Marcus Island Strikes

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Marcus Island Strikes (By Walter J Drew)

The following is a story about World War II, written by my grandfather before his Alzheimer’s had advanced.


August 30 – 31, 1943
By Walter J. (Deptula) Drew

The U.S.S. Essex (CV-9) departed Pearl Harbor on 22 August 1943 in TG 15.5. The next day, an impressive armada had formed west of Hawaii. The new U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-10), light carrier U.S.S. Independence (CVL-22), and four destroyers were joined by the Essex, the battleship Indiana, two cruisers, more destroyers, and a fleet oiler. This was Task Force 15 and they were headed into battle. Rear Admiral Charles A. Pownall on the Yorktown was in command. The target was Marcus Island, 2720 nautical miles west of Hawaii and 989 miles from Tokyo.

On the way to Marcus, Pilot LTJG Richard B. Zentmeyer; Radioman Herbert C. (Andy) Anderson; and myself, Turret Gunner Walter J. Deptula flew a number of anti-submarine patrols. For the Marcus strike, our plane was loaded with four 500-pound bombs with delayed-action fuses, set to go off up to 24 hours after being dropped. On the morning of 30 August, the force made a high speed dash–about 25 knots—south toward the target.

The Yorktown was the first to launch aircraft at 0415 hours on 31 August with Marcus Island 128 miles to the south. At 0520 Essex began launching her planes. First off were several Hellcats of VF-9 followed by eighteen TBF Avengers of VT-9. Next off were the SBD Dauntless dive-bombers of VB-9. Then more fighters were launched. All the planes were milling around in the early morning darkness trying to find their own squadrons. This was not only scary, but also downright dangerous.

At 0605 Marcus came into view of the leading Yorktown planes and three minutes later, the lead Avengers roared over the island releasing 500-pound bombs and incendiaries to start fires for the bombers.

Air Group Nine was now battle tested. Strike after strike was launched from the three carriers. After ten hours, Marcus Island was in shambles; shrouded in a pall of black smoke. The attacks continued through the morning and into mid-afternoon.

From Admiral Pownell came this message: “Congratulations on a bang-up job well done. You have marked Marcus’ face so badly, Tojo won’t recognize him for a long time”. After the strike and back on the ship, I kept thinking about the delayed fuses on the bombs we had dropped and that they would explode up to 24 hours after we’d dropped them. The Japanese must have been surprised when the bombs exploded well into the night.

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