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HistoryCASU HistoryHistory

Circa 1964

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "03JAN44--Patrol Squadron SEVENTEEN was commissioned at 1000 on January 3, 1944 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia; in accordance with CominCh Confidential letter 03974 of November 9, 1943; and ComAirLant letter of November 30, 1943. Lt. Comdr. Kenneth A. Kuehner, USNR, of Minster, Ohio, was designated as commanding officer of the squadron, which was temporarily based at Norfolk awaiting the assignment of officers, men and aircraft. At the time of commissioning six members of the squadron were on hand, the skipper, two other officers, and three enlisted men. On January 11th VP-17 was transferredred to NAS Harvey Point, Hertford, North Carolina, for fitting out and shakedown training. The first airplane, a PBM-3D, was received on January 22nd and flight operations commenced on the 24th. As more pilots, crews and planes arrived, the training program increased progressively. The squadron remained at NAS Harvey Point, Hertford, North Carolina until the middle of April. From March 31st to April 9th a detachment of 11 crews under the command of Lt. jg Coyle was sent to Key West, Florida for training in anti-submarine warfare. About the middle of April the squadron moved by plane and rail to the West Coast. NAS Harvey Point, Hertford, North Carolina was a good operating area, although limited transportation and liberty did not make it the best area for personal enjoyment. As a result the squadron was pleased rather than annoyed by ComAirLant secret dispatch transferredring it to ComFair Alameda, California. By April 24th VP-17 began its transferred to Alameda, via Eagle Mountain Lake, Texas and San Diego, California. En route to San Diego on May 3rd Lt. J. H. Dornbox and his crew were forced to parachute to safety near Palo Alto. The Squadron did not spend much time at Alameda. The first two planes departed NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on April 30th. Lt. Swanson and Lt. Roberts being PPC's. Complete squadron transferred to Fleet Air Wing Two, however, was not completed until May 31st, which gave most of the squadron considerable time to enjoy the comforts of NAS Alameda, California and ample provisions for good liberty afforded in San Franciso and Oakland. At NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for three months from June 1st to September 1st the squadron underwent intensive training in anti-submarine warfare, and completed final training in all phases of PBM operations. During this time VP-17 flew 117 operational patrols in the Hawaiian area. Conditions of living and recreation at NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii were fine for both officers and men. Operating conditions were very suitable although usual quirks were encountered of a minor nature, including a forced shallow water landing by Lt. Healy on July 25th causing minor hull damage, and one plan, Lt. Temple, PPC, running aground on a reef in Kaneohe Bay on August 1st. During the period June 1st to September 1st the squadron received two officers, one enlisted man, plus seven planes temporarily attached. Through transferreds two officers and one plane were detached. Several weeks before departure to the forward area a squadron party was held on the beach near BOQ with ample supply of steaks, barbeque, baked beans and beer. A softball game between the officers and enlisted men was the highlight of the afternoon. On September 1st the Skipper leading 5 planes left Kanaohe for Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll, in the Marshall Islands. This squadron movement was performed exactly as scheduled, 5 planes departing NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii each day for three days. The entire movement was completed without incident, which was considered more than satisfactory. This Movement to Task Force 59 at Ebeye was the transition point between training and action. The squadron was the last moving toward the forward area. On September 5th a 5 plane detachment was sent to Eniwetck for duty with VP-21 were it flew 11 negative searches and one photo reconnaissance hop over Wake Island. This detachment returned on the 13th receiving high praise for its work, the subject of a letter of commendation from the commanding officer VP-21 to ComAirPac. The Balance of the squadron meanwhile was awaiting orders to a more forward area. Lt. Coyle with a 3 plane section flew to Saipan on September 11th. A week later the remainder of the squadron transferredred to Saipan and moved aboard the U. S. S. Hamlin (AV-15) in the outer harbor at Tenapag. While taking off from Ebeye Lt. Temple hit a submerged object, seriously damaging the hull of his plane. CASU 18 did a fine job in effecting emergency repairs so that the plane could be flown to NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for replacement. Lt. Temple later rejoined the squadron at Saipan. Administration was moved to Saipan September 18th. At Tanapag the Squadron flew 34 search, 18 dumbo and 4 cargo missions. Included in these flights were hops to Iwo Jima and Chici. While on one of the cargo missions to Kossol Passage, Palau, Lt. W. R. Lasser sighted an enemy submarine, but Seventeen's first enemy sighting proved fruitless. Being on a cargo mission, Lt. Lasser was carrying no bombs or depth charges, therefore allowing the submarine to submerge unharmed. On October 1, 1944 Patrol Squadron SEVENTEEN had its designation changed to Patrol Bombing Squadron SEVENTEEN. The squadron moved from the U. S. S. Hamlin to the U. S. S. Curtis (AV-4) on October 6th and remained there for a week prior to departing for Ulithi Atoll in the Western Caroline Islands. On October 9th Lt. J. L. Leidecker took on advance detachment of six crews to Ulithi. Based on the USS Onslow (AVP-48) the detachment flew night anti-submarine patrols. When the balance of the squadron moved to Ulithi on October 13th it based aboard the U. S. S. Hamlin. Operations at Ulithi continued until December 24th and included just about everything in the books for PBM's. During this period SEVENTEEN flew 2,932 operational hours which comprised day and night anti-submarine patrols, convoy coverage, mail runs, photo-reconnaissance missions, transport flights, coverage for landing operations and Dubo missions. While at Ulithi VPB-17 encountered some of its more unusual experiences. On a night coverage flight, Lt. G. H. Gile lost 18 inches off one propeller blade and was forced to make a single engine open sea landing in high seas, (20 to 30 foot swells). His damaged plane was rescued by the U. S. S. ONSLOW and towed 250 miles back to Ulithi. One hundred and four nights and eighty day patrols, which included reconnaissance of Yap Island were flown in this period. One Japanese prisoner was taken during a mission covering landings on Ngulu. Escort flights consisted of 27 flights which included a flight by Lt. Whelan on December 15, plus flights on December 19th and December 21st by Lt. Comdr. Coyle and Lt. Temple on the U. S. S. Reno, U. S. S. Houston, and the U. S. S. CANBARRA, which had been damaged by the enemy action. Mail runs were made between Saipan, Palau, Ngulu and Ulithi and 4 Dumbo flights were flown to NAS Agana, Guam and Woleai. For five days beginning November 5th 13 planes were evacuated without incident to Saipan because of typhoon conditions at Ulithi. On December 24th, 25th, and 26th the squadron moved back to Tanapag Harbor Saipan, and base aboard the U. S. S. YAKULAT (AVP-32) until the U. S. S. HAMLIN arrived on the 29th. It remained at Saipen until January 19, 1945. During this period 3 ASP flights were flown daily for a total of 556 hours. All patrols flown were with negative results; so the squadron was pleased to receive FAW-1 orders transferredring it to Kossol Roads, Palau. On January 20, 1945, 5 planes departed for Kossola Roads. Operations at Palau were conducted from the USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14]. Thirty-six day searches and seven night anti-sub patrols were flown. Operating conditions at Kossol Roads were generally very poor due to extremely high seas. Many planes were damaged by boats and rough water take-offs. Lt. D. N. Brown of Ortonville, Minnesota lost a float and submerged his wing on a take-off in rough water. However, by exceptional skill he managed to get his plane airborne and later affected a safe landing. The excellent work and efficiency of the USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14] saved one plane with a hole in her hull below the waterline. A plane already on the deck had to be put over the side before the damaged plane could be brought aboard - an excellent piece of work. On February 5th VPB-17 once again moved to Ulithi; this time to the U. S. S. CHANDLELEUR (AV-10) for inspection of planes, and then to the USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14] which did the actual maintenance. From February 12th to 15th pursuant to ComAirPac orders the squadron moved to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, P.I., aboard the USS Currituck II (AV-7) . On February 20th the squadron moved to the U. S. S. SAN PABLO (AVP-30), after having sent a detachment of planes and crews to Lingayen. This Nucleus of the squadron remained aboard the U. S. S. SAN PABLO until March 31st and then moved ashore to NAB, Jinamoc for the first three weeks of April. While based in San Pedro Bay the squadron flew 165 missions totaling 934 hours. Sixteen airmen were rescued at sea and 110 persons were transported, including Lt. General Eichelberger, U.S.A., Commanding General 8th Army. Missions included photo reconnaissance, cargo flights, supplying guerillas, dumbo for army and marine air strikes, landing operations and air-sea rescue. There were also pre-invasions bombings of Iloilo, San Carlos, Panay, Zamboanga, Davoa and Malabang, Mindanao, Cebu-Negros, and Legaspi, Luzon by VPB-17. Squadron planes flew dumbo missions on the days of invasion of the above mentioned cities and islands also. On the second day of the invasion of Iloilo, Lt. Johnson lost an engine and was forced to land several miles north of Iloilo. An LST towed the plane to a safe area among invasion craft, where it was stripped of all salvageable parts and equipment and then sunk. Complete cooperation was given the crew by the landing craft officers and men present. There were several flights of interest and significance during this period which are worthy of mention.. Lt. J. A. Wallace of Alberta, Canada on February 19th made an open sea landing in swells of from 15 to 20 feet, off the southeast coast of Samar and picked up 1st Lt. Dan T. Doyle, 028241, and F4U pilot. The next day Lt. G. D. Mulford of Woodbury, New Jersey transported 1500 pounds of supplies to guerilla forces on Palawan and picked up Cpl. Elmo S. Deal, U. S. Army, who had been a prisoner of war since the fall of Corregidor. On the 22nd Lt. Alan Washinton, Nashville, Tennessee evacuated 14 battle casualties of the 182nd Infantry Division from Behind enemy lines near Allen on the northwest tip of Samar. At the same time blood plasma was delivered to the Army Medical Officer in command. Lt. D. N. Brown flew a photo reconnaissance hop over Jap held Ticao and Burias Islands off southwestern Luzon on the 26th of February. This flight was in preparation for a subsequent successful Army landing. On March 1st Lt. Comdr K. A. Kuehner, the squadron commander, and Lt. Wallace evacuated 2nd Lt. J. B. Lampe and his crew of 11 from a downed B-24 at Davao, Minanao. This mission, deep into enemy territory was completed without assistance of fighter cover. Lt. C. M. Nixon evacuated Major P. B. May, Commanding Officer Marine Fighting Squadron 211 and Major Teafilo Rivera, Regimental Commander of 130th Infantry Guerilla Force from the same location. Invaluable intelligence material was received form this guerilla leader. On March 26th Lt. Bouchard of Los Angeles flew two 8th Army Intelligence officers and Lt. General Eichelberger from headquarters to Cebu and returned the General on the 28th. When the Skipper and six crews went ashore on April 1st from the U. S. S. Pablo to Jinamoc Island to continue air-sea rescue operations it marked the first time since leaving NAS Kaneohe Bay, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii that any part of the Squadron was shore based despite undeveloped and limited facilities the squadron personnel thoroughly enjoyed the welcome change and the cooperation and facilities afforded by the CASU and ACORN 30. While the squadron was at San Pedro a detachment of 6 planes and 8 crews under Lt. Comdr. Coyle of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was based at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon aboard the U. S. S. ORCA from February 14th until the middle of March when it moved by degrees to Puerta Princessa, Palawan aboard the USS Pocomoke (AV-9). Operations at Lingayen Gulf consisted of dumbo, air-sea rescue, evacuation, guerilla supply and photo reconnaissance flights, with primary emphasis on air-sea rescue. Of particular note was the rescue of February 20th by Lt. L. H. Roberts of Green County, Pennsylvania of two survivors of a ditched B-25 just south of North Island. He landed and took off in 30 knot winds with a cross swell running about 16 feet. On the 25th Lt. G. H. Gile of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and crew distinguished themselves by effecting two landings and take-offs 4 and 8 miles respectively from the southwest coast of Formosa. In the first landing Lt. Scott M. Alexander of a downed P-47 was rescued. On the second landing, although a wreckage of a P-51 was searched, the crew was unable to locate a survivor. Both landings and take-offs were made in 30 knot winds with 14 to 16 foot cross swells. Another flight of interest occurred on march 2nd when Lt. C. Mellerup, Cambridge, Massachusetts was called to the northwest coast of Formosa to pick up survivors of a downed B-25. After prolonged search he landed and rescued 2nd Lt. J. C. Discon, 2nd Lt. A. C. West and Sgt. D. D. Bowers of the 823rd Bombing Squadron. During his return flight Lt. Mellerup was tailed by an enemy fighter, but no attack was made. Field missions flown by this detachment included the delivery of supplies and scouts into unfriendly territory and evacuating wounded and other personnel from behind enemy lines. On May 9, 1945 the squadron received a letter from Walter Krueger, General, U. S. Army Commanding 6th Army commending them for the work of this detachment at Lingayen. With its work at Lingayen complete this detachment was transferredred March 9th to 18th to Palawan where it flew searches in the South China Sea. On March 20th the squadron was augmented by its first two replacement crews. Recreation at Purta Princessa was excellent and the squadron had numerous baseball games and beer parties with the USS Pocomoke (AV-9) and the U. S. S. ORCA ship's company. On March 18th the squadron was disposed as follows: 6 planes on U. S. S. SAN PABLO, 3 planes at Jinamoc, 1 plane at Lingayen, 4 planes at Palawan. From this time forward until April 22nd the squadron crews and planes were shifted about detachments throughout this area. The month at Palawan went all too fast before the detachment received the call to rejoin the squadron and report to the U. S. S. TANGIER (AV-8) at Lingayen Gulf for Black Cat duty. On April 22nd the squadron moved from Jinamoc to Lingayen Gulf where it went aboard the U. S. S. TANGIER. From this time on until June 29th the primary mission of the squadron was night reconnaissance or Black Catting along the China Coast and the western coast of Formosa. This area was covered by two sectors, one extending from Swatow, China to Hainan, and east along the shipping lanes from Hainan Straits; the other from Hong Kong, to Foochow, China, to the northern tip of Formosa and along the western Formosa Coast. The direction in which the sectors were flown was determined by the most effective use of moonlight. These missions were flown to intercept enemy shipping which ventured under cover of darkness into the waters and bays of the China Sea. Flights took off from Lingayen Gulf with 2500 gallons of gasoline, four 250 pound and six 100 pound G. P. Bombs, 3400 rounds of .50 cal. Ammunition and six to eight 25 pound fragmentation bombs. Take-off time varied according to the hours of darkness, moonrise and prospective targets. It was always prior to darkness and flights returned after daylight on the following day. To insure that no flight would be delayed on take-off, all planes scheduled for flights and stand-by planes were water-tested every day in advance of departure time. The doctrine set forth for Black Cat missions was "plenty rugged." The first consideration after take-off was gasoline. It was necessary to conserve in every possible way. Low power settings were used constantly. The only difference between the attack run and the cruise was that the engines were put into auto-rich when in range of enemy fire. The flight to target area was maintained at an altitude of 250 feet or less and, once over the target area, altitude many times was lowered to absolute minimum in order to effect undetected attacks on enemy strongholds. Radar served as the eyes of the plane, guiding it in between and over numerous protruding rocks and islands which lined the coast. Entries into bays and rivers were made on radar. The attack run was guided by radar, the target often remained invisible until illuminated by the plane's .50 cal. Tracers. Radar operators, whether they were ordiancemen, mechs, or radioman, were soon able to distinguish between rocks, junks and prospective targets. No matter how proficient the radar operator, or how good the radar, there were no substitutes for contact flight under a full moon. Flights were completed in darkness, in fog, or in moonlight. It was not the policy to cancel flights or return to base because of weather. Fronts were usually entered without a change of heading, but at low altitude to avoid turbulence. The entire crew was unconsciously under continual strain. During the two months of Black Cat operations VPB-17 worked a heavy schedule and achieved remarkably good results in destruction and damage inflicted upon the enemy, considering the curtailment of Japanese shipping between the East Indies and Japan. Although there were numerous creditable attacks, there were a few in particular that were especially worthy of mention. On the night of May 18 and 19 in the sector between Formosa and the China Coast Lt. Warren B. Lasser of Waterloo, Iowa attacked a five ship convoy totaling 17,000 tons and completely destroyed it. One Fox Tar Baker, One Fox Tar Charlie and two Sugar Charlies were sunk and one Fox Tare Baker left burning furiously. The following night Lt. E. H. Ross of Shelbyville, Tennessee sank one and left two remaining Sugar Charlies down by the stern and listing to port. On May 28th Lt.jg J. Centa of Barberton, Ohio sank a Sugar Charlie. On June 23-24 Lt.jg Willie F. Sander of Brenham, Texas scored a clean sweep when he destroyed a 200 foot M/V and two Sugar Charlies by bombing and strafing, and later on the same flight sank two 150 foot 3-masted schooners with a single bomb hit. In the way of retaliation the enemy did some damage during the squadron's career of Black Catting. On May 26th Lt.jg F. W. Forman, Baltimore, Maryland failed to return from a mission. It was not until July that it was found that his plane had been shot down. The only survivors were Lt. Forman of Baltimore, Maryland and his co-pilot, Ens. R. S. Bunge, East Hartford, Conn. They made there way to the China Coast and, on the basis of their evasion and escape knowledge, located friendly Chinese who evacuated them inland to Kunming. Those lost included Ens. A. Ligrani, (A1), USNR, 419577; Cass, W. S., AOM3c(T), USNR, 565 75 01; Shoemake, C. M., AMM1c, USN, 295 82 35; Suck, G. R., AOM3c, USNR, 664 52 93; White, R. D., ARM3c(T), USNR, 816 25 08. On May 30th Lt.jg V. B. Moore sighted seven schooners with probable destruction of five before he ran out of ammunition and bombs. Another example of the accuracy of Japanese AA fire was the plane brought back to the squadron the morning of June 6th. That PBM had 380 holes in the after end of the plane, but miraculously enough there were no injuries or casualties among the personnel. On June 22, Lt. Edward Harmeyer sank one Sugar Dog and two Barges. On the same night Lt.jg G. R. Hauser of Yorkville, New York sank a Fox Tare Charlie. On June 25th Lt.jg E. Peterson of Marquette, Michigan sank a Sugar Charlie. On the night of June 28th the squadron's last Black Cat Missions were flown. While Lt.jg James B. Nourse of Wocester, Massachusetts was attacking a PC off the Pescadores Islands, enemy fire wounded his Mech, W. F. Snyder, AMM3c, of Passaic, New Jersey in the foot. Thus ended VPB-17s night sorties against the enemy. While the squadron was busy Black Catting the USS Currituck II (AV-7) steamed into Lingayen Gulf on June 24th. The following day VPB SEVENTEEN left the U. S. S. TANGIER and moved aboard the USS Currituck II (AV-7) . On the 16th the Squadron's new commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Leeds D. Cutter, USNR, reported to replace "Skipper" Kuehner. The change of command ceremonies took place on June 21st with the squadron present in the hanger of the USS Currituck II (AV-7) . On June 29th VPB-17 ended its Black Cat operations and started its movement to Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago, off the coast of Borneo. As the main flight to Tawi Tawi was leaving Lingayen on June 30th the squadron suffered it first serious known operational loss. A few minutes after take-off, Lt. Comdr. Cutter had both engines fail and crashed three miles inland from Dasol Bay.The plane caught fire and was completely destroyed. Ensign Stadtler and six enlisted men were killed. Lt. Comdr. Cutter, pilot, Ensign Jensen and three men were badly burned. A few minutes later Lt. L. D. Hicks, USN, also had both engines of his PBM cut out but was fortunate in being able to reach Dasol Bay where he made a skillful landing without injury to anyone. Upon examination and investigation it was found that Lt. Hicks engine failure was caused by the presence of salt water in the gas tanks. It is presumed that Lt. Comdr. Cutter crash resulted from the same cause. With the exception of the crews involved in the emergency landings at Dasol Bay the squadron completed its transferred to the USS Pocomoke (AV-9) in Chongos Bay, Tawi Tawi between July 2nd and 4th. In the meantime while Black Catting was going on at Lingayen a detachment of three planes and crews headed by Lt. J. T. Whealan had been sent to Tawi Tawi on June 7th and had been augmented on the 14th by an additional three planes and crews. Although this detachment was originally based aboard the USS Pocomoke (AV-9), it moved to the U. S. S. HALF MOON (AVP-26) on the 11th where it remained until July 5th at which time it rejoined the squadron on the USS Pocomoke (AV-9). Operations at Tawi Tawi consisting almost entirely of anti-submarine patrols continued throughout July and August until VPB-17 was relieved of operational duties by VPB-25 on August 21st. Most of the ASP's were of a dull routine nature and all had negative results. Barrier patrols covering the Brunei and Balikpapah landings lent a spark of excitement, however, in an otherwise uninteresting operation. The searches or patrols from Tawi Tawi covered the convoy shipping lanes between Morotai and Borneo and extended south through Macassar Straits to the southern tip of the Celebes and Borneo. The Tawi Tawi operation provided the only submarine attack made by a plane of Patrol Bombing Squadron SEVENTEEN. On June 17th, 1945 Lt. J. T. Whelan, USNR of Rocky River, Ohio made a run on a RO class Japanese submarine and was credited with a class A attack and probable destruction of the enemy. On June 21st Lt. jg C. D. Heitert, while returning from a patrol through Macassar Straits heard a distress transmission and on his own initiative located and rescued Lt. Ferguson, U.S.A., and 10 survivors of a ditched Liberator attached to the 380th Bomber Group. Another air-sea rescue incident took place when Lt.jg W. O. Phillips of Easr Akron, Ohio and his crew sighted a survivor on a life raft west of Morotai. Lt.jg Phillips contacted a destroyer of a nearby convoy and directed it to the location of the survivor. Meanwhile two more life rafts were detected. As a result of this cooperation between air and surface craft Lt. Callison and four other members of an RAAF Liberator crew were rescued. In addition to anti-submarine patrols VPB-17 flew several missions at the request of in cooperation with Allied Intelligence Bureau. Most of these flights were of a transportation nature, carrying supplies and personnel from Morotai to guerilla groups on the coast of North Borneo. Capt. Chipper of the Australian Army often participated in these flights and was extremely helpful in supplying information about such places as Semporna, Labuan Island and Marudu Bay. Toward the end of the war in late July and early August these flights were made all the more interesting by the evacuation of prisoners of war who had been held captive by the Japanese in North Borneo." Contributed by Thomas Edwin Russell tompbm@aol.com

UPDATE "...My name is William Cass. I wrote a poem in memory of my great uncle who was killed on patrol in a PBM on May 25, 1945. I have attached a poem about the Purple Heart his mother received.. William Cass wscass69@speakeasy.org..." [Crew Added 09DEC2001 | 01DEC2001]

THE PURPLE HEART
By William Scott Cass in loving memory of William Stephen Cass
VP-17 History ThumbnailCameraCrew

Top Row from Left to Right: Marion Nutter, P. Orberdorffer, W.S. Cass, Chester Shoemake, Gerry Slick, Oliver Plumb Front Row from Left to Right: Ralph Halstead, Robert Bunge, Fredrick W. Forman, Amedo Ligrani, Robert White


At the bottom of the beautiful laden sea,

lies the grave of someone I knew, but never met.

He lived his life as a sailor, but he died as a savior.

The ones he left behind will always

remember his passing, he received a

blessing, that should be in red, not in purple.

The red would stand for the blood

spilt to receive it, the gold

figurehead stands for the First

Commander who gave it.

The colors that hold it stand for the

Glorious Country that cries each time it is given.

On the back of the medal the names are

scrolled to remember those who received it.

The shape is in that of a heart to show

where the true idea of giving it came from.

The purple and gold are in memory of

where you may be now, and where we

someday may join you.

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