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Stories From or About Veterans of the Air War


Note: This Carrier Pilot's Story is followed by an interesting tale of WW2 research on a Messerschmitt Bf.109. Don't miss it!



A CARRIER PILOT'S STORY

The battle for Guadalcanal in 1942 was the key to subsequent U.S. victories throughout the South Pacific in World War II; the development of the outstandingly successful fast carrier task force stemmed from the carrier actions of '42. Many books have been written about this campaign which was fought in the jungles, in the air and in fierce sea battles. Aircraft from carriers also used Henderson Field on Guadalcanal and the mixed bag of CACTUS air force planes were engaged in fiery combat action throughout the Solomons as well as fighting to hang on to their own strip. Ensign Martin Doan "Red" Carmody was one of the participants in this saga, flying with VS-10 from the carrier Enterprise (CV-6) as well as Henderson Field. His exploits were not extraordinary when measured against his fellow aviators, but typified the searing action and danger that most young pilots experienced during this critical phase of World War II as the newly winged encountered their initial combat.

The following narrative by Adm. Carmody was taped at a Smithsonian seminar in 1991. Adm. Carmody was a fresh ensign in 1942, a fledgling pilot from the Naval Aviation Cadet program. He experienced his first combat action at Guadalcanal. He went on to fly 58 missions from the Enterprise and the Bunker Hill, 68 more missions in Korea, and in 1965, took command of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk for combat operations in Vietnam.

Adm. Carmody represents a California angle for CollectAir as he is a graduate of San Jose State University; a self-described "prune picker." This account is not "history" as used in an academic sense, but is nevertheless an interesting tale of one person's experiences. An individual in combat only sees a microscopic view of the engagement, his personal involvement, far removed from strategic planning, command decisions and the "big picture". What must it be like to stare out the cockpit of an SBD at an enemy ship, roaring in a dive, concentrating on the target, fighting off Zeros, watching enemy fire stream up at you for the very first time when only a year or so before you were picking your way through college, far from Harm's way? The reader is advised that this word-for-word narrative is not a polished dissertation but is a comfortable and informal retelling of some wartime exploits.

October, 1942. The U.S.S. Enterprise departed Pearl Harbor and landed aboard Air Group 10 on October 16, 1942, following two months of extensive repairs from bomb damage suffered at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons on August 24, 1942, and headed back for the Solomons. The Japanese were intent on recapturing Henderson Field and the Japanese high command was banking on the Combined Fleet to provide the edge. Savage battles during the next 30 days would decide the fate of Guadalcanal and the Enterprise would be in the thick of it.

Battle of The Santa Cruz Islands

Twenty-six October was our turn to do the searching and the Hornet to do the attacking. It so happened that I was on this search myself and (with) Les Ward (comprising a scouting section), still a dear friend of mine, and we were going out to 300 miles to find the Japanese force that the PBY had reported earlier. Now we had to localize them so we could tell our people exactly where they should go, because if the weather was bad, like at Midway, they might be going over here and we'd have another fiasco. Very important that we do this sort of thing. That day we had four 2-plane elements flying in each of (these) sectors. Out here, about 50 miles across, so 50 x 4 = 200 miles, we were covering an arc of about 200 miles and that's where we expected to see the threat come from. And we were pretty close to it. Actually what we did, we flew (this) pattern inside that and with our eyeballs - no radar in aircraft, everything was eyeball and we did everything by plotter boards. No "beams" to fly. Couldn't look at the "ground" by sight so we used the plotting board. Sit down with this plotting board and they'd give us the predicted winds the best they could and we'd put it down. We knew what our latitude and longitude would be when we launched, put that down on our chart, and then we'd plot our course out here and we'd come back - and by the way, while this task force moved, the force would be there when we came back three or three and a half hours later, and that system was called "point option." We'd always come back to "point option." But I'll tell you, it gets pretty hairy after you'd been out there about five hours and you're on your way back and you keep looking and looking at about 1000 feet. How we navigated? We never went over 1000 feet and we watched the water. If the wind changed, we'd make a correction in our navigation according to what the wind said. If we got too high, the winds could be different but we knew that up to 1000 feet it was almost the same as at the surface, very little difference, but it was awfully lonely out there, particularly for single plane flights. I'd been on a couple of long single plane flights where you kind of wonder if you've forgotten to put something in your equation on your last fix. This is what we were doing on the 26th of October (1942).

The skipper (Lt. Cmdr. "Bucky" Lee) of our outfit, Scouting 10 (VS-10) happened to be in (this) sector right here and he was apparently somewhere towards the end of it, when he got to the end of his sector, he spotted two Japanese carriers (the Shokaku and Zuikaku) and sent a coded message to the Enterprise.

Lt. Cmdr. Lee and his wingman, W.E. Johnson, were then attacked by Zeros and became separated before they could coordinate an attack on the carriers. They both returned to the ship.

"The Battle of the Coral Sea" by Robert Taylor

He came down and said just what "Whitey" said (reference to comments by Adm. Edward L. "Whitey" Feightner), "This is one of the most critical things in the history of our country. If we don't stop that Japanese force and we are not able to respond, we're in trouble for many, many years" (and said with a little more colorful language too!). When we heard this signal, Ward and I were about (here) on our search pattern, over 100 miles away. As soon as they got the word - we never talked on the radio, that was forbidden. Matter of fact, you could lose your wings if you ever revealed that you were anywhere in the area - so, with hand signals that we developed over time, we agreed that we would go to the target and we would climb to 9000 feet. And that's what we did.

A watercolor painting by R.G. Smith of the SBD Dauntless from a Douglas portfolio, "Famous Navy Airplanes Produced at Douglas El Segundo", circa 1960s.

What we did then is headed off in (this) direction. Meantime, Birney Strong (Lt. Strong and wingman Ens. Charles Irvine also scouting in SBDs) got the same thing. When our skipper got that signed, I took off this way. Birney came across and didn't even get touched. I always claim the reason is because as we got (over here) at 9000 feet for about 45 minutes - By the way, the SBD was a real dog! Like the F4F-4 was, a real dog. 1200 h.p. engine carrying a 500 lb. bomb underneath, it just was a slow aircraft. Max speed of 175 kts and it climbed very slow. I was very, very conscious of fuel and always conserved fuel very carefully and never did exceed that. We took off and climbed (this way, off in this direction). As we went through clouds, we agreed to dive into them to avoid any fighters of any kind, at 9000 feet we came out into a big open area. It must have been those troop carriers of the two task forces blowing black smoke. You could see it about 50 miles away, but at 9000 feet, it looks fairly close. So boy(!), we're going to hit them. Arming signal, arm bombs. it was pretty exciting! We climbed out into this open area and I said, "Let's climb a little bit." When you're dive bombing, if you're flat, you're dead! If you dive bomb, you've got to dive steeply so you survive. If you lie flat, they've got all that time to shoot at you. They don't shoot too well vertically - it's a technicality. All of a sudden, I didn't see them, my rear-seatman saw them (Zeros) and so did Les' rear-seatman. Here they come.

First guy came down on us and we were pulling like this and jerking. Poor Les Ward was trying to stay with me because that was our doctrine. I though he was going to spin in. My rear-seatman, Liska, was telling me which way to pull because he could see clearly - I couldn't. You can't see too well from the front, you're trying to fly. Liska said, "Pull right, pull right," just as this one Zero came by and he went up and did this fancy thing. Lost him then, the next guy came down. Liska with his twin .30s burned him right out of the sky, you could see him going down as we were turning, just jinking. The whole purpose of this was to get into those clouds or, as we knew, we wouldn't survive.

What a coincidence! The Douglas Airview shown above (July 1942) carried an article about the May 7th battle of the Coral Sea and ran the photo of SBD aviation radioman John Liska, shown above; Liska was the gunner for Lieut. John A. Leppla at the Coral Sea engagement and was credited for several kills. By October, Liska was the gunner for Ensign Carmody. What was the chance of finding his picture!

Then, the next two Zeros came down doing all this fancy stuff, hotroddish. They felt so good about it, they were always doing these tricky things. The third and fourth ones came by and we swung around. Les was on the side of me, we were turning, and that way his rear-seatman burned one. It went down, you could see it. The Zeros burned fast. The twin .30s had 1000 rounds per minute and were very, very effective.

We finally got to the clouds and we dove into them and got separated. The Zero followed me into the clouds and was right alongside, he couldn't turn. Les and I got separated. On the way back to the force, we saw him and joined up again. Reason that Birney Strong made that attack, was that all the Zeros were on me! I had to get something out of that. I was right about where he was coming through (here). I claim that! My first experience! And here I'm a prune picker from a small town - San Jose was a small town and I don't want to talk about the college because there's another graduate in here. (The combat) was quite an experience. hair raising!

Lt. Strong and his wingman attacked the light carrier Zuiho and sucessfully placed two 500 lb. bombs on its flight deck. Both pilots made it back to the Enterprise, fighting off attacks by Zeros and escaping into the clouds. Aircraft from the Hornet, and a few SBDs and Avengers along with eight Wildcats from the Enterprise, subsequently launched an attack on the Japanese force including the carriers Shokaku and the crippled Zuiho at 10:30 a.m. Carriers Zuikaku and Junyo were under cloud cover and were not discovered. The Shokaku was hit by the Hornet's bombers and left burning.

The scene above is a detail from "The Turning Point - Midway, June 1942" by the late R.G. Smith. Taken from a 1986 Naval Institute Print.

We went back to the ship (10:25 a.m.). First thing we saw was only one carrier (Hornet, CV-8) and it was flaming, I mean it. Where were the other airplanes? No one in sight. We didn't talk to each other, that was our indoctrination, we couldn't break it, so we were getting low on fuel. We agreed to ditch together at the same time. Then all of a sudden, the Enterprise came out from under a squall and boy, we were feeling good about it. They turned to pick us up (and other aircraft) and we were no sooner out of the wind, we got hit (at 11:17 a.m.).

Our ready room was right off the flight deck near the island structure near the middle of the ship at the highest point. I'll tell you, it was really something for a greenhorn to feel those bombs when they hit near the ship. That Enterprise was about 26,000 to 30,000 tons. The whole ship would just shake - hairy! We were locked in the ready room. The ship got hit back over the Chief's quarters - they got hit on the stern. Talk about one going through. We were hit five times. Two torpedoes hit the ship - you could feel them - a boom but it was not like an explosion. They didn't go off! Can anyone verify that? The San Diego was hit. We came back to New Caledonia, Noumea was the port. The ship was pretty messy. From the 26th, it took us four days to get there. By the time we got off Tontouta (a grass airstrip), it was the 1st of November. Less than two weeks later we were called back, the 11th, and all those aboard (Also departing Noumea on the 11th were the battleships South Dakota and Washington which were victorious in the Battle of Guadalcanal battleship vs. battleship engagement on November 14-15). Within two and one-half days, we were 280 miles south of Guadalcanal (November 13, 1942).

The above scene is a detail from James Dietz's painting "Best on Deck" showing the SBD of Sr. Lt. Richard Best of Bombing Six on the U.S.S. Enterprise as he was preparing for takeoff at the Battle of Midway. The L.E. print (750)is available from CollectAir for $125 and is in stock.

The Enterprise was the only operational U.S. carrier in the South Pacific at this point. Unknown at the time to Enterprise's skipper, and most certainly Ens.Carmody, a disastrous surface engagement the night before (Nov. 12-13), just east of Savo Island, had resulted in the loss of two U.S. light cruisers and four destroyers although the Japanese surface force had been prevented from shelling Henderson Field, thus saving the CACTUS air force. Avengers of VT-10 with six fighters launched on the 13th at 8:10 a.m. and attacked the stricken battleship Hiei and then proceeded to Henderson Field.

Douglas SBD-5 - U.S. Navy photo.

November 14, 1942. Flying a 300 mile sector (on dawn search patrol), two hours after takeoff, we could see Guadalcanal off to the right and the Russells. Up off the New Georgia and this time my wingman is Bill Johnson who was with Bucky Lee when they spotted the carriers. Again, we talked to each other with hand signals about what we were going to do and I turned and followed. I didn't want to go off into the Slot, there were a lot of low hanging clouds there. I was in and out of the clouds, but if anything happened, we could dive into them.

About a 0530 takeoff because my radioman made the report about 0700-0800. He was really a crackerjack.

SBD at U.S. Marine Museum, Quantico. CollectAir photo.

This is a good example of the difficulty of remembering time factors nearly fifty years after the fact. David Brown in Carrier Operations in World War II Volume II reports the takeoff to be at 7:10 a.m. and the transport sighting to have occurred at 9:49 a.m., times also given in Cmdr. Edward Stafford's The Big "E".

A U.S. Navy photograph.

We headed up into the Slot in the low lying clouds. Some scattered around and about the time we got up to the middle of New Georgia Island, about 50-60 miles here comes that whole big transport group. What surprises me is that everyone gives me credit for finding them. (Reference Harold Buell's Dauntless Helldivers, pages 154-155) I thought the Marines had sighted them the night before. Again, I didn't make the report, I was controlling the report. At that time we could count, it was so clear, the number of ships to be at least seven transports, so many cruisers, so many smaller craft - we had a regular code that we used when Liska sent that out. Nothing unusual about that. I just happened to be on that particular sector.

A U.S. Navy photograph.

These Japanese transports were carrying 13,000 troops with a mission to retake Henderson Field from General Vandegrift's Marines.

Our orders were, "As soon as you make the report, attack." Johnson and I knew already what our orders were. No Zeros in sight. We had started out from New Georgia and the group was coming down, and we attacked the nearest transport. Our agreement was - now this is tactical information - as you go by, always come back toward the clouds, not going away from them. We called them "SBD clouds." A refuge in the sky! I came from 9000 feet and lined up on this big transport and they're shooting at me all along the line. The destroyers were coming over. I knew that they were shooting at me but it didn't dawn on me that this was for real!

SBD from August 1946 Cleveland Models ad.

I came down and boy, I was going to drill that thing and thought, "Ah, I really hit them on the stern." I pulled out and was going low between destroyers, they were all shooting at me, and our plan was to attack and come back to the clouds at about 6000 feet. Bill Johnson, hell of a good guy, when he was diving apparently got turned around. We were separated by about one-half mile and about that time - before I dove I could see the Zeros coming, a batch of them (every year they get a little more!) -here they come. We made our dive and about the time I was getting ready to climb up, the Zeros hit both of us. Bill dropped his bomb about where mine was - short. We felt so bad. I though I had hit it and my radioman said, "No you didn't. You missed on the stern." Then he said, "I could just see Bill Johnson going into the water." So apparently the Zeros had gotten him. They shot at me but again I was turning and got into the clouds. I came all the way back to the carrier, about 280 miles, landed aboard the ship (12:33 p.m.) and couldn't get out of the arresting gear because I'd run out of fuel! I knew it was nip and tuck, using the wobble pump to get the last bit out of my tank. Was debriefed. I can't tell you how dry it is in the tropics when you're going through those stressful things - you don't think about it at the time. I was dry. Drank gallons of water and tried to get a little food down. Then called on down for the briefing and told, "You're going to lead the flight back." Told them that I've been up since 0400, I'm exhausted. "Oh no, you're going to take them back."

This is one of the late R.G. Smith's wonderful pencil drawings that he did for the McDonnell Douglas 1986 Appointment Calendar.

There were only nine aircraft, from both squadrons. Four fighters, three TBMs and the rest SBDs. Here I am, remember, an ensign. This was my first experience. Fortunately, the fighter skipper was the famous Jimmy Flatley and he was the best. (Launch at 2:10 p.m.) We drove back, hit the transports exactly where we thought they'd be - didn't even have to turn. (Henderson based CACTUS air force aircraft joined in the Enterprise's second strike) All the Zeros over the top, they caught on, but in the meantime we're going down in our dive. Jimmy Flatley designated two airplanes on each of the transports that were leading the force, one, two and three. I knew what I'd done wrong - the ship was moving away and I got too flat and the whole thing was screwed up that first time. This time I did get him, pulled out and immediately hit by a couple of Zeros. Santa Cruz all over again! Now, I'm by myself. First Zero came through, went by and did some fancy stuff. Second guy came down and Liska was telling me what to do and I'm pulling G's close to the water at about 1000 feet. Liska flames the second guy coming down, I saw him crash into the water.

The Northrop XBT-2 improvement from the Northrop BT-1. As Northrop became the El Segundo Division of Douglas, the XBT-2 became the SBDs of WWII fame. This is a detail from an original Northrop 8" x 10" photo, #4048 dated 8-24-38. Photo can be purchased for $40.00.

Our instructions were to go back to Guadalcanal. I was out of bombs and started toward Guadalcanal. Then the second group of Zeros hit us. I was the "leader." They always go after the leader. They thought I was an old hand - didn't know there was an ensign at the controls. Couple of Whitey's (Edward "Whitey" Feightner) fighter mates came down and smoked those two Zeros right there, in sight. It was really something! The rest of the fighters, Whitey and others, all over the place, we came into Henderson strip, over the mountains. They were shooting at us from the ground, tracers coming up. That night and the next night, the "Tokyo Express" would come down from Savo Island, 5 and 6 inch shells, throwing it in to destroy the camp or the runway.

Section of AAF Chart No. 18, "Solomon Islands - Guadalcanal Island", dated June 1943, showing Savo Island and Henderson Field (in the fold near Lunga). Five nautical miles between lines. Only about 21 nautical miles from Savo Island to Henderson.

We were living in tents. Right beside the tent was a foxhole. I was right at the bottom of that foxhole! Never felt so comfortable in my life. Very wise - a hairy experience for an old fruit picker like myself! The next day (Nov. 15, 1942) we went out and bombed the transports and then there wasn't much to do. Everyone took a potshot at the transports, the Marines, us, the Air Force.


Now comes my next "sea story."

We were ordered back to the carrier. The next day, my squadron of SBDs were going to fly back to the carrier which was now down in the New Hebrides, Espiritu Santo, 700 miles away. We did our navigation on predicted winds. By the way, we had no intelligence in those days whatsoever. Our maps were terrible, everything about them. Covered about 800 to 1000 miles on an edge. That was the type of navigation information that we had. Here's Guadacanal and here's Espiritu Santo, and on that small scale - our rescue chart plotted the direction of the prevailing winds. That's what we had, all we had for survival information.

"Warbirds", SBD-5s, an original 16" x 20" watercolor by George McWilliams. Now a free lance artist showing in Annapolis, George worked for many years at the Patuxent NAS as a staff artist and is responsible for many of the fine murals to be seen at the air station and test center. This painting is available for sale.


After we took off from Henderson Field (Nov. 17, 1942), right below Henderson is San Cristobal, a big island 4000 feet in the middle, right at the southern end of Guadalcanal, three of us took off real close together, started climbing. We wanted to stay at 1000 feet so we could keep track of our navigation all the way down. But, this huge squall, 300 miles by 50 miles was in our way; we couldn't see underneath, just solid and we knew San Cristobal was there, so the leader started climbing and we went into the storm. It was a real "hummer." It was bumpy, a thunderstorm, a tropical squall. We're climbing and climbing, trying to fly formation; I'm looking at him and flying formation. John Richey was on the other side. We hit some rough air at our climbing speed of 95 kts and I spun out. I'm in this damn squall and I spin and spin. I was worried about that 4000 foot mountain and finally, after kicking over this way and hitting right rudder, I finally came straight down. When the elevator took effect, I pulled out below the overcast at 300 feet. Shit! Liska congratulated me! Well, now we've pulled out but I don't know where I am. And I can't see the two people I was flying with. So I flew the next five hours along my calculated DR route until over the side (here) I could see John Richey! We close and he's happy as candy to see me because he's in the same fix I am. I don't want you to think that ensigns aren't good - they really are. So we join forces; it gets dark and we run into another real squall.

Douglas A-24 painting by the late R.G. Smith while working for Douglas.

The water below was really frothing, I knew it was bad. We kept going and finally John came up on the radio and said, "I'm running out of gas." Save enough to go in the water because we've been taught by friends of George Gay, who'd been down for five days at Midway, the techniques to use for ditching.

John finally said, "I've got to go in." I turned with him and when we went down in the storm I lost him and can't see him. I never knew then what happened to him. It turns out that he was rescued shortly after I was, six or seven days later. He did make it, pulled through, a great guy.

Douglas SBD in NASM collection. A CollectAir photo.

I kept going (this is a sea story now, has nothing to do with tactics), the weather was really stinkin'. The fuel was coming down, up to almost seven hours airborn now. When I pulled out of the melee just east of San Cristobal, I knew that I had to conserve gas. So what I did was pull throttle back and prop so I was only doing about 125 kts over the ground. Fortunately, the southwest wind was behind me. Became bothersome because I couldn't see anything and I knew I was going to have to ditch and I discussed it with John Liska. We knew we're going to have to ditch so before we do, dump your guns over the side, get ready and hold on tight. We kept going and according to my navigation, we should be near an island about now. At least the Banks Island, if not Espiritu Santo. It was mystifyingly nice (a break in the weather) about that time and I said to John, "How about sending an S.O.S. to get somebody to pick us up. Maybe there's a ship in this area." So, he sent out an S.O.S.

Nobody answered! Kept sending. Soon, we contacted the U.S.S. Curtiss (AV-4), a seaplane tender down at (Button), a big harbor at (Button). They took care of the patrol planes and had good communication gear. We told them our predicament and they gave us a steer. We went about a half-hour (on their course direction) and they came back and said, "Whoops, that wasn't you."

Not being a too experienced navigator, I decided to go back to the same point where I turned to their directed steer and do everything by the numbers. I kept going. Now, I'm really lost. I better get down and go through my ditching procedure; went down low so if I lost my fuel, I'd be ready for it. Soon as I got below the overcast, there was a little break in the rain squall; in fact, we began to see stars. I thought I saw something out in the distance but wasn't sure and about that time, I was "coughing" and went down to about 50 feet off the water. Now it starts raining again. Can't see a thing ahead, can't see the ocean, night. Went through the procedures as the engine was coughing. I hit my wobble pump just enough to keep my nose up, went in and hit. I don't know which side of the swell I was on. We had a long telescopic sight - when dive bombing you look into it and that's how you hit the target - these were old airplanes! Needless to say, in those days we did not have shoulder straps. All we had was the belt and I went "bang" and of course what I did was hit my head on the sight; the scar is still there. It turned out to be to my benefit as you'll hear. We went into the water, very traumatic. The plane sank very quickly. Liska pulled the two-man liferaft out of the back of the fuselage for us. Before he had it out, I was out of the cockpit and handed it out. Of course we were filled with water; I had a .45 (here) and a canteen (here) and me, thinking it was very smart, I was going to take a Very pistol in case we needed it and I had a Very pistol in (this) pocket and of course you know what my buoyancy was! Very rough seas. Finally got the raft up and got into it. We were so exhausted, you couldn't believe it. Never been so exhausted in my life because we'd been busy for the last two days.

Dauntlesses in a painting from the Phillips Petroleum Company's Historical Aviation Series, Plate 3-5. These prints were promotional give-aways.

We were soaking wet and the wind, even though it was about 80 degrees temperature, the wind was really cutting us down and we were in real serious discomfort. We sat there as we were going up and down the waves; fortunately the southwest wind we were talking about was blowing us towards that dark loom that I'd seen. I don't know how long we sat there. Went in at 8:00 o'clock at night and it must have been an extra hour. All of a sudden, we came up on a crest and I could see an island; couldn't see much but we were high enough that you could see the surf hitting the rocks; water contrast.

We got there, got off and spent a miserable night because we were soaking wet. Our biggest problem was that we didn't have enough water. Drank the last of our canteen, only a pint. Obvious that we had to get somewhere where there was water. So here we were, on these terrible rocks. Had the good sense to pull the liferaft up to help. I didn't want to lose it, thought we might have to use it again. We did paddle once we saw that white surf but we were just blown straight ahead to the nearest land anyway.

The next morning - I didn't really think about it - I zipped down the top of my flight suit, took off my T-shirt and had the good sense to clean my .45. I had to get rid of the Very pistol so I could float.

A detail from Paul Rendel's painting, "First Hit at Midway," available as a print. Paul shows SBDs on June 4th, 1942 at 10 a.m.

I didn't know where we were. We didn't know where the Japanese were, we didn't have that type of intelligence. The Japanese were on all of these islands with some kind of coast watchers and so were our forces. We climbed over rocks for two or three hours because water was actually paramount. We came to a small beach and just this side of it were two nice big palm trees. Ripe palms; took out my .45 and shot two coconuts down and what we did was learn how to open them and drank the milk even though I was worried about the "trots" afterward because you know green coconut milk will do that to you. I said, "Take it easy, let's take the minimum you can." Then we walked a little farther and here was a crude fishtrap sitting up on the rocks. We were still going through the rocks. "Oh boy, I thought, this is a good sign."

Douglas SBD-3, BuNo 06583, in the National Museum of Naval Aviation - a museum photo.

Just above the trap, there was this narrow trail that went up this hill. By the way, it was a mountainous island. We went up the hill and came to a flat, turned to jungle and I mean jungle. We broke out into an opening. Out in the middle of the clearing was a small, crude shack of palm fronds with smoke coming out. So I said, "I don't know where we are but we've got to get some water, John." He agreed. I said, "When we go up there, I don't know what to expect." I had my .45 holstered, ready to take care of any Japanese coast watchers. We arrived and here is this little pygmy, perfect shaped man, feeding a baby some kind of sprouts that were on the fire. So I said, "John, let's try it on." So I give the pygmy this big, "Oh, how are you! Good to see you!" All smiley, happy days. I really did; I don't know why I did! The idea was friendliness. The native didn't pay any attention to me. I got closer so we could see and showed him that I had nothing in my canteen. Tried gestures. Didn't do anything. Pretty soon he finished his job, he sat down and I said, "I don't know what to think, John." I asked him again about water. He never looked up; took the baby, got up and put the baby on his back and started walking to a jungle on the other side of the clearing. We had no choice. "Let's follow."

We followed the little pygmy through the forest for about two or three hours. Seemed like an eternity. Terribly hot down there. The night before we were freezing and now we were just baking because the humidity was so high in the jungle. It's about 10 degrees south, I believe. We go through, up and over, a terrible place with no water. We were running out of "gas" fast.

"Halsey's Surprise," a Greenwich Workshop print by Craig Kodera in the cameo size. SBD-5s from VB-12 of the USS Saratoga are depicted in November,1943 as they start Halsey's Operation Cherryblossom at Bougainville.

We came over this ledge and looked down and, like out of Shangri La, here's this native village. Down the hill, under and among the banyan trees were all these little shacks. This beautiful stream of water was running right through the village. I said, "Boy, John, it looks like we got it made!" As we were coming down the hill, the natives, seeing this red-headed giant, along with my radioman, the two of us in our flight gear and our life vests (carrying them because I didn't want to give them up because I didn't know what we'd have to do next and I knew where the liferaft was) came out along with children. Flaming red hair in those days, not red red but nevertheless very red, had not been seen before so there was a big curiosity. I had this big gash from the ditching. The salt water had sterilized it but it was dripping blood a little bit. That got their attention. I was the center of attention for quite awhile. The children wanted to touch my hair.

All natives, Melanesians, not pygmies, a little taller. I saw what I thought was the chief and tried explaining to him, "Whee, bang and water," and they kind of got the idea. Airplanes had flown over on their way to Button, back and forth, and they knew what airplanes were. I pointed at the water, he took us over there and John and I lay on our stomachs and sucked water - we were so exhausted. We'd been gone about seventeen hours continuous. We didn't sleep on that rock that night because it was so damn cold. We'd been going for a long time since we left Guadalcanal at 1:00 pm the day before. We're tired. I tried to explain that we're tired and he took us over and put us in a small, open thatch covered lean-to. I think we slept for twelve hours. They could have killed us, taken our scalps! The next day, after we woke up, they had papaya, bananas, very hospitable, friendly and delighted to have us there. My scar and red hair was a hit, something special. Very helpful, childlike according to our standards, but this was their way.

A wonderful and colorful Model Airplane News painting by Jo Kotula.

A man came in the next day, they must have gotten hold of him; he could speak a little English because this was a British Isle; the Hebrides were British. He came in and explained to us that there was another white man on the island. He would take us to him. I made sure that he was not Japanese. The next day, refreshed and water in our canteens and my .45 in my holster, we went up to this place and it was coast watchers. One of our coast watchers. He was a delightful guy; had a little handcrank radio that he used if anybody came through. You could see the whole area where we went in. Took about four hours to climb up to his place. We stayed with him that afternoon, cranked up and called the Curtiss and they said, "We have your message. Wait."

The next day, this was about the fifth day since we left Guadalcanal, they radioed and said that a PBY would pick us up. Now we have to trek all the way down this hill; as we got to a certain point, the whole village came out to say good-bye to us. I thought we were all old friends, both of us giving all teeth and smiles. When I'd left the camp (to go to the coast watcher), I'd told the interpreter, "Please tell your village how much we appreciate the hospitality and feeding us; we'll never forget it," and then I went on up the hill. Now, as we came down, the village apparently came to see us off. Don't know how they got the word! Great fun!

Douglas Dauntless from VB-3 over the USS Yorktown shortly before the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. This print, "Dauntless Over the Yorktown" by Robert Taylor is available with the Portfolio Publisher Proofs edition of "Hellcat Fury", a three print portfolio with 12 signatures of famous Pacific aces of the Marines and Navy.

We got down to the beach. The airplane couldn't get in close enough so we had to swim out about 100 yards. Now the same onset of wind and surf coming in, we had to swim through it out to the seaplane; he didn't want to get in that close, afraid he'd get in irons and might go aground.

We finally got aboard the PBY and they took us back to (Buttons) and we stayed on the Curtiss that night and the next day we went to the Enterprise which was just parked down the way (Noumea). That's the end of that particular story.

The Battle of Santa Cruz Islands was the fourth carrier vs. carrier battle in history and the last of its class in 1942. There wouldn't be another carrier vs. carrier battle in the Pacific until the famous Philippine Sea Battle in June 1944, known for the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

Dauntless drawing from WW2 magazine.


SBD exhibited on hangar deck of USS Midway Museum.

Click on the cutaway below to obtain a high resolution image of this cutaway suitable for printing.

Admiral Carmody presented a program "Leading From the Front" at a "Remembrance of War" Seminar Series at the American Airpower Heritage Museum on March 22, 2003, twelve years after the above recording was made at the NASM. Col. G.W. "Bill" Combs CAF was the Series organizer and moderator. "Red" Carmody essentially retold the story as you have read here. The museum, through Stanley Spurgeon, Oral History Program Consultant, kindly provided me with a tape of the session and I have added a few closing comments from that tape below.

Col. Combs filled in some of Admiral Carmody's naval history subsequent to his SBD exploits. "Let me briefly continue with the saga; we go off and join VB-8. He lands in the water one more time and, as the engine quits, and he's getting ready to land the SB2C which is not a very good water airplane, his rear seater says, "Sir, I'm a little worried.", and Red says, "Ah, don't worry. I've done this before." So he survived another water landing. Served with distinction the rest of World War Two, was back in California when the war ended, stayed in the regular Navy, got involved in electronic warfare with TBMs. Was called to take command of a Corsair squadron, did 68 missions in Korea. Was shot up so badly on one of them that he made a straight-in approach, smoke pouring out of the engine, cowling was blown off, hole in the wing, airplane landed and they pushed it over the side as unrepairable. Came back to the states, got involved in the Pentagon hassle, did his tour there, became an advocate of electronic warfare, oversaw a lot of the early airplanes that were used in ELINT. Red has stories that cover the breadth of naval aviation from 1940. 'Ad nauseum' is what he is saying! This man is truly a man who, like General Fogleman who was here last year, if it needed to be done, he stepped out and did it first instead of saying, 'You guys go do this'', he said 'Follow me.' That kind of leadership is something the United States has been blessed with at times of crises and I can only say from all of us here, 'Red, we salute you and thank you'".

From a 1961 Douglas advertisement.

Admiral Carmody then closed out his talk with, "I would like to add that I came back to the states and was ordered to Norfolk, Virginia because I was experienced by this time, to help the new squadrons get ready to go and I went back to sea and was on Bunker Hill for eight months in WESTPAC and, flying SB2Cs, I ended up being the skipper of that squadron and I was a very junior officer and we went all the way from Hollandia, Pelaua, all the way up to Iwo Jima and this was when our navy fleet was now a juggernaut. Everywhere we went, we went with six to twelve carriers and the big carriers all had 80 planes aboard and it was like a bombardment group - everyplace we went we just overwhelmed them with pounding and pounding. We would fly two strikes a day off that ship carrying thousand pound bombs. That's why it was so important that we build those carriers even though a lot of people said we're wasting money like they're talking about now, all those people getting killed. You've heard the nay sayers and I've lived through those things and I don't have any use for nay sayers."

Red is 88 years old (2006) and still has his consulting business for the navy, still fights the battle from out front. His favorite airplane is the SBD. In the "small world" category, I recently learned that an acquaintance of mine, Floyd Dodson, served under Carmody in WWII and is a good friend, visiting the Admiral every now and then. Update Admiral Carmody died on March 7, 2008 at the age of 90. Click here for Admiral Carmody's obituary. Use the back arrow to return to this page.



Several books concerning the Guadalcanal battle were referenced above. Also highly recommended for study is the book by John Lundstrom,The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942. The air campaign is also well described in Barrett Tillman's, The Dauntless Dive Bomber of World War Two, Guadalcanal, The Carrier Battles by Eric Hammel, and in Titans of the Seas by Belote.

Photo of SBD above is from the Planes of Fame website, www.planesoffame.com. The following caption accompanies the picture: This aircraft went to the Royal New Zealand Air Force as NZ5062. It was brought on charge in March 1944 and struck off charge in May 1944. It was then returned to the United States Marine Corps at Russell field in the South Pacific. While with the Royal New Zealand Air Force, it served with Squadron No. 25, flying over 30 missions against Rabaul.

In 1968, Ed Maloney, founder of The Air Museum "Planes of Fame" acquired the SBD. In 1982, restoration of this aircraft began and on July 2, 1987, it was flown.

This SBD was used in the filming of the movie "Midway" with Charlton Heston being filmed sitting in the cockpit of the then wingless bomber and was used in the movies again in 1987 for the miniseries "War and Remembrance". On September 8, 1987, during the filming of "War and Remembrance", The Air Museum's own John Maloney had the distinction of flying the SBD off the aircraft carrier AVT16 USS Lexington with Blue Angles team leader (1964 - 1966), Bob Aumack in the gunners position. This was the first SBD launch from an aircraft carrier in 42 years.

Today, the SBD can be seen at The Air Museum Planes of Fame and at various airshows. It is currently the only flying SBD (though Lone Star Flight Museum has a flyable A-24 which is the Army version of the SBD.)


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RESEARCH - PART OF THE FUN by Peter G. Nield

MESSERSCHMITT Bf.109E-4


The following article deviates from the usual WW2 story of a serviceman's combat or military experiences. Many of us "seasoned citizens" today were children during the conflict of WW2. Here in the U.S.A., children's wartime experiences were mostly associated with school activities linked to the war. Gathering paper, aluminium foil, tin cans, traipsing to school with a quarter tightly clenched to buy a Savings Stamp, and building recognition models in shop class for the older boys were typical of the exposure that American youngsters had to the realities of war on the homefront, far from the action. The war was discussed in classrooms with maps and newsletters such as "Current Affairs." Boy Scouts were enlisted to help man Aircraft Spotter Posts on the coasts. As I remember, only a few of my friends had family members in the service so there was little outside of the media, films, radio and printed material, to bring home the exigencies and horrors of war. It was an exciting time for a kid - building model airplanes representing the sleek fighters was as close as we were going to get to combat. Enemy action was not to reach American cities so there was a certain feeling of isolation from life threatening war for those millions living and working in America.

In Europe and the Far East, the war was intensely close to home. Enemy occupation and the deprivation resulting from the harsh realities of conflict and brutal forces decimated tens of millions of people, a fact that remains difficult to grasp even today. The British Isles were never invaded but were subjected to relentless bombing from aircraft and later from missiles, the V-1 and V-2. Much of the bombing by Germans was rather indiscriminate, with cities, in general, being targeted, a situation that was at least somewhat instrumental in allied bombing strategy concerning Europe cities. Talk to anyone living in England during the war and memories of bombing and shelters are still fresh - the sights, sounds and smell of war become indelible.

The following article was written by Peter G. Nield, a British citizen. Peter was a child in England during WW2 and, like many of that generation, he was exposed firsthand to the war in various ways, even as a youngster. Peter is an excellent aviation artist and is drawn to the intricacies of airplanes, particularly those combat aircraft of WW2. Peter must be considered a tenacious researcher as you will learn as you read of his quest to define the history of Bf.109, "White 11," and its markings so that he could capture the fighter correctly on his canvas. I trust that you will enjoy this tale of an artist's pursuit of accuracy.



In November, 1940, shortly after the Battle of Britain had been fought and won, I was taken by my Grandmother to see a captured Messerschmitt Bf.109 that was displayed on the Green at Tommyfield open market in Oldham to raise money for the local Spitfire Fund. I was only a young child, but I remember only too well the fear I felt on looking up at the huge threatening black cross under the pale blue wing. This event made a great impression on me and, many years later, when I visited the R.A.F. Museum at Hendon, one of the aircraft I particularly wanted to see was, of course, the Bf.109. On seeing it, I could not resist bobbing down to child`s eye level to repeat the view of earlier years. It certainly sent a tingle down my spine and I went away with the idea that I might try to recapture the original scene in an oil painting. Almost immediately I ran into difficulties because I realised that I could not just paint any old 109. It had to be the actual one and I needed to know what it looked like. Also, I needed to know what the Green and surrounding area were like at the time. The many enquiries that followed led me down a fascinating road, sometimes frustrating, that resulted in me making valuable contacts and new friends.

The first, and most crucial, breakthrough came from the Editor of the Oldham Evening Chronicle, Mr. Gordon Maxwell, who provided me with a close up photograph of the 109 on display with the then Lord Mayor of Oldham, Alderman J. R. Buckley, in the cockpit. This appeared on the 25th October, 1940, and the main point was that the small part of the rear fuselage that was visible carried the number 11 that was quite clearly white. Close scrutiny of contemporary newspapers at the Oldham Interest Centre showed, via advertisements, that White 11 had appeared at Oldham from the 24th to 26th October, then on to the Fire Station Yard in nearby Oswaldtwistle from 27th October to 3rd November and then back to Oldham from 4th to 9th November. A visit to the library at Stockport revealed another invaluable photograph in the Advertiser of 4th October. This photograph showed White 11 being assembled for display in the Armoury Building on Greek Street from the earlier time of 28th September to 12th October, and was particularly helpful because it showed that the rudder and the nose, unusually right back to the windscreen, were almost certainly yellow. The camouflage on the fuselage side was a medium type mottle. The Messerschmitt Bf.109s of 1940 generally had splinter camouflage on the fuselage spine, wings and tailplane, so now there was enough information available to settle upon the colour scheme.

Extensive and on-going enquiries across the north west and elsewhere revealed information about a Black 2 and a Yellow 4 but nothing more about White 11. However, a further study of the photograph in the Oldham Evening Chronicle, carried out in conjunction with contemporary aerial views provided by photographer, Peter Fox, at the Interest Centre, enabled me to establish the nominal position of the aircraft on the Green. This location appeared to be more or less underneath the roller doors of the loading bay at Littlewoods store of recent times (1987). The buildings around the outside of the bay area were of the 1940s period, and I was able to take a series of colour shots to make up a panorama for future reference. I am reliably informed that the area is now completely built over, so these photographs are irreplaceable. So, everything seemed to be in place for the image of the painting but, for the work to have narrative substance, I needed to know where White 11 had come from, who flew it, who brought it down, where did it crash and so on. These questions seemed impossible to answer, and then I had the idea to get in touch with Michael Payne the respected authority on the Bf.109 and author of a book in my possession entitled. "Messerschmitt Bf.109 into Battle". Michael`s reply was both prompt and, to me, amazing. He was able to tell me, from an examination his records and a process of elimination, that White 11 could only have been the particular Bf.109 that had crash-landed near Rolvenden in Kent at 5-45pm on Saturday 7th September, 1940 and that the pilot, one Oberfeldwebel Gotthard Goltzsche, was uninjured and was taken prisoner. The aircraft was identified as being from the 1st Staffel (Squadron) of the 1st Gruppe (Wing) of Jagdgeschwader (Group) JG.77 which, at the time, was acting as a 4th Gruppe to Werner Molders hard pressed JG.51 based at St. Omer and Wissant. Goltzsche, having taken off 20 minutes earlier from the forward airfield at Marquise on a fighter-bomber mission, had become involved in combat with Spitfires of 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron whilst on course for London and had sustained damage that had caused him to crash. It is on record that White 11, a Bf.109E-4, Werke Nr. 5811, was brought down by the C.O., Squadron Leader "Sandy" Johnstone.

This was followed by a further revelation when I mentioned my research to a pal of mine, Les Carter, who was due to go on holiday in the Rolvenden area. Les subsequently called in at the nearby Tenterden Museum and the Curator, Dr. Burgess, having later placed a request for information in the Museum Association`s Newsletter, received an almost unbelievable response from a Mrs. Heather Crease. In 1940, she had been a Girl Guide and had retained her early Girl Guide diaries, one of which recorded that on 7th September, 1940, she had been fishing with her father on the bank of the River Rother. She noted that Goltzsche`s aircraft had passed low over their heads with a dead engine to land, wheels down, in the field behind them known as Potman`s Heath. Mrs. Crease recalls that the Home Guard soon had Goltzsche under lock and key, and that the aircraft remained where it was for several days. She also recalls having a piece of White 11 that was given to her by a sentry who lifted her up to see inside the cockpit. Sadly, this component is long gone.

The final challenge now was to find out what happened to Goltzsche. Where did he go after the crash landing? Did he survive the war and, if so, where did he end up? Extensive enquiries via the British and German Red Cross by a good friend of mine, Marie McKenzie, showed that Goltzsche did, in fact survive and was now living in the northern town of Braunschweig which was, until fairly recently, in East Germany. He was, by now, 79 years old and the German Red Cross reported that he was in a very poor state of health. In addition - and to my horror - they also reported that he had expressed a wish to see a photograph of the painting of his aircraft that Marie had obviously referred to in her enquiry, a painting that had not even been started! So, there was a certain pressure to come up with something fairly quick! Even so, I did not think it would be a good idea to send an image of his beloved White 11 all smashed up and displayed in ignominy on a scruffy cinder patch (the "Green"!) in Oldham where all the locals could scoff and pay 3 pence to sit in HIS seat! Therefore, I set about producing an oil painting that showed White 11 in flight against basic cloud background in a simple frame and sent it off to Braunschweig. No muck, no scratches, no bullet holes, just as it might have been when it was delivered.

Weeks went by until, one day, I received a most moving hand written letter from his wife, Gertrude, to say that poor old Goltzsche had passed away before the arrival of the painting which she now retained with fond memories. She was also able to confirm that her husband`s Bf.109 suffered a hit in the engine cooling system which caused it to fail and that, after landing, he had been give tea and bread by nearby people prior to being put under arrest. From England, he had been sent to Canada and, on 22nd December, 1946, he returned home after spending six years in captivity. It is something of a coincidence that Goltzsche, during transit to Canada, could quite possibly have been detained at the notorious Glen Mill P.O.W. camp on Wellyhole Street in Oldham. In this event, he might well have been there at the same time that White 11 was displayed on the Green just one and a half miles away. Some two years later, I received a further letter from Germany informing me that Mrs. Goltzsche had also died and the painting had now been passed on to a close friend. Although I do not know who the friend is, I would like to think it is one of Gotthard`s old flying comrades.

A picture supplied via the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz showing Gotthardt, pictured alongside an earlier White 11 (note the cockpit canopy) together with his two ground mechanics.

At this point, the Goltzsche connection comes to an end and, when time permits, I now have sufficient background information to re-create the scene that confronted my Grandmother and myself around 70 years ago. Although of little relevance to the painting, the icing on the cake for me would be to find out what happened to Goltzsche from the moment he crashed on 7th September, 1940 to the time he returned home to Braunschweig six years later. That is a long time to spend hanging around in Canada. Also, it would be great to establish the movements and final resting place of White 11 after it came down in Rolvenden. Sadly, however, I must accept that this information is almost certainly lost in the mists of time. In conclusion, all I can add is that I have enjoyed every minute of the above exercise and, as far as I am concerned, research is truly part of the fun! Peter G. Nield. April, 2010.

Thanks to Peter for this research venture and we look forward to seeing his painting of White 11 on the Green.




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