Book update: October 1944 is in the books! Lousy weather curtailed operations. When combat missions were flown, isolated Japanese positions on Bougainville bore the brunt of the strikes for the month. Two planes were lost, and third may have been lost -- conflicting information on that one. In those cases, no pilots were killed. At the end of the month, squadron pilots flew their F4U-1 Corsairs to Guadalcanal to exchange them for 22 brand new F4U-1D Corsairs. The -D Corsairs had no internal outboard fuel tanks in the wings and instead relied on a 160 gallon external fuel tank, or it could carry 3 1,000 pound bombs. It also sported the one piece bubble canopy. Picture via Jack Cook. VMF-251 Corsair second from right. Guiuan Airfield, Samar, Philippine Islands.
Just one of the sources I am using for the book when it comes to the Corsair! While used as a dive bomber, it had no dive brakes. Instead it used its main landing gear. From the manual: The pilot would set his dive brake switch to “on”. Depending on the speed of the aircraft, the landing gear would partially extend or fully extend. In the F4U-1 model, if speeds were greater than 380 knots the gear would partially extend. Below that speed, the gear would fully extend. In the F4U-1D model the speed was 260 knots.
(Pictured: Glenn Loban courtesy of his niece) -- On 29 January 1943, tragedy struck VMO-251 as several planes made their way back from a mission over Munda. The weather had deteriorated, reducing visibility over Cactus as the returning planes made their approach. According to one witness, 1Lt. Glenn Loban and 1Lt. Wayne Christian collided when they entered the landing pattern at the same time. Both men were killed in the collision. Their bodies were not recovered.
During the morning of 15 August 1944, VMO-251 was one of several squadrons that struck the Vunakanau Airfield in the vicinity of Rabaul on New Britain. Flying from Piva were VMO-251, VMF-223; flying from Emirau were VMF-115, VMF-211, VMF-215 and VMSB-243; flying from Torokina were RNZAF Squadrons 19 and 21. 83 planes, each carrying one 1,000 pound GP bomb -- that's 41.5 tons of ordnance to be delivered to the Japanese. The map below came from the VMSB-243 mission report for the strike. VMO-251 was responsible for hitting Target areas C and P. C is not shown, but you can get an idea of where P is located. Intense AA fire was met but the squadron did not suffer any losses. I was able to find reports from all squadrons participating except for RNZAF Squadron 21. Of note, 251 pilots complained of the lack of radio discipline by the RNZAF pilots, as well as PT boats in the vicinity. See 251 mission report attached.
Update on World War II history -- the months of June and July 1944 are complete. Now working on August 1944. Total hours flown in June 1944: 1,408.3; total for July 1944, 1,368.2! Two missions a day on average with approximately 14 to 16 (out of a total of 20) aircraft in the air each time.
The picture comes from the family of Russell Cunningham, who flew with the squadron while it was operating out of Piva North Airfield on Bougainville. Pilots enjoying some off time with a game of poker. The squadron's exec, William Bacheler, is right of center looking at cards.