20 November 1943 Tarawa; Keep Moving

Originally posted 20 November 2009:

The buildings in the “regimental area” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina are modest, post-war brick buildings that, to the visitor’s eye, look more or less alike. Yet, each of the Marine Regiments of the Second Marine Division has its own storied history and battle honors.  As Captain J. W. Thomason wrote in his Great War masterpiece Fix Bayonets, these histories represent the “…traditions of things endured and things accomplished, such as Regiments hand down forever.”

There are symbols of these honors for one to see, if you know where to look. On a thousand trips past those symbols, there is one that never failed to make me pause and reflect. On the headquarters building for the 2d Marine Regiment hangs their unit crest. Aside from the unit name, the crest contains only three words. They are in English and not Latin, and they are not a catch phrase nor a bold proclamation of a warrior philosophy. They are simple and stark. Across the top of the unit crest is the word “TARAWA”. And at the bottom, the grim admonition, “KEEP MOVING”.

491px-2nd_Marine_Regiment_Logo

It was 66 years ago on this date that the Second Marine Division began the assault on Betio Island, in the Tarawa Atoll. The island, roughly two thirds of the size of my college’s small campus, was the most heavily fortified beach in the world. Of the Second Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Regiment (known as “Second Marines”) landed two battalions abreast on beaches Red 1 and Red 2. The assault began what was described as “seventy-six stark and bitter hours” of the most brutal combat of the Pacific War. More than 1,000 Marines and Sailors were killed, nearly 2,300 wounded, along with nearly 5,000 Japanese dead, in the maelstrom of heat, sand, fire, and smoke that was Betio.

Assault on Betio's Northern beaches

Assault on Betio’s Northern beaches

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

Marine Dead on Beach Red 1

I will not detail the fighting for Betio here, as there are many other sources for that information. Nor will I debate whether the terrible price paid for Betio was too high. What cannot be debated is the extraordinary heroism of the Marines and Sailors who fought to secure the 1.1 square miles of baking sand and wrest it from the grasp of an entrenched, fortified, and determined enemy. The fighting was described as “utmost savagery”, and casualties among Marine officers and NCOs were extremely high. As one Marine stated, initiative and courage were absolute necessities. Corporals commanded platoons, and Staff Sergeants, companies.

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

Marines assault over coconut log wall on Beach Red 2

The book by the late Robert Sherrod, “Tarawa, The Story of a Battle”, is a magnificent read. Another is Eric Hammel’s “76 Hours”. Also “Utmost Savagery”, by Joe Alexander, who additionally produced the WWII commemorative “Across the Reef”, an excellent compilation of primary source material. For video, The History Channel produced a 50th anniversary documentary on the battle, titled “Death Tide at Tarawa”, in November 1993. I also highly recommend finding and watching this superb production. It is narrated by Edward Hermann, and interviews many of the battle’s veterans, including Robert Sherrod, MajGen Mike Ryan, and others, who provide chilling and inspiring commentary of the fighting and of the terrible carnage of those three days.

 Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett's father's ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett's father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Master Sgt. James M. Fawcett, left and Capt. Kyle Corcoran salute Fawcett’s father’s ashes on Red Beach 1. MSgt Fawcett’s father landed on Red 1 on 20 Nov 1943.

Tarawa remains a proud and grim chapter in the battle histories of the units of the Second Marine Division. Each outfit, the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 10th Marines, 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Tracks, and miscellaneous support units, fought superbly against frightful odds and a fearsome enemy. It is on the Unit Crest of the 2nd Marines, whose battalions paid the highest price for Betio, that the most poignant of those histories is remembered. Three simple words: “TARAWA; KEEP MOVING”.

 

Grumman TF-1Q

TF-1Qs 13785 (background) and 13788 (foreground) assigned to VAW-33 "Firebirds."
TF-1Qs 13785 (background) and 13788 (foreground) assigned to VAW-33 “Firebirds.” Note the dorsal antennae for the ECM equipment.

Grumman’s Model G-96, known as the TF-1Q (later designated EC-1A Trader), is a little known variant of the C-1 Trader carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft (which itself is a version of the ubiqitious S-2 Tracker carrierborne antisubmarine aircraft. The TF-1Q was the first dedicated electonic warfare (EW) training platform.

The first TF-1Q was delivered in 1957 to VAW-33 in San Diego. The TF-1Q carried a crew of 5 total, including 2 pilots and 3 ECM operators. The TF-1Q shared the same airframe as the C-1A Trader and therefore a volumoius fuselage in which to carry a wide variety of ECM (electronic countermeasure) equipment including:

Recievers for train operators on how to conduct electronic intelligence (ELINT) included:

  • ALQ-2 radar warning reciever (E through I bands, with the antenna for the equipment mounted in the tail)
  • AAR-5 ECM receiver (covering the A band)
  • ALR-8 ECM recieving units, comprising of the APR-13 (covering the A and B bands) and the APR-9 (covering the B through I bands)
  • APA–69A ECM direction finder
  • APA-74 Pulse Analyzer

 

An APA-74 Pulse Analyzer
An APA-74 Pulse Analyzer

The TF-1Q differed from the C-1 Trader in many ways. The compartive greater weight meant the TF-1Q did not operate from aircraft carriers. Also the TF-1Q was limited in range and altitude.

There were 4 total TF-1Qs. Provding bi-coastal EW training, coverage  2 TF-1Qs each were assigned to VAW-33 (later redesignated VAQ-33 “Firebirds”) then based at NAS Quonset Point, RI and the other 2 went to VAW-13 (later redesignated VAQ-130 “Zappers”) at then at NAS Alameda, CA. Additional tasking of these squadrons included providing EW “Red Air” for both east and west coast squadrons. These aircraft privided valuable realistic EW training for crews aboard ships.

As mentioned there were 4 TF-1Qs (listed bureau numbers follow):

  • 136783: TF-1Q to EC-1A 1962. Was stored at Western International Aviation in Tuscon, AZ. Airframe scrapped.
  • 136785: (fate unknown, probably scrapped.
  • 136788: TF-1Q to EC-1A in 1962. She was converted back to C-1A Trader at some point. She was lost 2 April 1982 while on a COD flight from the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69). All 11 aboard were killed.
  • 13688: was FAA registered N788RR which was cancelled (and now belongs to a 2000 SOCATA SOCATA-TBM700) and reregisted as N6788 which expired June 2013.

Here are a few photos I found of some of the TF-1Qs 13788:

13788-2 136788 136788-2

Sources:

http://www.joebaugher.com/navy_serials/thirdseries16.html

The History of U.S. Electronic Warfare Volume 2.

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Russian Airliner in Sinai

The Russians have yet to respond to any such terrorist claims, but it’s safe to say that ISIS has President Putin’s full attention.

It’s unclear if militants allied with the Islamic State actually brought down the airliner. The video could be propaganda, but the terrorists do have surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing an airliner down.

The above is from IJN.  If this claim and the accompanying video are authentic, things could get very interesting.  Especially if it was a US-made MANPADS.  Putin and Russia are not constrained by the same self-loathing apology complex we are.  They certainly recognize ISIS for the threat that it is, and the United States as a paper tiger without the will (and soon, without the means) to be a major player in the Middle East.  The downing of an airliner with 224 people on board will not frighten the Russians, but will instead be an impetus for the autocratic Putin to ramp up the military response, all the while reinforcing Russia’s status once again as a world power.

H/T to LLL!

Air Combat- Past and Future

Critics of the F-35 went bonkers when David Axe posted about one isolated test flight where the F-35 had issues maneuvering against an F-16.

Of course, that’s based on an assumption that future air combat will be conducted in a manner similar to the dogfights over North Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, where fighters maneuvered hard to get into a narrow cone behind their opponent, and a visual ID was required before engaging. The caterwauling over the lack of a permanently installed gun on the Marine and Navy versions also leans heavily on the assumption that modern air to air missile will work just about as well as their 1960s counterparts.

Guess what? Times change. Pull out your cell phone. Look at it. How many of you have a 6th generation iPhone or Galaxy? It’s pretty incredible, right? A tad more advance than, say, this:

from-backpack-transceiver-smartphone-visual-history-mobile-phone.w654

Why would you assume that phones improve, but air to air missile technology doesn’t?

And the assumption that future air to air tactics will be like those of Vietnam also ignores (willfully and studiously) the fact that the Navy and the Air Force used the lessons of Vietnam to fundamentally change our entire approach to air to air warfare.

Here’s a homework assignment- watch all four of these videos. It’s about 40 minutes.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4CHjwF-rHM]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQvhGAuVSpk]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-r9-gP_cbao]

 [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9faWNV867w]

Wigs is one of the most respected fighter pilots to come out of the Tomcat community.

And here’s Bio, another highly respected member of the community.

When I joined my first F-14 squadron in 1981 (VF-24), the A-model was still relatively new and some US Navy squadrons were still flying Phantoms. The potential threats that we most often trained for were the MiG-17 and MiG-21, which were not match of a threat beyond visual range (BVR), but could be a handful if you got engaged within visual range (WVR). Since we always expected to be outnumbered, and with the lessons from the air war over Vietnam still fresh, we spent a lot of our training fuel and time on ACM – air combat maneuvering, or dogfighting.

—–

When we started to get serious about the threat, especially when the AA-10 Alamo arrived, we realized we had to employ AIM-54s against enemy fighters. So of course we began to train with them. I think the capability was in TACTS all along, we just never used it. Fortunately the Navy introduced the AIM-54C in 1987, when we really needed it. The Charlie corrected many shortcomings of the Alpha, in both outer air battle and closer-in tactical environments. With its long motor burn time, large warhead, and radar improvements, the AIM-54C was a tenacious missile. Again, it is too bad it doesn’t have a combat record.

One of the coolest visuals I remember was from TACTS debriefs at Fallon, when a division of Tomcats launched AIM-54Cs against simulated Fulcrums at 30-plus miles. A few seconds after launch the debriefer rotated the view from overhead to horizontal, and there were four Phoenixes performing their trajectory-shaping climbs. AIM-54s were not 100% kills, but they sure started to reduce the threat as scenarios developed.

Air combat has changed in the 40 years since Vietnam.  The single most common tactic in air to air combat today, world wide, is the “in your face” long range Beyond Visual Range radar guided missile shot.

That means that the key to success in air to air combat is seeing the other guy before he sees you, and having a weapon that can exploit that sensor advantage. The APG-81 AESA on board the F-35, coupled with off board sensors such as E-3 Sentry or E-2 Hawkeye, will give the F-35 an increased probability of “first look” while the relatively stealthy airframe will delay an opponent the chance to lock up.

Am I still critical of the F-35 program? You bet. The decision to give the Marines a supersonic jump jet drove just about every aspect of the design of all three variants, and imposed compromises and costs that have greatly hampered the entire program. But that doesn’t mean the jet is an utter catastrophe.

Every fighter program is always criticized. You may not recall this, but the newspapers just about ran out of ink writing articles about what expensive disasters the F-14 and F-15 were. How’d that work out?

Footage of the Last Hours of USS Wasp CV-7

 Shortly after 1440 on 15 September 1942, in the waters of the Solomon Islands, USS Wasp (CV-7) was struck by three torpedoes from the IJN submarine I-19.   The impact point was directly below the AVGAS distribution station, which was in operation when the torpedoes struck.   Within minutes, Wasp was engulfed in flames, roaring like a furnace, punctuated by powerful explosions from built-up gasoline vapors.  Ammunition and aerial bombs began to detonate from the heat, and inside of an hour, Captain Forrest Sherman ordered Wasp abandoned.   She burned well into the evening before torpedoes from USS Lansdowne (DD-486) finally sank her.

lea

wasp-burning-and-sinking

When I was a young lad, I read an excellent book on the Solomons Campaign.  In it, the author described Wasp as burning like a torch, and how, as darkness fell, sailors on other ships could see her glowing red from the fires inside.   When Wasp finally slipped beneath the waves, it was said she emanated a loud and eerie hissing as her hot steel sank into the sea. Watching the footage above, one understands that such a description, like Tom Lea’s famous painting, is hardly hyperbole.

In all, 193 sailors died on Wasp, and 366 were wounded.   Forty-three precious aircraft also went down with her. She had been in commission just 28 months.

In the 37 weeks of war since December 7th, the US Navy had lost Langley (CV-1), Lexington (CV-2), Yorktown (CV-5), and Wasp (CV-7).  Also soon to be lost was Hornet (CV-8), sunk at Santa Cruz on 26 October 1942.   Hornet, however, would be the last US fleet carrier lost during the war.

H/T to Grandpa Bluewater

Digital Data Links and Future Air Traffic Control.

Air Traffic Control in the United States is generally facilitated by the FAA and its contractors through radar surveillance, Secondary Surveillance Radars that use the transponders aboard aircraft, and voice communications. The precise navigation and separation of aircraft is done through standardized procedures, and complex avionics both radio based and GPS based. The problem is, the actual control of the  aircraft is done via voice communications. And voice communications are an awful way to share information.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnLtdEiR_Ug]

For one thing, one controller is typically controlling several aircraft. The controller has responsibility for a certain slice of the airspace, and all aircraft flying through his particular piece are his responsibility. As you can grasp from the tower controller at JFK airport above, there’s only a certain amount of time available on a voice channel for each aircraft to actually talk with the controller. That doesn’t even count the time the controller is coordinating his actions with other controllers for when he hands them off to another.

Outside of air traffic control, airliners also need to conduct extensive communications with their dispatchers back at the home office.  Weather updates, information on connecting flights, and optimal routes for economy are discussed, among other things.  One of the most important matters is OOOI, or “Out of the Gate,” “Off the Ground,” “On the Ground,” and “In the Gate.” You see, airline crews and flight attendants are only paid for time spent flying, not time spent sitting on the ground.  In the old days, airline crews would use a second radio to call in these critical points. And it occurred to some airlines that maybe, just maybe, the crews might fudge just a shade in their favor on some events. And so the airlines turned to the avionics industry for a technical solution. The result was ACARS, Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. Sensors around the aircraft would be able, for instance, to tell if the cabin doors were all closed, and the engines running. A very brief digital message could be sent over the radio (it sounds like a chirp followed by about a 1/4 second of static) updating the aircraft status to the dispatcher and airline operations center. In essence, it began as a time clock, letting the airlines know when they had to start paying the crew.

Piedmont was the first airline to adopt ACARS, but by the mid 1980s, it was in widespread use. And the airlines figured out a few other things as well. ACARS could send a whole host of information back to home. It also was a handy way of sending information to the airliner in flight. An airliner might be sending back its position, speed, altitude, route, fuel on board, engine performance at regular intervals, while dispatch regularly uplinked weather updates, pilot reports of conditions along the route, information concerning any delays, and  connecting flight information. All this could be done using extremely brief digital messages.

The FAA hasn’t been totally sitting on its hands. There’s a vast wealth of online tools for pilots to plan flights. The days of a huge Jeppeson case stuffed with paper charts are gone. Virtually every pilot today gets absolutely up to date charts, approach plates and airport diagrams on his iPad, either via the FAA or any number of online resources. But those resources are for planning the flight, or looking up information during the flight. Again, the air traffic controller still interacts with the flight crew via voice radio.

That’s sl0wly starting to change, particularly on long oceanic flights. VHF radio is essentially line of sight, with a range of about 200 miles for a high flying aircraft. Jets on long overwater flight instead use HF radio. But often times, HF radio audio quality is poor.  Instead, HF radio can be used to send data, or alternately, satellite communications through InMarSat can be used to transmit ATC message both ways.

The generic term is Controller-Pilot Datalink Communications (CPDLC). Boeing and Airbus both are fielding systems under the name FANS, Future Air Navigation System, and in addition to oceanic routes, its being adopted for use over parts of continental Europe. As yet, it is not in use in the continental US airspace. One suspects that it inevitably will be adopted at least in part. One great advantage that testing of CPDLC has shown is that it greatly reduces the volume of voice traffic for a given controller, by as much as 75%.  One example was the handoff from one controller to the next as an aircraft moves from one slice of the airspace to another.

Here’s a notional handoff as currently done by voice from an Air Route Traffic Control Center:

Oakland Center: United 345, contact Los Angeles Center on 134.45.

United 345: Los Angeles on 134.45, good day.

United 345://tunes radio to 134.45

United 345: Los Angeles, United 345 with you.

Los Angeles Center: United 345, roger.

With a CPDLC system, as the aircraft approaches the airspace boundary, the controller (or even the computer automatically) would  generate a digital message to the aircraft that would automatically interface with the airliner’s Flight Management Computer, telling the crew, automatically tuning the radio, and automatically generating a check in message to the new controller at Los Angeles Center, all reducing the workload of the flight crew, the controller, and reducing the volume of traffic on the voice network, allowing controllers to focus more on higher priority issues.

What’s interesting is this trend toward datalink control of air traffic is using modern technology to implement techniques that were first established as far back as the 1950s when the North American Aerospace Defense Command used the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment to control interceptor aircraft defending against potential Soviet bomber attacks.