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January 1945 until September 1945

Attached to Air Group 85 on the USS Shangri-La, CV-38




  This web site is dedicated to VBF-85, AND VBF-85 Corsair pilot Lt. Richard T. Schaeffer.   As one of the most senior officers assigned to VBF-85, Richard was the leader of his 2 aircraft section and 4 aircraft division.  In flight the formation would have his section wingman trailing off to one side and the other section leader off to his other side, forming an elongated V of 4 aircraft.  At 05:30 in the morning he launched with 8 Corsairs from VBF-85, 6 SB2C Helldivers from VB-85, and accompanied by 2 photo-recon F6F Hellcats from VF-85 to record their attack results on the Japanese Imperial Aircraft Factory in Tokyo. 

    During the attack his Corsair was damaged and his radio became inoperative, probably shot up.  En-route back to the U.S.S. Shangri-La, he motioned to his long-time wingman, Ens. Allen Philipp, in a circular motion then pointed to the water.  He couldn’t make the safety of the carrier and had to set it down.  Descending and setting up for a ditch, Ens. Philipp said he made a nice water landing.  However, watching in orbit over the downed plane, he never saw Richard get out of the stricken aircraft’s cockpit.  As Ens. Philipp circled the location for 45 minutes that early morning on July 30th, 1945, he witnessed FG-1D Corsair, side #14, BuNo 87884, sink under the waves taking Richard with it and saw nothing more.    

     Four days earlier Schaeffer's roommate, Lt.Cdr. "Tex" O'Neill--the squadron's Executive Officer-- had received transfer orders and Schaeffer was tentatively scheduled to replace him as the new XO.  Lt. Schaeffer "may" have already been--or was going to be--advanced to Lt.Cdr [what his records show after the war]. The war ended 16 days later; the squadron was returned to the U.S. and disbanded; and Richard Schaeffer and 35 of his fellow Air Group 85 pilots didn't live to see it happen.

    The site is also dedicated to the men of VBF-85, as well as those of other squadrons, ships, and units from both theaters, who went off to war and are largely forgotten.  Like hundreds of ships, squadrons, and fighting units from all branches of service, after WWII was over VBF-85was not needed and disbanded. 

Featured Photos

VF Corsair Formation

Formation of "Sky Pirates" Corsairs showing white lightning bolts on tail, right
upper wing tip, and left lower wing tip, as designated for Air Group 85 on board

the U.S.S. Shangri-La (CV-38) in 1945.  Side #49 is an F4U-1C (with
two wing cannons showing against the center drop tank back ground) and was assigned to the VF-85 branch of the "Sky Pirates".

EA-18G painted as VBF-85

This EA-18G "Growler", BuNo 166899 from VAQ-129 stationed at
NAS Whidbey Island, was painted in WWII "Sky Pirates" colors to help
commemorate the 100th anniversary of U.S. Naval aviation (1911-2011).
This electronic warfare version of the F-18 was painted with Air Group 85
markings from the U.S.S. Shangri-La (CV-38) as used in 1945 (This tribute color scheme has the addition of a two-tone blue--as reminiscent of the earlier tri-color Corsair paint scheme. A single color darker blue would have been true and correct for Corsairs of 1945)
The aircraft showed the white lightning bolt on the tail and right wing tip just as
the "Sky Pirates" (Corsairs of VF-85 and VBF-85) displayed until the very last days
of the war when Air Group 85 markings identifying them as attached to the U.S.S. Shangri-La changed to a Z on the tail.This was a very nice tribute to the Sky Pirates, VF-85 and VBF-85 from Air Group 85


While the units that were kept intact for the much smaller post war armed forces carried on and were staffed by people interested in keeping their history alive; the disbanded units had no mechanism in place to keep in touch.  Many units were forgotten by history, much like VBF-85.  They went over, put their lives on the line doing something very, very dangerous; some of them died, and the remainder came home, largely forgotten by history. 

    Look at most restored Corsairs in aircraft museums and in photos, and the squadron identities and aircraft numbers that are chosen to be represented concentrate on the “famous battles”, the “famous aces”, the “well known few carriers.”   It also seems to me that most books and articles written, aircraft models built, and pictures painted by artists represent the same already over-represented factions of pivotal battles, famous squadrons, and ace pilots.   

      VBF-85 had aerial kills, in fact the squadron scored the very first aerial kill on a day mission for both Air Group 85 and the U.S.S. Shangri-La when on 4 May ‘45, Lt. J.S. Horne and Lt.jg. G.M. Chappell shared credit for downing a “Jill” inbound to the task group with a torpedo [“First blood” was from VF-85 when  J.S. Patton splashed a “Betty” during a night CAP, 29 April ‘45].  VBF-85 also got the last "Corsair kill" off WWII when Ens. Falvey Sandidge was credited with shooting down a "Judy" just slightly after the cease fire 15 Aug. '45.  But VBF-85 had no aces – they ostensibly performed a ground and surface attack role--and history loves aces.  A squadron over-looked by history and time, and one of thousands of such military units that did the dirty work and got the job done to deliver the allied victory.

Miscellaneous Ramblings About:

Individually “owned” Aircraft

     Mainly because of the way the Army Air Corps operated bomber crews in Europe, and from war movies, nose art, and widely circulated photos of aces posing “in a” particular aircraft, it’s widely assumed that fighter pilots were assigned their own individual aircraft.  Pictures taken of aces with their kill flags painted on an aircraft reinforce this mental picture that each pilot “was assigned a particular single aircraft.” 
     NOT SO in the U.S. Navy of WWII carrier warfare.  Pilots flew whatever aircraft was assigned on a daily basis.  Pilot log books confirm they flew different Corsairs daily, and sometimes from the other squadron.  The single Air Group Commander on a carrier was the only exception.  Navy records from Washington show that only 1 aircraft was actually "attached to" U.S.S. Shangri-La herself, and all others were attached to either one of the two Corsair squadrons on board.  That aircraft was side #37, the Air Group Commander's aircraft, or "CAG".  Otherwise, large Essex class carriers such as the U.S.S. Shangri-La, although very large ships, were crammed with multiple squadrons and multiple makes of aircraft.  The flight and hanger decks represented a very large, very tightly packed, organizational nightmare.  It was very hard to retrieve an aircraft from the rear without extensive shuffling or unless the entire Air Group vacated during a launch.  The first pilots assigned a mission, were given the first aircraft accessible.  If the carrier needed to launch 4 Corsair pilots assigned for a CAP (carrier air patrol), they got in the first 4 flight ready Corsairs that were accessible for launch. 
     Pilots of VBF-85 were sometimes assigned aircraft attached to VF-85—and vice versa.  This can be seen in some of the documentation on this web site when aircraft assigned to one Corsair squadron were written off in combat or accidents by pilots of the other Corsair squadron. I have been told by VBF-85 pilot Billie McCracken that sometimes it was convenience, sometimes the assignment was to better fit the particular mission, as VF-85 had some of the only 200 F4U-1C’s manufactured with four 20mm cannons, while the F4U-1D’s and FG-1D’s of VBF-85 had six 50cal machine guns.

Air Group 85

     Originally attached to the U.S.S. Shangri-La in 1944 as a single large fighter squadron, the 72 plane “Fighting Squadron” was ordered on Jan. 2nd 1945 to divide into a 36 plane “Bombing Fighting Squadron” [to have aircraft side numbers 01 through 36], and  a 36 plane “Fighting Squadron” [to have side numbers counting up from 38 on].  The personnel were arbitrarily assigned one or the other, and in many cases bunked with those in the other squadron.   Actual aircraft types and numbers varied continually as aircraft were lost to combat and accidents and their subsequent replacements arrived.  VF-85 also had 6 F6F Hellcats assigned as night fighters and photo recon ships.
     The remainder of Air Group 85 as assigned to the Shangri-La were the “Bombing Squadron” VB-85 flying SB2C Helldivers and the “Torpedo Squadron” VT-85 flying TBF Avengers.
     Both Corsair squadrons were assigned overhead defensive air patrol CAP, as well as ground and shipping attack duties.  It appears as though both squadrons, even though having differing designations, were used interchangeably and for the same types of missions.  At times it was just a matter of who was up to fly next and what airplanes were accessible to get up the elevator onto the flight deck. 
      Fairly early on, the F4U-1C’s cannons were found to jam in the cold air at altitude.  It was later determined the high altitude testing of the -1C had been skipped and the aircraft rushed into combat.  Because of this, and until gun heaters could be installed, the -1C’s were restricted in altitude.  In use, pilots expressed opinions that the less amount of cannon ammo of the -1C in the “Fighter” squadron’s aircraft was better suited for surface attack, and the greater amounts of ammo the 6 fifty cal machine guns the “Bomber-Fighting” squadron had was better suited for air-to-air.  In actuality I don’t think it seemed to matter much.  They had two squadrons of Corsairs to use as needed where and when.
     The Corsairs of both squadrons were equipped to carry a center mounted 1,000 pound bomb, or two 500 pound explosive or napalm bombs mounted just inboard of the mains, or combinations including up to three drop tanks.  Both aircraft had mounts on the wings for firing up to eight 5” HVAR (High Velocity Aircraft Rockets).  Some ground attack missions were flown with only wing machine guns as armament.

Missions, Expenditures

All told, Air Group 85 threw a lot of fire power at the Japanese.

  • 620,176 rounds of machine gun ammo

  • 731 bombs

  • 2,333 aerial rockets

  • 21 napalm bombs

VBF-85 flew 10,233 flight hours accomplishing 2,274 sorties, broken down as follows:

  • Okinawa Campaign; 4,977 hours and 1,106 sorties

  • Operations against the Japanese Empire: 3,656 hours and 914 sorties. 

  • Occupation of the Japanese Empire after the war before leaving 1,016 hours and 254 sorties.

VBF-85 planes lost to enemy aircraft or AA, 10; damaged by AA 41
VBF-85 ordnance expenditures in bombs, rockets, napalm, and ammo: 199 tons.

Damage to Enemy

  • Airborne aircraft destroyed 10; damaged 8.

  • Planes on ground destroyed 120; damaged 129

  • Ships destroyed 24, tonnage 43,900 tons; ships damaged 87, tonnage 194,900 tons.

Destroyed ships include BB Haruna.  The squadron also participated in attacking BB Nagato, directing attacks against protecting AA batteries, thus contributing to the bombing attack of the ship by other squadrons (this Battleship not counted in totals listed).

  • Locomotives destroyed 21; damaged 4.

Miscellaneous destroyed buildings: Warehouses 2, Factories 1, Hangers 1; Miscellaneous damaged buildings: Warehouses 15, Power plants 2, Radio stations 2, Factories 4, Hangers 20, and R.R. tunnel 1.

In Memoriam 

(chronological order of loss)
Milo G. Parker, Ensign
Walter J. Barschat, Ensign
Charles W.S. Hullund, Lt.jg
William H. Marr, Lt.jg
John H. Schroff, Lt.
Sigurd Lovdal, Lt.
John S. Weeks, Lt.jg
Joseph G. Hjelstrom, Lt.jg
Richard T. Schaeffer, Lt.Cdr.


Last Updated 8 April 2015


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