On the night of September 23, Lieutenant (j.g.) William B. ‘Wild Bill" Sumpter made three spectacular kills in one run. Searching the Davao Gulf on Mindanao, he discovered a large 10,000-ton Chitose-class seaplane carrier. Two destroyer escorts were refueling from the large vessel, one on each side. It was a Black Cat’s dream come true. Sumpter came in on the three helpless vessels at masthead level, releasing four bombs in a stick. The first struck a destroyer escort, the next two hit the tender, and the fourth exploded below decks in the other destroyer escort, causing three secondary blasts which threw the plane 200 feet in the air. Both escort vessels sank almost immediately. Sumpter then swung around and raked the tender with his guns. She was on fire and listing to one side, and the Cat pilot was determined to finish her off. After several strafing passes, the big ship rolled over on her side and settled in the water. Scratch three!"

VPB-33 lost a man that night when Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert W. Schuetz bombed a 10,000-ton transport at Toli Toli Bay, Celebes Island. As the Cat made its run on the ship, heavy gunfire hit the starboard propeller, blew two cylinders off the engine, and holed the wing. Schuetz hung on grimly and dropped his string of bombs, two of which struck the side of the big ship. As the plane passed overhead, however, gunfire ripped through the bottom, fatally wounding the navigator, Ensign LeRoy Flatau. The plane was shaking violently but Schuetz was able to climb to 2,000 feet where he shut down the gasping engine and feathered the prop. Ordering all unnecessary gear jettisoned, he flew the badly damaged Cat back to the tender, a distance of 550 miles on one engine. As Flip Anderson later pointed out, "we had no alternate bases to which we could return! It was the home tender or else!"

That same night, in Kolono Bay, Celebes Island Anderson hit a 10,500-ton tanker which caught fire, rolled over and sank. A gunner on another Cat operating in the same area was wounded during an attack which damaged a small freighter.

VPB-33 flew its last flights of this search-and-attack tour on the night of October 3-4. Lieutenant (j.g.) John Zubler’s aircraft was badly damaged, one crewman was killed and two others wounded during an attack on a 3,000-ton freighter. Zubler got off all his bombs, two of which hit the vessel amidships, but the cost had been high.

Wild Bill Sumpter was also out that last night. He and his crews had already sunk thirteen ships and damaged three others during the month of September and were looking for something to cap off their score. They found it in the northwest part of Celebes Island in Toli Toli Bay. That night the weather was clear as they flew along the coast with a large bright moon lighting their way. As they passed the entrance to the bay, they took a look inside and much to their surprise found two cruisers, a destroyer, and a destroyer escort lying at anchor there. All were darkened but the moon clearly illuminated them. Sumpter played it cool. Assuming that he had also been seen by the Japanese, he continued on past the mouth of the bay and then headed out to sea. There was no indication from the enemy ships that the Cat had been detected. About an hour later, Sumpter turned around and headed back. He radioed base advising them of his find and his intention to attack at 0100. If nothing was heard from the Cat thereafter, the people back at the tender would not have to guess what happened.

As they bore in on Toli Toli Bay, the pilot briefed his crew. They were going to make landfall some distance up the coast and skirt along the shore in an effort to mask their approach by the mountainous terrain. At the last minute, they would burst into the bay and hopefully catch the Japanese ships by surprise. No one was to open fire with the machine guns until Sumpter gave the word.

Everything went as planned until the final moments. The Cat approached from behind a hill at a thousand feet and Sumpter pushed the nose over about a mile and a half from one of the cruisers. But by this time they had been seen and when they were about a quarter of a mile from the drop, all four warships opened with heavy and light antiaircraft fire. It was like a thick wall which no airplane could possibly penetrate. Sumpter later observed that he could have lit a cigarette on the tracers – they were that close. Still, he held the Cat in its dive and continued his attack run down the centerline of the target ship (believed to have been a Katori-class cruiser). At 125 feet of altitude, he let go with his entire bomb load – no spacing. All of them landed on the unfortunate victim. The blast enveloped the aircraft and Sumpter thought they had been hit. But the aircraft still seemed to respond to his command. He dove for the water and headed for the entrance to the bay. Tracers and heavy gunfire continued to burst around the Cat as it skimmed the surface. Moments later it made a sharp turn, almost dipping a wing tip in the water, and ducked behind a point of land.

Checking the Cat over, Sumpter determined that it had not sustained any serious damage. He took up a position in the darkness just outside the bay and orbited while watching fires burn aboard the enemy vessel. Then, with weapons expended, he began the long flight back to the tender."

Wild Bill Sumpter’s spectacular pyrotechnic display was the icing on the cake for VPB-33. In fact, all the pilots and crewmen of that squadron had performed magnificently to amass a record of enemy tonnage sunk, destroyed, and damaged that no other Cat squadron was able to surpass. In the course of just over one month, forty-three ships totaling 103,500 tons had been sent to the bottom or otherwise destroyed. Twenty more adding up to 53,500 tons were severely damaged. A large number of miscellaneous vessels of various descriptions were also dispatched, although their tonnage is not included in the 157,000-ton total documented for this squadron during this period.

General MacArthur in a dispatch to the Seventh Fleet Commander Admiral Kinkaid praised the "recent magnificent performance" of the Black Cats. "No command in the war," he said, "has excelled the brilliance of their operations."

 (The above section of text was taken from "Black Cat Raiders of WWII" by Richard C. Knott, 1982)(now out of print)


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