Bigelow, LaVell, CAPT

Deceased
 
 Service Photo   Service Details
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Last Rank
Captain
Last Primary NEC
131X-Unrestricted Line Officer - Pilot
Last Rating/NEC Group
Line Officer
Primary Unit
1945-1945, 131X, VB-6
Service Years
1939 - 1968
Official/Unofficial US Navy Certificates
Order of the Golden Dragon
Captain
Captain

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

35 kb

Home State
Utah
Utah
Year of Birth
1917
 
This Military Service Page was created/owned by Shane Laemmel, MR3 to remember Bigelow, LaVell (Navy Cross), CAPT USN(Ret).

If you knew or served with this Sailor and have additional information or photos to support this Page, please leave a message for the Page Administrator(s) HERE.
 
Contact Info
Home Town
Provo, UT
Last Address
Provo, UT

Date of Passing
Jun 18, 2007
 
Location of Interment
Not Specified
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Not Specified

 Official Badges 

WW II Honorable Discharge Pin US Navy Retired 20


 Unofficial Badges 

US Navy Honorable Discharge Order of the Shellback Order of the Golden Dragon




 Additional Information

Last Known Activity
Navy Cross

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Ensign LaVell Meldrum Bigelow (NSN: 0-83311), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Dive Bomber in Bombing Squadron FIVE (VB-5), attached to the U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-5), in action against enemy Japanese forces at Salamaua and Lae, New Guinea on 10 March 1942. In the face of heavy fire from a formation of Japanese cruisers and destroyers, Ensign Bigelow dived his airplane at a light cruiser and obtained a direct hit on it which resulted in serious damage to and probable destruction of that vessel. Ensign Bigelow's courage, skill, and complete disregard for his personal safety were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 318 (September 1943)
Action Date: March 10, 1942
Service: Navy
Rank: Ensign
Company: Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5)
Division: U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5)
_____________________________________________________________________

Navy Cross

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Navy Cross to Ensign LaVell Meldrum Bigelow (NSN: 0-83311), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Dive Bomber in Bombing Squadron FIVE (VB-5), attached to the U.S.S. YORKTOWN (CV-5), in action against enemy Japanese forces at Tulagi Harbor on 4 May 1942, and in attacks on an enemy carrier in the Coral Sea on 8 May 1942. These attacks, vigorously and persistently pressed home in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, and on 8 May opposed also by enemy fighters, resulted in the sinking or damaging of at least eight enemy Japanese vessels at Tulagi and the sinking of one carrier and the sinking or severe damaging of another in the Coral Sea. Ensign Bigelow's conscientious devotion to duty and gallant self-command against formidable odds were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander In Chief Pacific Fleet: Serial 2885 (July 7, 1942)
Action Date: May 4 & 8, 1942
Service: Navy
Rank: Ensign
Company: Bombing Squadron 5 (VB-5)
Division: U.S.S. Yorktown (CV-5)
____________________________________________________________________

Navy Cross

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Second Gold Star in lieu of a Third Award of the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander LaVell Meldrum Bigelow (NSN: 0-83311), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Dive Bomber in Bombing Squadron SIX (VB-6), attached to the U.S.S. Hancock (CV-19), in action against the enemy in Kure Harbor, Japan, on 28 July 1945. Lieutenant Commander Bigelow skillfully and courageously led a flight of bomber-fighters in a dive bombing attack against major units of the enemy fleet including aircraft carriers, battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. During the action, he attacked an enemy warship in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire from enemy warships and shore batteries. Lieutenant Commander Bigelow scored a direct hit with his bomb which contributed materially to heavy and extensive damage to the warship which later settled to the bottom of the harbor. Lieutenant Commander Bigelow's skill and courage were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Action Date: July 28, 1945
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
Company: Bombing Squadron 6 (VB-6)
Division: U.S.S. Hancock (CV-19)
_____________________________________________________________________

Distinguished Flying Cross

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Commander LaVell Meldrum Bigelow (NSN: 0-83311), United States Naval Reserve, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight in operations against the Japanese Empire on 19 March 1945. As the leader of a twenty-six plane fighter sweep against the airfields in the Kobe-Osaka area, he skillfully directed rocket and strafing attacks on three separate airfields, destroying or damaging field installations and parked aircraft. The attacks, conducted in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire were pressed home aggressively and without loss to his force. His personal courage and skill of leadership were outstanding and were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Action Date: March 19, 1945
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
_____________________________________________________________________

Distinguished Flying Cross

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross to Lieutenant Commander LaVell Meldrum Bigelow (NSN: 0-83311), United States Naval Reserve, for heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flights in operations against the enemy in the vicinity of Kyushu, Honshu, Hokkaido, Japan, Nansei Shoto and Wake Island. As pilot of a carrier-based plane during the period 18 March 1945 to 15 August 1945, he participated in twenty strikes against enemy shipping, airfields and installations, inflicting extensive damage. His skill and courage were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Action Date: March 18 - August 15, 1945
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
_____________________________________________________________________


  

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World War II/Asiatic-Pacific Theater/Air Raid on Salamaua and Lae
Start Year
1942
End Year
1942

Description
Lexington and Yorktown strike the Japanese at Lae and Salamaua

As Lexington and Yorktown, screened by a powerful force of eight cruisers (including HMAS Australia) and fourteen destroyers, steamed across the Coral Sea toward New Guinea, Vice Admiral Brown received word of the Japanese landings at Lae and Salamaua. This was welcome news, and caused an immediate cancellation of the plan to strike at Rabaul and Gasmata. The Allied task force could now strike the Japanese when they were most vulnerable - engaged in unloading their transports at the beachheads.

The first hurdle facing Admiral Brown was how to avoid early detection of his task force by vigilant Japanese patrol planes of the kind that had defeated his attempt to strike Rabaul in February. The most direct route across the Solomon Sea and up the north-eastern coast of the New Guinea mainland posed a real risk of early detection by Japanese patrol planes flying from airfields on the island of New Britain.

Vice Admiral Brown resolved that TF-11 would mount its attack on the Japanese beachheads from the Gulf of Papua on the southern side of the New Guinea mainland. Although the actual flying distance was not great, this route would require the carrier attack groups to cross the towering central mountain feature of New Guinea - the rugged Owen Stanley Range. The many ridges of this range were cloaked by dense rain forest and often obscured by cloud or mist. Experienced New Guinea pilots regularly flew from Port Moresby to Lae by a carefully defined route. They took care to avoid being trapped in the mountains when cloud closed in.

Naval charts offered little guidance to the American pilots who were about to cross the Owen Stanleys, and the vital guidance needed to cross the massive range was ultimately provided to Commander William B. Ault, Lexington's air group commander, on 9 March by experienced Australian civilian pilots at Port Moresby. Vice Admiral Brown fixed the raid for the following day. To cover his flank to the east and the arrival of the American troop convoy at Noumea, Brown dispatched Rear Admiral Crace with four cruisers and four destroyers to the Louisiade Archipelago off the eastern tip of New Guinea.

To cover their landings at Lae and Salamaua, the Japanese had bombed the Australian military airstrips at Port Moresby, Bulolo, and Wau. They met no Allied fighter opposition. Their long-range Kawanishi H6K flying boats had patrolled the Solomon Sea and Coral Sea intensively for American carriers, and had found nothing. They believed that they had nothing to fear from Allied aircraft, and had grown complacent. Admiral Brown's ruse had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.

In the pre-dawn darkness of 10 March, as the two carrier task forces stood off the southern coast of Papua, Yorktown and Lexington went to general quarters. Lexington began launching her air group at 0749. Yorktown began launching her own air group at 0803. Both carriers launched fifty-two aircraft. By 0849, all aircraft were on their way with Commander Ault from Lexington in overall command, and having authority to proceed or abort the strike.

Lexington's attack group comprised eighteen Dauntless SBDs of VS-2, twelve Dauntless SBDs of VB-2, thirteen Devastator TBD torpedo bombers of VT-2, and an escort of eight Grumman Wildcat F4F fighters of VF-3 led by Lieutenant Commander John "Jimmy" Thatch.

Yorktown's attack group followed, and comprised seventeen SBDs of VB-5, thirteen SBDs of VS-5, twelve TBDs of VT-5, and ten F4F fighters of VF- 42.

While the strike was under way, the task force was protected in the Gulf of Papua by a combat air patrol of twelve fighters and nine SBDs flying an anti-torpedo patrol.

Having reached the vital gap in the range that gave access to the northern coast, Commander Ault circled to oversee and coordinate the passage of both air groups.

VS-2 from Lexington initiated the strike at Lae. The SBDs pushed over at 0922 and attacked two Japanese transports and an armed merchant cruiser. Fire from a shore battery downed one SBD, but escorting F4F Wildcats of VF-3 quickly put the battery out of action. Lexington's VB-2 followed VS-2 and attacked a mine-layer and third transport. Hampered by fogged windshields and telescopic sights, all SBD bombs missed their targets. Off Salamaua, three torpedo bombers from VT-2 had one success. A torpedo hit a Japanese transport which began to sink. The remaining torpedo bombers from Lexington attacked the transports off Lae, and holed one transport and the armed merchant cruiser. The escorting Japanese cruisers and destroyers weighed anchor, made smoke to provide cover, and headed for open water.

Yorktown's air group then took its turn at 0950. The SBDs of VB-5 concentrated on the fleeing Japanese escort cruisers and destroyers. One division from VB-5 attacked Rear Admiral Kajioka's flagship Yubari and claimed three hits on the cruiser. Another division from VB-5 attacked the destroyer Asanagi and knocked out her boilers. A bomb hit the destroyer Yunagi and damaged her engines. The SBDs from VB-5 then strafed a Japanese gunboat, and set it on fire.

At 1005, the SBDs of VS-5 struck the relatively unscathed transports at Lae. The Yorktown SBDs scored direct hits on three transports, leaving all three on fire and beached.

The twelve TBDs of Yorktown's VT-5, each armed with two 500-pound bombs came upon the seaplane carrier Kiyokawa Maru and an escort destroyer just north of Lae. The TBDs had been armed with bombs instead of torpedoes for this operation, and lacking experience in high level bombing, the air crews failed to score a direct hit on either ship. However, a near miss damaged the seaplane carrier, allowed water to enter the engine room, and left her dead in the water.

The Wildcats of VF-42 strafed ships and shore installations, drew fire away from the dive bombers, and dropped fragmentation bombs.

When the last of the attack group left the Japanese beachheads, the score was three transports on fire and beached at Lae, a seaplane tender damaged and dead in the water, the light cruiser Yubari damaged sufficiently to require dockyard repairs in Japan, two destroyers damaged and stopped in the water, one transport listing heavily and another sunk off Salamaua. The final score was four transports sunk. One American SBD was lost in the raids on Lae and Salamaua. The approach from the Gulf of Papua had provided security for the task force and ensured complete surprise. Japanese Zero fighters arrived over the beachheads from New Britain too late to protect their ships and shore installations.

Of the 104 aircraft launched by Lexington and Yorktown, 103 planes were back safely on board by noon. The raid on Lae and Salamaua provided many of the pilots with their first experience of action against warships and ground targets defended by anti-aircraft fire, and although the torpedo and bombing accuracy of some squadrons left a good deal to be desired, the raid gave the fliers valuable experience for later major actions at Coral Sea and Midway. 

Although Rear Admiral Fletcher urged a second strike, Vice Admiral Brown considered that the strike had been highly successful and that it was time to withdraw. Task Force 11 retired on a south-easterly course until dark, when the ships turned eastward and joined Rear Admiral Crace's squadron of four heavy cruisers and four destroyers.

The Lae-Salamaua Raid in retrospect

Admiral Nimitz did not award the Lae-Salamaua raid the same high praise that he had lavished on the Marshall-Gilbert raid. Nimitz was disappointed that the attacks on Lae and Salamaua had failed to dislodge the Japanese from their beachheads on the New Guinea mainland. President Roosevelt did not share Nimitz's reservations, describing the Lae-Salamaua raid to Winston Churchill as "the best day's work we have had."

President Roosevelt's assessment of the Lae-Salamaua raid turned out to be the correct one. The raid produced deep alarm in Tokyo, especially at Navy General Headquarters where it was becoming apparent that the carriers of the US Pacific Fleet could punch holes in Japan's eastern and southern defensive perimeter at will and with impunity.

The American carrier raids in the first three months of 1942 were causing deep concern to Admiral Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of Japan's Combined Fleet. He was particularly concerned by Vice Admiral Halsey's raids on Wake Island and Minami-tori Island (also known as Marcus Island). Minami-tori Island was only 700 miles (1,125km) from Japan, and Yamamoto feared that the American carriers had the capability to raid Tokyo. An American air raid on Tokyo was something that Japan's military leaders had assured their emperor could never happen. To ensure this did not happen, officers of the Combined Fleet began to plan a complex operation to destroy the American Pacific Fleet at Midway in the central Pacific.

For the Navy General Staff in Tokyo, the Lae-Salamaua raid reinforced its view that Japan's main strategic priority in the Pacific should be to cut the lines of communication between Australia and the United States. That plan had been assigned the code reference Operation FS, and involved Japan capturing and fortifying the chain of islands between New Guinea and Samoa. The Lae-Salamaua raid had demonstrated the urgent need for Japan to capture Port Moresby in the Australian Territory of Papua and Tulagi in the British Solomons as quickly as possible. On 15 March 1942, Imperial General Headquarters agreed that Operation FS was to be Japan's strategic priority in the Pacific and would commence with the capture of Port Moresby and Tulagi. This initial operation was asigned the code reference MO.

In retrospect, it can be seen that the Lae-Salamaua raid was of vital importance to the Allies for a number of reasons. It was a severe blow to Japan's plan to isolate Australia from the United States as quickly as possible, because the Japanese had intended to use the sunk and damaged transports as part of the invasion force to capture Port Moresby and Tulagi in April 1942. The Japanese were forced to postpone the capture of Port Moresby and Tulagi for one month to replace the sunk and damaged ships, and because they realised that these operations would require support from their own aircraft carriers. In this way, the Lae-Salamaua Raid set the stage for the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Lae-Salamaua Raid also laid the foundations for Allied victories later in 1942 at Guadalcanal and Kokoda. By delaying for one month the capture of Tulagi, the establishment of a Japanese forward airstrip on the northern coast of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands was also delayed. The delay in establishing that airstrip on Guadalcanal provided the Americans with more time to prepare a landing force to capture the airstrip that later became famous as Henderson Field. Even so, the Americans barely made it in time. When the Americans landed on Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942, the Japanese were ready to bring this forward airstrip into operation. If the Americans had not seized that strategically vital Japanese airstrip when they did, the Guadalcanal operation could not have proceeded as it did, and would almost certainly have been deferred to much later, probably 1943.

The Guadalcanal Campaign had a direct impact on the equally bloody fighting between the Japanese and Australians on the Kokoda Track. The Japanese outnumbered the Australians by five to one, and had pushed them back to a ridge overlooking Port Moresby. Here the Australians dug in to make a final stand. Major General Horii's starving and exhausted South Seas Detachment on the Kokoda Track was in sight of Port Moresby and begging for reinforcements for the final push to capture the vital Allied base.  Because of heavy Japanese losses at Guadalcanal, Major General Horii was denied reinforcements and he was forced to retreat to his beachheads with the Australians in hot pursuit.
   
My Participation in This Battle or Operation
From Year
1942
To Year
1942
 
Last Updated:
Aug 4, 2010
   
Personal Memories

Memories
Yorktown subsequently put in at Pearl Harbor for replenishment before she put to sea on 14 February, bound for the Coral Sea . On 6 March, she rendezvoused with TF11 - formed around Lexington and under the command of Vice Admiral Wilson Brown - and headed towards Rabaul and Gasmata to attack Japanese shipping there in an effort to check the Japanese advance and to cover the landing of Allied troops at Nouméa , New Caledonia . However, as the two carriers - screened by a powerful force of eight heavy cruisers (including the Australian HMAS Australia and 14 destroyers) - steamed toward New Guinea , the Japanese continued their advance toward Australia with a landing on 7 March at the Huon Gulf , in the Salamaua - Lae area on the eastern end of New Guinea.

Word of the Japanese operation prompted Admiral Brown to change the objective of TF11's strike from Rabaul to the Salamaua-Lae sector. On the morning of 10 March 1942, American carriers launched aircraft from the Gulf of Papua . Lexington flew off her air group commencing at 07:49 and, 21 minutes later, Yorktown followed suit. While the choice of the gulf as the launch point for the strike meant the planes would have to fly some 125 miles (200 km) across the Owen Stanley mountains - a range not known for the best flying conditions - that approach provided security for the task force and ensured surprise.

In the attacks that followed, Lexington's SBDs from Scouting Squadron 2 (VS-2) commenced dive-bombing Japanese ships at Lae at 0922. The carrier's torpedo and bomber squadrons (VT-2 and VB-2) attacked shipping at Salamaua at 09:38. Her fighters (VF-2) split up into four-plane attack groups: one strafed Lae and the other, Salamaua. Yorktown's planes followed on the heels of those from "Lady Lex." VB-5 and VT-5 attacked Japanese ships in the Salamaua area at 0950, while VS-5 went after auxiliaries moored close in shore at Lae. The fighters of VF-42 flew CAP over Salamaua until they determined there was no air opposition, then strafed surface objectives and small boats in the harbor.

After carrying out their missions, the American planes returned to their carriers, and 103 planes of the 104 launched were back safely on board by noon. One SBD-2 had been downed by Japanese antiaircraft fire. The raid on Salamaua and Lae was the first attack by many pilots of both carriers; and, while the resultant torpedo and bombing accuracy was inferior to that achieved in later actions, the operation gave the fliers invaluable experience which enabled them to do so well in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway.
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