The Brewster F2A-1 was the first aircraft assigned to VMF-223 when it was commissioned on 1 May 1942 at the Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Oahu, Hawaii. (USMC Photo 25414).
History and Museums Division
Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps
By First Lieutenant Brett A. Jones, USMC 1978
Updated by Capt. Hunting, May-July 2002
The devastating attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in December 1941 had decimated the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) leaving only 15 planes which were considered combat worthy. Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 223 was commissioned at the Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Oahu, Hawaii on 1 May 1942 in an effort to help restore the combat potential of the 1st MAW.
The squadron’s immediate function was to conduct local operations on the Hawaiian Sea Frontier as part of the newly formed Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 23. Under the leadership of Capt. John L. Smith, the first commanding officer of the “rainbow” squadron, later to become known as the “bulldogs,” the unit began training operations in the Brewster F2A fighter. Captain Smith, a 28-year old native of Lexington, Oklahoma, was to distinguish himself as an aviator during World War II, and his leadership was to bring VMF-223 into the spotlight in the air over Guadalcanal.
When World War II began the Marine Corps land based squadrons in the Pacific were flying the F2A, build by Brewster in the late 1930’s. The Brewster was powered by a Wright R-1820-24 engine which could produce 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 revolutions per minute (rpm); the plane could attain an airspeed of 323 miles per hour and had a service ceiling of 34,000 feet. It was armed with four wing mounted .50 caliber machineguns and could carry two 100 pound bombs. As was demonstrated in the Battle of Midway, 4-6 June 1942, the aircraft was unable to cope with Japanese fighters and was appropriately dubbed the Brewster “Buffalo.” Is soon was replaced by superior aircraft.
As early as June 1942, Admiral Chester M. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, had designated all four squadrons of MAG-23 for the defense of a beachhead on Guadalcanal. According to the plan, the forward echelon of MAG-23, consisting of VMF-223 and Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 232 and commanded by Major Richard C. Mangrum, would be flown to the airstrip on Guadalcanal from a carrier. Both squadrons lacked carrier experience; nearly all the pilots were fresh from flight school where they had logged about 275 hours apiece in SNJ trainers. The veteran Japanese naval pilots they would face averaged approximately 800 hours of flight time prior to the bombing of Pearle Harbor. The VMF-223 aviators, except for Captains Smith, Rivers J. Morrell, Jr., and Marion E. Carl, and one veteran enlisted pilot, Technical Sergeant John D. Lindley, were second lieutenants ranging in age from 19 to 21 and had been in the Marine Corps for only a few months.
The squadrons sailed for Guadalcanal on board the escort carrier USS Long Island (CVE 1) on 2 August 1942. Prior to departure, the Buffalo was replaced with the Grumman F4F Wildcat. This plane became the standard fighter for Marine pilots during the early actions of WWII. This single-seat , carrier fighter was powered by a Pratt and Whitney R-1830-56 engine which produced 1,200 horsepower at 2,500 rpm and had a maximum airspeed of 332 miles per hour with a service ceiling of 34,300 feet. The aircraft was equipped with racks for two 250 pound bombs, one under each wing, or the bombs could be replaced with external fuel tanks. Six .50 caliber machineguns, three in each wing, and six five inch rockets completed the wildcats armament.
The Long Island and its escorts stopped at the island of Efate, New Hebrides, where Captain Smith traded eight of his inexperienced pilots for better
qualified pilots from Major Harold W. Bauer’s VMF-212. On the afternoon of 20 August, the Long Island, accompanied by the cruiser Helena (CL 50) and destroyer USS Dale (DD 35), launched the Marine planes about 200 miles southeast of Guadalcanal. At 1700, MAG-23 began landing at Henderson Field, named in honor of Major Lofton R. Henderson, a Marine aviator who was killed earlier in the war while leading Marine dive bombers in the Battle of Midway. “A shout of relief and welcome went up from every Marine on the island,” reported Lieutenant Herbert L. Merillat. The arrival of MAG-23 and the rainbow squadron coincided with the first bloody battle of Major General Vandegrift’s 1st Marine Division fought on Guadalcanal.
Just after midnight on 21 August 1942 firing broke out about 3,000 yards east of Henderson Field and the Battle of the Tenaru River had started. The Japanese were reinforcing their command on Guadalcanal with 900 troops of the Ichiki Detachment** via the Tokyo Express”. *** The Ichiki detachment attacked the Marines early in the morning and was slaughtered. Japanese intelligence had grossly underestimated the U.S. strength at 800-1000 troops instead of a division. At daybreak the pilots of VMF-223 unleashed the fury of their wildcats on the enemy, catching many of the Japanese on the beach. The strafing runs were the first shots fired in anger by the VMF-223 pilots.
At noon, about 19 hours after their arrival at Guadalcanal, the VMF-223 pilots had their first taste of aerial combat. Captain Smith was the first to down an enemy Zero, but his victory was lessened by the loss of an F4F which crash landed on Henderson Field after being severely shot up. The score remained one to one for the day.
Prior to VMF-223’s arrival at Guadalcanal, Rear Admiral Raizo Tanaka, the Tokyo Expressman, had gathered a force at Rabaul, New Britain, which he mistakenly considered formidable enough to dislodge the Marines from the island. The enemy had a special naval landing force of 800 men and an Army detachment of 700 men. This time, the Japanese would support the landing with three carriers and three destroyers. American intelligence reported this movement, and the carriers USS Enterprise (CV 6), Saratoga (CV 3), and Wasp (CV 7) waited for the enemy force about 100 miles southeast of Guadalcanal. On 24 August, the Cactus Air Force**** met the enemy aircraft from the carrier Ryujo and the Battle of Eastern Solomons was underway.
At 1420, the two MAG-23 squadrons augmented by five Army P-400s,***** which had arrived from New Caledonia intercepted an enemy flight of 15 bombers and 12 fighters. These Japanese aircraft never reached Henderson Field. The Marines shot down 10 bombers and half of the fighters. Captain Carl alone was credited with two bombers and a fighter. The victory was not without cost; three of Captain Smith’s pilots, Second Lieutenants Erlwood R. Bailey, Lawrence C. Taylor, and Roy A. Corry, failed to return, and one pilot was shot down and later recovered.
From the beginning of the war and especially after Bataan and early New Guinea fighting, many American aviators regarded the Zero and its pilots as opponents of malevolent perfection. During the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the enemy gained more prowess and the U.S. fighter pilots were acquiring a distinct inferiority complex. On 24 August the Rainbow squadron and the other units at Guadalcanal destroyed the theory that the Zero was invincible.
On the 26th, as VMF-223 enjoyed continued success against enemy air raids, Captain Carl shot down two more planes becoming the second Marine Corps ace.* Aerial combat on the 29th resulted in four enemy fighters and four enemy bombers destroyed, and the following day another 14 enemy aircraft were sent flaming to earth. The score continued to favor the rainbow pilots as the air action over Guadalcanal increased.
Marines learned very early in the war not to dogfight with the more maneuverable Zero. Instead, the enemy’s bombers became the primary targets. As the bombers approached, usually 26 at a time in series of “V” formations, it was possible for the wildcats to dive on the bombers and destroy just a few before the Zeros jumped the Grummans. The tactics which evolved and remained, while the Marines were flying the F4F, were primarily hit-and-run; a direct overhead or a high-side attack on the bombers (avoiding their tailguns), one quick burst at an attacking Zero, and then run. If a pilot unintentionally became entangled in a dogfight with the faster, better climbing Zero, it was necessary to rely on his wingman to shoot the enemy off his tail, which is where the Zero could usually be found. This two plane mutually protecting tactic evened the odds.
Conditions at Guadalcanal were miserable and were continually growing worse. The field was either a bowl of black dust or a quagmire of mud. Refueling had to be done by hand from 55-Gallon drums and radio communications from Henderson Field did not exist beyond 20 miles. The diet for the Marines consisted of dehydrated potatoes, Spam, cold hash, and sometimes Japanese rice. Malaria and dysentery became constant companions. Sleep in mud-floored tents was constantly interrupted by bombardments from Japanese ships and planes. Enemy cruisers, destroyers, and submarines often lay offshore lobbing shells at Henderson Field.
VMF-223 joined other elements of MAG-23 on 2 September 1942 in intercepting a 40-plane enemy raid. During the ensuing battle, the squadron downed another seven enemy aircraft. On the 12th, the island was hit with a bombardment from seven Japanese destroyers while 42 enemy planes attempted to obtain air superiority. The Cactus Air Force shot down 15 of the attacking planes, but the airfield received several hits. Meanwhile, enemy troops attacked just south of Henderson Field. The following day, while ground units were fighting the Battle of Bloody Ridge, the field was attacked three more times by aircraft. The airfield, although severely damaged, remained firmly in Marine hands.
During the months of August and September 1942, Guadalcanal was continually augmented by aircraft and pilots of various commands. The carriers USS Hornet (CV 12) and the Wasp, after receiving battle damage, sent some of their F4F’s ashore until the flattops could be repaired. The growing Cactus Air Force intercepted 31 Japanese planes over Henderson field on 27 September and 11 enemy aircraft were destroyed. The next day, the Emperor’s “Eagles” from Rabaul in New Britain arrived with a flight of 55 planes determined to neutralize Marine aviation on Guadalcanal. Once again, the determined American pilots met the enemy, this time sending 24 of the attacking planes to a watery grave. Of those destroyed, VMF-223 was credited with seven. The Japanese, determined to make the island a major battleground, sought air supremacy and control of the sea, but once again the enemy had underestimated the air force necessary to achieve this goal.
Captain Marin E. Carl was shot down early in September 1942 and was listed as missing in action for five days. His journey back to Cactus was an adventure many pilots had to face during the war in the Pacific. Captain Carl gave the following account of that incident:
Bullets began flying all over the place. The cockpit filled up with smoke blinding me. I never did get a look at what was on my tail before I bailed out. The parachute opened at 10,000 feet and I floated down off Near Island a few miles off the coast of Guadalcanal, about 30 miles from home. I was dunked into the ocean 400 yards off the island and started to swim to shore. I got within hailing distance of the beach but the current prevented me from landing. I was just about to give up when a native boy paddled out in a canoe, grabbed me, and hauled me aboard more dead than alive.
After being taken ashore, the native gave Captain Carl a drink of Coconut milk and then brought the aviator from the island to a native village on Guadalcanal where he was fed and housed for the night.
The natives agreed to take me to headquarters the next morning. Before we got out of the village, a Japanese party began heading for it. I went into the Jungle and hid. Early the next morning we started home. Two native police and a large group of native villagers accompanied me. On the way home I found a deserted radio shack and spent four hours trying to get it going. We went a short way further when we encountered large groups of natives fleeing in our direction. They told us there were 2,000 Japanese between us and the U.S. headquarters and that it was impossible to get through them.
Captain Carl was taken to the hut of an educated native who had studied medicine. The man had a small launch and agreed to take the young pilot up the coast to headquarters.
We planned to leave at three-thirty that day, but the engine wouldn’t start. I was a former aeronautical engineer so I spent the rest of the day taking it apart and finally got it running. We left at dawn and had no trouble arriving.
Captain Carl’s first question when he arrived was “What’s Smitty’s score?” He grimaced when he was told that Major John L. Smith, his closest competitor, had shot down a total of 16 planes and pulled ahead of Captain Carl during the five days that he was missing. “Ground him for five days, General,” Captain Carl said to Brigadier General Roy S. Geiger, commander of the 1st MAW. “That will give me a chance to catch up.”
Keeping records was one of the last priorities during the autumn of 1942. Even the original name of the island, “Guaduncanar,” was changed, probably dur to a misprint or mispronunciation that stuck. It was not possible to say who was flying from Guadalcanal at any given time. An example of this occurred on 3 October 1942, when a Japanese air attack was met by 15 fighters; 15 were from the Navy’s fighter squadron (VF) 5, five from VMF-223, and nine from VMF-224 (including two pilots on temporary duty from VMF-212). With the units becoming so entangled, almost anybody could be your wingman.
The action in the skies over Guadalcanal during September and early October cost the lives of five VMF-223 second lieutenants: Zenith A. Pond, Noyles McLennan, Richard A. Haring, Willis S. Lees III, and Charles Kendrick. After the first week of October, the Japanese air raids ceased. The uneasy calm lasted until 1220 on the 11th when radar at Henderson field reported two flights of unidentified aircraft at 138 miles heading towards Guadalcanal. The aircraft at Guadalcanal were scrambled, including 16 planes from VMF-223, and they intercepted the invading force of 34 bombers and 29 Zeros. Seven bombers and four Zeros were destroyed and the remaining enemy aircraft had to turn back when they were unable to locate Henderson Field because of a low overcast which blanketed the island.
The enemy armada, which had the mission of destroying the airfield, was only the air portion of a large invading force. Two cruisers and six destroyers were steaming toward Guadalcanal carrying a landing force complete with heavy artillery and tanks. U.S. intelligence had located this task force and “search and destroy” ships were en route to intercept the enemy convoy. The American warships surprised the Japanese at Cape Esperance and dealt them a devastating and costly defeat.
After less than two months of combat, MAG-23 packed its equipment, readied its aircraft, and departed Guadalcanal on 13 October 1942 bound for California. The Rainbow squadron had, during its short time at Henderson Field, written a new chapter in Marine Corps aviation. VMF-223 had been the first Marine fighter squadron to arrive in the Solomans. Major John L. Smith had led his pilots on multiple combat missions during which the squadron accounted for 83 Japanese aircraft destroyed. For his action during this period, Major Smith was awarded the Medal of Honor. Also, during the struggle for Guadalcanal, Captain Carl earned his second Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in aerial combat.
Captain Carl’s first award of the Navy Cross came during the Battle of Midway. These two men, Smith and Carl, contributed greatly to the success of Marine aviation in Guadalcanal by downing a total of 37 ½ enemy aircraft, 19 and 18 ½ respectively. The final tally of enemy aircraft destroyed by the Cactus Air Force between 20 August and 12 October was an impressive 111 ½. In recognition of this achievement, those units supporting the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal and neighboring Tulagi received the Presidential Unit Citation.
From the Solomons to Okinawa
Marine Fighting Squadron 223 arrived in San Francisco on 17 October 1942 and remained in MAG-23, which was also arriving from Guadalcanal. VMF-223’s personnel were given leave from 16 November to 4 January 1943, then the squadron began reorganizing and training. On 26 January Major Carl became the new commanding officer of VMF-223.
On 27 May 1943, for reasons unknown, the Rainbow squadron changed its nickname and became known as the “Bulldogs.” The change in nickname was followed next month by a change in squadron aircraft.
During June, VMF-223 received 18 Vought-Sikorsky F4U-1 Corsairs to augment its inventory of F4F Wildcats and North American SNJ trainers. The F4U was a single seat, low-wing monoplane powered by a single Pratt and Whitney 2,000 horsepower engine. Capable of climbing to over 35,000 feet, the Corsair was the first American fighter to reach speeds in excess of 400 miles per hour. The “U-birds,” as they were called, became the standard fighter for Marines during the remainder of WWII. Because of the sound and effectiveness of the diving Corsair, the Japanese name for this plane meant “Whistling Death.”
On 22 June, First Lieutenant Alexander H. Edwards was engaged in mock aerial combat with Major Carl and made a tight left turn which stalled his F4U Corsair causing his plane to go into an inverted spin. Lieutenant Edwards noticed he was in a spin at 5,500 feet and bailed out at 3,300 feet when he was unable to get his Corsair under control. After he had bailed out, the plane came out of the spin and crashed about eight miles ease of El Toro. Except for a bruised nose and a bruised ego, the young pilot escaped uninjured.
On 18 July 1943, The squadron terminated flight operations at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS), El Toro and completed final preparations for redeployment to the pacific. During the previous six months of training, the squadron had operated with about 50 aircraft, mostly F4Us and SNJs. Aside from a few minor ground accidents, only one aircraft loss occurred during this period.
On 19 July, the Bulldogs traveled by train to the Naval Air Station (NAS), Alameda, California, and boarded the seaplane tender USS Wright (AV 1) on the evening of 20 July. Seven days later, the squadron arrived at MCAS, Ewa, headquarters of the 4th Marine Base Defense Aircraft Wing (MBDAW). During operations from Ewa, Second Lieutenant Phillip R. Aikins was killed when his F4U crashed into a mountain peak about eight miles northeast of the station.
The training and combat air patrols over Hawaii came to an end on 1 August 1943, and the squadron was underway to Midway Island. The squadron’s aircraft with some enlisted men and pilots made the trip by ship while 36 officers and men packed the remainder of the squadron’s equipment in transport aircraft for the flight to Midway. On 5 August, the entire unit was on Midway as part of MAG-22 where is was immediately divided into two sections. One section, under Major Carl, operated from Sand Island while the executive officer, Major Robert P. Keller, took charge of the second section operating from Eastern Island.
The Bulldogs completed their training on Midway on 18 October 1943. During its short stay, the unit had lost four F4Us and one pilot. Three of the accidents were the result of engine failures encountered while over water. Between 18 and 21 October, the entire squadron was airlifted back to Oahu where it was reassigned to MAG-23. Immediately, the squadron began assembling its equipment for another transfer. On 30 October, the entire unit sailed from Hawaii on board the escort carrier USS Breton (CVE 23). On the 10th day at sea, 14 Corsairs were catapulted from the Breton with Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides as the destination. On 11 November, the aircraft took off for the Marine Corps Air Base, Quoin Hill, Efates, New Hebrides. Meanwhile, the remainder of the squadron had shifted from Breton to the auxiliary transport USS Tyton (APH 1) and was en route to Quoin Hill. On 18 November, VMF-223 joined MAG-12, 2d MAW at Quoin Hill. After routine training was completed on 28 November, the squadron was airlifted to Barokoma Field, Vella Lavella Island. VMF-223 was in combat once again.
The first major aerial contact with the enemy occurred on 23 December 1943. A 48-plane fighter sweep over Rabaul located about 15 enemy fighters off the coast of New Ireland. The Bulldogs scored four kills and three probables. Throughout the remainder of the month, Japanese opposition continued in the skies over Rabaul, but by 4 January 1944, enemy resistance had dwindled considerably and VMF-223 secured flight operations. The final score for this campaign was 14 Japanese fighters destroyed, 10 probables, and four damaged. Only one VMF -223 pilot, First Lieutenant Bernard E. Sahl, became a casualty when he failed to return from a flight on Christmas Day, 1943.
On 4 January 1944, the squadron began preparations for a move to Bougainville in the Northern Solomons. The ground echelon embarked on board the minesweeper USS Chandler (DMS 9) and sailed on 19 January arriving at Torokina, Bougainville on the 25th. The aircraft remained at Barokoma field while the flight personnel flew to Sidney, Australia, for a short rest period.
The ground echelon prepared for the arrival of the squadron aircraft and helped service the VMF-215 Corsairs at Piva “y” Airfield on Bougainville. On 20 January, the squadron was reassigned from MAG-12, 2d MAW to MAG-24, 1st MAW. The flight echelon returned from Australia and on 17 February rejoined the rest of the squadron at Piva “Y” strip on Bougainville. The squadron now, however, had a new commanding officer. On 4 February, Major Carl was reassigned to Headquarters squadron, MAG-12 and Major Robert P. Keller assumed command of the Bulldogs. Combat operations began immediately as the Bulldogs harassed the enemy ground units with strafing attacks destroying numerous trucks and barges on Bougainville.
On 25 February 1944, Major Edwin E. Stewart was killed during a strafing mission. While diving on a target, Major Stewart’s aircraft was his by antiaircraft fire and crashed just offshore about three miles from Piva “Y” strip. Shortly before dawn on 8 March, the enemy hit Piva “Y” strip with a heavy artillery barrage which destroyed the ready room, two vehicles, one F4U, and damages two other Corsairs. The shelling killed Private First Class John W. Carter and caused Major Keller to be hospitalized with a shrapnel wound to the hip.
Enemy shellings became so intense that on 13 March, all 20 aircraft assigned to the squadron were flown to Green Island for dispersal. Two days later, the ground echelon embarked on board an LST and sailed for Green Island. For its action at Piva airstrip, the squadron received a letter of commendation from Major General Ralph J. Mitchell, Commander, Aircraft, Solomon Islands, for devotion to duty and tireless effort in maintaining operations from the airstrip during hostile shellings.
On 14 March, 1944, the squadron was assigned to MAG-14, 1st MAW. Two weeks later, the flight personnel flew to Efate Island where those pilots with three combat tours departed for duty in the U.S., and the remaining pilots left for rest and recreation (R&R) in New Zealand, Australia. The ground personnel, meanwhile, remained on Green Island servicing the planes of VMF-114. The pilots rejoined the ground echelon on 7 May 1944, relieving VMF-114.
For the next two months, the Bulldogs operated from Green Island flying escort, air-sea rescue cover, and strafing missions. The action over Rabaul again was costly to the squadron. Five pilots, First Lieutenants Raymond P. Mumme, James W. Lizer, Charles F. Inman, and Second Lieutenants John C. Perkins, Jr., and Lawrence W. Pingree, were lost between 16 May and 16 June. Flight operations on Green Island were secured on 18 June and the flight echelon left for Turtle Bay, Espiritu Santo Island. Eighteen pilots who had completed a third combat tour rotated to the U.S. while the remaining 18 pilots departed for Sydney R&R. The ground personnel, on board the SS President Tyler, departed Green Island on the 24th bound for Bougainville where they serviced planes for Marine Observation Squadron (VMO) 251. The squadron was also reassigned to MAG-24, 1st MAW.
The pilots returned to Espiritu Santo on 6 July and, with a number of new pilots assigned, began training and gunnery practice. With 20 new F4Us, the flight echelon left Espiritu Santo and joined the remainder of the squadron on 1 August. While operating from Piva “North” airstrip, VMF-223 began flying missions over New Ireland, Rataval, Rabaul, Duke of York Islands, and Cape Lambert on New Britain. Warehouses, huts, and personnel were bombed and strafed as the squadron continued in the campaign of attrition against the Japanese on Gazelle Peninsula, New Britain, and on Bougainville. Using every conceivable technique of ordnance delivery the Bulldogs bombed and strafed enemy bivouac areas, supply dumps, villages, and coastal installations throughout the Northern Solomons and Bismark Islands. On 8 December 1944, combat operations were secured and preparations were made for yet another move. Although the action of this tour was not as intense as the Bulldogs had encountered previously, another pilot, Second Lieutenant Hadley V. Baker, was killed when his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire.
After more than three weeks of preparation, the transfer began. The flight echelon took off on 8 January for Samar in the Phillipines Islands and after brief stops at Emilau, Hollandia, Owi, and Peleliu, the planes landed at Guiuan Strip, Samar. The remainder of the squadron made the trip by surface vessel arriving on 12 January 1945.
Living and operating conditions at Guiuan airstrip were poor even by Western Pacific standards. The runway was still being constructed and there was inadequate space provided for the proper dispersal of aircraft. Five planes were damaged while taking off and landing, due partly to the limited runway available and partly to pilot error. In spite of the miserable operating conditions, VMF-223 flew combat sweeps over southern Luzon, Lingayan, Cebu, Mindanao, Negros, and other islands in the Philippines.
Second Lieutenant Kenneth G. Pomasl was reported missing in action on 23 January 1945. On the afternoon of the 29th, he returned to the base by way of Baybay, Burauen, and Tacloban. The following is an account of his adventure:
On the day he became lost from his flight of four aircraft, he flew around until he was low on gas. Letting down through the overcast, he found himself over land, which later turned out to be Mactan Island off Cebu. He made a power landing in the water, one-half mile from land, and got out of the plane. After inflating his rubber boat, he climbed in and secured his backpack and shoes, which he had removed in the water, to the raft. Almost immediately, three native canoes came out to him, and Lieutenant Pomasl was transferred to one of the canoes while his rubber raft was placed on another. The Japs from Mactan Island started shooting at the party and everyone went into the water. Lieutenant Pomasl did not see his native friends after this. His raft which had fallen into the water, drifted onto the shore, and soon a Japanese soldier paddled out in it. When he came to within two hundred feet of Pomasl, he began to aim a rifle, but the pilot fired first with his .45. After exchanging several more shots the Jap paddled back to shore and was seen no more.
Lieutenant Pomasl waited until after dark before swimming into shore. When he landed on the shore, he had been in the water for more than seven hours. He went into the Jungle which came down almost to the water’s edge, and finding a place to his liking remained there all that night and the next day and the following night. He had a canteen full of water but no food, and he was plagued with mosquitoes. At noon of the second day after his landing, the 25th of January, he set out walking northward for a while, but the coral hurt his feet (he had lost his shoes with the raft) and he reversed his direction, moving south and west. After about three-fourths of a mile, he broke into a clearing around which huts were built. Soon after he was discovered by the Filipinos who took him into the Jungle again, and build a couch on which he could lie. They brought him food (eggs, boiled chicken) and he was able to make himself understood by one of the natives who spoke a little English. That night, he was transferred to a smaller island, Santa Rosa, where he was hospitably treated. A native nurse washed his flying suit and dressed the coral cuts on his feet. On the 27th he was taken to Tungu Island, and early that day the Filipinos took him in a sailboat to Baybay, then to where he was able to contact American Army Forces. He went from there to Burauen where he spent the night and the following day he returned.
Operations from Guiuan strip were characterized by many missions during which the pilots had great difficulty finding suitable targets. The few good targets remaining were protected from air attacks because they were located among the civilian communities. The Corsairs of VMF-223 continued hitting the enemy lines of communications, his harbors and escape routes. They kept his airfields useless by repeated attacks and steadily diminished his supply of motor transport equipment. From February through April 1945, the squadron flew missions in support of the Army’s Operation Victor. This operation was a series of hard-fought battles aimed at driving the well-fortified Japanese out of the Philippines. During this period, four more Bulldogs were killed in action: First Lieutenant Glenn J. Amo, and Second Lieutenants Milton H. Thompson, Roy C. Pratt, and Robert Huxham.
Preparations for another move started in May 1945. The advance echelon embarked on board an LST and sailed for the squadron’s new home in Okinawa where it joined MAG-14, 2d MAW. Meanwhile, the remaining pilots flew familiarization hops in the new F4U-4s which the squadron had received during May. The new Corsair had changes little in appearance, but it did have a larger engine giving the plane a maximum speed of 446 miles per hour, or 41 miles per hour faster than the F4U-1. The advance echelon reached the island of Okinawa on the morning of 29 May and began unloading equipment. On 11 June, 30 VMF-223 planes landed at Kadena Airfield, Okinawa, and operations began two days later. On 21 June, 10 days after Second Lieutenant Alvin H. Perry was killed when his aircraft was hit by ground fire, the squadron was able to record its first enemy aircraft shot down since February 1944. The following narrative describes the action:
Marine Attack Squadron 223 (VMA-223, nicknamed the Bulldogs) was first commissioned as Marine Fighter Squadron 223 on 1 May 1942 at Ewa, Oahu, Hawaii flying the Brewster F2A Buffalo.
The squadron left Hawaii for combat during World War II equipped with the Grumman F4F Wildcat. VMA-223 became the first fighter squadron committed to combat in the skies over Guadalcanal. The squadron’s commanding officer, Major John L. Smith, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions during the epic air battles over the Solomons. Captain Marion Carl (later Major General) also earned Ace recognition for his exploits as a Bulldog. After Guadalcanal, the squadron took their Wildcats into action over Bougainville. Following an upgrade to the new Chance- Vought F4U Corsair, the Bulldogs fought in the Philippines and Okinawa. They accounted for 146½ enemy aircraft downed during the war.
The Bulldogs entered the Jet Age in July 1950 with the F9F Panther. In August 1953 the squadron again deployed overseas to Naval Air Station (NAS) Atsugi, Japan. They operated in Japan, Korea, and Okinawa before returning to El Toro in October 1954. Shortly thereafter, the squadron was re-designated Marine Attack Squadron 223. In August 1957, the squadron transitioned to the North American F4B Fury. In January 1961, the Douglas A-4B Skyhawk replaced the Fury.
In December 1965, the Bulldogs deployed to Chu Lai, South Vietnam with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) for combat operations. The squadron flew more than 32,000 flight hours. In May 1967, the squadron flew a record 1,234 combat sorties - by far the greatest monthly total for any attack squadron operating in Vietnam.
In February 1970, after nearly five and a half years in the Far East, the Bulldogs transferred to 3d MAW at MCAS El Toro. In May 1975, the squadron received the new A-4M Skyhawk.
In July 1976, the squadron returned to Asia as part of 1st MAW in Iwakuni, Japan. In the year that followed, the Bulldogs honed their attack skills through participation in multinational exercises with Australian, New Zealand, and South Korean armed forces. As a forward deployed unit, the Bulldogs were a key part of America’s first line of defense.
During August 1977, VMA-223 returned from Japan and joined 2d MAW stationed at MCAS Cherry Point. The Bulldogs formed the backbone of the wing’s Unit Deployment Plan (UDP) contingents. This resulted in multiple six-month deployments to Japan in addition to exercises in the U.S. The Bulldogs had the distinction of being the last operational A-4M squadron on the East Coast. In October 1987, VMA-223 transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II.
In January 1991, the Bulldogs deployed a six-plane detachment to NAS Rota, Spain, for contingency operations in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM. The detachment remained at Rota through February, training with the Spanish military.
Introduction of the new night systems/radar-equipped AV-8B Harrier II Plus in 1994 did not slow the pace for the Bulldogs. The squadron continued to deploy Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable [MEU(SOC)] detachments throughout this period of high operational tempo.
From 1999 to 2001 the squadron participated in joint exercises including a full squadron deployment to Greece and a deployment aboard USS Bataan (LHD-5) to the Caribbean.
The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks reaffirmed the nation’s need for a force in readiness and VMA-223 was once again at the tip of the spear. Following a brief stop in Egypt to hone their combat skills during Exercise BRIGHT STAR, the 26th MEU(SOC) and its attached Bulldog Harriers repositioned to the Arabian Gulf for combat missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. These pilots became the first Bulldogs to fly combat missions since the Vietnam War. Simultaneously they proved the night systems capabilities of the Harrier.
In January 2003, the squadron (minus) received orders to deploy aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) as part of the 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2d MEB). Arriving in the Northern Arabian Gulf in mid-February, VMA-223 personnel transferred, while underway, to the USS Bataan to join VMA-542 as part of the East Coast “Harrier Carrier” attached to 3d MAW.
From 5 to 18 March the squadron participated in Operations SOUTHERN WATCH and SOUTHERN FORCE over Southern Iraq. These sorties consisted of intelligence collection with the Litening II Targeting Pod and presence missions to enforce United Nations resolutions. With the outbreak of hostilities on 19 March, Bulldog pilots were in the attack, conducting airborne interdiction, armed reconnaissance, and Close Air Support (CAS) in support of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), and later the Army’s V Corps as part of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. VMA-223 utilized Forward Operating Bases at Al Jabbar, Kuwait, and later An Numiniyah, Iraq, along with aerial refueling to strike targets in excess of 400 miles from the ship. Bulldog pilots released 87,500 pounds of precision-guided ordnance during the conflict.
VMA-223 squadron (minus) returned from Operation IRAQI FREEDOM in June 2003. Meanwhile the squadron’s detachment with the 26th MEU (SOC) supported Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and participated in support and stability operations in Liberia. On 30 April 2003, with the entire squadron deployed aboard ship, VMA-223 became the first AV-8B squadron to reach 50,000 mishap-free flight hours.
Prior to redeploying to Iraq, VMA-223 formed a Landing Force 6th Fleet (LF6F) detachment as part of the 22nd MEU. Ironically, this detachment would rejoin the squadron (minus) at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq shortly after it deployed in November 2005. From there, the Bulldogs provided Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), CAS, convoy escort, raid overwatch, and helicopter escort to II MEF across Iraq’s al-Anbar province. The Bulldogs were airborne, providing air coverage during two pivotal moments in Iraqi history – the Iraqi Constitutional Referendum vote in October 2005 and the national parliamentary elections held in December 2005. During the deployment VMA-223 flew over 1,700 sorties, logged over 4,700 flight hours, and employed over 14.5 tons of precision-guided ordnance in intense urban combat. The squadron also surpassed 60,000 Class A mishap-free flight hours in February 2006, another first for a Harrier squadron.
Squadron honors include the Presidential Unit Citation with three Gold Stars, the Navy Unit Commendation with Two Bronze Stars, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Streamer with one Silver Star, the World War II Victory Streamer, the Navy Occupation Service Streamer with “Asia” and “Europe”, the National Defense Service Streamer with three Bronze Stars, the Korean Service Streamer, the Vietnam Service Streamer with Two Silver Stars, the Iraq Campaign Streamer, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Streamer, the Global War on Terrorism Service Streamer, the Philippine Liberation Streamer with one Bronze Star, The Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer, and the Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Civil Actions Streamer.
Squadron awards include the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Safety Award (1965, 1966, 1967, 1975, 1977, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004), the Marine Corps Aviation Association’s (MCAA) Lawton H.M. Sanderson Trophy for Marine Attack Squadron of the Year (1999, 2000 and 2002), the MCAA Pete Ross Safety Award (2005), the 2d MAW Commanding General’s Ground Safety Award (2001 and 2002), the Commanding General II Marine Expeditionary Force Unit Ground Safety Award (2002), and the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Safety Award (Category IV) for ground safety excellence (2002), the inaugural Marine Corps James L. Jones Safety Award (2003), the Department of the Navy Safety Excellence Award (2003), the Navy League Award for Aviation Safety (2004), and Mishap-free flight hour awards from Boeing Corporation (10,000 through 60,000 hours).