VF-5 Recognition

While searching in the book for more information on Ensign Benjamin Franklin Currie…

I was quite surprised to read this from the author, especially when I was asking myself if all these posts about 39 pilots were worth writing.


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 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 C:onunandel Simpler, … highly commendable.”

Next week…



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