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LT(jg) Richard Batten: Buzzard Brigade at Guadalcanal

This article was originally published on 14 December 1943, by the Public Relations Office of the U.S. Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida. At the time, Batten had assumed the position of a flight instructor at the base. Earlier Batten had been a pilot in Torpedo 10 - "The Buzzard Brigade" - a squadron in Air Group 10 which had its first tour aboard Enterprise from 16 October 1942 to 10 May 1943. For its contribution in the decisive Naval Battle of Guadalcanal - 12-15 November 1942 - Air Group 10 was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, also awarded to the First Marine Division (Reinforced) on Guadalcanal.

Shy, retiring 24-year-old Lt. (jg) Richard Batten, of Claremont, Calif., holder of the Air Medal for his daring and effective flying during the second battle of Guadalcanal[1] gives you the impression of the typical American youth. He's not one of the type to hunt danger and excitement, but he's the sort of fellow who knows his job, and will carry out his assignment, irrespective of the obstacles which may confront him.

In addition to seeing plenty of action at Guadalcanal, Lieut. Batten also participated in armed clashes at Santa Cruz, and in the Coral Sea. Today, when he talks to his classes at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, student officers who'll soon be winging their way through enemy skies, realize that he knows, from actual experience, what he is talking about.

Buzzard Brigade Insignia
Insignia of Torpedo Squadron 10: the "Buzzard Brigade."

"I was a member of Lieutenant Commander 'Scoffer' Coffin's 'Buzzard Brigade,'" modestly points out Lieut. Batten. "Our insignia was a buzzard diving into the fray, blood dripping from his beak, carrying a mop in his talons. Our war cry was, 'Mop 'em up.'"

Lieut. Batten's first opportunity to 'Mop 'em up' came on Oct. 26, 1942, in the battle of Santa Cruz - and it came close to being his last scrape as well. "We took off from our carrier about 8:15 that morning," he says, "and about 20 minutes out we encountered an enemy attack group."

"I had hardly gotten into the scrap when a Jap Zero exploded right behind me. Parts of him hit my elevator and control surfaces and almost threw my plane out of control. I caught on fire, and I thought for a few moments that I was seeing my first and last action all at one time.

"But I finally got the fire under control. The Zero got me about 70 miles from our fleet, but I managed to get back to the fleet before I had to use the ocean for a landing strip."

It wasn't all 'gravy' for the Japs on this occasion however, for Lieut. Batten's gunner[2] shot down two Zeros and a possible third. For his fine work he was awarded the Air Medal.

As previously related, Lieut. Batten had to take to the water with his plane, and then followed another thrilling experience which might well have been his last. "We broke out our rubber life rafts, and got into the water and in a few minutes one of our destroyers, the Porter, came over to pick us up," he said. "Just as she slowed down to take us aboard a Jap torpedo hit her. The Porter was sunk, but my crew, along with the ship's crew, were transferred to another craft."

His dip into the sea more or less automatically made Lieut. Batten a member of the Web Foot Club, a very exclusive organization wherein there are no dues, no by-laws, no rules or regulations. All you have to do to become a member is make a landing in the water - unpremeditated and without malice aforethought. "Members of the Buzzard Brigade," says Lieut. Batten, "became members of the Web Foot Club by landing in almost every conceivable position - but I don't think anybody landed on his back or with his wings folded up."

This battle of Santa Cruz was unquestionably a thrilling exploit, but it was for another exhibition of bravery in battle and remarkable ability that Lieut. Batten was awarded the Air Medal. This was in mid-November, during the second battle of Guadalcanal.

"When we took off from our carrier we knew that we were going up to Guadalcanal," said Lieut. Batten, "but we didn't know why we were going. We did know that we had to be ready for anything that might happen."

Something happened - and fast. "On November 13, just as we rounded the point at Guadalcanal," says Lieut. Batten, "there sat a Jap battleship[3] ready to start shelling the boys on the island. We went up into the clouds to spiral for position." Then followed a coordinated attack, and "three of our torpedoes hit the Jap ship. She went away limping - without shelling Guadalcanal."

The reception accorded Lieut. Batten's squadron when they reached Henderson Field on Guadalcanal left no doubt in their minds that they were welcome. "We were cordially greeted by General Wood and Colonel Cooley," says Lieut. Batten. "They said, 'boys, we don't know where you came from, but you look like angels dropped out of Heaven to us.'

"I guess we did look pretty good. We had just come from our carrier, our khakis were fresh from the laundry, we had just had a shave, and I guess we smelled of hair oil and shaving lotion. But you should have seen us by nightfall. Perspiration, dust and blood made us look like savages."

The Jap battleship which already had suffered grievous wounds was not to escape. Later in the day Lieut. Batten's squadron, re-fueled and reloaded, went out to make another attack. "Three more of our fish found their mark," he says, "and as dusk fell she lay gutted and listing sharply. She was finally scuttled that night by her crew."

But difficulties were just starting for Lieut. Batten and his squadron. The next morning they were out early looking for trouble, and soon found it - in copious quantities. A huge Jap convoy, apparently bent on occupying Guadalcanal, was sighted. "The ocean seemed to be covered with ships. Just like ducks on a millpond," recalls Lieut. Batten. "We went in on an attack with our dive bombers, and in a few minutes the ocean was covered with wreckage and human flotsam.

The "Buzzard Brigade" did more than its share in breaking up this move on Guadalcanal. They were officially credited with one battleship, two transports, and one cruiser. "I don't know how many planes our gunners got," says Lieut. Batten. "I know mine got at least one. But after this flight was over we had still another job to do. Some of us dropped 500 pound bombs on landing operations and supply dumps along the beach."

Lieut. Batten will tell you that the torpedo plane is one of the finest that's ever been built - that the risks with it are no more than in any other type of fighting plane. And his conclusions are supported by the fact that during the three day battle at Guadalcanal when his squadron made six attacks, it did not lose a single man nor single plane.

Commenting upon the opportunities offered student officers at the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, he said, "flying a torpedo bomber is just as safe as flying any plane, but the pilot must keep awake at all times. We had to learn the hard way. When we went out on our first attack we didn't think there were any Jap planes around. We found out different."

Born at Adel, Iowa Aug. 17, 1919, Lieut. Batten now considers Claremont, Calif., his home. He attended Adel and Woodward High Schools in Iowa, and Chaffee Junior College, Ontario, Calif. He played football and basketball in both high school and college.

Lieut. Batten enlisted at Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 15, 1940, receiving his preliminary training at Long beach and Pensacola before winning his wings at Miami, Fla., Oct. 6, 1941.

Article provided by Arnold Olson, Public Affairs Officer, USS Enterprise CV-6 Association.

[1] Now known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Nov 12-15, 1942.
[2] Batten's crew for this mission was AM 2/c Rex Holmgrin (gunner) and ARM 2/c Joseph McMullin (radioman).
[3] Hiei, 31,720 tons.

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