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VMF(N)-541 | Marine Night Fighting Squadron 541 | "Bat Eyes"


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VMF(N)-541 | Marine Night Fighting Squadron 541 | "Bat Eyes"


Commissioned: February 15, 1944 at Cherry Point
Deactivated: April 30, 1946
Nickname of Unit: Bat Eyes
Artist: Pfc. John Keith
Date of Insignia: 1944
Authorization: HQMC
Aircraft Employed: F6F-3N, F6F-5N
Aerial Combat Record: 23 victories, no aces


Peleliu - September to November 1944 (F6F-5N)
Philippines - December 1944 to January 1945 (F6F-5N)
Peleliu - January to August 1945 (F6F-5N)


Type I | American embroidery on twill








Maj Pete Lambrecht, previously of VMF(N)-534, stood up the "Bat Eyes" and retained command until just before war's end. He was another of the cadre of US Marine Corps officers who learned the nightfighter's trade in Britain. Like so many previous Marine squadrons, the "Bat Eyes" boarded the first escort carrier Long Island in early August 1944. "Three weeks later they arrived at Emirau, proceeding to Peleliu the next month.


Although newly conquered, Peleliu was a backwater, with pilots mainly flying "barge sweeps." Lambrecht's crew adjusted to Peleliu as best as possible, establishing a mess hall and officers' club. The squadron was unusual in having two enlisted pilots, TSgts John Andre and Frank Ratchford.


On October 31 Maj Norm Mitchell splashed an El3A "Jake" floatplane, which proved to be the "Bat Eyes"' only kill in the Palaus. Nevertheless, during October and November VMF(N)-541 lost three Hellcats at Peleliu, with all pilots safe.


The Philippines campaign was well underway on December 3 when the "Bat Eyes" moved to Tacloban airfield on Leyte. Gen Douglas MacArthur wanted more nightfighter protection than the available P-61 Black Widows could provide, hence the unusual request for US Marine Corps assets. The squadron's first missions from Tacloban saw pilots capping PT boats in Surigao Strait on the night of December 4. The "Bat Eyes" quickly got down to business as 2Lt Rod Montgomery downed an "Oscar" in the predawn hours of the 5th.


On the morning of December 12 a three-plane mission led by Capt Dave Thomson was directed onto Japanese formations west of Leyte that were intending to attack a convoy. A full division under 1Lt Fletcher Miller joined Thomson's trio, combining for 12 kills from a reported 33 bandits. The total bag included four bombers, a "Val" and seven fighters, as Capt Dave 1homson and 1Lt Harold Hayes each claimed two kills. Three days later, west of the Negros Islands, the "Bat Eyes" downed four more planes in 35 minutes. Then on the 22nd John Andre ran his tally to four with a pair of "Jacks". His record was matched when Harold Hayes made the last two kills on January 3, 1945.


During its time protecting the US Army, VMF(N)-541 had downed 22 bandits, losing one aircraft each in December and January. Ironically, all but four of the unit's victories had been scored in daylight.


Back in the Palaus, on January 11 the "Bat Eyes" lost three planes and 2Lt Harold Hayes who had four kills from the Philippine deployment.


After training in night dive-bombing, the squadron moved to Falalop, in Ulithi Atoll, at the end of May, relieving VMF(N)-542. Upon hearing of the happy hunting over Okinawa, the "Bat Eyes" gloomed in the Pacific backwater. They raised their morale somewhat by applying nose art to their Hellcats that summer. Now under Maj Reynolds Moody, VMF(N)-541 provided a detachment to Ulithi until late August. After Japan's surrender the Hellcats flew to north China, operating from Petzino airfield. They patrolled the frontier until sent home after Christmas 1945.


John Andre subsequently became the last US Marine Corps ace when he shot down a Communist aircraft over Korea in 1952.


The "Bat Eyes" were probably the only US Marine Corps squadron to receive the Army Distinguished Unit Citation.



Millstein, Jeff. U. S. Marine Corps Aviation Unit Insignia 1941-1946. p 101..

Tillman, Barrett. U. S. Marine Corps Fighter Squadrons of World War II. pp 149-150.




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