28 September 2007

Some interesting history

I have watched Ken Burns latest documentary titled "The War". It is an amazing documentary, or at least what parts that I have been able to catch in between working. Watching a portion of it got me to think about some of the interesting events for the US Navy in Europe.
When you look at the US Fleet in the hours after the Pearl Harbor Attack you can see that the US fleet was left to this:
In Pearl was the battleships that had made up the various battle lines of the Pacific Fleet. All of them were sunk or heavily damaged. Coming home from delivery mission to Wake was the USS Enterprise, CV-6, Battle group. Going to Midway was the USS Lexington, CV-2, battle group. Scattered up and down the Western Seaboard for overhaul and refitting was the USS Saratoga Battle group.
On the Atlantic Side coming out of the Brooklyn and Philadelphia Naval Yards was the USS North Carolina (BB-55), USS Washington (BB-56). Respectfully, they had just finished being initially outfitted. Then scattered at either Norfolk Naval Station, Brooklyn Naval Yard, Philadelphia Naval Yard, Newport Naval Station; was the remains of the US Neutrality Patrol. USS New Mexico BB-40, USS Idaho BB-42, USS Mississippi BB-41, USS New York BB-34, USS Texas BB-35, USS Arkansas BB-33, USS Ranger CV-4, USS Wasp CV-5, USS Yorktown CV-5, USS Hornet CV-8, USS Long Island CVE-1. Except for the aircraft carriers all of those battleships were of pre-WW1 or completed during WW1. By the end of start of 1942 the only carriers left in the Atlantic was the Wasp, Ranger, Long Island.

The USS Wasp helped to escort the 6th Marines to Iceland and flew off US Army Air Force P-40's to Iceland in 1940. Then became part of the Neutrality Patrols on the US eastern seaboard. After the days after December 7th, the USS Wasp sailed south out of Norfolk Naval Yard with CVG-7 (CVG=Carrier Air Group). They went south to the Caribbean to make sure that the no Vichy French Naval Forces sortied to harass Allied Shipping. All of those ships were sighted tied up through out the rest of that December. After being refitted at Norfolk Naval Yard in the early part of 1942, the USS Wasp and the USS Washington departed with escorting destroyers and cruisers sailed to Scapa Flow which was the home of the British Home Fleet. Both ships were to help bolster the losses that the Royal Navy had suffered during the previous 3 years of war. It was at Scapa Flow that the USS Wasp would undertake one of her most important missions. She offloaded a portion of CVG-7 to the airfield at Scapa Flow, she only held on to VF-71 all of which were placed down on the hangar bay. She took on a number of Supermarine Spitfires Mark V's. The plan was that the Wasp was going to steam with a Royal Navy Convoy to with in range of the little island of Malta and deliver those Spitfires to the RAF contingent there. It was on the 20th of April that the USS Wasp, launched a combat air patrol of 11 F4F-3's early in the morning. with in minutes of the Spitfires were roaring down the flight deck and on the way to Malta. The force returned to Scapa Flow. However, those Spitfires she initially launched were decimated with in hours of their landing at Malta by the Italian and German Air Forces. So Prime Minister Churchill asked to use the Wasp to deliver another squadron of Spitfires to Malta. So she sailed again in May with another load of Spitfires.
It was during this delivery that a RCAF pilot named Jerry .A. Smith was awarded a pair of gold Naval Aviator Wings from Lt. David McCampbell who was the LSO that waved the Spitfire pilot back on board the USS Wasp. The plane returned to the ship after it was found out that Pilot Officer Smith found that his drop tank would not transfer fuel. It only took Smith two tries and he was able to land with only 6ft left on the deck. Unfortunately Smith disappeared a months later while flying over Malta.

With the damages to the US Pacific Carrier Fleet forced Adm. King to withdrawn the USS Wasp to the Pacific combat zone. While leaving Scapa Flow the crew of the Wasp heard over a German radio station that the ship had been sunk by the Luftwaffe during the second delivery mission.

The Yorktown patrolled the Eastern Seaboard and Caribbean from the spring of 1941 as part of the USS Neutrality patrol. Possible came under attack by a German U-boat off the coast of the Carolina's that summer of 1941. Then she laid into Norfolk Naval Base on the 2nd of December. Nine days after the events of Pearl Harbor, the Yorktown left for Pearl Harbor and to become part of Task Force 17 under the command of Rear Adm. Fletcher.

The last fleet carrier on the Atlantic side was the USS Ranger, CV-4. She was the first purpose built carrier in the US. She was small when compared to the USS Lexington and Saratoga. Lessons learned from her being built lead to the improved Yorktown class carriers. She was just of the coast of the Eastern US Seaboard on the way home from a neutrality patrol off the windward islands when war was announced over both the military and civilian radio networks. The day after Pearl Harbor, while the President Roosevelt was making his "Day of Infamy" speech. The USS Ranger, was on loading supplies and war shots over night. She then went back underway on the 10th of December to patrol again along the Eastern Seaboard. She returned home and then entered Norfolk Naval Yard in late March 1942. After coming out in late April she proceed to deliver USAAF P-40's through out portions of Gold Coast of Africa and then patrolled South America to show the US Flag. In October the Ranger was joined by 4 brand-new carriers made from converted tankers. These were ships of the Swanee class. These ships provided air cover for the landings in North Africa as part of Operation Torch.

Some F4F's of VF-41 and SBD's of both VS-42 and VS-42 struck at dawn against the Vichy French naval forces at the port of Casablanca. VS-41 and VS-42 dropped bombs on the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart and other elements of the Vichy French naval units that made their home port in Casablanca. Meanwhile the F4F's mixed it up with elements of Vichy French Air Force as it left its base at Cazes. The rest of VS-42 and VS-41 along with VF-41 were trying to attack air base. Meanwhile the two squadrons VGF-26 and VGF-27 also flew the F4F tangled with the Vichy French. The Vichy French flew a local French Fighter called the Dewoitine D.520 and the export version of the USAAF's P-36 Hawk fighter also known as the Hawk 75 of which a small number had been delivered to the French before the fall of France in 1940. The French pilots that the US Navy pilots flew against where not conscripts rather they were experienced pilots and survivors of the battle for France in 1940. So it was a serious challenge and 5 US aircraft were lost to combat. Meanwhile about another 23 pilots of CVG-4 cracked up their aircraft during operational use. That was a serious attrition loss.
On the 8th of November 1942 the US Army landed in Morocco, by the 12th Casablanca had capitulated and two of the CVE's had been carrying both L-4's and P-40's of a USAAF fighter group had landed at the airfields around Casablanca that US Carrier Force started to make the return trip to the US.
Of another note is a battle between Vichy Naval Forces and the US Navy. It was the second time in 139yrs that French and US Naval forces had engaged each other. A naval gunnery battle erupted between the French Cruiser Primauguet and the battleship USS Massachusetts. Those two along with seven French destroyers and the cruiser engaged the Massachusetts and the US cruiser USS Augusta (which had onboard General G. S. Patton and his staff). In the period of about 2 hours the French task force had either been sunk or so heavily damaged that the ships were beached by their crews.
At the end of the Operation Torch Landings the USS Ranger and CVG-4 had shot down 15 enemy aircraft. Her SBD's had sunk two enemy submarines near the invasion fleet, heavily damaged or destroyed 86 enemy vehicles, destroyed 70 enemy aircraft on the ground, and destroyed numerous fixed positions that were holding up the advance of the 1st Army.
The USS Ranger, went into the yards yet again in December of 1942 and didn't leave the yards until late February of 1943. After which she proceeded yet again to the North African coast but with only a load of P-40's to be delivered to the USAAF units in North Africa. After returning home to she preformed ASW patrols from as far north Halifax to as far south as Key West. She also opened up her flight deck to pilots learning how to be naval aviators as well during this time period from March until August. When at the request of the Royal Navy that the US Navy donate a fleet carrier to the British Home Fleet. So the Ranger and air group four headed to the Home Fleet's home port of Scapa Flow. They arrived on the 19th of August and were immediately put to use patrolling the northern and southern approaches of the British Isles for Axis naval units whether that was S-boats and other surface shipping or U-boats. On the 4th of October the Ranger and her air group flew air strikes against German shipping in the Norwegian port of Bodo. They proceeded to sink 6 German ships and while ranging all over the waters around Bodo at the lost of only 3 planes. She returned to Scapa flow on the 6th of October. After which she returned to the US by that December. She was then tasked through out the rest of 1944 to operate in the Chesapeake Bay as a training carrier for new pilots.
So that was the experiences of the fleet carriers of the US Navy in the Atlantic. Most of the combat was seen in the opening months of the war and by 1943 the escort carrier or "Jeep Carrier" was coming into service to close the gap and they were being used in hunter-killer groups to hunt the German U-boats and protect convoys of men and supplies that would form the forces that would invade the French coast in June of 1944. Except for the Ranger, most of the fleet carriers would be sunk during the battles to secure the waters around Guadalcanal.

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14 September 2007

Think about this

Watch this interesting video from a combat journalists in Afghanistan

Average age of a plane captain for a US Navy squadron is approximately 19yrs old.
Average salary of someone on the flight deck is approximately $22,000 dollars a year before taxes.
Average work day under way is 12 hours on.
Average education completed is about one year of college
They are trusted to make go or no go decisions on multimillion dollar aircraft with men and women that flying put their complete trust in the PC to make this decision.
Now think that more then likely they were not trusted with their parent's car which only cost $30,000 dollars only three years earlier when these same people were 16.

Just your deep thought for the day

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12 September 2007

My own September 2001 experiences.

My own experinces on September 11th and the days and weeks following:

Part 1- The inital night that the attacks happened

Part 2- The stress of the next night and trying to get back into working.

Part 3- A short synopis of how we felt watching the news, how the ship tried to keep our moral up and how we felt when we returned the favor to the Taliban.

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11 September 2007

Seems like only yesterday part 3

As the days progressed following the 11th and 12th we were all glued to the TV's. In my shop we quit watching the all news channel. I think the biggest reason was that a number of us felt burned out from watching the planes hitting again and again. Watching the people run from the towers, and watching people fall, and finally watching all the missing reports. It just was depressing at times. At various times for the next few weeks we would catch the news at shift changes. It was depressing at times to see how the United States main stream media reacted following the President's address to Congress. As we would watch the news, they had reports of how people believed that this attack was an inside job. There was reports from various colleges and town halls that showed some people supporting the build up and the possibility of going to Afghanistan. The rest of the reports were of people protesting and claiming that we deserved to lose over 3000 people. It was sad to see some of those reports.

Even worst was listening to all the different talking heads that were ex-military members claiming how the US was just going to have their butts handed to them. It was going to be a repeat of Vietnam for the pilots and the ground troopers were going to face the same sort of fighting that defeated the Soviets.

We watched the news of the American Red Cross and United Way charities failures on the news. The failures of various other charities in helping those who were injured or were harmed.

We watched one night talk about the Anthrax attacks. That night watching the Postal Clerks on the ship take bags of "To Any Servicemen" letters to the ship's incinerator and they dumped everything including the bags that they keep the letters in were shoved into the incinerators.

That was the worst of it all. The ship tried very hard to keep our minds away from all this news with movies. We watched "Top Gun", "Band of Brothers.", Chuck Norris in "Delta Force", "Red Dawn", "Animal House", "Midway", "Tora, Tora, Tora", "Armageddon". They also ran all sorts of comedies. There was also the race to the world series between the Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks to watch and when we could catch it the opening of both college and pro-football.

We also paid attention to the news as the build up began. One of the shops had a large world map and had converted it from a "Where we had been" tracker to one that showed where most of the forces were going to. At least from what we had heard on the news.

It went to working hard and watching movies that have a obvious pro-USA lean to them. Listening to the Skipper or the Admiral talk about we don't know when we will be home, but that we are doing important things out here. The skipper was big about bringing up previous Enterprise's experiences in combat. Till the day that we heard all four catapults fire off with in rapid succession with each other and then do it again 30 seconds later. The skipper came on and announced that the first strikes to head down town left the deck and were on the way to their targets in Afghanistan. There just seemed to be a big cheer come from the entire ship.

We proceeded to fly strikes into Afghanistan until we were relieved on station by the USS Roosevelt and we arrived back in Norfolk on Veterans day.

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08 September 2007

Seems like only yesterday part two

One of the things that happened the night of that September, was that the powers to be in charge of the battle group shut down email and Internet browsing. We could receive emails but not sending anything out and the only thing we could browse was the ship's intranet. We still didn't know what was going to happen with us. Rumors were flying hard and fast, the next night at at dinner.
"They are going to start the draft again"
"We are going to be out here for the duration."
"We are not going to be in a port again."
"It was...." and you could insert the name of a known terrorist group or hostile country.
Came into work that night and day shift was glued to the TV like us on nights were. They had accomplished the same thing that we did. Put a minor dent in our backlog of fire control radar gear. I did turn over with the day check supervisor and proceeded over to production control.
"I need 8 hours ago," began the production control Master Chief, "a list of all the major components that you will need to clear all of the exreps off your work loads."
"8 hours ago, then why didn't days do it." someone mouthed off from back of the PC office.
"Because the Washington Naval Yard.."
"I thought it was the Pentagon?"
"Now as I was saying, a message just came through where BuAir and AirLant has ordered a 747 from a contract and it is going to be loaded to bear with all of ours and the Chucky V's maintenance department requirements. So I need you all to scrub your workloads and give me an itemized list by MCN, part number, and how many you need. As it stands right now price is no objective. We are tapping into war reserve cash as of right now."
"Oh and I would like them typed please. Some of you all were successful graduates of Va Beach schools and don't know the Kings English nor how to write it. So type up your lists and drop them off in my box here."
I walked back into the shop and passed out the information to each of the benches. So we all started to scrub our sections of the workloads and started to draft our listings.
Our work center chief walked and started to talk to us.
"Any of you have family that live in either Washington DC or in NYC? If so I need a listing of who they might be and how they are related to you."
So in the middle of trying to get work done we started yet another list.
After working through the lists, my list for the people in DC or NYC was mercifully short. I knew a cousin might still had been living in NYC. The other list took a little longer, I had about 2 or 3 million dollars in parts for seven or eight radar systems that were down from our F-14's and F-18s in the air wing.
After turning all of those in we started to get to work. Try and put a number lower priority parts out and back into the supply system. I decided to check my email, because even though I couldn't send anything I could still receive. Might hear something outside of the normal channels form my hook ups.
The first email I got was from a friend of my back at the beach at Ocean-Banana. He asked how things were out here, and then mentioned how everyone including the two training squads were uploading live ordnance. They were also preparing to stand alert 5. He mentioned that it was strange to be standing alert 5 on the beach and that even the general announcing system for the reveille and retreat was being tested to announce shift of the Alert 5 status. He then closed it out about an ex-gf of mine and how she had broken up with one of our friends for yet another friend.
I got two emails from my father. The first told me that I was being turned around and I was thinking that how did he know that when I didn't even know that. At which the bosun's pipe came across with the whistle to announce the skipper was going to pass a word. Instead of announcing that a message from the commanding officer it was going to be a message from the admiral.
"Shipmates of the Enterprise BG, I just received word from 5th Fleet that we are being turned around and going to steam back north to a defined box up near the mouth of the Persian Gulf. What this means for us is that we are going to be part of the response from the attack on our country by these suspected terrorist group Al Qaeda. I am glad to be here with you all and know that you all are going to do your job to the fullest. Admiral out."
Wow is all that I could think about the email and the announcement. It was then that I skipped the rest of the first message from my father and saw that he had posted the CNN website page stating that my ship had been turned around.
The second message reported that all of my clan except for my cousin who was working in NYC had reported in to some other relative. After finishing up reading those two emails I closed everything out and started to get to work on cleaning up my workload. Push out those parts that the air wingers needed. Myself and another second class petty officer started to form a mini-production line. I was working on circuit cards while he worked on the total components. We had about 10 or 12 radar sets and started to cannibalize them all to make working radar sets. By the end of the shift at the end of the second night and first full shift after the attacks we had pushed out seven of those radar sets. As I walked to my berthing I stopped and looked out the elevator door at as the sun rose over the IO and thought to myself if the world was really going to change for the better. Mainly because the last thing I watched on TV before heading home was a news report from the NBC nightly news of people looking to blame the US foreign policy for this horror and not accept that there are just evil people out there.

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07 September 2007

Seemed like only yesterday

I write this with a heavy heart and with some trepidation. The heavy heart because these are hard memories for me to bring up. Not because I lost anyone I knew only 6yrs ago, but the scariness of knowing that I was safer haze grey and underway then those at home. I also do so with some trepidation because I am not looking for any sort of hero worship or even acclaim. I just feel as though I am finally ready to talk about my own experiences back in September 2001. I came to this from talking with my fellow blogger and friend SteelJaw, he was the one that pushed me to at least jot down what I remember from that day. If you go and check out his blog for this weekend you will read about his experiences inside the Pentagon at the moment American Airlines Flight 77 hit it. I was haze grey and under way on board the USS Enterprise, CVN-65, we had just been relieved from doing Operation Southern Watch in the Persian Gulf by the USS Carl Vinson, CVN-70. We were going to cross the equator hit Cape Town, South Africa and be the first US warship to have visited South Africa in 50 yrs and then hit Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. After which it was going to be home and relaxation in my own bed in my own home.

The big talk as we were getting ready to out chop from 5th Fleet control was about crossing the line. Bringing on Davy Jones, King Neptune and the Royal Family, and then all the shellbacks inducting us lowly pollywogs into the royal realm. I had been debating with myself which set of boots and dungarees I was going to burn up for the crossing the line. The other big thing was just how few shellbacks were on board. In my department alone out of about 800 of us only 80 people were official shellbacks.

I was working a night shift, so my hours were from approximately 1900 (or 7pm for you military types) to about 0700 the next morning. We were in the Indian Ocean and about 12hours ahead of the east coast of the USA. For some reason I woke up early that night. I was up around 1800, normally my alarm clocks ( I use two) wake me up around 1830. It was at that time I heard the following from our commanding officer.

"....so we are going to be setting condition Zebra through out the ship until we know what else is going on. I need all of you to push the TV images you might have seen or might be seeing out of your mind and do your jobs at general quarters. To emphasise again the United States has been attacked and we are going to GQ, we don't know who or what else has been attack, don't know what is going on next, to be honest we don't know much."

I thought to myself as I was slowly waking up that it wasn't drill day, because we just had a drill two days ago. I staggered from the cubicle that I slept in and walked over to our tiny TV lounge. This was located just outside the berthing and it was a tiny little space. On a good day about 12 people could very comfortable in this little space and look at a 36in TV and DVD combo in one corner. Because this little space was under a catapult room and it was very loud, so one of us AT's had rigged up a ghettoized versions of theater sound package using a couple amps and some government issued speakers (about eight of them) so we had some pretty decent sound.

Anyhow, like I said this tiny little space had enough room for 12 people and that at standing room only. We forced about 30 people of the oncoming shift all in there. Someone had turned on AFRTS's all news channel and we were catching a satellite delayed of what was supposed to be the second hour of the "Today" show. Instead we heard one of the NBC news anchors reporting all that was going on live on the "Today" set. Then some one screamed on the TV that it is happening again. At which I saw the second airplane hit the towers.

It seemed to me that time sort of froze and I felt as if I had failed some how in my job.

"I think we are at war." , came from some one in the room and pulled me out of my deep thought cycle.

"You fricking think so!", came from someone else. Before it could descend into a good ol'fashioned stressed filled argument, the general quarters klaxon went off. So those of us still not dressed for work staggered back to our racks and tried to get dressed. There was 4 other night checkers in my cube and with us all there it became a Chinese fire drill as we got dressed. I remember trying to pull over a clean undershirt when my pants started to come up.

"OKAY who is touching my pants!?!" I said pretty loudly

"My bad, I thought those were my pants." someone else said to me.

Another pair of us rolled into each other because they each tried to pull the same dungaree shirt. If this wasn't a serious thing going on it probably would of been funny. I finished up getting dressed and ran down to my repair locker. I was assigned to one fox in the forward hangar bay. Got down there and started to suit up into a fire fighting ensemble and OBA's. We sat around for what seemed like forever sweating while waiting for the other shoe to drop. One of the phone talkers in the locker was reporting what she was hearing on the line. It was strange because all sorts of rumors were running on the lines. Think of that only campfire game of telephone. You know the game don't you readers? Everyone sits around the campfire and someone on one side whispers into another and it goes around to the end. Where the end repeats it out loud to see how it might of changed.

There were rumors such as attacks in other cities besides NYC and DC were going on. There was rumors of a nuclear attack, submarines spotted near the battle group. All sorts of rumors were reported on the lines that night. As the stranger and stranger rumors were coming out, the secured from GQ was passed over the 1MC.

I got changed out of the FFE and OBA and then walked into the shop. We were glued to the TV's. People were watching the all news channel. The funniest thing that was happening that day was how the Navy News Service's "Daily News Update" seemed to be stuck on repeat since all it kept to be reporting that the Pentagon was on fire and had been struck by something and that the WTC towers had been attacked. It seemed about every half and hour the DNU came up and this fine looking JO2 said the same thing and same thing. After sitting around forever watching the news and arguing about what this was all about. One of my guys said that maybe it was that some sort of crew from Senator Condit who was involved with Chandra Levy. They did this to take him out of the news. Another guy brought up maybe it was that Dominican Republic teenager who was kicked out of the little league world series for being too old. We bounced all sorts of strange things off each other as a way to lighten the mood. I don't know how to explain it, but we resorted to this sort of gallows humor as a way to bury our own stress.

Some one noticed that it was around midnight and we should try and get some food from Mid-Rats. The lines for food was unusually short. So after getting food we found a place to sit down. I noticed that it was church like quiet. That was unusual because most of the times on the mess decks of an aircraft carrier it is a pretty noisy affair. People were talking about work, port, or what have you normally. This night it was hushed tones about what was going on. Rumors again were running rampant.

At the end of the meal we walked back to work and started again to sit around the TV and watch the news. Again nothing new. We should of been working on the gear we had. Yet we wanted to see what the news could tell us about what was happening next. It was in between grabbing food and coming back to work that the towers fell. At that point the bitch boxes we had in our shops came alive and the maintenance master chief started to scream at us (actually all of the maintenance department) to get to work pushing gear out. There were priority one repairables to work and we had plenty of time. I just remember the TV becoming background noise at that point and I started to work. It was some time in the morning the day shift came in and relieved us. I debated with myself if I should stay up or just head to bed. It was when I almost stumbled because I was so tired that resolved my debate. I went up the ladder wheel, stripped down to a towel and some shower shoes. Staggered off to the showers and came back to get the rack and fell promtly asleep in my rack.

That was my memories of that day.

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Flight Deck Friday done Southern Air Pirate's way

I happen to read on a vacation the great book "Bridges of Toko-Ri" by James A. Michener. It is a great book about a Naval Air Reservist who was recalled to active duty when the Korean War started, a CWO helicopter pilot who is a little wild and eccentric, an enlisted rescue swimmer who is fresh off the farm and afraid of officers and the chiefs, finally there is an admiral who realizes what sort of fight the Korean War is. The book was written from Michener's experiences amongst the Naval Aviators of CTF 77. He wrote a series of articles for the Saturday Evening Post about being with these fine folks. He then fictionalized the telling of a real raid against a series of bridges near the Korean and Chinese border. Publishing the book and it was turned into a great movie with William Holden and Grace Kelly. The biggest difference between the book and movie is the plane that is flown by the hero Brubaker. The movie had the Grumman F9F Panther and the book he flew the F2H Banshee. That second plane is an aircraft built by the McDonnell aircraft company. It was an enlarged version of their first jet fighter for the US Navy the FH Phantom.
The McDonnell learned a number of things from their first jet fighter. The biggest thing was to have a more powerful engine to do anything safely behind the carrier. They also learned that to be a successful fighter a more powerful weapon then just the Browning .50cal machine gun was needed as well. So in 1947 before the ink was dry the production lines in St. Louis, Missouri were making the conversion from the production of the FH Phantom over to producing the new jet fighter for the US Navy the F2H Banshee.
The initial production version of the Banshee, officially designated the F2H-1 was powered by a pair of Westinghouse J34-WE-22's, she was armed with four 20mm cannons in the nose. Delivery of the first Banshees went to VF-171 out of NAS Cecil Field, FL in 1949. This date was also important because it was also during the "Admirals Revolt", that one of the VF-171 pilots pulled off an interesting intercept. The revolt of the admirals was the debate about whether the country should spend money on carriers or on big bombers. One of the big debates that the brand new USAF had about their super bomber the B-36 was that it flew so high that it couldn't be intercepted. So one sunny Florida day a VF-171 pilot was able to push his fighter up to along side one of these B-36's up near the 45k altitude band. Even better he was able to maintain control of his plane and supposedly took pictures of the intercept. This totally blew away the idea that the B-36 was invulnerable to enemy fighters. It was also with the easy way that the plane could be flow that the other nick name "Banjo" was assigned during the initial operation of the F2H-1.

With the speed of developments the Navy realized that the F2H-1 was a good plane but they wanted what every user wants of their planes longer ranges and heavier payloads. This lead to the development and production of the F2H-2. This version of the fighter became the big player in some little war over in Asia called Korea.

The F2H-2 had an improved version of the J34 installed that gave her an extra 500 pounds of thrust. Along with receiving plumbing to carry two 200gal wing tip tanks, and wing mounts to mount up to six 5in HVAR rockets on the wings, along with receiving fuselage mounts that could carry up to two 500lb bombs. She also received a fuselage plug to receive larger fuselage fuel tanks. The first production version of the F2H-2 being delivered to the fleet in December of 1949. From the basic model the Navy asked for three different versions. The Banjo was used to do everything from fly strikes against ground targets, fly Combat Air Patrol over Carrier Task Force 77, Fly escort for photo recon birds or strike groups, fly suppression of enemy air defense missions. It served with distinction along side the Grumman F9F Panthers ,Vought F4U-5 Corsairs, and Douglas AD Skyraiders above the Korean air space. Only once was the F2H was sent against "MiG Alley" that was in 1951 and even though contact wasn't made with any MiG-15's. The mission wasn't repeated.
The first was the F2H-2P version. This was the photo recon version. In place of the guns it mounted a series of cameras in its enlarged nose. This flew most of the USN and USMC battlefield photo recon missions through out the early parts of the Korean War. The USMC were the primary users of the F2H-2P with VMJ-1. The aircraft was so fast and could fly so high that it could evade most of the optical and move faster then the communist radar control AAA guns could operate. It became so valuable that even the USAF was willing to accept that it was an important aircraft and on missions up near the Yalu. They tasked F-86's to protect the Banshee from the MiG-15.

The other two versions of the F2H-2 was the F2H-2B version and the F2H-2N version. The Bravo Banjo was the nuclear delivery variant. It had the fuselage mounts strength to handle the some of the early tactical nuclear weapons. On top of that it also had installed some of the early low altitude bombing system (AKA as LABS) equipment installed. LABS enable the pilot to preform a nuclear deliver profile that basically tossed the bomb near the target and hopefully would allow the plane to escape the blast. The "N" version of the Banjo was the night fighter version. The F2H-2N mounted an APS-19 ranging radar installed in a larger nose so that this early aerial intercept radar could be mounted.
The F2H-2 was removed from active duty service in 1952 and replaced by an bigger and better version of the Banjo, this was the F2H-3 version.
The F2H-3 in its basic form mounted an APQ-41 aerial intercept radar that gave not only range and bearing but also limited altitude information to the pilot. This version became the standard all-weather fighter on US Carrier Decks through out the 50's and into the early 60's. It could carry up to four 500lb bombs or two AAM-N-7 Sidewinder when that missile was introduced in the late 50's.
The final version of the venerable Banjo was the F2H-4 this was an all-weather version as well it mounted the APG-37 radar produced by Hughes. It was with this version that also saw the introduction of the in-flight refueling probe
Now the only thing that limited the range of the Banjo in its mission was human endurance. The F2H-3 and -4 served along side each other from their introductions until 1959 in active duty service and 1964 in USNR service.
It was with the F2H-3 and F2H-4 that squadrons such as VC-3 and VC-4 along with some of the VX squadrons started to more and more experimentation in night flying and night time operations. According to the book "Dark Sky, Black Sea: Aircraft Carrier Night and All-Weather Operations" by Charles Brown, some of the detachment OIC's and squadron CO's started to force not only the commander of the air groups, but also the admirals to test tactics and operations. These started to write the books that those of us in modern carrier operations take for granted. Some of the lessons these men learned were written in blood. One of the more interesting stories involving the Banjo was this one that I read in Dark Sky. According to LCDR Bob Lyon:

Flying in the Med atmosphere was usually in a "milk bowl" - that is, so hazy that one sees no horizon, no water, no sky. For reason unknown, three of us were launched one night as a division. .... Bennington advised us to stay aloft [and conserve fuel] until a foul deck was cleared. Later we were ordered down for landing. Having descended, we were ordered to orbit in vicinity of the ship because the foul deck had not been cleared as anticipated. .... A flight of AD [SAP-Douglas Skyraiders] were milling about, having also been directed to orbit in vicinity of the ship. At low altitude our division skimmed beneath cloud cover as fuel reserves dwindled. The AD flight passed dangerously close under us in a near-miss. When we finally got back in the ready room, I asked Otis Inge, "How Much
Fuel did you land with ?" Otis [replied,] "The aircraft ran out of fuel before I could park it."

A situation like that today though rarer still happens. But everyone involved from the CATCC folks up to the Air Boss work to make sure it never happens.

One of the more interesting adventures the Banjo went on was its only export customer. The Royal Canadian Naval Air Forces. Yes, Virginia once before the kindly neighbor to the north of the US had an aircraft carrier and it decided in the 1954 to replace their older Sea Furies with McDonnell F2H-3's. So the Canadian government spent $25million to buy 39 recently retired F2H-3 to populate their carrier's deck. The HMCS Bonaventure, had VF-870 and VF-871 had plenty of fun flying the Banjo off their carriers deck and proved to some of the more timid US Naval Aviators that even though the Bonnie's 704ft flight deck was shorted then the average Essex class carrier deck by about 100ft it could be done. However, old age and not enough money being spent on defense lead to the F2H from being removed after a high attrition rate. After that the HMCS Bonaventure flew only Grumman S2F's and Sikorsky H-3's on the anti-submarine mission.

The F2H served a little longer then its stable mate the Grumman F9F Panther. It helped to fight off the communist hordes in Korea, it was one of the first single seat all-weather fighters, it was a joy to fly, it helped to write the books on night and all-weather operations. The F2H Banshee or Banjo was an a joy and probably one of my favorite naval jet fighters from the 50's.

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03 September 2007


So dear readers I survived my 10 year high school reunion two weekends ago. The hotel we were in was pretty nice. The food was good and a catching up with friends I hadn't seen since graduation. There were a few things that threw me for a loop. The biggest thing was even though my graduation class was close to 400 and about 100 or so of us still live in town we probably had about 40 or 50 people actually show up. The other thing was just how much I changed from some of us that were still around. A few of them had traveled around a little bit, but that was only local or any international travel they did do was to either Mexico or Canada. There was one cop and one fireman in all of our class, about 4 people who had reported to the reunion committee along with myself as service members. The rest of the people that I meet there had done the college thing and are now out there. Most were drones in sector 7-B, only a few of the folks that I knew were in senior leadership at wherever they worked. Myself and the romantic intrest really didn't stay that long since I had meet up with the people that I cared to talk to. It was alright function, I think I agree with what my folks told me. The really interesting one will be the 20yr, that will be the one to see who had succeeded in thier life and who was still living in thier glory days of high school or college.

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