Over the years, most of our strikes on Rabaul have faded into a blur. But our first strike—that very first strike—was one that I will always remember.
I was on the flight list that included six Anzac pilots and 18 Yanks, plus crews. We were going in with a strike force of 24 TBF Avengers, each plane loaded with four 500-lb. bombs set with delay fuses.
The night before take-off, we were briefed by Lt. A. J. Ludwig, squadron intelligence officer, and Capt. Hank Hise, the designated flight leader. Believe me, we gave them both our full attention. I was eager, but apprehensive. They identified the target: military supply areas along the western slope of Rabaul’s Simpson Harbor. They reported on the latest weather conditions. Hank Hise followed up with directional headings, flight formations, attack strategy, a strong reminder of what to do if we had to bail out and some final words of encouragement.
We took off with the first streaks of dawn, when the surrounding jungle and hills were still dark and dripping wet. With our props trailing mist and exhaust stacks belching flame, we thundered down the runway matting, two planes at a time. Out over Empress Augusta Bay, we climbed in a circle to 14,000 feet, joined in formation, and made a beeline for Rabaul.
Flying high above us in a relentless weaving pattern, a flight of F4U Corsairs from VMF-115 provided flight cover, whether we needed it or not. While we expected heavy anti-aircraft fire at Rabaul, we didn’t anticipate any significant fighter opposition.
Maj. Joe Foss, America’s leading ace at that time, was the skipper of VMF-11&—on his second tour in the South Pacific war zone. He arrived at Espiritu Santo with his new squadron on the CVE carrier Copahee in early 1944, shortly before we came in on the Kitkun Bay.