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Tarawa and Makin - 10-27 November 1943

This action report covers Enterprise's operations in support of the Gilbert Islands Invasion, which began on 20 November 1943 with landings on the Tarawa and Makin atolls. This was Enterprise's return to action, after undergoing a major refit in Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington in the summer and fall of 1943. Nearly 40% of her pre-refit crew had been replaced, and she also embarked a new Air Group Six, led by Medal of Honor recipient Edward "Butch" O'Hare. O'Hare played a critical - and tragic - role in the first successful carrier-based night fighter interception mission, launched from the Big E on 26 November 1943.

Supporting the landings on Makin.
Japanese night air intrusions begin.
26 November night fighter mission, and lessons learned.
Post-operation observations.

U.S.S. ENTERPRISE (CV6)15 Dec 1943
From:Commanding Officer.
To:Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Via:(1) Commander Task Group 50.2.
(2) Commander Task Force 50.
Subject:Operations as a Unit of Task Group 50.2 from 10 November to 27 November 1943 - Report of.
Reference:(a) Pacific Fleet Conf. Ltr. 36-CL-42.
(b) ComCenPac Oplan 1-43.
Enclosures:(A) Air Group SIX Forms ACA-1.
  1. In accordance with reference (b), ENTERPRISE, as flagship of Rear Admiral Radford in Command of T.G. 50.2, departed from Pearl Harbor on November 10, 1943, to participate in the capture and occupation of MAKIN, TARAWA and APAMAMA in the GILBERT ISLANDS. On the way down only routine patrols were flown and these were without incident.
  2. In this operation, T.G. 50.2 was known as the Northern Covering Group, with the mission of gaining and maintaining control of the air to assist in the capture and occupation of MAKIN ISLAND. To achieve this mission, patrols, strikes and special flights were to be made by planes from the three carriers involved according to a prearranged schedule.
  3. At 0520 Zone plus 12 time, November 19 (D-1 Day), ENTERPRISE was in position 3°-56'N., 173°-18'E. The first strike consisting of 19 VF and 15 VB armed with 1,000 lb bombs was launched from this position. Five definite hits were registered on designated targets, seven missed, three bombs did not release and were later jettisoned, and the result of one drop was not observed. Unusual trouble with the bomb release was experienced during the first days of this operation. This is fully covered in the various squadron reports.
  4. The first strike group observed very little enemy activity on MAKIN and encountered only a moderate amount of AA which decreased steadily throughout the day as a result of strafing and bombing attacks. By the end of the day practically no AA fire was observed. One Dave was shot down about 23 miles from this force by Lieutenant Harris of VF-2 and his section while escorting the second strike.
  5. The prearranged schedule for the day was carried out consisting of 15 strikes and flights with only minor variations in composition dictated by plane availability, except that the last strike was cancelled. During the day 177 planes were launched and 176 landed.
  6. One fighter pilot, Ensign R. W. Harrold in F-21 while escorting the first strike was forced to make a water landing in the dark shortly after take-off. A destroyer was immediately dispatched to pick him up, but failed to find him. A flight of six VT at noon and in the afternoon 3 VB were sent to search for him, but again results were negative.
  7. The photographic missions included taking completed sets of pictures of BUTATARI ISLAND and the sea conditions on the beaches there; the processing and printing of these pictures aboard ship; and the delivery of the completed prints to C.T.G. 52, on the U.S.S. PENNSYLVANIA, with as much preliminary photo interpretation work completed as could be accomplished. The photographs were taken at low altitude due to cloud interference, but served to verify previous photographic reconnaissance of this island. Delivery aboard the U.S.S. PENNSYLVANIA and the two cruisers was accomplished by the TBF's letting out three hundred yards of line, weighted at each end, with a strip of fire hose containing the pictures attached to the center of the line. The hose was securely stopped to prevent damage of pictures from water.
  8. At 0530 Zone plus 12 time, November 20, 1943 (D Day), ENTERPRISE was in position 03°-07'N., 172°-05' E. During the day the ship launched two strikes, one of them being in direct support of the landing on Yellow Beach, three liaison missions, two combat air patrols, four support air groups, two photo missions and two anti-submarine patrols. In addition 3 VF from the BELLEAU WOOD were also landed aboard this ship. This made a total of 135 launchings and 137 landings for the day.
  9. On the first strike Lt.(jg) J. R. Hoisington, and his gunner, Hays, T. W., were forced down near MAKIN and are on board the U.S.S. PENNSYLVANIA. No other information as to the circumstances of their landing is available.
  10. Only light AA fire was encountered by our planes. Lt. Comdr. Phillips, a liaison pilot had a gasoline line punctured and was forced to return to the ship before his scheduled landing time. Targets assigned were areas for the most part. An exception to this were the hulks in the lagoon from which machine gun fire was harassing our landing boats.
  11. Ensign J. F. Noonan Jr., and his rearseat man in B-42 failed to return from the last anti-submarine patrol of the day. Attempts to contact him on VHF and modulated YE were unsuccessful, but later was found out that he had become lost and landed aboard the U.S.S. LEXINGTON.
  12. On November 21, D+1 Day planes were first launched at 0544 in position 03°-29' N., 171°-37'E. During the day ENTERPRISE planes flew anti-submarine patrol, two combat air patrols, two liaison flights, three support air groups. In addition two BELLEAU WOOD fighters were flown back to their ship. A total of 83 planes were launched and 81 landed.
  13. The dawn combat air patrol was vectored to and shot down one Betty about 20 miles from this force. Lt. Comdr. Dean and his wing man, Ensign Carmichael making the kill. The enemy plane went down very quickly under a short burst. Ensign Carmichael's plane received two large holes in the leading edge of his right wing from Lt. Comdr. Dean's empty cases.
  14. On D+1 Day our ground troops were encountering opposition mostly from isolated positions and machine gun fire was again reported to be coming from the hulks in the lagoon. Fighters strafed the hulks and targets on the east end of the island. Some bombs were also dropped in this area. Both dive bombers and torpedo bombers using skip bomb tactics tried to hit the hulks, but failed. AA fire was light, only one of our fighters receiving minor damage.
  15. At 1706 a bogey appeared on the screen 47 miles out. Our fighters were vectored out but were unable to make contact. The bogey faded at 1726. There were more bogies on the screen after sunset but no planes were launched from our force.
  16. On November 22, D+2 Day, routine combat air patrols and anti-submarine patrols were flown without incident. In addition, there was one liaison hop of two VT sent to MAKIN, which flight was also uneventful.
  17. This ship fueled on November 23, and flew only one anti-submarine patrol. The day was without incident.
  18. On several mornings enemy planes had been tracked by radar heading south (presumably to TARAWA) and then returning north along a track approximately 50 miles west of MAKIN. It was decided to try and intercept this group with two night fighter groups. Each of these groups consists of one TBF-1C equipped with radar and two F6F-3's. Accordingly on the morning of November 24, six planes were launched between 0258 and 0307. At the time of launching, the position of the ship was Latitude 03° -27' N., Longitude 173° -54' E. Approximately 75 miles northeast of MAKIN. Although the enemy planes were picked up by radar, they were too far away to vector our fighters out. The flight was without incident, one VF landing at 0736 with engine trouble, the other five planes at 0845.
  19. During the remainder of the day routine patrols were flown without incident. In addition a search by 6 VT for an enemy submarine reported in the area was ordered, with negative results. At 1250 and 1410, bogies appeared on the radar screen and fighters were scrambled. No contact with the enemy materialized and all planes were landed by 1740.
  20. The first anti-submarine patrol on November 25, consisting of 4 VT was launched at 0605. Just after take-off, Ensign Walden in T-85 was forced by engine trouble to make a water landing. Pilot and crew were picked up by a destroyer and another plane was launched to take its place on patrol. In addition to the regular patrols flown without incident during the balance of the day, there were two scrambles of 12 VF each, one at 1135 and one at 1550. In neither case was contact with the enemy made.
  21. After sunset on the 25th, a number of bogies appeared on the screen, but no night fighters were launched. The enemy closed in, dropping flares in preparation for torpedo runs. Screening vessels opened fire and the U.S.S. NORTH CAROLINA shot down one Betty certainly and another one probably. Shortly after this the enemy planes withdrew and the radar screens cleared.
  22. On November 26, ENTERPRISE planes flew routine patrols without incident until sunset. At 1737 fighters from the BELLEAU WOOD were vectored to and shot down a Betty, but probably not before this force had been sighted. Other bogies appeared on the screen and one night fighter unit consisting of 1 VT and 2 VF was catapulted between 1758 and 1801. The pilots for this flight were the Group Commander, Lt. Comdr. E. H. O'Hare and Ensign W. A. Skon of VF-2 in F6F's and the Squadron Commander of VT-6, Lt. Comdr. J. L. Phillips in a TBF1-C. The crew of the torpedo plane consisted on Lt.(jg) H. B. Rand, a radar specialist and Kernan, A. B., AOM1c. The details of this flight are completely covered in the Squadron Action Report and are supplemented by statements of personnel taking part. Vectors from the Fighter Director Officer and then the plane's radar guided Lt. Comdr. Phillips into visual sight of the enemy's exhaust flames, and he was able to shoot down two Betties. It is believed that the surprise of the attack by night fighters caused sufficient confusion among the enemy to be largely responsible for saving this force from a fully developed and coordinated torpedo attack. The skill and the courage of all concerned in these night flights is deserving of the highest commendation. It was shortly after the second plane was shot down, that our two fighters joined up on the TBF and that Lt. Comdr. O'Hare went down. It is impossible to determine definitely the cause of O'Hare's disappearance. However from the detailed statements made by the personnel concerned (appended to the Air Group's report) there would seem to be a good possibility that he was hit by enemy fire, attracted by the lights our planes used for the purpose of joining up. C.I.C. got two good fixes on the position where Lt. Comdr. O'Hare disappeared. That night a destroyer made a search for him with no results. The next morning a six plane search from this ship was made of the area, again without results. A Dumbo search was also conducted with negative results.
  23. It was illustrated by the attack on November 25 that night torpedo attacks are difficult to coordinate and deliver on a fast moving and maneuverable force on dark nights. The Japanese had perfect conditions to attack during twilight, but preferred to wait until after night to send in their attack and to deliver the full force of their blow. The Japanese methods of search and trailing seemed exact as they apparently has little trouble in finding our forces at the critical time of sunset.

    On the night of November 26 the snooper closed in to about 23 miles as our combat air patrol was being landed. The Fighter Director was able to contact two BELLEAU WOOD fighters in the landing circle and vectored them out to shoot the snooper down. The night fighter group of two F6F's and one TBF were launched shortly before darkness and the Fighter Director Officer attempted to vector out the two fighters to make an interception with a "bogey" before daylight had failed. Sending fighters alone at that time appears to have been incorrect as considerable time and effort were lost in trying to rendezvous the fighters with the TBF later. Had the fighters had sufficient daylight left when they were launched they probably would have been very effective operating separately from the TBF. It is believed that there is not sufficient experience or evidence to eliminate the F6F as an accompanying plane to the TBF1-C as Commander Air Group SIX suggests. There is no question that the necessity for close formation flying at night is a disadvantage, and that once planes are separated, they will have difficulty joining up. If the enemy planes are in formation when encountered as it is hoped to meet them, then the additional fire power, speed, and maneuverability of the F6F may add greatly to shooting them down. Even if the VF does lose contact after getting a shot at the enemy, the damage is still additive to what the TBF1-C can accomplish. Neither the TBF or F6F are ideal night fighters. A two place plane is preferable.
  24. The use of gasoline in the non-self sealing belly tank in the TBF was dictated by the original conception that this plane could stay in the air all night while the fighters would not be launched until much later so that there would be no necessity for any night landings. Belly tanks should be self sealing. Wing tanks can be installed on TBF1-C, and that seems to be a better answer than the big bomb bay tank which is unprotected.
  25. It is recommended that a Fleet Doctrine be established with regard to rendezvous lights for night fighters and it is suggested that the rendezvous all be made in a left turn and that the F6F's drop their hooks in order that the approach light, which is of three colors, will show at the leading edge of the port wing.
  26. The success of this small night fighter section in breaking up a very formidable night attack indicates that great stress and effort should be placed upon rushing adequate equipment and specialized training of personnel for this purpose. The Japanese apparently are equipped and intend to attack our carrier task forces at night with torpedoes. The use of night fighters to combat this threat has proven to be practicable, now they must be developed in quantity and quality to meet the scale of attack. The Japanese in this case had ample opportunity to attack in the daytime, but chose to come at night.
  27. While this carrier operated the night fighters along with the daytime operations it is very apparent that the crew will be completely worn down if kept in the ready status for operations, from daybreak and around the clock through the night. It is recommended that patrols of the day be regulated so that a carrier may fly all the patrols in the morning and be in a standby status in the afternoon or vise versa, and if the carrier has the launching of night fighters during the night it should be a standby in the day so the deck crews can get a little rest and food. This ship naturally wanted to take as large a part in the operations as possible, but the effect of fatigue on the deck and engineering crews, was apparent with the close of the operations. Several injuries were incurred on the flight deck which would probably not have taken place had the men been more alert.
  28. This ship entered in these operations immediately after undergoing an overhaul in the Puget Sound Navy Yard. The ship considers itself fortunate to have been in these operations. It is considered desirable after an overhaul and approximately forty percent turn over in personnel that some kind of a shake down cruise and training operation be conducted to prepare a ship for combat operations. This ship had no operations between Bremerton and Pearl Harbor, other than to bring Air Group TEN aboard by squadrons and on leaving Pearl Harbor to receive Air Group SIX. It is felt that the willingness and hard work of the personnel of the Air Department was fully in accord with the traditions of this ship and accounted for getting the job done, despite the roughness due to the lack of training of the ship's personnel and Air Group. At least three full days of air operations should be given to any other ship under similar circumstances, before they are placed under combat conditions.

    The performance of Air Group SIX during these operations was highly satisfactory. They carried out their missions well and played an important part in the success of the operations. The Air Group Commander, Lieutenant Commander O'Hare is deserving of the Nation's highest honors, due to his fearless devotion to duty and skillful planning and execution of the first night fighter operations from a carrier against a determined and dangerous enemy attack group. Lieutenant Commander Phillips, Ensign Skon, and the other members of the flight crews of this group are equally deserving and are being recommended for citations by separate correspondence. The performance of Lieutenant Commander Phillips as pilot of the liaison plane is considered outstanding and worthy of special comment. The ingenuity of his flight crew in repairing damage to a control cable is testimony to the resourcefulness of the American Bluejacket to meet any situation.
  29. The rush with which Air Group SIX was placed aboard and the lack of previous contact with them to determine the status of their equipment and the proficiency of the previous upkeep and the lack of knowledge on their previous operations and methods was a distinct handicap. It is considered highly desirable that squadrons test out and use the same equipment that will be used in combat, such items as bomb racks, etc. A great many adjustments on the new equipment can best be traced down by trial and error and last minute installations are bound to have bugs. Inspection aboard ship can only be visual, of course another advantage is that all the pilots and flight crews learn the proper method of operations and failures in combat are not caused from cock-pit trouble.
  30. It is believed by some of our radar personnel that possibly the Japanese are homing on some of our radar transmissions. There was also some evidence of effort by Japs to jam the radar frequencies.
  31. The importance of communications was again apparent. Difficulty was experienced in maintaining contact and giving instructions to the VB planes without VHF. It is recommended that all carrier planes be equipped with 233 A VHF equipment as soon as possible, and all have the same type of equipment.
  32. It is recommended that any Air Group for this ship be made up of two types of air planes and equipped with folding wings. During these operations it is believed that the attacks prove that we have too many planes aboard for efficient operations.
  33. The complement of planes as now constituted make a very inflexible group, due to the inefficiency of placing SBD's on the hangar deck. It is suggested that an Air Group made up as follows will provide the most useful and proficient operating number for this carrier: 36 VF, 18 VT, 20 SB2C.
  34. On November 30, T-90 was forced to make a water landing along side the ship on returning from Anti-submarine patrol. The crew got out of the plane and were about fifty feet from the spot where the plane sank when one of the depth charges detonated. Two of the crew sustained injuries from this explosion. The depth bombs, Mk. 47 were armed during the flight and were placed on safe before landing. It is recommended that the new fuzes and bombs, which it is understood are being developed, be expedited since it is apparent that no sure method of setting these bombs on safe is available to pilots who have no choice but to land in the water with them.
  35. Loading of the night fighter machine guns should be about one tracer to ten. Especially is this applicable to the turret guns.
  36. The quality of the tires of the F6F should be greatly improved. Our fighter squadron has gone through an epidemic of blownout tires in landing which is believed largely attributable to the poor quality of the tires. Some brand new tires placed on planes blow out before they had ever had a flight.
  37. With the necessity of mechanization of the flight deck in order to handle the heavier air planes, such as the TBF and F6F, it is recommended that a standard tail wheel with hollow axle or a standard method of attaching towbars to the tail wheel be worked into the designing of aircraft, and all planes in the squadrons come aboard with this standard equipment, then the towbars can also be standardized aboard the various carriers and full use made of jeeps and tractors.
  38. Recommendation for awards is covered in separate correspondence.
  39. The following amounts of bombs and ammunition were used on November 19, 20 and 21, 1943, the active days of this operation:
    2000 lb. G.P. BOMBS 41
    1000 lb. G.P. " 46
    1000 lb. SAP " 16
    500 lb. G.P. " 32
    100 lb. G.P. " 159
    .50 cal Ammunition 38,500 rds.
    .30 cal Ammunition 5,500 "
(Signed) M.B. GARDNER
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  • Comairpac

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