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F6F-3 Hellcat of VF-2 “Rippers“ Crashes on USS Enterprise (CV-6)

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Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, (February 19, 1914 – February 4, 1990) steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska (May 19, 1920 – February 20, 2005) to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson, attached to Fighter Squadron VF-2 (The “Rippers“) had flown out to USS Enterprise (CV-6) from Barbers Point, Hawaii with thirty-seven other Hellcats of VF-2. Enterprise, part of Task Group 50.2, Carrier Division 11 (with USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), USS Monterey (CVL-25), USS Indiana (BB-58) and USS North Carolina (BB-55) and three destroyers) under Rear Admiral Arthur W. Radford, was enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson‘s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk near 20 mm (.78 caliber) Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson‘s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety. While Johnson escaped unscathed, Ensign S. S. Osbourne had to ditch while waiting for Hellcat Number 30 to clear the flight deck. USS Brown (DD-546) picked Osbourne up. Both Hellcats (Bureau Numbers 25974 and 25985) were a total loss. Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions. The commander of VF-2‘s Air Group, famed fighter pilot Edward “Butch“ O‘Hare (March 13, 1914 – November 26, 1943) recommended that night that all pilots drop their external tank before landing to prevent such an accident repeating. Johnson, a graduate of Wesleyan (Class of 1937), joined the Navy three months after Pearl Harbor. After flight training in Kansas City, Kansas and Corpus Christi, Texas, Johnson received his Pilot‘s Wings in April 1943 in Pensacola, Florida. Remaining with VF-2, Johnson shot down eight Japanese planes over Iwo Jima in 1945. Johnson won the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, eight air medals and numerous other awards. His cousin, Robert Arthur Johnson, died in the German Ardennes Offensive in 1944. After the war, Johnson became a lawyer, serving as County Attorney and Public Defender of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise‘s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise‘s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea“ on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.
Image Filename wwii1272.jpg
Image Size 3.19 MB
Image Dimensions 2947 x 2348
Photographer Unknown
Photographer Title
Caption Author
Date Photographed November 10, 1943
Location USS Enterprise (CV-6)
City USS Enterprise (CV-6)
State or Province Hawaii
Country Pacific Ocean
Archive National Archives and Records Administration
Record Number 80-G-205473
Status Caption ©2007, ©2024 MFA Productions LLC
Image in the Public Domain

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