All posts in “history lessons”

Flightdeck Friday – The Dive Bomber

 As a squadron of U.S. Navy dive bombers, flying at 12,000 feet, closed in on a Japanese target the sky ahead would fill up with bursting anti-aircraft shells as the Japanese defenders ranged in their guns. A high speed run in to 10,000 feet placed the squadron almost two miles high over the target in the 

p-aviation_art13midst of the bursting anti-aircraft fire. The leader signaled attack and rolled over into a vertical two mile dive, followed at 3 second intervals by the 12 planes of the squadron.

As pilot of the seventh plane in the formation Chuck Downey steepened his dive until he hung suspended from his shoulder straps, hands busy of the control stick and throttle, feet working on the rudders. Chuck looked straight down at the six planes below him with their dive flaps deployed. He was aware

“All of a sudden there was a huge flash. Everything blew up in my face about 400 feet in front of me … the whole thing just blew.” The Helldiver in front of Downey had exploded, hit by anti-aircraft fire. It had been flown by Johnny Manchester, a relatively young new pilot nicknamed “School Boy.”of them but did not see them… his eyes was focused on the Japanese warship below him, his target. He was also aware of anti-aircraft shells bursting around him but he did not see them…all that mattered was the target he was lining up in his sights…

“There was nothing there, no airplane, pilot, gunner, bomb, load of gas,” Downey recalls. “It was all just gone, no smoke, no nothing. The whole thing just blew … and I just kept diving through it.” His attention remained focused on his target as he passed through the cloud of fragments clicking like hail against his fuselage. He planted his bomb on the bridge of a Japanese cruiser, his target, and pulled out of his dive low over the water.

Got your interest yet?  If so, head over to a new blog about dive bombing by one of the few surviving Helldiver pilots who flew in the Pacific Theater – LCDR George Walsh, USN-Ret. http://divebombingnavy.blogspot.com/
And if not — better check your pulse  ;-)

w/r, SJS

IMGP1945

Naming Ships — Here We Go Again…

I have held my peace for the past 24-hours as a kind of “counting to ten” mindful of one of blogging’s first principles regarding blogging while angry.  Time’s up — I’m not angry, I’m royally POd. Still.

“The selection of Gabrielle Giffords, designated LCS 10, honors the former Congresswoman from Tucson, Arizona, who is known for supporting the military and veterans, advocating for renewable energy and championing border security,”

That was the Navy’s statement, accompanying the DoD announcement that LCS-10 would be named after the former Congresswoman from Arizona – breathtaking in clarity, reason and justification for naming this particular warship, eh?  Let me preface my following remarks by underscoring my beef isn’t with the former Congresswoman, but rather with the pandering, “feel good” action this represents.  That the Secretary of the Navy – and his supporting staff which includes active duty leadership who should know better; took this COA with no small list of genuine heroes, men and women, who have laid down their lives in willing service to this nation and all it stands for; in defiance of the list of Medal of Honor awardees (living and dead) who remain otherwise unrecognized, speaks volumes as to his (and their) stewardship of the Service, its heritage and the traditions that follow thereof.  That shouldn’t surprise me I suppose, coming from the same office that has also named ships after a disgraced Congressman and labor organizer who made clear his hate for the Navy.  All that matters is the visuals – fitting I suppose for a vessel that is star-crossed at best where missions and capabilities are concerned. Selah.

(And for the record, I was just as dismayed when we named a carrier after a living, former Congressman and another after a former President whose distaste for the Navy (and naval aviation in particular)was well known.)

Ships names mean something – they are the outward face of this nation to the world; from princes and presidents to average citizens.  They impart a picture of founding principles and elements of this nation (Constitution, Independence, Enterprise…); they recall when we chose to stand and fight for those principles (Tarawa, Gettysburg, Lexington, Valley Forge, Normandy).  They honor the sacrifice of those who fought and paid the ultimate price and those that led them – John Paul Jones, Arleigh Burke, Stockdale, Jason Dunham, Michael Murphy).  They hail the great land that brought them to life in material and manpower and stand behind them today and for the ages – Missouri, New York,  Olympia, Long Beach.  These are no temporary creations, with lives that span decades if not the better part of a century – and there names should be for the ages, not a fleeting moment of politically inspired optics.

Over at the official website for the Navy’s History and Heritage Command, there is a FAQ on naming USN ships – quoted in part below:

“How will the Navy name its ships in the future? It seems safe to say that the evolutionary process of the past will continue; as the Fleet itself changes, so will the names given to its ships. It seems equally safe, however, to say that future decisions in this area will continue to demonstrate regard for the rich history and valued traditions of the United States Navy.

For those who had any part, however small in the latest failure in ship naming – and for those who at some point were in a position to stand up and say “enough” – but failed to do so, I took the liberty of highlighting what I think is the relevant part of the sentence.

Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective

From 1923 to 1940, the US Navy conducted 21 “Fleet Problems” as it sought to understand, exploit and incorporate new technologies and capabilities while developing the tactics, training and procedures to employ the same should war present itself – which by the 1930s was beginning to look more and more likely to the discerning observer. Conducted in all the major waters adjacent to the US, these problems covered the gamut of naval warfare from convoy duty, ASW, strike warfare and sea control. Most important, at least to this observer, was that this was the laboratory that tested the emerging idea of putting tactical aircraft at sea on board aircraft carriers. In doing so, the inherent flexibility of aviation across a broad span of warfare areas became apparent as more people in leadership looked at naval aviation as something more than just a scouting force for the main battery of the fleet extant — the battleline. It was in this laboratory that the Navy developed the techniques and identified the requirements for carrier-based dive bombers, so different form the big, lumbering land-based bombers that the Air Corps’ advocates were saying would make ships obsolete by high altitude, “precision” bombing. Proof would come at Midway when both forces were employed — the B-17’s dropping their bombs from on high hit nothing but water. But dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown struck at the heart of the Kido Butai. And as the thousand-pounder from Lt Dick Best’s SBD Dauntless smashed through the Akagi’s flight deck, a battle was turned and the course to winning a war was set. But it took visionaries to set the wheels in motion. Here then is the story – fittingly from the perspective of one of the few WWII dive bomber pilots still with us, LCDR George Walsh, who flew that great beast of an aircraft, the SB2C Helldiver in the Pacific theater. – SJS

As we enter the second half of the Centennial of Naval Aviation, I have found no reference to the “Fleet Problems” of the 1930s that were of great importance to the progress of naval aviation. These exercises were conducted at sea by hundreds of ships and aircraft of the peacetime Navy to prepare our nation for possible war.  The Fleet Problems were vital, providing realistic training for the generation of professional naval officers, mostly Annapolis graduates, who were responsible for leading America to victory in WW II despite enduring the hardships and sacrifices of the 1930’s. The exercises were well planned and intense, demanding all the devotion and talents of the men who participated under conditions that simulated wartime and called for extended tours of sea duty.

As you look back on these Fleet Problems you will find it mystifying that we were so unprepared for the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the Battle of Midway was badly mismanaged.

“The “Fleet Problems” should not be confused with the “War Games” conducted at the Naval War College in Newport. The fleet and not the college developed the strategy and tactics for air warfare in the Pacific.1 It was in the conduct of these exercises that our Navy perfected the techniques of aircraft carrier operation and proved the usefulness of carrier task forces as an offensive weapon.

It is interesting to trace the progress of naval aviation from the earliest introduction of a carrier, the Langley (1922), into the 1926 Fleet Program VI as an auxiliary to Fleet Problem XXI in 1940 when the carrier Task Forces acted as a long distance striking force independent of the main battleship forces.

USS Langley sunk at the Battle of Java Sea 1942

USS Wasp sunk in Solomons 1942

As aircraft increased in speed, range and bomb loadings, the Fleet Problems reflected the value of the new capabilities. New carriers were built to take advantage of the new and more powerful aircraft, first the Saratoga and Lexington in 1927, then the Ranger (1934), Yorktown (1937), Enterprise (1938), and Wasp (1940).

Fleet Exercise IX
It was not until 1929 that a major aviation breakthrough occurred. Rear Admiral Joseph Reeves, commander of the aircraft squadrons of a simulated enemy force, dispatched the carrier Saratoga and its escorts away from the main battleship fleet, and made a daring high speed run in for a mock attack on the Panama Canal; this exploit received extensive press coverage.

“Writing many years later, (Cmdr.) Eugene E. Wilson, who had been one of Reeves staff officers in 1929, would rightly state that Saratoga’s exploits during Fleet Problem IX marked the first step in the development of the Carrier Task Forces which were so effective in the Pacific. This operation convinced naval aviators – and some surface warriors, such as (Admiral) Pratt – that task forces built around carriers would be of importance in the future of naval warfare.” 2

“The most important conclusion drawn from the Saratoga’s raid was the impossibility of stopping a determined air attack once it was launched. Unfortunately, in the years to come, this lesson would be forgotten, by certain members of the so-called Gun Club—the battleship men who were unwavering in their faith in the supremacy of the big gun. Their preoccupation with refighting the Battle of Jutland instead of ensuring the security of the fleet contributed greatly to the disaster at Pearl Harbor. Evident to Reeves and to the carrier commanders who followed in his footsteps, was the reality that in any future engagement involving aircraft carriers at sea, the first carrier to locate and bomb the other would determine the outcome.” 3

Rear Admiral Joseph Reeves, center

Fleet Problem X
Next year the first long distance aircraft carrier vs. aircraft carrier battle was simulated in 1930:

“Then at 0810 the three Lexington scout bombers made a dive bombing attack on the Saratoga, “damaging” the forward edge of her flight deck. At 0829, just 14 minutes after the scout bomber strike, the first waves of Lexington dive bombers, 45 aircraft in all, began a series of attacks that rendered Saratoga’s flight deck useless, wrecked half her aircraft, and destroyed a number of anti-aircraft guns, Then, 4 minutes later, at 0833 15 Lexington fighter bombers made a pass at Saratoga, and then hit Langley. Within two minutes a dozen more Lexington fighter bombers hit Langley. The umpires ruled that both carriers had been destroyed as well as all their aircraft. In twenty minutes both Blue carriers had been put out of action, in an incident eerily resembling the fate of three Japanese carriers at Midway in1942.”
“Virtually all observers commented on the importance in carrier warfare of getting in the first blow”. 2

Fleet Problem XI
This comment is repeated in the analysis of the 1931 exercise:

“Of even greater consequence was that the lesson of Fleet Problem X as to the importance of “getting in the first blow” against enemy carriers was clearly reaffirmed in Fleet Problem XI.” 2

Boeing F2B-2, 1931 Fighter

Fleet Problem XIII
1932 was an interesting year following the invasion of China by Japan. The scenario proposed that Hawaii had been taken over by an enemy and the U.S. Navy was dispatched to take it back. In a joint exercise the Army played the part of the Black occupying power and our Navy the Blue attacking force.

Captain John Towers, Chief of Staff, planned to use the carriers Lexington and Saratoga to launch a sneak attack on the Army in Hawaii prior to covering landings by the marines. On Saturday, February 5th, the two carriers and destroyers formed a separate Task Force and left the main battle fleet, making high speed runs in to a launch position 100 miles north of Oahu during the night. At dawn Sunday morning a surprised Army woke to the roar of fleets of aircraft attacking their installations. Captain Towers had timed the attack perfectly.

“The fact that Japan nearly duplicated this attack on Pearl on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, was no accident. Early in the 1950s Towers dined in Tokyo with a Japanese vice admiral who had participated in the planning. “He told me they had simply taken a page out of our own book!” 4

In 1942, shortly after the Battle of Midway, Towers was appointed ComAirPac and supervised the employment of our carriers for the balance of WW II. No longer did black shoe officers captain aircraft carriers.4

Admiral John Towers, Time Magazine June 23, 1941

Fleet Problem XIV

“The 1933 problem was designed to simulate a war in the Pacific, one initiated by carrier operations. Anticipating that Japan would attack before formally declaring war (as she had done against Russia in 1904), the scenario envisioned the sortie of the Japanese fleet eastward across the Pacific. This fleet, its sinister designation Black, had ominously prescient orders: “To inflict maximum damage on the PEARL HARBOR NAVAL BASE in order to destroy or reduce its effectiveness.”

“The Army, (defending Blue force) had put their forces on full alert January 27th, and 24 hour air patrols were initiated out to 150 miles. Avoiding Blue air patrols, the Black carriers and their escorts arrived at a position north of Molakai around midnight on January 30th. The strike force arrived over Pearl Harbor around dawn and was ruled to have inflicted serious damage.” 4

Fleet Problem XVI
Held in 1935 it was the largest mock battle ever staged, conducted over an area of the sea covering five million square miles of the North Central Pacific between Midway, Hawaii, and the Aleutian Islands and involving 321 vessels and 70,000 men. Although four aircraft carriers participated, the major contribution to aviation was the experimentation with underway refueling of carriers that enabled carrier task forces to operate independently.  Debate over the role of aircraft carriers continued, and reached its nadir in 1938 when Admiral Claude C. Bloch was appointed CINCUS. It came as a shock to the naval aviation contingent for Admiral Bloch regarded carriers as just another ship to serve as an auxiliary tied to the battle line.2

Fleet Problem XIX
However, in 1938 the Black Fleet again simulated an attack on Hawaii. Saratoga was commanded by Captain John Towers, who had earned his wings in 1911, and was the first of the Navy’s pioneer airmen to command a fleet carrier.  Admiral Ernest King “decided to affect a surprise air raid on Pearl Harbor. He directed Saratoga to the northwest of Hawaii. Using a convenient weather front, at 0450 on March 29th King launched an attack from 100 miles that hit the Army’s Hickam and Wheeler airfields and Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station with “devastating effect.” 2

Douglas TBD-1, 1937 Torpedo Plane

Fleet Problem XX
As war loomed in Europe in 1939 this Fleet Problem was witnessed at sea by President Roosevelt while he was embarked on the cruiser Houston and the battleship, Pennsylvania. From the time he had served as Secretary of the Navy from 1913-1920, FDR took a lively interest in all matters pertaining to the Navy.

“Although short, Fleet Program XX demonstrated a high degree of sophistication in the development of the American naval force. The navy’s use of air power had clearly matured. Both commanders, Kalbfus and Andrews, had managed their air forces rather well, each concentrating his efforts at destroying his enemy’s air power before going after his battle fleet. Each had made carriers the center piece of independent task forces.” 2

Grumman F2F-1, 1939 Fighter

Fleet Problem XXI
The opening of the war in Europe caused stringent controls of the press in 1940, and dispensed with the traditional diplomatic attempts to disguise the identity of the simulated enemy force, Japan. Among the objectives was to study various fleet and carrier task force defensive formations. Lexington and Saratoga with four heavy cruisers and 4 destroyers made up the Strike Force operating independent of the Attack Force of cruisers and destroyers, and the Main Body of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers.  For this exercise one division of Omaha class cruisers was commanded by Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher who was later chosen to lead our carrier task forces at the beginning of WW II despite the fact that he had no prior experience with aviation or aircraft carriers.5   At the conclusion of this exercise President Roosevelt ordered the fleet to remain in Hawaiian waters in the hope of sending a message to Japan.

Fleet Problem XXII
In December1940 this problem was cancelled as the Navy concentrated all effort on preparing for the eventuality of entering a shooting war.  As a nation we need to appreciate the dedication of our professional Annapolis trained corps of officers who endured the hardships of the thirties and worked intently on these Fleet Problems to keep our Navy in fighting shape. It can only be compared to athletes training for a future Olympics, constantly working out to stay in shape with exercises that were challenging both mentally and physically.  There were probably less than 37,000 regular naval officers at the start of the war with skills honed during the Fleet Problems.6

In addition to this key contingent, the exercises trained the warrant officers, chiefs and ratings who reenlisted year after year during the hard times of the ’30s. These experienced men were available when needed to provide a manpower framework to enable the huge wartime expansions of the 1940s as they were distributed among the new ships to mold the raw recruits.

Douglas SBD-3, 1941 Dive Bomber

The Fleet Problems had also trained pilots like Lt. Cmdrs. Wade McClusky, Max Leslie and John Waldron of Midway fame as they searched the Pacific for the Japanese carriers on June 4th, 1942. Having served as the cutting edge during the fleet exercises, they were well aware of the importance of disabling the flight decks of the Japanese carriers before they could launch a strike against our carriers. Our carriers and the lives of their shipmates depended on it. It was this awareness that prompted John Waldron to lead his squadron in a quixotic foray into the “Valley of Death”. It was this awareness that drove Wade McClusky to search beyond the “point of no return.”

During the Fleet Problems each year the pilots faced danger every time they climbed into the cockpit. They faced casualties from carrier operational accidents, mechanical failures and pilot error. They also had to fly missions that tested the limits of aircraft and pilot capabilities. Admirals experimented with night and bad weather flight operations as well as the limits of aircraft range, and the speed of carrier launchings and recoveries. Admiral King, later Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet and CNO, was not popular with the pilots he put at risk in his drive for efficiency.

Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King

Finally, the Fleet Problems perfected more than aircraft carrier operations. At the same time the Navy was working out problems in logistics, intelligence, staff structure, communications, cryptology, and radar.  It is to be hoped that the budget crisis shaping up now in Washington does not hamper our nation’s ability to support our Navy’s continuing preparedness for threats unknown.  We still need to support our professional Annapolis trained officer corps even when there is no apparent threat in view.

Lt. Cmdr. George J. Walsh USNR
July 17, 2011

Notes:

1. The Quiet Warrior, by Thomas B. Buell
2. To Train the Fleet for War, by Albert A. Nofi
3. All the Factors of Victory, by Thomas Wildenberg
4. The Struggle for Naval Air Supremacy, by Clark G. Reynolds
5. Black Shoe Carrier Admiral, by John Lundstrom
6. Battle Report by Walter Karig, From Author’s Foreword

Article Series - Centenary of Naval Aviation (1911-2011)

  1. Flightdeck Friday: Smoke and the Battle of Midway
  2. Flightdeck Friday: RF-8 Crusaders and BLUE MOON
  3. Flightdeck Friday: Midway POV – Wade McClusky
  4. Flightdeck Friday: 23 October 1972 and The End of Linebacker I
  5. Former VFP-62 CO and DFC Recipient, CAPT William Ecker, USN-Ret Passes Away
  6. CAPT John E. “Jack” Taylor, USN-Ret.
  7. Flightdeck Friday: USS MACON Added to National Register of Historical Places
  8. Tailhook Association and Association of Naval Aviation
  9. Flightdeck Friday: Speed and Seaplanes – The Curtiss CR-3 and R3C-2
  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
  13. USS Enterprise (CVAN/CVN-65) At Fifty
  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
  15. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy
  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
  17. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part III)
  18. Reflections on the E-2 Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary
  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
  21. Doolittle’s Raiders: Last Surviving Bomber Pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, Dies at 93
  22. More Naval Aviation Heritage Aircraft (But Still No Hawkeye)
  23. Naval Aviation Centennial: Neptune’s Atomic Trident (1950)
  24. Naval Aviation Centennial: One Astronaut, A Future Astronaut and Reaching for New Heights
  25. Flightdeck Friday Special Edition: The Space Shuttle – Thirty Years of Dreams, Sweat and Tears
  26. Flightdeck Friday – Postings from the Naval Aviation Museum
  27. Saturday Matinee: US Naval Aviation – the First 100 Years
  28. National Museum of Naval Aviation – Some Thoughts and A Call to Action
  29. Flightdeck Friday – 100 Years of Naval Aviation and the USCG
  30. Guest Post: THE U.S. NAVY’S FLEET PROBLEMS OF THE THIRTIES — A Dive Bomber Pilot’s Perspective
  31. This Date in Naval Aviaiton History: Sept 18, 1962 – Changing Designators
  32. Centennial Of Naval Aviation – The Shadow Warriors

Skyraider-A-1

Close Air Support Aircraft Find Renewed Interest

In time, one of the ongoing “lessons RE-learned” has been/continues to be the need for a tough, heavily armed aircraft that is able to perform in close coordination with ground troops, in a high intensity, small-arms fire environment.  Whether facing armored assault or insurgency attacks, through the years and myriad of conflicts, some aircraft have distinguished themselves in this role:

The Russians as well, had their signatory close support/ground attack aircraft with the Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik:

. . . popularly known among the Russian infantry as the “flying Tank” (or alternately by the Germans as “schwarzer tod“, or “Black Death” ).

CAS/ground support aircraft weren’t sleek or blindingly fast – but they carried a ton of ordnance, could absorb even more punishment and when you needed heavy fire delivered within yards of friendlies, were the best bar non.

They also tended to be rapidly discarded after the war in favor of their faster, sleeker fighter brethren – because eagles are always more popular than badger hounds in the upper echelons of the air services.  But as time has proven again and again — you need badger hounds to get down in the dirt and root out the enemy.  And so in Korea the task fell to the A-1 and F4U, in Vietnam, the A-1, and a variety of other platforms including the A-37, AC-47 and AC-130.  But as the enemy’s mobile AA and shoulder-launched SAMs began to proliferate, new platforms were needed – especially as one looked back to Europe and the growing Warsaw Pact ground forces facing NATO.  So the A-10 Thunderbolt II (better known as the “Warthog”) came to pass, with significant input from the Army, for whom it would be supporting and developed and deployed by an Air Force that pretty much kept it and its crews at arms length while it was busy with the F-15 and F-16.  With the end of the Cold War, it looked like the A-10 would be headed for the barn – until, surprise, there arose a need in SW Asia for a tough, heavily armed CAS/ground support aircraft that could take a lot of punishment, deliver more and stay with the troops as they pushed Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.

Still, the utility of the type has not been lost on the Russians, who, after developing their own modern CAS, the Sukhoi Su-25 found it a better platform than helos in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

This approach proved its worth during the 1979-1989 Afghan War when the Su-25 became the most popular plane to serve with Soviet forces, carrying out numerous close-support missions in the most difficult situations.  The Su-25s conducted effective air strikes while heavy supersonic warplanes ran the risk of causing collateral damage (friendly fire incidents) and when helicopter gunships were deterred by the Mujahedin’s short-range anti-aircraft weapons, which included modern 40-mm anti-aircraft automatic guns, machine-guns and Stinger man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS).

In fact, as the Russian military slowly emerges from the downsizing and stagnation of the past couple of decades, there is even now talk of re-opening the Su-25 production lines:

The Ulan-Ude Aviation Plant (UUAZ) in Eastern Siberia could resume production of Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft on orders from the Russian Defense Ministry and the United Aircraft Building Corporation. . . So far, there have been no official reports of any plans to purchase the Su-25UB/UBM under the 2011-2020 state rearmament program. Well-informed sources in the aviation industry say that no final Su-25UB production decision has yet been made. Reus’ statement merely implies that both UUAZ and the Air Force are interested in resuming production of these planes.

According to the article — “this decision has its advocates.”

Indeed, CAS supporters abound -

its just that their voices are often lost in the rush for the newest, shiniest thing…

Incredibly (or perhaps, not) when the requirements for the F-35 were being drafted, the Air Force and Marines looked to the F-35A and -B models, respectively, as their CAS replacements – the Air Force to replace the A-10 and F-16 (in the Fast CAS roles),  the Marines to replace the AV-8B.  Experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, however may be mitigating against that move as momentum develops for a new “low intensity” or COIN aircraft .    Whether that aircraft can survive in the kind of non-permissive environment that the A-10 has or even replace the A-10 is another question – assuming it even sees the light of day.

Remembering Midway – 68 Years Later

In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. – SJS (June 2007)

Three years ago I wrote that at the end of a series of posts (which are collected here)  that began on the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea, and culminated on the anniversary of Midway with some modern day observations and what we might take away. For even today, with all our technological sophistication there are still things we can learn at all levels, be it at the Fleet or in the cockpit or on the bridge.  One of those lessons is the role of the individual and seizing the initiative when everything else seems to be going to hell in a handbasket around you.  That was something impressed upon me as a young LTJG E-2C Mission Commander and I found resonance and inspiration from the JO’s and petty officer’s actions that pivotal day.

And sometimes it means pressing ahead into a situation from which you know there is no way out — but to do otherwise would result in a greater loss.

There aren’t too many of them left — the original Midway vets that is.  Same for the Doolittle Raiders.  Ditto Medal of Honor awardees from that era.   These modern day Samuel’s raised their Ebenezer in our darkest hours – and what was before was forever changed.

The job wasn’t finished yet though, and the way ahead was still perilous — Guadalcanal, Savo Island, Bloody Tarawa (can it ever be though of as just Tarawa?), Iwo Jima, Anzio, Normandy, Bastogne and the Meuse — Okinawa; all lay in the future.  But it was a future made possible by the fighting spirit of the Navy, Marines and Army Air Corps in a far flung theater whose battlefield was but a featureless, sun-dappled sea of blue.  Still, more would come and follow in their footsteps.  And you and I today carry their proud heritage forward.

The far horizon is difficult to discern these days and it may well indeed hide gathering storm clouds – from whence direction I can not say for certain.  But it would do us well to heed their lessons and remember their deeds when the warning flags are broken and we are called to battlestations once again.

– SJS, June 2010

Petition to Name a Ship After LT John W. Finn, USN

Many of us do not know how we will react when suddenly called upon to perform the extraordinary in desperate and lethal conditions.  We train and plan, but until the bullet flies or the fire burns close at hand, all we can do is speculate.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941 there was no question in VP-14’s Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Finn’s mind:

Citation:
For extraordinary heroism distinguished service, and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the first attack by Japanese airplanes on the Naval Air Station, Kaneohe Bay, on 7 December 1941, Lt. Finn promptly secured and manned a .50-caliber machinegun mounted on an instruction stand in a completely exposed section of the parking ramp, which was under heavy enemy machinegun strafing fire. Although painfully wounded many times, he continued to man this gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks and with complete disregard for his own personal safety. It was only by specific orders that he was persuaded to leave his post to seek medical attention. Following first aid treatment, although obviously suffering much pain and moving with great difficulty, he returned to the squadron area and actively supervised the rearming of returning planes. His extraordinary heroism and conduct in this action were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

(Note: In June 1942, Finn was temporarily commissioned as an Ensign, rising in rank to Lieutenant two years later. During his service as an officer, he served with Bombing Squadron 102, at several stateside training facilities and on board the aircraft carrier Hancock (CV-19). Following transfer to the Fleet Reserve in March 1947, he reverted to the enlisted rate of Chief Aviation Ordnanceman. In September 1956, he was placed on the Retired List in the rank of Lieutenant. John W. Finn died on 27 May 2010. Navy History & Heritage Command).

Recently passed, LT Finn never played up the hero aspect when asked — he just said “I do know this. I didn’t run away. I stayed there and we fought the Japs until the last one left.”

We as a service — as a nation;  have lost our way in naming our ships — deferring instead to the politically expedient to the enduring values and traditions of the Naval services. Perhaps now it is time to turn this ship around and set her on a proper course.  One way to that end, I think, would be to name the next Arleigh Burke-class DDG after LT Finn.  These modern greyhounds of the sea are among the finest warships in their class and would be a fitting honor.  Regardless, however of the eventual ship-type, if you agree that one should be so-named, go sign the petition, and write your Congressman and Senators to underscore the effort.

On This Date in Naval Aviation History: Aviation Greens Make A Comeback


Ah, Aviation Working Greens – my absolute favorite day-to-day uniform to wear during Norfolk winters and guaranteed way to get a non-aviator’s head to explode in the pre-Lehman years. Lots of mythology and conjecture as to how we came to acquire (a) the green uniform and (b) the accompanying brown shoes, so maybe this will help – some…  – SJS

8 Apr 1925–Almost two years after the special aviation uniform had been abolished, new uniforms of forestry green for winter and khaki for summer were authorized for Naval Aviators, Observers, and other officers on duty involving flying.

This picture of the first class of naval aviators at Pensacola is a good example of the early special aviation uniform.

When naval aviators first took to the air they actually used a variety of civilian clothes – chiefly because flying then was a dirty, greasy business (and for those stalwart wrench-turners and box-swappers keeping us in the air today, it remains a dirty, greasy business).  The problem was that the officer uniform of the time was a blue tunic with gold striping – or white with shoulder boards.  OK for ship and shore – not so for aviation.  Enter the Marines — sometime during the winter of 1912-1913 naval aviators began using the Marine’s khaki uniform and high-topped shoes (brown) for their workday uniform with some slight modifications (no belt and , dyeing their white covers in the process.  This was, in fact, the uniform used by aviators at Vera Cruz in 1914. Winter and open cockpits called for something of more substance and again, the Marines provided the solution with their heavy weight woolen forest green uniform.  This picture from 1919 attests to the working and dress uniforms worn by naval aviators of the period:

 The crew of the NC-4 with SECNAV Daniels and Asst SECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt

Being an organization where no good thought or solution was left unmolested, in 1922 the Navy banned the special aviation uniform as it sought uniformity within its thinning ranks.  Like most bureaucratic decisions, it had its comeuppance a few years later when recognizing both the growing number of naval aviation personnel and aviation’s special requirements the Navy authorized a new uniform, based on the original khaki (single breasted) uniform, but with a rolled collar vice the “choker” style of the earlier one, affording more comfort.  Bronze vice gold buttons and black vice gold braid used to avoid tarnishing.  The cavalry style “puttee” pants  and brown high top shoes were retained. For winter, the predecessor’s same woolen forest green material was retained.

The new Aviation Uniform, circa 1925

With minor modifications (e.g., change to traditional trousers and shoes), the uniform remained basically unchanged through the years.  In 1931, the khaki uniform was adopted by submariners (pin-on devices also authorized for both services) and by February 1941, an ALNAV was released permitting the wear of Khakis by all officers at the CO’s discretion (shoulder boards replaced stripes on the jacket that May).  During WWII and Korea, ribbons were permitted with the aviation greens, but by the 1960s, it was back to a working uniform.  Since their uniforms followed Navy’s, the Coast Guard also permitted wear of the aviation green uniform:

Some localities tried to discourage wearing the greens, but since it was retained in the uniform manual, it was not banned outright.  I picked up my first set in 1979 for the kingly sum of $20 at the local navy Relief after a tip from a fellow JO and having spent a freezing SDO watch in the drafty seaplane hangars east coast VAW’s were relegated to at the aptly named Breezy Point (NAS Norfolk).  At the time, khakis were not authorized year-round and come winter we had a choice of SDBs, Winter Working Blue or Aviation Working Green.  The fact that an authorized variation allowed you to wear your leather flight jacket and the soft cap with it was bonus material.

Channeling William Holden, as it were…

William Holden in "The Bridges at Toko-Ri"

I continued to wear that uniform through command and subsequent duty on IKE as ‘gator (if the hangars in Breezy Point were cold, try the island of a cold iron CVN in mid-winter…).  Unfortunately, while inflicting the new digi-blue working uniform on the service, Task force Uniform also purged the greens from the inventory and despite appeals to the contrary, it looks like this bit history is well and truly headed for the museum attic – and that’s a pity…

Sources:

CVN Naming – Enough With the Politics Already

CVN_79_CG

It’s time to return some sanity to the way ships are named.  Why?  Because the silliness is upon us once again:

111th CONGRESS
1st Session
H. CON. RES. 83
Expressing the sense of Congress that a nuclear-powered aircraft
carrier of the Navy, either the aircraft carrier designated as CVN-79
or the aircraft carrier designated as CVN-80, should be named the
U.S.S. Barry M. Goldwater.
Bill information and status here

The nonsense began with CVN-70  and reached the height of historical blindness with the Truman (honestly, naming a carrier for a president who tried his hardest to kill naval aviation and oversaw the death of the United States (CVA-58) in favor of the B-36).  Why not Enterprise (CVN-65 isn’t long for this world)?  Coral Sea?  Yorktown? Hornet? Midway? Enough with the politicians – these ships are going to last to the middle of the century and outlive many of us reading these words.  Why not go back to naming the carriers after famous battles and reclaim some of our heritage and linkage with notable CVs from the past?  And, BTW, what better way to celebrate naval aviation’s upcoming centenary?

And yes, I’m familiar with Rickover’s quote – how about standing firm this time anyway?

(h/t: SB)

UPDATE:  Here’s the text of the petition – should be available online w/in the next 24-hours.

Whereas the namesake ENTERPRISE has been proudly borne by two combat aircraft carriers of the United States Navy;
Whereas the first USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) (seventh ship to bear this name) and her embarked airwing and crew gallantly fought in every major battle in the Pacific during World War Two, including the signatory battle at Midway when vastly outnumbered by the ships and planes of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Combined Fleet, ENTERPRISE, with YORKTOWN and HORNET struck a mortal blow, sinking four enemy aircraft carriers and turning the tide of the war in the Pacific;
Whereas the same ENTERPRISE concluded that war as the most decorated warship in the United States Navy with 20 battle stars, a Presidential Unit Citation, a British Admiralty Pennant, Navy Unit Commendation, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and Task Force 16 Citation among many other accolades;
Whereas the second United States Navy aircraft carrier to be named ENTERPRISE (CVAN/CVN-65) was the first such ship of her class in the world to be nuclear powered;
Whereas that ENTERPRISE, the eighth ship to bear that name in the United States Navy is concluding a half-century of service to this nation and has honorably served in every theater of operations from leading the naval quarantine off Cuba in 1962 to conducting the first strikes following the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11th, 2001;

Be It Resolved
That the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed (CVN-79) should bear the name USS ENTERPRISE in recognition and honor of the fighting men and women of the United States navy who have sailed in her namesakes through the centuries.

We The Undersigned:
Call upon the Congress of the United States to remand H. CON. RES. 83 and replace it with a resolution supporting the naming of CVN-79 or the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed, the USS ENTERPRISE.
Call upon the Secretary of the Navy to support this petition of the tax-paying people of these United States and name the next nuclear aircraft carrier to be constructed the USS ENTERPRISE

UPDATE 2: Here is the petition

This Date in Naval History: Battle of the Coral Sea – 7 & 8 May

Sixty-seven years ago…

Day 1 – “Scratch One Flattop!”:

The first day of the carrier battle of Coral Sea, 7 May 1942, saw the Americans searching for carriers they knew were present and the Japanese looking for ones they feared might be in the area. (more at NHHC)

Day 2: We lose USS Lexington:

. . . Japanese struck the American carriers shortly after Eleven, and, in a fast and violent action, scored with torpedoes on Lexington and with bombs on both carriers… rest of the story here and here

Midway awaits…

A Whale Returns to Sea

a-3-lift-30-apr-09-033(NAVSTA Rota)  30 April 2009 – an EA-3B Skywarrior is loaded aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) for transport back to the U.S.  This marks the first time in over twenty-years a Whale is chocked and chained to the flightdeck of a USN warship.  How it got to that point is an extraordinary story of one community’s dedication, passion and memory of those who once flew an ancient aircraft in difficult conditions on missions the importance of which few at the time, and even today, did not understand.

The latest journey of Ranger 07 (ex-BuNo 146457) began in July 2007 with notification from the then-CO of NAVSTA Rota to the A-3 Skywarrior Association’s president that becuase of long-term plans for the installation, that the EA-3 presently located on display outside the Rota BOQ would need to be relocated to the US or end up being scrapped.  The Association mounted a “Save the Whale” campaign and through the efforts and contributions of indivuals and corportations, Ranger 07 began it’s halting redeployment to the US and (hopefully) final home as part of the USS Alabama Memorial Park.

a-3-lift-30-apr-09-037

Say what you will about Americans in general and those associated with naval aviation in particular, but we do tend toward sentimentality.  How else would one explain the outpouring of money and volunteer time from people half a world away to bring an aircraft that hasn’t flown in almost twenty years from its foreign perch to the US?  Indivduals, some on limited incomes, who gave from a few dollars to several thousand – over $18,000 in individual contributions by the start of this month.  People who both flew the aircraft or worked on it and others whose sole link was a brother, son or husband who went away for months at a time on dets they could neither write or talk about.  Others actually made the trip overseas to work on the aircraft to prepare it for shipping, working mechanisms that hadn’t been exercised in nearly a couple of decades – all on their dime, their time.  And some corporate help has also been forthcoming, notably from Raytheon, the current and last operator of the Whale (it is a terrific avionics test bed) which has contributed needed parts.

And what of Ranger 07 itself?  It has had a long and illustrious carrier, beginning with VQ-1 in Guam in the early 1960s:

preflightI will also confess an affinity for the Whale and those who flew and worked on it – both from a personal and professional basis.  The Whale was one of the first naval aircraft I recall seeing in my (no long past) youth, but moreover, as a VAW NFO I spent many an hour in planning and flying with VQ folks ( including time in the Whale itself), especially when we hosted a det while I was in VAW-126.  I have friends from VQ and have lost some over the years – including some I knew in Ranger 12, lost on the Nimitz in January 1987.  While there is a Whale on display at the National Security Agency’s memorial park (in Ranger 12’s markings), this one has the potential to be seen by many more people, giving wider understanding of the sacrifices, that went necessarily publically unrecognized, to keep us free.

Now after all those years, all those flights, one more Whale is finding its way back home.  The Wasp is due in Norfolk later in May where it will be off-loaded by volunteers and brought over to the air side pending further transfer South.  Whether by barge or truck, it will not be inexpensive.  If you are so inclined, you can aid in this effort by contacting the A-3 Skywarrior Association  directly or via this form.

Major-league h/t to CAPT Andy Niemyer, USN (Retired) for the pics and tip.