Air Group Nine's second mission was to be a two-day strike on Wake Island.
The crew again was Pilot LTJG Richard B. Zentmeyer; Radioman Herbert C. (Andy)
Anderson; and myself, Turret Gunner Walter J. Deptula. It was 5 October 1943
and this time we were part of the largest carrier task force assembled to
date. The U.S.S. Essex was accompanied by the U.S.S Yorktown, the new U.S.S.
Lexington, three light carriers -- Belleau Wood, Cowpens, and Independence,
heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, oilers and a life guard submarine --
a total of 40 ships. Our squadron launched in the complete darkness of a
pre-dawn take off.
We were supposed to rendezvous with the rest of the torpedo squadron.
The only illumination we had was from the exhaust of the plane engines. We
approached what we thought was the formation of the Torpedo Squadron, only
to find that it was the Bombing Squadron. We then approached another formation;
this time to find it was the Fighter Squadron. The reason for all this confusion
was that all the carriers were launching at the same time and it was very
difficult to know where your squadron was because of the darkness.
We flew over the task force for a little while Zentmeyer tried to decide
if he should seek out the island on his own. He decided to head for the island
and we never did join up with the Torpedo Squadron. We were flying in the
direction we thought would put us in the vicinity of Wake Island. It turned
out, however, that we were actually flying in a northeastern direction, away
from the island.
Andy Anderson was trying to pick up the island on radar but he was having
trouble with the radar console. Each time he would turn the console on, a
fuse would blow out. He went thru a number of fuses until he was completely
out of them. On the way to Wake, we encountered an enemy fighter plane. For
some mysterious reason, the fighter did not attack us and left the area.
While flying in what we thought was the direction of Wake Island, I
kept swiveling the turret looking for something that looked like an island.
The sun was beginning to rise. Way off in the distance I saw what looked
like the sun reflecting off the canopies of the dive bombers and fighters
as they dove on the island, bombing and strafing. I reported my sightings
to Zentmeyer and he headed in that direction.
We had four 500-pound general purpose bombs in the bomb bay. There were
two ways of dropping these bombs -- in salvo, which means they all drop at
once, or in sequence, set by the intervelometer at pre-selected intervals.
I presume Zentmeyer may have chosen to drop in sequence. When we made our
dive, he released the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors. When we completed
our run, it was Andy's responsibility to see that all the bombs had released.
We were less than 500 feet off the water when Zentmeyer opened the bay doors
and asked Andy to check the bomb bay. It was then that we realized that one
of the bombs had hung up on the bomb bay door.
When Zentmeyer opened the bay doors, the bomb fell out and
when it hit the water, the explosion created a concussion, causing the plane
to react violently.
One thing I should point out is, because of the delay in our getting
to the island and the fact that we approached it from a different direction
than the rest of the Air Group, I don't believe we sustained any anti-aircraft
fire. At least I didn't see any.
We had two strikes on October 5 and two on October 6 1943. Strike #1
was 3.3 hours; strike #2 -- 2.9 hours, strike #3 -- 3.3 hours; and strike
#4 was 3.5 hours. Air Group Nine flew a total of 309 sorties and shot down
four enemy planes in the air. Upon completion of the mission, Admiral Nimitz
sent this message: "The thorough job done on Wake
will have results
reaching far beyond the heavy damage inflicted. I commend all who so ably
participated in this assault".
This attack on Wake Island was not without its mishaps. Bill Kazulis
ARM3C was struck with a 30mm incendiary shell that exploded in his stomach
on the return flight. Milt Ingram poured sulfa on the wound with little results.
When LTJG Dave King arrived at the tack force, the only carrier able to receive
aircraft was the U.S.S Lexington. King landed aboard and they immediately
took Kazulis to the ship's emergency room. Due to the severity of his injuries,
Bill died aboard the Lexington.
On the return flight, LTJG King was launched from Lexington. I had an
idea of what had taken place when King joined up with Zentmeyer in the landing
pattern. When we got close enough to see what Ingram was doing, I noticed
he was crying. We landed just before King. He stopped at the island and was
motioning for someone to help. He got no response because they didn't know
that he had taken off from the Lexington where he had made an emergency landing
with a gravely wounded crewman. When we landed just before King, I exited
my plan and immediately went to King's plane. When I opened the door, I could
see they already had Kazulis sewn up in a canvas body bag. After losing Frank
Bates at Marcus Island, this was the second casualty that Torpedo Squadron
Wake Island Strike
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