Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) Special Air Task Force (SATFOR), U. S. Navy (USN)
During the summer of 1943, Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) was formed as part of the U. S. Navy (USN) Special Air Task Force (SATFOR). The unit had two flight squadrons: VK-11 and VK-12 equipped with modified TBM Avengers as mother ships to control each of the Interstate TDR-1
Wartime History On June 12, 1944 elements from Special Task Air Group 1 (STAG-1) under Commanding Officer (C. O.) Captain Robert F.
Jones arrived at Banika Field (Sunlight) in the Russell Islands the first deployment of a guided missile unit into a combat theater to conduct top secret combat test in the South Pacific (SOPAC).
The unit conducted top secret tests of the radio controlled Interstate TDR-1
Assault Drone with a live television broadcast to a "mother" control aircraft, a modified TBM Avengers.
D-Day Demonstration Test
On July 30, 1944 a demonstration was conducted for USN Admiral Ernest L. Gunther. Four TDR drones took off from Banika Field and are tested against the shipwreck of Yamazuki Maru beached on Guadalcanal. Eight TBM Avenger mother ships were readied manned by flight crews from VK-11 (crew no. 1 and no. 2) and VK-12 (crew no. 1 and no. 2). Eight TDR-1 Assault drones were readied for the tests each armed with a single 2,000 pound G. P. bomb.
By 11:45am the TDR-1 Assault Drones were in their standby positions and readied for flight. By noon, a final weather check was performed by a single TBM Avenger piloted by Lt. Sanders. At 12:30pm the TBM Avengers mother ships took off with an SBD guard plane and flew to their ready locations. At 1:15pm the first take off was scheduled, with each drone taking off at three minute intervals. Five drones were launched TDR-1 Tail 860, TDR-1 Tail 880 suffered nose gear failure and did not take off, TDR-1 "Edna III" 873, TDR-1 Tail 882 and TDR-1 Tail 875.
The attack commenced at 1:58pm with the point of aim was the deck. At 1:59pm the first drone TDR-1 Tail 860 hit midship. At 2:02pm the second drone TDR-1 "Edna III" 873 overshot the target by roughly ten feet and exploded on the shore. At 2:05pm the third drone TDR-1 Tail 882 landed in the sea off the port bow and skipped across the surface and spun and the bomb not detonate. At 2:15pm the fourth drone TDR-1 Tail 875 impacted near the stern and scattered shrapnel over the sea. The test was deemed to be successful.
STAG-1 prepared to fly the TDR-1 Assault Drone on combat missions against targets in Japanese occupied areas.
On September 27, 1944 (Mission 1) four drones took off from Banika Field controlled by TBM Avengers from VK-12 to attack Japanese ships southwest of Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville. The TDR-1s scored two direct hits and a near miss and claimed an anti-aircraft battery destroyed.
On October 1, 1944 (Mission 2) eight drones took off from Banika Field to attack Japanese anti-aircraft positions in southern Bougainville, Ballale and Shortland Islands. One hit against a heavy battery on western Ballale. One against an anti-aircraft position northeast of Kangu. Another landed 300' short of anti-aircraft guns south of Ballale. Two impacted a ridge on Poporang. Two were duds and one accidentally exploded in the air four miles north of Moila Point.
October 5, 1944 four drones took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) against targets
in Rabaul. Two were lost due to technical problems. Two missed their targets, exploding on shore.
October 9, 1944 (Squadron VK-12) four drones took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) attack the causeway at Matupi near Rabaul. Two were shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire, one landing in the harbor a quarter mile north of the causeway and the second landing in the sea. Third landed 100 yards from an anti-aircraft position and a fourth failed to reach the target. The three lost were deemed to TV failures and the mission was deemed a failure.
October 26, 1944 four drones took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) against targets
in Rabaul. Two drones hit buildings close to their targets. One crashed into the sea at the southwest tip of Duke of York Island and the fourth diverted to Cape St. George and hit the old German lighthouse. Other sources state two drones targeted the lighthouse.
On October 28, 1944 two
drones took off from Stirling Airfield and were flown along the southwest coast of Bougainville as target drones for U. S. Army anti-aircraft gun positions. The first drone was shot down on its fifth run and the second on its third run. Presumably, this test was to expend the last two drones in their inventory.
In total, forty-two drones (other sources state forty-five) were launched against targets including nineteen against Rabaul with a 50% claimed hit rate. Although deemed to be a success, STAG-1 was deactivated on October 27, 1944.
Meanwhile, at Rabaul, the Japanese recovered wreckage of at least one TDR crash at Rabaul. Likely, this was from one of the October 1944 mission. On November 8, 1944 key pieces of wreckage were loaded aboard a J1N1 Irving to be flown to Japan for technical evaluation, but the aircraft went missing on the first leg of the flight bound for Truk.
Officers Captain Robert F.
Jones (Commanding Officer) September 5, 1944-October 27, 1944
Lt. Commander Stephen E. Jones (intelligence and security)
ART1c Thomas Gillespie
USN Analysis of Pacific Air Operations, October 1944 Serial 001883 NARA "Service Test of Assault Drone by STAG ONE under direction of Commander Special Air Task Force" (ARC Identifier 12666/72.43)
NARA STAG-One War Diary July 1944
(Page 4) "30
July 1944 - D Day. Drones at target at 1359:30, 1402, 1405 and 1415; the first, third, and fourth drone hitting the target. No 2 drone overshot target by approximately 10 feet while bomb on no. 3 drone failed to detonate. Open-out between control planes and drone in all elements estimated at not less than six to eight miles. 'Affirm' test flights flown in the morning."
(Page 10) "STAG-One Operation Order No. R-2-44 July 26, 1944
- Live-load test and demonstrations against Yamazuki Maru, order and instructions concerning"
(Page 13) "Enclosure A"
NARA STAG-One War Diary 1 September 1944 to 1 November 1944
(Page 3) "1 October 1944 - Attack by four TDR-1 planes each with 2000 lb G.P. bombs on anti-aircraft installations on Ballale and Poporang Islands. One drone hit in the midst of AA fire coming from three heavy gun positions. The second drone detonated at the south west end of the Ballale runway within 100 ft. or less of that portion of the shore occupied by heavy and automatic gun positions. The third drone exploded on the eastern edge of the ridge on the north part of Poporang Island in the general area containing the gun positions. The fourth drone hit and exploded in the same general area as drone No. 3.
Four more drones were expended in the afternoon in runs on AA gun installations Kangu Hill and the bridge across the Forosei River in south Bougainville. The first element detonated on the lower north east slope of Kangu Hill near gun emplacements. The second element hit 50 feet from the top of the hill but the bombs failed to detonate. The third drone crashed near Jakohina Mission and is believed not to have detonated. The fourth drone crashed about 4 miles north of Kangu Hill.
(Page 4) "5 October 1944 - Four drones attacked from Green Island to hit Kararvia Bay supply caves in Rabaul each carrying one 2000 lb. bomb. Two drones were lost on the way to the target because of apparent control interference on their 'cast' frequencies. One drone hit in the south portion of the cave area exploding near the 4th and 5th cave entrances. The other drone missed the target area and exploded in the vicinity of the Vulcan barge stalls.
October 1944: Four TD-1s attacked the Matupi Island Bridge in Simpson Harbor, Rabaul each carrying one 2000 lb. G. P. bomb. Number 1 was shot down by AA fire and exploded 1000 feet north of the bridge point. The second drone was shot down by AA fire and detonated on the Mother [volcano] about 100 yards away from the apparent positions of the AA. Number 3 might have been shot down also but detonated on the north slope of the Mother in an area occupied by five heavy AA positions. The fourth drone crashed in St. George Channel enroute to the target because of material failure."
(Page 5) "15 October 1944 - Four TBR-1's with 2000 lb. G. P. bombs attacked..
17 October 1944 - Attack by four TBR-1's with one 2000 lb. bomb each on Target Area 16 east Rabaul Town.
18 October 1944 - Attack by three TDR-1's on lighthouse, Cape St. George
19 October 1944 - One TDR-1 with two 500 lb. bombs slung under the fuselage and four 100 lb. bombs under each wing was lost by reasons of material failure. A total of 1800 lbs. of bombs were carried......................
20 October 1944 - Three TDR-1's were launched to make bomb runs on gun installations on west Ballale and then to follow with impact crash on Kahili Maru [beached shipwreck off Kahili likely Hitachi Maru]. The first drone crashed before reaching the target. Number 2 made a good bomb drop on the target but control was lost before attacking the ship and the drone was expended somewhere in southern Bougainville. Number 3 straddled the gun positions with the bomb drop drop and then scored a direct hit on the ship almost amidships at the deck line."
(Page 6) "23 October 1944 - Crash attack with 2000 lb. G. P. bombs........................
26 October 1944 - Four drones with one 2000 lb. G. P. bomb each departed.....................
28 October 1944 - Two drones from Stirling Field were flown along the south west coast of Bougainville as target drones for U. S. Army AA positions. The first drone was shot down on its fifth run and the second on its third run."
Chronology of Special Air Task Force's Story (1990) by Captain Robert F. Jones, privately published Flypast "The Flying Bombs of Rabaul: Raymond Lamont-Brown recalls a mystery episode in World War II" September 1982 STAG-1 American Kamikaze (1984) by Jame J. Hall The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida Chapter 14 Guided Missile Attacks Against Rabaul pages 58-61 History Detectives Video Season 9 TDR-1 Test Mission (July 30, 1944 tests) YouTube "DeKalb Stories Ep. 3: Wurlitzer and The Torpedo Drone" (2011) 6:02-7:28 Air & Space Magazine "The First Drone Strike—in 1944" by Preston Lerner October 2017 Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) "The Battle Over America's Secret WWII Cruise Missile" by Spark via WayBack Sept 25, 2010 Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) official website
Thanks to Henry Sakaida for additional information