Remembering Richard Emerson Harmer

My special interest with USS Wasp CV-7? Richard Harmer was a Lieutenant Junior Grade on USS Wasp from December 1941 to August 1942*.

Dec 41 to Aug 42* – LTJG (Lieutenant (junior grade), VF-5 USS Wasp

Aug 42 to Oct 42 – LT, (Lieutenant)VF-5 (XO) USS Saratoga

Oct 42 to Mar 43 – LT, Project AFFIRM NAS Quonset Point

Mar 43 to Dec 43 – LT, VF(N)-75 (XO) NAS Quonset Point

Dec 43 to Feb 44 – LCDR (Lieutenant commander), VF(N)-101 (CO) NAS Barbers Point

Feb 44 to Sep 44 – LCDR, VF(N)-101 (CO) USS Enterprise

Sep 44 to Sep 45 – LCDR, NAS Vero Beach (Chf TrngO – VF(N))

Chick Harmer retired a Captain in 1961

(Cited from:

Note * Richard Harmer was on the Saratoga in June 1942. August 1942 is thus erroneous.

More here:


Wasp slipped out of Grassy Bay on 3 December 1941 and rendezvoused with Wilson (DD-408). While the destroyer operated as plane guard, Wasp’s air group flew day and night refresher training missions. In addition, the two ships conducted gunnery drills before returning to Grassy Bay two days later.

Wasp lay at anchor on 7 December 1941, observing “holiday routine,” it being a Sunday. In the Pacific, the Japanese broke the Sunday morning peace in a devastating surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor and nearby naval and military installations on Oahu. Their daring attack plunged the United States into World War II in both oceans. On 11 December, Germany and Italy followed Japan into war against the United States.

Meanwhile, U.S. naval authorities felt considerable anxiety that the Vichy French warships in the Caribbean and West Indies were prepared to make a breakout and attempt to get back to France. Accordingly, Wasp, light cruiser Brooklyn (CL-40), and two destroyers, Sterett (DD-407) and Wilson, departed Grassy Bay and headed for Martinique. Faulty intelligence gave American planners in Washington the impression that the Vichy French armed merchant cruiser Barfleur had gotten underway for sea. The French were accordingly warned that the auxiliary cruiser would be sunk or captured unless she returned to port and resumed her internment. As it turned out, Barfleur had not departed after all, but had remained in harbor. The tense situation at Martinique eventually dissipated, and the crisis abated.

With tensions in the West Indies lessened considerably, Wasp departed Grassy Bay and headed for Hampton Roads three days before Christmas of 1941, in company with the aircraft escort vessel Long Island (AVG-1), and escorted by Stack (DD-406) and Sterett. Two days later, the carrier moored at the Norfolk Navy Yard to commence an overhaul that would last into 1942.

After departing Norfolk on 14 January 1942, Wasp headed north and touched at Argentia, Newfoundland, and Casco Bay, Maine, while operating in those northern climes. On 16 March, as part of Task Group (TG) 22.6, she headed back toward Norfolk. During the morning watch the next day, visibility lessened considerably, however, and, at 0550, Wasp’s bow plunged into Stack’s starboard side, punching a hole and completely flooding the destroyer’s number one fire room. Stack was detached and proceeded to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where her damage was repaired.

Wasp, meanwhile, made port at Norfolk on the 21st without further incident. Shifting back to Casco Bay three days later, she sailed for the British Isles on 26 March 1942, with Task Force (TF) 39 under the command of Rear Adm. John W. Wilcox, Jr., in Washington (BB-56). That force was to reinforce the Home Fleet of the Royal Navy. While en route, however, Rear Adm. Wilcox was swept overboard from the battleship and drowned. Although hampered by poor visibility conditions, Wasp planes took part in the search. Wilcox’ body was spotted an hour later, face down in the raging seas, but it was not recovered.

Rear Adm. Robert C. Giffen, who flew his flag in Wichita, assumed command of TF-39. The U.S. ships were met by a force based around the light cruiser HMS Edinburgh on 3 April. Those ships escorted them to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.

While the majority of TF 39 joined the British Home Fleet, being renumbered to TF 99 in the process, to cover convoys routed to North Russia, Wasp departed Scapa Flow on 9 April 1942, bound for the Clyde estuary and Greenock, Scotland. On the following day, the carrier steamed up the Clyde, past the John Brown Clydebank shipbuilding facilities. There, workers paused long enough from their labors to accord Wasp a tumultuous reception as she passed. Wasp’s impending mission was an important one, one upon which the fate of the island bastion of Malta hung. That key isle was then being pounded daily by German and Italian planes. The British, faced with the loss of air superiority over the island, requested the use of a carrier to transport planes that could wrest air superiority from the Axis aircraft. Wasp drew ferry duty once again.

Having landed her torpedo planes and dive bombers, Wasp loaded 47 Supermarine Spitfire Mk. V fighter planes at the King George V Dock, Glasgow, on 13 April, before she departed the Clyde estuary on the 14th. Her screen consisted of Force “W” of the Home Fleet — a group that included the battlecruiser HMS Renown and antiaircraft cruisers HMS Cairo and HMS Charbydis. Madison (DD-425) and Lang (DD-399) also served in Wasp’s screen.

Wasp and her consorts passed through the Straits of Gibraltar under cover of the pre-dawn darkness on 19 April 1942, avoiding the possibility of being discovered by Spanish or Axis agents. At 0400 on 20 April, Wasp spotted 11 Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters on her deck and quickly launched them to form a combat air partol (CAP) over Force “W”. Meanwhile, the Spitfires were warming up their engines in the hangar deck spaces below. With the Wildcats patrolling overhead, the Spitfires were brought up singly on the after elevator, spotted for launch, and then given the go-ahead to take off. One by one, they roared down the deck and over the forward rounddown, until each Spitfire was aloft and winging toward Malta.

When the launch was complete, Wasp retired toward England, having safely delivered her charges. Unfortunately, those Spitfires, which flew in to augment the dwindling numbers of Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Hurricane fighters, were tracked by efficient Axis intelligence and their arrival pinpointed. The unfortunate Spitfires were decimated by heavy German air raids which caught many planes on the ground.

As a result, it looked as if the acute situation required a second ferry run to Malta. Accordingly, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing that Malta would be “pounded to bits,” asked President Roosevelt to allow Wasp to have “another good sting.” Roosevelt responded in the affirmative. Rising to the occasion, Wasp loaded another contingent of Spitfire Vs and sailed for the Mediterranean on 3 May. Again, especially vigilant for submarines, Wasp proceeded unmolested. This time, the British aircraft carrier HMS Eagle accompanied Wasp; and she, too, carried a contingent ofSpitfires bound for Malta.

The two Allied flattops reached their launching points early on Saturday, 9 May 1942, with Wasp steaming in column ahead of Eagle at a distance of 1,000 yards. At 0630, Wasp commenced launching planes, 11 F4F-4s of VF-71 to serve as CAP over the task force. The first Spitfire roared down the deck at 0638, and 22 of the Spitfires took off with no difficulties. The twenty-third, however, piloted by Sergeant R. D. Sherrington, RCAF, lost power soon after takeoff and plunged into the sea. Both pilot and plane were lost.

Misfortune again seemed to dog the mission when Pilot Officer (PO) Jerrold A. Smith discovered his long-range tank to be defective. Wasp – which had launched the last British aircraft at 0738 – bent on full speed and recovered Smith’s Spitfire Vc, X-3 (BR-126) at 0743. The Spitfire came to a stop just 15 feet from the forward edge of the flight deck, making what one Wasp sailor observed to be a “one wire” landing. “The pilot landed with considerable skill,” Commodore C. S. Daniel, Royal Navy, Commodore Commanding Force “W” later reported, “and immediately asked permission to fit a new tank, take off and proceed independently, but this was not allowed.” Wasp launched Smith the following day [10 May] to fly to Gibraltar; he ultimately reached embattled Malta in X-3 on 18 May, flying in from Eagle.

With Operation Bowery having been completed – Wasp having launched 47 Spitfires and Eagle 17 – Wasp set sail for the British Isles while a German radio station broadcast the startling news that the U.S. carrier had been sunk! Most in the Allied camp knew better, however, and, on 11 May 1942, Prime Minister Churchill sent a witty message to the captain and ship’s company of Wasp:”Many thanks to you all for the timely help. Who said a Wasp couldn’t sting twice?”

2 thoughts on “Remembering Richard Emerson Harmer

  1. Pierre Lagacé April 28, 2019 / 9:28 pm


    Officers of the regular Navy, after two years of sea duty, could apply for aviation training. Enlisted men of the regular Navy who, in the opinion of their commanding officers had the potential to qualify, could request aviation training and, upon completion, would be designated as Naval Aviation Pilots – by the middle of the war, such enlisted personnel were sometimes rolled into the Aviation Cadet (AvCad) program and commissioned as Ensigns, USNR or USCGR or 2d Lieutenants, USMCR, upon completion of intermediate flight training. Civilians were enrolled through the V-5 program as AvCads and commissioned in Reserves upon completion of flight training. These civilians were the source of the vast majority of the USN and USMC aviators. The Navy’s pilot training program, as it evolved, was designed to bring in up to 2500 pilot candidates a month, certainly far more than could be drawn from the regular naval establishment. Between 1940 and 45 a total of 65,478 individuals were designated as Naval Aviators or NAPs. On 1 Jul 41 there were 4,617 naval aviators on active duty (3,936 officers & 681 NAPs); on 1 Jul 45 there were 60,095 naval aviators on active duty (59,609 officers & 486 NAPs). The V-5 program provided for qualified civilians to enlist in the Navy for the purpose of attending flight training. The training of AvCads, as developed in the first year of the war, provided for selected applicants to attend a flight preparatory course for three months at one of 20 colleges across the country. This was an academic program preliminary to actual flight training. Upon completion, another two months was spent learning to fly light aircraft at one of 250 training centers operated by the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Upon completion of this basic course, the AvCad then attended a pre-flight training course that largely consisted of physical and military training lasting about 3 months. This was followed by 2 months at a Naval Air Station or a Naval Air Reserve Base in Primary Flight Training. Collectively these preliminary training steps were referred to as elimination training. Prior to the war, should a student be eliminated he had the choice of continued enlisted service or separation, once the war started, if eliminated one was sent to other enlisted assignments. The Primary Flight Training portion was divided into six stages: 1. Primary Dual: in company with an instructor – basics of taxiing, take-offs, climbs, turns, spirals, glides, landings, stalls, spins and primary emergency procedures. Upon completion of this first stage, the AvCad performed a solo check flight. 2. Primary Solo: following a general review dual instruction, advanced tasks and techniques. With both dual and solo demonstration, covered in this phase were steeply banked turns, high altitude slips and spirals, spins, wingovers and reactive emergencies. Instruction included small field landings and slips to a landing, both dual and solo. 3. Advanced solo: both dual instruction and solo demonstration – loops, split-S, snap roll, pylons, precision landings with slips, spin recovery and field procedures. 4. Final: both dual and solo demonstration – General review stressing smoothness, reaction to strange field procedures with power, instruction in inverted stalls and spins and progressive spins. 5. Formation: Instruction and practice in formation flying techniques. 6. Night flying: Dual and solo night flying instruction. At each of these 6 stages the AvCad had to receive a satisfactory check off before proceeding to the next stage. While all this was going on, there was also a ground training school which occupied about half of the AvCad’s time, including study of power plants, photography, gunnery, aerology, aircraft structures, navigation and communications. Upon successful completion of his primary training, the AvCad moved on to Intermediate Flight Training. This training was usually conducted at naval air training centers such as NAS Corpus Christi or NAS Pensacola. In his intermediate training the AvCad flew service type aircraft (types in squadron service as opposed to simpler training aircraft). Students were given the opportunity to request the type of aircraft in which they wanted to specialize. These types generalized as carrier (CV), patrol (VPB), utility (VJ/VR) or scout/observation (VO/VCS). There was no guarantee that one would be assigned as requested. Initial intermediate training consisted of a refresh of skills taught in Primary Training in order to indoctrinate the AvCad in the operation of heavier, more powerful aircraft. Instrument training was heavily emphasized with the use of Link trainers and “under-the-hood” flying. The instrument flying program began with basic familiarization with instruments and their part in trimming; straight, smooth flight; climbs, glides, spirals, stalls and spins; intricate patterns; recovery from unusual situations; and rough air procedures. This phase also covered radio ranging, beam navigation, and methods of orientation. The satisfactory check for this phase included demonstration of primary skills, instrument flight and navigation, and instrument guided landing. The next phase of intermediate training was Specialized Intermediate Training based on the AvCad’s by now expected community assignment and centered on specific operational types. For carrier based types: VF training was 100 hours and included familiarization, acrobatics, formation tactics, primary and advanced fixed gunnery, combat tactics, glide bombing, navigation, night flying and carrier operations. VB training was 100 hours including familiarization, gunnery, as well as carrier operations and with the greatest emphasis placed on glide and dive bombing, navigation, scouting, communications and formation tactics. VT training was similar to VSB with the elements of the torpedo attack being the emphasis vice dive bombing. Intermediate ground school subjects included engineering and maintenance, navigation, communications, aerology, survival, and organization and operations of squadrons. At the completion of Intermediate Flight Training the Aviation Cadet was awarded his wings, was assigned a permanent Naval Aviator number and, except for a very small number of NAPs, was commissioned in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard. By now, the new naval aviator has spent seven or so months in the training pipeline. The next step in Naval Aviator training was assignment to an operational training unit of the Naval Air Operational Training Command, NAS Jacksonville (NAOTC). It was at the Operational Training Unit (OTU) level that air crews were established, with enlisted aircrewmen being assigned with pilots in VB and VT aircraft types. These personnel assignments generally continued through the OTU period and on into operational squadrons. Prior to the Apr 42 establishment of the NAOTC, advanced training was accomplished at the Advanced Carrier Training Groups located at NAS Norfolk and NAS San Diego. OTUs were where most of the newly designated aviators received their training associated with his type assignment. Between one third and one half of each intermediate training class, the new naval aviators, were selected for carrier training. Focusing on training of carrier pilots, those of the VF, VB, and VT variety of the species, operational training exposed the new aviator to in-type training in an environment not dissimilar to an active squadron. OTUs were deliberately organized as nearly as possible along the lines of an operational squadron. In carrier-type OTUs there were approximately 100 aviators, with a sufficient number of instructors and service type planes. Each OTU was commanded by a Training Officer with the rank of lieutenant or above. Among his training staff were a ground training officer, a flight officer, a navigation officer, and officers bearing titles and responsibilities similar to those typically assigned to aviators in squadrons operating from a carrier. Operational training was eight weeks in length. The average CV type aviator would accumulate about 110 flight hours during this time. In the typical training day, aviators were scheduled for not more than 4 hours flying a day with the remainder of the day’s activities involving ground training activities. more – – –   (Cited from:


  2. Pierre Lagacé April 28, 2019 / 9:29 pm

    In general, CV type OTU training instructions included five major points: (1) The use of the type’s primary weapon, (2) Tactics and formation Flying, (3) Navigation, (4) Carrier operations – landing and launching, and, (5) Instrument-flying. As training progressed, increasing emphasis was given to the employment of the primary offensive weapons of the type (VF, VB, or VT) to which the aviator was specializing; VF Fixed Guns, VB Bombs (by diving), VT Torpedoes and glide and level bombing. The CV bound aviator, before assignment to a fleet carrier squadron, was required to demonstrate their mastery of taking off from and landing aboard a floating airfield. In preparation for that milestone, experienced landing signal officers trained the fledglings on airfield marked to resemble the flight deck of a carrier, using the same signals that are used in the fleet. Following this ground training the aviator students, usually as a unit, were normally sent to the Carrier Qualification Training Unit located at NAS, Glenview, Illinois. There, using the available training carriers, USS Wolverine and the USS Sable the prospective carrier pilot performed the required number of take offs and landing to be certified as carrier qualified. On some occasions, a regular line carrier might be available in the waters near the OTU base allowing carrier qualifications to be performed without traveling to NAS Glenview. Completion of OTU was followed by assignment to an active squadron or back into the training command as an instructor. Continuing with carrier types, it should be kept in mind that as much as possible, the Navy and Marines preferred to keep personnel together in their organizations rather than the individual missions accounting often found amongst the USAAF. A carrier air group would work up at one or more shore installations with a targeted ready date firmly fixed on the horizon. From initial establishment or reforming from a previous deployment an air group might spend six to eight months working up for its next deployment. Once the air group is ready for deployment, presuming the availability of a flight deck, it heads off to combat aboard a carrier. It would remain in the combat theater until its scheduled replacement air group was ready for deployment at which point it would be withdrawn for reforming ashore. Replacement pilots and crews joining over the course of a deployment might, or might not, go ashore with the rotation; most did although there are certainly cases, though generally so unusual as to be remarked upon in the literature, of individuals being transferred to the incoming air group or to another in-theater air group altogether. Once back ashore following a deployment there was usually a period of leave with the squadrons in a caretaker status until reformed. During that period as many as 60% of a squadron’s pilots and crews or more might be transferred to another squadron or activity. It was in these periods that one sees pilots moving back to the training commands as instructors or for additional training, or for the more senior, as commanders and execs of still new squadrons being formed. The US practice of moving folks from combat zones to training or other activities is well described in the literature and can be illustrated. Take as examples, depending on one’s orientation some well known or, perhaps, less well known, and their wartime assignments: Louis L Bangs: Aug to Sep 1940 – AvCad, NRAB Kansas City elimination training Oct to Nov 1940 – AvCad, NRAB Kansas City solo flight training Jan to Aug 41 – AvCad, NAS Pensacola Aug 41 to Feb 42 – ENS, Instructor Primary Flight Training NAS Pensacola Feb to Dec 42 – LTJG, Instructor, Primary Instructors School NAS Pensacola Dec to Apr 42 – LT, Chief Flight Instructor – Instructors School NAS Pensacola Apr 43 – LT, Student Instrument Refresher Course May to Jul 43 – LT, VF Instructor NAS Pensacola Aug 43 to Jul 44 – LT, VB-10 (FO) USS Enterprise Aug 44 – Leave Sep 44 to Jun 45 – LT & LCDR, VB-98 (XO) NAS Los Alamitos Jun 45 to Sep 46 – LCDR, VB-80 (CO) USS Boxer Louis Bangs retired as a Captain in the 1962. Howard J Boydstun: Oct 1940 to May 41 – Seaman, USS New York Jun 41 to Sep 41 Midshipman, V-7 program Northwestern University Sep 41 ENS – resigned commission to enter V-5 program Sep 41 to Nov 41 – S1c, elimination training NAAS Opa Locka (Boydstun was able to skip some of the non-flying portions of elimination training based upon prior service) Dec 41 to Apr 42 – AvCad, NAS Pensacola May 42 to Jun 42 – AvCad & ENS, VF Training NAS Miami Jul 42 to Oct 42 – ENS, ACTG NAS San Diego Nov 42 to May 43 – ENS, VF-10 USS Enterprise Jun 43 Leave Jul 43 to Dec 44 LTJG & LT, VF-8 NAF Pungo, USS Intrepid, USS Bunker Hill Dec 44 Leave Jan 45 to Feb 45 – LT, Student, Primary Flight Instructors School NAS New Orleans Mar 45 to Aug 45 – LT, Primary Flight Instructor NAS Dallas Howie Boydstun retired a Captain in 1972. Richard Emerson Harmer Dec 41 to Aug 42 – LTJG, VF-5 USS Wasp Aug 42 to Oct 42 – LT, VF-5 (XO) USS Saratoga Oct 42 to Mar 43 – LT, Project AFFIRM NAS Quonset Point Mar 43 to Dec 43 – LT, VF(N)-75 (XO) NAS Quonset Point Dec 43 to Feb 44 – LCDR, VF(N)-101 (CO) NAS Barbers Point Feb 44 to Sep 44 – LCDR, VF(N)-101 (CO) USS Enterprise Sep 44 to Sep 45 – LCDR, NAS Vero Beach (Chf TrngO – VF(N)) Chick Harmer retired a Captain in 1961 Arthur Ray Hawkins May 42 to Jan 43 – AvCad, Flt Trng NAS Dallas Jan 43 to Apr 43 – ENS, Opnl Trng NAS Miami Apr 43 to Apr 43 – ENS, Car Qual USS Charger Apr 43 to Sep 43 – ENS, VF-31 NAS Atlantic City Sep 43 to Dec 44 – ENS & LTJG, VF-31 USS Cabot Dec 44 to Jul 45 – LTJG, VF-31 NAAS Hollister Jul 45 to Sep 45 – LTJG, VF-31 USS Belleau Wood Ray “Hawk” Hawkins retired a Captain in 1973. Maxwell Franklin Leslie May 1940 to Dec 41 – LT & LCDR, VB-3 (XO) NAS San Diego Dec 41 to Feb 42 – LCDR, VB-3 (XO) USS Saratoga Feb 42 to Apr 42 – LCDR, VB-3 (CO) NAS Kaneohe Bay Apr 42 to Jun 42 – LCDR, VB-3 (CO) USS Enterprise Jun 42 to Jun 42 – LCDR, VB-3 (CO) USS Yorktown Jun 42 to Nov 42 – CDR, CEAG USS Enterprise Nov 42 to Jan 43 – CDR, NAS Jacksonville staff Jan 43 to Mar 43 – CDR, NAS Daytona Beach (CO) Mar 43 to Nov 43 – CDR, Naval Air Gunners School (CO) NAS Hollywood Nov 43 to Apr 44 – CDR, Student Army-Navy Staff College Apr 44 to Jun 44 – CDR, Instructor, Command & General Staff School Jun 44 to Aug 44 – CAPT, ComAirForWestCarolines staff (OpnsO) Aug 44 to Dec 44 – CAPT, 2 MAW staff (OpnsO) NOB Espiritu Santo Dec 44 to Aug 45 – CAPT, ComPhibForPac (OIC Air Support Control) Aug 45 to Sep 45 – CAPT, ComPhibForPac (CO Air Support Control 8) Max Leslie was advanced to Rear Admiral upon his retirement in 1956. I cannot think of, nor have I ever found mention of any single naval aviator in any of the operational communities who flew in action from the very beginning of the war to the very end. Certainly there were those who were on active flying duty on 7 Dec 41 who were in operational squadrons at the end of the war and some of those squadrons were in combat. One that immediately comes to mind is Cleo Dobson. As a Lieutenant (jg) in Enterprise’s VS-6, he was shot down over Pearl Harbor by Japanese fighters on 7 Dec. He went on to serve in combat in the early carrier raids of 42 and by the time of the Battle of Midway he was serving as an LSO, still aboard Enterprise. From there he went to training duties at VTB-OTU-2 at NAS Jacksonville. He moved on to become exec of VF-86 and then, in Jan 45, when his VF-86 CO took over the newly formed VBF-86, Dobson became the VF-86’s second skipper. As a Lieutenant Commander and CO of VF-86 he deployed aboard USS Wasp and by the end of the war was flying combat missions over the Japanese home islands. Not all early war aviators were in flying billets at the end. When the Japanese finally threw in the towel, Captain John S Thach – as in “Thach Weave” – a new Lieutenant Commander running VF-3 in Dec 41, was by then a Captain, off the coast of Japan aboard USS Shangri-La, the operations officer for the 2nd Fast Carrier Task Force (TF-38), working for Vice Admiral John McCain. His assistants were a couple of lieutenant commanders with whom he had served early in the war, Noel A M Gayler – who had been in Thach’s VF-3 at the start of the war before being sent over to VF-2 as XO just before Coral Sea in May 42 – and William N Leonard – who was the senior of Yorktown’s resident VF-42 pilots assigned to VF-3 for the Battle of Midway deployment and filled the VF-3 XO slot during that deployment. Probably far, far, more than you wanted to know. Regards   R Leonard, Dec 7, 2012 #3 (Cited from:


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