Early Life

Becoming a Naval Aviator

Flying from the USS Lexington (CV-16) and USS Yorktown (CV-10) and sinking the Yamato

Kamikazes and Zeros

The TBM Avenger

Life aboard an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier

Combat Missions

Flight Incidents

Torpedoing the Yamato

War’s End and Postwar

Reflections

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Stewart "Stu" Bass was born and raised in Western Montana, about 20 miles outside of Missoula. He was the middle child of three siblings. He was educated there and graduated from the University of Montana in 1948. His grandparents had come across the plains in 1863. Bass worked for a sugar company near his home and then relocated to Colorado and retired as one of their executives, having more than 30 years of service. With his interest in history, he involved himself with not only company history but also with that of an air museum near his home. He and his wife married in 1945 following his return from the war. She passed after 65 years of marriage. During the war, his brother worked on the atomic bomb project. Bass' grandparents built up a ranch which they sold after the turn of the 20th century. Bass' mother was a housewife while his father was a taxidermist and leather worker. It was a good life. Bass was born in May 1921. Bass was aware of the draft when he heard of Pearl Harbor. He wanted to be a Navy aviator so he joined the V-5 Program for civilian flight training prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. The V-5 Program trained civilians in anticipation of the upcoming hostilities that the military projected. Despite a high washout rate, Bass completed the requirements. Bass applied and successfully passed the entry examinations for Navy boot camp in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to the naval aviation training program. Completing that, he became an ensign in the Navy.

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Stewart Bass was trained to be a naval aviator. The first months involved college type training at St. Mary's College in California. He started flying Stearman aircraft [Annotator's Note: Boeing-Stearman Model 75 biplane trainer] for about three months in Washington. He then went to Texas and San Diego to fly. He received his wings in Corpus Christi. Real training started at Kingsville, Texas in 1943. He was promoted to ensign at that time. More training was to come in Florida in preparation for Bass joining a squadron. During that period, he was involved in a crash. He was not flying the TBM [Annotator's Note: Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber] at the time. His leg was broken and involved a hospital stay. His battalion left without him. It was lucky for him because his former unit did not experience the extent of large scale combat that he would later see. After his recovery, he went to Minnesota to check out for carrier duty. He flew on and off a carrier on the Great Lakes. He was assigned to Air Group 9 which turned out to be very lucky for him. He was to be a member of an 18 plane TBM torpedo squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)]. There were an equal number of SB2C dive bombers [Annotator’s Note: Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bomber] dive bombers. The addition of 45 fighters rounded out an Air Group for a large aircraft carrier. Of the 77 strikes that Bass participated in while flying off the carrier deck, about 30 of them were concentrated strikes.

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Stewart Bass flew off the Lexington [Annotator's Note: USS Lexington (CV-16)] to the Japanese home islands over Tokyo and Mount Fuji. Despite a couple of planes being hit, the mission to strike an aircraft factory was completed. The squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)], with its crippled planes, all made it back to the carrier. After a month, the squadron was transferred to Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-10)]. The first raid for Bass on Tokyo was frightening because of the antiaircraft fire. Their training took over and the fliers concentrated on doing their job. The Kure Naval Station in Japan was hit next. Shipping traffic was sunk as the squadron located it. The TBMs [Annotator's Note: Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers] were a great workhorse airplane. They often provided navigation for the Air Group bound for an objective. Glide bombing was well practiced and accurate. Close air support for ground operations on Iwo Jima and other islands was beneficial for the Marines. In April 1945, the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, was sunk by Bass' torpedo squadron after she had been damaged by two other air group torpedo squadrons. Bass' radioman adjusted the depth of his torpedo such that it ran well below the thick armor belt on the Japanese ship. The technique worked and the leviathan sunk. Bass saw it and an escort cruiser both sink. A Japanese destroyer was also sunk. This was done by using relatively crude aiming techniques for their torpedoes compared to those available today. The American torpedo planes used a low altitude radial attack scheme rather than the single file attack method used by the Japanese torpedo planes. The probability of a hit grew significantly. The Yamato rolled over and sank. The squadron participated on numerous island strikes with limited opposition from the ground or air. The squadron skipper was great but he was lost over Okinawa. Others squadron mates were lost. It was tough to see the empty seats in the wardroom. Bass had some trepidation over the loss of life he personally caused; however, he knew that he was just doing his job.

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Stewart Bass was aboard USS Yorktown (CV-10) when the Japanese kamikazes continuously attacked over the course of 51 days. One attack involved a total of 336 incoming planes. It was hard to understand the mentality of the kamikaze pilots. It made everyone onboard the ship edgy. The radar was effective in identifying the incoming planes about 50 miles out. Navy fighters would scramble to intercept them. Some of the enemy would manage to get through. The Franklin [Annotator's Note: USS Franklin (CV-13)] was nearly destroyed by a kamikaze, but her crew saved her. She was later repaired. The Yorktown was hit once and many were killed. The Bunker Hill [Annotator's Note: USS Bunker Hill (CV-17)] lost many of her crewmen to a similar attack. Bass was in his plane loaded with ordnance when a kamikaze just missed hitting the flight deck. He observed that the pilot was dead in his cockpit but the trim on his plane nearly caught the Yorktown. It could have been another Franklin with all planes on deck loaded for attack. The image of the dead pilot lingers with Bass. The mindset of those individuals was incomprehensible for Americans. The Zero [Annotator's Note: Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft] used by the Japanese was a very effective attack aircraft. When Bass attacked Tokyo, Zeros came up to meet his squadron. They caused damage to some of the American aircraft. Bass had holes in his ship. The skipper was hit but made it back to the carrier only to die two weeks later over Okinawa. The American aircraft could take quite a bit of a beating and still fly.

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Stewart Bass flew a TBM Avenger [Annotator's Note: Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber] during the Second World War. He explains his personal experiences and opinions about the largest, versatile attack airplane based on American aircraft carriers during the war. He shares information on the responsibilities for the bomber's three man crew, as well as, tactics used by his squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)] within the carrier fleet. His training on the West Coast and deployment to Hawaii for further training are also discussed. More training at Ulithi was followed by assignment to the Lexington [Annotator's Note: USS Lexington (CV-16)] and then the Yorktown [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-10)]. He remained with the Yorktown until his return to the United States.

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Stewart Bass served aboard an Essex class aircraft carrier. [Annotator's Note: Bass served as a Grumman TBM Avenger pilot in Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9) flying from the USS Lexington (CV-16) and then USS Yorktown (CV-10)]. He experienced a luxurious life while on his huge ship. He enjoyed life onboard. He flew a lot but otherwise did very little other than rest, exercise or find shipboard entertainment. He flew multiple aircraft, always in different rotations. He elaborates on a typical mission from ready room to objective then return for debriefing. The TBMs worked as an element in the carrier air group. His unit was highly decorated. He received personal decorations including the Navy Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor. He was proud of that recognition. His was a well trained group.

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Stewart Bass was excited and nervous to fly his first combat mission. He soon calmed down, followed his training and did his job. His first mission was to attack a large enemy aircraft factory near Tokyo. The enemy defended themselves by sending up fighters and then using antiaircraft fire. The Japanese homeland was very well protected. Flying against the Kure Naval Base was dreaded because of the defenses there. Island fighting to provide ground support for the Marines was a frequent assignment. Fighters aided in protecting Bass' unit [Annotator's Note: Bass flew Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers with Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9) flying from USS Lexington (CV-16) then USS Yorktown (CV-10)]. Iwo Jima and Okinawa were heavily defended and tough assignments. Okinawa was particularly rough. Ernie Pyle was killed during the fight for Okinawa. Bass heard when President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt] died. Truman [Annotator's Note: President Harry S. Truman] did a good job. The two atomic bombs saved lives by preventing Hirohito [Annotator's Note: Japan's wartime Emperor] and his subjects from defending the homeland to the last man. Both sides would have lost far more people than the deaths caused by the dropping of the atomic bombs. Wars today do not have the homefront backing that the warriors during World War 2 experienced. Not only pilots deserved glory but the homefront people that supported their efforts. The carriers stayed at sea and were refueled by tankers while underway. Bull Halsey [Annotator's Note: US Navy Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr.] used that hazardous refueling and resupplying process. It was fun to watch. Halsey made some mistakes, but he did some very good things during the war. Bass had to fly off a flight deck that was damaged by a hurricane that Halsey took his fleet through. That was just part of what Bass had to live with.

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Stewart Bass never crashed a plane but discusses an incident in Opa-locka, Florida when he was a aboard a TBM [Annotator's Note: Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber] flown by another pilot. The engine malfunctioned and the plane crashed. Bass was injured in the crash. That was a lucky break that allowed Bass to transfer to a different unit [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)] that would subsequently experience heavier combat missions than his original unit. One of Bass' carrier landings was made difficult when his tailhook was shot off during a mission. He had to hit the barrier rather than being stopped by the arresting wire. Bass discusses the thrill and intensity of even normal landings onboard a carrier.

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Stewart Bass participated in the sinking of the Japanese battleship Yamato on 7 April 1945. Weather conditions were not opportune so the skipper of Bass' squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)] had to make alternate plans to attack the huge ship. Enemy antiaircraft fire was intense. The battleship even used its big guns for defense. That was the first and only combat mission where Bass used torpedoes. [Annotator's Note: Bass flew a Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber.] There were extensive problems with American torpedoes during the war. At the Whidbey Island testing facility, Bass contributed to finding solutions to torpedo troubles that had plagued the Navy earlier in the war. Bass was familiar with specifications on the ordnance and tactics in its use. His torpedo bomber hit the escorting Japanese cruiser Yuhagi during the attack on Yamato. Much of the crew was lost when the massive battleship sunk. The Japanese Navy was essentially out of the war after that sinking. The returning Americans and their superiors were elated with their success.

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Stewart Bass and his squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)] attacked Japanese supply ships with bombs and machine gun fire. His unit found a large freighter which they targeted. Several planes hit it and the result was quite a massive explosion. In late June 1945, Air Group 9 returned to the United States and, after leave, was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Opa-locka, Florida. A new squadron was formed. Afterward, the veterans were sent home. They had sufficient points to be discharged and Bass elected to do so. He wanted to be with his girl back home and finish the college work that he had yet to complete. He stayed in the reserves for 12 years. He was called up for Korea but did not have to go. He regrets nothing about his decisions. He has a wonderful family, wife and children. Bass was aboard the carrier [Annotator's Note: USS Yorktown (CV-10)] when the crew celebrated the end of the war in Europe. The atomic bombs resulted in fewer deaths to achieve the Japanese surrender. Otherwise, the Japanese would have fought to the death for their islands. While flying combat missions, Bass had the attitude of killing the enemy before they got him. Subsequently, his attitude changed somewhat toward the Japanese. He heard about the Japanese surrender after going fishing with a friend. Bass was separated from active duty in January 1946 as a lieutenant (jg). He used the G.I. Bill to further his education. He enjoyed camping and fishing with his family and friends. He experienced no post traumatic stress disorder issues after the war and knew no one who did. He had no transitional issues in reverting back to being a civilian.

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Stewart Bass' most memorable experience in World War 2 was his participation in the attack on the Japanese battleship Yamato and her escorts. Even though it resulted in many deaths, he did what he had to do. Bass was involved in the war because he wanted to go into the Navy. He enlisted so he could select that service. The war taught him many of his personal traits that enabled him to live with other people. He is proud that he did his job during the war and that the country won. He was pleased with his air group [Annotator's Note: Air Group 9] and squadron [Annotator's Note: Torpedo Squadron 9 (VT-9)] as well as personal recognition and decorations received. World War 2 means more to people today than 50 years ago. There has been more focus on that history. The youngest generation is growing up in a world heavily influenced by television which teaches that violence is inconsequential. Bass vividly remembers a landing incident on a treacherously inclined flight deck of the USS Yorktown (CV-10). After successfully bringing his plane down, the admiral commended Bass and his wingman on a job well done. Their piloting skills resulted in their safe return. The effort to teach World War 2 history is important. Institutions like The National WWII Museum provide insight into how the nation was united in defeating the opposition. Bass tries to teach youngsters today about not only aircraft but what the war was all about.

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