VFA-34

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Strike Fighter Squadron 34
VFA-34 Blue Blasters.jpg
VFA-34 insignia
Active January 1, 1970
Country  United States of America
Branch United States Navy Seal United States Navy
Type Fighter/Attack
Role Close air support
Air interdiction
Aerial reconnaissance
Part of Carrier Air Wing 2
Garrison/HQ NAS Oceana
Nickname Blue Blasters
Motto “Have gun….Will travel.”
Engagements World War II
Vietnam War
Operation El Dorado Canyon
Operation Desert Shield
Operation Deliberate Force
Operation Southern Watch
Operation Enduring Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Aircraft flown
Fighter F/A-18C Hornet

Strike Fighter Squadron 34 (VFA-34), also known as the "Blue Blasters", is a United States Navy F/A-18C Hornet strike fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana. They are a part of Carrier Air Wing 2 and are attached to the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). Their tail code is NE and their radio call sign is "Joker".

Squadron Insignia and Nickname[edit]

The squadron’s first insignia was approved for use by VF-20 during World War II, and was a "Joker" breaking out of a deck of cards carrying a machine gun. This insignia was selected by the squadron because the young and inexperienced pilots in the squadron were referred to as the "Jokers". It was approved by Chief of Naval Operations on 15 March 1944. The next insignia adopted by the squadron was the outline of a human skull, approved by CNO on 1 February 1946. Superimposed on the nose of a skull was a human skeleton with the arms holding paddles that became the eyes of the skull, while the teeth were represented by the word “Fighting 20.” On 10 June 1949, CNO approved another modification to the squadron insignia which embellished the skull design. This insignia was in use from 1949 until the squadron’s disestablishment in 1969. In 1957 the squadron adopted their present nickname, taking inspiration from their blue tail colors and their nuclear weapon delivery capability; hence the name "Blue Blasters." When the third VA-34 was established in 1970, it adopted the insignia and Blue Blasters nickname used by the previous VA-34 squadron (the second VA-34). On May 10, 1999 the CNO approved a modification to the squadron’s insignia tailoring the design to the FA-18 Strike Fighter community.

History[edit]

Three distinct US Navy squadrons have been designated VA-34. The first squadron to hold the VA-34 designation was in 1948. This squadron was redesignated VA-35 in 1950 and is not related to the subject of this article. The second VA-34 was established in 1943 and disestablished in 1969. The third VA-34, established in 1970, was later redesignated VFA-34 and is the subject of this article. Officially, the US Navy does not recognize a direct lineage with disestablished squadrons if a new squadron is formed with the same designation.[1] Often, the new squadron will assume the nickname, insignia, and traditions of the earlier squadrons.

1940s[edit]

The second squadron to hold the VA-34 designation was originally commissioned the VF-20 "Jokers" on October 15, 1943 as part of Air Group 20 stationed at NAS San Diego, California. The squadron was composed of numerous newly winged Naval Aviators along with a few combat veterans.

On 31 August 1944, the squadron’s first combat action came as combat strikes were flown from USS Enterprise (CV-6) in squadron F6F Hellcats against the Bonin Islands. Strikes followed to Yap and Palau Islands, Peleliu Island, Okinawa, Formosa, Luzon, and Leyte. VF-20 was heavily involved in the initial invasion operations in the Philippines, including the epic Battle of Leyte Gulf from 24–25 October 1944. On 11 December 1944, VF-20 cross-decked to the "Grey Ghost", the USS Lexington (CV-16) On 14 December 1944, Lieutenant (jg) Douglas Baker was on a strike mission against Clark Field on Luzon when he encountered Japanese fighter opposition. During this engagement he destroyed four Japanese aircraft before being shot down by antiaircraft fire and lost in the action. This final action brought his air-to-air kills to 16, making him one of the high ranking aces for the Navy. Only eight other Navy pilots equaled or exceeded this record.

From December 1944 to January 1945, VF-20 engaged in another series of combat actions, flying missions against targets on and around Luzon, Formosa, French Indochina (Vietnam), Hong Kong, the South China Sea, and Okinawa. Many of these operations were in support of the landings at Lingayen Gulf. As part of Admiral Halsey's Northern Strike Group, VF-20 assisted in sinking one of the world's largest battleships, the Japanese battleship Musashi (sister ship to the Yamato), and was given credit for partial kills on several Japanese cruisers and destroyers.

22 January 1945 was the last day of combat action for the squadron during World War II. In February 1945 the Jokers embarked in USS Kwajalein (CVE-98) at Ulithi and departed for the United States, arriving there in the latter part of the month.

During WWII, eight VF-20 pilots became aces, 12 pilots received the Navy Cross and 22 received the Silver Star. VF-20 was credited with the destruction of over 15 ships and 407 aircraft, not counting the even greater number that were damaged but not destroyed. For their combat efforts the command was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation in 1944 and 1945, along with the Navy Unit Citation while aboard Enterprise. In April 1946, the squadron transitioned to the F8F Bearcat and was redesignated VF-9A on 15 November 1946. Then on 12 August 1948, the squadron was again redesignated as VF-91.

1950s[edit]

On 15 February 1950 the squadron was redesignated Fighter Squadron THIRTY FOUR (VF- 34). In November 1950, VF-34 transitioned to its first jet aircraft, the F9F Panther.

In February 1952, the squadron began initial training in the F2H Banshee, and in April 1953, the squadron embarked on USS Antietam (CVA-36) to conduct evaluation tests on the Navy’s first angled deck carrier. After returning from a cruise aboard USS Leyte (CV-32) in December 1951, the unit transferred to NAS Cecil Field, Florida. The majority of the next two years were spent operating from the attack carriers USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Midway (CV-41), USS Bennington (CVA-20), USS Tarawa (CV-40) and USS Randolph (CVA-15). The squadron was again redesignated as VA-34 on 1 July 1955. In spring of 1956, VA-34 accepted its first F7U Cutlass, which it operated until receiving A-4 Skyhawks in March 1957. The squadron was the first Skyhawk squadron to deploy to the Mediterranean. On 4 March 1958 during cross-deck operations, the squadron landed its A4D-1 Skyhawks aboard HMS Ark Royal (R09). In July 1958, VA-34 flew support missions during the amphibious landings in Beirut, Lebanon, by U.S. Marines.

1960s[edit]

From 1959 through 1966, the Blue Blasters operated from the decks of USS Saratoga (CV-60) and USS Essex (CV-9).

In April 1961, VA-34’s A4D-2 Skyhawks operated from Essex in the Caribbean Sea during the Bay of Pigs invasion. From 26 October to 8 November 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis, the entire squadron flew aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65) to augment the assigned air wing. VA-34 flew numerous missions in support of Cuban quarantine, later transferring USS Independence (CV-62) until her return to the States on 26 November.

From May to December 1967, the squadron deployed to the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War aboard USS Intrepid (CV-11). This was the squadron’s first combat action since 1945.

Attack Squadron 34 was disestablished on 29 May 1969.

1970s[edit]

Grumman A-6E Intruder of VA-34 aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) in 1976

Less than a year after disestablishment, a new Blue Blaster squadron was established at NAS Oceana, Virginia, on 1 January 1970 as the Atlantic Fleet’s sixth A-6 Intruder squadron. This was the third squadron to be designated VA-34, and is a direct descendent of the present VFA-34. The actual establishment ceremony was conducted at NAS Oceana on 17 April 1970. On 18 September 1970, VA-34 embarked aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) as part of Carrier Air Wing One for a short at-sea period prior to its scheduled November deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. However, while en route to the Caribbean, the ship was ordered to deploy to the Mediterranean after Syria invaded Jordan. The squadron returned home in March 1971 from this unscheduled deployment, only one year old, but already in possession of the Meritorious Unit Commendation. In August 1971, VA-34 received the Battle "E" award as the Atlantic Fleet's top A-6 squadron.

In September 1972, a squadron A-6 Intruder conducted crossdeck operations on HMS Ark Royal while operating in the Norwegian Sea. Due to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, VA-34 and Kennedy departed the Norwegian Sea in October 1973 and re-entered the Mediterranean, conducting surveillance operations south of Crete.

1980s[edit]

VA-34 A-6.

VA-34 deployed aboard her new home, USS America (CV-66), in August 1982 for an eight-week North Atlantic cruise. The squadron subsequently made deployments to the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean in 1982 and 1984. In September 1985 while deployed aboard America to the North Atlantic, the squadron conducted flight operations from the carrier while it operated within the Vestfjorden, a Norwegian fjord.

On 24 March 1986, Libyan missiles were fired at U.S. Navy forces operating in the Gulf of Sidra. As a result of this hostile act, the Blue Blasters participated in retaliatory strikes Operation Prairie Fire against Libya by the U.S. 6th Fleet forces in the area. VA-34’s A-6E Intruders, operating from America, attacked and damaged a Libyan FACM Class La Combattante IIa G-class fast attack missile craft with an AGM-84 Harpoon missile (the first combat employment Harpoon). On the night of 14 April 1986, the Blue Blasters conducted a low-level, high-speed attack against targets at the Benina airfield and military barracks in Benghazi, Libya as part of Operation El Dorado Canyon.

In October 1986 the Blasters detached from Carrier Air Wing One and joined Carrier Air Wing Seven in USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), deploying in February 1988 for an extended Mediterranean deployment. The Blasters participated in operations off the Libyan Coast and returned to NAS Oceana in August 1988.

1990s[edit]

The last A-6 launch from CVN-73.

The Blue Blasters deployment in 1990 featured integration of night vision goggles and Standoff Land Attack Missile capability into their A-6Es. In 1990, Eisenhower completed her seventh Mediterranean deployment. The deployment became a commemorative event in the worldwide 'Dwight D. Eisenhower Centennial,' celebrating the 100th anniversary of the late president's birth. During D-Day anniversary ceremonies off the coast of Normandy, President Eisenhower's son John Eisenhower and D-Day veterans embarked in the ship, while Carrier Air Wing Seven conducted a memorial flyover of the American cemetery at Omaha Beach.In August 1990, the squadron flew missions from the Red Sea in support of Operation Desert Shield, the build up of American and Allied forces to counter a threatened invasion of Saudi Arabia by Iraq. The squadron returned home in September 1990 and returned to Southwest Asia in September 1991. The squadron returned to NAS Oceana, on 2 April 1992. The Blue Blasters’ next deployment was from May to November 1994, embarked in USS George Washington (CVN-73) for her maiden voyage. In June 1994, the Blasters commemorated the 50th Anniversary of D-Day with a "missing man" formation over Omaha Beach, which was televised worldwide by CNN. The Blue Blasters were awarded the Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle "E" for 1994 and 1995. The Blue Blasters departed in January 1996 aboard USS George Washington (CVN-73) for their last A-6E Intruder deployment. They flew in support of Operation Decisive Endeavor over Bosnia and Herzegovina and Operation Southern Watch over Southern Iraq. Typical missions included close air support assisting US and United Nations troops on the ground. On September 30, 1996, Attack Squadron 34 was redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 34 and returned once again to NAS Cecil Field, Florida. The Blue Blasters immediately began the transition to the FA-18 Hornet. In June 1998, Strike Fighter Squadron 34 deployed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) in support of Operation Deliberate Forge, and Operation Southern Watch. The Blue Blasters returned to NAS Cecil Field in December 1998. In March 1999, the Blue Blasters conducted a homeport shift from NAS Cecil Field to NAS Oceana.

2000s[edit]

A Blaster FA-18C launches from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72).

The Blue Blasters embarked on George Washington in June 2000 for deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf in support of Operations Southern Watch and Deliberate Forge. In December 2000, the Blue Blasters returned to NAS Oceana. Upon their return, the squadron was awarded the Rear Admiral Clarence Wade McClusky Award as the premier attack squadron in the U.S. Navy, and the Commander, Naval Air Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet Battle Efficiency Award as the finest East Coast Strike Fighter Squadron. The Blue Blasters embarked on George Washington in June 2002 for another deployment to the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Sea, and Persian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch, returning to NAS Oceana in December 2002. The Blue Blasters returned to Kennedy for her last combat cruise in 2004, deploying to the Mediterranean Sea / Persian Gulf in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. In March 2005, VFA-34 became operationally attached to CVW-2, deploying aboard the west coast carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) for Operations Valiant Shield and Foal Eagle 2006. Between 24–31 March 2006, during Foal Eagle 2006 exercises, strike squadrons VFA-2, VFA-34, VFA-137, and VFA-151 from Carrier Air Wing Two teamed with U.S. Air Force aircraft from the 18th Wing based at Kadena Air Base to provide combat air patrols and coordinated bombing runs via the exercise’s Combined Air Operations Center.[2] The Blue Blasters returned home to NAS Oceana in August 2006.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Naval Aviation Squadron Lineages
  2. ^ Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class (AW) M. Jeremie Yoder, USN (March 27, 2006). "Lincoln Wraps Up Successful Exercise, Heads for Port". NNS060406-15. Abraham Lincoln Public Affairs. Retrieved 2010-12-26. 

External links[edit]