Valor Friday

| May 19, 2023

Air Group 88

Last week I took a look at the final air-to-air dogfights of the European Theater in World War II. Today we’ll move to the other side of the world, only a few months later, for the final engagement in the sky over the Pacific Theater.

The summer of 1945 had seen the Allies’ island hopping campaign across the Pacific push the Japanese Empire back to their home islands. War planners were preparing Operation Downfall, the amphibious invasion of those home islands, that would make the Normandy invasion look like a pre-season scrimmage.

Facing the loss of Allied lives on a scale as yet unseen in that invasion, the American President Truman was given a lifeline in the form of the atomic bomb. On 16 July 1945, the Trinity Test of the first nuclear weapon was successfully performed. Two more weapons were ready for deployment, and Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber squadrons had been specially trained and equipped under Project Silverplate to drop them.

Truman made the easy choice, to save countless Allied men’s lives he ordered the atomic bombings of Japan. Just a couple of weeks after that first test, bombs were dropped on Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August).

Losing between 129,000 and 229,000 people in just two air raids brought the Japanese Empire to its knees. With a populace ready to defend their god emperor to the death and the already ferocious fanaticism of the Japanese military, it was a miracle to the Allies when Japan acceded to surrender a few days later.

The Japanese didn’t surrender for nearly a week though. It wasn’t until 15 August 1945 that Japan gave up. Due to the time zone differences, it was still 14 August in Washington D.C. and the rest of America when it happened.

The men of the US Navy’s Carrier Air Group 88 deployed to the Pacific Theater in June 1945. They were assigned to USS Yorktown (CV-10) on 17 June at Leyte Gulf.

Yorktown had only been in service for two years, but she had already earned a reputation for her wartime service. She fought at the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the Marianas, Palau Islands, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. She earned 11 battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation by war’s end.

Carrier Air Group 88 had only been constituted in August 1944, so this was to be their first taste of combat. After arriving on Yorktown, they went through training aboard ship, perfecting flight deck operations. They commenced combat sorties on 10 July 1945 with attacks on airfields around Tokyo.

The air group’s squadrons few Grumman F6F Hellcats (VF-88), Goodyear-made Vought F4U Corsairs (known as FG-1D when made by Goodyear, assigned to VFB-88), Curtiss SB2C Helldivers (VB-88), and Grumman TBF Avengers (made by General Motors as TBM Avengers, squadron VT-88). In that first mission they dropped 46 tons of bombs, sunk a Japanese merchant ship (referred to as a “Sugar Dog” in the after actions report), and damaged or destroyed dozens of enemy aircraft on the ground. Though not encountering any Japanese fighters in the air, two planes were lost. One Corsair and one Hellcat were downed by flak. The Corsair was last seen going down in flames, the Naval Aviator at the stick being killed in action. The Hellcat made it back out to the ships of the task force before the pilot was forced to ditch, but he was rescued.

Over the next several weeks the air group continued flying missions over Japan. Each report reads about the same, 50-60 tons or more of bombs dropped, a long list of ships, locomotives, buildings, and enemy aircraft destroyed or damaged, and the loss of a handful of aircraft and men on each mission.

The men of the air group met their first airborne resistance on 24 July as they returned to their ship after bombing ships at the Kure Naval Base. VF-88’s Hellcats were attacked by a flight of eight or ten Japanese Mitsubishi J2M Raiden fighters, known as “Jacks” to the Allies. The Americans shot down two of the Jacks, and also claimed credit for ½ a kill on a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa “Oscar” that they shared with another combat air patrol.

Every few days, the men of Air Group 88 would launch off Yorktown and hit the Japanese where they lived. No records are made in the group’s after actions reports of the atomic bombings, but by 14 August, they were expecting the official news of Japan’s surrender any moment. Despite that, plans for offensive action continued. That day they flew 17 combat air patrols.

On 15 August, the men of the air group took off yet again, laden with bombs and ammunition, to attack the enemy, despite the war’s end being mere hours away.

Six Hellcats took off at 0415 hours to attack Atsugi Air Base. While circling their target in preparation of their bomb run they were ordered to cease offensive actions and return to their ship at 0645. The war was over. Today was VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day)! The world would rejoice as six long years of war, costing many millions of lives, was finally at long last ended.

I can only imagine the relief in the hearts of the pilots of those fighters that morning. They were done. No more of their comrades would be lost to the Japanese, who by now were obviously just delaying their inevitable defeat.

The US Navy warbirds were still laden with bombs and wing fuel tanks, and had only made it about five miles towards their vessel, when they were suddenly attacked by a vastly superior number of enemy aircraft.

The six Americans were faced with at least 15 and as many as 20 Japanese planes. They were attacked by J2M Jacks, Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate “Frank” fighters, and N1K-J Shiden “George” fighters. The latter two compete for the title of the best Japanese fighter of the war.

The Japanese fighters pressed the charge. A vicious aerial melee ensued. The American aviators gave better than they got. Nine of the Japanese planes went down in flames, but it came with a cost. When the battle finally ended, only two badly shot up American Hellcats flew out.

Four Hellcats were missing, but were listed as downed by enemy action with their pilots killed. They would be some of, if not the last, combat losses of World War II. Exactly a year to the day after the group had first been organized.

Since hostilities were supposed to have ended at 0645 hours, this final battle would technically be just after the war. The President’s message that Japan had surrendered came at 0812 hours.

Despite this, supposedly grounded enemy aircraft continued to fly and were engaged by the air group’s combat air patrol (CAP). The air group’s “Dumbo CAP” (Dumbo being the code for the air rescue planes) provided the group’s last combat action of the war that day, downing three Nakajima C6N Saiun “Myrt” naval reconnaissance planes as they took off, loaded with bombs, from Hokoda Air Base.

The last four men to die were;

  • Ensign Eugene E. Mandeberg of Detroit. Posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Ensign Wright Cox “Billy” Hobbs Jr of Indiana. Posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Lieutenant Howard M. Harrison of West Virginia. Posthumous recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph G. Sahloff of New York. Posthumously received a gold star in lieu of a second award of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

None of their earthly remains have been located. The American Battle Monuments Commission oversees the Honolulu Memorial where all four men are memorialized. They list all four men as recipients of the Air Medal as well.

During the war, Lieutenant Maury Proctor took some fantastic color film of the men of VF-88. Here it is;

Category: Historical, Navy, Valor, We Remember

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Yorktown CV-10 is on display in the Cooper River at Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant South Carolina across the river from downtown Charleston.

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society museum is onboard Yorktown.


Ensign Eugene E “Mandy” Mandeberg.

“Ensign Mandeberg grew up in Detroit MI. His father owned a furniture store. Friends described Mandeberg as studious, prone to making humorous comments and a passion to write articles in his school newspaper about current social issues. At
the University of Michigan, Mandeberg was hired to write for the Michigan Daily.”

“When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mandeberg set aside his promising writing career to enlist into the US Navy as an aviation cadet. After successfully completing his training, Mandeberg became a Hellcat fighter pilot with VBF-88, Air Group-88.”

Rest In Peace, Ensign Mandeberg.


Never Forget.


“At the time the four pilots were shot down, there was the report of an American aircraft crashing and burning on the hillside of a farm.”

“Japanese military officials responded and found the partial remains of the pilot. The remains were wrapped and taken to a Buddhist Temple. There the remains were buried.”

“In 1946 an American Graves Registration Service team from the Eighth Army visited the temple and recovered the remains.”

“In 1947, another team visited the crash site. Additional remains were recovered about a foot below the surface. In addition, parts from the aircraft were identified as an F6F Hellcat from the Yorktown…the same type of aircraft flown by the missing four pilots.”

“The team believed the remains belonged to Mandeberg. Mandeberg’s family was notified.”

“The family declined to accept the remains, because it was not a positive ID. And they did not want someone else’s remains buried as their son.”

“The remains were transported and buried as an Unknown at the American cemetery in Manila.”


Ensign Wright Cox “Billy” Hobbs Jr.

“Hobbs grew up on a farm just outside of Kokomo Indiana. His father was well known in area for his work on hybrid corn. While in high school, Hobbs saved his money and took flying lessons, becoming one of the youngest licensed pilots in Indiana.”

“During World War 2, Hobbs enlisted into the US Navy’s aviation cadet program. When he completed his training, Hobbs was assigned as a Hellcat fighter pilot with VBF-88, Air Group-88.”

Rest In Peace, Ensign Hobbs.


Never Forget.


LT Howard M “Howdy” Harrison.

“LT Harrison was described in his unit’s World War 2 history was described as popular and funny.”

Rest In Peace, LT Harrison.


Never Forget.

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LTJG Joseph Gordon Sahloff

“Headline: Navy Lauds Selkirk Flier’s Heroism
-Joseph G. Sahloff, aged 24; missing in action since V-J Day
-son of Mr & Mrs. Joseph F. Salhoff of Selkirk NY
-flew Hellcats
-article details his part in rescue of another pilot several weeks before V-J Day
-article also says he was shot down over Tokyo after cessation of hostilities when the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-10) instructed the fliers to hold their bombs; four pilots were lost in the event
~source: The Knickerbocker News, Albany, NY; Monday April 1, 1946”

Rest In Peace, LTJG Sahloff.


Never Forget.


Thank You so much, Mason, for sharing another Valor story.


RIP flyers, you’ve earned it. Sad that such things always seem to happen after they’re supposed to be over.. guess they should have finished the mission and unloaded on their targets. During the war, the Japs were not exactly what you’d call trustworthy or honorable, regardless of what they claimed..


Hi, Fryfighter!

Reference the word “Jap.”

We think there are several TAH members who have family that are of Japanese background.

Just letting you know.

Also, we posted this because some of the Japanese were honorable:

“At the time the four pilots were shot down, there was the report of an American aircraft crashing and burning on the hillside of a farm.”

“Japanese military officials responded and found the partial remains of the pilot. The remains were wrapped and taken to a Buddhist Temple. There the remains were buried.”

“In 1946 an American Graves Registration Service team from the Eighth Army visited the temple and recovered the remains.”

Thank You, Fryfighter!


Rest Well, Gentlemen.

We salute you.

My great-uncle (Fighting Squadron 77) was declared missing one month prior off the Yorktown. 22 years old…

Thank God for such men!


Only George Patton expressed a desire to be killed with the last bullet fired in the last battle of the last war. Tho these men knew that the end was imminent, they did their duty to the very end and gave a good accounting of themselves…

Thank you, again, Mason, for another great write up of Heroes that should not be forgotten, but too often are. A Thanks to our very own (we have the best) ninja for “…the rest of the story.”