|H. PAUL BREHM
The Hyuga Strike Mission: An Eyewitness
All day the 23rd of July, 1945 the Task Force re-armed and
re-fueled. Toward evening, with all the fuel bunkers topped off, the force cut
loose from the oilers, and jockeyed into task force positions: carriers and
battleships in the center, ringed by cruisers, and finally an outer screen of
Blinker messages flashed from ship to ship. The course was
set for 340 degrees, and at 1900 the Task Force began the run in toward the
July 24th Strike position. A total of four Task Groups comprised Task Force
38.0 and was under the command of Admiral Halsey. Task Group 38.3 was a part of
this force, composed of the Carriers, USS Ticonderoga, USS Essex, USS Randolph,
USS Monterey and the USS Bataan. The Battleships USS North Carolina, and USS
Alabama. Also there were four light cruisers, two anti-aircraft cruisers and a
screen of destroyers. Air Group Eighty-Seven was aboard the USS Ticonderoga
(CV-14) with a complement of F6F fighters, F6F fighter-bombers, TBM torpedo
planes and SB2C dive bombers. At the 2100 briefing in the bombing squadron's
ready room, tension and speculation began to build as strike information came
over the 2JG talker from Flag Plot. The code names of the ships began to be
listed. The Ticonderoga ("T") was Ginger Base. Then came the various
frequencies for the strike leaders, for air sea rescue and for the picket
destroyers. Taking down the information which was needed, we waited for the
formal briefing to start by Lt. Lyndon McKee, the squadron's Air Combat
Officer. He had remained in the background, not saying much.
"Gentlemen," he said clearing his throat, "Bombing Eight-Seven's target for
tomorrow's strike is the Japanese Battleship/Carrier Hyuga", and he began to
hand to each of us, packets of target overlay maps.
your information the Hyuga is one of the Ise class ships which has been
converted to a combination battleship-carrier by the addition of a flight deck
on her stern. As you study your overlays you will note that this is a
formidable target by reason of its own firepower as well as the fact that her
position off the small island of Nasake Shima, just south of Kure, places her
under the protection of numerous shore batteries on the coast. Also there are
guns on the hills to the east, north and west of her. So, on your run in, dive,
and retirement, expect to come under heavy anti- aircraft fire."
this brief statement and looking at the overlays I reflected on the fact that I
had been on 58 combat missions; against airfield installations, supply depots,
and more gun emplacements than I wanted to remember, but this was the first
opportunity in my naval career to dive on a capital ship and it would also be
an excellent opportunity to become a casualty of war. A dead one at that. This
was like flying into a shooting gallery, and I was the clay pigeon. The
skipper, Lcdr. Franz Kanaga, was leading the Bombing Squadron in the composite
makeup of the first strike. I was designated as his section leader. My call
sign was 3-307 GINGER. After the briefing, I went back to my state-room, wrote
a few letter and went to bed, but sleep this night was elusive. At 0400,
"GENERAL QUARTERS, GENERAL QUARTERS. ALL HANDS MAN YOUR BATTLE STATIONS", came
as relief from the sleepless hours lying there in the smothering darkness. The
ready-room was bedlam, with everyone on the first strike getting into their
flight gear, asking questions, making notations on their plotting boards, and
getting last minute weather data. Weather was reported as being marginal, and
the task force had not reached its pre-arranged launch position. We were over
one hundred miles short of the original proposed launch position. This meant a
longer flight in distance, time, and fuel consumption.
Finally the bomb
loading information came in from Flag Plot. Each SB2C would be carrying a one
thousand pound GP bomb in the bomb bay, plus a two hundred and sixty pound
fragmentation bomb on one wing, which was to partially compensate for the
droppable wing tank (weighing about 680 pounds), on the other wing. We were
cautioned that this unequal loading might cause problems on take off.
Then came the call over the 2JG talker, "PILOTS, MAN YOUR PLANES."
Waddling out of the ready room in all my gear, I paused on the walkway
and looking down, could see the blue-green water flashing by the hull. Could
hear the sound of tractors on the deck as they made last minute plane moves.
The air was warm, and the sun was shining through patches of light fluffy
Threading my way through the
planes, I tried to find my number, 206. As usual the spot was mixed, and we
were not going to be able to take in formation sequence. We would just have to
rendezvous on join up. The stack let off a shower of smoky cinders. The air was
acid tasting, stinging my eyes and burning my tongue.
My gunner, ARM2C
William (Tommy) Thompson, met me at the plane. Together we checked the bomb
loading, fuel tanks, and armament. I climbed up on the wing, put my plotting
board in its slot, threw a leg over, and climbed into the cockpit. I adjusted
the seat height and moved the rudder pedals closer, so that I could really
stand on them when diving vertically. I cinched my shoulder straps one more
time as the bull horn announced, "STAND BY TO START ENGINE. STAND CLEAR OF
PROPELLERS. START THE FIGHTERS ON THE CATAPULTS."
The Fox flag which
had been at the dip was two blocked. The ship began turning into the wind, the
semaphore on the bridge went from red to green and the order boomed out,
"LAUNCH AIRCRAFT." I looked at my watch. It was 0724.
into the wind, the first of the Fighters was shot off the catapults, and went
clawing up into the sun. At 15 second intervals, the launch proceeded. My plane
captain gave me the "Start Engine" signal. Activating the starter switch and
turning on the ignition, the blades of the propeller began turning, slowly.
There was a cough of white smoke, and the engine died. I tried it again. Ahead
of me the first of the SB2C's were getting into take off position.
trouble shooter came back, jumped on the wing and yelled, "Hit her again!" This
time with him pumping the throttle, and me holding the starter switch down, the
engine began to run. Ragged at first, then settling down to smooth revolutions.
Throttling back to let the trouble shooter off the wing, I pushed the throttle
up to 800 RPM's to let the engine warm up. The plane in front of me began to
move forward, the deck handler turned to me next, motioning with his hands
overhead, to taxi forward. I came out of my slot, unfolded my wings at his
signal, shoved the wing locking handle into the "lock" position and at his
command, set the flaps down 20 degrees.
Lt. Al Matteson was first off.
His plane got to the bow, his wing loading was unbalanced. He started going
into a tight right turn and the cameras began rolling. Momentarily flight
operations were secured; the semaphore on the bridge went to red. Matteson hit
the water hard and the plane just disintegrated. I saw only one person getting
out of the crash debris. The bridge ordered the Plane Guard Destroyer to pick
up the survivor. The semaphore on the bridge went back to green and the order
of "LAUNCH AIRCRAFT" proceeded as if nothing had happened. Not more than 25
seconds had lapsed, All I could think of was, Hell, we've lost our first plane
for today's strike and we haven't even completed the launch".
plane, following Matteson, got a little more deck run, but he too dropped off
the bow in a right turning arc. But, moments later was climbing skyward. Next
in line, Fly One looked at me. Nodding my head, I indicated that I was ready
for take off. He looked forward to see that the deck was clear, and started
winding up his checkered flag. I gave the engine full throttle. Pointing
forward, he dropped to the deck on one knee. I was cleared for take off.
Releasing the brakes, I started lumbering down the deck. The controls were
sluggish. I passed the forward gun turrets and then, there was no more deck,
just air, and below, water. I went straight off, not trying to make the usual
turn to clear my slipstream from the deck for the next plane. Number 206 began
to tilt hard to starboard (the side that had the external wing tank), and it
took both hands on the stick to keep the plane half way level. I kept settling,
and as much as I wanted to pull up my wheels, it was as if I was frozen in
time. I could not take the pressure off the stick.
Settling toward the
water, the air had a little more compression, and the prop finally began to
bite its way through the air. The pressure on the stick eased, I jerked up the
wheels, throttled back, reduced pitch and RPMs, switched to the auxiliary wing
tank and started buckling on my chute.
I was airborne.
inside the traffic pattern and joined up on the Skipper who was zooming up and
down. Lt. Vaughn was on his starboard, and I had Lt.
my port side as our section closed in on him. Our four plane section was soon
joined by Lt. Johnson's four planes, and Lt. Hearn's three plane section. Hearn
was short one plane in his section: Lt. Al Matteson's.
was strung out loosely as we headed toward the target area. The weather enroute
to the target area was marginal, and the formation was continually dodging in
and out of the clouds. Everywhere I looked I could see planes. The attack today
was an all out effort against any target of opportunity whether on land, in the
air or on the sea. Crossing over the island of Shikoku, our flight was cruising
at about 11,000 feet when the first "OK, here we go!" came over the
In the distance I could see the planes starting to slant down
beginning their runs, while at the same time I could see the black puffs of
smoke as the anti-aircraft shells started exploding. I remembered the gun count
on the Hyuga and scrunched down in my seat a little more.
formation I watched as the torpedo squadron slid off and started down. The plan
was for the bombers to dive bomb the ship, (taking out the guns and possibly
sinking the ship) while the torpedo planes were to make glide bombing runs
(Since the water was too shallow for a torpedo attack). The fighters were to
give us cover on the run-in and our departure from the target area.
Crossing over Hiihama airfield, the Skipper started a swinging turn to
the north west so that we could break off and after the attack, retire to the
south west. After the pull out we still had a lot of land over and around to
fly which had concentrated shore batteries. The actual attack on the Hyuga was
just one small part of the hazard's involved.
An anti-aircraft shell
exploded off my port wing with a thunder like clap. While the round was a
little wide, it was evident that the gunners had our range.
I split off
from the Skipper, Pucci closing in tight on me. I didn't want to be bunched up
with other planes in case of a direct hit on any one of our section. With our
bomb loads, one hit could blow us all out of the air. I still had not had a
chance to see the target even when I saw the Skipper nose over, and saw Black,
his gunner, open his hatch. I felt a blast of air as Tommy opened his hatch. I
opened my bomb bay doors, checked the bomb arming switch one more time, turned
on my cannon switches and charged the first shell into the chamber. I waited
for the signal to dive.
The air was now crackling with bursts of
anti-aircraft fire. The gunners were now zeroing in on our altitude. The
Skipper wagged his wings, I saw a flash of red as his dive flaps began to open.
"Step on it, dammit," I muttered as Vaughn hesitated before cracking
his flaps. Flack was now bursting all around us.
Vaughn started down.
I popped my flaps and rammed the stick forward, hard. The plane stood on its
nose, throwing me against my seat belt. I held onto the instrument cowl with my
left hand to give me more leverage in holding the stick forward.
for the first time I got a good look at the target. The Skipper had put us
right on top of the Hyuga. We were diving bow to stern, but I could hardly see
the ship. It was wreathed in a mass of smoke from all the guns firing at our
diving planes. I could see gun muzzle flashes from every part of the ship and
watched the tracers from the shells as they arced up. The heavier gun's
projectiles looked like fiery red baseballs. I could swear that every one of
them was headed directly at me.
"This is ridiculous," I thought to
myself. At that instant I closed my dive flaps, deciding not only to dive
clean, but to add throttle besides. Anything to get this dive over: to give the
gunners a fast and as small a target as possible.
The altimeter was
unwinding furiously. The entire ship filled my gunsight. I kept diving down,
wanting to be sure that there was no way my bomb could not make a direct hit on
Suddenly, coming out from under me, I saw Vaughn. His plane
kept going...straight down, and crashed along side the Hyuga, disappearing into
a geyser of white sea foam. One minute the plane was intact. The next moment it
was gone. His bomb did not go off, if it was still aboard.
I jabbed my
bomb release button and felt the bomb leave the bomb-bay. I snapped the stick
back. The windshield fogged over. I momentarily blacked out and I felt the kick
from my bomb blast since I had pulled out so low. Closing my bomb-bay I called
"My God, did you see that? Mr. Vaughn went straight in. He
didn't even try to pull out!"
"No sir, I didn't see it." Something made
me aware of the sound of my engine. Looking at the gages, the propeller RPM's
were dropping----1900---1800---1700. Something was wrong.
we take a hit somewhere? We are losing RPM's.
"No, I don't see
anything, and I didn't feel us take a hit."
Suddenly I thought to check
the propeller circuit breakers. One had popped out, probably from the excessive
"G" forces I had pulled. I punched it back in and saw the RPM's climb back to
2100. Banking around, looking back, I could see what appeared to
multiple bomb blast columns of smoke rising from the ship. Our attack had hit
her square on. Meantime, all around, planes were streaking for the rendezvous
position. Distress calls were now coming in over the strike frequency.
The rendezvous point was in the general area to the east of Yashiro Shima, and
it was in this area that I found the remnants of our flight. I pulled up along
side the Skipper and found that his plane had a huge hole in his port wing, and
one in the fuselage. He was leaking hydraulic fluid and his radio was gone.
Fortunately neither he nor Black had been seriously wounded. Tommy and Black
went to work with the blinker, and control was transferred to Lt.. Johnson, the
second division leader, who still had radio communication with the Force. Two
other planes joined up showing no battle damage. The rest of the Squadron's
planes were just not accounted for.
The flight back to the pickets was
a slow torturous affair with the main elements not able to go faster than the
slowest plane. When planes could no longer fly, or when they ran out of fuel,
they simply ditched. Those of us who were still airborne checked in with the
picket ships and got our vector to the task force. Looking at my watch, I noted
that I had been in the air a little over four hours.
Arriving at the
task force, I looked for the Ticonderoga, but could not locate her. In the
meantime, the Skipper and the other damaged planes made emergency landings on
any of the ships which had ready decks.
To the southeast , in a rain
squall, I noticed another group of ships and went racing in that direction.
After a 15 minute search, in the cover of rain squalls, was Task Force 38.3 and
the Ticonderoga. Getting into the landing pattern, I got a "Charlie" just in
time to see Lt. JG Wheeler catch a barrier, tear it up, and chew up the plane
in front of him, which had just landed. I circled twice more, but got a
wave-off each time because of a fouled deck.
It was now raining hard
and visibility was poor. Planes were zooming around, criss-crossing the landing
flight pattern in their frantic search for any ship with a ready deck.
With a growing sense of frustration, I picked up my mike and called,
"GINGER Base. This is 3-307 GINGER. Queen 10, Queen 10" (Indicating
that I only had about 10 gallons of fuel left.)
"I will relay your
message. Standby GINGER 3-307," came the calm voice from the ship.
made another pass at the deck, but the barrier was still torn up, so I banked
off to try and find any other carrier with a ready deck which would take me
aboard. I called the USS Randolph for permission to land, but was advised that
the landing signal officer was not at the ramp and was not available. Other
ships had ready decks but would still not take me aboard.
pouring rain now, and over the air came the terse message,
GINGER base calling all GINGER planes. Circle above the ship. We are changing
course, trying to get out of this rain."
"Well, that does it", I told
Tommy over the intercom. "We don't have enough gas to circle, and I'm not going
down into that mess again. I'd rather take my chances on a water landing than
take a chance on a mid-air collision."
In resignation, I radioed,
"GINGER Base. This is 3-307 GINGER. I'm ditching.
"Roger, GINGER 3-307.
You are ditching. I will relay your message
With my fuel gages now
reading zero, I picked out a destroyer in the outer screen and told Tommy, "Get
out your Aldis lamp and send the destroyer an SOS and get ready for ditching."
I dipped my starboard wing so Tommy could get a clear message to the bridge of
the destroyer and then I called back to him, "This is it, get ready for
landing, I hope it's a soft one. Pull your headset so you don't get tangled,
and get out of your chute. See that your straps are tight. Here we go. I'm
pulling my headset."
I chopped the throttle and put down full landing
flaps. I was paralleling the course of the destroyer but had too much speed.
Instead of dropping in along side, I was almost three quarters of a mile ahead
of the ship when the plane slammed into the ocean. For a moment I was in a
state of panic. The plane tilted up on its nose, but still had forward
momentum. Water was pouring into the cockpit as I struggled to release my
safety belt. Then, like a cork bobbing out of the depths, the plane returned to
the surface and floated on top of the water.
Snapping off my safety
belt and shoulder harness I jumped out onto the wing. Tommy, already out,
wanted to know if I wanted to inflate the raft.
"No", I said looking
at the jagged edge of the flaps. "Let's go out on the edge of the wing and wait
until the plane sinks out from under us and we'll cast off from there so that
we won't inadvertently tear a hole in it."
The plane was now settling
low in the water. The blades of the propeller were bent back over the cowling.
Tommy and I walked to the tip of the wing, inflated the raft and waited
until the plane started to sink out from under us. Then, we simply stepped into
the raft as the plane sunk, nose first. The last thing I saw was the huge
rounded tail, the painted white triangle insignia, and the number, 206.
By this time the destroyer was bearing down on us hard. A group of sailors at
the bow were standing by and threw us a line, but neither of us could hang onto
it. We had better luck with a line thrown to us from mid ship. But in catching
it, I was almost pulled out of the raft. However, between Tommy and I, we
finally managed to secure the line to the raft. A cargo net was thrown over the
side to assist us in climbing to the deck, but neither of us had the strength
to do so. Two sailors quickly climbed over the railing and down the net to help
us up to the deck. Then quickly pulling up the cargo net, the USS Chauncey
(DD-667) resumed its position in the screen. Once aboard the USS Chauncey, we
met the skipper and were then both taken below where we were given a cursory
examination and found to have suffered no injuries. Only my shoulders hurt
where the straps had cut into me when we hit. A radioman came in for our names
and other information to notify the Squadron and the ship that we had been
rescued and were alright.
The ship's log indicates that a total of 2
minutes 45 seconds had lapsed from the time we crashed and were logged aboard
the USS Chauncey.
Two days later, Tommy and I were high-lined to the
Ticonderoga for de-briefing. At this time we found that the Hyuga had indeed
been sent to the bottom (Even though its decks were awash and she was still
sitting upright, so shallow was its anchorage. Later on a survey team inspected
the bombed hulk and noted that because of all of the holes, it had "...lost
buoyancy... and sunk...").
So only five of the original thirteen planes
that went to the target made it back to the ship, and two of these were damaged
in landing. Lost also were two pilots and one crewman. The cost had been high,
but the results had been spectacular.