Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey sailed into the sea of Japan, between the Japanese home islands and the Chinese mainland, with Task Group 38.3 consisting of five aircraft carriers, two battleships, four light cruisers and a group of destroyers.
It was July 20, 1945, less than a month before the Emperor of Japan surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces. Halsey’s fleet was at the door of the enemy citadel.
Lt. j.g. Bill Timmis flew a dive bomber in Halsey’s fleet. The young aviator was part of bomber Squadron 87 flying from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, one of the five carriers that sailed into the enemy’s home waters with the admiral.
It was July 24 when 13 Helldivers flew from the deck of the Ticonderoga in search of elements of the Japanese fleet. They found what they were searching for anchored in Kure Harbor near the western end of the Sea of Japan.
Air Group 87 had an assignment: Sink the Hyuga, an Ise Class battleship. The giant enemy war ship was very capable of defending itself with weathering anti-aircraft fire. In addition, it was protected by a network of nearby shore batteries.
“We finally found the Hyuga at dockside in Kure Harbor camouflaged with tree branches and netting. She was spotted on a low level recon flight,” the 86-old former Helldiver pilot, who now lives in North Port, Fla. in La Casa mobile home park, explained.
“We returned to the Ticonderoga and rearmed with 1,000 pound armor-piercing bombs and headed back to attack the battleship,” he said. “There were three groups of four planes that made a normal bombing approach from approximately 12,000 feet.”
Cmdr. Porter Maxwell the legendary air group leader, led the attack. Timmis was the leader of the second group of Hellcats that bombed the Hyuga.
“We flew into a hail of enemy fire when we began our bombing run on the battleship. Joe Vaughn, my roommate, and his back-seat man were both shot down and killed in this attack. Many more of our attacking bombers were badly damaged,” Timmis said.
Only five of the 13 planes that bombed the battleship made it back to the Ticonderoga, according to a historical account of the squadron written by crew members after the war.
“When I came down in my dive over the Hyuga I happened to see an ammunition elevator door open behind the bridge. The elevator shaft created a gaping black hole in the deck that led down to the ammunition compartments,” Timmis said. “I decided to put my 1,000 pound bomb right down the open shaft. When I did the battleship blew in half and sank at dockside.
“As I started to pull out of my dive my Helldiver was raked by enemy anti-aircraft fire. I couldn’t get my bomb bay door closed and the landing gear on the starboard side had fallen down. I could hardly make 100 knots, but I kept her in the air some how.
“I knew the course back to the carrier was magnetic heading 248. So I got on course 248 and was chugging back toward the fleet almost 100 miles away. On the way I ran across the rescue destroyer USS Colahan, DD-658, commanded by Capt. F.W. Wayland.
“As I circled the destroyer I told Marty Martinez, my rear-seat man, ‘We’re gonna put it in the drink.’ He couldn’t swim and was scared to death of water.
“I told him, ‘Don’t sweat it. I’m a good swimmer and I’ll get you out of this OK,'” the old aviator said as he recalled ditching his plane into the sea decades ago.
“‘We’ll probably flip over on our back,’ I added, which we did. ‘Just stay put, don’t do a thing and I’ll get you out.'”
The dive bomber rolled on its back after hitting the water. Timmis extracted himself from the cockpit as the plane headed for the bottom. He swam underwater to Martinez, who was still strapped in, released the radioman’s straps and dragged him free of the cockpit. Then Timmis yanked both strings on the bottom of Martinez’s yellow Mae West. That activated the CO2 cartridges in his life jacket and popped his back-seat guy to the surface unscathed. He surfaced a moment later.
“We were helped aboard the rescue destroyer by a couple of seamen. I was instructed to go to the captain’s cabin,” he said. “The skipper told me to open one of the cabinet doors in his office. When I did I saw a whole row of Johnny Walker Black inside.
“‘Take one of the bottles of scotch, open it up and suck right out of the jug,’ the captain said. I did.”
For the next five days the two airmen remained on the USS Colahan. The destroyer was acting as a decoy as it patrolled within enemy coastal artillery range. The ship was attempting to draw the fire from Japanese gun emplacements. When they opened up on the destroyer it called in air strikes to take out the enemy guns.
“It was kind of a wild five day ride aboard the Colahan,” he said. “We were shot at the whole damn time.”
When the destroyer returned to the fleet further off shore, a boatswain’s chair was sent over so the Ticonderoga could reclaim its aviators. Before the Colahan would relinquish Timmis and Martinez the carrier had to send over two 40 gallon containers of ice cream as payment for rescuing the dive-bomber crew. After the ice cream was aboard the destroyer they were sent across the open water in a chair dangling from a couple of ropes as the two ships steamed along in parallel.
Lt. Cmdr.. Norman Kanaga, Timmis’ squadron commander, recommended him for the Navy Cross for sinking the Hyuga. Halsey also approved the nation’s second highest military award for valor for the dive-bomber pilot.
A few days later Timmis and the rest of the bomber squadron aboard the Ticonderoga would lose their leader. Commander Porter Maxwell’s Helldiver was shot down in an attack on a long-forgotten target on a little island somewhere off the coast of Japan.
“It was a special flight. Porter wanted to knock out an enemy emplacement of some kind. As usual, he was in the lead plane as we made a low-level bombing approach. We were flying about 50 feet above the water when he got hit,” Timmis recalled. “I saw him get out of the cockpit on the wing just before the plane went into the sea. If he had gotten out 10 sounds earlier he might have made it. He was hit by a section of the plane and that’s the last I saw of him.
“Of all my World War II experiences, losing Cmdr. Port Maxwell got me down more than anything else. He was such a wonderful guy. He was the perfect Naval officer.”
“The President of the United States take pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lt. William Walter Timmis Jr., United States Naval Reserve for service set forth in the following commendation.
“For extraordinary heroism as a pilot of a dive bomber in Bombing Squadron 87 attached to USS Ticonderoga in action against enemy Japanese forces in the vicinity of Kure, Japan, July 24, 1945. Braving intense enemy anti-aircraft fire which damaged his plane and resulted in his subsequent crash landing at sea, then Lt. j.g. Timmis skillfully pressed home an attack against the enemy battleship Hyuga scoring a direct hit with a 1,000 pound bomb contributing materially to the sinking of the hostile vessel. His airmanship and courageous devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
“For the President,
“Secretary of the Navy James Forestall
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 6, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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William Walter Timmis, age 87, died of natural causes Wednesday, October 4, 2005 at his home in North Port, Florida. Born in Washington, D.C in 1918, he was the son of the late William Walter Timmis, Sr. and Eleanor Morgan Neely Timmis, formerly of Lafayette, Indiana and Glen Cove, Long Island.
Mr. Timmis was a graduate of the Friends Academy at Locust Valley, N.Y. and attended Swarthmore College. During World War II, Mr. Timmis served in the Air Corps of the U.S. Navy, receiving his early training at the Naval Base in Atlanta.
While in Atlanta he met his first wife, the late Martha Blalock Timmis. Mr. Timmis was commissioned as an ensign on January 22, 1943, the same day he and Miss Blalock wed.
He went overseas in January 1945 and flew 11 missions over Japan as a Helldiver pilot, based on the U.S.S. Ticonderoga. He received the Navy Cross for the sinking of the battleship Hyuga.
Following the war the Timmis’ resided in Atlanta, GA where he worked for Dravo Steel Corporation. He was one of the organizers of the Atlanta Yacht Club. In 1959 the family relocated to Pittsburgh, PA. He later resided in Marietta, OH and Bristol, R.I. with his second wife Martha Cathy Timmis. Mr. Timmis was a member of the Bristol Yacht Club where he served as Commodore. Mr. and Mrs. Timmis retired to North Port, FL.
Mr. Timmis is survived by his wife Cathy Timmis and three daughters from his first marriage: Courtney Porstman of Hockessin, DE, Mary Robb of Seattle, WA and Gail Morgan Timmis of Atlanta, GA as well as his adopted daughter Kelly Burke of Bristol, R.I. and Cathy Timmis’ son Jack Bryans of Coventry, R.I. His sister, Mrs. Pat Bouton, also survives him. Mr. Timmis had 5 grandchildren, 3 great grandchildren, a niece and nephew.
The funeral service will be held at 7:00 PM at the Kays Ponger Funeral Home at 2405 Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte, FL 33952 on Tuesday, October 11 with a viewing from 5:00 to 7:00PM. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimers Association, SW Florida Chapter, P.O. Box 49470, Port Charlotte, FL 33949..
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on October 10, 2005