George Naff – Hellcat Pilot VF-18 – USS Intrepid – Four Victories


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George Naff

George Naff: Knocking ‘Em Down on Offense and Defense

by Michael Fink

George Naff (June 13, 1923 – March 23, 2017) served as a fighter pilot with the United States Navy’s mighty Third Fleet. His carrier unit, Fighting Squadron 18, went aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Intrepid to strike Japanese targets from the Palaus to the Ryukyus between September and November 1944. In that time, George participated in the Formosa Air Battle—one of the largest aerial engagements of the war—and the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval action of the entire conflict.  He also bore witness to the birth of the Kamikaze, as Intrepid was one of the first carriers stricken by this menace. Through it all George Naff stood tall, shooting down enemy planes where he found them, no matter how trying the conditions.

His first test came on October 14th, three days into Admiral Halsey’s daring raid on Formosa. The Japanese did not take carrier strikes on “Fortress Formosa” lying down. They sent out planes by the dozen to attack the fleet. Torpedoes churned through the water, slamming into USS Canberra and USS Houston. A formation of 25 enemy dive bombers was planning a similar welcome for Intrepid and its sister Hancock when Japanese pilots ran into George and the rest of Intrepid’s 12-plane Combat Air Patrol.

George and his fellows were outnumbered more than 2-to-1. Fighter pilots scattered to cover as many planes as possible, chasing Japanese bombers from 1,000′ right down to the wave tops.  George attacked his first opponent from the side, peppering the bomber’s fuselage and wing root with .50cal gunfire. There was no time for celebration when it crashed down to the water below—George climbed for altitude then dove for speed, coming down atop the next enemy to “splash” it as well.

Still more were coming. One in particular caught his eye as it popped up from the ocean’s surface to begin its deadly parabolic dive. Gunners aboard U.S. ships noted the danger, too, and filled the skies with flak in a desperate effort to knock the bomber down. Heedless of the guns now trained his way, George chased the bomber into the storm of anti-aircraft fire until the enemy plane completely filled his gun sight. He scored hits at the wing root, where the wing met the fuselage, and literally sawed off the bomber’s wing with machinegun fire. As the Japanese plane spiraled out of control George pulled up and away from friendly ships still firing towards him. He zoomed his way out of gun range as quickly as possible, returning to his station protecting the harried ships.

George’s fourth and final victory came two weeks later on October 29th, when he and his wingman “Whitey” Ford encountered a lone enemy fighter over Manila Bay. The plane remained aloof, always keeping position next to a large cloud. George led the way in from above. When the Japanese pilot attempted to turn inside George to get on his tail, Whitey blocked him, forcing the enemy to change course. That was all the opening George needed. He whipped around and chased the Japanese fighter pilot down, leading his target so that gunfire ate through his enemy’s engine and cockpit. The Japanese plane veered crazily after the hits, plunging from 7,000′ down in a straight line into the bay below. As George and Whitey fled the scene, the hackles stood up on George’s neck. It was likely that behind that seemingly harmless, puffy cloud lay a gaggle of enemy fighters waiting to overwhelm the 2 Intrepid fighters.

After his ship was crippled by kamikaze attacks on November 25th, George served briefly aboard another carrier until his squadron was recalled to the U.S. for a brief respite. He stuck with Fighting 18 for its reformation and planned redeployment, which was canceled with the unconditional surrender of Japan in August 1945.

George’s Obituary

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