Navy PBY Catalina Squadron of WWII
by Dallas H. Jones
Scared Stiff -- As we approached a Japanese fleet off Guadalcanal on the night of October 22, 1942 (about midnight), we were flying in a Navy PBY Catalina patrol plane.
We were in the plane doing maintenance to try to keep our planes in shape to fly. We would fly every third day. On the afternoon of October 22nd, 1942, a re-arming boat approached our plane. We were tied up to a buoy in Espirito Santos harbor; I was the ordnanceman "Gunner, Air Bomber" in the crew piloted by Lt.George A. Enloe. Ernest Davenport was the plane captain (flight engineer) of the crew. He said to me: "Dallas, it looks like we are going on a torpedo run tonight." I saw there was a torpedo in the re-arming boat as it pulled under the starboard wing. I took the bomb hoist on the top of the wing and fed the hoist cable through the access in the wing to the ordnanceman on the re-arming boat below. He attached the hoist cable to the torpedo, and made sure there was plenty slack in the cable as the plane and re-arming boat rocked in different directions with the waves, so that the torpedo would not be jerked out of the boat as the plane rocked one way and the boat another. I quickly reeled the hoist to get the torpedo out of the boat and then reeled it up to the torpedo rack on the plane. The flight crew then concentrated on getting the plane ready for the flight. James Hill, second radioman, checked out the electrical equipment. Davenport checked on the gas and oil. I checked on the guns and made sure we had a full load of ammunition.
We are now approaching the Japanese from up-moon, so that the ships are silhouetted between us and the moon. Charles Mader, first radioman and radar operater, had picked up the Japanese fleet on radar and guided the pilot until the ships were sighted. I could see there were 15 or 20 (mostly large) ships. I was standing in the air stream with no protection. I held on to the spade grips of the .30-caliber gun in the bow of the plane. I had a Snap-On safety belt with a 1/4" cable attached to the belt and secured to the structure of the plane. I was thinking we were going to be shot out of the sky any minute. We approached closer and closer to the Japanese fleet at an altitude of 50 feet.
Shortly after we had taken off from Espirito Santos, George Enloe, the Patrol Plane Commander (PPC), and Tony Lucas, the PP1/c, had instructed each member of the crew as to their duties during the torpedo run. Charles Mader was to obtain a position report from "Ole" Olson the navigator, and send a radio message to the USS Curtiss with our position and report of the attack. He also indicated the number and types of ships in the Japanese fleet. Dave Davenport was to man the tower and be prepared to "full rich" fuel as soon as the attack started. A.C. Monroe and Kogan were to man the two .50-caliber waist guns. James Hill was to man the tunnel gun. I was to man the bow gun and shoot out any search light. We were all ready - it was just a matter of time - and the seconds seemed like hours as we approached the Japanese fleet.
I don't know why I was so scared - when the Japanese attacked Kaneohe Naval Air Station in Kaneohe, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, I was asleep in the barracks when someone yelled the hanger was on fire. The Japanese fighters were strafing the hangers and barracks. I knew then that we were at war; I jumped up and ran down to the hanger, oblivious that 20mm and 7.7mm shells were striking the ground all around me. I jumped in one of the burning planes near the hanger and took one of the .50-caliber machine guns and a box of ammunition and handed it to another ordnanceman, Red Scarbrough; we carried it to the edge of the tarmac where a truck from Public Works was parked, loaded it on the truck, and went to the Public Works maintenance building. We obtained a 6-foot piece of pump pipe and a sledge hammer. We drove the pipe in the ground in an open area about 50 yards from the hanger, near the bomb sight shop. We were in a position [where] we could see the Japanese bombers as they approached. We loaded the ammunition in the gun. I held the gun on the pump pipe while Red Scarbrough did the firing. The hot shells were hitting my neck as he fired. I could not move because I was holding the gun down. I saw the bombs fall from the Japanese bombers; I could see only a round ball, so I knew they were going to hit close by. When the bombs hit the hanger, it appeared to bulge out on all sides and then settled back. I saw a 1935 Ford go in the air as high as the hanger. I could hear ammunition in the planes exploding as the planes burned. We continued to fire until the Japanese bombers were out of sight.
I was not afraid, nor frightened then, but now as we approached within 500 yards of the Japanese fleet, I am shaking in my boots. Enloe gave Tony Lucas the signal to release the torpedo. He pulled the release handle so hard, it came out of its mounting, but the torpedo was on its way.
When the torpedo hit the water, all hell broke loose. It appeared that every ship in the Japanese fleet commenced firing at the same time. Enloe put the plane in a dive flying barely 20 feet off the water, he leveled off and maneuvered the plane between the Japanese ships. I was thrown completely out of the plane, holding onto the gun and tethered by the 1/4 inch cable attached to the safety belt around my waist. I could see the propellers spinning a few feet behind me. When Enloe pulled up sharply, I was dumped back into the plane and thrown out again each time he would dive.
All the while, shells were busting all around the plane - when a shell exploded, it would sound as if giant steel fingers were ripping the bottom of the plane. I could imagine that the plane was in shreds.
When I finally got back into the plane and was able to close the hatch, I went back to the navigation compartment where Jorgenson, the second pilot, was assisting Olsen in getting a position report. He said "Dallas, you look like you have seen a ghost." I said "I feel I am very lucky not to be a ghost."
The next day, when the Japanese fleet was sighted, a heavy cruiser was missing from the fleet. We were credited with damage to the cruiser, but more significantly, the Japanese had not continued on their way to attack the Marines on Guadalcanal, giving the Navy precious time to get more aircraft and supplies to the Marines.
I was scared stiff - because I was in a helpless situation that I could not fight back or do anything but wait and hope for the best. Enloe was able to get us safely out of range of the Japanese guns by skillfully maneuvering the plane between the Japanese ships so that they would be firing at each other if they tried to fire at us.