Greatest Aircraft Carrier Duel – Sidebar: March ’99 World War II Feature

8/19/1999 • Battle Of Peleliu, Pearl Harbor, World War II

Overnight in the Philippine Sea

Of all the surviving pilots who had to ditch that hectic night of June 20, 1944, few experienced the journey completed by Lt. j.g. Al Walraven, a dive bomber pilot from Wasp. After attacking Japanese oilers, for which he would be awarded a Navy Cross, Walraven flew to a prearranged rendezvous point.

“It was utter confusion though,” Walraven recalled. “I joined with three other planes and started heading back to Wasp.”

Every pilot realized he lacked sufficient fuel to reach his carrier. The leader of Walraven’s group, Lieutenant Milton Brown, decided for safety purposes that all four planes should ditch together, but events unfolded in a different manner for Walraven.

“I descended at 50 feet per minute, completely on instruments,” said Walraven. “I opened my bomb bay doors, put the flaps down, and slowly dropped nearer the water in the dark. I was moving about 72 knots when I hit the water in a gentle landing.”

Walraven’s radio-gunner quickly extracted the two-man life raft, inflated it, and climbed out on the left wing of the settling Curtiss SB2C dive bomber. Walraven shuffled out rations, cans of water, a Very pistol, and charts to the radio-gunner.

When dawn broke, Walraven saw no signs of the other planes and realized they were floating alone in an immense sea. He felt confident of rescue, however.

They did not have long to wait. The next morning a torpedo plane spotted and circled the raft, followed by fighters who did the same. Shortly afterward, a submarine emerged form the water and picked up the two soaking, tired aviators.

“The submarine, Seawolf, was headed to Peleliu so there was no way for us to get off until it returned to Pearl Harbor 3-4 weeks later,” said Walraven. “They sent a message to Pearl Harbor indicating they rescued us, but somehow this was never transmitted to the Wasp.”

Fortunately, Pearl Harbor stopped the message about to be sent home informing his family of his disappearance, but for a month Walraven’s fellow aviators aboard Wasp assumed he was missing.

“When we finally stepped back aboard the carrier, our friends were shocked. It was like we had returned from the dead,” said the pilot.

Walraven had completed an odyssey that began of a surface vessel (Wasp), continued in an aircraft (dive bomber), and ended in a submarine (Seawolf).[ TOP ] [ Cover ]