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 with writing a blog with the idea of remembering unsung heroes.

Faces but with just a name. 

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

vfn-101-richard-emerson-harmer

Then Bob Brunson, another naval pilot on that picture, found my blog and I could add a name to 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…

Documents…, and foremost his complete 1944 diary.

I just had to turn back time, and start writing on each of the 39 naval pilots 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. (Capt. H. W. Crews)

Before writing about VF(N)-101.


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

Advertisements

Lieutenant David C. Richardson (1914-2015)

Source

https://www.usni.org/heritage/richardson

After growing up in Mississippi, Richardson attended the Naval Academy, where he was on the boxing team. Following his graduation in 1936, he served as a junior officer in the battleship Tennessee BB-43, and was on board when she went aground in San Francisco in 1937. He completed flight training in 1940 and reported to Fighting Squadron Five; the squadron was at times in CV-3, CV-4, CV-5, and CV-7. He flew F3Fs and F4Fs, including combat in the latter during the Guadalcanal campaign in 1942. Later in the war he was involved in tactical aviation training in Florida and carrier group readiness training in Hawaii.

After the war Richardson studied at the Royal Navy Staff College in London, later at the U.S. Naval War College, where he helped write analyses of wartime battles. He commanded Carrier Air Group 13 in the Princeton (CV-37), helped plan for the NATO military structure, and then was XO of the escort carrier Badoeng Strait (CVE-116) off Korea. After duty in aviation planning for ComAirPac and OP-05, he was on the CinCSouth staff in Naples, then commanded the oiler Cimarron (AO-22) and ASW carrier Hornet (CVS-12). He had a tour from 1961 to 1964 in the OP-06 organization in OpNav, then served as Commander Fleet Air Norfolk during his first flag tour.

In 1966 Admiral David McDonald, the CNO, chose Richardson to command Task Force 77 during carrier air strikes against North Vietnam. In that billet, Richardson did much to integrate intelligence, planning, and operations. After a tour as Assistant DCNO (Air), he served as Commander Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, 1968-70. That tour was notable for Richardson’s role in creating the Ocean Surveillance Information System to monitor Soviet naval operations. His final active tour was as Deputy CinCPacFlt prior to his retirement in 1972. Since that time he has remained quite active in various roles in connection with the naval intelligence community.


Postscript

Lieutenant David C. Richardson (1914-2015) was amongst VF-5 pilots that fought alongside Marine pilots on Guadalcanal.

Captain Leroy Coard Simpler (1905-1988)

This says it all about VF-5 contribution to the Guadalcanal Campaign.

Excerpt from the book

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, VIM-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 CAC’T’US:

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 Commander Simpler, … highly commendable.”


https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=86270143

About Captain Leroy Coard Simpler (1905-1988)

Birth: June 19, 1905
Lewes, Sussex County, Delaware, USA
Death: November 6, 1988

Captain, U.S. Navy

From the Emil Buehler Library, National Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL:

SIMPLER, LEROY COARD

Citation:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to LeRoy Coard Simpler, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane and Commanding Officer of Fighting Squadron FIVE (VF-5), embarked from the U.S.S. SARATOGA (CV-3), in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands during the period 11 September 1942 through 6 October 1942. Lieutenant Commander Simpler led his fighter squadron against overwhelming formations of enemy Japanese aircraft in the Solomon Islands area, thereby contributing to the destruction of 17 Japanese planes, and personally shooting down one Zero-type fighter. His squadron accounted for a total of 35 enemy planes during service in the area from 11 September to 6 October 1942. Lieutenant Commander Simpler’s outstanding courage, daring airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 313 (April 1943)

Born: June 19, 1905 at Lewes, Delaware
Home Town: Milton, Delaware

David Hansen’s Corsair, a fitting tribute to VF(N) 101

A Corsair for Bob

Collection David Hansen

http://imodeler.com/2017/06/a-corsair-for-bob/

 

Model by David Hansen

 

Colorised version done by Pierre Lagacé

 

Bob Brunson in 1946 (Collection Bob Brunson via Tom Harmer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on David Hansen

http://imodeler.com/author/david-hansen/

 

 

Preserving the past

Written by Tom Harmer, Richard Harmer’son

On September 7th, 1996 the Tailhook Association of aircraft carrier based fighter pilots issued this Lifetime achievement award to my Dad. On this Veteran’s Day I’m posting this in his honor. It includes a listing of most of the significant assignments he performed during his term of service in the Navy (1938 – 1965).


THE TAILHOOK ASSOCIATION
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 9/7/96

Presented to Captain Richard E. Harmer, U.S. Navy, Retired

Richard E. “Chick” Harmer enlisted in the Navy in 1930 and served six months on board USS Saratoga (CV-3). Subsequently, he attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, and, after two years as a deck officer on board USS Mississippi, he entered Navy flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in February 1938. Before World War II, he flew the SB2C Helldiver with Scouting Squadron 5 on the USS Yorktown out of Pearl Harbor, transferred to Fighting 5 (with the F3F-3 and later F4F-4) which later transferred to the USS Wasp (located in Bermuda on December 7th, 1941) and then reformed on the USS Saratoga along with the survivors from the Battle of Midway, at Pearl Harbor in July of 1942. In August of ’42, Harmer provided air cover as executive officer of the Fighting 5 Squadron in the capture of Guadalcanal and air-to-air combat with the Japanese in the carrier battles that followed.

Often referred to as “the father of night carrier operations,” Captain Harmer was among the first Naval Aviators, in the early stages of World War II to realize that significant tactical advantage could be gained through night fighter operations from U.S. aircraft carriers. Transferred to Project Affirm in November of 1942, the Navy’s aerial radar program, Harmer was instrumental in the development of night fighter tactics and, in early 1943, was assigned as commanding officer of VF(N)-101, the Navy’s first nightfighter squadron, flying the F4U-2 Corsair from the deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6). Under Harmer’s leadership, VF(N)-101 made a 1943 combat deployment in the Pacific which ended up in the Battle of Philippian Sea off of Saipan in the summer of 1944 which accounted for five confirmed enemy aircraft kills, one probable, and four damaged, without loss of aircraft or pilot of his squadron. In 1949, Composite Squadron 3 was established to train and provide night fighter detachments to Pacific Fleet carriers. Under Harmer’s leadership from 1949 to 1951, VC-3 established a baseline for carrier night fighter operations and tactics that proved highly valuable in 1950 and subsequent with the United States involvement in the Korean War.
Captain Harmer earned a Master’s Degree in Education at Stanford University, served as executive officer of both NAS Patuxent River and USS Princeton (CV-37), attended Naval War College, and had a Washington tour in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. He commanded the AVP Floydsbay (seaplane tender) USS Randolph (CVS-15 aircraft carrier), served as a carrier division chief of staff USS Independence, Chief of Staff of Thirteenth Naval District (Wa, Or, Id) and acting Commandant of Thirteenth Naval District prior to his retirement from active duty in 1965.

Presented with greatest respect and admiration, by and for the membership of the Tailhook Association, this Seventh day of September 1996.


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

James Julien “Pug” Southerland (1911 – 1949)

Everything as been written about James Julien “Pug” Southerland.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pug_Southerland

Excerpt

James Julien “Pug” Southerland II (October 28, 1911 – October 12, 1949) was a United States Navy fighter pilot during World War II. He was an ace, being credited with five victories (some accounts say seven), flying Grumman F4F Wildcats. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

Born in Narberth, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Southerland graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1936. Rear Admiral David Richardson, who served with him, said Southerland gained the nickname “Pug” because he was such a pugnacious boxer at the academy. Southerland became an aviator and meant to make the Navy his career.

 

We have a great picture to share of “Pug” Southerland dated July 15th 1942, thanks to Tom Harmer, Richard “Chick” Harmer’s son.

And we have a great side view of his Wildcat thanks to an artist.

 

 

 

 

His dogfight has been immortalized in Saburo Sakai’s biography.

There was also Dogfight Over Guadalcanal, a documentary produced by the PBS series Secrets of the Dead that I can’t view here in Canada.

This is what they have on their Website…

On August 7, 1942, the opening day of the Guadalcanal campaign, American forces began shelling Guadalcanal and neighboring Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. It was the beginning of a U.S. push to capture the Japanese-controlled islands in the Pacific. Success was critical because the Japanese were rushing to complete a landing strip that would be a major threat to Allied shipping lanes between Australia and America.

Soon after the attack began, 27 Japanese bombers and an escort of 17 Zero fighters took off from Rabaul — Japan’s major stronghold and strategic base in the South Pacific. Their mission was to bomb the ships that were supporting the American attack. Among the fighter pilots was Japanese air ace Saburo Sakai.

As the Japanese squadron approached Guadalcanal, a group of eight American Wildcats took off from the U.S.S. Saratoga. Led by James “Pug” Southerland, they were aiming to shoot down the Japanese bombers before they could target the American ships.

At 1300 hours, the squadrons met. The Americans engaged the Japanese planes, and Southerland shot down the lead bomber — the first American air victory at Guadalcanal. The remaining Japanese bombers were forced to drop their payloads from almost four miles up, and not a single bomb found its target.

But as the Wildcats engaged the Japanese bombers, Southerland found himself in a fierce dogfight with a number of Zeros flown by young pilots. With his skill and instinct, he managed to out-fly the less experienced Japanese pilots even though he was outnumbered. Saburo Sakai, the Japanese ace, watched from above for a while, then finally dropped in to join the fray. One of the most dramatic and well-documented one-on-one dogfights in history had begun…

Although they were flying very different planes, the two men were evenly matched. Each pilot knew the specific capabilities and liabilities of his own machine, and tried to sway the battle to his own advantage. The Zero was faster and more maneuverable, but the Wildcat had better armor, and could dive faster than the lighter Zero. Southerland quickly found that he couldn’t out-maneuver an expert Zero pilot like Sakai, but he was able to push the Wildcat to its performance limits and hold off Sakai’s furious assault. Sakai, meanwhile, was amazed at how much punishment that Wildcat could absorb. He peppered Pug’s plane with machine gun fire, but the bullets had no effect.

Turn for turn, climb for climb and dive for dive, the two pilots matched each other’s every move. Finally, with Sakai approaching from the rear, Southerland managed to “slam on the brakes” — cutting the throttle just as Sakai accelerated in pursuit. The Zero overshot, and Southerland prepared to fire. Sakai braced for the deadly impact of the Wildcat’s bullets into his flimsy fuselage… but the bullets never came.

Not waiting around to find out why, the surprised Sakai pulled up alongside the Wildcat. He noticed that Pug was injured, fell in behind him, and after a moment of indecision, opened fire with his big 20 mm cannons. In his memoirs, Sakai wrote that he decided not to kill the pilot, but rather, to aim for the Wildcat’s engine to give Pug a chance to bail out.

Southerland did just that, pitching himself out of the cockpit as the Wildcat went down. He parachuted into the jungle, deep in the heart of enemy territory. Bleeding and exhausted, he struggled through the brush, finally finding some local boys who were willing to risk their own lives to help him escape. With their assistance, he managed to elude the Japanese ground forces and meet up with his American Navy rescuers.

Sakai, meanwhile, watched Pug’s plane crash into the jungle, then headed off to find other American planes to attack. He soon found some, but was gravely wounded by an American tail gunner whose bullet went through the Zero’s windshield and into his head. Barely conscious, Sakai somehow managed to make the harrowing, five-hour flight back to his base in Rabaul, keeping himself lucid along the way by irritating his own wounds.

The Guadalcanal campaign, which began August 7, 1942 and didn’t end until February 9, 1943, was the first major Allied offensive against Japanese forces in the Pacific. Prior to that point, the U.S had been reacting to Japanese aggressiveness, and the battles tended to be short, stop-and-start affairs created by the offense-minded Japanese. But the battles of the Coral Sea proved that the U.S. and its Allies could not just defend themselves, they could go on the offensive and successfully take the fight to the Japanese.

At the battle of Midway in June of 1942, the Allied victory put a stop to Japan’s expansion, and Guadalcanal finally turned the conflict on its head. Short battles turned into a sustained war of attrition in which the Japanese single-minded attention to offense became a fatal liability. The U.S. forces in Guadalcanal had significant losses — almost 1,600 were killed — but the Japanese army and navy suffered staggering casualties: almost 15,000 men killed in battle and another 9,000 lost to disease. Adding to the losses, American troops took around 1,000 Japanese prisoners. Japan also lost 24 ships and more than 600 aircraft over the course of the campaign. This massive loss of men and resources put the Japanese forces on the defensive in the Pacific for the remainder of the war, and laid the stage for their ultimate defeat.

Although it was just one tiny skirmish in a much greater war, the dogfight between Pug Southerland and Saburo Sakai illustrated many of the strategic and technological factors that eventually determined the outcome of the war. But important questions about that encounter have remained unanswered until now. Why had Southerland failed to fire when he gained a brief advantage over Sakai? And had Sakai, an ace who finished the war with 64 kills to his credit, really aimed at Southerland’s engine to give him a chance to bail out? An expedition to the wreck site of Southerland’s plane, and a forensic investigation into the details of the famous air battle answer these questions and more in “Dogfight Over Guadalcanal.”


Here’s a rendition of that dogfight found on YouTube…

Here is the documentary available on Vimeo.

https://vimeo.com/169687740

 

Lieutenant Herbert S. “Pete” Brown

75 years ago many pilots would meet their death during the month of August 1942 like Ensign Price.

Remembering Ensign Robert L. Price (19??-1942)

Or Ensign Charles Eichenburger.

Remembering Ensign Charles Emil Eichenberger (1920-1942)

I have learned how they died by conducting research on all 39 pilots on a picture part of Richard “Chick” Harmer’s collection.

There are a few pilots remaining to search for.

As I write these lines, I have no idea if this pilot, next to Captain Crews, survived the war or not.

He is Lieutenant Herbert S. “Pete” Brown and his name appears a few times in the book. However he is not the only one named Brown.

I am sure Lieutenant Herbert S. “Pete” Brown was in the thick of the action on August 7th, 1942 with Innis and Crud.

https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-CN-Solomons/USN-CN-Solomons-15.html

Machinist Patrick Leo Nagle was making a water landing about 20 miles south and slightly east of the southeast tip of Guadalcanal. Ens. Cook reported that he could see Machinist Nagle’s plane land in the water but that it was too dark to determine if he had been able to get out his rubber boat. Ens. Cook then requested a vector and was instructed to fly course 260. This was later changed to 250 and he was instructed to climb to 7,000 feet and link up the ship by YE.27 Ens. Cook reported no success with his YE and he was informed that the ship’s lights were being turned on and to reduce altitude below the cloud layer in order to see them. The signal searchlight was also directed upward. Ens. Cook reported that he had reduced altitude below the cloud layer but that no lights were visible. At 1915 Ens. Cook reported that he had run out of fuel and was turning on his landing light to make a water landing. His landing was not seen by the lookouts and nothing further was heard by radio. An intensive search the next day failed to reveal any sign of either Machinist Nagle or Ens. Cook.”

The action of the Saratoga’s fighters included a flight of 8 F4F-4s, which took off from the carrier at 1203 for patrol over the transports. Lieut. James J. Southerland, leading his division, which consisted of Ens. R.L. Price, Lt. (jg) C.A. Tabberer and Ens. D.A. Innis, contacted the enemy over Savo Island, while being vectored at 12,000 feet to investigate a reported approach of enemy aircraft. Just as our fighters sighted a large flight of Japanese twin-engine bombers close in at the same altitude, they were attacked by enemy escort fighters who had an altitude advantage. Unhappily, Lieut. Southerland had no time to gain altitude. Lieut. Southerland, Lt. (jg) Tabberer and Ens. Price did not return from the fight. Ens. Innis got home with his plane badly shot up and reported that he damaged one Zero.

The other division of this flight from the Saratoga was led by Lieut. Herbert S. Brown and consisted of Ens. F.J. Blair, Lt. (jg) W.M. Holt and Ens. J.R. Daly. It was vectored onto the same suspected enemy aircraft at 12,000 feet. It also simultaneously sighted the enemy bombers and was attacked by Zeros. Lieut. Brown was seriously wounded by gunfire but managed to bring his plane back to the carrier, reporting that he had damaged at least one of the five Zeros which had attacked him. Ens. Blair, Lieut. Brown’s wingman, eluded the Zeros by taking cloud cover and then attacked the enemy bombers. He reported that either Lt. (jg) Holt or Ens. Daly, who failed to return, shot down two of the bombers, and Ens. Blair saw flame in the bomb bay of one of the bombers he attacked. Ens. Daly was rescued from the water by the Chicago. The enemy bombers, it was said, flew in a very tight formation and dropped a good pattern, but distant from their target.

 

On page 119 of The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign, it is written that Lieutenant Herbert S. “Pete” Brown was sent home after the battle, and thus most probably he survived the war.