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fabianfred
10-24-2004, 06:47 AM
26 THE CACTUS AIR FORCE

that they had been abandoned and were completely without
air cover. It was galling for them to look at the empty
airstrip, and ominous to see the increasing insolence displayed
by the enemy aircraft when they came over. On the llth six
Zekes reconnoitered the island and strafed the airfield. The
next day three Bettys came down from Rabaul and circled
overhead. On the 14th three more flew over, leisurely photo-
graphing the field, while the Marines' few 90-millimeter
antiaircraft guns banged away fruitlessly. Two days later
another reconnaissance was made, and the planes dropped
supplies to Japanese troops hiding in the jungle. Bight planes
came down on the 18th and, for the first of many times,
bombed the airfield. This time the antiaircraft gunners were
more skillful, and five of the eight Bettys were damaged.

The Marines were uneasy and jumpy. For the first few
days they fired at any odd sound in the jungle, and one night
a noisy fire fight raged between Marines dug in on different
sides of the field. They were shelled occasionally by a subma-
rine which was sent down to establish contact with the
scattered Japanese troops. A destroyer disembarked 200 sail-
ors of a naval landing force in broad daylight on the 16th,
and the beachhead was shelled by destroyers during the
nights of the 17th, 18th, and 19th. Dysentery raged through
the entire division, further weakening men already enervated
by the heat and humidity. The Marines had gone onto
reduced rations on the 12th, and only a huge stock of
captured Japanese canned food made their two meals a day
possible. All these things they could have borne had they felt
anyone cared what happened to them. But for ten days,
almost without exception, the only ships and aircraft they saw
were Japanese. Admiral McCain summed up the obvious
remedy in a letter to Vandegrift: "The best and proper solu-
tion of course is to get fighters and SBD's onto your field."

At long last the day came. On the afternoon of August
20, the Long Island, which had sailed from Efate two days
previously, arrived off the southern tip of San Cristobal, 190
miles from Guadalcanal. There the clumsy-looking carrier
swung into the southeast trade wind blowing across the Coral
Sea and prepared to launch her aircraft.

Long Island's 400-foot flight deck was too short for the
heavily laden aircraft to make a normal "deck run" take-off,
and they had to be catapulted off, one by one. The F4Fs and
SBDs, blue on top, light gray on the bottom, lined up, propel-

THE AMERICANS DIG IN 27

lers shiny wavering disks, waiting for their turn to be fastened
to the carrier's single catapult.

Only a handful of the pilots of Smith's and Mangrum's
squadrons ever had been catapulted from a ship. This was a
complex procedure and somewhat unnerving even to experi-
enced pilots. Each aircraft in succession taxied to the forward
port side of the flight deck, controlled minutely by the signals
of a director gesticulating like an orchestra conductor, who
leept it exactly on white approach lines painted on the deck.
Having finally jolted into the correct position amid alternate
blasts of power and taps on right or left brake, the plane was
attached by a stout wire bridle to a hook that projected from
a powerful hydraulic piston through a long thin slot in the
deck which ran a hundred feet or so up to the bow. Once the
tension was taken up on the bridle, the catapult officer waved
two fingers over his head in a circle. This was a signal to the
pilot to run up to full power and check the engine for proper
operation. When the pilot had hastily surveyed his instru-
ments, he saluted the catapult officer and braced his head
against his headrest. Then there was a sudden surge of flatten-
ing acceleration, a noisy rush, and the pilot found himself just
above the sea, clawing for air speed and altitude.

One by one the nineteen F4Fs and twelve SBDs were
shot off the little carrier as she waddled at full speed through
the white-capped sea. The aircraft circled the ship climbing,
joining up by twos and threes into a larger formation. Then,
in a gently undulating mass, the thirty-one planes passed over
the ship for the last time and disappeared beyond the cloud-
studded horizon into history.

from... 'the cactus airforce' by thomas G. miller

fabianfred
10-24-2004, 06:47 AM
26 THE CACTUS AIR FORCE

that they had been abandoned and were completely without
air cover. It was galling for them to look at the empty
airstrip, and ominous to see the increasing insolence displayed
by the enemy aircraft when they came over. On the llth six
Zekes reconnoitered the island and strafed the airfield. The
next day three Bettys came down from Rabaul and circled
overhead. On the 14th three more flew over, leisurely photo-
graphing the field, while the Marines' few 90-millimeter
antiaircraft guns banged away fruitlessly. Two days later
another reconnaissance was made, and the planes dropped
supplies to Japanese troops hiding in the jungle. Bight planes
came down on the 18th and, for the first of many times,
bombed the airfield. This time the antiaircraft gunners were
more skillful, and five of the eight Bettys were damaged.

The Marines were uneasy and jumpy. For the first few
days they fired at any odd sound in the jungle, and one night
a noisy fire fight raged between Marines dug in on different
sides of the field. They were shelled occasionally by a subma-
rine which was sent down to establish contact with the
scattered Japanese troops. A destroyer disembarked 200 sail-
ors of a naval landing force in broad daylight on the 16th,
and the beachhead was shelled by destroyers during the
nights of the 17th, 18th, and 19th. Dysentery raged through
the entire division, further weakening men already enervated
by the heat and humidity. The Marines had gone onto
reduced rations on the 12th, and only a huge stock of
captured Japanese canned food made their two meals a day
possible. All these things they could have borne had they felt
anyone cared what happened to them. But for ten days,
almost without exception, the only ships and aircraft they saw
were Japanese. Admiral McCain summed up the obvious
remedy in a letter to Vandegrift: "The best and proper solu-
tion of course is to get fighters and SBD's onto your field."

At long last the day came. On the afternoon of August
20, the Long Island, which had sailed from Efate two days
previously, arrived off the southern tip of San Cristobal, 190
miles from Guadalcanal. There the clumsy-looking carrier
swung into the southeast trade wind blowing across the Coral
Sea and prepared to launch her aircraft.

Long Island's 400-foot flight deck was too short for the
heavily laden aircraft to make a normal "deck run" take-off,
and they had to be catapulted off, one by one. The F4Fs and
SBDs, blue on top, light gray on the bottom, lined up, propel-

THE AMERICANS DIG IN 27

lers shiny wavering disks, waiting for their turn to be fastened
to the carrier's single catapult.

Only a handful of the pilots of Smith's and Mangrum's
squadrons ever had been catapulted from a ship. This was a
complex procedure and somewhat unnerving even to experi-
enced pilots. Each aircraft in succession taxied to the forward
port side of the flight deck, controlled minutely by the signals
of a director gesticulating like an orchestra conductor, who
leept it exactly on white approach lines painted on the deck.
Having finally jolted into the correct position amid alternate
blasts of power and taps on right or left brake, the plane was
attached by a stout wire bridle to a hook that projected from
a powerful hydraulic piston through a long thin slot in the
deck which ran a hundred feet or so up to the bow. Once the
tension was taken up on the bridle, the catapult officer waved
two fingers over his head in a circle. This was a signal to the
pilot to run up to full power and check the engine for proper
operation. When the pilot had hastily surveyed his instru-
ments, he saluted the catapult officer and braced his head
against his headrest. Then there was a sudden surge of flatten-
ing acceleration, a noisy rush, and the pilot found himself just
above the sea, clawing for air speed and altitude.

One by one the nineteen F4Fs and twelve SBDs were
shot off the little carrier as she waddled at full speed through
the white-capped sea. The aircraft circled the ship climbing,
joining up by twos and threes into a larger formation. Then,
in a gently undulating mass, the thirty-one planes passed over
the ship for the last time and disappeared beyond the cloud-
studded horizon into history.

from... 'the cactus airforce' by thomas G. miller

fabianfred
10-25-2004, 08:15 AM
oooooooooooooh