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.

 

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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.

Tanker-123-crash-near-Estes-Park-CO-July-18-2002-credit-Matt-Inden-Special-to-The-News

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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Tom Dempster

Below is a small excerpt sent by Jack Rhem, from a book produced at Tom Dempster’s church in Tennessee. A church member there transcribed the experiences of church WWII veterans. This is Tom’s story (undated).

Tom Dempster was born in Warrior, Alabama on July 6, 1917. He joined the Naval Air Corps in 1941. In November 1943, he was injured in flight and spent thirty-four months in the hospital, which was the remainder of his time in the service. When he got out, he was a lieutenant commander and had earned a Purple Heart, an Air Medal, and, with his squadron, the Presidential Unit Citation.

“I’d been out the university with a degree in mechanical engineering for about one year when I joined the service in August 1941. I didn’t take ROTC in school, and I knew the war was coming along, and I thought I’d better do something. So I joined the Navy and went to Navy flight school. It took about nine to ten months, and I finished in July 1942.

“About flight school, I had order to report to San Diego for training school. When I got there, I checked in and they didn’t have time, so they sent me across the hall to the pilot’s replacement squadron. The man there said, ‘You’re gonna go to New Caledonia,’ but he didn’t tell me where it was. He said, ‘You’re gonna go to VP71,’ which is a squadron, and he gave me a train ticket to San Francisco to get a ship to find this VP71. Well, I got up there, reported to Naval headquarters, and stayed there about two weeks. One day they called me – I was staying in a hotel, about to run out of money – and they said to be at the pier to catch a ship to go to VP71. So I went down and caught that thing, and we went twenty-six days at sea and ended up at Auckland, New Zealand. And when I got to Auckland, they said, ‘You go to New Caledona,’ which was 800 or 1,000 miles up the ocean. So they put me on another ship, and when I got there, they said VP71 had been relieved and that they went back to Honolulu. So they hitched me a ride with the Marine Corps on a plane to go back to Honolulu. To go there, we had to go to the Fiji Islands, then to Samoa, then to Canton Island, and then Midway. So, I got a whole tour of the South Pacific. But anyway, we hadn’t drawn any fire and this guy – I think his name was Carlson – said, ‘Do you need to get paid?’ I said, ‘Yes,’ so he said, ‘Let me put your name down as crew on my airplane.’ So I got my flight pay because he certified that I was there in New Caledonia, to Samoa, to Canton, to Johnson, to Midway.

“I really had two tours of duty in the Pacific – one in the central Pacific with the old Navy PBYs in late 1942 and the early part of ’43, and then they split our group up into two groups and put us in B24s, which the Navy called PB4Ys. And we went back into the south Pacific, and it was down there that I got hit and spent the rest of the time in the hospital.

“Our job was patrolling the ocean in twelve-hour planes, flying sectors looking for enemy ships, mostly. The Japanese had all these little islands – what seemed liked thousands of them – and they had these garrisons on each of them to maintain shipping around them; it was our job to keep them isolated. We’d go out about 400 miles out left by 15 degrees, and then you’d go another 400 miles, then come crosswise – making a “Y” – and you could patrol a whole lot of water. Somebody figured each sector would cover 600,000 square miles of area, which was mostly water – you might see a little island, but mostly water. We had twelve-hour planes and 15 flight crews, and we’d make these patrols about every third day or every other day. There wasn’t anything else to do anyway.

“On this particular day, in November 1943, we were out at the very end of our sector – 800 miles out – and we saw a little ship, a little freighter, and we decided we would bomb it, which we did. We went over it about three times and dropped bombs at low altitude – we weren’t over 150 feet above the water. We dropped a bomb on it, missed, and then dropped another one. Then the last time, the ship blew up underneath us. I got hurt, and another boy named Griffin, who was a belly gunner, got hurt. See, when the ship blew up underneath us, it just exploded, and we got shrapnel that came through the bottom of the airplane. We got back all right, but it took a little over five hours to get back. We had to throw everything over the side that we could – we had some pretty good damage to our airplane, but we got back. When we got back, they already knew we had some trouble, and they met us at the airstrip with an ambulance and took us to the hospital. Then I left that group at the end and stayed in the hospital for thirty-four months. Sounds bad, but it really wasn’t. I had a fractured mandible – the jawbone – which didn’t heal, and they had to do bone grafting, and that just takes time. The first bone graft didn’t take, and I had to wait four months to do it again, and that didn’t take, so you have to wait all the time. But now I actually don’t have any teeth on the left side because there isn’t any place to mount any. They all got knocked out.

“The Navy had a mobile hospital, which were tents, in Guadalcanal, and from there they would sent you to another one that was more advanced. That one was in a building – Quonset huts – and from there they brought me back to the states, to California, and I was there about two years. From there they transferred me to Bethesda, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., and that is where I finished up.

“Most of the patients in the hospital were Marines, some with a leg lost. I had my mouth wired shut – when they do the grafting, they have to keep it immobilized, so they wired it shut. I had it wired together for about fourteen months – that wasn’t fourteen months at one time. It was three months one time, then another three months, then four months, and then another four months, a total of 14 months. I could only drink out of a straw, just liquids. So it wasn’t too bad; you could spend a lot of time boozing it up. If you were married, you could bring the family out there.

“When I heard about the atomic bomb, I thought it was good that they dropped it. It didn’t surprise me; the scuttlebutt was that there was something big being produced in Oak Ridge – nobody knew what it was, but they knew something real big was going to happen. I don’t think anybody expected a bomb; they probably expected some sort of high-class or high-pressure missile or cannon or something. When it was dropped, I guess I was in the Naval hospital out in California.

“During the war, I got about a weekly letter from my family. They would send me a little newsletter or something. The company that I went with had a newsletter – a local thing – and they would send that out. I got the Air Medal for just being in the war, and we had a presentation ceremony at the hospital. My unit got the Presidential Unit Citation, so each person in that unit was awarded that. I was a lieutenant commander when I got out – not for pay purposes – they gave me an honorary rank. I was a lieutenant, and when I gout out, they advanced me one rank just for “hanging up on the wall.” Then they gave me a medical retirement.

“After I got home, I went to work for the Dempster Dumpster Co. – that was the old family business, but I hadn’t been with them before – just went to work for them when I got back. I didn’t have any problem readjusting; some said they did, but I didn’t. Probably, if the war did anything to me, it sort of broadened me out a little – and especially some of these kids who were fresh from home, just out of high school, got a fast education, and when they got back took advantage of the GI Bill. A lot would not have had the opportunity if they hadn’t gone in the service.

“Our group gets together every two years for a reunion. Last time we were in Oakland, California, and this year, we will be in Washington, D.C. Usually we go every two years, but this time it will be just after one year because everyone is getting too old. We’ve been to San Diego two or three times and Portland, San Antonio, Pensacola, St. Louis, Norfold – we’ve been pretty much all over. But we’re losing so many of them it’s not enough to put on a party. Last time it was sixty-nine, and that counted women, children, and everybody else. There were originally about 300 – well actually there was 150, but the squadron went back with another 150, so there were about 300 total.”

4/1/44 VB-104 Names

Dad’s memorabilia included this list of the names of men serving in VB-104 Squadron as of 4/1/1944. Some of the names are difficult to read, including August Lodato whose first and last names I’m familiar with because he flew with Dad. The others are mostly readable except the last one apparently added out of alphabetical order at the bottom. I hope this list may be helpful to anyone seeking more info on who was in this “first tour” of the 104.

4/1/33 Name List
4/1/33 Name List

Seeking Crew 38 Info

Carol Hunn wrote, “My grandfather (Robert Garner) was in VPB 104 July – October 1945.” Her information is that he was at Clark Field July – October 1945 in VPB 104, then in Pureto Pincesa in VPB 119 Nov ’45 – Feb ’46. She believes he was in crew 38.

Please contact us if you can provide any info or suggestions. Below are some photos she sent, that will be of interest to anyone with connections to the crew.

Crew 38?
Crew 38?
Crew 38 Boarding?
Crew 38 Boarding?
Robert "Bob" Garner
Robert “Bob” Garner

 

Volunteer & Funny Photo

I’m happy to announce that a new volunteer has offered to help with this free VPB-104 website. He’s already started work by editing this post I began for him. -John

C.O. at Welcome Sign
C.O. at Welcome Sign

Lt Cdr Whitney Wright, Commanding Officer of VPB-104 from November 1944 to May 1945, is pictured here at Clark Field, Philippine Islands, leaning on a dose of wartime good humor outside a staff tent.

The text of the sign reads as follows:

Patronize Fleet Air Wing 17

We offer

  • Deluxe hotel service * Excellent cuisine
  • Soft beds * valet service * The best Acorn
  • and Casu Service * Gas oil bomb and
  • ammunition * first aid
  • Free aerial excursion to China, Formosa,
  • Ryukus * See the Japanese Empire in
  • cherry blossom time at our expense
  • Expert briefing of free daily travel folders
  • If you don’t like our SERVICE we will provide excellent
  • alibis from our inexhaustible supply prepared by experts.
  • If you like it tell us and the higher Commands
  • Warning Take shower before using swimming pool

The Management.

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

Crew 22

VPB-104 crew 22 went down at sea with no survivors May, 1944.

VPB-104 Crew 22
VPB-104 Crew 22

Crew 22 Members
Plane Commander – – – Lt. (jg) Richard Jameson
First Pilot – – – – – – – – Ensign Kenneth McHenry
Co-Pilot – – – – – – – – – Ensign David Lanquist
Co-Pilot – – – – – – – – – Ensign Eugene Erskine
Plane Captain – – – – – – George Shoenwalder
Mech-Gunner – – – – – – James Garrison
Mech-Gunner – – – – – – Willard Dodsworth
Mech-Gunner  – – – – – – Louis Morris
Radioman-Gunner – – – William Ridge
Radioman-Gunner – – – Roger Skews
Radioman-Gunner – – – Donald Fanelli
Ordnance-Gunner  – – – Charles Arnett

 Newspaper Clippings

Lt. Jameson
Lt. Richard Jameson
Charles Arnett
Charles Arnett

Several relatives of crew members are seeking more details. Please contact us if you have any further information or photos.