The Royal Navy and the US Navy mounted an unusual joint operation on the 4th October. The Home Fleet escorted the carrier USS Ranger to a position off the arctic coast of Norway from where her planes could mount an attack on German shipping in the area.
Aside from the damage done to shipping, the operation supported the notion that the Norwegian coast was of particular interest to the Allies. As part of Operation Fortitude, the deception plans for D-Day, information was already being fed to the Germans that the Allies had an army waiting in Scotland, ready for the invasion of Norway.
Gerald W. Thomas, flew a Grumman Avenger on the mission:
The skipper turned the formation north to follow the shipping lanes along the coast. About this time, the Germans were alerted and scattered AA fire developed. In a few minutes we spotted our first large enemy ship — a transport. Taylor wobbled his wings, the fighters went in to strafe, and the first two torpedo planes made a masthead run on the ship. After the attack, the two torpedo planes rejoined our group where we were now flying at about 1500-2000 feet. The AA fire intensified as we continued our flight toward Bodø.
Suddenly, the Avenger flown by Lt(jg) John Palmer exploded just in front of me and started a gradual spiral toward the sea. The skipper broke radio silence and told the plane crew to bail out, but only one parachute popped into sight before the plane plunged into the sea. I drew myself into the center of my own cockpit under the protection of the armor plate, making myself as small as possible as the bursts of AA fire spotted the sky. We continued the flight down the fjords.
A few minutes later a second strike group attacked another ship. Another successful run and the ship was left burning.
Then, before it was our turn, I suddenly realized that Lt(jg) Trexler, my section leader, was wobbling his wings. He must have received a hand signal, which meant that our attack section was next. I had been watching a tanker-like ship chugging down the shipping lanes just ahead of us (the American records identify this ship as MFS 231, a oil tanker, but German records show the ship was a freight barge carrying 40 tons of ammunition.) By the time Trex gave the signal to attack, we were almost directly over the ship — still at about 1500 feet. That meant more of a dive-bombing run than a glide-bombing run as planned. Trex turned his plane sharply into a dive.
I had been lagging too far behind in formation, so I knew I would reach the ship just in time to get in Trex’s bomb blast — remembering the 5-second delay fuse. Consequently, I rolled the plane violently to shortcut the distance down and pushed into the dive. As I rolled, my right wing blocked my view of Trex’s plane. In the dive, I realized that he wasn’t in front of me. I learned later that he had pulled out of the dive for two reasons: first, the fighter planes flying above didn’t get the signal in time to strafe; second, the dive was too steep for a torpedo plane. As I put more and more pressure on the stick to hold down the nose of the huge Avenger, I rapidly went through the switching procedure to arm the bombs, open the bomb bay, and turn the guns on for strafing. I didn’t have time to roll the tabs forward to reduce the pressure on the stick. I fired a couple of bursts from the machine guns, pushed the “pickle,” and dropped two 500-pounders. It was a tight pull to get out of the dive just above water level. Because of the steep dive, I could not hold the nose on target, so the two bombs straddled the bow of the ship — at least 50 feet too far forward splashing water on the deck of the tanker.
My belly gunner, Jackson, who also served as bombardier, called on the intercom to tell me that we had a clean miss, but two bombs were left in the bomb bay. At that point, I threw caution to the wind. I guess I almost forgot that I was in combat — rather, I automatically followed the pattern of a practice mission. I was flying about 50 feet above the water, moving rapidly toward a small, rocky island that outlined the seaward boundary of the shipping lanes. As I pulled the plane into a steep wingover and passed over one of the islands, someone shouted over the radio, “Watch that shore battery!” I didn’t realize that I had turned just above a gun emplacement or that my wings were perforated with bullet holes. Anyway, I turned back for a masthead run on the German tanker which was now headed toward the shore where I could quarter its wake — an ideal attack position.
As I approached the ship, I became conscious of — almost surprised to see — tracers floating toward me from about three locations on the tanker. And I was moving so darned slow — even at full throttle!
I didn’t have the time or the presence of mind to strafe on this second approach. As I got closer and closer to the tanker, all the ship’s gunners stopped firing except one. The tracers that flashed by made a complete circle of the cockpit. Then, just before I pushed the bomb release over the ship, my engine took a direct hit. There was a small explosion with a brief flash of fire and smoke over the cockpit as I pushed the pickle releasing the two remaining bombs. One 500-pounder landed on the deck of the tanker. The ship exploded and ran aground as it burned.
Garner, my turret gunner, shouted, “We’re on fire!” I hauled back on the stick to gain altitude, then picked up the mike and shouted over the intercom, “Bail Out!”
At about 800 feet, I opened the hatch, sprung my safety belt, and started to climb out of the cockpit. I had never bailed out of a plane before and in the confusion forgot to pull the radio cord from my helmet. Consequently, I heard a call from Garner. “Don’t jump, don’t jump. Jackson’s popped his chute in the plane and he can’t get out!” It seems that Jackson, in his excitement, had accidentally pulled his ripcord inside the belly of the TBF. The spring-loaded silk had let loose all over the place. He tried several times to bundle the slippery silk in his arms and work his way through the narrow door, but no such luck — he was trapped.
The whole account can be read in ‘Casablanca to Tokyo’, a more extensive extract together with many more photographs and details of how to obtain the book can be found at Airgroup 4. Another view and more pictures can be found at USS Corry, one of the escorting destroyers.