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article number 78
article date 11-17-2011
copyright 2011 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Carrier Pilot, Navy Captain HOWARD H. SKIDMORE, WWII Pacific Theater
by Chuck Knox

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of the many interviews conducted by Chuck Knox for his book, The Sound of Distant Drums. The Sound of Distant Drums contains writings and interviews of many soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Panama and Gulf Wars. It makes a great book to leave out for casual short readings. You can type “Chuck Knox, The Sound of Distant Drums” into your search engine to find Amazon and other sellers who carry this book.

This presentation of Navy Captain, HOWARD H. SKIDMORE’s story covers just a small portion of his article. We take this portion from the middle of his exciting story.

… Up to this time, none of our assignments took us away from the task force. We had been utilized as the protective force for our ships from enemy aircraft, both high and low flyers and enemy submarines that might be attacking our force.

Our Task Group consisted of the USS Essex (CV-16), Hancock (CV-19), Intrepid (CV-9) and the Cabot (CVL-29). The CV’s carried 92 aircraft; 56 F6F fighters, 18 SB2C dive bombers and 18 TBM torpedo planes, while CVL’s carried 24 fighters and 9 torpedo bombers. The other ships in our Task Force were one to two battleships, four to five cruisers (light/heavy), with 13 to 15 destroyers. We had four Task Groups of this make up. During this time period, all the pilots were Naval Aviators. Later in April 1945, we did have several fighter squadrons of Marine Aviators deployed on the fast large carriers.

USS Cabot.

The 24th of October started out routinely, fighters on “Combat Air Patrol” (CAP) and the “Torpeckers” on Anti-Submarine Patrol (ASP). Then the call came and we were going to attack the enemy, the “big” one, the Japanese Navy was spotted in the Sibyan Sea headed in our direction. The Cabot was to launch 8 fighters and 5 torpedo bombers. The latter with 2,000 pound torpedoes, set at the depth of 12 feet. We were joining with the strike force from the USS Intrepid who would have the lead.

My “Skipper” was Lt. Irvin McPherson, USNR, and he had been aboard the USS Enterprise (CV-6) at the start of the war. He flew the TBD “Dauntless” torpedo bomber which did not go much over 100 knots and it did not have a bomb bay. The torpedo was carried externally. The approach to a drop was 100 feet. The “Avenger” carried its torpedo in the bomb bay and could be going 270-285 knots at 800 to 1,000 feet on its delivery of the torpedo. A much better situation.

At 0915 we were launched, 8 “Hellcats” and 5 “Avengers” for our first strike at the enemy fleet. Lt. Fecke was leading the fighters and he had become an “Ace” in fifteen minutes just 8 days ago, as well as “Buck” Buchanan. He was flying wing on “Bud” Sonner who knocked down 4 in the same fifteen minutes. Did I feel safe? You bet. I felt most comfortable having them as my cover. The other five had a total of six kills in that dogfight

Howard Skidmore in the Cockpit of the Avenger Torpedo Bomber.

Besides the “Skipper”, were the following: The Executive Officer Lt. John Williams, “Bill” Anderson, Lt. John Ballentine Jr. and Lt. (j.g) Skidmore took off for this mission. Each of us has a two man crew and all of them were experienced, having operated off the USS Santee (CVE-29) in the Atlantic. The Executive Officer came from instructor duty. This group are the top senior aviators of the squadron. Looking back at this group, one might think we had only one chance at striking the Jap fleet.

I believe I took off as number three since I was flying on the wing of the “Skipper” as well as Anderson was, it was a three plane section. The “XO” and Ballentine formed the second section. Our 8 fighters had taken off first, as usual since they are able to defend the ships as well as other aircraft. The Intrepid launched at the same time and they rendezvoused and our VT joined with theirs and climbed to 12,000 feet in a loose V formation. One division of fighters took 14,000 feet and the other division took 16,000 feet as top cover.

The Jap fleet came into view at 1025 in an attack formation on a course of 045, with an estimated 18 knots. They had four battleships of which two were the IJN Yamato and the IJN Musashi, the two largest in the world; the latter was the lead battleship. They were circled by cruisers and then the destroyers circled all of the ships. The Strike Commander gave the instructions on the sequence and targets for each group. The Cabot torpedo planes were to attack the lead battleship on its starboard side, while the torpedo bombers of the Intrepid would attack on the port side of the same battleship. The sequence would be; Cabot fighters, not carrying bombs would strafe ships on the starboard side of the lead battleship, they were followed by the Intrepid dive bombers. Then the Cabot fighters with bombs dove on the target and strafed in the dive and then dropped their 1,000 pound bomb with a pull out at 1,500 to 2,000 feet.


In the meantime, Lt. McPherson led the Cabot torpedo bombers off to the left losing altitude and using the clouds as cover for as long as one could. It was designed to lose altitude and arrive over the destroyer screen and the cruisers at the desired heading, altitude for a torpedo release, while flying straight and level with a desired lead on the battleship. Yes, we had established our desired position for the attack on the lead battleship, the IJN Musashi. I broke out of the clouds just as I passed over the cruiser screen at 1,000 feet, adjusted my aiming ahead of the Musashi, opened my bombay doors, pressed the pickle and launched my torpedo.

I do not know if they were firing at me while I was in the clouds, but as soon as I broke out, all hell was breaking. The nine 18” guns were belching fire out of each barrel, tracers going by, it seemed all guns, 5”, 40mm, 20mm, and 50 calibers were firing. I was at an air speed of 280 knots. I closed the bombay door, started my evasive action by losing altitude, gaining speed and changing direction, making a hard starboard turn to go in the same direction as the battleship was going.

This was my quickest and best retirement route out. The Musashi was the lead battleship and I would be clear of his guns quickly; a cruiser would be engaging me broadside and one or two destroyers. When I was in a high banking turn to the starboard, I was over the battleships bow. A large shell entered my starboard (low) side and exited the port side (high side) and exploded very close to me on my port side. I came out of my turn of 80 degrees at 300 feet. At that time over the radio, I heard: “TBM ahead of me you are on fire.” Well, who is ahead of who?

The explosion bent a portion of my wing up where the wing folds over and I could see the ocean. Not only that, but my port canopy had been slightly dislodged from the track, which created a two inch opening at the front. That did not seem nearly as important as dead ahead of me was tracer fire of 50 caliber or 20mm that had me “bore sited.” I immediately popped the stick forward and leveled off just 8 to 10 feet above the water. This firing was coming from the cruiser which was at the 1100 position from the battleship and going in the same direction as I was. When I “popped” the stick forward, I felt a “bangbang” up forward. I maintained this altitude until I had positioned myself outside of the destroyer screen and then some.

I learned my radioman had been injured when the shell went through the plane from starboard and out the port-side; it went just under where my radioman/tail gunner had been sitting. He was hit with shrapnel in both legs and had been bleeding. Now that I am approaching our rendezvous I checked all my instruments to see what damage I might have suffered. All instruments were indicating normal readings, the engine sounded OK, but I had a very small amount of “golden oil” collecting on my windshield on the port side. Well, while we were circling, joining up some 18-20 miles ahead of the battleship, it was lobbing 18” shells out in the middle of our circle and the water spouts were something to avoid. We decided it best to increase our distance and make a “running” rendezvous and go home, which we did.

My turret gunner informed me the bleeding was not good and he needed medical attention as soon as we landed aboard. I understood and I would request the first to land upon our return. The “golden oil” on my port windshield continued and I could not figure out where it was coming from. The engine was running smoothly, I had plenty of fuel, the port hatch was ajar and off its track, somewhat, but I did not see this as a problem.

We were missing our XO, Lt. Williams. I had not seen what might have happened to him, I had been somewhat busy. As I flew by the starboard side of the carrier ready to enter the landing pattern, I reported I had one injured man aboard. All went normal, flying downwind and in the first half of my cross leg. At this point I am having trouble seeing through my port side of the windshield and seeing the signals of my “Landing Signal Officer” (LSO). I had opened my canopy of both sides when I completed my landing “check list.” I notified my crew we would be number one to land. At the 45 degree position of my turn the oil spot is blocking a clear view of my LSO. I reach out and wipe it off and I can see him.

This is a routine, wipe oil spot and it reappears. I am taking turns, hand on throttle, hand wiping oil from the windshield. What is the problem? Well, it is necessary to adjust the throttle, as I make the approach. I need to see the LSO at all times in the approach. Then when the LSO gives me the “cut” to land I have to close the throttle (off) completely, immediately. I should be lined straight up the middle of the flight deck, yes, and make the landing. Everything must be done at the correct moment. The landing deck area is only 73 feet wide and the carrier is moving. The wing span of the plane is 54 feet 2 inches. The “Avenger” was the largest single engine carrier plane in WWII. I landed but I was off the center line and not headed straight up the deck. Luck was with me, I did not go into the catwalk but I was close to it. The Corpsmen were waiting and took Danny McCarthy, ARMC1c to sick bay and he was back in the air a week later. Don Hambidge, AMM1c was my turret gunner. They were the best and they saved my life.

No, I did not see the results of my torpedo. Did it hit the Musashi, I do not know. I believe it should have. Just as soon as I dropped the torpedo, closed the bombay, I had only one thought in mind. Get out there and be able to fly again. That I did accomplish. The anti-aircraft fire was unbelievable. We did not have any enemy fighters to contend with. The TBM (an Avenger manufactured by General Motors) was a great plane to fly. Mr. L. C. Goad, a graduate of Villa Grove High School, was responsible for forming the “Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors” to build the TBM Avenger and the FM2 Wildcat that Gruman Corporation designed. These contributed greatly in winning the war in the Pacific. Mr. Goad is a “member of the Villa Grove High School Hall of Fame” as of May 25, 1996.

Japanese battleship Musashi under attack.

I do know the IJN Musashi sank the next day from the pounding it received the day before. It was the lead battleship in the formation. The Cabot fighters and torpedo bombers made two other strikes on the Jap fleet on the 24th.

It wasn’t until our second Cabot/Air Group reunion that I found out, it was me that was on fire and was ahead of the individual who made the radio call: “TBM ahead of me, you are on fire.” My crew thought I had known this all along. As Paul Harvey would say, “And now the rest of the story.”

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