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VF-33 | Fighting Squadron 33 | "Hellcats"


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VF-33 | "Hellcats"

Established as VGS-16 (8 Aug 42) at NAS Seattle WA
Redesignated VC-16 (1 Mar 43), VF-33 (15 Aug 43)
Disestablished (19 Nov 45) at NAS Oceania VA

Aug 43 - Sep 43 Guadalcanal | F6F-3
Oct 43 - Jan 44 New Georgia | F6F-3
Feb 44 - May 45 Sangamon (CVE-26) | CVEG-33 | F6F-5, -5P
Jul 45 - Sep 45 Chenango (CVE-28) | CVEG-33 | F6F-5, -5P

Combat record: 90.5 victories, 3 aces. Lost 12 pilots.


It was my good fortune to obtain a attributed lot that included two insignia and a number of photographs (posted in a reply due to forum image restrictions) and documents.


Theater made. Australian embroidery on wool.








Lt(jg) John P. Propis and Lt. John R. Pleasant holding squadron insignia.



Upon establishment at Seattle in August 1942, VGS-16 shared the careers of many other escort scouting squadrons, finally being designated a FitRon on 15 August 1943. Flying F6F-3s, Lt. Cdr. Monk Russell's outfit arrived at Guadalcanal the 27th of that month. Ens. Jim Warren claimed the first kill, a Zeke over Margusial Island on 6 September. By month's end VF-33 was credited with 20 victories, including three by Lt. Ken Hildebrandt over Ballali on the 14th.

Moving northward to Segi Point, New Georgia, on 19 October, the squadron was better positioned to support strikes in the upper Solomons. The next day four more fighters were splashed east of Kahili.

Over Empress Augusta Bay on 8 November, Lt(jg) J.J. Kinsella claimed three planes to become an ace. His first two dated from VF-72 nine months before. The second Rabaul strike on 11 November resulted in 5.5 more victories for the squadron.

Fifteen kills were registered in December, including six on Christmas Eve, the day Ken Hildebrandt scored his fifth. Missions against Rabaul continued into January, with a dozen claims in the first nine days of the month. Ens. Frank Schneider ran his string to six with a double on the 2nd, followed by another on the 9th. That same day Ens. Jack Watson claimed his fourth.

Among the earliest Grumman F6F "Hellcat" squadrons in combat, VF-33 led all land-based Hellcat units with 74.5 victories.

A split tour began aboard Sangamon in February 1945, beginning operations off Okinawa in late March. First victory of the cruise was a Val on the 26th, with 15 subsequuent splashes through April. Nine_ of those occurred over Myako Jima on the 22nd, with an Oscar becoming Jack Watson's fifth of the war. On the last day of the month a Tony became VF-33's 90th shootdown. The subsequent time in Chenango, July to September, produced no further opportunity.


On-board Memorial Service Program





Fighting Squadron 33 (VF-33), Havannah Harbor, Efate, New Hebrides, 02/17/1944





Tillman, Barrett. U. S. Navy Fighter Squadrons in World War II. 1997.



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Because of the wealth of information that included these squadron photographs, with all persons identified, I wanted to post these here for posterity as I suspect this information is not preserved elsewhere.














"Sydney", squadron mascot, sits on the lap of PR-3/c Jolly, above the propeller, center. (23 Jan 1944)





On the back of this photo are autographs, including mascot Sydney.










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  • 2 years later...
  • 3 months later...

Thank you so much for posting this. My father was in VF 33, he was a night fighter pilot, his name was Charles Paul his wingman was Steven Biggart. My father is not in the picture taken at the jungle airstrip but he is in the picture taken in front of the hangar.


He went to the Sangamon around FEB- MAR of 45. In fact he flew his HellCat from Barbors Pt. HI. out to the SANGAMON while the Sangamon was already enroute to Okinawa. (This info I get from his flight logs)


This next story was told to me by my fathers wingman, ENS. BIGGART in 2000. I found him on the internet and got him by phone. My father died in 1973 at 53, he never talked much about his experiences.


On the day the SANGAMON was hit by the Kamikaze, my father and ENS. BIGGART had just been pulled onto the cat to launch for an evening mission. At the last minute they were pulled out of their planes as their was too much flack in the air to put them up. Ens. Biggart said that as he was trying to get out of his plane, his parachute got caught in the seatbelts and it cost him 30 seconds or more to get free. When he finally did get free the area that he was going to jump in for cover was full... he went elsewhere. That delay save his life as the airmen/sailors that jumped into that area were killed or injured.


I have all of my fathers ships books, log books, medals, wings and flight jacket... I just lost him way to early. There were so many stories he could have told me.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Dear JGP:

My father Lt. JG George William Kiefer joined VF-33, at the time of, or shortly after, the group's transfer to the Chenango. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 88. He was assigned close enough in time to the Kamikaze attack that he had a copy of the Sangamon Ships book, he also had the VF-33 unit book. Like your father he arrived too late to be in any of the pictures on this page. About him, briefly,  after pre-flight at UNC, it would appear from his aviators log book, that he started flight training in early 1943, and later, after qualifying in fighters, spent much of 1944 training as a night fighter pilot. I believe that he left Hawaii in May or June after  the  VF-33 transfer to the Chenango. I know that he went on board at about the same time as three other pilots who are not in any of the above pictures, Leonard Zogran, Bill Biersmith, and George Morgan (but, like him, they are in the VF-33 Book).  Coincidentally, as he and Zogran spent most of their lives in Pittsburgh, PA they remained friends and actually passed away within a day of one another. I see from the unit's book that your father was then from Pittsburgh also.


My father wasn't at sea or with the unit long enough to have a ton of stories, but he did have some. I learned more by going to some of the units reunions with him. In 1992 there was a fighter pilot's reunion in Pensacola with about a dozen in attendance. In 1993 there was a reuninion of the entire Air Group at DesMoines Iowa that I attended. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Steve Biggert to whom you referred, who I think passed away in the late 90's I spent some enjoyable time with him. 


I think that the Sangamon Class were a little larger than most CVE's or at least carried a few more planes. It seems that there was VF-33 with maybe 24 Hellcats, of which 8 may have been equipped as night fighters all commanded by CDR Paul Rooney. There was also VT-33, a unit of 8 Torpedo Bombers I believe that overall command was in  CDR  Gilkeson. In addition to those listed above, other pilots that I met and talked with were: (and who are listed above) John O. Watson who was an ace, Darwin Hamblin, Paul Hogan who I believe became a dentist, Paul R. Watters, Claud M. "Chuck" Reynolds recipient of the DFC and former Clemson lineman, still a tough guy in his 70's, Loren "Walt" Flock, James Harrison, Bill Byron, Bill Bailey, and Leslie Ley.


Post war my father graduated from Duquesne University and then worked in the Steel Imdustry for 30 years, after which he worked well into his 70's for a large construction firm. Len Zogran graduated from CMU and worked in the sales side of the Steel industry. Bill Biersmith was a commercial pilot. Quite a few of the group stayed in the Navy for a career.


A non-pilot but supporting officer was LT. Milton Schadur, who was in charge of RADAR. Even more important to the night fighters than to the other pilots. My father said that during training the radar on the night-fighters was often unreliable. He said that aboard the Chenango, he never had one incident in which the radar on his plane was unreliable, which he attributed to Lt. Shadur. Post-war, Milton became a very successful Chicago attorney, and was appointed to the United States District Court Bench there and served with distinction for many years. I know he passed away but it has been fairly recently, 2018. There is at least one book written about him. I believe that Judge Shadur was aboard the Sangamon at the time of the Kamikaze attack.


I see that in the Squadron Book your father's home address was 1126 Baltimore Avenue Pittsburgh, Pa. I think that may be close to where my father lived pre-war. But I am not sure todays city records only show a Baltimore street with no address of 1126.

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Wow! Thank you so much for responding. I am sure our fathers knew each other.


After I had contacted Stephen Biggert he did get me hooked up with the squadron association. I was invited to a reunion but unfortunately I was unable to attend at that time. Then life just took over and I never was able to get in touch again. I believe that is because he had passed on. How I would’ve loved to of gone to one of those reunions. Steve wanted me to visit him out in California. He said that his kids were never interested in his Navy service and he had allot of memorabilia that he was going to give to me. Again, unfortunately I never made it in time. A major regret on my part. Steve was one of those gentleman that did do a full career in the Navy. If I recall after World War II he flew in Korea and Vietnam. I just can’t recall if he retired as a captain or a commander.


My father was from Pittsburgh grew up there. He went to Waynesburg college he had an engineering  degree, and his pilots license. When he got out of college, the US services were not taking pilots at that time. So, he went to Canada and joined the Canadian Air Force. He spent a couple years there and then when the war broke out he came back to the states and joined the Navy. He had a lot of time when he came back to the Navy and they put him in the aircraft delivery command initially. So if you look at his logbooks he flew everything in the Navy inventory from corsairs to hellcats to dive bombers you name it he flew it. He would deliver the aircraft from the factories on the East Coast out to California. Then in late ‘44 is when they sent him to the West Coast to head out to the Pacific.

After the war, he was the chief pilot for J and L steel corporation in Pittsburgh for many years. From about 1950 until 1963. Do you remember Admiral Ben Morell? He was the father of the Seabees. Admiral Morell was the chairman of the board for J and L steel corporation. The story has it that my father borrowed a navy airplane to fly from Kansas City to Pittsburgh to interview for the job. He ended up interviewing with Admiral Morel. Talk about a coincidence. He was hired as the chief pilot and stayed with J and L steel until 1963.


Have you read the book TWILIGHT WARRIORS? I highly recommend it. It really is the story about pilots like our fathers who were sent to the Pacific later in the war.




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I think Steve retired as a Captain. I know he was married twice. If I am correct, he said that his first wife really couldn't take the transitory nature of military life. He said that his second wife was the daughter of an Army Colonel and handled it fine. If I heard correctly he had a heart attack and died while packing to attend a VF-33 reunion. Crazy, my father worked for J&L Pittsburgh works and was in charge of the heating function for the Coke Plant there. That is what led to the Construction industry. He started supervising the heat-up of rebuilt Coke Plants.

While I never met Admiral Ben Moreell, my father thought that J&L would be successful as long as he was Chairman. I think that Lt JG Biersmith was the chief pilot for J.C Penny co. My dad had friends from training that were in other units that ended up as Pilots and sometimes one or another would visit. My Dad stayed in the Navy for a year or more after the was ended, mostly in Corpus Christi as a flight instructor, then decided to come back to Pittsburgh to marry my mother. 

I just finished the TWILIGHT WARRIORS about three months ago. I assume that you probably grew up in Cleveland or Pittsburgh because of the J&L connection.

If you want to chat some more here is my email: "wkiefer@bethanywv.edu"

Feel free, I miss my Dad and I am sure that you miss yours. This unit while quite good was not a well-known one because it was atypical in several ways.


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