A Scrappy Plane

Back Up Next

One of the pleasures of maintaining this website is receiving an occasional message out of the blue from one of the Santa Fe crewmembers, or more often, from one of their children.  On May 29, 2003, I received a note from Mary Grace Kobey, daughter of Arthur Edward "Granny" Hickman, who once served as a radioman on the Santa Fe's Kingfisher spotter planes.  Hickman performed a remarkable feat aboard a Kingfisher at Iwo Jima, and his story is told vividly in Steve Jackson's book, "Lucky Lady." 

Now Mary has provided an interesting angle on the story -- a photocopy of one page that appeared in the March, 1945, issue of Flying Magazine.  The company that built the Kingfisher floats, EDO Aircraft Corporation of Long Island, New York, used her father's story in a commercial advertisement.  Here is a picture of the ad, with the text printed clearly below:

 

Text of the advertisement:

Scrappy Float Plane Downs Jap Zero

In a recent engagement against Jap-occupied Iwo Jima, a KINGFISHER Observation Scout Seaplane (0S2U) had been catapulted off a United States cruiser [USS Santa Fe] to direct Naval gunfire.

Circling over the island in full view of an enemy airfield, Lieutenant Robert W. Hendershott, U.S.N.R., of Bend, Oregon, pilot of the lightly armed little float plane, calmly proceeded to fulfill his hazardous but vitally important mission.

The slow-cruising Kingfisher looked like an easy mark to the Nip’s nest of Zero fighters.  Hardly had the surface vessels begun their bombardment, when Hendershott’s Observer, Arthur E. Hickman, Aviation Radioman, second class, U.S.N.R., of Denver, Colorado, spotted three Zeros spiraling up.

Rapidly gaining altitude, the enemy planes opened fire on the Kingfisher from below.  The lead attacker made a stern approach.  Hickman, crouching over his light machine gun, coolly bided his time and as the fast, heavily armed Zero came within range, let go with a perfectly aimed burst into its engine.

Hickman’s bullets must have killed the Jap pilot.  For the Zero roared on in – sheared off the Kingfisher’s starboard wing tip – and crashed into the sea.

The second Zero came on.  Its bullets ripped through the Kingfisher’s fuselage within inches of the Navy pilot’s legs.  The oil tank was punctured.  Hot oil spurted over the windshield and cockpit.

Again and again, the two fast and highly maneuverable Jap fighters slammed at the crippled Kingfisher.  The fuselage was completely riddled.  Finally, Pilot Hendershott maneuvered his plane within reach of the protecting screen of U.S. destroyers and cruisers – and the Jap fliers pulled away!

Score:  One Edo float equipped Navy Seaplane damaged.  One latest-type Zero knocked into the sea.  Two other Zeros badly baffled by a non-combatant observation plane manned by two very combat-minded Navy men.  The Japs should file a complaint!

EDO FLOAT GEAR
Serves the United Nations

 EDO AIRCRAFT CORPORATION
415 Second St., College Point, L.I., N.Y

 

First-Hand Account

Now here's the story written immediately after the event by Hendershott.  Thanks to Jerry Buzanoski for obtaining the account from the National Archives and providing it to me.  I scanned the original three-page document into a word processing document and copied it here.  I hope I caught all the scanning errors.

Bill Anderson

 

U.S.S. SANTA FE

Senior Aviator's Comment

At 1420 K, 4 July 1944, p52U-3 (Bu.#5363) was catapulted from the U.S.S. SANTA FE for a primary mission of spotting gunfire for the SANTA FE. The plane was piloted by Lt. (jg) R.ZWF. Hendershott, USNR, and Hickman, A.E. ARM2c, USNR was the gunner. The SANTA FE was a part of a bombardment group composed of CruDiv 13 plus the U.S.S. DENVER and escorting destroyers. The mission of this group was the bombardment of the airstrip and installations on Iwo Jima.

We arrived on spotting station at approximately 1435 K, at an altitude of 3500 feet and 3 miles east of Two Jima. At this altitude, I was just above the cloud cover and had an excellent view of Iwo Jima. During this time, I was accompanied by a Kingfisher from the U.S.S. BILOXI.

At 1445 K, two F6F's from our combat air patrol flew down close to us from above,. apparently letting us know that they were covering us. The knowledge that these F6F's were giving us supposedly close cover nearly proved fatal for my gunner and myself a few minutes later.

The radio operator on the ship notified me that firing would commence in eight minutes, and I carefully noted the time. It was 1450. Almost at the same instant, enemy anti-aircraft batteries commenced shooting at my plane and I moved away from the area to the eastward for a few minutes to get out of range. As I turned my plane away, Hickman informed me on ICS that three Jap fighters were taking off from the southern runway on Iwo Jima. I told Hickman to keep me informed as to their position. The SANTA FE opened fire on the southern end of the runway, with the main battery, at approximately 1500 K. The cloud cover was between me and the Island; consequently, I could give no observation. Hickman informed me that the Jap fighters were below us spiraling up, The SANTA FE fired its second main battery salvo and I was still not in position for observation. All this time, I was assuming that our CAP would take care of the Jap fighters. The third main battery salvo. was in the air when the three Jap fighters hit me. The BILOXI plane was nowhere in sight, probably maneuvering into a cloud as soon as he observed the Jap fighters taking off from Iwo Jima.

All the runs made by the Zero's were from directly astern or from below and astern. Their recoveries from each run consisted of passing below me, then zooming up ahead of me as they regained their altitude. Things happened so fast that I don't remember the exact sequence of the fighters' runs. Each fighter made two or three runs apiece. One of the fighters made a direct stern approach and, as the range closed, Hickman fired 100 rounds of 30 Cal. directly into the engine, firing between the horizontal stabilizer and the vertical stabilizer on the starboard side. Hickman's fire evidently killed the Jap pilot instantly, because, as the "Zeke" passed my plane his port wing hit my starboard wing and ripped about a foot and a half of the' wing tip completely off of my aircraft. The Jap fighter did not again appear in view above my cowling and was observed by Hickman to crash into the sea out of control. This was also observed by lookouts and gunnery control officers on the SANTA FE. On one run, one of the fighters was coming up from below and astern. His fire went around and between my legs, into the fire wall, through the oil tank, and out the cowling. The oil spurted over the entire windshield, cockpit and fuselage. The oil that came into the cockpit was blown over me by the floor vent draft and I was completely drenched from head to foot with oil. The heat of the oil and smoke led me to believe that we were on fire, and in desperation I shouted at Hickman, over the radio, to bail out. Luckily his head phones had blown off his head and he didn't hear my order. This was the one time that I had noted my altitude; we were at 1800 feet. I was kicking the rudder pedals and pumping the stick as fast as my arms and legs would work. The fighters made a couple more runs on me, but broke off the engagement, as I was close to the destroyer screen and about fifty feet off the water. As soon as I was inside the destroyer screen I was amazed to see that the plane was completely riddled by machine gun fire and that the only place we had not been hit was in the fore and after cockpits. All my oil was gone and the oil pressure read zero. My fuel pressure also read zero. The forward end of the port wing tip float was cut completely off and a gaping hole was the only thing that remained. The starboard wing tip was entirely gone, but I still had good aileron control throughout. The empennage was full of holes and the fabric surfaces on the wings and tail controls were nothing but a mass of "Irish pennants," fluttering in the wind.

I proceeded down the port side of the cruiser column, one thousand yards abeam. Directly opposite the third ship in column I made a slow turn to the right. Just as I straightened out into the wind, the motor froze, and I made a fairly normal full stall landing. The plane remained afloat about 20 seconds, until the port wing tip float filled with water. The plane turned over and Hickman and I were able to scramble up on the main float. There were still enough undamaged compartments in the main float to keep it about ten inches above the surface. We were only on the float for a few minutes, when the destroyer BURNS approached and took us aboard. The plane was later sunk when the BURNS rammed the wreckage

 

Conclusions

1. CAP should be placed about 1 or 2 thousand feet above spotting planes, with a high cover over them.

2. Neither Hickman nor myself was injured, except that I had some very small pieces of metal or shrapnel in my legs.

3. The OS2U-3 is a plane that can take almost anything that the Japs can dish out.

4. The radio worked excellently throughout the entire engagement and practically everything I said was copied by the radio operator on the ship.

5. Almost everyone topside of the SANTA FE and destroyer screen was an eye witness to the engagement.

6. I would be extremely pleased to see more suitable aircraft placed at the disposal of the cruiser and battleship aviators - a plane that can take it and dish it out like a fighter.

7. At no time during the engagement did the Jap Zeros attempt any runs from abeam, ahead, or above. All the Zeros approached from below and astern except the one that Hickman shot down; he approached from directly astern, at the same altitude.

R.W. Hendershott.