Pete Mitscher and Armored Cruiser Aviation

By Rear Admiral George van Deurs, U. S. Navy (Retired)

On 7 June they took the first plane on board. Shortly thereafter a detail of aviation men and two more pilots, Lieutenants Stone and Donahue, U. S. Coast Guard, reported on board. Then for two months the ship experimented with balloons, planes, and the catapult. The aviators felt segregated; when seaplanes crashed close aboard, or balloons broke loose, the occurrences were logged, but the ship never acted to rescue, or help out, at such times.

When one of her own planes caught fire on the catapult, it was "put out without damage to the ship." The captain cleaned up by firing the catapult, and letting the wreck drift away on the ebb tide. Some hours later the station salvage barge retrieved the remains near the harbor entrance.

June 25th must have been a low day for Mitscher and his aviators. The station's non-flying commandant was on board when the ship towed a balloon out into the Gulf. He and the captain thought they could launch a plane on a seapainter, as they might a whaleboat, while the ship was underway. At 1100, she was doing better than 12 knots when they lowered Number 26 overside. The instant the pontoon touched, the plane did a flip, dived under, and wrecked itself. The ship backed down and spent an hour picking up the pieces.

That afternoon, for reasons not stated, they fired a plane off the catapult "without pilot or passenger. Plane and car dove into the sea about 50 yards astern." This time it took longer to pick up the wreck. A few days later, the ship paid off John Paul Jones (Boatswain's Mate First Class), but the aviators still felt out of place.

In July, Mitscher and Donahue were launched successfully from the catapult as the ship steamed in the Gulf of Mexico. Radio transmitters operated in their planes. On 1 August, when the ship sailed for New York via Hampton Roads, the aviation detail included ten chief petty officers: a boatswain's mate, a quartermaster, a turret captain, four machinist's mates, a carpenter's mate, and two masters at arms. The lower ratings were six machinist's mates, a ship-fitter, five carpenter's mates, a Coast Guard wheelsman, a seaman, and 13 electrician's mates 3rd class.

A few times during the month while the ship lay in the Hudson River, a plane was hoisted out to fly. Planes were dismantled and secured for sea on 7 September when the Huntington led a convoy toward Europe. They were still secured when she anchored again off 96th Street on 6 October. Her catapult had not been used since Pensacola.

Months earlier, the last aviators had been detached from the North Carolina and Seattle . Mitscher closed out armored cruiser aviation on 13 October, exactly five months after the Huntington sailed from the Golden Gate with her new catapult. At 0000 that day Mitscher's men began tearing down the catapult tracks and emptying aviation store rooms. By 0600 they had all of the cruiser's aviation gear on a lighter headed for the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Shipboard plane operations for World War I were all over in the U. S. Navy when Pete Mitscher was detached that afternoon.



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