VP-101, Philippines, 1941


Under the tropical skies of the Olongapo Seadrome on Subic Bay, men of Patrol Squadron 101 stand before one of their PBY-4 aircraft. By the time this photo was taken in very late 1941, war clouds were gathering over the western pacific. In response, VP-101 has hastily camouflaged their aircraft; this is easily seen on the OS2U Kingfisher on the right. Soon, the squadron would be at war. Very few of the men pictured will avoid death or capture in the coming weeks and months. 

Patrol Squadron 3, 1937

Posing proudly before their PBY at NAS North Island in the fall of 1937 are the men of VP-3. Of additional interest are the large numbers of enlisted pilots (note the wings on their chests). VP-3 had already racked up some impressive achievements with their new patrol bombers.  The PBY was not shattering existing speed records, but this being said, the PBY’s single wing, no landing gear, and a minimum of external braces all contributed to fairly low drag, meaning the early PBY was, by 1937 standards, a speedy enough machine. Its rated top speed was only 170 knots, but this was comparable to most fighter aircraft of the period, they mostly being biplanes with fixed landing gear.

None of that makes the PBY an agile and swift aircraft, but that was something the plane was never designed to be. My dad flew the PBY during World War II and he will tell you to this day that the aircraft could take off at 90 knots, cruise at 90 knots, and land at 90 knots. But he will also tell you that the PBY was a gas miser that could fly seemingly forever. The longest PBY flight in his logbook: 22 hours, non-stop from NAS North Island to Pearl Harbor. A more routine time was 14 hours but according to dad their Direction Finder died, and to make matters more exciting, they also had quite a quartering headwind that both slowed them down and pushed them off course. By off course we’re talking a couple hundred miles south of the Hawaiian islands.

They tossed out everything they didn’t need, and when Hawaii was finally found, Dad & co. were showing zero fuel and were obliged to fly the last 30 minutes at wave-top altitude so they could simply plop in the ocean when the gas gave out (Just one of the nice things about a flying boat). But the gas held out, and foregoing all air traffic control rules, Dad flew his PBY so low up the Pearl Harbor channel he had to weave his way around navy ships as he brought his gas-starved bird in for a smooth landing alongside Ford Island. 


Grumman F3F – the “Flying Barrel”

Webp.net-resizeimage (2)The F3F had a number of nicknames, all of which seemed related to its appearance. Nevertheless, it was rugged, reliable, and pretty quick. It was also the last biplane fighter ordered by the US military. The first two photos show VF-4 out for a cruise above California in the late 1930’s. Numbers are 261, 228, 235Webp.net-resizeimageWebp.net-resizeimage (3)Here we see marines of VMF-2 out for a drive in the F3F-2. This second model had a bigger motor and is therefore quickly identified by the size of the engine cowl. Numbers are 973, 977, and 979.


Scouting Three, USS Saratoga, 1939

Webp.net-resizeimage (1)Hurrying across the hills of Southern California, 18 SBC Helldivers of Scouting Squadron Three (VS3) make a fine display for the cameraman.Webp.net-resizeimage (4)The men of VS3 aboard their home base, USS Saratoga. The ship’s main battery of 8″ guns make a nice backdrop. Note the small saluting/practice gun at the base of the big rifle barrels. Many have dismissed this defensive armament as a throwback, a sop to the old-school admirals who could not fathom that the day of the big gun ship had been eclipsed by aircraft. 

But these two carriers were built in the mid-1920’s and entered service in 1927. Simply put, the aircraft of that time were not an effective substitute for a warship’s heavy armament – and that was on a sunny day suitable for flying. In bad weather or darkness the ship’s aircraft were of almost no value whatsoever. Big guns were needed, but how big? The “Lex” and “Sara” were faster than any battleship of that time, so battleship-sized guns were not required. What they could not outrun was a cruiser. Given that typical armament for a cruiser was 8″ guns it made sense to provide the same weaponry to the two carriers. 

Less than ten years after the two carriers were commissioned, the advances in aviation technology made the big guns less important and they were eventually removed. While those guns were still part of the ship though, they were not there at the insistence of traditional or narrow-minded navy brass. When the two carriers were designed the question must have been asked: what were they to do on a zero-visibility day with aircraft grounded, and an enemy cruiser swept in through the mist? Answer: Provide the two ships with all-weather firepower. Makes good sense.

TBD Devastators of USS Lexington and USS Saratoga

Webp.net-resizeimage (1)Torpedo 3 (VT-3) prepares to land aboard Saratoga in 1939. Barely visible above the center aircraft, in echelons of three, are six SBC Helldivers (Well, at least in the original photo they are visible). 3-T-11 is BuNo. 281 which was lost in 1942 while landing on the Sara.  Note the “plane guard” destroyer trailing behind the carrier.Webp.net-resizeimage (2)Torpedo 2 cruises up the California coast in the late 1930’s. Left to right: 292, 293, and 298. The first, 292, was lost in a mid-air collision with another TBD in 1940. 293 was transferred to VT-8 and was shot down at Midway. 298 saw action when assigned to VT-5 but was forced to land in in a lagoon at Jaluit Atoll in Marshall Islands Feb 1, 1942. Webp.net-resizeimage (3)The same aircraft as seen above.Webp.net-resizeimageLooks like they managed to get almost every TBD in Torpedo 3 aloft for this photo. 

A few F4B’s