Stew Bass, Avenger Pilot
Stewart Bass was born on this date in 1921 in Stevensville, Montana. He joined the Navy in 1941 and ended up flying the Grumman Avenger. Although the Avenger was designated a torpedo bomber, most of the time it carried conventional bombs.
While training in Florida, Stew was seriously injured in a plane crash that put him in the hospital for two and a half months. After his recovery, he trained in carrier operations and ended up with Air Group Nine.
Air Group Nine started its tour aboard the carrier Lexington and participated in missions against Japanese-held islands in the western Pacific; then the Lexington, along with numerous other carriers and support ships, steamed toward Japan.
In February of 1945, Stew flew bombing missions that targeted aircraft factories in Tokyo. After the Tokyo operation, the Lexington and Air Group Nine participated in air strikes supporting the landings on Iwo Jima, February 19 through the 22nd.
The Lexington, in need of an overhaul, returned to the States. Stew, along with Air Group Nine, transferred to the carrier Yorktown and supported the landings on Okinawa.
Japan launched a last ditch naval force to try and stop the landings. In early April, the huge battleship Yamato, the cruiser Yahagi and eight
destroyers made their way out of Japanese home waters in a desperate move to attack the forces at Okinawa. On April 7th, Stew flew his Avenger from the Yorktown as part of a massive strike to stop the Japanese ships. For this mission, Stew’s Avenger carried a torpedo. This was the only time he carried a torpedo into combat. Stew flew through intense anti-aircraft fire from the Japanese ships in what proved to be the last aerial torpedo attack in history. His torpedo struck the Yahagi, helping to sink it. The Yamato, Yahagi and 4 destroyers were sunk. For this mission, Stew was decorated with the Navy Cross.
After the Japanese surrender, Stew returned to civilian life. He graduated from the University of Montana, married, and raised a daughter and son. For much of his life, he worked for American Crystal Sugar, locating to Fargo in 1973 as vice president of agriculture, the position he held until his retirement in 1986. He was an active volunteer at the Fargo Air Museum, and was made an honorary member of their board in 2015. Stewart Bass passed away at the age of 93 in 2015.
Dakota Datebook written by Scott Nelson
Sources: Personal interview with Stew Bass, Naval records from the
Lexington, Yorktown and Air Group Nine.