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01-05-05, 07:13 AM
The Lore of the Corps
WWII pilot recalls bomber missions in South Pacific

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

When the United States geared up for World War II, the Marine Corps for the first time began operating large aircraft, and with them, using two pilots and a crew.
Former Capt. Bill Parks, 82, of San Jose, Calif., had an advantage over some Marine aviators. On the eve of the United States’ entry into the war, he earned a pilot’s license in a government-sponsored civilian program. From his first day as an aviator in a combat squadron, Parks commanded his aircraft and crew. It was a big responsibility, and it grew bigger when Parks arrived in the South Pacific to fly missions against Japanese island bases.

Born in 1922 in North Carolina, Parks enlisted in the Navy in the summer of 1942.

After earning his Marine commission in 1943, Parks became a pilot of the PBJ, the Marines’ version of the twin-engine B-25 Mitchell medium bomber. It was the plane Army Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle flew on his famous raid on Japan in April 1942.

Parks flew with Marine Bombing Squadron 433, or VMB-433, the “Fork-Tailed Devils,” first at Green Island and then at Emirau Island in the South Pacific. “My logbook shows that our first mission from Green was July 21, 1944,” Parks said. “It was a full squadron-strength daytime raid on Rabaul.”

By that time, the Pacific war was moving northwest. Bloody battles for the Solomon Islands had ended. Some Japanese troops remained on Guadalcanal, Munda and Bougainville. The Japanese base and airfields at Rabaul were less active than before. Yet 200,000 Japanese troops remained on New Britain and New Ireland and were occasionally reinforced. The job of the four Mitchell squadrons on Emirau, including Parks’, was to prevent these forces from impeding the Allied island-hopping advance toward Japan.

Parks’ squadron suffered both of its combat losses in September 1944. On Sept. 2, a PBJ piloted by 1st Lt. Charles Ingals took off on a night mission and vanished. All six Marines aboard died and were accounted for only after the war. On Sept. 11, 1st Lt. Eric E. Terry Jr. and another Marine were lost after being hit by Japanese gunfire.

Parks, then a first lieutenant, said that a typical mission involved carrying 14 100-pound bombs 250 miles from Emirau to Rabaul. That took two to three hours, including about 15 minutes of vulnerability to Japanese fighters and heavy anti-aircraft fire.

Parks completed 50 missions and never saw a Japanese fighter but often received ground fire.

A clarification: Parks and other VMB-433 veterans, who held a reunion in Nashville, Tenn., in October, say that for most of its 25 months in the combat zone, the squadron had excellent leadership. They believe a previous Lore of the Corps column placed too much emphasis on the squadron’s “hard luck” status, which, they say, describes only a brief period in 1945. (“WWII unit faced setbacks on, off field,” Marine Corps Times, Aug. 23, 2004).

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of numerous books on Air Force topics, including “Air Force One.” His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net.


01-12-05, 07:23 AM
January 10, 2005

The Lore of the Corps
M-60 variants served troops for 4 decades

By Keith A. Milks
Special to the Times

One of the most effective World War II-era German infantry weapons was the MG-42 machine gun.
This rugged and easily produced weapon boasted a high rate of fire and was held up as a standard for the future of medium machine guns.

Realizing the need to replace its family of .30-caliber heavy and light machine guns used during World War II and the Korean War, the United States looked to the MG-42 as a starting point. The result of nearly a decade of reverse-engineering, research and development came in 1960 with the introduction of the M-60 medium machine gun.

Unlike earlier weapons machined from single blocks of steel, the M60 was assembled through lightweight steel stamping and pressing, which dropped the weapon’s weight to 23.2 pounds. In another departure from its predecessors, the new weapon was gas-operated, rather than recoil or blowback-operated. The M-60 fired a 7.62mm round from a disintegrating metallic-link belt and had a cyclic rate of fire of 550 rounds per minute.

The M-60 met with mixed results in the operating forces.

Marines liked the easy-to-adjust sights, attached bipod and carrying handle, and the heavy barrel that allowed for sustained firing. Weak points included substandard feeding and gas systems, which resulted in sluggish firing and runaway guns.

An odd flaw in the original M-60 was that many of the weapon’s parts could be installed backward. Also, the barrel-mounted carrying handle became extremely hot during prolonged firing and required operators to use asbestos gloves or a suitable alternative to change barrels.

Over the years, “improved” variants reached the fleet.

The M-60E2 featured a shorter barrel and forward-mounted pistol grip for use while firing from the shoulder.

The introduction of the E3 variant shaved the weapon’s weight to 19.3 pounds, but substandard redesign features and materials resulted in even greater unreliability.

Other variants included the M-60C, which was mounted on helicopters in fixed, forward-firing positions, and the M-60D. This version saw the weapon’s rear stock removed, spade-type grips installed and the trigger assembly moved from the bottom to the rear of the receiver. The M-60D was used on vehicles and by helicopter door gunners.

The M-60 held its own in its combat debut in the jungles of Vietnam and, despite its problems, remained in operational service until the late 1990s, when it was replaced by the M240G medium machine gun.

The writer is a gunnery sergeant assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He can be reached at kambpt@aol.com.


01-14-05, 08:24 AM
January 17, 2005

The Lore of the Corps
F2A ‘Buffalo’ earned poor marks in WWII

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

Marine pilots flying the Brewster F2A Buffalo — one of the Marine Corps’ less successful fighters of World War II — felt a “sense of outrage” when they were outclassed by Japanese Zero fighters, the late James Gilmartin, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said in a 1987 interview.
The F2A was “overweight, unstable and not very maneuverable” when it flew against the Zeros in early 1942 at Midway Island in the Pacific, Gilmartin said. Its armament of four .50-caliber machine guns was ineffective, he said.

It was a far cry from the futuristic sparkle of the pre-war, magazine-ad paintings from the Brewster Aeronautical Corp. of Long Island City, N.Y.

At the time, Brewster was suffering from terminal management problems. It built the Buffalo to meet a 1936 Navy requirement for a carrier-based fighter, but after the initial XF2A-1 model made its first flight in December 1937, the Navy ordered only 54 production F2A-1s, each powered by a 950-horsepower Wright XR-1820 Cyclone radial engine. All but 11 of these were diverted to Finland, which used the fighters with some success.

The Navy upgraded the others to F2A-2 standard, adding capabilities and weight. “The F2A-1 was light and very maneuverable,” said A. Kevin Grantham, author of a forthcoming corporate history of Brewster. “As the Navy introduced new models ... the Buffalo went from very nimble to very sluggish.”

In 1939, the Navy ordered 43 “new build” F2A-2s with improvements, but also with greater weight. In 1941, the Navy proceeded with the F2A-3 version — which was heavier yet, introducing additional armor, a bulletproof windshield and increased fuel capacity. The Navy never liked the planes and transferred many to the Marine Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Two Marine fighter squadrons, VMF-211 and VMF-221, flew the F2A in the Pacific. Only VMF-221 used the plane in combat. During the Battle of Midway on March 10, 1942, a four-aircraft division headed by Capt. Joseph Neefus intercepted a Japanese H6K4 Type 97 “Mavis” flying boat and shot it down, one of the first instances in which the Buffalo shone. Also at Midway, however, another Marine reportedly said, “It is my belief that any commander who orders a pilot out for combat in an F2A-3 should consider the pilot as lost before leaving the ground.” Another called the plane “a disaster.”

VMF-221 defended Midway with 21 F2A-3s and five F4F Wildcats. When the Pacific battle was over, Japanese fighters had shot down half of the Marine fighters.

The Navy tested a final version of the Buffalo, the XF2A-4, with a pressurized cockpit, but neither the Navy nor the Marine Corps made effective use of any F2As after Midway.

Today, only one example of the Brewster Buffalo survives. A F2A-1 operated by the Finnish air force was salvaged in Russia recently and is now property of the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla.

Robert F. Dorr, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of numerous books on military and naval topics, including “Air Force One.” His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net.


02-13-05, 09:01 AM
The Lore of the Corps
Marines were to tackle V-1 in canceled project

By Robert F. Dorr
Special to the Times

A secret project to send Marine fighter squadrons to England might have produced some of the most dramatic combat action of World War II — had it not been called off.
“We were scheduled to go to England to fight the buzz bombs,” said retired Col. John J. “J.J.” Geuss, 80, of Palos Park, Ill. “We would have been the only Marines in England.”

Geuss became an F4U Corsair fighter pilot in 1943 and, as a member of Marine Fighter Squadron 511, trained to become familiar with a huge air-to-ground rocket projectile to be launched from the Corsair — the 10-foot-3-inch-long Tiny Tim.

Records show that the weapon, which was almost a foot in diameter and weighed 1,285 pounds, had been considered for use against the German submarine pens at Brest, France, which seemed impervious to high-altitude bombing. When German V-1 missiles began hitting England in 1944, priorities shifted to tackling that threat.

Americans called the V-1 a “buzz bomb” or “the Doodlebug.” The German name came from “vergeltung,” or revenge, a response to Allied bombing of Germany. The V-1 was powered by a pulse jet engine and used an explosive warhead similar to those found on naval torpedoes.

Using today’s jargon, the V-1 was the world’s first cruise missile.

V-1s launched from sites in German-occupied France and Belgium rained down on England.

As part of Operation Crossbow, the Allied effort to neutralize the V-1, the Corps went ahead with plans for Project Danny, which would place four Corsair squadrons in England as part of Marine Air Group 51 with plans to assault the V-1 launch sites using Tiny Tim rockets. VMF-511, 512, 513 and 514 trained with the Corsair and the Tiny Tim at several locations in the United States.

It fell upon combat veteran Cmdr. Thomas H. Moorer to give a briefing on Project Danny to Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall. Moorer would later become chief of naval operations.

“Moorer told me that Marshall listened to only part of the briefing,” said Barrett Tillman, author of “Corsair: The F4U in World War II and Korea,” in an interview. “Marshall stood up and left the room. He said, ‘As long as I’m chief of staff, there will never be a Marine in Europe.’”

Marshall’s veto proved unnecessary. Development of the Tiny Tim was delayed due to technical difficulties mating the aircraft to the rocket. The Corsair-Tiny Tim combination was used on Okinawa, Japan, in April 1945 against ground targets such as bunkers, but it was not available in time to see action in the European theater.

Still, the Marines of Project Danny were so close to going to Europe that planes and equipment were loaded aboard ship when the project was canceled. By then, the V-2 ballistic missile had joined the V-1 buzz bomb in attacks on England, but the weapons failed to alter the outcome of the war.

The writer, an Air Force veteran, lives in Oakton, Va. He is the author of books on military topics, including “Air Force One” and “Chopper,” a history of helicopter aviators. His e-mail address is robert.f.dorr@cox.net.