Aug 14

Landing the Planes

Friday, August 14, 2015 11:12 AM


An excerpt from “‘The Big E’ Leadership Factory,” by Barrett Tillman, in the October 2015 issue of Naval History.

Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, USS Enterprise landing-signal officer, epitomized leadership on the flight deck. (USS Enterprise CV-6 Association)

Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, USS Enterprise landing-signal officer, epitomized leadership on the flight deck. (USS Enterprise CV-6 Association)

Leadership also was evident on the Enterprise’s flight deck, never better demonstrated than during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the height of the Guadalcanal campaign. The ship’s landing-signal officer was Lieutenant Robin M. Lindsey, assisted by the air group LSO, Lieutenant (junior grade) James G. Daniels. Lindsey had been on board since July 1941 and learned the “paddles” trade under the tutelage of prewar LSOs. Daniels had survived Fighting Squadron Six’s debacle in the night sky over Pearl Harbor on 7 December when panicked Navy and Marine gunners shot at anything, killing three Big E aviators.

During the carrier battle of 26 October 1942, the Enterprise’s sister, the Hornet (CV-8), sustained fatal damage from Japanese aircraft. The Big E had to accept the Hornet’s orphaned aircraft, but her flight deck began to fill up. She had taken a bomb hit that jammed the forward elevator full up, leaving only the number two elevator available to take planes to the hangar deck while room remained topside.

Standing on the LSO platform, Lindsey and Daniels brought plane after plane aboard. Eventually the “pack” moved steadily aft until only the last few arresting wires—closest to the stern—were available. Daniels bet Lindsey a dime for every plane he “cut” onto the “one wire,” which planes hardly ever snagged.

Inevitably the Hornet overflow required parking aircraft over the number three wire, then the two wire. Only the one wire was available with planes still aloft. Lindsey’s talker reported an order from the bridge to stop landing operations, lest a major accident deprive the Pacific Fleet of its last available flight deck. Lindsey did not know if the order came from Captain Osborne Hardison or Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, the task force commander, and he didn’t care. He told his talker to pull the plug on the sound system, adding, “I don’t want to hear anything from anybody.”

Like most LSOs, Lindsey had a personal relationship with his aviators. He probably did not know any of the Hornet pilots, but he recognized their SBDs as the most valuable aircraft in the fleet. He continued giving the “cut” signal to plane after plane, each one’s tailhook grabbing the last available wire.

At length only one plane remained airborne, the F4F-4 Wildcat flown by Lieutenant Stanley W. Vejtasa. Earlier that day “Swede” Vejtasa had set an American record, downing seven Japanese aircraft and breaking up one of several attacks on the Big E. Now, turning up the carrier’s wake, wheels and hook down, Vejtasa looked at a deck jammed with blue-gray aircraft.

Vejtasa’s CO, Jimmie Flatley, regarded Swede as the finest carrier aviator afloat. And Vejtasa considered Robin Lindsey the best “waver” in the business. Theirs was both a personal and professional relationship, based on mutual respect and confidence. With the Wildcat farther out than ever before, Lindsey gave Vejtasa a “high dip”—drop the nose slightly, then recover—and then slashed his paddles down in the cut signal.

Vejtasa responded as ordered. He recalled, “I was looking right at the ramp,” the aft end of the flight deck. 6 He chopped the throttle, dropped the Grumman’s stout airframe onto the deck—and caught the one wire. In the nearby catwalks, sailors applauded and cheered a virtuoso performance by two accomplished professionals. Swede Vejtasa shut down his engine, climbed out, and warmly shook hands with his friend Robin Lindsey.

However, Lindsey’s superb work apparently went unappreciated on the flag bridge. He was put in hack, confined to his quarters, for defying authority. The only living witness is the captain’s yeoman, who believes Admiral Kinkaid likely was responsible. In any case, Hardison had kept the ship steaming into the wind, permitting landing operations to continue.

While glooming in his cabin, Lindsey was visited by the carrier’s executive officer, Commander John G. Crommelin, bearing an unauthorized beverage. The exec asked what he could do for the gifted LSO, who said he would love to have the battle flag the Big E flew that day. The prize was duly delivered and may be seen today at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida.



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