February 8, 1943 (Monday)

“Buttons,” Espiritu Santo

Rest day. Lay around, did my laundry and read Turgenev.

Major Cram dropped by to see Moffett this afternoon and was persuaded to tell us of his famed PBY torpedo attack on the Jap transport landing force at Guadalcanal last mid October. His attack was our last before “Guadal” or “Cactus” hit its all-time low. The day following his operation, there were about 3000 gallons of gasoline on the whole island, and most of this was obtained by draining the B-17s and a few out-of-commission planes and wrecks they had lying around. When a flight of Jap bombers started work to work on the field, not a plane was sent aloft to stop them. Gasoline and morale had hit the all time low.

To get back to Cram’s achievement he was up at Cactus as pilot of the Marine General’s plane. The general is a testy old boy and was in a particularly fine mood when Cram arrived with his plane and a couple of torpedoes.

“Cram, goddamnit, what are you doing up here with that plane of mine. You been flying it for two months and I haven’t even seen it yet, but the one place I didn’t want to see it was up here. And what’s the idea of carting up those two torpedoes?”

“ComSoPac’s orders, sir.”

“Well, dammit, as long as you brought them up, you’re going to use them! Go out and sink that Jap battleship that’s been shelling this field all night!”

“When, sir?”

“Right now, Goddammit!”

(This was at about 0600 in the morning. PBYs had never been used with torpedoes, except at night.)

“Yessir. Where is the battleship?”

“Ummmm. I don’t know. Ask Intelligence.”

Intelligence failed to produce any information, so back to the General for further orders.

“They don’t know, eh? All right, go out and sink a cruiser, or anything else you can find. But get rid of those damn torpedoes!”

Cram started making arrangements with the various units scattered about the field for an attack on a Jap transport force landing supplies and troops up on the northern end of the island. They agreed to give him what support they could for an attack at 1010. The army contributed its two P-40s, while the Navy dug up six F4Fs and eight SBDs — all that was available!

The fighters were all late getting off, but Cram and the SBDs rendezvoused at about 8 or 10,000 and started off. Cram, who had never carried a torpedo before, had received a little last minute advice on the field from a Navy pilot friend, Roy Simpler. He had no copilot and only a minimum crew; i.e., navigator, radioman, engineer, and two gunners.

By pure good luck the attack came off in an unplanned degree of perfection. Cram attack from seaward as the SPDs dive-bombed from the landward. He waited till the first two planes had entered their dive, then commenced his. The Japs, intent on the dive-bombing attack, never noticed the old PBY diving down behind them, until he was abreast of one of the two flanking destroyers, lying just off the ships, which were, in turn, lying just off the beach. As Cram steamed by the “can” at 30 feet and 240 knots they both saw him and opened up with everything they had. He launched one torpedo, then giving the rudder a slight kick, launched the second one at another transport. With that he pulled away for home, without waiting to see the results. Hearing a rattling noise behind he look back to find six Zeros on his tail. They gave his plane a thorough shooting up all the way back to the field. As he crossed over the field, the last Zero peeled off his tail and began a turn for home. As he turned, an incoming F4F, piloted by a Lt. Abramson (?), with smoking engine and lowered landing gear, saw him, raised its nose from the landing approach, blasted the Zero into pieces, and calmly resumed its wobbly landing run.

When Cram landed, he was told that the General wanted to see him immediately. On his way he learned that the fighters had seen one of the Jap transports sink. The other torpedo was never seen to detonate (defective?).

The General asked Cram what he had done, and Cram told him. “And how about my plane? Is it injured?”

“Yessir,” said Cram, adding the details of the planes injuries (over 100 bullet and cannon holes, mostly in the tail assembly and wing).

“Goddammit, Cram, can’t you ever do anything right? I ordered you to sink a Jap ship, not get my plane all shot up!”

At this blast, Cram’s dander started to rise, but the wink of a fellow officer tipped him off the general was only pulling his leg. All ended happily in the fame of Cram’s exploit has spread far and wide.

Have the patrol tomorrow. A very cold sector (024° to 030° T). Oliver has been changed for Spriegel in my crew. Shall miss the “Cotton Picker.”

Rumor has it that last night’s “Cactus Express” evacuated the starving Jap remnants from Guadalcanal. Hope it’s true. Must be a hell of a “loss of face” for the “brown brother,” as Fleming calls them.

There has been no Japanese aerial resistance over Munda for the last four days. Wonder what’s up.

Tore all the skin off one knee this evening when I fell down chasing a wild pig in the woods. Everyone clucks their tongue and says they never thought it of me. The knee is pretty well lacerated. Hope I don’t get an infection out of it. The damned flies were all over it in a second.

The Japs pulled a fast one on us this morning. One of our patrol planes (an Army job, I think), two or three hours out, radioed in that he was returning to base. The Japs heard his message and a few minutes later using the same calls and authenticator (wrong) reported a large “Jap” task force in plain language. Caused a bit of a flurry until the returning plane set it right.

3 thoughts on “February 8, 1943 (Monday)”

  1. Maj. Jack Cram, USMC, was General Roy Geiger’s junior aide and always flew the general’s private PBY, the Blue Goose. Cram earned both the Navy Cross and the nickname “Mad Jack” for this exploit.

  2. PBY Mission: Torpedo The Transports

    Major Jack Cram, USMC, was General Geiger’s junior aide and flew the General’s private PBY – always. Never did the General fly without Major Cram at the yoke and rarely was there a pilot occupying the co-pilot’s seat, except General Geiger. But the size of the PBY, and it subject to the constant bombardment of the General’s area, prompted Geiger to order Major Cram to limit his activities to transporting supplies and personnel.

    On the afternoon of the 14th of October, Major Cram landed his PBY between the bomb craters on Henderson Field with a torpedo attached under each wing, having picked them up at Noumea, New Caledonia for Torpedo Squadron Eight. But the TBF squadron had been bombed and shot out of service before the Major’s arrival at the field and there seemed no apparent use for the torpedoes. However, the Major came up with a hair-raising idea that contributed to the defense of the United States’ position on Guadalcanal and caused the General to write out a citation leading to the award of the Navy Cross to this brave man.

    Jack Cram is currently in business in the San Francisco bay area of California, having long since retired from the Marine Corps but his dedication to the Corps and to his country carried him to the rank of General.

    “I dodged shrapnel and bombs, most of the time from a foxhole, all night of the 14th of October. Our Operations Officer, Joe Renner, spent much of the time with me and painted a picture so critical of our chances that nothing short of a miracle could save us. But I was getting the hint of an idea and, as soon as there was a let-up in the bombardment, I approached General Geiger’s aide, Toby Munn, with a request to let me rig a manual release for the two torpedoes still on my PBY and attack the Jap troop transports. As crazy as the plan was, Colonel Munn agreed there was little else left for any of us and immediately took me to the General. He gave his blessing and ordered us to find as much protection as we could from the remaining flyable aircraft.

    “Jap troop transports were already landing reinforcements at Tassafaronga and they were all but unopposed. Only an occasional F4F or P – 39 broke through the fierce anti-aircraft screen put up by the Jap destroyers. But the unbelievable ground crews began performing one small miracle after another as they, somehow, pieced together over a half-dozen bedraggled F4Fs and P-39s to give me fighter coverage for my run; about a dozen SBD dive bombers staged a simultaneous attack.

    “By 1000 hours we were ready. I had just received a crash course in the art of aircraft torpedo bombing – from a PBY – with a makeshift manual release for the torpedoes, speed recommendations and proper drop altitude.

    “My entire crew climbed aboard the Cat with me and we took off, heading out toward Savo Island where I took her up to about 6000 feet before pushing over into a long dive. I lined up between two of the transports and was concentrating so much on what I was supposed to do next that I forgot about my airspeed. When the plane began to shake, and the wings looked as if they were on a sea gull in flight, I chanced a look at the airspeed indicator. I thought, at that moment, I was dead for sure. The plane was ripping through the air at 240 knots – at least 60 knots beyond safe air speed for a PBY.

    “Even though I eased up, we were still going so fast we passed over the destroyer screen before they saw us, and suddenly, there were my targets. I released one torpedo, waited a couple of seconds, then pulled the release on the other and started to get the hell out of there. I pulled the Cat up into a left turn and headed for Henderson Field. Back behind, one of our torpedoes scored a direct hit on a transport while the other one missed.

    “But our troubles were just beginning. All at once there were Zeros all around us and we were taking a terrific pounding with some distance to go to the field. Duke Davis and his F4F fighter cover were doing everything they could to get the Japs off our tail and barely succeeded. One persistant Zero kept closing on us as we passed over Henderson but he was blasted out of the sky by a crippled Grumman, flown by Roger Haberman of Fighting 121. He was trying to negotiate a landing and already had his wheels down when he spotted our predicament. He poured on the gas and got the Jap, just before he got us. It turned out to be his first-ever kill.

    (This story was published in the book “Black Cats and Dumbos” by Mel Crocker, which unfortunately is now out of print.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *