Captain Marion Carl’s Log Book Details Guadalcanal Combat
While tens of thousands of words have been written about the Guadalcanal campaign, one of the pivotal battles of the Pacific War, the few notations scrawled on the paged of the Aviators Flight Log Book of Captain Marion Carl, one the Marine Corps’ legendary fighter pilots, offer a revealing glimpse of combat with the “Cactus Air Force.”
A member of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 223, Captain Marion Carl had already had his first taste of combat during the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. On August 20, 1942, he joined his squadronmates in launching from the deck of the auxiliary carrier Long Island (ACV 1), their F4F-4 Wildcats joining SBD-3 Dauntless dive bombers of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 232 in the flight to Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field. There, an anxious first night awaited them. “We were awakened by heavy gunfire from the perimeter, about a mile and a half away,” he recalled in his autobiography. “As the shooting dragged on, we could see tracers slicing through the dark, and I began to wonder what I was doing there, fully exposed in the open under a fly [canvas covering], armed only with my .45-caliber pistol.”
Carl’s first patrols yielded no contact with the enemy and such was the excitement of August 24th that the information was not originally recorded, instead placed at the end of the month’s entries. On that day, VMF-223 intercepted two waves of Japanese bombers and their Zero fighter escorts, with Carl shooting down four airplanes, though he had to wait to get confirmation for one of the kills. Once it was confirmed, he achieved the exalted status of ace, the first fighter pilot in the history of the Marine Corps to claim this title.
More kills came during August, the initials of squadron commander, fighter ace, and future Medal of Honor recipient Major John L. Smith making them official in Carl’s log book. The following month, Carl’s log book notes a unique night mission. Each evening the Japanese sent aircraft over Henderson Field in an attempt to deprive the Marines of rest, the nocturnal aircraft eventually nicknamed “Washing Machine Charlie.” On the night of September 8th and early morning of September 9th, VMF-223 attempted to put a stop to it, only to lose three aircraft in mishaps while pilots attempted to land at Henderson Field in the darkness.
The following morning, Carl joined other pilots in taking to the skies in better daylight visibility, splashing two twin-engine G4M land attack bombers for kills 12 and 13. “Next thing I knew I was sitting in a flying junk heap with a fire in the cockpit. Some craft Zero pilot had hit me before I even knew he as there.” Carl bailed out at an altitude of 22,000 feet and spent four hours in the water before a native rescued him in a canoe and brought him ashore at Guadalcanal. It took him five days to make it back to Henderson Field and not until September 18th did he return to action. As the log book notes, the periods in the air were short in duration, but frequent. On September 28th, for example, Carl scrambled three times, but spent just two total hours in the air.
Noted in the log book only by the absence of an entry, September 30th brought a visit by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, who pinned Navy Crosses on Carl and other Marines.
Carl’s log book notes two combats with the enemy in October, the mission on October 3rd remembered by him as “one of the most satisfying combats of my career.” Flying higher than he ever had in an airplane, reaching an altitude of 35,000 ft., he observed a formation of Japanese Zero fighters far below. Making a diving attack, he splashed one of them and was ready to unleash fire against a second when his guns jammed under negative Gs. Lieutenant Colonel Joe Bauer, who would eventually receive the Medal of Honor posthumously, was on the flight with Carl and became an ace himself that day.
It proved to be Carl’s last combat with the enemy. In 35 flights, he had engaged in combat with the enemy on 10 occasions and been credited with 15.5 kills, each recorded in the worn covered log book that is a prized part of the collection of the National Naval Aviation Museum.