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  • Writer's pictureMike Sovelius

Raven Squadron

Raven Squadron by 3 Pooches Publishing
Raven Squadron (Supernatural)

The wind kicked up the sea spray over the bow of the ship as the USS Enterprise prepared for flight operations. The sun had not reached the apex of the day. Noise from maintenance crew moving aircraft on the flight deck and aircraft engines spooling up for a mission interrupted the tranquility.

“What are you doing next to my dive bomber?”

A sailor, kneeling and facing East, did not respond as Ensign Valletta approached in his stained flight gear. The sailor made the sign of the cross before standing.

“Aviation Radioman 3rd class (ARM3c) Powers sir,” the sailor said.

The sailor held his salute as the wind increased over the deck of the ship. Valletta struggled to remain upright in the wind and returned the salute.

“You did not answer my question.”

Valletta scribbled some notes before securing the flight log in a fuselage compartment.

“Sir, I completed the pref-light checks on our Dauntless SBD-3 dive bomber.”

Valletta checked the dive flaps and other aircraft control surfaces.

“Our Dauntless? I thought you were a lost chaplain assistant. You, my gunner?”

Powers observed the pilot conducting a thorough pre-flight check of the aircraft.

“Yes, sir.”

Other sailors stared at the pilot and gunner before returning to their combat tasks.

“Can you fold your quarter back frame into the cramped gunner’s cockpit?” Valletta asked.

Powers picked up several heavy ammo cans for the twin machine guns at the aft of the aircraft.

“You're lucky they assigned me to you instead of others from my choir, whom are far taller than I am,” Powers said.

Valleta checked his watch and shrugged.

“I don’t care about your singing group or personal life. All I care about is you can keep your head and conserve ammo. Understood?”

“Understood Sir.”

Powers conducted a functions check on the machine guns before loading the ammunition.

“You still have time to grab chow while the ordnance crew loads the bombs. We have a long five-hour mission today.” Valletta said.

Powers looked beyond the horizon after stowing extra ammunition.

“Did the task force locate the Japanese?” Powers asked.

Valletta glanced at Powers and saw him making the sign of the cross.

“PBY Catalina search planes from Midway island found the Japs. You would have known the answer if you attended the briefing this morning. Powers, I don’t want any of that superstition around my aircraft, understood?”

Powers rose to his full height in the aft cockpit. His frame cast a shadow over Valleta.

“Yes, sir.”

“You have the liberty to do whatever you want when your’re off duty. In my dive bomber, I need you focused on your job. Cover our six with the machine guns, monitor the radios, and look for enemy ships. I’m the only one who can bring us back to the carrier.”

Powers sat down in the aft cockpit and took a deep breath, recalling battles from the past.

“I am going to skip chow and help the deck crew push our aircraft in position for takeoff,” Powers said.

The flight of four Dauntless dive bombers part of a larger attack group of 36 dive bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise continued towards the last known location of the Japanese fleet. Valletta flew as the squadron commander’s wingman during the mission.

“Powers, have you located any ship wakes, or smoke on the horizon to indicate we are searching the correct sector?”

The gunner kept a vigilant watch.

“Negative sir, good visibility in all directions and no sign of the enemy fleet,” Powers said.

He swiveled his chair to face aft and checked the dual .30 caliber M1919 Browning machine guns, providing aft defense for the dive bomber.

“We should have seen some smoke from the enemy ships by now. Either the intel on the Japs is wrong or the enemy shot the torpedo bombers down before they could complete their mission.”

Powers scanned the sky above them, looking for enemy combat air patrols protecting the enemy fleet.

“If they shot down the torpedo bombers, we have a brief window before the combat air patrol fighters regain their altitude,” Powers said.

Valletta checked their location and the unconfirmed coordinates of the Japanese fleet on his Mark 3A plotting board. A critical piece of navigational kit before GPS.

“I agree,” Valletta said.

The altimeter rotated clockwise as Valletta pulled back on the control stick in the cockpit.

“Sir, the flight leader ordered us to change course from the current heading and search a different sector.”

The dive bomber broke formation and climbed in altitude on the current heading.

“If the Battle of the Coral Sea taught me anything, it was to trust my gut. Ignore that radio chatter,” Valletta said.

The dive bomber continued to climb, despite the orders from the squadron commander to return to the formation.

“Sir, is the rumor true you were a fighter pilot before receiving orders for the USS Enterprise?”

The cloud cover dissipated, allowing a greater view of the expanse of the ocean below the dive bomber.

“My flight training at Pensacola was in the Dauntless. The Navy reassigned me to fly the F4F Wildcat fighter while aboard the USS Lexington. The Navy scuttled the Lexington after the Battle of the Coral Sea and all aircrews were reassigned to new squadrons. I guess my updated flight records never made it to this squadron,” Valletta said.

“Contact sir port side looks like a lone destroyer moving fast,” Powers said.

The lone ship’s wake etched a brilliant white streak across the calm ocean, pointing in the direction of the enemy fleet.

“Roger, good contact. Report the location to the squadron commander. I bet the destroyer is making its way back to the Japanese carriers after checking on a sonar contact, and don’t forget your oxygen mask.”

Powers did not put on his oxygen mask and instead scanned the ocean for more Japanese ships.

“Powers, break radio silence! Three Japanese aircraft carriers sighted. Report their location, heading and speed. The squadron commander can thank us later for saving his reputation,” Valletta said.

The lone Dauntless dive bomber leveled off at 20,000 feet before Valetta increased the engine RPMS and prepared for a steep 80 degree dive.

“Take a gander at the flight deck. The Japanese are refueling and rearming the previous strike force,” Powers said.

How can he see the details of the ships? Valetta thought, squinting at the enemy fleet in the distance.

“You think you can handle a dive run facing aft and manning the machine guns instead of calling off altitude for me?” Valetta asked.

The target aircraft carrier disappeared under the nose of the aircraft.

“If you can line up the moving target, work the rudder pedals, correct the speed, heading and dive angle, monitor the altimeter, keep track of the moving target all while avoiding a blackout from the high g-forces, I am ready to fend off the Japanese.”

I admire his initiative, Valetta thought.

“All normal flying to me. You keep a sharp lookout for the Japanese fighter planes when I pull out of the dive, as we will be the most vulnerable because of our depleted speed.”

Valetta selected the low blower setting on the engine supercharger and deployed the perforated dive flaps on the wings to prevent the airspeed from exceeding the limits of the airplane.

“See you on the other side, Powers,” as he pushed the stick forward.

Dive bombing from 20,000 feet was like an extreme roller coaster, with one critical difference. Angry sailors on the enemy ships were firing thousands of rounds, attempting to knock you off course from the precise dive vector. If the sailors were unsuccessful marksman, they would receive a 1000 lb bomb that could sink the ship.

“Sir, the Squadron Commander acknowledges our report and is vectoring to the Japanese fleet.”

The extreme dive angle caused loose items to float in the rear cockpit, but Powers remained anchored to his seat during the dive bombing run on the enemy aircraft carrier.

“Sir, the flight of dive bombers is lining up for their attack runs,” Powers said.

Our dive run will engulf the lead carrier in flames. If fortune favors us, the other carriers will be infernos surrounded by water. A fitting juxtaposition for the enemy, Valleta thought.

The dive bomber shuddered under the strain of extreme gravity as the dive angle increased and tested the design of the aircraft and stamina of the crew. The Japanese sailors manning the anti-aircraft guns could not get a bead on the dive bomber as it plunged from 20 thousand feet in 40 seconds. Ominous puffs of black smoke from the flack were exploding around the dive bomber, sending jagged metal fragments through the air that could tear through the aluminum fuselage or human flesh.

“Outstanding flying, sir! The bomb caused an enormous hole in the ship. The deck plates peeled upward in grotesque configurations from the explosion. Severed aircraft are engulfed in flames on the flight deck. Black smoke is belching from the fuel and ammunition in the below hangar decks.”

Powers’ calm voice and even breathing cadence were unnerving to Valletta as his muscles strained to pull the aircraft out of a 9g dive at 1500 feet above the water. His 200 lbs felt like 1800 lbs and his eyes glazed over as he teetered on the brink of unconsciousness. He remained alert but blind until the plane leveled off at 500 ft.

“You ok Powers? Any damage to our aircraft?” Valetta asked, ripping off his oxygen mask and gasping for air from experiencing six times the force of gravity during the dive bombing run.

Powers checked the control surfaces of the aircraft, unconcerned with his own health.

“All good back here, sir. The Japanese missed us.”

Three Japanese fighters, alerted by the intense flack barrage around the lone dive bomber “jinking” back and forth above the ocean, vectored towards the enemy.

“Sir. 3 Japanese Zeroes are diving towards us from 3 o’clock high!”

Valletta made a hard turn in one direction, held for a few seconds, and then turned hard in another direction to avoid the anti-aircraft guns.

“We can distract them from the other dive bombers. Fend them off with the machine guns while I gain some altitude.”

The Japanese Zeroes were maneuverable and designed to shoot down aircraft like the Dauntless. Their weaknesses were lack of armor to protect the pilot and no radios to coordinate operations.

“Sir, splash one Zero! The other two are lining up for another run,” Powers said, traversing the dual machine guns to engage the other targets.

A kill already from this distance. How is that even possible? Valletta thought.

The Dauntless continued to gain altitude while the flak dissipated as the Japanese sailors aimed their guns at the incoming dive bombers, confident their fighter pilots would finish the lone dive bomber.

The sound of bullets slamming into his aircraft jarred Valetta from his brief gaze fixated on the Japanese Zero, with black smoke streaming from its engine and a red-stained canopy plunging towards the ocean.

“Sir, you OK?” Powers asked with an even voice as the burst of accurate machine gun fire peppered a third zero, attempting to line up on their six.

Valletta ignored the question and pulled the trigger on the dual machine guns nestled in the engine cowl as the second zero made the fatal mistake of crossing in front of them.

“Good kill. His engine is spewing oil, and the pilot is slumped over in the cockpit,” Powers said.

Valletta banked hard left, diving towards the ocean to gain critical speed in a dogfight. The dive bomber creaked and groaned from the aggressive instincts of a fighter pilot.

“Sir, the third Zero is coming up fast from our low 4 o’clock position,” Powers said.

Despite his best efforts to spoil the setup of the attacking zero, Valetta’s dive bomber lacked the speed and agility of the Japanese fighter. The dive bomber shuddered from the bullets peppering the cockpits and severing part of the hydraulic system.

“Sir, two fireballs on the other flattops,” Powers said.

The explosions from Valetta’s squadron’s bombs distracted the attacking enemy fighter pilot and gave Powers enough time to traverse the machine guns.

“Sir, splashed the third Zero!”

The oil pressure and hydraulic gauges fluctuated. Valletta felt a searing pain in his left arm as he plotted a course for their aircraft carrier.

“Good shooting, Powers! Let’s hope our guys make it back to our carrier!"

The dive bomber leveled off close to the shark-infested Pacific Ocean. Valetta closed the dive-flaps, opened the cowl flaps and nursed the throttle to extract the most power from the engine.

Please hold together, baby. I don’t want to ditch in these waters, he thought, tapping the fuel gauge.

“Powers, I am not detecting the Morse code signal from the Enterprise. Can you check the receiver?”

Valetta pulled back on the stick to gain altitude, desperate to acquire the homing beacon signal while he scanned the skies for enemy combat air patrols.

“Sir, the receiver took a machine gun round during the dogfight and the radios are inoperable.”

Blood seeped through Valetta’s flight suit.

“Great, I’ll use dead reckoning to get us back to the carrier. Get those radios back online and give me an ammo status.”

Dead reckoning is a horrible expression, Valetta thought as he removed the navigation board nestled in the instrument panel and plotted the time, distance and heading for a course back to the carrier.

“Sir, we are black on ammo, and our radios will need to visit the shack for some depot level maintenance before they will work.”

Valetta adjusted his heading towards what he believed was the location of the carrier. He had enough fuel to get them home and might have a surplus if the winds remained calm.

“Outstanding job fending off the Japs. Stow the guns for landing. Without ammo, they are useless. I am going to recommend you for a commendation. The threat now is running out of fuel before we can land.”

Powers obeyed the orders and closed his eyes.

“You better not be praying back there. I am in control and not going to ditch in the ocean for poor navigation.”

“Sir, smoke on the horizon. No need to adjust your heading. I can see our aircraft carrier,” Powers said.

Valletta checked the fuel gauge, dipping into the uncomfortable empty zone. Even if they ditched close to the carrier, they still might not survive.

“How can you see that far? I have 20-20 vision and there is nothing on the horizon?”

The silhouettes of the ships in the carrier group were visible five minutes after Powers spotted the unique signature of the Enterprise aircraft carrier built in the 1930s.

“Sir, I see things no mortals can comprehend. Maybe you need to get your eyes checked, Powers said with a mischievous laugh.”

Valletta removed the checklist for landing and flipped to the landing procedure section. He had it memorized, but pilots trained to trust the checklist for takeoff and landing.

“While your vision may be superior, my flying and navigation skills can get us back to the carrier. Now prepare for landing, so we can get this bird ready for another mission,” Valetta said.

The massive floating city disguised as a ship with a runway came into view as Valetta lined up for the approach.

“Fuel pump on-check. Flaps down-check. Prop full forward-check. Landing gear down, negative!” Valetta said.

Despite the landing gear control lever in the correct position, the instrument panel indicated the landing gear did not deploy for landing.

“We have a problem, Powers. This is going to be a bumpy landing without our landing gears.”

Powers checked the landing gear indicator on his instrument panel and confirmed the wheels did not deploy.

“The Landing Signals Officer (LSO) on deck motioned us with the paddles to drop speed but did not order a wave off. The deck crew are not preparing for a crash landing, sir,” Powers said.

The left-side cockpit lever failed to engage and deploy the tail hook. Valetta used both hands, but it would not budge. Blood seeped from his left arm onto the control panel.

“That makes no sense. I am going to flyover the carrier so they can see our aircraft's two major issues,” Valetta said.

The LSO continued to provide minor corrections for a routine landing for the approaching dive bomber.

“Don’t panic now. Trust in something besides yourself. The LSO can see what you can’t,” Powers said.

The deck crew showed no signs of preparing for a crash landing.

“I am not panicking. Forget what I said about your outdated beliefs. It's time to pray,” Valetta said.

The dive bomber snagged the number three arresting wire across the deck at 80 miles per hour and came to a stop. Valletta shut off the engine and collapsed in the cockpit.

“Sir, we were not expecting you to be cleared for flight,” the crew chief said.

“Well, my headache is gone, and the medics stopped my arm from leaking. I'm left with no option but to rejoin the fight."

The crew chief shook his head in disbelief at the pilot in the blood-soaked uniform.

“We can have a new dive bomber for you soon,” the crew chief said.

Valletta knocked his Naval Academy ring on the cowl of the dive bomber.

“What is wrong with the one I landed on deck?”

The crew chief handed the pilot a clipboard with his damage assessment.

“Your dive bomber is going to be scavenged for parts,” the crew chief said.

 “I don’t know how you deployed the landing gear or tail hook. The Jap bullets shredded the hydraulics. It's incredible you returned to the carrier with an engine full of Jap lead and no fluids.”

The crew chief led Valetta to the aft of the dive bomber while pointing out the damage.

“If you can’t believe flying with all the mechanical damage to the aircraft was a miracle, this is beyond anything I have witnessed repairing damaged aircraft,” the crew chief said, pointing at the gunner’s cockpit.

“There is no blood. The bullet holes go through the gunner’s seat and everything else back here,” Valetta said.

The armored bulkhead saved me from instant death, Valetta thought.

“There should be a corpse with blood splattered everywhere, but the only body removed from the aircraft was yours after you passed out from the loss of blood,” the crew chief said.

An object caught Valetta’s attention while inspecting the cockpit.

“Who did you say your gunner was?” the crew chief asked.

Valetta picked up a rosary from the bullet-riddled seat and placed it in his pocket.

“Aviation Radioman 3rd class Powers.”

The crew chief looked up from his damage assessment report with an arched eyebrow.

“Powers? He is not even on the ship. He does not report for duty until we are back at Pearl Harbor.”

The ship turned into the wind, preparing to launch another sortie of aircraft.

“Go get some rest. You're in no condition to fly, sir.”

Valetta noticed Powers standing on the side of the flight deck. Valetta was about to point him out to the crew chief but stopped in disbelief as white wings unfurled from Power’s back before he dove over the side of the ship.

Thank You for Reading,

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Feb 17
Rated 4 out of 5 stars.

Enjoyed the historical adventure!

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