History of John W. Padberg, my Grandfather.
In January, 1941 of that fateful & infamous year, John W. Padberg was sitting in the Delta house at the University of Oklahoma, lamenting the fact he had failed the Navy pre-flight exam in Oklahoma City. But, being determined to get in, a few days later he attempted the exam once more and passed.
He was then sent to Dallas, TX for the bigger exam. After passing, He was sent home and told to report to the Naval Air Station in Grand Prairie, TX on July 1, 1941. After settling in, he started getting acquainted with his comrades and it was here he learned about Texans. "They are different on purpose, they wish to be different, they work at being different and greatly succeed."
"We all soon became aware the N.A.S Grand Prairie, TX was what the Navy termed an "elimination base" where we were given 10 flight hours of duel inspection and then had to pass a
solo flight. Pass and you were sent to cadet training. Fail, and you were sent home, a fate I feared all the way through training until that glorious day in May of 1942 when I finally received my wings."
He graduated as a dive bomber pilot but never flew a dive bomber in combat, and instead was assigned to the brand new TBFs which he learned to respect and depend upon during his 186 combat missions flown during WWII. The Squadron was formed at N.A.S Norfolk, VA with 27 other aviators, only three of which were alive at the surrender of Japan.
"We worked seven day weeks while learning the personality of the new, lovely, and dependable TBFs. We had lost several pilots and aircrew killed in training accidents. We practiced landing on carriers on the training flat top USS Charger operating in Chesapeake Bay. We then flew to Philadelphia to get some practice on the catapult at the Navy yard."
"We first tasted combat in November, 1942 during Operation Torch when we covered and supported the landing of forces in Morocco in North Africa. During this campaign our carrier, the U.S.S. Santee, came under attack by unfriendly submarines and had to change speed and course drastically and as a result, when the strike group of aircraft returned, the carrier was not there. We were of course low on fuel, so we headed for land which was Morocco just south of Casablanca near a place called Safi. There was a very small grass runway near there so approximately 15 large, heavy war planes attempted to land there in the gathering darkness. The field was soft from recent rain so most of us landed and nosed over in the soft grassy surface and spent the night in a small wooden shack on the field. Some snipers kept us alert all night by shooting into the shack. Next day about noon we found some friendly forces that somehow got in touch with our carrier who sent PT boats to pick up the bedraggled aviators and gave us a rough ride back to the ship. Since the majority of her birds were wrecked on the beach, the carrier headed back to Norfolk, VA."
"After getting replacement aircraft we headed south to rid the Atlantic of the submarine menace. We left Norfolk, VA the day after Christmas and returned from our submarine blasting around the middle of July. We would search an area approximately 1,000 mile wide each day by sending sub search planes out on each side of the carrier for 500 miles. One day it was near the end of his last leg and he was about to turn and head back for the ship when he came upon a surfaced sub apparently charging her batteries. He promptly made a strafing run on the sub and she submerged. I then dropped the sound seeking torpedo right in the wake of the enemy submarine and saw the explosion "slick" come to the surface, so I scratched another Nazi submarine on the plane."
"After this cruise, our squadron was broken up because we had many experienced pilots and the Navy was forming new air groups to man the new carriers being deployed in the Pacific."
They bombed and strafed their way across the great Pacific with Lieutenant Comander Padberg leading a good number of the attacks conducted by Torpedo Squadron 85.
On July 28th 1945, the target for Torpedo Squadron 85 was the Japanese Battleship Haruna, moored near Kure harbor. This is the attack that awarded him the Navy Cross.
"After the morning's briefing, we were to take part in the U.S fleet air attack on the Japanese fleet in the inland sea of Japan. This amounted to a coordinated strafing, dive bombing and torpedo bomb attack approximately 200 miles away from our ships by 240 to 300 carrier aircraft."
"The fighters were F-4U Corsairs, a stunningly beautiful aircraft in flight, the dive bombers were SB2C Helldivers and the torpedo planes were TBF Avengers. Ours were manned by excruciatingly well trained, precision flying pilots and air crewmen."
"The rendezvous was accomplished without incident. Each air group joined together and joined the main fleet air group 25 to 30 miles away from the enemy fleet over the leading or picket ship of the task force. The large group would then head for Japan, increasing in altitude to 15,000 ft. It was reassuring to note the U.S subs stationed every few miles en route to our combat target. The formation flight to the target was a time for mental review of the plan of attack and rendezvous point after the attack."
"The weather over the Japanese Islands was usually rainy and cloudy in the summer and made finding targets a challenge at times. This morning the overcast/undercast being slightly less thick made finding our targets easier for us and also made the Japanese anti-aircraft gunfire more effective. No one has successfully accused the Japanese of being stupid but we thought that they outdid themselves when they came up with the idea of different tracer shells for every major ship in their Navy. That's when we went into our attack. The sky was suddenly filled with beautifully colored bursts. There would be vivid green, bright blue, startling orange, and lipstick red and so forth, so each ship's gunners could tell where their shots were going. A lovely sight to see until it came time to make your bombing run. all aviators, I think share a common thought, and that is, after the bombs/torpedoes/rockets are launched it's time for a maneuver called let's get the heck out of here."
"It is a great relief for those who are still airborne to join up, count heads and return to the carrier and for those whose planes have been hit and damaged during the strike, the knowledge that the U.S subs are on station for rescue operations is a great comfort. The flight back to the ship is an occasion to breathe deep, count your blessings, and wonder what happened to your squadron mates who are missing and to get settled down for the ultimate thrill of a carrier landing."
"I had followed this routine with variations for 186 times which explained why some days, I felt much older then my 26 years...
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to John William Padberg, Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Torpedo Plane in Torpedo Bombing Squadron Eighty-Five (VTB-85), attached to the U.S.S Shangri-La (CV-38), during action against enemy Japanese Fleet units at Kure, Japan, 28 July 1945. Despite intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire from heavy combat ships and shore batteries, Lieutenant Padberg courageously pressed home a low altitude bombing attack and scored two direct hits with five hundred pound bombs on the enemy battleship Haruna, causing serious damage. His skillful airmanship, intrepid spirit and unwavering devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Incredibly, of those two bombs that landed on the battleship, one of them went down the smoke stack of the ship and into the boiler room and exploded. It might be safe to say of the many direct hits the battleship Haruna sustained that this was the one that was the biggest blow.
"During the time between the ending of combat and treaty signing with Japan, search and patrol flights were flown around the clock. There was a gigantic armada of combat ships arranged close to the Japanese home islands and considering the Navy's experience during the final weeks of the shooting war with suicide missions flown by Japan, it would have been foolish for us not to protect the fleet. On a patrol one morning during this time, I was assigned a patrol area which took me quite close to Honshu and the Naval air station on Tokyo Bay. I decided to do a touch and go landing on the Imperial Japanese naval air station at Yokosuka. After a normal wheels and flaps down approach to the runway, touched down and took off again out over the bay. A small boat with a large sail was proceeding across the bay, so in the spirit of friendliness and peace I waggled my wings to the lone occupant of the small boat we called a Sampan. The sailor in the boat promptly stood up and shook his fist at the U.S. torpedo bomber. So, I pulled up my wheels and made a left turn around the bay and flew back over the Sampan at practically water level. When I approached the Sampan, I pulled up to avoid collision and at the same time pushed my prop into low pitch and opened the throttle which produced a powerful prop wash which when striking the sail on the boat, caused it to capsize
in the water."
"My final flight in the Pacific was on that great and glorious day on September 2nd 1945 when the peace was official. It was in some ways the most dangerous flight I had flown. Every U.S. Army Air Corps plane of whatever size from fighters to bombers, plus all the Navy and Marine fighting aircraft both carrier and land based attempted to fly over the USS Missouri at 1000 hours at 1500ft from every direction at various speeds. It is still a mystery to me how there were not any mid-air collisions. A harry flight indeed and one that would make any sane person want to turn in his wings."