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VP-101-P-42 - In Memorium - VP-101-P-42

"Eternal Father Strong To Save"
The Navy Hymn
Sailor Aviators Version

Eternal Father, Strong to Save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid'st the mighty Ocean deep
Its' own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In dark'ning storms or sunlight fair.
O, Hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air.

But when at length our course is run,
Our work for home and country done,
Of all the souls that flew and sailed,
Let not one life in thee be failed,
But hear from heaven our sailors cry,
And grant eternal life on high.

May all our departed shipmates rest in peace.

Eternal Father by the U.S. Navy Band's Sea Chanters (668 kbytes - WAV file)

Contributed by Louis B. "Lou" Dorny npo15@msn.com

In Memoriam
Patrol Wing TEN
Patrol Squadron ONE HUNDRED ONE

The Loss of 101-P-42
February 24, 1942
Makassar Straits a.k.a. "Cold Turkey Lane"
Netherlands East Indies.


Patrol Wing TEN, based at NAS Cavite, Sangley Point, TP, in December, 1941, had taken heavy losses from Japanese fighters, and had been ordered to withdraw to operate from bases in the Netherlands East Indies. VP 101 was the operating element, VP 102 and VP 22 having been absorbed into that squadron. By late February only eight PBYs remained, most so worn or damaged that they would have been sidelined or scrapped had conditions allowed. This was the last day on which Patrol Wing TEN launched daylight patrols. Henceforth, patrols would be flown more irregularly and using darkness as a cover. There seemed no alternative but to accept the more dangerous aspects of nighttime flight operations, since the presence of enemy fighter planes had raised the risks of daylight operations so high that night ops took on the appearance of being the less hazardous. Three PBYs launched at 0600 local time from the Dutch naval air station at Morokrembangan, Sourabaja, Java, for their assigned sectors. LT(jg) Robertson and crew flew #42, a Model 28-5MNE Catalina built under direct contract for the Dutch Navy, and taken over in Java by the Wing. LT(jg) Duncan Campbell and Ensign Al Barthes flew the other two patrols this date.

John Robertson and crew had a difficult time of it but they did their job and did it well. They were over the harbor at Makassar Town, Celebes, and sent a good sighting report at 0215Z / 0915 local time. They had sighted three transports at anchor and a surfaced submarine as well, a part of the invasion forces gathering for the assault on Java four days hence. The heavy cloud banks gave the PBY some protection but also obscured the anchorage. The #42 turned northwest on her patrol track headed for Balikpapan, where major enemy forces were expected to be found, when COMPATWING 10, at 1000, signaled back orders to bomb the transports they had seen. All patrols routinely carried two 500 lb. bombs for just this purpose, and so Robertson turn about for the ships they had sighted earlier. It was after 1200 when #42 signaled: "AM BEING ATTACKED BY FIGHTERS," but was evidently able to shake off these attackers, probably ducking into the heavy clouds present. The PBY amended her earlier contact report with a follow up a few minutes later at 1230 that the enemy force at Makassar was a surfaced submarine, a destroyer and eight transports, and that they had completed their run, putting one of their 500 pounders into one AP and the other close alongside. Considering the trying conditions and active enemy air defense, this was excellent bombing, and likely cost the Emperor some soldiers and equipment! Once free of the bombs, #42 doubtless turned to continue along the assigned track... northwestward and into Makassar Straits.
The crew of PBY-5 #42 ( ex-MLD 28-5 MNE "Y 42") = February 24, 1942

Plane Commander: Lieutenant (jg) John M. Robertson, USN

Second pilot: Naval Aviation Pilot / Chief Aviation Ordnanceman John F. Long, USN

Third pilot Naval Aviation Pilot / Av. Mach. Mate First Class Zygmut S. Lewall, USN

Plane Captain: Chief Aviation Machinist Mate Van L. Shelton, USN

First mechanic: Aviation Machinist Mate Second Class Hans H. Poulson, USN

First radioman: Radioman Second Class J. E. Simpson, USN

Second mechanic: Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class W. S. Wilson, USN

Second radioman: Radioman Second Class Vernon L. Failer, USN
It was more than two hours later, at 1410, and thus some two hundred miles farther northwest at least, when the radio watch in Java copied the next signal, and this in plain language: " ...ATTACKED BY ENEMY FIGHTERS. MANY PLANES AND FLEET NORTH." Exactly where they were at the time is unclear, and Java immediately sent out repeated requests for their position. Certainly Simpson would have included some additional groups to provide that crucial data had his effort not been cut short by enemy action... a light .25 caliber bullet would knock out the transmitter set, sever a critical transmission line or disable the antennas... or the radioman himself. Had it been that Simpson was hurt so badly that he simply could not continue, Failer, the second radioman, would have left his gunner's station at one of the waist .50s and jumped in to action to get the message off.



As it happened, there were no more signals from the 42 Boat. The Radio watch in Java called several times attempting to raise them, but the continued silence told them that the 42 Boat and her crew were in deep trouble. The radiomen on watch passed along the results of their calling, of course, and within seconds all knew that there was a high drama and tragedy being played out somewhere over Makassar Straits, in what many of the men referred to as "Cold Turkey Lane."

The fighters certainly pressed their attacks fiercely, especially with a fleet concentration involved. They knew quite well that the PBY was the eyes of the Allied forces, and if they got their sighting report off, every bomber in Java would bee-line it for the ships they were protecting. Knocking the flying boat out of the sky quickly meant the flight deck, radio station, engines, and flight engineer's tower were the primary targets. John Robertson and Chief long doubtless had their hands full keeping the plane in the air and heading for a cloud. If the fighters attacked from ahead, Lewall was there with his single bow .30 caliber gun. Attacks from abeam or behind would be met by the blister mounted .50s or the tunnel .30 caliber gun, manned by petty officers Poulson, Failer and Wilson, in some combination. But the fighters were lightning fast, and good marksmen; the PBY unarmoured and vulnerable to the slashing machine gun and canon fire. One or more 20 millimeter canon slugs might have ripped through Chief Shelton's station in the tower, shattering gauges, opening fuel lines to allow the flammable liquid to spurt into the hull below. The Pratt & Whitneys were good engines, but a severed oil line, a canon slug through a cylinder, or any of a thousand other places could cause them to freeze up or fail in seconds. And the fighter's long bursts of machine gun fire could have a disastrous effect on the men. Perhaps the first run cut down Wilson on the port blister .50, and before Failer could pull his broken body out of the way he was grabbed by Poulson on the starboard gun, who, amid the noise of gunfire and wind could only point forward, to Simpson's form crumpled over the radio key. Failer had to go forward and take over the radio and get the sighting report out! The young radioman pushed forward and Poulson turned again to his gun, lined up on the approaching fighter, led him carefully, and squeezed off a long burst.

UPDATE "...Radioman Second Class Vernon L Failer was not the youngest of the men, he was 36 and most likely the oldest. He had served several hitches before he was called back in. My Aunt, Marion Failer Gillespie, is 81 and Vernon was quite a bit older than she was..." Contributed by Ann Nichols dalenann@olympus.net [26SEP99]

UPDATE GOTO: Vernon L. Failer Memorial Page [08OCT99]

Chief Shelton did what he could to keep the engines alive, but the merciless gunfire was chewing up the airplane and the engine controls were already ruined, so the chief left the tower and went aft to help man the guns. Up forward, Lewall, standing up in the slipstream, was perhaps able to take careful aim at an approaching fighter, lead the tiny, winking target, and get in a quick burst of his own. Maybe he got him! But the die was already cast. Bullets from another fighter crashed through the flight deck, hitting Chief Long in the temple and killing him instantly, breaking one of LT Robertson's arms, and ripping the radio set off the bulkhead as Failer sought to get it operating again. A riddled junction box sparked and the fumes from spilled gasoline spraying into bilges caught fire. That was all it took, and it was over in seconds.... The burning PBY plummeted seaward and crashed into the ocean. No parachutes, no debris... just a long trail of black smoke and a flaming torch of burning gasoline on the surface where Makassar Straits had swallowed up a PBY and its crew. The victorious fighters streaked away to other battles. Late that same afternoon back in Java, they waited on the ramp and in the office… hopeful, ever hopeful, but with a gnawing fear of the worst. At last there was no alternative. The duty officer had to advise Commander Peterson that the 42 Boat had not returned. In Captain Wagner's war diary there is the simple entry: "Plane #42 did not return to base and is presumed lost." Source: The Asiatic Fleet & Patrol Wing TEN Archives held by Commander Louis B. Dorny, USNR (ret.) [ npo15@msn.com ]. Researched and adapted from the typescript to be published: Not Nearly Enough… Comments, additional details and pertinent background are welcomed.

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