History

UNITED STATES PACIFIC FLEET
AIR FORCE
PATROL BOMBING SQUADRON FORTY-FOUR

 NARRATIVE 

Patrol 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, 1942.  The second, because of unfavorable weather, delayed its departure until April 12.  The average time of crossing for the twelve planes was 20.3 hours.  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.

When 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 II.  By this action he furnished the first positive information that a Japanese task force of imposing proportions was headed for Midway.  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

 *From CO VP-44 to Comdr Task Force 9, 25 June 1942.
**Memo from Lt. (jg) C.P. Hibbord to Chief of Staff, Patwing Two, 3 June 1942.

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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.”*

From 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.

The 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.  

Rescue, 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 George H. 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.

On 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

The  squadron’s  most 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  

*CO VP-44, Order of the Day, 4 June 1942.

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Leroy 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 sunk.

Such 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 blackout.*

On 9 June 1942,Patrol Squadron Forty-four returned to Pearl Harbor.

After 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.

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 great  

  *From CO VP-44 to Comdr Task Force D, 26 June 1942.
**One VP-44 plane on June 6 had an escort of 20 fighters.

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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.

There 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.

Lieutenant Hanthorn inaugurated the Malavo work when he landed at Boy Boy Bay, Choiseul Island, delivered

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Two 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.

At 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.

On 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 immediately.

The squadron secured its rescue missions operating from Halavo Beach on June 21, 1943.

During 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.

In 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 

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February, 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.

Thereafter, all Jap air attacks on us were delivered by Mitsubishi T-96 bombers of the type known as “Nell” in the MacArthur catalogue.  They 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.

The 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 was  easily  sighted  against a  sky   or cloud background, but blended into a water background very well.”*

The 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 gun.”**

Enemy 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 wounds.

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

  *From CO VP-44 to CinCPac, March 7, 1943, Enc. (A).
**From CO VP-44 to CinCPac, March 7, 1943, Enc. (C).
  *From CO, VP-44 to CinCPac, April 16, 1943
**Same Enc. (B)

  *Reckoned from the date of departure of the first plane from the United States.

**Approximately on July 20, 1943.

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.**

This narrative was provided by Richard Watson (VP-44 1942)

 

 
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