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HistoryBlack Cats HistoryHistory

Circa 2004

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...VQ-1 traces its history from two PBY-5A Catalina "Black Cats" used for electronic reconnaissance during World War II. In the past 50 years, the World Watchers have used aircraft such as the P4M-IQ Mercator, A-3 Skywarrior, WPBYV-2Q Super Constellation and the EP-3..." WebSite: http://www.militarynewcomers.com/WHID/Resources/Tenantcommands.html [16OCT2004]

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...In the Pacific the legend of the "Black Cats" was born when the Catalina was painted flat black and flew night assaults against the Japanese fleet. The Navy's "Black Cats" performed reconnaissance, air sea rescue, dive bombing, mine laying, and torpedo attack missions using just star sightings for night navigation. These night operations were very successful. U.S. Navy PBY squadron VP-52 between November 1943 and June 1944 destroyed or damaged 16 enemy ships. In this role you might even say that the "Black Cat" was the first stealth fighter, as it was nearly impossible to see flying low above the water at night. Not all PBY's were used in an attack role. The "Cat" was also used for Air Sea Rescue missions, which became known as the "Dumbo" missions. Many a downed pilot was picked up in what were sometimes very dangerous conditions..." WebSite: http://www.qsl.net/n3yqh/WWII/pby.htm [16OCT2004]

Circa 1991

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation November-December 1991 "...Former Black Cat Retires - Naval Aviation News - November-December 1991..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1990s/1991/nd91.pdf [25OCT2004]

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Circa 1982

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation October 1982 "...The Black Cats - Page 10 to 11 - Naval Aviation News - October 1982..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1980s/1982/oct82.pdf [16OCT2004]

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Circa 1945

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News Magazine "...Black Cat Scores Heavily - Naval Aviation News - March 1945.." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1940s/1945/15mar45.pdf [10NOV2004]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News Magazine "...Japs Played Host - Naval Aviation News - February 1945.." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1940s/1945/15feb45.pdf [10NOV2004]

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Circa 1944

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News Magazine "...Black Cats Come Home - Naval Aviation News - November 1944..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1940s/1944/1nov44.pdf [07NOV2004]

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Circa 1942

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Black Cats prowled after the Battle of Midway By Geoge Poulas VP-11 Squadron. (Word War II Times February-March 1988 Volume 3 Number 2 Page 4 and 33)..." Contributed by WINTER, George B. pbycat@bellsouth.net WEBSITE: http://www.vpnavy.com/winter.html [03JUN2002]

By Geoge Poulas VP-11 Squadron

VP-11 Newsletter ThumbnailCameraSquadron Picture Squadron Picture (VP-11) taken at Palm Island near Townsville, Queensland, Australia, 1943. Squadron Commander Campbell is fifth man from lest (Joe Higgs Collection)

Immediately after the Battle of Midway we learned that VP-11 would be permanently deployed to the South Pacific commencing about July 1, 1942. The flight from NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii to Suva was made in three legs with overnight fueling and rest stops at Palmyra and Canton Islands.

Section by section, the PBY's departed daily. I was in the last section to leave and, by coincidence it was July 7, 1942, my 25th birthday. On arrival at Suva, we learned that the Japanese were building an airfield on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Island chain. In conjunction with the excellent harbor at Tulagi, 20 miles across the channel they would establish a major base to support their attacks on New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand.

We also learned that Suva would not be our permanent base, but rather a staging area for further deployment. For the time being, six crews would remain in Fiji and the remaining nine 11 would redeploy to Noumea and Efate at New Caledonia. I would stay at Fiji.

Since Suva is on the wrong side of I the island for optimum range to patrol Solomon Island sea lane traffic, I Seabees were assigned to build us a (temporary operating base at a quiet natural harbor known as Saweni Bay (near Latoka, the second largest city in Fiji.

On August 2 we moved in from Suva 1 and established a daily three-airplane patrol with sectors chosen to guard for possible "end around" surprises by the Japanese fleet during the Guadalcanal landings. These patrols were for the most part routine, but extremely interesting from the stand- point of the number of picturesque small volcanic islands. In every respect they have conformed to the mental concept of what isolated native islands with beautiful sandy beaches, thick coconut palm groves and scantily clad natives should look like.

On August 25, we at Saweni learned that the Marines had captured Tulagi and Henderson Field on Guadalcanal. There would be no t retreating to Fiji and New Caledonia per the back-up plan. Our orders were to discontinue operations and join the rest of the squadron based on the aircraft Tender USS Curtis at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Island' group.

Upon arrival at that destination on August 26, we learned that they had been repositioned aboard smaller Tenders 400 miles closer to Guadalcanal at Graciosa Bay on the island of Ndeni in the Santa Cruz Island group. We immediately took off for that destination.

At Ndeni we found the remainder of our squadron and a detachment of VP-23 PBY-5's operating from the Tenders USS Mackinac and USS Ballard. Operations during the next 16 days were probably the most extensive by any group during any period. Among my flights was one of 18.4 hours to night track a powerful Japanese fleet which included five battleships and their escorts.

Contact with the enemy was made every day. Five Kawanishi four-engine seaplanes were engaged in battle by PBY's with one shot down by Lt. Norm Brady and his VP-23 crew. Two PBY's had to make open sea landings after encounters. The crews were picked up by our destroyers within two days but there was one casualty. Two submarines were attacked but they got away. Lt. Carlton Clark made a medium-level bombing attack on a single Japanese destroyer, and was hit severely by the destroyer's guns. He landed his crippled PBY at sea and the crew was picked up by the destroyer and taken prisoner.

Before dawn on the morning of September 11, a Japanese submarine surfaced at the entrance of Graciosa Bay, and commenced firing at the Tenders USS Mackinac and USS Ballard and the PBY's at the buoys. Ballard slipped its anchor and proceeded at full speed to find the submarine but it submerged and escaped. After this event, Graciosa Bay was ordered evacuated with all Tenders and PBY's to return to Espiritu Santo.

Our new home at Espiritu Santo was the USS Curtis a large well equipped Tender. Upon arrival, I reported to the sick bay and was immediately grounded by the flight surgeon.

After a period of recuperation which included rotational rest and recreation at Auckland, New Zealand, VP-11 crews were back performing the PBY's primary mission of frustrating the Japanese attempts to retake Guadalcanal and Tulagi. During one of the night fleet battles, our cruisers had fought their battleships to a standoff, except they were struck by torpedoes launched from sub- marines that had sneaked into the area through the openings in the island chain. Thereafter, when a night battle was anticipated, PBY's performed night patrols along the northeastern island gaps to prevent the Japanese submarine end-around entries.
VP-11 Newsletter ThumbnailCameraLT George Poulos at a native village

A front row seat to one of these night fleet battles was an awesome experience with unbelievable fire intensity on both sides. In one instance, I witnessed the death of one of our cruisers which suffered direct magazine hit and blew up with a fireball climbing thousands of feet.

By now it was known that the Japanese had established a major base at Tonolei Harbor on Bougainville, the northern most island in the Solomon chain. This greatly reduced their supply line length from Truk and therefore their attacks would intensify. In mid-October, our Intelligence had uncovered the fact that a very large enemy carrier force was being assembled there. On October 22, Jack Coley, "Whiskey" Willis and I had torpedoes loaded under our port wings and made plans to fly 900 miles for a night attack on the Japanese fleet. Since room within the harbor would be greatly restricted, torpedoes were set to arm after a 200 yard run. We entered the harbor at about 0200 hours on October 23, undetected and caught the Japanese Fleet at anchor except for destroyers on sentinel duty on the entrance.

Once inside the harbor the formation split up with each of us seeking our own target. Ships were visible everywhere.

At 400 yards I was stabilized at 90 knots and 25 feet. At 300 yards, flying 80 knots and 20 feet, I pulled the release handle and called for full power.

Out of my left eye I saw the torpedo enter the water and start a true course.

During the pull-up to get over the cruiser I pulled the handle to release two 500-pound bombs. The PBY shuddered as the weapons exploded. The crew members at the waist hatches reported direct hits but it was not possible to determine the extent of the damage.

Fleet units started to move out of Tonolei and other harbors the next day and it was our assignment to find and track them. Several contacts of enemy ships were made during the day patrols on October 23, 24 and 25, and at night PBY -5's armed with torpedoes and two 500-pound bombs went out to attack. Among the VP-11 crews that made night search and at- tack missions during these days were LT Bob Corlett, Lt. Joe Hill, LT(jg) Charles Muckenthaler, LT(jg) I George Clute and LT(jg) George Enloe.

It was apparent that the various segments would join up for a major: battle with our fleet consisting of the j carriers Hornet and Enterprise with c their escorts. J

This battle became known as the Battle of Santa Cruz, where we lost the Hornet. By sending their ships out to sea in sections the Japanese had done an excellent job in concealing the location of their fleet.

That morning PBY patrols were launched in complete darkness two hours ahead of previous scheduling with a briefing that a battle was in the making. We did not know if the Japanese Fleet had formed or their location.

At about 0630 hours we found a large force with four carriers and their escorts. It was apparent that the carriers had already launched their planes to attack our fleet, because their decks were clear. The only airplanes in sight were several Zeros flying overhead coverage. The japs apparently knew where our carriers were and we had to send their position to enable our carrier planes to attack.

I climbed a few hundred feet to see the entire fleet, and ordered a quick count then a retreat to extend the trailing wire antenna to send the position report. Apparently we proceeded too rapidly because of harassment by ship fire and there was a difference in the ship types among crew members; one was certain he saw at least one battleship. All agreed concerning the number of carriers.

If we had not found the Japanese Fleet, the whole day would have been a complete disaster to the U.S. Navy. Although Admiral Halsey issued the orders to attack from Noumea at about 0530 hours, the numerous reports of small ship units at diverse locations undoubtedly created confusion aboard our carriers.

Having sent our message we returned for an exact ship count and type. Four Zeros suddenly left their umbrella cover and took after us. This I did not anticipate since I considered that Japanese cover planes would not break their umbrella for anything but attacking carrier planes.

It was now one hour since we made our initial contact and still our carrier planes had not arrived to attack. We had knowledge of nine previous PBY's which had made contact with Japanese carrier fleets and had been shot down. Would we be the tenth? I was determined not to be. There was very little wind at sea that day with no discernable white caps. Instead, there were huge swells in the water that rose to 15 to 20 feet. By the time the first Zero was making his firing run on us, I was at the bottom of a trough looking up at water on both sides.

As a swell terminated, I would pick up either the port or starboard wing and slide into another trough. As a Zero approached on a firing run I turned quickly into his line of sight to shorten his run and tighten his turn as much as he dared flying so close to the water. Their attack was totally ineffective, the nearest they came was spattering of bullets 20 to 30 yards behind us, nor was their attack one of long duration.

Although the U.S. Navy cannot claim a victory at the Battle of Santa Cruz, I consider it one of the most important of the war and one that swung the pendulum to our side. For the Japanese it was a "do or die" battle. They had to annihilate our fleet at this encounter if they were ever to regain Guadalcanal and Tulagi - a draw would not do. They did. sink the Hornet, but we inflicted severe damage to several of their ships including two carriers.

They failed, and from that day the momentum swung to our side and we definitely went on the offensive. More and more PBY crews went on night bombings and many other enemy harassment missions. One of these missions the message, "The Black Cat flies tonight", was sent to alert the Marines on Guadalcanal; thus coining the phrase which characterized PBY night operations henceforth.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "15OCT42--Black Cats--This operation, probably began with Patrol Wing 10 in Australia at the beginning of the war. At the battle of Midway, three planes from VP-24 and one plane from VP-51 made a night torpedo attack on Japanese ships. In the South Pacific on the night of 15 and 16 OCT, LTjg Haber of VP-24, LTjg Muchenthaler of VP-11, were search planes for LCDR Cobb of VP-11 and LTjg Rothenburg of VP-51 with torpodes. Torpodes run made with one hit...." George Winter pbycat@bellsouth.net

Circa 1940's

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: History ThumbnailCameraBlackCat History "...Recently Life Magazine (US) and Google placed the Life Magazine photo archives on-line. Circa 1940's..." WebSite: Google Image Search http://images.google.com/hosted/life/ Contributed by John Szalay john.szalay@att.net [20JUN2010]

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