Air Group 38 (VC38) - A Brief History

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Air Group 38 (VC38) - A Brief History

Post by djltucker » Wed Nov 20, 2013 1:19 am

Lt. William R. Larson and his fellow VC38 Squadron were part of the Solomon Air Offensive that began after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal of November 13, 1942. VC38 flew missions with other Naval squadrons and U.S. Marine Fighting Squadrons & Scout-Bombing Squadrons throughout September, October, November, and December 1943, mercilessly pounding the Japanese airfields of Kahili, Kara, Buka, and Ballale, including Japanese supply areas of Tarlena & Kieta, Bougainville. Initially these bombing missions were large scale assaults including up to 126 aircrafts; consisting of TBFs, SBDs, and Hellcat fighter planes in a single attack. VC38 worked off both land-based air fields (Espiritu Santo, Guadalcanal, and Munda) and carrier-based operations (USS Breton & USS Saratoga), however the majority of Lucky’s time was bombing operations based out of Munda airfield.
The invasion of Bougainville (Bougainville Campaign) began on November 1, 1943 when the U.S. Marines (3d Marine Division and two attached Marine Raider battalions) landed on Cape Torokina, in central Bougainville’s Empress Augusta Bay. Lucky and VC38 actually bombed the Japanese troops fighting the marines on November 14th and 20th, 1943 by dropping 100# bombs near the Japanese positions. Success at Bougainville setup the U.S. forces to finally reach the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul on the Island of New Britain.
Rabaul was the Japanese fortress of military power, which included a harbor and five airfields. The march up the Solomons chain, starting at Guadalcanal to now Bougainville airfield (Piva airfield), allowed Allied fighter aircraft to final reach Rabaul within their operational range. VC38 Squadron’s heroic actions during the Bougainville and the New Britain campaign’s from October 1943 to March of 1944 culminated in a Scorecard of 112 aerial missions, 3 night missions, & 37 Japanese victories, with over 30 enemy ships sunk or damaged.
By all accounts, the TBF attack on Keravia Bay - Rabaul, on February 17, 1944 was astonishing. Several of the TBF pilots of VC38, under a curtain of anti-aircraft maching gun fire, flew low on the water to “skip bomb” several key targets. These heroic tactics resulted in several Japanese ships being damaged or sunk; including a battleship, transport ship, and patrol vessel. The CONAIRSOLS STRIKE COMMAND TBF INTELLIGENCE REPORT for February 17, 1943 vividly details this event (included below & in Appendix D). I have been able to account for eight awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross to members of VC38 TBF squadron during this dive bombing attack, though there maybe more. The list includes the following aviation officers:
• Cmd Charles E. Brunton – D.F.C
• Lt. Jack P. Scholfield – D.F.C
• Lt. Graham Tahler – D.F. C.
• Lt. Robert B. Giblin – D.F.C
• Lt. John A Leary – D.F.C.
• Lt. Robert F Regan – D.F.C.
• Lt. Arthur McDonald – D.F.C.
• Lt. Robert H. Behn – D.F.C.

Following the return of VC38 to the west coast, several members continued in the naval service and had distinguished careers. These include the following:
• Cmd Charles E. Brunton – Rear Admiral
• Lt. Graham Tahler – Rear Admiral
• Lt. Rober B. Giblin – Commander of USS Lexington

Several members of VC38 also had distinguished legal careers, including the following:
• Lt. John A Leary – Judge of New York State
• Lt. Jack P Scholfield – Judge of Washington State

This list is likely incomplete, as my research was limited. Based on Richard (Wag) Wagner’s War Diary, VC38 was disbanded in June of 1945. VC38 was one unit and one tour that contributed to the end of World War II within the Pacific Theater of War. By all accounts, they performed tremendously. 

Target: Shipping in Keravia Bay
Mission: Bomb and strafe.
Flight Leader: Commander C.E. Brunton
Squadrons: VC-38 (12), VMTB -134 (6), VMTB-143 (3), VMTB 233 (3)
Planes: Ordered for mission: 24 TBF’s
Actually dropped bombs: 22 TBF’s. (1 plane did not take off, and 1 plane returned with hung bomb).
Other A/Coordinating: 48 SBD’s and 76 VF
Damage to own A/C: Plane #101 – 20 MM in starboard wing, M/G bullets in port wing, 50 calibre in fuselage 2 feet aft of turret, numerous shrapnel and bullet holes in fuselage.
Plane #232: Hydraulic system knocked out by AA (probably shrapnel). 20 MM hole in cockpit next to pilot’s seat. Shrapnel holes in port and starboard wings and center section of flaps.
Plane #213: Bullet holes in starboard wing.
Plane #114: Hit in engine by M/G.
Personnel Casualties: Commander C.E. Brunton in plane #101 was hit by AA (probably 20MM) from 240’ DD just prior to releasing his bomb which scored a direct hit on it. He received a compound fracture of the right ulna with severance of the right ulna nerve and multiple lacerations, lateral aspect of right thigh.
Ammunition Expended: 50 calibre – 2375 rounds
30 calibre – 2200 rounds
Attack Tactics: High speed approach at 13000’ across Blancho Bay down to push over at 8,000’ for attack at masthead level. The formation turned S. and approached Keravia Bay through the depression W. of Vulcan Crater released at mast head level and retired over the water toward Raluana Point. Rally 5 miles E. of Cape Gazelle, route back direct to base. Ships and barges were strafed by both fixed and free guns.
Note – Photos taken after the strike showed one medium and three small AK missing, and it is presumed that they were sunk. The results of the forward firing rockets are the subject of a separate report.
Summary of Results: 5 confirmed direct hits on the 475’ Eiyo Maru N. Keravia Bay; photographic coverage showed that it has been damaged again and was seeping oil. Damage to shipping in NW Keravia Bay was reported as follows:
1. 2 confirmed direct hits and 1 u/o on a 300’ AK which photograph showed to be missing from harbor subsequently.
2. 1 confirmed direct on 175’ PC. Photograph showed damage and oil slick
3. 1 confirmed direct hit on another 300’ AK.
4. 2 near misses and 1 u/o on 265 AK.
5. 3 confirmed direct hits and 2 u/o on 400’ AO.
In W Keravia Bay, 1 confirmed direct hit on 240’ DD. The stern was observed to be lifted high out of the water by the explosion of the bomb, and a later photograph showed it lying with its stern underwater.
In SW Keravia Bay, 1 near miss on 175’ PC.
In SE Keravia Bay, 1 near miss and 1 u/o on 175’ AK.
Weather: Route up: Squalls and scattered clouds 2000’-9000’
O.T.: Clear, Ceiling 13000’
Route Back: 8/10 clouds with base 1500’ scattered squalls.
Observations: 1. Enemy Shipping:
A. 1 AK (300’) and 2 large SS N. of Vulcan Crater.
B. 20-30 large and small barges near shore S. Keravia Bay.
C. One barge underway in Blanco Channel, thoroughly strafed by several planes.
D. Keravia Bay (See Summary of Results supra).
2.Enemy ground activity: AA, shipping and barrage balloons from 3 vessels N of Vulcan Crater
3. Condition of targets before and after attack: Smoke from damaged AK’s and explosion at stern of DD after hits.
4. Results of coordinated attack: Not observed
5. Unusual circumstances: Many small parachutes observed over Keravia Bay, possibly shot up or released for AA purposes.
6. Anti-Aircraft:
A. SW/Vulcan Crater, known heavy (2x4.7 navel guns), moderate, inaccurate.
B. S Matupi Island, known heavy and light, moderate, inaccurate.
C. W of Matupi Crater, known auto, moderate, inaccurate.
D. W of Vulcan Crater, know auto (20MM), intense, inaccurate.
E. W and S shore Keravia Bay, know light auto and M/G, moderate, inaccurate.
F. Cove S of Vulcan Crater, known light auto and M/G, moderate, inaccurate.
G. Lakunni: known light and heavy, intense, accurate.
H. From ships in Keravia Bay, (especially PC and DD), auto and M/G, intense, accurate
I. Shore SW of Lakunai Airfield, known auto, moderate, inaccurate.
J. S of Raluana Point, M/G, intense, accurate.
7. Miscellaneous: 1 F4U was observed to crash in Simpson Harbor W of Matupi Island.

James N. Truesdale, Lt. USNR.
A.C.I.O. VC38,
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Plane No. Pilot Passenger Remarks

101 Brunton Wagner, Kemp Hit on DD
103 Scholfield Ulrich, Dills Hit on AK
104 Giblin Lee, Perkins Hit on AK
105 Draughon Doal, Paul u/o on AO
108 Regan Misner, Brandt Hit on AK
109 Leake Boyle, O’Daniel Effective miss on PC
100 Bishop Schramm, Barnes Hit on PC
102 McDonald Blank, Young Hit on AO
106 Tahler Bius, Brewer Hit on AO
107 Behn Dill, Farber Hit on AK
215 Leary Greslie, Dale Effective miss on AK
119 Gammage Durham, Morrissey Hit on AO

202 Glenn Sticksel, Whitcannank Effective miss on AK
206 Ranson Fisher, Mac Adam Did not strike
207 Philbin Blazie,Williams Hit on AK
209 Turner Lochridge, Farris Did not strike
213 Richardson Wilson, Lane Effective miss on AK
211 Wright Adams, Brunson Did not strike
230 Robertson Dumelle, Ballard Hit on AK
231 Boll Bruzuskowicz, Hickman u/o on AK
232 Lemmons Sutton, Boecher u/o on AK
235 May Hull, McKenna u/o of AK
236 Ball Berryman, Kane u/o of AK

5 Phillips F.G. Drolsbaugh, Hobbs Hit on AO
12 Berdel Enterline,Calvert u/o on AO
8 Takacs Hull, Isam Hit on AO
121 Tulis Crawford, Levino Did not attack
4 Bauder Kearns, DeRouch Did not attack
126 Morris R.D. McGee, Hundrichs Did not attack

A total of eight men of Air Group 38 are listed on their Scorecard as missing or killed. Their stories include the following:

Lt. Wayne C. Presley (VF-38)
On Septemer 16, 1943, Presley took off from Munda Airfield in his F6F-3 Hellcat fighter, as part of the escort fro 24 TBFs and 31 SBDs attacking Ballale Island. The escort consisted of 13 Hellcats from VF-38 and 11 Hellcats from VF-40, in addition to other F6F, F4U, P-40, & P-38’s making up a total of 71 escorting fighters. Over the target, 40-50 intercepting Zeros and Tonys were met, and heavy anti-aircraft cover was encountered over the target. Presley and his Hellcat (Bureau Number 25940) was observed to crash in the sea and is listed as MIA. Lt. Presley was declared dead on January 9, 1946. Lt. Presley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with Gold Star, and Purple Heart (posthumously).

Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Today I went on my first strike against the Japs. It was the Island of Ballale just a few miles from Bougainville. Ballale is a small island with a bomb strip covering almost the entire island. There was lots of heavy AA and zeros. One Zero started a move on us but a P39 shot him down before he got a good start. During the three day attack on Ballale we lost two TBFs and three F6Fs. Two of the fighter pilots were picked up but the others were not. We shot down 50 zeros. – September 15, 1943 entry

Lt. Joseph G. Nason & gunner Thomas E. Furlong (VB-38 SBD plane)
On Octobe 23, 1943, pilot Joseph Nason and gunner Thomas Furlong, Jr., took off from Munda Airfield on a diving bomb mission to Bouganville. While dive bombing an anti-aircraft position near Keita Airfield, the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and caught fire. Nason bailed out virtually over Keita Airfield. His gunner Furlong was not seen to escape the stricken SBD aircraft and was presumed to have been killed when it crashed.
Lt Nason was captured by the Japanese and became a POW. Nason survived the war and was one of only a handful of POWs that were liberated by Australians when Japan surrendered in September 1945. Nason passed away on October 12, 2012. He wrote a book about his history as a POW. Horio You Next Die! by Joseph Nason. The story of Joe Nason is available for view at

Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Strike Kahili – one SBD shot down. Nason & Furlong – parachute both dead. – October 1943 note entry in Aviator’s Flight Log Book.

Lt. Harry W. Wilson (TBF pilot VT38)
On Octobee 28, 1943, Lt. Wilson crashed on take off at 0619 and was killed. Minor injuries were sustained by W.M. Haller (Radioman) and L.E. Wilson (Turret Man). The Bureau Number for Wilson’s TBF plane was 06118. 19 TBFs were on a bombing and strafing mission of Kara Airfield and anti-aircraft positions on that day.

Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Attack Kara on Bougainville. It was a bad day from the start. Lt. Wilson was killed on the takeoff. Jeffrey got hit in the back by a 20mm. Very little heavy AA but a lot of small stuff. – October 28, 1943 entry.

Lt. Herbert T. Leaky (VT-38), S. Barcala (VT-38), & W.E. Dunton (VT-38)
On February 20, 1944, Lt. Leake, S. Barcala, and W.E. Dunton are missing in action as result of crash of plane #103 during a bomb and strafe mission on bridges and AA installations at the Monottu Mission area. Plane #103 was loaded with 1x2000# 1/10 second delay bomb and was seen to make steep dive from 3000-feet and to pull out (after release) at approximately 500-feet. Just after the plane levelled off with approximate speed of 200k one half of the starboard wing came off, probably as a result of the bomb blast, and the plane flipped over on its back and crashed in the jungle in the Monoitu Mission area.
Radioman Richard Wagner’s War Diary:
Attack ground positions just a few miles south of our camp. Our target was a bridge so the Japs couldn’t move heavy art {artillery} up this way. We missed the bridge. Leake went in just as he was pulling out of his glide. Dunton was gunner, and Barcalla Radioman. – February 20, 1944 entry

Lt. Larry Henry Englade (VF-38 F6F Hellcat Pilot)
Lt. Englade, USNR Service Number 117107, was lost February 29, 1944. As a fighter plane pilot during the occupation of Attu Island, he repeately executed strafing and glide bombing missions at extremely low altitudes while being subjected to heavy antiaircraft fire. Lt. Englade was awared the Air Medal.
Prior to missing in action, Lt. Englade survived ditching his Hellcat fighter in the ocean on November 3, 1943. Pour weather prevailed all day that day with the regularly scheduled patrols to Bougainville. Lt. L.H. Englade of VF38, got lost over Treasury Island was still missing at the end of the day, last having been heard from when he radioed that he was out of gasoline and was preparing to make a water landing at 1800. On November 6, 1943, Lt. Englasde was picked up by natives on Ugi Island after making a forced water landing, and was subsequently rescued by Lt. Carten of VS68, and returned to USNB Segi (Segi Airfield, New Georgia Island).

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