Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Savage Feeding a Crusader

AJ-2 BuNo 1340xx refuels an F8U-1 Crusader BuNo 14378x while an F9F Cougar
flies cover.
One of the "forgotten" carrier birds of the post WWII era is one part of today's photo, the North American AJ Savage.

In the days after the end of the War, the Navy felt a bit left out, as they had no aircraft capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. The ability to lift heavy objects - such as atom bombs - was something that the in-development jet-powered aircraft had a lot of promise of, but the finer points of jet power were still several years away.

They Navy tried using JATO-equipped Lockheed P2V Neptunes, but while they could take off from an aircraft carrier, they couldn't land on one, leaving the crews to figure out where to go after they dropped the Bomb. So, in 1946, the Navy contracted with North American to develop the AJ, a composite-powered stop-gap solution. The main power came from two Pratt R2800 radial engines which were boosted by large turbochargers, so that they could maintain power to 42,000 feet. To assist in take-offs and to give a bit of dash speed, a single Allison J33 turbojet engine was embedded in the lower tail. At altitude, the aircraft was quite fast, capable of almost jet-like speeds of 460 mph.

With the advent of the Douglas A3D in 1952, the Savages were relegated to other duties, with some being converted to tankers, their bomb bays being fitted out with the refueling gear. Our photo shows a -2 model, which had a 100-hp power upgrade on the radials and a larger tail, which was operated by VAH-7. This squadron transitioned out of their Savages in November 1958. They had two deployments during this time period, on the USS Randolph (Det. 36) and on the USS Essex (Det. 45), plus their home port at NAS Sandford, Florida.

Meanwhile, the first Atlantic fleet deployments of F8U-1 Crusaders was aboard the USS Saratoga in late 1957 as a part of Carrier Air Wing 3 (tail code AC). On June 6, 1957, while President Dwight Eisenhower was on board the Saratoga for an inspection, two F8Us departed the USS Bon Homme Richard in the Pacific and flew across the country non-stop in 3 hours, 28 minutes, landing on the Saratoga; these would have been refueled in flight by Savages...so there exists the possibility that this photo might show one of those refuelings.

A fascinating series of photos of a Savage with an unretractable hose landing on a carrier can be seen here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Korean Dragonfly

In Tuesday's post, we featured an official Navy photo of a Sikorsky HO3S-1, so it seemed natural for today to follow-up with an unofficial snapshot of the Army's version of the same helo, the R-5/H-5 Dragonfly. The small print has no indication of where or when this was taken, but it appears to be at in Korea, likely a field hospital. (Yes, the song Suicide is Painless is indeed running through my head as I write this post.)

I have confess that I'm a bit intrigued by what's going on...the tail rotor is spinning, so chances are that this ship just landed, rather than is getting ready to take off (not to mention the fact that there's a soldier kneeling down near the tailrotor, apparently taking a photo - anyone in that are would be a huge safety violation in today's world). The large crowd is being drawn by something, but what?

The Dragonfly shown is serial 47-484, one of 11 R-5Fs built. The R-5 (known as the H-5 after 1948) was based on Igor Sikorsky's earlier R-4. The prototype first flew in 1943, but development was too slow for practical use during WWII. But in Korea, the idea of a machine that could be used to rescue injured soldiers and downed aviators behind enemy lines blossomed. It became the first helo widely used by the military, and the first to be used as a rescue ship in Korea. By the middle of 1953, Army helicopters rescued 1,273 injured in a single month, according to an article in Aviation History magazine.

For all its successes, though, the H-5 was still a very early helo, and naturally had a lot of limitations. Though powered by a 450-horse Pratt R-985 radial engine buried inside behind the cabin, it was still quite under-powered. It had CG issues as well, and each came equipped from the factory with two iron bars wrapped in canvas that the pilot could move around to balance the ship out, depending the load. Such accessories were frequently lost, of course, so pilots would resort to bags of sand, bottles of water, or even rocks. If nothing was available, the top speed was limited to a pokey 25 knots.

Maj. Richard Kirkland (ret) was an H-5 pilot in Korea, and told The Army Times in 2011, “By today’s standards, it had limited lifting capacity and short range. For its time, though, the H-5 marked a revolution. It enabled us to fly behind enemy lines, land almost anywhere, and pick up a ‘friendly’ who needed rescuing.”

The intense work that the H-5 was subjected to in Korea led to rapid improvements in helicopter design, which were reflected in the H-19 Chickasaw, the next major SAR design used by the military, and the ultimate replacement for the Dragonfly. Production ended in 1951, and by 1957, all the the H-5s had been retired.

Note the external medivac stretcher pod

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Albany's Horse

The Sikorsky HO3S-1, affectionately known as the “Horse” (the S-51 to Sikorsky, and the R-5/H-5 to the Army and Air Force; the Brits license-built it as the Westland Dragonfly), was the first widely successful helicopter used after WWII.

The Navy first tried the HO3S-1 in 1946, and on December 25, 1946, a Horse from Navy squadron VX-3 became the first helicopter to fly in Antarctica. Pleased with its capabilities, the Navy began ordering the type in larger numbers in 1948.
The tail code UR indicates that this was a member of Helicopter Utility Squadron 2, Detachment 3. The Horse saw extensive use as a rescue helo in Korea until being replaced by the larger and more powerful Sikosky H-19/HO4S Chickasaw. By 1957, all the HO3S aircraft had been retired from the fleet.

The USS Albany started life as CA-123, an Oregon City-class heavy cruiser, being launched on June 30, 1945. From 1958-62, she was overhauled and converted to the Navy’s first guided missile cruiser, taking on a very different look. When new, the Albany and the other ships in her class were equipped with four seaplanes, but these and their launch catapults were replaced by four Sikorskys and a helipad (I have not seen a date for Albany’s switchover, but her sister ship, the USS Rochester, had the catapults replaced with a helipad in late 1948, so presumably this work was done to the Albany at about the same time). I have only been able to locate one other photo of an Albany-based HO3S, which can be seen at this link (but you have to manually go to page 31), showing a Horse landing on the Albany's aft gun turret.

Friday, July 20, 2012

British Hudsons

Today's post features two unrelated snapshots of British Lockheed Hudsons. The first one shows a Hudson parked in front of one of the hangars at Burbank's United Airport. The airplane is roped off and a number of well-dressed people are milling around. Stacked off to the right in the image are a bunch of folding chairs. This has all the appearances of an event or a ceremony, such as a rollout or unveiling. The first flight of a British Hudson I took place on December 10, 1938 at Burbank...could this view be of the post-flight hoopla? Or, could this be the first Hudson delivery? Unfortunately there are no markings on the back of the image, so there's no way to tell.

The second images shows a Hudson approaching for landing, flaps down.  Note the lack of tail markings. 

The Hudson was a light bomber and coastal patrol aircraft based on the Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra, a design that was made famous by Howard Hughes' record-setting round-the-world flight from July 10-14, 1938. The design also led to the later Lockheed Ventura. 

When the U.S. started delivering Hudsons to the RAF, American neutrality in the European conflict complicated the process. The aircraft were flown from Burbank to the U.S.-Canada border, where they were towed across by tractor or even horse-team, and then disassembled and loaded onto a ship for the trans-Atlantic voyage. On October 8, 1939, a Hudson became the first RAF aircraft (though not the first British plane) to shoot down a German opponent.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Lucky Hellcat and the Tragedy that Followed

Call it the “Law of Unintended Consequences”. Today’s Navy/Associated Press news photo of a damaged Grumman F6F Hellcat making an emergency landing on a carrier was originally presented to the American public with a caption couched in terms of light-hearted bravado:

“PLANE NO. 13 LUCKY - Number 13 proved to be this Navy Hellcat pilot’s lucky number as he makes a safe landing on a carrier, trailing smoke. His plane was damaged in aerial combat with the Japs over Wake during the attack on that Jap base, Oct. 5-6. More than 30 Jap planes, the Navy claimed, were shot down in aerial combat and 31 more destroyed on the ground. (Associated Press Photo from U.S. Navy. 10/15/43)”

My original title for this post, “Hellcat Oops” was intended to answer the post several weeks ago entitled “Helldiver Oops”…I figured that, to be fair, I had to give the fighter jocks the same ribbing as I gave the bomber drivers. After all, the pilot shown here just pulled off a pretty impressive feat of airmanship: bringing home a wounded bird, and then executing a carrier landing – itself an admirable accomplishment even in the best of circumstances when everything's working great – all while his windscreen was completely obscured by a thick coating of black engine oil.

Note the nice thick coating of engine oil on the Hellcat's windscreen.
All that light-heartedness came to an abrupt end, though, as I dug into researching the story behind this photo, and the immense (and largely unremembered) tragedy that occurred as a result of the actions on the day and mission that this photo was shot, consequences that did not become known to the American public for another three years.

Although it isn’t identified in the cutline, the carrier in this scene is the USS Yorktown (CV-10), which was a part of Carrier Air Group Five (CVG-5). On board the "Fighting Lady", as the ship was nicknamed, were two Hellcat squadrons, VF-5 and night fighter squadron VF(N)-76; the lack of a radar pod on the outer starboard wing suggests that Lucky 13 is from Fighter Squadron Five.

Wake Island had been attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the same day that Pearl Harbor was struck, an assault which culminated on the capture of the island by the Japanese forces on December 23, 1941. On the island at the time were a large number of U.S. civilian construction workers employed by contractor Morrison-Knudsen. During the battle for the island, 52 U.S. sailors and Marines were killed, along with 70 of the civilians, but the toll that the Japanese paid for the island was much higher, with 700 to 1,000 lives lost. When the fighting was over, 1,603 Americans were captured, of whom 1,150 were civilians. All of the military personnel were shipped off to POW camps in Asia, but some of the American civilians were kept on Wake by the Japanese as slave laborers to build up the island's defenses.

The caption pasted to the back of the photo
In the October 5-6 raid by CVG-5, the Japanese forces on the island were caught napping, and 31 aircraft, all of the Nell and Betty bombers based there, as well as some of the fighters, were destroyed on the ground. (The Naval Aviation News dated December 1, 1943, has a one-page piece on the Wake raid - jump to page 19 of this 36-page pdf file - and one of the photos there of the attack can also be seen here.)

Unbeknownst to the attacking U.S. forces, at the time of the raid, there were still 98 American civilians alive and enslaved on the island. The two-day air raid was so intense that the Japanese commander of the island, Rear Admiral Shigimatsu Sakaibara, became convinced that an Allied invasion was imminent. He had the American prisoners marched from their compound to the north end of the island, where they were lined up along an anti-tank ditch, bound and blindfolded, and then mowed down with gunfire from three platoons of Japanese soldiers. The bodies were unceremoniously buried in the ditch where they fell. The following day, reports surfaced that one of the prisoners had actually escaped the execution, and had been seen on the island. To confirm this reported sighting, Sakaibara had the bodies dug up and counted: sure enough, there were only 97 dead. The lone survivor, who has never been identified, managed to hide out for three weeks, before being discovered and recaptured. At some point during this time, he was able to carve an inscription into a large rock near the site of the killings which read, "98 US PW 5-10-43". Sakaibara personally beheaded the man.

Over the next two years, inquiries from the Red Cross regarding the condition of the prisoners were completely ignored. In August 1945, when word reached Wake of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Harbor, the bones of the murdered Americans were exhumed from the ditch and hastily re-buried in a single small grave in an American graveyard that had been established during the initial battle for the island. When Sakaibara finally surrendered Wake to the American forces on September 4, 1945, his staff members explained away the missing contractors by saying that they had been placed in two bomb shelters during the October 1943 raid, and that one shelter had received a direct hit from an American bomb, while the Americans in the other had overpowered a guard and escaped to the north end of the island, where they all died fighting. During interrogation, all of the Japanese officers stuck to this story.

Sakaibara and fifteen of his staff officers were nonetheless arrested by the Americans and sent to Kwajalein to stand trial for the deaths of the POWs. During the process, three of the Japanese officers committed suicide and left behind notes that contradicted the cover story, indicating that the POWs had in fact been directly murdered. Presented with this evidence, Sakaibara confessed to ordering the murders, and took responsibility for his actions. He and Headquarters Company commander Lt. Cmdr Tachibana were sentenced to death, although Tachibana's sentence was eventually commuted to life in prison. On Guam on June 19, 1947, Sakaibara and five other Japanese war criminals paid the ultimate price for their crimes by hanging. Sakaibara's last statement was "I think my trial was entirely unfair and the proceeding unfair, and the sentence too harsh, but I obey with pleasure."

Most of the families of the 98 did not learn of their fate until January 1946, some even later than that. Today, on Wake Island, the inscription carved by the lone escapee is a memorial known as POW Rock.

A listing of the 98 men who were murdered on Wake can be found at this link.

A detailed account of the Massacre on Wake Island can be found at this link.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Derelict on Tinian

"RBC beside old Jap plane on Tinian - 1944"
In the waning days of World War II, as the Allies overran enemy bases, it wasn't at all unusual for GIs to pose next to destroyed aircraft (or other hardware, for that matter) for photos that were sent home. This resulted in a lasting photographic record of the battle damage. Today's photo is an unusually small print - not sure if this was a means of saving money, or a war-rationing method. On the reverse was hand-written, "RBC beside old Jap plane on Tinian - 1944".

Identifying the plane, however, has been a bit of a challenge. My first thought was that it had the general lines of a Nakajima  B6N Jill torpedo bomber. Only one Jill has survived, and is awaiting restoration at NASM, which can be seen here, on the website "Preserved Axis Aircraft". However, on closer examination, the cockpit canopies seem to better match the Nakajima C6N Saiun, or Painted Cloud (Allied codename "Myrt"). One of these has also been preserved at NASM, and can be seen here. The problem with the latter is that the Myrt didn't enter service until September 1944, and Tinian was overrun by the US Marines in July 1944. Thus, the only way that this could be a C6N was if this was one of the 19 pre-production prototypes.

This is one small snapshot!
Reader input on the identification of this plane is invited!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Osborn-esque Cartoons from the Tarawa

In our third and last installment of Navy materials from the estate of Helldiver pilot Herman Olds, this week we feature a series of training cartoons. As we said last week, during World War II, renown satirical cartoonist and illustrator Robert C. Osborn drew thousands of cartoon for the U.S. Navy's training command, dealing with both technical issues, as well a personnel ones, as embodied in his cast of infamous characters led by the bumbling pilot "Dilbert". Osborn's style became a Navy institution, one that was copied on a local level by other Navy artists.

The Olds collection includes a group of 8x10 glossy photo prints of training illustrations done in the Osborn style by a Navy artist that signed his work only with the initials "R.E.H". All of these are back stamped from the USS Tarawa and dated November 3, 1946.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Globemaster Twos

These two shots picture Douglas C-124 Globemaster IIs at an unnamed location (it has been suggested that this might be in Korea; if anyone recognizes the airfield, please comment!), along with a KC-97. No particular story this week, just a pair of snapshots that give a glimpse at the past. The C-124s were built between 1950 and 1955, and served into the 1970s. The style of print, however, leads me to believe that these photos were taken sometime in the later 1950s.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Helldiver Training, Cartoon Style

During World War II, renown satirical cartoonist and illustrator Robert C. Osborn drew thousands of cartoon for the U.S. Navy's training command, dealing with both technical issues, as well a personnel ones, as embodied in his cast of infamous characters led by the bumbling pilot "Dilbert". Osborn's style became a Navy institution, one that was copied on a local level by other Navy artists.

Last week, we featured several Douglas SB2C Helldiver photos from the estate of pilot Herman Olds. Included with the collection of actual photos came a large group of 8x10 glossy photo prints of training illustrations done in the Osborn style by a Navy artist that signed his work only with the initials "R.E.H". Some of these illustrations were specific to training issues with the Helldiver, and those are being featured in today's post. Next week's Tuesday post will feature this same artist's cartoons that address other issues faced by Navy pilots.

All of these prints are stamped on the back to indicate that they were printed on 3 Nov 1946 on board CV-40, the USS Tarawa. Olds' logbooks indicate that he completed his SB2C-5 carrier quals on the Tarawa on November 27, 1946 as a member of "Bombing Squadron Four", so this packet of prints were probably part of his training regimen there. During this time-period, Olds and the Tarawa were operating around Saipan and the Marianas, and flew training mission which included live bombing of targets on the island of Pagau.

The artist's initials of "REH" appear on the bottom of some prints.