The Leyte Landings
On 11 October 1944, nine days prior to "A-Day" for the Leyte landings, powerful U.S. task groups sortied northward from New Guinea and the Admiralties. Six days later, the first part of these forces, destroyer transports bearing the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion, steamed into Leyte Gulf and headed toward Dinagat, Suluan and Homonhon Islands. (See Map 4.) Phase One of the operation--securing the entrance to Leyte Gulf--depended upon control of these three islands. Unopposed landings were made on Dinagat and Suluan on the 17th and on Homonhon the following day.1 The capture of the three islands proceeded without serious hitch and Phase One was over.
On A-Day, 20 October, the main landings (Phase Two) began at 1000 on an 18-mile front between Dulag and Tacloban on Leyte's east coast.2 Two days of heavy naval bombardment terminated just before the landing forces--X and XXIV Corps of the Sixth United States Army--went ashore.
Opposition at the landing beaches was negligible. First day casualties resulted primarily from a few well-placed Japanese mortar and artillery pieces not silenced by the preliminary bombardment. By mid-afternoon, the assault troops had advanced 1,800 yards inland.
Unloading was somewhat delayed by swampy terrain to the rear of one beach, and sporadic enemy mortar and artillery fire hampered the discharge of LST cargo and artillery. Conditions along the 18-mile beachhead varied, but snipers, enemy mortar fire and a lack of unloading personnel were the major deterrents to speedy disembarkation of men and material. None of these, however, delayed the establishment of beachheads and infantry advances inland.3
Sixth Army quickly expanded its initial gains. In the X Corps (north) zone of action, the 1st Cavalry Division captured Tacloban Airfield on A-Day and Tacloban itself on A-plus 1. By A-plus 5, 1st Cavalry elements were advancing northwestward toward Carigara. (See Map 5.) The 24th Infantry Division had taken Palo on A-plus 1; thereafter it moved rapidly into the Leyte Valley, gaining contact on 29 October with the 1st Cavalry Division south of Carigara. Elements of these two divisions captured Carigara on 2 November, in a coordinated attack.4
In the XXIV Corps (south) zone of action, the 7th Infantry Division seized Dulag airstrip
LEYTE LANDING, 20 October 1944. First wave of troops approach beach still smouldering from U.S. naval gunfire,
on A-plus 1, swept westward to capture three airfields in the Burauen area by 25 October, and four days later secured Dagami in spite of heavy enemy resistance. Meanwhile, other elements of the 7th had turned south, secured Abuyog, then pushed westward over the mountains to occupy the coastal town of Baybay. (See Map 5.)
The 96th Infantry Division, temporarily bypassing strongly-held Catmon Hill, seized that part of the southern Leyte Valley lying within its zone of action. This done, the 96th assaulted Catmon Hill on 28 October and by 31 October overcame all opposition there.5
This two weeks of fighting and maneuver gave Sixth Army control of Leyte Valley and its airfields by 2 November. It further opened both Panaon and San Juanico Straits, and secured Carigara (north central coast) and Baybay (west coast). Phase Two of the Leyte operations plan was successfully completed.6
The Japanese High Command had recognized the American landing at Leyte Gulf for what it was--their final chance, short of a last ditch defense of Japan itself, to stem the U.S. advance. They hurriedly activated Sho No. 1: the seaborne equivalent of a Banzai attack.
Three days after U.S. troops landed on Leyte, most of the still powerful, but unbalanced, Japanese fleet steamed toward Leyte Gulf in a three-pronged attack. The "Sho" plan was simple but daring: a decoy carrier force advancing from the north would divert the main U.S. strength; two other heavy surface forces approaching Leyte Gulf through Surigao and San Bernardino Straits (see Map 6), covered by Japanese Army and Navy planes based on Luzon, Samar, and other nearby islands would destroy American shipping
Sixth Army Operations
20 October 1944 - 2 November 1944
JAPANESE CRUISER, on horizon, straddles U.S. escort carrier with gunfire during Battle for Leyte Gulf. This vital engagement took place in a running sea battle east of Samar Island on 25 October 1944, and ended in a decisive U.S. naval victory when all Japanese forces were defeated and repulsed in their attempt to disrupt MacArthur's invasion.
off the landing beaches. The risk was great but calculated: utter victory, or utter defeat.7
Enemy fleets never quite reached Leyte Gulf, but on 24 October the decoy force successfully drew off8 the main body of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet to the north. That night the Japanese central force, still powerful even after it lost one of its super battleships (and suffered crippling damage to one heavy cruiser and several other ships) to Third Fleet planes, passed through San Bernardino Straits. On the morning of 25 October this enemy naval force, possessing overwhelming local superiority, penetrated close to U.S. transports in Leyte Gulf. But with victory in reach after a running battle east of Samar Island with six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts of Admiral Kinkaid's defensive forces, the Japanese commander ordered his own wounded fleet to withdraw. This decision he later attributed to lack of expected land-based air support and air reconnaissance, fear of further losses from air attack, and worry as to fuel reserves.9 The decision ended the last serious threat to the U.S. reinvasion of the Philippines.
In the meantime, the southern Japanese force had been virtually destroyed in a night surface engagement with Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet in Surigao Straits,10 and elements of Halsey's Third Fleet, to the north, had sunk four enemy carriers off Luzon. When it was all over (26 October), the Japanese had lost one large and three light carriers, three battleships (including the 63,700-ton Musashi), six heavy and four light cruisers, nine
ORPHAN CARRIER PLANES sought refuge at Dulag Airfield, Leyte, when their carriers were sunk or damaged during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, 25 October 1944.
destroyers and a submarine. The Japanese Navy "as a Navy, had ceased to exist."11 The U.S. victory had not been won, however, without losses. These losses included one light carrier (Princeton), two escort carriers (Gambier Bay and St. Lô), two destroyers, one destroyer escort, and one PT boat sunk; one light cruiser, six escort carriers, three destroyers and one destroyer escort damaged.
On the afternoon of 25 October Admiral Kinkaid, who was responsible for air support to the landing troops, notified General MacArthur that his escort aircraft carriers were seriously crippled by air and surface attack. Nevertheless, every baby carrier still operable kept sending its aircraft out all day, flying patrols over the Seventh Fleet and the shipping in Leyte Gulf, and attacking the withdrawing ships of the Japanese central and southern fleets.12
Many of these aircraft returned from missions to find their carriers sunk or badly damaged. On 25 October over a hundred of these Navy aircraft flew into airstrips at Tacloban and Dulag when their gas ran low. The field at Tacloban, captured by U.S. forces on A-Day, "had been churned into muck" by hundreds of amphibian vehicles.13 Although construction work had been started by Army engineer troops, the strip was still very soft and in no shape for landings; there was no choice.
On Tacloban Field were four officers temporarily detached from the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, still back in the Solomons. The wing's commander, Major General Ralph J. Mitchell, had made every effort to get his wing an assignment for the Philippines compaign. When his efforts failed, he obtained permission for himself and three of his staff
Battle for Leyte Gulf
23-26 Oct 1944
officers14 to attend the Leyte landing as observers. The four Marine air officers had come ashore on A-Day with the 308th Bombardment Wing of the Fifth Air Force.
General Mitchell saw that the Navy planes would have to make emergency landings; as a pilot, he also saw that from the air they would be unaware of the danger of landing on the soft sand strip, just graded preparatory to the laying of steel matting. To the right of the field was the only safe landing place, the old original sod, still firm.15 Acting with characteristic promptness, General Mitchell seized a pair of signal flags lying nearby and ran to the end of the strip, where he wagged in more than 40 of the 67 planes16 making their emergency landings at Tacloban strip.17
General Kenney further describes the situation at Tacloban:
. . . We hurriedly rolled the surface, gassed up the Navy aircraft, and loaded them with bombs and ammunition. They then took off and joined the rest of the 7th Fleet aircraft in hunting down the withdrawing Jap ships . . . These lads of Kincaid's [sic] did a great job during that day of October 25th. In spite of all they had gone through and in spite of the fact that almost every Liberty boat and landing craft in the harbor shot at them coming and going whenever they got in range, they turned in an excellent score for the day. Three Jap heavy cruisers and a destroyer were sunk and two other cruisers heavily damaged.18
Kenney Assumes Responsibility For Air Operations Over Leyte
For the first few days of the Leyte Operation, Navy flyers from the CVE's furnished all air support for the ground troops. Sixth Army reported:
. . . During the period 20 October to 29 October, these [carrier-based] aircraft in aerial combat destroyed 200 enemy aircraft and lost only 10 of their own planes, from which all but three pilots were saved. The close support provided ground forces during the initial days of the operation by naval aviation was of the highest order.19
After the Battle for Leyte Gulf commenced, however, the escort carriers' maximum effort was expended in defending themselves. Battle damage and aircraft losses incurred in the Battle off Samar had forced one of the three U.S. escort groups to retire, and a second group was badly hurt by suicide attacks.20 In the effort to combat the new and serious threat of the fanatical kamikaze pilots,21 there was a consequent decrease in fighter cover for Leyte, especially in direct support of ground troops. An immediate need for land-based aircraft became evident.22
ARMY ENGINEERS work fast to get Tacloban's steel matting laid before arrival of Fifth Air Force P-38's to take over air support over Leyte, 27 October 1944.
Preparing the Tacloban strip for AAF planes on such short notice called for fast work by the engineers. The runway was muddy and working conditions were extremely difficult, but 2,500 feet of steel (Marston) matting were laid in only two days. One squadron of Fifth Air Force P-38's had been alerted for movement to Tacloban. Although the field's runway was still quite short for the speedy "Lightnings," the planes landed on the unfinished strip at noon on 27 October; during the final hour before their arrival the engineers rolled coral into the sand for another 1,000 yards at the end of the strip in case any of the planes should overrun the steel runway.23
With the arrival of the P-38's, air control passed officially from the Navy to Commander, Allied Air Forces (General Kenney). At 1700, enemy planes attacked. The Lightnings shot down six of them; 26 more were shot down that night by AA.24
But FEAF aircraft were too few in number to do more than provide a defense against enemy aerial attacks. There was simply no space from which any large number of land-based planes could operate. The Tacloban strip was the only operational strip on Leyte;25 its aircraft parking facilities were extremely limited. Planes parked almost wingtip to wingtip were extremely vulnerable to enemy attack. By 30 October hostile bombing raids had destroyed one P-38 and damaged seven others; these losses coupled with operational accidents left only 20 of the 34 P-38's on the Tacloban strip in a state of combat readiness.26
As a result, although MacArthur had directed that after 27 October Task Force 38 refrain from striking land targets without specific request, he changed his order shortly thereafter,27 and carrier planes remained in direct support until 25 November.28
Admiral Halsey was disappointed at having to stay on an assignment that he felt should not have been his responsibility; his memoirs are not a little critical of General Kenney and Fifth Air Force on that score.29 Sixth Army Report, however, gives an evaluation considerably less severe:
What then, was the basic reason for the inadequate aerial strength on Leyte, a condition that obtained throughout most of the operation despite the fact that the Fifth Air Force had numerous aircraft at rear bases ready to move forward to Leyte? Stated simply, the answer was a lack of air facilities on the island;
in fact, the Tacloban airstrip was the only operational strip on Leyte during Phase II. (During Phase III the slow conditioning of other airstrips, which was caused by heavy rains, poor drainage, and unsatisfactory soilbases, resulted in inadequate air facilities and thus so strongly restricted the Fifth Air Force that it was able to provide only limited direct support.)
The absence of Leyte-based light and medium bomber aircraft placed upon the fighter aircraft the additional burden of furnishing striking power at a time when these fighters had all they could do to provide defense and protective cover for the objective area. The ability of the Japanese to reinforce their Leyte garrison--and to prolong the Leyte operation--can be attributed in some degree to this fundamental change30 in the original plan for air support. The fighter aircraft were able to provide only limited direct support which did not include any close support for ground troops.31
More than anything else, the weather caused the delay in commencing full-scale aerial operations from Leyte airfields. The rainy season, which had commenced earlier than usual, was considerably more severe than U.S. planners had anticipated. Three typhoons occurred in less than two weeks, between A-minus 3 and A-plus 8; one occurring on 28 October 1944 was accompanied by a 70-mph gale. Because of these typhoons, and the accompanying heavy rains (35 inches in 40 days), the important supply roads of the island turned into deep sticky mud that bogged down vehicles and retarded offensive activities. To keep the all-important lines of communication open, engineer troops had to be diverted from airfield construction. Captured airstrips, located on low, poorly drained ground, were found to be in complete disrepair. It was not possible to condition these strips for bomber operations within a reasonable time. As a result, the arrival dates of light and medium bombers were deferred indefinitely.
TACLOBAN AIRSTRIP, first and most important U.S. field on Leyte. This photo, taken in 1946, shows a field in much better condition than it was during the critical days immediately after invasion.
The November Stalemate
The dangerous lack of air power was felt more and more strongly as the campaign progressed. It became apparent that the enemy intended to hold Leyte at all costs, even after the loss of his fleet. Initially, Leyte operations had promised to be relatively short. Japanese combat troops defending Leyte had numbered only 16,000 on A-Day, and had been unable to check the U.S. advance. In a short time, however, the Japanese had successfully reinforced the Leyte garrison by landing two divisions (1st and 26th), an infantry regiment (41st Infantry Regiment, 30th Division), four independent infantry battalions (from 102d Division), and other troops. The Sixth Army felt that these reinforcements might "have been prevented from landing, and Allied aerial superiority could have been quickly secured, had the Fifth Air Force been able to base at Leyte" all aircraft originally scheduled.32
On 2 November, a large Japanese convoy bearing reinforcements entered Ormoc Bay, on the west coast of Leyte Island. The plane shortage of Fifth Air Force was so drastic at this time that its air task force on Leyte, the 308th Bomb Wing, planned to use only eight P-38's to attack the convoy; the Thirteenth Air Force, utilizing bombers as far away as Morotai, staged in through Tacloban strip to strike the transports, but only one enemy cargo ship was sunk.33
A similar situation existed a week later when, on 9 November, an enemy convoy consisting of two cruisers, 10 destroyers, and four transports moved into Ormoc Bay and landed the Japanese 26th Division. Enemy transports completed unloading on the morning of 10 November, and sailed from the bay at 1100. At 1115, B-25's from Morotai34 attacked the convoy, sinking one frigate and two cargo vessels.35 Unfortunately, as on previous occasions, these aerial blows had been too late to prevent the landing of Japanese reinforcements.36
As a consequence of all these events, Phase Three of the Leyte operation (the destruction of hostile forces remaining on Leyte and the clearing of hostile forces from southern Samar) assumed much larger proportions in execution than had been contemplated in planning. On 3 November, the X Corps sent the 24th Infantry Division westward from Carigara; this division took Pinamopoan next day and turned southward toward Ormoc. Shortly thereafter, it met heavy opposition on Breakneck Ridge, which was not overcome until 16 November.
In the XXIV Corps (southwestern) zone of action, the 96th Infantry Division overcame strong resistance west of Dagami as the 7th Infantry Division concentrated at Baybay for a northward push along the west coast. (See Map 5.)
Countering the Japanese reinforcements on Leyte, the Sixth United States Army was reinforced by the 32d Infantry Division and the 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team on 14 November, by the 11th Airborne Division on 18 November, and by the 77th Infantry Division on 23 November.37
Simultaneously with X Corps' advance from the north toward Ormoc, the 96th Infantry Division and the XXIV Corps' 11th Airborne Division drove "westward over difficult mountain trails," and the 7th Infantry Division pushed "slowly northward along the west coast of Leyte. Commanding General, Sixth Army, continued plans to land troops in the Ormoc area, cut off the flow of enemy reinforcements," and attack the now large Japanese forces from the rear.38
MUD AND RAIN constituted formidable obstacles, delaying troop movements and greatly impeding airstrip construction. This was the living area of Marine night fighter pilots first to land on Leyte.
Meanwhile, troubles in getting operational airstrips continued. As early as 3 November, Bayug airstrip (see Map 5) was put into use by P-40's of the 110th Reconnaissance Squadron, and Buri airstrip, (like Bayug, classified a "dryweather strip") became operational for fighter planes on 5 November. Both strips remained operational only a very short time; the 35 inches of rain that fell in 40 days quickly terminated the use of either strip.
The Dulag strip, captured 21 October, was not operational until 19 November in spite of the combined efforts of three engineer battalions. Torrential rains, poor drainage, faulty soil bases, and poor access roads finally prompted Fifth Air Force representatives to agree to the abandonment of Buri and San Pablo airstrips. Three engineer battalions and one naval construction battalion had labored for two weeks on the San Pablo strip before its abandonment on 23 November. Work on Buri airstrip ended on 30 November when it became clear that engineer means were insufficient to develop all airdrome sites under the existing conditions. Sixth Army felt that Bayug airstrip, third and last of the three strips in the Burauen area, would not remain operational because of unsatisfactory subgrade soil conditions, even if Marston mats were laid.
Fifth Air Force, however, chose to hold Bayug strip, even though "access roads to this airdrome required great engineer effort and in certain areas the quantity of rock per mile
placed in the subgrade would have constructed 20 miles of road under normal conditions."39
Engineer units made available when the Buri and San Pablo airstrips were abandoned went to work at once on a new airstrip near the coastal town of Tanauan, between Tacloban and Dulag. (See Map 5). This site was readily drained, had a good sandy surface and proved excellent for airstrip construction. The Sixth Army Command Post, which had been located on the proposed airfield site at Tanauan, moved to Tolosa on 28 November so that work could begin on the Tanauan strip.40
But in spite of the slow development of airstrip facilities, by the end of November land-based air (which at the beginning of the month had consisted of only two squadrons of day fighters and one squadron of night fighters) had been increased to a total strength of three day fighter groups, two night fighter squadrons, a light bomber group, and a photographic unit. Navy units operating in this area included three VPB (patrol bombing) squadrons, a Liberator (PB4Y) squadron and a Ventura (PV) squadron.41
Progress on the ground had also been slowed by the mud and rain, but at month's end U.S. troops controlled all of Leyte except the Ormoc Bay area and the northwest coast of the island. (See Map 4). There the reinforced Japanese, with their sea communications still intact in their rear, resisted strongly.
Operationally the Leyte situation seemed to deteriorate rather than improve, notwithstanding the fact that air power had been augmented, the Sixth Army had seven divisions ashore, and the Navy had driven the Japanese fleet from the waters surrounding Leyte. But Japanese reinforcements continued to pour in through Ormoc Bay; in spite of losses both enroute and unloading, total enemy reinforcements were estimated at approximately 47,900 (44,400 Army troops plus 3,500 Imperial Marines).42 Estimated enemy casualties by 30 November numbered 24,287 killed and 186 captured--only about half of the number of Japanese reinforcements brought in during the same period.43
In accordance with basic AAF doctrine, the Fifth Air Force until 2 November had "utilized all available planes in a struggle to gain air superiority" and applied "only limited means to the second priority mission of preventing the movement of hostile troops" to Leyte. "The efforts involved in carrying out these tasks and the insufficient number of available aircraft precluded until late in the campaign the employment of aircraft upon close support missions."44
MacArthur and Halsey Request Marine Squadrons
At General MacArthur's request, naval aviation was still in the area, helping AAF cope with the air situation. By 27 November, Admiral Halsey and his carriers had already stayed in the Philippines "almost a month
longer than had been planned."45 From 3 November, when Halsey again began to give air support to the operation, until 27 November, when he was finally relieved, his planes made 6,062 sorties, of which 4,198 were combat strikes. During this period 54 enemy warships, totaling 140,600 tons, had been sunk, more than three times that tonnage damaged, and 768 enemy aircraft had been destroyed by Task Force 38.46
But Halsey was unhappy because he was not released to strike Japan's home islands. Admiral Kinkaid was worried as kamikaze pilots continued their damaging suicide strikes on Seventh Fleet ships. General MacArthur seemed particularly dissatisfied with his air defense at dawn and dusk. In the midst of this all-round dissatisfaction, MacArthur proposed a trade with Nimitz:47
Japs operating Oscars as night bombers which are too fast for P-61's.48 In Palau enemy employing bombers which P-61 can effectively cope with. Would appreciate your considering a temporary swap of night fighter squadrons, the Marine squadron at Palau to operate from Leyte and P-61's to go to Peleliu.49
The Marine squadron MacArthur had requested was Marine Night Fighting Squadron 541 (VMF(N)-541). At about the same time, Admiral Halsey moved to accomplish that which General Mitchell had attempted so many times--to move 1st Marine Aircraft Wing into the Philippines fight. In Halsey's own words:
I had had under my command in the South Pacific a Marine Air Group which had proved its versatility in everything from fighting to blasting enemy vessels. I knew that the group was now under MacArthur's command, and I knew, too, without understanding why, that when Kenney was not keeping it idle, he was assigning it to missions far below its capacity. Kinkaid's complaint of insufficient air cover prompted me to take a step which was more than a liberty; to a man of meaner spirit than MacArthur's it would have seemed an impertinence. I called these Marines to his attention. He ordered them forward, and within 24 hours of their arrival, they had justified my recommendation.50
Thus, within two days, both VMF(N)-541, (Marine night fighter squadron in the Palaus) and four squadrons51 of Marine Aircraft Group 12 in the Solomons, were alerted to move to Tacloban.
Marine Night Fighters Ordered to Leyte from Peleliu
VMF(N)-541, as part of the 2d Marine Aircraft Wing on Peleliu, had for two and a half months performed a wide variety of night missions throughout the Palaus. Equipped with F6F's (Grumman-built planes popularly called "Hellcats") fitted with radar devices for night intercept work, these pilots were eminently qualified for night combat by both training and experience. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Peter D. Lambrecht, (who had activated the organization at Cherry Point, North Carolina, nine months earlier), had specialized knowledge of night fighter and night intercept techniques obtained from a tour of duty in England. Upon his return to Cherry Point he had transmitted this knowledge to his new command by an intensive training program.
The first combat assignment of the squadron had been in the Palaus; now the outfit was scheduled for a short but busy tour at Leyte. It was intended that the organization would remain at Tacloban only a couple of weeks. As things turned out, it stayed for five.
When informed of this new task, Colonel Lambrecht flew to Tacloban Field (28 November) to arrange for accommodations there. Air echelon of the Marine squadron simply exchanged facilities52 with the air echelon of
AAF's 421st Night Fighter Squadron, the P-61 unit that General MacArthur was sending to Peleliu as agreed with Admiral Nimitz. Five days later (3Dec44) VMF(N)-541's 12 Hellcats set out on the 602-mile overwater flight to Tacloban. Accompanying were three "Commandos" (R5C's) of VMJ-952, carrying the remainder of the air echelon. They arrived at Tacloban Field at 1030, 3 December 1944.
By late afternoon of the same day, some of the Hellcat pilots had flown their first Philippine mission. Under the operational direction of Fifth Air Force's 308th Bomb Wing, six planes flew last-light cover for PT boats in Surigao Strait and provided air cover over Ormoc Bay. No incident occurred, but for VMF(N)-541 and for other Marine pilots (who arrived on Leyte on the same day) there was action aplenty in store.
Marine Aircraft Group 12 Moves to Leyte
As a result of Admiral Halsey's recommendation to General MacArthur, Allied Air Forces sent a dispatch on 30 November to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Bougainville, ordering one of its fighter groups to move to Leyte immediately. Next day General Mitchell ordered Colonel William A. Willis' Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12), to transfer its four fighter squadrons53 to Tacloban; upon arrival there not later than 3 December, to report to the 308th Bombardment Wing, Fifth Air Force, for duty.
MAG-12's combat operations in the Solomons ceased immediately. All hands turned to
RADAR-EQUIPPED NIGHT FIGHTERS, Hellcats of the type flown by VMF(N)-541, the "Bateyes."
packing and loading for the forthcoming move.
General Mitchell, a Philippine assignment in hand at last, took steps to expedite the movement. He requested and received from Fifth Air Force transportation for the minimum men and matériel of the ground echelon required for plane maintenance at Tacloban; from the Commander Seventh Fleet, logistic support for the forward echelon.54
At dawn on 2 December, 85 F4U's from MAG-12,55 and 12 PBJ's from MAG-61 (one Marine PBJ was sent as a guide plane with each flight of Corsairs) took off from the Solomons for Hollandia, the first leg of their journey to the Philippines. Refueling there, the planes continued to Owi, a small island near Biak.
On 3 December they flew to Peleliu, arriving four and a half hours after VMF(N)-541's night fighters had departed for the Philippines. Sixteen Corsairs were delayed at Peleliu with minor mechanical difficulties, but by 1700 on 3 December, 66 of MAG-12's F4U's landed on Leyte.
At Tacloban conditions were still primitive. The muddy strip had practically no operative taxi-ways or parking facilities; operations were formidable even in good weather. On 4 December rain kept planes on the deck, but the newly arrived Marines used the time to set up camp in the only spot available--a mudhole 300 yards due west of the southern end of Tacloban strip.
First Marine Air Action Over Leyte
Pre-dawn patrol on 5 December brought the Marines their first Philippines aerial combat. Four night fighters of VMF(N)-541 were covering a convoy of minesweepers in Canigao Channel, between Bohol Island and south Leyte when a Japanese OSCAR (single-engine, single-seated fighter) swept in toward the ship formation. Second Lieutenant Rodney E. Montgomery, Jr., dived steeply and opened
SECOND LIEUTENANT RODNEY E. MONTGOMERY, first Marine pilot to shoot down an enemy plane in the Philippines, 5 December 1944.
fire on the OSCAR, knocking it into the black waters of the channel below.56
On the same day, MAG-12 pilots had their first Philippines skirmish. Of the twenty-two flights of four planes each assigned flight missions,57 only one made contact with the enemy. Ordered to cover a naval task group in the vicinity of Dinagat Island (east of Leyte) Marine pilots arrived on station just as several Japanese ZEKES (single-seated, single-engine fighters, popularly called ZEROS) attacking the ships.58 Captain John D. Lindley (VMF-115), the flight leader, spotted one ZEKE that had just finished a run on a ship.
Nosing over from about 13,000 feet, he fired on the plane until it began to smoke and went out of control.59
As for many nights to follow, VMF(N)-541 Night Hellcats were back in the air again that evening, to fly last-light patrols and individual night patrols, working with Army Ground Control Intercept personnel, (ground radar units known as GCI). They reported no enemy activity.
Dawn and dusk patrols proved to be the biggest assignment for the night fighters--it was obvious that these morning and evening assignments were of paramount importance, since these were the times most popular with raiding Japanese planes. However, although the Night Hellcats were well suited to such missions, it seemed to the pilots that their special training in night fighting tactics was not receiving full utilization; therefore, on squadron initiative, they also frequently carried out night patrols against enemy intruders, cooperating closely with the Army GCI setup.60
During the early part of the month, such night flights as the Bateye squadron did make were not entirely satisfactory. Difficulties stemmed from the fact that they were not operating with the Marine ground controllers with whom they had trained; the Army's ground radar men used different procedures, which frequently led to misunderstandings until flyers and controllers became familiar with each other's ways.
Initially, therefore, night interceptions left much to be desired. When the enemy used low approaches and swift recessions, controllers were unable to vector61 the Night Hellcats within range of air-borne radar before the "bogeys"62 left ground radar range. Practice together, however, brought immediate improvement in teamwork and procedures.
Other difficulties stemmed from crowded airstrip conditions and excessive air-borne traffic. The Base Operations Center was unable to permit test flights to check air-borne radar. Ground tests of such radar left much to be desired. Many interceptions failed because of air-borne radar inadequacies not shown up by ground tests.63
Like the night fighters, MAG-12's fighter pilots found themselves on missions different from those they had expected. Called into Leyte to reinforce air support and cover for the Philippines operation, they anticipated flying "close support," which to them meant coordinated air-ground attacks against enemy targets near the front lines.
That assigned targets were not close to the front lines should have come as no surprise. Although Marine Aviation had long considered support of ground troops a primary mission, basic AAF doctrine relegated such efforts (described as efforts "to gain objectives on the immediate front of the ground forces") to a third priority.64
Consequently, daily missions of the Marine flyers included bombing and strafing of enemy airfields, air cover over Allied convoys and beachheads, escorting bombing raids and supply and rescue missions, and attacking Japanese troops, supplies, shipping and communications throughout the Central Philippines.
But one type of mission, execution of which was probably the group's most important contribution to the campaign, was more familiar attacks on Japanese shipping. It was primarily the performance of these fighter-bomber airmen against enemy warships and transport vessels that would earn for Marine Aircraft Group 12 the Presidential Unit Citation.
The Big Job: To Attack Japanese Reinforcements
In many ways the Leyte campaign was a contest between U.S. and Japanese reinforcement capabilities. Japanese seaborne reinforcement of their Leyte garrison had begun shortly after Sixth Army's October landings. In spite of losses en route the Japanese reinforced Leyte during November at a rate twice their losses to American ground action. (See p. 26.) Far East Air Forces had sunk at least a dozen enemy ships,65 but usually after Japanese troops had already debarked on Leyte. Navy carrier planes had been more successful,66 even though at the same time they were busy defending their carriers against kamikaze attack.
Admiral Halsey said:
Our adjustment to the kamikazes was complicated by the enemy's stubborn refusal, despite his staggering naval defeat, to consider Leyte lost. He began to pour planes into his fields . . . and to rush troops through his inland waterway, across the Sibuyan Sea. Kenney could neither stop them nor protect our own troops and shipping. His fighters were useless against convoys, and he had few bombers . . .67
Reinforcements had more than tripled the Japanese troop strength on Leyte. If the ground campaign on the island were not to continue dragging on for months, continuing to be costly in lives, time, and matériel, the reinforcements would have to be stopped. And participation in the stopping of these reinforcements became one of MAG-12's big assignments.
Convoy Strike--7 December
First Marine strike against these convoys came on 7 December 1944. Army Intelligence had reported in briefing that three enemy destroyers and four cargo ships were steaming into Ormoc Bay and would still be some distance at sea at the time of attack. At 0930, 12 Corsairs of VMF-211 set out to intercept the convoy, only to find that the four cargo ships had already anchored in San Isidro harbor (see Map 4.), and the three destroyers were departing from Leyte in the direction of Manila. Acting on the assumption that the cargo ships would have to remain in port until later in the day, the flight leader, Major Stanislaus Witomski, immediately ordered the flight to attack the destroyers. Two of the Japanese war vessels had turned in combat formation at sight of the Corsairs, leaving one destroyer separated slightly from the other two.68
Army P-47's had been scheduled to furnish air cover for the Marines, but failed to arrive.69 Nevertheless, the Corsairmen dived in through the protecting Japanese air cover (eight to ten ZEKES) and dropped their bombs,70 picking out the single destroyer as their target. No direct hits resulted, but near misses started an oil leak on the DD, leaving it "almost dead in the water."71 While the rest of the flight re-formed as protection from the Japanese fighter planes still attacking, one division of four planes remained to strafe the disabled enemy ship. With six separate strafing
runs, the Marine pilots started a fire that soon spread from stem to stern of the destroyer. The Corsairs left the ship in flames, leaking oil badly, and barely underway.72
The action was not without cost to the Marines. Fire from the enemy planes and ships downed three Corsairs. All three pilots bailed out, but one was lost and another died later of injuries.73
Other MAG-12 pilots took vengeance in the afternoon, when 21 Corsairs swept in on the rest of the seven ship convoy, just as it weighed anchor in San Isidro Harbor. Led by Major Joe H. McGlothlin, Jr., the planes launched their attack from the land side, gliding steeply in toward the sea and dropping their 1,000-pound bombs into the broadsides of the ships, from an altitude of less than 150 feet. Army P-40's also joined in the attack, and shared with Marine pilots of VMF-211 and 313 the credit for sinking one Japanese cargo ship. Two pilots of VMF-211 exploded another freighter; four VMF-218 pilots accounted for yet another, which broke in two and sank amid smoke, flames and steam. The fourth freighter went down under the bombs of four flyers from VMF-313.74
The flight leader, Major McGlothlin, and Lieutenant Clyde R. Jarrett (VMF-313), in a masthead attack on a destroyer, landed their 1,000-pound bombs aft of the rear stack; two VMF-211 pilots crippled another destroyer, and Lieutenant William E. Bradley skipped his bomb through the superstructure of the last destroyer.75 Final score for the afternoon of 7 December: four cargo ships and a high-speed troop transport sunk, and two destroyers seriously damaged; all without the loss of a single Marine plane.76
Convoy Strikes--11-12 December
On 11 December the Japanese made their final large-scale attempt to reinforce and supply their beleaguered Leyte garrison. For almost two months, at an ever increasing cost, their convoys had run the Allied air gantlet. Their 7 December attempt had been especially costly; now the MAG-12 flyers, having received word that a ten ship enemy convoy (consisting of six cargo ships and troop transports, escorted by four destroyers and destroyer escorts) was Leyte-bound, set out to make this attempt even costlier. In a morning attack, 27 Corsairs from the four MAG-12 squadrons intercepted the convoy off the northeast tip of Panay Island. Planes carried half-ton bombs, set with a fuze of four to five second delay.77
The morning's combat opened when eight planes from VMF-313 began a dive bombing attack on a troop transport. Two of their bombs hit amidships, and six more 1,000-pounders were near misses. One cargo ship was hit by VMF-115 planes, who scored one hit just aft of amidships, setting it on fire. VMF-115 planes also put three near misses alongside another Japanese cargo vessel. The eight planes of VMF-211 made no direct hits on the convoy. Their attack was interrupted by ten to fifteen ZEKE fighters. The ensuing aerial dogfight saw four Japanese planes shot down.78
Another squadron, VMF-218, sent four Corsairs into the same attack. The results of their bombs on the convoy were unobserved; the Marines were too busy fighting off the ZEKES that tried unsuccessfully to break up their attack. Seven ZEKES had come in from 10,000 feet in formation, then had broken off to attack individual planes. After the bombing run one ZEKE was shot in the wing and was seen smoking as it went into a cloud bank; black smoke drifted from the cloud but the ZEKE was never seen again. Another Corsairman got on the tail of a ZEKE and followed it down to 4,000 feet, firing on it all the way. It was observed to crash on the beach at Buncayao Point on Panay Island.79
After the planes of VMF-313 had pulled out of their bomb run, they sighted and engaged six to eight ZEKES and OSCARS. In a running fight, two of the Japanese fighters were shot down; two U.S. planes suffered superficial damage.80
All of these actions, were marked by intense anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese destroyers and cargo vessels. VMF-218 flyers received especially accurate fire from the ships' 20 and 40mm guns. Several Marine planes were holed, and one pilot was forced to make a water landing.81
As the Marines broke off their attack, the Japanese convoy was observed steaming toward Ormoc Bay. That afternoon 26 Corsairs and 16 P-40's (Army) were sent out from Tacloban to hit it again, this time five miles from Palompon. (See Map 4.) Captain Rolfe F. Blanchard (VMF-115), who led the strike, tells the story:
. . . preparations were made, in collaboration with Army Air Force operations to launch a strike. It was decided that the strike would be composed of about 30 P-40's carrying 500# instantaneous fused bombs and 28 F4U's82 carrying 1000# 4-5 second delay bombs. The Army flight was to strike first, by dive
COLONEL WILLIAM A. WILLIS, Commanding Officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12, first Marine group to arrive in the Philippines, 3 December 1944.
bombing, and we were to follow with a masthead attack. A joint briefing was held for all pilots, Army and Marine, and thoroughly briefed by [Captain] Roger Haberman [VMF-211, acting group operations officer]. A second briefing was held for Marine Pilots in which detailed tactics were laid out. The plan was to strike at mast head level in three waves spaced far enough apart to allow the preceding wave's bombs to detonate safely . . .
When the ships were sighted (there was a broken layer of cumulus between 6-7,000 feet) the Army started peeling off in groups of 2 and 3 planes and dove from 10,000 to about 5,000, released bombs and pulled back through the overcast. They accomplished nothing except to make interesting splashes in the water and wake up the Japs. AA immediately became very intense. As the last Army bombs were falling our Corsairs were in position and coming in fast and low. The Japs never saw us coming until we started to shoot (we received no fire until past the screening destroyers) . . .83
Primary targets of the afternoon attacks were the six transports and cargo ships in the center of the convoy (surrounded by four destroyers or destroyer escorts, one at each corner).84 VMF-313 pilots scored three hits on the largest troop transport (AP), damaged it
so badly that it sank almost immediately.85 Other pilots of the same squadron sank one medium cargo ship, one destroyer,86 and left two freighters aflame and beached on a little island five miles west of Palompon.87
Meanwhile, two pilots of VMF-211 sank a destroyer with their bombs, and four more shared another. Three more sank a troop transport,88 and other ships in the convoy were strafed and bombed, but damage could not be determined.89
VMF-115's eight planes on the mission made a masthead attack, with one plane scoring a direct hit on a large freighter; the bomb hit amidships on the waterline.90 Two hits were scored on another freighter, one aft and one forward of the superstructure, leaving the ship listing and burning. Four to five ZEKES jumped the VMF-211 planes, coming in fast from 13,000 feet, and forced the Corsairs to give full throttle and go into dives to evade the enemy.
Two planes of VMF-218 came in on the low-level attack on the convoy, scoring one direct hit on a destroyer escort, striking the ship at the water line. The pilots saw steam and smoke rising from the ship as they returned to base. Another VMF-218 plane made a direct hit on the large AP, the lead ship in the convoy, but final results were unobserved.91
Pilots of all squadrons reported the AA as terrifically intense 40mm, three-inch, and automatic weapons. Four planes of VMF-313 were hit, two of them being badly damaged.92 Second Lieutenant Stanley Picak of VMF-211 was seen spinning in from about 1000 feet, after having been hit by AA fire. He crashed into the sea and was killed, only a few minutes after he had downed a Japanese plane.93 First Lieutenant Harry J. O'Hara of VMF-211 was the other pilot killed in the 11 December action.
Two pilots of VMF-115 forced to bail out were more fortunate. Listed by their units for a time as "missing in action," they were rescued by Filipino guerillas and later returned to their base.94
The final box score for the Marine attacks on enemy shipping, morning and afternoon strikes of 11 December: four to seven enemy ships sunk95 plus at least two more damaged, out of a total of ten ships; eight enemy planes shot down, plus one "probable." Marine losses: four planes shot down, with two of the four pilots saved.
The Marines got one more crack at the remnants of the enemy convoy on the following day (12 December). Early in the afternoon, a report was received of two enemy destroyers and a tank landing ship under way about 15 miles off the northeast tip of Panay. At 1600, 35 Corsairs from three MAG-12 (VMF's-211, 115, and 313) set out from Tacloban to add the finishing touches to their previous day's work. Combining forces with eight AAF P-40's in masthead and dive bombing96 attacks, they sank one of the destroyers (YUZUKI), set fire to the tank landing ship and left it "dead in the water,"97 and also left the other destroyer burning and badly crippled.98 Twelve planes (eight from VMF-218, four from VMF-313) furnished air cover during the attack. Three of the Corsairs were holed by AA fire, but there were no Marine casualties.99
Air Cover Over U.S. Shipping--11-12 December
While most of the Corsairs chewed away at the ten ship Japanese convoy on 11 and 12 December, other MAG-12 planes were protecting U.S. ships in Leyte Gulf against just such aerial depredations by the Japanese. During the afternoon of 11 December, four Corsairs of VMF-313 were patrolling U.S. shipping through Surigao Straits.
They had been on the mission for almost four hours when, at 1715, 16 Japanese ZEKE fighters with 500-pound bombs under each wing came in from the west at an altitude of
MARINE CORSAIRS armed with 1,000 pound bombs fly over water en route to a strike in the Philippines.
2,500 feet. They were hidden from observation by a rain squall until they were only about 2,000 yards from the convoy, and had not been picked up by radar. They were first sighted by a destroyer, which immediately opened up with AA fire. As the ZEKES came in to attack the convoy, the Marine flyers, led by Major Theodore Olsen, dived in through the hail of friendly AA fire and engaged the ZEKES, shooting down five of them and driving the remainder away after two or three had dropped their bombs.100 One bomb hit an LST, leaving it dead in the water. Two ZEKES, one of them in flames, deliberately crash-dived into the fantail of the destroyer USS Reid, exploding its depth charges and sinking it.101
In this engagement, against four to one odds, every Marine in the patrol shot down at least one enemy plane. Second Lieutenant Clyde R. Jarrett got two. The patrol headed back for the base, pancaking at 1845. Only damage to the Corsairs was from our own AA.
During the same afternoon, VMF-218 had maintained five patrols of four planes each over Ormoc Bay. The first patrol had encountered a VAL (the easily recognizable Japanese dive bomber, with non-retractable landing gear), and prevented its escape as the Japanese pilot dived through the clouds in a frantic evasion attempt. A two-plane section bracketed the VAL from either side and each plane made a firing run on it. One plane followed it down to 600 feet, firing into its tail, and the VAL crashed into the water in Kawit Strait.
The next two patrols over waters west of Leyte were negative, but the fourth patrol ran into eight HAMPS (code name for one model of the ZEKE) west of San Isidro Bay. The Japanese sent one plane to the side and above the Corsairs, evidently to act as a decoy; the other planes came in and attacked the formation. The Corsairs kept all their planes together in defense; one HAMP was shot down, crashing into the water near the convoy, and
another was damaged in the right wing as pieces were seen to fall down from it.102
The last VMF-218 patrol encountered four ZEKES, one separate and the others together. One ZEKE made a pass at the division leader and his wingman, but a section leader and his wingman turned on the ZEKE and chased it into the water. Later, the division leader, Captain Oscar M. Bate, Jr., got on the tail of a formation of three ZEKES, and when one turned to the left and one to the right, Captain Bate flew straight through the formation firing into the lead plane. The ZEKE went fully out of control when flames broke out in its cockpit. It was last seen plunging earthward.103
The Night Hellcats of VMF(N)-541 on their assigned mission of dawn and dusk convoy cover did not get their share of the action until their early morning patrol of 12 December, when a three-plane division was airborne at 0615 to cover a convoy returning from the Ormoc Bay sector. They were almost immediately vectored northwest of the convoy; ship's radar had picked up many "bogeys" (unidentified aircraft, as spotted on the radar screen) orbiting to the northwest. Meanwhile, a four-plane "Bateye" division was airborne at 0650 to cover PT Boats in Carigara Bay. At 0705, as the bogeys proceeded on a south vector, land-based GCI called the four-plane division, then turned it over to ship control just as the Japanese planes began to turn in toward the convoy, Captain David W. Thomson, leading the three-plane division, sighted them and turned his division head on into the center group, causing the enemy pilots to jettison their bombs and turn away from the U.S. ships. The three-plane division shot down three enemy aircraft on this first pass and within the next few minutes destroyed two more and damaged a third.
About ten minutes after the initial contact, the four-plane division came in from the north to join the action, and in a whirlwind attack destroyed six enemy aircraft. At one time, a total of 33 Japanese aircraft were counted by ground observers. These aircraft, consisting of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters, were unable to inflict serious damage on the convoy. Many of the planes reached the U.S. ships, but the attack by the Night Hellcats had so broken up their flight formation and discipline that bombing was inaccurate.
During the battle it was observed that the Japanese pilots attempted evasion on several occasions by diving or climbing. The Hellcats easily outdived the ZEKES, and in most instances outclimbed them. The enemy planes almost consistently turned to the port side, since it seemed that both OSCARS and ZEKES could turn inside the Hellcats on a left turn.
The Japanese aircraft seemed to have little protective armor and were generally poorly constructed. Most planes burst into flames when hit; on three occasions, parts of the tail sections of OSCARS and ZEKES were shot away from the fuselage.
According to the Aircraft Action Report of the Marines on the mission, the enemy showed poor air discipline and evaded air combat whenever possible, although they outnumbered the Marines by eleven to one at first sighting.104 Nevertheless, total "Bateye" score for the morning of 12 December: 11 enemy aircraft destroyed, one damaged; no Marine casualties.
While attacking enemy shipping and protecting U.S. shipping, Marine casualties and aircraft losses were relatively light. But with the crowded conditions and the almost uniformly bad weather at Tacloban Field, there were inevitable operational accidents, some minor, some serious. What was probably the worst operational accident suffered by the MAG-12 Marines during the entire Leyte campaign took place before dawn on 13 December. At 0530 on a murky morning characterized by a low ceiling and extremely poor
visibility, six Corsairs of VMF-313 started out on a mission with two planes of the Night Hellcat squadron to escort a friendly convoy. During takeoff, the plane of First Lieutenant William E. Bradley (VMF-313), just after becoming air-borne, fell off on the left wing and crashed on the left side of the runway.105 The plane ran into a jeep, injuring the two occupants, then into an ambulance, some refueling trucks and a crash truck in front of the field operations building, killing four others. Fires from the plane and several gasoline refueling trucks broke out, preventing the rest of the planes in the flight from taking off.
But the bad news was not yet over. Major Theodore Olsen of VMF-313, leader of the ill-fated flight, had taken off safely before the accident took place, but a short time later was killed bailing out of his defective106 plane.
Air Cover for Mindoro
Allied landings on Mindoro Island had been scheduled to follow those on Leyte and Samar, with a target date of 5 December 1944. Located almost due south of Manila Bay, the large island of Mindoro would furnish the Allies with important air bases for land-based planes. (See Map 1.) From these fields missions frequently could be flown against targets on the island of Luzon when the planes at the more distant Leyte bases were weathered in; even more important, land-based planes would be more readily available to cover the invasion shipping for the landings at Lingayen on 9 January, as the convoys passed through the waterways of the central Visayas.
But the 5 December target date for Mindoro could not be met. On 1 December GHQ had directed that Sixth Army postpone initiation of the operation for ten days. This delay was necessitated by the insufficiency of air support at that time, which in turn had been caused by the slow development of airfields on Leyte.
This postponement of the Mindoro operation had some very direct effects on progress of the bogged-down Leyte campaign. First, it released engineer troops originally scheduled to move to Mindoro, making them available for work on a new airfield on Leyte--completion of this field, about seven miles south of Tacloban at Tanauan, would greatly increase the number of land-based planes that could operate from Leyte. (All MAG-12 planes would move from Tacloban to Tanauan between 21-27 December). Second, the landing of Allied troops at Ormoc, last stronghold of the Japanese on Leyte, was made possible on 7 December through the employment of the amphibious shipping and naval support made available from the postponed Mindoro operation.107
The delay also gave the Marines a chance to get in on two important landings. Marine planes had arrived on Leyte (3 December), in time to give air support for the Ormoc landing (7 December) as well as the Mindoro Island landings when they eventually took place on 15 December.
On that date assault troops108 went ashore at Mindoro, landing at San Jose Bay shortly after daybreak. No opposition was encountered and no casualties reported during the day. The ground was hard and dry, excellent for quick airdrome construction. Engineers were at work on two airstrips before dark.109
Although there was no opposition on the ground, there was plenty in the air. Air cover
TANAUAN AIRSTRIP, seven miles south of crowded Tacloban, furnished desperately-needed space for U.S. planes. All Marine squadrons on Leyte moved there, 23-27 December 1944.
was being flown by various units of the Fifth Air Force, including Marine planes of MAG-12 which had been assigned to the mission. Over the beachhead four planes of VMF-211 encountered five ZEKES, all bent on suicide attacks on U.S. shipping in the harbor just off the beach. The Marine planes dived in fast and shot down all five. No damage was done to the U.S. ships, and the Marines emerged unscathed.110
Seventeen Corsairs of VMF-313 were also assigned to cover the Mindoro landings, but they were called back early by the Army fighter director because of very bad weather conditions between Tacloban field and the beachhead.
The Night Hellcats of VMF(N)-541, however, arrived over the beachhead early enough to miss the bad weather. Four F6F's had set out at 0530 from Tacloban to act as fighter cover for the convoy, having drawn this early morning mission because of their ability to fly during the hours of darkness. They arrived over the target area, approximately 260 miles from Tacloban, at 0700. At 0805, the shipborne air controller informed them of two "bogeys" heading toward the convoy. As the
information was incomplete, and no altitude reading could be given, the "Bateyes" were vectored south for an interception. The four-plane division was flying at 8,000 feet when one of the pilots sighted two VALS 6,000 feet below. He dived on one of them, firing accurately into its fuselage until the VAL turned to port, flipped over, and crashed into the water. The remaining Japanese dive bomber turned into the sun, broke visual contact, and escaped.111
Twenty minutes later, the shipborne air controller radioed information of more "bogeys," coming in low over the water, about 30 miles away. At 0840, the Night Hellcats made visual contact with two VALS and four JILLS (single engine torpedo bomber carrying a three-man crew). Captain Harlin Morrison, Jr., who was division leader, and Second Lieutenant Carl D. Williams made runs on three JILLS that broke away from the formation. Morrison shot away part of the wings of one JILL on this run, then turned and came in again from below. The JILL spiraled from 3,000 feet into the sea. Williams scored hits from the tail to the nose of another JILL, and apparently hit the pilot, as the Jap pulled up abruptly, then nosed down and crashed into the water. Second Lieutenant Robert F. Marr sighted two ZEKES racing toward the JILLS; the lead plane peeled off to the left and the other slow-rolled to the right. Marr made a run on the second plane, drawing flames from the port wing. He continued firing until the ZEKE exploded.
The shipborne controller informed the night fighters that radar showed no more "bogeys" and that no Japanese planes had broken through to the convoy. The Night Hellcats, by now short on fuel, returned to base. Total score for the four Marine pilots: 1 VAL, 2 JILLS, 1 ZEKE,112 and a U.S. convoy unscathed during the Hellcat pilots' stewardship.
For three days after the Mindoro landings Marine flyers continued to fly cover missions over the beachhead. On such a mission a VMF-115 pilot113 shot down a lone OSCAR on 18 December, but opposition in the air was becoming increasingly scarce. As a result of this lack of aerial opposition, the beachhead and convoy cover missions (that had been of such prime importance a few days earlier at the time of the 77th Division's landings near Ormoc, and during the first days of the amphibious assault at Mindoro), now gradually became smaller parts of the missions assigned to the Marine pilots. Japanese airpower in the Leyte area was becoming virtually non-existent; Corsairmen began to find little aerial opposition except in the north, over the island of Luzon.
There, on the night of 22 December, one night fighter found Japanese planes to spare. Technical Sergeant John W. Andre114 was flying south along the west coast of Luzon after a long and fruitless single-handed pursuit of three enemy planes, when he spotted four burning smudge pots, marking the enemy airstrip at Bulan. To the south he sighted an aircraft coming into the field with wing lights burning. The Night Hellcat circled the field, turning in behind the Japanese. As he accomplished this, he saw another Japanese aircraft turn on its wing lights. All three aircraft circled until a white signal light was flashed from the field. Then, as the two JACKS (single engine, single-seated fighter plane) went into their landing approaches, Andre dived in behind one of them, fired, and it burst into flames. He immediately gunned up behind the second plane and fired again. The enemy plane crashed on the field and burst into flame as the gas tanks exploded. Sergeant Andre then made four strafing runs over the north-south runway, leaving three aircraft (unidentified types) in flames, and two other large
fires, believed to have been gas trucks, still burning as he headed for home.115
Ground Support Missions, Leyte
Direct aerial support of Leyte ground troop action by land-based planes was negligible during the first month of a campaign characterized by practically a complete lack of coordinated close air support throughout.116 According to a Sixth Army report:
. . . The situation in fact was such that the first close support air strike by land-based aircraft during the Leyte Operation did not occur until 26 November, when four P-40's strafed enemy positions on Hill 918 to assist the advance of the 7th Division. Seven P-40's in a close support strike mission bombed Hill 918 again on 2 December, one air strike on an organized hostile position at Matagob on 23 December, and two air strikes on Palompon on 23 December, completed the list of close support air strikes carried out by land-based aircraft. The combined effort of the air and ground forces to gain objectives on the immediate front of the ground forces would undoubtedly have shortened the operation and reduced ground force losses.117
Such combined effort with ground forces was entirely within the capability of Marine Aircraft Group 12 which was in position to support the Sixth Army. However, the Marine group did not at any time receive an assignment to fly the sort of close support missions against Leyte targets that it and other Marine groups would fly later in the Philippine campaign; there had been no ostensible effort made between ground and air forces to make use of existing air-ground liaison facilities to direct and control air strikes close to ground troops.118
Marine pilots did fly a number of strikes in support of ground troops, but they were of the sort better described as direct support rather than close support. There was never any ground control once the flight became airborne. Instead, these missions were all pre-briefed at the air base from target assignments issued the day before the strike.
The first of these missions took place on 10 December when 12 Corsairs each loaded with one 1000-lb. bomb struck an enemy bivouac area at San Isidro on the west coast of Leyte. (The closest friendly troops were at least 10 miles away.) All 12 bombs hit in the bivouac area, started several fires, and demolished part of a pier with one direct hit.119 The area was then thoroughly strafed, but results could not be assessed.120
The second Marine strike against a land target on Leyte also took place on 10 December, when four Corsairs were sent to bomb the enemy bivouac area at Ormoc. The leader of the flight was unable to locate the target, so the Corsairmen dropped their bombs on the town of Ormoc itself. All bombs hit in the target area, but results were unobserved.
The next strike in support of ground troops took place on 17 December, when 32 Corsairs were sent on a strike over Cananga Town, at the junction of the Palompon and Ormoc roads. Each plane carried one 1,000-pound bomb, instantaneously fuzed. Planes of VMF-218 got all their bombs in the area and a large amount of smoke was seen rising from it after the run, but exact damage was not assessed. The 12 planes of VMF-211 scored a direct hit on a warehouse in the area which later exploded, and also got several good hits on the personnel quartered there. The planes of VMF-115 got all their bombs in the area and
completely destroyed one large building. All planes then strafed, but no fires were started.
On 19 December, the Corsairs struck again at ground targets. A flight of 12 planes hit the Japanese supply base in the town of Palompon, on the northwest coast of Leyte. The four planes of VMF-115 dropped their 1,000-pounders in the town, but saw no fires or other damage as a result. Dust and smoke prevented observation of results of VMF-211's four bombs, but they all landed in the town proper. The four bombs of VMF-313 started a fire in the western portion of the town, but once again, no other results were observed.
It was five days later before another such mission was assigned. On 24 December, a flight of seven Corsairs hit Daha, on the west coast of northern Leyte, in support of ground operations. Eleven quarter-tonners were dropped in the town, which was left in flames after the bombing and strafing. They met no enemy opposition.
Simultaneous with this action four Corsairs hit the Jap supply base at Palompon (see Map 4) in a dive bombing attack. The planes also strafed in the attack; again no opposition was encountered. Four other Corsairs hit Tabacqa Island off Palompon in a bombing and strafing attack, to wind up ground support operations for the day.
Christmas Day, 12 Corsairs flew a strafing mission over the town of Kampokpok, making five passes and setting several houses and other buildings afire. Other Christmas Day missions were more or less routine: Marines escorted Army C-47's and Dumbo's to various points, and seven Corsairs bombed and strafed the town of Butuan, Mindanao, with excellent results.
Sixth Army Relieved
By 26 December the Leyte campaign had come to a climax. On Christmas Day a battalion of the 77th Division had landed at Palompon,121 the last remaining Japanese port on Leyte's west coast. The capture of this town by U.S. forces successfully sealed off remaining enemy troops on the island. Their last chance for either reinforcement or retreat was now cut off.
There was still much fighting to be done. The mopping-up lasted for the better part of five months, and by 8 May 1945, had resulted in the killing or capturing of an additional 25,000 Japanese.
But the job of Sixth Army on Leyte was done. On 26 December control of further Leyte operations was relinquished to the Eighth Army (Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, USA); the Sixth now began preparations for a forthcoming assault on Luzon, target date--9 January 1945.122
Closing Marine Air Operations, 1944
Marine Corsairmen, in a flurry of activity at year's end, on missions ranging from convoy cover to strafing and bombing, found more lucrative targets, both in the air and on the ground, than they had seen since the Ormoc (7 December) and Mindoro (15 December) landings.
During one of the last actions of the year, VMF-218, while carrying out a mission of convoy cover near Mindoro Island, added three more enemy planes to the totals for the month. On 29 December, a four-plane flight of Corsairs encountered a Japanese OSCAR flying toward Negros Island. The flight leader ordered two of the Corsairs to bracket the OSCAR, one on either side, while he and his wingman gained altitude and approached it from the rear. Lieutenant Otis E. Millenbine, on one side, slid in and fired two short-bursts at the OSCAR. At the first burst, parts of the right wing and fuselage fell off and the plane exploded in mid-air.
That afternoon, on a similar mission, another flight of four planes from VMF-218 was vectored by the convoy below toward a formation of three approaching JUDYS (Japanese single-engine dive bombers). Seeking to escape the attacking Marines, two of the enemy planes dived to within 50 feet of the water; Lieutenant Waldemar D. Maya, diving close behind, fired two short bursts that sent one
of them into the ocean. He then turned sharply to the second, fired again, and killed its gunner with a long 90° deflection shot. Simultaneously, Lieutenant Miles Smith fired a burst into the plane, causing it to explode as it fell into the water.
MAG-12 wound up the year 1944 with two days of strafing between Laguna de Bay and Legaspi, a 200-mile sector extending southeast from the outskirts of Manila. Planes from all four squadrons participated in these sweeps, lashing out at ammunition and supply trains, locomotives, storage tanks, oil refineries, factories, supply dumps, power plants, and all targets of opportunity that presented themselves. One OSCAR was destroyed on the ground, one ZEKE in the air, at least 20 locomotives were destroyed, and a Japanese motor torpedo boat, found camouflaged, was strafed and burned.123
Another mission scheduled for 30 December called for a joint Marine-Army strike on Clark Field near Manila, with 48 Marine Corsairs from MAG-12 flying cover for Army B-24's. The Marine planes reached the rendezvous point and circled about for more than an hour, but the bombers failed to appear. After unsuccessful attempts to contact the bombers by radio, the Corsairs returned to their base.
In less than a full month of operations--from 3 to 31 December--MAG-12 had flown a total of 264 missions of all types, ranging from convoy and beachhead covers to fighter-bomber strikes against enemy shipping in Visayan waters and ground installations on southern Luzon, as well as ground support missions on Leyte. MAG-12's Corsairs had destroyed more than forty enemy planes in the air and on the ground. They had sunk seven destroyers, nine cargo ships, three troop transports, and three luggers; they had damaged at least 11 more ships of various types. The Marine fighters had wreaked daily devastation on Japanese troops, material and communications. For this contribution to the Philippine victory, the Marines had paid with the lives of nine flyers and 34 planes.
For its achievements in the first half of the month, the Group received the following citation from the Army it was supporting:
The Marine Fighter Squadrons 115, 211, 218 and 313 are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action in the Philippine Islands from 2 to 15 December 1944. During this period, at a critical stage in the operations on Leyte, first battleground in the campaign to liberate the Philippines, these Marine fighter squadrons not only carried out their primary mission of providing aerial cover, but also gave close support to our ground troops and intercepted large and heavily escorted enemy convoys . . . The gallantry and fighting spirit of the Marine pilots and the skill and tireless fidelity to duty of the ground personnel, who so well carried out their arduous task of maintaining and servicing the aircraft under the worst possible conditions, constituted a major contribution to the success of the Leyte operations and initial American victory in the Philippines. The achievements of the Marine Fighter Squadrons 115, 211, 218 and 313 are in keeping with the highest traditions of the armed forces of the United States.124
Marine Night Fighters Return to Palau
The night fighter squadron, VMF(N)-541, originally scheduled to stay only two weeks at Leyte, had stayed almost five. On 6 January 1945 MacArthur released the squadron and it returned to its home base at Peleliu. During these five weeks125 of operation the "Bateyes," operating daily with 10 to 15 planes, had flown 924 combat hours, or an average of more than two hours per plane per night. They had destroyed 23 enemy aircraft, at least five more "probables," sunk one enemy ship, and damaged another. Most important achievement: during the period when the squadron furnished air cover for ship convoys, not one Japanese plane penetrated that cover to strike a convoy.126
For their work the Bateye Squadron received the following Letter of Commendation from the Fifth Air Force and V Fighter Command:
The outstanding performance of your organization during its operations at Tacloban, Leyte Province, Philippine Islands, from 3 December 1944 to 6 January 1945, deserves the highest praise and commendation. Operating under difficult conditions on missions of all types, the coordination and skill as exemplified by your combat pilots was exceptional. The maintenance of the combat status of aircraft by your ground crews has also been carried out with exceptional proficiency.
At a critical stage of the Leyte campaign, your organization moved in and made an important contribution to the control of the air that is now assured our forces, and in preventing reinforcements of enemy positions. In the attacks you continually carried out, your organization destroyed approximately twenty-three (23) enemy planes in the air and participated in more than two hundred (200) sorties under the most hazardous conditions and weather elements.
It is desired to pass on to you the highest commendation, as well as the personal appreciation of the members of this command for your cooperative spirit and outstanding performance during this period.
General MacArthur also wanted to pass on his evaluation of VMF(N)-541's performance. Shortly before its departure he sent the following message to Admiral Nimitz:
With your concurrence plan to relieve 541 Marine Night Fighter Squadron from Operations at Leyte and recall the 421 Night Fighter Squadron from Palau on or about 9 January. If this plan has your concurrence, request you advise this headquarters with information to Commander, Allied Air Force and Commander Fifth Air Force. Your night fighter squadron has performed magnificently repeat magnificently during its temporary duty in this area and your assistance in furnishing the squadron is appreciated.127
Preparations For Landings on Luzon
After the Leyte campaign was declared closed except for "mopping up" on 26 December, the next big step in the liberation of the Philippines was a landing on the island of Luzon. The landing, which was to take place at Lingayen Gulf, 150 miles north of Manila, wes set for 9 January. The target date (called "S-Day") had been originally set for 20 December but had been delayed by several factors: (1) General Kenney considered that lack of adequate air base facilities on Leyte had prevented sustained neutralization of enemy airbases on Luzon by the proposed December target date. (2) Postponement of the Mindoro operation had tied up shipping necessary for the Lingayen landing. (3) Lack of airstrip facilities on Mindoro would hamper Luzon strategies.128
But these difficulties had been overcome by 3 January 1945, when the Sixth Army, covered by Allied Naval and Air Forces, began its seaborne move toward Lingayen Gulf, selected landing spot for the Luzon invasion.
Sixth Army's landing was supported by Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet; the Allied Naval Forces (SWPA), commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, USN; the Allied Air Forces (principally Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces) under Lieutenant General George C. Kenney, USA; and the 20th and 14th Air Forces, Brigadier General Curtis B. LeMay, USA, and Major General Clair Chennault, USA, respectively.129
Marine aviation's only direct contribution to the preparations for landing on Luzon consisted of fighter sweeps as far north as Manila (and sometimes as far as Clark Field)130 starting two weeks before the landing and continuing even after it had taken place. Main purpose of these fighter raids was to deny mobility to the enemy by striking highway and railroad bridges, and disrupting transportation in any way possible. Such little air-to-air combat as the Marines met with in January took place on these sweeps.
Number one targets for the Marine Corsairs of MAG-12 were two vital Luzon railway bridges--one at Calumpit (north of Manila) and the other at Calauag (Tayabas
Province). Marine and AAF pilots struck these and other vital river crossings on mission after mission until they were completely destroyed. (See Map 7, Chapter III)
En route to Calumpit bridge on 6 January, 12 Corsairs of VMF-211 spotted one TOPSY (twin-engine transport), one BETTY (medium bomber), and one unidentified single-engine plane, all three streaking eastward very low over the waters of Manila Bay. The Marines could not give chase because of their assigned primary bombing mission.
They continued to Calumpit, and one by one the fighter-bombers peeled off and dived on the target, wrecking the rail approaches to the bridge. As First Lieutenant Frederic L. Rockefeller pulled up after releasing his bomb load, he sighted a twin-engine NICK (fighter) proceeding due west along the north shore of Manila Bay. His primary mission now completed, Lieutenant Rockefeller took advantage of the speed gained in his diving run and gave chase. He closed rapidly on the Japanese plane, fired two bursts from his .50 calibre machine guns and knocked the NICK into the water. Rockefeller rejoined his flight as it concluded the day's onslaught by blowing up two ammunition trucks and setting fire to several others on strafing runs along the highway near Manila.
Foul weather frequently diverted these proposed attacks on Luzon targets; the rainy season was still going on, and the flight from Leyte to the Manila area or beyond was at least 370 miles each way--such a distance did not allow much deviation from a direct course, nor did it allow much time to be spent over the target. When inclement weather prevented the Corsairs from reaching the originally assigned targets, they made forays against objectives of opportunity along rail lines, striking locomotives and boxcars, stations, warehouses, staff vehicles and trucks.
Luzon Attack Force Convoy: The Kamikaze Attacks
While these softening blows were being made against Luzon targets by Marine and also by Fifth and Thirteenth Air Force squadrons, the main invasion body of the Luzon Attack force moved out from Leyte Gulf.131 The challenge of this huge convoy movement was not ignored; the Japanese air command began to expend its depleted air strength with the most terrible and efficient tactic at its command--kamikaze attacks.
On 4 January, a suicide plane crashed into the escort carrier Ommaney Bay. With planes on deck fully gassed and armed the ship was shortly an inferno of uncontrollable fires and explosions. Ommaney Bay had to be abandoned and sunk. Another escort carrier, the Lunga Point, narrowly escaped a similar fate the same day. On the next day (5 January), the intensity of the attacks increased and seven suicide planes crashed into Allied ships. The heavy cruiser Louisville and a destroyer in the van group, and the Australian heavy cruiser Australia, two escort carriers, Manila Bay and Savo Island, and a destroyer and destroyer escort in the rear group, were hit; some were badly damaged, but all were able to proceed with their groups.132 On the 6th, kamikazes wrought even more serious damages upon the Seventh Fleet, striking a total of 16 vessels, including the USS New Mexico.133
Although not assigned to cover the main Lingayen-bound convoy on 6 January, Marine flyers were ordered to cover another smaller U.S. convoy headed for Lingayen by a different route. Planes of VMF-218 provided its fighter cover as it passed through the Visayan Sea. Only one apparent kamikaze attempted to
reach this convoy; it was immediately shot down by two Marine pilots of the CAP.134 There was no further encroachment upon the safety of the smaller convoy that day.
Carrier-Based Marine Squadrons
Meanwhile, simultaneously with Seventh Fleet's departure from Leyte Gulf, fast carriers of the Third Fleet directed air blows at Formosa and the Ryukyus in an attempt to stem Japanese efforts at reinforcing Luzon air garrisons. In two days of strikes (3-4 January) on these distant targets, more than 100 enemy aircraft were destroyed, most of them on the ground.135
Participants in this action included Marine Fighting Squadrons 124 and 213 from the carrier Essex. On 3 January a seven-plane flight of VMF-124's Corsairs accounted for 10 planes destroyed on the ground and one in the air, in south central Formosa. This marked the first instance of fast carrier-based combat by Marine fighting squadrons.136
In the midst of Halsey's Formosa sweep, the success of kamikaze attacks to the south began to make one fact increasingly apparent--the land-based air forces on Leyte and Samar could not keep all the Luzon airfields neutralized. There were still more than 70 operational airfields in the Philippines (mostly on Luzon) from which attacks on U.S. forces could be made. The Seventh Fleet's escort carriers had had their hands full with assigned missions at the target area. Continued losses or heavy damages to the ships would seriously impair success of the whole operation. As a result, therefore, General MacArthur immediately requested Third Fleet's fast carriers to swing south from the Formosa area and give support with air sweeps over the central Luzon airfields. On 6-7 January, Navy and Marine airmen from Halsey's carriers made repeated strikes on the objective island, destroying over 100 enemy planes.137
Following the combined efforts of fast carrier sorties, land-based fighters and escort carriers, the percentage of Japanese air strength was considerably reduced. The air forces of Japan in the Philippines were in actuality defunct; the Japanese naval air commander left for Singapore on 8 January, and the commanding general of the Fourth Air Army retired to the hills of Luzon.138
Assignment of Marine Aircraft Group 14 to the Philippines Campaign
Less than a week before the carrier-based Marines struck Luzon (6-7 January), the first planes of another Marine air group from the Solomons had arrived in the Philippines, setting down at a newly built airstrip on Samar Island.
About a month before, on 8 December 1944 (five days after Marine Aircraft Group 12 and VMF(N)-541 had landed at Leyte) Marine Aircraft Group 14 (Colonel Zebulon C. Hopkins) had been alerted by Allied Air Forces for movement to the Philippines. This Solomons-based group139 (like MAG-12 a part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing) immediately cancelled all combat missions in preparation
CARRIER-BASED MARINE CORSAIR comes in for a landing on Third Fleet's USS ESSEX (CV-9). Two Marine squadrons, VMF-124 and 213, struck Philippine targets from this carrier.
for the move. Developments rendered the cancellation more than a little premature.140
Actual orders for MAG-14's departure for the Philippines awaited the construction of a strip, to be located near the town of Guiuan in southeastern Samar.
The rainy season was still at its height. The combination of mud and rain that had proved such a formidable obstacle at Tacloban and Tanauan airstrips was no less a problem at Guiuan, fifty miles eastward across Leyte Gulf. The Seabees of the 93d and 61st Naval Construction Battalions worked long and hard, but not until late in the last week of December was space available at Samar for one squadron of MAG-14.
The squadron chosen by 1st MAW was Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 251.141 This unit, although officially designated as an observation squadron, was equipped (like the seven VMF squadrons of MAG-12 and MAG-14) with Chance-Vought Corsair (F4U)
fighter planes and was fully capable of operating in a fighter squadron capacity.142
Leaving Bougainville Island on 30 December 1944, VMO-251's flight echelon flew via Emirau, Owi, and Peleliu, arrived at Samar on 2 January with 22 F4U-1D's and two R4D's, escorted by three PBJ's.
The freshly packed coral surface of Guiuan Airstrip was still under construction. In anticipation of the planes' arrival, Seabees had moved their heavy equipment off to the side of the 4,000-foot single runway.143 Extending east and west almost from beach to beach, the strip had been cut through a grove of coconut trees on the narrow peninsula at Samar's southeastern tip. Trees and undergrowth still reached almost to the edges of the runway. There was no room for aircraft dispersal, and not until later was there even so much as a taxiway; the planes had to be parked along the muddy shoulders of the strip.144
The two R4D's accompanying the fighters had transported extra pilots, aircraft mechanics with their hand-carried tool kits, and personal equipment of the Marines making the trip, but only a minimum amount of squadron organic equipment, including tents. This equipment shortage was alleviated by the Seabees, who shared their limited facilities with the newly arrived Marines. All hands were fed in their mess, and all but a few found first night shelter by sharing tents with the construction men.
MAG-14, like the other Marine aviation units in the Philippines, was to be under operational command of Fifth Air Force. Notifying the higher command of the squadron's arrival fell to Major William C. Humberd, skipper of VMO-251. With no communications facilities between the new field and the senior unit at Tacloban, notification was delayed until investigation located an Army Signal Corps station about four miles away; before midnight a message had been sent and acknowledgment received that the Marines were on Samar.145 In the interim, Major Humberd had instigated a four-plane combat air patrol over the field during remaining daylight.
MAG-14 Begins Combat Operations
The following day (3 January), when Humberd's squadron was ordered by Fifth Air Force to begin operations, it had 20 out of 22 aircraft in commission. By noon, in spite of rain and mud, the ground crew had repaired one of the two disabled planes, on a hastily constructed "line."
These planes flew daily combat air patrols over Samar and Leyte Gulf without contacting any enemy. Starting on 5 January, another assignment began--the escorting of Army C-47's to nearby islands in the central Visayas. Other responsibilities were convoy covers, bombing and strafing sweeps, and attacks on enemy installations in southern Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Occasionally they spotted an enemy plane on the ground, but air opposition was nil.
As Seabee construction work progressed, space became available for the flight echelons of MAG-14's other squadrons. On 11 January, the first flight echelons of VMF-212, VMF222,
GUIUAN AIRSTRIP, Samar, was the home of MAG-14 throughout its campaigning in the Philippines.
and VMF-223 arrived at Guiuan, and within a day or two the rest of their fighter planes had arrived on the strip.146
Airlift by the transport squadrons of MAG-25 and PBJ's of MAG-61 had accomplished the transfer of the minimum requirements of men and matériel for the group. Headquarters and Service Squadrons (and some personnel and heavy equipment of the fighter squadrons), however, were to accomplish their move to the Philippines much more slowly by surface craft.147
Except for absence of enemy air opposition, operational difficulties encountered at Guiuan were strongly reminiscent of those at Guadalcanal. The strip was still under construction, messing and billeting facilities were scanty, and poor coordination in the choice of campsite areas necessitated moves costing hundreds of working hours. A shortage of material and equipment, including aircraft replacement parts, transportation, building materials, and maps, added to the difficulty. Communications offered an especially difficult problem.148
As a result of inadequate dispersal space for aircraft, MAG-14 was encamped on both sides of Guiuan strip, with their supply tents set up only a few feet behind the planes. These
COLONEL ZEBULON C. HOPKINS, Commanding Officer of Samar-based Marine Aircraft Group 14.
crowded conditions were largely responsible for the exorbitant number of operational accidents during the month of January.149
The worst of these accidents occurred on 24 January at the Samar field. During a downwind takeoff run by Second Lieutenant Karl Oerth, VMF-222, his Corsair hit bad bumps in the runway, a tire blew out, and the plane left the runway out of control. It struck a large coral rock, caromed cartwheel fashion through tents housing intelligence material, and parachute and oxygen departments, before finally coming to a stop.
Officers and men in the vicinity rushed to the scene of the crash and attempted to extricate the pilot from the smouldering wreckage. In the midst of rescue operations, the plane suddenly exploded and started to burn fiercely. The toll of the accident mounted to 13 dead, 54 injured by burns. Of the men burned 13 required evacuation to hospital ships.150
In this as in all such operational crashes on or near airfields, Marine ground personnel demonstrated their loyalty to pilots and their courage in the face of danger. Aware that their lives might be snuffed out by a sudden violent explosion, ground crewmen rushed to the scenes of plane crashes with one dominating idea: pull out the pilot. Among the 17 Marine squadrons that participated in the Philippines reconquest, many pilots owed their lives to such efforts.
The morale of ground crew personnel of MAG-14 manifested itself not only in the way that they met emergency situations, but in the manner they accomplished their daily duties.
Each aircraft within a squadron was flown six to nine hours per day in order to fulfill the heavy schedule of combat missions assigned by Fifth Air Force. To keep a plane in the air for such long periods each day, day in and day out, meant tight scheduling of work loads for plane maintenance. When a periodic plane check became due on an F4U, crews teamed up to expedite this work as soon as the pilot cut the engine after the day's last mission. All-night work was frequently necessary to accomplish the job.151
The combination of a heavy bomb load and an extremely ragged taxiing surface played havoc with aircraft tires. Sometimes as many as three or four main or tail wheel tires ruptured while a 16-plane flight was moving into take-off position. The ground crews did not let this situation disrupt or delay the flights. Instead, they organized teams, trained them in rapid wheel changing, and stationed them along the taxi route in advance of each flight. If tire failure occurred, the plane or planes affected were pulled off to the side, and a quick change was performed by practiced ground crewmen. The repaired aircraft would soon be back on the end of the line, ready to take off at the end of the flight without a break.152
Methods of improving plane availability and bettering ground crew performance were frequently devised. A device worked out by Master Technical Sergeant Robert E. Conroy of VMF-251 was typical of the way some of the various maintenance problems were solved: the coral dust of the Guiuan strip threatened to cause serious and continuing hydraulic troubles in the landing gear mechanism of the Corsairs; the grit that settled onto the wheel struts would accumulate within the hydraulic seals when the strut retracted upward upon the impact of landing. Conroy, working with the facilities available on the field, manufactured some metal scrapers, which he rigged snugly around the struts at their housing base. This device prevented the accumulation of coral dust and by decreasing subsequent hydraulic repair, materially increased plane availability.153
The maintenance record of all the MAG-14 squadrons was excellent; that of VMF-251 was particularly outstanding. In an official recommendation for commendation for this organization, the commanding officer of MAG-14 wrote:
During the month of January 1945 . . . this squadron [23 planes] flew 626 combat flights, totaling 2,403 hours. Since . . . 1 October 1944, until 15 February 1945, this . . . ground crew has maintained in commission 98% of the squadron's assigned aircraft. Not once, from June 1944, has it failed to execute an assigned mission because of failure to have the necessary planes in commission . . . Since 23 July, 1944 . . . this squadron has not lost a plane or pilot because of failure or malfunctioning of its aircraft.154
By mid-January all four squadrons of MAG-14 were in full-scale operation and had joined the MAG-12 fighters in carrying out the wide variety of missions designated by Fifth Air Force. Actual strikes were not carried out by the two groups on a joint basis, but their assigned tasks were of a similar and frequently overlapping nature.
One of their primary tasks was an almost daily, routine plane hunt and airstrip bombardment. For, characteristic of the enemy's last ditch nature, he had carefully hid, and on occasion used, the few aircraft he had remaining. Ever since the close of 1944, Japanese aerial opposition to Allied thrusts in the central Philippines had come to a virtual standstill. With the realization that neither plane nor pilot replacements would be forthcoming, Japanese commanders became daily more reluctant to commit their remnant air forces for the defense of areas already lost. The majority of those enemy planes that had survived the furious actions of November and December therefore moved to northern bases when they considered the U.S. push to Luzon was inevitable.
The resultant situation permitted Marine airmen to execute their missions throughout the central Philippines155 with a modicum of aerial interference. These missions were usually unspectacular, and results were difficult
CAMOUFLAGED ENEMY FLOATPLANE in a revetment near Ormoc Beach, Leyte. As the Philippines campaign progressed, Japanese planes became increasingly hard to find.
to evaluate. An increasing number of missions involved flights far south into Mindanao on searches for enemy planes and serviceable airstrips. These missions involved flights of six and seven hours duration, wearing for fighter craft and pilots. Such isolated enemy planes and strips as the Corsairmen found would have offered little tactical threat, but for the inordinate capability of even a single suicide plane's crashing into a U.S. convoy, troop concentration or other installation.
Marine pilots on such searches made recorded strikes on 41 different airstrips on Mindanao, Negros, Panay and Cebu during January and February. (See Map 1.) Many of the enemy strips were bombed and strafed time and again as the Japanese struggled desperately to keep them serviceable for the occasional Japanese planes flying in from Borneo, 300 miles southwest of Mindanao. As a result of the bombing and strafing of these airfields, some definitely serviceable enemy planes were detected and destroyed. Others, previously damaged, were worked over again to remove any doubt of their utility.
As Japanese air power in the Central Visayas faded away, the barges with which the Japanese sought to supply their troops in the Visayan Islands became a lucrative target for the Marine flyers. Coordinating with U.S. surface craft two MAG-14 pilots, Majors Robert F. Flaherty and Donald S. Bush, staged the most successful barge shoot of the month on 22 January. Flying at an altitude of 500 to 1,000 feet, the pilots, upon sighting a barge, immediately radioed a friendly Patrol
Torpedo Boat, giving the enemy's bearing and distance from a pre-determined reference point. While awaiting the arrival of the PT boat, the Corsairs orbited over the Japanese vessel just out of range of its guns. When the Torpedo Boat was in position, the attack began with the Corsairs and PT craft coming in on the target simultaneously, from three directions. Six barges were sunk and two damaged by this tactic that day.156
This type of attack proved highly successful throughout the remainder of the Philippines campaign, and finally forced the Japanese to give up the use of barges entirely.157
Because of their late arrival on the scene, the pilots of MAG-14 flew many missions without contact. More and more often, reports of daily activities would end with "No enemy contacts." One brief summary of operations in a MAG-14 squadron report included this statement:
Our operations are characterized by many long missions with the greatest difficulty being the finding of suitable targets. The few good remaining targets are often protected by their locations, being situated in or about civilian communities, and consequently are rendered safe from attack.158
Nevertheless, the Corsairs of Leyte and Samar continued to extend fighter-bomber strikes into Luzon, against the enemy's lines of communication, his harbors and escape routes. They kept his airfields useless by repeated poundings, and diminished his rolling stock and motor transport steadily; they flew missions into the central and southern Philippines almost daily. The Leyte and Samar campaigns would soon be over, but the Corsairs of MAG-12 and MAG-14 would take part in the VICTOR Operations of the Central Visayas soon to be commenced by Eighth Army. (See Chapter IV.)
1. Extremely rough seas hampered minesweeping activities and delayed the Homonhon landing.
2. The 21st Infantry Regiment (Reinforced) had gone ashore at Panaon Strait a half hour earlier, at 0930.
3. Employment, 41.
4. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 3.
5. Ibid., 3.
6. Ibid., 3.
7. USSBS, Campaigns, 281.
8. But at terrible cost to itself: Halsey's Third Fleet destroyed virtually all remaining Japanese naval air power in the resultant action.
9. USSBS, Summary Report, Pacific War, 8. Hereinafter cited as USSBS, Summary Report.
10. Battle forces were under the command of RAdm J. B. Oldendorf, Commander, Bombardment and Support Groups.
11. USSBS, Campaigns, 286.
12. General George C. Kenney, General Kenney Reports, 459. Hereinafter cited as General Kenney Reports.
13. Vern Haugland, The AAF Against Japan, 235. Hereinafter cited as AAF Against Japan.
14. LtCol Stewart W. Ralston, CO of VMB-413; LtCol Rivers J. Morrell, Jr., Asst Wing Opns Off., and Capt Franklin McCarthy, Wing Intell. Off.
15. Ltr from Col Stewart W. Ralston to author, dtd 11Feb51. ". . . the landing area wasn't much more than the width of an aircraft. The General did an excellent job and certainly averted a very large number of crackups . . . I heard from numerous Navy pilots that they certainly would have landed on the soft sand if they had not seen . . . signals. . ."
16. John A. DeChant, Devilbirds, 179. Figures on number of planes washed out vary. General Kenney Reports, 459, gives the number as 20. History of the 49th Fighter Group, Chap. 12, Oct44, 6, shows 22.
17. At Dulag strip (another field 20 miles south of Tacloban then being conditioned) 40 planes landed; eight cracked up. There was no gasoline, ammunition or bombs at Dulag, and arrangements were made to send some down in barges so that the aircraft could fly next day. General Kenney Reports, 459.
18. General Kenney Reports, 459-460.
19. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 43.
20. USSBS, Campaigns, 286.
21. A. R. Buchanan (Ed.), The Navy's Air War, 250-251. Hereinafter cited as Navy's Air War. "Prior to this engagement there had been instances of pilot's crashing or attempting to crash on carriers and warships after they had been severely hit, but this is the first instance in which the attack seemed to be organized and planned as a suicide maneuver."
22. Plans for the Leyte operation did not specify the exact date for the transfer of the direct support mission from Allied Naval Forces to Allied Air Forces. According to GHQ, SWPA, Operations Instructions Number 70, dtd 21Sep44, the Commander, Allied Air Forces would assume "the mission of direct support of the operations in the LEYTE-SAMAR area at the earliest practicable date after the establishment of fighters and light bombers in the Leyte area, as arranged with the Commander, Allied Naval Forces." The same OI instructed Sixth Army to "establish air facilities in the LEYTE area with objectives as follows: (a) First Objective: Immediately following the assault and by A+5 for: 1 fighter gp (P-38) 1 fighter gp (P-40) 1 night fighter sq. (b) Second Objective: Additional by A+15: 1 tactical reconnaissance sq, 1 photo sq, 1 medium bomb gp plus 1 sq P.O.A., 3 PBY sqs (tender-based), 1 VMR sq (Marine)."
23. General Kenney Reports, 467. After the planes arrived, another 1,000 feet of matting was laid by 1600, 27 October.
24. The AAF Against Japan, 236.
25. The strip at Dulag was occasionally used for emergency landings.
26. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 43. Admiral Halsey reports 27 Tacloban-based planes lost in a single night to enemy bombing alone. Adm William F. Halsey, Jr., Admiral Halsey's Story, 230. Hereinafter cited as Admiral Halsey's Story.
27. Employment, 43.
28. Navy's Air War, 252.
29. Admiral Halsey's Story, 242.
30. If conditions had permitted adherence to the original plan for air support, four squadrons of medium bombers would have been operating from Leyte by A+15 (4Nov). Actually medium and light bombers were not based on Leyte until late in December.
31. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 44.
32. Ibid., 83.
33. Ibid., 43.
34. MS. COMMENT, Air University Library, USAF "From the Fifth Air Force's 38th Group, operating under Thirteenth Air Force." [The use of MS. COMMENT in this and subsequent footnotes indicates that the material documented has been received from reviewers of the original manuscript of this monograph.]
35. Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, Japanese Naval and Merchant Ship Losses During World War II By All Causes. Hereinafter cited as JANAC. One destroyer is credited to Navy aircraft in same action.
36. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 58.
37. Ibid., 4.
38. Ibid., 3-4.
39. Ibid., 69.
40. Ibid., 69.
41. Navy's Air War, 255.
42. 10th Information & Historical Service, 8th Army, A Staff Study of Operation of the 35th Japanese Army on Leyte. Interrogation of MajGen Yoshiharu Tomochika.
43. Troop strengths and casualties of the enemy, as estimated at various times and by various sources, vary widely. The 47,900 figure reported above, for example, is at odds with USSBS, Campaigns, 287, which reports total reinforcements of 30,000 troops "landed in nine echelons between 23 October and 11 December." Other sources give yet different figures--USSBS, Employment, 45, estimates that ". . . The enemy lost approximately 55,000 troops, the majority of which had been members of first line combat units." This would indicate total reinforcements of 39,000, since there were 16,000 Japanese troops on Leyte at the time of invasion. But regardless of which of these figures are accepted, if any, it can safely be said that reinforcements amounting to at least twice the original garrison were successfully landed during the campaign, and that the Japanese eventually committed to Leyte about one-fifth of their total strength in the entire archipelago.
44. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 44. The first direct support strike by land-based aircraft during the Leyte operation did not occur until 26 Nov., when four P-40's strafed enemy positions to assist the advance of the 7th Division. According to this report, only six direct support missions were flown by Fifth Air Force during the entire Leyte campaign.
45. Employment, 43.
46. Navy's Air War, 255.
47. Robert Sherrod, History of Marine Aviation in World War II, (manuscript copy) Philippines I, 11-12. Hereinafter cited as Sherrod.
48. 421st AAF Night Fighter Squadron.
49. CINCSOWESPAC TO CINCPOA CAX-11868, 26Nov44; however, FEAF, Vol. I, says: "Because of the slowness of the construction progress at Leyte the 22d Bomb Group (H) and the 421st Night Fighter Squadron were moved to Palau to operate from facilities constructed by POA."
50. Admiral Halsey's Story, 231. Gen Kenney's reasons for not bringing in Marine aircraft at an earlier date are given in Chapter I.
51. VMF's-115, 211, 218, 313.
52. Including both material and personnel; each unit would utilize the other's quarters, parking strips and rear echelon service troops.
53. Of the four squadrons, VMF-115, VMF-211, and VMF-313 were based at Emirau Island, and VMF-218 was based at Green Island.
54. War Diary, MAG-12, Dec44.
55. Three Corsairs of a scheduled 88 did not get off from Emirau because of operational difficulties. At Hollandia, three more were stopped temporarily.
56. War Diary, VMF(N)-541, 5Dec44.
57. Other MAG-12 missions during the day included two four-plane flights to escort "Dumbos," the slow and unprotected flying boats (PBY's) used for air-sea rescue missions. The first operational pilot casualty took place during the initial patrol of the day, when Lt Jerome G. Bohland of VMF-211 crashed and was killed while taking off. War Diary, MAG-12, 5Dec44. MS. COMMENT, Capt R. F. Blanchard: "I believe he was flight leader--hence the first MAG-12 pilot to take off from Tacloban." MS. COMMENT, Capt R. W. Cline: "The strip was lighted with pots which were spaced too far apart for the Corsair with its poor forward visibility . . . This made a predawn takeoff very difficult. With only 70 feet [width of runway] you really must hold . . . straight down the runway."
58. MS. COMMENT, Capt D. G. Frost: "One ship had been hit by the time we arrived (I believe the Nashville)."
59. Ibid., "When I came up behind this Jap at about 1000' he was smoking from hits by Lindley's guns . . . This kill was later confirmed by an Army P-38."
60. War Diary, VMF(N)-541, 4Dec44.
61. Vector: to direct fighter approaches as demanded by relative enemy and friendly positions determined by radar and radioed to the attacking fighter.
62. Bogeys: unidentified aircraft "pips" or markers as shown on a radar screen, or, in many instances, the planes themselves.
63. War Diary, VMF(N)-541, Summary of Month's Operations, Dec44.
64. War Dept FM-100-20, Command and Employment of Air Power, 21Jul43, para 16-a, 10-11. The first priority of missions was "to gain the necessary degree of air superiority. . ." while the second was "to prevent the movement of hostile troops and supplies into the theater of operations or within the theater."
65. According to JANAC, between 27 Oct and 1 Dec, AAF planes sank 1 frigate, 2 subchasers, 5 cargo ships, 3 tank landing ships, and 2 light cruisers (shared with Navy carrier-based aircraft) in the waters of the central Philippines. [JANAC figures should not be considered as the maximum assessment. Unfortunately, the standards set up by the Committee have not been clearly stated. The report does not include any ship of under 500 tons, nor does it include a number of ships sunk and subsequently salvaged. In addition, in cases where there was more than one agent of sinking, little or no effort was made to determine the share of each. Therefore, a fair evaluation must of necessity take these factors into account and figures in disagreement with JANAC are not necessarily incorrect.]
66. Again according to JANAC, during the same period Navy planes sank 10 destroyers, 2 heavy cruisers, 1 light cruiser, (plus two shared with AAF planes), 25 cargo ships, 5 tankers, 1 minesweeper, 1 patrol boat, 1 subchaser, 1 frigate, 2 high-speed transports, and 4 tank landing ships.
67. Admiral Halsey's Story, 230.
68. MS. COMMENT: 1stLt D. M. Oster.
69. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt J. W. Miller: "[VMF bombers] . . . always had an escort of our own planes after this incident."
70. Army Air Forces A-2 Periodic Report #579, 7Dec44: "Enemy planes were aggressive and some followed our planes down on bomb run but the F4U's continued attack without jettisoning bombs."
71. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt D. M. Oster.
72. War Diary, MAG-12, 7Dec44. A few days later Army planes reported the destroyer beached at Semirara Island, just south of Mindoro.
73. Lt L. W. Reisner bailed out near Carnasa Island and was never seen again. He was the first Marine pilot killed in Philippines combat. Lt Jacques Allen bailed out south of Tacloban, suffered a fractured skull, and died two months later, after having been evacuated to the U.S. Major Stanislaus Witomski, CO of VMF-211, bailed out safely over Leyte, was rescued, and returned to his squadron later the same day.
74. War Diaries, VMF's 211 and 313, 7Dec44.
75. ACA-1 Report, VMF-313, 7Dec44.
76. JANAC identifies the four cargo ships as HAKUBA MARU, AKAGISAN MARU, SHINSEI MARU, and NICHIYO MARU; it gives Army Air Force planes joint credit with Marine planes for these sinkings. The high speed transport (Transport No. 11) sunk at the same coordinates as the other four ships is credited by JANAC to Army Air Force planes only. ACA-1 Report, VMF-313, 7Dec44, says: ". . . Army P-40's finished off the final cripple . . ."
77. This fuze setting allowed the bomb to penetrate the enemy ship before exploding, and greatly increased potential damage.
78. War Diaries, VMF's-313, 115, 211, for 11Dec44.
79. War Diary, VMF-218, 11Dec44.
80. War Diary, VMF-313, 11Dec44.
81. Lt W. D. Bean, later picked up in the waters of the Visayan Sea by guerilla forces, and returned to his base nine days later. See Appendix VI for his survival report.
82. According to War Diary, VMF-211, 11Dec44, 26 F4U's and 16 P-40's actually took part in the strike.
83. MS. COMMENT, Capt R. F. Blanchard.
84. MS. COMMENT, Capt M. D. Lane, Jr.: ". . . The attack was coordinated to come in line abreast . . . Capt Lane released his bomb on the forward starboard destroyer so as not to crowd his flight centered on their run on the primary targets . . ."
85. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt R. Reed, Jr.: ". . . believed to be a troop transport sunk by Lts W. S. Sharpe and D. E. Masters on a flat skip run . . . witnessed by myself . . ."
86. Ibid., ". . . believed to be destroyer sunk by myself . . . Bomb hit just forward of bridge and ship sank in approximately same time as ship sunk by Sharpe and Masters. Due to confusion at base a report on this ship and that sunk by Sharpe and Masters was not made to intelligence."
87. War Diary, VMF-313, 11Dec44.
88. This transport may be the same one claimed as sunk by VMF-313.
89. War Diary, VMF-211, 11Dec44.
90. Pilots of VMF-313 confirmed the fact that this ship sank a little later. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt M. A. Gudor: ". . . This is probably my hit since in 'booting' my aircraft around immediately after making the run to avoid anti-aircraft fire, I observed my bomb hit amidships a cargo ship . . . MS. COMMENT. Capt Martin D. Lane, Jr.: "All 8 masthead bombed; however, the flight leader and his wingman failed to release on this run and these two made a second run--a dive bombing run."
91. War Diary, VMF-218, 11Dec44. This AP is probably the same one claimed as sunk by VMF-313.
92. MS. COMMENT, Capt M. D. Lane, Jr.: "One of of these flown by Capt M. D. Lane, Jr., who had been hit twice, once by machine gun fire when he was strafing a DD at such a low altitude that it was necessary to lift his right wing at the last moment to clear the masthead; and second when he was at 6500 ft 5 to 7 miles south of the shipping formation he was hit again by heavy AAA. Had about 300 holes in the aircraft."
93. MS. COMMENT, C. H. Slaton, Jr.: "Second Lieutenant Stanley Picak of VMF-211 was seen at 200 feet roll over on his back and to crash into the water at a very slight angle. He was firing his machine guns until he crashed."
94. The two pilots were 1stLt W. J. Rainalter (who had just scored a direct hit on a transport before he was shot down) and 2dLt M. A. Gudor. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt Paul K. Becher: "1stLt W. J. Rainalter was also credited with downing a Jap fighter on this same mission. MS. COMMENT, 1st Lt M. A. Gudor: ". . . Young and I joined up and scouted for . . . Zekes. We sighted two Zekes pulling away from a dogfight the Army cover was having. We had an altitude advantage of a few thousand feet and pulled in on their tails. As Young got off his first burst he was jumped by two more Zekes and dived out and returned to base. I tailed in on my Zeke, fast overtaking him. At approximately 100 yards, I was 10 degrees or so off the dead astern position and put a burst of .50 cal. through the engine and brought it back through the cockpit. The Zeke smoked, suddenly nosed down and spiraled into the sea. I then climbed for more altitude looking for Young for I didn't know he had been jumped.
Two Zekes at the same altitude turned towards me, so I turned into them for the book says--"In a head on run a Jap plane will either turn aside or blow up." Evidently this Jap hadn't read the book for he kept coming. We were closing fast prop to prop. All my six 50 cal. guns were going and pieces were flying off the Zeke's cowling. At the last possible instant I nosed my Corsair violently down. The Zeke passed over and sheared off half of the rudder and left stabilizer. I immediately had my hands full. Being worried about the companion Zeke didn't help . . . I dove for the ocean but at 400 knots the plane vibrated like it would fall apart. Also, the oil pressure went down to zero and the propeller froze stock still. At 800 feet altitude I leveled the plane and bailed out into the sea. During the night the convoy we had hit was burning and the explosions rent the air about 10 miles to the southeast of me. The next day about 5 p.m. a beautiful Navy PBY set down on the sea and picked me up."
95. Since each of the squadrons made a separate report of the action, it is possible that there is some duplication, with the same ship being claimed as sunk by several squadrons. According to available evidence, out of a total of ten ships in the convoy, MAG-12 planes sank from a minimum of four ships to a maximum of six or seven. JANAC lists only two, MINO MARU and TASMANIA MARU, both cargo ships, and credits the sinkings to Army and Marine land-based aircraft. On 12Dec44 (the following day) when 35 MAG-12 and 8 Army planes hit the remnants of the convoy, there were only three vessels left in it. This supports a figure of six or seven ships sunk on 11Dec. JANAC credits no aircraft with sinking other ships of that convoy on 11Dec44.
96. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt M. A. Kime: ". . . Capt Jay McDonald (VMF-313) led the bombers . . . As we approached the enemy ships, which were in column and under forced draft, Capt McDonald ordered two divisions to skip bomb the destroyer and the remaining divisions to dive bomb the forward two ships . . . The attack was very low and fast, after dropping my 1,000 lb. bomb, I had to pull up slightly to clear the stern gun turret . . . skip bombers just cleared the ships as the dive bombers released their bombs . . ."
97. War Diary, VMF-313, 12Dec44. This ship evidently sank later; JANAC lists Transport No. 159, Tank Landing Ship, as sunk in this area on this date by Army and Marine Air.
98. VMF-313 War Diary notes that "This DD was caught the following night making 2 or 3 knots and sunk by a Navy surface ship." JANAC lists a DD (UZUKI) as sunk by surface craft on 12 December, at a point very near to where the Marine action took place; this is probably the ship mentioned.
99. War Diaries, MAG-12, VMF-115, VMF-211, VMF-218, and VMF-313. Lt Robert E. Dunk (VMF-211) bailed out near Tacloban, was picked up by a PT boat, returned to his squadron next day.
100. War Diary, VMF-313, 11Dec44.
101. Summary of War Damage, NAVShips A-4 (424), 15Mar46.
102. War Diary, VMF-218, 11Dec44.
103. Ibid. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt J. W. Miller: ". . . on this mission . . . 2dLt R. E. Eaccobacci was lost . . . He was Bate's wingman in this flight."
104. War Diary, VMF(N)-541, 12Dec44; Aircraft Action Report, 1944-Dec-7.
105. MS. COMMENT, Capt R. W. Cline: "The tower operator . . . cleared Bradley for takeoff and another aircraft to taxi at the same time. In the attempt to miss the other aircraft Bradley pulled up sharply and fell off on a wing." MS. COMMENT, Maj J. E. McDonald: ". . . After becoming airborne his landing gear hit a tent adjacent to runway. It was the tent that caused aircraft to lose flying speed and fall on jeep. . ."
106. War Diary, MAG-12, 13Dec44. MS. COMMENT, Capt M. D. Lane, Jr.: "Mayor Olsen was unable to start the aircraft he regularly flew . . . and was forced to take an assigned spare . . . the aircraft which Capt Lane had flown on 11 December, which had been holed 300 times on that date; it had been patched up, but had not been flown since."
107. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 69. The Ormoc landing had been previously planned, but the time was dependent upon shipping availability.
108. Elements of Sixth Army, including a regimental combat team from the 24th Division, the 503d Parachute Regiment, and engineer and air troops.
109. General Kenney Reports, 493-494.
110. War Diary, VMF-211, 15Dec44.
111. VMF(N)-541, War Diary, 15Dec44; Aircraft Action Report 1944-8.
113. 1stLt E. A. Hammers. On a similar mission in the afternoon of the same day, 1stLt R. M. Robinson, VMF-218, was shot down by 20mm AA fire from a friendly PT boat, and later returned to his base. MS. COMMENT, Capt W. R. VanNess: "Robbie bailed out over the water and was picked up by the same PT boat that shot him down . . ."
114. One of the few Marine enlisted pilots still flying in the Pacific area by December 1944.
115. War Diary, VMF(N)-541; Aircraft Action Report 1944-9.
116. Carrier-based planes flew many close support missions with considerable success during the first three days after the landing, but were forced to stop them after the Battle of Leyte Gulf commenced.
117. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 83-84.
118. There were Joint Assault Signal Companies (JASCO's) on Leyte, with complete air-ground communication facilities and personnel to operate the various aircraft request and control networks, but no evidence has been found to indicate that there was any front-line control of close support strikes at any time during the Leyte campaign. (One possible exception is the period from A-day to A-plus 5, when the Navy was in charge of close support of ground troops. See AAF Evaluation Board POA Report No. 3.)
119. During the bombing of San Isidro, Lt F. W. Krieger was shot down by 20mm AA coming from the pier. He was rescued almost immediately by "Dumbo." (Air-sea rescue plane.)
120. Returning from the mission, the Marines encountered three DINAHS (twin-engined reconnaissance planes) over Carnasa Island; two of them escaped into the clouds, but the third was boxed in and shot down by two pilots of VMF-115, Lieutenants Norman W. Gourley and Marion B. Collin.
121. The port town struck by Marine Corsairs on 24 December, the day before the landing.
122. Sixth Army Report, Leyte, 4.
123. MS. COMMENT, Capt Edmund Buchner, Jr.: ". . . one plane was lost on the 30 December 44 hop. It was hit by AA at Naga, Luzon. 1stLt Glenn McCall . . . made a successful water landing in San Miguel Bay and was returned by guerillas."
124. War Department, General Order #123, dtd 18Oct46.
125. 3Dec44 to 6Jan45.
126. Flying under the most difficult of conditions, from crowded and muddy strips, during extremely rainy and bad weather, and specializing in missions at dawn, dusk, or after dark, the Night Hellcats had lost no personnel, no planes in combat, and only one plane from an operational accident.
127. Message from GHQ, SWPA to CINCPOA, sgd MacArthur, 1Jan45.
128. Report of the Luzon Campaign, Sixth U.S. Army, 9Jan45 to 30Jun45, Vol. I, 5. Hereinafter cited as Luzon, Sixth Army.
129. Ibid, 5.
130. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt M. A. Kime: "MAG 12 did send planes north of Manila and Clark Field. On 6 January 1945, four of us from VMF 313, Major McGlothlin, Jr., leading, went to the Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. This was a 5 hour flight escorting two photographic P-38's, stationed on Leyte."
131. During the initial phase of the movement Marine aircraft of MAG-12 served as convoy cover for the Luzon invasion forces. As the convoy approached Lingayen, other planes were assigned cover. It was during this phase of the movement that the kamikaze raids on the fleet commenced.
132. Navy's Air War, 261.
133. A kamikaze plane struck the bridge of the New Mexico, causing 130 casualties, among them the ship's captain. Witness to this costly opening of the Luzon campaign was the man who was to direct Marine Aviation's contribution to that campaign, Col Clayton C. Jerome, on board the New Mexico en route to Lingayen Gulf. His dive bomber pilots of Marine Aircraft Groups 24 and 32 were in the Solomons awaiting the Luzon campaign and a chance to give close air support to the soldiers of the Sixth Army. (See Chapter III.)
134. On this, the last of four missions of the day, four planes of the CAP were vectored by the shipboard controller to investigate a bogey skimming only 50 feet above the surface of the water, eight miles astern of the convoy, and evidently stalking it. Diving in from the rear, two Marine pilots blasted the lone ZEKE into the sea. War Diaries, VMF's 211 and 218, 6Jan45.
135. Campaigns, 288.
136. Commander Air Force Pacific Fleet, Analysis of Air Operations, Luzon and Formosa, 3-9 January 1945. A part of one Marine observation squadron (VMO-155) had been in the CVE Nassau for the Attu operation in May 1943.
137. VMF's 124 and 213 were assigned missions over Aparri and Camalaniugan airfields on the northern tip of Luzon. No serviceable aircraft were spotted on the ground or in the air, but airfields were strafed and ground installations damaged by the Marines.
138. Campaigns, 289. It must be added, however, that although the number of Japanese aircraft remaining operational was now extremely small, they continued to harass operations for a week or two more to an extent far out of proportion to their number. By this time almost all planes remaining were dedicated to suicide missions.
139. Hqs and Serv Sqdns and VMF-222 were based on Green Island; VMF-212, VMF-223 and VMO-251 were based on Bougainville.
140. Missions were later resumed until immediately prior to departure for Samar.
141. Ltr, Col Z. C. Hopkins to author, dtd 20Feb51. Col Hopkins (then commanding MAG-14) states: "There had been some confusing handling of this move, in that the first information the Group Commander had of the move was when the Squadron Commander, Major Humberd, visited me on Green Island and told me he had orders from the Wing to go to the Philippines the next day."
142. This unit was redesignated as a fighter squadron, VMF-251, on 31Jan45.
143. MS. COMMENT, 1stLt Vincent Serio: ". . . the Seabees were extending it northeastward until it eventually became a total of 6,000 feet . . . [they] worked day and night . . . literally moving mountains of live coral rock to fill in the swamp through which the strip was laid. The strip was high and well drained and was wetted and regraded every night. MAG-14's campsite lay on the southeast side and about three-quarters of a mile of unfilled swamp lay between us and the strip. In fact the Seabees cleared a road by pushing over palm trees with bulldozers in order for us to drive our equipment to the area, and then the mud was up over the axles!"
144. MS. COMMENT, Capt M. B. Bowers: "At that time . . . there was no electrical field lighting system. During that period, we procured one and five-gallon cans from every mess hall we could locate, filled them with sand and lined the strip with them. When a predawn takeoff was scheduled, I took two men and a jeep and made the rounds of the cans and put gasoline in them and fired them up a few minutes before the scheduled time of takeoff. Later, lights were installed, but there were not enough to go completely around the airstrip. The blank spaces were filled with the home made smudge pots.
145. Interview with LtCol W. C. Humberd, 17Oct49.
146. Col Z. C. Hopkins, the Group CO, arrived with his staff and set up Hqs at Guiuan strip on 12Jan45. He reported in person to the CG, V Fighter Command, for orders on the following day.
147. Most of the personnel embarked on the Liberty Cargo Ship Richard Harding Davis, putting to sea on 16Jan45. After layovers at Hollandia and Leyte Gulf (without going ashore), they proceeded to Mindoro, and remained aboard ship off the coast for 14 days; then, because of cancellation of a plan to establish 1st MAW headquarters on the latter island, they came back to Samar and unloaded there on 24 February.
148. Because of lack of equipment, as late as 31Jan45 there was still no communication setup between the airstrip and the camp area.
149. Nineteen MAG-14 aircraft were stricken as noncombat losses in Jan45, most of them as a result of landing accidents at Guiuan; use of the runway by 24 B-24 heavy bombers, also based at Guinan, made the landing surface extremely rough and hazardous for the lighter fighter planes. Also, since the Seabees were constantly working to improve the field by lengthening runways and installing hardstands, necessitating the frequent use of dynamite, the planes were subjected to an additional hazard--owing to the crowded conditions on the field there was no place for them to disperse. They just had to sit and take it.
150. Since many of the injured personnel were evacuated from the Philippines, it is almost impossible to obtain a completely accurate count.
151. MS. COMMENT, Capt J. F. Koetsch: ". . . the move of MAG-14 to Samar left the squadrons without any nearby aircraft spare parts supply facilities. Airplanes were kept flying which, under ordinary circumstances, would have been grounded . . . Some of the . . . conscientious and experienced aircraft company representatives, who were civilians, were of great assistance in working with the ground crews to improvise the repairs or replacements of malfunctioning parts."
152. MS. COMMENT. 1stLt T. R. Perry: ". . . A tail wheel was hardly considered a delay. . ."
153. Interview with Major Thomas W. Furlow, 17Oct49.
154. Extracted from official recommendation for commendation submitted by Col Z. B. Hopkins, 21Feb45.
155. MS. COMMENT, Maj R. F. Flaherty: "Upon completion of our convoy escort missions in the Sibuyan Sea, returning CAPS were directed to expend ammo upon targets of opportunity . . . An Army (Air Corps) observer was stationed in the hills above [Cebu City, the capital of Cebu] . . . and as we flew over he would call us if he had a suitable target . . . control was informal with directions being given in relation to the main streets or in reference to prominent land marks. The results were of a harassing nature, but a welcome change from the long CAP missions."
156. War Diary, VMF-223, 22Jan44.
157. By the end of January, VMF-222 destroyed or severely damaged 18 barges; VMF-223 destroyed 13 barges, damaged 10 barges and 1 AK; VMF-212 damaged 1 Motor Torpedo Boat, 2 Launches, 4 barges; VMO-251 destroyed 4 barges, strafed 2 more thoroughly. These figures compiled from squadron war diaries, VMF-222, VMF-223, VMF-212 and VMO-251, Jan45.
158. War Diary, VMF-222, January 1945.
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