Battleship Aviation - LCDR W.C. Grizzell, USN (Ret.).
"An emphatic bump on the bottom of my hammock told me reveille had arrived. It was another day in 1936 aboard the battle ship USS Texas. I had started out as a seaman in this man's Navy but scrubbing decks with a holy stone, sand & salt water persuaded me to pursue aviation duty. Fortunately I made it through flight school at Pensacola & became an enlisted pilot (I was later comisisoned an officer), assigned to battleship aviation.
Our planes were Vought Corsair O3U-3 seaplanes powered by Pratt & whitney 550-hp engines with a cruise speed of 90 knots. Later came Curtis SOCs & in the early WWII years OS2U Kingfishers. Some highlights of those battleship days follow:
We ran out of shotgun shells, used to start the SOC engine, & resorted to a Rube Gildberg contraption called the bungee starter. You may think I left the soda out of my scotch, but here's how it worked. A canvas glove was attached to a 12-foot length of heavy bungee cord. The prop was set horizontal to the deck & the glove was fitted over the end of the prop. At the other end of the bungee 3 men stretched the cord to its maximum, keeping it in line with the prop. On signal, the prop was tipped upward, off horizontal center, causing the rubberized energy of the bungee to spin it numerous revolutions. Had Barnum & Bailey scouts been aboard we'd probably be signed on as a circus act. But the system worked.
I never witnessed a plane dribble off the catapult (there were 2, 50-cats, a high one atop the #3 turret, the low one on the stern) but I have seen the tail end of the float tick the drink a few times. Our mission was scouting, observing fleet gunnery practice, & towing targets for aerial gunnery.
Arguably the most dramatic element of battleship aviation was recovering seaplanes. In those days there were usually 7 or more battleships on exercises. They executed a 90-degree turn while steaming in a column, creating a slick for the planes to land on. An impressive sight. We made our final approach just as our ships were completing the turn, taking advantage of the slick created. We would touch down & immediately taxi to the sea-sled rigged alongside. A cargo net was attached to the trailing edge of the sea-sled which itself was secured to a 50-foot boom extending from the port side. The tricky part was maneuvering the plane over the partially submerged net, hoping the protruding hook on the pontoon of the seaplane hooked the cargo net.
If you caught on, you cut the engine & with the plane now in tow, were hoisted aboard. Sometimes the cargo net would foul & not release from the plane hook, creating a chaotic situation. The seaplane, cargo net & a sea-sled dangled as one unit 10 feet in the air while being towed by a battleship at 10 knots. At this point, the boatswains mate directing the crane operator & the senior aviator might cast sanity overboard. Luckily, these hang-ups were usually of short duration with the net disengaging & falling away safely.
On other occasions, after landing. the engine might fail, leaving the aircraft to drift like a cork in the wake of the ship. The ship would then have to do a 180 to retrieve the helpless plane & crew. These events did not enhance the disposition of the ship's skipper toward his aviation element.
The battle ships are history now. For some of us, though, the image still lingers of an armada of them riding anchor in Long Beach Harbor. Never again will our sailors hear the clanking of anchor chains on Monday morning that once echoed across the harbor, signaling that the fleet would soon be underway to hold maneuvers off San Clemente Island - with their seaplanes on board & ready to fly, of course."
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