HISTORY - Articles - Above and Beyond|
The following chapter is from Pat Weiland's book, "Above and Beyond", which
chronicles his WW2 days. Pat served with VMO-251 and then went on to command
VMF-452. VMF-452 ended up on the USS Franklin by March 1945. On March 19, 1945
the USS Franklin was severely damaged by Japanese aircraft and was knocked out
of the war. It sailed home to New York under its own power once the fires were
brought under control. Fleet Carrier Air Group 5, of which VMF-452 was a part
of, was also knocked out of the war. To order this book and others on military
history, write to Pacifica Press, 1149 Grand Teton Drive, Pacifica, Ca. 94044.
Used with permission of the author.
The Waiting Game and Listening Watch
In early October 1942, a new coral airstrip was being completed eleven miles up
the line at Turtle Bay. This would be the new area of operations for the
squadron. The Seabees had cut a swath through the coconut move was made and camp
set up on a point of land just a few feet from the seashore.
It was at about this time that I received the belated news of my promotion to
captain. The time element between Headquarters, Washington, D.C., and the
forward area made it about two months late, but that didn't seem to affect the
elation I experienced. This meant that I was now ranking officer next Captains
Yeaman, Campbell, and Longley in the squadron. But I really never was the
rank-conscious type. Lieutenant George S. Kobler was to underscore that attitude
when he said, "Ho, ho, ho, you'll never be a captain to me. You'll just be the
same good ol' Pat Weiland." Needless to say, what superiority complex I may have
had dropped a few notches. My first captain's bars were forged out of two silver
fifty-cent pieces by a PX steward.
Later in October, things started to heat up again. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bauer,
commanding officer of VMF-212 from Efate, came through with his outfit on the
way to Guadalcanal. It was the same with Joe Foss, another friend from the
Pensacola days. Then, suddenly, Capt Soupie Campbell, Lts Doc Livingston, Herb
Peters, and Mike Yunck, and Sgt Andy Anderson got orders to proceed to the
Heroic stories began to trickle back-also heartfelt losses. Joe Foss became the
top ace of the war with twenty-six planes to his credit. Likable Joe Bauer had
tallied up ten enemy aircraft, but Bauer became a fatality, failing to return
after an air raid. Our own Andy Anderson was shot down behind enemy lines on his
third hop and presumed lost. Jack Conger and many others became aces in short
order while others, whose fate was not destined for such glory went down
gallantly and heroically. Our other four squadron mates fared particularly well.
Doc Livingston and Herb Peters were credited with having bombed and sunk a
Japanese destroyer. Soupie Campbell shot down three Zeros, and Herb Peters was
credited with four and a half.
We were always eager for news of the Guadalcanal campaign. Trickle-down
information was usually sketchy and unreliable. It was sometimes months, even
years, later that history provided us with the real facts. But, eventually,
learned what was really going on. The Japanese were determined to recapture
Henderson Field, and they came close many times. For instance in the latter days
of August, about eight Japanese destroyers made successful night runs to
Guadalcanal to land thousands of troops. Submarines had also off-loaded troops
and supplies-all under cover of darkness.
In early October the U.S. Army 164th Infantry Regiment was sent to the island to
reinforce the hard-pressed 1st Marine Division. The Marines mounted an offensive
to prevent the Japanese from establishing artillery positions that could bombard
Henderson Field. On October 8 several Japanese cruisers and destroyers shelled
Henderson Field while eight of their transport ships simultaneously disembarked
troops and equipment.
Two days later a U.S. Navy task force intercepted a Japanese naval squadron en
route to bombard Henderson Field. Our task force sank a cruiser and a destroyer
and crippled two other cruisers.
These were crucial times at Guadalcanal. On October 15, a well-planned
coordinated attack by two Japanese cruisers, bomber aircraft, and long-range
howitzers knocked out Henderson Field and the new fighter airstrip No.1. Most of
the Cactus Air Force was destroyed, too. The shelling continued for three days,
blowing up ammunition and gasoline dumps.
Resupply of aircraft was effected by dive-bombers and fighters flying in from
Espiritu Santo. The gasoline supply was critical. It was only by the super-human
efforts of all personnel that the runways were repaired and gasoline salvaged
from destroyed aircraft. R4D cargo flights and destroyers also helped alleviate
the gasoline situation. But the Cactus Air Force had dwindled to only
thirty-four operational aircraft by this point.
It was also on this day, October 15, that a Japanese convoy of six ships
unloaded five thousand troops and their supplies in broad daylight only 10 miles
from the American beachhead.
As Brigadier General Roy Stanley Geiger's aide and personal pilot, Maj Jack Cram
flew a PBY-5, a Consolidated Catalina flying boat. He devised a scheme to hang
two torpedoes under the wings of the Catalina. It was purely a Jury-rigged
affair, as Jack had no experience in torpedo tactics whatsoever. I watched this
hanging operation on Espiritu Santo just before he took off for Guadalcanal.
Jack got permission to make two twin torpedo runs on that six-ship convoy
landing troops on October 15.
He made his run in the lumbering old Catalina and scored a hit on one of the
three passenger-cargo ships, which burned all day. The Zeros pounced on him but,
despite the bullet holes, he made it back to fighter field No.1.
Intelligence indicated that a battle was looming both on land and sea for the
seizure of Guadalcanal by the Japanese. A fleet of four carriers and other units
were moving into position for this decisive battle.
Vice Admiral William Halsey's task force included only one carrier, the Hornet.
At the last minute, another task force, with the carrier Enterprise, joined up.
Early on the morning of October 26, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands began.
Three successive enemy air attacks dropped bombs and torpedoes on the Hornet,
dealing her a mortal blow. All efforts to save her were to no avail. Procedures
for abandoning ship were under way. She was taken under tow temporarily, but a
Japanese pilot dropped a final bomb on her flight deck, and the ship was
enveloped by fire, so the tow was cut loose. To prevent her from falling into
enemy hands, our own destroyers attempted to sink her. This failed even though
she was burning from stem to stern. The Japanese were closing in, and she was
finally sunk by torpedoes from Japanese destroyers.
The Enterprise was damaged by two bomb hits. Others of our fleet suffered major
damage, and only one Japanese ship was sunk. Hornet pilots seriously damaged the
huge carrier Shikoku, however, and it would be months before she again became
operational. The Japanese fleet withdrew, postponing the big push to recapture
In preparation for the big push, air attacks on Henderson Field had accelerated.
Combat and operational accidents had taken their toll, and the Cactus Air Force,
under the command of Gen. Geiger, now had only thirty operational aircraft
remaining to confront the Japanese.
The U.S. Army Air Force was hard-pressed by Gen Douglas MacArthur to lend a hand
to Gen Geiger's Cactus Air Force at Guadalcanal. We watched increments of the
67th Pursuit squadron out of Brisbane, Australia, stage through Espiritu Santo
on August 22, 1942, with the first five Bell P-400 Airacobras. This was followed
shortly by the 68th Pursuit squadron with P-39 Airacobras. Then the first eight
of twenty-five Lockheed P-38 Lightnings came through on November 12, part of the
339th Fighter Squadron. This was followed up immediately by Curtiss P-40s.
Once again in November, a small group of Airacobras of the 67th Pursuit Squadron
set down at Espiritu Santo and stayed overnight. I became acquainted with one of
their pilots, a Lt. Hansen, and we engaged in a lively conversation about
airplanes. The conversation grew serious as we conspired to swap airplanes the
following day. Secretly, I would fly his Aircobra and, in turn, he would fly my
The next morning, I taxied the Airacobra down the coral strip into takeoff gun,
and it started tearing down the runway. It was only natural to ease the stick
forward to lift the tail. It was beginning to trot to the left toward the palm
trees. Hell! This plane had tricycle landing gear-the tail was already up. When
I eased back on the stick, it fairly leaped into the air.
This beautiful little airplane with a cockpit so compact that it fit me to a
tee. This Bell P-39 had 1,150 horsepower, with its liquid-cooled, V-12 Allison
engine aft of the pilot's seat. The propeller drive shaft ran forward under the
pilot's seat to the nose. In the nose cone, a 20mm cannon was mounted in the
This plane was highly maneuverable and, with its engine placement aft, it
afforded unobstructed visibility. I came in for a landing, and the roll-out was
Then it was Lieutenant Hansen's turn. It worried me somewhat as those pilots had
the reputation of landing hot and long. I had cautioned him about this the night
before; the airstrip wasn't all that big. I had also cautioned him about it on
"Be sure to keep your eyes glued to the horizon. The instant the nose moves past
the line of sight, correct immediately."
Because the wheels of the Wildcat's retractable landing gear-unlike most
planes-were so close together, this caused an instability that ended up in a
ground loop. Many pilots checking out in the Grumman learned the hard way, which
resulted in bent wingtips and propellers.
I observed Hansen's takeoff and it was near perfect. Then came the landing. On
the approach he was slow and dragging it in. He landed in the sand among the
tree stumps, just before the lip of the runway. I cringed at the prospect of
court-martial; but the Grumman missed the stumps and bounced up on the runway,
and his roll-out was okay. What a sweat!
The Aircobras left the next day for Guadalcanal. Three days later, Lieutenant
Hansen was killed.
Those were exciting times on Guadalcanal, yet the remainder of VMO-251 waited,
trained and hoped to get a crack at the Japanese. It seemed that destiny was
dictating that we sit it out for the duration on Santo.
But the orders came.