“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!”
“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.