|Pilot Major Robert E. Galer, C. O. VMF-224 (survived)
Ditched October 2, 1942
Built by Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, New York as a model G-36 with manually operated folding wings. Delivered to the United States Navy (USN) as F4F-4 Wildcat bureau number 02118. Shipped overseas to the South Pacific.
Assigned to the U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW), Marine Aircraft Group 23 (MAG-23) to squadron VMF-224 "Fighting Wildcats". No known nickname or nose art.
On October 2, 1942 after radar detected an formation of roughly twenty to thirty incoming enemy fighters. On the ground, a red alert was sounded and all available aircraft were scrambled. 2nd Lt. Charles W. Kendrick was one of four VMF-223 pilots that had the day off but took off from Fighter 1 on Guadalcanal at 12:20pm piloting aircraft assigned to VMF-224. In total, thirty-six Wildcats were scrambled including fourteen Wildcats from VF-5, eleven Wildcats from VMF-223, eleven Wildcats from VMF-224 and seven SBD Dauntless dive bombers.
Meanwhile, thirty-six A6M2 Zeros from the 6th Kokutai and Tainan Kokutai led by Lt. Kofukuda escorting nine G4M1 Bettys from Misawa Kokutai acting as decoys took off from Rabaul at 9:10am. By 10:00am. all the Bettys plus eight Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai and one Zero from 6th Kokutai aborted the mission due to engine trouble. By 12:10pm the remaining twenty-seven Zeros were over Guadalcanal at 27,880' to perform a fighter sweep.
After take off, the Wildcats from VMF-224, 3rd Division led by Major Robert E. Galer climbed to 23,000' and met over a dozen Zeros at higher altitude. The Wildcats were attacked by 11th Shotai led by Kofukuda and 12th Shotai led by Lt(jg) Kennosuke Tanouchi making high side passes. Galer and his wingman 2nd Lt. Dean S. Hartley, Jr. turned into the Zeros and opened fire, claiming a Zero. Then Galer broke sharply but was attacked by Kofukuda. He defensively scissored until Hartley was hit and broke off but landed safely. Galer claimed a second Zero (in fact, none of his attackers were damaged) dove for cloud cover but was hit "from wingtip to wingtip, through cockpit and engine, which quit" and a bullet knocked a rudder pedal away from his foot. Heavily damaged, Galer sucessfully ditched near Mandoliana Island off Florida Island roughly twelve miles southeast of Tulagi.
In total, six Wildcats were lost on this mission including this aircraft. Also lost was F4F 02098 (Lees MIA), F4F 5195 (Morgan, MIA), F4F 02110 (Kendrick, KIA), F4F 03502 (Smith, rescued) and F4F 02112 (Treptow, MIA). Several other Wildcats were damaged or suffered mechanical problems.
Fate of the Pilot
Galer was unhurt and swam ashore an hour later, exhausted from fatigue. Afterwards, he was rescued and later returned to duty.
Galer passed away June 27, 2005. He is buried at Texas State Cemetery in Austin, TX at Monument Hill, Section 1, Row B, Number 13.
VMF-224 Combat Report Major Robert E. Galer October 2, 1942
Fold3 NARA "United States Marine Corps Headquarters, Marine Aircraft Group Twenty-Three, First Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force page 62
"1230 Air Raid.... Radar reported flight of small fast planes approaching Henderson Field. 14 planes of VF-5, 11 of VMF-224, 11 of VMF-223 and 7 SBD's scrambled to attack. At 1300 about 30 Zeros and some bombers were engaged over field... Four Zeros were shot down and 6 of our fighteGrs were shot down of which 2 pilots were recovered uninjured. VMF-223 Major R. E. Galer shot down and recovered at Tulagi. Shot down one Zero."
Fold3 NARA "War Diary Marine Fighting Squadron 224 Marine Aircraft Group 23 First Marine Aircraft Wing, FMF From October 1, 1942 to October 31, 1942 page 3
"October 1, 1942 - At 0630 today, the decorations indicated were presented to the following squadron officers..."
October 2, 1942 - At 1200, the air raid alarm was sounded and the following pilots of this squadron took off.... 2dLt Kendrick of VMF-223 took off in one of the planes of this squadron [VMF-224]. The enemy's force, which consisted of twenty or thirty Zero fighters, was encountered over the field...
Major Smith of VMF-223 made a force landing south of the field but was uninjured and safely returned."
A History of Marine Attack Squadron 223 page 5 [PDF page 15]
History of the Marine Corps Aviation in World War II pages 96, 425 (medal of honor) 431 (aces), 493 (index)
(Page 96) "During early October ... Six of John Smith's VMF-223 pilots had been killed."
432) Marine Corps aces in World War II no. 13 Galer, Robert E. - number of planes shot down: 13
AAIR USN Overseas Aircraft Loss List October 1942 F4F Wildcat 02118 piloted by Galer
First Team and The Guadalcanal Campaign Ambush [October 2, 1942 mission]
Robert Edward Galer (grave photo)
Guadalcanal Tome I pages 305-310 (U.S. pilots page 306, Japanese pilots 309)
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April 12, 2017