|H. PAUL BREHM
The Tone Strike Mission: An Eyewitness
"Welcome aboard again".
I was back, but the butterflies
hadn't gotten themselves lost. McKee came in. Tommy gave him the film that we
had saved and he wanted to get our version of the attack. We also got the
details of the Hyuga strike and the full list of our losses.
Commander Maxwell had been shot down and killed came as the most tragic news of
all of our losses. He had been flying back and forth over Matsuyama Airfield,
spotting for attacking planes when a burst of AS fire tore off his tail. Though
he hit the silk, he was too low. His chute was still streaming as he hit the
I amplified the story on Vaughn's crash, and found out that
when 'WeeWee' Wheeler caromed through the barrier, not only did he wreck his
plane, (and he still had his 1,000 pound bomb aboard) but he chewed the hell
out of Durna's plane, which had just landed even though he was forward of the
barrier. Timmis had to make a water landing and had to be fished out of his
upside down plane. The Skipper had to make a no flap landing on another ship.
Johnson and Pucci made emergency landing on other carriers. So only five of the
13 planes that went to the target made it back to the carrier, and two of these
were damaged in landing. We lost two pilots, one crewman and five planes.
There were only five planes available for the second strike of the day
which didn't get back to the Hyuga but aborted to other targets of opportunity;
shipping, etc. The strike, led by Holm, encountered miserable weather. When
returning to the carrier, rain and fog were so thick that visibility was
restricted to less than one thousand yards. Darkness had come and the LSO and
deck crews were bringing planes aboard with their illuminated night wands.
The 25th was spent in replenishing and replacing planes and equipment
for future operations. That was the way it was when Tommy and I reported back
aboard. My 'To whom it may concern' letter was still on my desk. Knowing what
was coming up, I didn't put it away. I left it where it was. I was told to
start getting my gear ready for on the 28th, we would be striking gain, and
that we would be needed. I went to the loft to see about a new parachute, to
the oxygen shack for a new mask and headset. I drew new flight gear and saw
that some .38 shells were on the way to the Skipper of the Chauncey.
Life returned to normal, except that I was not in the mood to think
about another strike so soon again. But, I got my gear ready and on the 27th
the press news came out that the Hyuga had been heavily damaged by our attack
and subsequent photographs found her on the bottom of the harbor. Our Strike
had not been a total loss though it had cost us dearly.
Briefing on the
27th was for the Strike on the 28th. Location: Kure Harbor. Target: the heavy
cruiser Tone. The only ship the Japs had boasting four turrets forward. She was
anchored in the inner bay of Nishinomi Shima, due west of Kure in Hiroshima
Bay. With respects to Anti-aircraft defenses, the Tone occupied a position
similar to that of the Hyuga. The island areas inside Hiroshima Bay made this
an ideal defense anchorage because shore based guns could be placed to where
they could be brought to bear on planes approaching the anchorage from any
The contour of the land was such that a high release was
necessary unless we retired toward the heart of the harbor and more guns which
we didn't want to face. It looked to me like we were going right back into the
same kind of a den that we had gone in on the 24th, and if, we thought, our
loses were as high again, a few more strikes and there wouldn't be anyone left.
So it was in that frame of mind and with the same kind of target to hit, that
operations began early on the morning of the 28th.
I drew plane number
205 again. It was a new one which had been flown over from a jeep supply
carrier the day before. The plane captain was glad to see me in one piece and
again asked me to bring back his baby in one piece. I again replied that I
would. Only I wasn't so sure. Time would tell.
It was like the 24th
all over again. The sweet smell of morning. The sounds on the deck, the acid
taste of stack wash. The same sound of the bull horn, the same butterflies. I
was living it all over again. It was like I had tempted fate once before, and
now I had to prove myself all over. Or, I mused, was I really dead and this was
just a replay of what had happened.
The Skipper was leading this strike
and as his section leader I had Pucci on my wing, and Porter was taking
Vaughn's place on the Skippers
starboard wing. This time we had a little better weather, but
just as we were in sight of the coast of Japan, Pucci radioed that he was
loosing power and that he was going to have to leave the formation. We could
not send him back under escort, for we had no planes to spare. He wagged his
wings, dropped beneath the formation, made a sharp bank and was last seen
slicing down heading back to the force. He was able to cover about a hundred
miles back to the picket force where he ditched and was picked up. Scratch one
Scattered anti-aircraft positions began to pick up the
formation as we approached on a northern course over Honshu in the area
immediately southwest of Hiroshima. Upon reaching a point northwest of the
target we began our run in. For the strike today we were carrying 1,000 pound
semi-armor piercing bombs. We had balked at GP's for the Hyuga strike but when
we saw the results we were all for using them again. With armor piercing, if
you didn't hit your target, you got nothing. With GP's if you missed a bit, the
underwater explosion and concussion would be enough to spring the plates. But
the Air Department didn't listen to us.
As we closed with the target we
began to get the fireworks. I saw flak come up in all different colors,
probably used as altitude determiners. The Skipper put us into position, and
went down with Porter hanging right on him. I peeled off, Hudson right behind
me. We pretty well straddled the ship. My bomb dropped along side the starboard
midships section, but Hudson's bomb hit her square. We only had a 60 foot width
to hit, and bombing cross wise, that wasn't bad. A couple of other boys had
direct hits and the Tone was smoking badly when we left her.
pulled out high and on the way to the rendezvous position Tommy was cranking
pictures again. Porter joined the formation, but he had been hit and his plane
was smoking badly. He made the rendezvous area where he had to ditch. We
expected DUMBO to get him, but Jap ships in the vicinity got to him first.
The trip back to the carrier was uneventful. Once aboard, the cares
and fears seemed to fade away. In the evening we went to the wardroom where Doc
Kummer opened up the brandy and we all got smashed. It didn't take more than
one or two drinks to do this because of our excited condition.
Intelligence cornered Tommy and me and wanted detailed information about the
pictures we had taken on the Hyuga strike because they didn't know whether we
had stumbled onto and photographed a bunch of sub pens, or whether they were
just pictures of a cannery. The pictures had shown up in a routine survey of
strike prints and all of a sudden they looked like they might be important.
However, outside of commending Tommy for the shots we never knew if the Force
never acted on the information the pictures presented.
The fleet was
moving up the coast for attacks on Tokyo after having completely finished off
the remains of the Jap fleet. The little that was left afloat would never
threaten our forces again. All the major ships of the Japanese fleet were sunk,
beached, or gutted.