Jack Cram's report

PBY Mission: Torpedo The Transports

Major Jack Cram, USMC, was General Geiger’s junior aide and flew the General’s private PBY – always. Never did the General fly without Major Cram at the yoke and rarely was there a pilot occupying the co-pilot’s seat, except General Geiger. But the size of the PBY, and it subject to the constant bombardment of the General’s area, prompted Geiger to order Major Cram to limit his activities to transporting supplies and personnel.

On the afternoon of the 14th of October, Major Cram landed his PBY between the bomb craters on Henderson Field with a torpedo attached under each wing, having picked them up at Noumea, New Caledonia for Torpedo Squadron Eight. But the TBF squadron had been bombed and shot out of service before the Major’s arrival at the field and there seemed no apparent use for the torpedoes. However, the Major came up with a hair-raising idea that contributed to the defense of the United States’ position on Guadalcanal and caused the General to write out a citation leading to the award of the Navy Cross to this brave man.

Jack Cram is currently in business in the San Francisco bay area of California, having long since retired from the Marine Corps but his dedication to the Corps and to his country carried him to the rank of General.

"I dodged shrapnel and bombs, most of the time from a foxhole, all night of the 14th of October. Our Operations Officer, Joe Renner, spent much of the time with me and painted a picture so critical of our chances that nothing short of a miracle could save us. But I was getting the hint of an idea and, as soon as there was a let-up in the bombardment, I approached General Geiger’s aide, Toby Munn, with a request to let me rig a manual release for the two torpedoes still on my PBY and attack the Jap troop transports. As crazy as the plan was, Colonel Munn agreed there was little else left for any of us and immediately took me to the General. He gave his blessing and ordered us to find as much protection as we could from the remaining flyable aircraft.

"Jap troop transports were already landing reinforcements at Tassafaronga and they were all but unopposed. Only an occasional F4F or P – 39 broke through the fierce anti-aircraft screen put up by the Jap destroyers. But the unbelievable ground crews began performing one small miracle after another as they, somehow, pieced together over a half-dozen bedraggled F4Fs and P-39s to give me fighter coverage for my run; about a dozen SBD dive bombers staged a simultaneous attack.

"By 1000 hours we were ready. I had just received a crash course in the art of aircraft torpedo bombing – from a PBY – with a makeshift manual release for the torpedoes, speed recommendations and proper drop altitude.

"My entire crew climbed aboard the Cat with me and we took off, heading out toward Savo Island where I took her up to about 6000 feet before pushing over into a long dive. I lined up between two of the transports and was concentrating so much on what I was supposed to do next that I forgot about my airspeed. When the plane began to shake, and the wings looked as if they were on a sea gull in flight, I chanced a look at the airspeed indicator. I thought, at that moment, I was dead for sure. The plane was ripping through the air at 240 knots – at least 60 knots beyond safe air speed for a PBY.

"Even though I eased up, we were still going so fast we passed over the destroyer screen before they saw us, and suddenly, there were my targets. I released one torpedo, waited a couple of seconds, then pulled the release on the other and started to get the hell out of there. I pulled the Cat up into a left turn and headed for Henderson Field. Back behind, one of our torpedoes scored a direct hit on a transport while the other one missed.

"But our troubles were just beginning. All at once there were Zeros all around us and we were taking a terrific pounding with some distance to go to the field. Duke Davis and his F4F fighter cover were doing everything they could to get the Japs off our tail and barely succeeded. One persistant Zero kept closing on us as we passed over Henderson but he was blasted out of the sky by a crippled Grumman, flown by Roger Haberman of Fighting 121. He was trying to negotiate a landing and already had his wheels down when he spotted our predicament. He poured on the gas and got the Jap, just before he got us. It turned out to be his first-ever kill.

(This story was published in the book "Black Cats and Dumbos" by Mel Crocker, which unfortunately is now out of print.)



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