Intrepid – Chapter Six: Island of No Escape
12 October, 1944.
It was a joke, thought the pilots of Bombing 18. And a bad one. They were looking at the map of Formosa that the Intelligence Officer provided them. Parts of the map were labeled “Unexplored.” The grainy old reconnaissance photo had been taken twenty years before.
The truth was, they knew less about Formosa than they did about the Japanese homeland. What they did know was that the Japanese had occupied the island for half a century and considered it a part of their country. To defend Formosa, the Japanese had deployed enough fighters and anti-aircraft guns to intimidate any force that dared attack it.
There was no organized resistance force on Formosa as there was in the Philippines. Any American airman who went down could expect to be killed or captured. Being rescued from Formosa was almost out of the question.
The SB2C Helldiver squadron, Bombing 18, drew the toughest target. Kiirun Harbor was the port of the Formosa’s major city, Taipei. It not only had the most enticing targets—fat freighters and tankers at anchor—but the most guns. Kiirun Harbor would be the most heavily defended facility outside the Japanese homeland.
It was still dark when the pilots went to the flight deck to man their aircraft. As usual, the Hellcats were going first. Their job would be to engage the swarms of Japanese fighters that were sure to come.
Bombing 18’s skipper, Lt. Cdr. Mark Eslick, would lead the flight of twelve dive bombers. Behind them would come twelve Avengers, loaded with bombs instead of torpedoes, was also assigned to the strike.
The Helldiver crews climbed into their bombers and waited their turn to launch.