“The Article on Mitchner Triggered Remembrances”
I was separated from the active Navy, December 31,1949, along with about half of the ex-midshipmen then on active duty. This was a small part of Harry Truman's money saving reduction in the military force structure. Funny, Harry looked around just over five months later and asked where the armed forces capability had gone!
I went back to college in February of 1950, using the very good 'Holloway' program, and since I was pretty far from the University of Colorado when making arrangements, I chose to set up in the men's dorm, at least at the beginning.
One of my dorm room mates was a beginning freshman from Ft. Collins. Just a few days after we moved in and got settled down, he had a famous visitor. James A. Mitchener, who had taught at Colorado State College of Education with my roomie's father. Mitchener had known the boy since he was an infant, and was there to give him a morale boost to help him past the first few days of college away from home. The other room mate and I got out of the way as soon as convenient after we were introduced.
The North Korean reds moved south the following June. I volunteered back in and was recalled just after the Fall Quarter at Boulder started. I was assigned to all weather attack, VC-35, and was about ready to be assigned to a "VAN" team when someone thought up the "Codfish Airline." Nine pilots who were type and deck qualified in the TBM, warm, and in San Diego, were reassigned from wherever to get a quick deck requal and get transportation to the far east. We joined VR-21, and were as welcome as a social disease. Single pilot, single engine, over water and landing passengers on a flight deck, what a ridiculous idea!
Several months after we got the Airline started, Mr. Mitchener arrived on the Gooney Bird from Tokyo for the last leg of his trip from the Big Island. Very much to my surprise, he looked at me, and addressed me by name. I flew him out to the Task Force, and he insisted that he be allowed to sit up topside where he could see everything. He seemed to enjoy the experience, requested me as driver for the return to the beach. With a memory like he demonstrated, and having taught the language, perhaps it is natural that he had turned to writing, and did well at it.
Over my year or so of COD, I had the opportunity to subject quite a number of folks to the experience of arrestment, some were eve lucky enough to ride through a cat shot. Bill Mauldin made several trips. Mauldin always wanted to be dropped off at any liaison strip near the front. He pretty much used the carriers as motels and us as a taxi service. When he got too dirty, he would call for a pickup, we would deliver him back to TF -77 for a shower, laundry, and meals, then back to the dogfaces in the line for another week or two. Occasionally he would return to Japan with us and run up to Tokyo to pass some of his work on to the papers that footed his bill. A Life magazine photographer, I thinh her name was Shelly Mydans, even looked sexy in an exposure suit. There were several congressmen an civil servants whose names I have forgotten who arranged their trips so as to be in the war zone for two days at the end of one month an two days at the beginning of the next one so as to get two months of income tax exemption. Pass a silly law and somebody will find loophole to use against you.
For those who didn't get the opportunity of riding Codfish, the TBM turret, the autopilot servos, the guns and armor were removed. A "Utility" after canopy was installed, then two seats behind the cockpit, two seats where the turret had been, and three seats down in the after compartment were installed. Two large cargo panniers were fitted in the bomb bay for baggage. The aircraft had a loaded weight about the same as the empty weight of a fleet TBM, so our normal cruise was about 200 knots. Our biggest trouble with the aircraft was that catapult officers wanted to shove us off the deck 'by the book' instead of real world, so we usually were kiting down the flight deck above our maximum flaps down speed before we could get off the bridle. If we couldn't convince the ship's company to cut back on the pressure, we would start the flaps up after the salute to fly 1 and take off clean. The only problem with this technique was remembering which ship was which.
Since we were "guests" on an Air Force base, Itazuke, we were often asked to perform delivery services to the outlying radar site supporting the Air Defense Identification Zone for our hosts. All the sites had 60 x 1000 foot landing strips except the one on Tsushima, We were asked from time to time, to deliver replacement parts, personnel, the chaplain, or whatever to these sites. There was an L-5 assigned to the base for those activities, but the Base Commander had found floats somewhere and co-opted the L-5 as his personal toy. The Air Force had decreed that those strips were too small for base assigned AT-6s to operate out of, so we ran their errands with the TBM. Servicing Tsushima required low and slow message drops into their parade ground, which was fun.
VC-35 had an incident at K-19. One of their AD-4Ns attempted a takeoff with its wings folded (I won't mention the pilot's name) and got severely bent. I was asked to take him back to his ship, pick up a crew, and deliver them to K -19 to cannibalize the aircraft. Then I was to return crew and hardware to their ship. When they were loaded, I checked the load, saw the entire after station was full of black boxes. Well, black boxes are mostly air, aren't they? At take off, I discovered that full forward stick was required to hold the nose down. This got better as the airspeed increased, so off to the ship we went. I upset the LSO a bit when I answered a 'high dip' with a blast of throttle, but of course, I already had full forward stick, and needed the throttle to get the nose down. I was quite interested in the unloading process, discovering that at the bottom of the load in the after station, there were four 20mm cannons under all those black boxes.
The TBM was a good deck airplane, and with our 'light weight' birds, any 600 foot strip was a fine runway. Visits to the spotter strip up forward were interesting, and the L-19 drivers seemed suitably impressed by the monster bird. They couldn't walk out on their wingtips to look around. I found one problem, I turned off one of the x-ray strips in the Han River basin and straddled the taxiway, both main wheels in the borrow ditch and the prop tips almost touching the pavement. Got them to hook the winch of a 6 x 6 to the tail hook back the truck across the runway, and 'bury' the wheels in the sand. There were some bets about breaking the airplane, but I couldn't get anyone to put down real money. After they pulled my bird back onto the runway, I went on about my business.
Genesis of the COD Airlines1
Pardon my slowness in responding to your question regarding "Codfish Airlines."
Here goes, recognizing that that stuff was sixty odd years ago and I am no longer a spring chicken.
Some unknown party during the early stages of the Korean 'police action' decided it would be a good thing if there was a semi-regular means of flying to and from the carriers of both the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets. Traditionally, before that time, an appropriate Air Group or Fasron [Fleet Air Service Squadron] aircraft would be pressed into service for items or people that couldn't wait for the 'mail run' destroyer.
When the idea was approved, The TBM was an obvious choice, available in quantity, lots of load capacity, well mannered in flight deck operations, plenty of range, and readily modifiable. In addition, there were many pilots who had operated off decks with the bird. Future plans included the use of modified ADs if the idea worked out.
Modification work commenced at the O&R facility at North Island where TBM overhaul was then centered. The obvious mods of removing the turret, the guns, the autopilot (long known to be a quite unreliable piece of Emerson Electric trash), gunsight, the rear crew seats and radar equipment, and whatever else seemed to be a good idea at the time. With the autopilot hydraulics removed, the area immediately behind the pilot was large enough for two passenger seats, with chest pack parachutes bungeed to the armor plate the pilot's seat was attached to. With the turret gone, there was room for two more passenger seats where it had been. There was a choice of rear canopy shapes already available, the utility mod, and the antisub mod. Our six aircraft, the first out of modification had the utility aft canopy, with some modifications to ease entry and exit. The aft crew space was equipped with three seats, down in what we called the bilge. Two were almost side by side and the third was well aft. Each passenger seat had a chest-type parachute close by, and all passengers wore parachute harnesses to allow quick hook-up and departure if necessary. Happily we never had to test that system. In the bomb bay there were two panniers held in position by bomb shackles at four comers. These served to handle any cargo we carried, passenger luggage and occasionally a parachute bag with two cases of Scotch, Canadian, bourbon, or Rye as requested by Squadron or Air Group to ease the tension of replenishment day. I had wondered for years why parachute bags were of these precise dimensions. To finish out the mods, there were two foot-square pieces of three inch armor plate bolted to the top of the tailwheel carry through structure. These were necessary to return the center of gravity to where it belonged after removing just over two tons from the gross weight of the bird.
The airplane flew a fair amount faster than standard with the lighter weight, but was still a TBM with it's fairly high control forces. With our typical loads, six hundred feet [runway length] was a useful airport, and instead of our former fleet cruise of 170 knots managed about 30 knots more with about the same power settings. We found ourselves based in Fukuoka at Itazuke AF Base. It was designed as a BIG Bomber base with a runway two miles long, three hundred feet wide, and in excess of three feet thick. Happily we were paced near the downwind end of the strip. The TBM was equipped with brakes similar to the bike you had as a kid. They were multiple disk, and simply couldn't handle a four mile taxi trip back to our parking area. We requested and received permission to land and turn off onto the entry taxiway. If someone was waiting for takeoff on the taxiway we would simply fold the wings and proceed to our parking area. We typically used the first five hundred feet of the airport for landing. The AF types never used the first half mile of the field (except the F-84s that needed all two miles to get airborne with any useful load).
After our aircraft were ready for delivery, another six were modified for an Atlantic Fleet operation, and several additional for the Marines to be used as utility transports. We got another later to replace an aircraft which had a compressor section explosion during a cat shot (reason undetermined) which blew off the intake stacks for nine cylinders. The pilot, Bob Zinser, managed to keep it in the air on five cylinders for a very wide pattern while the deck was respotted, and was only eighteen inches too low at the fantail. He slid aboard without the left gear and all passengers safe!
Lou, I could go on at length about the folks we flew and the sea stories, but you have probably heard plenty of them.
One short one. I was carrying a four star out to take over TF-77. Can't remember his name. He got the seat he wanted, right behind my left shoulder. When we got to the Force and our turn in the Charlie circle, I was coming up the groove and the ship turned to starboard and, of course, disappeared. It was a nearly no wind day, and the O.D. was apparently chasing the steam streak on the forward deck. I waved off and continued in the pattern. As before, the ship turned starboard while I was in the groove, arid I waved off. After the third approach I apologized to the Admiral. He responded "Next pass he'll turn port and we'll have him." He did and we did.
Lou, if this helps, good. For specifics call me on the cell, I'll be glad to talk. 1(256)527-5063; email@example.com .
I still want a copy of that book when it is available.
1 Glover, Jim, letter to Lou Ives, January 17, 2013. © 2013.