On June 6, 1944, while the Allies landed at Normandy, the greatest American combat fleet yet seen in the Pacific sailed from Majuro anchorage. Its goal was the Mariana Islands, 1,800 miles to the north-northwest. Seven heavy fleet carriers and eight light carriers of Task Force 58 under Admiral Marc Mitscher would support 535 ships and 127,000 assault troops in the invasion of Saipan.
Among the carriers was USS Hornet (CV-12), with Air Group Two aboard. Hornet had arrived in the Western Pacific in late March, commanded by Captain Miles Browning and flying the flag of Rear Admiral J. J. “Jocko” Clark. Air Group Two had suddenly received orders to go aboard Hornet on its arrival at Pearl Harbor on March 4, Captain Browning having declared Air Group 15 “unfit for operations.” Ensign Don Brandt, newly arrived in “The Rippers” of Fighting Two, remembered, “The guys from Air Group 15 seemed awfully happy to be getting kicked off that ship, which seemed rather strange to us.” Air Group Two was entering “the hornet’s nest.”
Miles Browning was one of the chief architects of the carrier strategy developed in the 1930s, and a man whom Ken Glass of Torpedo Two would recall as “the worst officer I ever met in 30 years in the Navy.” Browning was disliked by nearly every officer in the Navy other than Admiral William F. Halsey of the Third Fleet, and had managed to antagonize Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. After two months in the Western Pacific, Browning had finally gone too far and been relieved the week before departure for the Marianas. Air Group Two had first experienced combat at the end of April, covering the Hollandia landings in New Guinea, followed by the last Navy strike against Truk. While they had yet to encounter Japanese aircraft, the flyers looked forward to the coming operation.
By Thomas McKelvey Cleaver
Read the article from the December 2015 issue of Flight Journal. Click here.