Erv Brandon: Over 60 Missions as a ‘Bat Outa Hell’

By Guest Contributor May 17, 2016 16:57

Mr. Brandon, 91, wrote this in April 2016 as an addendum to his memoir about his WWII service in the US Navy as a member of VPB-151, Crew #6. He hopes to reach either any surviving veterans from that squadron (see list at end of narrative) or their families “so they can see what their daddy did during the war.” Read his memoir online at http://memoircenter.com/wwii-veteran-ervin-brandon.

bat outa hell

 

By Erv “Brandy” Brandon 
as Plane Captain and Tail Gunner of Crew #6

What is a “Bat Outa Hell’?  It is the insignia of Squadron VPB 151. Bats generally fly at night. We generally flew at  night. Bats have an invisible radar. We have an invisible radar. That’s where the comparison ends.

The bat journey looks for something to eat. Our journey ends with a path of destruction. Our “bats” have 5-50 caliber machine guns in the nose, fired by the pilot, two more 50 caliber machine guns in the top turret, fired by the turret gunner, two more 30 caliber machines in the tail fired by the plane captain, and 2000 pounds of bombs in the bomb bay.

Most offensive missions were timed to take off at such a time that would put us over the target area at the first daylight.

A “glide bombing” approach was generally used from about 6000 feet down to 3000 to 4000 feet. We came out of the night like a “bat outa hell,” did our job and we left the same way.

crew 6Their radar picks us up as we approach the target and the search lights scramble all over to pick us out of the night so the anti-aircraft gunners could start targeting us. Most black puffs of smoke are the shells bursting at preset altitudes. The “glide” descent was designed to confuse the altitude for the gunners. As the shells exploded, shrapnel flies in all directions. We had three occasions where shrapnel penetrated the plane and injured crew members. They were:

Wallace E. Daughety
Robert Allen Swank
Leroy Allen Vanek.

They were all awarded Purple Hearts.

Crew #10 was hit with a direct hit on a mission to the Wolia in the Carolinas. The impact was seen by an accompany plane. Most flights involve two or more planes. The crew members were:

Lt.  Kelly C. Sandy Jr.
Lt (S6) Eugene C. Hall
August Hamer Middleton
Hugh Eldon Wright
Richard Herman Knudson
Everett Herbert Hull.

All listed as “Missing in Action.”

That was the origin of the “Bat Outa Hell” insignia.

The “Ventura” medium bomber was a lot like the B-25, that was used on the historic “Tokyo Raid”, except it had heavier engines (P/W 2800 HP) and required a runway to land or take off. Total weight over 30,000 pounds made it very difficult to ditch. If you survived the impact, you have 15 to 20 seconds to get out and into your life raft. Crew #14 did not make it. Their last radio message was “preparing to ditch”. A search proved fruitless and six good friends were lost. They were:

Smith
Cress
Merril
Pincearo
Lt. Staab
Lt. Batchelor.

not sureThe general offensive plan to take over the Pacific region of the war was to take out the major Japanese base in each area and let the medium bombers land and neutralize the smaller Japanese bases that were bypassed. This would keep them from any offensive threats.

Flying “blind” at night was a totally different experience, as it was sometimes necessary. There is nothing below you except miles of deep blue water. You are closely listening and watching for any sign of malfunction in any instruments  or engines.

The first stage of the offense was to take Tarawa where we landed, as soon as the airfield was secured and we assumed this responsibility, as well as working with the “fleet”, in their move “westward.” The next targets was the Marianas, Guam, Tinian, and Saipan. When the islands were secure we landed on Tinian. Where Tarawa was mostly hard-pack coral, the Marianas were lush and muddy. Our base was North Field Airbase.

The “Sea Bees” quickly started to build “West Field” for our base. North Field was quickly reworked for use by the B-29’s. Flying  from distant bases, they would be low on fuel when they reached Japan and without fighter protection, they were easy targets for Japanese fighters. This is why Iwo Jima was so valuable as a safe haven for damaged B- 29’s.  It is estimated that as many as 25,000 airmen were saved by having Iwo as a landing site for damaged B-29’s. Then, the longer range P-51’s showed up and provided escort. We celebrated our move to West Field, as we had Quonset huts instead of worries about our cots sinking in the mud  at night.

I flew over 60 missions starting at Tarawa, then on to Tinian. When the flag went up on Serabachi in late February, we landed the first of March. We were the first medium bombers to land and operate off lwo Jima. We were there March, April and May. In June, we were relieved by VPB 152, and we were ordered to bring six planes back. The pilots drew straws and we had to fly a plane back. The rest of the squadron flew back to Hawaii by Naval Air Transport. They were lodged at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel until we got there. We started the long trek home, island to island. On the last leg of our journey, we wound up on Palmyra.

There, we had ignition problems that were beyond our ability to repair. The Captain sent a B-24 down to pick us up. We got back to Hawaii and went right aboard a carrier, the U.S.S. Breton, and headed for San Diego. We never did get to the Royal Hawaiian.

I had earned three Air Medals and after 60 missions, I received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which allowed me an “early out” at the age of 20. I went in six months out of high school.

We lost two planes with their crews and my plane was totally destroyed on the ground. We normally stood guard on our planes 24/7, but in this case, we had just returned from a mission and went to the Mess Hall for something to eat. As we were exiting the Mess Hall on Nov. 28, 1944, we were greeted with a massive explosion from the airfield. Three or four Japanese “holdouts” came out of their hideaways and snuck aboard the plane. A guard at the next revetment saw them and fired in the air. This started more firing and rather than surrender, they dropped a grenade in the cockpit, causing the loud explosion. This left a complete mess of airplane debris and body parts.

 

50th ann

Eighty-four members attended the 50th anniversary reunion, held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, fall 1988

Eighty-four members attended the 50th anniversary reunion, held in Green Bay, Wisconsin, fall 1988

 

Bob Gill, the "go-to guy" for all enlisted men, at the third reunion in Pensacola, Florida, spring 1993

Bob Gill, the “go-to guy” for all enlisted men, at the third reunion in Pensacola, Florida, spring 1993

NOTE FROM BOB GILL to Mr. Brandon:

Thanks for the article covering our squadrons history during those “troubling times.”  There are just a few of us left. You’re 91 and I’m 94. The rest are in the same bucket. I guess we are all waiting IN THE “Ready Room” for “landing instructions for the next reunion.” The article will mean a lot to them and much more to the relatives of the members who didn’t come back. “The Ready Room” name has long been used as a focal point to coordinate and plan any major activity such as a military operation where all details are coordinated. In this case it is used to plan all reunions.

 

I’m sending you the last large squadron insignia to display as you see fit.

Thanks again,

Bob Gill, Radioman from Crew 9

list

Mr. Brandon’s memoir, written with help from volunteer interviewers Bill and Celeste Boyd, can be found online at this link: http://memoircenter.com/wwii-veteran-ervin-brandon.

 

By Guest Contributor May 17, 2016 16:57
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2 Comments

  1. Ted December 27, 16:03

    Erv
    Great story about VPB-151. I am named after another member of VPB-151– Theodore Cretin, plane crew #7, I believe. Would it be possible to contact you for information/background on Ted? I am currently stationed in Korea.

  2. Chris June 25, 13:37

    I’m the grandson of William (Bill) Kaestner, a US Navy Lieutenant pilot in VPB-151. He passed away back in the mid-1980’s in his home town of Chicago, with his wife Ruth surviving for many more years after him, finally passing away in Spain in 2012 or 2013. I know he was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Air Medals, but that’s the extent of my knowledge, as he never spoke about the war. I would love to know more about his exploits in the Pacific during WW2.

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