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VT-27 | very rare patch | entire squadron lost when Princeton sank in Leyte Gulf


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VT-27 | Torpedo Squadron 27


VT-27 was short-lived torpedo squadron assigned to the ill-fated USS Princeton (CVL-23) as part of Air Group 23, which consisted of VF-27 (24 Grumman F6F-5P Hellcats) and VT-27 (9 TBM-1Cs). Reading the history below will explain why this patch is so rare. It s the only example I have seen in all my years of collecting.


Silkscreened on leather.





USS Princeton (CVL-23) was the second Independence-class light aircraft carrier and the fourth ship in the Navy to bear the name. Like the other ships in her class, the Princeton was originally laid down as Cleveland-class light cruiser designated CL-61 and named Tallahassee but following the attack on Pearl Harbor the Navy had an urgent need for more aircraft carriers. Therefore, a few of the light cruisers under construction at that time were reordered as aircraft carriers.

The reordered ship was renamed PRINCETON after a borough in west central New Jersey, scene of a famous Revolutionary War battle (2–3 January 1777) and birthplace of Captain and later Commodore Robert F. Stockton, who commanded the first PRINCETON, the first screw steam warship of the U.S. Navy. Three previous U.S. warships to CVL-23 borne the name. Incidentally, Commodore Stockton is an ancestor of mine, as is another commander of the same steam screw warship, Commodore John H. Aulick. (Aulick's son, Richmond Aulick, was the first graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy in 1846).


USS PRINCETON was laid down as TALLAHASSEE (CL 61) by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J., 2 June 1941; reclassified CV 23 on 16 February 1942; renamed PRINCETON 31 March 1942; launched 18 October 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Harold Dodds; and commissioned at Philadelphia 25 February 1943, Capt. George R. Henderson in command.

Following shakedown in the Caribbean, and reclassification to CVL 23 on 15 July 1943, PRINCETON, with Air Group 23 embarked, got underway for the Pacific. Arriving at Pearl Harbor 9 August, she sortied with TF 11 on the 25th and headed for Baker Island. There she served as flagship, TG 11.2 and provided air cover during the occupation of the island and the construction of an airfield there, 1-14 September. During that time her planes downed Japanese “Emily” reconnaissance planes and, more important, furnished the fleet with photographs of them.






Returning to the Marianas in June, 1944, PRINCETON again struck Pagan, Rota and Guam, then replenished at Eniwetok. On 14 July she got underway again as the fast carriers returned their squadrons to the Marianas to furnish air cover for the assault and occupation of Guam and Tinian. On 2 August the force returned to Eniwetok, replenished, then sailed for the Philippines. Enroute its planes raided the Palaus, then on 9-10 September struck airfields on northern Mindanao. On the 11th they pounded the Visayas. At mid-month the force moved back over the Pacific chessboard to support the Palau’ offensive, then returned to the Philippines to hit Luzon, concentrating on Clark and Nichols fields. The force then retired to Ulithi and in early October bombed and strafed enemy airfields, installations and shipping in the Nansei Shoto and Formosa area in preparation for the invasion of the Philippines.

On the 20th, landings were made at Dulag and San Pedro Bay, Leyte. PRINCETON, in TG 38.3, cruised off Luzon and sent her planes against airfields there to prevent Japanese land based aircraft attacks on Allied ships massed in Leyte Gulf.

On the 24th however enemy planes from Clark and Nichols fields found TG 38.3 and reciprocated. Shortly before 1000 a lone enemy dive-bomber came out of the clouds above PRINCETON. At 1500 feet the pilot released his bomb. It hit between the elevators, crashed through the flight deck and hangar, then exploded. Initial fires soon expanded as further explosions sent black smoke rolling off the flight deck and red flames along the sides from the island to the stern. This single Japanese 550-pound bomb had penetrated her flight deck amidships and crashed through two more decks before exploding. On the way down, the bomb hit a plane on the hangar deck, igniting fuel and creating an instant inferno that spread out of control. Within half an hour, PRINCETON had lost propulsion and steering control and dropped out of formation. The aircraft carrier was a floating hulk, and throughout the day, a hastily assembled group of two cruisers and four destroyers valiantly attempted, along with the Princeton's own captain and damage-control party, to extinguish the fires and rescue the crew. Covering vessels provided rescue and fire-fighting assistance and shielded the stricken carrier from further attack. At 1524 another, much heavier explosion, possibly the bomb magazine, blew off 130 feet of the carrier’s stern and with it the after flight deck. BIRMINGHAM (CL 62), alongside to fight fires, suffered heavy damage and casualties.

Efforts to save PRINCETON continued, but at 1604 the fires won. Boats were requested to take off remaining personnel and shortly after 1706 IRWIN (DD 794) began to fire torpedoes at the burning hulk. At 1746 RENO (CL 96) relieved IRWIN and at 1749 the last, and biggest, explosion occurred. Flames and debris shot up 1000-2000 feet. PRINCETON’s forward section was gone. Her after section appeared momentarily through the smoke. By 1750 she had disappeared, but 1,361 of her crew survived. Included in that number was Capt. John M. Hoskins, who had been prospective commanding officer of CVL 23 and lost his right foot with her, but who, despite the loss, would become the 1st commanding officer of the fifth PRINCETON (CV-37).


All nine of VT-27's planes went down with the ship.



Bomb Damage to USS Princeton. (Click the link to see this image full-sized.)






References and More Reading

Bernstein, Mark D. "Hell Broke Loose at Leyte Gulf". Naval History Magazine. Volume 23, Number 5. October, 2009.


National Geographic Society. Insignia and Decorations of the U. S. Armed Forces. December, 1944. p 180.

Princeton IV (CV-23) | 1943–1944. U. S. Navy Historical Center.


United States Pacific Fleet Organization | 1 May 1945


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As always your collection never ceases to amaze all of us.Thank you for your time and energy and adding to our knowledge base on what Rare Squadron insignia should look like.Scotty

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