As deliveries of the big new Northrop escort fighter increased to units of the Fifth Air Force, additional veteran pilots would transition to their new mounts. One of these was Captain Leroy V. Grosshuesch, commanding officer of the 39th Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group. Grosshuesch had already scored seven victories flying Thunderbolts with 39th FS. The 35th FG began operations from Okinawa with its P-61Fs in late June 1945, and on 12th August 1945, whilst flying this aircraft, he tallied his eighth and only P-61F victory, shooting down a Ki-84 Frank west of Bofu airfield, Honshu. This was not, however, his first P-61. His first was lost in an incident that would earn him the Silver Star. On 30 July, Capt. Grosshuesch was credited with single-handedly sinking a Japanese destroyer off Goto Retto, near Kyushu. Grosshuesch's description of the action is below.
So, on this day four of us were on a "search and destroy" mission over Southern Japan. Normally, this was a great mission where we were free to search for targets of opportunity. However it was not a good day because we had a heavy overcast at 1000 to 1100 feet, so our ability to see ahead was quite limited.
We found some targets and attacked them, but wanted to find something more. I headed in a westerly direction and on the horizon saw an island, which was Goto Retto, a Japanese naval base, but we didn't know that. The mountain tops were up in the overcast, but there was a valley between two of the peaks which formed a "V" shaped opening through which we could see the water on the other side. As we approached, we were surprised to see a destroyer followed closely by another one sail across the space. Our P-61's had no bombs that day, just our four machine guns and four 20mm cannons, but we decided to make a strafing pass, not expecting that we could do much damage except to the personnel. Because of the narrow opening, we had to go in in trail. We took them by surprise. I gave a burst on the destroyer in view, and turned left because the harbor was not very wide and on the other side there was a range of mountains, their tops all in the cloud cover. It was a fateful turn! The other three turned right which was a stroke of luck because that let them exit the harbor. If all four of us had been inside the harbor, like I was, the destroyers would have surely shot down some of us.
As I turned to the left, I saw directly in front of me the naval base, and they started to unleash their anti-aircraft guns. I quickly turned right hugging the far side of the harbor, which was not far enough away to keep me out of the range of the two, now alerted, destroyers. I had seen ack-ack many times before, but nothing compared to this. The sky was filled with tracers and explosions, and they were all aimed at me. I don't know what was behind me, but it was awesome in front of me. They seemed to be shooting above me, so I couldn't pull up through all that flak into the clouds. I had to dive but there wasn't much space to do that. I decided if I was going to get "it" I would do as much damage as I could before they hit me. I dived and turned into the rear destroyer. I let go a long burst aimed at the water line of the ship. I must have hit the ammo magazine because the destroyer exploded. It was a terrific explosion--a huge, gigantic ball of fire which I had to fly through because I was too close to avoid it. As I burst out of the fireball I was heading for the "V" under the clouds, so I exited the way I had come in.
One of the guys in the flight said: "What the hell was that?" Another voice said: "I think Lee dove into the destroyer." By then, my heart had gotten out of my throat so I told them that I was OK, but damaged. We got together and returned to Okinawa. I had sunk the destroyer, but my poor P-61 was so riddled with shrapnel and debris from the explosion that it had to be scrapped. I don't know what happened to the other destroyer, but it must have been severely damaged by the huge explosion so close to it.
At one of the reunions, one of the crew chiefs said: "I don't know what all he did, but I know one thing, he is one of the luckiest guys in the whole world." I couldn't disagree with that.