“Cactus,” Carney Field, Guadalcanal
Suffered the greatest disappointment of my life today. My crew and myself were heartbroken over the loss of a golden opportunity to sink a Jap sub.
Had the sector just east of the Stewarts, which we stopped to zoom more twice. The “café au lait” colored men and women all ran out of the beach to wave at us and in hopes of our dropping some cigarettes as we sometimes do. But we had none and after a second tree top zoom we went on to the north. The sea was calm, the weather clear, and the sky the sky dotted with the little cottony cumulus puffs found in A-1 weather. (Base 1,500 feet, top 2,000 feet.)
At 750 miles, cruising along at the cumulus base we came by a corner of cloud and one of the lookout sang out over the interphone, “A ship on the starboard bow distance about 5 miles.” And there sure enough was a large Jap sub cruising slowly along the surface, apparently engaged in some work on her deck. As her course was about 140°T she was obviously on her way to harass shipping in the Button to Australia area.
As I flipped the plane around and headed for the Jap, I called over the interphone to my bombardier, Babcock, to get ready for a drop at 1,000 feet and 200 mph of all six 375 lb. depth charges.
With about 4 miles to go I saw the Jap fired us twice with this after gun. He was running low in the water with only his deck gun and conning tower exposed and was apparently making an attempt to delay me so as to get whatever gear he had on deck, below.
At 2 miles distance he began to submerge the black hull being ringed with phone with air escaping from its tanks. As I passed over him his conning tower finally dipped beneath the foam. But now a cold helpless fury seized me; “Why hadn’t we dropped our depth charges?” At that altitude we couldn’t have missed. I called Babcock and asked him what the hell was the matter, in the meantime circling to the left to come over the sub on his own course. Babcock (the son of a bitch) called back to say the bomb bay doors had jammed, therebye automatically breaking the bomb-release circuit.
As I passed over the sub’s last bubbles, I realized my chance of hitting him now was one in a hundred so I decided to hold onto my depth charges and come back later in hopes of catching him on the surface again.
From Savio I got the word on what the deuce been going on up in the bow. Babcock, as usual with these unintelligent enlisted bombardiers, got all excited, and when Savio ordered him to open the Bombay doors, paid no heed. Again Savio ordered him to open the bomb bay doors. This time instead of obeying, he called me on the interphone asked if he could open them! When he finally pushed the lever we were almost atop the sub. The doors instead of opening in the usual three seconds, jammed until about 30 seconds later. Subsequent inspection showed that the bomb bay tracks were badly bent so that the door snagged on them until sufficient pressure had been built up in the system to overcome the resistance. As the plane was #7 (Heywood’s) it was the fault of Robinson, the second pilot of the regular crew, for who would be in order to inspect all tracks only three days previously.
So there was. If the bombardier had acted on orders properly as he should have, it would’ve happened. And if the Bombay doors hadn’t jammed when he did it wouldn’t have happened. A fifty-fifty division of responsibility between personnel and equipment is the conclusion drawn.
We went on north and made a square box and returned an hour later. No sub. Again we went south repeated our box course and returned in an hour and still no sub, so I headed for Carney Field and Guadalcanal they didn’t have enough gasoline left to return to Espiritu.
Put up for the night with VB-102, which sympathized with us heartily. What a night thinking of the lost opportunity. God knows how many thousands of tons of shipping he’ll sink now.
Radio direction finders at Cactus located him during the night, 25 miles south of where we spotted him.
Rainy night so Charley didn’t come over.