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PB4Y-2 Privateers After the War

Though the end of World War II and the early post war period heralded in the new jet age, many prop planes continued serving in various capacities. Shortly after the end of the war, the VPB designation returned to its prior VP designation, and many patrol squadrons were disestablished as the military downsized at a furious pace.  PB4Y-2 Privateers continued serving in the US Navy through the mid 1950s. A much greater emphasis was placed on using radar and electronic counter measures for intelligence gathering in addition to the traditional reconnaissance role. The versatility of the Privateer gave it some longevity as it adapted to these new roles.

In fact, a USN Privateer had the bad fortune to be considered the first Cold War “shootdown.” HB-7 (BuNo 59645), a French Morocco-based PB4Y2, was shot down over the Baltic Sea while it performed an intelligence gathering mission. Soviet fighters that intercepted the flight claimed it had violated Soviet airspace over Latvia and had in fact fired upon their flight.  These dubious claims would later be put to rest as this Privateer, and the three others detached from VP-26 in French Morocco, were proven to be entirely disarmed. This was intentionally done to satisfy the demands of Sweden that if any USN Privateers wished to land in Sweden for a mechanical emergency, they would have to be entirely unarmed. For more detail and pictures of a memorial dedicated to the crew of the “Turbulent Turtle” consider this short read.




During the Korean War, the Privateers would garner some attention supporting Marine night fighters – F7F Tigercats and F4U-5Ns. Air superiority was one of a few advantages enjoyed by the US military operating in Korea. Of course this was greatly diminished at night due to decreased effectiveness of air units in a CAS role.  To counteract this night time limitation, Privateers were utilized in an ad hoc manner on “Firefly” missions to provide illumination for said USMC Tigercats and Corsairs by dropping parachute flairs.  The Privateers pressed into this service were often referred to as “Lamp Lighters” for obvious reasons.  A typical mission would involve a Lamp Lighter Privateer paired with a flight of four attack aircraft. Read more about it here.

One of the more well known roles for the Privateer was its long standing use as a fire bomber till the early 2000s.  Less than a dozen or so Privateers were upgraded to “Super Privateers” when their venerable P&W 1830s were replaced with more powerful Wright 2600s. In 2002, a much publicized fatal accident in which “Tanker 123” broke up mid-flight effectively grounded this entire fleet of surviving Super Privateers. While in a 20-30 degree bank to make its 8th drop of the day on a Colorado wild fire, witnesses on the ground and another tanker in the air described the left wing spar as folding up at a 45 degree angle and an ensuing fire. Both crew members were killed in the crash. The NTSB report showed the wing spars to be weakened with numerous stress fractures. Similar findings occurred in the other surviving Privateers.



I realize this is a bit of a departure as it does not deal directly with the exploits of VB-104, but I thought some might find it interesting. Again, all the above links go into much greater detail on the specific subjects.






Aircraft 81 Request

We received this from Dave Calhoun, seeking more info about his great uncle Robert Miller, crew on aircraft #81 second tour (bottom photo):

Here are photos of Whitney Wright’s crews from first tour and second tour. Also a profile of his first tour aircraft. These were provided by the nephew of Tom Dempster who was on his crew in the first tour. I’m still trying to find a full photo of aircraft #869 used in the 2nd tour.

Update: Dave says aircraft #38869 was lost 5/13/45, 2 miles off Lingayen Peninsula, PI. Apparently not Wright’s crew. It had an APS-15 radar in the belly turret.

Please contact us if you have any information to share.

#81 Markings
#81 Markings
#81 Crew Tour 1
#81 Crew Tour 1
#81 Crew Tour 2
#81 Crew Tour 2

Lt. Stevens vs. Adm. Yamagata

VPB-104 pilot Paul F. Stevens and crew are credited with downing a Kawanishi H8K “Emily” that was carrying Japanese Vice Admiral Yamagata on March 17 1945.

Emily Seaplane (WikiMedia)
Emily Seaplane (WikiMedia)

On patrol out of Clark Field, Luzon, P.I., Stevens sighted and sank the AGS-2 Koshu while avoiding a destroyer escort ship. He then encountered two Aichi E13A “Jake” armed reconnaissance seaplanes, one of which escaped and the other his crew shot down.

After this remarkable encounter he then continued on to a patrol area assigned based on intelligence reports, and sighted the Emily seaplane.  In the ensuing battle and chase the Emily was damaged but managed to escape only to make a forced water landing later. Admiral Yamagata and his top aides died or were captured during and after this attack. Stevens was awarded these medals for this and other notable actions.

A typed Action Report of this event was kindly submitted by Japanese WWII researcher Minoru Kamada (click to download the  full Action Report PDF). Mr. Kamada added the following comments: The damaged Emily proceeded on the water to a small river town that turned out to be a hostile Chinese guerrilla base. They shot at the plane from both banks of the river, until some of the crew and high ranking passengers were captured.