HISTORY OF BOMBING SQUADRON VB-11
VB-11 was commissioned on 10 October 1942 at NAS North Island, San Diego, CA. The nucleus of the squadron being five aviators from Bombing 2 (VB-2) which was aboard the USS Lexington (CV-2) when it was sunk during the battle of Coral Sea (8 May '42). LCDR Weldon J. Hamilton had been CO of VB-2 and became CO of VB-11. He was a 4.0 skipper, later to be promoted to Command Air Group-11, and was unfortunately killed during the Air Group's first tour. Other combat experienced VB-2 veterans included LT. Ralph Cousins (later to become a four star Admiral and serve as CinCLant), Lt. Paul J. "Snapper" Knapp **, LTJG Joe Riley ** and LTJG Herb Shonk, who was killed in a mid-air collision with a New Zealand Air Force fighter over Fiji on a training flight.
The squadron inherited VB-2's insignia featuring Pegasus, the flying horse which showed outstandingly on the squadrons SBD Douglas Dauntless dive bombers and on the pilots flight jackets. The insignia is well deserving of an award winning "Oscar" as the most appropriate insignia ever selected for a dive bombing squadron per the following: In Greek mythology Pegasus, the winged horse of the Muses, was tamed by the Corinthian hero Bellerophon. Riding on Pegasus, Bellerophon plunged down on the monster Chimaera from a great height and killed it, thus recording the first "hit" by a dive bomber!
Later, when Bellerophon tried to ride Pegasus to heaven, the winged horse was stung by a gadfly sent by Zeus, and threw his rider to his death. Pegasus continued the ascent alone, becoming the same named constellation. Pegasus, the first dive bomber, still holds the all time altitude record!! The Greek words above Pegasus in the VB-11 insignia translate into "First to Attack"-to which squadron mates have added "And Last to Secure."
VB-11 was one of Air Group 11's four squadrons with CDR Paul Ramsey as the Air Group Commander. VF-11, the fighters, flew Gruman Wildcats (F4Fs) that later were replaced with Hellcats (F6Fs). VB-11 & VS-11 (later redesignated as VB-21), were assigned the air groups scouting and dive bombing missions and flew Douglas Dauntlesses (SBDs) and VT-11, the group's torpedo squadron, flew Gruman Avengers (TBFs). Air Group-11 was formed as a Carrier Replacement Air Group and was scheduled to relieve the air group then flying off the first Hornet (CV-8). This historic carrier had launched Jimmy Doolittle's B-25s on the Tokyo attack and was then in the battle of Midway, before being sunk in the battle of Santa Cruz prior to the Air Group getting aboard.
The Air Group and its squadrons flew training missions out of NAS San Diego till 23 Oct.'42 when they departed for Hawaii aboard the WWI Army transport, President Tyler, while their planes were in the same convoy aboard the jeep carrier, Long Island. From late October '43 VB-11 flew training flights in the Hawaiian Islands, first out of Ford Island and then the newly constructed Barbers Point, both of which were situated in the island of Oahu. Days off were infrequent but enjoyed at Waikiki Beach.
On 18 Feb.'43, the Air Group departed Pearl Harbor for the Fiji Islands aboard the carrier USS Altamaha, slightly larger than jeep carriers. With the full compliment of air group planes aboard space for normal flight operations was not available but the air group launched by catapult off of Fiji flying into NAS Nandi, a small Seabee constructed air strip with a Marston Matting runway. (Note of interest: Nandi has over the years grown to be a large International airport). At Fiji the squadrons again flew training flights the month of March and till 27 April '43 when orders were received to report to Guadalcanal for the combat duty that we had been preparing for over the past six months. The squadron flew first to Efate and then on to Esperito Santo (Buttons) and spent the night before flying to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal the following day.
The first ground duty for all was to dig foxholes roofed by palm logs and sand bags! Although there was little enemy land action remaining on the island, Jap air attacks occurred frequently during daytime and routinely at night when twin engine bombers, dubbed "Washing Machine Charlie" because their props were purposely set at unsynchronized RPMs to create a sleep depriving distraction! Cots were assigned to the aircrews in tents but because mosquito nets were not available in the early weeks of the tour, and the continuing air alerts made shut-eye difficult to come by. VB-11 immediately started flying their first combat missions against enemy targets on the neighboring Solomon Islands of Munda, Vila Vanga Vanga, Ringi Cove, Rekata Bay, Sangigai, Viri Harbor, Bairoko Harbor and Kahili on Bougainville. All but the last were Jap strongholds with heavy concentrations of anti aircraft fire, the majority of which had air fields. VF-11's fighters kept off the defending Zeros while the dive bombers hit the anti aircraft bunkers and damaged the air strip with bomb holes followed by the torpedo planes making glide bombing passes. Bougainville was the most distant target attacked, the flight being made possible by the addition of newly arrived wing tanks. There, at the harbor of Kahili a formation of cruisers, destroyers and merchant ships were caught by surprise and the dive bombers made hits that sank several!!! LT(jg) E.F. Hughes, USNR and his radioman gunner H.M. Marrs, ARM2c were missing in action and presumed shot down, the squadron's only combat losses during the first tour. LT(jg) J.G. Steussy and his gunner were forced to make a water landing in the Blackett Straight to be rescued friendly natives and returned to Henderson by the efforts of one of the Coast Watchers. The story of these fearless men, formerly Australian and New Zealand Plantation Managers, who hid in the hills on enemy held islands while radioing vital enemy shipping and flight information and helping to return our downed aviators is a fantastic story for which we unfortunately do not have space.
During the Guadalcanal tour CDR Hamilton was promoted to CAG and LCDR Raymond Jacoby ** took command of VB-11. His tour of leadership was short lived as he was hit on the head by a falling coconut with injuries that required he be sent to the hospital in Espirito Santos for recuperation and LT Ralph Cousins took over as acting CO. By the end of August VB-11 combat duties had ended after over 30 strike missions and numerous scouting and anti submarine flights.
VB-11 reformed for its second WWII combat tour on 24 Sept.'43 in California flying training missions and carrier landing qualifications out of NAS Alameda, NAS Santa Rosa and NAAS Crow's Landing. Instead of two VB squadrons the Air Group had only one that had twice the planes and pilots as during the first tour. There were nine combat experienced pilots from the original VB-11 & VS-11 who were ordered to again serve in VB-11. They were Soupy Campbell, Jack Cocks, Ray Earl, Boze Ervin, Geo. Ford, Al Fite, Dick Kenney **, Bill Strahan and "Big Ed" Wilson. The all new Curtis Helldiver, SB2C was soon to replace the SBDs providing more speed, range, carrying a larger pay load in a bomb bay and twin 20 millimeter cannons in its wings rather than 50 caliber machine guns.
30 Mar. '44 embarked for Hawaii on the USS Wasp and ordered to fly the squadron's planes to NAS Hilo on the big island of Hawaii where combat training continued till the middle of June when a transfer was ordered to NAS Barbers Point for more combat exercises and carrier qualifications through 9 Sept.'44 when the squadron departed on an Army Troop Ship, USS O.H. Ernst that delivered it to Manus, in the Admiralties, on 24 Sept.'44. On the 29th, boarded the USS Hornet (CV-12) (replacement for namesake sunk at Santa Cruz)) commencing VB-11's second combat tour. During the squadron's duty their pilots attacked Okinawa, Takoa, & Heito on Formosa (now Taiwan), Clark, Cabcaben, Nicholson, & Nichols Air Fields, Florida Blanca, Olongapo, & Manila Harbor on Luzon and Leyte in the Philippines. Air Group 11 supported the invasion of Leyte and participated in the battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in world history and were able to assist in turning around the Jap fleet that had unexpectedly sneaked through the San Bernardino Strait and were unmercifully punishing Admiral Kinkaid's noncompetitive fleet that was assigned protection of the Leyte invasion forces.
Attacks followed on Indo-China (now Vietnam), Taikoo & Kowloon dockyards at Hong Kong and Japanese shipping in these waters. Squadron relieved of duty aboard Hornet 1 Feb.'45 in Ulithi and personnel returned to Alameda, Calif. by sea. Thus ended VB-11's two tours of WWII combat duty in which the squadron had established an enviable record, destroying innumerable war and cargo ships, supported island invasions and destroyed voluminous enemy land targets and defending troops as well as many Jap planes on the ground. The outstanding record achieved by VB-11 during its two WWII combat tours, was only made possible by the distinguished performance of the squadron's enlisted personnel; air crewmen flying in the dive bomber's rear seats as radiomen-gunners, ordinance men, mechanics and plane captains and those with other support duties, as well as Henderson Field and Hornet (CV-12) maintenance staff members.
VB-11 pilots credited with hits on Japanese navy capital war ships were awarded the Navy Cross - the Navy's highest decoration after the Congressional Medal of Honor, others the Distinguished Flying Cross and all received numerous Air Medals for their displayed skill and valor in destroying the enemy. LT(jg) Earl Janicke had the unique distinction of having served during WWII in three Air Forces. Until the Nazi's took over, in the Polish Air Force, then in the Battle of Britain in the RAF and finally in VB-11 in the U.S. Navy! "Big Ed" Wilson, after having flown in both the 1st & 2nd of VB-11's combat tours, continued after the war in the Naval Air Reserve flying prop and jet fighters. In 1971 he was promoted to Rear Admiral, the rank from which he later retired. VB-11 therefore had the proud distinction of producing two flag officers.
VB-11 reformed for a third time in California in '45 as VBF-11, as the war was winding down with LCDR Ralph Cousins, formerly of VB-2 & VB-11, 1st tour, as CO. He was later promoted to CDR and Air Group Commander. In '47 and '48 this squadron, now flying Douglas AD Skyraiders, and redesignated first as VA-11A & then as VA-114, participated in a cruise around the world on the Valley Forge, proudly showing the flag to all nations visited! On 1 Dec.'49, the Pegasus tradition came to an end, after an illustrious & enviable combat history, with the disestablishment of VA-114. The decommissioned aircraft carrier Hornet has been docked in Alameda, Calif. for the past several years where it is open to the public, as a museum, memorializing the naval air warfare in which the U.S. Navy, its ships, crews and aviators partook during the last three quarters of the past century.
** since deceased