02 October 2007

Last warshot torpedo dropped

I enjoy to read a number of different blogs from around the net. One of my favorites to stop by over a cup of tea at the end of work is SteelJaw Scribe. He posts a number of different and interesting stories about his time in E-2's as an Carrier Airborne Early Warning dude. Talks about aviation history and comments about world military-politico events. One of his most recent posts was talking about a wonderful attack aircraft built by Douglas Aircraft Company. That aircraft he talks about is the AD-1 Skyraider, an aircraft designed by Ed Heinemann. This is a man who also developed the A-3 Skywarrior, SBD Dauntless, A-4 Skyhawk, A-20 Havoc, F3D Skyknight, F4D Skyray, A-26 Invader. All of these aircraft had successful and famous careers in their own times.

After reading, well actually watching his post about the Skyraider it got me to think about its history and a sea story that I heard about when I was a kid, from a few family friends that flew A-6's but had previously flown A-1 Skyraiders when they were just brand new LTJG's coming from Pensacola. That story was of the last use of aerial torpedoes in actual combat and the last airplane to dropped in the US Navy. To tell this story we need to head in the wayback machine with Mr. Peabody and Sherman. We get transported back to Spring of 1951.
The war in Korea has been running for about a year. Following the breakout from the Inchon landings and the following fight from out of the Chosin Reservoir. UN Forces had to retreat south of the 38th Parallel after the intervention of People's Liberation Army "Volunteers". From there the war started to stabilize into trench warfare again and the gains that were being made was for little bits of ground before the armistice was signed. It was learned from 8th Army Headquarters (which was the major army headquarters in Korea) that the North Koreans and Chinese were using a dam that controlled the Hwachon Reservoir and in turn the Han River. The would at times raise or lower the river levels so that attempts to bridge the river that separates a good portion of South Korea from the North, would fail. So the 8th Army ordered an attack against the dam. First up was a massive B-29 raid that even employed some early use of radio-guided munitions. All that happened to a dam built by the Japanese during the time they had Korea as a colony, was some of the reinforced concrete was chipped and a couple cracks were made into the upper facade. The call next went to the US Navy. Commander Carrier Task Force 77, RADM Ralph A. Ofstie passed the order off his newest carrier on station for a line period.

That carrier was the USS Princeton and her air wing CVG-19 composed of VF-191 (F9F-2 Panthers), VF-192 (F4U-5 Corsairs), VF-193 (F4U-4 Corsairs), VA-195 (AD-4 Skyraiders), VC-35 (AD-4N Skyraiders). While the CAG and his squadron skippers were reviewing target. After the crews thought about it the idea was brought up to use Tiny Tim rockets and 2000lb bombs. It was thought that precision dive bombing would get the primary target which was the sluice gates. The strike was flown and results were not pretty. The rockets bounced off the reinforced concrete that the dam was composed of and the precision dive bombing that delivered the 2000lb bombs only chipped the paint. So that night as everyone was sitting around the officer mess table debating how to do this when the commanding officer of the Princeton, Captain William O. Gallery, suggested that maybe some of the torpedoes that the Princeton had on loaded at Puget Sound Naval Base prior to start of the cruise.

The torpedoes that they had on loaded were improved versions that the torpedo squadrons had used through out World War 2, the Mark XIII (Mk13). This was the torpedo that squadrons such as VT-2, VT-3, VT-6, VT-8 had tried to use during the Battle of Midway. It was going to take a whole day to prepare torpedoes since they were buried near the bottom of the magazines.

A review of the aircrew in the Skyraider squadrons found out that only four pilots besides LCDR Carlson and the Captain Gallery had any experience with torpedoes. Three pilots were part of VC-35 and one was a lowly Ensign fresh from school to VA-195. So a quick and dirty classroom time was established and it was determined that 8 pilots from VA-195 and VC-35 were going to make the drops the next day. So tactics were reviewed and the mechanics were explained in how to make a torpedo drop.

It was also realized that to help the torpedoes not dive deeply that some sort of device was going to be need. So the Aviation Ordnancemen placed plywood tails and plywood nose cones on the torpedo. These were going to help it stay shallow and not detonate against the bottom on the initial drop. This was before the use of parachute packs like we use now for aerial torpedoes.

The next morning the brief was accomplished the aircrew grabbed breakfast and head out to their planes for a 0900 launch. They arrived over the target area around 1130 and found it strangely quiet.

It was realized that due to how narrow the valley was that only two planes at a time could make the run. So that is what happened at just inches above the ways four times a pair of Skyraiders made the run down the valley. They had to go very low and very slow to make sure the torpedo didn't break up on the drop. All the while being shot at. One can only guess that it looked just like the final scene in "Star Wars" when Luke Skywalker is making the run to put a torpedo into the Death Star. With all the concentration about the attack run and all the anti-aircraft fire going off around them.
All the while some F4U's of VF-192 flew strikes against the air defense sites and VF-191 flew top cover in their F9F's.
Out of the 8 pilots that dropped a torpedo that day it was ruled that 6 actually got hits, two torpedoes suffered damage to their gyros and swerved into each other and blew each other up before the dam. Out of the 6 that hit the dam, one actually blew open a sluice gate and the other 5 heavily damaged the others that they were later the be found unusable when UN ground troops recaptured the area later that summer.
VA-195 would forever carry the nickname from that simple operation, The Dambusters. They would continue to fly the Skyraider up until 1960 when they would transition over to the A-4 Skyhawk and later on to the A-7 Corsair II. They are still an active duty squadron flying F-18 Hornet and currently forward deployed onboard the USS Kitty Hawk with CVW-5 out of NAF Atsugi.
VC-35 was established in May of 1950 as a night attack squadron. They would serve with proud tradition through out the Korean War. The primarily flew the AD-4N, which was an AD-4 with an enlisted radar operator stuffed in the tail of the plane looking for night targets and via an ICS system would tell the pilot where to fly to and when to drop his weapons. Besides this one mission in the daylight most of the time was spent getting launched at dusk and recovering just as the sun was coming up. They would go out and bomb rail lines, bridges, major roads, and in general just not give the enemy any satisfaction that night time would cover his operations. VC-35 would later become VA(AW)-35. This designated them as an all-weather attack squadron, the designate came a year after the war in Korea ended and with the introduction of a new plane the AD-5N. VA(AW)-35 would continue to make deployments to the WestPac until they 1959 when they would stand down and re-stand up as VA-122 as the FRS for Skyraiders and later on for A-7's the squadron would finally be dis-established in 1991 as the A-7 was retired. VA-122 was recently stood back up as the FRS for the F-18E/F-18F Super Hornets on the West Coast.
VF-191 Satan's Kittens would fly F9F's, F-8 Crusaders, F-4 Phantoms and then the F-14A before being decommissioned in 1991.
VF-192 The Golden Dragons would fly the F4U for another year before making the transition themselves to the F9F. They would then go from the Panther to the Cougar (F9F-6) over to the Fury (FJ-4B) and make the transition to the A-4 Skyhawk in 1960. VF-192 would be re-designated as VA-192 during the transition to the North American Aviation FJ-4B Fury. They would retain this title as they flew the A-4 Skyhawk and then the A-7 Corsair over North Vietnam and in 1986 make the transition to the F-18 Hornet. Since 1986 they have been forward deployed to NAF Atsugi at attached to CVW-5.

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