THE HOME FRONT
The tide of war in the Pacific was turning. The Doolittle raids on the Japanese home islands demonstrated the American resolve to fight and win and, in June of 1942, the naval battle at the Midway Islands dealt a crushing defeat. But, with the defense of the Pacific Coast of the United States as a chief priority, and with the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor still fresh in the national mindset, the need to identify and destroy the threat posed by enemy submarines was critical to preventing another ambush on American Soil.
Key to this defense was a strategy utilizing 'dirigibles', otherwise known to most as 'blimps'. Their ability to remain in one spot for longer periods, and their capability to go long periods without refueling, made them excellent observation posts to monitor for submarine activity in the coastal waters. The U.S. Navy purchased the Goodyear blimp Ranger in 1940. But, the United States entered the Second World War, and the airship built by Goodyear to replace the Ranger was also sold to the Navy, and commissioned the L-8 on March 5th, 1942. It became part of Blimp Squadron 32 (ZP-32), based out of Moffett Field, near Sunnyvale, California, under the auspices of Fleet Air Wing Five.
THE ‘EYE IN THE SKY’
Sunday, August 16th, 1942, started like any other summer day by the San Francisco. The cool fog of the summer morning had caused the fabric of the blimp's coverings to become inundated with excess moisture, adding additional weight to the aircraft. In response, the flight plan was amended to reduce the crew size from three down to two in order to save weight. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd class James Riley Hill was turned away from the flight.
At 6:03 in the morning, naval blimp L-8 took off from Treasure Island, located in the center of San Francisco Bay, with its crew of two. The pilot of this sortie was Lieutenant Ernest DeWitt Cody. Cody was a 1938 graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and had arrived at Moffett Field only five months earlier in March with his wife, Helen. Having been promoted in the previous June, the 27 year-old was in charge of the safe operation and flight of the blimp.
As a matter of fact, on April 11th, 1942, Cody had been involved in a mission crucial to the success of the Doolittle raid on Japan. He departed San Francisco with a 300-lb. load of spare parts for the B-25 bombers to be used in the raid, and was ordered to rendezvous with USS Hornet (CV-8) off the coast of California. The freight was lowered by line to the deck of Hornet while the blimp hovered over the carrier. The transfer required careful maneuvering of the airship to enable Cody to land the cargo on a clear spot on the flight deck, since most of the flight deck space was occupied by the 16 bombers to be flown by the raiders. The blimp that Cody flew that day was also the L-8.
Joining Cody on the flight August 16th was Ensign Charles E. Adams. Having only been sworn in as a naval Ensign the day before, this was his first flight as a commissioned officer, despite having over 20 years of enlisted experience as a boatswain with lighter-than-air craft. The 38 year-old was thoroughly versed with the business of the balloon service - “Stay with the ship.” Originally from Lakehurst in New Jersey, he also lived in Mountain View with his wife.
The mission was a relatively simple one: Conduct an anti-submarine patrol of the coast of California, going from Treasure Island to the Farallones, a chain of small islands 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, then to Point Reyes, and return the blimp back to Moffett Field.
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