Grumman F6F Hellcat

The last enemy, a Ki-61, was pursued by all too many Americans. This allowed the slick Tony to climb much higher, while its pursuers got in each other’s way and made it difficult to get a good firing position. VF-11’s situation was at this time complicated also by the constant AA fire. Finally the Ki-61, under heavy but inaccurate fire from six Hellcats, managed to climb high enough to disappear in the low clouds over Hieto. A probable victory over the Japanese plane was attributed to Lt Morris. The other “Sundowners” had to settle for some Nippon’s Eagles destroyed on the ground.
October 13th, 1944 happened to be Friday. The usually superstitious pilots were naturally not entirely indifferent to this fact. The “Hornet’s” whole Air Group was sent on an operation against Takao base. This time under LtCdr Schrader’s command. Initially a couple of “Sundowners” divisions were catapulted from the crowded flight deck. The first was led by Lt Savage. The second – by Lt Dayhoff. It was dawning when the “Hornet’s” Hellcats, heading west at 5000 meters, encountered their comrades from USS “Wasp”. The formations merged and headed for the coast of Formosa. The purpose of their sweep over Hieto was to lure into the air and destroy – either there or on the ground – as many Japanese fighters as possible.

Ground crew’s job was very hard… [Via Andre R. Zbiegniewski]

The planes reached the island’s mountainous eastern coastline without any problems. Further on, the Hellcats were met by an already familiar mass of AA fire, flanking the south-eastern edge of the airfield. There was nothing in the air but a mass of small, dark clouds of flak; but no sign of the enemy. In this situation the VF-11 and VF-14 formation descended as close to the ground as possible. Preparing to attack targets filling the airfields and surroundings of the airbase. There were planes and all kinds everywhere. As well as lots of other military equipment. The sudden change of altitude temporarily freed the Hellcats of the menace of large calibers. They were soon affected by an accurate small arms fire, however. Also, two planes dropping
Ta-Dan fragmentation bombs, already known to the Americans, appeared above them. There were no hits so far, but the F6F’s busily engaged over the airfield had to continue their mission among cascades of burning phosphorus.
Having used up its lethal cargo, one of the Japanese planes soon dived to follow Lt Savage. To counter the attack he decided to suddenly reduce his engine power. Speeding behind the Hellcat, fast Tojo had no choice but to pass its would-be victim with no time to open fire. A fraction of a second later, the American accelerated again. At full throttle, he was able to stay at the twisting enemy’s tail. The fighter covered with brown-and-silver leveled out his flight low above the ground. Following its every move, the Hellcat spit fire out of six Brownings. Heeding the advice of his armorers, Savage limited his salvoes to four seconds. Longer ones could permanently damage the guns. The stuff he sent after the Japanese plane, was entirely enough. Its fuselage, marked with “meatballs”1  in white squares, couldn’t free itself of the white trails closing in around it. Finally no more fire was necessary. Bullets fired directly from behind disappeared in the Ki-44’s fuselage. Tore through the right wing root, passed through the cockpit. After only a moment the affected areas became full of indistinguishable flames. Smashed along its whole length, the plane’s starboard seemed to be dragging it downward. Just a fraction of a second before the plunge, the canopy flew away. Either shot off or thrown back by the pilot preparing for a jump. The bright, transparent shape passed just above the propeller arc of the pursuing F6F. The next burst didn’t reach the Tojo. Rolling over its wing, the Ki-44 dropped in a slow tail spin, but only rotated twice before crashing into the runway and exploding.
The defeat infuriated Hieto’s defenders even more. This was too much for the Japanese. It seemed to the Americans that AA fire had become omnipresent. Shrapnel cut through the Hellcats more and more densely. A few damaged ones turned towards the aircraft carrier decks. So far all F6F pilots had carried out at least six runs over Hieto. Their tiredness showed. They were running out of ammunition. Fuel was also becoming a problem – there had to be enough left to return. In this situation an encounter with a larger enemy formation couldn’t be risked. Single sections and squadrons began returning to the “Hornet” and “Wasp”. Lt Savage was the last to leave the target area. From a distance, the cameras of his F6F-5P recorded ten columns of black smoke. They came from the burning Japanese wrecks in Hieto. During the return flight, the American went out of his way to carry out a reconnaissance over the neighboring Okoyama airbase. Savage and Dayhoff, who was covering him, made good use of their flight across the airfields. Besides making photographs, they strafed a lot of L2D and Ki-51 transports camouflaged behind the hangars. Seven were declared damaged. At the same moment the fuselage of Dayhoff’s plane was ripped open by a 20-mm shell. The F6F was instantly put out of action. This forced the last two Hellcats to return to the aircraft carrier, on which they landed with almost no fuel left.