March 1945 is complete for A Squadron Born in War, our squadron's WW2 history. That leaves only the month of April and the first draft will be complete.
The squadron lost one plane during the month. The constant missions over Panay, Mindanao, Mindoro, Luzon, northern Samar, Cebu, Panay, Negros, combat patrols over Leyte Gulf, top cover for allied convoys put a strain on maintenance to meet the demands of operations. They always had the number of planes ready demanded by group (MAG-14) but paid a high price. By the end of the month, only 11 of the 21 Corsairs assigned to the squadron were fit to fly.
It's been a great experience so far!
And now for a picture: Caption: Bomber Field #1 Espiritu Santo Sept 1942 Left to Right, sitting: Louis Kaelin, Claude Farmer, George Bunker, John Knight. Standing: Dave Waggoner and John Irwin (in white shirt) Wing from a zero hangs between trees. (Photo from the John Irwin collection via his son)
Book Update -- well February 1945 is complete. That leaves March and April and part of May when the squadron stood down from operations as it began the process of deactivation.
Following January's deadly month, February saw no KIAs. Targets included airfields on Mindanao, Leyte, Luzon, Cebu, Panay and Negros. One plane was lost due to an operational accident:
"VMF-223 pilot 2Lt. Eugene F. Proulx, while coming in for a landing following a mission near Liloan, was caught in the slipstream of the plane in front of him. He skidded as he hit the runway, ripping off his left wheel. The out-of-control plane veered to the left and slammed into a parked Corsair in VMF-251’s revetment area. Proulx was unhurt, but his Corsair (BuNo 14505) as well as 251’s Corsair (BuNo 57391) were complete losses."
Photo: Two unnamed Marines from VMO-251's camera dept. Espiritu Santo, late 1942. From the John Irwin collection.
January 1945 is finished. It was a relentless month for the squadron as it flew combat missions over the Philippines. MAG-14 squadrons flew over 5,000 hours for the month -- VMO-251 accounted for nearly half of them. The squadron lost six aircraft: 2 due to operational accidents and 4 due to combat. Four pilots were lost in action. On 31 January 1945, the squadron officially became VMF-251. For the record, here is what I have been able to determine on the final disposition of the four casualties. Note: updated with information from casualty cards courtesy of the USMC History Division.
Casualties: 20 January 1945 (Pilots killed in mid-air collision during strafing run)
1LT. Nick Sigan. Body recovered before war ended. Buried at Manila American Cemetery, Plot N Row 17 Grave 167.
1LT. James Sturgis. Body never recovered. Missing, declared KIA after war. Memorial at Manila American Cemetery, Tablet of the Missing.
Casualties: 28 January 1945 (Pilots killed during separate attacks on suspected Japanese positions.)
CAPT. Harold Wallace. Body recovered before war ended. Buried at Manila American Cemetery, Plot N Row 10 Grave 200.
1LT. Michael Moynihan. Body never recovered. Missing, declared KIA after war. Memorial at Manila American Cemetery, Tablet of the Missing.
Picture is believed to be Major William C. Humberd, who commanded the squadron from 6 Nov. 1943 to 9 Feb. 1945. John Irwin Collection.
It's been a productive two days! December 1944 operations are concluded and it closes up chapter 5 of the book. The last chapter will cover operations in the Philippines. FYI -- on December 30 the squadron's 25 Corsairs departed Bougainville for Samar via Emirau, Hollandia, Owi Island, and Peleliu. They arrived at Samar on 2 January and were flying combat operations out of Guiuan Airfield on 3 January. No rest for the weary! I was also able to acquire a 1944 map of Bougainville from Australia showing all locations. It will be a great help when trying to locate targets! Picture - living conditions on Samar courtesy of Hugh "Yogi" Irwin.
Action covering November 1944 is complete. Squadron flew plenty of missions over Bougainville. Anything that could aid the Japanese was fair game when it came to targets. Of note, the squadron flew its first close air support mission during the month, helping Australian troops -- "Diggers" -- on New Britain.
December will be a short month since operations ceased on Dec. 9 in preparation of the squadron's move to Guiuan, Samar, Philippine Islands.
In the picture: VMO-251 pilots being picked up following a mission. Piva North Airfield, Bougainville. Russell Cunningham Collection.