1USS Randolph CV-15 Essex class aircraft carrier.
Launched 28 June, 1944

As the carrier was riding at anchor at Ulithi 1...
October, 1945.
I was finally in the Navy by that time, and destined to go aboard Randolph just a few months later. My
I was directed to find an empty bunk up in the island structure probably because there were fewer yard
people working ther...
One day, a Corsair made a bad landing, missed all the wires and went into the raised barriers, flipping
upside down. The r...
Sea. We lost out Commander Air Group (CAG) there when he came back aboard at dusk in his Corsair, got
low in the slot and ...
I should have been learning responsible behavior and respect for authority by then, because I had been
promoted in my flig...
When Randolph returned to Boston in the spring of ‘47, fresh news awaited the ship and me. The first was
that, when she ne...
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

Time Aboard USS Randolph


Published on

Some personal memoirs of John Testrake (1927-1996). Enlisted in the US Navy in 1945 and served aboard Fleet Carrier USS Randolph CV-15

  • Be the first to comment

Time Aboard USS Randolph

  1. 1. 1USS Randolph CV-15 Essex class aircraft carrier. Launched 28 June, 1944 As the carrier was riding at anchor at Ulithi 11 March, 1945, a Kamiikaze Frances, a twin-engine bomber, hit Randolph on the starboard side aft just below the flight deck, killing 25 men and wounding 106. Repaired at Ulithi, Randolph joined the Okinawa Task Force 7 April. Combat air patrols were flown daily until 14 April, when strikes were sent against Okinawa, Ie Shima, and Kakeroma Island. The following day, an air support mission of fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes hit Okinawa and a fighter sweep struck an airfield in southern Kyushu. Under daily air attack from 17 April on, Randolph continued to send her aircraft on CAP and support missions throughout the month. During May planes from the carriers hit the Ryukyus and southern Japan, Kikai-Amami Island naval base and airfields and Kyushu airfields. Becoming flagship TF 58 on 15 May Randolph continued her support of the occupation of Okinawa Shima until 2 9 May, when she retired via Guam to the Philippines. On her next war cruise, as a part of Admiral Halsey's famed 3d Fleet, Randolph made a series of strikes up and down the Japanese home islands. With Air Group 16 replacing Air Group 12, the ship launched eight raids on 10 July against airfields i n the Tokyo area, principally those on the peninsula east of Tokyo Bay. On the 14th, her planes struck the air-fields and shipping in and near Tsugaru Strait. In this attack two of the important Honshu-Hokkaido train ferries were sunk and three were damaged. Attacks on the Japanese home islands continued for the next few days, and, on 18 July 1945, the battleship Nagato lying camouflaged alongside a pier at the Yokosuka Naval Base, was bombed. Moving southwest, Randolph and other carriers were off the coast of Shikoku, 24 July, for an antishipping sweep of the Inland Sea, during which the carrier-battleship Hyuga was heavily damaged and airfields and industrial installations on Kyushu, Honshu, and Shikoku were hit hard. Randolph's pilots estimated that, from 10 to 25 July they had destroyed 25 to 30 ships, ranging in size from small luggers to a 6,000-ton freighter, and had damaged 35 to 40 others. Randolph's strikes continued right up to the morning of the 15 August 1945 surrender, when her planes hit Kisarazu Airfield and surrounding installations. Following the end of the war, Randolph headed home. Transiting the Panama Canal in late September, she arrived at Norfolk, 15 October, where she was rigged for the quot;Magic Carpetquot; service. Before the end of the year, she completed two trips to the Mediterranean area to return American servicemen. Randolph being repaired after Kamikaze attack.
  2. 2. October, 1945. I was finally in the Navy by that time, and destined to go aboard Randolph just a few months later. My memory banks have been blinking and I thought some follow-up notes on her subsequent activities might be of some interest. I left home for boot camp (at Camp Peary, VA) on Oct 3 ‘45, while Randolph was en route home from the Pacific. A few weeks prior to the completion of boot training, the Navy discovered that I had taken typing in high school. They abruptly graduated me and 5 other guys, pronounced us Seamen 2/c, and shipped us off to Washington, DC for duty in the Navy Department as typists. Our job was to process the mountains of paperwork involved with demobilizing the wartime Navy. While this was going on, Randolph was fitted out as a troopship with acres of temporary berths welded to the hangar deck, and sent off across the Atlantic to help bring the troops home from the European war. The old hands later told tales of fighting Atlantic gales in the winter, because they were determined to get the troops home for the holidays (maybe their own holiday plans lent some urgency to the mission, as well??). After that, Randolph went back to her original home at Newport News for a proper Navy Yard rebuild and complete refitting. Meanwhile, I had become more and more certain that pounding a typewriter in the Navy Department was not the career I had envisioned in the Navy and I put in a transfer request. Emboldened by my proximity to the High and Mighty (Admirals Halsey, Mitscher and others were passed daily in the halls, and mere Captains were not even noticed), I crafted a masterpiece of drama, pathos and my need for high adventure. I hand carried it across the hall to the office that processed all transfer requests in the navy, and gave it to a yeoman there, whom I knew. I doubt that the Navy ever saw a similar document, before or since, because no C.O. would let such a juvenile thing past him. They approved it and I was directed to report for duty aboard USS Randolph, currently in drydock at Newport News, VA. Adm Mitsher (left) with Commander Burke aboard Randolph. He looks kinda “salty”. I reached the ship about midnight on Apr 25, 1946, after searching through a driving rainstorm. She was barely visible with the dim yard lights, silent as a tomb and completely covered with grungy yard equipment that had to be climbed over or though to get aboard. I was soaking wet, and loved every minute of it.
  3. 3. I was directed to find an empty bunk up in the island structure probably because there were fewer yard people working there. There were plenty available, as there was only a skeleton crew aboard. Also, all the wartime crew spaces were still there, and many remained vacant throughout my time on the ship as we didn’t go much over 3000 complement, even with air groups aboard. The next day, after properly reporting for duty, I was asked where I wanted to work. I said I didn’t care, so long as it was near the airplanes. They assigned me to V-1 D division, the flight deck handling crews. You can’t get any closer than that. We remained in drydock through May and June, because the ship was being brought back to like-new condition after her hard year in the Pacific. When I went aboard, the entire aft end of the flight deck was missing, because they replaced all the emergency battle repairs made after the Kamikaze hit. Eventually, all new fir planking was laid from #3 elevator aft, all the yard stuff was hauled ashore, we cleaned her up and she was refloated. Tugs hauled us out of the shipyard, we moved a short distance to the Norfolk Operating Base an re-provisioned there while the rest of the crew came aboard. Then we got up steam for the first time, were pushed over into Hampton Roads and turned loose under our own power. Steaming up and down Chesapeake Bay revealed no problems, so we went out into the Atlantic for sea trials and brought the air group aboard. She performed as well as she had the first time, right out of the construction yard, and I was abruptly introduced to the thrills and chills of handling high-performance military aircraft aboard a fleet carrier. My job was not a demanding one. I was part of a ten-man handling crew, wearing blue jerseys and helmets, under the direction of a plane director, wearing yellow. After all aircraft were recovered, and parked ahead of the barriers on the forward half of the flight deck, our job was to move them, by hand, to the aft end of the deck in preparation for the next launch. We had three squadrons aboard, consisting of about equal numbers of F4U Corsair fighters, TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and SB2C Helldiver divebombers. They were always parked in that order, with fighters first because the Corsairs practically bounded into the air with those 2000 HP Pratt & Whitneys swinging their 15 foot props into the 50 knot wind typically coming across the flight deck. The TBMs did almost as well, with their big barn-door wings, and were generally off before reaching #1 elevator. The SB2Cs needed all the deck room we could five them, and were generally launched from #3 elevator area. Even so, their shock struts would extend before rolling off the forward end of the flight deck and they would disappear for a time ahead of the ship before gaining flying speed. We learned to listen closely to their engines when going by the island; the least unhealthiness generally meant a splash ahead and a ditched airplane. Then, we would be by them in a flash, but the plane-guard destroyer trailing astern would immediately belch a tower of black smoke, then she would leap like a greyhound and come tearing down on the victims to pluck them out of the water. Later, during a lull in operations, the destroyer wold come alongside and transfer the pilot and gunner by breeches buoy back aboard. The standard ransom had to be paid: 25 gallons of ice cream. The big carrier had a gedunk, and lots of ice cream, whereas the destroyer had none, so this was their only source of relief. Grumman SB2C Helldiver aboard Randolph
  4. 4. One day, a Corsair made a bad landing, missed all the wires and went into the raised barriers, flipping upside down. The rescue crews immediately pulled the pilot free, bumping his head on the flight deck when they released his harness. Then “Tillie”, the onboard crane, came rumbling out to pick up the cripple, put her on the #2 elevator and take it below. However, the slings were poorly attached and when the plane was hoisted off the deck, it broke free and slammed back down again. The Captain, who had been watching this mishap from the bridge - and was also watching his remaining aircraft circling aloft and running low in fuel - suddenly ordered over the bullhorn, “Drop it over the side!”. As an 18 year old country boy, fresh off a depression-era farm, I still remember my shocked surprise as that beautiful fighter plane was dumped unceremoniously into the ocean. After gaining our sea legs on short sorties out of Norfolk, we steamed north in the Chesapeake Bay, to Annapolis, and picked up a load of midshipmen for their summer cruise. We headed south for the Caribbean and operated out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - my first foreign landfall. Those midshipmen, who wished to do so, rode the planes on bombing, rocket and strafing attacks on the Navy’s target island and would occasionally come back green, glassy eyed and clutching their white hats which had been used as airsick bags. That was probably the beginning of the process to determine which went to the black-shoe Navy (surface) and which went to the brown-shoe Navy (fliers). After returning to Annapolis, we dropped off the middies and picked up a second load for their summer cruise. This time, destination was farther south to Trinidad. We anchored in the roadstead, went ashore on liberty in the 50 foot motor launches and walked the streets of Port-of-Spain, which, at that time, was still a tropical outpost of the far-flung British Empire and all very exotic to this New York State farm boy. There was no doubt I had found the Navy I had dreamed of, but the best was yet to come. Late in the summer of 1946, we received orders to proceed to the Mediterranean, to relieve the carrier there with the 6th Fleet. We carried out extensive operations on the Atlantic on the way across and were at sea continuously for 25 days. It was out longest sortie yet, although nothing like those chalked up in the war cruises. Our ship’s flour developed weevils during this period but they were apparently judged harmless, as the bakers went ahead and baked them in the bread. It became standard practice to hold your slice of bread up to the light, spot the weevils and pop them out (among the more fastidious, at least). First landfall was at Gibraltar, where we stayed for many days. This was my first exposure to the array of pomp and ceremony involved with warships calling at foreign ports in peacetime. Saluting gun booming into the hills, beribboned shore parties calling on dignitaries and rum-besotted crew carousing in Gibraltar town, as sailors are supposed to do. Actually, I was exposed to fish and chips there. One night, we were entertained by a large group of Scottish bagpipers, who showed us what the drums and pipes can do to yer blood, when properly presented by the King’s own Highlanders. The sojourn in Gibraltar was followed by a similar one in Naples, still reeling from the recently concluded war. We were able to tie up at the main pier, but had to pick our way into the bay through sunken shipping. Commerce had not yet returned and the people were hungry and hurting. We found quickly that the standard currency was American cigarettes and that you could stash an entire carton around your body in your dress blues without the Officer of the Deck noticing when you left the ship on liberty. We departed Naples, bound for Athens and I have a near 50 year old memory of the huge ship hurtling at high speed through the Straits of Messina on a dark, cloudy afternoon, heeling over in the turns like a speedboat. I don’t know what the hurry was. I think the skipper knew he had deep water with the towering hills close on either side and just felt like hot-rodding. Athens was untouched by the war and delightful as it has always been on repeat visits in the years since. At age 18, becoming more cosmopolitan by the stop, I was able to hike for the first time up the Acropolis and stand by the majestic ruins of the Parthenon. They were thinking of the 6th Fleet when they said, “Join the Navy and see the world.” We had Thanksgiving dinner at sea and continued extensive flying operations while steaming in the Aegean
  5. 5. Sea. We lost out Commander Air Group (CAG) there when he came back aboard at dusk in his Corsair, got low in the slot and didn’t take a wave-off quickly enough. His wheels caught the aft end of the flight deck and he was flipped into the wake 70 feet below. His plane sank immediately and he was not recovered. Memorial services were held for him on the hangar deck. It was my first exposure to losing a warrior in a foreign place and leaving him there - all too familiar to those serving on the war cruises. The eastern Med cruise featured ports of call in Turkey and in Lebanon, at Beirut, then a French colonial city. While there, a bus expedition was gotten up, to Damascus, and I signed up to go. We drove the Damascus toad, spent the day shopping at the bazaar and sightseeing, then returned to the ship. 39 years later, as an international airline captain, I was involved in an unwilling repeat of this little sidetrip. Hijacked by Muslim terrorists, I was held prisoner for 17 days in my airliner on the tarmac at Beirut airport. Finally released, my crew, remaining passengers and I were bussed on that very same road, to Damascus, where a US Air Force C-141 waited to fly us to freedom. The first trip was better. That Med cruise was capped by a stop at Malta, on the way west toward Gibraltar and home. The island had been savagely mauled during the war and they had not yet been able to mop up the debris. Smashed Spitfires and other British warplanes littered the airfield and the devastation of war was evident everywhere. The Brits never gave up, though, as in the Battle of Britain. The Germans never took the place, and didn’t stop it’s use. Randolph took us home in time for Christmas ‘46, but just barely. The winter Atlantic gales were howling against us as we headed west. This time for our home port of Boston. We put all the planes below in the hangar deck that would fit and spotted the rest aft on the flight deck, tied them down with triple lashings and mounted steel sea deflectors on the deck forward of them. None carried away, but flight deck guard duty was spectacular, with solid green seas cascading over the forward end of the flight deck and spray flying the whole length of the ship through the parked planes. Life below was almost equally as exciting. Our division was berthed far forward in the main hull, probably not too far from the anchor chain lockers. The hull was designed with a large teardrop shape at the bottom of the stem. In rough seas it seemed our bunks were directly over this thing. The bow would climb until it was entirely out of the water, then the ship would slide down the swell until that big flat bulb would smack the next solid sea with a shattering crash and vibrate everybody like rocks inside a hubcap. This went on all night, of course we slept right through it, which just proves that a 19 year old can sleep through anything. We arrived in Boston just a day or two before Christmas, not enough time to make it home by bus or train. I splurged and bought my first airline ticket, on an American Airlines DC-3 flight to Buffalo, NY and hitch- hiked home from there. 1947 saw Randolph back at sea again, operating alternately out of New York, Boston and NAS Quonset Point, RI, where our air group was based when ashore. I remember two things about that period: being cold and wet all the time, from alternate soaking with rain and sea spray and no way to dry clothes, and a special liberty procedure I used at Quonset Point. I had an obsolete liberty card, which I had “accidentally” kept when new ones were issued. It was, of course, no use in getting off the ship, but worked fine with the guards at the air station main gate. Shipboard uniform of the day was undress blues, so when ready to go to town, I would put on my dress blue jumper, button my peacoat up so the white stripes couldn’t be seen, put on a black knit watch cap and tuck my dress flat cap inside the coat. Then pick up a couple of trash cans in the office and stroll casually down the gangway to empty the trash in the dumpsters below on the pier. Once there, with the cans safely stashed in a corner, a short walk down the pier got me a safe distance from the ship and the working party grunge was suddenly transformed into a sharp, liberty-bound sailor. After a cursory glance of the bogus liberty pass at the main gate, I was off to providence for the afternoon. The return to the ship required all the preceding steps in reverse, but the sweetness of the forbidden fruit was worth the trouble.
  6. 6. I should have been learning responsible behavior and respect for authority by then, because I had been promoted in my flight deck job. I was now a plane director, wearing the yellow jersey, with my own 10 man crew of plane pushers, and I was now in the thick of the action during launches and recoveries. One of us would be waiting as each plane jolted to a stop in the arresting gear, with a signal to “hold brakes”, then “up hook” as soon as it was clear of the wire, “fold wings”, then “come ahead!” with a mighty pumping of arms and blast of power to get the plane out of the landing area before the next one approaching landed on top of him. The plane would be passed in turn to directors spaced the length of the flight deck, to the last one waiting in the parking area forward. This, to me, was the “hot spot” danger area – the aircraft were parked, under power, in very tight quarters only a foot or so apart, with very precise hand signals, and equally delicate brake and throttle work by the pilot (remember, these were tail-wheel airplanes, steered with differential braking). We were highly motivated, always trying to break our own records, the Captain would exhort us over the bullhorn, “We’ve got enemy subs in the area, let’s get these planes aboard so we can resume zig-zagging!” Typically, I would bring my plane into it’s spot beside the preceding one, just as it was being chocked and while the engine was still running. I would brush against it’s folded wing to maintain eye contact with my pilot, then continue to back up past the invisible prop, pretty sure that if I went straight ahead, I wouldn’t be ground into hamburger. Nobody was, but I don’t remember anybody doing it who was old enough to vote, either. Launches weren’t dangerous, just exhilarating. I still smile when I remember the scene: all aircraft engines turning up aft with props flashing in the sun. The first two or three already out of their parking spots and lined up ono the deck. Each with it’s “yellow shirt” standing there with clenched-fist “brakes parked” signal. The ship would be steaming directly into the wind, with the deck vibrating as the engines pounded out 30 knots of speed. There would be close to 50 knots of wind over the deck and we would “stand” there with our backs to it, actually in a sitting position, with suction-cup soled flight deck shoes gripping the deck. All eyes were on the ship’s yardarm, watching for the “Fox” (flying) flag to snap into view, signaling the ballet was about to begin. The Flight Deck Officer twirled the flag in his outstretched hand, the plane’s engine bellowed with full power and white contrails in the moist sea air would spiral off the prop tips. A quick check of engine instruments and a sharp salute from the open cockpit and the flag would sweep down so that the plane would lift off just as the ship’s bow lifted to it’s highest point. The landing gear would not be retracted before the next plane was in position. So it went until the last dive-bomber was off and the deck was silent and empty. Most flying operations were conducted in southern waters and we were back in the Carribean again, to Guantanamo Bay and back to Trinidad at the end of February. The ocean was generally smooth there and we cold fire the planes off about as soon as they were in position. In addition to the Captain’s “anti sub” drills, we had other motivation for speed in launching. The first “Supercarriers”, “FDR” and “Coral Sea”, both new to the fleet steamed often in our company and launched with us on joint battle drills. We were determined that these new “prima donas” were not going to show up the hardened old battle veterans and we routinely beat them both on launch times. We got below 20 seconds on launch interval and were working toward less when the Air Officer asked for mercy, saying “Slow down that damned launch!” The planes were going off into the prop-wash of the preceding takeoff, almost throwing them out of control.
  7. 7. When Randolph returned to Boston in the spring of ‘47, fresh news awaited the ship and me. The first was that, when she next put to sea, the ship’s aircraft would be completely replaced with brand new equipment. The Corsairs would be replaced with Grumman F8F Bearcats (the Navy’s last piston engine powered fighter) and the bombers with Douglas AD Skyraiders, which were beginning a long career lasting through the Viet Nam War. The personal news was that, much as I wanted to see these flashy new aircraft in action, it was not to be because I was transferred to a service school and subsequent shore duty. I left the ship on 8 May 1947, never served aboard another warship and did not see Randolph again until – Many years later, after becoming a TWA pilot, I was flying into Boston with some regularity and noticed an aircraft carrier marked with “15quot; sitting in the Boston Navy Yard, when we went by on landing approach to Logan Field. She never moved and I assume she was decommissioned and moth-balled there. Still later, in the summer of 1968, I was in Boston with my family on vacation. While showing my kids “Old Ironsides” outside Boston Navy Yard, I thought it would be nice to show them my old ship. Upon inquiring at the gate, I was told that I was too late. Randolph had been previously towed to Bayonne, NJ where she was broken up for scrap. Randolph in Bayonne, NJ awaiting demolition. THE END of the STORY John Testrake