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After Action Report
Operation Hermit Crab
Date of Action: December 7, 2007
VMF-251 lifted from task force CV-1 in FM-2s at 2312, assigned to provide CAP for task force, coordinating with VF-31. VF-31 drew high CAP and extended to 6 miles outside radar coverage. VMF-251 climbed to 12,000ft to patrol inside radar. Owing to uncertainty of attack direction, Maj. Wyatt deployed the squadron by flights. Wyatt, with 1st Lt. Dillon, patrolled arc NE of carrier. 1st Lt. Santana with 1st Lt. Johnson were directed to keypad north of CV. Capt. MEF4UD and 1st Lt. Morgan patrolled along SE edge of radar coverage. Two pilots loaned from VF-31 covered southern approach to the task force.
Approximately +10 from squadron launch enemy Ki-67 bombers reported sector east of CV-1 at 15,000ft. VMF-251 began climb to 20,000 to intercept. At 2325 simultaneous contact made with Peggy bombers north and southeast of task group. Wyatt, Dillon, Santana and Johnson intercepted low force inbound for torpedo runs; MEF4UD, Morgan and two from VF-31 encountered second group from SE in at altitude for level bombing run.
VMF-251 engaged enemy. In 5-minute action Dillon claimed 3 Ki-67s destroyed with assist on fourth. MEF4UD, Morgan and Johnson shot down by enemy bombers. Wyatt assisted Dillon on two Ki-67s, and engaged and destroyed one escorting Ki-84 in short fight. At least one formation of Ki-67s broke through escort to carry out torpedo attack on task group. MEF4UD assumed command of group and turned carrier. Torpedoes hit one destroyer, which was lost, but CV escaped damage. One other destroyer sunk by level bombers. At 2334 Santana recorded a Ki-84 destroyed from first wave escort.
Remainder of VMF-251 regrouped and returned to altitude. Wyatt and Dillon reported damage to landing gear system and external fuel tanks jettisoned, unable to land and rearm. Sporadic enemy contact with carrier. Few aircraft in position to intercept, but MEF4UD continues to successfully evade attack, while giving pilots an opportunity to recover and rearm. Santana takes on fuel at 2344. At 2358 Wyatt, Dillon and Santana spot Ki-67 inbound low off CV for torpedo run. Wyatt makes single firing pass, and enemy explodes.
At 0000 second wave of level and divebombers attacked CV-1. MEF4UD successfully evaded most attacks, but one bomber managed to drop on target and heavily damaged CV. MEF4UD continued evasive despite multiple enemy attacks from all directions. Exemplary control of the helm saved CV-1 when enemy dropped within several feet of port bow. Bombs dropped at 0005 struck and sunk cruiser, but no other attacks came close to successfully striking CV. Throughout attacks MEF4UD managed to position CV for recovery of friendly aircraft returning from CAP and strike missions, enabling their safe landing and rearm to continue contribution to attacks against primary targets. For his determined actions in defense of CV-1, Wyatt has recommended MEF4UD for the Navy Cross.
Santana recorded one Ki-67 destroyed at 0006. At 0012 Wyatt and Dillon, critically low on fuel, returned to base. Both aircraft successfully recovered despite combat damage to landing gear. Santana rearmed at 0015, and returned to patrol with remainder of CV-1 CAP. Santana recorded another Ki-67 destroyed at 0030 before returning again to take of fuel at 0036. Enemy activity ceased and Santana recovered at 0046.