|H. PAUL BREHM
Interview with Paul Brehm
In March 1942,
Paul Brehm was initiated into naval aviation at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base
at Kansas City, Missouri, where he soloed and received basic flight training.
At NAS Jacksonville, Florida, he completed advance training and received his
ensign's commission on December 24, 1942.
His first war time
assignment was to the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) after receiving
orders to VC-40, one of two land based navy squadrons operating in the Solomon
Islands. Initially flying from Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, his squadron
leap-frogged up the line to an airstrip at Munda, New Georgia, then a beachhead
airstrip on Bougainville for strikes on Rabaul, New Britain. By the middle of
1944 he was back in the United States assigned to Bombing 87 (VB-87) which was
based at NAS Wildwood, New Jersey. The squadron was by this time flying the new
generation of dive bombers, the monstrous SB2C Helldiver, nicknamed The
After assignment to the aircraft carrier USS Randolph
(CV-15), his unit was advised of the desperate new tactic developed by the
Japanese, called the Kamikaze, which had been taking a severe toll on carriers
and other warships. As a result, the air group was dropped off at NAS Kahalui,
Maui for restructuring. With less emphasis on bombers and torpedo planes, a new
element emerged; the fighter-bomber. The airgroup was then assigned to the
USS Ticonderoga (CV14) which had just arrived from a navy yard on the
West Coast after the repair of kamikaze damage. Thus it was that Airgroup
Eighty-Seven, came to be aboard Ticonderoga.
Commander Brehm's war time decorations included the Navy Cross, the
Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Air Medal with 6 stars. He was a member of
the Legion of Valor and retired to Orange County, California until shortly
before his passing in 2002. The interview below was conducted in 1999, around
the time he met with former Hyuga crewmembers in Japan.
WTJ: You flew the SB2C dive bomber on the Hyuga and Tone
missions, how did it handle?
Brehm: It was called "The
Beast," a hydraulic nightmare. Very sluggish on take off, but a good bombing
plane. It had a tendency to float on landing. Only one pilot never ditched on
take off or caught a fence (barrier) on landing. Weapons were all electrical,
charging the cannon was done by turning on the arming switch. This was
different from the SBD's armament, which required us to put one foot on the
floor (off of the rudder pedal) and use the leverage to manually charge the two
fifty caliber machine guns.
WTJ: Speaking of armament, were
there any special or new weapons you used?
Brehm: We were
first introduced to napalm in early '45. We practiced dropping it on Upolo
Point, Hawaii. Also, we were introduced to proximity fuzed rockets. Problem
was, in early instances when the rockets were fired they didn't wait to get to
the approximate target, they went off and blew up the plane that fired them.
When we were using them, we usually opened up the formation, just in case.
WTJ: I notice that flights commonly lost the first plane on
launch. Why would such a thing happen so frequently?
Because Fly-One used a "Slip-Stick" to calculate take off room. They always cut
it too close and said we had enough room for the wind over the deck. We lost a
lot of planes that way. Realize that the Captain was interested in launching
faster than other ships. Also, when the last plane was off, airborne, or in the
drink, the task force could depart the area.
WTJ: What did
you mean by "...the cameras started rolling..."?
Brehm: Any time
photographers thought there was going to be a crash, they took pictures just to
be on the safe side!
WTJ: What happened with battle damaged planes
or those that crashed on deck?
Brehm: They were pushed over
immediately. Plane handlers hardly had time to try and salvage the clocks
before the plane was over the side. If the barrier was torn up, the cherry
picker crane was placed in the middle of the deck so you could crash into that.
WTJ: Were there any common problems with returning from a
Brehm: Yes. Because kamikazes were hitting the
force, you could not come back directly. You had to go to a picket destroyer
CAP (Combat Air Patrol),
check in and then they would vector you to the TF. If we flew back directly, we
took a good chance of being shot down. We lost a lot of destroyers because of
this type of duty.
WTJ: Were you ever told what to do if
Brehm: Early in '45 the aircrews were told that
they could ignore the old "name, rank & serial number" rule. If captured,
tell anything they knew in order to save their skins. The Japs had an idea of
what was going on, they certainly knew that the fleet was out there because we
were bombing the crap out of them daily! We were not told of future operations,
so we never knew what was happening even the next day. At this time we were
given blood chits in case we were operating in Chinese water.
WTJ: Were any men from VB-87 ever captured?
Yes. During the raid on the Tone, Porter and Brisette went down and were
captured. We later found out that they died during the atomic bombing of
Hiroshima. There is a plaque memorializing them at the Andersonville National
WTJ: What if you were caught on board during
Brehm: The hangar deck was where the armor
plating was (5 inches I think). The flight deck and ready rooms were above it,
and if hit by a kamikaze, those areas got blown up. When we went to GQ, we went
below and had to stay there. Depending on the severity of GQ, the X, Y and Z
doors were a problem. You could go through an X door without too much of a
problem. I think you had to have permission to go through a 'Y' door after
clearance with damage control. No one went through a 'Z' door. They handled
magazines and fuel compartment, etc.
The worst thing was being stuck
below. The air was stale, and sometimes you would hear guns firing in the
distance and they would announce that enemy aircraft were in among the ships.
Then the five inch guns on OUR ship would begin firing and we realized that
enemy planes were in sight. Then our small guns would all open up and we would
think 'Jesus Christ!'
WTJ: Do you have any favorite, or
Brehm: At Bougainville our skipper was
LCDR "Red" Pennoyer. I didn't fly with him too often, but when I did, it was a
pleasure for he was as smooth an airman as I have ever seen. He was also
comical to watch, and usually kept those who could see him in stitches. His
usual procedure was to fiddle and fuss with the trim tabs on the plane until it
was flying along perfectly...all by itself. One time after he got all trimmed
up, I could see him take off one glove, and then take off the other. He didn't
pull them off, he took them off like a woman does, gently, one finger at a
time. Next he pulled out his plotting board, took out a cigarette and put it in
his mouth. Then began the hunt for matches. I could see him feeling in his knee
pockets, in his breast pocket. I watched him peer into the furthermost corners
of his plotting board and then reach for the mike. His rear-seat man jumped
like a puppet on a string, and swinging around, extended his hand as far as he
could with the precious matches. Lighting the cigarette, he settled back, put
on his gloves the same way he took them off, fitting one finger at a time. Then
he closed the plotting board and finally looked around to see if everyone was
still with him...and watching his performance.
about famous people?
Brehm: After a mission we flew on
December 31, 1943, we returned to the main tent at camp and the Fighter Exec
was guzzling beer taken from a huge stack of cans in the middle of the floor.
Why they had been taken out of their cases I didn't know, but there they were,
piled high in the middle of the room. With him was a squat, chunky marine. They
were dressed alike, khaki shorts that once had been trousers, cut off with the
ends left to fray. The chunky fellow, "Pappy" Boyington, was chewing the fat
with the Exec, and when we came in we were introduced all around. We got
talking to "Pappy" and learned that all the heat was on him. At this stage of
the game, "Pappy" was the leading ace in the Pacific. In order to be leading US
ACE, he had to get one more confirmed kill that would put him over the top. He
was due for leave but was hanging around, mostly to please the news
correspondents who were hounding him to top the list. He'd make daily sweeps
over enemy territory trying to find some luckless Jap to make another notch on
his guns. But the skies remained empty and there was nothing to kill. "Pappy"
was cussing the newspaper men, the General Staff and everybody he could think
of. He wanted to go home. He was tired and he vowed that if in the next couple
of days he didn't get his kills, "To hell with it all." A few days later,
January 3rd I believe, we heard that he was reported missing. He had been shot
down, but survived and became a POW.