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Escort Carrier WWII: War in the Pacific on the Aircraft Carrier USS Petrof Bay
by Rick Cline
R.A. Cline Publishing, 1998, 222 pages

American escort carriers, nicknamed "jeep carriers" or "baby flat tops," transported aircraft and other supplies to the front lines during the Pacific War. In addition, air squadrons based on these small carriers provided air support for land-based operations. The escort carrier USS Petrof Bay (CVE-80) fought for nine months at Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The ship's gunners and air squadron pilots downed many Japanese planes, including kamikazes, but the ship escaped damage. Escort Carrier WWII was the first book for author Rick Cline, son of Petrof Bay crewmember Clovis Cline, and he has written two other books on World War II topics since its publication in 1998. The author privately published all three books. Although Cline has a family connection to Petrof Bay, the book includes almost no personal stories and draws extensively from official Navy deck logs, war diaries, and action reports.

Escort Carrier WWII tells the war history of Petrof Bay in 15 chapters chronologically arranged, and two long chapters on the Battle of Leyte Gulf and Battle of Okinawa make up about half the book. A useful two-page glossary provides meanings for various acronyms and other technical terms, but the book lacks a map to show locations of Petrof Bay's battle actions. Although this history lacks particulars about the personalities of the ship's officers and crew, in some places the book includes excessive details about the ship's operations. Refueling operations, both from Petrof Bay to other ships or from tankers to Petrof Bay, get a lot of attention. As an example of the extreme level of detail, a tanker went alongside Petrof Bay at 1116 hours on May 16, 1945, and "the CVE received 292,607 gallons of fuel oil and 30,417 gallons of aviation gasoline" (p. 187). Each appendectomy performed by the ship's doctor on a crewman also seems to get mentioned. Although the book has numerous facts about the carrier, the author misses a basic one like the number of men on the ship.

In February 1944, the US Navy commissioned the escort aircraft carrier Petrof Bay (CVE-80), nicknamed the Mighty 80. Two Fleet Composite Squadrons, VC-76 (June 1944 to March 1945) and VC-93 (March to May 1945), used the 512-foot carrier for their operations of about 28 FM-2 Wildcat fighters and TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. The book's first five chapters cover Petrof Bay's maiden voyage to carry aircraft, personnel, and materials back and forth to the southwest Pacific and the ship's first battle action in the Palau Islands in September 1944.

Kamikaze plane on fire
barely missed Petrof Bay 

 
Chapters 6 to 10 narrate Petrof Bay's battle action in the Philippines, with focus on the escort carrier's participation in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. On October 25 and 26, 1944, Petrof Bay's gunners successfully fought off some of the first kamikaze attacks of the war, but a few kamikaze planes succeeded in hitting nearby escort carriers. On October 25, gunners from Petrof Bay and other escort carriers failed to stop a diving Zero fighter from crashing into the flight deck of the escort carrier Santee. Another Zero barely missed Petrof Bay off her port bow. Minutes later, two Japanese planes started to dive on Petrof Bay, but one plane changed direction and hit the escort carrier Suwannee, and the other plane dropped a bomb that missed Petrof Bay. On October 26 at about 12:30 p.m., five Japanese planes started dives at Petrof Bay and Suwannee, with three breaking off toward Petrof Bay and the other two toward Suwannee. The first kamikaze plane heading toward Petrof Bay crashed about 50 feet astern after being hit by the ship's guns. Petrof Bay gun crews also downed the second kamikaze plane, which missed only about 25 feet forward of the bridge and hit the water about 25 feet off the ship's side. The last plane took off trailing smoke after being hit by the ship's gunners. The first plane heading toward Suwannee hit the forward flight deck. Suwannee's gunners managed to shoot down the second plane, which crashed near the port bow, but the first plane killed more than 100 men and wounded another 170.

The last five chapters cover the battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and Petrof Bay's several postwar trips back and forth across the Pacific. During the Battle of Iwo Jima, Composite Squadron 76 (VC-76) planes based on Petrof Bay flew over 800 sorties, mainly for ground support missions. The ship's new air squadron, Composite Squadron 93 (VC-93), flew almost 1,800 sorties off Okinawa through the end of May 1945, when the carrier returned to the States for a general overhaul. VC-93 fighter planes downed 17 Japanese planes during mass kamikaze attacks on April 6 and 12, 1945, and the book includes battle action related to several of these individual kills by VC-93 pilots.

This history of Petrof Bay relates the WWII battle actions of the escort carrier and her air squadrons in a detached manner since it relies heavily on official Navy documents. A few personal accounts from the ship's officers and crew would have greatly improved this book.