problems. He trolled uneventfully with six Wildcats near Safi until a pilot with engine trouble
ditched fatally. Trying to return to the carrier,
Blackburn and company went astray due to the
ship’s misaligned homing system. Then instrument conditions clamped down, leaving each
pilot on his own. Four crash-landed ashore, briefly
being held prisoner. Blackburn splashed into a
safe ditching and spent 60 hours in a raft. He
more than compensated for his African misadventure while leading Fighting 17’s Corsairs to
glory in the Solomons a year later.
That morning, Ranger launched all 18 Dauntlesses of Scouting Squadron 41, tentatively briefed
for targets at Casablanca. Because of the political sensitivities of combat against France, the
American fliers were instructed to await events.
But while the SBDs orbited over the harbor,
they were fired upon by Vichy antiaircraft (AA)
guns, prompting the formation leader to radio,
“Batter up!” The response came as expected:
“Play ball!” The fight was on.
The main target was the moored French battleship Jean Bart, named for a 17th century priva-
Lt. Cmdr. Tom Blackburn, CO of VGF- 29, is transferred by breeches buoy from the USS Monadnock
(CM- 9) back to the Santee. Blackburn was forced to ditch his Wildcat on November 8, 1942, but was
rescued after spending two days in his life raft. (Photo courtesy of Stan Piet)