USS Saratoga circa June/July 1942


Collection Richard Harmer (courtesy Tom Harmer)

Source Wikipedia


U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS (CV-3) alongside Naval Air Station,
Ford Island, in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii (USA), circa June or July 1942

I have always been attracted by aircraft carriers since I built a model of the USS Essex CV-9 in the late 50s or early 60s.


This is really how this blog started in 2015 when Gunnar Kelly sent me this picture of his father on the USS Enterprise.


There are many pictures of CV-6 on the Internet, but there are very few pictures of the USS Saratoga circa July 1942 floating around on the Internet.


In my search for what happened to Richard Emerson Harmer on August 24, 1942, and his fellow pilots of VF-5,  I am trying to find all that  I can about them by using this book I bought last week.


Richard Harmer’s name is listed 29 times in the book. On pages 167-168 we learn what happened to him on 24 August, 1942.

Pages 167-168

The Japanese Fight Their Way Out

Apparently eleven Shokaku and six Zuikaku carrier bombers, three Shokaku and five Zuikaku Zeros survived the bomb runs against TF-16. However, many enemy aircraft bared the way out, including CAP F4Fs, IAP SBDs, returning search planes low on fuel, and strike planes. The first encounters in this phase of the battle took place at low altitude near TF-16. A set sequence of events cannot be given, necessitating an episodic treatment.

Fighting Five

Chick Harmer (VF-5’s XO) and wingman John McDonald of SCARLET 4 had contested the attacks of the lead pair of Shokaku carrier bombers. After chasing Seki’s wingman Imada into fierce AA, Harmer circled the black blizzard of shell bursts looking to ambush other dive bombers emerging lower down. Against one his above-rear run silenced the rear gunner, but the pilot reefed steeply in front, forcing him to roll out of the way. Seeing a large splash he thought perhaps that Aichi had succumbed. The next dive bomber turned the tables by charging hard up Harmer’s tail at 500 feet. Exhibiting excellent marksmanship, its pilot riddled the F4F’s fuselage and cockpit with sixteen to twenty 7.7-mm slugs and severely wounded Harmer in both thighs and the left ankle. More bullets bounced harmlessly off the armor plate behind his seat. Hurt and flying a battered airplane about to run out of gas, Harmer veered southeast toward the Saratoga. Meanwhile “Jughead” McDonald caught a carrier bomber that tried S-turns at 50 feet to avoid his tracers, but to no avail, as his full-deflection shot flamed the VB.

All this search made me appreciate a whole lot more this citation.



Collection Richard Harmer (courtesy Tom Harmer)

There is yet another book that tells what happened on August 24, 1942, but with even more details…



pages 211-212

It was now 4:38 p.m. and TF 16, the task force closest to the impending action, was bracing for attack. Its ships circled wagons into what was called a I-Victor formation: Enterprise at the center, a cruiser on either bow, battleship North Carolina (BB-55) directly astern and the six destroyers posted to an evenly spaced outer ring.

The Japanese had sent twenty-seven dive-bombers to take out the American carriers. Even as a third of these Vals broke to the east, bound for Saratoga skies, Enterprise’s would-be assailants veered due south. The eighteen Vals lowered gradually towards pushover altitude, re-aligning themselves as they advanced: The vee-of vees first lengthened into a column of vees—a sort of moving arrow. Then this column narrowed into a lengthy single-file queue—with individual Vals spaced tail-to-nose at roughly one hundred-yard intervals.

As Enterprise CO Davis curled his ship to starboard, ordered up speed and fled, the Vals were set to come down on the carrier’s port quarter. Sun at his back, each Val pilot jockeyed to keep his place in the queue, waiting for the bomber ahead to push over.

Below, in Enterprise’s Air Plot, frustration and exasperation held sway. FDO “Ham” Dow was doing his best to orchestrate his suddenly over-matched fighter assets using a single undisciplined radio frequency. Pilots crowded the circuit with transmissions inspired by adrenaline, exuberance and terror. Dow (“sweating like a Turk” in the estimation of one of his assistant FDOs) tried desperately to break in with updates and instructions.

Topside, TF 16 lookouts and gunners squinted into the afternoon sun, eager to pick out targets. With their ship’s fire control radar system on the blink, Enterprise five-inch gunners were at a crucial disadvantage. But at 4:40 p.m., at least one portside gallery 20-millimeter battery com¬mander—a sergeant in the ship’s Marine detachment—glimpsed a dive-bomber and ordered his guns to fire. Thin tracer streams reached up like sparks on kindling. Within the minute, most of the formations 1.1-inch, 20-millimeter and five-inch batteries had joined in.

Despite the uncommon ease with which the Japanese dive-bombers had skirted the outer fighter screen, the target path to Enterprise was by no means clear. The two dozen Wildcats left behind in the race were quickly catching up and the two dozen inner screen Wildcats barred the way. Wildcats for Big E’s defense (they had the potential either to help or complicate) were two flights of SBDs and TBFs—one inbound (the search group launched earlier and now returning), one out (the just-launched strike group).

From his position about five miles astern of Enterprise and flying north-west, Lieutenant Richard E. “Chick” Harmer spotted the Vals dropping into their dives. Harmer, VF-5’s thirty-year-old XO, led a Wildcat division that had been aloft for three hours and was now, to a man, short of juice. Nonetheless, Harmer’s pilots poured on such fuel as they had into a parabolic, five thousand foot climb designed to put them on the Val’s tails.

Harmer‘s wingman, twenty-four-year-old Lieutenant (junior grade) John B. “Jughead” McDonald Jr. was the first into the fray, jumping line to take after the formation lead. His wing guns blazing, McDonald fol¬lowed the Val into the heart of the antiaircraft fire. The Val pilot toggled a bomb that splashed well wide of Enterprise before dodging his plane low off the water through the cruiser-destroyer gauntlet.

Harmer took on the second plane and, like McDonald, dove into the antiaircraft vortex, all the while wading bursts with the Val’s rear gunner. This plane escaped, too, but not before dropping another errant bomb.

The third intercept—by Harmer‘s second section leader, twenty-eight¬year-old Lieutenant Howard W. Crews came out better all around. Crews first bullets tore into the Val’s wings and fuselage; a second and longer burst got its cowling and engine. As Crews finally pulled out at three thousand feet to avoid friendly fire, the Val hurtled down. In a prema-ture release, its bomb dropped to a towering but ineffectual splash two hundred yards wide of Enterprise’s port quarter. The flaming Japanese dive-bomber, meanwhile, crashed in water six hundred yards off her port beam.

Richard Emerson Harmer would get another citation, but this time in 1944.


Collection Richard Harmer (courtesy Tom Harmer)


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