Navy, Lieutenant Junior Grade
These two chapters, part of a longer document originally printed in a U.S. Navy publication, are used with permission of the author.
Chapter 10: CHEWING GUM
So here I was sitting on the catapult doing my two-hour stretch, ready to go if any radar contact showed up, the whole fleet headed south, no more attacks on Japan scheduled. I’d warm my engine, running it for a minute or two every 20 minutes, but otherwise just sat in the cockpit, hoping against hope that, with the worsening weather, no retaliation bombing would be tried. As the fleet headed south a light snow began, mixed in with the rain, and the wind picked up enough to cause the carrier’s bow to throw heavy spray over the Hellcat as I sat there with my hood shut. After “the Doty affair” all of us were suddenly aware there were priorities admirals fell back on, and I wasn’t sure how those factored in to my immediate future. I was so nervous that maybe I’d have to go up into the night I’d taken three or four packs of gum to chew to assuage that nervousness a little, and busily chewed. My shift was midnight to two. At about one o’clock a sudden banging on my wing alerted me to open my hood. “They’ve got something,” the sailor yelled, “turn on your radio.” Turning it on, the CIC told me they had a bogey at 80 miles out and that I was to get out there and investigate. I started the motor, all warmed up, and the launch officer, red wand in his hand, gave me the signal to go to full power. Putting on full power and checking that everything was running well I put my head back against the rubber head stop behind me and then, flicking my running lights, signaled I was ready to go. Waiting until the Sara’s bow had dropped down a bit and then had begun to rise – so I’d be launched on the upswing – the catapult shot me off into the rain, wet snow and night. Chewing gum vigorously I flipped my wheels up, shut my hood I’d temporarily opened, and shut my cowl flaps. That wonderful Pratt and Whitney 2200 horsepower engine, roaring so loudly through its short exhaust ports I could hear nothing but that roar, up I went to “Angels 2O” as I’d been ordered, breaking out of the storm clouds at above 15,OOO feet, finding a moon shining on the clouds below.
Reporting in at Angels 20 I cut way back on the power and could now hear CIC talking. They gave me a heading of 310 degrees but as I started turning to that heading I realized with alarm I now had an engine surge. It had an up and down rhythm to it, which didn’t show on my tachometer where one would expect to see such variation. Chewing vigorously I called in asking for a minute so I could “check out my engine.” CIC’s voice was impatient as I went back into a circling turn. Now undergerding all my thoughts was, “Christ, if I have to jump I’m as dead a duck as Doty.” As I listened especially intently to the surge it suddenly went away, to my great relief, so I reported I was turning to the heading of 310 once again. As I swung around to that heading suddenly the engine started again! I was just going to call in again when I realized that the surging noise seemed due to my chewing gum so vigorously. I was rocking my helmet headphones on my ears, each chew causing a changing engine sound!! (Ah, what a valiant aviator!)
Off I went at 310 degrees for about 80 miles at high speed, my radar searching for anything ahead. I flipped on my guns and fired a brief burst to be sure they were working. Out there 80 miles I saw nothing worrisome on my radar indicating any hostile aircraft, though there was a large storm cloud rising to almost 20,000 feet. Maybe that’s what the carrier’s radar was seeing. (Radar reportedly was originally developed by a Britisher named Watson Watt to try to locate thunderstorms.) After circling around out there and probing in and out of that cloud, reporting I could see nothing worrisome, I was told to return. Immediately I cut back on my power and leaned out my engine as far as possible, watching for that cylinder head temperature rise, the sign of too much leaning. I wanted every bit of gas I could hang on to for now I was hoping I just might have enough gas to stay up until dawn!! I called in to see if there was an engineer specialist who might tell me how I might save gas, what engine settings to use. Soon a voice from CIC came on the air saying, “no way, you’ll have to land tonight.” As I let down slowly from 20,000, heading toward the fleet which I could see on my radar as I got closer, I chewed gum again with renewed vigor, figuring well at least they were going to try to take me aboard. That was something. But I’d have to try to land at night on the Sara in a light snow, something none of us had done or even talked about doing. (“How would you do it?” was the usual question we’d ask each other, especially when one or the other of us had had or heard of an emergency and we’d contemplate how we might respond ourselves.) I still worried that “that admiral” who had crossed Doty off his list might have a similar response to my problem. Anyway, no one countermanded any questions I had as l dropped down and began circling the huge fleet.
Settling in at about 200 feet over the ocean, directed by our CIC who could see me easily on their radar, I was vectored toward the Sara which I soon, could separate out on my radar screen, her blip bigger and more easily visible compared to the support ships around her. Since we’d done dozens of night landings there was the usual routine to follow, so I started in. Each time, taking the compass heading of the Sara as she went up wind, we’d come by her going up wind also. Just as we’d pass her over a bright flash of light would be seen, a narrow beamed searchlight aimed straight up over her island. Seeing that we’d set our timer going and, flying pretty much at the same speed always, we’d know what time interval to take before starting our patterned left turns to come around and land. Coming over the Sara at about 200 feet I saw no light in the rain and light snow so circled around and, calling to be sure that the narrow beam light was indeed on. This pass I came over her at 175 feet and this time did see a dull light. Told that there was about 40 knots of wind over the deck I went a few seconds farther ahead before starting the standard turn, 90 degrees to the left in a 30 degree bank. Quickly timed I turned again 90 degrees more, now heading downwind, going in the opposite direction of the Sara. The carrier had a narrow beamed radar next to the LSO which measured our plane’s distance out from the carrier. I heard the voice, “1200 yards” and knew that was exactly the distance I wanted, so began another 90 degree turn left, and very quickly began a slower turn in the carrier’s own direction, starting to chase it, so to speak, as it sped upwind. Already having my wheels and flaps down as I’d turned at the l200 yard mark I turned on all my navigation lights including the three fuselage lights the LSO would need to determine my speed, direction and height. The radio altimeter was bouncing up and down a bit since the waves were tall enough to give readings of a 30 foot difference from the wave tops to their trough. I was trying to be at 80 to l00 feet above the ocean. During all this time I could see nothing out in the dark except the glow of my wing tip navigation lights reflecting in the few snowflakes and light rain, my left wing’s red light much more obvious as I was constantly looking out that side, turning slowly left, desperate to see something of the carrier. Where was the LSO with his specially lit up suit!? In the cockpit the only light was the red glow of my instrument panel and little radar screen, both dimmed as far as I dared. Slowing down to about 90 knots I began to “hang on my prop,” nose up in a landing mode, with lots of power, my wheels and flaps down, flicking my eyes to my altimeter, wanting to keep my height steady, looking out for something of the carrier. Every time I’d put my head slightly out of the cockpit to see more directly ahead, rain and snowflakes would hit my goggles. I’d quickly duck back in. As seconds seeming like minutes ticked by I began to smell the diesel fuel of the Sara’s engines, meaning that I must be coming right up behind her. In previous night landings, having been able to see the darkened carrier when this close by, I’d never thought much about this smell which we’d always encounter as we approached from downwind toward the landing deck, but now there it was, and it increased my nervousness. Was I coming right at her island superstructure, was I so low I was going to run into her stem? I didn’t know. (It could be said I was making an olfactory approach, not a visual one!) Very soon, added in, I also began feeling the rough turbulent air caused by the Sara’s big island superstructure as it cut through the air, something we’d all noted in all our landings but now noted with increased angst by me, no sight of anything.
Most everyone who has ever had a sudden emergency experience often remembers everything seemed to slow down when recounting what was happening, especially when thinking back on it. Those seconds dragged out. More turbulence, my plane bounced around more, a stronger smell of diesel fuel was about to cause me to give up this pass, add full power, give myself a “wave off,” climb to 200 feet and go around again. But always in the back of my mind was the issue of how long would our captain, over seen by those damn admirals of power, let the Sara head into the wind, probably slowly moving out to the edge of the encircling protective ships. Unlike Doty I still had plenty of gas and presumably could go round and round trying to land. I don’t remember being fatalistic but I do remember, I can still almost re-create it, I was on hyper alert, leaning forward in my shoulder harness, intent, as ready as I could be for quick action, chewing gum with vigor! Then, popping right out of the dark, the rain, the light snow, was the LSO, his special suit and paddles glowing, already standing with his paddles in the “cut sign,” meaning go ahead and land. (He told me later on that he could hear me coming closer and closer but could see nothing until I popped out of the rain and snow, almost in perfect position!) Just at first for me he seemed to be standing, in that light rain and snow, suspended in the air, no visible carrier or flight deck. I noted was already positioned closer, more right beside him than usual, not seeing him slightly out in front when I’d usually receive the signal to land. All that detail meant I was already on top of the flight deck which in a flash of looking I did see off to the side with its hooded lights glowing. With the speed of a modern computer I remember reviewing my height above the deck, my position re the center of the flight deck, the fact that I was already further along up the deck than usual, the knowledge that there was a good 40 knots of wind over the deck slowing my forward motion so it was less likely I’d land on the planes parked forward, the fact that it was “pure luck” that I’d gotten to such an enviable position, that the admirals might cancel any more attempts, that I’d had more than enough of fear and anticipation, that even if the golden rule was “if you don’t see the cut given don’t take it, you’re too far up the flight deck,” all these accumulated “facts,” quickly jelled. I took the cut!!
The strong wind over the deck did slow my forward landing speed and I caught the #3 or 4 wire (out of 6), quickly coming to a stop, slewing slightly to the starboard side, the carrier rolling some in the storm. Slewing, I briefly thought, “now I’m going over the side” but I came to a stop just under a very visible 5-inch antiaircraft gun barrel. The captain had turned all the lights on. Red, my plane captain, slithering over an inch of wet snow to greet me, jumped up on my left wing exclaiming. “Jesus Christ, Cochran, I never thought I’d see you again!” yelling over the idling engine. I started to agree when I was struck with the most violent shakes I’ve ever had, or seen someone else have. I couldn’t talk, undo my shoulder harness, detach my radio cable. Red quickly realized I was freaked out and even chuckling a bit over my shaking, helped me climb out of the cockpit, escorted me across the snowy flight deck and down to the ready room, the deck crew securing the plane. Here, as I shucked my Mae West, he offered me a cigarette to smoke, thinking that might calm me down. I couldn’t even hold it in my trembling lips or shaking hand, dropping it on the deck again and again. Finally he said, “may be you ought to see the doc.” I nodded and Art Hill, our flight surgeon (actually an ophthalmologist in civilian life) came and reviewed my troubles. He took me down to his stateroom where he plied me with liquor, of which he seemed to have a plentiful supply, talking to me about what I was experiencing, telling me I just had too much stored adrenaline in me from the stress. Two hours of this and I finally calmed down and went to bed about 5 am.
Retrospectively I’d guess this flight was the culmination of a focused effort of many, many scientists, engineers, meteorologists and pilots, working over many years, all of them having some input into such a culminating adventure, and a successful landing. Just telling this story each time I can feel that tension return!
Chapter 11: CHAOS–EXCITEMENT–FEAR–SADNESS
This chapter is an account of my one “combat flights,” combining – at least for me – inexperience, aircraft based radar equipment that still was too primitive, and chaos, among other things. Of my friends since, both soldiers and pilots, who actually saw action during the Second World War (and I saw only this battle) some of us have a sad story or two to tell; for some, a big battle, for some, brief fight or unhappy incident, for some, where comrades (shipmates here) were killed or injured. Certainly, as navy pilots, we hardly ever had the prolonged tension recounted by some of my foot soldier friends, fearing an ever present, ever threatening fatality day after day when on the front line. We pilots had no foxhole sleeping, endured no terrible cold or heat or constant wet, had no days of only canned food. We did have our occasional flashes of terror. To me this story of the first huge concentrated kamikaze attack, within sight of Iwo Jima, was one of confusion, excitement, apprehension, even brief fear. Only at the end did I realize the true impact of the battle the Saratoga was going through since I was at a distance, seeing it all from the air. Perhaps this brief naval battle wasn’t widely reported in the press, then or since, because it turned out badly and it was the marines struggling to get a foothold on Iwo that deserved all the press. Only the revisionists among us discuss these episodes
Two days after the Tokyo carrier attack we were off Iwo Jima, arriving the second day of the Marine landings. Iwo Jima, about 800 miles south of Tokyo, was needed as an emergency landing base for the B-29s in trouble after their attacks on Japan, such flights now beginning from Tinian and Saipan. We navy pilots little suspected that the impending battle over Iwo Jima would be so vicious and prolonged, featuring the now famous flag raising on Mt. Suribachi.
For this Iwo attack we were originally stationed about 10 miles from the northern edge of the island and we seemed rather alone on the job, the other carriers either at a distance or off Okinawa. Our first assignment, late in the afternoon, was to bomb the west shore of Iwo Jima where the Japanese were allegedly stacking supplies, landed by submarine at night. With two 500 lb. bombs plus my 150- gallon belly tank I was third off the catapult and quickly joined up with Reinhardt and Charlie Horne, Hurley joining up on me. We circled a short time just north of Iwo awaiting the rest of our air fighter group to join up before we all approached the west shore, Iwo Jima easily visible about two miles south. Just above us was a dense cloud cover at about 3500 feet. My most memorable sight of that short time was of our battleships off the east coast of Iwo, maybe six miles out, firing their 16 inch shells aimed just above the shore of the eastside, hoping to drive out the Japanese dug in there as the marines tried to get a foothold. Landing ships were visible on the east beach but all one could see of our battleship’s shelling was the explosions just above and beyond the beach. What intrigued me most was that I could see, glowing dull red, the l6 inch shells as they sped from the battleships at high velocity in almost a flat trajectory to the upper beach.
Before we’d been joined by not more than two other four plane divisions we were told by CIC to “drop your bombs and proceed north, bogeys are coming down from Japan.” We all dropped our bombs as much over the west beach as we could judge, but at 3000 feet instead of in a dive on the beach. Subsequently it turned out that about 16 of us Hellcats had gotten launched when the first kamikaze dove onto the fore deck of the Sara, crashing between the two catapults, killing the launch officer, and stopping any further launches. (We were told later that this kamikaze – the name means “Divine Wind” – had wisely flown close to the water at the Sara’s stern and then risen up just enough to crash on the fore deck. All our ship’s five inch AA guns had a hard time depressing their aim so low, below the horizon.) Those of us airborne, not informed of these kamikaze planes hitting the Sara, did gather from CIC that these “bogeys” were Japanese and they were taking real advantage of the thick cloud cover at 3500 feet, hiding in it as they came south, thus hidden from the many day fighters from other carriers who’d been sent out to intercept them. Flying up into the cloud layer, going on instruments, I turned on my radar. I’d now fitted my radarscope with a one foot long black tubular boot we carried “just in case” we needed it to see the tiny screen in the daylight. I did my best to make out any little blimps, putting my face tight against the boot each time to keep out the daylight. (As anyone knows it’s hard to quickly accommodate going from daylight to dark.) I’d occasionally see as many as two or three blips on my screen at one time but at the next sweep of the radar they’d be gone. Simultaneously we all were trying to get the Sara’s CIC operators to give us a heading behind one of these bogeys. It quickly became apparent that in all our practicing off Oahu the past, C-I-C had at most only dealt with but two of us at a time, and one bogey! Now there were a dozen of us, and there were many bogeys, 40 or more! It was probably chaos. (By the end of this kamikaze attack only one was shot down by two of us pilots, that by a visual nonradar approach. Many were shot down by our AA firepower.) I quickly gave up trying to get any directive from CIC and began just hoping I’d get a blip to stay on my screen for a sweep or two, meaning the plane ahead and I were flying more or less in the same direction. Finally, after some 20 minutes, I did get such a blip to stay on my screen and, charging my guns, as quickly as possible I closed in. Out of the fog of the cloud materialized not a zero (at least that’s what I’d assumed all these bogeys were by then) but a friendly torpedo bomber, a TBM, maybe one of ours launched earlier than our fighter group, probably also using his radar to find an enemy plane if he could. I quickly broke away.
Another ten minutes and we were told by CIC to stop cloud searching and to take up stations five miles out from the Sara, each division taking a 90 degree quadrant out from the carrier. Picking up the big blip of the Sara on my scope and aiming for it, dropping out of the clouds and circling just over the water, I spied the unmistakable silhouette of the Saratoga with her distinctive wide funnel panel, steaming south, but was stunned to see her fore deck burning furiously, heavy smoke trailing aft. It was my first recognition she’d been hit by at least one kamikaze. Even as I watched, her five inch AA guns began intermittently firing into the clouds, her two escort destroyers and the U.S.S. Alaska firing likewise as they ran protection. Somehow I couldn’t believe these kamikazes were getting through, wisely hiding from all of us fighters in that fortuitous (for them) cloud cover. Rendezvousing on Reinhardt the four of us slowly circled about 300 feet over the water 5–6 miles out as directed. It wasn’t long before we saw all the Sara’s guns firing, as well as those of her escorts and then, this I could hardly believe, there were visible at one time five burning kamikaze planes either falling out of the cloud layer or burning on the water, all near the Sara!! In that final concentrated attack we ourselves saw one zero get through, striking the carrier at the water line on her starboard side, exploding. We were helpless. It all was happening so fast! These kamikazes did have in that dense cloud the perfect hiding place from us pilots until the last seconds. Though the radar controlled 5-inch antiaircraft guns all the ships had (each shell equipped with proximity fuses set to go off if metal was nearby) could aim and fire at them while still in the clouds, all by radar, some were occasionally getting through.
After another ten minutes the Sara’s CIC began announcing, “All planes, ‘Salvo, we’re going on ‘salvo’.” I wasn’t absolutely sure what that meant (coded words were listed in the plotting boards we all carried under our instrument panels) but it sounded ominous and we’d better stay away. Reinhardt, whose radio was working only sporadically, asked them to repeat the message. Hearing the repeat – or maybe not hearing it – he left our orbit and adding throttle, began flying straight at the Sara, all of us now tailing him, all four of us at not more than 50 feet off the water. We dutifully held our usual division formation behind and beside him, all yelling at him over our radios, “Bill, they said ‘salvo’.” Flying at high speed we quickly began closing the five-mile gap. Reinhardt, we could see him looking down at his plotting board, continued straight at the carrier. It was obvious to the rest of us that this announcement probably meant that their radar had been knocked out and they now were going to have to shoot by visual means only, having no more radar working. All our Hellcats did have, turned on, that faithful IFF – identification, friend or foe – and that device had prevented us up to now from being shot at by all those friendly radar controlled AA guns of the Sara, the Alaska and our two accompanying destroyers. Now the Sara was going to shoot visually. As we flew directly at her side (we had been circling off her starboard quarter) we began to see the winking of her five inch guns armed with what we’d just seen, the killing ability of those proximity fuses, aimed directly at us, as they began firing. There is that dreadful flying rule among us who flew fighters that you are to follow your division leader at all times unless ordered otherwise, and here we were going directly into 5 inch fire. We three others, giving up trying to get Reinhardt’s attention, were now, almost feeling it was our fate, flying right into our own gunfire. I dropped back almost behind Reinhardt’s plane and Hurley did likewise tailing me, Charlie Horne doing likewise on Reinhardt’s other wing. Our “hope” was that the proximity fuses on the 5 inch shells, designed we’d just seen to pick up metal nearby before exploding (the first of the “smart bombs”) would hit Reinhardt out front and then maybe we three would be able to get out of there, our leader gone! The gunners on the 5 inch guns told me later that they figured we were Hellcats by our silhouettes but “we were ordered to fire,” so they did. Suddenly, not 50 yards in front of Reinhardt, a shell, hitting the water, exploded, sending up a geyser. One second Reinhardt was leading us, the next there was only Horne, Jim and I, Reinhardt having done the fastest Immelman turn I’ve ever seen and was heading back away from the Sara. We did likewise! Without those proximity shells I’m sure the Sara would have been sunk that afternoon there were so many kamikazes after her. She was the last living emblem of the old carriers.
Just after sunset, orbiting in our sector once again, we could see there was now much less smoke billowing from the Sara’s fore and mid-deck. She announced that there was a possibility they could take us back aboard but it would not be for an hour or more. We all had again put our engines in their most gas saving mode, leaning out our carburetors and slowing our speed. Though smoke continued to pour from her fore deck the Sara also seemed to have picked up speed and now, with a substantial sized bow wave, was moving pretty fast, heading south. We continued orbiting, stacked loosely in our usual division formation. I’d set myself in my usual position, just off Reinhardt’s right wing at about his altitude, Horne and Hurley flying formation slightly behind and below us, Hurley looking up and to our left, Charlie the opposite, thus those two looking up at and beyond us into the sky as Bill and I scanned the horizons. Suddenly Hurley announced, “Bogey above,” and quickly looking overhead there was a plane visible above the scattered clouds, already crossing our path only 500 feet above and moving quickly to the side. I waited a few seconds to see if Reinhardt was going to respond but, as previously, his radio still wasn’t working well. Feeling that as a section leader I had some independence though Bill was “our leader,” going on full rich mixture settings and jamming on full power, I turned up and shot up after the plane. Hurley didn’t follow me but joined up on Reinhardt, feeling we should wait for Reinhardt I guess. My guns already charged, within seconds I was flying right behind that bogey less than 50 yards back. He was flying serenely along, no evasive tactics, a fading pink glow of the sunset on the broken clouds just beneath us. Not having had time to make out any markings on this plane and hardly it’s shape, except to realize it was fighter size as it had zipped overhead and beyond me when I first looked up, I had a moment’s hesitation. Should I wait for Reinhardt? Who gets first shot in a situation like this? We’d never discussed such a scenario. Looking at the silhouette from straight behind, could he be a friendly? Could he be an SBD, one of our workhorse divebombers that were mostly phased out by now? I hadn’t seen any SBDs on the accompanying carriers when we’d bombed Tokyo just three days before. In tail-on silhouette this bogey’s wings were attached to the fuselage just at its bottom – as all Zeros were and all SBDs, whereas all our Grumman made planes had their wings attached to the fuselage close to, but not at, their bottom. He was carrying no bomb. As I mulled these questions over, and concurrently thought this guy has no idea I’m sitting back here ready to shoot him down, within seconds up came Charlie Horne beside me. Looking briefly over at me he began firing, all guns blazing. That settled it! I too began firing. I knew Charlie’d had, as Hurley, a better, maybe even the best view, looking up at and then following the bogey. (Maybe Hurley deserved first shot, he’d seen the plane first.) With our combined eight 50 caliber machine guns and four 20 mm cannons firing at him point blank the kamikaze’s plane literally began flaking off pieces as we fired, broken pieces flying past us as the plane flipped over and, diving steeply, crashed into the water, no smoke or burning gasoline. I hope he died quickly. Thinking back I continue to wonder why I’d hesitated, was it “unfair” to shoot someone so unsuspecting, was hesitancy of killing someone for the first time a sign I was really not the gung ho pilot we all felt we were!? And it eventually turned out this partial “kill” would be my only one after all those months and months and months of training! I never talked to Charlie Horne again. Later that night he’d landed on the Enterprise along with Reinhardt and Hurley, those three worried they didn’t have enough gas to await the possibility the Sara could take us back. Charlie and Reinhardt then elected to stay on the Enterprise, Hurley joining us later while we were back at Oahu. Charlie’d told Jim he and Reinhardt had a bet who’d shoot down the first zero, and he wasn’t going to pass up that chance!
We four then returned to our starboard station off the Sara’s quarter as the darkness deepened further. Circling we’d hear updated increasingly optimistic reports we might get taken back aboard, the Sara continuing south as fast as possible. An announcement eventually came that she could, but only after perhaps another hour or so of clearing up the middle part of the flight deck. Now totally dark more and more of us airborne began getting too low on gas to hold out and, turning west, landed on the Enterprise or other nearby carriers. Reinhardt, Horne and finally even Hurley left me announcing they too were low on gas. With an increasingly small band of fighters, we remaining pilots circled, watching our fuel gauges. I was tense, I’m sure we all were, as we circled, were some of us going to be able to hold out and get back to the Sara?
Totally dark, flying just under the now broken cloud layer, suddenly about 2 miles north, an explosion and fire on the water lit up the night. What was that?? In the glow of the fire I soon could make out a small carrier, burning furiously. Then a sudden huge explosion burst up into the night like fireworks and that carrier – I’d all flown over to watch and was now less than a mile away – still moving, slowly rolled on her side and went down, all lit up by the burning fuel on the water. We later learned she was the U.S.S Bismarck Sea, a jeep carrier, a CV-E, and had been hit by the last of the kamikazes. We later learned that one of our Sara air group’s torpedo bombers was “responsible.” He’d landed on her and, as his plane, wings folded, was being put below on the elevator to the hangar deck, the kamikaze wisely dove down into the elevator opening. Instructed to dive thus into the hangar deck area, his plane hit some gas lines etc. as it crashed and started a roaring fire. The following huge explosion was the magazine of the carrier blowing up. We learned later that it had been Carey who’d just landed, one of our more popular torpedo bomber pilots on the Sara. Along with his two crew he’d had to jump over the side of the Bismarck Sea as she blew up, but Carey never resurfaced from that long jump, just his crew. All that time that last of the kamikazes had been hiding somewhere unbeknownst to any of us!
Perhaps a half hour later the three of us remaining airborne were called to land on the Sara. That part was pretty routine except, as each of us landed, our planes lurched to the starboard and we all blew our left front tire. The carrier still had about a 10 degree right list from the damage done at the water line by one of those kamikazes, probably the one we’d seen diving into the hull. (The LSO and our CIC did not warn us of this list as carrier landings should always be made with wings level with the horizon. If we’d tried to compensate for this list our planes might have drifted to starboard as we landed and we might have gone over the side.) So ended very prematurely my first tour, barely one week into active combat, one spooky night in the air, two bombs dropped and a small part of one kamikaze in my gun sights.
I think that this kamikaze attack was the most furious, at least by far the most concentrated, of the war, well over 40 Japanese planes involved in that one wave coming down from Japan. And these kamikazes were mostly after the Sara, the last of the old war horses, “The Queen of the Sea.” There were subsequent kamikaze attacks on the huge fleet off Okinawa before the war was finally ended, and much damage was done, but those kamikazes dove on many different ships. Certainly by February of ’45 the Japanese were feeling more and more threatened by the increasingly effective B-29 raids and the navy and marine’s slow island hopping advance, culminating most recently in our carrier attack just two days before on their mainland. The Japanese were mad and feeling threatened. And these kamikazes were effective!!