It was thought the Japs had their guns on rails that were hidden under jungle cover. At night they would roll them out, drop a few shells, and move back under cover. We were unable to pinpoint their remote jungle locations.
To counter this problem, the Bougainville Command ordered a relay of two-hour, artillery spotting patrols, all- night long, around the perimeter. Two planes at a time. Two hours at a time. The assignment went to our squadron—and it was unpopular duty. Very unpopular.
Yet the strategy was successful.
As soon as we launched night-time patrols, the Jap gunners became wise to what we were doing. They wouldn’t fire when any plane was in their sector, for fear the muzzle flash would reveal the position of their guns. So we achieved our objective. As long as we continued nighttime air surveillance around the perimeter, there was almost no further shelling of the air strips. And we gained some semblance of sleep before taking off at dawn for another strike on Rabaul.
Marine pilots in the South Pacific flew any plane they could get. It wasn’t like the Air Force in Europe, where each pilot had a personal plane and supporting crew. At the end of a thin supply line, largely dependent upon Navy logistics, dedicating specific planes to specific pilots was a luxury the Marines just didn’t have.
That was one big reason why our plane captains and maintenance crews and engineering teams under Warrant Officer Fred Minden commanded the respect of every pilot in the squadron. Fred was a tough old salt—a pre-war Marine who knew how to handle men and machines.
The TBF was a strong and reliable plane. But our TBFs at Bougainville took a beating. Yet Minden’s men kept them flying under unbelievably stressful conditions.
Pounding Rabaul continued to be our primary mission. But the Bougainville Command also called on our squadron for help in ground support missions—bombing and strafing Japanese gun positions and other Jap installations on both sides of the big island.