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.


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Naval Aviation Cadet Program (1935–1968) (Wikipedia)

To meet the demand for aviators the Navy created a cadet program similar to the Flight Officer Program used by the Army.

Naval Aviation Cadet Act (1935)

On April 15, 1935 Congress passed the Naval Aviation Cadet Act. This set up the volunteer naval reserve class V-5 Naval Aviation Cadet (NavCad) program to send civilian and enlisted candidates to train as aviation cadets. Candidates had to be between the ages of 19 and 25, have an associate degree or at least two years of college, and had to complete a bachelor’s degree within six years after graduation to keep their commission. Training was for 18 months and candidates had to agree to not marry during training and to serve for at least three more years of active duty service.

Civilian candidates who had graduated or dropped out of college were classified as volunteer reserve class V-1 and held the rank of ordinary seaman in the organized reserve. Candidates who had not yet completed a four-year degree had a set time limit after training to complete it. Those that did not, lost their rank and received a transfer to volunteer reserve class V-6. Candidates who volunteered while still in college were enrolled in the Accredited College Program and were classified as volunteer reserve class V-1 (ACP).

Candidates who were not already in the navy were evaluated and processed at one of 13 naval reserve air bases across the country, each one representing one of the eligible naval districts. They consisted of the 1st and 3rd through 13th naval districts (representing the 48 states of the continental United States) and the 14th Naval District (comprising America’s Pacific territories and headquartered at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii).

Candidates who were selected went on to Naval Flight Preparatory School. This was a course in physical training (to get the cadets in shape and weed out the unfit), military skills (marching, standing in formation, and performing the manual of arms), and naval customs and etiquette (as a naval officer was considered a gentleman). Pre-flight school was a refresher course in mathematics and physics with practical applications of these skills in flight. This was followed by a short preliminary flight training module in which the cadets did 10 hours in a simulator followed by a one-hour test flight with an instructor. Those that passed received V-5 flight badges (gold-metal aviator’s wings with the V-5 badge set in the center). They were sent on to primary and basic flight training at NAS Pensacola and advanced flight training at another naval air station.

Graduates became naval aviators with the rank of aviation cadet, which was considered senior to the rank of chief petty officer but below the rank of warrant officer. As members of the volunteer reserve, they received the same pay as an ordinary seaman ($75 a month during training or duty ashore, $125 a month when on active sea duty, and $30 mess allowance). After three years of active service they were reviewed and could be promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) in the naval reserve and receive a $1,500 bonus.

Cadets who washed out of the V-5 program were assigned to volunteer reserve class V-6 with the rank of ordinary seaman. This was a holding category that allowed the navy to evaluate the candidate for either reassignment to another part of the volunteer reserve or reassignment to the general service branches of the navy or naval reserve. They were exempt from being drafted by the army in wartime but were considered reservists in the navy and could be called to active service at any time.

Fighting Squadron Five

Fighting Squadron Five have not received proper recognition.

I was quite surprised to read this two years ago from the author John B. Lundstrom, especially when I was asking myself if all these posts I was writing back then about 39 pilots were worth writing.

FIGHTING FIVE’S VALEDICTORY

Beginning 17 October VF-5 reassembled at Efate after its eventful tour at CACTUS (11 September-16 October 1942). In a sense a phantom squadron, VF-5 contributed mightily to the defense of Guadalcanal, although it never received proper recognition of that fact. The big Navy squadron brought twenty-four F4F Wildcats and ultimately thirty-two experienced pilots to CACTUS at a time when Marine fighter strength ebbed. Credited with 45 kills (12 fighters, 21 medium bombers, 5 float-Zeros, and 7 float planes), Japanese records indicate VF-5 actually accounted for some 22 enemy planes (7 fighters, 8 land attack planes, 4 float-Zeros, and 3 float planes).

During the same period, victory credits for VMF-223, VMF-224, and VMF-121 totaled 100 planes, while enemy sources point to the real tally as about 38 (12 of 31 fighters, 15 of 47 medium bombers, 3 of 4 dive bombers, 1 of 2 reconnaissance planes, 2 of 3 float-Zeros, and 5 of 13 float planes). VF-5 lost six pilots killed or missing in action and four wounded and evacuated. Combat cost seven F4Fs, operational accidents six, and seven sustained bombs or shells on the ground).

In an analytical action report and with detailed interviews, Lieutenant Commander Simpler distilled the vital lessons from VF-5’s battle experiences on Guadalcanal. They were especially important, for VF-5 saw the must protracted combat of any carrier fighting squadron. For the first time Navy VF fought from a land base rather than a flattop, and Simpler considered that “far more intense and difficult for VF”‘ than shipboard service. He found it necessary to watch his pilots carefully to see the effects of the “stress of continued action.” The lack of adequate sleep and living conditions at Guadalcanal proved crucial: “A man’s ‘guts’ is directly proportional to how rested he is nothing more or less.” Simpler also elucidated his basic philosophy of command, which he followed to the letter at CACTUS:

In wartime, a squadron commander has got to be a squadron commander: he can’t be wishy-washy: he has to take responsibility freely. He’s got to assert himself always and never send anyone where he wouldn’t go himself.

He described in detail the familiar drawbacks of the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, namely low climb rate, slow speed, and insufficient range. He added the interesting observation:

The common practice is to judge a fighter by the number of planes it destroys. This is most misleading. Any fighter’s worth is determined by the number of enemy planes who escape to return again.

Under this criterion the noble Wildcat indeed proved deficient at CACTUS.

Simpler’s action report received favorable endorsements up the chain of command from ComSoPac to CominCh in Washington. Rear Admiral Fitch (1 December 1942) described it as an “excellent presentation,” and Admiral Halsey (20 December 1942) called it “timely, well concerned and most informative.” On 17 January 1943 VAdm. John Towers, ComAirPac, noted “the effectiveness of our carrier squadrons in combat operations from advanced shore bases is gratifying.” Certainly their training and fundamental doctrine appeared sound. Yet he was concerned about the misuse of specialist pilots, noting that they operated from ashore only from “grave necessity.” He desired the carrier pilots be reserved for sea duty if at all possible. On 22 February Rear Admiral Spruance, Pacific Fleet Chief of Staff, seconded Towers’s comments and stressed the need to conserve carrier pilots. He considered the “performance at Guadalcanal of Fighting Squadron Five, under the command of lieutenant C:onunandel Simpler, … highly commendable.”

The Popular Science issue for August 1943 gave VF-5 proper recognition.

 

Log book – June 1942

The last entry in the log book for May 1942 was on May 31st.

I can’t still figure out what was the meaning of (1Cal). Probably a gun calibration flight…

However I could figure out what was the meaning of (110 C.L.) though.

Richard Harmer had made 110 carrier landings!

The May 31st flight was a familiarization flight to know his whereabouts around Alameda. Richard Harmer’s next flight will be on June 20, 1942. He will fly off from the Saratoga to Luke Field in the Hawaiian Islands where he will stay for two days before going back to the Saratoga practising again his carrier landings.

I can’t figure out what was BP Fixed Guns…

Yet!

On the 29th Richard Harmer flies to shore probably for a leave.

Next time, July 1942.

Turning back the time to December 1941…

Richard Harmer was with Fighting Squadron Five aboard…

USS Wasp!

On 7 December 1941, the three Pacific Fleet aircraft carriers were USS Enterprise (CV-6), USS Lexington (CV-2), and USS Saratoga(CV-3).

Enterprise: On 28 November 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel sent TF-8, consisting of Enterprise, the heavy cruisers Northampton(CA-26), Chester (CA-27), and Salt Lake City (CA-24) and nine destroyers under Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., to ferry 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211 to Wake Island. Upon completion of the mission on 4 December, TF-8 set course to return to Pearl Harbor. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found TF-8 about 215 miles west of Oahu.

Lexington: On 5 December 1941, TF-12, formed around Lexington, under the command of Rear Admiral John H. Newton, sailed from Pearl to ferry 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 to Midway Island. Dawn on 7 December 1941 found Lexington, heavy cruisers Chicago (CA-29), Portland (CA-33), and Astoria (CA-34), and five destroyers about 500 miles southeast of Midway. The outbreak of hostilities resulted in cancellation of the mission and VMSB-231 was retained on board [they would ultimately fly to Midway from Hickam Field on 21 December].

Saratoga: The Saratoga, having recently completed an overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, reached NAS San Diego [North Island] late in the forenoon watch on 7 December. She was to embark her air group, as well as Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 221 and a cargo of miscellaneous airplanes to ferry to Pearl Harbor.

Yorktown (CV-5), Ranger (CV-4) and Wasp (CV-7), along with the aircraft escort vessel Long Island (AVG-1), were in the Atlantic Fleet; Hornet (CV-8), commissioned in late October 1941, had yet to carry out her shakedown. Yorktown would be the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to be transferred to the Pacific, sailing on 16 December 1941.