No call came last night and there were no bogies all night. They either couldn’t find us or didn’t want to. The battleships left formation this morning to go in to bombard the invasion beaches. We are west of Saipan now. Word came in this morning that Bill Martin, VT-10 skipper, had been shot down by AA and that the crew was seen to bail out. One person was seen to land inside the reef about 100 yards from the beach. Holden and I took a couple of SOCs in and found him nearly half a mile outside the reef. The SOC picked him up and it was Bill. Holden and I looked up and down the reef but could find no other survivors. The bombardment was going on during the rescue and we had to stay down low to keep out of the way of the shells. Got back about 1300 and just in time to see my first live jap since Pearl Harbor. The ship past through the wreckage of a jap tanker we sank yesterday and about twenty japs were floating around it. A DD picked them up. Lex had duty tonight.
A U.S. Navy Curtiss SOC-1 Seagull scout-observation aircraft (BuNo 9979) in flight, 2 July 1939. (Wikipedia)
About Bill Martin
In January 1944, Air Group Ten began its second tour in CV-6, and LCDR Martin was now Commanding Officer of VT-10. The newest ASB radar was installed on his aircraft and he had trained his pilots and aircrewmen extensively in night flying operations. On 17 February 1944, during a fleet attack on enemy shipping and shore installations at Truk, VT-10 was given the opportunity for a night attack on enemy ships in the harbor, which were located in two anchorages. Although Martin had been grounded due to an accidental injury received aboard ship, he assigned LT V. Van Eason to lead 13 TBFs on this raid. Every pilot made at least one hit on enemy ships, and the damage inflicted was substantial. One plane failed to return and was presumed lost. Air Group Ten also had a detachment of F4U Corsair night fighters equipped with the new AIA radar. They were employed effectively in both day and night operations. This unit was known as VF(N)-101 and were part of the original VF(N)-75 squadron. Their C.O., LCDR Richard Harmer, is credited with the first radar-intercept splash of a bogey by a carrier-based night fighter, on 24 April 1944.
Lots more here!
The first Big E strike that morning was led by Bill Martin. His mission was to destroy the guns and defense installations along the southwest coast of Saipan where the Marines and soldiers would go ashore. On the way to the target, Martin’s formation met up with a strike group from the Lexington, led by Commander Robert H. Isely, the skipper of the Fighting Lady’s torpedo squadron. Martin and Isely planned to coordinate their attacks so as to dilute the vicious enemy AA fire. The Lexington’s Avengers, armed with rockest for the first time, would hit the guns at Aslito at the same time the Enterprise’s dived on the ones at Charan Kanoa, a couple of miles northwest.
Each of the seven TBFs from VT-10 was assigned a specific target for its two 500-pound bombs. Martin’s was a heavy AA battery protecting a radio station at the northeast corner of the Charan Kanoa strip. As leaders of their respective strike groups, both Isely and Martin would dive first.
“Are you ready, Bill?”
“I’m ready, Bob!”
“Here we go!”
The two torpedo bombers rolled over into their dives, Martin’s steep and fast, Isely’s a shallower and slower rocket run. The AA fire seemed to double. As Martin passed through 4,000 feet at more than 300 knots, two heavy, black bursts of enemy flak appeared dead ahead. At 3,500 Martin pushed the bomb release button on his stick, while reaching forward with his left hand to pull the emergency bomb release. With the toggle in his hand he felt the plane jar violently and begin to tumble end over end. He was thrown against his belt, forcing blood into his head until he felt his eyes bulge and he saw the red begin to squeeze off his vision. A blast of heat hit him and he knew his burning plane would crash. He heard himself say “This is it,” and then, in four short seconds, he released his belt, jerked his ripcord, felt a gentle tug on his parachute harness, and hit the water of the lagoon. Edward P. Stafford reported:
“So complex and marvelous is the mind that in those terrible seconds there was time for Bill to think of his wife and two little boys, for his brain to flicker like lightening across the lines of the Twenty-third Psalm, ‘The Lord is my shepherd. . . ,” to think that there was not time for the chute to open, to remember a moment on the old Hornet at [the Battle of] Santa Cruz when a Val smashed into the side of the island where he had been standing one second before, to further remember an article in an intelligence journal about a Marine who survived a free fall from 2,000 feet by straigtening out his body and entering the water toes pointed, like a harpoon — and to arrange his body as that Marine had done. He hit at perhaps a 45-degree angle, in four to five feet of water and ‘bounced my tail on the soft sand’ of the bottom. He bounced right up to haul in the bottom shrouds of the chute to spill the wind and then pull the nylon to him. Thirty feet up wind, the TBF blazed fiercely in the shallows, threatening to roast him in the flame and smoke. Overhead, large pieces that looked like elevators, horizontal stablizers and the tunnel door were still floating down like falling leaves.”
But Martin did not see any other parachutes. Radioman J.T. Williams and machine-gunner W.R. Hargove had not gotten out of the plane. Martin probably didn’t see what had happened to Isely. His aircraft had also been hit, and he crashed in flames on Aslito Field.
With his back to the shore some 200 yards away, working almost by reflex, feeling instinctively that he would need everything he had to survive — and at the same time shocked and amazed that he was alive and apparently unhurt except for a bruised hip which must have hit something on the way out and minor flash burns on his back — Bill Martin pulled in his parachute. He saw that two of his chute’s panels were badly ripped, either by the high speed at which it opened or by some part of the broken plane.
Suddenly he became aware of the splashes in the water around him. They were caused by rifle fire from the shore. He turned and saw the Japanese soldiers, some were firing at him, others were cheering the downing of his airplane. Martin quickly turned and ducked underneath the surface.
Farther out the water was deeper, but there was also a sprinkling of coral heads, from which he pushed himself off. That is until he noticed an increase in splashes from rifle fire every time he did so. Apparently his seat pack was creating a noticeable swirl on the surface for the Japanese soldiers to target. Halfway to the reef he looked back while taking breath, and saw two small boats moving out from the beach. He was running out of time.
Fortunately, Martin had been an excellent swimmer at the Naval Academy, earning a varsity letter. Still, his head and legs began to ache, and he swallowed a pint or two of salt water. But he knew how much the enemy, with an invasion imminent, would want to know what he knew about it — and he knew some of the things they would gladly do in order to extract that information from him. As a senior squadron commander and an air coordinator, Bill Martin had been thoroughly briefed. If the Japanese were able to learn what he knew, they could make things very difficult for the assault troops. So he gave all his strength into his swim for the reef, switching the chute to his right arm. But even as he got to within 300 yards of it, the leading boat was only 200 yards away. On his next breath he expected to be killed or captured.
That’s when two TBF Avengers came to his rescue. As they skimmed the water, Martin came up for his next breath and saw that the nearest boat had turned back. The other boat was still a quarter of a mile away. Unfortunately, the torpedo planes also attracted attention from the AA batteries ashore, and the shrapnel from those guns ripped into the water around him. While he was pleased at the courage of those pilots, he wished they would just go away.
Continuing his swim, Martin knew the he could not keep kicking and pulling, but somehow he managed to do so. And then he reached the reef. The soldiers on the shore were no longer shooting at him as they were suddenly preoccupied with the second air strike’s arrival. Sitting on the shoreward slope of the reef, with his eyes and nose just above the surface, he watched the bombs fall and the dust and smoke rise.
The second boat turned back, fearful of the airplanes above, and Martin could have taken the opportunity to cross the reef to the seaward side, but he didn’t. As air coordinator he had carefully studied the charts and terrain models of the target over which he would be flying on D-Day. As he sat in the water now, he could see that he was off Beach Green One. Carefully he lined up four objects which would appear on the blown-up target charts, and established cross bearings to fix his position, then made mental notes on what he saw.
As the second strike worked over the beach area, Martin noted the flashes of AA batteries which had not been known to the briefing officers, and mentally plotted their positions. He remembered the depth of the water, the nature of the bottom, the lack of current, and the gradient of the beach. Suddenly, in quick succession, two big splashes slapped into the water very close — one short and one over — and Bill Martin gathered up his parachute and ran across the reef. He had the presence of mind to count his steps — there were 19 — to notice that there was a foot and a half of water over the coral, and that it felt, under his feet, like hard rubber. He dived into the breakers of the sea on the other side which shielded him from the guns ashore.
Now, for the first time, Martin could inflate his Mae West . Thus supported, he swam, still with chute, harness and seat pack, down wind to seaward until it seemed safe to use the raft. He climbed in and let it drift out of gun range, then he rigged a sea anchor to reduce drift. He wanted to stay in the area off the beach where the search for him would be concentrated.
Soon two planes roared in low from the west and Martin sifted enough dye marker to cover several square yards of water. He also flashed a small mirror. The planes caught the flash from six to eight miles away. After flying over him, the planes waggled their wings and flew off.
Just before noon two SOC Seagull floatplanes appeared overhead. The planes were from the flagship of the Fifth Fleet, the Indianapolis. One made a nice landing and approach, and soon Bill Martin was on his way to see Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.
Source: The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise by Edward P. Stafford (New York: Random House, Inc., 1962).
One final word…
Feel free to add comments or to suggest corrections on errors that I made transcribing.
Tomorrow, June 14 1944…
This morning we fueled destroyers…