History of Air Group 24

U.S.S. Belleau Wood, USN, World War Two

From Flight Quarters, The War Story of the U.S.S. Belleau Wood, a book printed by the ship’s crew at the end of the War Italics indicate insertions by the Curator

The Belleau Wood’s first air group was formed December 1, 1942 at Floyd Bennet Field, N.A.S., New York. The organization was commanded by Commander Massey and operated 30 aircraft: 9 TBF’s (Avenger Torpedo Bombers) of VT-24, 9 SBD’s (Dauntless Dive Bombers) of VC-24, and 12 FM’s (Wildcat Fighters) of VF-24.

In May, 1943 Air Group 24 moved down to Philadelphia to board the Belleau Wood for the shakedown cruise to Trinidad and the Gulf of Paria.

After the ship’s return to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the group stayed at N.A.S. Willow Grove. It was there that the FM "Wildcats" were exchanged for the new F6F "Hellcats".

The group’s first mission against the enemy was furnishing air coverage for the occupation of Baker Island and a one day strike at Tarawa and Makin Islands. However the group was now much changed, consisting of its original 12 VF and 9 VT augmented by 12 VF from fighting 22 which had replaced the SBD’s. The SBD’s of four CVL’s had been united to form a separate 36-plane bombing squadron.

It was off Tarawa on September 16, 1943 that VF-24 shot down its first enemy plane, a Betty shot down by Bob Ross and Buck Rogers. The first serious deck crash occurred when the VF Skipper, Lt. Cdr. Johnny Curtis, crashed through the barriers and went over the side. All efforts failed to find him.

After the next raid, on Wake Island, the 12 VF of Fighting 22 were exchanged for 12 from Air Group 6 which remained aboard for the occupation of the Gilbert Islands and the strike on the Marshalls. Returning to Pearl, the group flew off to the island of Maui to re-form and take on new pilots to make up a 24-plane fighting squadron.

From here the group shot and bombed their way across the Pacific through the following operations: occupation of the Marshall Islands, strike on Truk, strike on the Marianas, occupation of Emirau Island, strike on the Palau Islands, occupation of Hollandia on New Guinea, occupation of the Marianas including the First Battle of the Phillipine Sea, and the Bonin strikes.

Most outstanding was their part in the Phillipine Sea Battle which started with the great Jap air attack on June 19. On the morning patrol Jack Thelen’s fighter division knocked down 10 and 3 probables out of 20 Zekes that jumped them over Guam. The afternoon proved fairly dull – our group having the back-stop CAP (Combat Air Patrol). While the other group held field day on the Japanese naval air force. Late the next afternoon the order came to launch a strike against the Jap Fleet. To the torpedo pilots went the greatest glory: Omark, Tate, Luton, and Brown went in to drop their "fish" at a Hayataka class carrier. Brown was hit badly by AA (anti-aircraft artillery) and caught fire, although he went on to score a hit. Omark and Tate also scored hits on the crippled carrier, sending her to the bottom. Although Brown was severely injured and his bomb bay doors were jammed open, he joined up and tried to fly back. Repeatedly the others had to force him back on course, but in the growing darkness his plane fell off and he was never found.

While the ship was in the yard at Pearl Harbor in July, Air Group 24 was relieved by Air Group 21. Aboard from May, 1943 to July, 1944, they established the longest tour of duty on record.

The ship’s painting of hashmarks indicates that Air Group 24 was credited with the destruction of 36 aircraft.

LINKS

Photo Torpedo Squadron 24, Air Group 24, U.S.S. Belleau Wood

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