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Original text by Jack Greer

Updated Fall 2009

As noted on the page CVE 106 Firsts the second Block Island was the first U.S. Naval Aircraft Carrier to have an all Marine Air Group. The Block Island’s directive was to support Pacific operations which was an island by island strategy of amphibious landings and battles to remove the entrenched Japanese Army. This required air support, which was difficult from land based facilities. The Marines successfully lobbied the US Government to allow Marine Air Groups to operate from aircraft carriers.

In Sep 44 VMF-512 (Marine Fighting Squadron) and MAG-51(Marine Air Group ) group headquarters moved to Mojave California which became the Marines center for F4U Corsair carrier training.  The squadron designations were modified to VMTB(CVS) and VMF(CVS) to indicate they were specially trained for carrier duty and close air support.  The designation was changed back to just VMF-512 on May 26, 1945.  By the end of the war 4 carriers were so manned: CVE 106 USS Block Island, CVE 107 USS Gilbert Islands, CVE 109 USS Cape Gloucester and CVE 111 USS Vella Gulf.  All 4 of their fighter squadrons came from MAG-51.

The Block Island based Marines first provided air support for operations on Ulithi. This atoll in the Carolines was considered to be a staging area for future tactical operations in Formosa, Philippines, and Okinawa. The Marine pilots spent the next several weeks destroying airfields and other Japanese installations. By mid May they were doing similar operations over Okinawa.

Why Okinawa?

While the United States did not enter WWII until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the majority of Congress agreed with about 85% of the general public that this was "not our war". The country had an isolationist attitude as we were just coming out of the "big depression". The entire work force was busy of supplying Great Britain and Russia with much needed war materials. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed the entire World and the United States declared War on the Japanese and very soon thereafter Germany and Italy.

The "battle plan" that was devised was to defend the United States and their Allies from the offensive actions of Japan but to undertake an immediate offensive action against the Axis Powers. However, this did not stop the United States from recognizing that eventually the Japanese would have to be reckoned with on a full offensive measure. 

The War with Germany was of great land masses where the War in the Pacific would be one of "island hopping" from Australia up to the Japanese homeland. The Japanese were extending their supply lines hundreds of miles from their resources and the strategy was undertaken to at first let the Navy attack their merchant shipping to curtail this supply and to let the Marines, and later the Army to undertake the recovery of many of the islands that Japan had occupied along with much of China.

While the Allied Military was making great progress with their offensive measures in Europe several large naval battles were taking place in the Pacific with the Allied Navies taking a heavy toll on the Japanese shipping and on their Carriers, Battleships, and Cruisers. The Army and the Marines were retaking many of the islands that Japan had overran in the previous years.

The Pacific War eventually became a total offensive undertaking and it was apparent that even many of the islands could be bypassed and a General Plan was set up to actually only undertake the recovery of some major islands that were closer to the Japanese homeland in order to concentrate the US airpower on that homeland. Thus came Guam which would give the Army Air Force an adequate base to launch their B-29 Bombers toward Japan and Iwo Jima for a place where the damaged, and those with mechanical problems, could land and not have to ditch in the ocean.

All this time the United States was in the process of Developing the A-Bomb but it was evident that the eventual occupation of the Japanese Mainland would have to be undertaken by the Army and the Marines. The Island of Okinawa lies about 350 Miles south of the Japanese homeland and was the major training grounds for the Imperial Japanese Army. The island is the largest island that is close to Japan. Guam  by comparison where the B-29s flew from was 750 miles south east of Tokyo and one half  the size of Okinawa. 

To mass a force large enough to maintain an invasion of Japan, that would be within a distance that the invasion ships could travel, dictated that Okinawa be taken for that single purpose. That fact was known for several years because, even with the fact that all the many islands that the Japanese had occupied had to be retaken, there still needed to be a closer land mass that could maintain an invasion force. Okinawa was that piece of real estate that was needed. It was estimated that an invasion force of over 750 thousand would be needed along with all the ships, planes, tanks, trucks and supply facilities to maintain that force. 

With the invasion of Kyushu , the most southern island of the Japanese homeland, scheduled for  November 1, 1945, time became a big factor. Between January and June 1945 the Navy was called on to support the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Between the three Islands the distance to be covered was over 23,000 square miles that was subject to many obstacles much less the seasonal weather and the Pacific Typhoons. The Naval activities in taking Okinawa lasted for over 98 days. Thousands of supply ships, troop ships, tankers, landing craft, repair ships, and fighting ships of all nature presented the largest logistic consideration of the entire war. The Okinawa Naval operations were the largest and longest undertaken since the United States were created. These small carriers, the CVEs, of which the USS Block Island was the Flag Ship of a 7 carrier Task Force, provided the ground support and the air coverage for the troops as well as making their scheduled attacks on the land mass itself.

The crews of these ships in many cases stood "general quarters duty" for days at a time. With so many ships being involved the Japanese Kamikaze pilots had many targets. In one day alone 23 ships were hit by the Kamikaze attacks. These were the airplanes that had gotten through the task forces of the larger carriers that were operating between Japan and Okinawa.

With the battle damage that was caused on the fleet, and the loss of life of the Soldiers and Marines in taking Okinawa, an island that far away from the Japanese mainland played a big part in the United States decision to drop the A-Bomb. Multiply the US losses of the Marines, the Soldiers, the Navy personnel and the Pilots by the thousands of Americans that would be lost and you can understand why the decision was made before the invasion of the Japanese mainland was to take place. 

Lt. Roy Swift, was the Intelligence Officer aboard both CVE 21 and CVE 106. He was also the Editor of the shipboard paper "Chips". While the vision of an Intelligence Officer is normally seen as "a hard nosed down to the facts type of individual" Lt. Swift was at times that person. However, Lt. Swift, before the war, was the Editor of a newspaper in large city in Texas and there were times that Texas sense of humor came to the fore front. On June 9, 1945, while the carrier was undergoing fairly heavy operations, due to the delay of the offensive actions for several days during one of the "typhoon encounters", the hard nose down to the facts" Intelligence Officers and that "Texas sense of humor" met as he prepared his story for the "Chips" of the days combat information report.

First of all the action involved the fact that the Island of Ishigaki is south of Okinawa and was occupied by some 30,000 troops with four airfields. The island by this time was being used mainly as a haven for the Japanese Kamikaze Corps of suicide fanatical pilots with there outdated patched up airplanes. If they came down from Japan and got through the screen of the big carriers and then were not able to attack the fleet there at Okinawa there was no way they could make it back to the Japanese homeland. Thus the reason for maintaining such a large force on Ishigaki where the four air fields were.

History shows that the Japanese secrete code had been broken by this time and it was learned that from time to time the Japanese "Big Brass" made trips down to Ishigaki just to observe the operations and to inspect the facilities.

The story relates to all of the US and Japanese concerns for this Island. The US in trying to curtail the activities undertaken on the island and the Japanese trying to maintain the "haven" for the very active Kamikaze Corps. The story goes like this:

“You have seen a fellow with a mean line of talk and a few well-aimed pop bottles heckle an unpopular ump at a baseball game until the guy blew up. Well that’s just exactly what they mean when they call the "night missions our hellcats flew yesterday morning a heckling mission". The old adage of never the twain shall meet came together yesterday morning where the "plan of the day" for the US was "heckle the hell out of them" and "the plan of the day" for the Japs was "inspect the facilities and observe the operations".

It was two lone planes going down in the soupy darkness against a large military concentration and a lot of anti-aircraft installations. One little incident at the wrong time of night shows how the uncertain drone of motors overhead, at the wrong time of night, caused some little Jap, who had got nervous in the service, to blow up. Captain Troyer and his wing man Lt. Jones came in over the island at about 0445. It is easy to re-construct the situation.

A big working party of scared Okinawans, with a blustering Jap as overseer, had worked ever since dusk to mend all the holes in the airfields that had been blasted the day before by those barbarian Yankies with the big white block with an I in the middle on their rudders. About 0300 they got through their work and crept wearily to their shacks. The Nipponese O.D. at control center, irritated and dopey with lack of sleep, decided to catch forty winks, or something, before time for those Americans to show up at about their usual 0600. Now "hear this" he told his non-com sternly. "It is possible that Col. Stakamanure comes through tonight on his way from Formosa to report to Their Lordship at Tokyo. If his plane shows up, make all the preparations and call me in my room".

A non-com, just as fazzled out and dopey as his lieutenant, smiled and hissed through his teeth, then hissed without smiling at his chief’s back. Soon a radarman called in to report that it had been impossible to repair the radar gear up on the ridge since yesterdays attack. The non-com hissed back at him over the phone and hung up. An hour dragged by and he dozed.

A private on guard outside came running "planes approaching" he hollered. I hear the motors. The Sergeant, broken rudely from his sleep and dreams of Geisha girls, jumped to his feet, roaring orders. His befogged mind recalled what his lieutenant had said "Col. Stackamanure" make all the preparations and call me! He bellered out "light the runways for the Colonel"

Thus it was Captain Troyer, coming in for a run on Ishigaki, saw all the lights on the airfield flash on. "Ah, ha he says, nice of the boys" He and Lt. Jones came right on down across the lighted runways, thumped their quarter ton bombs on the landing surface, blasted out the search lights and went back over the ocean only to return and find the radar station that they had been searching for all week all lit up. With all the light it was easy for their rocket attack and down went the radar station. Needless to say that when Col. Stackamanure got there with a very bumpy landing all hell broke loose in the Japanese quarters. Not only was the runways all torn up there was no radar station left to track their very unskilled young pilots that made it down from Okinawa. With so many Okinawan labors available the runways could be fixed in a few days but without the Radar and their unskilled pilots there was a big problem with their plans. This meant that those surviving Kamikaze pilots would have to try to make it all the way to Formosa if they were going to be saved. With the loss of those junk planes and the young pilots we will be able to concentrate more of our air power on Okinawa for the next few days.

We kept our 0600 run on Ishigaki and the gun camera films show that indeed the radar station was gone gone and that the two main runways were unusable. However the films were not able to find the Stackamanure that started all this confusion. The 0600 flight did find a bunch of Japs shaking their fist in the air as our planes flew over the island. That’s 20 for today!”

Time and circumstances change people. This is a story written by a man who later became a Commissioner of the Social Security agency and who won awards for his services to our elderly senior citizens. Like President Roosevelt said " our service men will do what they have to do to win this war" and as Tom Brokaw has written "these men did what they had to do".

Major R. Bruce Porter

Major R. Bruce Porter came aboard CVE 106 on 2 Feb 1945 with Marine Squadron VMF-511 as the Executive Officer and designated as Flight Leader of the F6F-5N Hellcat night fighters. Bruce and the other pilots of  VMF-511 who were assigned to the carrier had previous land based combat service in the Pacific but had not ever worked from a carrier.

In that era all Navy pilots were trained in carrier landings because it was evident that some day during their tenure as pilots they would be required to serve on a carrier. This was not so with the Marines. VMF-511 was the first all Marine squadron to serve on a carrier. Major Porter later became an aerial combat “Ace” . Long after the war in 1985 he published his memories of WWII in a book titled “ACE” . Bruce probably has best outlined the anxiety and outright fear of any pilot (or even the flight crews) who has to undertake carrier based operations in the following excerpt.

“My stomach was doing flip flops… And that is precisely what I felt as I put myself in position to become the first of the night-fighter pilots to land on tiny, bobbing, pitching Block Island II. I well realized that there was no way I could take a wave-off and retain my hitherto unassailable reputation as a red-hot combat fighter pilot… A catapult launch is never a pleasant experience; it goes too quickly, and the pilot takes control of his airplane only after he and it have been hurtled out into space. A catapult launch this night was like adding injury to insult… I had spent a full year training myself to find dim objects with my peripheral vision, which was the preferred method. Thus, I was able to dimly perceive the huge bulk of the totally darkened carrier as I floated up her wake. Then I was committed to the approach; all my attention was aimed at visually acquiring the LSO’s luminous paddles. I momentarily panicked and said, or thought I might have said, ‘Where the hell are you?’ First I sensed the colored paddles, then I knew I saw them. Both of the LSO’s arms were straight out. Roger! My ragged confidence was totally restored, though I yet remained a good deal less than cocky. I checked my airspeed, which was down to the required 90 knots. Before I knew it, I saw the Cut! Then, bango, my tail hook caught a wire and I was stopped on a dime. I taxied up past the barrier, came to rest beside the island, and cut my engine. As had been the case after my first live combat mission, my flight suit was reeking of sweat.”

In his book he spells out the sequence of the phases of carrier landings in great detail and also tells of the anxiety that pilots face in undertaking their first landings. This was not a big carrier with the massive flight decks of those in service today. This was a ship with a flight deck that is smaller than a football field and has only one way on and one way off on a single “runway”. The previous aircraft after having landed and must be stored on the forward end of this runway not off to the sides like a regular airport runway. Major Porter was a pilot who had Japanese aircraft kills long before he was assigned to carrier duty.

“My stomach was doing flip flops, signs of parasympathetic reaction anxiety, tightness in the stomach, perspiring hands, dry throat, shortness of breath, pounding heart and momentary light headedness. That was precisely what I felt as I put myself in the position of the first of the night fighter pilots has to land on tiny bobbing, pitching Block Island II" .  

Major Porter took the lead and the full responsibility to assure that he set a good example for the other pilots in undertaking the take offs and landings to assure their safety and that when a pilot is asked to enter combat they would be a fully trained cohesive fighting unit. In just 47 days Major Porter amassed 43 carrier landings while training.                                            

The day that President Roosevelt died Major Porter was given his own squadron and left the Block Island. However, his squadron was based at Okinawa and it was there that Major Porter downed three more Japanese planes, two being in one night, and as such gained the “Ace Award”. Major Porter not only received credit for the five known kills he also had an additional 4 probable kills.
At right is a picture provided by Bruce Porter of one of his Japanese Kills. Note the radar dome on the wing of this F6F5 (n). This radar dome and the belly gas tank made it possible to fly at night while serving as "Combat Air Patrol". The Japanese aircraft is almost obscured by the smoke trail leading from that plane.

Porter remained in the USMC and retired in 1962 with the rank of Colonel. He was nominated for the Navy Cross, two Order of the Flying Cross, one with Combat C4 Air Medals and two President Unit Citations. He passed away 20 Apr 2009.                        

In Colonel Porters Book “Ace” he described the conditions that a pilot faced when trying to land on the flight deck of the small CVE carriers. Some planes come in to low and actually strike  the ship just below the flight deck. Very seldom can pictures be taken of that action. Not only is the plane wrecked, and in most cases the pilot is killed, the ship is also damaged and put out of action until repairs can be made. Also the remaining planes that are in the air must find another carrier to land on or ditch in the sea. The F6F shown here came in to high at around 90 miles per hour, missed the deck wire with the tail hook, misses the barricade, sailed past the bridge and struck 6 planes parked on the forward end of the flight deck. Seven planes were lost, the pilot was killed and the ensuing fire damaged the flight deck so severely that the carrier was out of action for weeks.   

Many of the ships crew were also injured by the fire. This is only one of many problems the pilots face each time they landed on a carrier. Night landings on these carriers was even more dangerous because minimal light can be shown to protect the carrier from being seen. While both CVE 21 and CVE 106 had similar crashes the one shown here was taken on another carrier of the task  force with experienced Navy Pilots. With catapult launchings take offs from the carriers are very seldom a major concern and in most cases mechanical failure of the aircraft is at fault if there is an accident.

How strong is that little "tail hook" extending below the tail section of the plane? This Pilot did not heed the LSOs signal to land and thought that he was not going to catch the landing cable. However even after the hook caught on the cable he still gave the aircraft "full throttle" and this is what took place. All that saved the plane from going in the "drink" was that little "tail hook". In this case both the plane and the pilot were saved. When a plane is damaged beyond the Aviation Metal Smiths and the Aviation Mechanics ability to repair the plane it is striped for spare parts and pushed over the side. If it were to remain on board there would be no space to put a replacement.

The  pilots, be it Air Force, Navy or Marine, like to spruce up their aircraft with all sorts of paintings. Being the first Marine pilots to operate in mass off a Navy Carrier they wanted the square block for Block Island and the M  to show that they were Marines. (see photo on right) The Navy, in their effort to keep the Japanese  from knowing that the Marines now had their own Carrier, ordered that the identification be removed. With an all out effort the next day for as many aircraft as possible "flat Black" was the plan of the day.  At Okinawa alone 2,516 Japanese aircraft were destroyed either in the air or at shore bases. Marines captured Yontan Airbase and at the air base taken over from the Japanese at Kerama Retto, destroyed another 506 on the ground. The "Baby Flatops" were on the line at Okinawa far longer than the Task Force 58 large carriers.