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VMF-312 Checkerboarders / Days Knights
Pilots & Ground Officers: Parris Island, December 10th, 1943

    Welcome to the Official Web Site for VMF - 312, Day's Knights, later known as the Checkerboarders. The purpose of this page is to give recognition and general information about this Marine Squadron born out of World War II. Contained within can be found pictures, accounts, and a complete list of the original 312 members (including enlisted personnel). If any information is found to be in error, please notify me and corrections shall be made.

The Beginning

    Marine Fighting Squadron 312 (VMF-312), was commissioned at Page Field, Parris Island, South Carolina on June 1st 1943. The photo above was taken at Page Field on December 10th , 1943. Most of the original officers of the 312 were brought over from VMF-311 or Headquarters Squadron 31, which was based at Cherry Point, North Carolina. The first aircraft flown by VMF-312 was the SNJ-4 Texan, but by the end of August, the squadron had transitioned to the Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair and received a large influx of pilots fresh from PreOperational training.

    Master Sergeant James R. Wroble created the squadron crest (also shown in the above picture) depicting a bulldog with wings and a flying helmet carrying six .50 caliber machineguns, the same armament in which the F4U Corsair employed. The distinctive white on navy blue "checkerboard" design was created by First Lieutenant John J. E. Holden. In honor of the commanding officer, Major Richard M. Day, the men nicknamed the squadron "Day's Knights."
Chance Vought F4U front view

Prepare for War

    During the intense training that continued until the end of 1943, operational accidents killed four squadron Marines and injured another. On July 29th 1943, 2nd Lt. Henry B. Roberson and Pt. Gerard D. Bennett were killed when their Texan crashed during a flight. 2nd Lt. Troy Mullinnix and 2nd Lt. William F. Ericson were killed in F4U mishaps on 1 and 6 October, respectively. On October 5th 2nd Lt. Buell T. Reynolds was hurt when his Corsair struck a buzzard. Pieces of his canopy injured his eye, forcing Reynolds to bail out. In early January of 1944, the squadron moved to NAS North Island, San Diego where pilots went through refresher courses in recognition, survival data, and chemical warfare. All Ground personnel requalified with the M-1 and the pilots qualified with the M-1, Carbine and pistol. On the 28th of February, VMF-312 boarded the USS Hornet (CV-12) and arrived in Pearl Harbor on March 4th where they took up residence at Ewa, the Marine Corps Air Station. Training continued at Ewa through June of 1944. During that time aircraft accidents took a heavy toll on the squadron. April 28th 1944, 2nd Lt. Hugh L. Marsh was seriously injured and a Corsair was lost when he swerved off the runway while landing. On May 18th in two separate mishaps, 2nd Lt. George A. Hartig was killed and 2nd Lt. Raymond H. Schannamann had to bail out from a unrecoverable flat spin. The following is an excerpt from M.O. Chance's diary entry;

 May 18, George Hartig was killed when he didn't recover from a spin. He was a very popular fellow and a fantastic clarinet player. At San Diego we use to go down to the local bars where he sat in with the bands...

    June 8th, Capt. Frank A. Beavers Jr., and 2nd Lt. Robert J. Devine were killed when their planes collided.
Loading F4U 500lb bombs and rockets

    On the 25th of June 1944, VMF-312 boarded the carrier USS Nassau and began the voyage to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, an island group in the South Pacific Ocean due east from northern Australia. The squadron and 24 new Goodyear built Corsairs (FG-1's) took up residence at Turtle Bay Airstrip and during the flight testing of the new "U-birds", 1st Lt. Harry L. Burge failed to return. The end of August brought all planes and pilots ready for combat. While the flight echelon moved to Ponam Island for CAP and escort missions, the Rear echelon accepted 24 F4U-1Ds in October. The squadron was reunited in December at Luganville Airfield on Espiritu Santo where rocket launchers were fitted under either wing of the Corsairs. By New Years of 1945, VMF-312 had grown to 38 pilots, 11 ground officers, a medical officer, 248 enlisted Marines, and had put in over 14,538 flight hours.

    On January 15th, John C Webb experienced aircraft difficulties and had to bail out. 1st Lt. M.O. Chance writes the following in his diary;

 Jan. 15, Zoomie Webb disappeared on a rocket run. Every one knew that he couldn't be lost, not Zoomie.

     And he was right, the following journal entry two days later is brief but explicit.

 Jan. 17, Zoomie found.

     The next day on January 16th 1st Lt. Thomas A. Mulligan was practicing a bombing run and apparently misjudged the height of the trees around the target and was killed in the crash.

 

Okinawa: The 312 goes to war.

 

    Finally the orders came in and in March of 1945, VMF-312 was moved to Okinawa. The ground element arrived April 6th and went to work preparing the camp and engineering area for the arrival of the aircraft. Three days later on the 9th, Corsairs from the 312th landed at Kadena airstrip on Okinawa. 1st Lt Fred M Borwell (pictured here in cockpit of #686) was the second pilot to land on the airfield.

 

Fred Borwell

    On April 12th, 1945 VMF-312 had its first contact with the enemy. While flying CAP, a flight of four Corsairs, led by Capt. Dan H. Johnson, intercepted 20 Mitsubishi Zeros and four Jills (single engine torpedo-equipped attack aircraft). The outcome was a incredible 8 Zeros downed and six others damaged, while not one Corsair was lost. The rest of the enemy formation fled home without reaching their target. Engagements with the JAF continued and by the end of April VMF-312 had tallied 17 victories while only losing 1 Corsair piloted by Capt. Kenneth L. Reusser. Capt. Reusser successfully ditched his F4U off the west coast of Okinawa after sustaining damage from antiaircraft fire in an attack on Japanese targets south of Naha, the capital city of Okinawa on the southern tip of the island. The good fortunes on losses did not continue for long. On May 6th, enemy antiaircraft fire killed 2nd Lt. Fred G. Skrederstu, Jr., on the same day 1st Lt. George S. Karl died attempting to ditch after his Corsair developed engine trouble. 1st Lt. M.O. Chance's Corsair was lost as well when 2nd Lt. Howard Ferguson Jr., damaged by antiaircraft fire, was forced to ditch.
Checkerboarder in formation

 
  The three pilots pictured (bottom to top) are 1st Lts M.O.Chance, Alan Kreuzberger and D.N. Smith. This picture was taken off Espiritu Santos, New Hebrides, South Pacific in late 1944. The photographer was SSgt. Bob Linebaugh.

    Life at Kadena Airfield was not just air strikes and CAP missions, remember that the southern part Okinawa was still occupied by Japanese forces. Shelling and Japanese raids were a frequent occurrence. MO Chance describes night on Okinawa.

     "The artillery shelling was from guns down on the south end of the island near Naha in the Shuri Castle area. There were various sized guns. They were so well entrenched that they were not silenced until taken by hand. The USS New York [BB] was stationed to the west of the island, their main purpose was to open up every time one of these guns started firing. Their 16" gun could not knock out the guns. Yes, our strip was strafed a number of times. In addition several times at night Jap planes joined up with planes landing but were sighted before they could do any damage."
 
 

 

    On May 10th, one of the most unique fighter interceptions of the war took place. Captain Kenneth Reusser, callsign Ruby 6, was on patrol with 3 other Checkerboarders over the island of Okinawa.  The following excerpt is from an article published in the May 1995 edition of Leatherneck.  The author is Ray Schanamann, 1st Lt. of VMF-312.

…The pilots started their climb to altitude, prepared for another routine patrol.  Instead, they received a transmission from        "Handyman", the Air Defense Control Center.

    "Ruby 6, this is Handyman, over."
    "Handyman, Ruby 6, go ahead."
    "Ruby 6, Handyman, We have a bogey approaching on course one eight zero, angels 25 (altitude 25,000 feet).  Climb to angels 25, steer 270 buster (full speed), over."
    "Handyman, Roger, course 270 angels 25, out."

    The flight dropped their belly tanks, test fired their guns, put their props in full low pitch, and firewalled their throttles.
Klingman remembered, "We could see the vapor trails as the bogey made two complete circles over the harbor."  The Marines had a good idea about the plane they were pursuing.  For several days that week their squadron and others took turns trying to intercept a plane that followed the same flight plan.  Intelligence believed the plane was on photo reconnaissance of the ships in the harbor, for use in planning kamikaze raids. The previous intercept attempts failed because the intruder, aware of the chase planes, kept climbing as he headed for home.  With his initial altitude advantage he easily outran his pursuers.  This time the Marines tried to close while climbing at their best speed.  Captain Reusser said, "We were turning inside him to try and join up, but we were so far below him we had little chance of reaching him.  I just pulled the nose up and held the trigger down, no aim, no accuracy, just trying to loop it up there.  I saw a couple of glints, but I remember I didn't think anything of it at the time.  He leveled off and headed back toward Japan."
    The division kept climbing and stayed on the bogey's tail even though it didn't seem possible to overhaul him.  Captain Jim Cox's plane fell back until he was about a thousand feet below the others-he couldn't coax another knot of speed out of the battle-weary Corsair.  Reusser ordered Cox and 1st Lt. Frank Watson to return to orbit over Point Nan while he and Klingman continued the pursuit.  Now they were at 38,000 feet, the service ceiling for the Corsair.  The bogey was still about a mile ahead, and the chase continued.

    Because of the thin air and limited power, maneuvers had to be limited to small, careful changes in direction or altitude; otherwise a stall or spin would result with small chance of recovery.  At such an altitude bailing out would have meant freezing to death.

    "As we got closer, Ken was firing, and I guess the bogey was firing at us.  I had a few small bullet holes in the plane.  My plane had no gun heaters and the guns were frozen, but I was pretty eager to get me a Jap plane.  My plane was faster because it was a brand new so I went on ahead of Ken at max speed and streamlined as much as I could…"

    "…We closed on the bogey until I was 20 or 30 feet behind him-I couldn't get any closer to him due to his prop wash.  It held me back and kept me from running into him.  I had to slowly climb above the airplane, and then I nosed over and ran into his tail with my prop.  I only had enough extra speed to chew off some of his rudder and elevator before being blown away (from Nick's prop wash) Since he was still flying, I climbed above him for a second run.  I nosed down and I pulled out too soon and only got some of his rudder and part of the top of the rear canopy.  At this time I remember seeing the rear seat gunner frantically looking around and trying to operate his machine gun.  I imagine at this altitude he was probably freezing to death.  I realized that a third wasn't necessary, but I was even more determined so I climbed above him for my third run and chopped the right side of his elevator, and we both went into a spin.  This run did the most damage to my plane, but I recovered after losing only about 1,000 feet.  Ken was along side then, and we both observed the enemy plane in a spin with both wings coming off at about 15,000 feet."
Bob Klingman surveys prop damage
 Bob Klingman surveys the damage caused by his "encounter".

     Reusser had a bird's-eye view when Klingman first passes were made and related.  "The Japanese gunner pounded on his machine gun to free it up, but it was frozen solid and so was mine.  When Bob came down on the canopy with his prop, he tore the gun away from the mount and hit the gunner.  His plane was full of bullet holes and shrapnel holes from fragments of the Nick."
    Klingman had his kill but they were hundreds of miles from base and his plane shook and vibrated with the stick jumping in a large circle. Close to home at about 10,00 feet Bob ran out of fuel  but felt he could still reach the strip even though Ken suggested he bail.

    Pilots stood quietly at the upwind end of the runway.  They watched the Corsair plunge silently in a steep glide: no engine roar, the prop windmilling slowly.

    "Don't stretch the glide: don't be short.: they said almost prayerfully.

    At the last possible second, Klingman raised the Corsair's nose and the plane slammed into the ground and bounced the few remaining feet onto the airstrip.

    Watchers gasped as they saw the planes condition.  The tips of all three blades jutted outward with 6 inches missing from each end and the blades pierced by bullets; each wing contained large holes, and pieces of the Nick were in the cowling.  After extensive tests and a new propeller, the F4U Corsair Bob Klingman used in the downing of the Japanese Nick was returned to service!

    Bob Klingman and Ken Reusser both received the Navy Cross for their actions.

What a story ! ! !
Bob Klingman relating his incredible engagement with the Japanese Nick
 
    Bob Klingman explained it this way:
 
"I'm gonna get this son of a bitch if it's the last thing I do."

    Two days after this amazing victory, Bob Klingman was forced to bail out of his Corsair when it developed hydraulic problems.  He landed safely and was picked up by a destroyer a short time later.
 
 

The Price of War.
 
 
Major Day   CO of the 312
VMF-312 Commanding Officer, Major Richard M. Day
 
     On May 14th, 1945 VMF-312's commanding officer Major Richard M. Day and his flight encountered heavy antiaircraft fire at 10,000 feet.  His plane was seen to go into a dive as antiaircraft shells burst all around it; moments later his Corsair was completely on fire.  Major J. Frank Cole assumed command of the unit ten days later but the war continued and so did the 312.  Just 11 days after Major Day was killed in action, May 25th brought the single highest amount of kills in a single day for the 312.  Sixteen Japanese aircraft were shot down with only a single loss.  2nd Lt. Malcolm M. Birney was shot down by a zero, after he had destroyed one himself.  On June 10th the squadron joined forces with VMF-323 to make the first land based fighter sweep over the Japanese home islands.  The 32 plane strike force destroyed 14 enemy aircraft on the ground and caused extensive damage to other aircraft and facilities to airfields on southern Kyushu Island.  Two days later VMF-312 returned to the same airfields with 24 Corsairs.  This time the Japanese had antiaircraft guns in place and 2nd Lt. Merlin E. O'Neil was hit by fire.  His F4U badly damaged and being seriously wounded, he returned home to Kadena airfield where he bailed out but when rescuers reached O'Neil he was dead.  Good hunting continued through June and by the end of the month the squadron's total score was 60 and a half enemy aircraft destroyed, four probable, and seven damaged.  On July 1st 1945, 1st Lt. Samuel S. Smith was forced to bail out after losing oil pressure.  We was captured, tortured, and held as a Prisoner of War for two months.  The last pilot to be killed in VMF-312 before the end of the war was Captain Paul H. Brown Jr., who was flying over Japan on July 12th, when his plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and exploded.
 VMF-312 kill board

Kill Board of VMF-312 Early July 1945
 
Home Coming

    When the word came in that the Japanese had surrendered.  CAP, Combat Air Patrol and observation missions kept the unit busy until February 1946 when the move back to the United States began.  The aircraft were flown to Guam by the way of Iwo Jima where they were loaded onto the escort carrier USS Cape Gloucester (CVE-109).  On February 28th, the VMF-312 came home to the docks in San Diego.  The squadron then moved to El Toro and was restructured.  VMF-312 is still active today as VMFA-312 and the aircraft that served with them is as follows:

 
North American SNJ-4 Texans
Chance-Vought F4U-1 Corsair
Goodyear FG-1 Corsair
Grumman F7F Tigercat
Chance-Vought F4U-4 Corsair
Grumman F9F-4 Panther
North American FJ-2 Fury
North American FJ-3 Fury
Chance-Vought F8U-1 Crusader
McDonnell F4B-Phantom II
McDonnell-Douglas FA-18 Hornet

 
     I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank all the members of Squadron VMF-312 for their sacrifice and service to our Country.  I am privileged to have spoken and corresponded with some of the members of 312, especially 1st Lt. M.O. Chance who has spent a lot of time and put forth great effort by answering many emails as well as putting his trust in me with irreplaceable photographs.
Thank You     M.O. Chance
1st Lt. M.O. Chance in the cockpit of his F4U Corsair #530.
 
 
 
  This page is dedicated to those of VMF-312 who paid the ultimate price for freedom.

 

 
 
Web Page created August 16th, 1998 Pictures may not be reproduced or copied without express written consent.

 

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