Diverse

JJ’s Wargames: JJ’s Wargames on Tour

USS Missouri BB-63 is an Iowa class battleship launched in January 1944 and the last battleship commissioned by the United States Navy. She is now a museum ship in Pearl Harbour and is famous for her quarterdeck being the site of the surrender of the Empire of Japan.

 

Hawaii is a name that conjures up many ideas about tropical island paradises, complete with girls in garlands of flowers and grass skirts, with this rather romantic imagery overlaid with events in history from Captain James Cook and his three voyages of discovery in the Pacific between 1768 and 1779, to more recent history and the ‘day of infamy’ attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7th 1941.

Television shows in the UK such as Hawaii Five-O, and Magnum have added a more modern take on images of Hawaii today, and I speak as a kid brought up on the original shows, Jack Lord’s portrayal of Steve McGarrett in the 70’s production of Hawaii Five-O and Tom Selleck as Magnum P.I. in the 80’s.

Oahu, the most common destination for tourists to Hawaii and the most populated of the eight islands

Thus Carolyn and I were quite keen to include the island archipelago in our itinerary of places to visit and so took the rather exhausting six hour flight from Vancouver to enjoy a few days on Oahu, staying on the east or windward side of the island near Kahaluu.

Map of the Hawaiian Archipelago and the state flag 

Hawaii is composed of eight islands and is home to about 1.4 million people, the majority of whom live on Oahu.

Captain James Cook c1775 by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (National Maritime Museum)
Cook together with four Royal Marines would meet a brutal death at the the hands of Hawaiians during a second visit to the islands in 1799 whilst making repairs to a damaged foremast on the Resolution.

The islands are thought to have been populated by Polynesians somewhere between 1000 to 1200 AD leading to the creation of several chiefdoms and remained so until the discovery of the islands by Captain James Cook on his third voyage to the Pacific in 1778, the first known non-Polynesian to visit the islands along with a certain midshipman George Vancouver, mentioned in my previous post looking at the Canadian city named after him.

HMS Resolution and Discovery in Matavai Bay, Tahiti – John Cleveley

An influx of European and American traders and whalers soon followed, bringing diseases such as smallpox, syphilis, gonorrhea, measles, leprosy and typhoid fever that decimated the local population reducing numbers of native Hawaiians from some 300,000 and one million to less than 40,000 by 1890.

The statue to King Kamehameha the Great in Honolulu

In 1810 the islands became a kingdom unified under King Kamehameha the Great and remained an independent kingdom until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1893 by American and European businessmen leading to its eventual annexation by the United States in 1898, a not uncontroversial evolution that has since led to a formal apology by the US government in 1993 for American involvement in the overthrow and the growth of the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement.

However Hawaii remains today the fiftieth state of the United States of America, with a very diverse mixed population representing the many different nationalities that have settled in the islands over time, bringing with them their cultures and foods, that are reflected in modern Hawaii today.

The two main industries and income earners for the islands are number one, tourism and number two the military, with Peral Harbour the base for the US Pacific Fleet and the island home to US military personnel and their families.

Left, East India flag 1801, Right, Hawaiian State Flag 1845 to today

Interestingly the state flag of Hawaii is the only state flag to bear the flag of a foreign nation, namely the Union Flag of Great Britain, reflecting British influence in the early development of the islands with George Vancouver popping up yet again in history, when he returned to Hawaii in 1793 to meet with King Kamehameha and present the king with the red ensign of the Royal Navy.

The eight stripes, seen on the 1845 pattern used today may have been adopted later when the king was presented with the flag of the British East India Company by Captain Alexander Adams, circa 1817, following the gift of the brig Forester, renamed Kaahumanu complete with flag that was hoisted over the Hawaiian port of Waimea on the island of Kauai by the king following an eleven gun salute during the handing over ceremony, with Adams given command of the Hawaiian Kingdom Navy.

Carolyn and I decided to get the full on Magnum feel to our holiday in Hawaii with this rather ridiculous Chevrolet Camaro V6 3.6 LTR convertible that did nothing for my back, and could never show what it could do with its 160mpg clock on roads with speeds limited to a maximum of 55mph, but it was fun to drive and only added to that assault on the senses that Hawaii delivers in spades.

Once we had recovered from the flight and night time arrival at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and the short drive over to the windward side of the islands, the next morning presented the first opportunity to really appreciate the full on assault on the senses Hawaii presents to the first time visitor.

The view from our chalet overlooking Kaneohe Bay 

The island is a lush green with wall like mountains rising like a spine and covered in impossible trees that any viewing of the film Jurassic Park, Hawaii being where it was filmed, will quickly evoke.

The nearby Byodo-In Buddhist Temple at the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park sits beneath those cloud covered mountains, presenting a picture of blissful contemplation. 

On our side of the island the mountain peaks were almost permanently covered in wispy clouds clinging to the tree canopy, giving rise to the occasional tropical downpour, later giving way to bright azure blue skies in a moment.

Common Myna, introduced into Hawaii from India in 1865 to control army worms that cause severe damage to lawns

Chestnut Munia, originally from south east Asia and Indonesia. The population in Hawaii originates from escaped pets
Common Waxbill, a native bird from Africa, first reported in Hawaii in the late 1970’s
A rather attractive schematic capturing the key details of the attack by Imperial Japan on the US Pacific Fleet and other military establishments on Oahu on the 7th December 1941

Of course one of the biggest tourist attractions on Oahu particularly for the military and naval enthusiast has to be Pearl Harbour, which sees thousands of civilians drawn to explore what is an active military and naval base combining the US Airforce base at Hickam with the Pacific Fleet base in Pearl 

We combined our visit with a coach party tour that included a look round Honolulu, which on reflection we would not have done had we properly understood the itinerary, as it reduced the time we had to see more of the museums on the base.

Our coach tour on the way to Pearl Harbour included a drive through of the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but we couldn’t leave the coach as there was a ceremony going on during our visit so I captured a few pictures as we drove through. 

The veterans graves used to be marked with white crosses, changed later to stones to better signify religious affiliations and to avoid the problems of termites breeding in wooden crosses

So we confined ourselves to visiting the memorial to the USS Arizona and the remaining time looking at the remarkable collection of aircraft in the museum on Ford Island, set among period buildings and hangars that capture the look of the base during the attack in 1941.

Pearl Harbour is home to the US Pacific Fleet and civilian visitors to the base have to fit in with military and naval timetables, sometimes seeing some attractions and memorials closed to allow the navy to do their stuff.

The visit to the Arizona was, as we expected, a very moving experience and the US Park Rangers do a very important job of reminding modern day visitors of the significance of the site and the emotions it conveys to this day; thus reminding people standing on the platform above the wreck that it is the grave site of close to 1,200 young men, killed in the prime of their lives in a most horrific and brutal way and that silent reflection is the most appropriate way to honour their sacrifice rather that tap away on mobile phones or engage other folks in general conversation.

The original mooring blocks on Battleship Row carry the names of the ships that were moored alongside them on the 7th December 1941

That said it was very interesting to compare and contrast this very American memorial to the Second World War with my experience of the British and Commonwealth memorials and acts of remembrance, having had the privilege of visiting many Commonwealth War Cemeteries around the globe and taking part in a British Legion service in Kanchanaburi War Cemetary in Thailand in 2005, to honour Commonwealth servicemen brutally put to death on the Burma Railway by Imperial Japanese troops, there on a visit with my paternal uncle who was himself a Japanese P.O.W., on the railway and who fortunately survived the experience.

The Arizona Memorial platform is reached by barge from the the shore side facing Ford Island 

There was no more moving experience than to be stood in the Commonwealth War Graves Kanchanaburi cemetery, itself in the midst of a modern bustling town going about its business, singing ‘Abide with Me’, stood alongside the British Ambassador, military attaches and tens of fellow veterans and survivors, their families, all paying their final respects to old friends long dead but very much not forgotten.

As one group of visitors to the platform arrives, the previous group stand ready to board the barge for the return trip,

I was asked by a very nice American couple from Virginia, we met on our trip, if we in Britain had similar memorials to the Arizona, replying that “sort of but not quite”, in that the war that left its most dramatic mark on the British was WWI, with every village, town and city in the UK having its war memorial dating from that time, and that Britain grew up to the harsh realities of modern industrial warfare on July 1st 1916 when just short of 20,000 young men, were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and with the battle lasting until November 18th resulting in over 400,000 casualties and over 100,000 deaths, seeing families in every town and village across the country receiving the dreaded condolence telegram from the King beginning with the words:

We regret to inform you . . .’

One of the armoured barbettes of the aft main gun turret mounts of the USS Arizona stands defiantly above the water.

Of course tolerance to heavy casualties has decreased in Britain as it has in the US, but the Arizona is a rather unique memorial to such sacrifice,  given that it lies in shallow water next to its original anchorage and accessible to mourners and their families. Most other warships lie lost at sea along with their compliments and not accessible to families wanting to pay their respects. 

The wall of names of those lost on the day together with the two smaller memorial plaques to the front carrying the names of surviving shipmates whose final request was to have their ashes placed on the wreck after their passing.

Another contrast between American and British attitudes to military losses is that Britain has traditionally not repatriated its dead, that is until recent times (Afghanistan), usually creating large war cemeteries abroad to become, as Rupert Brooke poignantly referred to as, ‘a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’ The Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries are a tribute to that tradition and the locals that tend such sites do so in a way that is a marvellous tribute and memorial in its own right.

The whole site of the Arizona memorial and the nearby original anchorage pillars with the names of the ships at anchor on ‘Battleship Row’ that day is indeed a great tribute and with the USS Missouri ‘The Mighty Mo’ on which the final surrender document was signed by Japanese officials in Tokyo Harbour, moored close by as a memorial as a whole to the WWII generation and their final triumph over tyranny and evil.

Heading back across the harbour from the Arizona, Carolyn and I took time to see the giant anchor from the ship surrounded my memorial plaques to the other ships and their crews affected on the day of the attack whilst capturing some pictures of the USS Bowfin tied up next to the submarine museum, another site we were forced to miss due to time, before catching the shuttle bus to Ford Island and the aircraft museum.  

USS Bowfin (SS287) Balao Class submarine in front of the new flyover bridge linking Ford Island to the main shore, seen just behind.

The USS Bowfin (SS-287) represents the most numerous class, the Balao class of submarines built for the US Navy in the wake of the Peral Harbour attack, with Bowfin being the third vessel of the class, constructed and launched a year after the attack on 7th December 1942, in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine.

Her career saw her commissioned in May 1943 and after her wartime service being decommissioned and recommissioned twice during the 1950’s and 1960’s until finally retired from active duty in 1971, becoming the museum boat she is today in 1979.

During her wartime service she conducted nine war patrols, totalling seventy-five days on patrol and is credited with sixteen sinking’s, perhaps with one in particular standing out to illustrate the pitiless futility of war, with the sinking of the Tsushima Maru on the 22nd August 1944, an unmarked Japanese cargo ship, in convoy, carrying hundreds of school children from Okinawa to Kagoshima, that resulted in the deaths of 1,484 civilians including 767 kids, with only 59 surviving the sinking. 

The mighty anchor and its flukes from the battleship Arizona forms a memorial centrepiece to surrounding wall plaques recording the crews and those lost on other ships attacked on 7th December 1941

The shuttle bus to Ford Island is caught close to the Submarine Museum and we had just two hours to get there, have a look around the Air Museum before needing to get back in time to be off the base before the gates closed to the public.

The schematic seen below is a painting by Dru Blair used on the guide to the museum standing on the old Ford Island Airfield as depicted to better help illustrate how it might have appeared on the day at 0755, December 7th 1941 entitled ‘While the Giant Slept’ and depicting a Japanese Val dive bomber dipping its nose in readiness to attack a totally unprepared enemy around Ford Island below.

The island today can be reached via a modern road bridge stretching from the mainland and crossing to the island just at the top of this illustration on the tip of the island close to where the Arizona was moored and the collection of historic aircraft from WWII through the Cold War to the modern era are housed in hangars 37 and 79 close to the original control tower as seen below.

The old control tower is perfectly cameoed with a C-47 parked up outside along with a period looking fire truck, complete with nearby palms to finish the look 

Being a military aviation enthusiast I naturally grabbed pictures of the collection as a whole, but decided for the sake of maintaining the theme in the post, to look specifically at the aircraft that relate to the Pearl Harbour attack, before and after.

The war in the Pacific and the aircraft involved does not feature large in many collections at home and so it was great to see, up close, examples of some of the main US and Japanese aircraft that operated in the theatre, starting of course with the three principle Japanese naval aircraft that dominated the skies over Peral Harbour on December 7th.

The Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2, Model 21, Type 0, Fighter, Allied codename Zero, would come to dominate the skies in the early years of the war in the pacific, sacrificing armour for speed and agility that would challenge even the Spitfire when encountered in the following months by Australian pilots defending Darwin.

The aircraft in the museum are very nicely presented with the attention to detail such as the wooden carrier deck and its fittings to recreate the setting as seen in the photo below.

It is estimated that in those first months of the Pacific War the Zero achieved a kill ratio of around 12:1 versus Allied types and its clean lines and beautiful symmetry of design show the thoroughbred fighter for what it was, complete with a robust wide undercarriage for use on carrier decks and packing a punch with two 20mm cannons and two 7.7mm machineguns plus the ability to carry two 30 or 60 kg bombs.

Japanese deck crews martial their aircraft as the Zero’s aboard the carrier Shokaku are readied for launch on December 7th 1941 in a very famous picture taken on the day of the attack

It’s light construction, using a new aluminium alloy skin composed of ‘extra super duralumin’ had other benefits in its radius of operation, vital in the large distances needed to be travelled in the Pacific theatre, with a range of 1,930 miles.

It’s weaknesses lay in the compromises inherent in its design, which meant that its lack of armour coupled with no self sealing fuel tanks didn’t allow the aircraft to take much damage or protect its pilot, if it was hit, often seeing the aircraft rapidly reduced to a ball of flames from just a few strikes; and its top speed of 332 mph, boosted to 345mph with the engine’s  emergency overboost, was modest compared to modern generation fighters of the time.

That said, in a turning dogfight, the Zero was peerless in it’s first encounters with typical Allied fighters it met over Pearl Harbour, Java and Malaya, such as the P-40, Hurricane and Brewster Buffalo and the US naval F4F-3 Wildcat at sea or over Guadalcanal, with its opponents better off using zoom and boom tactics by maintaining altitude advantage to dive into the attack at speed before climbing back up to repeat the process, if possible, and not following the enemy into level turns, often easier said than done.

However the Zero’s time in the sun was relatively short and the combat experience fighting it, hard-earned by the first allied pilots to encounter it, was put to good use and payback so that by mid 1942 the tide was turning as faster more powerful allied types, such as the P38 Lightning, F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair would come to dominate.

The Zero in the museum is presented in the colour scheme of the aircraft that crash landed on the island of Nihau after the Pearl Harbour attack, but is in fact an aircraft that fought in the Solomon Islands Campaign in 1943.

A very nice model of the Japanese carrier IJN Kaga, built between 1920-28, 38,813 tons, speed 28 knots, and carrying 90 aircraft (21 x Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, 27 x Aichi D3A Val dive-bombers, 27 x Nakajima B5N Kate Torpedo/Bombers), although only 18 Zero’s were carried during the Pearl Harbour operation. Kaga’s bomber and torpedo crews claimed hits on the battleships, Nevada, Oklahoma, Arizona, California, West Virginia and Maryland, and the fighter crews claimed to have shot down one US aircraft and destroyed twenty on the ground.

Sadly the only examples of the other main IJN aircraft types, namely the Kate torpedo bomber and Val dive bomber exist only as badly damaged wrecks, giving only the vaguest impression of what these two aircraft looked like in service.

The partial fuselage remnants of this Nakajima B5N2 is a very rare sight indeed with only two wrecks, the other in the UK, in existence from the 1,150 aircraft built in WWII.

The B5N2 like other torpedo bombers of the era proved a difficult concept to make work in action as this and other aircraft like it were rather slow compared to fighter types, forced to fly straight and level to deliver a torpedo, with the Kate suffering from the added issue covered in the Zero, namely lack of armour protection.

Of course their performance in the Pearl Harbour attack flattered to deceive, with aspects such as total surprise and lack of enemy fighters to target static ships and not at battle stations, adding to their strike rate.

The first wave attack would see forty Kates armed with shallow running torpedoes, seeing thirteen of the forty torpedoes launched hit battleships, with Oklahoma and West Virginia taking twelve of them and both sinking.

Another forty-nine B5N2’s were armed with 800kg, 1760 pound, armour piercing bombs, with just eight of the bombs dropped hitting their intended battleship targets, with two bombs breaking up on impact, one a dud and another detonating before penetrating the armoured deck.

Of the bombs that hit or caused near misses, those dropped from a height of approximately 9,800 feet, caused devastation to the totally unprepared USS Arizona with a crew allowed to sleep in late that morning; due to having come second in a ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition on the Saturday night before the attack, with their prize to take things easy that morning before Admiral’s Review, hence the very high casualty rate, with much of the crew below decks recovering from the party the night before.

The Type 91 torpedo mounted on a down facing pitched underslung rack which could be replaced with a bomb rack, not a trivial procedure, often taking up to two hours to complete.

Shortly after 08.00, ten Kates, five each from the carriers Kaga and Hiryu bombed the length of the Arizona scoring four hits and three near misses with the last bomb striking the ship at 08.06 between turrets 1 and 2, penetrating the armoured deck in the forward section of the ship causing the forward magazine to detonate in a catastrophic explosion mostly venting through the length of the ship and incinerating most of her crew in seconds, with temperatures estimated to be similar to those experienced in the fire ball of an atomic bomb drop.

The forward magazine exploding on the USS Arizona taken from a captured Japanese film of the attack

The bomb blast was sufficient to put out fires on the repair ship USS Vestal, showering Ford Island and the harbour with burning debris and causing the loss of 1,177 of her 1,522 crew and amounting to nearly half of all US fatalities in the attack.

The bomb site, torpedo release lever and manual bomb release, used on the B5N2,
with this equipment being the type used in the attack that destroyed the USS Arizona.

The B5N2 was powered by a 1,000 horse power Nakajima Sakai 11, 14 cylinder radial engine delivering a maximum speed of 235 mph at 11,811 feet with a cruising speed of 161 mph and carried a crew of three (pilot, observer/radio operator, rear gunner) with the gunner armed with a flexible mount 7.7mm machine gun.

The other main IJN carrier based type used in the attack on Pearl Harbour was the Aichi D3A1, Type 99, Model 11, Allied code name Val, dive bomber.

Like the Kate, anything resembling a Val dive bomber these days is an incredibly rare sight with just one under restoration in California, a partial wreck in a museum in Texas and this wreck seen below acquired for the Pearl Harbour collection in a salvage operation from Papua New Guinea, the only survivors from the 1,495 built during WWII.

In the first wave of aircraft that attacked Pearl Harbour, forty eight were D3A1’s, after three of the group failed to launch, and with each aircraft carrying a single 550 pound bomb, slung centrally under the fuselage.

The Val was an effective dive bomber type credited with sinking more allied warships than any other Axis type, accounting for seventeen British, Australian and American ships ranging from carriers, heavy cruisers, destroyers, armed merchantmen and oilers.

Before turning to look at the American aircraft types held in the collection, any consideration of the attack on December 7th and the shock caused, but also the galvanising of a response from America is always a constant theme, with the loss of the Arizona, and the casualties suffered aboard her, front and centre of the response to see Imperial Japan beaten into submission, seemingly oblivious to the cost that might impose.

Detailed plan of the USS Arizona as she looked in 1941 with a blue grey colour scheme with red tops to her main turrets indicating a ship of the first battleship division.

The piece of armour plating seen below was taken from the Arizona during the post attack salvage and recovery work amply illustrating the catastrophic damage inflicted on the old battleship; taking four bomb hits, with the first exploding on the main deck amidships causing little damage, the second between turrets No.3 and No.4, starting fires on the deck below, the third hit near the port side 5inch gun emplacement, again causing little damage, but with the fourth and final bomb proving to be the most fatal one.

A section of armour plate taken from USS Arizona displays the catastrophic damage caused by the fourth and final bomb hit. 

Striking near Turret 2, the fourth bomb plunged through five decks into the black powder magazine, igniting the ammunition and powder stores of the forward turrets. The subsequent explosion burst with tremendous force, collapsing the forward decks and sinking the Arizona in just a few minutes, claiming 1,177 of the total 2,403 military and civilian casualties.

One of the principal types of Allied fighters to bear the brunt of of the Japanese air offensive in the Pacific in the early months of the war and certainly over Pearl Harbour on the 7th December was the Curtis P-40.

The sleek lines of this replica P-40 Tomahawk, slung from the roof supports of hangar 37 gives an impression of the view gained from an unobservant Val tail gunner and is painted to represent the aircraft of the 47th Pursuit Squadron as flown by Kenneth M Taylor and George Welsh.

The Pineapple Airforce, the nickname for the Hawaiian Airforce, was caught as unprepared as their naval colleagues when between 07.55 and 08.10 Val dive bombers escorted by strafing Zeros caught the P-40 B Tomahawk fighters of the 14th Pursuit Wing lined up, wingtip to wingtip, on Wheeler and Hickam airfields, supposedly after warnings of a surprise attack prompted their command to order such a disposition so as to better avoid any attacks from saboteurs based on the island.

America Strikes Back – Robert Taylor
Ken Taylor in his P-40 Tomahawk, with George Walsh in close company bringing down his second enemy aircraft on December 7th, 1941, an Aichi D-3A1 Val dive bomber. In the background palls of smoke rise from Hangar 6 housing the naval float planes, and the upturned battleship Oklahoma.

The resulting losses were eighty-three aircraft destroyed or damaged and ninety-seven personnel killed or wounded. While the bulk of pilots were caught on the ground at least six made it into the air against overwhelming odds, but scoring the first victories of the war, managing to return some surprise to Japanese aircraft crews oblivious of any threat as they pressed home their attacks seemingly uncontested.

Kenneth M Taylor and George Welsh pictured after the attack on Pearl Harbour

The final tally suggests fourteen American pilots were able to take off during the attack and score ten kills, with George Welch and Ken Taylor credited with four and two respectively.

The Curtis-Wright P-40B Tomahawk was powered by an Allison V1710-33, 1040hp inline engine giving the aircraft a maximum speed of 345mph, a range of 800 miles without a drop tank, a service ceiling of 15,000 feet, and was armed with two 0.50 Cal machine guns on the fuselage, and four wing mounted 0.30 Cal machine guns.

The Douglas SBD (Scout Bomber Douglas) Dauntless dive bomber and scout plane.

Perhaps if one allied aircraft could be nominated as having been the most impactful in winning the war in the Pacific then perhaps the Douglas SBD Dauntless would have one of the best claims to such a title.

Operated by US Navy and Marine Corps pilots, eighteen SBD’s from the USS Enterprise on a training exercise over Oahu encountered Japanese fighters, with four SBD’s shot down and Marine Corps SBD’s of VMSB-232 were caught on the ground at Ewa Mooring Mast Field in the first wave attack.

However the SBD’s would be in the forefront of the US riposte at Midway in June 1942, delivering the fatal blows to the Japanese main carrier fleet and decisively swinging the course of the war against Imperial Japan.

Flying 1,189,473 operational hours, from Pearl Harbour to April 1944, SBD’s were responsible for sinking more Japanese shipping than any other allied bomber, with twenty-five percent flown off aircraft carriers and accounting for six enemy carriers, fourteen cruisers, six destroyers, and fifteen transports, cargo ships and lesser craft.

Split flap dive breaks extended, reduced tail buffeting during the bombing dive

The SBD-5, the most produced variant, was powered by a Wright R-1820-60 Cyclone, nine cylinder, air-cooled radial engine delivering 1,200 hp giving the aircraft a maximum speed of 255mph, a range of 1,115 miles, a service ceiling of 25,530 feet, and was armed with two 0.50 inch Browning M2 machine guns on the fuselage, and two flexible mounted 0.30 inch Browning M1919 machine guns in the rear.

The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat, this example a fully restored flying aircraft recovered from Lake Michigan, after it ditched there during carrier training in 1943, later recovered in 1991 and flown again in 1995. It is seen here in its original colours when it was lost due to mechanical problems, when flown by George Hahn. 

Like the SBD, the principle US naval fighter was in action on the 7th of December 1941, with six aircraft from the USS Enterprise dispatched to search for the Japanese attack fleet.

The American naval fighter entered service in December 1940 and was adopted by the British Royal Navy where it was known as the Martlet, first seeing action in the North Atlantic.

The Thach Weave, developed to compensate for the inferior 
performance of the Wildcat compared to the Zero

It would be the main US Navy and Marine Corps fighter deployed in the early months of the Pacific War where its top speed of 318 mph and inferior manoeuvrability compared to the A6M Zero would be the cause of much dissatisfaction among US pilots, despite compensating tactics such as the Thach Weave developed by John ‘Jimmy’ Thach.

The Wildcat was the mount for pilots in VMF-121 sent to Guadalcanal as part of Operation Watchtower in October 1942 as part of ongoing operations to achieve air superiority over the island and would see ace pilot Joe Foss achieve twenty-six victories on the type in three months of combat and receiving the Medal of Honour, with VMF-121 accounting for seventy-two Japanese aircraft at the same time.

The experience gained on the Wildcat would influence Grumman’s replacement F6-F Hellcat, introduced in June 1942 which would meet the Zero with much more power and high speed performance, however the Wildcat would continue on throughout the war, operating from the smaller escort carriers from which the larger Hellcat could not be used.

The F4F-3 was powered with a Pratt & Whitney R-1830-76 14 cylinder air cooled radial engine producing 1,200 hp, giving the aircraft a maximum speed of 331 mph, a service ceiling of 39,500 feet  and was armed with four 0.50 inch Browning M2 machine guns in the wings and could carry two one-hundred pound bombs and/or two 58 US gallon drop tanks.

Imperial Japan had been pursuing an aggressive imperialist policy ten years before the attack on Pearl Harbour with its invasion of Manchuria in China on the 18th September 1931, going on to capture Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, where Japanese atrocities against the Chinese reached new levels of brutality with the so called ‘Rape of Nanjing’ in 1937.

Following the Sino-Soviet Treaty of 1937, with the Soviets sending aircraft and economic aid to the Chinese and with Chinese victories at Changsha and Guangxi in 1939 together with stretched lines of communications for the Japanese, deep in Chinese territory and subject to guerrilla attacks, the war reached a stalemate; with Japan coming under increasing pressure from American trade boycotts in support of the Chinese which would include cutting off of steel and petroleum exports by June 1941.

Claire Lee Chenault, seen here as a Major General, 
was an early advocate for pursuit or fighter intercept aircraft
to counter the bomber and led the AVG or Flying Tigers in China.

Additionally American volunteers, such as the First American Volunteer Group or AVG of the Republic of China Air Force were set up under the command of retired US Major Claire Lee Chenault, to help the Chinese oppose the Japanese invasion; recruited under President Franklin Roosevelt’s authority from existing US Army Air Corps, Navy and Marine Corps pilots and built around three squadrons of thirty aircraft, the AVG arrived in China in April 1941, but because of many delays only saw action after America declared war, on the 20th December 1941.

An ex RAF, later Royal Canadian Airforce P40E Kittyhawk, carrying the markings of the Flying Tigers

As a unit of the Chinese Airforce the aircraft carried Chinese markings, and the personnel, groundcrew and pilots were under contract to the Chinese authorities, although under direct American command, earning three times the salaries they would have collected in the US forces.

Hell’s Angels, the 3rd Squadron of the 1st American Volunteer Group ‘Flying Tigers’ over China and photographed by AVG pilot, Robert T. Smith
Chenault had been working in China since his retirement in 1937 and became an air advisor to the Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and it was he who returned to the US to negotiate the supply of one-hundred Curtis P40 fighters, (principally B models, later receiving fifty P40 E’s from USAAF stocks at the end of its tour), to the Chinese, together with the recruiting of one-hundred pilots, sixty from the Navy and forty from the Army Air Corps.

The Flying Tigers were a unit of the Chinse Airforce, carrying Chinese markings along with their distinctive Shark Mouth and Eyes motif.

Chenault had studied Japanese tactics and equipment and taking full advantage of the Chinese early air attack warning system of multiple villages in free China equipped with telephones and radios to provide warning of approaching Japanese formations, allowing his pilots to gain altitude and to operate in teams of two by diving down on Japanese planes to attack before climbing back up to altitude to attack again, thus avoiding any turning dogfights with the more nimble but frail Japanese fighters, and concentrating on taking down their bombers.

In the early months of the Pacific War with the shock of Peral Harbour still fresh and in the face of further defeats as Japan expanded her control, the exploits of the AVG dishing some of the hurt back to the Japanese provided a morale boost to American’s at home during those dark days.

Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington had a troubled time serving in the AVG
under Chenault, resigning in April 1942, after achieving two kills in the air and
destroying 1.5 enemy planes on the ground, but would rejoin the USMC, being awarded
the Congressional Medal of Honour and matching Eddie Rickenbacker’s
WWI record of 26 kills, before he himself was shot down and captured on January 3rd 1944. 

With American entry into the war with Japan, the AVG negotiations followed in the spring of 1942 for the induction of the AVG into the USAAF, with Chenault reinstated as a Colonel and immediately promoted to Brigadier-General, but with less success in encouraging the pilots to join the new 23rd Fighter Group, which Chennault would command, thanks to rather aggressive bullying tactics from USAAF general sent to negotiate the transfer, seeing many Flying Tiger pilots prefer to continue their efforts as transport pilots operating to supply China.

The scoreboard for the Flying Tigers is testament to their success, and acting as a nursery for future American ace pilots, with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, 229 in the air at the cost of fourteen AVG pilots lost in action, whilst seeing nineteen pilots achieve ace status with five or more kills to their credit, the highest scorer being Robert Neale with 13 victories whilst other pilots who served with the AVG would go on to become aces later on in the war, most notably Gregory ‘Pappy’ Boyington with the US Marine Corps, scoring 26 kills and awarded the Medal of Honour.

It’s very hard to overstate just how outraged the US public and authorities were by the undeclared attack on Pearl Harbour and the frustration felt to strike back immediately, even though the nation’s armed forces were not prepared to take on the global war that WWII and total war with the Axis powers of Japan, Germany and Italy would demand, requiring a full mobilisation and rearmament programme to match that global commitment.

As early as the 21st December 1941, President Roosevelt was tasking his Joint Chiefs of Staff to formulate a plan to bomb mainland Japan in response to the attack, if for no other reason that to boost public morale.

Captain Francis S. Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare, came up with the idea of using the B-25 launched from a carrier deck in his report to Admiral Ernest J. King, having seen B-25 crews practising landing on runways marked out with a carrier deck pattern and the plan was assigned to Army Airforce Headquarters under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle to plan the raid.

  

The Doolittle Raid or Tokyo Raid was launched on the 18th April 1942 by sixteen stripped down B-25’s to reduce weight, which included painted broomsticks to mimic machine guns, launched from the carrier USS Hornet, tasked with bombing targets in Tokyo and other places on Honshu island, before flying on to hopefully land in China.

A B-25 staggers into the air after launching from the USS Hornet, 18th April 1942

The resulting bomb damage caused was minimal and Japanese casualties amounted to fifty killed and another four-hundred injured, but the propaganda victory was enormous by raising fear and doubt in Japan that its military leaders could not defend the home islands from future attacks and propelling forward Japanese plans to attack Midway Island that would result in a catastrophic defeat for the Japanese navy in June 1942.

Of the sixteen aircraft committed to the raid, all but one were destroyed in crashes, but fourteen of the crews were returned to the US or to other US forces.

However the Chinese people suffered terribly in the weeks following the attack and their country’s participation, with Japanese reprisals resulting in the deaths of 250,000 civilians and 70,000 soldiers. 

The aircraft used in the Doolittle Raid were all B-25 B’s armed with four 500-pound bombs and given extra fuel tanks to extend their range.

This particular aircraft was originally B-25 J-25 SN 44-30077 built and completed on December 7th 1944,  three years after the original attack on Pearl Harbour and being completed so near to the end of the war spent those remaining months as a proficiency and utility aircraft which she continued between periods of storage until finally retired in December 1957.

The fine model below of the USS Hornet and her compliment of B-25’s gives an impression of the congested flight deck once all sixteen aircraft were parked up in the order they were set to leave, there being no room to rearrange them.

The lead aircraft piloted by Colonel Doolittle had only a few hundred yards of deck to work with on take off, with each subsequent plane having a few yards more, and with each aircraft helped to launch by a Navy launching officer who timed the run of each take off to allow the aircraft to reach the end of the deck just as the ship pitched up in the heavy seas to give the aircraft some extra added lift at the vital moment of take off.

Hangar 79 is home to the last three Pacific War US aircraft types, starting with the Grumman TBF/TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, designated TBM for those aircraft built by General Motors, and being the largest single engined aircraft built in WWII.

I have seen a similar aircraft held in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, as the type was also used by the Royal Navy’s Pacific Fleet in the last years of WWII.

The Avenger was ordered by the US Navy in April 1940 as a replacement for the already obsolete Douglas  TBD Devastaor entering service in 1942 just in time for six aircraft to be ferried to Midway Island to take part in the Battle of Midway, somewhat pointing to the vulnerability of torpedo attack aircraft as a concept, seeing five of the six shot down and the surviving aircraft very heavily damaged.

Navy Lieutenant George H. W. Bush in the cockpit of his Avenger circa 1944

This aircraft has been painted in the colours of the plane flown by the former US President George H. W. Bush, who flew fifty-eight combat missions on the type operating from the USS San Jacinto and was shot down on a bombing mission over Chichijima, and was the only survivor, being picked up late by the submarine USS Finback.

Alongside the Avenger is the P-38 cockpit display representing the aircraft of the 475th Fighter Group otherwise known as ‘Satan’s Angels’ participating in seven campaigns for the battle to control the South West Pacific, clocking up 3,042 missions in the process and producing two top aces in Richard Bong and Thomas McGuire.

This particular cockpit represents the aircraft flown by Lieutenant H. N. ‘Pete’ Madison who had a narrow escape attacking a small Japanese freighter only to find that a combination of still having heavy fuel tanks attached and his plane set up on cruise settings conspired to frustrate his efforts to pull out of a strafing dive on the ship only to see his starboard engine strike the ship’s mast just above its bridge, causing the propeller to shear off and smash into his cockpit.

Lucky Escape – Pete Madison’s close encounter with a Japanese freighter

Amazingly he managed to keep his battered plane flying on the remaining port engine, despite the pain of shards of plexiglass shattered in the impact, embedded in his head, flying just three-hundred feet above the ocean to make a crash landing on the recently captured Wadke Island having had a very lucky escape.

The final aircraft, or what remains of her, is perhaps quite a famous old lady, if a quick search of the internet or YouTube is made on the ‘Swamp Ghost’.

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress serial No. 41-2446 arrived in Hawaii ten days after the Peral Harbour attack participating in anti-submarine patrols before its assignment to the 22nd Bomb Squadron of the 7th Bombardment Group in February, 1942, in northern Australia.  

Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress serial No. 41-2446, the ‘Swamp Ghost’

Japanese forces were in the ascendancy and the Imperial Navy had seized Rabaul in New Britain to use as its main base in the region; threating extending Japanese control over the rest of the Solomon chain, Papua New Guinea and perhaps an invasion of Australia.

Army bombers were put under the command of the US Navy and a plan was hastily put together to strike the Japanese in Rabaul, seeing nine B-17’s marshalled near Townsville, northeast Australia for the attack on February 22nd, 1942.

Queens Die Proudly – Russell Smith
 The painting was commissioned by the Pacific Aviation Museum at Ford’s Island in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii

In the end, after two B-17’s collided in the darkness on the runway and a third was grounded with engine problems, just six aircraft made the attack, and B-17E No. 41-2446, piloted by Fred Eaton, eventually arrived over the target.

Eaton made a run only to find that his bomb bay doors were stuck. He swung around again for a second pass, making sure that his bombs landed among the Japanese ships. Anti-aircraft fire was intense, and a round punctured his wing fuel tank, draining it. 

A6M “Zero” and A5M “Claude” fighters swarmed the bomber, and a running fight between the bomber and as many as ten Japanese fighters went on for 35 minutes. The big bomber weaved as Eaton desperately manoeuvred it between towering thunderclouds. The fighters were unable to shoot down the Flying Fortress and eventually turned back, frustrated. 

The B-17 continued on, running for the refuelling field at Port Moresby, on the other side of New Guinea. However, with New Guinea’s massive Owen Stanley mountain range rising ahead and the B-17’s fuel tanking nearing empty, Eaton knew that he would have to put the big bomber down somewhere soon. 

As they crossed the coast, Eaton perceived a flat green field approximately eight miles inland, suitable for a forced-landing. He feathered the two inboard engines whilst the crew took up crash positions in the radio compartment. The gear-up landing was smooth, and the ship finally came to rest with a slow right-angled turn to the right. 

A surprise lay in store however. They had put down, not in a flat field, but rather swamp some five feet deep, indiscernible from altitude. The B-17 was left largely intact and undisturbed. The entire crew departed away from the crash site together, and pushed ahead for days. At one point suffering from heat exhaustion and fatigue they considered splitting up, but decided to stay together. Finally, they spotted a native and were taken to his village where they were fed and spent the night. 

After the crash, Australian Resident Magistrate, Alan Champion at Buna had been told a B-17 went down in his area and was told to search for the crew. 

Departing from Gona in a mission launch, he searched the area near Oro Bay and the Musa River. Unable to find them, he called into a village and found the crew in their care. The crew of nine were too numerous for his boat and required him to borrow a canoe from the village, to tow everyone back to Buna.

B-17E  No. 41-2446 was rediscovered in 1972 during an RAAF helicopter exercise in New Guinea. The B-17 was found to be in remarkable condition and fully intact. All interior equipment was pre-WWII US Army Air Corps issue. Even the belted .50 Caliber ammunition were manufactured in 1933, 1935 and an occasional 1938 round. Airframe corrosion was negligible and no damage aside from bent propellers during crash landing, and some broken perspex glass. 

Several salvage attempts were made during the 1980s and 1990s, and in the meantime the B-17 was given the nickname “The Swamp Ghost” by various articles and visitors to the wreck. 

The aircraft was finally successfully salvaged in 2006 and is now on display at the Pacific Aviation Museum in Pearl Harbour.

This concludes this look at our time in Hawaii, although I might have some other stuff to share!

The odyssey continues and I look forward to bringing some more posts covering some of the other interesting places included in our little adventure.

More Anon

JJ

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