Claude Briggs was born in Carter Oklahoma on 10/9/23. In 1936 his family moved to Salem Oregon. He attended Salem High there and eventually George Washington University. What follows is Claudes story in his own words. A few excerpts from his squadron mate Bill "Bird Dog" Grants book Sting of the WASP and responses from our correspondance in parenthesis are included ( )
Sunday December 7, 1941
Being Sunday, my grandfather's photographic studio was closed, so a group of us went to the only movie theater in Elk City, Oklahoma. My parents now lived in Salem, Oregon, but we all had come down for my Grandmothers funeral and I had stayed to learn the photo business. About 10 A.M., halfway through the movie, the lights came on and the announcer reported that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. None of us had the slightest idea where Pearl harbor was located. We immediately left the theater and went looking for a world atlas.
A few days later I bought a bus ticket to return to Salem since it was
obvious I was subject to the draft. The bus ride was non-stop and on a
round-about route, since I recall passing through Boise, Idaho in a heavy
My brother, Don, and I had always been enthralled by airplanes. Bought every magazine we could find and papered the wall of our bedroom with cut-out airplane pictures. The only magazine I remember was Flying Aces which always had a story about Phineas Pinkham, WWI fighter ace. We had both been Sea Scouts and were interested in any and everything involving the Navy. Consequently, we decided to try for Naval Avaition. We went to the recruiting office and filled out the papers, then went for the physical by a civilian doctor. (Claude and Don's parents did not oppose their desire to join up and were not required to give their under 21 sons written permission. This policy was inconsistently enforced in the USA as some recruitment offices insisted on parental signatures for under age volunteers.) Some character switched urine samples and I was turned down with a diagnosis of Hodgkins Disease. I had to prove my test was false, and finally did so after several exchanges with the Doc and the Navy. (Note: Claude was 19 at the time of his enlistment)
Don and I were given tickets to Seattle, Washington, along with several other local boys who had also applied. We went through the induction process and were sent back home to await further orders. Finally in November 1942 we were both ordered to Baker, Oregon to commence primary flight training on Taylorcraft and Piper Cub aircraft. They lodged us in a hotel and fitted us with Civilian Conversation Corps uniforms. Our instructors were all civilians. As it was winter in eastern Oregon we had plenty of snow to contend with. About 20 of us would form a line abreast on the runway and march from one end to the other until the snow was packed down sufficiently to allow a takeoff. Fortunately, the runway was only about 1200 feet long. We logged about 25 hours and soloed in approximately 2 months, then received orders for Del Monte, California for pre-flight training, ground school and physical conditioning.
Reported in at Del Monte class number 4A43 April 8th 1943 and finished there on July 10th 1943. Reported then to Norman, Oklahoma, class number 7B43N on July 15th for primary flight training in the N2S Stearman for 42 hours of dual and 59 hours solo flight. My inverted spin checkout was on 8/20/43. Exciting to say the least. My instructor, Bill Kitchell, made a comment on the record that I was the second best student he had seen in 18 months. I'll never know who was the first. Next stop was Corpus Christi, Texas, class number 10B43 arriving on October 14th 43. There I had 30 hours of training in the SNV, a low wing monoplane with fixed gear, two speed prop, and flaps. Then 110 hours in the SNJ (Texan) doing cross-country, instruments, bombing and air to air gunnery firing at towed target sleves.------(Claude got high marks for air to air gunnery 50% of his deflection shots found their mark).
Don and I graduated side by side on April 1 1944 and received our Navy Wings and a comission as Ensign, US Naval Reserve. Don went on the night fighter school in Flordia. (Note: Don subsequently served on board a CVL Sangamon allocated to Night Combat Air patrol with F6F-5N's during the Okinawa campaign and the Carrier strikes off Japan. In 1945 his ship took a Kamikaze hit while he was on board)
I went to dive bombers (SBD's) at Masters Field, Miami Flordia
class number VB2, where I flew 110 hours, mainly practicing dive bombing with training 20 pound bombs and occasionally a 500 pounder to drop on a wrecked ship near Bimini. On June 9th 1944 I took a train to Glenview Illinois and carrier qualification began on June 18th on the USS Sable in a SNJ. Real state of the art equipment. Had to tie a rope around the arm rest to hold the tailhook up. After 8 arrested landing I was ready for combat. On to Wildwood, New Jersey and transition to the Curtis SB2C dive bomber, affectionately know as the "Beast". A real dog. 320 knots straight down. Engine overspeeds, hydraulic failures, etc were a regular occurance.
(Claude indicates that the SBD verticle dive was about 240 knots vs the Helldivers 320. This gave more time in the SBD to adjust aim.) (The Helldivers were delayed in getting into service and many carrier crews perferred to keep the SBD's converting only when forced to.)
July I spent a couple of weeks at Otis field Mass, then cross country for training at Ream Field in San Diego California for 8 more carrier qualification landings on the US Makassar Strait. My first catapult shot was on 8/15/44. We departed San Diego for Honolulu on 8/23/44 and thence to Puunene, Maui on an inter island steamer. Then on September 2nd good news. The kamikaze were becomming a problem so they asked for volunteers to transfer to fighters, F6F Hellcats. That was my dream from the begining so I was the first one to hold up my hand. During September and October there was intensive training in the F6F and 4 more carrier landings on the USS Ranger. On November 9th embarked on the CVE USS Copahee for transpac to Guam where our Air Groups relieved the homeward bound Air Groups aboard the USS Wasp, CV18
(Note: Claude never ditched or damaged an aircraft while training on these small decked ships in Lake Michigan. When he embarked on the WASP he had 394 hours under his belt.)
USS WASP CV18
Five Days later on November 14th we make our first attack on Cabanatuan and Tarlac airfields on central Luzon, Phillipines. What a rude awakening! Up to this point there was not even a though of getting hurt or killed but today it suddenly dawned on me that they were actually shooting at ME! and I took a hit in the tail section, fortunately not serious enough to cause a problem getting back aboard. (During these missions squadron mate Ed Maddock went down in Lingayen Gulf after the second strike at Clark airfield. He would spend two months in the bush with Phillipine guerillas before being brought out on a submarine and back to the WASP.
Our task force under Halsey's command, went through two severe typhoons and lost three destroyers and close to 1000 men. The destroyers had not been able to refuel due to heavy seas preceeding to main storm and capsized when they ran out of fuel and could no longer head directly into the swells. Our carrier took green water across the bow and at one point rolled so far over as to take water into the stack. Several other carriers had aircraft break lose on the hanger deck starting fires that were impossible to put out due to the rolling and crashing back and forth. A couple of them had the foreward part of the flight deck folded back. (Note: Halsey took some criticism for his actions in not heading away from the worst of the storm but remained in command. It would not be the first time TF 38 would face extremes of weather).
On the November 29th we pulled into Ulithi Atoll for replenishment and recreation. Recreation consisted of warm beer on a small island called Mog Mog, There were no females at any time during this deployment, something different from our countries later involvement in Korea and Vietman.
Back to Luzon in mid December. On the 21st we hit southern Luzon, Batangas
and Catingatan. I burned an oil barge, made a rocket attack on an airfield
and downed a Japanese float plane. (The plane had a low wing and no bomb
in sight. When I hit him he was very low, probably trying to land and get
(It was a Jake)I hit him on the pull-up from the rocket run. (I did a split-S at about 300 knots and pulled over 12 G's (the G meter pegged out). He was attempting to land just off the beach at Batangas, Southern coast of Luzon. Interesting coincidence, at a Retired Officer's Association dinner a couple of years ago, Edith and I sponsored a young Philippine boy who was going to the Air Force Academy. His mother turned out to be from Batangas and said her parents saw the shoot down. I should point out that all of us had no doubt as to the outcome of the war and were only concerned with doing the most damage to the enemy to speed up the end of it. At this point we considered ourselves lucky to even see a Japanese airplane airborne and almost ran over each other trying to be the first to get to him.
Early in January we hit Formosa, and lost a few planes there as Shinchiku turned out to be an anti-aircraft training facility for the Japanese.
(Claude indicated this was possibly his hardest mission due to the losses and returning in darkness low on fuel to the carrier. He also made a sortie into mainland China at Canton where other airgroups sustained losses but none from WASP). On south into the South China Sea in mid January looking for the Japanese fleet in Camrahn Bay. Turned out to be empty so we continued on to Saigon and attacked the airfields and oil storage tanks there. Took my second hit making a low pass over the airfield in a straffing run on a row of Topsy's and/or Tabbys(the Japanese equivalent to our DC3). Some character had the gall to hit my left wing 50 calibre gun breech with a rifle bullet. No big deal, however as I still had 5, 50's. (I was flying at about 20 feet and for good measure I put an HVAR 5" rocket into the hanger.) On the way out at 10,000 feet a Japanese destroyer just south of Cape St. Jaques made the mistake of shooting at us. My flight leader still had a 500 pound bomb so we turned around and made a run on him. That 500 pounder must have hit a magazine, as I flew over through a hail of metal and oil, I turned around too see what had happened and there was no destroyer there. He hit the bottom in a matter of seconds. After that it was back to Ulithi Atoll on the 22nd of January.
While at Ulithi I flew CAP Combat air partol from an island called Fallalop,
next to Mog Mog. Only 2500 feet of coral for a strip with water at both
ends. (Mog Mog was a rest and recreation area for the crews to let off
steam, barter for native crafts and generally drink and relax. Several
of the Wasp crews were involved in accidently tackling a high ranking commander
while under the influence and knocked him into the water. Crowleys Tavern
was a haunt where you could run into people you had not seen in years as
they greeted you with an arm load of beer cans. There were other pursuits
like voley ball and movies to entertain the crews.)
Early February saw us on the way north for the first Tokyo strikes on the 16th. The first launch was a fighter sweep, 55 F6F's from our carrier alone. Halfway to the beach at 12000 feet we spotted a twin engined Betty headed out towards our fleet at about 2500 feet. Four of us broke off and went after him. Pulled in behind and two of us pumped him full of 50 calibers. He turned left back towards Japan but caught fire and continued in a decending turn right into the water where he exploded in a giant orange ball of flame. It later occured to me that the crew was probably 3 or 4 teen-agers, convinced that they were doing the right thing. At this point in time the Japanese had just about run out of experienced pilots. We continued on in to unload our bombs and rockets on an airfield north of Tokyo and surprisingly had only one AA gun shooting at us. We had expected a hot bed of anti-aircraft here. (VF81 did not get off lightly, it lost 5 pilots during the Empire missions Feb 15-17. Lt's Bauman, Gage and Ensign Stailey were lost after last being seen mixing it up with Japanese fighters. Lt. Bauman was seen to down two before he disappeared. Ensigns Butler and Metzger are believed to have been lost to AA on the 17th.) From there we sailed to Iwo Jima and then to Okinawa in March.(the WASP supported the landings at Iwo and provided aircover CAP. During this time the Kamizake hit the task force sinking the USS CVE Bismark Sea and severely damaging the Saratoga with heavy loss of life. They then moved for additional strikes against the Ryuku's chain. Here the combat tour ends on March 12th, The typical combat tour was expected to last 4 to 6 months, Claude and his squadron mates did not discuss the possibility of death or capture and never met a Japanese face to face, as he says "We felt were immortal"
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Returning home into San Diego after a long trip on the USS Copahee the next stop was Pasco Washington, where the squadron transitioned to the F4U Corsair during May through July. Here I saw my first and only UFO long before UFO's became known. We were eating lunch on the porch outside the mess hall when we happened to notice a spherical object directly overhead, estimated to be be around at 8000 feet high and approximately one quarter the diameter of a full moon, silver in color. At that time there were reports of bomb-laden Japanese ballon bombs over the West Coast so we suspected that was what we were seeing. We raced to the flight line, got some 50 calibre ammo loaded and the two of us took of to go after it. The thing remained stationary until we got airborne, then the higher we got the farther away it went and finally zoomed off to the west and out of site. Somehow the Tacoma newspaper heard of it and pooh-poohed the idea, saying that we were looking at Venus. (Venus doesn't move that fast). As an afterthought, this sighting was directly over the nuclear facility at Hanford, although we did not know what was going on there at the time. we were just told to stay away from it.
Shortly after our arrival at Pacso, May 8th 1945 VE day, the Germans
surrendered. In August 1945 we moved to Wildwood New Jersey to prepare
for another combat deployment on the new carrier USS Princeton. (This is
where Claude met his wife Edith who worked as a clerk at Wyeth Drugs. He
met her at the Naval Air station.) Ed Maddock ( Ens VF81) arranged a blind
date. Edith and I were married Mar 21, 1946,
Ed and Gloria married Mar 22, 1946. They now live about two blocks from us. On September 2nd the Japanese surrendered, VJ Day. On January 27th 1946 Harvey Lanham now a Commander and I made the frist two landings on the new carrier Princeton CV37. We continued on to shakedown at Guantanmo, the back to Norfolk and on march 21, Edith And I were married in Philadelphia. Shorthly there after the Princeton sailed for the Pacific through the Panama canal and spent the next ten months of our first year of marrige touring the Far East. (During this time Claude finally got to set foot in Japan visiting Nagasaki and getting a first hand look at the A bomb destruction. Also visited were Tokyo and several of the targets hit by his task force during the war)
In retrospect, oddly enough, the combat experiences were exhilarating . I think we all relished taking part in the battle, and as previously mentioned, we had no doubt as to the outcome. My only concern was that if something should happen to me, I would not be there to see it.
(During Claudes combat career he flew some 60 missions and was fortunate to never be wounded or had a serious accident. When one looks at the causalties list below and reads in Sting of the WASP of the numerous deck crashes,
blown tires, and successful ditchings, it is testament to his abilities that he remained unscathed. He is credited with 1 Enemy aircraft destroyed and one shared in the air and multiple destroyed and damaged on the ground. His aircraft recieved minor damage on two occasions due to ground fire which he felt was his greatest danger and was never attacked by Japanese interceptors. Claudes parents knew he was on board the WASP but never where the ship was, mail was heavily censored. Claudes father worked as a civilian for the army on construction projects. The WASP was not hit by conventional or kamikaze strikes while VF 81 was aboard though the WASP was in Ulithi harbor on the Evening of March 11th when Francis bombers from Japan made their suicide attack in pitch darkness hitting the USS Randolf anchored of the WASP's port bow.) AIR GROUP 81's aircraft had a white equilateral triangle, with the point up on the tail of their aircraft. Basic color was dark blue with a mottled white underbelly.
VF81 Losses were 17 pilots, ironically the fighter force being employed in the role of fighter bomber, rocket and strafer suffered greater losses. Claude observed one squadron mate hit at 13000 feet when they inadvertantly attacked the Anti-aircraft training base on Formosa. A few aircraft returned to the WASP with damage from air to air combat with the Zeros but few losses were attributable to them. In VT81 & VB 81 each of these units lost a crew from the torpedo and dive bomber group. The marine contigent of VMF 216 & 217 that shipped with the WASP suffered 5 losses. Per-dawn launches in bad weather when many of the aircrews had only a minimum of instrument training claimed others. Returning with a damaged hydraulic system and landing gear left one with one of two choices neither of them particularly good. Interestingly I learned that the F6F-3's had a tendency to buckle behind the cockpit with a hard landing. When that occured the aircraft were shoved over the fantail. F6F's would sometimes have their fusalage fail in a dive as experienced by Joe Reedy when part of his tail section came off. He managed to gain enough control to bail out and was returned to the carrier minus his pistol and the exchange of a churn of icecream. Payment for the DD providing the service. The replacement F6F-5's were a much improved version.
Claude received the Air Medal and a number of medals that everyone received. Our Air Group Commander, Harvey Lanham, (later made Rear Admiral) was not prone to recommending awards." Whiskey Shots were passed out occasionally after a particularly hazardous mission.
Claude was accepted by the Regular Navy and stayed in retiring as a Commander in the Pentagon on 4/1/67. In his career he flew N2S, SNV, SNJ Texan , SBD Dauntless, SB2C Helldiver, F6F Hellcat, F4U Corsair, T28, Twin Beech, Convair 440, R4D and R4D-8, R5D and Super Constellation as well as multiple smaller aircraft. He owned a part interest in Beech Bonanza after retirement and spent about ten years with two companies buying and selling used business jets. He resides with his wife Edith in the Flordia Pan handle where he still keeps in contact with veterans associations and former squadron members.
Edith and Claude have two daughters one a social worker with non profit
organizations and another who sells childrens software. Their grand daughter
was just comissioned a 2nd Lt. in the USAF at Edwards AFB. Their grandson
worked in advertising and is traveling in Europe and Africa.
The Roll of Honor - Men Lost with AIRGROUP 81 IN W.W.II
Lt. John W.B. Gage USNR - Last seen engaged with fighters 2/16/45 over Tokyo Japan
Lt. John B. Stahl USNR - Hit by AA over Neilsen Field Phillipines
Lt. Clifford B. Watt USNR - Flying Accident 11/24/44 off Ulithi
Lt. Sanford B. Perkins USNR - 12/14/44 Accident after a wave off and ditching off Phillipines
Lt. Halley D. Seller USNR - Lost to AA fire over Formosa 1/15/45
Lt. Minos D. Miller Jr USNR - Lost to AA last seen in raft off Formosa coast 1/3/45
Lt. Charles P. Reeks USNR - Missing in action never joined form -up Formosa 1/3/45
Lt. Daniel C. Marshall USNR - Lost to AA fire Nielsen Field Phillipines 11/14/44
Lt.(jg) John F. Bauman USNR - Last seen engaged with fighters 2/16/45 over Tokyo Japan
Lt.(jg) James H. Babcock USNR - Accident mid air collision around Okinawa 1/22/45
Lt.(jg) Donald M. Burnside USNR
Lt.(jg) William L. Traylor USNR
Ensign Harold E, Schenk, USNR - 12/14/44 Accident after a wave off and ditching off Phillipines
Ensign Charles H. Butler, USNR - AA fire? Tokyo Bay installations attack 2/17/45
Ensign Harold F. Metzger, USNR - M.I.A Tokyo Bay installations attack 2/17/45
Ensign John T. Stailey, USNR - Last seen engaged with fighters 2/16/45 over Tokyo Japan
Lt. Cmdr. Walter Lawrence Douglass Jr., USN - SB2C Flying accident - spun in on approach 11/19/44 Phillipines strikes
Arm1c Leo J, Blier, USN - Flying accident spun in on approach SB2c Gunner 11/19/44 Phillipines strikes
ARM3c Leonard J Michaels, UNNR
ARM2c Theodore U. Hoffpauir, USNR
VMF 216 & 217
Major Jack R. Amende Jr. USMC - Lost on Tokyo airstrikes 2/16/45
Captain James L. Fling, USMCR/RAF - Lost in flying accident on takeoff 2/14/44
1st LT. Ronald W. Vaughn Jr. USMCR
1st Lt. Spencer B Weills, USMCR
2nd LT. Daniel V. Hayes, USMCR
Of the other three Marine losses, 1 was to an accident on takeoff and the other two were lost with Major Amende on Feb 16th 1945 over Tokyo. There were large numbers of defending Japanese fighters over the target and Airgroup 81 is known to have lost several of their members to them. The Marine unit on the WASP was so depleted that Air Group 81 had to fly their remaining missons that day. Claude often saw these accidents: "The Corsairs were with the Marine detachment. I observed one going nose down into the ocean just after takeoff. As the ship passed by, I could see the pilot with his face pressed into the windshield, possibly because shoulder straps not locked. He went down with the aircraft. I also saw a TBF taking friendly fire on downwind in the landing pattern, but didn't see it go down."
26 Aircrew lost - 3 believed to be to fighters, 13 in accidents, 10 to AA fire.
Squadron Logo was a Panther over a shield with a deck of cards exposing
the 8 and Ace. across the center is the legend FREELANCERS and below that
a V. The logo is still used by the Navys VF-21, but the Ace and 8 have
been placed back in the deck.
William A. Grants Book. Though an 'officially' forbidden practice, Bill
Grant, one of the photo recon Hellcat pilots of VF 81, kept a personal
diary and gives great insights into US carrier operations and R&R activities
during that period. A few copies are still available through his son. Sadly
Bill has passed away but you can e-mail his son at email@example.com.
He owns a printing shop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My thanks for his permission
to use photos and passages from his fathers book.