USS Gilbert Is. Cruise 1945
The USS Gilbert Islands, CVE 107, was an escort carrier of the Commencement Bay class. The keel was laid down November 29, 1943, she was launched July 20, 1944 and commissioned February 5, 1945. Originally named the St. Andrews Bay, her name was changed in 1944 to honor the Marines who fought the bloody battle on Tarawa. Courtesy of Capt. Bill Patterson you can view the handout at the commissioning by clicking on the page.
A summary of the career of the Gilbert Islands can be found at http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/carriers/cve107.txt And here are a few pictures of the Gilbert Islands from Jack Lally, Fritz Liebich and the family of Lt. Thomas Faull. Click on one to see it full size.
This narrative on this page is illustrated with excerpts from Ed Leidecker's pilot log book. Ed's wife Mary kindly loaned it to me to copy. Mary and I are pleased to show these examples - just click on a page to see it at full size. Ed served in VMTB-232 in the Solomons (1943) and joined VMTB-143 for a combat tour (1943-44) and stayed in 143 when they reformed at Goleta in June 1944.
Two USMC squadrons were trained for this carrier - the newly created VMF-512 and VMTB-143. The type of planes are found in a ship's summary written by its navigator, Lt. Ray Vandervoort, USNR. VMF-512 (Maj. Blaine Baesler, USMCR, commanding) had 13 FG-1D and 5 F4U-1D Corsairs and 2 F6F-5P Hellcats for the photo missions. VMTB-143 (Capt. John Worlund, USMC, commanding) was made up of 10 TBM-3 and 2 TBM-3E. The latter squadron was first organized September 7, 1942 and had already seen action from airbases on Guadalcanal, Espiritu, Munda and Bougainville in support of the mud Marines and to attack nearby Japanese bases. Most of this action was in the closely-spaced Solomon Islands where the squadron was always land-based.
It became apparent to the Marine brass that once the battle zone shifted to the mid-Pacific and then near to Japan that there would be no land-based Marine air squadrons within reach of the ground Marines until an airbase could be captured. Unless something happened all close air support (CAS) would have to come from the Navy. The Marine Corps brass believed strongly that Marine air should support Marine ground units. They argued successfully to have their own carriers with specially trained CAS units. Thus in June 1944 VMTB-143 reformed at the MCAS Goleta to train for this carrier duty aboard the Gilbert Islands. Training was intense. Not only were they to become carrier qualified, but the 3-man crews were expected to be proficient in bombing, rocketing, depth charging, strafing, torpedoing and aerial defense. June 2004 was the 60th anniversary of their reforming in Goleta. To honor the veterans and commemorate their service, this print was created for the them and their families.
The veteran officers and enlisted men came from a variety of units including VMTB-134, VMTB-143, VMTB-232 and VMS-3 while some were newly minted pilots, turret gunners and radio-gunners. Initially many pilots were called to Goleta but by the time the ship sailed for the Pacific Theater only 18 were selected to pilot the 12 TBMs. Here's a picture taken in Goleta and all that embarked are pictured and named on the related page Men of VMTB-143 1945. The building is now the terminal for the Santa Barbara Airport - and it looks just like this today!
VMTB-143 has its own place in history as one of the first to be specifically trained for close air support from carriers. The Gilbert Islands was one of only 4 carriers with all-Marine flight crews in WW2 (the ship's complement was still Navy). If the war had gone on for a few more years, as widely anticipated, there were more such carriers in the planning. For further details about the relationship between the Navy, Marine Air and ground forces I recommend the comprehensive book History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II by Robert Sherrod. He relates that some Navy admirals did not welcome the new Marine role and set out to limit the participation of the 4 Marine carriers. To view a detailed account of the 1945 cruise of the U.S.S. Gilbert Islands please click on this map.
Col W.R. 'Soupy' Campbell was the Air Group commander aboard ship in command of both VMF-512 and VMTB-143. The crew of 143 tell me he was a good commanding officer. He flew a Corsair, coordinated a target location with the ground liaisons, and laid colored smoke to mark the targets. The men tell me Col Campbell was a pioneer in close air support - after all the color panels could be (and had been) moved by the enemy but smoke was easier to spot and the enemy couldn't move it very easily.
The first day of live action was May 25th at Okinawa. The TBMs carried 12-100 pound anti-personnel bombs for that raid. later they hit Naha airfield with the same load. At other times the loads were 4-500 pounders or 1-2000 pound bomb in the bay. Alternative loads were accommodated by a change out of the shackles in the bay. At times they carried the 5" rockets as well and the total load would consist of 6 or 8 rockets in addition to the bombs. Carrying both bombs and rockets meant you had to go over the target area at least twice, once to drop the bombs and once to fire the rockets ... not always a good tactical situation.
Unfortunately there were combat losses. One of the tasks assigned to VMTB-143 was attacking kamikaze airfields on the smaller islands surrounding Okinawa. Lt Cromwell's plane was part of the June 3 attack on the airfield on Ishigaki. His plane got hit and he had to ditch. Lt Cromwell and Cpl Wood were able to get free of the wreck and were picked up by a Martin Mariner. But Sgt William Clay Boyd Jr was lost when the plane pulled him under.
On June 12 another TBM was lost, claiming the lives of Lt. Misamore and Sgts. Schaefer and Hall, both vets from VMTB-232. Fritz Liebich was on the mission and tells what happened: "We were bombing Nobara Airfield on the island of Miyako Shima off Okinawa where the Japanese were flying their Kamikaze planes. I released 3-500# bombs and 6 - 5 inch HVARS rockets. I remember they were 500 lb. bombs because when his plane was hit by antiaircraft in the wing root it blew the wing off and he came "spinning" down like the seed of a tree hitting the edge of their runway creating a huge explosion. "Benny", my turret gunner, saw the entire event and was screaming from the second they got hit until they blew up on the runway as the two crewman were buddies of his. Our Flight Leader, Capt. Webb, who was a Guadalcanal veteran (as were my two crewmen) took us about 30 miles off the island, dropped a smoke bomb and had us practice gunnery on it until we "Cooled off" a bit." After the war their remains were recovered and returned to the United States. Their final resting place is grave #1787 at the Ft Scott National Military Cemetery, Kansas. They flew and died together and fittingly are buried together in one grave. Click on these pictures (thanks to Eddie and Mary Seamands for providing the photos).
May their souls rest in Peace.
After a few weeks the carrier was sent to Balikpapan, Borneo, to support the July 1 landings of the Australians, the last allied invasion of World War 2. (See map on Sgt. Ed Martin's photo page.) The Australians made more rapid progress than planned and overran the pre-selected target zone. Unfortunately some US Navy planes dropped ordnance on them. The Marines, who were flying in the circuit, were ordered not to drop. Later that day VMTB-143 caught and attacked many enemy fleeing along the trails.
After returning from Borneo the squadron flew anti-sub patrols and were armed with depth charges as part of the protective shield of the Seventh Fleet. In all each crew went on 30 - 40 wartime missions from the Gilbert Islands during its Pacific Theater cruise.
The CVEs were too short for a normal take off run. Every launch was a catapult shot. On landing there was no margin for error. You either made it down and hooked a wire or you crashed into the barriers. If that didn't stop you there may be parked planes awaiting you. There are photos of such events posted elsewhere on this site.
The men who participated in the cruise and their families contributed photos and logs for this site (please see the separate photo album pages). Please visit the page Men of VMTB-143 1945 to view the WMTB-143 squadron rosters where all the officers and all the flight crew are named. You'll also find a photo of all the officers with their names noted. Named photos of the enlisted men are incomplete at this time but the goal is to have all the men shown. And on the related page John Lally's TBM you'll find other photos of the TBMs and a TBM model.
To a modeler the TBM markings are interesting in that you'll find nose art along with both the 3 color TBM paint scheme and the all-over sea blue scheme. For example, the "Loose Goose" will be found in the 3 color scheme with no cowl number, then it appears with the P81 call sign (still 3 colors) and finally in the all dark sea blue scheme with the call sign and Loose Goose nose art. If you look carefully you can see the stenciling pattern is different in the photos. This subject is explored in depth on the page TBM Markings.
This site was last updated 11/27/07