The 4th of June – Remembered Sky Day

Blown Slick Series#5

The A-7 Corsair II carried a healthy fuel load for a carrier based strike aircraft.  On major strikes – those to significant, highly defended targets – into North Vietnam called “Alpha Strikes” with 30 -40  A-7,s, A-6’s, F-4’s, bombers, fighters, Iron-Hand MiG Cap, tankers, Electronic Warfare birds and an E-2 control – the A-7’s mostly took off first, landed last. The strike group launched and rendezvoused in a circle above the USS Midway before heading into as we non-PC called it, Indian Country. InboundIt took a bit and once joined on my flight lead, it was both a time of anticipation and building tension, and additionally, a somewhat relaxed reflection period of just waiting. You can take this as gospel or not, but over several dozens of these Alphas in an 11 month cruise, I don’t think I ever did not think and wonder about Pat Patterson in his Dauntless and all those guys doing the same thing – looking out over the partially cloud covered Pacific Ocean – on the 4th of June, 1942 as they launched from Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown on their way to the most significant naval battle of World War II.

And so today -4 June 2015 – for me “officially” becomes the first remembered sky day.

I have included this in the Blown Slick series because the build up of carrier based airpower – how a/c were designed/tested, the desire always for multi-role a/c, the  warfare experimentation (Fleet Battle Problems of the late 1920’s and 30’s) focused not only on carrier vs. carrier (Japanese build-up assumed) but also on CV survivability and defense, use in defense of islands and power projection all are relatable to today’s airpower issues, no matter the major upgrade in technology.

In a future post, I will describe in more detail the idea “intersections” to be included over time and how I hope to provide some insight/orientation into an adaptable airpower future in which the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the USAF, USN and USMC is indeed the elephant in the room – a force to be reckoned with – flaws, cost, new capabilities, shortfalls and all.

For now, I have provided the final words from Destined for Glory: Dive Bombing, Midway, and the Evolution of Carrier Airpower, by Thomas Wildenberg. A well researched and excellent reference for naval aviation from 1925 through the Battle of Midway June 1942, there are intriguing comparisons for reflection on future airpower. Immediately below are the links to three past postings on this day in history.

Remembered Sky!

Chapter 20:

Reassessing Naval Aviation’s Contribution to Victory

Wildenberg, Thomas (2013-04-08).Destined for Glory: Dive Bombing, Midway, and the Evolution of Carrier Airpower. Naval Institute Press. 

PRIOR WORKS DISCUSSING the events surrounding the Battle of Midway have largely ignored the importance of the aerial doctrine developed by the navy during the interwar period. With few exceptions, most authors (and perhaps many historians as well) have led the public to believe that the U.S. Navy— outnumbered four carriers to three— was lucky to have won such a decisive victory, given the poor quality of its aircraft relative to that of the enemy.

york

Though the gods of war certainly smiled upon the navy’s airmen that day, I feel strongly that the demise of the Japanese strike force was a direct result of the navy’s efforts to perfect dive bombing as the central component of its aerial doctrine. The simultaneous arrival of three squadrons of heavily armed dive bombers over Nagumo’s ships when they were most vulnerable was certainly fortuitous, but not unpredictable, given the nature of seaborne flight operations and the U.S. Navy’s insistence that its own carriers launch their strike groups as soon as possible.

Too much emphasis has been placed on naval aviation’s shortcomings in the early months of World War II, particularly with regard to the deficiencies of its torpedo bombers, and not enough on its successes. It is certainly true that the slow, vulnerable TBD-1 Devastator was obsolete, but its successor— the TBF-1— had already entered the pipeline. A few of the new planes even participated in the Battle of Midway, albeit the TBF-1s deployed from Midway’s airstrip fared no better than their elder brethren! 1 The real problem with U.S. torpedo doctrine lay in the inherent vulnerability of these planes in the face of large numbers of enemy fighters— a situation which had not been encountered before, and one which could not be avoided given the limited number of VFs available and the need to throw everything we had at the enemy. The extremely poor performance of the their torpedoes— a fault that can be attributed directly to the Bureau of Ordnance— only ensured that no hits would be achieved by the few VTs that did get through.

Likewise, many have touted the performance of the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero while ignoring the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat. Although the latter was somewhat slower and less maneuverable than the Zero, the F4F-4 had better armament and could take much more punishment because of the self-sealing tanks and armor— features that enabled Jimmy Thach and his men to give as good as they received.

Not enough credence is given to the Dauntless SBD dive bomber, an exceptional aircraft that was a generation ahead of its famous rival, the Aichi D3A Val. Its ability to remainDestined for Glory perfectly stable in a dive contributed to the remarkable accuracy obtained by its pilots on that fateful day. These SBDs were armed with a 1,000-lb. bomb fused to go off a fraction of a second after impact so that it would explode just under the flight deck, causing the maximum amount of damage possible with regard to disabling further flight operations.

No one factor determined the outcome of the battle. The navy’s successful effort to break the “Purple Code” of the Imperial Japanese Navy was certainly crucial, as was Nimitz’s decision to take a “calculated risk.” One must not discount the herculean efforts by the Navy Yard at Pearl Harbor to repair Yorktown, either, but only dive bombers and the aerial doctrine under which they were deployed were ultimately responsible for sinking the enemy ships of the Imperial Navy’s First Carrier Strike Force.

Anti-Access/Aerial Denial (A2/AD) is a much discussed topic these days. China’s build up of their Navy and on-going issues and tensions in the South China Sea make both the strategic and tactical response most interesting. The battle of the South China Sea will not be a Midway repeat, but Destined for Glory is well worth a read.

 

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Memorial Day 2015: Mondo and Arlo

midway a6

Sometimes on days like today, I find myself lost in the abstract -service to country, freedom, sacrifice, the flags, the tombstones of Arlington. The feelings are not wrong, indeed they are most important and necessary, but at the base are people who laughed, cried, drank beer – sometimes too much – told dirty jokes, howled at the moon, chased women, and jousted at a few dragons, all the while loving their wives, kids, dogs, squadron mates, …. and their country.

The video below was just published on You-Tube on 14 May. It provides the memorial service on USS Midway in San Diego Harbor for Mike “Mondo” McCormick and Alan “Arlo” Clark. Their names were added under the cockpit of the VA-115 A-6 on Midway’s flight deck. Mondo and Arlo were shot down over North Vietnam on the tenth of January, 1973 and were the last A-6 crew lost in the war.

While some may find the video long at a little over an hour, it is very well edited and  reflects not only the memory of loss and sadness, but also the joy of squadron aviation and love of family and friends. Great job by former VA-115 aviator John Stubbs.

Worth your time and for me, perfect tone for Memorial Day.

Those who came home will never forget those who could not.

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BLOWN SLICK – Light Attack Fast Pursuit; Airpower Analysis by Boris

Blown Slick Series#4

Light Attack Fast Pursuit2

“… it has been decades since the last significant contribution to airpower theory. Given the shifting character of war and rapid technological change, a solid modern airpower theory will be required for the West to achieve strategic success in future conflicts.”

Reviewing Airpower Reborn;The Strategic Concepts of John Warden and John Boyd  by JP ‘Spear’ Mintz

Out of the process of reading, researching, communicating with old airwing friends, and in addition reaching out for the Air Force side – leveraging the “Rats” of the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, plus all the while observing the more recent past of airpower use in Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, etc., the emergent anti-access/area denial threat particularly in the South China Sea, and the on going issues with the F-35 and the apparent end to the A-10, I began formulation of a next series for the site.  This  is the back story to discussion of the evolution of fighter, attack, and strike warfare – Blown Slick-Light Attack Fast Pursuit Airpower Analysis – the series.

Continue reading

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Multi-role “Fast Movers” – The Fifth Generation

Blown Slick Series #3

Seeming necessary for underpinning  all further Blown Slick posts, a summary of the “generations” of jet tactical fast mover aircraft has been provided as a separate page found in the header – 5 Generations of Fighters

5th-generation-fighters_atdx725

For the future, both the air-ground “attack” missions and the air-air “fighter” missions will be carried out by multi-role strike fighters, and steadily evolving towards all or a high percentage of 5th Generation types.   Continue reading

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The “Fighter Pilot”

Blown Slick Series #2

The first post for the Blown Slick series made the point that the series is about attack – missions and pilots, so you might ask why “fighter pilots?”  Words in this case can deceive. Please read till the end. Terminology needs to be addressed so the series can move on.

           “Say what you will about him: arrogant, cocky, boisterous, and a fun loving fool toFighter Pilot boot. He has earned his place in the sun. Across the span of 95 years he has given his country some of its proudest moments and most cherished military traditions. But fame is short-lived and little the world remembers. 

Almost forgotten are the 1400 fighter pilots who stood alone against the might of Hitler’s Germany during the dark summer of 1940 and gave, in the words of Winston Churchill, England “It’s finest hour.” Gone from the hardstands at Duxford are the 51’s with their checkerboard noses that terrorized the finest fighters the Luftwaffe had.

Dimly remembered, the Fourth Fighter Group that gave Americans some of their few proud moments in the skies over Korea. 

How fresh in recall are the Air Commandos who valiantly struck the VC with their aging “Skyraiders” in the rain and blood soaked valley called A-Shau? And how long will be remembered the “Phantoms” and “Thuds” over “Route Pack Six” and the flack-filled skies over Hanoi? 

Barrel Roll, Steel Tiger, Tally Ho. So here’s a “Nickel on the Grass” to you, my friend and your spirit, enthusiasm, sacrifice, and courage–but most of all, to your friendship. Yours is a dying breed and when you are gone, the world will be a lesser place!?”

The above with cartoon by an unknown author appeared in a 1968 special edition of the Grumman Horizons magazine (Volume 8 Number 1)entitled  Dogfighters Are In Close! Special Issue: Our race for a better MiG-killer.  Continue reading

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The Mission of “Attack” – The Blown Slick Series Introduction

Blown Slick  Series #1

(See also :  Preface to Blown Slick -the series: The evolution of fighter, attack, and strike warfare)

attack 3

He would go on to be Vice Chief of Naval Operations and head the FAA, but in mid-December 1971 Navy Captain Jim Busey was Commanding Officer of Attack Squadron 125 (VA-125), the squadron responsible for transitioning Naval Aviators into the A-7A/B Corsair II en route to their future combat squadrons, airwings and carriers. He had two combat tours (189 missions) in Vietnam under his belt in the A-4 Skyhawk and was the recipient of the Navy Cross,  and three Distinguished Flying Crosses. I had all of 20 hours in the A-7 and had flown my first flight with Capt. Busey on my wing as the instructor pilot only a few weeks before.  Four months later on April 30, 1972, as a new aviator in the VA-56 Champs, I would be night carrier landing qualified with 100 Corsair hours, and fly my first combat mission in Vietnam.

On that December afternoon at Naval Air Station Lemoore California, Capt Busey had called an “all pilots” meeting including the experienced instructors and the young aviators in training – mostly on their way to a first operational squadron.  He began by noting that aircraft carriers were ships designated as CVAs and not CVFs. Continue reading

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Would I do it all again? You’re kidding, right?

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The Last Corsair: Fly Low, Hit Hard

HAF 1336

 

 

 

 

The Helenic Air Force will retire the last A-7 Corsair II on October 17, 2014 after 39 years in Hellenic skies and 49 years of global service. The videos below highlight some great low level flying and include US Navy flights in Vietnam.

Since 2007, the 336 Bomber Squadron has been the last squadron in the world flying the A-7 Corsair II.

Spirit of attack born of a brave heart.

Calm & rum

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153241

A-7 Rehab 2aI can never pass up the artist booths at airshows. Last weekend at the Camarillo Air Show (lead guy was Bill Thomas, President of the Corsair II Association) I visited Christopher Cross’s both of airbrush aviation art. Picture above caught my attention. 153241 is an A-7A currently under restoration in northern California – site escapes me.  When I got home checked my logbook and found that “241” had been assigned to VA-56 in the spring of ’73 after USS Midway/CAG 5 returned from Vietnam and began prepping for the move to Japan. I have 10.1 hours, 3 traps and flew 3 of my last 10 flights before leaving the Champs in this good old “A.”

Cross’s perspective is somewhat different than many aviation artists and really appealed to me. I promised I would give him a plug, so here is the link to see his other work:

Christopher Cross Images http://www.crossimages.net/new-page/
I also really liked this rendition of the Corsair I.

Chino Flight line

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Morning After Reflection: 5 June 1942 “we sank a carrier”

They had no right to win. Yet they did, and in doing so they changed the course of a war. More than that, they added a new name— Midway— to that small list that inspires men by shining example. Like Marathon , the Armada, the Marne, a few others, Midway showed that every once in a while “what must be” need not be at all. Even against the greatest of odds, there is something in the human spirit— a magic blend of skill, faith and valor—that can lift men from certain defeat to incredible victory.

Walter Lord; Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway

Pat returns

An SBD dive bomber (6B15) of Bombing Squadron Six, on the deck of USS Yorktown. The aircraft was flown by Ensign G.H. Goldsmith and ARM3c J. W. Patterson, Jr., during the June 4, 1942 strike against the Japanese carriers Kaga and Akagi. Note the battle damage on the tail.

For those who’ve followed this site, you know that in early June I always put together something on the Battle of Midway and always pay tribute to my first post flight school boss, LCDR Pat Patterson. See the 2013 post:

What kind of war was it? – “How do I know, I saw the whole thing backwards!” June 4-7, 1942 at Midway

The picture above is a recent find of Pat’s SBD right after landing on USS Yorktown rather than on Bombing Six’s own USS Enterprise.  As noted below, due to landing on Yorktown rather than Enterprise, Pat and his pilot were listed as missing in action along with nine other aircrews of Bombing Six in the initial action report by Enterprise’s commanding officer.

Action Report 8 June, 1942: Battle of Midway Island, June 4 – 6, 1942 — Report of Commanding Officer USS Enterprise (CV-6), Captain G.D. Murray

The report on the 13th would reduce VB-6’s losses to 7 pilots and 8 gunners with total Air group losses at 31 aircraft, 24 pilots and 25 gunners. (Note, then we must add Hornet and Yorktown losses – including all of Torpedo Squadron Eight – to understand the the magnitude of that battle, of that victory)

Action Report 13 June 1942: Air Battle of the Pacific, June 4-6, 1942, report of Commanding Officer USS Enterprise (CV-6), Captain G.D. Murray

Captain Murray would conclude:

CONCLUSION: ENTERPRISE Air Group, both pilots and gunners, displayed a spirit of utter fearlessness, resolution and determination throughout all air actions. This spirit, though shared by pilots and gunners alike, found its highest expression in the person of the Air Group Commander, LtComdr C.W. McClusky, Jr. U.S.N. On June 4, prior to intercepting the main enemy forces, it was his decision, and his decision alone, that made the attack possible which lead to the destruction of a major part of the enemy forces. It is the considered opinion of the Commanding Officer that the success of our forces hinged upon this attack. Any other action on the part of LtComdr McClusky would inevitably have lead to irreparable loss to our forces.

The entire ENTERPRISE Air Group merits the highest praise and commendation for a hazardous job well done. In separate correspondence, recommendations for awards and citations will be submitted.

Pat had to abandon ship on Yorktown – jumping over the side. Picked up by a destroyer, he never stated when he actually returned to his squadron on board the Enterprise.

I’ve often wondered what thoughts were in his head on the 5th of June, but here is what is written in Walter Lord’s book:

Wade McClusky , leading the group, had a picture of a clean hardwood deck, an untouched island on the starboard side, some planes tuning up toward the stern. Earl Gallaher, coming in fourth, saw fountains of water from two near-misses, the blinding flash of his own bomb landing among the parked planes. Dusty Kleiss, seventh to dive, found the after end of the ship a sea of flames, the painted red circle up forward still untouched— then his own bomb changed that. And so it went until Ensign George Goldsmith, the 25th and last man down, had his turn too. By now the carrier was a blazing wreck, swinging hard to the right in a desperate effort to ward off further blows. Goldsmith kept her in his sights.

In the rear seat, Radioman James Patterson called off the altitude as they plunged down. During dive bombing practice they normally released at about 2,200 feet. This time 2,000 spun past the altimeter, and they were still going straight down. Then 1,500 and finally Goldsmith pulled the release. Patterson watched the results with amazement: “He had been the world’s worst dive bomber pilot during the practice hops I’d flown with him previously, but that day Ensign Goldsmith earned every dime invested in him as he put our bomb right through the flight deck, just aft of amidships.”

Pat was 19.

So here’s to you my friend, to Ens Lew Hopkins in SBD Dauntless 6B12 (awarded the Navy Cross and retired as an admiral), and all who shaped the course of carrier aviation.

Fly Navy, the BEST Always Have.

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