The Marines' Lost Squadron The Odyssey of VMF-422 by Mark Carlson
In THE MARINES' LOST SQUADRON THE ODYSSEY OF VMF-422, author Mark Carlson explains in great detail the tragic story. The flight was just supposed to be a routine flight, ferrying 24 F4U-1D Corsairs to another island. The end result: Only one plane actually landed where intended. The rest were either lost forever, or ditched at sea. Although not often mentioned, the “Flintlock Disaster” was actually the worst non-combat loss of a marine squadron in the war.
Here was the key problem: They were heading “right at one of nature’s most powerful and dangerous forces: a Pacific typhoon.” Adding to the problem was that the commanding general never told the arriving location that the planes were on the way. So, when they didn’t show up, no one knew to take action to look for them.
The pilots became hopelessly confused in the typhoon. Just one managed to land on their original destination, and many ended up in the ocean:
“One by one the planes disappeared like tiny insects into the storm.”
The author recounts in great detail the confusion of the typhoon, and how the pilots attempted to make their way, without success. Ultimately, there were 13 men in 12 rafts trying to survive.
The most bizarre account is of pilot Jake Wilson. He flew around blindly for two hours, then “managed to stumble on the only island inhabited by friendly natives whose pretty girls were literally throwing themselves at him.” The chief of the island gave a party for Wilson. It was his “own betrothal party. He told the American pilot to choose a wife from among the young women who were dancing for him.” Later, Wilson recounted that life on the island “had been one of the most pleasant times he had ever known.”
Although the men on the rafts were rescued, some men were never found, and were lost at sea. There was an official investigation, which placed much blame on commanding General Merritt—primarily for not sending a multi-engine escort with the single-engine planes:
“A multi-engine escort plane was virtually imperative for long over-water flights by single-engine aircraft.”
So all in all, I found THE MARINES' LOST SQUADRON to be an outstanding book. The author writes very well and provides a wealth of information about these events. Mr. Carlson does a nice job of setting the stage for the disaster, as well as taking the reader through the terrible events. The research presented here by the author is impressive and detailed.
As a side note, it’s worth mentioning a bit of history about the author. In a postlude, Mr. Carlson briefly notes that he lost his vision via the eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (the same disease that afflicts my own family.) In an encouraging--even uplifting note, the author suggests that “In a way, being blind has given me both an advantage and an insight that mere sight could never hope to accomplish.”
For more information on retinal diseases, see the Foundation Fighting Blindness.