Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) Special Air Task Force (SATFOR), U. S. Navy (USN)
During the summer of 1943, Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) was formed as part of the U. S. Navy (USN) Special Air Task Force (SATFOR). The unit had two flight squadrons: VK-11 and VK-12 equipped with modified TBM Avengers as mother ships to control each of the Interstate TDR-1
Wartime History On June 12, 1944 elements from Special Task Air Group 1 (STAG-1) under Commanding Officer (C. O.) Captain Robert F.
Jones arrived at Banika Field (Sunlight) in the Russell Islands the first deployment of a guided missile unit into a combat theater to conduct top secret combat test in the South Pacific (SOPAC).
The unit conducted top secret tests of the radio controlled Interstate TDR-1
Assault Drone with a live television broadcast to a "mother" control aircraft, a modified TBM Avengers.
D-Day Demonstration Test
On July 30, 1944 a demonstration was conducted for USN Admiral Ernest L. Gunther. Four TDR drones took off from Banika Field and are tested against the shipwreck of Yamazuki Maru beached on Guadalcanal. Eight TBM Avenger mother ships were readied manned by flight crews from VK-11 (crew no. 1 and no. 2) and VK-12 (crew no. 1 and no. 2). Eight TDR-1 Assault drones were readied for the tests each armed with a single 2,000 pound G. P. bomb.
By 11:45am the TDR-1 Assault Drones were in their standby positions and readied for flight. By noon, a final weather check was performed by a single TBM Avenger piloted by Lt. Sanders. At 12:30pm the TBM Avengers mother ships took off with an SBD guard plane and flew to their ready locations. At 1:15pm the first take off was scheduled, with each drone taking off at three minute intervals. Five drones were launched TDR-1 Tail 860, TDR-1 Tail 880 suffered nose gear failure and did not take off, TDR-1 "Edna III" 873, TDR-1 Tail 882 and TDR-1 Tail 875.
The attack commenced at 1:58pm with the point of aim was the deck. At 1:59pm the first drone TDR-1 Tail 860 hit midship. At 2:02pm the second drone TDR-1 "Edna III" 873 overshot the target by roughly ten feet and exploded on the shore. At 2:05pm the third drone TDR-1 Tail 882 landed in the sea off the port bow and skipped across the surface and spun and the bomb not detonate. At 2:15pm the fourth drone TDR-1 Tail 875 impacted near the stern and scattered shrapnel over the sea. The test was deemed to be successful.
STAG-1 conducted routine affirm flights for further testing and to prepare for combat missions against targets in Japanese occupied areas of the northern Solomon Islands. Between September 5-8, 1944 STAG-1 aircraft were used to search for three missing pilots. On September 19, 1944 the "Stirling detachment" transfered to Stirling Airfield in the Treasury Islands for combat missions.
On September 27, 1944 (Mission 1) four TDR-1 Assault Drones each armed with a 2,000 pound bomb took off from Stirling Airfield controlled by TBM Avengers from squadron VK-12 on their first combat mission against the shipwreck of Hitati Maru beached one mile southwest of Kahili Airfield on southern Bougainville. Inbound to the target, one drone was lost. One scored a probable hit on the port quarter, one direct hit amidships at the main deck line and one drone hit 30 yards astern of target and failed to detonate. Of the four drones launched, this was reported as a 50% hit rate rate. Other accounts list the results as two direct hits and an anti-aircraft battery destroyed.
On October 1, 1944 (Mission 2) eight TDR-1 Assault Drones each armed with a 2,000 pound bomb took off from Stirling Airfield controlled by TBM Avengers on their second combat mission against Japanese anti-aircraft positions. In the morning, the four drones took off against anti-aircraft guns on Ballale and Poporang. In the afternoon, four more took off against anti-aircraft guns on southern Bougainville.
The four drones launched in the morning targeted Ballale and Poporang:
No. 1 drone hit a heavy anti-aircraft battery on western Ballale.
No. 2 drone hit the southwest end of the runway at Ballale within 100' or less of an area of heavy anti-aircraft and automatic AA guns.
No. 3 drone exploded on the eastern edge of a ridge on northern Poporang near an area containing gun positions.
No. 4 drone hit and exploded in the same area as no. 3 on Poporang.
The four drones launched in the afternoon targeted
No. 5 drone crashed in the lower northeast slope of Kangu Hill near anti-aircraft gun emplacements.
No. 6 drone crashed 50' from the summit of the Kangu Hill but the bomb failed to detonate.
No. 7 drone crashed near Jakohina Mission and is believed not to have detonated.
No. 8 drone
crashed about four miles north Kangu Hill into jungle (other sources list as exploding four miles north of Moila Point).
On October 5, 1944 four TDR-1 Assault Drones each armed with a 2,000 pound bomb took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) targeting supply caves along Karavia Bay near Rabaul. Inbound, two drones were lost due to control interference. On drone hit the southern portion of the cave area exploding near the 4th and 5th cave entrances. The last drone missed and exploded in the vicinity of the Vulcan barge stalls.
On October 9, 1944 four TDR-1 Assault Drones each armed with a 2,000 pound bomb each took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) controlled by Squadron VK-12 attack the causeway at Matupi near Rabaul. Two or three of the drones were shot down by anti-aircraft fire and one was lost due to a mechanical failure. This mission was deemed a failure.
No. 1 drone was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and landed in the harbor a quarter mile north of the causeway.
No. 2 drone was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed onto Mother roughly 100 yards from an AA position.
No. 3 drone might have been shot down by anti-aircraft and crashed on the north slope of mother in an area of five heavy AA positions.
No. 4 drone crashed in Saint Georges Channel
enroute to the target due to mechanical failure.
On October 15, 1944 four TDR-1 Assault Drones each armed with a 2,000 pound bomb each took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) controlled by Squadron VK-11 against the causeway at Matupi near Rabaul. All four drones suffered mechanical failures or screen failures and did not hit their targets. This mission was deemed a failure. The attack was conducted in conjunction with U. S. Marine Corps aircraft from VMSB-244, VMSB-341, VMF-218, VMF-222 and VMB-423 also striking the Rabaul area.
No. 1 drone suffered a screen failure and crashed on land south of the target on Matupi.
No. 2 drone suffered a screen failure, circled for nine minutes then crashed in the west of Simpson Harbor in the Vulcan barge stall area.
No. 3 drone crashed
enroute to the target due to a mechanical failure between the Duke of York Islands and Cape Gazelle.
No. 4 drone had a mechanical failure and crashed at the southern end (other sources state southwest side) of Hospital Ridge.
On October 20, 1944 three TDR-1 Assault Drones made bomb runs on gun installations on west Ballale and then crash into Kahili Maru [Hitachi Maru]. The No. 1 drone crashed before reaching the target. The No. 2 drone made a good bomb drop on the target but control was lost before reaching the ship and the drone crashed somewhere in southern Bougainville. The No. 3 drone straddled the gun positions with bombs then scored a direct hit on the ship almost amidships at the deck line.
On October 26, 1944 four drones took off from Nissan Airfield (Green Island) against targets
in Rabaul. Two drones hit buildings close to their targets. One crashed into the sea at the southwest tip of Duke of York Island and the fourth diverted to Cape St. George and hit the old German lighthouse. Other sources state two drones targeted the lighthouse.
On October 28, 1944 two
drones took off from Stirling Airfield and were flown along the southwest coast of Bougainville as target drones for U. S. Army anti-aircraft gun positions. The first drone was shot down on its fifth run and the second on its third run. Presumably, this test was to expend the last two drones in their inventory.
In total, forty-two drones (other sources state forty-five) were launched against targets including nineteen against Rabaul with a 50% claimed hit rate. Although deemed to be a success, STAG-1 was deactivated on October 27, 1944.
Meanwhile, at Rabaul, the Japanese recovered wreckage of at least one TDR crash at Rabaul. Likely, this was from one of the October 1944 mission. On November 8, 1944 key pieces of wreckage were loaded aboard a J1N1 Irving to be flown to Japan for technical evaluation, but the aircraft went missing on the first leg of the flight bound for Truk.
Officers and Personnel Captain Robert F.
Jones (Commanding Officer) September 5, 1944-October 27, 1944
Lt. Commander Stephen E. Jones (intelligence and security)
ART1c Thomas Gillespie
USN Analysis of Pacific Air Operations, October 1944 Serial 001883 NARA "Service Test of Assault Drone by STAG ONE under direction of Commander Special Air Task Force" (ARC Identifier 12666/72.43)
NARA STAG-One War Diary July 1944
(Page 4) "30
July 1944 - D Day. Drones at target at 1359:30, 1402, 1405 and 1415; the first, third, and fourth drone hitting the target. No 2 drone overshot target by approximately 10 feet while bomb on no. 3 drone failed to detonate. Open-out between control planes and drone in all elements estimated at not less than six to eight miles. 'Affirm' test flights flown in the morning."
(Page 10) "STAG-One Operation Order No. R-2-44 July 26, 1944
- Live-load test and demonstrations against Yamazuki Maru, order and instructions concerning"
(Page 13) "Enclosure A"
NARA STAG-One War Diary 1 September 1944 to 1 November 1944 page 3-6
(Page 3) "27 September 1944 - 460 ft. Japanese merchant vessel [Hitachi Maru] beached 120 yards off the south shore of Bougainville and one mile S.W. of Kahili area, attacked by four TDR-1 elements of one TDR-1 each with a 2000 lb. G.P. bomb. One drone lost enroute to target, one probable hit at port quarter, one direct hit amidships at the main deck line and one drone hit 30 yards astern of target failing to detonate."
(Page 3) "1 October 1944 - Attack by four TDR-1 planes each with 2000 lb G.P. bombs on anti-aircraft installations on Ballale and Poporang Islands. One drone hit in the midst of AA fire coming from three heavy gun positions. The second drone detonated at the south west end of the Ballale runway within 100 ft. or less of that portion of the shore occupied by heavy and automatic gun positions. The third drone exploded on the eastern edge of the ridge on the north part of Poporang Island in the general area containing the gun positions. The fourth drone hit and exploded in the same general area as drone No. 3.
Four more drones were expended in the afternoon in runs on AA gun installations Kangu Hill and the bridge across the Forosei River in south Bougainville. The first element detonated on the lower north east slope of Kangu Hill near gun emplacements. The second element hit 50 feet from the top of the hill but the bombs failed to detonate. The third drone crashed near Jakohina Mission and is believed not to have detonated. The fourth drone crashed about 4 miles north of Kangu Hill.
(Page 4) "5 October 1944 - Four drones attacked from Green Island to hit Kararvia Bay supply caves in Rabaul each carrying one 2000 lb. bomb. Two drones were lost on the way to the target because of apparent control interference on their 'cast' frequencies. One drone hit in the south portion of the cave area exploding near the 4th and 5th cave entrances. The other drone missed the target area and exploded in the vicinity of the Vulcan barge stalls.
October 1944: Four TD-1s attacked the Matupi Island Bridge in Simpson Harbor, Rabaul each carrying one 2000 lb. G. P. bomb. Number 1 was shot down by AA fire and exploded 1000 feet north of the bridge point. The second drone was shot down by AA fire and detonated on the Mother [volcano] about 100 yards away from the apparent positions of the AA. Number 3 might have been shot down also but detonated on the north slope of the Mother in an area occupied by five heavy AA positions. The fourth drone crashed in St. George Channel enroute to the target because of material failure."
(Page 5) "15 October 1944 - Four TBR-1's with 2000 lb. G. P. bombs attacked the Matupi Bridge, Rabaul. Number 1 crashed on land south of the target after picture in the 'block' screen failed. The second drone also had 'block' failure and exploded in the Vulcan Barge Stall area. Number 3 crashed enroute to the target because of material failure. Block failure in drone No. 4 caused it to crash at the south end of Hospital Ridge. This attack was carried out in a concentrated attack in conjunction with VMSB 244, VMSB 341, VMF 218 and 222 and VMB 423.
17 October 1944 - Attack by four TBR-1's with one 2000 lb. bomb each on Target Area 16 East Rabaul Town. Number 1 hit the target area, number 2 hit and detonated at the junction of Tunnel Hill Road and the Main Street of Rabaul, causing a large secondary explosion. Number 3 was lost due to material failure and number 4 crashed into buildings on ridge west of Rabaul Town.
18 October 1944 - Attack by three TDR-1's on Lighthouse, Cape St. George, New Ireland with 2000 lb. bombs. Number 1 drone hit between the tower and radar installations but did not detonate. Number 2 hit 30 feet from the base of the target and exploded. The third drone was lost because of material failure.
19 October 1944 - One TDR-1 with two 500 lb. bombs slung under the fuselage and four 100 lb. bombs under each wing was lost by reasons of material failure. A total of 1800 lbs. of bombs were carried. This run was to attack west Ballale gun positions with bomb drop. This run was repeated in the afternoon and the bomb drop made with block gear. The two 500 lb. bombs dropped just short of the beach and the four 100 lbs clusters dropped on the beach in the target area. The drone crashed 20 minutes later probably from AA hits in the starboard engine.
20 October 1944 - Three TDR-1's were launched to make bomb runs on gun installations on west Ballale and then to follow with impact crash on Kahili Maru [Hitachi Maru]. The first drone crashed before reaching the target. Number 2 made a good bomb drop on the target but control was lost before attacking the ship and the drone was expended somewhere in southern Bougainville. Number 3 straddled the gun positions with the bomb drop and then scored a direct hit on the ship almost amidships at the deck line."
(Page 6) "23 October 1944 - Crash attack with 2000 lb. G. P. bombs was made by three drones on the Kahili Maru. Number 1 was a material failure exploding west of the Shortland Islands. Number 2 drone hit the target amidships at the deck link and the third drone overshot its target and detonated. Three more drones were expended in the afternoon, attacking beached ships in Moisuru Bay. Number 1 hit the Kahili Maru between the deck and water line at hatch No. 1. The second drone hit another beached merchant vessel and the third drone overshot its target.
26 October 1944 - Four drones with one 2000 lb. G. P. bomb each departed Green Island, one to attack the Lighthouse at Cape St. George on New Ireland and the other three to attack target areas 10 and 13 in Rabaul town. Drone number 1 completely demolished the Lighthouse, drones 2 and 3 hit the target area near the Rabaul Club. Drone number 4 had block trouble in Simpson Harbor so flew out and crashed AA positions on the south coast of the Duke of York Island which was a secondary target.
27 October 1944 - Part of Green Island and Stirling detachments left for Banika Island to complete temporary duty.
28 October 1944 - Two drones from Stirling Field were flown along the south west coast of Bougainville as target drones for U. S. Army AA positions. The first drone was shot down on its fifth run and the second on its third run."
Chronology of Special Air Task Force's Story (1990) by Captain Robert F. Jones, privately published Flypast "The Flying Bombs of Rabaul: Raymond Lamont-Brown recalls a mystery episode in World War II" September 1982 STAG-1 American Kamikaze (1984) by Jame J. Hall The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida Chapter 14 Guided Missile Attacks Against Rabaul pages 58-61 History Detectives Video Season 9 TDR-1 Test Mission (July 30, 1944 tests) YouTube "DeKalb Stories Ep. 3: Wurlitzer and The Torpedo Drone" (2011) 6:02-7:28 Air & Space Magazine "The First Drone Strike—in 1944" by Preston Lerner October 2017 Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) "The Battle Over America's Secret WWII Cruise Missile" by Spark via WayBack Sept 25, 2010 Special Task Air Group One (STAG-1) official website
Thanks to Henry Sakaida for additional information