Wake Island Strike (By Walter J Drew)
The following is a story about World War II, written by my grandfather before his Alzheimer’s had advanced.
WAKE ISLAND STRIKE
October 5 – 6, 1943
By Walter J. (Deptula) Drew
Air Group Nine’s second mission was to be a two-day strike on Wake Island. The crew again was Pilot LTJG Richard B. Zentmeyer; Radioman Herbert C. (Andy) Anderson; and myself, Turret Gunner Walter J. Deptula. It was 5 October 1943 and this time we were part of the largest carrier task force assembled to date. The U.S.S. Essex was accompanied by the U.S.S Yorktown, the new U.S.S. Lexington, three light carriers — Belleau Wood, Cowpens, and Independence, heavy and light cruisers, destroyers, oilers and a life guard submarine — a total of 40 ships. Our squadron launched in the complete darkness of a pre-dawn take off.
We were supposed to rendezvous with the rest of the torpedo squadron. The only illumination we had was from the exhaust of the plane engines. We approached what we thought was the formation of the Torpedo Squadron, only to find that it was the Bombing Squadron. We then approached another formation; this time to find it was the Fighter Squadron. The reason for all this confusion was that all the carriers were launching at the same time and it was very difficult to know where your squadron was because of the darkness.
We flew over the task force for a little while Zentmeyer tried to decide if he should seek out the island on his own. He decided to head for the island and we never did join up with the Torpedo Squadron. We were flying in the direction we thought would put us in the vicinity of Wake Island. It turned out, however, that we were actually flying in a northeastern direction, away from the island.
Andy Anderson was trying to pick up the island on radar but he was having trouble with the radar console. Each time he would turn the console on, a fuse would blow out. He went thru a number of fuses until he was completely out of them. On the way to Wake, we encountered an enemy fighter plane. For some mysterious reason, the fighter did not attack us and left the area.
While flying in what we thought was the direction of Wake Island, I kept swiveling the turret looking for something that looked like an island. The sun was beginning to rise. Way off in the distance I saw what looked like the sun reflecting off the canopies of the dive bombers and fighters as they dove on the island, bombing and strafing. I reported my sightings to Zentmeyer and he headed in that direction.
We had four 500-pound general purpose bombs in the bomb bay. There were two ways of dropping these bombs — in salvo, which means they all drop at once, or in sequence, set by the intervelometer at pre-selected intervals. I presume Zentmeyer may have chosen to drop in sequence. When we made our dive, he released the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors. When we completed our run, it was Andy’s responsibility to see that all the bombs had released. We were less than 500 feet off the water when Zentmeyer opened the bay doors and asked Andy to check the bomb bay. It was then that we realized that one of the bombs had hung up on the bomb bay door. When
Zentmeyer opened the bay doors, the bomb fell out and when it hit the water, the explosion created a concussion, causing the plane to react violently.
One thing I should point out is, because of the delay in our getting to the island and the fact that we approached it from a different direction than the rest of the Air Group, I don’t believe we sustained any anti-aircraft fire. At least I didn’t see any.
We had two strikes on October 5 and two on October 6 1943. Strike #1 was 3.3 hours; strike #2 — 2.9 hours, strike #3 — 3.3 hours; and strike #4 was 3.5 hours. Air Group Nine flew a total of 309 sorties and shot down four enemy planes in the air. Upon completion of the mission, Admiral Nimitz sent this message: “The thorough job done on Wake…will have results reaching far beyond the heavy damage inflicted. I commend all who so ably participated in this assault”.
This attack on Wake Island was not without its mishaps. Bill Kazulis ARM3C was struck with a 30mm incendiary shell that exploded in his stomach on the return flight. Milt Ingram poured sulfa on the wound with little results. When LTJG Dave King arrived at the tack force, the only carrier able to receive aircraft was the U.S.S Lexington. King landed aboard and they immediately took Kazulis to the ship’s emergency room. Due to the severity of his injuries, Bill died aboard the Lexington.
On the return flight, LTJG King was launched from Lexington. I had an idea of what had taken place when King joined up with Zentmeyer in the landing pattern. When we got close enough to see what Ingram was doing, I noticed he was crying. We landed just before King. He stopped at the island and was motioning for someone to help. He got no response because they didn’t know that he had taken off from the Lexington where he had made an emergency landing with a gravely wounded crewman. When we landed just before King, I exited my plan and immediately went to King’s plane. When I opened the door, I could see they already had Kazulis sewn up in a canvas body bag. After losing Frank Bates at Marcus Island, this was the second casualty that Torpedo Squadron Nine sustained.