Ensign Borley Survives a
Borley was very interested in aviation. Having seen the movie “Dive
Bomber” that fall when it played the local theater in town, he wanted to be
involved in naval aviation. At the
time that meant having two years of college as a minimum, as he had discovered,
and he didn’t see how he would get that in a war.
That spring, however, he heard that the Navy had a new program, and if an
18-year old high school graduate could pass the test high enough and demonstrate
college-level knowledge, they could be accepted for flight training.
That July, after his 18th birthday, Spike took the bus to
Borley went through flight training in 1943 at Corpus Christi, and later
at Pensacola, where he qualified for fighters and was trained on the Hellcat.
In March 1944, he received orders to report to Air Group 15 for service
in Fighting 15, which was then in
Air Group 15 flew aboard
Over the target, clouds obscured the island. First in were the Hellcats, sweeping across the island at tree-top level as they strafed anti-aircraft positions. In the last four-plane division, Spike Borley had such a rush of fear-driven adrenaline that he recalled it seemed they were flying over the spitting guns at only 100 m.p.h. rather than the near 400 m.p.h. his airspeed indicator told him he was really doing. “The flak came up like big slow golf balls and then zipped past my canopy like little rockets.” Only one plane, a Helldiver, was lost but AG-15 had now been “blooded.”
Borley flew his first air combat mission as #4 of McCampbell’s division on June 19, when the Hellcats were launched to meet the first of four Japanese raids that day that would become known as “The Marianas Turkey Shoot.” VF-15 commander Brewer and three divisions were already involved in an all-out fight with the Japanese when McCampbell’s reinforcements arrived on the scene. McCampbell, who had already scored three victories in previous fights, demonstrated the skill that would make him the Navy’s Ace of Aces, when he attacked a formation of Aiichi D4Y Judy dive bombers, shooting down five through multiple passes to become the group’s first “ace in a day.” Spike Borley was able to cling tenaciously to his leader, but he never fired his guns. “I realized as we dove into the attack that I had forgotten to charge my guns!” It was an elmentary mistake, and Borley expected the “fair and balanced” chewing out McCampbell was known for on their return. “He asked me why I hadn’t fired, I told him, and he replied ‘That’s not going to happen again, is it?’ ‘No sir!’ I replied, and it never did.”
Borley flew on as a junior wingman through the rest of the
On October 6, Third Fleet and Task Force 38 sortied from Ulithi.
Their target was the
By this time, life was not as easy on the carriers as legend would have
it. While the Navy is traditionally held to have the best food in the military,
the ship had last taken aboard fresh food in
The night of October 9, Task Force 38 began its run-in toward
An hour later, the second strike went out, with Lieutenant Bert Morris
By the end of the day, Task Force 38 claimed 100 Japanese aircraft shot down, with Fighting 15 scoring 23. The Yontan airfield complex had been virtually annihilated, while four ships were sunk including the 10,000 ton submarine tender Jinggyo, thirteen torpedo boats, two midget submarines, and twenty-two other vessels. American losses were 21 aircraft, but only five pilots and four aircrew.
Task Force 38 split apart as they departed the Ryukyus, with two task
groups heading south to hit Aparri Airfield on northern Luzon, while Essex’s
Task Group 38.3 refueled on October 11. The target on October 12 was
Borley had a bad feeling about the mission as he climbed aboard the dark
blue F6F-5 Hellcat with the side number 24.
“It was as dark as ,
there weren’t any lights, the sea was running pretty strong.
None of us had any night flying training, and we were going to have to go
on instruments as soon as we were off the ship, then rendezvous in the darkness
to go in and hit a target we knew nothing about. It felt like a real crap shoot
The Hellcats of the fighter sweep were launched as the task group steamed
150 miles northeast of Formosa, with sixteen Fighting 15 Hellcats led by Rigg
set to rendezvous with sixteen Fighting 19 Hellcats from the Lexington.
Borley was able to join on his Section Leader and the two were able to
join with Lieutenant Berree, their Division Leader.
All four were flying F6F-5 Hellcats, which equipped about one-third of
Fighting 15 by then as Borley recalled. About twenty minutes after departure,
Berree reported his fuel pump was failing and he aborted the mission, returning
The Americans didn’t know where their targets really were, and were
dodging in and out of heavy clouds and rain.
Air battles developed suddenly, with Japanese fighters diving out of the
clouds. The Americans were
outnumbered, but the quality of the Japanese pilots was so poor that air
supremacy was quickly established.
Borley and his Section Leader took part in strafing two airfields they
He was now an ace; in fact, he was the youngest American ace, having only
turned 20 the previous July 27. The two pilots decided they’d had enough for one
mission; spotting a group of Hellcats flying eastwards, they joined up for the
flight home. Things were far from
over. “Sixteen of us were returning
to the ship when we saw Japanese aircraft taking off from an airfield and we
went in to strafe them,” Borley remembered.
“I went after an anti-aircraft gun, but my Hellcat got hit in the engine
and caught fire. I was doing about
400 mph when the engine stopped, so I decided I would stretch my glide to the
ocean, which was about four or five miles away.
I flew directly over
Over the next three days, while Task Force 38 fought the epic
Throughout the day, strikes went in from the fleet. A fourth strike went out at 1400 to hit Nikosho Airfield. They also bombed and strafed several ships they found offshore, which was fortunate for Borley. “Later in the afternoon, a Japanese patrol boat came out of the harbor. It was attacked by four Hellcats that strafed it. This was so close to me that I popped my dye marker so they would see me. The leader came around and dropped gear and flaps to slow down and opened his canopy and threw his raft down to me. I managed to deploy it and get in and started paddling.”
At dawn the next morning in his raft now five miles offshore, Borley
watched American planes overhead, the first strike of the day from the Essex,
led by his skipper, Jim Rigg. “I had managed to get offshore far enough that
they weren’t looking for me, but now the current was working against me,
carrying me along the coast.” All
day October 13, Borley drifted offshore, watching the numerous American air
strikes. He took stock of his
supplies and decided to use as little water and eat as little of his emergency
rations as possible. He took out
the fishing line from the emergency kit and trailed it over the side, but was
unsuccessful in catching anything.
The next day, he watched 100 B-29s from
That night, Borley survived one of the most terrifying experiences
possible at sea. “That night and the next day and night I went through a
typhoon. I was tossed overboard, and when I got back into the raft, I discovered
that the water and food were now missing.
I was thrown out of the raft several times but managed to get back in it
each time. The waves got progressively larger as I got closer to the eye of the
storm, and waves were coming from all directions. I would be halfway up one
wave, holding on to go over the top into the lee, and would get hit by a wave
coming from the side. I went
through the eye of the typhoon that night, thirty minutes of calm and then into
the wind and waves on the other side.(As an aside, Yours Truly was once foolish
enough at age 19 to disobey the order “Stand clear of the weather decks” while
on a typhoon evasion, and went up to the signal bridge, the highest deck aboard
ship. My buddy and I stepped
outside to see mountainous seas overhanging us as green water came over the bow,
which was 70 feet above the waterline.
The wind nearly blew us overboard in the 30 seconds it took us to get
back inside. I cannot imagine what
it would have been like to be in that ocean in a rubber raft; years later I was
told by a weather scientist that I had been staring into the energy equivalent
So far as is known, Borley is the only individual to ever survive a
typhoon in a rubber life raft. By
October 16, he was alone in the Taiwan Straits, out of sight of any land. He was
now at what he believed was the end. “By that fifth day, I was hallucinating
from lack of sleep in all this time and no food, and there was no land in the
direction the storm had taken me. I
was afraid I would pass out and a passing Japanese ship might find me and
capture me. I had decided that I
would not let myself be taken prisoner, since I knew about the coming invasion
Late that afternoon Borley looked out to see a dark shape on the horizon.
“As it got closer, I could tell it was a submarine.
I was sure it must be Japanese out in these waters, and then I was ready
again to shoot it out and kill myself if necessary.
The submarine got closer, and as I brought my pistol up, I heard a very
American voice through a megaphone tell me ‘Put down that gun!’ I threw the gun
down and raised my hands.” The
submarine was USS Sawfish (SS-276), which had been assigned as one of the
lifeguard submarines for the
The usual procedure when rescuing an airman was for the submarine to
rendezvous with surface forces and return the flier as soon as possible.
However, Task Force 38 had now left the
area. Sawfish was the lead
boat of a three-submarine wolf pack that had just left Majuro two weeks
previously. The decision was made
to keep Borley aboard and continue the patrol.
“Since they were just out of port, the food was really delicious,
especially coming from the bad chow on the
Ten years later, then-LCDR Borley was stationed on
For reviews of what is in the box and how this kit builds, check out this review. This is one of the easiest-assembling models there is, and the longest part of the process is putting all the really nice photo-etch detail into the cockpit.
I used some Micro-Scale decals for the national insignia, and white numbers off an Xtradecals sheet to do Number 24, the Hellcat Spike Borley was flying when he was shot down. I had used the white stenciling on the earlier kit I did from this box, so left those off this model. I followed up with a coat of Xtracrylix Clear Satin.
I attached the landing gear, then mixed Xtrcrylix Clear Flat and Clear
Satin 50-50 to get the kind of “semi-semigloss” finish that
I’ve said it before and will say it again: Eduard’s Hellcat is a great kit, and an easy model that will give an outstanding representation of this classic Navy fighter. It’s easy enough that any modeler of any ability can create a great model with this kit. Highly recommended.
Review Kit courtesy of Eduard.
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