A radarman kept his own log of USS Essex battles
It was a time of war, days on end of battles aboard the “fightenist” ship in the Navy. Howard Dobson of Warren spent many months on the USS Essex, saw many battles and feared for his life. He saw men die, and, as a radarman, he saw the enemy approaching before anyone else.
Before his death he shared his World War II journal with his family. His notes, in italics, are interspersed with excerpts from “USS Essex, Army and Navy Pictorial Publishers, 1946.”
May 8, 1944: Arrived at Majuro this afternoon at 2:50 p.m.
The U.S.S. Essex arrived at Majuro … “Primarily to destroy enemy aircraft and installations and to destroy enemy shipping in the area.” The task group – the Essex, the Wasp and the San Jacinto – in all, five cruisers and 12 destroyers, “conducted a two-day strike against Wake Island. An important secondary objective for this operation was to afford combat experience to new air groups in all three of the carriers.”
May 19-20, 1944: Hit Marcus five attacks on May 19 and two on May 20. Lost two Grumman F6F Hellcats and two Curtiss SB2C Helldivers.
The Hellcats – which first flew in 1942 – were designed as single-seat carrier-borne fighter bombers. They had a Pratt & Whitney 200 Hp engine that cruised at 168 mph with a top speed of 380 mph. There were 12,275 produced. The Helldivers – which first flew in 1940 – were designed as two-seat carrier-borne attack planes. They had Pratt & Whitney 2600 Hp engines that cruised at 224 mph with a top speed of 295 mph. There were 12,275 produced. The Helldivers were nicknamed “Beast” and “Son of a Bitch Second Class.”
May 23: Hit Wake five attacks.
At Wake, there was “considerable damage inflicted against land targets.”
June 5, 1944: Left Majuro for Marianas, four separate carrier task forces. Over 600 ships in all.
June 12: Five strikes of fighters. Five bombers. Lost five TBF. Destroyed a cargo ship and a destroyer.
Grumman TBF/TBM Avengers – which first flew in 1941 – were designed as a carrier-borne torpedo bomber and carried a crew of three. It had a Pratt & Whitney 2600 Hp engine that cruised at 147 mph with a top speed of 267 mph. There were 9,839 produced. The “M” suffix indicated that the plane was made by General Motors.
The next action, “in support of the occupation of the Marianas,” lasted from June 6 until Aug. 13. “During this sustained operation 3078 sorties were flown and Essex and her air group had an opportunity to participate in one of the most significant actions of WWII.”
“This operation involved attacks against the Marianas and the Bonins as well as against Japanese conbatant and merchant shipping … the air group destroyed” 104 planes in the air, 136 on the ground or in the water, and sank or damaged 60 ships. “This was in addition to the tremendous damage inflicted on land targets and in close support of landing operations.”
June 19, 1944: Today was a great day. Air group knocked off 63 planes … combined task groups total 300 (shot down).
June 20, 1944: Launched two fighter sweeps on Rota and Guam.
June 22, 1944: 29 pilots and crewmen were picked up after long range strike. Planes ran out of gas.
June 23, 1944: Three strikes on Guam got 12 Zekes and 3 probables.
Mitsubishi A6M Resien US Code Name “Zeke” – which first flew in 1939 – was first designed as a single seat carrier borne fighter. It has a cruise speed of 205 mph and a top speed of 326 mph. There were 10,937 produced.
Aug. 29, 1944: Started for Palau.
“On Aug. 29 Essex sortied with Task Force 38 Air Force, but early elimination of enemy airborne opposition in Mindanao and the evacuation of practically all of the enemy’s remaining operational aircraft made it possible to shift the emphasis to anti-shipping.”
Sept. 6-8, 1944: Strikes on Palau.
Oct. 3, 1944: Underway. Storm came up.
During a replenishing period at Ulithi, “it was necessary to put out to sea on Oct. 3-4 to ride out a typhoon.”
Oct. 12, 1944: Formosa. Pre-dawn combat air patrol. Strikes throughout the day. All night attack. Essex shot down one plane. Thrill number six for me. This makes six night attacks for us. Lucky us we still sail on.
Oct. 13, 1944: Striking Formosa. Little news. Looking forward to a sleepless night again. 15,000 landings were made on the Essex today.
Oct. 14, 1944: Essex was under attack three times. Five planes over ship. Two dropped fish. One just missed the fantail. Other went across the bow. 12 men were wounded, and one died.
Oct. 16, 1944: Essex is heading (000) to try to intercept Jap fleet.
Oct. 19, 1944: Standing by for invasion of Philippine Islands.
“On Oct. 6, Task Force 38 (of which Essex was part) sortied from Ulithi and set course for the Ryukyus area. Between Oct. 10 and Nov. 14, strikes were launched against Nansei Shoto, Formosa, and the Philippine Islands culminating in the Nov. 13-14 strikes which virtually annihilated the remaining shipping in Manila Bay – an effective anti-climax to the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea.
“During this operation, which lasted … one month, a total of 1829 sorties were flown and 138 planes were destroyed in the air and 117 on the ground. Five warships and 22 other ships were sunk while a total of 71 other ships were probably sunk or damaged.”
Oct. 24, 1944: 38.3 was under attack for 12 hours off and on. Princeton took bomb hit aft of island structure. Fires out of control. Reno was designated to sink her about 1600. Essex had five near misses about 1300. Our strikes reported Japanese fleet north of us. 38.3 shot down 150 planes today. Not bad. Air group (15) commander got nine Jap planes. Makes him 30 1/2 planes.
Oct. 25, 1944: Our strikes sank nine Jap ships today.
Nov. 5, 1944: Strikes on Manila Bay area. We had four strikes today. 38.3 was under attack about 0200 a.m.. Lex took a plane in the starboard side. 15 men died. 50 wounded. Essex shot down one bomber with ship’s guns. Essex had two near misses just off starboard side.
Nov. 10, 1944: We reversed course … and are off to see what Japs are made of again.
“The next operation … was neither long nor successful. The task force sortied from Ulithi on Nov. 22 and proceeded to a position east of Luzon Island to launch strikes which were to ferret out and destroy the remnants of the elusive Japanese air force remaining in the northern Philippines. Air Group Four, on its first combat mission from Essex, on Nov. 25 destroyed nine planes in the air and six on the ground. At about 1300 on this day, however, the ship sustained its only hit – a suicide radial engine Judy, which came in from the starboard quarter and skimmed along the flight desk just above the deckload strike of our planes which were fully gassed and armed and ready to take off. The plane struck the port edge of the flight deck forward of number two elevator causing a large gasoline explosion which killed 15 and wounded 44 men.” The ship remained east of Luzon for repairs.
Oct. 25, 1944: Dive bombers came in out of the sun to score a hit on the Essex. Total dead so far eight, and 37 wounded. The Intrepid also got hit.
Dec. 3, 1944: 17,000 landings on the Essex to date.
Dec. 18, 1944: A typhoon is now in our area.
Dec. 19, 1944: Cowpens had fire and lost six planes. San Jacinto lost their air officer over the side. Typhoon came within 20 miles of us.
Jan. 9, 1945: (38) strikes on Formosa today. All planes came back to Essex. Tomorrow we head west for strikes on Hong Kong China.
Jan. 10, 1945: …in the China sea area.
Jan. 15, 1945: Strikes on Formosa and China coast. Essex will search coast for hidden warships. Air Group Four Commander lost today. He was alongside holding a life ring and let go.
“On Jan. 9, when the landings had been successfully made, the task force entered the South China Sea via Bashi Channel and effective strikes were made against Japanese shipping in the Saigon-Camranh Bay area. Air facilities and shipping on the Island of Hainan and along the China coast from Swatow to the Luichow Peninsula, including the Hong Kong area, were struck on Jan. 15-16. Again, however, high winds and heavy seas reduced the effectives of our air operations.”
Jan. 21, 1945: Strike on Formosa. Under attack 1206 to 1500. 15 Jap planes were shot down. Texas got two hits, one bomb, one plane. Langley took a bomb hit. Not damage to hinder operation. Many killed on the Texas. She has gone to Ulithi.
(Dobson spent his first day as a section leader on his way to Japan at the beginning of February.)
“On Feb. 10 the Essex as a unit of Task Force 58,” left Ulithi for “several attacks against the Tokyo area to neutralize the enemy’s air force in preparation for the Marine landing on Iwo Jima.” They also bombed aircraft manufacturers. ” … For a period of 79 days, from March 14 to June 1, the ship was constantly at sea, setting what is believed to be an unprecedented record for participation in sustained and intense combat.”
Air Group 83:
flew 6460 sorties
dropped 1041 tons of bombs
shot 1,126,905 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition, and
consumed 1,366,100 gallons of aviation gasoline
The Air Group was a key component to ending the war.
May 8, 1945: Today the war with Germany ended, unconditional surrender. Aboard the Essex we received word at about 0230. This is one of the days home would look good. Raining, damp, a storm coming up. No air operations today at all.
May 14, 1945: All nite last nite Jap Hecklers keep us up.
June 1, 1945: Essex entered port at San Pedro Bay. 79 days at sea. 33,475 miles steamed.
“On July 1, Essex sortied from Leyte to participate in strikes against the Japanese home Islands. From July 2 until Aug. 15, Essex aircraft flew 2,595 sorties and in addition to sinking approximately 24,300 tons of Japanese merchant ships.”
July 10, 1945: Strikes scheduled for Tokyo and surrounding area.
July 14, 1945: Strikes on Northern Honshu today.
July 24, 1945: Strike and sweep on Kyushu area.
July 29, 1945: Today Essex, Astoria, Abbot, Stimbel received orders to return to USA after current operation.
Aug. 7, 1945: News reached us of the atom bomb dropped on Japan.
Aug. 9, 1945: Russia declared war on Japan. News reached us today. Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki today. First atomic bomb killed 150,000 people.
Aug. 14, 1945: Today at 1515 the unofficial report of Japan surrender came to Essex.
Aug. 15, 1945: Today at 0920 the White House announced the end of the war officially. THE WAR IS OVER (underlined twice in Dobson’s journal).
“With the cessation of hostilities, target sorties became routine flights, but defensive combat patrols continued to be flown on a combat basis until Sept. 3 when Essex set course for Bremerton, Washington, for her long overdue period of navy yard availability.”
Sept. 16, 1945: Ending
Dec. 11, 1945: Discharged.