Dear Dr. Ilchenko,
I am pleasantly surprised to hear from you today via email relayed from Taigh Ramey to my son Arthur. Hopefully, I can contribute to your passion regarding WWII history in the north pacific. It has been an exciting reward to meet Taigh recently and we have had some interesting talks plus flying in his PV-2D Harpoon. Flying that old plane gives me a fantastic thrill. I surprised
everyone, including myself, that I could take off and land it, but the PV-2 and I both have some age limitations.
I was assigned to the first Navy VB-135 as a pilot/Navigator, trained in the PV-1 and sent to the Aleutians in March, 1943.
The early Venturas included several originally destined for the British--had only one adjustable pilot seat and instrument panel. A co-pilot had little in front of him and mainly looked after the eleven fuel cells to feverishly close and select the appropriate valves if the engine stuttered.
Fortunately, I have saved my Aviators Flight Log which is far better than my memory in recalling events of 70 years ago.
The entry I have for June 14, 1944, is a photo mission to Shimushu and Paramushiro in a specially equipped PV-1, BuNo 48919.
A Photographer's Mate was added, to my crew to monitor five cameras--3 in the nose and 2 replaced the tail gunport. The photo recon of June 11, 1944 was entered as June 12th in my log. This may be confusing due to the international date line as it straddled Attu. I have a list of the original 12 BuNos assigned to VPB-135 and #48919 is listed. My log also shows I flew #48919 on other missions before and after the cameras were installed so they were positioned at the base on Attu. BuNo 48919 was squadron No. 5V and BuNo 48933 was 8V.
The night photo recons were near useless and while they were safer from the Zeros, their results were hardly significant. Jap searchlights triggered the cameras more often than the magnesium bombs.
I had two mishaps with minor damages. First was a night, training flight when we landed in a rain storm. I hit a parked plane with my port wing tip. They replaced the the nav light and patched the wingtip. That's the only training damage I recall. The other damage (except enemy) was landing at Attu in a crosswind that blew us onto the landing lights of the runway. A bomb bay door had to be replaced.
About the BuNos of 2nd tour:
1V, 48918. 2V, 49527. 3V, 48991 4V, 48992. 5V, 48919. 6V, 33352
7V, 49540. 8V,48933. 9V, 48908. 10V, 48936. 11V,33278. 12V, 33345.
This may not include the aircraft that crashed, lost, or damaged and those that landed at Petropavlovsk. You cleared a mystery for me about the planes that diverted to Petro and ended in Shimushu. Give me some time regarding photos and fuselage
Your photo of J. J. McNulty preparing for a flight with # 9 is especially interesting. As l recall this may have been his last flight because 10 days after we reached Adak for Loran training some of us were scheduled for sector searches before continueing to Attu. On April 27 I was assigned sector 12 and McNulty sector11. McNulty took off earlier than me, I had made my first search report when my radioman told me the base could not raise McNulty (11V11). All search planes were 'recalled', refueled, and sent out again to search for 11V until dusk. There was no evidence of crash or survivors. Search the next day for me was 5.7 hours and 2.3 hours (due to bad weather) on April 29. On 5-3-44 the squadron left Adak for Attu.
About the Aldis lamp, it was stowed near the navigator's station--I'm not too sure of this. However, when challenging it was passed to the co-pilot. I had the radioman stand up to help copy the reply. He could see from the cockpit and was much more accomplished at reading Morse code. Our lamps were slightly different (that the one pictured below- BI)--we didn't have a 'scope but simply a notch and bead for aiming. The lamp was held in one hand by a pistol grip with a trigger. No auxiliary power, only plugged into the aircraft' s system. Our unit may have been slightly smaller.
October 6, 2015
I am keenly interested in what you find about the Japanese 203 Naval Air Group that defended the Kuriles. The strikes we made against those islands were critical especially needed for invasion plans. Our daylight photos were necessary as very little topographical data was sufficient or useful. The 11th AF bombers certainly did more damage, but suffered more casualties. I've always felt that PATWING-4 bombings were merely a nuisance and knew our night time photo flash efforts produced very little, but our reconnaissance info with daytime photos were good and appropriate. Also, we could defend ourselves. As a cadet I flew PBYs when I reached Advanced Training at Corpus Christi. I was assigned to a Catalina squadron when my training was completed. Eventually I was ordered to Whidbey Island NAS. About that time remnants of a Catalina Squadron (VP-42) was returning from Dutch Harbor and I was to join them. But early January, 1943, Ventures began arriving and I was assigned to train with the new Venturas VB-135 as a Pilot/Navigator. Incidentally, I never flew anything in the Aleutians but PVs--no Catalinas or OS2Us. That period when I returned to PBY training was at Adult Field. Because six of us (Pilot/Navigators) were ordered back from our squadron on Amchitka, Alaska, to train as PPCs (Patrol Plane Commanders). We six Ensigns were regarded as "experienced" and would form the nucleus of another PV squadron. Our training would emphasize instrument flying, but because there were no qualified Ventura instrument instructors in the Navy we were put with Hedron instructors who could only fly PBYs. Academically, instrument flying basics are similar for both the PBYs and PVs, but there is a vast practical difference, each plane has a different performance envelope. We occasionally had time on our hands at Ault Field and you may note I took some rides in the OS2U Kingfisher, SNB-1 Beechcraft, and a NE-1 Howard.
October 26 2015
Dear Boris, I am intrigued by the Jap fighter reports and curious if the plane was a Zeke as many fighters were. That day, June 14, was perfect with no clouds over the target. We started our run from Shimushu just south of Cape Lopatka and began all five cameras as we approached Kateoka. Cameras were turned off when we passed each target to save film. Magazines on all cameras were empty by the time we reached Kurabu Zake (about 9000 ft alt). We made a shallow dive and headed home with a couple of fighters on our tail. They stayed with us for a while but were unable to overtake us and make their passes--finally they broke off after we reached near the water. Patches of fog appeared over the water but not over the land. I learned later that my crew had threatened the photographer's mate, in charge of the cameras, with mayhem if any of the cameras should fail.
You recently asked if we (VPB-135) had used torpedoes in the Aleutians. The first time was when our squadron (VB-135) reached Kodiak enroute to Adak in 1943. A false radar contact was reported of enemy warships somewhere assumedly to attack us at Kodiak. We were told to standby while our planes, PV-1s, were being loaded with torpedoes. Fortunately, the alert turned out to be false and a great relief to all crews. And, in the scramble to load the torpedoes nobody could find the hoisting gear or attachments that fit our aircraft. Our planes had dumped our personal gear and other equipment on the ramp waiting for the arming. Not to mention this first PV squadron had had no training practice with torpedo drops.
In 1944 (while) training at Ault Field we were introduced to the torpedo and practice was carried out by the squadron. We made dummy runs at a small patrol boat with a Mk-13 torpedo (no warhead). Everybody had one shot--when my turn came I set up for the recommended 200-knot/200ft altitude drop, placed the arming lever in position and it malfunctioned. The drop was prematurely made over some wooded area on Whidbey Island. Several days later it was found and recovered. That's the happy end of my torpedo experience.
January 15, 2016
Thank you for the few pictures of VB-135 crews--I have never seen these. My crew was not shown, but I recognized a couple of pilots. The pics may have been taken at Whidbey Island NAS because the officers wore their black ties and the building in the background was not an Aleutian construction. The only time we dressed with black ties was decoration visits for benefit of Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher (and his aides, two large great danes and their handler). In the 1943 squadron my PPC was Lt(jg) Birmingham (not pictured). He was transferred from a PBY squadron (VP-42) after that squadron was was relieved from Aleutian duty and many of their pilots and crewmen were assigned to VPB-135. Birmingham was an excellent instrument pilot and his transition from PBYs to PVs was easier than other pilots Our third pilot in the crew alternated with me as navigator and co-pilot.
January 25, 2016
Fred Michelotti and I had a most memorable time and be told me why he was not interned at Petropovlovsk like the other members of Schuette's crew. Fred had come down with the mumps and was in the Attu Navy hospital. We spent about two hours looking through our picture books and his son, Dick, enjoyed our stories, too. I'm not sure if Fred is interested in a ride in Taigh's Harpoon. He is unsteady and suffers from macular degeneration and some hearing loss. He commented that he doesn't care to go out much. Before his discharge (spent the final years of enlistment with the squadron) that bunch visited several 'ports-of-call' on the east coast and central America. On stop was inauguration of the new President of Mexico. I know that my visit bouyed his spirits a lot, but I don't think he'll ever fly again...
April 19, 2016
Shemya, I remember well because I had to make an emergency alternate there when returning from one mission to Paramushiro. The Attu base was socked in and six planes in our squadron were coming back from the target. The stacking order was based on fuel aboard and location. We were to hold on top of the stack to wait our turn but I figured we didn't have enough fuel to land in order. We were all low on gas and one pilot ("small Clark") opted to ditch near Agattu (he did without further mishap) and all were picked up relatively dry. Fortunately, our radar found Shemya and it had 2-300 ft.ceiling so we ducked down to the water and squeezed in.