The Blogger’s Roundtable put on by the Department of Defense on December 8th had a fascinating guest: Navy Cross recipient and fighter ace Bill Davis.
In 1944, Davis was the Lieutenant credited with the sinking the Imperial Japanese aircraft carrier Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier which had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although the sinking took place on October 25, 1944, you would have thought that it was yesterday. (Listen to Podcast.)
“You could see the entire Jap fleet on the horizon,” Davis recalled. “We circled for a minute. Our air group commander was target coordinator, so he held us off until he was satisfied and gave us the word to go.”
And go he did. Flying “high cover” at 20,000 feet, he put his Hellcat F6F into a dive with other planes, but realized right away that the speed of the dive would end up with him being too fast and too flat to hit the carrier. At 12,000 feet, he pulled out of the group and kept flying until he was directly over the Zuikaku.
“I stalled the airplane and it went straight down, which is somewhat hazardous in a fighter plane because you pick up too much speed,” Davis said. “With a dive bomber, you have the big dive breaks that keep you slow. But I didn't care about that. The thing that astounded me was the amount of anti-aircraft fire. There were two clouds forming, one at 10,000 feet and one at about 4,000 feet, of continuously exploding shells. And I knew there was no chance to fly through that and come out the other end. But I still didn't care. I was going to get my hit.”
With the plane at a low level, he pulled the bomb release. His hit was credited with the sinking of the carrier.
Davis got the word from the air group commander that they were taking the admiral and his staff off the Zuikaku, which was beginning to sink. He and others of the air group were ordered to go back and strafe the ships.
At the time of his attack, Davis did not know that it was the Zuikaku he was attacking. It was only later he learned that the carrier was the last remnant of the Japanese Pearl Harbor Strike Force.
In 2007, Davis published his memoirs of his experiences as a Naval aviator, including the strike on the Zuikaku. “Sinking the Rising Sun”, (MBI Publishing Company) is available on Amazon.com.
I asked Davis what led to the publishing of his book three years ago.
“After the war, our family took up skiing,” Davis recounted. “
There was no FM radio in those days during those long drives from West L.A. up into the Sierra mountains. To pass the time, one of his daughters pleaded with him to tell the family stories from the war. Starting with some of the funnier ones, recounting some of his Navy experiences became a routine during these drives. Davis said his daughters kept after him all these years to write a book on his experiences.
“Fortunately, I had kept a diary,” Davis said. “I didn't know we weren't allowed to keep diaries. Somehow that directive missed me. So I had something to work from and a map of all of our movements throughout the Pacific. So I sat down finally and wrote it.
The Naval ace and Navy Cross recipient was asked by the panel moderator to make a closing comment.
“I enjoyed my time in the Navy, about four and a half years, very, very much,” Davis said. “I liked almost every aspect of it, and loved the men that I was associated with, both at the very local level and our own squadron. Everyone there was a volunteer. And they were all in there and anxious. No one ever begged off a flight. I don't know whether we were exceptional, but I have a feeling it was like that throughout the Naval Air Corps. And I was very proud to be part of it.”
Many Navy men and women, past and present, share his view.
Davis turns 90 years young in a few weeks. Please join me in wishing him a Happy Birthday and, more importantly, thanking him for his service. He is a fascinating member of the Greatest Generation.