Wednesday 3 March
62nd day, 303 days to come
0500 GQ stowed last of gear in plane. 0700 first planes off without
incident. 0830 Hodde went off, executed nose high flipping turn to
left & spun into drink. Think he got out. Couldn't afford to lose the
plane. All pilots given a lecture "change 98." Finally got off.
Treffer,Winnia, Brell, Johnson. We relieved air patrol, My sector
090° - 030° relative 5 miles. After about an hour relieved and came in
to Bomb strip #2. Everything lashed up like a sea going fire drill.
Finally left planes at #2, quartered in tents at Bomb #1. Good chow.
Everyone hit the sack by 1900.
NOTE: Sgt. Hodde spun into the drink while being catapulted off. Not an uncommon occurrence. The pilot is very busy, and things happen very quickly, and if trim tabs and the rudder aren't set right there is great probability of failure. He might have pulled back on the stick to help the plane off the deck while in reality it was probably already airborne from the combined speed of the carrier into the wind, the catapult pull and the engine at full throttle. The canopy of a plane being launched is always locked open for quick escape - if the carrier doesn't go over it. Lake Michigan and the California coast are littered with naval aircraft which either didn't make it off or didn't make it back on.
After Hodde's crash the launches were stopped while new instructions, "change 98," were given to the pilots.
Thursday 4 March
63rd day, 302 days to come
Night was cool after about 2200. Slept very well. Looked over camp
this A.M. regular storybook jungle isle. We are on the edge of a
coconut plantation. Many birds here up to about the size of a pigeons.
Red, green, brown, blue, every combination of colors in plumage.
The ground is muddy, the sun hot, though an occasional cool breeze
makes it bearable. Showers several times a day. Flies & mosquitoes are
bad. The fruit bats are larger than crows. They have some of the boys
worried. Think the bats are vampires. Changed fields again to fighter
strip. Finally quartered on a small calm bay, a regular South Sea
paradise. Tref & I in a 4 man tent cabin. With all our gear we are the
most comfortable of all the officers in the squadron.
NOTE: A South Sea Paradise - with bats, mosquitoes, flies, dengue
fever, septic sores, tinea, hook-worm and malaria. Urinals were bamboo
canes driven into the ground between the tents, the heads (restrooms,
to landlubbers) were a tent top with mosquito netting instead of
canvas for sides - airy but not private. Every morning the sanitary
team would pour diesel fuel in each privy hole and set it afire.
Arriving early in the morning a dengue fever sufferer would find a
very hot seat and would simply start walking toward the showers, they
knew they would have to go there anyway. Showers would be an group of
open air sprinkler heads over a concrete pad or wooden slats - no
enclosure. Mess tents were tent tops, net sides and wooden floors.
After dining the plates and silverware were dipped into a progression
of oil drums cut in half, filled with water, with a fire going
underneath each one. The water got pretty thick by the end of the
There were 4 airfields, two large and wide for bombers (Bomber 1 and
Bomber 2) and two shorter, narrower fighter strips (Fighter 1 and 2).
The runways and taxiways were crushed coral, perhaps by this time the
bomber strips were covered with steel marston matting. Coral dust was
a constant problem, a skin irritant to the sweat covered mechanics
which also stripped the paint from propellors and wing edges, blocked
filters and contaminated hydraulic and engine oil and fuel.
A Post Exchange (PX) had pogie bait (candy, to landlubbers) toiletries
(including foo-foo juice - aftershave), cigarettes (Camel, Lucky
Strike and Chesterfield for $.50 per carton - even at this time they
were nicknamed coffin nails), cigars (Van Dyck and White Owls for
$1.00 a box; the British were aghast that the Marines would have a
cigar in their mouth before breakfast), olive-drab skivies (underwear,
to landlubbers) and, on some days, cold Coca-Cola and ice cream.
From the description Winnia gives they were probably on Pallikulo Bay,
on a tent platform surrounded by "cocoanut" plantation and/or dense
jungle. Bedding was mosquito netting over a metal cot or wooden slats
with a thin mattress. If previous inhabitants were good scroungers
there might be some furniture from the old plantation houses. A South
Friday 5 March
64th day, 301 days to come
Tomorrow is sister's birthday (in margin)
0500 reveille. Bugler "swung it." Dip in ocean. Swam, ate and bathed.
Flies all day. Changed plane positions today. Maj. Weissenburger tore
up # 16 today, ground looped into a palm. All baggage came in but
squadron still scattered from Cactus to God knows where.
A ground loop occurs when one wing tip digs into the ground or hits
an obstacle, spinning the aircraft around. This is usually due to
turning too sharply or because a crosswind lifts one wing tip.
The F4F Wildcat had very narrow landing gear and was very susceptable
to ground loops. The plane was designed to be operated off of carriers,
which have no turns and are always going into the wind when the airplanes
are moving about.
Cactus is the code name for Guadalcanal.
The squadron had literally been scattered across the Pacific.
Though the pilots were at "Buttons," the code name for Espiritu Santo,
60 of the enlisted men had been sent to Banika, Russell Islands, to
build another airfield after those islands were liberated from the
Japanese. The code name for the Russell Islands was "Knucklehead,"
which will be referred to often later in the tour.
Saturday 6 March
65th day, 300 days to come
Days are getting to be the same now. Starting operations tomorrow.
Went into the harbor in a jeep. Now at fighter strip. Chow is not as
good as at bomber strip. Getting the dope from fellows that have been
up to Cactus.
Sunday 7 March
66th day, 299 days to come
Operations began today. Flew with Treff on tactical flight. A little
rusty, but fair enough. Clamped down our shack this afternoon. God
have mercy on our souls. The news came in that we lose our Grummans
tomorrow and get F4Us. We get 8 tomorrow or the next day. Have a few
hops and go to Cactus where we get 10 more, theoretically. We are not
particularly happy, being one of the best trained squadrons to reach
this area. Resigned to our fate which may not be as bad as expected.
Celebration in honor of Lt. Bier's birthday, had several "harmonizing"
"God have mercy...". There was more than a little trepidation at the thought of getting the F4U Corsair in exchange for the F4F Wildcat. The Corsair had a bad reputation - the Navy fliers who had tried to fly it called it the "Ensign Killer." The Navy had asked for an airplane to be built around the largest radial engine built, the Pratt & Whitney R-2800. The propellor required to transfer the 2000 H.P. to the air was over 13 feet in diameter. In order to keep the prop off of the ground the wings had to be bent downward, otherwise the landing gear would be so long that they wouldn't be strong enough to take the beating that carrier landings would give them. The Corsair weighed 7 tons when fully loaded. The Wildcat weighed just 2 1/2 tons with only 1000 H.P. The Corsair had a 41 ft wingspan, the Wildcat just 34. The Wildcat was a sportscar, the Corsair was a truck with a racing engine.
The Navy had a bad reputation for sending "down" to the Marines any aircraft they couldn't use in its present form. This is why Lt. Winnia felt they needed God's mercy. Marine Aviation history is built on airplanes that have a -1 on the end, the Navy's versions were always -2, or -3. The Corsair couldn't be landed on aircraft carriers: it bounced too high and the cockpit was so far back the pilot couldn't see the deck ahead even if the windscreen wasn't covered with hydraulic and engine oil. Since they had already bought them, and since Grumann was building them a new fighter (the F6F Hellcat, which used the same engine as the Corsair) the Navy gave their problem airplane to the Marines, who were flying from land bases and were begging for a plane with more range.
In the air the Corsair was a wonderful, fast, manuverable, tough fighter which had no peers. The Marine mechanics let a little air out of the tires, modified the landing gear struts in the field, put masking tape over the body panels to keep the oil off of the windscreen and created a legend.
Marines were known for being songbirds at any party. At birthday parties, housewarmings, in bars, in the field, there would be singing at every festive (i.e., drinking) occasion. It wasn't just the marines, however, but it was part of the national identity that there would be public singing at public gatherings. The Marines were best at it, though!
Monday 8 March
67th day, 298 days to come
No flying today. The F4Us didn't arrive on schedule. Pilots meeting
this afternoon. Tactical problem tomorrow. Will be in my usual place
on Treffer's wing. Our division will be interceptor. If we don't reach
the bombers, guarded by Maj. Britt's flight we will know our defense
is good. If we do we will know the same about our attack tactics. May
be our last flights in F4F4s. Discussion on F4Us. The Majors went over
one will today. Opinions generally better. With our training and
experience we should make a success.
Treffer's division was to be the aggressor in this tactical training flight. This was the start of the training they would need to be able to escort bombers to their targets. As the interceptors "Treff" and "Winnie" had the fun job, fly high, get into the sun, and dive down on the slow bombers and their squadron mates who had to stay in position to protect the bombers.
The F4F and the F4U are completely different airplanes, so why is the nomenclature so similar? The Navy's system for numbering aircraft was different from the Army, which simply gave the next number in line for any aircraft they were considering. The Navy, however took into consideration who was building the airplane when numbering theirs.
The first letter designated what type of aircraft it was: B - bomber; F - fighter; J - utility; S - scout; T - torpedo bomber. These letters could be combined if appropriate - SB for a scout bomber, for example.
The next number identified how many of this type of aircraft had been built by this manufacturer. The manufacturer was assigned a letter - B for Boeing, F for Grumman, U for Vought. The F4F was the fourth fighter built by Grumman; the F4U was the fourth fighter built by Vought. There was also an F4B, which was a 1930s era biplane built by Boeing. After the war the U.S. went to a uniform method of numbering aircraft so that all services had the same number for the same airplane, it was this new system which gave the Marines the F4B Phantom jet - another bent wing legend.
Tuesday 9 March
Shrove Tuesday - Mardi Gras, Ala., Fla., La.
297 days to come
Tactical problem worked damned well. Tref & I made first pass before
any of bogie knew we were near. The rest of the interceptors tangled
with the escort. All were in a rolling ball following the Dive Bombers.
Tref & I made high speed low side head on attacks & belly strafing.
We made four passes without a gun being brought to bear on us. The
secret, high speed from high altitude and violent maneuvering in close
section. The first F4U-1 arrived. No chance yet for checkout. They
Wednesday 10 March
69th day, Ash Wednesday, 296 days to come
Cockpit check out in F4U. Not too complicated. Should be OK.
Navigation problem this A.M. the sitter sure gets tired after the
first two hours. The hydraulic gun charger may cause some trouble.
Planes load easily and will fire with negative g's.
Have you Filed your Federal Income Tax Report?
Thursday 11 March
70th day 295 days to come
Hell of a day. No flying, but chasing around all day on Gunnery
business. Will probably start F4U flights tomorrow. Two pilots from
Cactus temporarily attached to help with F4U. Pilot conference tonight
on F4U. First flight tomorrow. Celebration tonight in honor of Capt.
Humberd's 26th birthday. Some dive bombers dropped flares tonight.
Made a very brilliant light.
The two pilots from Cactus were Lts. Hartsock and Kuhn of VMF-124. VMF-124 was the first squadron to
receive the Corsair. The Lts. told the VMF-213 pilots (among other things) that the Japanese Zero was
more maneuverable at slow speeds at low altitudes, so dog-fighting was not the way to beat them. At high speed, however, the Zero's big ailerons became so heavy that the plane couldn't be controlled, therefore the trick to beating them was to hit them quickly and at high speed, and if you get into trouble with one dive for the deck at high speed and then use the 2000 H.P. to get back above them and dive into them again.
Another night of drinking and singing in honor of Lt. Humberd.
The dive bombers would have been Douglas SBDs. The nickname of this bomber was "Slow But Deadly". This was
the plane that destroyed the Japanese carriers at Midway and a workhorse throughout the war. An SBD-1
to be on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida, has the distinction of
being flown by two pilots who, on different missions, won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Friday 12 March
71st day, 294 Days to come
Flew the F4U today. Really a wonderful airplane. Goes like hell and
handles like a dream. We should really be able to work over the Zeros.
The Zero fighter was built to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) specifications for "Prototype 12 Carrier Based Fighter": A monoplane aircraft with wing span less than 39 feet, max speed of 300 mph at 13000 ft, two 7.7mm machine guns and two 20 mm cannon, a max range of 1850 miles with an engine of no more than 1070 H.P. (the engine actually used was 950 H.P.) These were impossible goals in May of 1937, but Mitsubishi managed to get close enough to build what was, at the time, the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world.
It was first used against the Chinese in what the Japanese called the "China Incident," the war which began in the mid-30s. General Chennault of the American Volunteer Group - the "Flying Tigers"- had told the American military about this amazing new airplane, but we discounted his accounts. Its amazing characteristics were more than we thought could be built by such a backwards culture. At the start of the war the tremendous range of the Zero led Navy strategists to believe that the Japanese had another carrier group operating in the Coral Sea.
Flown by very experienced pilots, generally enlisted men, it was a formidable dogfighter. At low speed and low altitude, where most dogfights take place, it was never equalled. We developed tactics to overcome its abilities but a mistake by an American pilot would put him at a severe, often fatal, disadvantage to the shimmering grey-green "Type 00" fighter. The fighter was named for the last two digits in the year it was accepted, according to the Japanese calender, which was the year 2600. The Allied code name for it was "Zeke."
The Zero had two unbelievable fatal flaws for a fighter. First, the
fuel tanks were not self-sealing, which meant that when hit they
leaked av-gas which would instantly be ignited by the incendiery
rounds which the U.S. used as every fourth round in their machine
guns. Most pictures of crashing Zeros show them to be on fire.
The second fatal flaw was the lack of armor to protect the pilot.
Armor was very heavy in an aircraft which depended upon its light
weight for its great performance. Additionally, the attitude of the
Japanese was that a warrior should be able to defend himself with his
sword and his ability; armor was a show of cowardice. As an additional
show of warrior confidence, many Japanese pilots refused to carry parachutes.
Saturday 13 March
72nd day, 293 Days to come
No flight today. Have the duty today until tomorrow 1200. Busy as the
proverbial cat on a tin roof. Tonight sat around the jo pot with two
of the men and shot the bull until 2340.
To have the duty is to be the officer whom is first contacted with
a problem before disturbing the commanding or executive officer, or,
in real important emergencies, the Sergeant Major, or "Top". Having
the duty often relieves you of regular duties if there are enough men
to pick up the slack. All marines stand duty, i.e., are on 24 hour
call, on a regular basis. Marine organizations are divided into four
"Duty Sections." Each duty section has the duty every fourth day, and
every fourth weekend. For instance, Duty Section One might have duty
on Monday, DS Two on Tuesday, DS Three on Wednesday, DS Four on
Thursday, then DS One would have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. DS Two
would then have Monday, etc.
Jo or Joe is the slang for coffee. Shooting the bull is a favorite
pastime of marines on duty late at night, second only to sleeping,
which is generally frowned upon. This, of course, only adds to the
challenge of finding away to sleep until morning chow call.
Sunday 14 March
73rd Day, 1st Sunday in Lent, 292 Days to come
Short night last night. Bore sighted two planes this A.M. Flew section
with Tref today. This is a wingman's dream. Though only our second
hour in the plane we are really getting the feel of the thing. Two men
having its guns bore-sighted~~~~~~~~~
using a frame of coconut logs.
Up 'till midnight drinking coffee makes for a short night.
Bore sighting an F4U involved finding a place where the tail of the airplane could be picked up to level the plane, having a very solid backstop (like a mountain) or a very long open space (like over the ocean) and then firing the guns and adjusting each of the six of them until they hit at approximately the same place at about 300 yds. The Corsair had a tube running through the tail just ahead of the control surfaces through which a rod could be slid for attaching a block and tackle.
The guns would fire 780 rounds minute, and each gun had 400 rounds, a total of less than 30 seconds of "trigger time." The average bullet (the projectile) weighed about an ounce and a half and left the muzzle at 2750 feet per second plus the speed of the aircraft, another 400 feet per second or so. The total force of the six guns would hit the target at about 20,000 ft-lbs per second, enough to actually move a Zero fighter sideways. (A Thunderbolt, which had eight 50 cals, sank a German destroyer with machine guns alone.)The recoil would slow the fighter substantially; a long burst as much as 30 mph. The New Zealanders did an unofficial experiment with the Browning 50 cal. in which they put one on the ground, put one round in and fired the gun with the electric trigger. The recoil sent the 64 pound gun 9 feet before it hit the ground again.
The guns fired four different types of ammunition in some alternating fashion dictated by the squadron's needs and the types of rounds available. The pre-war load would be: armor piercing, incendiary, ball (lead with a copper jacket) and tracer. Since Japanese planes didn't have armor a squadron might leave out those and put in more incendiary since the Japanese planes burned so easily. Tracers allowed the pilot to adjust his line of fire more accurately. The ball rounds tended to help keep the barrels cleaned out and gave a longer life to the guns.
They now have 2 hours flight time the the aircraft.
Malaria was a big problem in the Pacific. The casualty rate for malaria was as high as 300% for some units, which means that, on average, each man had it three times! Taking Atrabrine (synthetic quinine) was required to prevent malaria, but it turned the skin yellow and many sea-lawyers (continual complainers) said it caused impotence. In spite of the fact that there wasn't a woman within a 500 mile swim there was often a corpsman standing at the head of the morning chow line to put the atabrine tablet in the mouth of each marine or sailor, and there was always a scattering of spit-out tablets beneath the tables. The heavy dose of chlorine required to make the drinking water safe seemed to have little effect on the skin color.
Monday 15 March
74th Day, 291 Days to come
No flight today. Weather closed down and it really rained. The wet, the ever-present mud and the flies make this place quite a hole. That is not to mention the sun and mosquitoes. Working is OK early & late but it's hell between 0900 and 1700. Letter from V.J. and Mother. V.J.'s snapshot arrived. It really set me to wondering. Either it is a lousy picture (I hope) or she is quite changed and getting dumpy. Let's hope not. Her letter was lacking in expected warmth, but I hope for better.
Tuesday 16 March
75th Day, 290 Days to come
Grounded today. A bad bronchial congestion. Rained all day. Practically well this evening. Doc Livingood is confirmed in the belief that we will be home in six months. We (Tref & I) don't put much for our chances, but it would be damned swell. Opened a coconut, filled it with bourbon & drank same. Big bull session & general relaxing enjoyed by Treff, Doc and I.
Wednesday 17 March
76th Day, St. Patrick's Day - Ember Day, 289 Days to come
Treff went down in the sea today. I managed to find a Duck and lead it to him. Came out with two cuts over the nose and a badly wrenched back. Will be OK but not sure how long it will be before he begins flying again. Took him a change of clothes and various "home comforts" His back is bad but he should be OK to go to Cactus with us next week. Doc and I opened a coconut and with bourbon, drank his health & future more happy landings.
Treff probably had to ditch due to engine trouble, anything else and he would have tried to make it to one of the four airfields. Winnia, as his wingman, was responsible to get help to him, in this case by finding a J2F "Duck" and leading it back to his friend. In combat he would circle the downed flyer to protect him while a Duck or a destroyer came to the rescue. Each pilot had a life raft as a seat cushion which was strapped to them along with their parachute. The raft wasn't a particulary comfortable seat cushion - Winnia had written earlier that two hours was tough on the sitter.
Notice he didn't say "I called for help on the radio." Radio silence was the norm and not to be violated - he probably didn't even know if the radio worked or not.
The "home comforts" surely included a razor, Johnson's Baby Powder, a book or two and, of course, the bottle of bourbon with which Winnia and Doc Livingood comforted the hurting pilot.
Thursday 18 March
77th Day, 288 Days to come
No flying today. Scheduled this afternoon but weather closed down. Went to Wing today made out $152 allotment beginning June 1943. Met 1st Lt. Carlos Martinez, CO. Hq Squad 1st Mar Air Wing. Knew him as MGSgt NCO in charge of Sea School in 1941, as MG he was responsible for my getting Flight Training. He was surprised & happy to see me. Bugs in F4U guns ironed out operation should be OK now. Tref is much better. Lect. on Solomons situation tonight. Secret & interesting. Doc & I opened 2 coconuts tonight. Damned smooth with bourbon (or anything for that matter).
Friday 19 March
78th Day, Ember Day, 287 Days to come
Another day with my only scheduled flight canceled. Tref better and
livelier today. Rained again most of the day. Meeting this evening for
intelligence reports on Cactus. The duty won't be hot but we will be
the only ones there liable to get any action. General opinion is that
Cactus is just a breaking in place for future action, to get used to
seeing the bursting a--hole without soiling our drawers.
Saturday 20 March
79th Day, Ember Day, 286 Days to come
Treff returned to the shack today. He can get around a little now. One
tow and one firing hop today. Did well on firing. Proved the F4U will
fire with negative g's. First movie tonight in months. "Reunion In
France," not a bad show. Stopped between reels
One tow & one firing hop... Winnia flew twice, once towing the long
sock which other pilots would shoot at. The bullets would have been
dipped in paint, a different color for each pilot. Back on the ground,
they would count the number of holes rimmed with each color to rate
each pilot's marksmanship. Winnia flew again with someone elso towing
There seems to have been some concern about whether the F4Us guns
would fire with negative g's, such as when starting downward into a
dive. They seem to be sure now that they will.
Sunday 21 March
80th Day, Spring - 2nd Sunday in Lent, 285 Days to come
Gunnery again. Did very poorly. 3 hrs in the sun this A.M. resulted
in a clean laundry but a load of heatstroke this afternoon. Ran a
little fever, but OK tonight. Lt. "Gus" Thomas came down with malaria
today. Lt. Eckhart ground looped a F4F7 after a hop. Ran into 2 SBD's
cut himself up a little. 17 stitches in his head. Made eggnogs tonight
with powdered eggs and canned milk. Tasted like hell, but we drank it.
An officer doing laundry - what a sad state of affairs!
An F4F-7 was a special Wildcat modified for reconnaissance. The guns were removed along with most of the armor and cameras were mounted in windows behind as well as below the wings. Extra fuel tanks were added where the guns came out, giving this plane very long range.
Monday 22 March
81st Day, 284 Days to come
More gunnery today. Did OK. Hit the jackpot on mail 5 letters.
Everything comes in batches, mail, rain, heat, etc. Tref test hopped
an SNJ today. His back is OK for flying. Will probably start limited
operation tomorrow. Letter from V.J. Don't know what to think now.
Seems to want to see me, but doesn't actually warm up in the general
tone of the letter.
After Doc Livingood had OK'd Treff to fly he would have had to take a test flight in a hack or trainer aircraft. In this case he flew a SNJ (S - scout, N - training built by North American Aircraft -J. It should be SN1J except that the Navy omitted the 1 for the first aircraft by any manufacturer). The SNJ is also known in the U.S. Air Force as the T-6 Texan, Canadians and Brits call it the Harvard. Its nickname is the "Pilot Maker" since so many military pilots learned to fly in one. They are still found at airshows and at the National Air Races - they even have their own race. It is said that the SNJ is "the best machine ever built to turn gasoline into noise".
The SNJ in the photo was assigned to VMD-254 while at Buttons.
Saturday, 23 March
82nd Day, 283 Days to come
Gunnery with Tref today. Our Thomas still in sick bay. Major Britt
over for the evening after seeing local movie "Meet John Doe."
Advanced group leaves for Cactus on 26th. Tref & I go along. Capt.
Leary reported to hospital with acute dysentery.
Wednesday 24 March
83rd Day, 282 Days to come
No operations today. Rained all day except for six minutes by the clock. Otherwise the rain fell hard and steady. Tref and I sat around drinking B&B, reading, bull shooting, listening to the rain & dodging an occasional stream where the tent roof gives way. Wrote mother and V.J.. this A.M. Passed out gunnery tips (F4U maintenance) to Gun. Off. Enterprise & Gun. Off. VMF 121, took most of P.M.
Thursday 25 March
84th Day, Annunciation B.V. Mary, 281 Days to come
Word passed at 1000 to be ready at 1130 to leave for New Caledonia.
Weather closed down and hop put off. Will probably leave tomorrow to
ferry F4Us up to Buttons. Tonight worked on knife & shot the breeze
with Stewart until about 2200.
Winnia was probably sharpening his KaBar knife which would, as likely
as not, been strapped to his calf while flying. A knife needed to be
handy in order to cut away straps, parachute lines, etc. in case of a
ditching or a crash (a ditching is a controlled crash in the water,
which Treff had done a few days earlier).
This is an instance of the fraternization with enlisted men which
Winnia denied earlier and would deny again later. Sgt. Stewart was one
of his close friends.