The “Flying Dudleys” of Wausau, WWII
By Ed Marek, editor
March 27, 2013
I want you to meet a special group of men, the four Dudley brothers of Wausau, Wisconsin, tagged by some as “The Flying Dudleys.”
Left-to-right, Lauren Charles “Laurnie” Dudley, 20; Jefferson James “Jay” Dudley, 24; Richard David “Dick” Dudley, 18; and Robert Lee “Bob” Dudley, 22.
At the time of this photo, Lauren had just signed up as a naval aviation cadet; Jay was already an ensign and had earned his wings; Richard is a story unto himself. He was too short to enter the naval aviation cadet program but worked some miracles to get into the Navy at all, and more than earned his keep; and Robert was nearly finished with his flight training at Glenview, Illinois. The man to the right is Lt. Carl G. Olsen, USN of the naval selection board. All four of these men would join the Navy and fly. All but Jay came home alive.
It is unusual for four brothers serve in war at the same time, though it did happen. All four of these guys wanted to, and did.
When we read and hear about the American warrior, we often ask the question, “How do we get such men and women? Where do they come from that they could do these things?” The answer lies with “the invisible obvious.” These men and women come from our families, from our neighborhoods, from our schools, from being with friends and colleagues. They are in many respects us, at our best.
The Dudley brothers were the sons of Robert J. Dudley and Estelle J. Dudley. Interestingly, back in the day, Estelle’s name was written “Este Jle J. Dudley. Robert was born in Iowa while Estelle was born in Wisconsin, though her parents were born in Iowa. They lived in Wausau’s 9th Ward according to the 1930 census, just east of downtown. The boys at the time of the 1930 census ranged in age from Jay Dudley, 12 to Richard, 6.
I understand father Robert was quite a feisty fellow. He became business manager and president of the Wausau Timberjacks in 1942, a team affiliated with the Cleveland Indians at the time. The team was a minor league team that played in the Northern League from 1936 to 1942 and then in the Wisconsin State League from 1950-1953. Newspapers also reported him to be the general manager of the Wausau Lumberjacks in February 1956 at a time when the Lumberjacks were the newest member of the Class C League.
Athletic Park, built in 1936, stands today in Wausau and is home to the Wausau Woodchucks collegiate summer baseball team of the Northwoods League. This is a modern day photo of it. R.J. was also the temporary president of a group that formed in 1935 to promote Wisconsin as a tourism attraction.
So, when talking about where do these men come from, they came from Robert and Estelle in Wausau’s 9th Ward, there were four of them, and here are two of them, Robert left, and older brother Jay on the right, probably taken in 1921. We all have photos like this. The kids are cute, they are loved, they have their own personalities, so when you look at them, who among us thinks that we would see these sons and daughters serve their nation in the military in a war --- in this case, as four Naval Aviators to serve in WWII? The thought gives one pause.
I’ve done this report in sections:
- Brief summary of WWII and the American lack of preparedness
- Flying Badger Program, University of Wisconsin: Converting students into Naval Aviators
- Jefferson James “Jay” Dudley: F4F-3 Wildcat fighter pilot
- Robert Lee “Bob” Dudley: Master of many aircraft, Naval aviation instructor
- Lauren Charles Dudley: F6F Hellcat fighter pilot
- Richard David “Dick” Dudley: TBM Avenger gunner
Brief summary of WWII and the American lack of preparedness
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States declared war against Japan on December 8, the next day. The US also declared war against Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941. Our focus in this report will be on the Pacific.
The US was not prepared for a global war. The Depression was most severe in 1933-1934, the military’s purchasing power had fallen to lows, and citizens were wary of war, in an isolationist mood, and wanted no more of these entangling alliances that could bring them to war.
Japan, Italy and Germany were already pursuing aggressive policies of imperial expansion.
Jeroline Green, writing for PBS, said this:
“America’s military preparedness was not that of a nation expecting to go to war. In 1939, the United States Army ranked thirty-ninth in the world, possessing a cavalry force of fifty thousand and using horses to pull the artillery. Many Americans — still trying to recover from the decade-long ordeal of the Great Depression — were reluctant to participate in the conflict that was spreading throughout Europe and Asia. President Roosevelt did what he could to coax a reluctant nation to focus its economic might on military preparedness.”
But then came Pearl Harbor, Americans woke up to reality. Green went on to write:
“In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the president set staggering goals for the nation’s factories: 60,000 aircraft in 1942 and 125,000 in 1943; 120,000 tanks in the same time period and 55,000 antiaircraft guns.”
Well, you don’t destroy most of an American naval fleet berthed in harbor and kill some 2,000 or more Americans without getting a reaction. The politicians declared war but the men, and women, lined up to fight this enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who led the attack against Pearl Harbor, has been cited by legend saying: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve.” Whether or not he actually said this, the thought was correct.
In 1939, the US military had 356,000 men and women in its ranks. During WWII, some 16 million went through the recruiting process. Here is a group reporting to boot camp. They all had to be trained --- the problem was there was not much time. Keep this in mind as we press ahead --- the US was not ready, and had to train men to fight, and do so fast.
The Dudleys were in what is known as the “West Coast Navy,” or the Pacific Fleet, so that is where we will focus.
Jeroline Green wrote, “The Pacific war was a seemingly endless series of amphibious landings and island-hopping campaigns where naval power, air power, and shipping, rather than large and heavy ground forces, were of paramount importance.” The Japanese carried the day for the first six months and by 1943 had thrust their expansion into the south and central Pacific with limited US offensives. This map shows the Japanese Empire expansion by the end of 1942.
The US would have to fight three wars in the Pacific. One was known as the China-Burma-India (CBI) War, mostly US airpower supporting Chinese ground forces, the 10th Army Air Force (AAF) from India, and the 14th AAF from China. The second war was the naval war for the western and south Pacific. The effort here was to take command of these massive areas of ocean and sea lines of communication. And the third was the island hopping war, which went in two directions: one through New Guinea to the Dutch East Indies to the Philippines, and Formosa; the second from Guadalcanal to the Solomons to Guam to the Maria and Iwo Jima. The two thrusts would then meet to invade Okinawa and then prepare to invade the Japanese Home Islands, which I will call Japan from here on out. Dislodging and defeating the Japanese occupation forces was a major goal. US and British air forces and some special forces fought with the Nationalist Chinese of Chiang Kai-shek against the Japanese, all the way to India’s doorstep. I will not address the CBI in this report. Another man from Wausau, Gerald Wergin, flew a fighter for the Burma Banshees of 10th AAF and I have done a special report on him and the CBI. I commend it to you.
The CBI was important, but the critical goal was to defeat Japan on he seas and on the islands, and then get into striking distance of Japan and bid her hello.
Most of us know the US dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Many of us do not know that prior to the decision to employ those bombs, a massive planning and training effort had been underway to invade the Japanese home islands, known as “Operation Downfall,” which would have been a very costly invasion in terms of blood and treasure. I have done a sort on that on my sister web site, “Talking Proud, Service and Sacrifice”, in an article entitled, “ ‘How to’ end the war against Japan: Invasion of A-bombs, or both?”
Training and force movements were well underway to execute Operation Downfall when the president decided to employ the atomic bomb first. The US dropped the initial bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and the second on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. During the three days between the attacks, there was no hint the Japanese would surrender. Even after the second bomb was dropped, the Japanese hemmed and hawed about whether to surrender, many officials wanting to force an Allied invasion. Most of us also do not know that the US at the time had a third bomb on its way to the region, and General Curtis Lemay, commander 20th Army Air Force, intended to use it. Furthermore, the production team back in the US began work to pump out more of these bombs should that be required. Finally, on August 15, 1945 the Japanese announced their surrender but it took until September 2, 1945 for them to sign the Instrument of Surrender.
Many of the forces slated to invade were used instead as an occupation force. But there was anxiety in the first few months as these US forces did not know for sure how the Japanese people would accept them, or whether they might fight.
That is a very quick summary of the situation between 1941 and 1945. Let’s get on to the Flying Dudleys.
Three of the brothers, Jay, Lauren and Robert entered the Navy as part of a program known as the “Flying Badgers” arranged through the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison. They all became officers and pilots. Richard, the youngest, and as you’ll find out, the shortest, joined as an enlisted man and became a flying crew member, and certainly saw his share of the action. Three of the four would return safe and sound. Jay died in an aircraft accident which I will discuss later.
Flying Badger Program, University of Wisconsin
I should say at the outset this had nothing to do with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) activities at the university, where men and women would go through a program for four years to become an officer. Good program, but the US was at war and the Navy did not have time for that; it needed naval aviators in a hurry. In 1941, the Navy had six fleet carriers (CV) and no escort carriers (CVE). By 1944, the Navy had 25 CVs and 65 CVEs, ramping up rapidly between 1941 and 1944.
Gordon Marlow was in the first Flying Badger unit in the Pacific Theater. This is the same group Jay Dudley was in. Marlow was interviewed for an oral history, available on the Wisconsin Public Television website. His rendition is fascinating. I might interject here how important it is for men and women who have been in war to get their thoughts and recollections documented, either as memoirs or recorded histories. This is crucial for history.
I will use Marlow’s oral memoirs as a means to explain the kind of training program Jay, Robert and Lauren Dudley went through as part of the Flying Badger Program. The idea was to get them through various flight training schools, get them commissioned as ensigns in the Navy, and then to their assignments to train in the aircraft they would fly during the war. At that point, I will stop and address each of the three Dudleys who went through this and finish with Richard, who was an enlisted gunner and a different story.
It is important to note that one does not produce a naval aviator over night. This is a long lead item, and as I said, the US was in a hurry. This is why they went straight to the universities to get these guys and get them into training right away.
Marlow started in May 1941, prior to the war. He was in a pre-med program at UW and simply ran out of money. So he dropped out of medical school, joined the Flying Badgers and was in the first unit. Governor Walter S. Goodland awarded the recruits special wings with Badgers in the middle. That was nice, but Marlow said laughingly, “I didn’t know they were going to shoot!”
He entered as a Seaman Second Class and went to Glenview, Illinois. He recalled there were about 18 men in this class from UW. Jay Dudley, the fist of the four Dudleys to enter the Navy, was in this class with Marlow. Marlow commented on Jay and the others in their class:
“Well, most of them were just great guys. Of the ones that came out of Wisconsin here, we had a lot of athletes. Claude York was one of them, Cliff Phillips, he was all-American from football, J. Dudley boxed here, Little Ross was a boxer here, we all graduated and these were kind of trying times and war was not underway but it was in the air. So, they thought it would be better to go into the flying business. So, the ones I went through with, most of them see, they all had to have four years of college and they were more mature and they were nice. We rarely had any personal problems, rarely. Then too we were a unit, we went in as a unit and they kept us together as a unit until the final assignment and then they had to split us up because some were fighters and some were bombers.”
Joining up was the easy part. Making it through the program, and making it through alive was another matter. Gordin A. Sabine, writing “Peppy Badgers Try Wings at Glenview Navy Air Base” published on November 30, 1941 was allowed to live with the second Flying Badger unit at NAS Glenview, which was stop number one for these recruits.
Glenview was near Chicago and shared space with Curtiss Field. This is a view of the field in the late 1940s. Glenview, at the time the Dudley brothers showed up, was used as an elimination base for students seeking appointments as Naval Aviation Cadets. This is an important point to be made about the place, and is underscored in Sabine’s article. Marlow mentioned they all entered as Seamen Second Class.
Sabine’s made some interesting observations of the men he was with in the Flying Badgers. Sabine wrote:
“(During initial training, they were the) lowliest of the lowly … Before they get to Pensacola (stop number two in the program), they'll be experienced in doing exactly what the enlisted men must do."
Indeed, the main job at Glenview was to get the men to grow up --- the Navy ran the field with a “today I am a man” philosophy. One Flying Badger in the second class said it well:
"You know, when we were in the university, we always used to pass the buck, do our jobs or not, just as we felt. Down here the big realization is that we can't pass the buck anymore. If we get orders, we must obey them. If we have duties to do, it's mighty important that we jump to it, and get them done. I guess we've become men, and suddenly too.”
Another remarked, “There are no sissies here.”
Frank Thompson went through training at Glenview in early 1942. He was with a group from Northwestern University known as the Flying Wildcats. He said this:
“Glenview, Illinois. It's northwest of Chicago. Glenview NAS at that time was a big grass field. There was one cadet barracks and a whole bunch of these funny looking little yellow airplanes, bi‑planes. We got there at nine o'clock in the morning. At ten o'clock we got uniforms and shots. The next morning at seven o'clock, we were in the cockpit of an airplane. Twenty‑four hours later we were in an airplane taking our first lesson. Things were in a hurry. This was early in 1942, not too long after Pearl Harbor. Later, they had pre‑pre‑flight training and pre‑flight training and the kids were in for a year before they even saw an airplane. We were in one on the second day. Eight hours later a guy taps you on the shoulder and says, ‘Go ahead (and solo) you're okay.’ I was scared to death. Eight hours. That's all we had in the back seat. We were just scared to death. We didn't know what in the hell we were doing. In eight hours you don't get over being frightened, and you remember about a tenth of what the guy told you. Somehow, we got through the thing.
“A lot of people don't know, or don't remember, but very early in the war, in 1942, things were going poorly for the United States. The pilots we had on active duty in '42 were getting shot down so damned fast in the Pacific that they had to get pilots trained in a hurry. That's why we were at Glenview for only 90 days, July, August, and September. In 90 days we finished primary flight training. We had about 90 hours in the air and were off to Corpus Christi, Texas.”
You will recall earlier we quoted Frank Thompson from Northwestern University saying, “There was one cadet barracks and a whole bunch of these funny looking little yellow airplanes, bi‑planes.”
Well, those funny looking little yellow airplanes were the N3N-3 aircraft known as the “Yellow Peril” and “Canary.” This photo shows a Marine Corps N3N-3 at Parris Island in 1942. The Navy flew the same type. So did the Coast Guard. She had about 235 horses, had to get hand-cranked to start, was a two seat trainer, open cockpit, could speed up to 90 mph, had a ceiling of from 11,500 ft. - 15,200 ft. depending on to whom you talk, and a range of about 470 miles. Going above 10,000 ft. for any length of time, of course, meant you’d have a tough time breathing. Incredibly, she could pull 7Gs; 9Gs is the limit for pilots in today’s military aviation. The open cockpit caught everyone’s attention when flying in the lower Lake Michigan area, the “Windy City” region, especially when it got cold outside. This was the last bi-plane to be flown by the US military. As an aside, there was a seaplane variant.
She was a rugged plane, needed for these young pilots who beat up their aircraft in short fashion. The cadets called her “Yellow Peril” mostly out of respect. The word “peril” was used because if a cadet did not solo within a 10 flight window, he was in peril of being thrown out. Her cockpit instrumentation was sparse and consisted of an altimeter, tachometer, airspeed indicator, compass, turn and bank indicator, and a combination fuel and oil temperature and pressure gauge, and floats.
Those who flew her have said the first challenge for the young pilots was to learn how to taxi. Visibility was poor, especially from the front, and the pilots did a lot of double-clutching.
Laverne Hoestanbach wrote this about landing:
“Although a pleasant airplane to fly, when the Yellow Peril gets ready to land, she can be very troublesome. With a six-foot wheel track under a 34-foot wingspan, she'll swap ends at the mere suggestion of the idea. And, once she gets the notion in her head, you're busier than a cranberry merchant at Thanksgiving.”
Each member needed 12 hours solo time to graduate. Instructors said that they could tell within the first 10 hours of training whether they would make it or not. Many were washed out before they got a chance to solo. I’m not sure what happened to them then --- recall they had enlisted and were Seamen Second Class in rank, so they might have had to stay in as an enlisted man, not sure.
Once they passed muster at Glenview, they pressed on to Pensacola, Florida, Corpus Christi, Texas, or Jacksonville, Florida. All 18 from the first class of the UW Flying Badger Program made it through Glenview and pressed on to the next step, in their case, to Jacksonville.
It was still 1941, and the war had not yet started, but as one said earlier, the men knew war was in the air.Jacksonville was officially commissioned just months earlier, in October 1940. To my knowledge, Jacksonville started off also using the “Yellow Peril.” In fact, Commander Jimmy Grant was the first pilot to land on the still unfinished runway in September, flying his N3N-2 biplane. This photo shows the station in about 1946-47.
For the Badgers, most of their time over the 3-4 months at Jacksonville was spent in ground school, to learn communications, including manual Morse, engineering, and various tactics.
Marlow commented that they spent a lot of time marching with old WWI rifles. At first he could not understand why they had to do that. He figured it was to get some exercise! But then he learned that the drills were another part of the “growing up” philosophy --- they had to learn to take orders without question --- “When they said ‘About face,’ you about faced.” If that did not suit them, then they got to march off their demerits separately “walking the beat,” for hours on end. He said they quickly learned the lesson.
Following this, they went off to Pensacola. This is a photo of the station taken in about 1947. As the war approached, Pensacola kept expanding and trained some 1,100 cadets each month.
Marlow said he found out about Pearl Harbor while at Pensacola. He was walking out of the movie theater when someone told him the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He said the base went on an immediate lock-down and jumped into a war footing right away. The mail was censored, all leaves were cancelled, and the Navy accelerated the training. That already a rapid training curriculum was accelerated is important, as you will see later.
Marlow said he was still a cadet and transferred to Opa-laca airfield, northwest of Miami. This is a 1941 photo of construction underway at Opa-laca in a hurry because of the war.
This is a view of the field in about 1946. It was Miami’s first municipal airport and was known as Naval Air Reserve Base Miami, NAS Miami. The Navy leased the west section of the airport in the early 1930s. The Navy used it as a blimp base in the 1930s. It was commissioned as NAS Miami in 1940 and soon the character of the base would change because of the war.
Marlow said he was trained to fly the BT-1, a very old dive bomber used by the Navy for training. This photo shows one parked at El Segundo in the 1930s. This was a huge move for the cadets. The Yellow Peril was a small bi-plane. The BT-1 was a big fella and totally different to fly.
Back in the day, engineers had difficulty designing a dive bomber. I understand there were five competitors and the BT-1 was the one to win, by virtue of her ruggedness. She had 750 horses which grew up to be 825 horses, and then 1,000 horses, top speed 265 mph. She would evolve rapidly through modifications into the Scout Bomber Douglas, SBD, Dauntless, which was used extensively in WWII and we shall address in a moment. My guess is the BT-1s were held back for training prior to putting the men into the Dauntless.
Marlow described his BT-1 with great affection. He said “there we flew really old planes, the oldest dive bombers ever built.” He said, “in order to get the wheels up after takeoff you had to pump them up with a pump, a hydraulic pump.” He said then he would turn a little lever and pump up his flaps as well. Then, when he wanted to close his cowls, he turned a lever and pumped again to close them.
He said, “These airplanes were so old they would ice-up on takeoff, which meant that ice would form up in the carburetor. He said they had to shut off the pre-heater on takeoff, and right after takeoff, he had to turn on the pre-heat to de-ice the aircraft. So he was a busy camper --- right after takeoff he had to pump up the wheels, pump the flaps, pump the cowls closed, and make sure he turned on the de-icer before he crashed.
The Navy combined training with operational missions, which added to the pressure on the cadets. Marlow began escorting convoys down to the Florida Keys in January-February 1942. German U-Boats were already in the area. He carried a 500 lb. depth charge, two .50 caliber machine guns, and was ready to train and fight at the same time. Other naval aircraft picked up the convoys as they rounded the Keys.
He said after he had flown for two or three months, he was called into the skipper’s office, an officer handed him his wings, and told him to pack up and get to San Diego, California for carrier training! No pomp, no parades, no bands, off he went. The part I am not sure about here, and Marlow did not address it, is whether he was commissioned an ensign at the same time. My gut says he was, because I believe active duty ensigns went to San Diego for carrier training and not cadets.
Marlow was assigned to Coronado, officially North Island at the north end of the Coronado peninsula on San Diego Bay. This is a photo of it taken in 1946. When Marlow went there, he was with about 125 others from Pensacola, Corpus Christi, and Jacksonville.
I want to return to a point I made earlier about fast training being accelerated. Marlow said the Navy pushed them hard during training, “And then too, the equipment wasn’t the best. The best planes were all going right overseas.” He said they held services every week for the guys there who were training and were killed in crashes. He offered that he attended from two to 11 services per week, pilots and gunners. He mentioned pilots going down or involved in mid-air collisions without further detail. He said:
“It’s hard to explain. But every week you would lose one of your friends.”
You’ll recall my highlighting Frank Thompson earlier describing what it was like going through NAS Glenview in early 1942. In his case, after Glenview he went to NAS Corpus Christi. He made these comments, similar to those of Marlow:
Pre-mission briefings at NAS Corpus Christi
“There we were getting big airplanes. We hardly knew how to operate the little ones and they were killing a lot of guys. The training wasn't sufficient to thoroughly train everybody, and a lot of kids were getting killed. We were killing one a day at Corpus Christi on an average. Some days it would be three and some days none. It was about one a day.”
Training accidents occurred frequently during World War II, as pilots and aircraft were churned out at a high rate. Jack Green, a historian for the US Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, told The Mercury News of San Jose:
"Time was of the essence, as you know … There were more airplane accidents from training, in fact, than there were in the war itself. Accidents were a fact of life back then."
Marlow said by the time they got out to San Diego, they had their choice of aircraft in which to train. He said he wanted nothing to do with torpedo bombers, calling it “a low, slow way of getting killed.” Some called torpedo bomber pilots “Torpeckers.” This graphic gives you an idea about what he meant, “low, slow way of getting killed.” We’ll talk more about this later. He said he flew fighters for a while but was blacking out sooner than some of his friends. So he took dive bombers, which he said “were really scout bombers.”
Marlow trained on the Scout Bomber Douglas, known as the SBD, and also as the Dauntless, a dive bomber, the upgraded BT-1. So at least it had the feel for something he had already flown in Florida. While he acknowledged that the dive bomber was a lethal weapon against Japanese ships, he said their main function was to go out and find the enemy, that is, scout for them. He opined he did this ten times more than bomb. Nonetheless, he thought it a dangerous mission because he was out over vast ranges of water alone. He said he trained and flew combat missions at the same time. As an aside, many pilots were trained to fly the SBD but were then assigned operationally to fly torpedo bombers, to wit, they became “Torpeckers.”
He had an enlisted rear gunner in the back seat. He jokingly remarked that these guys were really young, and most of them brought comic books with them to read while flying!
During his training and initial operational missions, most of the time he flew out over the California coast on their oversea navigation runs, scouting for enemy subs. He flew quite a bit to the outer islands opposite Los Angeles, made practice gunnery runs against tow targets, and practice bombing against tow targets. He then went to Hawaii in October 1942 at about the time of the Battle of Midway.
I’ll stop here with Marlow’s interview as he goes into the rest of the war and my purpose was to walk you through the training as told to us by one who was in the First Flying Badger unit. So we can assume that the training was similar for the three Dudley brothers who went through it, Jay, Lauren and Robert.
I want to pause for just a moment and introduce you to the Dudley Office Building in downtown Wausau, Wisconsin.
This is among the newest buildings in Wausau and, I believe the highest, known as “The Dudley Building.” It is owned by Richard Dudley (shown here), who, among other achievements, is known for his leadership and pioneering in building Wausau’s WSAU radio and television into a major national firm. He is a member of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame and the Dudley Foundation in Wausau is named after him.
Richard Dudley had his brothers in mind when building this. I have seen it referred to as the “Dudley Brothers Building,” but suspect that the American propensity for brevity caused it to be called the Dudley Building.
Richard built it to honor his brothers’ service and sacrifice. On the first floor is an area dedicated to them, with plaques of each brother’s image, along with a model airplane of the kind they flew. I had walked into the building only to see what the building was like, with no idea of what I was about to learn. I immediately saw the plaques and the models and was mesmerized by the fact that four brothers served roughly at the same time in WWII. The display inspired me to pursue this story.
So, with that background, let’s get on to the four “Flying Dudleys.” I’ll start with Jay.
Jefferson James “Jay” Dudley
This is a plaque of Ensign Jefferson James “Jay” Dudley mounted on the wall on the first floor of the Dudley Building. He was born on September 14, 1917 and died tragically in a naval aircraft training accident in the San Diego area on July 9, 1942.
You will recall that Marlow said the Navy pushed them hard during training, “And then too, the equipment wasn’t the best. The best planes were all going right overseas.” He said they held services every week for the guys there who were training and were killed in crashes. He offered that he attended from two to 11 services per week, pilots and gunners. He mentioned pilots going down or involved in mid-air collisions without further detail.
There is a model of a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat fighter next to his plaque, and his plaque says he died in a single seat fighter, age 24. I have confirmed this to be the aircraft in which he died.
We’ll talk more about the aircraft and the accident in a moment. First a bit of background on Jay.
Jay was in the first Flying Badger unit, along with Marlow, and was the first Flying Badger to die while serving.
He attended UW Madison from 1936-1941. He left pre-legal studies to join up.
He was accepted in the Naval Air Unit program in April 1941 and enlisted in the Navy on May 20, 1941 in Chicago.
Jay was part of a 39-man group to go to Glenview for “elimination training.” The next photo is of the Flying Badger Unit 1 in preliminary, elimination training at Glenview. The yellow arrow points to Gordon Marlow, whose oral history we have been using. Regrettably for this photo, only the front line was identified, and Jay was not in the front line. But I am certain he is in the photo someplace. You can see the N3N-3 “Yellow Peril” behind them.
Jay made it through Glenview and pressed on to Pensacola in October 1941 rated as a Seaman Second Class, V-5.
The “V-5” meant he had passed his initial training at Glenview and could wear gold-metal wings with a V-5 set in the center.
He received his golden naval aviator wings in May 1942, one year after joining the program. He was commissioned an ensign. His next stop was NAS North Island.
So Jay trained to be a fighter pilot. Let’s take a look at his F4F-3.
The Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat was a carrier and land-based fighter aircraft. She entered service with the USN in December 1940. The French were the first to order the aircraft in 1939, the British were the first to employ her in 1940, and the Canadians would join in.
By the time Jay trained in his Wildcat, the aircraft was already busy at war. In the first two years of the war, this was the only effective fighter the US Navy and USMC had. She could fly at top speed 318 mph which was not enough speed to keep up with the Japanese Zero. But she was rugged, had a two-stage supercharger, had superior armament and self-sealing fuel tanks, was more maneuverable, with longer range and had good pilots with good tactics. Incredibly, the Japanese started the war short of experienced pilots.
As early as August 1942, the opening of the Guadalcanal campaign, USN pilots learned quickly that their enemy was young and unskilled. Even Japan’s more experienced pilots in this battle commented on how much punishment their adversary could take. The Zero’s fuselage was flimsy by comparison. The F-43-F had 1,200 horses with six forward firing .50 caliber machine guns. She was ideal for carrier operations. The wings folded back alongside the fuselage. Throughout the war, this fighter averaged from 6-7 Japanese kills to every F4F-3 combat loss. She would be replaced later by the F6F Hellcat.
Pilots nicknamed the aircraft the “Wildcat” because of its tricky and sometimes unexpected handling characteristics.
Ensign Dudley was training with an outfit known as the Aircraft Carrier Training Group Pacific, or ACTG PAC. I want to talk about his mission on July 9, 1942, the day he crashed his Wildcat and perished.
By this time, he had a total of 314.6 flight hours and 51.6 flight hours on the Wildcat over, I believe, a one month period. He had one year flying experience overall. He had no accident issues on his record.
He was flying with a division of five aircraft practicing field carrier landings, which meant they were using an inland airfield on which to practice carrier landings. In Jay’s case, they used what was known as Brown Field in Otay Mesa, California. It is south of San Diego and just east of Imperial Beach, quite close to the Mexican border.
For a carrier landing, imagine an oval or race track pattern. The carrier will turn into the wind to facilitate the landing. All pilots want to land against the wind, or upwind. The carrier moves so it is going against the wind enabling the pilot to land against the wind.
Ensign Dudley and the other four Wildcat pilots were flying downwind. This is a fairly common way to return to base, o to their carrier. Our diagram shows a fixed landing field such as they had at Otay Mesa , which is where Dudley was practicing.
His group had just completed the carrier breakup and Ensign Dudley was the first man to approach. This essentially means he was the fist to hang a 90 degree turn while the others would travel a bit further downwind and each, in turn, would also make this maneuver. He then had to make a mother 90 degree turn to line up with the airfield. I am no pilot, and certainly not a naval aviator, so I will draw from a book entitled, On which we serve, where life’s lessons are learned, by Edward Atkins, who wrote about naval aviation during WWII. Atkins wrote:
“The landing activity was a little more dicey than the launching activity… Prior to landing, the squadrons of aircraft would form a ‘race track’ pattern overhead the carrier, separated by 20-second intervals and at about 1,000 ft. altitude. Each aircraft in turn would make his approach to the stern of the carrier from about one-quarter mile away. Once the aircraft was in the ‘groove’ about 200 yards from the stern of the ship, the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) would take control of the aircraft’s flight path … If all was well, the LSO had his two arms out, horizontally, on the level. If the aircraft was too low, the LSO’s arms would move down. The more urgent this was, the more vigorously he’d move his arms … When all was well, and it was time, the LSO would indicate ‘cut engine’ by bringing the right paddle across his chest. If all was not well, the LSO would wave paddles over his head. The pilot was required to apply power, get back into flight and back into the flight pattern.”
Now recall that Dudley and his mates were landing at an airstrip at Otay Mesa, practicing their procedures against a steady and fixed runway target rather than a rolling and rocking carrier landing deck. I do not know if they had LSOs there for these practices. My guess would be no.
Ensign Dudley, during his turn from the downwind leg into the groove, was observed to be too low, too slow, and making a flat turn. The aircraft fell off on the left wing. Dudley apparently throttled up his aircraft but that only served to aggravate the left wing down condition. His aircraft struck land on the left wing, turned 110 degrees and burst into flames. His aircraft was completely demolished, and the Navy rated the cause of accident as 50 percent judgement, 50 percent technique.
His previous accident record was clear, in other words, no issues. The Navy reported fight conditions average, and said the cause of accident was low altitude spin.
Ensign Jay Dudley was the first Flying Badger to die in military service.
Robert Lee “Bob” Dudley
Robert Lee Dudley was born on June 29, 1919 and died on May 21, 2000. He graduated from Wausau Senior High School and earned letters in football and boxing. He was also an Eagle Boy Scout. He entered UW in January 1937, majoring in economics. He earned a private pilot’s license through a UW Madison aviation program on January 29, 1942 and joined up with the third Flying Badger unit after graduation in January 1942.
Bob was a boxer like Jay, listed in the 165 lb. class in 1937. This photo taken in 1937 was shown as part of an article in the Wisconsin State Journal highlighting that there would be thirty rounds of boxing on the night of December 17, 1937, each match scheduled for three two-minute rounds. The coach was Johnny Walsh. For this match, Bob faced Don Perrin of Bloomington. Unfortunately Perrin won the match, though the State Journal reported that Dudley “carried the fight most of the way.” The reporter felt Perrin had a heavier punch and threw the hardest punches when he connected. The Journal also reported he played football.
He took his oath in Madison. Sorry for the poor quality of this photo; I took it from an old newspaper. But this photo shows Lt. P.S. Dalton, USN, Chicago Naval Aviation Cadet Selection Board administering the oath of office to the third Flying Badger unit in Madison. You cannot see it here, but the men were lined up in a V formation for “Victory.” Governor Heil was present to sponsor the men. He talked of accusations from around the country that men from the Midwest were “indifferent and complacent and not fully aware of the seriousness of the war.” He then said that this third Flying Badger unit made UW the first school in this recruiting area to send three full squadrons into the Naval Air Force.
Jay received his commission just a few weeks before Robert entered training. The Wisconsin State Journal reported on May 18, 1942 that by this time, three of the four Dudley brothers were in the Navy and only young Richard, who was 1.75 inches short of the height standard, prevented them from being a “flying quartet.” Richard, of course, would take care of that as we shall discuss later, big time. They were a flying quartet, though by the time Richard got in, Jay had already died.
Robert went to Glenview directly after graduation, in January 1942. He then went on to Corpus Christi, Texas.
This is a photo of Corpus Christi, Texas in about 1946. NAS Corpus Christi in the day was known as the “University in the Air.” Robert was commissioned an ensign in August 1942. After his flight training, he remained at Corpus Christi from August 1942-April 1944 where he served as an instructor for Naval Cadets in flight training.
While in Corpus, he married Mary Ann Kuechle of Wausau in late 1942 or early 1943.
In between his instruction duties he also trained for carrier service himself, from October 1943 to April 1944.
This is a model of the Douglas SBD Dauntless next to Robert Dudley’s plaque on the first floor of the Dudley Building in Wausau.
I am assuming he trained for carrier service flying the Scout Bomber Douglas, known as the SBD, a dive bomber discussed earlier.
This is a photo of Ensign Robert Dudley, I assume at home in Wausau. Kind of a dashing guy, eh!
Robert completed his carrier training on the SBD and became an instructor, stationed at Corpus Christi .
Bob Campbell, who was with Robert in VC-75, has told me this photo was taken in Florida. There are twelve men shown. This is a photo of Flight 348 taken in Miami NAS, Florida, where they were from November 1944-January 1945. Bob Campbell provided me their names, I believe left-to right. The identifications were hand-written so I hope I get the spelling correct. There were two instructors, Capt. French and Ens. Villidon. The rest were EdBreaux, Ed Haugh, Bob Campbell, Joe Nowak, Stan Sviskoski, Bob Tiger, ? Peterson, Bob Dudley (yellow arrow), Bill Aryin, and Elsford Floyd.
I’ve blown it up as much as I can, and that’s him for sure!
Here he is again with his squadron brothers, Robert on the far left, the only one without a cigarette. He never smoked.
Robert’s family has told us that he remained as an instructor at Corpus Christi for the remainder of the war. He did prepare to deploy to the war toward its end, but did not have to go, because the war ended, which I will discuss in a moment, as there is some history attached to his “almost departure.”
I do not know for sure what criteria was used to select flight instructors in WWII. I do know that during my USAF career, 1967-1987, and until this day, flight instructors are chosen from the very best pilots. My guess is this was true in WWII as well since they had to get so many men through aviation schools so quickly; they had to use the best they had. I will also say it is one thing to know how to fly, and quite another to teach another how to fly, and fly well. It takes a special talent, and I would imagine, incredible patience and a capacity to control one’s blood pressure. And remember, most men coming through the program knew nothing of flying. I will also mention here that it was not unusual for an ensign to become a flight instructor.
The late Tom Hill was a WWII P-51 Mustang instructor for the Army Air Corps (AAC). Torsten Ove of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote this about Hill:
“During World War II, he attended flight school and excelled as a fighter pilot to such a degree that he became an instructor at various bases in the South. But he was too valuable as a teacher to risk losing in combat, and he never left the U.S.”
His wife said, “They all wanted to fight. They were young American men, full of patriotism.” Hill asked repeatedly to go to war, and at long last his commander got tired of hearing him and sent him off to the Pacific. Then the A-bombs dropped and the war was over before he could get in a lick.
William Emerson was a Marine Corps pilot in WWII who raised this subject in an oral interview. He said that two from his squadron were selected to be instructors. He and his mate did not like that, and went to their colonel to complain. Emerson said, “We didn’t join the Marine Corps to instruct, we joined the Marine Corps to fight.” The colonel responded, “Damnit, in the Marine Corps you do what you’re told to do not what you want to do, and this is worse than getting shot at anyway, these guys are trying to kill you every day!” Emerson said, “It turned out to be true.”
C.B.”Chuck” Whitehead, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) wrote Close Calls, which describes some experiences of Air Force flying instructors during WWII. The preface reads, “All instructors and their students had narrow escapes. Many of them involved a matter of seconds between survival and death.” He wrote:
“In 1944, I was instructing pilots on how to fly the B-29. At that time, the B-29 was the largest, fastest bomber in the world. It was the first pressurized airplane ever built. It was used to drop the atomic bombs on Japan and end World War II. We were training air crews on the way to combat. Each crew was composed of a pilot, co-pilot, engineer, and crew chief. We taught them day, night, and altitude flying. On one dark night, we were shooting touch-and-go landings. My student had not been doing too well. He was coming in too high, so I lectured him on this. On our next landing he wanted to make sure not to overshoot the runway — so as we came in on final approach, he kept getting lower and lower. My policy was to let the student go as far as possible within safety limits. In this case I let him go a little too far. Suddenly our landing lights lit up green trees just below our wheels. I jammed the four throttles full forward on — but we were in a big heavy airplane that didn’t respond quickly. Our wheels probably touched the tops of those trees before we gained altitude. The control tower called and said, ‘Number 334, where are you? You disappeared on final approach.’ I never let a student go that far again.”
You get the idea I am sure.
This is another look at Corpus Christi. I’d like to provide some brief background to help you newsstand the enormity of the Navy’s undertaking to train its aviators. Congress and President FDR were getting nervous about war in the 1930s. By 1938, Congress declared the US lacked training facilities capable of meeting emergency demands. The Congress termed this to be a grave situation. As a result, Congress recommended establishment of a training facility at Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi was commissioned on March 12, 1941. The first flight training began on May 5, 1941.
Robert Dudley became an instructor in August 1942. In 1941, eight hundred instructors trained more than 300 pilots per month. After Pearl Harbor, more than 35,000 naval aviators earned their wings here. Corpus Christi provided intermediate flight training in WW II, training naval pilots to fly SNJ, SNV, SNB, OS2U, PBY, and N3N type airplanes. In 1944 it was the largest naval aviation training facility in the world. The facility covered 20,000 acres, and had 997 hangars, shops, barracks, warehouses and other buildings. The Corpus Christi training facility consisted of the main location and six auxiliary air stations at Rodd, Cabaniss, Cuddihy, Kingsville, Waldron and Chase fields. As an aside, Former President George H.W. Bush was in the third graduating class, June 1943, and the youngest pilot ever to graduate.
There is a very nice suite of photos of the aircraft at Corpus Christi during the war, assembled on flickr by G. Asher. I commend the photos to you. You will see the wide variety of aircraft being flown from there for training.
I mentioned previously Tom HIll, a P-51 Mustang instructor for the AAC, and how much he wanted to go to war, and was finally allowed to do so but got there too late. Something similar happened to Robert Dudley.
There is incredible history tied up in what I am about to report. I feel compelled to summarize a bit of it, because it is not well known, and because Robert was a stone’s throw from being involved in the invasion of Japan.
Robert had listed he was a member of Composite Squadron 75, VC-75. Composite meant that the squadron flew different kinds of aircraft. I managed to find a squadron history from March 15 through September 21, 1945. The squadron was re-formed on March 15, 1945. I’ll give you brief background on why it had to be re-formed in a moment.
Lt. (jg) (1st lieutenant equivalent in the Army) Edward J. Janus was given temporary command to re-form the unit at Seattle, Washington. Then, that same day, at 2:30 pm Lt. (jg) Robert Dudley, USNR, reported. As Senior Naval Aviator, he assumed temporary command of the squadron. One day later, on March 16, Lt. Ace Johnson, USNR assumed temporary command, as he outranked Dudley. His photo is shown here. He remained in command until VC-75 was decommissioned, and was promoted to LCdr. shortly after taking over.
Grumman TBF Avenger, designated the TBM
Grumman FM-2 Wildcat, designated the F4F
VC-75 was a composite squadron, with a mix of TBMs and FM-2s
VC-75 transferred to NAAS North Bend, Oregon on March 25, 1945 and on March 26, Lt. Johnson became the official commanding officer. Lt. (jg) Dudley became his executive officer. On May 14, 1945, Lt. C.A. Parker, USN, outranking Dudley, became the executive officer. On May 21 VC-75 moved to Pasco, Washington, then on June 23, 1945 moved to San Diego, California. On July 14, 1945, the squadron again moved, this time to Brown Field, Chula Vista, California.
While at Pasco, much of the training was in close air support, and earlier they had topped and antisubmarine warfare training. This training, especially the close air support, probably indicated they were intended for use in the planned invasion of the Japanese Home Islands, “Operation Downfall.”
This last transfer was quite a coincidence. You will recall that Otay Mesa, where Robert’s brother, Jay, crashed his aircraft on landing and was killed, was also named Brown Field. So Robert went to the same field at which his brother was killed.
Robert’s family has told me that he did go to San Diego at about this time to prepare to deploy. The record confirms that. His squadron on July 29, 1945 was temporarily based aboard the USS Wake Island (CVE-69), an escort carrier shown here underway, a subject we will highlight in a few moments. Then, suddenly, just a few days later, on August 1, 1945, the squadron disembarked from the Wake Island and returned to Brown Field. The re-formed squadron was then decommissioned on September 21, 1945.
An US Army Air Corp B-29, the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and a second B-29 dropped another, nicknamed “Fat Boy” on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. It took six days after Nagasaki for the Japanese to surrender --- August 15, 1945, and it took until September 2, 1945 for the Japanese to formally sign an instrument of surrender officially ending WWII.
There is very important history tied into this series of events to which Robert and his re-formed VC-75 were at a distance exposed.
The Wake Island’s experience in the Pacific began on November 11, 1944 when she left Norfolk, Virginia bound for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. In early January 1945, she joined with a massive fleet of ships to support the invasion of Luzon, the Philippines. She entered the Panay Gulf about 100 miles northwest of Manila. Enemy forces jammed her surface search radar so her crew went into general quarters. Almost immediately thereafter, a Japanese kamikaze aircraft struck the USS Ommaney (CVE-79), the ship flared into uncontrollable fire, and her crew abandoned ship. The USS Manus was one of several ships to pickup survivors. Manus transferred 19 to the Wake Island.
Now, recall that Dudley became a member of the re-formed VC-75. It had to be re-formed because VC-75 was aboard the Ommaney Bay when she sunk. But that’s not the end of the story.
The Wake Island would be engaged in several enemy attacks and then in early February 1945 she steamed for an area off Saipan-Tinian. This was a location where US forces were preparing for Operation Downfall, the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
We’ll return to Downfall shortly.
The Wake Island then supported Marine operations on Iwo Jima, and then moved to an area off Okinawa to support the invasion of it. Okinawa was to be among the very bloodiest invasions of the war, and served as a prelude to what might be expected if Operation Downfall were to be implemented. Wake Island was attacked by two Japanese kamikazes, both of which hit the water very close by, ripping a hole in the Wake Island’s side and causing other damage. Corrective actions were taken and the Wake Island sailed for Guam for repairs. During June 1945 she delivered aircraft and pilots to Okinawa, which was now in US hands. She then headed home and arrived in San Diego on July 25, 1945. Four days later the re-formed VC-75 and Lt (jg) Robert Dudley boarded the Wake Island expecting to ship out.
Where would they be going? The history here is mind-boggling. But the short answer is the Wake Island would head to support the invasion of Japan. At this point of the war, the Japanese refused to surrender and were making plans to arm all their citizens to fight off a US invasion, Operation Downfall. There were many senior US military officers who believed an invasion of Japan was the only option available to end the war. US forces throughout the Pacific had been training for it and were moving into position to execute it. The Wake Island and the re-formed VC-75 were among those tagged for the job. Operation Downfall was scheduled for execution in October 1945. The Japanese understood how the US might invade, and prepared for it in earnest. The US was able to observe the Japanese buildup and became very concerned that this was going to be a very difficult and costly invasion; estimates were the US would suffer between 400,000 and 800,0000 KIA; the Japanese from 5-10 million.
But planning had been well underway since December 1944 to drop atomic bombs on Japan. I won’t go into all the complicated but fascinating history here. Targets were selected and briefed in May 1945. On July 26, 1945, the Allied leaders issued the Potsdam Declaration outlining the terms of an unconditional surrender for Japan. The threat was to invade Japan if she did not accept this. The Japanese ignored it and the Allies interpreted that to mean the Japanese had rejected the declaration and, therefore, a decision had to be made as to whether to drop the bomb or invade.
The point of explaining all this is that a decision had been made to drop the bombs, and the re-formed VC-75 was dismissed from the war, but not officially until the official Japanese surrender was in hand. This is a photo provided by Bob Campbell. It was taken at Browns Field NAS (Otay Mesa) just before VC-75 was decommissioned. Robert is sitting to the right. The three had just finished playing handball. Robert is reputed to have been able to beat most who opposed him. Following the second atomic bomb attack, the unit’s men remained at Brown’s Field awaiting orders or release from active duty. As you will see, Robert had enough points and opted to get out.
I need to point out that Operation Downfall was not canceled right away. Even after dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, US leaders were not sure for several days and even weeks whether the Japanese would surrender, and if they did, whether they were serious, and if they did, would the country explode in popular chaos. Many of the forces identified for Downfall were used to occupy Japan, and quite candidly, it took a while before these troops knew for sure whether they would might be fighting on the Japanese Homes Islands anyway. It is also worth noting that there was a third bomb available, Major General Curtis Lemay, commander of the 20th Army Air Force whose B-29s dropped two such bombs, had ordered the third to be sent to him immediately. Furthermore, schedules were coordinated to start producing the bombs at the rate of several per month. General MacArthur and his planners even considered employing them if the Downfall Invasion had to go forward, during the invasion itself.
This is a news photo of the Robert Dudley clan from the Honolulu Advetiser published in late November 1954, left to right, Pat, Robert, Barbara and Mary Ann. They had just arrived in Honolulu from the Philippines. Robert was appointed the new Hawaii sales manager for Northwest Airlines.
Lauren Charles “Laurnie” Dudley
Lauren Charles “Laurnie” Dudley was born on June 26, 1921 and died on January 24, 1974. He attended Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin. At the time he attended, it was a liberal arts college. He was a member of the freshman football team, playing guard.
Lauren’s story is different from Jay’s and Robert’s. Lauren saw a great deal of action as a F6F Hellcat fighter pilot in the Pacific, to include raids over Tokyo.
At the time the fifth unit was being formed, three units were already in training and the fourth was to start training in June 1942. There were 34 members of the fifth Flying Badger unit. The president of UW Madison, Clarence Addison Dykstra, presided and told the new members they were keeping their university “far out in front in its services to the naval air arm not only in numbers enlisted but also in the quality and character of the recruits.” We have not mentioned President Dykstra yet, so I would say here that he presided over the UW Madison during a most turbulent time in American history, a Depression and World War. He personally sponsored this fifth Flying Badger unit, and one can tell from his rhetoric in swearing them in and swearing in ROTC graduates that he felt deeply about the men who were about to serve.
The records get a little shaky here, but it is my understanding the entire Fifth Flying Badger unit went to Iowa City, Iowa for aviation cadet training in July 1942. This was an interesting place. Paul Shaw, founder of Shaw Aircraft Corp. ran much of Iowa City’s airport from 1928-1959. From 1939-1944, he and his flight instructors trained over 2,500 pilots as part of a University of Iowa program. In 1941, his program fell under the newly formed War Training Service. That marked the beginning of the Navy’s Pre-flight school, which trained Navy cadets in Iowa City until they progressed to the point where further flight training was provided, to wit, at a place like Glenview. The photo shows Shaw’s aircraft at Iowa Airport.
Robert Sachtschale of Portage, Wisconsin entered Naval Aviation Training at the same time Lauren did. He reported to Iowa City Pre-flight school on June 12, 1942, then went to Glenview, and then to Corpus Christi. So it looks to me like Iowa City was just what it said it was, pre-flight, and then off to basic flight training at a place like Glenview.
The Pre-flight school published a newsletter nearly every week, The Spindrift. I paged through a few from July when Lauren got there and saw that the cadets paraded in downtown, some in khakis, some in shorts! Sailors tasked to work with the cadets also were gaining too much weight, so they were put on special drills to drop the pounds. Some of the cadets were also chosen for a football team. In fact, they engaged in regular boxing, wrestling, track, hand-to-hand combat programs. The Pre-flight school also had a 45-piece Navy band of enlisted men.
The newsletter said the Navy intended to have “the most intensive, rigorous, and comprehensive program of physical fitness and mental training the world has ever seen.” It would appear this place was not only designed to expose the cadets to pre-flight training, but also to whip them into shape. This photo shows aviation cadets at pre-flight school, Iowa City undergoing conditioning exercises, September 1942. One of those might be Lauren!
He was in Flight Class 12A 42-C [C]. This photo shows him flying the Dauntless in training.
He was then reassigned to Jacksonville for further aviation instruction.
In August 1943, Ensign Lauren Dudley’s life began to change significantly.
For starters, he would start training on the F6F Hellcat. Here you see him flying one solo, somewhere in the US.
On August 3, 1943 he was assigned to Carrier Aircraft Service Unit (CASU) 21 at Norfolk, Virginia. A carrier aircraft service unit is a group of Navy officers and enlisted men who are assigned to a NAS or airfield. They comprise aviation machinist mates, ordnancemen, metal smiths, electricians, hospital corpsmen, cooks, bakers and seamen. They are not assigned to a squadron. CASU-21 was organized to render minor repairs and service to all carrier aircraft. In addition, a small aircraft carrier was assigned for operations in the area for practice landings.
VF-15 was officially commissioned on September 1, 1943 at Atlantic City, Commander David McCampbell in command. It was among the Navy’s most famous fighter squadrons during WWII, known as “The Fabled 15.”
VF-15 was initially assigned to the USS Hornet, but in 1944 Air Group 15, which included VF-15, was assigned to the USS Essex (CV-9). The Essex had already seen a bunch of war. She left for the Pacific in May 1943 and conducted operations against Marcus Island, Wake Island, Rabaul Papua New Guinea, the Gilbert Islands, Tarawa Atoll, Kwajalein, the Marshall Islands and then the Marianas including Saipan, Tinian and Guam. As an aside, the Marianas were crucial to the war effort because once captured, B-29 long range strategic bombers were able to fly round-robin bombing missions against the Japanese Home Islands from there. Eventually, the B-29s dropping the A-bombs on Japan would stage from Tinian. One more aside: once the Marines took Iwo Jima, the US was able to deploy fighter aircraft there which could escort the B-29s to Japan, the fighters flying round robin from Iwo Jima. And, of course, Iwo Jima offered the B-29s an alternate airfield for landing if they were in trouble.
Following the action in the Marianas, the Essex returned to San Francisco for a long overdue overhaul, sometime between late February and March 1944. It was at that time that VF-15 embarked along with Air Group 15 Commander McCampbell in command. Essex and VF-15 would be preparing to do battle in the Marcus and Wake Islands area by mid May 1944. A study of VF-15 is worth your while. She returned to support the occupation of the Marianas and continued fighting in some of the great battles of the Pacific up to and including Iwo Jima. She was hit once by a kamikaze, killing 15, wounding 44, but was repaired, and kept fighting.
VF-15 was the highest scoring squadron with 310 confirmed aerial kills and 348 destroyed on the ground (N.B. Different sources will quote different numbers, but they are all in this range). They flew in what became known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot. By war’s end, Commander McCampbell would achieve 34 aerial kills, the highest scoring Navy ace in WWII and the third highest among US military fliers. McCampbell would receive the Medal of Honor.
He was assigned to VF-80. Named “Vorse’s Vipers,” it was established on February 1, 1944.
We believe this is a group photo of the entire VT-80 squadron, probably during the formative states while in the US. We know that is Lauren in the white boxes. The aircraft, from what we can see, looks like a F6F.
The Vipers first deployed aboard the USS Ticonderoga (CV-14) on June 26, 1944 equipped with F6F-5, F6F-5P and F6F-5Ns. The Ticonderoga was commissioned only a month earlier at Norfolk in May 1944. This is the Ticonderoga operating off shore San Diego in September 1944.
We talked earlier about the dangers of training. Whether training on a carrier, or flying combat missions on and off your carrier, the dangers were and remain high. This photo is from September 1944, and you can see Lt (jg) Farlfogi bailing out of his burning F6F on the Ticonderoga after a tough landing.
Lauren Dudley flew the F6F-5, which was an improved version of the Hellcat, redesigned with more streamlined cowling, strengthened tail surfaces, powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-2800-10W water injected radial piston engine with 2,000 horses. The water injection system increased combat power. She had spring loaded control tabs on the ailerons, and an improved, clear view windscreen, with flat bulletproof, armored glass. Most were painted a glossy sea blue. The 5Ns were night versions equipped with a special radar, while the 5Ps were used for photo reconnaissance. It is worth noting that the Hellcat accounted for 75 percent of all aerial victories recorded by the Navy in the Pacific.
The F6F-5 could fly at 380 mph at 23,400 ft., had a service range of 950 miles and a maximum range up to 1,350 miles.
All Hellcats were equipped with six 50 caliber air-cooled machine guns with 400 rounds per gun. A F6F-5 wing bomb rack could accommodate a single 454 kg bomb (F6F-5). Beginning with the F6F-5 the Hellcat could carry six Mk.5 or Mk.6 unguided high velocity air-to-ground 127 mm. rockets under the wing.
After being commissioned in May 1944, the Ticonderoga remained in Norfolk for about two months outfitting and embarking Air Group 80, which included VF-80. The ship and crews trained in the Caribbean, returned to Norfolk for repairs. Prior to returning to Norfolk, Ensign Dudley was promoted Lt. (jg) on July 1, 1944.
Ticonderoga then transited the Panama Canal for San Diego where she uploaded more aircraft, provisions, and Marine aviation and defense units. While in Panama, Lt. Commander Vorse was relieved as commander, VF-80 and was replaced by Lt. Commander L.W. Keith. You may recall VF-80 was originally known to the men as “Vorse’s Vipers.” Also while in Panama, VF-80 took on 18 more aircraft, brining her strength up to 54 aircraft.
This photo shows Commander William Burch, USN handing Lt. (jg) Dudley a cake in honor of Dudley making the 2000th time an aircraft made a carrier landing aboard the Ticonderoga. This occurred on September 8, 1944. Burch would later suffer injuries when a kamikaze struck the Ticonderoga, an event we will address in a few moments. Burch, severely injured, refused to go to sick bay and was the first to grab a hose to fight the fires. He somehow made it through alive.
Here Lauren is preparing to share some cake with his mates.
Ticonderoga then went to Hawaii and remained there until mid-October 1944. While in Hawaii, the air crews engaged in extensive training. She then headed out to the Western Pacific and joined Task Force 38 (TF 38).
Their first campaign would be in the Philippines, to provide extended air cover for the ground forces capturing Leyte. Her aircraft conducted their first strike on November 5, 1944, and spent two days bombing and strafing enemy shipping near Luzon and enemy air installations on that island. Air Group 80 was mostly equipped with VF-80 fighters equipped for aerial combat. The photo shows a group of F6Fs preparing for takeoff from the Ticonderoga during WWII. She became known as the “Queen of the Fleet.”
On that day, VF-80 flew 106 sorties and 55 Combat Air Patrol (CAP, air defense flights to protect the attacking aircraft). They shot down six enemy aircraft, damaged nine more in the air, destroyed one on the ground and damaged 14 more on the ground. They lost four VF-80 pilots. Lt. J.W. Fair, USN was the first VF-80 pilot to destroy an enemy aircraft in the air.
On November 6, Ticonderoga’s aircraft again attacked Luzon airfields and enemy shipping, and destroyed 35 enemy aircraft and attacked six enemy ships in Manila Bay. She sustained some losses, so had to retire for more fuel and more aircraft. But VF-80 flew 56 target sorties and 43 CAPs and damaged 24 and destroyed 11 aircraft on the ground, with no losses. Remember, Laurnie Dudley is among those flying.
On November 25 they flew 97 sorties, 66 target and 31 CAPs, and destroyed 17 enemy aircraft in the air and damaged seven more not he ground. They also sunk a Kumano class enemy cruiser such as shown here. This is the Mikuma, a Kumano class cruiser, sunk by aircraft from the USS Hornet in 1942. That had to be a tough hunk of steel to take down.
Ticonderoga’s aircraft would engage the enemy in this region through mid-December and damaged the enemy considerably. She withdrew on December 6 and encountered a violent typhoon in which three destroyers and 800 men were lost. But Ticonderoga sailed through unscathed. As an aside, while attacking the Philippines, a kamikaze hit the Ticonderoga’s sister ship, the Essex (CV-9) and assisted in taking down a second kamikaze which failed to hit the Essex. The Ticonderoga took aboard Essex airmen and pilots from the USS Intrepid (CV-11), which was hit by two kamikazes. Both Essex and Intrepid were brought back to operational service, but Intrepid had to return to California for repairs, while Essex managed to continue fighting.
For his part, Dudley was awarded his first Air Medal for air operations against the Japanese on the Philippines, cited for damaging Japanese aircraft, scoring a direct hit on a large enemy warehouse, and destroying two eery aircraft on the ground.
I’d like to point out that as one researches all this, one is amazed to find out how much damage out ships could take, and how bravely our men fought to save their ships --- so many were able to make their way to safe ports, get repaired, and return to battle. It is astounding.
Dudley said that when his task force accompanied the Navy fleet into the China sea for the first time:
“About 25 Jap ships were sunk in that area and it was the first time any fleet other than the Japanese was in the China sea since 1900.”
Ticonderoga’s next assignment was to attack the Japanese on Formosa, now called Taiwan. Her fighters also attacked coastal China, occupied by the Japanese. They also struck at targets in Saigon, French Indochina, the Chinese Hainan Islands, and Hong Kong.
Dudley, during one of his flights over Formosa, said he had a very close call:
“A Jap plane dove down on me out of the clouds and passed about three feet in front of my plane, crashing into the sea. It was quite a thrill to be sitting under a cloud and have an enemy plane come down and pass that close.”
On January 22, 1945 a kamikaze crashed through the Ticonderoga’s flight deck, two bombs exploded, and then several aircraft exploded. She was hit on the deck between the gallery and hangar decks at a time when aircraft were being rearmed and refueled.
He was wounded in the attack, suffering from 65 wounds, but stood in command, blood-drenched, directing the recovery actions.
His maneuvers and decisions caused the fire to dump overboard and the crew was able to get into control and extinguish the flames. However, when it was over, the Ticonderoga lost 144 dead and 193 injured.
Four more kamikazes came after Ticonderoga. Gunners downed three, but a fourth smashed through the ship’s starboard side, setting more flames and injuring and killing more Sailors. All that notwithstanding, her crew brought all the fires under control.
She made it to the small Ulithi Atoll in the Carolines where the wounded were transferred to a hospital ship and Air Group 80 was transferred to the USS Hancock (CV-19/CVA-19). Ticonderoga then headed back to the US. Incredibly, she was repaired, Air Group 87 came aboard, and she returned to battle. The Japanese had used Ulithi as a weather and radio station as well as an anchorage, but left it in 1944. The US Navy took it over and used it as a staging base. Initially, it could not support repairs, but the Navy later brought in dry docks and set up a floating base from which to conduct repairs ands host oilers which would go out refuel ships in combat.
While serving with VF-80 on the Ticonderoga, Lt. (jg) Dudley received three Gold Stars in lieu of the second, third and fourth Air Medals for meritorious acts in areas where enemy aircraft were expected to be effective or where enemy patrols usually occurred. His fourth Air Medal noted that he inflicted extensive damage to the enemy and to the success of his squadron.
For clarification, a receiving member wears only one Air Medal, but is awarded a gold star for each of the second through the fifth air medals. He or she pins those stars onto the single medal and ribbon. Should he or she receive a sixth Air Medal, then the gold stars are removed from the single ribbon and medal and replaced with a silver star. He was aboard when the Ticonderoga was hit by a kamikaze, and then as noted above transferred with his squadron to the Hancock.
Lt. (jg) Dudley was now on the USS Hancock with his VF-80 mates. Hancock was launched on January 24, 1944, commissioned on April 14, 1944, and was in the fight in the Pacific by October 1944. My guess is Dudley and the rest of VF-80 embarked the Hancock sometime in January or February 1945. By the time VF-80 embarked, the Hancock had been busy against the Japanese Navy and air forces to enable General MacArthur to invade Leyte, the Philippines.
Now with VF-80 embarked, the mission was to provide strategic support of amphibious operations against Iwo Jima, known as Operation Detachment. It occurred between February 19 and March 26, 1945. The Japanese were using Iwo Jima to attack B-29 operations over the Japanese Home Islands launched from the Marianas. It also supported a safe haven for Japanese naval vessels in distress or in need of urgent repairs. Furthermore, Japanese aircraft were able to attack US forces on the Marianas from Iwo Jima.
On the other side of the coin, the US wanted Iwo Jima’s airfield to station fighter escorts for the B-29s attacking Japan, and to provide an emergency base for B-29s with battle damage. US fighters could escort the B-29s round-robin from Iwo Jima and then let the B-29s return to the Marianas untouched. This would come at a time when Japan was running low on fighter aircraft, so the timing was perfect.
It is important to note that VF-80 and the Hancock were to provide strategic support, which meant debilitating anything that might make the amphibious landings more difficult than they were already going to be. This effort was designed to isolate Iwo Jima as the Marines landed. USAAC and Navy aircraft had air superiority throughout the landings.
On February 15, 1945, the VF-80 history reported events involving Lauren Dudley. This was the first time the squadron struck at Tokyo. You’ll enjoy the historian’s verbiage and style:
“Lt. Edwards led the second division composed of Lt. (jg) Dudley, Lt. Carmichael, Lt (jg) Jones and Edwards. After the run over Katori, he (I presume Edwards) headed for lufberry circle. As soon as enemy planes were spotted he broke away from the merry-go-round, dove on the assorted defenders, then returned to protect the lufberry. At least fifteen runs were made by this division of Fighting 80. Lt. W.C. Edwards bagged two Nates, two Zekes and an Oscar and damaged another Zeke. Lt. (jg) Dudley burned two Vals and damaged two Zekes and an Oscar. In some instances Lt. Edwards and Lt (jg) Dudley would select targets differing from those of Lt. Carmichael and Lt (jg) Jones. In the wild dive-and-burst circus which took place, Lt. Carmichael destroyed two Oscars with head-on shots and a Betty whose port engine exploded. Another Betty and two Zekes left the scene smoking fiercely. Lt. (jg) Jones sent Betty and Tojo earthward in flames. An Oscar was also lamed by his guns.”
Some translation follows.
“Lufberry Circle” is an air defense combat tactic first used during WWI. You must have formations of aircraft working together. It involves forming a horizontal circle in the air when attacked, in such a way that the armament of each aircraft offers a measure of protection to the others in the circle. It complicates the task of an attacking fighter because the formation as a whole has fewer “blind spots” than its members, so that it is difficult to attack an individual aircraft without being exposed to return fire form the others.”
The Nate was a Nakajima Ki-27 fighter, Japan’s main fighter up until 1940.
The “Zeke” was the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a long range fighter used at Pearl Harbor. She was used to support torpedo bombers, strafe ground targets, and destroy enemy aircraft in the air. In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation as a dogfighter, achieving the outstanding kill ratio of 12 to 1, but by mid-1942 a combination of new tactics and the introduction of better equipment enabled the Allied pilots to engage the Zero on more equal terms.
Nakijima Oscar, second only to the Zero as the dominant Japanese fighter. Most Japanese aces achieved their victories in this fighter.
Mitsubishi G4M land-based bomber, called Betty by the Allies. She had a 3,700 mile one-way range.
So, on February 15, 1945, Lauren Dudley, flying with his lead Lt. Edwards, pounded some of Japan’s very finest aircraft.
The Navy began a bombardment of Iwo Jima on February 16, and Air Group 80 began hitting the Japanese Home Islands, striking at Tokyo on February 16 during an attack in which the group killed 71 enemy planes in aerial combat , and 12 more the next day. For action on February 16, Dudley received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which ranks above the Air Medal, for his attacks against Tokyo during which time he engaged enemy aircraft and shot down two and damaged three more.
The Marines and Navy conducted the first landings on Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. Some 450 ships and 60,000 Marines were involved. The initial thinking was that the Japanese had abandoned the island. That was wrong. The Japanese were well dug in and the fighting was fierce. The first wave of landings involved 30,000 Marines.
While VF-80 did support ground operations on Iwo Jima, her main job was to keep Japanese fighters out of business to enable the B-29s to hit Tokyo, and to assure air superiority over Iwo Jima. Dudley commented to a newspaper reporter in April 1945:
“The boys in he B-29s reported that there wasn’t much air opposition over Tokyo for a while after our raid over the Jap capital … During that first task force raid on Tokyo our squadron shot down 72 enemy places, a new record for the squadron. The fellow I was flying with got five planes in a short time and I had to leave him in order to get some myself.”
He also took note of Iwo Jima:
“I would like to put in a ‘plug’ for the Marines. They’ve really got the right stuff.”
Dudley was credited with destroying two enemy fighters over Tokyo himself. He commented that they went over Hirohito’s “front yard” for the first time. He said:
“Our fighters went in alone in the morning to clear the air for the squadrons later in the day. There were plenty of Japs in the air during the morning but when we went back later as an escort for the bombers enemy fighters were scarce, due to the ‘going over’ we gave them in the morning.”
He described flying over the emperor’s palace as a thrill.
Her planes hit the enemy naval bases at Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on February 19, as well as shipping. Hancock would continue striking at the Japanese Home Islands. For action on March 1, Dudley received a Gold Star in lieu of his second Distinguished Flying Cross. VF-80 attacks on that day were against aircraft and air installations at Koniya Seaplane Base and Tokuno Shima, against shipping and against ground installations at Amami-O-Shima, Okinoyerabu, Tokuna, and Takara Shima.
On March 2, 1945, VF-80 headed back to Ulithi to be relieved and returned to the US to re-form. Air Group 80 was detached from the Hancock on March 9, 1945 and replaced by Air Group 6. The men of Group 80 received “rehabilitation leave” on their return to the US. VF-80 re-formed with about half the old complement on May 19, 1945 and began training in the California area to return to battle in September. That, of course, was not needed.
On August 23, 1945, the Navy awarded a Navy Unit Commendation for service to all men on the USS Hancock during the period October 10, 1944 through August 14, 1945.
The formal surrender occurred on September 2, 1945 aboard the USS Missouri.
That’s quite a history of combat, and of course I have skimmed over what were hallacious times for the crews and airmen of the Ticonderoga and Hancock. Each of those battles needs careful study.
Lt. (jg) Dudley was released from active duty on January 1, 1946 and on that same day promoted to the rank to lieutenant, the equivalent of Army captain.
Dudley said the enemy pilots were tough, and the aircraft were good, but they did not have the teamwork enjoyed by the Americans, saying:
“It is teamwork that brought us out of the Tokyo raids with such small losses in contrast to the heavy damage to the enemy.”
I do not know where or when this photo was taken, though I am assuming at this moment it was taken while in training. That is Lauren, first row, far right. Standing right behind him is Roland H. Kenton, who was assigned to the USS Wasp flying the F4F-3 of VF-71. He spent about 18 months on the Wasp and was assigned to her when she was sunk. On September 15, 1942, the Wasp and the USS Hornet along with 11 other warships were escorting transports carrying the 7th Marines to Guadalcanal as reinforcements. Wasp was the ready-duty carrier. Her aircraft flew patrols and found nothing of great consequence. Early in the afternoon, Wasp launched eight F4Fs and 18 SBD Dauntless aircraft and recovered 11 aircraft returning. Kenton was the last F4F of VF-71 to take-off. Shortly thereafter, six enemy torpedoes were fired by a submarine at the Wasp, three of them hitting Wasp in quick succession. All hit in the vicinity of gasoline tanks and magazines. The other three torpedoes missed. The skipper ordered abandon ship and later a US submarine sunk her. Ensign Kenton received the Navy Cross for action in August 1942 supporting the Marine landings in the Solomons. The others in the photo are, front row, left to right: Joseph David Kopeikin, who crashed his aircraft on a beach but survived; Donald L. Fenton who managed a ground loop and nosed over, and also survived; then Lauren Dudley. Back row, left to right, Jack Connor, Wes Burnam, and then Roland Kenton.
Richard David “Dick” Dudley
Richard David “Dick” Dudley was born on October 29, 1923. He was the youngest, and regrettably for him, the shortest. His three brothers were in, were officers, and were pilots. Dick wanted to do the same thing. His problem was he was 1.5 inches too short. Legend has it he hung himself upside down to stretch himself out, but it didn’t work.
Richard decided to join the Navy anyway, I believe sometime in 1942. Not to say that the aviation cadets who became officers had it easy, but one can be pretty sure boot camp for the young enlisted men was tougher. It lasted about six weeks. Astral Publishing has a nice description of what it was like for the new recruit. I have an excerpt below:
“On entering Boot Camp during the World War II era, besides getting his shots and a buzz haircut, a Navy recruit discarded his civilian attire and possessions. He boxed his shirt, underwear, and pegged pants and shipped them home. Then after he stood shivering in the nude in a large room with hundreds of other young men, Navy Supply Clerks tossed at him the uniforms and other gear he would use during his period of enlistment. They piled on his arms uniforms, with little attention to size, that the recruit learned to wear, not always the proper way at first. The Navy then gave him his sleeping gear. In the tradition of the old navy they issued him a hammock with a mattress, two mattress covers (sailors called them fart sacks), one pillow, two pillow covers, and two blankets. The Boot needed a place to store these items, so one of the first items issued to him was his Sea Bag … As with everything else he got, he stenciled his name on the side of the bag. This bag was his and his only. It was his entire and unique identity as an individual among the mass of other men. When traveling, a sailor rolled his mattress and sleeping gear inside the hammock which he then wrapped around and secured to his sea bag. This pack he slung up on a shoulder and marched off with all he owned. Before rolling his mattress, however, a sailor laid out his bedding items on the flattened mattress in a specific order according to regulations.
“The order was not arbitrary. It came from much experience and resulted in a compact package when rolled. Sailors did not just stuff their clothing into their sea bag. It had to be prepared first according to regulations and then inserted in a particular order. This procedure insured first that the clothing would take up a minimum of space so it would all fit in the sea bag. Secondly by rolling items and tying them they tended to have fewer wrinkles when unrolled. The manner in which a Boot’s clothing was prepared was not only regulation but practical.
“Pancake hat, Bos'uns whistle, leggings, and the Blue Jacket's Manual”
“Then the Navy issued the Boot his bible,The Bluejackets’ Manual. This book contained all the Boot would need to know to become a sailor and handle himself like one at his future stations either ashore or afloat. Training Program In Boot Camp, ‘Up and at em, drop em and grab em, fire drill, scrub down that deck, inspection, move it Boot. Now. I ain’t your mommy asking you. It’s me. I’m telling you.’
“These and other commands the Chief Petty Officer assigned to a Boot company shouted mostly in the middle of the night after a hard, tiring, long, ten hour day of marching, calisthenics, scrubbing clothes, rifle-over-your-head drills, pulling oars in a boat, loading heavy shells in a five inch gun, and other training activities. The obvious reason for harassing the Boots was to get them accustomed to discipline, to respond to disagreeable orders, to function with little sleep, and probably to give the Chief his kicks, Whatever. It worked.”
Then they had another guy who would not shower. So after a couple weeks, about three or four guys grabbed him and took him into the shower, in uniform, and scrubbed him down with a heavy scrubbing brush while in uniform. The guy learned because after that he was the first one lined up to take a shower.
Another group in the company was all from New York City. They were close to graduation and would get a two week leave thereafter. For some reason, they filled a balloon with water and sat by the barracks window on the second floor. Their company commander, usually a chief petty officer, came down the walk and was about to enter the door, when they dropped the water balloon on his head. Well, that was the end of their two week leave, and they were shipped out immediately after graduation to their next assignment.
Following Boot Camp, Richard had to go to aviation mechanic school and then gunnery training. Their gunnery practice would be against a tow sleeve. Of course, they had to learn how to take their guns apart, put them back together, and trouble-shoot them when they malfunctioned. While in school, each gunner had his own color bullets, so the brass could evaluate who got how many hits. It was bad form to hit the tow line and break it apart, losing the tow sleeve to the currents.
From there, straight to the USS Gambier Bay where he was a “plank owner,” meaning he was with the ship from her start. Dudley was assigned as a gunner on the Grumman TBM Avenger.
Let’s take a look at the Avenger first, then the Gambier Bay.
Dudley was assigned to VC-10 to fly aboard the Grumman TBM Avenger. It was not unusual for aviation mechanic school graduates to go into gunnery training in those days. The TBM variant of the Grumman TBF was actually produced by General Motors, and Grumman played a support role, but people still call her the Grumman Avenger. The Avenger was a torpedo bomber for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). She entered service in 1942 and saw her first action at the Battle of Midway. Her pilots paid a high price at Midway, with five of the six employed lost in combat, but she fared much better as the war went on. She became one of the outstanding torpedo bombers of WWII. As an aside, Lt. (jg) George H.W. Bush was an Avenger pilot. The aircraft went through multiple modifications throughout the war.
This photo shows a TBM-1C Avenger with stateside markings flying with US Navy Torpedo Squadron 80 (VT-80) training over the Atlantic in spring 1944. She was a large hunk of metal to be sure. The aircraft is a three seater, pilot in the front, radioman-bombadier-gunner in the middle, in a place called the “tunnel,” and a rear turret gunner. Dudley served mostly as the rear gunner.
The radioman sat in the tunnel and the position would become obsolete, because the Japanese rarely made low side-runs and the belly gun was not really needed. Gerald Thomas, writing a tribute to Avenger crews, wrote that there was very little armor on the belly and the crewman sitting in there was very vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery (variously reflected as AA or AAA). A nice advantage of this position, however, was that it had a radar. As time passed, the Navy started carrying only two, the pilot and the rear gunner. The gunner could slide into the tunnel to adjust the radio, and arm bombs or torpedoes. When doing this, the gunner had to re-set the depth setting on the torpedo when required by the circumstances of the target.
The Mark 13 torpedo was popular. This meant he had to crawl out of his position into the bomb bay, pull wires inside the torpedo, and turn the indicator with a wrench. If he goofed up, the airstream coming through the bomb bay could arm the torpedo. This photo shows crews loading a Mark-13 torpedo onto an Avenger on the USS Wasp. The Marl-13 weighed about 2,216 lbs. of which 600 lb. was high explosive Torpex. She entered service in 1938.
The Mark-13 had a very shaky start as a weapon. To start her career, she was very unreliable. In mid-1941 tests,k on;y one in ten of these dropped by VT-6 aircraft had a hot, straight and normal run. Many others would simply sink or experience erratic runs. A Naval analysis run in 1943 continued to show problems. Tony DiGiulian, who runs a nval weapons website, NavWeaps, wrote:
“Of 105 torpedoes dropped at speeds in excess of 150 knots found that 36 percent ran cold (did not start), 20 percent sank, 20 percent had poor deflection performance, 18 percent gave unsatisfactory depth performance, 2 percent ran on the surface and only 31 percent gave a satisfactory run. The total exceeds 100 percent as many torpedoes had more than one defect. The early models were further handicapped by the need to drop them low and slow - typically 50 feet (15 m) and 110 knots - which made the torpedo planes carrying them vulnerable to attack.”
By 1944, the time Richard Dudley entered the picture, many improvements had been made. A nose drag ring stabilized the torpedo in flight, acted as a shock absorber when it hit the water, a tail run improved water roll, and Diuilian wrote, “Hot, straight and normal runs now approached 100 percent.” By fall 1944 she was in front-line use and acted well.
Stephen E. Sherman, an aviation and WWII enthusiast and expert, said the Avenger was okay, but the torpedoes were not. He wrote this about the Mark-13 during the first wo years of the war:
“The damn things just didn't explode (at least not with any high degree of reliability). The Mark 13 torpedoes were fragile, and had to be dropped from a low height, at speeds below 130 MPH. They under-ran their indicated depth by 11 feet; they failed to explode when they hit, and they sometimes blew up prematurely. Therefore the TBF's flew a lot of missions with ordinary 500 lb. bombs. The aircraft itself was sound and could be used in various roles: torpedo bomber, glide bomber, reconnaissance, mine-layer, and scout plane.”
But he too remarked that the aircraft and torpedo systems performed with great effect as time passed and modifications were made.
The Avenger had a Wright R-2600-8 engine with 1,700 horses, a 14 cylinder double row radial. She could fly at about 260 mph and pull about 3Gs. Her range was about 1,242 miles, service ceiling about 22,000 ft. The rear turret was electric powered to move around, and hosted a .50 caliber machine gun. Different variants had different armaments. The TBM-3 had two .50 caliber machine guns forward for the pilot and a .30 caliber rear firing gun tucked into the belly. The tail gunner had a .50 caliber machine gun. She could carry one Mark-13 torpedo or four 500 lb. bombs, or an extra fuel tank. Her wings were large and, of course, folded back alongside the fuselage. She preferred a catapult launch, but with some weight taken off, could go out alone. One of her problems was she was fat, a good target.
The large wings made her easier to handle, and more stable, good things because the pilot experience levels varied and it was always a chore to land on a carrier. You can see this skipper bring his Avenger in on he USS Saginaw Bay (CVE-82) on September 9, 1945. It’s not pretty, but he hooked the arresting wire and all was ok --- with a “ Ka-Kloomp” afterwards I would imagine!
This photo gives a good view of the cockpit layout and the rear gunner’s position. This is an Avenger from VF-15 embarked on the USS Essex. She had just returned from battle and the pilot was in the process of folding her wings.
The tail gunner entered the aircraft through a rear hatch and climbed up into that greenish seat you see to man his position.
Thomas wrote this about the rear gunner:
“Riding backwards in the turret while sweating out a torpedo run or glide bombing attack in the belly of a TBM required a special kind of courage. Crewmen watching tracers or parts of the cockpit hatch stream by never knew if A/A fire had killed the pilot or if the plane was out of control. The few seconds of push-over, dive, and questionable pull-out seemed like an eternity to the crew.”
Thomas said neither the pilot or the gunner could wear their parachutes during operations. There was not enough room. The man in the tunnel had to attach a chest chute, and then squeeze out through a small hatch in the belly, after which he would get caught in a powerful air stream. Sometimes their chutes would pop in the tunnel. He wrote of one rear gunner saying simply that he could not get out of his turret. Many pilots, if hit, and in trouble, understanding the difficulties of their crew bailing out, would work to get their aircraft back to the carrier even if they had to crash land, or they would work to do an at-sea landing. They figured the odds were better doing this than using their chutes.
That said, if they did bail out successfully, they had to decide, while int the water, whether to deploy their bright yellow rafts. If they were close to Japanese ships, many men decided to go without their rafts and hope aircraft above spotted them and called in a rescue.
Thomas talked about running out of fuel, and having to ditch in the sea. He told his Sailor in the belly to climb up from the belly into the area behind the pilot and face backwards during the landing, grabbing everything he could to buttress the shock. He also told him to be ready to release the escape hatch after they were in the water. The pilot turned the aircraft into the wind, wheels up, full stall landing, with a crew total of three. He said the splashdown was no big deal, but the plane started sinking fast, so they got out on the wing and pushed a large raft into the sea, but one of the men slipped off the wing into the water and could not inflate it. So they tried again with the small raft, they got her inflated, but the two fell off the wing as well. They floated under the tail of the aircraft. Then the plane sunk. Two of the men were able to get into the small raft while the third swam over to the larger one and tried to inflate it. The swells were 30-40 ft. as a typhoon was on her way in. A destroyer made it over and rescued them.
A word about the torpedo attack. The photo shows a VT-4 Avenger doing just that.
You will recall from earlier discussions, VC-10 would be a composite squadron, having different aircraft. You might also recall Gordon Marlow, who was in Jay Dudley’s Flying Badger Unit #1, saying, he wanted nothing to do with torpedo bombers, calling it “a low, slow way of getting killed.” Some called torpedo bomber pilots “Torpeckers.”
The Avengers on the attack had to fly low and in a straight line, in a predictable path, before launching their torpedoes, which did make them very vulnerable. Anti-aircraft artillery was the great threat. The torpedo itself ran only at about 30-45 knots and on a fixed course, and if the target’s skipper spotted them early enough, he could avoid them. But the torpedo bomber had a big advantage over the dive bomber. The former’s weapon would hit the ship below the waterline, enabling water to get into the ship, far more devastating than simply punching a hole through the deck from a dive bomber. The dive bomber to achieve maximum effectiveness really needed to hit an ammunition hold. That said, the dive bomber was the more effective, and more survivable, and the Navy would eventually abandon the torpedo bomber after the war.
Richard Dudley said his missions lasted for about seven hours. They spent most of their time searching for enemy submarines on what he called “killer missions.” During his missions, they would drop bombs first, and then he would employ his .50 caliber machine gun searching for enemy and attacking them as targets of opportunity. He had 137 carrier landings. Fred Grabos, also an Avenger gunner, said just about all they did was drop bombs, mostly for close air support and attacks against airfields and shipping, in his case, never a torpedo. Grabos too wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he too was too short!
I mentioned earlier that Richard Dudley was assigned to VC-10 and to the USS Gambier Bay (CVE), a Casablanca-class escort carrier. We’ve got some nice VC-10 aircrew photos.
This is the USS Gambier Bay (CVE-73). She was launched in November 1943 and commissioned in late December 1943. She was the 19th carrier delivered that year, from a yard that planned to build only 16. She was dubbed “the bonus ship” because she was the last to be made at the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company. She sailed for Hawaii on February 7, 1944 and then on to the Marshall islands. She would return to San Diego ferrying aircraft for repairs and receiving qualified pilots. This is when VC-10 embarked.
A word or two on VCEs, or escort carriers. The West Point Connection had an article about CVEs, and said this:
“William T. Y'Blood, in The Little Giants, U. S. Escort Carriers Against Japan, published by the Naval Institute Press in 1987, documents the history of America's CVE's. He says, ‘They were called Jeeps, baby flattops, two-torpedo ships, combustible, vulnerable, expendable, and other, unprintable, names. CVE's was the U. S. Navy's designation for aircraft carrier, escort. These ships, envisioned as hardly more than convoy escorts in the beginning, evolved into remarkably versatile vessels. Yes, they were used to escort convoys, but they also hunted submarines, provided air support for invasion forces, ferried men and planes to far-flung bases, delivered replacement aircraft and pilots to the fast carriers of Task Forces 58 and 38, and worked as troop transports. Despite the great activity of the eighty-six vessels built (some finished after the war) to serve all around the world for the United States Navy; their accomplishments, except for one glorious action in October 1944, have never received the publicity and credit that they deserve.”
So the big boys on the big carriers, known as CVs, tended to look down on these flat-tops. But they served crucial missions.
Gambier Bay left California on May 1, 1944, again for the Marshalls where she would participate in the initial Marine landings on the Marianas. Her aircraft, including VC-10, supported the initial Marine landings on Saipan on June 15, 1944. Her fighter aircraft flying CAP missions did a number on Japanese aircraft, shooting down and turning back all but a few of 47 attacking aircraft. On the next day, June 16, the ship received a warning of another attack and VC-10 pilots launched to help repulse that attack, interesting mission for a torpedo bomber! The gunners must have been busy.
Gambier Bay remained off Saipan, strafing enemy positions, bombing gun emplacements, and providing close air support for the landing Marines. She did the same while the Marines landed on Tinian, and then supported the invasion of Guam until August 11. I discussed earlier how important US capture of these islands ws to the overall war effort, enabling the B-29 to conduct round-robin bombing runs against Japan.
She then sailed to join up with other ships who were to launch the Battles of Leyte Gulf, the Philippines. Note that I say the Battles vice the Battle. There were four battles: (1) the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, (2) the Battle of Surigao Strait, (3) the Battle of Cape Engaño and the (4) Battle off Samar. We will be most interested in the last one, Samar.
These battles were, for the most part, a mix of two events: the landings on Leyte Island and the naval battles in support of those landings, with many of these ending up as events unto their own, fleets pitched against fleets in what turned out to be nearly a fight to the end.
Two US Naval Fleets would be involved. The 7th Fleet, VAdm Kinkaid (left) in command, would support the land invasion of the island of Leyte. The 3rd Fleet, Admiral Halsey (right) in command, would provide distant cover and support for the invasion.
Gambier Bay was a member of Taffy 3, a task unit composed of six escort carriers, three destroyers and four destroyer escorts. All together, the attacking force, Taffys 1, 2 and 3, would have 18 escort carriers that were able to maintain air superiority over the Leyte Gulf and support the US landings. In turn, the Japanese, even with dwindling resources, committed virally their entire naval force, separated into the Northern, Center and Southern Fleet Forces. Both sides considered holding the Philippines to be mission essential.
The amphibious invasion of Leyte began on October 20, 1944 and went through December 31, 1944, code named “King Two.” This endeavor was designed to recapture all the Philippine Islands from the Japanese, ending three years of occupation.
Shortly after the 6th US Army landings began, General MacArthur did what he said he would do, and along with the Filipino President landed at Palo Beach, Leyte, on October 20. Naval operations that would support these landings began in early September. I’ll not go into the ground campaigns and naval and Army Air Corps air battles that supported these landings. Suffice to say the US gave the Japanese a beating. While the Japanese still held the main island of Luzon, they did so with a vastly reduced capability and found themselves strictly in a defensive mode. Luzon was taken by Allied forces by March 1945.
The massive naval fight would begin on October 24, 1944 as the Center Force was seen entering the Sibuyan Sea. While the 7th Fleet did very well against the Center Force, somehow Admiral Kurita was able to slide what was left of his force over to the area of Samar.
General MacArthur did what he said he would do, and returned to the Philippines. Sho the president of the Philippines landed in Leyte.
The Battle of Surigao Strait began on October 22, led by Admiral Nishimura’s Southern Force. The 7th Fleet’s support force was waiting. The battle would largely be a battleship-against-battleship fight. The Japanese took a thrashing.
The Battle of Cape Engaño began on October 25. This was a one-sided affair. Admiral Halsey’s 3rd Fleet demolished the Japanese. Admiral Ozawa started the battle with four carriers, two battleships that had been converted to carry some aircraft, three cruisers and eight destroyers. Halsey's 3rd Fleet contained fifteen fleet carriers, seven modern fast battleships, twenty one cruisers and fifty eight destroyers.
However, while he was told to seek out any chance to destroy the Japanese fleet, his main job was to protect the landing fleets at Leyte Gulf. He was no where near that area. This wold impact the operation off Samar in a big way, and Richard Dudley and his mates paid a huge price.
The Battle off Samar also began on October 25. Admiral Halsey’s decision to move his 3rd Fleet northward to attack the Japanese Northern Force left the region near Samar Island unguarded. You will recall that Admiral Kurita had been able to slip over to Samar. While weakened, his force remained very powerful. Admiral Kinkaid requested urgent help, Admiral Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, demanded Halsey tell him where his ships were, Kinkaid kept asking for help, but Halsey refused to leave his area.
I should mention here that the organization for this entire effort broke the cardinal military rule of unity of command, a rule the US would break many times thereafter, especially in Indochina. The commanders of the 7th and 3rd Fleets were independent of each other; there was no single fleet commander on scene to coordinate the two, which helps explain why and how this mess developed.
As it would happen, following the Leyte landings, the USS Gambier Bay was ordered to go with Taffy 3 to Samar Island. All of Taffy 3 and in our case young Richard Dudley were in for the surprise of their lives. Taffy 3 was not equipped to face this Japanese force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers that Kurita had managed to slip through without Halsey’s presence. Admiral Kurita’s force completely surprised the Americans.
The battle off Samar would end up as the most critical action in the Battles of Leyte Gulf and one of the largest battles in Navy history. Taffy 3, far outnumbered and outgunned, was alone to fight Kurita’s superior force. Over 1,000 Americans wold die in the Battle of Samar.
American pilots attacked the Japanese naval force with everything they had, torpedoes, bombs, strafing runs until their ammunition ran out. Aircraft launched from the Gambier Bay, fighters first, then the TBMs. Things were so bad pilots were faking strafing runs with no ammo and no ordnance. The escort carriers laid down smoke to try to escape. This photo shows the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) and a destroyer laying down a smokescreen in the battle off Samar. She was later hit by a kamikaze, the fires were brought under control, but she was then hit by at least two torpedoes and sunk. The Gambier Bay, one of the escorts trying to escape, unfortunately could only do about 18-19 knots, not fast enough to get out of there.
Multiple Japanese ships had the Gambier Bay in their sights. They fired on her with colored markers, each ship with a different color, so they could see where the shells hit and adjust fire. They finally started to hit her.
Grabos recalls being in his aircraft, ready to launch, telling the pilot to get the hell into the air. His pilot did get her off the deck, among the last to get off. Fortunately for them, most of the aircraft got off the ship, but no all. They flew overhead, watching the enemy ships pound at the Gambier Bay. All they could do was make strafing runs on the enemy ships.
But the heavy cruiser Chikuma hit her in the forward engine room with an 8 inch shell, cutting her speed in half. They started flooding the engine rooms. The photos above show her under attack. Gambier Bay was soon dead in the water, and the battleship Yamato closed to point blank range.
The Gambier Bay never had a chance, capsized and sunk on October 25, 1944. Nearly 800 survivors were rescued two days later by landing patrol craft that had to come from the Leyte Gulf. Three other US ships were lost as well in the battle. For the VC-10 aircraft still in flight above, once their ship had sunk, all they could do was fly to the Philippines. All made it safely to a small airfield there.
Incredible as it might sound, Taffy 3, Gambier Bay included, inflicted heavy losses on Kurita’s force and turned it back. Kurita’s force had three cruisers sunk or disabled, which was enough to cause him to turn away. Gambier Bay received four battle stars for service in World War II and shared in the award of the Presidential Unit Citation to "Taffy 3" for extraordinary heroism in the Battle off Samar.
Richard Dudley has said that the 8 inch shell opened the bulkhead to the forward engine room, they then lost the engine, fell behind the other fleeing CVEs, and was out their in the sea defenseless. He said the Japanese opened up on them at point blank range. The Gambier Bay was listing to starboard, the order as given to abandon ship, and he jumped off from the catwalk. Many life rafts were released into the water but there were few life vests, so many survivors had to cling to the rafts in 6-8 ft. swells.
Carl “Whitey” Amundson said many survivors did wear life jackets before entering the water. He said they also used floater nets to stay afloat. He mentioned that one of the hard parts was to stay awake, in part to avoid sharks, in part to keep each other from going crazy. He commented that some men drank the salt water which drove into delirium. Some thought they saw a shoreline and felt they could swim to it. There was no shoreline and those who swam away were probably lost to the sharks circling in the distance. Since there was no shoreline, they would tire and drown.
Richard Person has said that when he was in the water, the men clung to each other, most of them holding on to the outside of the raft tube. The men with the worst injuries were put in the center to conceal them from the sharks. Person did say the sharks were able to pull some of the men away. All he could hear was these men screaming.
Person said he was a throttle man in the engine room, 19 years old. He was in the aft engine room. He said:
"I remember a shell coming down through the deck into the engine room and hitting the boiler. It exploded right there, but I remember being taken aback first by the light from outside, piercing down into the engine room through the hole the shell had made … We were outgunned by the bigger ships and our 20 and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns might as well have been pop guns at that range.”
Person said he and his mates shut down the engine as best they could, because they had live steam, and then they ran topside. A shell hit the deck as he made his way up there throwing him 10 ft. back. After he recovered from that, he said the ship was listing so badly that he stepped right over the railing and fell into the water. He swam as fast as he could to get away from the sinking ship.
Norm St. Germain was also one of four brothers who served during WWII, three in the Army, only he in the Navy. Like Richard Dudley, he was the youngest, and like Dudley, he wanted to a pilot but was too short.
His dad had worked on the Gambier Bay in Vancouver, Washington. Norm was assigned to her in Oregon as a plank owner as well. His battle station was on the #5 20 mm gun. He managed to talk his way into becoming an Avenger gunner. But on the day they were attacked, he was manning his 20 mm gun. He said after the engine rooms were flooded, the men from there started making their way up to the hangar deck, which was all in flames. St. Germain said he recalled seeing a guy named Pruitt, by the catwalk, part of his head and shoulder blown off. He commented quietly, “That was hard.”
Dudley has said his ship took 57 major hits below the water line. Thankfully, many of the Japanese shells did not work, but they switched to their high explosive shells which did work. He said they were getting hit about once per minute, as a division of cruisers passed close by on one side and ships from the main formation passed her on the other side, firing from all sides.
Some of the men jumped overboard with their helmets and boots on, and drowned from the weight.
The crew never lowered the American flag as a sign of surrender.
Dudley has said that they were in the water for about 57 hours, along with the sharks. They would take turns getting in and out of the life rafts for protection. They had no food or water. Japanese submarines patrolled back and forth looking for them. But US patrol boats risked everything to protect them.
Why so long? The invasion of Leyte was in train and MacArthur said he had to hold on to everything he had. In addition, Richard Person has said that the ship’s position was reported incorrectly as she went down. He also commented that the ocean swell would carry him up high enough to where he could see the Japanese ships firing at their rafts, seeing the shells come right at them. When they dropped into the troughs of the waves, he said the shells went right over their heads.
Quite interestingly, Person added that the next morning, very early, a Japanese ship passed by and the Japanese Sailors lined the deck, stood at attention, and saluted the Americans in the water. Petty Officer Second Class Tony Potochniak has confirmed this story. The ship was apparently the Fujinami commanded by Captain Tatsuji Matsuzaki. Several days later he was killed when the Americans sunk his ship, all souls aboard lost. The photo is the only known photograph of the IJN Fujinami and its Captain, Matsuzaki Tatsuji.
The Sailors aboard the sunken ships of the Taffy 3 were taken to New Guinea and eventually on to Brisbane, Australia, where they got a ride on a former luxury ship, the Loraline. The men arrived back in San Francisco in December and were granted a 30-day survivor leave.
The Navy reported Dudley to his family as missing in action. As you know, the family had already lost Jay Dudley in his tragic aircraft accident. Now Richard was missing. However, the family found out after Christmas that Richard was okay. For his part, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart as he was wounded in action.
St. Germain remarked that he figured that the Navy had told his family that he had been rescued, but he said, “They didn’t.” So when he got home to Oregon, he paid a surprise visit to his family, which was overwhelmed that he indeed was alive. One of his brothers was lost in the Philippines, a victim from the Bataan Death March.
The Gambier Bay remains at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean today. Some 120 crew and 18 pilots were lost.
There is quite an oral interview with Norm St. Germain and a couple others about the entire ordeal. I commend it to you. It is entitled, Patriot Profiles, “The St. of Gambier Bay.”
Multiple brothers did serve in WWII, one family sent seven, another six, and several with four and less. There are remarkable stories associated with each of them, and, of course, remarkable, sad, tragic and compelling stories about all the men and women who served during the war. The story just told of the Dudley brothers is meant as a tribute to them all, their families, and all those who joined and served to defeat Japan and Germany. These men have been referred to as “The Greatest Generation.” I’m not sure they were any greater than our forces who served before them or after them, but great they were. The American Warrior deserves out greatest respect, and indeed these four men have mine.