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HistoryVP-33 HistoryHistory

Circa 1939

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...14SEP39 - Atlantic Squadron Neutrality Patrol assets deployed this date: destroyers Davis (DD-395), Jouett (DD-396), Benham (DD-397) and Ellet (DD-398) operate between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Placentia Bay, Newfoundland (Grand Banks Patrol); destroyers Hamilton (DD-141) and Leary (DD-158) operate off Georges Shoals; Goff (DD 247) and Hopkins (DD-249) and PBY-2s (VP-54), supported by minesweeper [small seaplane tender] Owl (AM-2) operate out of Narragansett Bay; destroyers Decatur (DD-341), Barry (DD-248), Reuben James (DD-245) and auxiliary [high speed transport] Manley (AG-28), with shore-based VP-52 and VP-53 (P2Y-2s) operate out of Chesapeake Bay; destroyers Babbitt (DD-128) and Claxton (DD-140) patrol the Florida Straits; heavy cruisers San Francisco (CA-38) and Tuscaloosa (CA-37), destroyers Truxtun (DD-229), Simpson (DD-221), Broome (DD-220) and Borie (DD-215) and patrol squadrons VP-33 (PBY-3s) and VP-51 (PBY-1s), supported by small seaplane tenders Lapwing (AVP-1), Thrush (AVP-3) and Gannet (AVP-8) watch the Caribbean and the Atlantic side of the Lesser Antilles; heavy cruisers Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44) operate off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina; held in reserve in Hampton Roads is a striking force consisting of carrier Ranger (CV-4) (her embarked air group consisting of squadrons VB-4, VF-4, VS-41 and VS-42) and battleships New York (BB-34) and Texas (BB-35). Arkansas (BB-33) and gunnery training ship (ex- battleship) Wyoming (AG-17) are carrying out training cruise for USNR midshipmen. The destroyers find the going rough on the Grand Banks; they will be replaced by 327-foot Coast Guard cutters that will be administratively assigned to Destroyer Division 18..." WebSite: HyperWar http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-Chron/USN-Chron-1939.html [14SEP2005]

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...11 SEP 39 - In the first redeployment of patrol squadrons on the Neutrality Patrol, VP-33, equipped with Catalinas, transferred from the Canal Zone to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for operations over the Caribbean. Two days later, the Catalinas of VP-51 arrived at San Juan, P.R., from Norfolk, Va., to patrol the southern approaches to the Caribbean through the Lesser Antilles..." http://www.history.navy.mil/avh-1910/PART04.PDF [28MAY2003]

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...I am an aviation historian resident in a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. I am preparing a Masters thesis titled "The Air War in Western Australia 1939-1945". From March 1942 to August 1944 we had Patrol Wing Ten (Fleet Air Wing Ten from 01 NOV 42) based at Crawley on the Swan River, near Perth. PWTen appears to have doubled as a training and local patrol unit, with patrol squadrons being rotated as the war in the Southwest Pacific progressed. From the Wing's War Diary I have ascertained that the following squadrons were present at Crawley: VP-101 (includes merged VP-21, VP-22 and VP-102 after the evacuation of Java in MAR 42), VP-11, VP-33, VP-34, VP-52. After FAWTen left Perth in AUG 44, a utility training unit, VS-61 continued until well into 1945. I am seeking information on these squadrons when they were in Western Australia. I know of their bases at Geraldton and Exmout Gulf (POTSHOT) but I have a problem with the mobile base, "Heron Haven". I have a copy of Messimer's "In the Hands of Fate" and a few other published references, so have an overall picture. Any help would be appreciated..." Contributed by Lindsay J. Peet (Mr.) ppeetlj@ic-net.com.au [22JUL98]

UPDATE "...Lindsay, Since our recent communication I have delved into the matter of Heron Haven, and have enjoyed doing so.

Since my interest begins with aircraft and their squadrons, I approached this exercise from an "aircraft on aggressive ops. using Seaplane Tenders" point of view. This allowed me to rule out some matters, such as :---

  • 1 Regular seaplane patrols from such as Geraldton.
  • 2 Seaplane mine laying ops from West Bay in Napier Broome Bay which began 17Nov44.

    I set aside some matters temporarily, being :---
  • 1 The seven and then five USN PBY flying Crawley to Townsend Haven to Darwin in Jun43.
  • 2 The joined usage of "Townsend Haven(Heron Haven)".

    I then found that only RAAF Catalinas were thereafter used on aggressive ops from [or returning to] WA advanced bases in my search timeframe and area. I shall list these under "locality" headings, of which there are just three, being
  • 1 Exmouth Gulf
  • 2 Cygnet Bay
  • 3 Yampi Sound
    Exmouth Gulf.

    In Aug43 and Nov43, RAAF Catalinas did mining sorties to Soerabaya Harbour. They flew Darwin, Soerabaya, Heron Haven for fuel, then return to Darwin.

    In both months, tender Preston is mentioned for refuelling.

    Pilot Honan was on the Nov43 Sortie, describes his career in book "That's That", clearly states Heron Haven was at Exmouth Gulf, shows it so on a map.

    Cygnet Bay.

    In Jan44, RAAF investigated Cygnet Bay for use by mine laying Catalinas. It was accepted for RAAF use, perhaps because of radar station at Cape Leveque and protective airfield at Derby. Tidal mudflats were a problem.

    Tender Preston laid moorings and supported the Catalinas. The sorties were flown Cygnet Bay - Balikpapan - Cygnet Bay.

    Cygnet Bay was used only once for RAAF ops, for a set of three mine laying sorties to Balikpapan on 20, 22, and 24Feb44.

    Yampi Sound. [Codename "Shecat"]

    In Apr44 Yampi Sound was selected as advanced base for more minelaying ops to Balikpapan. A radar station was at Cockatoo Island. Tender Childs set the moorings.

    A set of three ops were done this month, flying Yampi Sound - Balikpapan - Yampi Sound.

    More sets of ops were done from Yampi Sound in May, June, and July44, to Balikpapan and to Soerabaya.

    After Jul44, no more aggressive Catalina ops were done from WA coast until West Bay came into use.

    *****************

    So, from the above, I'm happy that Heron Haven was a "common usage" name for Exmouth Gulf, and only Exmouth Gulf. I can't see it as a formal "code name" since it could relate to the operational vessel USS Heron. I see there is a "Heron Point" adjacent Learmonth in Exmouth Gulf.

    Heron may have done a reconnaisance to Cygnet Bay in early Jun43, prior to the VP-101 flights to Darwin in Jun43. As for Heron's dalliance in the Dampier Archipeligo, perhaps the fishing was good. Where was General Blamey just then? No jest!

    There is a "Townshend River" at Cygnet Bay. Perhaps it was Cygnet Bay, by whatever name, where the USN Catalinas refuelled on their way to Darwin in Jun43. Perhaps the USN avoided Exmouth Gulf in Jun43 as the Japanese bombed there [no physical damage] in May43, after which the submarine base was closed.

    I would love to read about the VP-101 flights in context, would appreciate any info you might be able to provide...

    Hope this helps, best wishes, Bruce G..." Contributed by Wynnum B Graham wbg@bigpond.com [26AUG98]

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "00SEP39--Patrol Squadron 33 (VP 33) transferred to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, VP-51 begins patrols from San Juan, PR..."

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "11SEP39--In the first redeployment of patrol squadrons on the Neutrality Patrol, VP-33, equipped with Catalinas, transferred from the Canal Zone to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for operations over the Caribbean. Two days later, the Catalinas of VP-51 arrived at San Juan, P.R., from Norfolk to patrol the southern approaches to the Caribbean through the Lesser Antilles..." http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/avchr5.htm

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. VIII, pp. 480-83..." http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/auxil/az1.htm [25JUN2000]

    Waiting for permission to post entire article.

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News March-April 1990"...The Neutrality Patrol - To Keep Us OUt of World War II - Part 1 of 2 by Capt. William E. Scarborough, USN(Ret.)...Naval Aviation News March-April 1990 Page 18 through Page 23..." [24NOV2000]

    VP-82 PBY ThumbnailCameraVP-52-P-7 VP-52 In February 1941, VP-52 was at San Juan, P.R., and flew a survey party to British Guiana to inspect a "destroyers-for-bases" site for future naval air station. No. 7 is moored for an overnight stop on the Essequebo River, upstream from Georgetown. On September l, 1939, the German invasion of Poland began a long anticipated and feared WW II. Declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France two days later showed that the war would undoubtedly expand to all of Europe a repeat of the beginning of WW I in 1914. The Allies would again be dependent on support by the United States for supplies and munitions which could reach them only aboard ships crossing the Atlantic. Germany would surely make every effort to halt such trafftc by U-boat and surface raider attacks and the Atlantic would again, as it had in WW I, become a major battleground. It was a foregone conclusion that the war in the Atlantic would endanger the neutrality of the United States, and the Navy moved promptly to minimize the threat.

    The day war began in Europe the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) informed U.S. forces that German U-boats were ready to begin operations in Atlantic shipping lanes, and reports indicated thata dozen German merchant ships were being armed as raiders. The advisory noted that neutral merchantmen, including U.S. flag ships, could expect similar actions by the British and that it was the duty of the U.S., as a neutral, to prevent such activities in our territorial waters and to assure no interference with our rights on the high seas. The Neutrality Act of 1935, made further restrictive by amendment in 1937, forbade arms exports, either direct or by transhipment. to any belligerent and was looked upon by isolationist groups as the best insurance against U.S. involvement in a European war.

    Naval Aviation News March-April 1990At Coast Guard Air Station, Charleston, the Coast Guard flew Douglas RD-4, Grumman J2F-2, and Fairchild J2K-2 aircraft on coastal and inshore patrols. In return for shared facilities, VP-52 provided copilots for RD and J2K flights. Building at bottom center was a converted warehouse for squadron shops and offices. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his first proclamation of neutrality on September 5, 1939, declaring in part that any use of U.S. territorial waters for hostile operations would be regarded as unfriendly, offensive, and a violation of U.S. neutrality.

    The Navy had initiated action on September 4, by CNO dispatch to Commander, Atlantic Squadron, directing establishment of air and ship patrols to observe and report by classified means movement of warships of the belligerents within designated areas. The patrol would cover an area bounded on the north by a line east from Boston to latitude 42-30, longitude 65; south to latitude 19; then around the the windward and leeward islands to Trinidad.

    The next day CNO amplified his directive by ordering classified contact reports on foreign men-of-war approaching or leaving the U.S. East Coast or the eastern boundary of the Caribbean. Ships sighted by the patrols, both air and surface, were to be identified by name, nationality, estimated tonnage, color, and markings, and were to be photographed whenever possible. Course and speed were to be estimated and all information was to be recorded and reported on return to base.

    VP-82 P2Y ThumbnailCameraVP-15-P-7 VP-15 VP-15 (later redesignated VP-53 and VP-73) P2Y-2 off Breezy Point, NAS Norfolk, Virginia, Spring 1939. Neutrality Patrol star on bow was not authorized until March 19, 1940.

    On September 6, Commander, Atlantic Squadron reported to CNO that the patrol was operating and by the 20th, when a revised Atlantic Squadron OpOrder (20-39) became effective, Atlantic coastal waters from Nova Scotia, Canada, to the Lesser Antilles, West Indies, were under daily surveillance by surface and air patrols. Forces involved were primarily patrol planes from Patrol Squadron VP-51 (12 PBY-1s), VP-52 (6 P2Y-2s), VP-53 (12 P2Ys), and VP-54 (12 PBY-2s) of Patrol Wing (PatWing) 5 and VP-33 (12 PBY-3s) of PatWing-3, plus four Seaplane Tenders assigned to the PatWings.

    Surface forces were battleships and cruisers of the Atlantic Squadron and their attached OS2U and SOC aircraft of Observation Squadron (VO) 5 and Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 7, Ranger (CV-4) with her air group and Wasp (CV-7), which was not yet in commission. Forty destroyers plus an undetermined number of old destroyers (to be recommissioned) and about 15 old submarines were the assigned surface forces.

    Aircraft patrols were initiated by the patrol squadrons, deployed to assigned Neutrality Patrol bases - most of them ill-equipped to support aircraft and crews for flight operations at the level required for daily patrols. General orders to the patrols stressed safety of the operations, avoidance of nonneutral acts, and the exercise of care in approaching vessels to avoid actions which might be interpreted as hostile.

    VP-82 PBY ThumbnailCameraVP-52-P-10 VP-52 VP-52-P-10, Spring 1941. These PBY-5's were transferred from San Diego-based VP-14 in January 1941. To expedite operations and conserve funds. VP-14 markings (black stipes on tail) were retained and only squadron numbers changed.

    VP-51: Deployed PBY-1 s to San Juan, P.R., departing NAS Norfolk, Virginia, on September 12, with first patrols flown on the 13th. The squadron utilized seaplane facilities, including ramp and hangar, of Pan American Airways at the San Juan airport, housing crew and supporting activities in tents on the airport. Ttle site utilized was the area on which the future Naval Air Station (NAS), San Juan would be built, construction starting in 1940. VP-51's patrols covered harbors and shipping lanes in the West Indies from Puerto Rico to Trinidad, with special attention to the southern approaches to the Caribbean through the Lesser Antilles.

    VP-52 and VP-53: Both continued flying P2Ys from home port NAS Norfolk, Virginia, patrolling mid-Atlantic coastal shipping lanes, coordinating operations with Atlantic Squadron destroyers. VP-53 had returned to NAS Norfolk, Virginia September 1 after a regular summer deployment to Annapolis, Md., for midshipman aviation training.

    VP-54: Based at NAS Norfolk, Virginia deployed a detachment of PBY-2s to Newport, R.I., operating from the Naval Torpedo Factory Air Facility on Gould Island in Narragansett Bay, R.I. Daily searches were coordinated with destroyer surface patrols in the assigned offshore areas.

    VP-33: Deployed PBY-3s from NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Patrols covered the area from Guantanamo to San Juan, coordinated with VP-51, destroyers, and the cruisers Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and San Francisco (CA-38), Cruisers Ouincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44): Patrolled sea approaches between Norfolk and Newport. Battleship Division 5 and Ranger were based at Norfolk as a reserve force.

    Experience during the first month of operations dictated changes in the deployment of the forces to improve coverage of the assigned areas.

    VP-52 moved to the U.S. Coast Guard air station located on the Cooper River in the Charleston, S.C., navy yard in December. Renovation and modification of existing buildings provided facilities to house crew and squadron administrative and maintenance activities. The air station supplied a seaplane ramp, aircraft parking area, and shared space in a small hangar. Officers were quartered in the Coast Guard BOO. Moving the squadron proved a major exercise in itself.

    VP-52 had been home-ported at NAS Norfolk, Virginia since it was first commissioned as VP-14 on November 1, 1935, when the station was NAS Hampton Roads. As a self-supported squadron, a full allowance of maintenance equipment, spares, records, and myriad other authorized and unauthorized odds and ends accumulated required packing and loading aboard railroad cars for the move south. The operation was further complicated by a full schedule of training flights in addition to daily patrols of the assigned areas offshore.

    VP-33's initial move to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba posed problems similar to those of VP-52, somewhat diminished by the in-place facilities of the fully operational naval station there. However, the October move of the VP-33 detachment to Naval Station, Key West, Fla., long out of service and moth-balled, demanded much effort by the plane crews and their support personnel. Key West businesses and the population in general were so pleased by the arrival of the PBYs and several submarines that a celebration, including a parade on the main street, was staged! A VP-33 contingent turned out for the event. The Key West detachment flew regular patrols from Dry Tortugas to Miami, Fla., and to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, covering the Florida Straits and the Yucatan Channel.

    In November 1939, VP-53 exchanged P2Ys for a mixed bag of older model PBYs-3 PBY-1s, 3 PBY-2s, and 3 PBY-3s. In February 1940, the squadron moved to Key West, remaining there until April 1941 when it returned to NAS Norfolk, Virginia and exchanged the old PBYs for new PBY-5s.

    Naval Aviation News March-April 1990CGAS Charleston hanger shared with VP-52 for major P2Y maintenance. Coast Guard aircraft in photo, left to right: J2K, J2F, RD, and two J2Fs.

    Also in October of that year, Ranger and her air group had joined the Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 7 ships and their VCS-7 SOCs to form a strike group with long-range search capability, on standby to fill gaps in the areas covered by the regular patrols. In November, a surface patrol of destroyers was established in the Gulf of Mexico to track shipping in that area. The Navy patrol effort was expanded by Coast Guard surface and aircraft coverage of inshore areas and cooperation by exchange of information, assuring complete area coverage and recording of all contacts.

    On October 16, Commander, Atlantic Squadron expanded his earlier orders to the patrol forces with the issuance of OpOrder 24-39. In addition to reporting foreign men-of-war, "suspicious" vessels were to be noted and both they and men-of-war were to be tracked until their actions were considered satisfactory. All units of the Atlantic Squadron were included in the task organiza;tion but the major portion of the patrol activity was conducted by the patrol squadrons and destroyers, the latter primarily responsible for developing (visually checking at close range) contacts made by aircraft. Employment of the battleships was minimized and the ships of CruDiv-7 were soon withdrawn from the patrol for other duties.

    The scope of Neutrality Patrol operations gradually expanded during 1940. Concurrently, the aircrews normally required training in all aspects of patrol plane operations - tactics, instruments, navigation, gunnery, bombing, etc. For example, VP-52 deployed detachments from Charleston to advanced bases such as Parris Island and Winyah Bay (both in S.C.) for operations with the aircraft tenders Owl (AM-2) in August and Thrush (AVP-3) in October. In addition to regular patrols, a normal schedule of training flights was flown from the advanced bases.

    In spite of the increasing tempo of operations and the resulting workload, the effort proved well worth its costs; the experience markedly enhanced the readiness of Neutrality Patrol squadrons for the tasks that lay a scant year ahead in WW II.

    The war in Europe during 1940 saw the apparently invincible German forces defeat France and threaten to bring Britain to her knees by the blitz on her cities and the success of the U-boat actions in the Atlantic. The specter of a British defeat and the danger to the United States of such an event were obvious and dictated further expansion of the forces in the Atlantic. In the famous destroyers-for-bases agreement negotiated by President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in September 1940, sites for bases in the Atlantic and Caribbean were exchanged for 50 WW I destroyers. Two of the sites, Argentia, Newfoundland, and Bermuda, presented rent-free as a "gift" for 99 years, would become key elements in the Battle of the Atlan- tic. Six other sites, in the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, and British Guiana, were leased, rent-free for the same period.

    Both air and surface elements of the patrol force expanded during 1940 as the scope of the operation grew. Pat-Wing 5 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia commissioned VP-55 on August 1 and VP-56 on October 1. Both were to be equipped with PBM-1 s but problems with the new planes delayed deliveries and severely restricted squadron training. Eventually, the squadrons would be merged into a single command, designated VP-74, with all early production PBMs assigned. On November l, 1940, the Atlantic Squadron was redesignated Patrol Force, Atlantic Fleet and on December 17, then-Rear Admiral Ernest J. King relieved Rear Admiral Hayne Ellis as Commander, Patrol Force. On February l, 1941, the augmented and reorganized patrol forces were established under Admiral King as the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

    This force reorganization included establishment of task forces responsible for operations in specific sectors of the Atlantic. Task Force 1 com posed of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers -covered the trade routes to northern Europe. Task Force 2 - aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers -patrolled the central North Atlantic. Task Force 3 - cruisers, destroyers, and mine craft - was based at San Juan and Guantanamo to cover the South Atlantic. Task Force 4 was Support Force, Atlantic Fleet, under Rear Admiral A. L. Bristol, established on March 1, 1941. The support force included destroyers and the patrol wing, with VP-51, VP-52, VP-55, and VP-56, and the tenders Albemarle (A V -5) and George E. Badger (AVD-3) attached. On April 5, VP53 rejoined the wing at NAS Norfolk, Virginia and, during the month, exchanged its old model PBYs for new PBY-5s. The establishing directive for the support force required preparation of the force for service in high latitudes and em- phasized training in antisubmarine warfare, protection of shipping, and defense against air, submarine, and surface raider attack. Primary mission of the force was operations from North Atlantic bases to prevent Axis forces from interfering with the shipment of war material from the United States to Great Britain.

    Other air and surface forces originally operating with the Neutrality Patrol were subsequently designated Task Force 6 and elements based north of the Gulf and Caribbean became the Northern Patrol. The mission of the Northern Patrol, operating from bases at Norfolk, Bermuda, Narragansett Bay and Argentia, would be to investigate reports of potential enemy vessels and other non-American activity in the North Atlantic. This task gave the PatWing Support Force major responsibility for the advance of Naval Aviation to the north and east to insure safe passage of war materials to Britain.

    VP-82 PBY ThumbnailCameraVP-53-P-9 VP-53 Courtesy of Fred C. Dickey. Prior to establishment of the Pat-Wing Support Force, a number of squadron redeployments were directed. VP-54 moved to NAS Bermuda, based on the tender George E. Badger and began Neutrality Patrol operations on November 15, 1940. In December, VP-52 exchanged its P2Y- 25 (last of the model in fleet service) for PBY-5s. The P2Ys were ferried from Charleston to Pensacola for use there in the training squadron. Replacement PBY-5s were ferried cross-country from San Diego by VP-14 and delivered to VP-52 at NAS Pensacola, Florida during January. VP-52 flew the new planes, as received, to its old home port, NAS Norfolk. The move from Charleston was essential as the facilities there could not support PBY operations.

    On February l, 1941, VP-52 was transferred to San Juan for what proved to be a brief taste of tropical operations. The squadron joined VP-51 on still-unfinished NAS San Juan, sharing the Neutrality Patrols through the West Indies to Trinidad. In addition to the patrols there were mail runs and survey flights to island sites of the new stations being built under the destroyers-for-bases agreement. At the end of February, VP-52 was ordered back to NAS Norfolk, Virginia and, on March 3, all planes departed for the return. For the remainder of the month, the squadron flew patrols and convoy escort and contine. VP-53 was ordered to move from NAS Norfolk, Virginia to NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Construction of the base at Argentia, another of the destroyers-for-bases sites, had not yet begun.

    The deployment of VP-52 would be the first move toward im- plementing the mission of the Northern Patrol of the Support Force. The major North Atlantic shipping lanes would now be within range of the PBYs for convoy escort.

    Albemarle arrived at Argentia on May 15, with VP-52's ground crew and squadron gear onboard. Preparations for aircraft operations were begun with a seaplane mooring area designated and buoys laid in the southwestern end of Placentia Harbor near the ship anchorage. This operating area was adjacent to the peninsula on which NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada would eventually be built.

    After an attempt on May 18, aborted because of below-minimums weather in Argentia, all 12 VP-52 planes arrived on May 20. The weather was again marginal but, utilizing Albemarle's radio beacon, all aircraft made instrument approaches and safe landings. The next day, the weather was excellent and all crews were scheduled for and flew area familiariza- tion flights. This proved most fortunate because the weather was below minimums on the following two days and, on the 24th, the squadron was ordered to fly a major operation -one of the least- known events in pre-WW II Naval Aviation history.

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...VP-32 History..." Contributed by Gordon T. Hall ghall10644@aol.com (VPB-32 1945-1946) [20FEB99]

    VP-32 Squadron History
    "Currently Designated VP-46"

    The oldest, continuously operating patrol squadron in the United States Navy served throughout World War II as either VP-32 or VPB-32. All told, the squadron has born eight designations since its Establishment on 1 September 1931 at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone as VP-5S. In 1933 it became VP-5F and in 1937 just VP-5; followed by VP-33 on 01/07/39; VP-32 on 01/07/41; VPB-32 on 01/10/44; back to VP-32 on 15/05/46; VP-MS-6 on 15/11/46; and finally VP-46 (current designation) on 01/09/48.

    The Squadron's early years operating from NAS Upham (Coco Solo) were spent in maritime patrols over the Antilles and throughout the Caribbean, as well as along the coasts of South America, flying PM-2 aircraft under the command of FAW-3. These planes were later replaced by P2Ys, the Catalina's forerunner. In early 1938 VP-5 ferried its P2Ys in a mass flight to NAS Norfolk, Virginia and the crews proceeded overland to NAS North Island, San Diego, California. There they trained in the new PBY-3, eventually delivering the squadron's aircraft complement directly to NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, again by a mass flight.

    Operations in 1939 became more meaningful, as war clouds began to gather in Europe, and the President announced a "limited national emergency" on 08/09/39. The resulting "neutrality patrols" found newly designated VP-33 alternating its operational bases between NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, San Juan and NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, continuing both its patrols and training, including the introduction of "submarine bombing" tactics in 1941, after another designation change to VP-32.

    The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor found the Squadron stationed at Coco Solo, and patrols quickly became extended over the oceans both sides of the Panama Canal. In addition, the squadron, operating under CPW-3, also reported to the Army's Sixth Bomber Command as its long range reconnaissance arm. The increased wartime demands for patrols resulted in the reinforcement of VP-32 with detachments from VP-52 and VP-81, whose planes were the newer PBY-5s, and gave NAS Upham a total of 28 operational PBY aircraft.

    During the early war period VP-32 remained at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, moving to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in August of 1942. Caribbean operations conducted by it included both convoy escort duty and anti-submarine patrols with PBY and PBM replacement aircraft. As submarine attacks escalated, resulting in heavy Allied losses of ships and lives, the squadron's battle successes peaked. In July 1943 alone three German subs were sunk by its PBM-3Cs using newly developed ASG radar: U-159 on the 15th south of Haiti; U-759 on the 26th east of Jamaica; and U-359 on the 28th south of Puerto Rico.

    On 8 July 1944, and now known as VPB-32, the squadron returned to NAS Norfolk, Virginia once again. Operational assignments continued to be escort duty and anti-submarine patrol, but now along the Atlantic seaboard. Training of crews was ongoing, and all the PBM-3Cs from Guantanamo Bay underwent overhaul and technical updates. In January of 1945 VPB-32 exchanged its planes for new PBM-5s, and on 10 April the squadron was ordered to the Western Sea Frontier Command at NAS Alameda, California, via the southern transcontinental seaplane route.

    Duty at Alameda was primarily providing security patrols of waters around San Francisco Bay in connection with the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Once this was concluded VPB-32 was ordered, on 27 June 1945, to NAAS Harvey Point, North Carolina for further training. After arrival, and well earned leave, it turned out that the anticipated training would be given at NAS Norfolk, Virginia instead of NAAS Harvey Point, North Carolina. So again, on 15 July, the squadron flew there, but this time in further updated PBM-5E aircraft, newly assigned by FAW-5.

    The Pacific war's end on 14 August changed Squadron dynamics dramatically. Many VPB-32 members with service seniority had already left, and more would now be leaving. New replacements were arriving, but things were truly in a state of flux. The impending orders to the West coast and ComAirPac arrived, however, and the first planes left for NAS Alameda, California on 12 September. The remainder were delayed by a hurricane, and the last plane did not arrive at its destination until the 23rd.

    New orders soon issued which instructed the turn over of recently acquired aircraft to FAW-8, and making ready for sea transport aboard CVE-9, USS Bogue, to Saipan with stopovers at NAS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and NAS Guam. Other aircraft awaited VPB-32 at its final destination. Departure from NAS Alameda, California was on 11 October with arrival at NAS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the 17th. Leaving there on the 19th, Bogue arrived at NAS Guam on the 28th and at Saipan on the 31st after a two day stop at NAS Guam.

    PBM squadrons that had been operating from Saipan had all left NAS Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, Marianas Islands with the exception of VPB-18, which departed on 15 November, leaving VPB-32 the sole such unit. Having received twelve PBM-5E aircraft upon arrival, the squadron began its assigned tasks which included: logistic support of the Naval and Marine forces occupying the Japanese base at Truk; air/sea rescue standby; photo reconnaissance missions; and the ongoing training of pilots and crews.

    In early March of 1946 VPB-32 received orders to participate in "Operation Crossroads" (atom bomb testing at Bikini atoll), and the first planes departed Saipan on 15 March for Kwajalein atoll, the operations base for the tests. The squadron's home was on Ebeye, a small island adjacent to Kwajalein and a former Japanese seaplane base. The main mission was aerial logistic support for Bikini, which had no landing strip. In addition, photo surveys were conducted, especially of water flows through the atoll's channels, after dropped sea dye marker had defined the currents.

    A pleasant surprise occurred in April when the squadron was ordered to MCBH Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii for ten days of "rest and recreation" without military duties. Then back to Ebeye and "Crossroads", operating as VP-32, having again been redesignated. After transporting many passengers, and carrying out miscellaneous missions, the tests took place 1 July (aerial drop), and 25 July (underwater detonation). After both of these, two of the Squadron's planes made runs over the target site to check radioactivity, while others took aerial photos and assessed damage.

    The "Crossroads" chapter of VP-32's history was classified material for many years, even to the extent that VP-46's 1955 request to the Chief of Naval Operations for the Squadron's historical background brought forth an Aviation History Unit reply that was footnoted: "Although no squadron history for the period....is in the ....files, it is fairly evident that the squadron was based on Saipan for the entire period." Ebeye operations are not mentioned.

    VP-32 seems to have remained in tact at its Ebeye base until late 1946 when, as VP-MS-6, it sent a small detachment to Truk. Later, a six plane detachment was at Eniwetok from 1 February 1947 until 22 May 1948, operating under Joint Task Force Seven in "Operation Sandstone". In April of 1947, while under FAW-18, its mission was changed from SAR/utility transport in the Central Pacific to ASW/long range patrol; and further changed 31 July by the elimination of SAR duties and the addition of a mine laying function. On 1 September 1948 VP-MS-6 became VP-46, as it has been known for the past fifty years.

    The so-called "Wings over Panama" Squadron insignia displays the western half of the globe, with silhouettes of North, Central and South America in black against a light blue circular field. Across Central America is superimposed a pair of Naval Aviator's wings (elongated wing proportions in original). This design is enclosed in a black circle which, in turn, is enclosed in a bright red compass rose. The design's significance is the Squadron's genesis: its Establishment at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone on 1 September 1931 as VP-5S. It is believed to have originated with one of the earlier VP-5 squadrons; adopted by the first VP-33; and passed along to VP-32. A note of interest is that under post-war regulations Navy Wings could not be incorporated into new squadron insignia. Had VP-46 chosen not to adopt a new insignia, "Wings over Panama" would have been a viable ("grandfathered") design for it to use in carrying on the Squadron's tradition as The Oldest and the Best.


    Circa 1937

    HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...I'm interested in PBY squadrons which came to Australia's part of the world. Always looking for information, love to hear from the WWII guys or historians. Hope you can use the attached "Chronicle"..." Contributed by W. Bruce Graham wbg@bigpond.com [24AUG98]

    01OCT37
    NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone
    VP-5
    Part of the newly established PatWing 3

    01JUL39
    Re-designateVP-33
    Align squadron and wing numbers

    c1940
    Re-designate to VP-32
    Ttidy up PatWing 3 squadron numbers
    Previous VP-32 had been transferred to PatWing 5 as VP-52

    Designation of VP-33 temporarily ceased to exist

    ***** ***** ***** *****

    ? Commissioned VP-33

    cAUG43
    VP-33 from NAS North Island, San Diego, California to NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii

    cSep43
    Begin Move NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to Perth, Australia
    Did patrol work etc for Marines landing at Tarawa during a six week transit

    c30OCT43
    Base at Perth, WA. With FAW-10
    Convert their PBYs to Black Cats
    Do regular patrols and training

    00FEB44
    Move to Samarai, New Guinea, for combat duty, FAW-17
    Replace VP-32

    c1MAR44
    Advance in combat To Seeadler Harbour, Manus, just captured
    VP-33 is first PBY sqn there

    18MAY44
    Advance in combat To Hollandia
    Also doing rescue duty for AAF.01SEP44
    Advance in combat To Middleburg Is., western New Guinea. Anti- shipping combat

    15SEP44
    Advance in combat To Morotai, during the invasion

    01OCT44
    Re-designation VPB-33

    c4OCT44
    Some R&R
    Withdraw to Woendi PBY base, near Biak

    23OCT44
    MacArthur lands P.I.
    VPB-33 ordered forward to P.I.

    09FEB45
    Last VPB-33 op.
    VPB-33 now moves back to Manus.
    Most personnel ship to US on HMS Tracker
    three PBYs flew home

    15DEC49 Disestablished

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