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Patrol Aviation in the Pacific in WW II

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...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...This Squadron Mentioned...Naval Historical Center ADOBE Download File: http://www.history.navy.mil/download/ww2-4.pdf [27MAY2003]
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Open VP History Adobe FileThe Neutrality Patrol: To Keep Us Out of World War II? - Part 1 of 2 1926KB

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...The Neutrality Patrol: To Keep Us Out of World War II? Part 2 of 2 - By Capt. William E. Scarborough, USN(Ret.) - Naval Aviation News March - April 1990...This Squadron Mentioned...Naval Historical Center ADOBE Download File: http://www.history.navy.mil/download/ww2-5.pdf [27MAY2003]
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Open VP History Adobe FileThe Neutrality Patrol: To Keep Us Out of World War II? - Part 2 of 2 2020KB

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.

The "Big Boats," the long-range "Eyes of the Fleet." Primary Mission: Oversea patrol and search from coastal or advanced bases, or from aircraft tenders; the protection of merchant shipping and anti-sumarine operations. Carrying bombs, torpedoes or mines instead of maximum fuel: they perform offensive missions against enemy vessels or shore objectives. The Patrol Wings form a highly mobile striking force, concentrating as needed on either Coast or at outlying Bases. At the end of Fiscal 1941 the Patrol establishment included twenty-five Squadrons. Additional Units were organizing-. Patrol Squadrons normally operate twelve twin-engined or six four-engined Flying Boats plus spares. The pre-war Program included about 1,500 VPB's,. some 300 of which were to be four-engined craft. Twin-engined landplane Bombers similar to the Army's medium types are in service as VB's and VPB's, On July 1, 1939, the Patrol Wings were reorganized and the twenty Squadrons then iii service were renumbered-dropping the sequence in which they organized, taking new numbers from the Wings with which they served. When transferred, Wing to Wing, VP-Squadrons are redesignated. Thus old VP-1 of Patrol Wing Two at Pearl Harbor became VP-21, later becoming VP-101 of the Tenth Wing in the Philippines. Some Squadrons have operated under several numbers. The twenty older Outfits are listed here.
1941 . . .Interim . . .1939
Patrol Wing Operating Areas: One, San Diego; Two, Hawaii; Three, Panama; Four, Seattle; Five, Norfolk; Six (Was at Alameda); Seven. East Coast-Atlantic Bases; Eight. West Coast; Ten, Philippines
"The Ships and Aircraft of the U. S. Fleet" War Edition By James C. Fahey, Associate, United States Naval Institute, Circa 1941, Page 40

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