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GREAT LAKES AIRCRAFT CARRIERS

Discussion in 'Air War in the Pacific' started by vcs-WW2, Jun 5, 2010.

  1. vcs-WW2

    vcs-WW2 WWII Veteran

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    GREAT LAKES AIRCRAFT CARRIERS

    The only excuse I can offer for posting the following off-beat story is my own tie-in with the main character – Captain Richard F. Whitehead. Captain Whitehead (later Vice Admiral) was commanding officer of my close Air Support Control Unit (ASCU) during the Iwo Jima and Okinawa operations. He was a senior officer on Vice Admiral Richard Kelly Turner’s staff , an experienced pilot, and a recognized air support specialist.

    At the outset of World War Two navies around the world realized that the days of the battleship as the primary floating weapon were over. The aircraft carrier would assume that role. As a result the United States started to furiously build aircraft carriers — and aircraft to operate from them.

    To fly all those new airplanes the Navy started a program to recruit and train 45,000 new pilots. The Navy was equipped to train new pilots at naval training stations around the U.S. Pilots could be trained to take off and land on existing airfields within marked areas painted to represent the length and width of an aircraft carrier flight deck. But a snag was hit when it came to training pilots the art of taking off and landing on the short, narrow flight deck of an actual aircraft carrier –
    that was moving – and bobbing up and down

    The U.S. didn’t have many carriers at that time. The war had just started and the few carriers we did have had more important jobs to do than train green pilots. Thus, there were no existing carriers on which totrain pilots.

    What to do? There was a lot of head-scratching regarding a solution to the problem. Then Captain Richard Whitehead came up with a brilliant solution. He suggested converting two old wooden Great Lakes side paddlewheel passenger steamers (Built in 1918 & 1924) into aircraft carriers by removing their superstructures and adding flight decks on the flush-top hulls. No hanger decks. No elevators. No catapults. Just flight decks equipped with landing arresting gear (landing retarders). The old locomotion systems would remain the same – coal fired, and steam powered.

    Captain Whitehead oversaw the transformation and the two aircraft carriers, named USS Wolverine and USS Sable, were put into action in 1942. While Wolverine had a standard wooden flight deck, Sable featured an experimental steel flight deck.

    Training new pilots on the Great Lakes solved a couple other problems:

    (1) The ships, operating on relatively calm Lake Michigan, offered the inexperienced pilots a landing deck that didn’t pitch and roll as it would on the open ocean.

    (2) The training carriers would be operating on a safe and secure inland lake, and not off the east or west coasts where patrolling German and Japanese submarines could get at them.

    By the end of the war 15,000 pilots had been trained on the two converted steamers. It had been quoted that each ship handled up to 300 landings and take-offs a day – which accounted for 116,000 landings by the end of the war.

    During the period that the two carriers operated there were a reported 120 to 200 practice landings that ended up with an airplane going over the side or off the end of one of the flight decks and sinking to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Most of them are still sitting on the bottom.

    Perhaps there are some World War Two souvenir collectors in this forum who might be interested in diving for one of them — to add to their collection .

    Good Luck! And dress warmly! (It’s cold down there!)
    . – . – .
     
    mikebatzel, LRusso216, Biak and 4 others like this.
  2. Takao

    Takao Ace

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  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    What was your opinion of Capt. Richard F. Whitehead?
     
  4. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I've got about 40 minutes training in scuba, but I think I'll pass. It is a wonder that someone hasn't tried to salvage a few of those wrecks. Wait a minute, I just checked and they have and are doing just that:
    Ahoy - Mac's Web Log - Underwater Aircraft Recovery from Lake Michigan - WW 2 Carrier training

    Michigan Historic Preservation Office and MSHDA Announce Recovery of WWII Fighter Plane from... -- LANSING, Mich., Nov. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --
    Ah, to be rich and have a hobby like this!
     
  5. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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    Wow. You learn something new every day. That's why I love this place. Thanks for posting this, but I think I'll skip any souvenir hunting.
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Biak,

    They don't do it because it is salvaging USN aircraft is ILLEGAL! That will stop most salvagers, but it does not stop all. The only way to do it legally is if you are working for the US Navy. They are very protective of their wrecks.

    See here: Navy Shipwrecks and Aircraft Losses

    Since the US Navy retains ownership, there is little money to be had salvaging USN aircraft wrecks.

    It is easier salvaging USAAC/USAAF wrecks because they consider any aircraft lost before November 16, 1961 as "Formally Abandonded."(most of their records were lost in a fire on this date) They only become interested if Human remains are found. That is why you hear more about salvaging USAAC aircraft from WW2 than you do about salvaging US Navy aircraft.
     
  7. luketdrifter

    luketdrifter Ace

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    Salvaging off of most Great Lakes shipwrecks is illegal. That doesn't stop people....the depth of Lake Michigan will surprise many people...spots where some of those planes went over are over 300 feet deep. That keeps them safe from scuba divers.
    As for the relative calm of Lake Michigan...there was a reason that the Navy didn't practice landings in the fall.
     
  8. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    I wasn't aware of the restrictions but that's where the "rich" part comes into play. Help with the recovery and get those things back, in a museum and on display.
     
  9. formerjughead

    formerjughead The Cooler King

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  10. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Being "rich" has nothing to do with it.

    If you are "rich" enough to afford to recover and restore an aircraft to flying condition, a process that, depending on the condition of the aircraft, may take many years. Then you are "rich" enough to go out and but one that is already in flying condition. No muss, no fuss, and an immediate return on the dollars spent.

    For more on the past court battles of the USN, see here: Navy Aircraft as Artifacts
     
  11. Biak

    Biak Boy from Illinois Staff Member

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    Takao you miss my point. Being able to afford the cost to recover and refurbish an aircraft would be a great way to "Give Back". That would be 'rich'. As is noted in the links there are Company's that donate and help cover the costs as underwriters. Besides, if I had my 'druthers', was rich, and just went out and bought a plane, it would be along the lines of a T-38 Talon.
     
  12. vcs-WW2

    vcs-WW2 WWII Veteran

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    Ensign Sam Sturgis, who qualified on the Sable during World War II, told this great story:

    An Army Air Corps pilot assigned to Chanute Field near Chicago was giving his new co-pilot an airborne tour of Chicago one day aboard a Douglas C-47 transport plane. The pilot spotted the side-wheel Wolverine operating out in Lake Michigan and decided to have some fun. He maneuvered his big C-47 transport plane into the Wolverine’s landing pattern, lowered his wheels and flaps, and headed down toward the Navy flattop.

    Naturally, the C-47 was much too big to land on the Wolverine's deck. As he approached, the pilot said he never saw so many signal flares and lights come on at one time. The carrier’s landing director was highly animated at the end of the landing deck waving off the big aircraft. At the last moment, the pilot hauled up his landing gear, closed his flaps, throttled his plane, and took off for home base.
    . – . – .
     
  13. syscom3

    syscom3 Member

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    :lol:
     
  14. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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    I wonder how many extra pairs of pants had to be laundered on the ship that day?:eek:
     
  15. vcs-WW2

    vcs-WW2 WWII Veteran

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    Slipdigit: Sorry it took me so long to address your question.

    I didn’t have a lot of personal contact with Captain Whitehead because he was headquartered aboard Admiral Turner’s command ship El Dorado and he had my ASCU unit attached to Admiral Blandy’s Amphibious Support Staff aboard the latter’s command ship Estes. Another reason: He was busy getting Admiral Turner’s brand new Air Support Control Unit off to a good start, making sure everything went according to plan

    For almost a year Admiral Turner had fought the Navy high command and the Navy Air Force for total control of support air during amphibious operations. Finally Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, stepped in and approved Turner’s request. Turner and Capt. Whitehead immediately started to put together the air support task unit they both envisioned. Whitehead’s experience as a Navy pilot, as a creative innovator, administrator – and particularly his expertise in close air support for front line troops – made him the logical choice to command the unit as a member of Turner’s staff.

    Iwo Jima marked the first operation in which a Commander Air Support Control Unit (Capt. Whitehead) worked from an AGC command ship – with a complete air support control team (ASCU) – designated Group Number One. In late 1946 ASCU air control units were commissioned and re-designated as the modern Navy Tactical Air Control Squadron (TACRON).

    I had a good deal of respect and kind feelings toward Captain Whitehead. He was a great "hands off"boss. He had a lot of confidence in himself and confidence in the people who worked for him.

    I know that’s more of an answer than you bargained for, but it explains a little history of Dick Whitehead, ASCU, and TACRON.
    . – . – .
     
  16. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    'twas no time at all.
    Oh it good. We appreciate anything you wish to add and the more detailed, the better.

    I know you have better things to do than to entertain a bunch of people you don't really know, but we do enjoy your "first hand" insights.

    A LOT of people read your comments, but don't offer a reply. Please don't take the lack of a huge response as a lack of interest from the membership-far from it. First hand accounts are always far more interesting than what you read in books.
     
  17. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member

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    Jeff's right. For many of us, the opportunity to hear first hand information is priceless. I never really got to hear my father's story, so I am always interested in seeing the war from the point of view of someone who was involved. Thanks for taking the time to do this.
     
  18. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Sable and Wolverine were also the world's only paddle-wheel aircraft carriers.

    Thanks for posting this; like Slipdigit said, a lot of people like myself enjoy reading things but may not clutter the forum with replies unless we have something specific to add.
     

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