Grant Young – Torpedo Bomber Pilot – Sank the Yamato


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Surviving Against the Odds

By Michael Fink

Grant C. Young inscribed his name in the history books on April 7th, 1945, when he became one of the last torpedo bombers to score a hit on the Japanese battleship Yamato. Shortly after his torpedo struck, Yamato rolled over, exploded cataclysmically, and sank. The sinking of the Yamato—one of the two biggest battleships ever constructed, the pride of the Japanese fleet—was the death knell of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The story of Grant’s successful torpedo run capped an incredible WWII saga and marked the beginning of three decades’ service in the United States Navy.

Grant was born on November 8th, 1921, in rural Dixon, Illinois. He enlisted in the Navy on August 26, 1940 at the age of 18.  Grant’s boyhood experience repairing tractor engines and transmissions on the family farm landed him a job as an Aviation Metalsmith at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Though he advanced rapidly through the ranks, Grant’s real dream was to fly planes, not fix them. He applied for flight school shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor, after which he was quickly accepted as an aviation cadet.

To earn his wings, Grant had to take off from and land on the converted carrier Wolverine as it steamed through the waters of Lake Michigan. His qualifying flights took place in December 1943; temperatures hovered in the mid-20s. During one of his landing attempts, Grant’s engine quit, forcing him to crash into the icy waters of the lake. He almost froze to death before the rescue boat got him back to shore. Despite this close call, Grant finished qualifying the very next day. His wedding date was just a couple weeks away, and he wasn’t going to let anything stand between he and his future wife, Ethel.

After he was assigned to a torpedo squadron, Grant came down with chicken pox. He had to be held back while his assigned squadron left to conduct anti-submarine patrols along the west coast of the U.S. Once he got better, Grant was slotted into a new unit, Torpedo Squadron 10 (VT-10), which was busy taking the fight to the Japanese in the Pacific. He was thus moved from a stateside billet and relatively safe flight duty, right to the front lines of combat.

Grant started flying bombing missions in late June 1944 while VT-10 was assigned to the carrier Enterprise. On one of his first strikes he hit and sank a Japanese trawler, earning him accolades in his hometown newspaper and further strike assignments with his squadron. He stayed with Enterprise through July 6th, the end of VT-10’s first deployment. At the dawn of 1945 Grant and the rest of Torpedo Squadron 10 went aboard USS Intrepid for a second tour of duty. Their target was Okinawa, a stone’s throw from Japan itself. In a last ditch effort to stop the Allied advance, the Japanese decided to send Yamato south on a one-way mission to beach itself on the shores of Okinawa, where it would serve as an unsinkable coastal artillery battery.

On April 7th, 1945, while steaming south to complete its mission, Yamato and her consorts were spotted by U.S. carrier forces. 12 men from Torpedo Squadron 10, including Grant Young, were sent out from Intrepid to join a multi-carrier strike against the behemoth battleship. Carriers closest to the sighting report got their planes over the target quickly, wracking Yamato with bomb hits and torpedo strikes. Intrepid’s pilots had to cover a whopping 275 miles to the Japanese ships; they were last on the scene.  Though the weather that day was overcast and stormy, the site of battle was plain as day: flashes from Yamato’s guns were still visible from 12 miles away.

Intrepid’s Avenger crews were supposed to execute a coordinated torpedo attack on a cruiser escorting Yamato. As they approached the enemy ships, descending through thick clouds into the open air below, they traded the buffeting of the storm for the buffeting of flak bursting all around them. It was incredible that 11 of Intrepid’s planes stuck together through such rough treatment. Grant, however, became the one pilot bounced out of formation. When he pushed through into clear skies, his Avenger was pointed right at the broadside of Yamato. He was all alone against the biggest battleship on Earth.

Grant pressed the attack. Yamato, bristling with anti-aircraft guns, threw up a veritable hail of gunfire in response. Despite doing his best to dodge incoming fire, Grant’s plane sustained hit after hit. And yet he still continued closing. At 1,000 yards he dropped his torpedo and circled back just in time to see its blast heave Yamato over to one side. Soon after Grant headed back to Intrepid with the other Avenger crews, Yamato rolled over on its beam ends and exploded. The doomed ship threw up a mushroom almost 4 miles high—one which could be seen 100 miles away on Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan.

Grant went on to fly jets during the Korean War, and served as a carrier air officer during the Vietnam War before retiring in 1970 after 30 years in the United States Navy. He was awarded a slew of medals over the course of his career, including multiple Air Medals and Navy Commendation Medals; a Purple Heart for being wounded as a result of a kamikaze attack on Intrepid; and, for scoring a hit on Yamato, the Navy Cross. Despite these achievements Grant remained modest. He chalked success up to a team effort: after all, it took almost a dozen torpedoes and 6 bombs to sink Yamato.

Grant and his wife Ethel returned to Illinois in their later years, settling close to the farm in Dixon that started Grant down his path as an aviator. His life’s arc had been almost unbelievable. He went from a kid in rural Illinois fixing tractor transmissions on his family’s plot, to surviving plane crashes in freezing lakes and shell fire from the largest guns ever mounted on a warship. Yet he survived—even thrived—and became one of the many men who contributed to Allied victory in the Pacific.

 

Dates of Interview: January 2014.

Interviewer: Heather Steele

Format: Audio

Length: 185 minutes

Grant’s obituary

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