Our First Night Flight


by Jarvis R. Jennings (1916 -1987)

We'd made a few takeoffs in dark before dawn

And we'd landed in late evening dusk

But scheduling landings at night aboard ship

Was considered a little too brusque.

We hunted for submarines out on the sea.

They were staying submerged in the day.

They'd hide under water all day as we flew.

At night time they'd hunt for their prey.

The only solution to finding the subs

Was searching by round the clock flight.

A four hour endurance on aircraft we flew

Meant landing on shipboard at night.

One pilot had flown the same plane for three weeks

And never found anything wrong,

But now he'd discovered a hole in the wing.

(The night was too dark and too long).

"It won't hurt a thing," said Cmdr. Dick Kane.

"It was there when the aircraft was made."

The pilot reluctantly went on the flight

Though still just a little afraid.

He made a long search and was nearly back home,

Just twelve minutes out from the ship.

When there on his radar in front of his eyes

Was an enemy submarine blip.

With depth charges ready, he made the attack.

(I'm sorry to say that he missed.)

But what are those flashes? The sub's shooting back

Projectiles as big as his fist.

The plane seems to shudder; they've hit the port wing.

The shrapnel spreads out a yard square.

the aircraft flies smoothly, as good as before.

the incident seems just a scare.

With depth bombs expended and fuel running low

He heads for out flat top once more.

He smoothed the plane in on the flight deck that night

Like a landing in daylight ashore.

Ignoring the forty more holes in his wing

And the caution shown early that night,

He said, "Get those bombs loaded and gas this thing quick.

"I'm going back out on a flight."

Lt. "Stretch" Jennings was the first LSO (landing signal officer) to flag in scheduled night landings at sea. He received a citation for his efforts that began on a clear April night in the North Atlantic in 1944.

These were long before the days of lighted wands and the high technology used today.

While on assignment aboard the USS Guadalcanal, a German U-505 submarine was captured by the carrier and taken in tow.

The Guadalcanal could only make seven knots without snapping the tow cable.

Aircraft went from landing in 30 knots of wind to considerably less.

Taking the submarine in tow did not interfere with flight operations and the demise of the U-505 was kept secret from the enemy during the 15 days it took to tow her over the open sea to Bermuda.

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