"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 Hellcats  over  PROVENCE  
            VF-74 & VOF-1 IN OPERATION DRAGOON



 

 
Above:  These five photos of VF-74 activities, from squadron pilot LT Leo Horacek, Jr., were provided to us by Lou Horacek.

First:  From left to right, ENS E. Clancy, LT J.G. Bartley, ENS C.P. Ratliff and ENS S.E. Commella review a map of the landing area before a mission.

Second:  Pilots gather around the terrain model on a table at the front of the ready room as LCDR Bass (right front) makes a point. Note the predominance of maps, target photos and models in all these photos. Looking on, from left to right, are LT (jg) W.N. Arbuckle (K.I.A.), LT (jg) R.J. Finnie, LT J.C. Forney, LT (JG) E.W. Castenado, Lt H.H. Basore (XO), ENS L.E. Mokry, ENS W.J. Lahey and LT J.M. Thomas

Third:  From left to right, ENS W.H. Betha, ENS P. Pavlovich, ENS L.E. Mokry, ENS W.J. Lahey, ENS T.F. Kendrick, LT J.H. Schroff and ENS S.E. Commella study a terrain model prior to another flight. Note the VF-74 squadron patch worn by ENS Lahey and the Mk-1 vest at right, still in use, when the B-4 vest was available.

Fourth:  From left to right, standing, LCDR H.B. Bass, LT J.C. Forney, ENS T.F. Kendrick, LT J.D. Frank, ENS C.D. Garrison, LT J.M. Thomas, ENS G.E. Coe and ENS L.E. Mokry. Seated, center, LT L. Horacek and seated at right, ENS G. Minar. Here, LCDR Bass is believed to be describing the air combat and shared victory of 8/19, detailed on page four of this article. Note his QAS parachute harness in the chair below his foot. Although the Navy had strict regulations that covered the marking of clothing and equipment with name stencils in an effort to prevent theft, the predominate marking of one's name on the parachute harness was done for safety reasons. Each pilot's harness was carefully fitted by a parachute rigger and once adjusted to the proper size, the lift webs in the back were tacked to the shoulder straps at the back straps where they cross, using a double strand of 3-ply cotton thread. These markings helped assure that a pilot grabbed his own personalized harness in the sometimes hectic rush to prepair for flight. 

Fifth:  A formal briefing for the entire squadron, in their ready room, by the ACI officer, LT Carl Christopherson.

Below:  A decal of the VF-74 squadron insignia, made to be applied to the aircraft cowling.

Above:  During aircraft recovery, VF-74 Hellcats are spotted forward after landing, as Kasaan Bay's Air Officer, LCDR Stevens (to right of flag), looks down from above. Each of the squadron's aircraft displayed a one or two digit identification number on both sides of the tail, engine cowling and front landing gear doors, unlike VOF-1, which began the operation with 25 F6F-5s, and was directed to place their large identification numbers below the cockpit, with smaller numbers on the tail, cowling and doors. Typical of Navy carrier procedures, pilots were not assigned personal aircraft, rather they would man the planes prepared and spotted on the deck for each particular flight. All F65-5s, as delivered from the Grumman factory, were painted glossy sea blue overall.

Below:  Aircraft number 23, carrying  a 500 lb. GP bomb, but no rockets, is ready for launch. Per the VF-74 squadron history, they experienced a high number of blow outs upon landing with the pneumatic tail wheels the Hellcats were originally equipped with and shortly after operations began, were forced to mount the alternative solid rubber tail wheels (as seen here) to all aircraft. Although Grumman's (and General Motor's) Avenger, a larger and heavier relative of the Hellcat, was a tried and true component of the composite squadrons that typically flew from the small decked escort carriers, this operation proved to be the Hellcat's debut with the U.S. Navy's CVEs. As can be expected, a few wrinkles still needed to be ironed out. Another unexpected problem came to light quickly, as detailed in the squadron history:

"We have a 7/8" arresting wire on this carrier. The hooks on an F6F-5 have a claw which measures 11/16". We changed 18 tail hooks due to bad cracks or breaks in the claw. We hold the over-size of the wire responsible for these cracks or breaks. We first started checking for cracks after a plane caught number 3 wire, snapped the claw completely off and crashed into the barrier."

Bottom:  CVE 69 off Gould Island before sailing for the Mediteranian.