The Fleet the Gods Forgot by Walter G. Winslow

The Fleet the Gods Forgot by Walter G. Winslow

Author:Walter G. Winslow [Winslow, Walter G.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781612512938
Publisher: Naval Institute Press


17

DELAYED REPORT OF A “ROUTINE PATROL”

It was a cruel joke to call scouting patrols conducted by PBY seaplanes of Patrol Wing 10 “routine.” Hell, anything could happen on these flights, and generally did. On board the PBY-4 that took off from Saumlakki Bay, on Jamdena Island in the Netherlands East Indies, at dawn 5 February 1942, the crew of two officers and six enlisted men entertained no happy illusions. They had survived these routine patrols before. What’s more, from the opening guns of World World II, they had seen the woefully inadequate air arm of the Asiatic Fleet chopped down from forty-four to a mere seventeen PBYs.* Little did they know that when this day was done Nipponese pilots would chalk off five more, including theirs.

Once airborne, the command pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Richard Bull, announced their patrol would take them 300 miles north to the southeastern tip of Ceram, then 350 miles west to Buru Island. From there they would beeline it home. Between Ceram and Buru they would pass over the former ABDA base at Ambon, on Amboina Island, now occupied by the Japanese, and unload bombs on a few transports reported anchored there. Opposition from fighter aircraft was not anticipated.

More than four hours passed to the monotonous, but reassuring drone of motors. Few words were spoken as all eyes incessantly searched for the enemy. Nothing had been seen even to suggest that Japanese forces existed in this part of the Banda Sea. Now, 40 miles out of Ambon, tensions mounted as the engines, responding to increased power, droned louder, and the PBY laboriously climbed to 17,000 feet. At that, their maximum altitude, they would be beyond the range of antiaircraft guns normally carried by merchant ships.

Lieutenant Bull moved forward to work the bombsight in the nose section, and Ensign William Hargrave slid over into the first pilot’s seat. Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate Oliver, also a naval aviator, assumed the duties of co-pilot. Minutes dragged by until breaking waves gave the first indication of a shoreline. The first ship sighted, a Japanese cruiser patrolling off the entrance to Ambon Harbor, was considered no cause for alarm. In fact, it was a good indicator that the transports they sought were lying at anchor inside.

Soon the entire harbor unfolded below them. To their astonishment, it was cluttered with ships—more than twenty of them, including two aircraft carriers and several cruisers. Merchant ships were forgotten as targets. Although they were bound to be within range of the cruisers’ antiaircraft guns, the thought of knocking off an aircraft carrier was an exhilarating challenge Lieutenant Bull elected to accept.

The enemy contact report was quickly transmitted to commander, Patrol Wing 10, and Ensign Hargrave steadied the PBY on course to the target selected by Bull. Midway to the aircraft carrier, the surrounding sky erupted with black puffs of smoke from exploding flack, and shock waves buffeted the seaplane. It seemed as though every ship in the harbor was firing at them, but steadfastly the course was held.



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