresh water, and food that was usually of the K or C ration variety, were added inconveniences. Morale, however, was good at all times. The sustaining CASU
was hampered by a lack of badly needed spare parts, which sometimes resulted in a plane being grounded until parts could be flown in from Guam, and also by a lack of experience in maintaining a squadron equipped with four-engine aircraft.
While operating out of Peleliu, pilots of the squadron flew 30 night anti-submarine patrols around the Palau Islands, and 21 long-range searches between the Palaus and the Marianas and the Philippines, and three special weather missions, as well as radar familiarization hops around Babelthuap.
Ordinarily the flights around the enemy-hold islands in the Palaus, which included most of the group, kept out of range of the numerous shore batteries, although occasionally some fire would be observed. On night anti-sub patrols, searchlights wore sometimes beamed in the direction of our aircraft.
The honor of making the first attack on the enemy went to Lt. Cdr. Lefever, when, in the early morning hours of 4 April, at the end of a night anti-sub patrol, he flew over the center of Babelthuap twice and made a glide-bombing and strafing attack on AA positions at West Ngatpang. The bomb drops seemed to be accurate and the revetments wore heavily strafed, but the extent of the damage could not be determined. The plane was fired upon by several batteries, but was not hit.
Between 4 and 7 April, all hands were transferred from Peleliu to the Naval Air Base, Tinian, and immediately the squadron commenced long-range searches to the north and west of the Marianas, well into enemy waters. About half of those searches went to or near the coast of Honshu, and newly-occupied Iwo Jima was used as a staging base, at a time when only the Jap dirt strip at the southern end of the island was operational. Planes coming in for landings were often fired upon by enemy snipers, and communications facilities were limited.
One of the first long searches scheduled to stage through Iwo resulted in the loss of an aircraft and in an uncomfortable time for the crew involved. Lt, Hazlett took off from Tinian shortly before 0400 on 8 April on a long flight above the Bonin Islands, not far off the Tokyo area of Honshu. As he turned back at the end of the sector and headed for Iwo, a combination of troubles piled up all at once. The weather became very bad, limiting visibility to a few miles. The navigator had difficulty in computing the plane’s course, and attempts to check the estimated DR position by radio, radar, and RCM gear proved unavailing.
When well over his ETA at Iwo Jima, Lt. Hazlett sent a CW message requesting lost plane procedure, and turned on the emergency IFF. In the meantime he contacted Comdr. Sampson, the commanding officer of VPB-106, who was returning to Iwo in another sector, and received bearings from him. By an unfortunate coincidence, however, a B-29 in trouble turned on its emergency IFF at about the same time, and Comdr. Sampson and later the fighter director at Iwo, which was eventually raised, gave Hazlett vectors which were correct for the Superfortress but which took the Privateer well away from IWO. It was a disheartening moment when Agate Base at Iwo finally discovered its error and confessed that it did not know where Hazlett’s plane was. The Privateer was prepared for ditching by cutting out the three escape-hatch doors and jettisoning them, along with ammunition and all loose gear that would not be needed for survival. Then, all members of the crew took their assigned positions as prescribed in the ditching bill.
Hazlett ditched the plane at 1800K, with enough fuel remaining to make a full-power stall landing into the wind on the crest of a swell, and enough daylight left to get out the rafts, secure the emergency gear, and begin the unwelcome cruise before nightfall. Hazlett did an excellent job in ditching the plane in a rough sea, as would be expected from a member of the original “Black Cats.” None of the crew of thirteen men was injured as a result of the ditching, and all got out without difficulty. There was one casualty, however. The plane’s mascot, a little wire-haired terrier, belonging to the first radioman, was killed when a piece of armor plate from the 4.0 bulkhead fell on him. The Privateer was considerably battered upon impact and soon broke in two between the 4-0 and 6.0 bulkheads, but despite the rough sea it remained afloat for nearly two minutes. Two Mk. 7 life rafts were pulled out of the plane, one with considerable difficulty, and they were lashed together as soon as possible.
The thirteen men spent three and a half days in these two rafts before they were rescued. On the 9th, 10th, and 11th, all available aircraft of this squadron, assisted by two planes of VPB-102 and one each of VPB-06 and VPB-118, combed the area south and west of Iwo Jima without success. There were very few clues as to the exact position of the ditching, and there was a lot of water to cover. Finally, at 0930K on 11 April, Lt. Goodman of VPB-102, while on a regular search to the northwest of Iwo, spotted the rafts about 250 miles from his base, to the north of the area that had been covered. Goodman was soon joined by Lt. (jg) Smith of VPB-106, and the two pilots orbited the rafts for nearly five hours, until they lost contact due to bad weather conditions. A Dumbo) PBY, which continued the search, was unable to sight the survivors, However, the submarine U.S.S. Queenfish (Comdr. Laughlin), returning from a combat patrol, was diverted and ordered to attempt to locate and rescue the downed airmen.
About 0230K on 12 April, their flares were seen and answered by the survivors, and in a short time, aided by the radar corner reflector mounted in one of the rafts, the rescue was effected. The men were quite impressed with the efficiency with which the sub was brought alongside the rafts and the thirteen persons transferred to the more seaworthy craft. In fact, they were much impressed with everything about the submarine and its crew, and by the time they arrived at Guam in the Queenfish on 14 April they were almost ready to ask for transfer to the submarine service. Aside from salt water sores and minor injuries, all the survivors wore in good condition and after a few days of rest were ready for more combat flying.
This was the first ditching of a PB4Y-2 in a combat area, and the third anywhere. The whole incident was fully reported and received considerable attention. A detailed account was published in the Air Op Memo and the Naval Aviation News, and it was the basis for a number of newspaper stories.
In mid-April, most of the squadron moved up to Iwo Jima, leaving only a few crews and the administrative offices at Tinian. Searches from Tinian continued on a reduced scale through 22 April. With the exception of about three weeks in May, Iwo was the main base for the squadron's operations from 15 April to V-J Day and beyond. In the early days operational and living conditions were pretty rough. The heavily loaded Privateers had to take off from the short and bumpy old Jap strip at Central Field for long-range searches which extended from the East China Sea to northern Honshu. The weather was consistently bad during the first weeks of operation and often searches had to be out short so that there would be enough gasoline to make Tinian if Iwo was found to be closed-in. Unpredictable weather was a greater hazard than the constant threat of Japanese fighter opposition and AA fire. When little rain fell, Iwo was a dust bowl, and the volcanic sand would penetrate everywhere. Engines were full of it, and the amount of dust on the planes was sometimes so great that it definitely affected their flight characteristics.
In rainy periods, the airstrip was rougher than ever, and dangerously slippery. Officers and men were quartered in tents pitched in the sand in the CASU (F) 52 area just west of South Field. Fresh water was scarce and for drinking purposes was dirty and sulphurous. The food was monotonous and usually tasteless, with an unwelcome but probably inevitable succession of spam, powdered eggs, K and C rations, canned vegetables only, soggy pancakes, and poor meats. Those conditions were but little improved in later months.
As an advanced base for operations in Japan's home waters, Iwo was strategically located. Day after day, pilots of this squadron flow along the coasts of Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu, and the islands of the Nansei and Nanpo Shoto, often within range of shore batteries and within sight of Jap airfields. They searched for enemy shipping in coves and harbors along the coasts and attacked a variety of land targets. Although they piled up an impressive score in their contacts with the enemy, perhaps the most significant fact about these operations from Iwo is that in more than four months of wartime flying, with long searches almost daily in the enemy’s home waters under all kinds of weather conditions. In spite of frequent AA fire and occasional fighter attacks, not a single man was lost or even seriously wounded. There were no operational losses whatever, and only two planes wore lost as a result of enemy action.
The first period of operations from Iwo, from 15 April to 8 May, was a busy one, with 24 enemy contacts in 20 days. Lt. Baumgartner drew first blood on 17 April when he surprised a Fox Taro Dog near the entrance to Nagoya Bay, and moderately damaged it in two strafing runs. The failure of the bomb bay doors to open wide enough prevented him from using his bombs. On the following day Lt. Daley made the first kill, sinking a Sugar Dog in Tosa Bay, off Shikoku, with two Mk. 13 Napalm bombs. It is believed that this was the first instance in which Napalm, which proved so destructive when dropped by the B-29s on Japanese cities and specific land targets, had been used successfully against enemy shipping.
For this reason, this action received considerable publicity. On the 19th, Lt. Cdr. Muldrow, ranging into the East China Sea, blow up a Sugar Dog a few miles west of Nagasaki with a direct hit with a 250 lb. G.P. bomb. He and Ens. Mooro bombed and strafed a radio station on Tanega Shima, in the northern Nansoi Shoto. Two days later Muldrow engaged in a series of actions north of 1010. West of Aoga Shima in the northern Nanpo Shoto. He attacked and damaged two heavily-armed picket boats.
His plane was hit during the attack, one bullet holing a propeller, blowing a tire, and passing through the port wing. Sixty miles to the northwest ho spotted two more pickets, and soon afterwards sighted two Sugar Baker Sugars. One of these ships was damaged by bombing and strafing. AA fire from both was intense but inaccurate. Off the coast of Honshu, near Hamamatsu, Muldrow shot up three fishing vessels, definitely sinking one and scoring a probable on another. On the 22nd, Lt. Hazlett sank a Sugar Dog and probably destroyed a 70 foot fishing vessel off eastern Shikoku.
On the 23rd, Lt. Daley caught three Jap PT boats lying to about two miles off the southern coast of Kyushu, near Seta Misaki. Two 500 lb. Napalm bombs missed the targets but accurate strafing left one of the boats dead in the water. The other two immediately got under way and headed for the shore at top speed. Daley strafed and further damaged those speeding torpedo boats until intense and accurate heavy AA fire from shore batteries forced him to break off the attacks; then he concentrated on the MTB left dead in the water and soon sank it. He obtained a photograph of these three PT boats which attracted wide-spread attention. It was given a full page in both the Air Op Memo and CinCPac-CinCP0A Weekly Intelligence; the latter magazine described it as one-of the best pictures of Jap PT boats over taken. It was also printed in the Recognition Journal and other official publications and appeared in several newspapers in the United States and in the Honolulu Advertiser. It was VPB-108's most famous picture.
On 24 April Lt. Cdr. Muldrow sank a whale killer with Napalm bombs and strafing almost within sight of Nagasaki, and bombed and strafed installations in a village on Tanega Shwa. The same day Ens. Mooro sank six fishing boats and strafed others near Saeki in eastern Kyushu and sank a large fishing vessel across the southwest entrance to the Inland Sea not far off Shimoda, Shikoku. On the 25th, in the same area, Lt. Cdr. Rogers attacked and damaged a Sugar Dog, a picket boat, and several barges.
On 26 April Lt. Cdr. Lefever sank a picket boat off Shingu, Honshu, by 20mm. and .50 caliber fire, and riddled and sank five fishing boats around Shiono Misaki. This action was particularly significant in that it was the first time a special installation of two fixed forward-firing 20mm guns in a PB4Y-2 was tested in combat. Some weeks before Lt. Cdr. Lefever, convinced that the fire power of 20mm guns would be very effective in low level attacks on small enemy ships and believing that the installation of these guns in the Privateer was technically feasible, took steps to obtain and install them in his plane. The installation was put in while the squadron was based at Kaneohe, T.H., and at Peleliu, the greater part of the work being done by his first ordnance man, W. E. Maxwell, and other members of his crew.
In practice test firing, the guns operated well. And in the attack of 26 April the results were most encouraging. Eventually 20mm guns were installed in most of this squadron's planes and proved to be the major factor in almost every successful attack on enemy ships and land targets. ComAirPacSubComForward endorsed the project and ComAirPac forwarded the idea, with a favorable endorsement, to BuAer. By the end of the war, two fixed forward-firing 20mn were about to be installed in every Privateer that rolled off the assembly line. VPB-108, therefore, was largely instrumental in increasing the effectiveness of the Privateer as a combat aircraft.
While Lefever was demonstrating the power of his 20mm guns, Lt, Ebright was busy in Tosa Bay, some 120 miles to the west. He sank one and seriously damaged another PT boat, sank six to eight large fishing vessels, shot up several others, and slightly damaged a Sugar Dog. He obtained excellent photographs of a PT boat under way. One of these photos, along with Lt. Daley's picture of the three PT boats moored together, appeared in the Recognition Journal in a two page comparison of Japanese and American motor torpedo boats.
On 27 April, Lt. Idle hit a variety of targets on Yaku Shima in the northern Nansei Shoto. He bombed and strafed a radio station and a light house, sank three fishing boats, and strafed two Sugar Dogs, a sub chaser, and storage buildings and other targets of opportunity in eight to ten villages on the island. Lt. Cdr. Lefever continued the attacks on the island on the following day by sinking two Sugar Dogs, destroying a third, and damaging a fourth in coves about Yaku, and strafing a radio station and harbor facilities. At the same time Lt. (jg) Panther, after sighting and being fired on by five land-based Petes off the eastern coast of Kyushu, sank a Sugar Dog and three fishing boats and damaged three more fishing boats and a 75 foot lugger a few miles from Saeki, Kyushu.
29 April, Lt. Cdr. Ackermann destroyed two 150 foot trawlers off Honshu, due east of Tokyo Bay, receiving moderate but inaccurate fire from both of the ships and from shore batteries, In an adjoining sector Lt. Idle shot up 20 or more fishing vessels, damaged four Sugar Dogs and six junks of Kozu Shima and Miyake Jima in the Izu Islands (northern Nanpo Shoto), and bombed and strafed a government building on southern Miyake. Lt. Cdr. Lefever visited the same area on the following day and destroyed three Sugar Does and approximately six fishing boat. He also damaged several other fishing vessels in a harbor on southwestern Kozu Shima, which was to become his favorite hunting ground at a later date.
On 30 April, Lt. Hartvig strafed a large number of fishing vessels off Honshu, just south of Choshi Point, and sank eight. 1 May, Lt. Cdr. Ackermann sank a trawler in Kii Suido, the northeast entrance to the Inland Sea, and two fishing boats outside of Tanabe harbor. On the same day Lt. Idle destroyed a Sugar Dog at Miyake Jime, after making 13 passes at it, and strafed a radio weather station, a government building, and several fishing boats on or near the same island. On his return leg., while making a run on a radio and lookout station on tiny Tori Shima, his plane was hit four times by 7.7mm shells, with almost disastrous results. One bullet severed the flap hydraulic line and the aileron cable. With wings and engines vibrating violently and the loft aileron flapping in the wind, the damage appeared to be more serious than it actually was. Ditching appeared to be an imminent possibility. But after jettisoning a good deal of loose gear and rolling in the aileron tab, the plane was kept in the air and under control. Escorted by Lt. (jg) Panther and a Dumbo plane sent out from Iwo, Lt. Idle brought his Privateer back and landed safely at Central Field.
On 2 May, Lt. Ebright damaged a gunboat and a Sugar Dog, bombed and strafed an oil tank and harbor installations, and shot up several fishing boats in a tight little harbor on eastern Kyushu, where maneuvering was extremely difficult. After several days of bad weather, the VPB-108 offensive was resumed on 7 May. Lt. Cdr. Lefever surprised and probably destroyed an Oscar a few miles off the coast of Honshu, near Hamamatsu. Lt. Hazlett sank an ocean-going tug just above Omao Zaki, Honshu. Ens. Moore sank three 250 ton trawlers off Nagashima, Honshu, near the entrance to Nagoya Bay.
One of the trawlers, apparently carrying gasoline drums, exploded as the Privateer passed over it at low altitude, tossing debris ranging from small splinters to planks six to eight feet in length at least 250 foot in the air. The plane, although it was not hit by any of the large planks, sustained extensive damage, There were large holes in three engine nacelles and in the wings (a 10 inch piece of oak plank was lodged in a 14 inch hole in the outboard port wing), and sizable dents all over the wings and fuselage. Moore made three runs on the other two trawlers after flying through the exploding ship.
On the 8th of May, all personnel of the squadron at Iwo returned to Tinian for three weeks of duty there, preparatory to the next period of operation from Iwo, which lasted past V-J Day. In its first three weeks at Iwo, VPB-108 had flown 80 long sector searches to the Japanese mainland, four night anti-submarine patrols around Iwo, had sunk or destroyed 11 Sugar Dogs, two PT boats, six trawlers, a picket boat, a whale killer, an ocean-going tug and at least 65 fishing boats, probably splashed one Jap plane, and damaged a Fox Tare Dog, a gunboat, throe picket boats, a Sugar Baker Sugar, three PT boats, 10 Sugar Dogs, six junks, a sub chaser, a lugger, several barges and many fishing boats, and many land targets, including five radio stations and harbor installations and facilities. The squadron had pioneered in the use of Napalm bombs against enemy ships and in testing 20mm guns in Privateers in combat operations. All this had been accomplished under adverse flying conditions without combat or operational loss of personnel or aircraft.
Japanese Fortress at Truk
Soon after the return to Tinian, however, the squadron suffered its greatest disaster. In early May all units attached to the Navy Search and Bombardment Group at Tinian (TU 94.1.3) were placed on a one hour alert for a possible low level strike on Truk or Marcus. This situation was occasioned by intelligence that the enemy might attempt to stage aircraft through Marcus and Truk, possibly hitting B-29 bases in the Marianas on route, with the final objective of attacking dry docks and warships at Ulithi, where major units of our fleet were located. On the afternoon of 8 May, a submarine off Marcus reported sighting several unidentified twin-engine planes landing on the island. The order for a dawn strike on 9 May came from Vice Admiral Hoover, Commander Forward Area, at about midnight.
Shortly after 0200, three planes of this squadron (Lt. Cdr. Muldrow, Lt. Hartvig, and Lt. (jg.) Panther) and six of VPB-102 took off from West Field Tinian under exceedingly bad weather conditions; a heavy rain reducing visibility almost to zero, Panther took off with his gyro horizon out, using noodle ball airspeed. The three planes of VPB-108 stayed together all the way to the target. The weather improved all the while, until by sunrise CAVU conditions prevailed. Even by using high power settings the Privateers were unable to reach Marcus by sunrise. Lt. Cdr. Pressler, commanding officer of VPB-102, was the first to go over the target, at 0715K; he succeeded in destroying two aircraft which he caught at the junction of the two runways on Marcus, and escaped with only minor damage to his plane. Twenty minutes later, when Muldrow, Hartvig, and Panther hit the island, the enemy was fully alerted and there was no cloud cover for concealment. Muldrow’s plane was hit before it crossed the reef and was soon hopelessly shot up, with the No. 3 engine knocked out, the No. 4 engine torn completely off the wing, some of the tail surfaces blown away, and fire in the forward section. One shell tore off the back of the Plane Captain’ head. The Privateer swerved to port, passed over the island at an altitude of 100 feet, and crashed into the sea about a mile offshore.
Panther and Hartvig made their runs at altitudes of 25 and 75 feet respectively, bombing and strafing gun positions, airfield installations and personnel along the East-West runway. A 40mm shell tore an eight inch hole in the after section of Panther’s plane, struck an ammunition box and started a dangerous fire, which only the prompt and courageous action of the Plane Captain, V/.S. Hartgraves, kept under control. Hartvig’s plane was hit several times by light AA and rifle fire, but was not seriously damaged.
Three aircraft of VPB-102 hit the island soon afterwards; one was
shot down in flames, one was so badly damaged that it had to be surveyed, and
the third was hit repeatedly and brought back to base with difficulty By a
series of miracles, five men in Muldrow’s plane survived the crash.
They were: Lt. M. R. Wallace, Ens. J. Palma, E. J. Lassiter, ARM 2/0, H. J. Handers, ARM 3/c, and R. L. Livesay, S 1/c. All were wounded, two seriously. None of the five men remembers clearly how he got out of the plane. Luckily one of the Mark 7 life rafts was thrown out, and the men were afloat in this for seven hours.
They were first spotted by Lt. Mildahn and Lt. Cdr. Pressler of VPB-102; later Lt. Baumgartner, a photographic plane of VD-5, and a Dumbo plane from SAIPAN orbited over them, and directed a submarine, the U.S.S. Jallao, which was in the area, to the raft. On three occasions after the crash the men had a narrow escape from capture or death: a sampan sent out from Marcus to search for them came dangerously near, an enemy plane flow directly overhead without sighting them, and as they were being transferred to the Jallao shore batteries on Marcus opened up on them, one shell landing exactly on the spot where the submarine had been a few seconds before it crash-dived. Eventually the five survivors were brought to Saipan, and after some time in Naval Hospitals in the Marianas and Hawaii were evacuated to the States.
Lt. Cdr. Muldrow. Lt. (jg) O'Connell, and six enlisted men - John Denton, AMU 1/c, James Brumley, ARM 2/c, Daniel Webster, AFC 3/c, Bill Martin, AOM 3/c, Henry Struck, S 1/c, and William Heaford, S 1/c were lost in the Marcus operation.
Immediately after the strike on Marcus, Vice Admiral Hoover sent the following: "You’re your low level attack on Marcus was courageous, daring, and well executed. A well done to all hands." A detailed report of the action appeared in the Air Op Memo under the title, "There's Still a War Going on at Mrcus." Lt. Cdr. Muldrow, Lt. Hartvig, Lt. Panther, and V. S. Hartgraves, AMU 2/c, were awarded the high honor of the Navy Cross; all other officers and men who participated received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The thirteen officers and men in the plane piloted by Lt. Cdr. Muldrow were given the Purple Heart; eight of these were posthumous awards.
The Marcus strike received widespread recognition and all participants were given high awards. But the loss of our commanding officer and seven other good men was a high price to pay. All hands felt the loss keenly. Lt. Cdr. Lefever, our Executive Officer, became the "Skipper", and Lt. Cdr. Ackermann, who had been Exec. before Lefever joined the squadron in December 1944, resumed his old duties. On 19 May, Lt. (jg) Bezursik and crew reported aboard to replace the crew lost at Marcus. The special one hour alert continued throughout the entire month of May, creating continuous tension and uncertainty, but fortunately the squadron was not called upon for another semi-suicidal attack like the Marcus strike of the 9th. Every day searches were flown to the north and west of Tinian, some of 2000 miles.
On the 27th, Lt. Hazlett orbited for three hours over a survivor in a life raft about 120 miles southeast of Iwo Jima. The man was later identified as a B-29 co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Dale E, Ellis of the 40th Group of the 50th Wing; he was the only survivor of a Superfort crew which had participated in a major strike on Nagoya, and had been adrift in a one-man life raft for 14 days. During the month, pilots of this squadron made reconnaissance flights over Truk, giving particular attention to the airfields on Param, Eten and Moen Islands; while inside the reef at Truk they wore frequently fired upon by coastal defense and AA batteries on the heavily defended islands. On the 4th, Lt. (jg) Panther's plane was hit by light AA from tiny EO Island, and in retaliation he dropped a string of bombs on installations on Falalau Island.
On the 31st, Lt. Baumgartner was attacked over Truk by an OSCAR, which dropped a phosphorous bomb and made a few feeble runs on the Privateer without doing any damage. On the 24th Lt. Cdr. Lefever and ft. Hubbard (acting as co-pilot) flew Rear Admiral Greer, Commander Fleet Air Wing Eighteen, to Okinawa, and were at Yontari airfield on the memorable night when two Jap transports were deliberately crash-landed on the airstrip and the enemy aboard succeeded in destroying several American planes before they were killed or blew themselves to bits.
In early June the squadron, except for a small rear contingent, returned to Iwo Jima, and resumed more active combat operations. At first living and flying conditions were as unsatisfactory as before, but by the end of the month the new CASU (F) 52 area at the northeast end of the island began to be occupied and Central Field had been smoothed, extended, and partially surfaced with asphalt. Later the asphalt strip was extended to 9800 foot, giving our planes the longest runway in the western Pacific from which to operate.
Enemy contacts were frequent in June, averaging about one a day. On 5 May, Lt. Daley sank a Sugar Dog near Kannoura, Shikoku, less than a mile offshore, and probably destroyed a small trawler just northeast of Murato Zaki, in the face of heavy fire from shore batteries. On the same day Lt. Ebright tangled with an enemy APD (destroyer-type transport) and nearly carne to grief as a result. Shortly after he had commenced a routine sector search northeast of Iwo Jima, he was ordered to attempt to locate an APD which was reported to be northeast of the Bonin Islands.
He soon found the enemy ship and kept it in sight while he homed in six P-51's which had taken off from Iwo as soon as his contact report had been received. The Mustangs made rocket attacks on the APD without much success, but since their strafing seemed to clear the decks, Ebright decided to follow the last of the fighters in a low level run. Accurate strafing by his forward-firing 20mm and several 50 caliber guns and a near miss with a 100 lb. G.P. bomb caused slight damage to the ship. As the Privateer passed over the APD at masthead height, it was hit between the No. 3 and No. 4 engines by a 4.7 inch shell. The No. 4 engine was put out of operation immediately, and the No. 3 engine was damaged and later the propeller had to be feathered. One hour after the attack, finding that he could not maintain course and altitude with two engines out on the same side, Ebright was forced to ditch the plane a few miles west of Hula Jima.
Fortunately, the sea was fairly calm, and the ditching was successfully carried out, although the plane was difficult to control with only two engines on the port side functioning. Most of the crew sustained minor injuries, but all got out of the plane easily onto two Mk. 7 life rafts. Lt. Smith had contacted Lt. Ebright soon after the latter's plane was hit, and orbited over the rafts until he was relieved by a B-17 and a B-29 Dumbo from Iwo.
After some four and a half tours in the rafts, the men were picked up by a destroyer and returned to Iwo. E.F. Vodicka, the Plane Captain, was out of action for several weeks, but the rest of the crew, whose injuries were minor, returned to the squadron before the end of the month.
The APD—or an APD—continued to haunt the northern Nanpo Shoto and disturb the higher commands and therefore all pilots operating from Iwo for many weeks. An APD, possibly the same one Ebright had attacked, was sighted by Lt. Daley three days later in the northeast anchorage at Hachijo Jima. Then it disappeared for five days and was seen in the same spot on the 13th by Lt. Ifft and again on the 24th by Lt. Hazlett. Thereafter it reappeared from time to time until the end of the war.
On 8 June, Lt. Cdr. Rogers destroyed a Sugar Dog near Qhara on the southeastern side of the Chiba Peninsula (the long arm enclosing Tokyo Bay), and soon afterwards was intercepted by a Jack and a Tony from Tateyama airfield. When the two fighters failed in attempts to keep Rogers on a course that would have brought him within range of AA guns on Hachijo Jima, they made seven aggressive runs on the Privateer. But largely due to their lack of coordination and Roger's skillful evasive tactics, the plane was not hit at all. The Jack, however, was hit several times and seriously damaged; when last seen ist was heading back toward its base leaving a trail of smoke behind.
9 June, Ens. Moore sank a Sugar Dog near the entrance to Nagoya Bay. Two days later he threw everything in the book at a Sugar Able Sugar just southwest of Choshi Point without sinking it. He made ten runs on the tanker at low altitude, some with half flaps, expended five 250 lb. G.P. bombs, 4000 rounds of .50 caliber and 200 rounds of 20mm. Ammunition. But, as he put it, the ship "just wouldn't blow up."
On the same day, Lt. Ifft attacked and moderately damaged a Fox Tare Dog near Iro Zaki, in the face of accurate fire from the shore, but was unable to get a kill because of failure of the bomb release mechanism. One shell from the enemy's guns hit the pilot's escape hatch.
Some 100 miles to the west, just off the coast of Honshu south of Hamaniatsu, Lt. Hazlett had trouble with a ship which exploded too easily, unlike those Moore and Ifft attacked. While directly over a Sugar Charlie Sugar on his second run, the ship blew up and engulfed the plane in a wall of fire and cascading debris. The explosion lifted the Privateer nearly 500 feet in the air; pieces of the ship hit all parts of it, including every propeller and engine. The concussion blew out three of the four bombs in the rear bomb bays and nearly got the Plane Captain, who was thrown violently across the catwalk. None of the crew was injured, and although the No. 3 engine was vibrating considerably and the controls were sluggish, the plane was kept in the air without much difficulty. In fact, immediately after this narrow escape, Hazlett joined Lt. (jg) Hill, who was flying with him, in two coordinated attacks on a tug and two luggers nearby.
Hill proceeded to sink a wooden sea truck and then escorted Hazlett 600 miles back to Iwo. After getting his landing gear down only with difficulty, Hazlett brought the battered plane down safely. Only then was the full extent of the damage realized; "Lady Luck II" had made her last flight, and was immediately surveyed. This action received a lengthy write-up in the Air Op Memo. Not the least remarkable feature of the whole episode was the fact that two low level attacks wore made on enemy shipping after the first target had blown up when the Privateer was 75 feet over it. Hazlett took the whole affair with his usual equanimity, and two days later he flew through heavy weather to the northeast entrance to the Inland Sea and sank a Sugar Dog and shot up several fishing boats.
On 12 Juno Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Hubbard blasted shipping and harbor facilities at the village of Kozushima on the southwest aide of the island of the same name, In spite of a low ceiling, they came over the 800 foot hills and pulled away from the 300 foot cliffs surrounding the harbor, using Napalm and G.P. bombs, 20mm. and 50 caliber guns, with devastating effect.
At the end of eight runs the harbor area was a shambles, with four distinct fires raging; a large warehouse had been blown apart by direct bomb hits and was burning fiercely; four Sugar Cogs were burning, two definitely and two probably destroyed, and many fishing boats on a ramp had been shot up. This was the first of a long series of attacks on the Izu Islands of the northern Nanpo Shoto by Lt. Cdr. Lefever, which led members of his squadron to refer to the group as the "Lefever Islands." Three days later he made a one-man strike in the same area, destroying two Sugar Dogs and large fishing vessels and damaging eight to ten others at Kozushima, sinking a-Sugar Dog and strafing a barracks and two barges at Shikine Shima, a small island just southwest of Nii Shima.
14 June, Lt. Hartvig, returning from patrol to the northeast of Iwo at dusk, sighted what he thought to be a large enemy flying boat, possibly an Emily, near Muko Jima in the Bonin Islands. The plane hastily reversed course on spotting the Privateer and could not be located again in the semi-darkness. On the 16th, Lt. Idle, immediately after sinking a Diesel trawler south of Choshi Point was jumped by three Mikes and splashed two in a twenty minute engagement, featured by skillful piloting and accurate gunnery. On the 18th, Lt. Baumgartner sank a large fishing vessel in Kii Suido. Lt. Daley and Lt. (jg) Bezursik shot up another on the 19th near Toyoura.
On the 20th, Lt. Cdr. Lefever returned to the Izu Islands, scored a direct hit on a barracks on Shikine Shima with a 250 lb. bomb, seriously damaged a Sugar Dog and three or four fishing boats on the same island, and strafed a number of fishing boats on the ramp at Kozushima which he had hit twice before.
20 June was a busy day. Lt. Baumgartner and Lt. Hazlett, while on a two-plane sector search, shot down one and smoked two of three attacking Oscars in a running battle which began just off the south coast of Honshu near. Hamamatsu. A Tony remained about a mile away during the entire encounter, but did not attempt to join in the attack, Four miles south of the Chiba Peninsula: Lt, Cdr. Rogers and Lt. Hartvig sighted one Nick and two Zekes. The Zekes pursued the Privateers for about 20 miles and then each made an uncoordinated run from 2 o'clock and retired in the direction of the Japanese coast.
One Zeke was hit in the engine and left a trail of smoke. In the late afternoon of the 20th, after Baumgartner, Hazlett, Rogers, and Hartvig had returned from their eventful missions, all of the squadron's personnel at Iwo, with the exception of Lt. Hazlett and crow and Lt. (jg) Montgomery, who were held up by magneto trouble, left for Tinian on orders from Commander Fleet Air Wing Eight, to evacuate Iwo because of a threatened typhoon. On their departure the weather was growing worse hourly, and the short strip at Central Field was slippery and treacherous. The typhoon passed Iwo on the 21st, blowing down a number of tents and causing other damage; on the 22nd three crews and Lt. Palmer, the ACI Officer, returned to Iwo and searches were resumed the following day.
Lt. Hazlett received heavy AA fire from an APD which he found at Hachijo Jima on the 24th. Two days later, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Hartvig engaged in "the great schooner shoot", sinking an auxiliary schooner and a lugger a few miles southwest of Nagoya Bay, in an encounter which was features by the participation of a B-29, in the area on an Air Sea Rescue mission, in a low level attack on enemy shipping. Not far away, in the mouth of Tanabe Harbor, Lt. Daley destroyed a Sugar Dog in a single run, strafed a light house, and sank two large fishing vessels. Next day Lt. (jg) Riffe flew to the head of Suruga Day and damaged a Fox Tare Dog within sight of Numazu.
On the 28th, Lt. Daley flew along the eastern coast of Honshu between Sendai and Choshi Point, received intense and accurate heavy AA from the vicinity of Mito airfield, and sighted two single-engine aircraft off Konoike airstrip. Almost daily pilots of the squadron came within sight of enemy strips, with many planes on them, and frequently saw airborne aircraft. Those planes rarely attacked, and if they did were often unaggressive in their runs, showing a healthy respect for the fire power of the Privateer.
On 29 Juno Lt. (jg) Hill and Lt. (jg) Moore sank a Sugar Dog within range of medium and light gun positions on Miki Saki, Honshu, and strafed those positions and a light house on the point. On the 30th Lt, Cdr. Rogers and Lt. (jg) Panther sank a large fishing vessel due east of Hamamatsu.
Something now was added in July, when the Third Fleet moved up to the coast of Japan and remained until the end of the war, staging repeated carrier plane strikes and occasional shore bombardments on vital areas of Honshu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido, in one of the greatest naval operations in history.
Navy long-range search planes of Fleet Air Wing Eighteen were assigned the mission of flying barrier patrols between the fleet and Japan. For this screening job more PB4Y's were assembled at Iwo Jima than had ever operated together in any combat area; some 60 aircraft of VPB-102, VPB-10£3, VPB-109, VPB-116, and VPB-121 participated in this vital assignment of maintaining continuous patrols on assigned barriers during the daylight hours.
Hokkaido and Honshu.
The first barriers were flown on 7 July, the last on 11 August. The longest flights came on 12 July, when the fleet was refueling preparatory to its first strike on Hokkaido and northern Honshu. Those barriers extended to 42-OON, 147-OOE, and involved a flight of 2200 miles, not allowing for deviations from course, 25 planes took off at intervals of 30 minutes, commencing at 2330K on the 11th. Two sector searches were extended to 1120 miles from Iwo to the southern coast of Hokkaido. All planes had to be flown for hours on instruments because of the bad weather; some were very short on gas when they landed.
Because of these fleet barrier patrols, plus regular sector searches, Air Sea Rescue missions, and special flights, VPB-108 operated on a 24 hour basis for over a month. Pilots of this squadron flew 70 barrier patrols between 7 July and 11 August, averaging 11.5 hours each. On two days, 15 and 16 July, they covered a distance equivalent to the circumference of the globe; on 12 July, in seven 15 hour hops, they flew some 18,000 miles. Every pilot in the squadron logged well over 100 hours of tough flying in July.
Air Sea Rescue work became an important part of the squadron's operations in July. The Navy was performing with great success the task of providing Air Sea Rescue facilities for B-29's between the Marianas and Japan, which resulted in the rescue of some 600 airmen and was an important factor in maintaining morale, as well as for fighter pilots from Iwo Jima who ran into trouble during strikes on Japan, and for any other aircraft in the waters south of the Empire. Lifeguard submarines, destroyers and other surface vessels, and Dumbo PBY's and B-17s, were assigned to this work.
In late June, search planes of Fleet Air Wing Eighteen were made available on call to the Air Sea Rescue Unit at Iwo (TG 94.11), whenever the regular Dumbo planes could not handle all the various assignments. As a result, starting on 26 June, this squadron was frequently called upon to send out planes at all hours of the day or night to orbit over a lifeguard submarine or a surface vessel during major B-29 or P-51 strikes on Japan and render all possible assistance to airmen in trouble, or to conduct special searches for survivors. 31 Air Sea Rescue missions were flown in July; some took only a few hours, others were long flights to various stations along the Japanese coast, from Kyushu to the Tokyo Plains. Often our planes orbited over lifeguard subs a few miles off the Japanese mainland, within easy range of energy fighters. A number of downed airmen were picked up by submarines with aerial escort off Hamamatsu, in Sagami Bay, and elsewhere under the very noses of the enemy. None of our planes was molested during these operations, although on a few occasions planes of other squadrons on similar duty were attacked by fighters.
Enemy contacts were fewer in July, although Lt, Cdr. Lefever repeatedly found good hunting. On the 4th, Lt. Idle sighted a Japanese hospital ship above Chichi Jima, and sank a 50 foot landing craft southwest of Haha Jima. Lt. Baumgartner located a hospital ship on the 6th west of Miyake Jima, possibly the same one seen by Idle two days previously.
On the 8th, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Hazlett sank a lugger a few miles southwest of Nagoya Bay. On the 13th Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. (jg) Panther, after investigating Suruga Bay to Shimizu, sighting two Myrts off Iro Zaki, and inspecting the airstrip on Nii Shima at such close range that they drew AA fire, destroyed a Sugar Charlie Sugar and strafed a large camouflaged landing craft and several fishing boats in a narrow cove on northern Shikine Shima where maneuvering was difficult, and definitely destroyed three and holed many others of nearly 40 fishing boats on the ramp at Kozushima which Lefever had visited on previous missions.
Three days later he continued his blitz of the Izu Islands. First he sank one and damaged another powered lighter off Miyake Jima, receiving AA fire from guns on the northern part of the island. Then he revisited the cove of Shikine Shima where he had found the Sugar Charlie Sugar on the 13th. All that was left of this ship was a burned-out hull. But in the same cove he spotted a small submarine chaser and proceeded to destroy this in four runs. He also holed the camouflaged landing craft so badly that it sank to the bottom of the shallow cove, strafed several fishing boats on the beach, and blew away part of a boat repair shop with a 100 lb. G.P. bomb. Next he sank one and damaged another junk at Jinai Shima, a tiny island a mile west of Nii Shima, receiving fire from heavy AA batteries on Nii during this attack. Finally he went to his favorite hunting ground on Kozu Shima, and after two strafing runs on the fishing boats on the ramp at Kozushima passed over the ramp at 20 feet to inspect the damage at close range. He found that nearly all of the approximately two score boats on the ramp had been wrecked by bombs or riddled with bullets as a result of the collectible bombing and strafing in several attacks.
In the same area on 21 July, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Ebright bombed and strafed a government building and a radio weather station on Miyake Jima; sank a lugger off Shikine Shima, and flew around Nii Shima close enough to draw the usual AA fire. Continuing their patrol to the coast of Japan, they caught a Sugar Charlie Sugar towing two cargo-laden barges just northeast of Iro Zaki and in the face of accurate and increasingly intense heavy AA fire from the mainland they sank the Sugar Charlie Sugar and probably sank the two barges. On the return leg Lefever made one run over the fishing boats on the ramp at Kozushima.
28 July, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Hubbard received intense and accurate AA from an enemy APD in the northeast anchorage at Hachijo Jima, totally destroyed the government building and the radio weather station on Miyake Jima, which Lefever and Ebright had damaged on the 21st, with Napalm and G.P. bombs, destroyed two Sugar Charlie Sugars and one Sugar Dog, and shot up two luggers in two small harbors on western Miyake. Lefever carried M47A2 100 lb. Napalm bombs on this mission and used them with great success. It is believed that this action marks the first use of this type of Napalm bomb by Navy pilots against enemy land targets and shipping in Japanese Empire waters. During the final run on the second of the two Sugar Charlie Sugars Lefever’s plane was hit by a 40mm shell from gun positions on nearby hills. W. E. Maxwell, AOM 1/c, was slightly wounded, and fragments of the shell knocked holes in the hydraulic reservoir, the main gas cells, the bomb bay tanks, cut one aileron cable and partially severed the rudder and elevator cables. Quick action by the Plane Captain, J. J. Wyrick, prevented much gasoline from escaping. The plane was still well under control, and was brought back to Iwo without serious trouble, Lefever and Hubbard returned to Miyake Jima on 12 August, started large fires in villages on the western side with Napalm and G.P. bombs, and heavily strafed a radio station and other targets in the vicinity. This "sweat revenge for the damage to Lefever's plane on 28 July was somewhat tempered by the fact that his Privateer was hit again by a 40mm. shell, which grazed the nose and smashed the radome without causing serious damage. Before Lefever could return to avenge this second indignity, the shooting had stopped. It was fitting that his last sector search, on 21 September, was in the waters south of Tokyo Bay which are dotted by the "Lefever Islands."
On 3 July Lt. McMichael, who had joined the squadron at Kaneohe, and who had cooperated with Lt. Palmer in handling all the A.C.I. work incidental to the combat operations, left for the States on medical orders, and on the 14th Lt. Pierson reported aboard as his replacement. By an interesting and happy coincidence, Lt. Pierson had boon the A.C.I. Officer for this squadron during its first tour of combat duty.
The end of the war in August naturally changed VPB-108's operations fundamentally. The last fleet barrier patrols were flown on the 11th; no Air Sea Rescue flights were made after the 14th; offensive operations ceased with the announcement of Japan's acceptance of the surrender terms on the 15th; night anti-submarine patrols around Iwo Jima, which our pilots had flown on an average of every fourth night since early June, were suspended on the 17th. Regular sector searches were continued throughout the month, although the sectors wore shortened.
Nine special weather flights wore flown in August, usually for the purpose of locating and circling a typhoon somewhere in the area west of Okinawa and south or southeast of Japan. On the 7th, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Daley made a special search for an enemy hospital ship, and located it near Marcus Island. Lt. Hazlett and Lt. Baumgartner carried out special ASW missions on the 15th and 16th respectively. JASASA. (Joint Air Surface Anti-Submarine Action) operations were conducted with two destroyers, occasioned by a definite submarine contact and attack by a United Status destroyer. On the 22nd, Lt. Eslinger provided aerial escort for a troop-laden LST which was proceeding toward the Tokyo area to rendezvous with units of the Third Fleet.
On V-J Day, ten of our pilots, eight of VPB-117, and six of VPB-124, staged a demonstration of power over Truk in connection with the surrender ceremonies on board the U.S.S. Portland. (To provide the planes necessary for this demonstration, all available aircraft of VPB-108 at Iwo Jima were ordered to Tinian on 1 September.) The 24 privateers flew in formation at low altitude over the once-great island fortress. Some of the pilots of this squadron who participated in this aerial display had been among the first American aviators to fly reconnaissance and strike missions to Truk from distant basses; it was peculiarly appropriate, therefore that they should have a part in the formal surrender of the “Gibraltar of the Pacific.”
Not long after hostilities ceased, some of our pilots, while on sector searches from Iwo, flew over Tokyo and other sections of Japan, obtaining excellent photographs, a Kaleidoscopic impression of a beautiful land, and a close view of the terrific devastation caused by the B-29 raids.
August was marked by many changes in personnel, as the first reliefs for some of the original crews, who had had several months of combat duty, began to arrive. On the 14th, Lt. Cdr. Hill relieved Lt. Cdr. Ackermann as Executive officer, bringing a complete crow and a replacement Privateer. On the 17th, Lt. Cdr. Ackermann and Lt. (jg) Moore and their crews were detached from duty with this squadron. With them went D. W. "Rosy" Ryan, ACMM, who had served as leading chief throughout the period of combat operations, and B. H. Woolsey, AOM 1/c, of Lt. (jg) Hill's crew; both of these men were ordered home by Navy doctors. On the 21st Lt. Ritter, former RCAF pilot, arrived with a new plane and crew. Lt. Daley hustled his men into Lt. Idle's old Privateer and set forth for the States. Next day Lt. (jg) Smith and crew reported aboard. Lt. Cdr. Harmon and crew arrived six days later, and R. F. Housh, ACMM, reported for duty as leading chief.
On the 28th Lt. Cdr. Walter arrived to relieve Lt. Cdr. Lefever as commanding officer of VPB-108. He assumed command on the 31st and on the following day, 1 September, Lt. Cdr. Lefever and Lt. Cdr. Ebright, with their crews, took off for Kaneohe and the States. Lt. Brobst, who had been administrative officer since the squadron was reformed at Alameda in late September of 1944, left with Lt. Cdr. Lefever; he was the first officer of the squadron to go back for release to inactive duty under the points system.
In his official summary of the combat operations of Patrol Bombing Squadron One Hundred Eight, dated 31 August, Lt. Cdr. Lefever reported that since 16 March 1945 the squadron had flown a total of 7306 hours in the forward area from three advanced bases, had undertaken 731 missions, had sunk or destroyed 118 enemy ships and damaged 159 more, had shot down three Jap planes, probably destroyed a fourth and smoked three others, and had inflicted widespread damage on airfield installations, harbor facilities, radio stations, warehouses, and other land targets.
In five months of intensive combat, operations, with almost daily searches to the shores of Japan or to enemy-held islands, the squadron had lost two officers and six enlisted men, and five planes, three as a result of enemy action, one by a forced ditching due to navigation and communication difficulties (the first ditching of a Privateer in any combat theatre), and one operationally at Rio Jima. Under the circumstances, the losses, both of personnel and aircraft, were remarkably low, and the squadron took particular pride in this almost unequalled record. VPB-108 had been the first to install fixed forward-firing 20mm. guns in any PB4Y-type aircraft and the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of the increased fire power in combat. It was believed to be the first Navy patrol bombing squadron to use Napalm bombs against small enemy cargo ships and land targets.
Personnel of this squadron collected medals and awards for their combat activities on a mass scale. By 1 October they had received 1047 awards, including four Navy Crossesto Lt. Cdr. Muldrow (posthumously), Lt. Hartvig, Lt. (ac) Panther, and V. S. Hartgraves, AMM 2/c, all for the Marcus strike 247 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 760 Air Modals, and 23 Purple Hearts. Every officer and all crewmen who had made combat flights received at least three Air Medals, and all but 12, who had reported in late May, had one or more Distinguished Flying Crosses as well. Lt. Cdr. Lefever and his crew had garnered 16 D.F.C.ls, 76 Air Medals, and one Purple Heart.
VPB-108, during its first tour of combat duty, operated on the periphery of the swollen Japanese Empire, moving from Canton into the Ellico, Gilbert, and Marshall Islands as key bases in those areas were occupied. In its second tour its main base had been Iwo Jima, the last stepping-stone on the road to Tokyo. Its pilots and aircrewmen had flown for months in Japan's home waters and had participated in the final phrases of World War II. It had been a long road from Canton and Nuku Fefau to Iwo Jima and Tokyo, but this squadron could take satisfaction in knowing that its record along the way had given it an honored place in the history of Naval aviation.
[Note: Additional information that in not in this report, on VPB-108 replacement Patrol Plane Commander Rodney Stich, who is also the person responsible for this Internet site and insider information]