Remembering VF(N)-101

How can VF(N)-101 best be remembered?

I created this blog back in 2015 when Flight Lieutenant John Kelly’s son sent me this picture of his father on a group picture.

vfn-101

Collection John Kelly (courtesy Gunnar Kelly)

This is how I got started writing a blog with the idea of remembering unsung heroes.

There were 8 faces but only one name. 

Richard Emerson  Harmer was also smiling, as well as other night fighter naval aviators from VF(N)-101 aboard the Enterprise, but I did not know who he was… 

vfn-101-richard-emerson-harmer

Then Bob Brunson, another naval aviator on that picture, found my blog and I could add his name on another smiling face.

robert-brunson

Bob Brunson who knew Richard Harmer’s son gave me his email to contact him. What evolved from this contact was more than 3 gigabytes of files about his father Richard Harmer.

Photos like this one…

Lots of documents, and foremost his complete 1944 diary.

The start of the transcription is here.

 

I just had to turn back time, and start writing on each of the 39 naval aviators seen on the deck of USS Saratoga 15 July 1942…

VF-5 July, 1942

Top row (left to right): Price, Reiplinger, Altemus, Gunsolus, Eichenberger, Innis, Gray, Kleinmann, Morgan, Roach, Dufilho, Smith

Center row: Currie, Robb, Wesolowski. Starkes, Davy, Holt, Daly, Presley, McDonald, Tabberer, Barbieri, Haynes, Bass, Blair, Bright

Bottom row: Kleinman, Stover, Crews, Brown, Southerland, Harmer, Simpler, Richardson, Green, Jensen, Clarke, Stepanek. (photo from the collection of Capt. H. W. Crews)

I just had to turn back time before writing about VF(N)-101.


To contact me you can write a comment or use this contact form.

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Pearl Harbor, the Missing Carriers: USS Enterprise, USS Lexington and USS Saratoga

The US aircraft carriers on December 7, 1941

Padre Steve's World: Official Home of the Anti-Chaps

h50931

On the morning of December 7th 1941 8 of the 9 Battleships assigned to the US Pacific Fleet were in Pearl Harbor. Seven, the USS California, USS Maryland, USS Oklahoma, USS Tennessee, USS West Virginia, USS Arizona and USS Nevada were moored on Battleship Row. The USS Pennsylvania was in the massive dry dock which she shared with the destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes. The USS Colorado, a sister ship of Maryland and West Virginia was at the Puget Sound Naval Yard being overhauled.

pearlharbor_wide-6febcbc3473e02a65f9b7b9e151905b7300c328f-s6-c30

USS West Virginia sinking at left and USS Tennessee burning at Pearl Harbor

At the time both the United States Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy still viewed the Battleships as the heart of the fleet and the essence of naval power. Aircraft Carriers were still viewed as an adjunct and support to the traditional battle line.

Japanese-carriersJapanese Aircraft preparing to launch at Pearl…

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The Ships at Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941: A Brief History of Each Ship

About the ships that were at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941

Padre Steve's World: Official Home of the Anti-Chaps

harbrmap1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the seminal moments in the history of the United States where at one time the nation rose up as one to the challenge of an attack against it and against its armed forces. Sadly, for most Americans today no matter what their political ideology the concept of coming together in a crisis is a foreign and possibly even a hateful idea.

However, in December 1941 the Pacific Fleet of the United States Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor of the nation came together as it never had before. On the morning of December 7th 1941 there were over ninety ships of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. While over twenty percent of these ships were sunk or damaged in the attack, almost all returned to service in the war. Likewise, many of the surviving shipswere lost in…

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December 7th, 1941

I wonder where Chick Harmer was on December 7th, 1941.

Maybe his log book would tell us?
I know where he was on August 24, 1942.

citation

Where was he?

His daughter commented…

Thanks for posting this, Pierre. I know Dad’s first child Elaine was born Oct 15, 1940 in Hawaii while he was at sea. Mom was all alone giving birth in the hospital. The nurse brought in flowers which she thought were from Dad, but it turned out the nurse made a mistake and they belonged in another room. My guess is that Dad was transferred before Pearl Harbor, but I don’t know that piece. Never heard from him on that.

Intermission – Searching for John P. Altemus and finding Butch O’Hare

Note

My intention was to post this on January 29th, 2019. It would have been posted exactly 75 years ago. I have change my mind, and I have decided to post it now since someone wrote me a comment about USS Intrepid.

Carrier Air Group 6 was embarked on CV-11, USS Intrepid, for Operation Flintlock.They were no longer affiliated with the Enterprise, since the re-organization of the aviation units to separate them from their original carriers in late ’42, early ’43. Hence the name change from « Enterprise Air Group » to « Carrier Air Group Six ».

So here goes!


This is the last time I wrote about John P. Altemus on this blog. Almost one year ago. I wrote I would continue his story on January 29, 2019. 75 years ago, John P. Altemus was on the USS Intrepid during the Marshall campaign while Richard Harmer was on the USS Enterprise.

Richard E Harmer Journal January 28-29-30

John P. Altemus is seen here with other naval aviators on a picture taken at Majuro Lagoon in February 1944. It is quite possible John Altemus met Richard Harmer.

Intrepid photo

All naval aviators on this photo are identified.

Warren, Godson, Rooney, Altemus, Little

Ogg, Odenbrett, Trimble, Davis, Small

Loesch, Loesch, Scaarle, Coleman, Bach

All were with VF-6 and were part of the Marshall campaign.

In 2015, I hadn’t the faintest idea who was naval aviator John P. Altemus. Then, in 2016, I found this group picture among the files Richard Harmer’s son had sent me.

1941-vf-5-squadron-saratoga
I got curious because the caption appeared to have some wrong information. There were no names except Harmer’s name.
I immediately recognised who Harmer was since he was on this other group picture shared by John Kelly’s son…

group picture of VF(N)-101

This is how this search for Richard Harmer started. Part of Richard Harmer’s story has been told on this blog.

John P. Altemus’ story?

Well not that much.

1942-vf-5-squadron-saratoga-3-3-altemus

altemus

I knew last year he had survived the war when I found these photos on the Internet.

Source: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/55674

These photos are dated 1946 according to the website although I doubt the first one was taken in 1946.

Altemus 1

Pilot, John P. Altemus in his plane – Daytona Beach, Florida

Altemus 2

John P. Altemus loads the van at Baby Valet Laundry – Daytona Beach, Florida

Altemus 3

John P. Altemus in the van at Baby Valet Laundry – Daytona Beach, Florida

Altemus 4

John P. Altemus stacks boxes in Baby Valet Laundry – Daytona Beach, Florida

Then last year someone found my blog about VF(N)-101 and asked for my help. I did some quick research. First, on Google Books where Altemus, in 1943, was part of Operation Landgrab

book where I took the information

Altemus is said to have had six confirmed kills making him an ace.

book excerpt

Information on that operation

Battle of Attu: Operation Landgrab

American ships and planes bombed Attu and Kiska for several weeks before the U.S. military began Operation Landgrab on May 11, 1943, landing 11,000 troops on Attu. The Americans expected the operation to take no more than several days, but harsh weather and rugged, muddy terrain extended the combat for more than two weeks. The Japanese troops, greatly outnumbered, had withdrawn to high ground rather than contest the initial landings. However, U.S. soldiers, with uniforms and equipment ill-designed for the harsh weather conditions, suffered more casualties from frostbite, trench foot, gangrene and other illnesses than from enemy fire. Food shortages added to their misery as they crisscrossed the barren island, fighting mostly small but fierce engagements while scouring the rocks and slopes for booby traps, snipers and dug-in enemy troops.

But the fate of the Japanese had been sealed when the Americans established air and naval supremacy over the island, cutting Japanese supply lines and making it unlikely that reinforcements would arrive. By late May, the last remaining Japanese troops were starving and had insufficient ammunition when U.S. troops trapped them in a corner of the island. The Japanese commander, Colonel Yasuyo Yamasaki (1891-1943), decided to make a last-ditch frontal charge. Shortly before daybreak on May 29, he and his soldiers began one of the largest banzai charges of the war in the Pacific. Yamasaki’s troops charged wildly into the American lines, sweeping through their combat outposts and penetrating all the way to shocked support troops in the rear of the American camp. But the gambit ultimately failed. After a final attack on May 30, U.S. soldiers counted more than 2,000 Japanese dead, including Yamasaki. The Americans lost some 1,000 men in the retaking of Attu. Within two days, U.S. forces secured the island and the Battle of Attu, the only land battle fought on American soil in World War II, was over.

Source: http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-the-aleutian-islands

Then Altemus’ name appeared many times in this book which led me to buy it and learn more.ocdcbhidpoabmofm
This book then led me to a picture and a name on a website…group picture

Photo of Butch O’Hare’s VF-6 Squadron pilots taken on Puunene, Maui July ’43

source: http://www.leisuregalleries.com/philippe.html

John P. Altemus was there, first row, second from the left.group picture Altemus
And there was Butch O’Hare…group picture O'Hare
Altemus’ name appears again here.

The squadron was always being split up on different carriers until they all got together in USS INTREPID for the 16-17 FEB1944 raid at Truk. The section (actually 13 pilots) that went to USS PRINCETON on 23AUG1943 was Howard W “Sandy” Crews section that included Edward Phillipe, “Dix” Loesch, “Thad” Coleman, “Wheels” Davis (Uncle Bill), John Altemus, “Jock” Odenbrett, “Junior” Godson, “Cherry” Klingler, Bob Locker and three others I have forgotten their names right now. I am scanning a photo taken alongside the island of PRINCETON of Sandy’s section. Of note is the two Rising Suns on the “scoreboard”. These were the first for the ship’s air crews but not Air Group 23. They belonged to Dix Loesch and Thad Coleman of VF-6 while over Baker/Howland Islands (made famous by Amelia Earhart’s last flight) 0n 01SEP1943. The other sections (Bullard and Rooney) were on USS INDEPENDENCE with Butch at Marcus Island in the Mariannas Group on 31AUG1943. INDEPENDENCE returned to Puunene’ on 08SEP1943 while PRINCETON went on to make a strike at Makin & Tarawa on 18SEP1943, returning to Pearl Harbor on 21SEP1943.

This picture was shared last year without any caption.


Now I know where it was taken.
About Butch O’Hare, we know who was his wingman. He was Marion Dufilho who I had not the faintest idea who he was in 2015.1942 VF (5) Squadron Saratoga 3-11 Dufilho
Part of Marion Dufilho’s story has been told on this blog.


To be continued on January 30, 2019… or maybe sooner.

Footnote

Source: https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/LatestNews/January-2014/This-Month-in–em-Intrepid–em–s-History—em-Int

Intrepid at War: January 1944

USS Intrepid was commissioned seventy years ago this past August 16, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years this ship and crew trained, fitted out and then fought their way across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the contributions the ship and crew made to victory were vital and the price they paid heavy. Travel with our Museum Tour Guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

January 1944: Task Force 58

US_fleet_at_Majuro_Atoll_1944

Task Force 58 of the US 5th Fleet lies at anchor in Majuro Atoll. Majuro is part of the Marshall Islands and was one of the objectives of Operation Flintlock. Atolls like Majuro allowed the U.S. Navy to gather strength before attacking the next objective. (National Archives)

On January 6, 1944, with repairs complete, Intrepid left California and set out for the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. When the ship arrived on January 10, tug boats helped maneuver Intrepid into a berth along Ford Island, the same berth once occupied by the battleship Tennessee during the attacks two years prior. Nearby, an upper section of the battleship Arizona still stood visible, serving as a tangible reminder to all sailors of why they were there. Crew member Raymond Stone later wrote, “Those of us looking down on the Arizona from the edge of the flight deck stood wrapped in solemn silence, thinking about the brave men who lost their lives defending their ship…Amidst those thoughts of the 1,177 Arizona crewmen killed that Sunday morning, I felt a surge of anger and resolve to avenge, to get even.”

Meanwhile, the armada of warships surrounding Intrepid meant that that time had come. January 1944 was a watershed month for Intrepid, a period of transition that began with repairs in California and ended with Intrepid pilots in combat over the Marshall Islands.

Changes began shortly after arrival at Pearl Harbor. On January 10, Air Group 8 was officially detached from Intrepid,both its planes and pilots. Initially some crew members were unhappy about having “their” air group taken away. Over the past few months they had formed a strong bond with AG 8 and had trained to face combat together. As the ship’s newspaper later recalled, “It was a double hardship to lose them, for not only were they confidence-inspiring, but also they were old friends and, in complete contrast, nothing was known about the group coming aboard.”

Air Group 6 officially arrived on Intrepid shortly after AG 8 departed. In stark contrast to AG 8, AG 6 was a veteran outfit that had already seen a great deal of action in the first two years of the Pacific War. Most recently, in November 1943, they had served aboard the carrier Enterprise during Operation Galvanic, a series of raids in the Gilbert Islands that culminated in the invasion of Tarawa. Also in late November 1943, AG 6 had lost their commander, LCDR Edward “Butch” O’Hare, the first naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor. Despite their initial reservations, Intrepid’s crew quickly began to respect this new Air Group as they watched its planes land on the deck in an efficient, business-like manner. The ship’s newspaper later summed up this first impression, concluding, “This group went through take-off maneuvers and landings with deadly precision and machine-like accuracy that was thrilling to watch. Here were a bunch of men to be proud of, men who knew their business to the last detail.”

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Map of Intrepid’s wartime cruise shows the approach to the Marshalls, as well as the next objective at Truk. (National Museum of Naval Aviation Archives)

Coming together at Pearl Harbor that January, the sailors and aviators of Intrepid and AG 6 became part of a new fleet and phase of the Pacific War. Eighteen months earlier, at battles like Coral Sea and Midway, older carriers had fought a defensive campaign and halted the Japanese onslaught at Pearl Harbor. Then for nearly six months in the waters around Guadalcanal, both sides traded ships and time, wearing each other down in an attritional struggle to determine who would next take the initiative and go on the offensive.

Having won that right, in late 1943, the U.S. Navy concentrated its fleet of new, fast carriers for an offensive campaign across the Central Pacific. Initially known as the Central Pacific Force, this formation of ships is better known by its later designation the U.S. 5th Fleet. Under the overall command of Admiral Raymond Spruance, hero of the Battle of Midway, 5th Fleet included invasion and support forces, but its main hitting power came from an ever-growing strike force of fast carriers known as Task Force 58. Operation Galvanic, in November 1943, was just the first step, a dress rehearsal designed in part to test these new ships and the new doctrine and tactics that guided their use. Now their mission would be to raid a succession of Japanese-held islands and engage and destroy their air and naval forces as part of an advance on Japan itself. On January 16, Intrepid, along with carriers Essex and Cabot, left Pearl Harbor to link up with Task Force 58 for the next major objective, the Marshall Islands.

Intrepid photo cruise

Intrepid underway at sea without its air group. Sea trials at the end of November 1943 were designed to test the ships speed and maneuverability. (From the 1963 Cruise Book)

The Marshalls were a former German colony that, following World War I, was placed under Japanese administration by a League of Nations mandate. Over time, the Japanese had built a defensive network of airfields on several key islands from which their aircraft could control the nearby shipping lanes. By World War II, the Marshalls were an integral part of Japan’s defensive perimeter and a major objective for the U.S. Navy. The plan of attack, code named “Operation Flintlock”, called for the fast carriers of Task Force 58 to launch strikes against the airfields and then provide continuous air cover as an invasion force landed and seized the key islands. As Intrepid approached the Marshall Islands, anticipation for combat began to build. Entries in the diary of crew member Jacob Elefant took on an increasingly ominous tone:

January 24 – “Contacted first enemy sub but couldn’t get exact location: We’re in dangerous waters now.
January 28 – We’re wondering what’s wrong…they haven’t sent a plane out to meet us. Could be they don’t know we’re coming.”

Then on the morning of January 29, 1944, as Intrepid readied to launch planes into combat for the first time, Executive Officer Richard Gaines included a special message in the ship’s “Plan of the Day”: “We have an exciting schedule to meet – one which is timed to the minute with those of Essex and Cabot. This is the chance we’ve been waiting for. LET’S GO INTREPID!” After months of training, testing and preparation, Intrepid and its crew were finally going to be put to the test.


https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/LatestNews/February-2014/This-Month-in-Intrepid-s-History

Intrepid at War: February 1944

USS Intrepid was commissioned seventy years ago this past August 16, joining the U.S. Navy in the middle of World War II. For the next two years this ship and crew trained, fitted out and then fought their way across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, the contributions the ship and crew made to victory were vital and the price they paid heavy. Travel with our Museum Tour Guides here each month as they follow Intrepid’s journey and its crew’s experience throughout World War II.

Intrepid at War

Intrepid’s aircraft attack targets on the islands of Roi and Namur, part of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These air strikes were intended to knock out enemy air power in preparation for an amphibious assault. (National Archives)

February 1944: Combat and Consequences

For USS Intrepid, February 1944 was a month defined by action. Between January 29 and February 17, after five months of testing, training, and transit, Intrepid fought in and helped to win its first two battles: the invasion of the Marshall Islands and the carrier raid on Truk Atoll. Along the way, the warship and most of its crew had their first taste of combat. While they gained valuable experience and made major contributions to two important victories, both the ship and its crew suffered inevitable consequences.

In early February 1944, USS Intrepid patrolled the Marshall Islands, clearing the skies of enemy planes and softening ground defenses. On the morning of February 1, the carrier’s mission shifted to close air support. Intrepid’s planes acted as flying artillery, providing strikes by request to the U.S. Marines as they invaded and occupied Wotje Atoll. During the U.S. Navy’s offensive across the Central Pacific, a key tenet of Allied strategy was a concept called “island hopping.” While advancing west, the U.S. Navy encountered numerous Japanese-held islands. Many of these islands were insignificant enough to be bypassed and “hopped” over. Others, however, were simply too important strategically to ignore and had to be seized or neutralized. The attack on the Marshalls was an example of an amphibious assault. U.S. forces invaded and seized the Marshalls so they could be used as a staging area from which to continue the drive across the Central Pacific. In particular, the U.S. Navy wanted to use the lagoon at Majuro as a forward base. Rather than return to Pearl Harbor, Intrepid anchored at Majuro to prepare for the next major operation: an attack on Truk Atoll.

Instead of an invasion, the attack on Truk was a fast carrier raid. In function, Truk was something of a Japanese Pearl Harbor, serving as the forward headquarters for their fleet. From the atoll, Japanese warships and aircraft dominated much of the Central Pacific. While the U.S. did not need Truk as a base, if left unchecked, it could threaten the Allied advance and had to be neutralized. Therefore, on February 12, Intrepid and 11 other carriers of the 5th Fleet sailed from Majuro to raid Truk. Their mission was to bombard the atoll destroying ships, aircraft and installations, weakening it until it could be safely “hopped” over.

Intrepid at War

On the morning of February 16, Intrepid began its second battle by launching a fighter sweep over Truk. Though the strategic goal was different, tactically speaking the engagement started out for Intrepid much like the invasion of the Marshalls. Fighters went in first to eliminate Japanese aircraft. Next, torpedo and dive bombers concentrated on airfields and defenses. Once the 5th Fleet gained air superiority, carrier strikes shifted to other targets. While some Intrepid pilots moved in against Japanese installations and supplies, others took on ships trapped in the lagoon. U.S. Navy planners had hoped to take Truk by surprise and catch a large number of Japanese warships in port. Though the Japanese pulled much of their fleet out of Truk before the attack, a great number of auxiliaries were left behind. These freighters, tankers and transports were the first ships ever engaged or sunk by Intrepid’s planes. In total, the 5th Fleet sunk nearly 200,000 tons of Japanese shipping at Truk.

While Intrepid made a significant contribution to neutralizing Truk, it came at the price of several pilots. During an attack on a Japanese cruiser, Lt. George C. Bullard was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He managed to keep his F6F Hellcat in the air long enough to go down outside the lagoon. Although fellow pilots saw Bullard swim to a nearby island and spell out his name on the beach, he was too close to Truk for rescue. Instead, Bullard spent the rest of the war as a POW. Another Intrepid pilot, Lt. James E. Bridges, managed to avoid enemy fire during a successful bombing run on a Japanese ammunition ship. He managed to drop his bomb on the vessel causing it to explode and sink. Bridges may well have been the first Intrepid pilot to ever sink an enemy ship but he never found out. The explosion engulfed his TBM Avenger, killing everyone aboard.

By this stage in the war, U.S. technological and material superiority was overwhelming, but the Japanese remained a skilled and dangerous enemy, particularly during night operations. Following the previous day’s attack on Truk, in the early morning of February 17, just moments after Intrepid’s anti-aircraft gunners were released from their posts, a lone Japanese bomber put a torpedo into the aft starboard quarter of Intrepid.

Intrepid at War

The ensuing blast killed 11 men, breached the hull and disabled the ship’s rudder. Damage control teams leapt into action and quickly made the ship watertight. However, the damage to the rudder could not be repaired at sea, and the wounded carrier was forced to withdraw. For Intrepid, the battle of Truk was over.

Intrepid at War

During Intrepid’s first foray into the Pacific War, the ship fought in two major engagements, taking part in both an amphibious operation and a carrier raid. Its pilots faced enemy aircraft in the sky, attacked naval and ground targets and provided close air support to men on the ground. Along the way its aircraft shot down 12 enemy planes, destroyed 43 on the ground, and sunk or damaged 12 ships. The Marshalls belonged to the United States and Truk was in ruins, yet Intrepid paid a high price, with nine planes lost and 24 men dead or missing. Intrepid was out of action for the foreseeable future and on a long, dangerous journey home.

About Richard “Chick” Harmer

There is nothing more in Richard Harmer’s diary after July 17, 1944.

17 July 1944

The last entry is on the last pages…

scan0013

Here’s to the best Skipper a Navy man could have, and I hope the pleasure of serving with him continue.
(Swede)

Swede Kullberg

Swede Kullberg

Here is to a human skipper a Navy could have. May your dreams & aspirations come true.
“Christ”

group picture of VF(N)-101 Orphanides

Chris Ophanides

To a real guy whose relationship with the officers and men of his command have made my first real duty the pleasure it has been. May I be able to help him to the best of my ability.
Jack

Here’s to Chick – a man’s man, a real guy and a beautiful pilot. I hope that I am and will be a credit to his labors and teachings, and to help him through their applications.
von

group picture of VF(N)-101 Von Sprecken

von Sprecken

I’m proud to be a member of a squadron who has such a wonderful skipper as Chick Harmer. I’ll do my darndest to make him proud of his squadron and maybe I’ll be able to show all my gratitude for what he has done for me and the squadron. Bob H.

group picture of VF(N)-101 Holden

Bob Holden

To the finest and most capable skipper I could ever have served with. One who is a companion, a brother, & an able adviser all in one. In all, Chick is the best damn fellow we could ever meet.
Bob Poirier

group picture of VF(N)-101 Poirier

Robert Poirier

The newcomer is happy and proud to be aboard VFN 75. May they come 1/2 mi dead ahead, Skipper.
Frank Burgess.