Night Raid on Yontan Airfield, Okinawa

Chance-Vought F4U-1C Corsairs of Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-311 "Hell's Bells" are silhouetted against a backdrop of tracer fire from antiaircraft defense battalions around Yontan Airfield. The Japanese launched their third major push, Kikusui Chi ("floating chrysanthemums" operation Number Three) earlier the same day that was causing severe damage to the British and American Pacific Fleets. Under constant air attack, all antiaircraft gunners were quick to fire at any target. One of the raiders was shot down by Second Lieutenant A. J. Arcenaux of Marine Night Fighter Squadron 542 (VMF(N)-542) flying a Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat night fighter. VMF(N)-542 would go on to shoot down eighteen Japanese night raiders. Yontan Airfield was captured on April 1, 1945. VMF-311 arrived at Yontan on April 7, shooting down a Japanese plane as they flew in to Yontan from an escort carrier. VMF-311 was credited with destroying 71 Japanese aircraft. Two VMF-311 pilots became aces; Michael R. Yunck of Detroit, Michigan (five kills) and William P. Brown Jr. of Kilgore, Texas(seven kills). Both pilots won the Navy Cross. On May 24, 1945, six Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-21 (Allied code name "Sally") bombers tried to land; all but one were shot down. Number 529 disgorged Giretsu (suicide commandos) that blew up a large fuel dump (a total of 70,000 gallons) and planted magnetic grenades to planes. Three F4Us, two Consolidated PB4Y Liberators and four transports were destroyed. In addition, 29 other aircraft were damaged. Three Americans died in the raid; eighteen Marines were wounded. Japanese total losses were 69 pilots, aircrews and raiders. Yunck (1918-1985) and Brown (1918-1952) flew in Korea, where Brown was killed in action and received his second Navy Cross. Yunck flew in Vietnam, lost his leg in a training accident, but returned to duty.
Caption Written By: 
Jason McDonald
National Archives
Date Photographed: 
Monday, April 16, 1945