The weary aviators at Ford Island were roused at 0400 on December 8. Skipper Hal Hopping had his third officer, Dick Dickinson, gather the men before daybreak to disseminate information on the morning’s scouting flights and relate orders to take off an hour before sunrise. The nine Navy Dauntless bombers were the only planes available for the early search, which was scheduled to extend past Diamond Head until an hour after sunrise to look for Japanese ships. As the VS-6 pilots warmed up their engines, a seaplane taxied up from the other side of the airfield and warmed up its engine to take off.1
Lieutenant Earl Gallaher watched the plane clear the ground with all its running lights on. To his amazement, antiaircraft guns opened fire. The seaplane’s pilot frantically took his craft down low on the water and applied full throttle to clear the island and its trigger-happy gunners. Disgusted, Gallaher reached down and cut his engines. He climbed up on the wing of Hal Hopping’s S-1. “Captain, I’m not gonna take off,” he announced. “I’d rather have the Japs shoot up this plane on the ground than have these people shoot me down in the air.”2
Hopping stomped into the command center to talk by telephone with some of the Ford Island staff. Gallaher later remembered that his skipper’s voice was so loud he didn’t need the telephone. “My planes are not gonna take off until these people got some fire control discipline!” Hopping shouted. In the end, CEAG Brigham Young held his SBDs for an hour after first light to prevent shore batteries from firing on them again. Eager plane captains on board Enterprise later greeted the returning aviators, curious for the latest information on who had made it and who had not.
Enterprise’s other Dauntlesses flew scouting missions from the carrier on December 8. Around 0800, Dick Best was ordered to take Admiral Halsey’s chief of staff, Commander Miles Browning, into Pearl for a conference with Admiral Kimmel. Best, whose own middle name was Halsey, had high regards for the admiral. “Halsey was an inspirational leader,” he said. “We come from the same family. It goes back to 1640 when they landed in Massachusetts.” As for Halsey’s chief of staff, Best considered Browning to be “a bully” who “got by bullying; not very bright.”3
Before he took off, squadron mate Jack Blitch warned his exec that the trigger-happy shore gunners shot at anything that moved. As he flew in toward eastern Oahu with Admiral Halsey’s aide, Best pondered why the air staff had sent him in without a wingman. I guess they’re willing to get rid of the best dive-bomber in the fleet if they can only get rid of Miles Browning.4
Lieutenant Dick Best.
Near Bellows Field, Best looked down and spotted what looked like a sampan with a little deckhouse in the surf’s edge. It was actually a Japanese minisub, launched early on the morning of December 7 from the fleet submarine I-24. The minisub’s commander, Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, had gotten lost before he could launch his boat’s two torpedoes at a U.S. warship. He had inadvertently beached his sub, forcing the crew of three to swim for shore. His two enlisted men drowned, but Sakamaki was captured, becoming America’s first Japanese prisoner of war.5
“It looks like a midget submarine out there in the surf,” Best called to Browning. “Can you see it?”6
“You young jocks wouldn’t know a submarine from a galleon,” Browning snapped back.
I despise him, Best thought. What a typical bully put-down remark.
Best flew in over the beached battleship Nevada and delivered Browning to Kaneohe, where he spent the better part of the day waiting on the admiral’s chief of staff. Best joined local Marines to sip on some of the foulest coffee he had ever had in his life. The island’s water lines were damaged and taking on salty harbor water, as well as anything else that seeped into the pipes.7
The second day of war proved to be challenging for some of VS-6’s scouts. Dusty Kleiss flew a morning search with Earl Donnell as his wingman. Heavy cloud cover made navigating difficult. When he arrived at Point Option after his scouting leg, Kleiss was unable to find the ship. From a height of three hundred feet, he could not even see the ocean. He proceeded to Enterprise’s secondary Point Option, but again found no carrier. Kleiss spent the next hour flying square searches in hopes of finding his flight deck. Unable to reach the ship via radio, gunner Johnny Snowden finally reported that the radio in their 6-S-18 was out of commission. After another hour and nearing Oahu, Kleiss finally spotted Enterprise below through a tiny hole in the clouds. He dived straight down without flaps, reaching 240 knots by five thousand feet. He was at terminal velocity, making nearly eleven Gs, and was on the verge of passing out when he pulled out of his dive and leveled off at a thousand feet. His own formation’s surprised destroyers opened fire on the diving SBD. “At that speed, I wasn’t worried about AA fire,” he wrote. “I gave signals, firing ceased, and I landed aboard with less than twenty-five gallons of fuel.”8
• • •
To Scouting Six gunner Don Hoff, the Big E’s return to Pearl was a somber affair. His carrier entered the channel at Pearl Harbor near dusk on December 8 and moored to her usual berth just ahead of the Utah. No brass bands awaited. The men who stood on the flight deck stared in silence at the devastation around them in the falling darkness. As Enterprise approached her berth, Hoff realized there was some resentment that their mighty carrier had not done more to stop the Japanese attackers. He heard a sailor on the dock shout up, “Where were you?”9
Ed Anderson was equally stunned by the wreckage at Hickam Field as Enterprise eased into port. He spotted the remains of Ed Deacon’s 6-S-14 Dauntless lying in two feet of water near the entrance to the main channel of Pearl Harbor. The sobering realization of war continued to sink in as his ship passed the twisted steel corpses of battleships, destroyers, and other vessels that were still upside down or largely submerged in many cases. “It was a terribly disheartening sight,” he wrote in his private diary.10
Edward Rutledge Anderson was born in 1917 in his family’s home in Inglenook, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. He and his older sister, Inez, were very close to their mother, who was remarried to one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders when they were very young. Rutledge, as he was called by his mother, shared a sense of adventure with his new stepfather. The family settled just south of Los Angeles, where Rutledge attended high school, playing on both the varsity basketball team and on the school’s championship football team.11
Rutledge Anderson scraped up enough money during high school to buy both a motorcyle and a sailboat. After graduating in 1936, he went to work for the California Automobile Association. He became known as “Ed” instead of Rutledge during this time. In July 1941, Ed received a high draft notice that gave him greater odds of being pulled into service. He had “little interest in marching around through the mud” with the Army, so he and a buddy decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy.
Ed jumped at the chance to take aviation radioman training. Graduating as radioman third class in September 1941, he reported on board the carrier Enterprise with two of his radio school buddies, Dave Craig and Doug Cossitt. Ed was fresh from learning Morse code, and had not even gone through a true basic training before he was sent to his new carrier. He crossed the quarterdeck with his seabag slung over his shoulder, and thus became a seagoing sailor who had no clue about shipboard protocols.12
RM3c Ed Anderson.
Courtesy of Janice Anderson-Gram
As he gaped at the rubble of Pearl Harbor, Anderson yearned to be fully qualified for air duty to help strike back against the Japanese. At the moment, however, he was assigned to the air group’s ordnance department until he could qualify as an aerial gunner. His first job entailed servicing the SBDs’ machine guns and bombs. His dream was to be in the skies as an aviation radioman/gunner. His reality, however, was being sent ashore that night to stand radio watch in the control tower at Luke Field while his carrier hastily took on provisions. Ed’s dreams would have to wait awhile longer.
Hours ahead of the ship, the Enterprise air group had flown ashore to land on Ford Island in the late afternoon of December 8. As Jim McCauley overflew Pearl Harbor on his approach, he was stunned by the devastation below him. He found the burning battleship Arizona to be a pretty rugged thing to look at.13
Bombing Six rear gunner Allen Brost was equally shocked. The buildings at Hickam Field had roofs blown out, now left hanging over the side. He noted the ravaged battleships and other smoldering vessels. As Brost’s pilot John Van Buren landed their dive-bomber, he was forced to dodge craters in the runway.14
Bombing Six landed at Hickam Field, where they spent the night in an old wooden temporary barracks. McCauley found that jittery gunners made it life-threatening to move around after dark. Around 2330, Army personnel came into the VB-6 barracks with a report that the Japanese were dropping paratroopers up in the hills of Oahu. Skipper Holly Hollingsworth was asked whether his dive-bombers could go up and attack. McCauley was pleased when his CO said it was an impossibility. Hollingsworth told the Army that their infantrymen were to take care of the paratroopers.15
Enterprise remained in Pearl Harbor only long enough to take on provisions and fuel. The junior aviators who had stayed on board worked through the night to stock the ship. There was no sleeping now that war was on. “Everyone, and I mean officers and enlisted men, worked side by side to resupply the Enterprise, because we had been gone for a couple of weeks,” said Don Hoff. Everyone toiled under “darkened ship” conditions, with all visible lights turned off during the loading process. Word was passed that the task force had to put to sea by daybreak on December 9 to avoid being spotted in the harbor by Japanese snoopers. “By dawn, there was no trace that we were [ever] there,” remembered Hoff. “As far as anyone else was concerned, the Enterprise had never been in there.”16
Scouting Six picked up a replacement pilot at Pearl Harbor to help offset the losses suffered on December 7. In addition, Mac McCarthy was in a Navy hospital with a badly broken leg that would sideline him from flight duty for many weeks. Joining Hal Hopping’s squadron was Lieutenant Reginald Rutherford, a 1934 Naval Academy graduate with a wife and young child. Rutherford had earned his gold pilot’s wings in July 1940, then had flown nearly a year and a half with Lexington’s Scouting Two before being detached on December 1 to Pearl Harbor to await transportation to new duties in the Asiatic Fleet. Everything changed with the Japanese surprise attack, and Hopping was happy to scoop up Reggie Rutherford as a new section leader for the upcoming actions he expected to face in the Pacific.
Shortly out to sea from Oahu on December 9, Enterprise landed her returning aircraft. Her SBDs were to be used for constant wartime patrolling, and they began making contacts on only their second day at sea.
The first submarine report came in from a Bombing Six pilot after dawn on December 10. Andy Anderson, in 6-B-17 with rear gunner Stuart Mason, was scouting forty miles ahead of Enterprise at three hundred feet when at 0617 he sighted the wake made by a Japanese submarine. Anderson could see its conning tower as he closed the distance. The I-boat was making a crash dive. Anderson pulled up to eight hundred feet over the submarine and released his thousand-pound bomb, which exploded approximately fifty feet aft and somewhat to port of the submerging conning tower. Anderson and Mason soon noted oil seeping across the water, and saw no further evidence of the I-boat.
Ensign Clifford “Bucky” Walters.
Next to spot a Japanese submarine was Bucky Walters. In the bright sunlight, he could see that the sub was large, had no flag, and was traveling at about sixteen knots. Walters decided to attack in a shallow-glide bombing run, but the higher winds pushed him into a dive-bomb assault and with little flaps. He released his half-ton load at eighteen hundred feet and was unable to pull out until about six hundred feet because he was traveling at a speed of about 240 knots. As he did so, Walters’s gunner, RM3c Joe Ivantic, strafed the conning tower with his .30-caliber Browning machine gun. The I-boat blew many bubbles during its crash dive as Walters banked around to attempt a run with his forward .50-caliber fixed guns. By the time he was in range, the submarine was gone, leaving no oil on the surface.
Around 1130, Admiral Halsey sent out three more SBDs to attack any surfaced submarines that were encountered. Ensign Perry Teaff in the group commander’s SBD sighted another I-boat, later determined to be I-70. He dropped his bomb on the spot where she made a crash dive. Ensign Ed Deacon also made an attack on a submarine, but failed to cause any damage.
Lieutenant Dick Dickinson used the morning reports as a starting point for his hunt. He flew a search pattern for more than an hour with nothing in sight but sky and whitecapped waves below. Just as he reached the north corner of his rectangle, Dickinson and his gunner, Tom Merritt, finally spotted their target—a large submarine running on the surface. They had found Teaff’s previously damaged I-70, fifteen miles to starboard. The lieutenant radioed a contact report to Enterprise and stated that he was attacking. I-70 opened fire as Dickinson climbed from five hundred feet toward five thousand to commence his assault.17
It took precious minutes to close the fifteen miles to reach the proper diving position, and en route, Dickinson made ready. He flipped switches on the electrical distribution panel before him to arm his five-hundred-pound bomb by removing safety wires from the fuse—thereby preparing the explosive to properly detonate upon contact. Pilots who forgot to arm their bombs would risk their life only to drop a dud weapon. Antiaircraft shells burst around their Dauntless as Dickinson and Merritt bore in on the 343-foot-long I-70. The undersea vessel made no attempt to submerge, but merely turned to the right a few degrees. Dickinson felt certain that one of his fellow bombers had damaged the boat enough to prevent it from submerging.
In just over five minutes, Dickinson had surpassed five thousand feet altitude. His quarry was still racing ahead. Now was time to dive. He eased back on the throttle, pulling his SBD’s nose slightly above the horizon, then grasped the diamond-shaped handle on his right to activate his split upper-wing surface dive flaps—his dive brakes. From this height, he would be in his dive less than fifteen seconds as his Dauntless settled into an angle of seventy degrees. As gravity lifted his rear end from his seat, he knew his vertical positioning was correct. Throughout his plunge, Dickinson eyed I-70’s deck through a telescopic sight.
He kept the sight’s crosshairs properly aligned on the submarine while simultaneously using his left hand to adjust the rudder trim tab. Moving a small wheel on this indicator instrument held his Dauntless steady on target against the prevailing wind. If his plane skidded (slid laterally either to the right or left of the target), he knew his bomb would be released off-center of the I-boat below. For the second time in days, he watched the winking of machine-gun muzzles as he slanted down toward his quarry. As Dickinson reached seventeen hundred feet, he pulled back on the double-handled manual bomb release to his left. He quickly retracted his dive brakes and yanked back on the stick, pulling more than five Gs at high speed, low over the water below.
Dickinson’s bomb hit close aboard the fourteen-hundred-ton sub amidships. The deck gunners were instantly silenced by the explosion and shrapnel. As he turned his SBD back around, he noted that the sub’s forward progress had ceased and she appeared to be settling somewhat by the stern. Forty-five seconds after his bomb struck, the sub slipped under the water. Right after it disappeared, Dickinson saw an eruption of oil and foam from her midships section.18
Lieutenant Dick Dickinson.
Seconds later, another eruption of foam and oil marked the end of Lieutenant Commander Takao Sano’s I-70. “Looks like we got him, Mr. Dickinson,” Merritt said from the rear seat. The pair made their return to Enterprise and Dickinson was immediately summoned to the bridge to relate the success of his attack to Admiral Halsey. Postwar records would credit Dickinson and Merritt with sinking the first combatant ship of World War II by U.S. forces.
Enterprise narrowly missed disaster on December 11, when a submarine torpedo passed within twenty yards of her stern. She returned to Pearl Harbor on December 16, having survived the crisis. Ashore, two VS-6 aviators were waiting. Lieutenant Frank Patriarca and gunner Joe DeLuca had landed on Kauai on December 7, where Patriarca had been hospitalized with fatigue. On December 11, he had gone on a scouting mission without a rear seat man, but during his return landing his Dauntless hit an obstruction placed near the runway. The SBD’s wingtip was crumpled and the plane stood on its nose, bending the propeller. Patriarca and DeLuca were eventually transported on an interisland ferry back to Oahu, where they found that their flight gear had been packed up along with that of other missing men.19
• • •
During the week following Pearl Harbor, Brigham Young and his squadron leaders compiled reports from the surviving airmen. Hal Hopping singled out four VS-6 aviators for special commendations. Dick Dickinson received the Navy Cross for his actions on December 7, as well as a second for sinking I-70 three days later. Perry Teaff received the Navy Cross for bravely maintaining formation on patrol in the afternoon of December 7 with a damaged SBD. Ed Deacon received a Letter of Commendation for rescuing his wounded radioman after their crash landing. Gunner William Miller was posthumously recommended for heroism by the secretary of the Navy, and a new destroyer escort, USS William C. Miller (DE-259), was named in honor of the VS-6 radioman. Another destroyer escort, USS Willis (DE-395), was also commissioned during the war in honor of VS-6’s lost Ensign Walter Willis.
Enterprise returned to sea on December 19 to operate south of Midway Island. At the same time, Lexington’s and Saratoga’s task groups were busy supporting planned reinforcement landings on Wake Island. The garrison’s small band of defenders had gallantly repelled the first Japanese landing attempt on December 11 but were in desperate need of supplies, aircraft, and more soldiers. One day out from Pearl, Dauntless pilots from Enterprise mistakenly attacked the U.S. submarine Pompano, which had departed Hawaii two days prior. Pompano was four hundred miles from Pearl at 0705 on December 20 when Commander Lewis Smith Parks was forced to make a crash dive to escape an attacking Navy antisubmarine patrol plane. Back on the surface at 1410, Pompano’s skipper was again forced to crash-dive when three unidentified planes were spotted in attack formation. The strikers were three SBDs from Enterprise, called in to destroy the “enemy” submarine.20
Skipper Hal Hopping, Reggie Rutherford, and Cleo Dobson of Scouting Six all made drops on the diving boat. Dobson’s bomb hit about thirty-five feet off the starboard beam as the sub was submerging. The conning tower was just visible as the bomb exploded. The trio saw an oil slick on the surface, proof enough to them that this undersea raider was damaged if not out of commission.21
The attack was a grave error, but fortunately did not prove fatal for Pompano and her crew. Dobson’s blast damaged her fuel tanks, but skipper Lew Parks managed to continue his first war patrol. Six weeks later, Dobson happened to run into one of Pompano’s officers at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Oahu. As the submarine officer complained of being bombed by U.S. aircraft on December 20, young Dobson immediately realized his mistake. “He said the second bomb dropped (which was mine) burst an oil tank and they lost 2,500 gallons of fuel,” Dobson wrote. “I am really glad we didn’t get them but they didn’t fire an identification signal. He said they were not afraid of the Jap planes but he was of these goddamn American aviator[s].”22
The Dauntless airmen logged endless hours of single-plane search flights during late December. Jack Leaming put in 76.1 hours of flight time for the month—four times his prewar rate.
The aviators learned the value of sharpening their individual navigation skills during their long scouting flights. Some logged as much as seven hours in the air during the two-hundred-mile searches, and found it was often no easy task to find their carrier upon completion. From Bombing Six, Jack Blitch and Andy Anderson each became lost on consecutive days and managed to safely find the Big E only after dark. In his diary, Dusty Kleiss logged for December 22 that Blitch had managed to sink either a “whale or sub with direct hit.”23
During these patrols, squadron pilots were thoroughly indoctrinated into the use of the first six new Zed Baker homing devices being installed in their aircraft. This new navigational aid worked in conjunction with the YE transponder installed on Enterprise, which sent out a separate code letter for each sector in the 360-degree circle around the ship. The radiomen received the coded letter and were able to make their pilots aware of what sector they were in relative to the ship’s position.24
Lieutenant Ward Powell of Torpedo Six took it upon himself to play Santa Claus for the Enterprise Air Group on Christmas Day at sea. Using red signal cloth to fashion a Santa suit with the help of the squadron’s parachute man, Powell donned a white beard and went around the ship delivering presents—cigars, candy, and gift-shop goodies—to everyone.25
Admiral Halsey’s task group returned to Pearl on December 31, having encountered no enemy opposition. Among the pilots burning with desire to strike back at the Japanese was Dick Best. The carnage at Pearl Harbor was still fresh in his mind, and there was no disguising the anger he felt for his new enemy. “All I could think of was those squinty-eyed little fat Japs sitting around their war room toasting with sake. If I could have gone in there with a samurai sword, I would have cut the heads off a whole bunch of them. I was really upset.”26
As the Dauntless crews flew constant long patrols in search of enemy subs and other surface vessels, each man shared a common goal: to make the Japanese pay for their sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.