Let’s see if a good story makes this boring dark blue airplane interesting
If a good story can make a “boring dark blue airplane” interesting, as commenters said about Bruce Porter’s airplane, here’s a rip-roarer of a story.
This is the F6F-5 Hellcat flown by my friend former ENS Clarence “Spike” Borley of VF-15.
On October 10, 1944, during the first day of strikes by Task Force 38 against Formosa, Spike found out that sometimes when you wake up with forebodings about the day, you may be right. After night takeoff and an hour’s flight in to Formosa, during which time nothing went wrong with his airplane to force an abort despite his most sincere wishes, he got into an air battle over the island and in a space of 5 minutes shot down four Zekes “that happened to fly in front of me”, which added to the one he had shot down over Okinawa the week before, made him VF-15’s youngest ace, being only a bit over two months past his 20th birthday. Ten minutes after that, he and his element leader hooked up with other airplanes returning to the task force. On the way home, they spotted an airfield with planes on it and his leader decided to strafe it. Spike got hit in the engine, and managed to stretch his glide out over Kaohsiung, and crash half a mile offshore. The airplane went down immediately, and he got out of it at around a depth of 60 feet, swimming to the surface.
And hour later, he shot it out with two guys in a sampan who came out to take him prisoner, and killed them. Then another plane in the squadron dropped him a life raft. Over the course of the next day, he drifted along the coast, never getting more than a mile offshore. On the second night, the typhoon that had been threatening the operation arrived in full force and over the next 48 hours, Spike became the only man known to have survived a typhoon in a one man rubber raft. On the morning of the third day, he was in the middle of the Formosa Strait, with nothing in sight in any direction, and pretty frazzled. He realized he would never stand up to questioning if captured, and since he knew when the coming invasion of the Philippines was going to happen, he decided to shoot himself. Pulling out his gun, he suddenly thought he had best test-fire it since it had been in the water so much. The sound of the shot brought him back to reality, and he decided not to shoot himself. He drifted on.
When he came to from his sleep of exhaustion the morning of the next day, he saw a dark object on the horizon that soon resolved itself as a submarine, headed for him. Afraid it was Japanese, he again decided to shoot himself, but as he brought the gun up, an American voice yelled “put down that gun!” It was the USS Sawfish. The submarine had been sent to find him, but hadn’t, and had then been sent after a downed B-29 crew, but had been given the wrong location. It was entirely serendipitous that they were where they were, and they had been five minutes from submerging when the lookouts spotted Spike.
A day later, the Sawfish found a Japanese ship and sank it, and then endured three hours of depth-charging, during which Spike considered asking them to put him back in his raft if they survived. The good news was the boat was just out on patrol and still had a full larder, a vast improvement over the food aboard the Essex, which had gotten down to spam and canned asparagus twice a day for the previous two weeks before the fatal mission. “I ate better than I had in months.” The Sawfish’s captain didn’t believe in guests, so Spike learned to be a control room watchstander, and when they returned to Majuro in mid-November, he was qualified for the Submarine Combat Pin. After hitch-hiking trans-Pacific to Hawaii, he was standing on the pier at Ford Island when the USS Bunker Hill came into port the end of November with Air Group 15 aboard on their way home.
So, does that story make this boring blue airplane interesting? Inquiring minds want to know!
You’ll be able to read more about Spike Borley next year when “Fabled Fifteen: Air Group 15 in the Pacific War” is published.
6 additional images. Click to enlarge.