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COMPONENTS AND WEAPONS OF NAVAL AVIATION

Both combat and noncombat activities were carried on by naval aviation. The first included carrier, Marine, and patrol aviation and two lesser types: battleship and cruiser aviation, consisting of small seaplanes used primarily to direct ships' gunfire and coastal-patrol aviation employing small land and seaplanes to protect port areas and coastal convoys against submarine attack. Noncombat functions were performed by utility squadrons and the Naval Air Transportation Service. In addition, the Coast Guard operated as part of the Navy during the war, and its air units were employed in antisubmarine warfare and air-sea rescue work. Carrier Aviation Carrier aviation may be considered in three parts: the fast-carrier striking forces, the escortcarrier forces, and Marine-carrier aviation. The functions performed by the fast carriers included offense, defense, and reconnaissancc against enemy aircraft, warships, merchant vessels, and beachhead targets. They were primarily an offensive weapon used to gain control of vast sea areas and to destroy enemy forces which threatened friendly fleet or amphibious opera - tions. These functions required mobility, flexibility, aerial power, and defensive armament. The fast carriers included both large, fast, 100-plane carriers and light, equally fast: 33- plane carriers. Fighter, dive-bomber and torpedo- bomber squadrons were organized in carrier air groups and trained to operate together as coordinated striking units. Specialized night-fighter aircraft and high-speed photographic planes also flew-from fast carriers. Fast carriers were normally operated in task groups of 3 to 5 carriers, 4 to 6 battleships and cruisers, and 12 to 20 destroyers, all under a single command. Two to five task groups composed a fast-carrier task force, such as Task Force 58. The fast-carrier task force which made the first assault on the Philippines in September 1944 had 730 planes; for the Leyte landings a month later, 1,060; and for the Tokyo raid of February 1945, 1,220. Escort carriers provided air and antisubmarine defense of invasion convoys and beachhead areas and close support of invasion troops until such time as these functions could be taken over by shore-based aircraft. The carriers themselves were smaller, slower ships of about 30-plane capacity, on which were based squadrons of fighters and torpedo bombers. In amphibious operations escort carriers were normally employed in formations of 4 to 7 carriers with 6 to 12 destroyers and destroyer escorts. but single carriers with fewer escorts were used for specialized antisubmarine or convoy-escort operations. The invasion of Leyte was Supported by a task group of 18 escort carriers in 3 task units with a total of 500 planes. The group for the Lingayen landings had the same number of carriers but was divided into a larger number of units with a total of 570 planes. Marine-carrier aviation was of two kinds. In the first place, the marines were expected to act as a reserve for naval aviation, and, although this function was not exercised in the early part of the war, a few- Marine Corps pilots were aboard an escort carrier off Attu in May 1943, and, beginning in December 1944, a number of Marine fighter squadrons were used on the fast carriers. In the second place, during the same year, the decision was made to employ marines from escort carriers in support of amphibious operations, and the first two such carriers were 5 present during the Okinawa campaign in the spring of 1945. Training and techniques were identical with those employed by Navy squadrons engaged in the same sort of work. The aircraft used in carrier aviation were of three major types. Designed primarily for combat with enemy aircraft, fighter planes equipped with machine guns, bombs, and rockets were also employed as offensive weapons against ships and land targets. Dive bombers participated in coordinated attacks with fighters and torpedo plane and were the most accurate of all bombers. Torpedo planes made torpedo attacks only occasionally and were more often used as versatile light bombers capable of carrying a ton of bombs plus rockets. Because of their inherent characteristics, they proved valuable for short-range search and sea patrol particularly against submarines. Marine Aviation Marine aviation was organized administratively as part of the Marine Corps. The basic unit was the squadron of 12 to 32 planes, 2 or more of which constituted a group. Likewise 2 or more groups with headquarters and service units made up a wing. Although it was originally planned that each division of ground troops should have a supporting wing bearing the same number, the exigencies of war made it impossilbe to carry out this scheme, and Marine aircraft, like all others, were assigned where they were most needed. For logistical and material support, Marine air units depended upon naval commands. Besides its carrier functions, Marine aviation served ashore both in support of Marine ground troops and as a garrison air force to protect bases and other installations. Although the latter was more properly the task of the Army, the marines took it over because the Army Air Forces, concentrating on the primary strategic objective in 6 Europe, had insuficient planes available for the Pacific theater. Such a substitution was in accord with the agreement of 1935 between the Army and Navy which specified that when needed each service would operate in lieu of the other. Similarly Marine air units supported Army ground troops on Guadalcanal and in the Philippines, where they won the highest praise of Army officers. As an extension of its work as a garrison air force. Marine aviation conducted numerous raids on enemy installations at New Britain and in the islands of the Central Pacific to prevent by-passed Japanese garrisons from interfering with Allied communications. While engaged in their many activities, shorebased Marine squadrons shot down over 1,900 Japanese planes. Because of their position as a fleet reserve, the Marines used the same types of aircraft as the Navy and received similar training with increased emphasis on close air support. The assumption of garrison air force duties resulted in the addition to Marine plane types of a twoengined bomber, the Mitchell (Army B-25, Navy PBJ), which was employed for search and interdiction. Patrol Aviation Patrol aviation had as its basic function to discover and report the location, nature, and movements of enemy forces. By a natural extension this came to include photographic missions against enemy installations in advance of carrier and amphibious operations. Whenever it was possible and would not interfere with the basic reconnaissance duty, patrol planes attacked enemy shipping. This was especially successful against unescorted surface vessels and submarines. In the Atlantic, and to a lesser degree in the Pacific, antisubmarine warfare became a highly specialized activity that called for intensive training and complicated equipment. Pa- trol aviation also acquired many other miscellaneous functions including air-sea rescue, minelaying, defensive patrols around surface forces far at sea, and diversionary, harassing attacks against enemy bases and islands. Prior to the war the Navy depended upon large flying boats for patrol work. All these aircraft were distinguished for range, relatively slow speed, and light armament. Since flying boats could be based upon tenders anchored in harbors, sheltered coves, and open sea, they possessed great mobility and were employed in advance positions before the capture or construction of airfields was possible. Between 1939 and 1941 the neutrality patrol demonstrated the need for land-based aircraft to operate in northern latitudes during winter weather, and the first months of the war indicated the need for more speed and armament in a plane that was expected to operate singly in close proximity to enemy airfields. Since it was impossible to provide the necessary characteristics in seaplanes, the Navy obtained land types from the Army. Before an Army high-altitude bomber could be effectively employed for search and reconnaissance, however, 50 percent of its internal arrangements had to be altered and special equipment installed. Because this modification required virtually as many man-hours as the construction of a new plane, the Navy began designating new patrol aircraft to meet its special requirements. As in other types of naval aviation the basic unit was the squadron. Since the planes usually flew alone and were frequently operated in threeor six-plane detachments from tenders, the squadrons remained largely an administrative unit. Squadrons were organized into Fleet Air Wings which also included coastal-patrol squadrons and headquarters and service units. Patrol squadrons were assigned to task groups and forces for operations and since it was common practice to employ wing commanders in the task organization, Fleet Air Wings acquired operational as well as administrative and logistical functions and were closely integrated with other elements of the fleet. Noncombat Aviation Created immediately after the outbreak of war in the Pacific, the Naval Air Transport Service adapted the methods of commercial air lines to meet the demands of the Navy’s forces the world over. Familiarly known as NATS, it played a major role in the Pacific War. The cargoes it carried sent damaged ships and submaries back to sea weeks before surface transport could have delivered the required materials. It supplied fighting units throughout the Pacific with critical implements of war and brought as much as 1,000 pints a day of life-giving plasma and whole blood to forward areas. It evacuated casualties from the active fighting fronts. At Okinawa begining 6 days after the initial landing, 9,871 patients were moved in 329 flights. The importance of such service was only partly measurable in statistics; it also lay in the shortened convalescence and improved morale of each casualty and in the lightened burdens and responsibilities of medical units in the battle area. A measure of the size and scope of NATS activities can be gained from the following statistics. In August 1945 NATS flew a total of 39,- 732,000 miles carrying 11,400 tons of cargo and mail and 85,000 passengers over a network of 63,251 route miles. Four hundred and twentynine aircraft and a total personnel of 26,604 were involved in this enterprise. Utility squadrons supplied the fleet with special aircraft services. Before Pearl Harbor it had become obvious that, if gunnery training were to keep abreast of new developments in fire-control, the utility squadrons would have to expand and increase their scope of operation. 7 Radio-controlled target aircraft were developed and personnel trained to place this target at the disposal of ships in training. Aircraft better adapted to towing target sleeves were obtained. Throughout the first war years new squadrons were formed to bring these devices to the fleet and shore establishments. Utility squadrons moved into forward areas with their tow equipment and radio-controlled drones to give advanced training to ships, bases and fighter aircraft. These services were provided not only for Navy and Marine Corps hut also for Army units in the Southwest Pacific. Other activities included coverage of submarines engaged in training, aerial mapping and surveys, local rescue work, and itinerant air transport. Utility squadrons everywhere in the Pacific contributed to the effectiveness of antiaircraft fire. Nowhere did the practice afforded the gunners better reveal its usefulness than during the long campaign for the capture of Okinawa. The ability to shoot down Kamikazes that had slipped through the protective screen of fighters helped immeasurably in the ability of the fleet to stay until the troops no longer required its support.

 

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