Lest We Forget

By Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler, U.S. Navy (Retired)

The aircraft to be used was a Navy version of the Army's B-24 Liberator, reclassified by the Navy as the PB4Y-1. This unusual naval aircraft was powered by four engines that gave it a maximum speed of 300 mph, had a wingspan of 110 feet, and could deliver a payload of 8,000 pounds.

The squadron took heavy casualties while flying missions in the enemy infested Bay of Biscay, but by May 1944 Joe Kennedy had flown his quota of combat missions and was eligible to go home. Instead, he persuaded his crew to remain through June and July, flying more missions as the D-Day invasion took hold in Europe. By the end of July, he felt it was unfair to ask his crew to remain any longer, and they returned to the United States. Kennedy remained, however, and volunteered for a very different kind of mission.

V-2 rockets had been raining down indiscriminately on England, and a daring plan was devised to destroy one of their launch sites in the Normandy area. Lieutenant Kennedy and his co-pilot, Wilford "Bud" Willy, were to fly a Liberator that had been packed with nearly 11 tons of Torpex, a volatile explosive that was nearly twice as powerful as TNT. Two Lockheed Venturas would serve as "mother planes," taking remote radio control of Kennedy's aircraft after he and Willy had armed the explosives and bailed out. The "unmanned air vehicle" would then be steered into a crash dive onto the V-2 site to destroy it.

The mission began at 1800 on 12 August. Filming the mission in a small Mosquito aircraft was the son of the President, Colonel Elliott Roosevelt. He had just recorded some footage showing the pilots in the Liberator's cockpit when a massive explosion hurled debris at the filming aircraft, nearly destroying it. Where the Liberator had been an instant before, there was only a great cloud of smoke and flame with wreckage raining down to the earth below. While several theories were offered for the cause of the explosion—including being triggered by enemy jamming signals—no final conclusions have ever been drawn.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., an early pioneer in what has become 21st-century standard technology, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. In 1946 the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. (DD-850) was launched and is today a museum ship at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Lieutenant Commander Cutler is the author of several books, including A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy and Brown Water, Black Berets.
 

Thomas J. Cutler is a retired lieutenant commander and former gunner's mate second class who served in patrol craft, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers. His varied assignments included an in-country Vietnam tour, small craft command, and nine years at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he served as Executive Assistant to the Chairman of the Seamanship & Navigation Department and Associate Chairman of the History Department. While at the Academy, he was awarded the William P. Clements Award for Excellence in Education (military teacher of the year).

He is the founder and former Director of the Walbrook Maritime Academy in Baltimore. Currently he is Fleet Professor of Strategy and Policy with the Naval War College and is the Director of Professional Publishing at the U.S. Naval Institute.

Winner of the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Naval Literature, the U.S. Naval Institute Press Author of the Year, and the U.S. Maritime Literature Award, his published works include NavCivGuide: A Handbook for Civilians in the U.S. Navy; A Sailor's History of the U.S. Navy [one of the books in the Chief of Naval Operations Reading Program]; The Battle of Leyte Gulf; Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal & Riverine Warfare in Vietnam; and the 22nd, 23rd (Centennial), and 24th editions of The Bluejacket's Manual. His other works include revisions of Jack Sweetman's The Illustrated History of the U.S. Naval Academy and Dutton's Nautical Navigation. He and his wife, Deborah W. Cutler, are the co-editors of the Dictionary of Naval Terms and the Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations.

His books have been published in various forms, including paperback and audio, and have appeared as main and alternate selections of the History Book Club, Military Book Club, and Book of the Month Club. He has served as a panelist, commentator, and keynote speaker on military and writing topics at many events and for various organizations, including the Naval History and Heritage Command, Smithsonian Institution, the Navy Memorial, U.S. Naval Academy, MacArthur Memorial Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Naval Institute, Armed Forces Electronics Communications and Electronics Association, Naval War College, Civitan, and many veterans' organizations. His television appearances include the History Channel's Biography series, A&E's Our Century, Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, and CBS's 48 Hours.

More by this Author

BROWN WATER, BLACK BERETS
The men of the U.S. Navy's brown-water force played a vital but often overlooked role in the... Read More
BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF
The last great naval battle of World War II, Leyte Gulf also is remembered as the biggest naval... Read More
DUTTON'S NAUTICAL NAVIGATION, 15TH EDITION
As paper navigational charts are replaced by vector images on computer screens, magnetic compasses... Read More
A SAILOR'S HISTORY OF THE U.S. NAVY
Also Available in an Audio Edition from Audible via Amazon Essential reading as part of the Chief... Read More

Events and Conferences

Guest Lecturer
12:30pm, “Shifley Lecture Series,” U.S. Naval Academy Museum, 118 Maryland Ave., Annapolis, MD /... Read More

 
 

Conferences and Events

2014 U.S. Naval Institute History Conference

Wed, 2014-10-01

The 2014 Naval History Conference is hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the U.S. Naval Academywith support from The William M...

Defense Forum Washington 2014

Newseum - Knight Conference Center

2015 WEST Conference

View All

From the Press

Meet the Author & Guest Lecturer

Sat, 2014-08-09

CDR Youssef H. Aboul-Enein, USN

Meet the Author & Book Signing

Tue, 2014-08-12

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership