USS Hornet (CV-12) – A Father’s Untold War Story (March – May 1944)

Posted: July 6, 2013 in History, Uncategorized, World War II
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

According to the ship’s log for the USS Hornet (CV-12) http://www.uss-hornet.org/history/cv12/, offensive operations were conducted between March and May 1944 with targets in Caroline and Marianas Islands including: Palau, Yap, Ulithi, Woleai, Wadke, Sawar, Sarmi, Hollandia, Truk, Satawan, Ponape, Moen, Eton and Dublon.

According to US Navy Muster Rolls for the USS Hornet (CV-12), my father Seaman First Class, John Thomas Ryan is on board during this period.

John T. Ryan US Navy

John T. Ryan US Navy

The war in the pacific was a very complex operation.  I will do my best to write it correctly.  Much of what I post will be directly from other records.  I am currently reading a book to get a better understanding.

Costello, John The Pacific War 1941-1945 (New York 1981)

Costello, John The Pacific War 1941-1945
(New York 1981)

Caroline Islands

Source: http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/C/a/Caroline_Islands.htm

Caroline Islands Copyright 2010 Kent G. Budge

Caroline Islands
Copyright 2010 Kent G. Budge

The Caroline Islands are a large archipelago located in the Western Pacific just north of the equator and extending some 1700 miles (2740 km) from the Palaus in the west to Kusaie in the east. To the north are the Marianas; the Gilbert and Marshall Islands are to the east; the Philippines are to the west; and New Guinea is to the south. There are actually 45 distinct groups of islands, including both atolls and high volcanic islands.  The latter include the Palaus and Truk, two important bases for the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941, as well as Yap, Ponape, and Kusaie (Kosrae). Atolls include Ulithi and Woleai. There are a total of about 549 islands in the chain with a total land area of about 830 square miles (2150 km2). The large islands are heavily vegetated and almost all are surrounded by reefs.  The Carolines were originally seized from Germany by Japan in the First World War.  Japan received a League of Nations Class C mandate over the islands, and respected the terms of this mandate, which forbade the building of any military installations, until after Japan withdrew from the League in 1933.  Even then the pace of construction of military fortifications was slow.  But Japanese secretiveness about the Mandates promoted suspicions that heavy fortification had taken place.  The Carolines were largely bypassed by the Allied counteroffensive of 1944-1945. Truk was smashed by repeated raids in February-April 1944. Peleliu and Angaur in the Palaus were taken in September-October 1944 after a bloody struggle, and Ulithi was occupied without opposition on 22 September. The central and eastern Carolines were left to wither on the vine.

Marianas Islands

http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/M/a/Mariana_Islands.htm

Marianas Islands Copyright 2009 Kent G. Budge

Marianas Islands
Copyright 2009 Kent G. Budge

The Marianas Islands are an island arc located about 1400 miles (2250 km) south of Japan. There are 15 islands in the chain, which extends about 425 miles (684 km) from Farallon de Pajaros in the north to Guam in the south. Most are mountainous, with elevations up to 2585′ (788 meters).  The islands have a total area of 402 square miles (1041 km2), of which over half (225 square miles or 583 km2) is from Guam alone. The islands have relatively fertile soil and are covered with mixed scrub and grassland, with a few mangrove swamps. Beaches tend to be narrow and backed by coral cliffs and there are reefs off many of the shore lines.

In late 1941, the southernmost of the Marianas, Guam, had been a U.S. possession since the Spanish-American War of 1898. The remaining islands belonged to Japan, which had seized them from Germany in October 1914, during the First World War, and developed them for sugar production under the auspices of the South Seas Development Company. By the time war broke out in the Pacific, the Japanese population of the islands outnumbered the indigenous population (Chamorros) by two to one.

Rota, just north of Guam, produced enough sugar to support two refineries and a distillery and had a population of 764 Chamorros and 4800 Japanese and Koreans. A small airstrip was constructed on the north part of the island during the war. Other important islands include Saipan and Tinian.

The naval disarmament treaties specified that these islands were not to be fortified, but with the lapse of the treaties in the early 1930’s Japan proceeded to build large airfields on Saipan, within easy range of Guam. The United States neglected the building of fortifications on Guam, which was considered too exposed to be held in the event of war. Japanese troops landed on Guam just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and easily conquered the island.

The Marianas were identified as an important objective in prewar planning (Plan ORANGE), but it was not until August 1943, at the QUADRANT conference, that a formal decision was made to invade the Marianas following the seizure of the Palaus. In December 1943, at the SEXTANT conference, the U.S. Army Air Forces forcefully argued for an early invasion of the islands so that they could be used as bases for the strategic bombing of Japan by B-29 Superfortresses. Seizure of the Marianas would also open a number of options to the Allies, since bases here would be within range of Palau, the Philippines, Formosa, or the Bonins. Invasion of the Marianas was given priority over the Palaus. However, the target date of 15 June 1944 was not set until 12 March 1944, and Nimitz assigned FORAGER to 5 Fleet (Spruance) on 28 March.

American carriers struck the Marianas repeatedly, beginning on 23 February 1944. This was the first good look at the Marianas in over two years, and the raiding aircraft brought back a wealth of photographic intelligence. The raid also destroyed 168 Japanese aircraft and sank 45,000 tons of shipping. Land-base aircraft of 5, 7, and 13 Air Forces, mostly heavy bombers conducting night raids, bombarded Japanese bases in the Carolines throughout March to ensure there would be no Japanese interference with FORAGER from the south. Starting on 18 April, photo reconnaissance aircraft (B-24s) from VD-1, VD-3, and VMD-254 from Guadalcanal began staging through Eniwetok to map the Marianas. These were joined by VD-4 based on Eniwetok itself.  Since Operation FORAGER began in June 1944, it will more than likely be part of one of my future blog postings.

_________________________________

Source: CINCPAC PRESS RELEASE NO. 707

At this link, the entire chronological listing of events of the war in the pacific for 1944 can be read.  For my posting I am trying to indentify the combat events that the USS Hornet CV-12 was or more than likely was involved.

NOTE:  References to 5th Fleet are referring to the forces that were part of Admiral Raymond Spruance’s Fifth Fleet, it bore the designation Task Force (TF) 58.  As written in my previous post, the USS Hornet (CV-12) became part of Task Force 58 upon arrival in Pearl Harbor on March 4, 1944.

29‑31 March 1944

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance

Admiral Raymond A. Spruance

In the deepest penetration yet made of enemy defenses, carrier forces under tactical command of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, USN, heavily attacked the Palau Islands with additional strikes at Yap, MIMI and Woleai in the western Carolines. The approaching force was detected, and many enemy ships, including heavy units, fled from Palau anchorages. However, on 20‑30 March, 29 Japanese ships were sunk at Palau: 3 destroyers; 2 large, 6 medium and 9 small freighters: 3 large, 1 medium and 1 small tanker; and 4 smaller vessels. 4 18 other vessels were severely damaged, some of them fired or beached, 114 Jap aircraft were shot down; 46 destroyed on the ground. Yap and Ulithi were hit on the 30th. At Yap, 1 small craft was sunk; at Ulithi, 1 sunk, 1 damaged. At Woleai on the 31st, 7 aircraft were destroyed on the ground, 3 barges destroyed. Installations at all four locations suffered heavy damage. Our losses were 25 aircraft lost in combat.

Strike photograph of raid against Palau taken by planes from the carrier Hornet (CV 12), 30 March 1944

Strike photograph of raid against Palau taken by planes from the carrier Hornet (CV 12), 30 March 1944

Strike photograph of raid against Palau taken by planes from the carrier Hornet (CV 12), 31 March 1944

Strike photograph of raid against Palau taken by planes from the carrier Hornet (CV 12), 31 March 1944

20‑23 April 1944

Forces of the 5th Fleet provided air and surface support for landings of Southwest Pacific forces at Aitape and Hollandia on the northern coast of New Guinea. 5th Fleet carrier aircraft bombed and strafed Japanese airfields at Wakde, Sawar and in the Hollandia area, 5th Fleet cruisers and destroyers bombarded Japanese airfields at Wakde and Sawar at night. Ground Installations, fuel and ammunition dumps were destroyed in these strikes. It is estimated that 5th Fleet aircraft whose operations were coordinated with those of the Southwest Pacific Air Forces‑destroyed 88 Japanese aircraft on the ground, 34 in the air; and 1 small cargo vessel and 6 small craft. 5th Fleet losses: 10 aircraft in combat.

An F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-2 is in flight. The squadron is assigned to USS Hornet (CV-12) April 1944

An F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-2 is in flight. The squadron is assigned to USS Hornet (CV-12) April 1944

21 April 1944

Under cover furnished by ships of the 5th and 7th Fleets, and shore‑based aircraft of the Southwest Pacific forces, troops under command of General MacArthur went ashore at Humboldt Bay and Tanahmerah Bay to secure Hollandia, and also at Aitape. Opposition was light. Beachheads were quickly secured and by the 28th, all airfields and airdromes at both areas were in hand.  This move effectively isolated at least 60,000 Japs of the Japanese 18th Army between Aitape and Madang, and made it possible to blockade them as enemy troops in the Solomons, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Marshalls were being blockaded.  In this operation the 5th Fleet units were under tactical command of Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, USN, and the 7th Fleet units were under Rear Admiral D. E. Barbey, USN.

Admiral Marc Mitscher

Admiral Marc Mitscher

An American landing craft, loaded with troops, approaches the beach at Hollandia. In the background shell bursts from the preliminary bombardment. April 22, 1944

An American landing craft, loaded with troops, approaches the beach at Hollandia. In the background shell bursts from the preliminary bombardment. April 22, 1944

29‑30 April 1944

Returning from the Hollandia operation, 5th Fleet units under Vice Admiral Mitscher attacked Truk. Carrier aircraft heavily bombed and strafed ground installations, doing extensive damage. Other enemy losses 63 aircraft shot down, 60 destroyed on the ground; 4 small craft sunk. We lost 27 aircraft.

VF-2 pilots manning their F6F-3 Hellcats for a raid against Truk, May 1944.

VF-2 pilots manning their F6F-3 Hellcats for a raid against Truk, May 1944.

 

From the War Diary from the website Fold3:

Operations in the Western Carolina Islands.  As the ship began the return trip to Majuro, strikes were sent against Woleai the following day.  Little activity was found and the strikes were terminated earlier than planned.  The Task Group returned to Majuro for three days for a brief rest and replenishment period.  The Hornet then sailed with the Fleet to support the Southwest Pacific forces in their occupation of Hollandia on the Northwesterly coast of New Guinea.  The Task Group targets were the airfields at Wadke and Sawar and the Supply Depot at Sarmi.  Again enemy air opposition was not severe, but the fields, buildings and planes on the ground were severely damaged.  The returning three days were spent in strikes Truk, Satawan and Ponape.  After two days of continuous strikes, in which the Hornet’s group had also hit the Islands of Moen, Eton, and Dublon, a combination strike and bombardment operation was conducted against Ponape.

1 May 1944

Battleships of the 5th Fleet, supported by carrier aircraft, bombarded Ponape in the Carolines. Numerous buildings in Ponape town, the seaplane base, and the wharf area were destroyed. (Ponape and other Japanese bases in the Carolines had suffered increasingly heavy shore‑based air attacks during the months of March and April. Such attacks were further stepped up during May).

An F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-2 warming up on the flight deck of the USS Hornet (CV-12) May 1944

An F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-2 warming up on the flight deck of the USS Hornet (CV-12) May 1944

From the War Diary from the website Fold3:

A month of rest and relaxation.  A strike was launched on 1 May to gain control of the air and to stack airfields and gun positions at Ponape  prior to bombardment by the battle lines.  On the way from Ponape to Kwajalein, time was found for King Neptune to hold his court and initiate the vast number of Pollywogs on board, who had already crossed the Equator several times with impunity. (See my previous post for the Crossing the Equator event in March 1944).

The ship returned to Kwajalein, Marshall Islands, for five days and then proceeded to Majuro.  Here the ship received stores and conducted up keep and minor repairs.

Captain W. D. Sample, U.S.N., relieved Captain M.R. Browning, U.S.N. as Commanding Officer of the Hornet on 29 May , at 1038 (Details below).

29 May 1944

The USS Hornet (CV-12) arrived in port Majuro for Change of Command.

Good bow shot of Hornet in original form tied up at Majuro, May 29, 1944. National Archives photo # 80-G-242616.

Good bow shot of Hornet in original form tied up at Majuro, May 29, 1944. National Archives photo # 80-G-242616.

In my previous post where I introduced and wrote about the naval career of the ship’s first captain, Miles Browning, I told of an incident in the spring of 1944 that changed his career.  During a nighttime showing of a film on Hornet’s hangar deck, someone discharged a CO2 canister and triggered a stampede. In the chaos, two sailors fell overboard; one of them drowned. A board of investigation was ordered, which criticized Browning’s command. The ensuing ruin of his career, “one of the great wastes to the American prosecution of the war,” resulted, ironically, from nothing having to do with combat. Browning was removed from command of Hornet in May 1944 and reassigned to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he taught carrier battle tactics during the final months of the war. Halsey was given command of the carrier-oriented Third Fleet during 1944-1945, but with his old chief of staff tossed onto the beach, he made grave mistakes that Browning might well have been able to help prevent.

I will write about the next captain in my next post.

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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    My father was on the U>S>S> Essex also. Great writing. Thanks.

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