VF-34, Green Island (Nissan Island), Papua New Guinea, March–April 1944
The history of VF-34 is rather uncommon as it
was assembled in just four weeks and thrown
immediately into an action in the final phase of
the Operation Cartwheel (neutralization of the
Japanese base on Rabaul). Of 45 pilots just one
had seen any combat. The unexperienced unit
was not attached to any Air Group and leaved
San Diego on February 13. After they equipped
themselves with all needed on Espiritu Santo,
they moved to Guadalcanal on March 3, starting
their tour on March 7 from Piva Yoke airfield on
Bougainville. Enemy attacks forced the Squadron
to move to Vella Lavella Island and, finally, to
Green Island (now Nissan Island), which became
their permanent base. They flew bomber escort
or ground attack missions but did not engage
any enemy aircraft during 55 days of the tour.
The pilots flew a total of 1,165 sorties from Green
Island and 177 from Bougainville. The Squadron
was disbanded immediately after return and the
designation VF-34 was used again as VF-53 was
renamed so. Hellcats of “first” VF-34 had upper
side of horizontal tail surfaces and rear fuselage
ridge painted white for recognition reasons.
Some pilots took advantage of distant “big brass”
eyes and decorated their aircraft. This one got the
painting made after the Antonio Vargas’ Esquire
calendar girl (May 1944) on the port side of the
nose, while the starboard sported the girl from
August 1944. This one was most probably simple
cutout glued to the aircraft. It is not known to
which of the pilots was this aircraft assigned.
VF-27, USS Princeton (CVL-23), October 1944
Among the most recognizable markings carried
by US Navy aircraft were those of the Hellcats of
VF-27 operating from the board of USS Princeton.
Their shark mouths and bloodshot, menacing eyes
seared themselves into the memories of many
Japanese pilots. The uncommon and unofficial
markings were painted on to the front of all of
VF-27’s aircraft by one of its pilots, Robert Burnell.
These birds, adorned in this way, wreaked havoc
everywhere they engaged in combat over the
Pacific from May to October 1944. During this
span, some 200 enemy aircraft were destroyed.
The string of success was snapped on October 24,
1944, when the Princeton was hit by a Japanese
bomb from alone Japanese Judy. The dive bomber
dropped a single bomb, which punched through
the wooden flight deck and hangar before
exploding. Structural damage was only minor,
but a fire broke out and quickly spread because
of burning gasoline. Cruisers and destroyers
came to help and USS Birmingham as a largest
ship there took the lead role in firefighting.
In the frantic activity Princeton collided with
some of the assisting ships and damaged them.
Worse to it, the fire caused multiple explosions
and the biggest of them damaged Birmingham
extensively with considerable casualties. USS
Irwin rescued 646 men from Princeton before
she was sunk by torpedoes. CO of the VF-27,
LtCdr. Frederick A. Bardshar reformed his unit
in time to return to the Western Pacific aboard
USS Independence (CVL-22). But during the tour
from June 10 to October 31, only one more victory
was scored by entire Squadron, which was
disbanded on November 26, 1945.