PV-1 Ventura Memories
Captain Steven L. Hull, U.S. Navy (Retired)
I enjoyed reading Norman Polmar’s article on the mostly forgotten Lockheed PV-1 Ventura (“Historic Aircraft,” April, p. 8). In October 1943, my father and uncle joined the new Bombing Squadron 150 (VB-150), later Patrol Bombing Squadron 150 (VPB-150), flying the PV-1 Ventura.
Both were aviation radiomen. After having flown coastal patrol along California’s coast for several months in OS2U Kingfishers, they were due to rotate to a squadron heading for combat. They were given a choice of carrier-based dive-bombing squadrons or VB-150. They chose the latter. The squadron’s planes featured a large devil fish (octopus) painted around the dorsal twin .50-caliber turret, with the turret as the octopus’s head, and its arms wrapped around the fuselage. The squadron became known as the Devil Fish P-Viators.
VB-150 deployed to the Central Pacific in March 1944 and began war patrols flying from Tarawa’s Hawkins Field. Later they moved to North Field on Tinian, and as the Army’s B-29s began arriving, they moved to the Navy’s West Field. In March 1945, the squadron departed for home. Planes no longer suitable for combat were flown to Pearl Harbor by their crews. Those combat-capable were turned over to VPB-133.
The men of VPB-150 had Lady Luck on their side. They lost but one man killed in action. The only plane lost was one captured by remnants of the Japanese Army on Tinian, who one day stormed out of the sugar cane fields adjacent to the planes and took over one of the PV-1s. My dad said he and every sailor nearby sprinted for safety. The Marines showed up shortly thereafter. The Japanese refused to surrender and blew up themselves and the plane with grenades.
My dad and uncle flew more than 50 combat missions each, with the caveat they could never be in the same plane. My uncle’s plane was hit by flak, and my dad’s had a wheels-up landing. They liked the PV-1 because it was sturdy, fast, well armed, and reliable. Once home and after a month’s leave, they began training in the PV-2 Harpoon for the invasion of Japan. Then the war ended.
Preparations ‘On the Fly’
Steven Iacono has written an outstanding “obituary” for the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor that was pressed into service during the Falklands campaign to transport vital aircraft and supplies for the British assault forces (“A Failure in the Falklands,” April, pp. 12–19).
The author strongly criticized the lack of self-defense weapons provided to the ship and the loading of so many aircraft and so much matériel in one ship. Based on interviews with naval officers serving at the time, and reviewing British and U.S. classified files, it became obvious that the preparations for retaking the Falklands were undertaken “on the fly.” Such “niceties” as a proper distribution of aircraft and matériel were severely hampered by time and shipping availability.
The deployment of warships, naval auxiliary and amphibious ships, and merchant ships from British ports to the South Atlantic began three days after Argentina invaded the islands. The British employed 37 commercial cargo and passenger ships for the 8,000-mile voyage to support the retaking of the islands.
In the face of Argentine land- and aircraft-launched antiship missiles and bombing attacks, the British lost only two destroyers, two frigates, a landing ship, and the Atlantic Conveyor. In view of the many limitations of the British force, e.g., no airborne early warning, only vertical/short-takeoff-and-landing (V/STOL) fighter aircraft, severely limited long-range reconnaissance, and the impossibility of quickly arming the merchant ships, it is amazing that British losses were not greater.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Polmar was author of the Secretary of the Navy’s report to Congress on the Falklands campaign. He rode the V/STOL carrier Hermes on part of her return transit from the Falklands to England.
‘Prepared to Fight in All Kinds of Weather’
The trouble with oral histories is that they are not always reliable. They have to be checked against documented sources whenever possible, as it is not unusual for interviewees to forget, exaggerate, or change the facts to suit their agendas (“As I Recall,” April, p. 63).
This is not the first time I’ve read the account given by Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan (see “The Navy Spreads Its Golden Wings,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, May 1961), which I came across while researching my biography of Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves. Bogan’s claim that “the wind was blowing at 50 knots” seemed exaggerated, based on the new record of 127 landings in a single day established under those trying conditions. So I checked the log of the USS Langley (CV-1). The brisk breeze—between 5 and 6 on the Beaufort Scale (17–27 knots), according to the log—“was not bad enough, in Reeves’s opinion, to curtail flight operations,” I later wrote. The brown shoes (naval aviators) at that time were a condescending lot when it came to taking orders from a non-flyer, despite the fact that Reeves wore the wings of a naval observer. Reeves, an old sea dog with years of experience at sea, knew the importance of being prepared to fight in all kinds of weather. The success of that day’s operations validates his decision to fly.
Editor’s Note: Mr. Wildenberg is the author of All the Factors of Victory: Adm. Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Air Power (Naval Institute Press reprint edition, 2019).