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HistoryVP-18 HistoryHistory

Circa 1949

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "..."LOW AND SLOW - MAKING SEAPLANE HISTORY" By LIEUTENANT COMMANDER R. R. BOETTCHER, U. S. Navy, Vol. 75 SEPTEMBER 1949 No. (United States NAVAL INSTITUTE Proceedings)..."

VP-18

"LOW AND SLOW - MAKING SEAPLANE HISTORY"

By LIEUTENANT COMMANDER R. R. BOETTCHER, U. S. Navy

Vol. 75 SEPTEMBER 1949 No. (United States NAVAL INSTITUTE Proceedings

AFTER many years of derision the patrol seaplane was finally, during the war in the Pacific, recognized by all pilots as a most useful and valuable creature. This realization came most forcefully to many as they or their friends were picked out of an inhospitable sea by a flying boat which landed for that purpose. This phase of the airplane's activity was, however, only one of many and by no means the most important of an extensive repertoire.

The seaplane came into its own during the invasion of Okinawa. In the words of Commander Fleet Air Wing One, "Never before had search planes and tenders attempted so much under such difficult combat, weather, and base conditions." And the attempt was successful beyond all but the wildest hopes! Long before fields were available for the first land based aircraft, the seaplane organization had established a large, protected, and well supplied floating base from which operations were established days before the initial landing on Okinawa had taken place. For a period of weeks the only long range planes in the area were the Martin Mariners from Kerama Retto, the group of small islands about 15 miles west of Okinawa proper.

The record of Patrol Bombing Squadron Eighteen is one that illustrates the versatility of the seaplane and the success it achieved when flown by pilots and crews who had faith in their airplane and ability to use its every advantage. This squadron of Martin Mariners (PBM-5) was assigned at Okinawa to the search and reconnaissance group composed at first of only two squadrons, VPB-18 and VPB-21. The mission of the patrols flown by these units was to search out enemy shipping and attempt to destroy it, and to locate and report the presence of any enemy attacking force threatening the invasion fleets. The area covered included the China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the southern end of the Japanese Sea, the east coast of Kyushu and Shikoku, and the fleet operating area east of Okinawa. The hunting along the north China coast and the ruggedly indented west coast of Korea was very good and the success of the slow and relatively undergunned Mariner as an attack bomber was a surprise to all but its crews.

Other Mariner squadrons were assigned the duty of maintaining a constant anti-submarine patrol about the invasion area. The success of their effort may be realized in the fact that, to the best of this writer's knowledge, not one enemy submarine attack during the whole operation met with success. Virtually every type of mission performable by a patrol seaplane was assigned to VPB-18 at one time or another, and they were flown in weather up to and including a typhoon. Routine reconnaissance patrols were the most numerous. In addition, anti-shipping block missions, night heckling and intruder flights into the confined waters of the Empire itself, night·convoy tracking missions, and attacks against defended radio, radar, and lighthouse land installations were undertaken. One flight was made for the purpose of dropping "surrender" leaflets to the enemy forces occupying one of the islands surrounding the seadrome. Specific search and attack missions against shipping were also flown, and the squadron frequently acted as an air-sea rescue outfit. Squadron policy was to attack any target the pilot thought he could get away with, and it was carried out with vigor and enthusiasm by all concerned.

Although enemy aircraft offered the greatest hazard in the air, a great many difficulties were encountered, and overcome, at the base. The area was protected from the sea, but ground swells could and did enter the seadrome to make the heavily loaded take-offs most difficult and hazardous. Small craft insisted, under the cover of darkness, upon anchoring in the runways, and many take-offs were made on a dog-leg around a careless LCI with the plane bouncing from the crest of one swell to the crest of the next. These same LCI's also insisted upon testing their protective smoke-laying apparatus just as the morning or evening flight of planes were maneuvering for take-off positions through the maze of shipping bordering the runways. This unexpected smoke was the cause of one collision between two planes which resulted in "strike" damage to one of them. In addition, the surrounding islands were still in enemy hands, and since some plane moorings were almost within throwing distance of the beaches, an armed guard had to be maintained on each airplane at all times. This later developed into one of the most pressing problems encountered, as it became impossible to maintain the security watch on as many as 18 planes, fly the schedule required, and still permit the crews to get some rest aboard ship. Naturally, the rest aboard ship went by the board.

Another most serious problem was unique to Kerama Retto. Due to the number and variance in air attacks upon the shipping in the anchorage, no plane, friendly or enemy, was permitted to enter the area while an attack was in progress, and the daily attacks sometimes lasted four to six hours. This unavoidable policy frequently forced planes with engine trouble, or with an engine failure, or with battle damage to keep clear of the area until the attack had ended. A plane from another squadron was forced to land outside the area one night, and the landing attempt was unsuccessful, killing the entire crew.

In March, 1945, Patrol Bombing Squadron Eighteen had been in the forward area for ten months and had faced very difficult operating conditions but no sign of the enemy. The squadron was at this time at Saipan readying planes and equipment for the move to Okinawa. On the night of March 28, the twelve twin-engined Mariners took off from the Saipan lagoon and in three-plane sections started climbing up through the overcast on a heading of northwest. In addition to a full load of ammunition for the eight 50-caliber machine guns and a full load of bombs, each plane carried the personal effects and equipment of its crew, as this was also a squadron movement. Apprehension also rode in each plane that night. Although two squadrons had moved forward the night before, this was still a flight into the unknown with no return.

The apprehension was justified as one plane soon suffered an engine failure. Fortunately the pilot had enough altitude to permit him to jettison his ammunition, bombs, personal effects, and anything else that could be torn out of the airplane, and was able to struggle back to Saipan on one engine to make a successful night landing in very rough water.

The remaining eleven airplanes plowed their way through the storm and arrived at Kerama Retto at dawn on March 29. The tenders were anchored as planned and looked surprisingly peaceful. Planes from the earlier squadrons were moored and the seaplane base was well established. The planes in the air landed and moored to buoys laid the day before. The crews then took a short boat ride to their home, the Seaplane Tender U.S.S. St. George, where they were greeted by the remainder of the squadron, six crews who had stayed with the ship. That night the first of the many long range patrols was sent out.

During the following months of April, May, and June the squadron flew a total of 5,065 hours. Until July 11, 236 day patrols, 159 night patrols, and 27 special missions were flown with an average of 15 crews and 16 planes. In the course of these flights twelve enemy aircraft were destroyed in the air and nine others damaged. Seventy-six at-tacks on enemy surface craft (100 gross tons or more) netted 44 (24,560 gross tons) sunk and 32 (19,000 gross tons) damaged excluding numerous junks, sampans, and lesser craft destroyed and damaged. Varying degrees of damage resulted from attacks on 24 land installations, while 20 rescued aviators will testify to the pilots' rescue ability.

Three anti-shipping patrols met with extraordinary success despite the fact that one met with disaster. On the morning of May 5, two Mariners left Kerama Retto on a routine search up into the Yellow Sea and through the islands forming the west coast of Korea. It was in the latter area that they succeeded in finding and sinking four ships--three small tankers and one small freighter, each in a different devious channel--for a total of 7,500 gross tons. Effective AA fire was returned by all but one of the ships, and one of the mariners was riddled although the crew was untouched. On June 14, two other Mariners returned to the same area in the vicinity of Fusan for a repeat performance on a smaller scale, sinking three sea trucks and three luggers, probably sinking a fourth sea truck, and seriously damaging three others. The third record patrol was flown on May 15 in the Tsushima Straits area. This was the "hottest" sector flown and the search planes were almost invariably attacked by enemy fighters. This day the "Big Boats" found and sank a sea truck and a medium freighter (4,000 tons) in the straits and a second freighter (3,500 tons) was sinking rapidly when one of the Mariners was severely hit by return anti-aircraft fire which badly damaged one engine. The plane was immediately lightened by dropping the remaining bombs and all machine gun ammunition in excess of 200 rounds per gun, the absolute minimum for warding off the expected opposition. Returning to base with the damaged engine almost stopped, the two planes were suddenly attacked by at least ten enemy fighters. At the start of the ·15 minute running battle which ensued, the undamaged Mariner and a determined enemy fighter shot each other down. During the action the other Mariner later shot down at least four more Japs and damaged others before the enemy broke off the action. At that time the faltering engine stopped altogether and the plane was forced onto the extremely rough water with its empennage completely shot away. The crew was unhurt and all but three men were able to leave the plane in rubber boats. After staying afloat for 12 hours they were rescued by a courageous submarine guided to the scene, two miles from the enemy shore, by another squadron plane. One man then had his arm broken when the submarine's bow plane crashed down onto the rubber boat in the very heavy seas. The three men left behind on the plane were not heard of again, although the area was searched for days for survivors.

Two flights were noteworthy in that they featured the PBM in a new and unfamiliar role, that of combat air patrol over friendly shipping. On April 6, two Mariners returning from a day anti-shipping sweep encountered an enemy air raid proceeding towards Okinawa. After reporting to base they engaged several of the enemy aircraft and shot down three, a Hamp, a Val, and a Kate, with only slight damage to themselves. On May 4, a similar encounter took place just after two PBM's had taken off for a routine patrol. Finding an enemy raid in progress over Okinawa they joined the fray and shot down one Kate and one Nate and damaged two Zekes which tried to intercept them. At the conclusion of this affair both planes continued on to give full coverage to their assigned search sector. Probably one of the longest individual air actions of the war took place the day another Mariner was on routine patrol and surprised an enemy torpedo plane. The two planes, it soon became apparent, had equal top speeds, and the PBM had to chase the enemy about 75 miles across Tsushima Straits before its bow gunner finally shot the Kate down.

An attack made by one Mariner resulted in unknown damage to the enemy, but was a fine example of the aggression shown by some of the pilots. The squadron had for some time been given the task of destroying a large enemy radar station perched on the top of a 1,200 foot hill on the China coast. Much to the pilots' chagrin, however, the target was completely hidden by fog for many days. On this day the fog finally lifted and obscured only the top of the hill and the target. Deciding not to lose even this long awaited dubious opportunity, the PBM made its attacks by flying just beneath the fog level until it neared the hill. Pulling up sharply into the fog at that point it was able to fly over the target at a very low altitude.

The enemy, nevertheless, was able to get lined up with his AA long before the PBM pilot or his gunners could see the target, and as a result a warm reception greeted the plane as soon as it came within range. Not to be deterred, however, the Mariner made three separate attacks with bombs and machine guns before it was forced to retire, badly holed. Again the crew was lucky enough to escape without injury. Planes from another squadron on a patrol r along the east coast of Kyushu one day seized an opportunity which seemed to present itself and proceeded inland along a small waterway to completely demolish with bombs and fire a small shipyard. VPB-18 also made some rescues worthy of attention. On April 2 while on a day shipping block mission southwest of Kyushu one of its boats made an open sea landing and picked up three survivors of a downed carrier TBM and then proceeded on his patrol. On April 12 another PBM of the squadron effected a similar rescue of a downed fighter pilot off Okinawa. Although high seas and a structural failure damaged its starboard engine mount, permitting only half its normal power to be drawn from that engine, the Mariner's pilot made a very skillful semi-circular take-off and nursed his plane back to base. On May 7 a similar landing was made in the Yellow Sea off the Korean coast and the entire crew of a PB4Y Privateer, 13 men in all, was rescued. Light enemy surface units were close enough for a ringside seat but did not prevent the rescue. Another PBM also landed at sea one day while on routine patrol, picked up three survivors, and continued on. Each of these landings was made against Fleet Air Wing One policy which considered an open sea landing and take-off by a plane heavily loaded for offensive action a poor risk. Criticism was withheld if the attempt was successful, but the wrath of the gods would have descended upon the unsuccessful pilot who then would also have to be rescued along with his crew and the original survivors.

Inevitably, combat success of this sort demands its price, and VPB-18 was not excepted. On May 6 Lieutenant Collins, whose record as a skilled and daring pilot was unequalled in the area, was instantly killed when an enemy Kamikaze plane hit the squadron tender, the U.S.S. St. George. Lieutenant Prudden was almost fatally burned at the same time. On May 15 Lieutenant (jg) Marr and his crew and three others were lost. On June 28 a plane on night patrol suffered a complete and immediate engine failure when a fuel line broke as the plane was flying at low altitude made necessary by weather conditions. Recovery on single engine could not be made and Lieutenant (jg) Podlogar and three members of his crew did not succeed in swimming away from the crash. The others were found and rescued eight days later. Another PBM pilot should have required a rescue when he had an engine shot out at a very low altitude while making a normal attack on a picket vessel. Exhibiting outstanding skill and ability he kept his plane in the air and flew back to base 540 miles away on one engine.

In July the U.S.S. St. George was ordered back to NAS Agana, Guam for the repair of the damage suffered when the Kamikaze hit her in May. VPB-18 was to be left without a home, so the squadron was ordered back to Saipan on July 11 for rest, training, and recreation. Many of the original squadron crews had been relieved by rotation crews by this time, but only the most aggressive were sorry to leave Kerama Retto.

At Saipan, after a short period of relaxation the squadron engaged in long range anti-submarine patrols, night anti-submarine blocks, air-sea rescue missions, and a daily flight to enemy-held Marcus Island. In addition, for the first time in three and one half months training of the new crews could be done outside the active combat zone.

After the hostilities had ended and it was decided that the fleet would enter and stay in Tokyo Bay, VPB-18 received orders to convert its planes to cargo and passenger carriers. This was done and during the month of September this squadron operated the "Tokyo Express," a daily flight between Saipan and Tokyo of from one to four planes carrying cargo and passengers. For maximum safety, keeping the total weight below the single engine maximum, not more than 7,500 pounds of cargo or 22 passengers and 8 crewmen was carried. This load was normal, and by October 3, when the service was ended the "Express" had carried a total of 594 passengers and 387,370 pounds of mail and priority cargo. Only three flights were canceled due to adverse weather and one plane returned to Saipan with a malfunctioning engine. On more than one occasion for periods of one to three days the "Tokyo Express" was the only air service entering or leaving the Tokyo area. All personnel took justifiable pride in this record and were rewarded by having a representative with the fleet in Tokyo Bay when the articles of capitulation were signed on the U.S.S. Missouri. After the naval and military air transport services took over the Saipan to Tokyo shuttle service, the squadron duties became less arduous. Shortly thereafter the squadron received orders to proceed to Hawaii and then to the West Coast to decommission. The squadron correspondence, records, and gear were loaded into the planes along with personal equipment and the long move to the U. S. was uneventful. On December 8, 1945, after having carved a well-earned niche in naval aviation history, Patrol Bombing Squadron Eighteen was decommissioned at the Alameda Naval Air Station across the bay from San Francisco.

GRADUATE Of the Naval Academy in 1940, Lieutenant Commander Boettcher served in the cruiser Tzlscaloosa and the carrier Hornet. After completing flight training he spent six months in anti-submarine patrol off Brazil. He commanded VPB-18 during the Okinawa operation. Later he served under the office of Naval Intelligence in the Joint Army-Navy-Air Force Intelligence Division. He has just completed a three-year post-graduate course in Aeronautical Engineering.


Circa 1945

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Patrol Squadron EIGHTEEN (VPB-18) - U. S. Action with Enemy on 29APR45..." Official U. S. Navy Documention [14OCT2013]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Patrol Squadron EIGHTEEN (VPB-18) - U. S. Action with Enemy on 31MAR45..." Official U. S. Navy Documention [13OCT2013]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...FAW-1 - VPB-18 War Diary - February 1945..." Official U. S. Navy Records (National Archives and Records Administration) via Fold3 http://www.fold3.com/ [23OCT2012]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Awards received while serving with VPB-18 - HAUCK, ADR1 John William Jr..." Contributed by William O'Daniel Jr. williamodaniel@insightbb.com [10OCT2008]

    LEFT TO RIGHT: Gold Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Gold Star and Naval Unit Commendation.
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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "..."A Year In The Air" - The Officers and Men of VPB-18 On The Squadron's First Birthday - January 15, 1945..." EBay http://search.ebay.com/_W0QQsassZwinged-propQQhtZ-1 [24MAY2007]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...IRVING MARR - IRVING MARR WAS MY LATE FATHER'S BROTHER WHO DIED JUST BEFORE WORLD WAR II ENDED. THIS IS HIS STORY! - PATROL BOMBING SQUADRON 18 - c/o FLEET POST OFFICE - SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA..." http://www.angelfire.com/az/MarrHollow/IrvingMarr.html [18NOV2003]

Waiting for permission to post entire article.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Squadron Awards..." Contributed by Mahlon K. Miller mkwsmiller@cox.net [23APR2001]

  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
    28 Apr 65 - 16 Dec 65

  • Navy Unit Commendation
    01 Apr 45 - 31 Jul 45

    VP-18 Det 6
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
    01 Nov 62 - 31 Dec 62

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Air-to-Air Shoot Downs by Navy and Marine Corps Patrol Type Aircraft During World War II - This Squadron Mentioned...Naval Historical Center ADOBE Download File: http://www.history.navy.mil/avh-vol2/Appen4.pdf [12FEB2004]
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    Circa 1944 - 1945

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Historical Center, Department Of The Navy, Washington, D. C http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/dictvol2.htm [28APR2001]
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    Circa 1944

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Location of U. S. Naval Aircraft - Dated 11 Jan 1944..." WebSite: Naval Historical Center http://www.history.navy.mil/ [29SEP2006]

    VP SQUADRONS MENTIONED

    VD-1, VD-2, VD-3 and VD-4

    VJ-1, VJ-2, VJ-3, VJ-4, VJ-5, VJ-7, VJ-8, VJ-9, VJ-10, VJ-11, VJ-12, VJ-13, VJ-14, VJ-15, and VJ-16

    VP-6 Coast Guard

    VP-11, VP-12, VP-13, VP-14, VP-15, VP-16, VP-17, VP-18 and VP-19

    VP-20, VP-23 and VP-24

    VP-32, VP-33 and VP-34

    VP-43, VP-44 and VP-45

    VP-52 and VP-54

    VP-61 and VP-62

    VP-71, VP-72, VP-73 and VP-74

    VP-81 and VP-84

    VP-91, VP-92 and VP-94

    VP-101, VP-102, VP-103, VP-104, VP-105, VP-106, VP-107, VP-108 and VP-109

    VP-110, VP-111, VP-112, VP-113, VP-115, VP-116 and VP-117

    VP-126, VP-127, VP-128 and VP-129

    VP-130, VP-131, VP-132, VP-133, VP-134, VP-135, VP-136, VP-137, VP-138 and VP-139

    VP-140, VP-141, VP-142, VP-143, VP-144, VP-145, VP-146, VP-147, VP-148 and VP-149

    VP-150 and VP-151

    VP-201, VP-203, VP-204, VP-205, VP-208 and VP-209

    VP-210, VP-211, VP-212, VP-213, VP-214, VP-215 and VP-216


    History - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge ThumbnailHistory - Tap To Enlarge Thumbnail

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...LCDR Charles M. Brower was the first CO of VPB-18. I was the first person to reported to him on 15 January, 1944 with hopes for becoming his XO. I lost out to Hurlbert E. Gillmor, an academy graduate who I learned to admire. I continued my long standing job as Operation Officer. "Charlie" and I spent our first week together selecting personnel for our roster and a site for our training and shakedown. Naturally many we selected were personnel from VP-74 my former squadron. We had a brief but challenging training and shakedown at NAS Charleston, South Carolina and soon found ourselves on board Pacific Fleet tenders at Saipan in the Marinas Islands. Mine was one of the first crews to be relieved via the new rotational relief crews. We landed at NAS Alameda, California on 1 January 1945 having returned the very first war weary PBM to be brought back to USA for overhaul...USS Curtis AV-4 and the USS St. George AV-16 supported VP-18 at Okinawa..." Contributed by CDR R. R. "Bob" Esch USN (Ret) resch2@woh.rr.com [01FEB98]

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "00XXX44--Our squadron was composed of Martin Marietta 3D and 5A seaplanes. We were in the Central Pacific in 1944 and 1945. We later operated from Kerama Retto and flew Bombing/Patrol off the coast of China and Japan..." Contributed by Don E. DonE72@aol.com

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: VPB-18 HistoryVP-18 History "...AMM2c John A. Ward, USN - Ward was a Radar Operator/Gunner in PBM Flying Boats assigned to VP-18 during 1944-45. He flew 20 plus missions including Reconnaissance, anti-shipping, and land attack against Radar Installation, Lighthouses, and any enemy installations deemed worthy of attact by the PPC. He was awarded the DFC and Air Medal with three Gold Stars..." Contributed by John Lucas john.lucas@netzero.net [06JAN2002]


    Circa 1942-1945

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...History of FAW-5 - History of Headquarters Squadron Fleet Air Wing Five - 01SEP42 through 01JAN45. Squadron's Assigned: VP-15, VP-16, VP-17, VP-18, VP-21, VP-22, VP-25, VP-26, VP-27, VP-28, VP-31, VP-52, VP-63, VP-81, VP-92, VP-94, VPB-105, VPB-107, VPB-110, VPB-111, VPB-112, VPB-113, VPB-114, VPB-126, VPB-134, VPB-147, VPB-149, VP-201, VP-205, VP-208, VP-209, VP-210, VP-211, VP-212, VP-213, VP-214, VP-215 and VP-216 - Submitted Feburary 1, 1945..." Official U. S. Navy Records (National Archives and Records Administration) via Fold3 http://www.fold3.com/ [27NOV2012]

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    Circa 1941-1944

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...History of FAW-8 - History from 08JUL41-31DEC44 Submitted April 12th, 1945. Squadron's Assigned: VP-16, VP-18, VP-19, VP-20, VP-21, VP-22, VP-25, VP-26, VP-27, VP-28, VP-43, VP-61, VP-62, VP-63, VP-72, VP-81, VP-82, VP-83, VP-84, VP-92, VP-118, VP-123, VP-133, VP-137, VP-140, VP-142, VP-144, VP-148, VP-150, VP-153, VP-198, VP-205, VP-208 and VP-216..." Official U. S. Navy Records (National Archives and Records Administration) via Fold3 http://www.fold3.com/ [01DEC2012]

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    Patrol Aviation in the Pacific in WW II

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Patrol Aviation in the Pacific in WW II - Part 2 - By Capt. Albert L. Raithel, Jr., USN (Ret.)...This Squadron Mentioned...Naval Historical Center ADOBE Download File: http://www.history.navy.mil/download/ww2-20.pdf [25MAY2003]
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