1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier; Part 30 – Conclusions* or “Tales of the South Pacific”

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 30

IN WORK

The victory at Midway didn’t mean we had all the answers for carrier aviation or its support roles, particularly when tied to a “box” defined by staying close to an invasion/occupation site. This geography linkage – CV ops in light of the need to support the land campaign – created  significantly different requirements than open ocean warfare.   CV vs Cv was one thing, support of amphibious ops and then long term support was quite another. There was a real dichotomy of needs for 1) maintaining maneuverability meaning sea space/open waters for carrier battles and 2) staying within range of the land forces while operating within range of land-based air, submarine forces and potential enemy carriers.

Over the course of 1942 Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp, and Hornet were all lost, but the line was held.  The Marine and Army grunts, the sailors, the Cactus Air Force, the Carrier Air Groups, and of note, the blackshoe admirals had made the Japanese pay dearly. Instead of reeling on the defensive post Pear Harbor, the Allies were able to move forward in a positive offensive context. 1943 would bring on the Essex CV and Independence CVL classes and the fast carrier task group would emerge to lead the fight across the central Pacific until Japan was in range of the B-29s.

* Tales of the South Pacific is a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories written in 1946 and published in 1947 by James A. Michener about the World War II Pacific campaign. The stories take place in the environs of the Coral Sea and the Solomon Islands.

The stories are based on observations and anecdotes he collected during World War II while stationed as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands (now known as Vanuatu).  One plot line in particular is the preparation for and execution of a fictitious amphibious invasion, code-named “Alligator”. As narrator gives a first-person voice to several of the stories as an unnamed “Commander” performing duties similar to those that he himself performed.

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“1942” – Part 29 – Afterword by Barrett Tillman

1942- The Year of the Aircraft Carrier Series

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 29

Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp, Hornet, Saratoga and Enterprise held the line.  Herein is the pay-off.

Thanks to Barrett Tillman for all the help during this series and for permission to use this portion of his book Clash of the Carriers. JEB at RS

Air Battle Of The Philippine Sea by John Hamilton (Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot Adapted from Clash of The Carriers by Barrett Tillman

By any measure, the United States would dominate its Pacific enemy, yet Tokyo’s warlords convinced themselves that Bushido warrior spirit would defeat steel, expertise—and rage. In 1941 America out produced Japan in every category. That year the U.S. Navy commissioned forty-four warships and thirteen submarines—a further investment in Franklin Roosevelt’s two-ocean navy. In comparison, Japan managed twenty-four: three carriers, one battleship (the world’s largest), two cruisers, and seven destroyers, plus eleven subs. Three years later the U.S. launched more than nine million tons of cargo vessels, while Japanese yards produced less than eight hundred thousand: a twelve-to-one disparity. And that figure did not account for the attrition that U.S. submarines inflicted upon the empire’s vulnerable merchant marine. Excluding escorts, in 1944 America commissioned 762 warships, Japan barely 200. America built 93,000 aircraft versus 28,000 “made in Japan.” Yet for all its egregious folly, Japan enjoyed breathtaking success in the five months after December 7.

There had not been a fleet engagement since the fall of 1942, when some seventy American and Japanese ships clashed in the Battle of Santa Cruz. The U.S. lost the carrier Hornet (CV-8) but Japan’s strategic goal—isolation of Guadalcanal—was stymied. Subsequent battles were mostly small surface duels: brief, bloody, nocturnal engagements fought with gunfire and torpedoes. The next battle was bound to be far bigger and bloodier.

… the Marianas. Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 28 – Reflections (6 of 6); CAS

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 28

The story of how the Marines developed a close air support system needs to be told. It is a story that is distinct from the volumes of literature written about the controversial strategic bombing campaign or the more glamorous air-to-air battles that raged in the skies of Europe and the Pacific. It tells of the commitment to support the ultimate instrument of National policy: a soldier or Marine on the ground. The story of Marine CAS is important because it shows how a force, while constrained by lack of money and hindered by administrative opposition, became a more effective fighting organization. Marine CAS development is a pertinent subject for the study of modem day air and ground operations for the same reasons.

Major Brian S. McFadden, Marine Close Air Support In World War II 

Getting started – in a war 

Guadalcanal allowed Marine pilots to provide the first Marine CAS in the Pacific. Theater, with the Dauntless SBD dive bombers and the Army Air Corps P-400  flying many of the missions. Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 27 – Reflections (5 of 6); Land Based Air

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 27

“However the danger exists that the more important and more fundamental fact may be lost sight of that the land plane bases and the operating units thereon should be available in supporting positions before the operation is undertaken at all. It is only by this provision in advance that the risking of carriers in restricted covering positions can be avoided.” Adm  Bull Halsey

The term “land based” in regard to World War II requires some context.  Of note is the differences between how air power was applied in European  and the Pacific theaters.

The game plan for the eventual focus on Japan included a two pronged attack progressing through the islands of the central Pacific under Admiral Chester Nimitz and a southern approach under General MacArthur. While a major objective was to capture (or build) airfields within range of mainland Japan for heavy bombers (B-29s) as in European bomber commands, this required a different operational approach for land-based air in the early days. Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 26 – Reflections (4 of 6); Fighter Operations

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 26

The U.S. Navy’s carrier fighting squadrons took particular pride in their own contribution during the first fourteen crucial weeks, from 7 August to 15 November 1942. At heavy cost VF-5, VF-6, and VF-71 provided fighter support during the initial two days of the amphibious invasion, the first time they attempted such a difficult endeavor. In August and October, VF-5, VF-6, VF-72, and VF-10 fought two desperate carrier slugging matches whose level of ferocity was seldom equaled until the Kamikaze onslaught of 1944–45. Beached when their carriers were sunk or heavily damaged, VF-5 and VF-71 joined the 1st MAW at besieged Henderson Field, pitching in during one of Marine aviation’s proudest exploits.

 John B. Lundstrom, First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942 

Fighter issues Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 25 – Reflections (3 of 6); CV Operations

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 25

I

As noted in Reflections Part 1, this series has been intended to study carrier aviation using the first full year of U.S. involvement in the Pacific as a vehicle. Part 3  addresses selected issues that presented themselves during the conduct of carrier-driven  operations for the first time in a warfare environment. The British, Japanese and Americans had developed and explored carrier aviation for many years and indeed on the USN side, between 1922 and 1940, the Navy conducted 21 “Fleet Problems” in large part to address integration of the carrier to fleet operations.

As the Guadalcanal Campaign closed out the 1942 story of carrier operations, it also was the end of story in many ways (but certainly not all) for the manner in which  carrier operations were conducted. Noted by multiple historians, the carrier navy of 1945 was a far cry from that of ’42.

Each discussion of the four individual  CV battles in this series ends with some degree of post-mortem. This and following articles are intended to highlight issues that were common over the course of 1942.

Carrier warfare operations selected issues Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 24 – Reflections (2 of 6); Fast Ships in Harm’s Way – The Carriers

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 24

Lexington, Saratoga, Yorktown, Enterprise, Wasp, Hornet….Only two would survive 1942, but they and their crews and their airgroups would stand in the breech and provide America and its allies the vital year it needed to bring on line the ships, aircraft and trained personnel that would crush Japanese expansion.

Much like Winston Churchill’s “Few” the men of those six ships along with the grunts of Guadalcanal and the squids of Iron Bottom Sound held the line.

At War: The Flat Tops of ’42 

Continue reading

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“1942” – Part 23 – Reflections (1 of 6); Guadalcanal Endgame

Blown Slick Series #13 Part 23 

In 1945 U.S. fast carriers supported the final amphibious operations of the war—the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa—drawing the noose tight around Tokyo’s neck. Aircraft from Third and Fifth fleet carriers also pounded the Home Islands, disproving the airpower theory that naval aviation could not match land-based air. In July three days of strikes against the major naval base at Kure finished off the floating remnants of the Imperial Japanese Navy.7

For all the American satisfaction of an overwhelming victory for U.S. naval aviation in 1945, the essence of the tailhookers’ war actually had occurred three years earlier. The most decisive victories for carrier airpower had been achieved during six months of 1942, when the United States and Japan fought four of the Pacific war’s five carrier battles. First defensively at Coral Sea and Midway, and then supporting the Guadalcanal offensive at the Eastern Solomons and the Santa Cruz Islands, U.S. carriers pointed the way to the Marianas—and to Japan itself.  The Carrier Comes of Age  by Barrett Tillman

This series was never intended to be a complete summary of the war in the Pacific in 1942 or of any of the particular battles. Its focus has been  on the evolution of aircraft carrier operations in 1942. But the reality is, it’s near impossible to isolate  the war itself from “the how of ops.” So, six posts will be used for  concluding  the series. Beginning here in the first of  Reflections the focus is on the nature of the Pacific war as 1942 closes, then followed by a second part addressing the individual carriers of ’42, followed by selected elements of how carrier operations evolved and were conducted, fighter issues, and, finally discussion on the impact of land based air on carrier operations  and the emergence of Close Air Support (CAS).

The final two posts will be Part 29 – Afterword by Barrett Tillman, addressing the state of carrier warfare as the Battle of the Philippine Sea in 1944 begins and #30 – Conclusions; Implications for Current Ops.

This offering contains the following two  discussion areas:

  1. The Endgame for Guadalcanal (and 1942 carrier operations)
  2.  Noted historian/author summaries of Guadalcanal and the state of the war in the Pacific at the end of 1942

Continue reading

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A Gift of Wings – Forever Young

Testimony of Pilot# 23

Be courageous and be brave And in my heart you’ll always stay Forever Young, Forever Young, Forever Young  Rod Stewart

Throughout our lives we receive multiple gifts, many simply because we are loved. But for aviators, we must love first, pursue  a dream,  and finally, through diligence earn the gold or silver wings. Only then will come the exposure to so many gifts over time.  However, the wings are not the gift, rather they bestow special gifts upon the wearer, not the least of which is a never ending pursuit of perfecting the gifts – the gift of wings.

The Testimony of Pilot series focuses on the stories of aviators – in their own words if possible. In some cases the characterization of the chapters is obvious.  Here for Chapter Four that may not be so readily apparent. The picture above and the previous three articles have one of those gifts woven into their telling, whether a piece of history, a marker at Arlington or Annapolis or San Diego, or Pensacola, an epic  encounter with the sky, or simply a cold one with other ancient warriors – a gift of wings of forever young.

No matter what some might tell you, people do not enter into military aviation by chance.  Some may leave, but all have dreamed and they come to comprehend the gifts that have come out of the dream. No matter what they might say this is where they want to be, what they really want to be doing.

For the “once weres” pictured above, we cannot “do” anymore, but our dreams are of real things, of events and of true friends, of hidden bunkroom Scotch, of remembered sky and those in it. We enjoy the gift, we remain forever young.

There is no such thing as an ex-fighter pilot. Once a young man straps on a jet aircraft and climbs into the heavens to do battle, it sears his psyche forever. At some point he will hang up his flight suit – eventually they all do – and in the autumn of his years his eyes may dim and he may be stooped with age. But ask him about his life and his eyes flash and his back straightens and his hands demonstrate aerial maneuvers and every conversation begins with “There I was at … ” and he is young again.

He remembers the days when he sky-danced through the heavens, when he could press a button and summon the lightning and invoke the thunder, the days when he was a prince of the earth and lord of the heavens. He remembers his glory days and he is young again. Robert Coram

This is the dream, the gift …  forever young  always

In Memory of Captain Boomer Bill Lebert (USN, Retired)

December 23, 1925 – May 6, 2020

Nickel on the grass

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Testimony of Pilot: The Silver Waterfall

Testimony of Pilot# 22

Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what men’s faces looked like. In order to live it he had to write it. This book was written for much the same reason.

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels

Few battles have received more research, attention and words by historians and authors than Gettysburg and Midway. Each stands as an un-argued  hinge and view-port to the nature of that  war, its beginning, and its end. 

In his just released book The Silver Waterfall: A Novel of the Battle of Midway, author of the Raven One series centered on Navy F/A-18 action, Kevin Miller (Capt., USN Ret) in telling the story of the men and events of Midway, follows the approach of the highly acclaimed – 1975 Pulitzer Prize for fiction – The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Nothing in the events of the story is fiction; rather his approach  gives human feelings, thoughts,  and words to players at multiple layers during the June 1942 battle, as Shaara did for Lee, Longstreet, and Joshua Chamberlain and the soldiers at the Little Round Top battle at Gettysburg. As a former A-7 Corsair attack aviator and commanding officer of a F/A-18 strike fighter squadron, he knows well the human internal and external context of the combat pilot – with the not so common ability to express in an exceptional manner.

I was really honored to be asked by Kevin to read an early draft and comment. I’ve been fascinated with Midway for years and done some writing on this site in the Year of the Carrier series – Kevin’s telling was just outstanding!

If you’re going to read some historical fiction THE SILVER WATERFALL: A Novel of the Battle of Midway IS THE BOOK.

Here below is an excerpt:
(Note: “Sea Hag” is the pronunciation for CHAG – Commander Hornet Air Group)

Continue reading

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