On November 6th, VMF-216 reached Espirito Santo and, days later, were transported to their first duty station of Quoin Hill on island of Efate. Some days following this, their rear echelon would join them. Here they would await orders for transfer to their next location to the North. For their approximate week and a half here, some training flights consisting of strafing fire, division tactics, and high altitude fire. However, a pilot's entire flight time might amount to just under five hours total which left them ample time at the beach shooting at crabs with pistols or other activities.
Just prior to the squadron's arrival, intense fighting by Marines had begun on November 1st at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville. Scarcely a month later, this conflict would soon directly impact VMF-216.
Doc Marker recalls:
"Efate is or was at that time a beautiful island. Lovely white sand beaches, coconut trees, gentle breezes, almost all of the things one might imagine when thinking of the South Pacific.All except the beautiful girls. The natives were Melanesian, not Polynesian and Nellie Forbush and her nurses from the show South Pacific must have been somewhere else.
Parts of Efate are very jungle-like with tall trees forming a complete canopy overhead and other areas of dense undergrowth. Thinking there might be some game to harvest, Wilkerson and I (he was my wing man) headed into the jungle to see what was available. We soon spotted some wild pigeons and wild chicken-like fowl. We had carbines and the chickens were way too fast on the ground to hit in the dense brush and the pigeons sat too high in the trees to really get a shot. While wandering around we spooked a heard of wild cattle that had been given to the natives by the missionaries and never cared for, just left to exist. We decided to look into this.
After we got back to camp we checked with Dr. Ulrich, our flight surgeon, concerning the safety of eating such beef and he, after he did some checking, gave us the go ahead. A hunting party was organized with four or five hunters and some personnel from the mess hall plus a driver for the bomb truck to haul back the spoils.
All went well and a barbecue was set for the following day. The cooks got the beef cooking over an open fire and the day's activities commenced with volley ball, baseball, and beer, and soft drinks for all. Just as the beef was being served who should show up at our party but the native chief and the local constabulary. It seemed we had killed one of his cows and he wanted to be paid. Morrell took over and settled things. Where the money came from I'm not sure but the chief stayed and ate some of the beef. Thus ended the 216 hunting caper."
"As I recall we went through several iterations of sidearms before we actually went into combat. I think we were issued .38 cal revolvers at Ewa. When we arrived at Efate or perhaps just before we left Ewa, we had to turn in the .38's and were issued used .45 automatics. As part of the war effort on the home front, people were asked to turn into the government any serviceable firearm and I have reason to believe that this is where the one I was issued came from. It had pearl handles and a trigger so sensitive just a touch would fire the weapon.
On Efate there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands red land crabs. In that period between the time when we arrived and when we went up the line, there was lots of time on our hands. All we were doing was flying and fooling around on the beach. We'd just take our pistols and walk away from camp to practice shooting, mainly at the crabs. That .45 that I had was the most accurate .45 that I have ever shot. I fired on a couple of pistol teams but I never ran across another .45 as good as that one.
Just before we went to the Russell Islands, we had to turn in the .45's and were again issued .38 revolvers. I understand the thought was that the automatic was subject to jamming when not kept in a clean environment and that the .38 was a better survival weapon. I wanted a carbine to carry as a survival weapon but I couldn't get one although we have several in the 216 armory and we could get one to hunt with anytime.
I think the weapon Guy is wearing is the.38 as that is the type of shoulder holster issued with that weapon. The .45 was worn in a holster attached to a fabric cartridge belt that carried among other things a canteen, compass, first-aid pack and ammunition. The cartridge belt arrangement was not very comfortable in the cockpit but on some of the three or four hour missions it was nice to have some water along and I usually wore one along with the shoulder holster."
Colt 1911 .45 Auto
S&W Victory .38
Following a relatively leisure week and a half at Efate, the squadron flight echelon was transported by C-47 on November 22nd to Banika airfield on the Russell Islands by way of Guadalcanal to relieve VMF-211. Banika was only about 70 miles to the Northwest of Guadalcanal and MAG 21/24 Headquarters was also located there. The squadron was housed in plywood Dallas huts.
The day following their arrival, a rigorous duty began of taking turns at often 9 hour days of patrols over Ondonga in New Georgia which had only been secured from the Japanese in October after some four months of intense combat.
Almost immediately following Thankgsgiving, 216 began patrolling over Empress Augusta Bay or "Cherry Blossom" at Bougainville. Their mission primarily was to provide air cover while Seabees undertook the task of cutting through dense jungle to build a new airstrip while Japanese resistance loomed only miles away on the other side of the island.
Russell Islands Airfield
Doc Marker recalls:
"When 216 first came to the Russells we took over the war weary aircraft of the squadron we relieved. I think some of these F4U's were possibly part of the first contingent of Corsairs to arrive in the South Pacific. Although mechanically sound some had patches over bullet holes. All of them leaked oil from the rocker box covers and a few leaked fuel from the 50 gal internal wing tanks. However, newer, better planes were on the way.
The original F4U-1 had several drawbacks; the cockpit sat about 10-12 feet back from the nose of the aircraft and well down into the fuselage making taxi and take-off difficult manuevers because the pilot had a problem seeing around the nose of the aircraft, the cowl flaps on the engine which had to be wide open when taxiing were manually controlled and added more obstruction to the vision problem, the tail wheel assembly was short, keeping the nose of the aircraft elevated and had to be manually locked on take off and unlocked while taxiing, the rocker box covers were made of a metal with a different heat coefficient than the cylinder heads and expanded enough differently to allow oil to escape and blow back on the canopy, the canopy was made with several pieces of plexiglass fitted together with about 1 inch wide pieces of aluminum which reduced the pilots visibility to the side and overhead when airborne, a fifty gallon wing tank in each wing was not self-sealing and had to be purged with CO2 before entering combat. These wing tanks were placed in a portion of the wing where the repeated stress from pulling high G forces distorted the rivet seats just enough to allow some leakage. "
Doc Marker continues:
"One of the stories that never got into print concerning VMF 216 pilots concerned fishing in the Russell Islands. Food was one of the constant gripes and we were always looking for some way to supplement the
Henry "Gator" Means
standard fare. 'Gator' Means had worked for Hercules Powder Co., and had some experience in the use of dynamite. While swimming off the reef near our huts we saw loads of small, bright colored fish and it wasn't long before someone came up with the idea that fresh fish would be welcomed in our diet. As always the Seabees worked with the Marines and we soon had a case of dynamite, caps and a battery.
Somewhere we scrounged a small native wooden boat and soon we were in business of harvesting fish (from the dynamite detonation in the water). All went well until the time came when the whole squadron moved to Bougainville. Since we had twice as many pilots as planes some of the pilots had to fly up on transport aircraft. The transport folks wouldn't let us bring the dynamite so someone decided to touch off the remaining cache. The remains of the case, about 1/3 of the full case was placed under a palm tree and coconuts were piled near head high over the charge. Our living quarters in the area were Dallas huts made of ply-wood and flimsy at best. We waited until we were ready to board the transports before setting off the charge and when we did it rained coconut all over the Russells. Group Hqs. was located there and they put the Island on 'Condition Red' thinking the Japanese had launched a bombing raid. The palm tree was stripped and looked like a small stake in the ground plus several of the Dallas huts had large holes the their roofs. Thus ended the fishing caper of VMF 216."