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"Play-by-Play Reporting

By Hersch Pahl

During the latter part of the Operation Galvanic* in the Gilbert Islands, (Nov '43) A portion of Fighting Squadron Six lead by George Bullard, was attached to and flying from the USS Cowpens (CVL-25). During the night of 21 - 22 Nov '43, the enemy continued their night raids on the forces down in the Tarawa area. Some were intercepted and shot down; however, as anticipated, some survived and were trying to return to their base in Kwajalein. Our task group was in an intercept position south of the Marshals and was bent on intercepting any hostiles passing through our area.

I was scheduled for the pre-dawn combat air patrol of the day as usual and was set in a readiness condition to be launched earlier if necessary. My plane was spotted on the port catapult and "The Bull's" plane was on the stbd cat. . I remember that cliff Seaver and Tom Kerr were also scheduled to be the third and forth planes in the flight.

I liked the night flying assignments and always kept my name in the pot, asking or volunteering for any flights that involved either predawn takeoffs or landings after dark. I did not consider myself as being especially brave or anything like that - in fact it was quite the opposite. I was scared to death of being caught on the ship when it was under attack. Whenever they had a "bogey" on the screen the ship would go to general quarters. During those times, I would feel mighty helpless and useless when I had to stay on the ship; on the other hand, I had confidence in my ability to operate around and on board a carrier under most conditions - in fact after we did our night qualification landings and had some experience, I loved it. I suppose there were those who would have said that I was a bit cocky. Which I will not dispute; however, being a little cocky might be a prerequisite for being a night fighter pilot. Perhaps that is why our leader, George Bullard happened to have me spotted on the cat all set to be launched with him, because I seldom ever flew with him. I wasn't even in his division.

In those early days of flying from a carrier at night some of the guys just didn't feel comfortable about operating off the narrow deck of a CVL at night and that was okay too - perhaps they had better sense.

Some time between 0300 and 0400 a bogey was picked up on the radar screens indicating at least one of those hostile planes had survived their attack on forces further south and were now on the way back toward Kwajalein.

Soon the order "Pilots Man you planes" came and before I got to my plane the order was given over the flight deck "bull horn" to "start engine ASAP." I got a good start as the engine had recently been warmed up by my plane captain.

When my radio first came alive, I heard the Yorktown fighter director passing the bogey's altitude to the Cowpens fighter director. The Cowpens did not have the new SM (altitude determining) radar. I immediately cut in and asked for a radio check and the fighter director answered by giving me a vector and ordered me to scramble for altitude at "gate", (full military Power). I repeated the order with out telling him that I was still on the catapult, but a few moments later I went zipping down the track and was slung into the air already on vector.

About the time "The Bull" said, "go ahead Hersch, take it, I am right behind ya." I eased back on the throttle just a little after reaching 1,000 feet just enough to let "the Bull" catch up. I then told the fighter director the two of us were together and were on vector as ordered.

Cliff Seaver and Tom Kerr were launched too, but were given a slightly different vector and switched to a different radio channel.

The fighter director could not read my leader very well so directed me to continue handling the communications. The sky was clear as a bell and full of bright stars. It was easy for me to see "the Bull's" Hellcat so we flew along completely blacked out. The light from his exhaust was even too much; however, it was a perfect night for such an operation.

The fighter director estimated the bogey to be a single plane and that it was at 8,000 feet and the intercept was being made at a 90 degree angle, with us at a 500 foot altitude advantage.

As we neared the point of interception, we were given a count down on when our paths would cross. A moment or two after the one mile mark, Bullard and I both sighted the blue-green exhaust flames from the engines of a twin engine airplane. We were in a perfect position from which to start a shallow high side firing run. The exhaust from our Hellcat engine is above the wing, which made it almost impossible for them to see our exhausts from our position above them.

As the Bull rolled into a firing run, I may have sounded a bit impertinent as I reminded him to be sure to have his guns charged.

I looked and made certain there was not a second plane following, and then turned to parallel the course of the hostile plane, which I could identify as a twin engine Japanese bomber known as "Betty".

From then on, as I became more excited, I am afraid that I was quite mouthy as I gave a play-by-play, or blow-for-blow account of what was going on. When "the Bull" opened fire, a brilliant stream of 50 tracers hit the target causing the whole sky to light up. The target must have been loaded with empty fuel tanks which exploded when the first 50 caliber slugs hit it. All that was left for me to do was to continue my play-by-play description of the burning wreckage floating down to the black surface of the ocean below.

After I had already said too much, I heard a low growl from "the Bull" as he said "quiet!" in his cool calm voice. It was easy for me to imagine that his red Irish complexion was showing some embarrassment because of my laudatory reporting. I quickly knocked off the chatter and joined back on "the Bull" for the easy down-hill trip back to the Cowpens.

I was afraid that I would be reprimanded by my Irish leader when we got back on deck for using poor judgment with my reporting of this night's action. Such was not the case, as when we got back to the ready room, "The Bull" just laughed it off with his red hair all mussed up and sticking to his moist Irish brows.

It seems that I was the only one on that radio frequency at the time and with out us knowing about it, on the Cowpens, our radio conversations had been patched into the ship's public address system which allowed everyone standing watch at their general quarters battle stations to get in on the excitement of the intercept.

I understand the crew enjoyed it, and my trusty plane captain was sort'a walking on air with pride as I returned. His plane did not do the shooting, but his plane is the one which passed the good word on to the crew.

- Hersch Pahl

* Operation Galvanic is also mentioned on the following pages. Use your 'Back Button' or 'Return' Button at bottom of the page to return here.

  1. Tom Hall Dedication
  2. Pete Somerville Dedication
  3. Robert "Moose" Merritt

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October 1, 2007