FEATURED BLOGGER: Ted Crosby – An Ace in a Day // Pacific Paratrooper #AceHistoryDesk report

In a dramatic painting by Roy Grinnell, Lieutenant (j.g.) Willis Hardy, a member of Crosby’s VF-17 Squadron from the carrier USS Hornet, flames a Japanese kamikaze plane that was on its way to attack the American naval task force off Okinawa, April 6, 1945. The Hellcat’s distinctive “white checkerboard” markings show it belongs to the USS Hornet (CV12) .

As Ted Crosby watched, Yamato’s giant, 18-inch guns hit the water, their enormous weight probably helping the battleship capsize. Suddenly, Yamato’s No. 1 magazine exploded, sending up a huge coil of smoke and flame that could be seen for over 100 miles. It was a strange foretaste of the atomic mushroom clouds that would envelope Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few months later.

Watching from above, Crosby had no feeling of elation. “I was thinking of the Japanese crew,” he said in a 2011 interview. “Three thousand lives lost.” As a former fighter pilot and Navy man, he could appreciate what it meant to go down fighting with his comrades.

During his World War II career, Ted Crosby served aboard two Essex-class carriers, Bunker Hill (CV 17) and Hornet (CV 12). There were 24 Essex-class carriers built during the war, and they soon became the backbone of America’s naval offensive in the Pacific. The efforts of pilots like Crosby not only turned defeat into victory, but also changed the course of naval warfare forever.

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Ensign John T. Crosby, shortly after being commissioned in May 1943.

An autumn raid on Rabaul was a major effort involving several American carriers. It was also Ted Crosby’s first taste of battle. The raid of November 11, 1943, involved dogfights on a massive scale. It was an aerial free-for-all, with the new F6F Hellcat generally gaining the upper hand over the vaunted Mitsubishi A6M Zero or “Zeke.”

On November 26, 1943, Ted got his first kill—a piece of a Mitsubishi G4M Betty bomber. A steady stream of .50-caliber slugs sprayed from Ted’s six machine guns peppered and shattered the Betty’s tail and rear-gun position. Other Hellcats chimed in, joining Crosby’s symphony of destruction until the stricken bomber crashed. When he got back to Bunker Hill, he claimed the Betty, but it was determined that the other pilots had a share in its downing. As a result, Crosby’s official score stood at one-quarter of a Japanese bomber.

In dogfights and strafing runs, Ted had only one rule: “Don’t be in any one spot for more than 10 seconds! When I looked in my rear view mirror, I’d often see flak bursts where my plane had just been.”

In January 1945, Ted joined a newly reformed VF-17 aboard the USS Hornet. The new VF-17 appropriated the old formation’s skull and crossbones logo, but this time the men would be exclusively flying Hellcats, not Corsairs. The commander of the new VF-17 was Lt. Cmdr. Marshall U. “Marsh” Beebe.

On April 16, 1945, Ted Crosby became an ace in a day, shooting down five Japanese planes on a single mission. The Marines had landed on Okinawa on April 1 and, as time went on, the battle for the island intensified. Swarms of kamikazes flew out of Kyushu on suicide missions, crashing into any Allied ship they could find in the area. Ted and his fellow aviators called them “kami-krazies.” They seemed to conform to the wartime stereotype of fanatics who would rather commit suicide than surrender.

Crosby began April 16 on a target combat air patrol with Lt. Cmdr. Beebe. Crosby’s division (four Hellcats) was led by Lieutenant Milliard “Fuzz” Wooley; Ensigns J. Garrett and W.L. Osborn completed the quartet. As VF-17’s war diary put it, “Wooley’s division ‘tallyhoed’ [engaged] 12 Jacks and Zekes at 24,000 feet and started working them over.”

Actually, there were two groups of Japanese planes, a dozen or so at around 24,000 feet and a second group that was flying about 9,000 feet lower. Their main target was a destroyer, possibly a Fletcher-class vessel, that was cruising north of Okinawa. Ted could not recall the name of the ship, but its call sign was “Whiskey Base.”

The fighter director aboard the destroyer was happy to see Hellcats above him but dismayed when it appeared that they were leaving. “The fighter director said, ‘I see what you guys are doing––don’t leave us!’ Wooley replied, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll be back. We want to meet these guys halfway before they can get to you!’”

In the process, Wooley and Crosby became separated from the other pilots. Squadron Commander Beebe called them, asking for their position. Crosby said, “Fuzz” replied, ‘Never mind, skipper, we got them [the Japanese] cornered!’”

The first plane Crosby encountered was a Mitsubishi J2M “Jack” fighter that was coming head on. Crosby and his adversary were seemingly on a collision course, like two medieval knights jousting in a tournament.

“Well, I met that Japanese plane head on with my six .50-caliber guns, and the impact of the bullets blew him apart. Part of his engine and propeller, with the prop still turning, flew right over my head. I picked out another [Japanese plane], executed a turn, and went right after him.”

The second was a Zeke, a kamikaze, not a fighter, so Ted proceeded with caution. “We all realized you had to watch out what you did because the kamikazes were loaded with TNT to do us maximum damage. When you hit one, they would really explode! Once they exploded, you’d find yourself flying through lots of garbage and debris.”

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After he downed the Zeke, Crosby attempted to find his division leader only to notice tracer bullets zipping past his Hellcat. Ironically, Ted had found his leader, but not in the way he wanted! The bullets were from Wooley who, in the excitement, had mistaken Crosby for the enemy. Realizing his error, Wooley sheepishly radioed Ted, “Did I get you, Ted?”

“Noooo.…” Ted replied, “but let’s settle down and get more of these guys!”

Wooley readily complied, going after another Japanese plane, but found he was out of ammunition. Ironically, his last few bursts had been expended when he mistakenly fired on Ted. Wooley dove down, making himself a decoy by luring enemy planes into Crosby’s guns. The ruse was successful, enabling Ted to down two more Japanese planes.

They decided to call it a day, but as they started back to the carrier Crosby spotted kamikaze heading toward the same destroyer they had helped protect earlier. Ted gave chase, tattooing the Japanese plane with a spray of .50-caliber lead. He broke off his attack because they were nearing the destroyer, and he knew that the ship’s radar could not distinguish friend from foe.

Sure enough, the destroyer opened fire, and the kamikaze, already disabled by Ted’s guns, angled down and crashed onto a nearby island. Thus, Ted Crosby became an ace in day, credited with three Jacks, a Zeke, and a Val dive bomber. His skill and valor that day won him the coveted Navy Cross.

Ted says he did not feel too good about downing those kamikazes at first. He realized that most of the suicide pilots had little training and were for the most part sitting ducks to experienced Navy airmen. However, Ted felt better “when I was told the extent of the damage they did on ships, and by shooting them down I was saving American lives.”

Crosby also had a close call on a photo-recon mission near Shokaku, after American carrier planes had attacked Japanese shipping in the area. “I had my plot board out and I’m putting down the time of day, the slant of the sun, and all that had to do with photography. Suddenly, I saw stuff [bullets] bouncing off my wing. I look back, and there’s this guy on my tail—probably a George. Only time I ever had a guy on my tail.”

After one pass the George broke off the attack and seemed to head back to his base. Crosby was not inclined to follow him. At the moment he was alone, and following an enemy plane over enemy territory did not seem like a wise thing to do. After he got back to Hornet, Ted found an unexploded 30mm shell in his cockpit armor, mute testimony to his luck and the fact that American aircraft designs protected their pilots.

Ted Crosby remained in the Navy after the war and retired with the rank of commander.

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Military Humor –

“Ya might hafta catch a boat. One of those kids ya just chased off th’ field wuz the pilot”

The new “Learn-as-you-Go” pilot training method.

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Farewell Salutes –

Ed Bearrs – Billings, MT; USMC, WWII, PTO, Cpl., 3rd Marine Raider Battalion & 7/1st Marine Division, Purple Heart / Historian

John Bero Jr. – Buffalo, NY; US Army, WWII, ETO, Bronze Star

Patrick Chess – Yakima, WA; US Navy, WWII shipfitter 3rd Class, USS Oklahoma. KIA (Pearl Harbor)

Gabriel J. Eggud – USA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 1st Lt., pilot, 110/71 Reconnaissance Group, KIA (New Guinea)

Ellis Fryer – Dearborn, MI; US Navy, WWII & Korea

Donald Lesmeister – Harvey, ND; US Navy, Korea, USS Wiltsie

Jack McPherson – Casper, WY; US Army, WWII, Chief Warrant Officer/ Korea & Vietnam/ NSA (Ret.)

June Pearce – Waukon, IA; Civilian, B-17 riveter

Charles Perkins – Quincy, MA; US Navy, WWII, PTO

Donald Schimmels (100) – Kewaunee, WI; US Army Air Corps, WWII

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Source: // Pacific Paratrooper

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