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Aces of the US naval aviation in the Pacific


By Sakhal

Edward O'Hare

During the first months of the war in the Pacific the American naval force found that its aircraft carriers were too dispersed in the attempt to stop the progressive advance of the Japanese on the conquest of the islands. After the event of Pearl Harbor, only three aircraft carriers were assigned to the fleet in the Pacific: the Enterprise, the Lexington and the Saratoga. In the mid January 1942, the Japanese were "jumping" from island to island on the Bismarck Archipelago, and it was assigned to Admiral Wilson Brown and the 11th Task Force the attempt of a raid upon Rabaul, which had fallen in Japanese hands the 23rd January, becoming a very important aeronaval base for the enemy. This Task Force comprised the aircraft carrier Lexington, four heavy cruisers and nine destroyers. It was expected that the 11th Task Force could approach enough the target, before being detected, so the fighters Grumman F4F-3 "Wildcat" onboard the aircraft carrier could escort the bombers Douglas SBD "Dauntless" in their attacks. The fighters sighted and destroyed two Japanese seaplanes in the morning of the 20th February, but a third one escaped and could deliver the position of the ships commanded by Wilson Brown.

So, at 15:42 of that same afternoon, the radar of the aircraft carrier detected the approximation of Japanese aircraft and about half a hour later nine torpedo bombers Nakajima B5N "Kate" attacked the Lexington. Five were downed by the anti-aircraft cannons, while the pilots of the Wildcat attacked the second wave of another nine Kate, destroying three of them. This action put all of the Wildcat, except two, in a bad situation to face again other nine aircraft, this time twin-engined bombers Mitsubishi G4M "Betty". While those two aircraft, so outnumbered, turned to face this new threat against the Lexington, the machine guns of one of them jammed and the pilot of the other aircraft was left alone to attack the enemy formation. In less than three minutes, this pilot, Lieutenant Edward "Butch" O'Hare, from the VF-3 Fighter Squadron destroyed five Japanese bombers and damaged a sixth one. Because of this very risky confrontation and the magnificent exhibition of skill and valor, "Butch" O'Hare was rewarded with the Medal of Honor.

Later, in November 1943, O'Hare was promoted to Commander, commanding a group of aircraft in the aircraft carrier Enterprise, piloting the Grumman F6F "Hellcat". During the operations of the aircraft carrier in the Tarawa Atoll, the Japanese took the habit of sending raiders while the American aircraft returned on the sunset. To face this danger, the Enterprise put on guard a Grumman TBF "Avenger" fitted with radar and two Hellcat to defend it. This was the procedure used in the night of the 26th November, when raiders approaching the aircraft carrier were detected by the radar. O'Hare was one of the pilots of F6F that took off to face them. After the Avenger had downed one of the intruders, a general confusion happened, for the Japanese started to shoot each other in the darkness, and in that moment the gunner onboard the Avenger opened fire against what he believed to be a Japanese aircraft without lights. Later it was clear that his target was in fact the Hellcat piloted by O'Hare, because it was never seen again. Edward "Butch" O'Hare made History as the first ace of the United States Navy, by achieving the five victories in a single action required to achieve such category.

Aces of the US naval aviation in the Pacific

Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat from the 3rd Fighter Squadron of the United States Navy, piloted by Lieutenant Edward O'Hare in February 1942. Wingspan: 11.58 meters; length: 8.76 meters; height: 2.81 meters; engine: Pratt and Whitney R-1830 of 1200 horsepower; maximum speed: 531 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 11430 meters; operational range: 1360 kilometers; armament: four Browning 12.7 -millimeter machine guns and two 45-kilogram bombs.

J. A. Leppla and John Liska

The absence of American aircraft carriers in the disaster at Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941 was a strong blow to the Japanese hopes of achieving a fast and victorious end in the war with theUnited States. How effective still was the American aircraft carrier force was clearly seen during the Battle of the Coral Sea, in May 1942, when the aircraft from the Lexington and the Yorktown, which patrolled the area where it was believed to be a Japanese incursion fleet in route towards Papua and New Guinea, attacked and damaged the aircraft carrier Shoho. They destroyed so many aircraft that vice Admiral Inouye, understanding how insufficient the number of remaining fighters was, gave counterorder to the invasion. The fight at Coral Sea was the first naval battle ever in which no ship fired against other ship.

The Squadrons VB-2 and VS-2 of the US Navy were embarked in the Lexington, whereas the Yorktown carried the VB-5 and VS-5. All of them were bombers Dauntless, 74 of which were ready to enter combat immediately. The 7th May in the morning, some of those aircraft attacked the aircraft carrier Shoho and her escort, in the very firing line of the enemy fighters. Among the Dauntless, there was one piloted by J. A. Leppla, from the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron. During the first pass Leppla was attacked by two Japanese fighters, one of which was downed by the gunner onboard the Dauntless, John Liska. Then Leppla could see another Zero fighter that attacked a Dauntless. Without leaving the descent line in the dive, he placed the aircraft in such a way that he could attack the Japanese fighter and shoot it down before dropping the bombs. When returning from the dive, he stumbled upon another enemy fighter Zero on his very firing line and managed to destroy it as well. Returning to the Lexington, Leppla found a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft on his way and destroyed it as well.

The following day, the Lexington sent her bombers Dauntless and her fighters Wildcat in an effort to defend herself from the Japanese torpedo bombers; the aircraft from the Squadrons VB-2 and VS-2 downed eleven of them, three of them corresponding to Leppla and Liska. The Lexington was, in any case, severely damaged and she had to abandon the fight, being sunk by the very Americans. Her air crew and aircraft were accommodated in the Yorktown. Excellent bomber, the Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" was also used with great success in the Battle of Midway and it became synonym of the names Leppla and Liska, whose record of seven victories in two consecutive days stood out brightly even within the bitter war environment unleashed upon the Pacific during the Second World War.

Aces of the US naval aviation in the Pacific

Douglas SBD Dauntless from the 2nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron of the United States Navy, piloted by J. A. Leppla in May 1942. Wingspan: 12.65 meters; length: 10.06 meters; height: 4.14 meters; engine: Wright R-1820 of 1200 horsepower; maximum speed: 394 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 7410 meters; operational range: 1770 kilometers; armament: two 12.7-millimeter machine guns, two 7.62 -millimeter machine guns, up to 726 kilograms of offensive load under the fuselage and two 147-kilogram bombs under the wings.

Gregory M. Boyington

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, the fighter pilot with highest record of victories of the US Marine Corps, was born in Idaho in 1912, and he was entrusted said service before the age of 20. He was one of the first "Flying Tigers" from the American Volunteer Group led by Claire Lee Chennault and in 1941 he destroyed his first six Japanese fighters over Birmania and China, but he returned to the Marine Corps in November 1942. Since he had been absent from regular service, Boyington was not immediately assigned to a combat position, but he was embarked towards the Solomon Islands as Operations Officer. However, when it was assigned the position of Commanding Officer of the VMF-122 Marine Fighter Squadron, Boyington took it. Despite having departed in numerous escort missions, the squadron barely had encounters with the enemy aviation, but after having one of his ankles broken during an affray in a bar, Boyington found himself again out of active service.

The 7th August 1943, recovered from the injury and after repeated requests for a combat position, Boyington got permission to form a provisional unit of the VMF-214 Marine Fighter Squadron, the "Blacksheep". Flying the Vought F4U "Corsair", the new squadron was transferred to Russell Island; in September and from the first moment it was immersed in the crudest of the air combat. The 16th day, during an escort mission to Ballale, Boyington destroyed he alone five japanese fighters and during the following six weeks his record reached 20 enemy aircraft destroyed (including the victories achieved with the American Volunteer Group).

After a brief resting period outside the theater of operations, the "Blacksheep" of Boyington returned to the front in December. The 3rd January 1944, however, Boyington and his wingman were deemed as missing in action and several weeks passed until it was known that Boyington had been captured by the enemy. It was known as well that during his last combat he had destroyed other two Japanese fighters. Boyington returned to United States after he had managed to escape from the prisoners camp, being then awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross. He had many personal problems after the war, before he managed to fully recover from his alcoholism. His book "Baa Baa Black Sheep" was a best-seller and later he directed a television series of the same name. The VMF-214 "Blacksheep" is still an active squadron of the US Navy that continues honoring its first Chief Commander: Gregory "Pappy" Boyington.

Aces of the US naval aviation in the Pacific

Chance-Vought F4U-1A Corsair from the VMF-214 "Blacksheep" Squadron of the United States Navy, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gregory M. Boyington in September 1943. Wingspan: 12.48 meters; length: 10.17 meters; height: 4.59 meters; engine: Pratt and Whitney R-2800 of 2000 horsepower; maximum speed: 668 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 11280 meters; operational range: 1633 kilometers; armament: six Browning 12.7-millimeter machine guns.

Categories: Aviation - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-07-16


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