"VMF 216 loaded aboard the USS Breton at Ford Island ,Hawaii around the Ist of Nov.1943 and departed for the south pacific. (I'll use the term 'we' for 216 and the rest of the folks on the ship) We left Hawaii with one destroyer escort and a full flight deck and hanger deck load of aircraft. Personnel from at least one other squadron were aboard, I think VMF 217 but I'm not sure. The aircraft were replacement aircraft not specifically for the units aboard and we were loaded so the we could not do combat operations. Just too many aircraft.
The destroyer turned back to Hawaii after one day and the Breton proceeded alone for the rest of the journey. On the third or fourth day out "General Quarters" was sounded when SONAR indicated that a sub was in the area.
A call went out for those pilots that had checked out in SBD's. Unfortunately I had flown the SBD back in El Centro as a target plane for high speed gunnery, if Guy happened to have checked out in the SBD then he faced this same experience.
The two catapults were cleared and two SBDs loaded with depth charges were spotted on the catapults ready for launch. All the pilots that had flown the SBD reported to the ready room and the ship's operations officer briefed us on the circumstances. The sub seemed to be shadowing the ship, either waiting to join another sub later on or get into a better position if the ship turned. It was explained that whenever the sub came within 3,000 yards or some such figure the aircraft would be launched to attack the sub. The problem was there was no way to recover the aircraft back aboard as there were just too many aircraft. The plan was that if the sub was destroyed we could make a water landing along side the ship and a long boat would be lowered to recover us. If the sub was not destroyed then the ship could not slow down and we were on our own.
As I remember there were about seven or eight pilots in this group. A schedule was set up and we spent four hours at a time manning the two aircraft, night and day. I think the longest four hours fo my life was those spent in the cockpit of those two SBD's in the middle of the night just waiting for the flight officer to give the order to launch. This routine lasted about two days and either the sub gave up or it was a false reading in the first place. Either way it added a great deal of excitement to our trip into the combat theater.
Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber
On November 10 we departed the carrrier for "Buttons" a landing strip on Espirito Santos. I think all the aircraft were off loaded here.
The aircraft aboard were not squadron aircraft and in all likelihood went into the pool at Espirito Santos so those pilots that were assigned aircraft were
launched. The SBD's were catapulted, I think, because there were so many aircraft aboard that there wasn't enough deck space to deck launch. Once enough
deck space became available the rest of the aircraft were flown off. There was little wind and the Breton had a hard time generating enough wind across the
deck to get us airborne. The first SBD catapulted ditched, Jim Mahoney was #2 and as he went off he settled down so close to the water his tail wheel was
skipping along the water. I was #3 and was watching what was happening and wondering what the hell was wrong. Flight operations were stopped for a few
minutes and a plane Captain jumped up on the wing and said something to the effect that the engine was probably detonating and to reduce power a little
just after launch. With some trepidation, I launched and had no problems other than when attempting to raise the flaps. After launch, I split the Dive
Brakes which caused no end of consternation in the cockpit for a few seconds but the little angel on my shoulder did his bit and I arrived safely in
Buttons. I really think what happened was that the settings for the aircraft weight and wind across the deck for the catapult were incorrect for the first
two launches and only Jim's skill kept him out of the water. The setting were probably changed for my launch.
My log book indicates that we flew transports to "Roses " on the island of Efate, about 150 miles south of Espirito Santos and from there on to
the other side of the island to our small base at "Quoin Hill". Here we did a little more training and then on the 22nd by transport aircraft
were taken to "Cactus" Guadacanal and then to the Russells.
Throughout the South Pacific Theater, the combat aircraft did not move with the pilots. I'm sure this was true with the fighters. I'm not certain about
the B25's. Many times the ground crew did not accompany the pilots. We left our ground personnel at Efate and used those of other squadrons already in place
when we went north. Our ground crews did not join us again until we went to Guam, later in '44."