TRAINING AT NAS BOCA CHICA
At NAS Boca Chica, a line area was set up, and offices were opened in a small building acquired from the Navy. Flying immediately commenced with familiarization hops, and after more lectures on dropping the aerial torpedo, simulated torpedo runs with 2,000 pound concrete dummy torpedoes. On February 29, 1944, while making one of these runs on the target vessel, the USS MacLeish, Major Baker's aircraft (BuNo 35047) developed a runaway propeller. Major Baker immediately headed back to the airfield and attempted to salvo his 2,000 pound dummy in order to maintain altitude. When all attempts to do so failed, he was forced to make a water landing eight miles west of Key West. Although Major Baker made a "textbook" landing in 18 inches of water, he broke both legs and suffered severe facial lacerations in the landing. The co-pilot and radioman, having suffered only minor injuries, were able to pull Major Baker onto the aircraft's wing where they were rescued by a Navy crash-boat. As a result of his injuries, Major Baker was transported to the Naval Hospital at Key West, Florida where he remained recuperating for many months. In light of Major Baker's injuries, Major Nevils immediately assumed duties as commanding officer, and Major Danser as assumed duties as executive officer. Additional personnel changes included the assignment of Captain Richard C. O'Reilly, USMCR, of Los Angeles, California, who had just transferred into the squadron, as operations officer, and the detachment and reassignment to MAG-61 of Captain Woten who had served as assistant operations officer.
As well as simulated bombing and strafing runs, live torpedo runs at a target ship were conducted once the pilots had become proficient dropping the concrete dummy torpedoes. Additionally, numerous navigation hops to various parts of the United States and Cuba were performed with many hours of night and instrument flying being logged as the aircraft remained in the air daily from 5:00AM to 10:00PM. Further practice in anti-shipping tactics included strafing and dropping live bombs at towed targets. During this time, each pilot also spent one day aboard the target destroyer observing and assessing the squadron's tactics.
Since arriving at NAS Boca Chica three weeks earlier, the squadron had flown 1,141 sorties with a total of 2,357 flight-hours. Despite this extremely high operational tempo, all elements of the squadron performed well and only two minor incidents resulted. The first incident occurred on the 6th, when a "wheels-up" landing was made by of one of the squadron's pilots when he discovered he had no indicated air speed due to his failure to remove the cover on the aircraft's pitot tube. With no crew injuries and only minimal damage, this aircraft (BuNo 35159) was quickly repaired and was operational by the end of the day. The second incident occurred when the wingtip of one of the squadron's taxiing PBJ-1s struck and damaged the Plexiglas on the nose of a another aircraft. This too resulted in no injuries and only minor damage that was quickly repaired.
Following this grueling schedule, all officers and men enjoyed liberty while at NAS Boca Chica. Liberty was much better than that at MCAS Cherry Point, as Key West and Miami, Florida, and Havana, Cuba were readily accessible. As VMB-613 completed their training at NAS Boca Chica and prepared to return to MCAS Cherry Point, morale was high and the squadron's readiness percentage was at 72.43.
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|USS MacLeish||Major Baker's Ditched Aircraft near Key West, Florida|