From the earliest days of naval aviation, overwater patrols were flown by seaplanes. However, as aviation historians Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers wrote, “Reversing earlier policy . . . the Navy began to seek land-based patrol bombers early in 1942 as the vulnerability of flying-boats to Japanese fighters became apparent.”1
The U.S. Navy looked at several land-based aircraft already in production for the Army Air Forces and would procure many of those types. An immediate candidate was the Lockheed Model 37 developed for the British as a successor to the Hudson, a twin-engine, land-based bomber. Lockheed proposed several variants with the name Ventura.
The prototype first flew on 31 July 1941, with 750 aircraft immediately ordered by the British with Lend-Lease funding. More orders would follow—for the U.S. Army as the B-34 and B-37 and for the Navy as the PV-1 and PV-2. Shifts in orders make it difficult to track precise procurements, but 3,028 PV-1/PV-2/PV-3 aircraft were built between July 1941 and September 1945.
The first deliveries to the U.S. Navy were PV-3 Ventura aircraft diverted from a British order. They were assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 82 in October 1942, to replace the squadron’s PBO Hudsons. Although not as popular as the PBY Catalina and PBM Mariner flying boats, the land-based aircraft were very useful in the maritime patrol and other roles.
The Navy procured 1,212 PV-1s, most for maritime patrol with the ASD-1 search radar. A few were modified for photo reconnaissance (PV-1P), and some went to the Marine Corps as night fighters, fitted with more nose-mounted guns and the AI Mk IV radar. They formed the first Marine night fighter squadron—VMF(N)-531. One of the squadron’s PV-1s scored the first night kill of the war by a Marine Corps aircraft.
The gun armament of the Venturas varied considerably, with most having two machine guns fitted in a dorsal turret and ventral position, plus a variety of machine guns and cannon in nose installations. The aircraft had a large internal bay for bombs or a torpedo and could carry bombs and rockets under the wings. The PV-2—named Harpoon—was redesigned for the maritime patrol role with modified wings and optional bomb-bay fuel tanks and drop tanks that could more than triple the range of the basic PV-1 with rockets and bombs in under-wing positions.
The first PV-2 Harpoon flew on 3 December 1943. A few unarmed trainers were procured (PV-2T). The PV-3 desig-nation was assigned to 27 Ventura II aircraft on a British contract that were taken over by the U.S. Navy. The PV-4 was a proposed variant with more powerful engines and other changes; that project was canceled at the end of the war. During and after the war the aircraft served as transports and executive aircraft.
After World War II many Harpoons served with Naval Reserve units. The last were retired in August 1948.
During the war the Ventura and Harpoon were flown by Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. After the war the aircraft also were flown by Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Peru, and Portugal.
While not as popular or well known as other maritime patrol aircraft of the World War II era, the Lockheed Venturas and Harpoons made a significant contribution. The aircraft were flown by the Navy primarily for antisubmarine patrols in the Atlantic, sinking or assisting in the sinking of at least four U-boats, and also served as long-range bombers in the Aleutians and Central Pacific.
1. Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, United States Navy Aircraft since 1911 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1976), 259. Also see René J. Francillon, Lockheed Aircraft since 1913 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1987), 200–13.