STATES PACIFIC FLEET
Squadron Forty-four departed from the Naval Air Station, Alameda,
for Pearl Harbor, T.H., in two divisions of six planes each.
The first of these left the United States on March 26,
The second, because of unfavorable weather, delayed its
departure until April 12.
The average time of crossing for the twelve planes was 20.3
Upon arrival at the Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, the
squadron reported to Patrol Wing Two, and under this command, flew
its units patrols out from Oahu.
Ordered to Midway for extended operations, it arrived at
Eastern Island on the 22nd and 23rd of May.
Here, “operations before the 30th May were
routine and entirely similar to those of the pre-ceding weeks out
of Pearl Harbor.”
*But on May 1st and June 1st
“contacts and aerial engagements were experienced with fast,
maneuverable patrol bomber-landplanes which presumably were
operating out of Wake.”
*This, in brief, was VP-44’s background for Midway.
Ensign Jewell (Jack) Harmon Reid sent a contact re-port, “Main
Body” to Midway Island on the 3rd June, 1942, he had
just made the most important patrol plane sighting of World War
By this action he furnished the first positive information
that a Japanese task force of imposing proportions was headed for
Ensign Reid did a workman-like job.
He remained in close proximity to the enemy force for two
and one-half hours, sending amplifying reports until he was
ordered back to base.
On the evening of the same day, at 2145 Midway time, four PBY-5A’s, under command of Lieut. Richards of this squadron. took off and headed for the enemy fleet to deliver a memorable night torpedo attack. Two of the planes, flying through clouds, lost contact with the leader – one of them, however, subsequently found a target. The other planes, with radar on homing, intercepted a force of fifteen transports and destroyers. They delivered their attack down moon, throttles chopped, in a straight silent glide. That the attack was a complete surprise is evident from the fact that the ships did not open fire until after Lieut. Richards, who was leading, had completed his torpedo run. Men in the waist of this first plane saw a tremendous explosion “as if the whole ship had blown up.” **The following plane, making its run ten minutes later, drew full enemy fire, and presumably did
Not get a hit because of the ships’ violent maneuvering. LTJG C. P. Hibbard, USNR, reasoned from this that in night torpedo attack, “all planes should be sent in at individual targets or…very close together, at one or two targets. In this way, the element of surprise can be taken advantage of, eliminating much maneuvering and firing by the enemy.”*
the standpoint of dramatic appeal, Reid’s sighting was the high
spot in patrol operations
of VP-44. But search,
for such a squadron, is always its first responsibility.
“LTCDR R. C. Brixner, USN, emphasized this, when he told
his pilots on June 4th “Bombs are carried for
expenditures on crippled ships only…Your mission is to gather
accurate information…The information is vital, it must be gotten
in.”* As a result
of this accent on search, four enemy surface vessel contacts were
made and information furnished which made possible the attacks on
the enemy’s scattering forces.
hours flown incident to the Battle of Midway made heavy demands
upon the mental and physical resources of the flight crews.
For the period 27 May to 5 June – a total of ten days –
these twelve crews averaged 88.5 hours each of combat flying.
Four of the crews flew more that 100 hours each during this
period, one, the amazing total of 114 hours.
for which no other plane is as celebrated as the Catalina, was a
necessary adjunct to the patrol work.
On 5 June 1942, LTJG Shelby Olaf Cole, USNR, made a
noteworthy rescue when he landed at sea and picked us Ensign
Gay, USNR, the lone survivor of Torpedo Squadron Eight.
Ensign Gay had been adrift in a rubber life raft for a day.
He was later able to furnish the Commander-in-Chief,
Pacific Fleet, with timely and important information.
6 June 1942, Ensign Richard Vern Umphrey, USN (T),landed a heavily
loaded plane in a rough sea, and rescued the personnel of a
disabled PBY who had been afloat for three days.
On two occasions during this flight Ensign Umphrey was
jumped by enemy aircraft. In
both instances he handled his plane so as to avoid personnel
injury. The second
attacking plane broke off the engagement when it dove away
trailing white smoke, the result of direct hits upon it by .50 and
.30 calibre machine gun fire
serious loss at Midway occurred
when three Japanese seaplanes simultaneously attacked 44-P-12 and
sent it crashing into the sea in flames.
The pilot, LTJG R.S. Whitman and C. Adams, ACRM, USN
were killed in the engagement. The
courage of three enlisted men, Virgil Ruel Marsh, 279 42 21,
AMM1c, USN, John Cleland Weeks, 81 31 37, AMM2c, USN. And Philip
Fulghum, 39 34 45, ACM2c, USN, made possible their sup-vival and
the survival of Ens. L. H. Camp, USNR, and Ens. L. C. McCleary,
USNR. Ensign Camp
died later as a result of gunfire wounds.
Despite the fire engulfing the airplane, Marsh freed a
rubber life raft from the wreckage, launched it, and assisted the
wounded to safety. After the plane had been set afire, Fulghum continued
to man his gun, and, as a result, probably
destroyed one enemy aircraft.
On his own initiative, he released the bombs before the
crash, and later he assisted the wounded into the raft.
He was later awarded the Navy Cross for this action. It was
Weeks who, himself seriously wounded, made such repairs upon the
life raft that, savaged by bullet holes, it would otherwise have
was Midway for Patol Squadron Forty-four – in terms of the name
players, if you will. This
account, because it is economical, doesn’t mention the efforts
of the squadron’s ord-nancemen who, for a period of twelve days,
worked on an average 19 – 20 hours per day, or of its
machinist’s mates who repaired their planes often in complete
9 June 1942,Patrol Squadron Forty-four returned to Pearl Harbor.
Midway and until late
December patrols were
flown out from Oahu and from Johnston Island under the direction
of the Commander, Hawaiian Sea Frontier.
Two crews in October of 1942 participated in the special
search from Canton Island for the Army B-17 lost with Colonel
Eddie Rickenbacker aboard. In Sep-tember of that year the squadron
moved to NAS Kaneohe. The
following mid-December all PBY-5A type aircraft were exchanged for
PBY-5s, and when the
bow turrents had been equipped with twin .30 calibre guns and MK
IX gunsights had been installed, VP-44 left Kaneohe on 22
December, in four sections for Espiritu Santo Island, New
Hebrides. On December
30 it commenced patrol operations from there, operating under
Fleet Air Wing One.
February 5, 1943, two planes left Espiritu Santo for Halavo Beach,
Florida Island. They were the first of a series of detachments which were to
see service in the Solomon Islands for the period February through
June 1943. It was a
many faceted job which confronted VP-44 pilots in this area.
While they flew no searches from Halavo, they flew very
often on “dumbo” missions – and in so doing effected a
considerable number of rescues – they transported personnel
(including members of the Army, and of Australian and New Zealand
forces), carried supplies, including medical supplies, served as
hospital plane pilots, and worked in conjunction with the island
coast watchers. Throughout
this period many flights penetrated, sometimes for a distance as
half the length of the Solomon chain, into enemy controlled areas.
Evidence of the constant danger these planes were subject
to is seen in the fact that they sometimes went on their missions
escorted by fifteen or more fighters.** The fighters were usually
F-4-Us and F-6-Fs but sometimes they were Army P-39s and P-40s.
was nothing of the tedium of patrol flying to characterize these
flights. They were flown always within the sight of land – as
you always are in the Solomons – mostly in enemy territory, and
they had a varied mission. It
isn’t possible to describe them at length, but it serves our
purpose to single out one or two of them as typical of the work
done throughout the period.
days later, in company with two PB4Y’s of VB-101, he left Halavo for
the Carterets. At
1800 local time he landed in the lagoon, and at 0230 of the
following morning he brought off successfully First Lieutenant
Ruiz and the five remaining members of Captain Classen’s crew.
midnight, February 22, 1943 the advanced base at Halavo was bombed
by the enemy. C. C. Olin, AOM1c, was killed.
Three officers, Ens. J. H. Hutchinson,
Ens. R. W. Morris, and Lt. (jg) R. C. Trejo were wounded.
March 24, the squadron lost another plane when Lietenant Lyons
crashed after takeoff
as a result of failure of both engines.
No personnel injuries were sustained.
The plane sank in sixty feet of water two miles offshore.
With the help of the U.S.S. Butternut it was raised before
dark of the same day, and salvage operations commenced
squadron secured its rescue missions operating from Halavo Beach
on June 21, 1943.
the month detachments of planes flew their “dumbo” hops from
Halavo, the great part of the squadron was engaged in flying
patrols out from Expiritu Santo.
These planes had no protecting cover and were frequently
attacked by enemy aircraft mounting superior armament.
the period February through June 1943, twelve attacks were made on VP-44
patrol planes, none successfully.
Three of the attacking plances, in attacks on the 2nd,
3rd, and 4th of
were Kawanishi 97 flying boats.
Their descriptive name in the MacArthur catalogue is
“Mavis.” In all
instances, our aircraft were undamaged, but hits were scored upon
the enemy’s planes. (The
enemy bow gunner was “hit” on February 4.
all Jap air attacks on us were delivered by Mitsubishi T-96
bombers of the type known as “Nell” in the MacArthur
developed on February 28 (two attacks), March 6, April 7, April 8
(two attacks), May 9,
May 21, and June 3. These
planes were believed to be flying a search pattern, probably
originating at Nauru.
enemy’s camouflage was generally considered good by out pilots.
“The enemy plane was so well camouflaged that the pilot
had difficulty in spotting it immediately.
It was colored black, brown, red, green, and many other
colors and shades.” The attacking enemy plane on March 6 was “painted many
bright colors.”** One
April 8th, Lt. (jg) W. E. Roy, USNR, observed the enemy
to be “painted with broken
patches of drab green, brown, and
yellowish colors. He
or cloud background, but blended into a water background
enemy attacks were all of a pattern.
He would approach from astern and take station on the
quarter or beam of the PBY, and generally below so that he could bring his top 20mm.
Turrent exhibited a marked reluctance to close to effective gun
range, athough possessing superior speed and maneuverability.
He would close immediately, however, if he observed the
waist guns in the PBY to be out of commission.
Lt. Comdr. Rosasco observed in April 1943, “It is
apparent that the enemy is seeking to make an unopposed attack on
the quarter or beam as the result of a jam or stoppage in waist
fire penetrated our aircraft in the attacks on Febru-ary 28, (four
hits), April 7, (five hits), and, in the most
serious instance, on June 3, (nine hits, all 20mm. shells).
In this last engagement, Lieutenant Lyons, the pilot, was
injured in the right foot, and three others of the crew, Ens.
Hubbach, Allen, AMM1c, and Burns, AOM2c, suffered minor shrapnel
On May 8, 1943, the squadron lost another plane when the pilot made a forced landing at Tutuba Island, New Hebrides. The plane was a total loss except for salvageable parts
On June 26, 1943, Patrol Squadron Forty-four, after a tour of duty in the Pacific of fifteen months exactly, began leaving for the United States by way of Kanoehe. The following month it reported to Fleet Air West Coast, NAS San Diego.**