PV-1s in the USSR
Quotes are from Otis Hays' and Ralph Wetterhahn's books
3/25/44 34641/33V, Lt. Walt Whitman, crashed on Mutnovsky Volcano, USSR in an attempt to divert to Petropavlovsk after being attacked by Japanese fighters over Shimushu. Reconstruction of the events of that mission was vividly written by Ralph Wetterhahn in his book "The Last flight of Bomber 31".
Crew: Lt (jg) John W. Hanlon, Donald G. Lewallen, AM2c, Clarence C. Fridley, AMM2c, Samuel L. Crown, ARM3c, James S. Palko, AOM3c, Jack J. Parlier, AerM2c
25 March 1944. PV-1 BuNo 34641, piloted by Lt. Walt S. Whitman of VB-139, with crew of seven, sustained engine damage from the enemy fire over Shimushu. The pilot attempted diversion to Petropavlovsk, but crash-landed on the slope of Mutnovsky volcano, Kamchatka. The crash site was first discovered by Russian geologists in 1962. Back then the KGB vetoed any information about the aircraft, and even attempted to disperse the wrecks to, perhaps, make it less visible from the space. Only in 2000, the initial evaluation was performed by the U.S. team of experts. Ralph Wetterhahn, former military pilot and aircraft crash investigator was part of that team. He wrote a great book, that sparked my initial interest to the aerial war in the north pacific region. Unique pictures from the crash site were kindly provided by Mr. Wetterhahn.
Curiously enough, after familiarization with original Squadron documents I learned that Whitman's Ventura had Squadron Code 33V, not the 31! Please refer to the comments to the photos in the gallery below, and resolve this puzzle for yourself.
6/15/44 48910/9V(R), Lt Russel P. Bone reached the target (Miyoshino airfield in central Shimushu) before the other planes. Was seen by Lt. Vivian flying low south across Paramushiro Strait under intensive AA fire, making erratic maneuvers, and "was obviously in difficulty". Last seen turning toward Kataoka naval base.
OH: "Separated from the other bombers in his flight, Russel Bone's aircraft lost an engine to gunfire during the strike, and was forced to make a decision. As a result, he and his crew became the first navy airmen to crash-land in "neutral country" and to be interned by the Soviet Union."
Crew: Ens Ralph W. Stevens, Ens Glenn W. Mantle, Laurence E. Sommers, AMM1c, Sam Gelber, ARM2c, Frank L. Crow, Jr., AMM3c, John P. Horvath, AOM3c
6/15/44 48930/11V, Lt. Howard B. Schuette: went under heavy AA fire during the bomb run over Miyoshino airfield.
Byron Morgan: " We made a high speed bombing run... over the airfield at Shimushu. The fighters picked us up after we left the target.... One fighter chased and fired at us for 150 miles before turning back." OH: "None of the crew had been scratched during the fight. One of the main fuel tanks, however, had been punctured, and Schuette knew it was impossible to reach Attu on the remaining gasoline." Schuette landed in Petropavlovsk smoothly, escorted by I-16.
RW: "Near Schuette's plane, a group of Soviets was having a raucous chuckle over the tail art painted on the side of fuselage aft of the door." A cartoon of fat Japanese general in elegant attire, getting a report from a battered Japanese pilot whose bullet-riddled plane was resting beside a palm tree ..."broke the ice with the Soviets. Soon Soviet navy and air force officers came over and began animated exchanges, bridging the language barrier with laughter and pantomimes."
Crew: Lt (jg) John E. Brassil, Ens Byron A. Morgan, Willie A. Donaway, AMM1c, John F. Beggin, AMM2c, Walter H. Morris, AOM2c, John E. Jage, ARM3c
6/19/44 48938/12V, George A. Mahrt: accidentally siphoned about 500 gallons of fuel overboard during the mission to Paramushiro. Urgent message stated: "Out of gas, Russia".
RW: "Still in the dark as he crossed into Soviet territory, Mahrt found the area fogbound. He orbited above the clouds until dawn, when he spotted a hole in the weather. Mahrt slid the bomber through the gap in the clouds, then saw rising terrain ahead. Too late to react, the Ventura plowed through a stand of trees. One wing slammed into solid lumber. The nose was ripped off forward off the cockpit as the plane plowed through the forest. Fortunately, the crew escaped without serious injury and there was no fire".
The plane landed on the beach by Anglichanka Bay near Petropavlovsk.
Crew: Ens Richard M. Johnson, Ens William A. King, Clifford C. Patzke, ARM3c, William E. Dickson, AMM2c, Richard T. Everad, AOM2c, William D. Storm, AMM2c
An article about Mahrt's and other crew experiences was published in the Naval History magazine in February 2017.
7/22/44 48928/7V: After the bomb run on Shimushu, Lt. (jg) Jackson W. “Little” Clark was attacked and chased by four Japanese fighters. RW: "For a hundred miles the fighters poured fire into the PV-1 before turning away. The starboard engine was steadily losing oil, and remaining fuel was too low to recover in the Aleutians."They turned northwest, and landed in Petropavlovsk without difficulty.
Crew: Ens John F. Mathers, Ens Berwyn J. Miller, Hoyle A. Simes, AMM1c, John Brennan, ARM2c (Milwaukee, WI), Herbert C. Rowe.
Apparently, the Soviets repaired the Ventura, and continued using it for over a year. 11 October 1945 аt 16:58 it took off from (now Soviet) Kataoka airfield with the crew of six and four passengers on board, including a wife of one of the officers. After the take-off, the plane started a steep climb, then stalled, rolled over the left wing, and fell from the altitude of 40-50 meters. The plane burned, everybody on board died. The cause of the crash was the aircraft overload. Besides the four passengers, the plane carried 1 ton of ammunition and 400 army blankets. The scheme of the crash was found in the Central Archive in Moscow in 2016. In the summer of 2017, a search group from Paramushiro explored the site and installed the memorial sign.
The inscription says: At this site on October 11, 1945, a B-34 (Ventura)- type plane No 48923 crashed. The plane belonged to the 2nd Squadron of the 903rd Long Range Bombing Regiment, 83rd Aviation Division, 18th Aviation Corps, 10th Air Army.
Pilot Captain Arseniy Kopylets, born 1915 (according to the archival note, he was a CO of the 2nd Squadron)
Co-pilot Sub Lt (Ensign) Belousov
Navigator Sr Lt Selivanov
Flight Engineer Lt Stepan Rikichinsky, born 1918
Radioman/Gunner Sr Sgt Sirimov
Mechanic Starshina (Corp) Himochka
Army Medic Sr Lt Ponomarev
Citizen Trofimova (an officer’s wife)
Apparently, there is a mistake with the BuNo in the archival note, from where it migrated to the sign (they put 48923 instead of 48928). The 48923 (6V) piloted by the same Lt (jg) J.W. Clark, water-landed near Agattu 11 June 1944, on return from the Kurile mission, after all fuel was exhausted. He was unable to land in Attu and Shemya because of the fog. "Pat" Patteson was part of the same mission, and landed in Shemya just on time!
Pat: "I can add a side note to the crash of 48928. It was caused by a combination of overload and weight and balance. These factors were very critical for the Ventura and became worse with the increased gross weight. On the takeoff roll our crews in the cabin were instructed to take their position in the navigators compartment. They looked like a sports huddle. We were nearly 3000 lbs over gross and the CG had to be kept inches from the wing's spar distance.
I can also add some background to Lt.(jg) J. W. Clark as we were both from Texas and knew each other before the hostilities. We first met when we both took our Navy physical exams the same time at Dallas. We received the same training and graduated from flight school in the same class. Ultimately we tracked each others flying experiences with squadron VPB-135 until he made the emergency landing at Petro. I lost track of him after the war when he and the other internees were brought back after VJ- day. I recall Jack was offered a cushy desk job at the Pentagon when he returned to the USA and I heard he stayed in the reserves for some time--but I never have picked up his trail since then. Like many of us we became occupied with trying to get back into the mainstream of life, work, and where we left off before the war."