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Circa 1931

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...VP-32 History..." Contributed by Gordon T. Hall ghall10644@aol.com (VPB-32 1945-1946) [20FEB99]

VP-32 Squadron History
"Currently Designated VP-46"

The oldest, continuously operating patrol squadron in the United States Navy served throughout World War II as either VP-32 or VPB-32. All told, the squadron has born eight designations since its Establishment on 1 September 1931 at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone as VP-5S. In 1933 it became VP-5F and in 1937 just VP-5; followed by VP-33 on 01/07/39; VP-32 on 01/07/41; VPB-32 on 01/10/44; back to VP-32 on 15/05/46; VP-MS-6 on 15/11/46; and finally VP-46 (current designation) on 01/09/48.

The Squadron's early years operating from NAS Upham (Coco Solo) were spent in maritime patrols over the Antilles and throughout the Caribbean, as well as along the coasts of South America, flying PM-2 aircraft under the command of FAW-3. These planes were later replaced by P2Ys, the Catalina's forerunner. In early 1938 VP-5 ferried its P2Ys in a mass flight to NAS Norfolk, Virginia and the crews proceeded overland to NAS North Island, San Diego, California. There they trained in the new PBY-3, eventually delivering the squadron's aircraft complement directly to NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, again by a mass flight.

Operations in 1939 became more meaningful, as war clouds began to gather in Europe, and the President announced a "limited national emergency" on 08/09/39. The resulting "neutrality patrols" found newly designated VP-33 alternating its operational bases between NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, San Juan and NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, continuing both its patrols and training, including the introduction of "submarine bombing" tactics in 1941, after another designation change to VP-32.

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor found the Squadron stationed at Coco Solo, and patrols quickly became extended over the oceans both sides of the Panama Canal. In addition, the squadron, operating under CPW-3, also reported to the Army's Sixth Bomber Command as its long range reconnaissance arm. The increased wartime demands for patrols resulted in the reinforcement of VP-32 with detachments from VP-52 and VP-81, whose planes were the newer PBY-5s, and gave NAS Upham a total of 28 operational PBY aircraft.

During the early war period VP-32 remained at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone, moving to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in August of 1942. Caribbean operations conducted by it included both convoy escort duty and anti-submarine patrols with PBY and PBM replacement aircraft. As submarine attacks escalated, resulting in heavy Allied losses of ships and lives, the squadron's battle successes peaked. In July 1943 alone three German subs were sunk by its PBM-3Cs using newly developed ASG radar: U-159 on the 15th south of Haiti; U-759 on the 26th east of Jamaica; and U-359 on the 28th south of Puerto Rico.

On 8 July 1944, and now known as VPB-32, the squadron returned to NAS Norfolk, Virginia once again. Operational assignments continued to be escort duty and anti-submarine patrol, but now along the Atlantic seaboard. Training of crews was ongoing, and all the PBM-3Cs from Guantanamo Bay underwent overhaul and technical updates. In January of 1945 VPB-32 exchanged its planes for new PBM-5s, and on 10 April the squadron was ordered to the Western Sea Frontier Command at NAS Alameda, California, via the southern transcontinental seaplane route.

Duty at Alameda was primarily providing security patrols of waters around San Francisco Bay in connection with the United Nations Conference on International Organization. Once this was concluded VPB-32 was ordered, on 27 June 1945, to NAAS Harvey Point, North Carolina for further training. After arrival, and well earned leave, it turned out that the anticipated training would be given at NAS Norfolk, Virginia instead of NAAS Harvey Point, North Carolina. So again, on 15 July, the squadron flew there, but this time in further updated PBM-5E aircraft, newly assigned by FAW-5.

The Pacific war's end on 14 August changed Squadron dynamics dramatically. Many VPB-32 members with service seniority had already left, and more would now be leaving. New replacements were arriving, but things were truly in a state of flux. The impending orders to the West coast and ComAirPac arrived, however, and the first planes left for NAS Alameda, California on 12 September. The remainder were delayed by a hurricane, and the last plane did not arrive at its destination until the 23rd.

New orders soon issued which instructed the turn over of recently acquired aircraft to FAW-8, and making ready for sea transport aboard CVE-9, USS Bogue, to Saipan with stopovers at NAS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and NAS Guam. Other aircraft awaited VPB-32 at its final destination. Departure from NAS Alameda, California was on 11 October with arrival at NAS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the 17th. Leaving there on the 19th, Bogue arrived at NAS Guam on the 28th and at Saipan on the 31st after a two day stop at NAS Guam.

PBM squadrons that had been operating from Saipan had all left NAS Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, Marianas Islands with the exception of VPB-18, which departed on 15 November, leaving VPB-32 the sole such unit. Having received twelve PBM-5E aircraft upon arrival, the squadron began its assigned tasks which included: logistic support of the Naval and Marine forces occupying the Japanese base at Truk; air/sea rescue standby; photo reconnaissance missions; and the ongoing training of pilots and crews.

In early March of 1946 VPB-32 received orders to participate in "Operation Crossroads" (atom bomb testing at Bikini atoll), and the first planes departed Saipan on 15 March for Kwajalein atoll, the operations base for the tests. The squadron's home was on Ebeye, a small island adjacent to Kwajalein and a former Japanese seaplane base. The main mission was aerial logistic support for Bikini, which had no landing strip. In addition, photo surveys were conducted, especially of water flows through the atoll's channels, after dropped sea dye marker had defined the currents.

A pleasant surprise occurred in April when the squadron was ordered to MCBH Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii for ten days of "rest and recreation" without military duties. Then back to Ebeye and "Crossroads", operating as VP-32, having again been redesignated. After transporting many passengers, and carrying out miscellaneous missions, the tests took place 1 July (aerial drop), and 25 July (underwater detonation). After both of these, two of the Squadron's planes made runs over the target site to check radioactivity, while others took aerial photos and assessed damage.

The "Crossroads" chapter of VP-32's history was classified material for many years, even to the extent that VP-46's 1955 request to the Chief of Naval Operations for the Squadron's historical background brought forth an Aviation History Unit reply that was footnoted: "Although no squadron history for the period....is in the ....files, it is fairly evident that the squadron was based on Saipan for the entire period." Ebeye operations are not mentioned.

VP-32 seems to have remained in tact at its Ebeye base until late 1946 when, as VP-MS-6, it sent a small detachment to Truk. Later, a six plane detachment was at Eniwetok from 1 February 1947 until 22 May 1948, operating under Joint Task Force Seven in "Operation Sandstone". In April of 1947, while under FAW-18, its mission was changed from SAR/utility transport in the Central Pacific to ASW/long range patrol; and further changed 31 July by the elimination of SAR duties and the addition of a mine laying function. On 1 September 1948 VP-MS-6 became VP-46, as it has been known for the past fifty years.

The so-called "Wings over Panama" Squadron insignia displays the western half of the globe, with silhouettes of North, Central and South America in black against a light blue circular field. Across Central America is superimposed a pair of Naval Aviator's wings (elongated wing proportions in original). This design is enclosed in a black circle which, in turn, is enclosed in a bright red compass rose. The design's significance is the Squadron's genesis: its Establishment at NAS Coco Solo, Panama, Canal Zone on 1 September 1931 as VP-5S. It is believed to have originated with one of the earlier VP-5 squadrons; adopted by the first VP-33; and passed along to VP-32. A note of interest is that under post-war regulations Navy Wings could not be incorporated into new squadron insignia. Had VP-46 chosen not to adopt a new insignia, "Wings over Panama" would have been a viable ("grandfathered") design for it to use in carrying on the Squadron's tradition as The Oldest and the Best.

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