Document courtesy of David Anderson:
COMMANDER S. G. MITCHELL, USN
Chief of Staff to Admiral Redford
AIR TACTICAL ANALYSIS DIVISION, DCNO (AIR)
24 November 1943
After the sinking of the HORNET I came back to the States. My orders were changed and I came up here under more or less secret orders. The VICTORIOUS came here under secret orders also and I joined her the first day of the year when she arrived at Norfolk. She immediately went into the yard for necessary changes in some of her bomb and torpedo stowage, installation of YE/ZB equipment, and other minor changes. That included putting recessed fittings in the landing portion of her armoured flight deck and raised fittings forward of the barriers for hold-down points for planes. They were accustomed to keeping their planes (carry a small number) in the hangar at all times except when operating. We went from the normal complement of 33 British-type planes to 52. We took 16 TBFs and 36 F4F4Bs (the Wildcat with the Wright engine).
We had a lot to do in the 3.5 weeks allotted to us to make these changes. At the same time the pilots had to change from the British-style carrier landing to the American style. It was proposed from the start that we could make the British landing signal officers into American-type landing signal officers and train the pilots in the new system in that time. At the outset I found, by close observation, that it would be impossible for us to go to sea and operate with British landing signal officers trying to land British pilots in the American system. So I came to Washington and succeeded in getting a young lieutenant (jg) aviator in our Navy assigned to the project as landing signal officer. He worked with the pilots and in the 3.5 weeks we succeeded in checking them out in bouncing drill and on the CHARGER. That was finished in January and we went to sea early in February after trying a few TBF landings in Chesapeake Bay on the British carrier. The landings went off very well, and we thought that her deck gear could handle the TBF
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which we had been worried about. Only six landings were made, and all indications were that everything would be satisfactory. We proceeded to Panama and found, as operations progressed, that the British deck landing gear was not satisfactory for the TBF operations, due to several factors. They had a much narrower and shorter effective landing space; they had deck cut-outs for gun directors and cut-outs for their AA guns; their cross deck pendants were 1” diameter instead of the smaller American size; and the TBF hook would not slide after catching a wire, the wire binding in the hook throat would increase the tendency to go off to the side. That, with the other deck cut-outs, made it very dangerous to operate the TBFs from that carrier.
While we were in Norfolk they also put on about 15 to 18 more 20-mm guns. They bolted them on because of the low height of the flight deck and because it was necessary to remove them before we could go through the canal, because the width of the ship was such at the flight deck level that they would have been torn off going through the locks. We had to stop three days on one side of the Canal to take them off and four days on the other side to put them back on.
On our way to Pearl we had a very bad accident which caused us to discontinue TBFs until corrective measures were taken. A TBF caught the Number One wire a little bit off center and continued on at an angle up the deck until one wheel went off into one of the deck crane cut-outs. The safety orders on the ship’s gasoline system had not been carried out. A British enlisted man had turned on a gasoline hose on his own volition, thinking, I suppose, that he was being helpful. Well, the prop cut this hose and flaming gasoline enveloped the plane immediately. The three men, critically burned, were able to get out of the plane but all subsequently died. This convinced the captain and the ship’s air department that something had to be done, which I had been telling them for some time. When we got to Pearl, I submitted a materiel report and we went into the yard immediately. I will say this, the Navy Yard and Navy Yard authorities, CinCPac and ComAirPac were all wonderfully helpful, and the British were very appreciative.
We operated out of Pearl on short training missions for three or
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four days at a time and worked with some of the American replacement squadrons that were in training over at Maui and other bases out there. We finally got under way early in May and went down to our destination. We joined the SARATOGA (ComCarDiv-1). As soon as we arrived, we went out on a five day training cruise, which was very instructive, and acquainted the commanding officer of the VICTORIOUS with our fleet operating methods. This task group was under Admiral Ramsey. When we came back in we had a conference and the key British officers of the VICTORIOUS went out and watched the SARATOGA operate. Their eyes were opened as to what smart carrier operation is. I will say that I think SARATOGA has one of the smartest flight deck crews that I’ve seen in operation. They have been out there a long time; they are good; and the SARATOGA, with her slow elevators, was not held up a bit on fast operation, because the flight deck plane handling crews jumped on the planes and functioned beautifully as a team all the way through. I used to think that the HORNET had one of the best flight deck setups, but I believe the SARATOGA’s was equal if not slightly superior to hers.
After they had witnessed smart group operation on the SARATOGA, we came back in again and two days later went out in the VICTORIOUS, taking with us SARATOGA’s key officers, including Admiral Ramsey and Captain Mullinix and several of the flight deck men and squadron people to watch the British operate. I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit, in the results of that because I wanted the British to look good and although they did look fairly good it was a spotty operation due partly to the structural and space limitations of the ship. She never will operate as well or as fast or take the number of planes our carriers do. When the armored flight deck gets a little grease or oil on it and is exposed to a rain, it will become as slippery as glass, and the planes taxiing out of the gear will, if they try to brake at all after getting up any speed, get out of control and slide maybe 15 or 20 feet. When there is a tight park forward of the barrier, it’s a dangerous situation. They realised it and at the outset started scattering sand on the deck, until I told them that wasn’t very good practice. The sand immediately blew back into the eyes of the flight deck personnel and blinded the landing signal officer and the plane handling crews who were holding the chocks on planes farther down the deck. The problem of how to keep the armoured deck from being a dangerous surface in wet weather was never solved. I understand
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that we’re going to have some armored deck carriers, but I hope if we do that they will have a wooden deck or non-skid surface over the armor.
Another feature of the British deck was very poor. They had all fittings raised above the armor. All the sheaves and other accessories to the flight deck gear were raised above the deck surface and they couldn’t utilse the deck space for 8 feet inboard of the side of the ship for parking planes. That further limited their ability to operate a large number of planes efficiently.
After we had had two interchanges of personnel, we finally went out on the New Georgia campaign. We were part of the South Pacific Fleet organisation for that operation. In the meantime, I had been detached from the VICTORIOUS and had gone with Admiral Ramsey as staff operations officer. The few other American officers on the VICTORIOUS remained, including the landing signal officer. They had six coding officers and a lieutenant commander communicator and about 25 enlisted men to help them out. The coding officers encoded and decoded all messages and continued to do that until the “VIC” went back to the British fleet.
On that operation we had two carriers, three of the new type battleships, one of the anti-aircraft cruisers, and about fourteen destroyers. We were ordered back and forth to cover certain points up near New Georgia and south of it, and we had to make out operation orders for bombardment, which we never carried out. Some cruisers and destroyers of another task force did bombard Munda and other Jap objectives. Al l we succeeded in doing in the four weeks was to use up the complete fuel load of four fleet tankers and, as Admiral Ramsay put it, we certainly captured “Point Dog”, an area we operated in about half the time. On this operation 24 of the 36 fighters on the SARATOGA went over and operated with the 36 fighters on the VICTORIOUS for the whole month. The VIC carried 60 fighter; no TBFS. Their TBFs came over and operated on the SARATOGA. The interchange was very successful and I think very helpful to them and to us, and it functioned beautifully even though we didn’t get into real action. The set-up we thought was sound, because the TBFs could be handled so much better on the SARATOGA’s deck and it speeded up operations generally. During the two times we fuelled we swapped the squadrons back and forth in order to keep up fighter and A/S patrols during
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fuelling. That whole operation was indicative of what you could do with fairly well trained outfits and free interchange of information. The British squadron liked to work on the American carrier, and our boys seemed to like the British carrier, probably because they could get a drink before dinner in the evening, or perhaps for the novelty.
After four weeks at sea we came back to port the last week in JULY. Admiral Ramsey was detached and his relief was Admiral Frederick Sherman, who brought his operations officer with him, which left me hanging on a limb, and I was ordered up to Admiral Towers for assignment. The second day I was there I went on temporary duty as Chief of Staff for Admiral Radford, who had CarDiv-11, and immediately we worked up an operation order to go down to Baker Island and, later, to Tarawa.
(Remainder until page 11 on other matters)
Q. Did you move the handling and service crews from the VICTORIOUS to the SARATOGA?
A. We moved plane service crews over but not handling crews. We had the F4F-4 with the straight Pratt & Whitney, of course, and it was a little bit
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foreign to the British mechs who were used to servicing the Wright engine.
Q. How does the hook bounce on the armoured deck?
A. The arresting gear hook bounce on the armoured deck was not serious. Once in a while we would get a bounce, but when we checked we usually found that the dash-pot had not been adjusted properly.
Q. No worse than on the conventional deck?
A. No sir, not worse, I believe. Well, it may be a little more accentuated, but not enough to give any serious worry. Once in a while the British pilots had a tendency to ease the gun when the landing signal officer tried to keep them up and keep them coming. It was a little retrogression towards the British landing system and on more than one occasion the hook bounced right on the ramp, and in one case broke the back of a TBF; it actually hit back on the projection of the TBF fuselage aft of the tail gun.
Q. What comparison could you make between British Fighter Director Organisation and the Combat Information Centre and those on the SARATOGA?
A. I think the British Fighter Direction setup and Combat Information is better organised than the SARATOGA’s, mainly because they have worked at it much longer and have better space facilities, better background of experience than the SARATOGA. The SARATOGA has a good Fighter Director System, but the boys are handicapped by space limitations more than they are by ability and the actual fighter radar equipment itself. Everyone seemed to be impressed by the well organised British Fighter Director setup. I thought it was good, also, but their relaying of information and the completeness of the information they want I think can possibly introduce a lag in their system that the SARA, perhaps less well equipped, doesn’t have. That is just my impression. I don’t want that to go out as the general impression.
Q. How does the British CIC setup compare with that on our CVLs?
A. Our CVL-CIC setup, I believe, compares favourably with the British setup. On the PRINCETON, they have a large vertical board and three plots in addition to the vertical board. Although the PRINCETON was new and had her number two Fighter Director officer in control, that youngster handled it very nicely and his crew did good work. They worked well in radar plot but they had difficulty in getting desired and essential information from their CIC up to the bridge. This was largely an internal communication problem and one that can be solved without additional equipment.
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I would like to mention here that something should be done on the CVLs to increase the comfort and facilities on the bridge. It’s very poor now and if it rains one just gets wet, can’t see, and the operational potential suffers correspondingly. There are no flag facilities whatever, and the staff was underfoot and in the way of the captain, air officer, gun observers, and lookouts all of the time. It’s a shortsighted policy to send out a ship with the operational capabilities of the CVLs, with their speed and the number of planes they carry (not so many, it’s true, but they can operate them well and operate them fast and get all their planes off in good time) with inadequate bridge and flag facilities. I believe that part has been neglected or accepted too lightly. I understand it is because topside weight is critical. I think something should be done in future construction of this type to improve conn and flag facilities.
Q. What do you think the answer is on the British and American system of signalling carrier landings?
A. I think the American system is the better and the only one with which large groups of planes can be operated. I’ll admit that with the British system if you only operate say, six planes, you can take the long more or less gliding approach, string the planes out far astern, and maybe get six planes aboard with a good interval. But when you operate a whole air group and bring 50, 60 or 70 planes on board, I say that ours is the only system that will do it, with other carrier air groups within two or three miles doing the same thing. It is my opinion that the British officer commanding the VICTORIOUS, his air officer, and all the air group are now completely in favour of the American system, and want to recommend it to the British Admiralty. Whether or not they can do it, I do not know. They were finally convinced that it was the only system. I had expressions from all of the British squadron commanders and a lot of pilots whom I knew on the British carrier, to the effect that they would be afraid to go back to their own system. They didn’t want to attempt it but maybe they’re doing it again.