Updated 06/09/2009



                  The FIRST SKIPPER – Frank M. Whitaker       

                    The WHY and WHEN of CANASTA



                   SKYRAIDER VS MIG-17



RESCAP 101 (new)






Frank M. Whitaker was born in 1910 at Spokane, Washington.  His family had settled there in 1876, his father a physician and grandfather a farmer near Pullman.  Frank was an accomplished artist and musician in high school, where he played football and turned out for track.  In 1927, on the day Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, Frank won the state 220 low hurdles championship. 


Frank attended Gonsaga University in Spokane before winning an appointment to the Naval Academy in 1930, where he continued to participate in sports, music and art.


After graduation in 1934, he served nine months aboard the USS MARYLAND (BB-46), followed by two years aboard USS CROWNINSHIELD (DD-134), an old four-pipe destroyer later turned over to Britain as part of the lend-lease program.


MARYLAND was commissioned in July 1921.  She joined the Pacific Fleet in July 1923 and moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940.  She was damaged at Pearl Harbor, but entered Puget Sound Naval Shipyard on 30 December and emerged repaired and modernized on 26 February 1942.  Her four 16” guns were used in many pre-invasion bombardments during the War.  She served in the Magic Carpet fleet after the war and decommissioned in April 1947 then scrapped in July 1959.


CROWNINSHIELD was originally commissioned in August 1919, but decommissioned in July 1922.  She was recommissioned in April 1931 and served in the Pacific Fleet until decommissioned in April 1937.  Recommissioned again in September 1939, she was decommissioned a year later in Halifax, and then recommissioned the same day as HMS CHELSEA.  In July 1944 she was transferred to the Russian Navy and renamed DERSKYI.


The Class of 1934 was full of over-achievers.  One reason was the congressional mandate that only the upper half of each class receive a Navy Commission.  The others entered the Reserve and waited for an opening.  President Roosevelt’s expansion of the Navy created a new demand for officers, so all of the 1934 and subsequent classes were commissioned.


Frank applied for flight training and reported to Pensacola in January 1937.  Fourteen months later, Frank was assigned to Torpedo Six (VT-6), LCDR W. B. Ault commanding.  VT-6 received 18 new TBD Devastators between February and April 1938 and then deployed on the USS ENTERPRISE (CV-6) shakedown cruise to Rio de Janeiro (18 July to 22 September 1938).


Frank had met Mary Lewellin during his tours in San Diego and they married in June 1937.  The couple raised two children, Frank III and Margaret, who were 6 and 3 at the time of Frank’s tragic death.


ENTERPRISE held winter maneuvers in the Caribbean before joining the Pacific Fleet in April 1939.  President Roosevelt declared a state of national emergency on 8 September, and ENTERPRISE sailed for Pearl Harbor. 


Frank was detailed to fly the cameraman and director of the MGM feature film “Flight Command.”  Following this 3-month stint, Frank reported for duty in Pensacola with Training Squadron 1-B.  This was followed by a brief tour as XO of a squadron assigned to USS Bogue before assuming command of VT-17.


The film “Flight Command” was released in 1940, starring Robert Taylor as a new ensign, Walter Pidgeon as the skipper and Ruth Hussey as the skipper’s wife.  The aerial scenes were flown by real Navy pilots from a squadron based at San Diego at the time.


Training Squadron VN-1B was based at Corry Field, one of 16 bases then flying the bi-wing N2S/N3N Yellow Peril.  This was Primary flight training lasting about three months, beginning with taxiing the tail-dragger aircraft and ending with formation and night flying.  Each student accumulated about 110-hours of flying, dual and solo, plus a couple hundred hours of class-room instruction.  Frank probably instructed at Corry from the summer of 1940 until the summer of 1942. 


In June of 1942, VGS-9 (later VC-9) was in Kodiak flying F4Fs.  In July, the squadron moved to NAS Seattle.  In September, the squadron had 6 F4Fs and 4 TBFs.  The squadron moved to San Pedro in October and then to San Diego in November, at which time the squadron had their full complement of 12 F4F and 9 TBF aircraft, commanded by LCDR William B. Drane.  USS BOGUE (ACV-9 later CVE-9) arrived in San Diego near the end of November.  By mid-December, the ship and squadron were reported “at sea” and arrived in Norfolk on New Year’s Day.  The exact dates of Frank’s service with this squadron are unknown.


VT-17 was officially commissioned on 1 January 1943, LCDR Frank M. Whitaker commanding.  However, the squadron had only 13 aircraft by the end of February, with new pilots and aircraft dribbling in over the next few weeks.


LCDR Frank M. Whitaker


The other skippers in Air Group Seventeen (CVG-17) were LCDR John Thomas Blackburn (NA 1933) the skipper of VF-17, and LCDR James E. Vose (NA 1934) the skipper of VB-17.  The Air Group Commander (CAG) was CDR Michael P. Bagdanovich (NA 1929).  According to Blackburn, Frank was known as the Silver Fox in those days, probably because of his premature gray hair.


Text Box: In 1942, LCDR Blackburn was CO of VGF-29 aboard USS SANTEE (ACV-29 later CVE-29), flying the F4F-4 (Wildcat) in Operation Torch – the invasion of North Africa.  SANTEE returned to Norfolk in early December 1942.  He became CAG of CVG-74 at War’s end and later commanded USS MIDWAY. 

In 1942, LCDR Vose flew with VB-8 at the Battle of Midway and became CO in August when his predecessor failed to return from a scouting mission.  His tour ended with the sinking of USS HORNET on 26 October 1942 at the Battle of Santa Cruz.  Vose introduced the problem-plagued Curtis SB2C Helldiver into the fleet and later commanded USS BOXER.










The air group boarded USS BUNKER HILL in July 1943.  Frank and his 1st division became known as “Hobo.”  The 2nd division became “Boxcar”; and the 3rd division became “Caboose.”  Their home aboard BUNKER HILL became “Hobotown.” “Roundhouse” was the call for pilots to rendezvous.  “Chow Down” was the signal to prepare to attack and “Dinner is ready” signaled the target is sighted.


Frank and his wingman had a mid-air collision on 2 February 1944, near Engebi Island in the Eniwetok Atoll.  There are few details on exactly how the collision occurred, but witnesses saw both aircraft hit the water and the area was thoroughly searched for survivors without success.




By Scott Smith


The official radio call-sign for the FIST of the FLEET has been ‘CANASTA’ for many years.  Sometime ago the squadron started using just 'FIST' but reverted back to 'CANASTA'.  Good thing too.  Nobody wants a call-sign that might be confused with missed, as in "where did that bomb go?"  The burning question on everybody's mind is when did the squadron first start using the CANASTA call-sign and what was used previously?  I will try to answer these questions in as many words as possible.


For recent immigrants to this planet, be advised that canasta is a two-deck card-game that developed in Uruguay about 1947.  It was the most popular card game in Argentina in 1948 and was introduced into the United States in 1949.  By 1951, there were more than 30-million Americans regularly playing the game.  No doubt some of these players took short breaks to fly airplanes or catch a few winks.  I was one of those 30-million, but now only remember how to spell canasta.


In July 1948, VA-65 (later VA-25) became part of CVG-6 on the East Coast.  LCDR BUTLER and then CDR HANLEY were the commanding officers before February 1950.  CDR PHILLIPS assumed command of the squadron in February 1950.  The Korean War started on June 25, 1950.  In August 1950, the squadron left NAAS Oceana for NAS Alameda, becoming part of a "revised" CVG-2 that embarked in USS BOXER (CV-21) on August 24, 1950 and headed for the Korean peninsula.  Most likely, one of these three skippers selected the call sign.  LCDR BUTLER (1947-1948) can be eliminated because the game of canasta was unknown in the United States during his tour.   CDR HANLEY (1948-1950) probably had little time to learn the game during his tour, but he can’t be eliminated.   The most likely candidate is CDR PHILLIPS.


The answer to the second question, what call sign was used before CANASTA, is related to the first question.  There were some unofficial call-signs used during WW-II, but mostly from shore bases.  In 1943, VT-17 used the call sign HOBO, with derivatives of that life-style for various actions in the air.  In 1949, many pilots stilled used a generic call-sign.  For instance, a Corsair pilot might identify himself as Fox 23, while an Avenger pilot might use Tare 55.  During WW-II, the mission often carried a specific call-sign.  For instance, a two-plane fighter CAP might be designated Red-1.  Strike aircraft also had call-signs that often changed from day-to-day.  Maybe that was to confuse the Japanese into thinking we had more than a hand-full of squadrons.


Before 1943, single-piloted aircraft had only a single frequency HF transmitter.  Obviously, good radio discipline was essential when a couple-dozen fighters were using the same frequency.  Strike aircraft usually operated on a different frequency.  The Avenger and Helldiver had a multi-channel HF transmitter, so the pilot could shift between strike and fighter frequencies.  The main problem with the HF equipment was it could sometimes be heard in Tokyo, but not by the carrier 100 miles away. 


Even before the Battle of Midway (June 4, 1942), the Navy was well aware of the communication problems in fleet aircraft.  Radar and ship-board fighter-directors put new demands on existing communications.  Early in 1943, fighter aircraft began using the ARC-5 four-channel VHF (100-156 MHz).  This equipment operated on line-of-sight and had many advantages over HF equipment, but four channels were inadequate.  The fleet began installing the ARC-1 VHF in mid-1944.


By late 1944, all carrier aircraft were using the ARC-1, a ten-channel VHF (100-156 MHz) transceiver.  The frequencies of these crystal-controlled channels were not easily changed.  Each carrier had a set of frequencies, with a couple task force channels reserved for coordinated strikes.  There were simply no channels left for a squadron-common.  Some shore-based carrier aircraft continued to use this equipment into the early 1950s.  


The ARC-27, a 1725 channel UHF transceiver (225-400 MHz), began appearing in new aircraft during 1948.  Generic call signs probably persisted for a time while ARC-27s were installed in older fleet aircraft.  Generally, the conversion process began when a ship became “mated” with a particular Air Group for a scheduled deployment.  Obviously, the ship and embarked aircraft required compatible communications equipment.  The ARC-27 wiring was installed in overhauled aircraft and the equipment installed later by the squadron.  For a time, some multi-engine aircraft had both the ARC-1 and the ARC-27 installed.


When I reported to VC-33 in July 1952, only a few training aircraft still had VHF transceivers.  Virtually all fleet aircraft had converted to UHF transceivers between 1948 and 1952.  Many squadrons got new aircraft in those days.  New jets appeared almost as frequently as new movies at the local drive-in.  Somebody figured safety could be improved if every squadron had a base-radio, with a private frequency to help with emergencies.  It was amazing how many ARC-27s were totally destroyed in an aircraft accident, but later repaired.  These “stricken” ARC-27s become a squadron base-radio. 


Clearly the FIST of the FLEET didn't have time to play many card games after July 1950.  Yet the game of canasta wasn't known in the United States before 1949 and the ARC-27 equipment was installed in squadron aircraft about the same time.  Therefore, the window for call-sign selection was probably from mid-1949 to mid-1950.  The squadron adopted a new (present) squadron patch in 1949.


The mostly likely proponent of the CANASTA call sign would be a new officer who previously had time to learn the game, but with the "muscle" to get it done while in the squadron.  Who better than the new skipper, CDR PHILLIPS?  CANASTA also fits with the tail-letter "C", then used by CVG-6, while "M" was used by CVG-2.  The selection of CANASTA after August 1950 is unlikely.


This is all supposition since my first deployment was in late 1952.  By then, the ARC-27, squadron call signs, squadron-common frequency, and the game of Canasta were facts of life.  I recall playing lots of canasta and even bought a mechanical card-shuffler while visiting Barcelona.


The squadron-common frequency was probably changed when VA-65 became VA-25 in July 1959 (CDR JOHN W. FAIRBANKS, CO).  As I recall, we used 325.0 MHz as squadron common during the 1960s in both A-1s and A-7s.  It would be "spooky" if this frequency had been assigned before renumbering.


I used to wonder who needed a radio with 1725 channels (ARC-27).  Then along came the A-7 with a 3500-channel ARC-51.  The A-7 was about twice fast as the A-1 so it needed twice as many radio channels – right?  Now I wonder if the dual-mission F/A-18 has stereo.


In summary, squadrons used mostly generic call signs before their ARC-27 installation.  Afterwards, squadrons could select an official call-sign, within some practical limits.  In this case, I believe CDR PHILLIPS selected the CANASTA call sign with some guidance from CAG – a word starting with the letter ‘C’ for CVG-6. 


If anyone has a better theory or some really accurate information, please let me know.



The Last SPAD - CANASTA 405

By Scott Smith


VA-25’s last Spad, NL-405 (BuNo 135300) proudly sits center stage, with her nose held high, in the west wing at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.  She is surrounded by many famous aircraft from early biplanes to super-sonic jets.  BuNo 135300 has a history of her own, thanks to some research by HILL GOODSPEED, Museum Historian.


Clean at last, thank God I’m clean at last!


There were 713 AD-6/A-1H aircraft (BuNo 134466 to 139821) of a total of 3,180 SPADs that rolled off the Douglas assembly line.  BuNo 135300 was accepted by the Navy on June 28, 1954.  She spent a brief period with FASRON 12 before being assigned to VA-55 (WARHORSES) in July 1954.  Painted Navy blue, her first cruise was aboard USS PHILIPPINE SEA (CVA-47) between April-November 1955.


VA-55 began service in WW-II as VT-5 flying TBMs from USS YORKTOWN (CV-10).  This squadron then flew ADs during the Korean War from USS VALLEY FORGE (CV-45) and USS PRINCETON (CV-37).  The squadron flew A-4s during the Vietnam War from USS TICONDEROGA (CVA-14), USS RANGER (CVA-61), USS CONSTELLATION (CVA-64) and USS HANCOCK (CVA-19).  This squadron was disestablished in 1975.  A second VA-55 was established in 1983 and disestablished in 1991.


BuNo 135300 was then overhauled at NAS Alameda, spent another brief period with FASRON 12 before being assigned to VA-115 in June 1957.  Painted gull grey, she deployed aboard USS SHANGRI-LA (CVA-38) in March 1958 and joined in the face-off over Quemoy and Matsu Islands.


VA-115 began service in WW-II as VT-11 flying Avengers from shore and latter USS HORNET (CV-12).  The squadron became VA-115 in July 1948.  This squadron flew ADs from PHILIPPINE SEA during the Korean War and A-1s from USS KITTY HAWK (CVA-63) and HANCOCK during the early Vietnam War.  VA-115 transitioned to A-6s and deployed aboard USS MIDWAY (CVA-41) for the remainder of the Vietnam War, but now flies Hornets.  Originally known as the ARABS, they now have the PC name of EAGLES.


Note:  LCDR FREDRICK L. “Dick” ASHWORTH was VT-11’s first CO.  Later, CDR ASHWORTH became involved in the nuclear weapons program and was the weaponeer for the second atomic bomb drop.   In September 1948, he became the XO of the first Heavy Attack squadron (VC-5) and then the CO of VC-6. 


After VA-115 returned in late-1958, BuNo 135300 was mothballed at NAF Litchfield Park.  She returned to the fleet in August 1962, before becoming an A-1H in September 1962.


BuNo 135300 next served with VA-145 (SWORDSMEN) and deployed aboard CONSTELLATION in February 1963, one of the last ‘peacetime’ cruises before the Vietnam War.


VA-145 began service as the recalled Reserve squadron VA-702 in July 1950 flying ADs from USS BOXER (CV-21) and USS KEARSARGE (CV-33), becoming VA-145 in February 1953.  This squadron flew A-1s from CONSTELLATION and USS INTREPID (CVS-11) during the early Vietnam War, then transitioned to A-6s and flew from USS ENTERPRISE (CVAN-65) and USS RANGER (CVA-61) for the remainder of the Vietnam War and disestablished in October 1993.


BuNo 135300 was again overhauled and assigned to VA-25 in July 1964, but for some reason her combat flights during the 1965 deployment aboard MIDWAY were not recorded.  The squadron commenced combat operations over Vietnam on April 10, 1965.  NL-405 had a close call during June 1965 when she dodged Mig-17s.


BuNo 135300 was next assigned to VA-52 (KNIGHTRIDERS) and made the 1966-1967 combat deployment aboard TICONDEROGA.  Her next combat mission was a 4.8-hour Rescap on November 11, 1966.


VA-52 began service as the recalled reserve squadron VF-884 in July 1950 flying F4U-4s from BOXER and KEARSARGE.  This squadron was redesignated VF-144 in February 1953, and then received AD-6s to became VA-52 in 1959.  After the TICONDEROGA combat cruise, VA-52 transitioned to A-6s and flew from USS CORAL SEA (CVA-43) and KITTY HAWK for the remainder of the Vietnam War and disestablished in March 1995.


BuNo 135300 returned to VA-25 and was back on the line less than four months after TICONDEROGA returned to CONUS.  Finally, on February 20, 1968, (then) LTJG TED HILL flew BuNo 135300 on a Rescap for a downed USAF F-4 and assisted embattled Marines along the DMZ.  LTJG HILL landed at 0736 (local time) ending the last SPAD combat mission for the Navy.  CORAL SEA steamed north and returned to CONUS where Navy SPADs was officially retired on April 10, 1968.


All totaled, BuNo 135300 flew 219 combat missions in 769.9 hours during the Vietnam War.  The average hours per sortie (3.5-hrs) attests to the stamina of both the aircraft and her pilots. Appropriately, LTJG HILL ferried BuNo 135300 from NAS Lemoore to NAS Pensacola.


Note:  A few Fat-SPADs remained service and VA-176 had a few single-seaters on their flight line after April 1968, but the A1H/Js never again flew from a carrier.  Of course, SPADs ably served with the USAF and VNAF long after the Navy retired them.


BuNo 135300 was fourteen years old when she retired, young compared to some aircraft in service.  She had low hours (4,400-hrs) while many SPADs required reinforced wings to extend their life beyond 5,000-hours.  She was little different in appearance from the original BT2D/AD-1 designed by Ed Heinemann in 1944.  The first SPAD, designated an XBT2D-1, flew four months ahead of schedule on March 18, 1945.  Fifteen months later, the first AD-1 made its maiden flight.  The rest is history.


Remember, the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945.  Few people knew about the bombs, so future combat operations had to plan for conventional warfare.  Most experts figured the battle for Japan’s main islands might take another two years.   Several new aircraft were being prepared to fight that last battle. 


It is extremely unusual for any aircraft to still fly combat missions over twenty years after conception, especially one with a piston engine.  The SPADs drew blood and were bloodied in two full-scale wars and was fully prepared to fight WW-III.  Besides the plane’s design, credit must be given to the guys who kept them pieced together long after spare parts were dumped on the surplus market, and the skill (insanity?) of many fine pilots, without whom the SPAD would be just another airplane.




By Scott Smith


The Douglas AD/A-1 Skyraider was originally called the Able Dog (WW-II phonetic alphabet) and later, sometime after the Korean War, it became the SPAD, from the WW-I aircraft flown by Eddie Rickenbacker.  Nobody seemed to call it the Skyraider – except the Douglas Aircraft Company.



A latter-day SPAD aboard USS Midway, circa 1965


Actually, SPAD is the acronym for the French company that made the aircraft – Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Déruvés.  The original company, Société Pour Les Appareils Deperdussin, was nearly bankrupt before the War.  Acquired by Louis Blériot, the name was changed, but the initials remained the same.


Note:  You might guess what the French words mean, but who knows what the French really meant?


S.XIII with the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron – somewhere in France, circa 1917


The SPAD XIII was an improvement on its predecessor, with a more powerful engine.  This model was faster than its main contemporaries – the Sopwith Camel and Fokker D.VII.  It was rugged, but maneuverability was inferior, especially at low speeds.  It had poor gliding characteristics and a sharp stall made it difficult for novice pilots to land safely.  These are certainly not the characteristics of the SPAD that I knew and loved!  The only real similarity is that it was a single-engine tail-dragger.


The SPAD Company built 8,472 aircraft, starting with the model S.VII in 1916, and cancelled orders for 10,000 more when the War ended in 1918.  The model S.XIII, which Rickenbacker flew with the 94th Aero Pursuit Squadron, came out in 1917 and was still in service with the US Army in 1920.  This model had the following specifications.


Length                   20’-8”                                    Engine                    220 HP Hispano-Suiza 8 BE inline

Wingspan              26’-7”                                    Max speed            139 mph (121 knots)

Height                      7’-9”                                     Service ceiling       21,815-feet

Wing area              227 sqft                                 Rate of climb       384 ft/min

Empty wt.             1,245 lbs                                Armament            2 x .303 Vickers machine guns, firing through 

Max T.O. wt.        1,863 lbs                                                                                the propeller, with 400 rounds each

Endurance            2 hours


These dimensions indicate a tiny aircraft by today’s standards – even smaller than the T-34.  Yet the wing area was 126% of the T-34.  The plane’s maximum take-off weight was 81% of the Skyraider’s internal fuel capacity (2,280 lbs).  Climbing the S. XIII to its service ceiling probably required well over an hour in an open cockpit – without oxygen or cockpit heat!


Its tiny radar signature makes the S.XIII superior to some modern jets.  In fact there is no record of the plane ever being detected by radar (radar didn’t exist in its day).


               SPAD XIII instrument panel


Modern pilots might look for a quill-pen holder and ink-well on the neatly varnished cockpit panel. The original SPAD had no radio, gyros, or even a turn-and-bank indicator.  A piece of string attached to the cowling probably served as a slip-indicator. The primary flight instrument appears to be a pocket watch.  A gimbaled magnetic compass was mounted to the left of the pilot’s seat.  Engine instruments are on the far left, but the black-faced instrument is probably the altimeter.  The black-faced instrument on the right is the airspeed indicator.  The fuel gage is between the rudder pedals.  Definitely a VFR-only aircraft!    



    LeBourget, Paris, France                                                     Museum in Brussels, Belgium




By Capt Clinton B. Johnson, USNR (Ret.)


Frustration and fatigue were starting to simultaneously set in on me on 20 June 1965.  We were 30 days into our third at-sea period, and the ops tempo was intense.  Ten days prior we had our first loss, one of our nuggets, CARL DOUGHTIE.  The last four days we had not been especially successful.  During those four days I had flown 21 hours on an Alfa strike, two road recces and a seven and one half hour RESCAP.  The strike was marginally successful with 40 percent BDA, the RESCAP was not.  We had to leave the downed pilot when it got dark.  One road recce was nothing more than harassment.  The other I scored one truck, but someone almost scored me while I was executing a life-saving pullout just short of bending the prop.  I logged two nice round holes in the aft fuselage.


The day began normally with the starboard catapult crashing into the water-brake outside my door acting as my alarm clock.  It was supposed to be a stand-down day, but by noon we were suiting up for an emergency RESCAP.  An Air Force photo-recon pilot had been shot down very deep into the northwest corner of North Vietnam.  There were already RESCAP aircraft over the downed pilot, but they were running low on fuel.  We were needed for backup coverage.


We manned up, started and were told to shut down.  Someone else had covered the pilot, and they did not need us.  We unmanned and returned to the ready room and waited.  Two hours later we got the call again.  We manned up, but did not get started again before we were again put on hold.  By the time we got to the ready room we were told to man up again.  By now we were fast becoming the leaders in the squadron sweat stain contest.  The sweat stain contest was unique to Skyraider squadrons.  The winner was the pilot who could merge the salty white left and right armpit stains in the center of his flight suit first.  This contest was made possible by the USS MIDWAY (CVA-41) laundry and morale officer who would accept only one flight suit per week per pilot from us.  At any rate we were hot, sweaty and beginning to worry that this man up was going to mean no dinner.  This time, however, we started, were told that we were a go mission and began our taxi forward to the catapults.  At the last minute my Plane Captain, AN HALCOMB, gave me a slush filled thermos and a hopeful look (hopeful that he would not have to do a fourth preflight on old 577).  I gave him thumbs up and taxied forward to the starboard catapult.  It was almost 1800.  I spread and locked the wings, got thumbs up from the final checker and agreed with the flight deck officer on a 21,300 pound launch weight.  As I felt the Skyraider settle into the catapult holdback, I release the brakes, added full power and scanned the engine instruments.  Everything looked good and with the canopy open everything sounded good -- well at least loud.  I returned the cat officer's salute and waited.  I saw my flight leader go off the port cat and turn right for our standard starboard side rendezvous.  The humidity was so high that his flap tips left contrails and my prop was making corkscrew contrails as the carrier moved through the sultry gulf air.


The cat shot killed my radio.  We rendezvoused 1,000 feet on the starboard side of MIDWAY and headed west.  After reforming in a finger four formation I tried to get my radio working.  As the second element leader I had a "Middleman" aircraft.  My airplane had two radios with a relay control box that could be switched so that the low aircraft covering the downed pilot could transmit through my aircraft to the ship using my aircraft at a higher altitude as an antenna relay.  I was able to get the number two radio working, but continued to fiddle with number one so that I could act as relay.  I got it working and checked in on tactical frequency as we went feet dry.  Then it failed again.


Feet dry at 12,000 feet heading northwest we were passing north of Thanh Hoa.  LCDR Ed GREATHOUSE was in the lead.  On his port wing was LTJG JIM LYNNE.  I was on his starboard wing with CHARLI HARTMANN on my starboard.  We all had the standard RESCAP load: two150 gallon drop-tanks on the stub racks, four LAU-3 pods with 19-2.75 inch rockets apiece and 800 rounds of 20mm for the four wing cannons.  We were flying steadily toward the downed pilot while I navigated, searched for active low frequency ADF stations (Until September 1965 the North Vietnamese MiGs used the ADFs listed in our 1964 navigation supplements) and considered what the situation ahead might be.


Suddenly Ed GREATHOUSE rolled inverted into a near vertical dive with JIM LYNNE following.  I rolled and followed him down.  I was concerned that I had not heard anything and that we were only 70 miles inland, at least 80 miles from our RESCAP point.  A quick radio check confirmed that my radio was dead.  I had missed the buildup to the run-in with the USS STRAUSS (DE-408) alerting us to MiGs in the area.  The MiG pilots were on an intercept for two Skyraiders south of us, but missed and were coming around for another intercept when they spotted us.  STRAUSS was keeping Ed GREATHOUSE updated, and when it was apparent that we were the target, Ed took us down.  At 12,000 feet and 170 knots we looked like Tweetybird to Sylvester the Cat.  Our only hope was to get down low and try to out turn the MiGs.  Ed was doing just that.  Our split-S got us some speed and reversed our course toward the ship.  I figured that any time my nose was pointed at the ground my ordnance should be armed.  I armed the guns and set up the rockets.  About that time I saw a large unguided rocket go past downward.  My first inclination was that it was a SAM, but SAMs generally go up.  A second rocket hit the ground near Ed and Jim.  There was no doubt we were under attack by MiGs.  This was confirmed when a silver MiG-17 with red marking on wings and tail streaked by Charlie and me heading for Ed.  Tracers from behind and a jet intake growing larger in my mirror were a signal to start pulling and turning.  As I put g's on the Skyraider I could see the two distinct sizes of tracers falling away (The MiG-17 had two 23mm and one 37mm cannon in the nose.)  He stayed with us throughout the turn firing all the way.  Fortunately, he was unable to stay inside our turn and overshot.  As he pulled up Charlie got a quick shot at him but caused no apparent damage.  He climbed to a perch position and stayed there.


MiG-17 Fresco


Our turning had separated us from Ed and Jim.  Now that we were no longer under attack my main concern was to rejoin the flight.  I caught a glimpse of the leader and his wingman and headed for them.  As we had been flying at treetop level in and out of small valleys, we had to fly around a small hill to get to them.  Coming around the hill we saw ED GREATHOUSE and JIM LYNNE low with the MiG lined up behind them.  I fired a short burst and missed, but got his attention.  He turned hard into us to make a head-on pass.  Charlie and I fired simultaneously as he passed so close that Charlie thought that I had hit his vertical stabilizer with the tip of my tail hook and Charlie flew through his wake.  Both of us fired all four guns.  Charlie's rounds appeared to go down the intake and into the wing root and mine along the top of the fuselage and through the canopy.  He never returned our fire, rolled inverted and hit a small hill exploding and burning in a farm field.  Charlie and I circled the wreckage while I switched back to number two radio.  We briefly considered trying to cut off the other MiG, but were dissuaded by the voice of ED GREATHOUSE asking what we thought we were doing staying in the area when STRAUSS was reporting numerous bogeys inbound to our position.  We took the hint and headed out low level to the Tonkin Gulf were we rejoined with our flight leader.


By now the sun was setting guaranteeing a night arrested landing back at MIDWAY.  Our radio report was misunderstood by MIDWAY CIC which believed that one of us had been shot down.  It took some effort for ED GREATHOUSE to convince them that we were OK and the North Vietnamese were minus one.  Rarely does a night carrier landing evoke as little response from a pilot as ours did.  We were so pumped up that we hardly noticed it.


After debriefs all around the politics started.  Charlie and I were informed that we would get no recognition or awards for our MiG kill.  SECNAV had been aboard three days earlier when VF-21 F-4 pilots had bagged the first (two) kills of the war.  Their awards were being held until SECNAV could get to Washington, announce it to the President and present it to Congress with the plea for more funds for F-4 Phantoms to fight the air war.


Obviously, the success of primitive Skyraiders would undermine his plans.  Unfortunately, someone had included our kill in the daily action report to MACV where it was read by COMSEVENFLT DET "C" who thought that it would be an excellent opportunity for Navy public relations.  Indirectly Ngyuen Cao Ky, the new Premier of South Vietnam, and a Skyraider pilot, heard of it and recognized ED GREATHOUSE's name as one of the Skyraider instructors from the RAG.  He then demanded our appearance for Vietnamese awards.


The next day we flew to Saigon for the Five O’clock Follies and were instant celebrities, since the news media did not yet know about the F-4 kills.  They assumed that we were the first which made an even better story.  We stayed at the Majestic Hotel in Saigon where we thoroughly enjoyed the lack of water hours and the availability of our favorite beverages.  The next day we were guests of Premier Ky at the palace were we were awarded Air Gallantry Medals and honorary commissions in the South Vietnamese Air Force.  After the awards ceremony we sat down to tea with Premier Ky and some of his young hot pilots and traded war stories.  He told us that the Skyraider MiG kill had boosted morale tremendously in the VNAF Skyraider squadrons.


Upon arrival back at MIDWAY we were surprised to learn that there had been a change of heart and we would to be recognized at the same ceremony as the F-4 pilots.  Since they had already been recommended for Silver Stars, Charlie and I go the same while Ed and Jim got Distinguished Flying Crosses.  Due to slow processing of earlier awards Charlie and I wore the Silver Star and one foreign decoration for about a month as our only medals.  Nothing like starting from the top.


A few days later the carrier went to Yokosuka where Japanese reporters were very interested.  We even became the subject of an article in a boy's adventure comic book.  There was a lot of hometown interest also with reporters looking up our wives and parents for comments.  This caused me a problem because I had not told my mother that I was flying combat to avoid worrying her.


Needless to say, the VA-25 pilots were not about to let the slack-jawed beady-eyed jet pilots (ED GREATHOUSE's description) forget our success.  The squawk box in the fighter ready rooms got plenty of incoming from our ready room.  There was much frustration in the swept wing tail hook community as the next two kills went to the Air Force in July.  Then the North Vietnamese pulled the MiGs for more pilot training.  The only kill between July 1965 and April 1966 was a single Navy kill in October 1965.  We maintained that we embarrassed them into pulling the MiGs.


A combat action happens fast and it is difficult to include all the influences that affect the outcome, but some sidelights are of interest.  The day of the shoot down was the first that gun camera film was not loaded in our planes.  Charlie fired 75 rounds and I fired 52.  We both thought we had fired more.  I had considered firing rockets to ensure a kill, but was afraid that the widespread pattern of the LAU-3s would also hit Ed or Jim.  Three of our aircraft suffered engine failures in the near future.  There were no fighters airborne at the time and they missed a great opportunity for the bogeys launched after the shoot down.  Two years later I was invited to Miramar to brief the people setting up "TOP GUN."  My briefer said, "Well, you were flying the F-4?"  "No."  "Oh, the F-8?"  "No."  "The A-4?"  "No."  "A-7?"  "No."  "Well, what the hell were you flying?"  "The Skyraider."  Then his jaw went slack and his eyes got beady.  They're all the same.  (See editorial comments below.)


Our squadron, VA-25, "The Fist of the Fleet," was the last operational Skyraider attack squadron in the Navy.  We were flying a 20-year-old design that had been perfected about as far as the engineers could take it.  Everyone thought that our time was over as front-line attack.  What everyone forgot was that ED HEINEMANN had mandated that the SKYRAIDER not only had to be able to carry that 2,000 pound bomb a thousand miles to Tokyo and return to the ship, but that it also had to be able to defend itself against air attack.  We never forgot.  Unfortunately, even ED HEINEMANN could not foresee SAMs.  The Skyraider just did not have the top end speed to evade them.  In April 1968 VA-25 retired the Skyraider in favor of the A-7 Corsair II.  The aircraft and pilot, TED HILL, that made the last combat carrier landing led four A-7s in a flyby, broke off to the east and disappeared out of our sight, but not our hearts.  Ted flew it to Pensacola where it resides in the National Museum of Naval Aviation in our squadron colors.  I flew six combat missions in that aircraft.


I flew as many hours in the A-4 Skyhawk as I did in the Skyraider and later flew the A-7.  I truly enjoyed my A-4 time and it became my favorite.  However, the Skyraider was something special.  Even through my right leg has shrunken to the same size as my left leg, the carbon monoxide is cleared from my blood and the stack gas from my lungs, there is still that feeling that the Skyraider was where I was meant to be.


One final note.  The first flight of the Skyraider was on 18 March 1945, my eighth birthday.


Editor:  When news of the MiG shoot down arrived in VA-122, we fired off a message to our sister training squadrons at Miramar ― offering "our assistance in improving their air-combat training."   Another MiG kill by VA-176 on 9 October 1966 proved the ACM skill of SPAD pilots was not a fluke (Tom Patton went through VA-122).  Shortly thereafter , we heard that Miramar would be the home of the new TOP GUN School.  What SPAD pilots had known and practiced all along really was important in combat.




By Scott Smith


Besides the Japanese, the United States Navy had a number of problems fighting the Pacific War.  One of the more significant was what has been termed the Great Torpedo Scandal.  The genesis of the scandal was improperly testing torpedoes before the War.  It grew into a scandal when the torpedo experts’ denied there was a problem.  Historian Paul Schratz said he "was only one of many frustrated submariners who thought it a violation of New Mexico scenery to test the A-bomb at Alamogordo when the naval torpedo station (at Newport) was available." 


The Japanese, on the other hand, worked hard to develop excellent torpedoes as the “equalizer” weapon against the larger American fleet.  The early Type 91 aerial torpedo had a speed of 41 knots and range of  2,000-meters, with a maximum launch speed of 260-knots.  The later versions had larger warheads, higher launch speeds, but had a range of 1,500-meters.  The Type 95 submarine torpedo had an even larger warhead, making 49-knots with a range of 9,000-meters.      


Both the American and Japanese torpedoes were steam-powered.  The main difference being the Japanese used pure oxygen, while the Americans used compressed air.  Both burned a liquid fuel to create steam which powered a turbine.  Pure oxygen was more dangerous to handle, but it gave an edge to the Japanese torpedoes in range and speed.  However, the American torpedoes left a trail of bubbles a blind-man could follow.  In one instance, a Japanese pilot saw a torpedo wake and saved his ship by flying his aircraft into the American torpedo.


Note:  American torpedoes were fueled with methanol, a toxic form of alcohol.  However, someone discovered the toxic additives were removed by filtering through bread.  Thus, torpedo juice sometimes “disappeared” from torpedoes in storage.  However, improper filtering could still cause blindness or death. 


The short answer to this scandal was the Great Depression, when little money was available especially for the military.  The complete answer was probably more complicated.  The following is a little history of the period before the War:


In 1905, a radio-controlled torpedo was proposed but rejected by the Navy, which was then sold to the Japanese.  In 1912, Sperry successfully demonstrated a reliable gyro compass with remote repeaters.  An auto-pilot (Iron Mike) was demonstrated on 25 March 1914, but the Navy was reluctant to use the equipment.


In 1915, the Navy began development of a pilot-less bomber.  The first successful flight of a radio-controlled aircraft was conducted.  Development was dormant until 1936 when the CNO expressed an urgent need for radio-controlled aerial targets (drones).  On 17 February 1937, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) successfully operated a drone, with safety pilot, at a distance of 25 miles.  On 23 December 1937, the NRL successfully operated a pilot-less drone.  Drones were first used for live target practice in 1938.


On 23 August 1918, a radio-controlled vessel was demonstrated.  In 1925, there was a successful run of a submerged radio-controlled torpedo.  The Navy acquired the rights to this device and its patents in 1932.


In 1939, the NRL designed and developed a radio altimeter – a necessary element in the development of any pilot-less aircraft.


In 1940, the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) directed the development of an aerial torpedo that flew just clear of the water and was controlled by an aircraft about 1.5-miles astern.  On 15 August 1941, the Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) suggested an all-out effort to develop a guided missile, later called an assault drone.  On 18 April 1941, BuAer advised on the progress on drones and radar for guidance.  On 1 August 1941, NRL reported 47 of 50 simulated aerial torpedo attacks were successful.


In 1942, the CNO directed tests to determine characteristics of an assault drone and tactics.  BuAer directed the procurement of 200 expendable assault drones.  The Naval Aircraft Factory was directed to study the control of assault drones from surface vessels and submarines using radar.  The Vice CNO increased the procurement of assault drones from 200 to 1000.  On 29 June 1942, BuAer requested a 50% cut in the procurement due to an overloaded aircraft industry.  The assault drone was then called Project Option, and the 50% cut was approved by the CNO.  A radar “sniffer” was developed by RCA to detect surface targets – basically a radio altimeter mounted horizontally.


In March 1944, Project Option was cutback and changed to a combat test program.  Further development of this weapon was not needed in view of the limited Japanese ships remaining.


It appears progress in development of the assault drone (aerial torpedo) held such promise as to negate further testing and development of the conventional torpedo.  However, there is no way of knowing how much the personnel responsible for torpedo development knew of the highly classified Project Option or if this influenced their actions.            


Before World War II, the Newport Naval Torpedo Station (NTS) was the only group responsible for design, development, production, and testing of torpedoes.  The torpedoes in production at the time were:


Mk 13 aerial torpedo (1936)             22.5” diameter – 13.5’ length           33-kts at 5,760-meters (single speed)

Mk 14 submarine torpedo (1931)    21” diameter – 20.5’ length               46-kts at 4,500-meters (three speed)

Mk 15 surface ship torpedo (1935) 21” diameter – 24.0’ length               45-kts at 5,500-meters range (two speed) 


These three torpedoes used many common components, although each was slightly different.  Besides the slower speed, 1943 tests of the Mk 13 resulted in only 31% satisfactory runs.  However, the biggest problem with the Mk 13 was its limiting launch parameters (below 100-feet and 100-knots).


Failures were noted with the Mk 14 torpedo early in 1942 as reported by the first returning submarine war patrols.  These same problems also affected the other torpedoes.  One problem was eventually traced to the Mk 6 combined contact and magnetic influence exploder – basically the torpedo fuse.  This exploder was tested only once, after which the highly classified Mk 6 was locked away for security reasons.  The Mk 5 contact exploder was installed in the Mk 14 and Mk 15 torpedoes until after Pearl Harbor.  The Mk 13 torpedo retained the Mk 4 exploder, similar to the Mk 5, throughout the war.


It is necessary to understand the problems with the Mk 6 exploder because it “hid” other problems until later, delaying correction of multiple problems until 1944.  Since the Mk 13 torpedo still had the Mk 4 exploder, its problems weren’t even suspected until after the Battle of Midway.


During the first six months of 1942, some 132 TBD Devastator sorties were launched with torpedoes.  For various reasons, only 95 of these aircraft dropped their torpedoes, resulting in 10 confirmed hits on four ships, two of which sunk.  These few successes were with coordinated attacks during the Battle of Coral Sea.  At the Battle of Midway, only 42% of the torpedo aircraft even got to the drop point, but with zero hits (detonations).  Of the 76 TBD aircraft in the Pacific theater, only 17 remained after the Battle of Midway.  It took awhile before people realized there were problems with the MK-13 torpedoes, not just the old and slow TBD.  


Note:  Some additional torpedoes were launched from aircraft based at Midway Island – all without success.  SARATOGA did not participate in the Battle of Midway and her torpedo squadron held the majority of remaining TBDs.


The best way to sink a ship is to detonate an explosive device directly below the keel.  Most capital ships have elaborate compartmentation and torpedo armor on the sides, but minimal protection on the bottom.  The magnetic influence exploder was designed to detonate under the keel.  This device measured the Earth’s natural magnetic field, like a flux-gate compass.  Near a steel ship, the magnetic field is distorted and this is what causes the torpedo fuse to detonate.  The torpedo is set to run a few feet below the keel of the target ship.      


Note:  The magnetic influence exploder was also used in magnetic mines.  To defeat this threat, military vessels used a set of electro-magnetic coils within the hull to cancel the magnetic distortion of the Earth’s magnetic field near the ship – called de-gaussing.


Unfortunately, the strength of the Earth’s vertical (dip) and horizontal magnetic field is not uniform worldwide, but this might not have been well-known in the 1930s.  The vertical component is about 60° near Newport, but gets shallower and weaker with distance from the magnetic North Pole.  Thus, the single test in northern waters failed to consider the weaker magnetic field in the South Pacific.  While this fuse problem was being resolved, submarine skippers switched to the contact detonator only to discover new problems.


One of these new problems was the depth controller that afflicted all three torpedo versions.  Setting the torpedo depth for the impact fuse often resulted in the torpedo running under the ship.  It was eventually determined this problem was caused by measuring water pressure (depth) too near the nose of the torpedo.  Basically, the folks at Newport had calibrated the torpedo depth in a static condition, without considering the actual hydrodynamic pressures along the outside of the torpedo.


Pressure differences occur from water movement around the torpedo body, like an aircraft wing, and these differences become larger with higher speeds.  Maximum pressure is at the nose of the torpedo, and then the pressure goes slightly negative as the water moves past the nose to the torpedo body.  Pressure is more-or-less steady along the body and then drops again near the tail.  The solution was to move the depth sensor further aft, near mid-body.


It took a direct order from the CNO to force the NTS to perform torpedo depth tests that verified the earlier tests performed by the operating force.  Running up to 11’ deeper than set, some torpedoes simply went under the target ship, which might have made the earlier influence fuse problem worse.  While this problem was being corrected, depth-setting corrections were issued to compensate for this error.  The Mk 13 was the slowest torpedo and had the smallest correction.


Finally, it was realized that the contact fuse in the Mk 4 and Mk 6 exploders also had a defect.  Some contact fused torpedoes obviously hit their target, but failed to detonate.  This flaw was eventually traced to the firing-pin not hitting the percussion cap with sufficient force, and this was also related to torpedo speed.


Note:  At least one Japanese ship went home with a dud torpedo stuck in its side.


At torpedo impact, the high deceleration forces created excess friction as the steel pin slid through the firing-pin track, slowing the pin’s movement.  The cure was easy – replace the heavy pin with one made from aluminum.  Less weight meant less friction during deceleration.


Note:  The initial aluminum firing-pins were hand-made from the propellers of Japanese aircraft downed on 7 December.


Another part of this problem was the torpedo’s impact velocity.  A 90º impact caused the greatest deceleration, which decreased at shallower angles so the fuse sometimes worked.  It is unknown if the slower Mk 13 had this problem, but firing-pins were replaced in all torpedoes.


MK-13 torpedo failures continued into 1943.  On 11 November 1943, during VT-17’s strike on Rabaul, none of the torpedoes detonated.  By 1944, TBF squadrons had ceased using torpedoes and were skip-bombing ships with considerable success.


Note:  Skip-bombing is a low-altitude horizontal bombing run used only against merchant ships.  The bomb uses a time-delay fuse and is released early, allowing it to skip on the water surface before striking the ship.  The bomb’s horizontal velocity is decreased upon each impact with the water, providing more escape distance for the aircraft.  Ideally, the bomb would hit the ship’s hull and sink, detonating against the hull a few feet underwater.


The original Mk 13 torpedo required a maximum of 100-feet and 100-knots at launch.  This was not difficult to achieve during training, but made the aircraft extremely vulnerable during combat.


CalTech became involved in 1943, building a 300’-long launch tube into a reservoir near Pasadena.  It soon became obvious that realistic launch speeds damaged the fins and propellers, and sometimes the internal components of the torpedo.  Heat-treating the propeller blades and a 10”-wide ring welded to the fins solved the external damage from higher launch speeds. 


It was also noted that the torpedo boiler started producing steam on launch.  Without a water load, a higher launch altitude could cause the turbine to over-speed and disintegrate before water entry.  This problem was solved with a simple inertia device that delayed boiler operation until the torpedo decelerated upon entering the water.


The interim solution used improvised plywood nose-cap and tail fins.  The plywood broke-away on impact, but added directional stability after launch and “softened” the torpedo’s water impact.  The torpedo “innards”, including the steering gyro and the depth hydrostat could be damaged by high water impact forces.


Modified Mk-13 torpedo being loaded in Wasp aircraft, circa 1944


The final solution was the MK-13-1A “ringtail” torpedo.  This torpedo could be released up to 800-feet and 280 knots.  These torpedoes began arriving at fleet units in late 1944 and some were used during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  VT-17 used them successful against the Japanese Battleship YAMOTO on 7 April 1945, with four hits against YAMOTO and sinking a destroyer.



Since the YAMATO sinking, aerial torpedoes have been used only once – by VA-195 against the Hwachon Dam in Korea on 1 May 1951 – also with success.  The only aerial torpedoes used today are acoustical torpedoes used against submarines.


Incidentally, the assault drone was finally used against by-passed Japanese near Bougainville, beginning in September 1944  These TDR-1 drones were guided by a control-pilot watching a primitive TV-screen in a trailing TBM.  Of the 46 drones expended, 37 reached their target area and about 21 successfully struck their targets.  None of the control aircraft were damaged or their crew injured in these attacks.




The TDR-1 had a 48’ wingspan, were powered by two 220-HP engines and could cruise at 125 knots carrying a weapon.  The one in the left photograph carried a torpedo in a early demonstration flight.  The one in the right photograph carried a live 2,000-lb bomb, but collapsed a nose-gear on takeoff.  The last of the 200 production TDR-1s is on display at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.   




Sea of Japan off the Coast of Korea

Action Report for 6 August 1952


The fire started about 0530 as BOXER began launching the morning strike.  Ten prop-aircraft (F4U-5N – AD-4N – AD-4W) were airborne from the 0300 launch.  All the scheduled prop-aircraft were on the flight deck, while the jets on the hangar deck were being prepared for a later launch – all aircraft arriving over the target at the same time.


Editor:  The following text is from the declassified USS BOXER Action Report for 1 August through 11 August 1952.  Most of the text on the fire was in one long paragraph, which has been broken into shorter paragraphs for easier reading.  Some comments have been added in parenthesis.


 “Eight combat sorties had been launched when the outbreak of a fire on the hangar deck precluded fight operations.  In a matter of seconds the hangar deck was a raging inferno as the result of an explosion of a gasoline tank on one airplane which quickly set off others.  On deck there were some 58 aircraft loaded with ammunition including high explosive, fragmentation, incendiaries, and 50 Cal., and 20mm ammunition.  The ship was making 30 knots at the time.


The decision to be made was “whether to launch what was on deck with a view of saving planes or to take a chance and taxi the planes forward, jettison the bombs and ammunition, reduce the ship’s speed and fight the fire.”  The latter, of course, was chosen.  Word was soon received that entry to the hangar deck could not be made on the starboard side and that the flames would have to be attacked from the Number Two elevator (deck edge – port side amidships), which was in the raised position.


Accordingly, a turn was made to starboard so that the fire fighting crews could enter the hangar deck from up wind.  There followed a grim fight on the part of the crew to control the fire in spite of 50 Cal. and 20mm shells exploding all over the hangar deck.  The holocaust was added to by the exploding of a 500 pound bomb.  Sixty-three men, who were trapped, jumped over the side and were quickly rescued by attending helicopters, destroyers and cruisers.


The smoke was terrific and enveloped the entire ship.  Engineering spaces were almost untenable and two fire rooms had to be abandoned.  It was at this point that considerable doubt existed as to our ability to control the fire.  A further loss of power would have left us dead in the water and without water pressure for the fire hoses.  Fortunately, tenacious men in the engineering department hung on to the point of exhaustion until the flames could be controlled.  The Damage Control Central Station functioned throughout and was in constant communications with its four repair parties.


Every man not trapped below unhesitatingly entered the inferno without regard to personal danger from exploding ammunition and bombs.  The performance of the crew was magnificent and was a most impressive demonstration of a selflessness, determination and teamwork.


While the fire fighting was progressing on the hangar deck, crews on the flight deck removed bombs and ammunition from aircraft and ready service lockers thus eliminating a terrible threat against the life of the ship.  After having accomplished this Herculean task in a matter of minutes, these men turned to the business of fighting the fire.



BOXER firefighters slosh through the blackened hangar deck as the fire is brought under control.  The nose of a damaged F9F Panther is visible right of center.  A fire-crew on the left is cooling the overhead.


It was from 4 to 5 hours later before we could be sure that there was no additional threat of fire, enter spaces, and determine who of those who had been trapped were safe and who of those who had been driven over the side had been rescued by accompanying ships.  The final total was determined to be:  8 dead, 1 missing, 1 critically injured, 1 seriously burned and some 70 overcome by smoke.  Of the 63 who had gone over the side, all were rescued and returned to the ship. (The Sea of Japan water is cold even in summer.)


Work was immediately started to make repairs and restore the ship to operating condition after assessing the damage.  By dint of whole hearted effort on the part of the crew, the ship was restored to a condition in which it could operate its aircraft.  18 aircraft (mostly F9F-2 Panthers) were damaged (fire and salt water) or destroyed.  It was decided by higher authority that the ship was to return to the Repair Base at Yokosuka to get rid of its duds (damaged aircraft), receive replacement aircraft, make minimum repairs and return to the operating line.”


 The ship arrived in Yokosuka on the morning of 11 August and departed on the afternoon of 23 August.  The following is a list of the dead, listed elsewhere in the report:


                        * Lt. James E. Shropshire, CVG-2 Flight Surgeon

                        * AA I. Caneles, VA-65 

                        * PN3 V.L. Cowger, VF-24

                        AT3 W.B. Burdette, VC-35

                        PFC Arthur M. Kosuki, USMC

                        CPL Terrell R. Roulston, USMC

                        AT2 D.G. Seden, VC-35

                        HN R.S. Taylor, VF-24

                        HM3 J.R. Wark, VF-64


* Died while trying to rescue those trapped in the Flight Surgeon’s Office.


Before and during the Korean War, jets operating from unmodified WW-II carriers, such as BOXER, burned the same aviation gasoline (AvGas) as prop-aircraft.  The three hangar bays had overhead sprinklers, but only a heavy canvas fire-curtain separating the bays.  Later in the War, the 27A modified carriers had a second gasoline storage tank providing nearly twice the gasoline capacity.  However, there was no pressure fueling system.



Refueling a F9F Panther wing-tip tank.  Note the special ladder and fuel hose.


The straight-wing F9F Panther had wing-tip fuel tanks that were manually filled.  With wings folded, crews had to use a special ladder to reach the tip-tanks.  Not a fun thing to do on the flight deck with high winds or with the ship pitching and rolling.


After the Korean War, the 27C modified carriers had many ship’s tanks dedicated to kerosene-based jet fuel.  The Navy’s JP-5 was similar to USAF JP-4, but less flammable.  Pressure fueling was finally installed in aircraft and ships.  These ships had separate fueling stations for gasoline and JP-5.  Gasoline capacity, and its fire hazard, was gradually reduced and eventually eliminated in new construction.




Revised 31/05/2008


Editor:  This story is condensed from an article by Robert A. Hanson.  On July 27, 1965, USAF Captain Frank Tullo was Dogwood Two, with an F-105 flight led by Major Bill Hosmer.  The mission launched mid-afternoon from Korat air base in Thailand to attack SAM sites in the no-fly zone near Hanoi.  The original story described all events from launch.  Instead, we will pickup the story just prior to Tullo ejecting.


The ridge was still well ahead of the aircraft.  The flight had climbed some but was still very low (and traveling very fast) and being shot at from all quarters. Tullo’s aircraft dropped its nose slightly.  He pulled back on the stick. No response.  He pulled harder.  Still nothing.  When he heard muffled explosions in the rear of the aircraft, Tullo hit the mike button: “I've gotta go, Lead.  I’m losing control.  It’s not responding.”  At 200 feet, there was no time to wait.


The ejection process that followed was so violent that today Tullo’s memory is blank of everything that happened immediately after he squeezed the (ejection) trigger.  He doesn’t remember leaving the cockpit, the seat separating, or the chute opening.  He had the low-level lanyard hooked, which attached the parachute directly to the seat and caused it to deploy almost immediately.  After tumbling violently, whomp!, he was swinging in the chute.


A little battered by the violent ejection, Tullo prepared for the landing.  Floating down in the chute was serene and the soft rush of air soothed him.  He did not see his aircraft crash.  During his descent, he eyed the city of Hanoi about 25 miles away.  A small U-shaped farmhouse sat near a clearing, just to the west.  He passed below the 100-foot treetops and landed in an area of 10-foot elephant grass.


At that moment, listening to the sound of his flight disappearing to the southwest, the only thing in his mind was that he was on the ground in North Vietnam, armed only with a .38 Special.  His first concern was to hide the billowing white parachute.  Working hard to control his breathing, he stuffed the parachute under the matted grass and covered it up with dirt.  After shedding his harness and survival kit, he removed the emergency radio from his vest, extended the antenna, and prepared to contact Dogwood flight.  He could hear them returning, and he had to let them know he was all right.


As the flight drew closer, Tullo turned on the survival radio.  Cupping his hand around the mouth piece, he whispered: “Dogwood Lead, this is Dogwood Two.”  Hosmer responded immediately: “Roger Two, Lead is reading you.  We’re going to get a fix on your position.”


The flight turned toward Tullo, who had landed on a hillside west of Hanoi.  He could hear heavy anti-aircraft fire to the east and see puffs of flak dancing around the flight.  Within seconds, hot shrapnel began to fall around him.


“Frank, we gotta go.  Fuel is getting low, and we’ve been ordered out of the area.  We’re gonna get you a chopper.”  Hosmer’s voice dropped: “And, Frank,” he said, “this may be an all-nighter.”


Tullo rogered Hosmer’s message and told him he was going to try to work his way higher up the slope to make the pickup easier.  He had no doubt that he would be rescued.


As the sound of Dogwood flight faded to the southwest, Tullo prepared to move up the hill to a better vantage point.  He decided to open the survival kit and remove useful equipment.  In a normal ejection, once stabilized in the chute and prior to landing, a pilot would reach down and pull a handle on the kit’s box to deploy it.  It was advisable to deploy the kit prior to landing to avoid possible leg injuries, since the case was hard and fairly heavy. Tullo hadn’t had this option because he had ejected at such a low level.  He rotated the kit’s red handle, and with a great whooshing roar, a dinghy began to inflate.


The dinghy!  He had forgotten all about that!  And it was bright yellow!  He had to stop the noise.  Tullo drew a large survival knife he wore trapped to the leg of his G-suit, threw himself on the dinghy, and began stabbing it.  The first two blows merely rebounded.  With a final mighty effort, he plunged the knife into the rubber and cut a large hole so the air could escape.  With that emergency solved, Tullo lay back to catch his breath and got a drink of water.  Then he started up the hill.


The elephant grass was so dense that at times he couldn’t separate it with his hands and had to climb over the tough, wide blades.  After climbing about 50 to 75 feet, he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the top.  His flight-suit was soaked, and his hands were cut by the sharp edges of the grass.


Rather than waste more energy, he flattened out a small space in the grass and faced southeast to have a good view of any threat coming up the slope.  Time to set up housekeeping.  Tullo’s survival vest and kit included a spare battery for the radio, emergency beeper, day and night flares, pen flares, six rounds of tracer ammo, a “blood chit” printed in several languages that promised rewards for assisting downed American airmen, gold bars for buying freedom, maps, a first aid kit, water purification tablets, two tins of water, two packets of high-energy food, tape, string, 250 feet of rappelling line, a saw, knife, compass, shark repellent, fishing kit, whistle, signaling mirror, sewing kit, and two prophylactics for keeping ammunition or other equipment clean and dry.


He extracted the ball ammo from his .38, loaded the tracers, and stuffed everything not immediately useful into the knapsack-type pouch.  Then he sat back, tried to relax, and waited for the rescuers he knew would come.  Tullo heard the sound of prop-driven aircraft approaching from the north.  He correctly assumed they were Douglas A-1s, or “Spads,” as they were called.  He stood up and keyed his radio.  “This is Dogwood Two, do you read me?”


“Dogwood Two, this is Canasta, and we read you loud and clear.  Transmit for bearing.” Tullo warned Canasta of the flak to the east, and as advertised, the guns opened up as the aircraft approached Tullo’s position.  As soon as Tullo could see the aircraft, he began giving vectors.  On the second circle, Tullo was looking right up the wing of Canasta, a flight of two Navy A1-Hs.  He called, “Canasta, I'm right off your wingtip now.”  Canasta Lead said, “Gotcha! Don’t worry; we’re going for a chopper.”  As the Spads droned out of the area, Tullo felt sure he would be picked up.


Within a few minutes, he heard the unmistakable sound of Thuds.  Thinking it could be Hosmer again; he turned on the survival radio and called, “Any F-105 over Vietnam, this is Dogwood Two.”  An answer came from a flight of two Thuds, which approached his position in a wide sweeping turn from the north.  The flight Lead, whose voice Tullo recognized, asked Tullo to pop a smoke flare for location.


“Smoke?” Tullo replied.  “Are you out of your mind?  There's no way I’m going to pop smoke here!”


The pilot told Tullo to calm down.  He had just spotted trucks unloading troops to the south of Tullo’s position.  He also reassured Tullo that they were working on getting a helicopter to him.


Tullo heard shots.  They built to a crescendo, and then stopped.  The shooting had started at some distance but had grown closer.  Soon he was able to hear voices as the troops worked their way up the hillside.  He burrowed into the dense grass and waited, his heart pounding.  He raised his head and saw an older man about 150 to 175 feet away wearing a cone-shaped straw hat.  It was all Tullo could do not to make a run for it, but that was exactly what they wanted him to do.  He forced himself to sit quietly.  The troops made a lot of noise but they kept moving to the east, down the hill.  Silence returned and Tullo continued to wait.


George Martin was flying his Sikorsky CH-3C helicopter to Lima 36, a remote staging area in Laos about 120 miles from Hanoi, to prepare for another day of rescue alert duty.  Only a few weeks before he had been flying cargo support at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.  Today, he was commanding a small detachment of men and helicopters on a 120-day assignment in Vietnam.  He and his crew had been tasked to learn a new mission for which they had little preparation.




The second CH-3C Jolly Green Giant (later painted black) is on display at the USAF Wright-Patterson Museum.


In 1965, as the number of US air strikes and reconnaissance missions in Vietnam multiplied, pilots faced the increasing possibility of being downed deep inside Laos or North Vietnam.  Crews flying the small and slow Kaman HH-43 Huskie, originally designed as an air-base firefighting and rescue helicopter, were already pushing the aircraft to its limits.  There was clearly a need for a faster rescue helicopter with longer legs. The cargo-carrying CH-3C fit the bill, and the Air Force began sending crews from Eglin for specialized training.  The crews practiced mountain flying, ground survival, and rescue operations, which involved coordination with controller and escort aircraft.  The training was projected to last several months, but the escalating conflict wouldn’t wait.


Martin, who was too close to retirement to be selected for the additional training and the accompanying extended tour, was ordered to fill-in with 21 men and two CH-3s until the fully trained crews arrived.  “I found out Friday afternoon and was gone Sunday evening,” Martin says. “It was just like in the movies – I said, ‘When do I leave?’ They said, ‘How fast can you pack?’ ”


Martin was about to land at an intermediate refueling base when he was asked by radio to divert and try to rescue a downed F-105 pilot.  Martin still needed to proceed to Lima 36 to drop off cargo and extra crew.  He had to lighten his aircraft to take on as much fuel as possible and still be able to pick up the pilot.  “The big consideration in helicopter pickup is gross weight,” Martin says.  “If you're too heavy to hover, all you can do is fly around and wave at him.”


Upon landing at 36, Martin’s number two engine warning lights indicated an “over-temp” condition, which meant significant problems, possibly foreign object damage or a compressor stall from air starvation, and under normal circumstances would have grounded the aircraft.  The crew looked to Martin for a decision.  “Everybody was pretty apprehensive.  I told them, ‘We're his only hope. If the engine will start again after cool-down, we’ll go.’ ” His crew reluctantly agreed.


The engine restarted without incident and Martin’s CH-3, call sign “Jolly Green One,” took off for Hanoi.  Martin had no idea where to locate the downed pilot.  He was unescorted until he was about 50 miles from Hanoi, at which point he was joined by Canasta flight, flown by Ed Greathouse and Holt Livesay from USS MIDWAY’s Attack Squadron 25.


The oppressive heat of the afternoon wore on.  Finally, Tullo heard the sound of prop-driven aircraft again. Darkness was about 40 minutes away as he turned on his radio.  The aircraft responded immediately.  “Dogwood Two, this is Canasta.  I have a chopper for you.”  Seconds later, Canasta flight flew directly over Tullo’s position, and there, not far behind, came a helicopter.  Tullo was expecting a small chopper, but this one was a big green monster, Martin’s Jolly Green, the first in the theater and headed for its first combat recovery – Frank Tullo. “Dogwood Two, this is Jolly Green. How’m I doing?”  Martin said to the man on the ground.  He was coming right up the valley from the south-southwest.  Tullo said, “You're doing great!” and popped his pen and smoke flares.  The chopper’s blades made the smoke swirl as Tullo aimed his .38 straight-up and fired all six tracer rounds.  Crew chief Curtis Pert spotted the pilot through the thick ground cover as soon as the smoke made its way above the trees.


As Martin hovered, Pert lowered a “horse collar” sling.  Later, better equipped rescue crews would have a specialized hoist attached to a jungle penetrator” designed to pierce thick tree canopies.  “We just had a jury-rigged cargo winch that you could turn into a 10-cent, Mickey Mouse rescue hoist,” Martin says.


On the ground, the down-blast was tremendous.  Debris flew everywhere, and the trees and grass were whipping and bending wildly. Tullo holstered his pistol, slung the survival kit over his shoulder, and slipped the horse collar over his head.  He gave the crew chief in the door a thumbs-up.


The cable became taut and Tullo began to rise off the ground.  After being lifted about 10 feet, the hoist jammed and the cable stopped.  The crew chief was giving hand signals Tullo did not understand.  Tullo looked up.  Pert and para-rescueman George Thayer were in the door lowering a rope.  The horse collar was cutting off the circulation in Tullo’s arms and he was tiring, but he grabbed the rope and tied it around the top of the horse collar.


Finally the chopper began to move and dragged Tullo through some bushes. Everybody’s trying to kill me, he thought.  The Jolly climbed and circled as Pert and Thayer struggled with the hoist.  The overworked number two engine had begun to overheat and a fire light came on in the Jolly's cockpit.  As they circled, Martin hoped that the air flowing through the engine would cool it down and the light might extinguish.


Pert and Thayer were joined by copilot Orville Keese, and the three men strained to pull the dangling man aboard. The pain was becoming so great that Tullo was thinking about dropping from the sling.  Martin spotted a rice paddy next to a house and lowered Tullo to the ground.  The exhausted pilot rolled out of the sling as the chopper swung away and landed 50 or 60 feet away from him.  Pert and Thayer frantically shouted to Tullo, who sprinted and dove through the door.  He could hear an automatic weapon firing and saw both pilots in the helo ducking their heads.


The Jolly had problems: low fuel, a sick engine, darkness, and clouds at altitude.  Martin and his crew had been in the war zone slightly more than two weeks and did not even have maps of the area.  The crew relied on flares lit inside 55-gallon drums at Lima 36 and the landing lights of hovering helos to find a place to land.  “We held only about a quarter of the area around the site,” Martin says.  “That was the only corridor you could fly through without getting shot at, because the Pathet Lao held the other three-quarters.”  Martin finally landed with a shaken pilot (Tullo) and just 750 pounds of fuel aboard.


Tullo’s rescue was the farthest north that a successful pickup had been made, thanks to the determination of Martin and his crew and the long range of their CH-3C. It was the first of 1,490 recoveries that Jolly Green Giants would make in Southeast Asia.


After seeing Martin safely land his helo, Greathouse and Livesay droned on through the darkness, finally landing at Danang for some sleep and maybe something cold to drink.


Back to Home Page