Archaehistoria

 

 

 

 

This web page is dedicated to the memory of
Clifford Alton Olin, AOM1c
VP-44 aviator killed February 22, 1943 by Japanese bombing of Halavo Bay

 

 

Schematic of PBY-5 Catalina

 

“The wreckage discovered consists of the mechanic’s compartment between bulkheads 4 and 5. The red lines indicate the approximate cuts across the fuselage. This was called the “tower” by the plane crew. Note this is the amphibian version which VP-44 did not use in the Solomons in 1943. Rather, they used the pure flying boat PBY-5 type, which performed slightly better, particularly in water landings and take offs, without the heavy tricycle landing gear. (As published in “PBY Catalina in Action” by William E. Scarborough).

 

Map of Gavutu Harbour showing original crash site of 44-P-8 on Blue Catalina Reef, south of Gavutu Island.

Map of Gavutu Harbour showing original crash site of 44-P-8 on Blue Catalina Reef, south of Gavutu Island. The red line represents “2 miles bearing 230 ºT from Halavo Beach”

 

Site Location
Gavutu Harbour, Florida Islands, Solomon Islands

GPS
Site GPS recorded

Site Depth
54.3 meters maximum

Site Discovery
Archaehistoria designated Gavutu Harbour as a high priority survey area as it was heavily used by U.S. forces as a naval harbour and seaplane operations area. Halavo Bay is an extension of Gavutu Harbour and was the site of the Japanese RUFE floatplane operations and later the American floatplane operations. A number of Catalina aircraft, Japanese Kawanishi Type 97 flying boats and Zero floatplane fighters (Rufes) were known to be lost in the vicinity. In addition, Gavutu Harbour was extensively used during the war by American landing craft and it was expected that a number of these might be found in the harbour. This survey plan produced results!

On November 4, 2011, the MBES survey of Gavutu Harbour by Archaehistoria / HMNZS Resolution (A14) under the command of Lt. Cdr. Matt Wray, RNZN, revealed a large sonar image of an aircraft-like target on the seafloor amongst a number of targets found. The whole of the inner Gavutu Harbour was surveyed.

 

For a few thrilling lonely moments I stood on the seafloor of Gavutu Harbour at 178 feet on November 9, 2011 and stared at this perplexing and fascinating towering sight before me.

For a few thrilling lonely moments I stood on the seafloor of Gavutu Harbour at 178 feet on November 9, 2011 and stared at this perplexing and fascinating towering sight before me. Like a sculpture, this is probably the remains of PBY-5 Catalina flying boat side numbered 8 of patrol Squadron Forty-four (VP-44). It is probably the only archaeological evidence for  VP-44’s brave and crucial service in the South Pacific during WWII. Port side.

 

The end of what remains of the port wing and engine mount /nacelle.

The end of what remains of the port wing and engine mount /nacelle.

 

First SCUBA dive & site confirmation
On Wednesday, November 9, 2011, I accompanied Neil Yates of “Solomon Islands Diving” to inspect the site. This was the second dive of the day, the first being on the shallower “Gavutu Wildcat”. Using GPS co-ordinates obtained from the MBES survey, we echo-sounded around to pin-point the site and quickly found a target on the bottom. Neil manoeuvred and dropped a shot line on the target. I had a printed out MBES sonar image of the target courtesy of Lt. Cdr. Matt Wray….it showed a large, complex site, very significant…it looked like a big plane but it wasn’t intact…it looked distorted…wings or fuselage were askew…a common thing when a plane crashes or sinks in the sea. As I was getting ready to dive, I tried to pre-plan in my head the dive plan, what I would see, how I would decompress, my objectives with the underwater camera, etc. In that depth of water, my brain gets clouded with narcosis and you don’t have time or the ability to think. I find it helps to pre-conceptualise the whole dive. I was excited, because this was a large site and promised to be one of the Catalinas I knew should be in the area. At this point in time, no Catalina wreck has ever been discovered in the Florida Islands. Or, was it going to be another magnificent MAVIS (Kawanishi Type 97 flying boat) like the Archaehistoria team had discovered in January 1999? I was visualising swimming around a large, convoluted, confusing jumble of large parasol wing, multiple engines, bulky struts, gun positions, large tail, smashed fuselage…I planned to video and record with still images this very first SCUBA dive on this site…what were the conditions going to be like on the seafloor in 180 feet or so of water? How dark was it going to be? Was the visibility going to be really bad? How was I going to manage finding the crucial thin shot line again in the murk? As the dive turned out, the target on the seafloor was rather unexpected and quite a surprise…

 

“The House under the Sea” has a school of fish for tenants…this view looks forward past the hull step.

“The House under the Sea” has a school of fish for tenants…this view looks forward past the hull step.

 

There were a number of divers with us who also planned to dive this new, unknown site. I was first geared up and in the water. I had put a lot of work and funding into this expedition, and for me, the thrill of the first dive is a great reward. I didn’t want any troubles with the video on the bottom so I made sure it was running on the surface and began my descent into the darkness. I also wanted to video record the entire first dive onto the target like I would see it and experience it to share with others. There are very few videos of the first dive on a virgin wreck! There was little current and the yellow shot line descended lazily down into the depths…it was not straight down as there was no current at all to stretch it out. I avoided pulling or getting too close to the line as one might inadvertently move the shot off the target or get caught up in the line… as I got deeper the descent rate increased as usual and I pumped air into my BCD to control the descent …it got darker and darker and it was quiet. Peaceful…and exciting. What was this going to be on the bottom? I was so keen to see it…I stopped momentarily at 43.5 meters and videoed the depth on the Suunto dive computer…anytime soon I would be on the bottom…then just before the seafloor came into the view by a few seconds, I saw a triangular, pyramid-like, towering man-made object about 5 meters away. It was startling and completely alien!. Neil’s shot line was accurate! That was good! I touched down on the seafloor. For a moment I was alone on the bottom in the gloom in 54 meters with a strange, towering WWII object next to me and I was just loving this situation…this was so much fun. This looks like someone’s house on the bottom of the sea in the evening. A mass of yellow fish swirled around it. Is anyone home? I felt like I was intruding on a stranger’s house… I then got off the silty bottom a little and was quickly moving again as I knew I had little time and my main purpose was to record this target. My brain spun trying to make sense of this weird object. What is it? Very quickly I realised it was the upside down mid-section of a Catalina aircraft---yes! We had found our first Catalina! The only reason I recognised it so quickly, swimming in the darkness of Gavutu Harbour, was I remembered a wartime photograph of a smashed Catalina upside down on nearby seashore of Halavo Bay. It looked exactly the same as the photo! The photo was published in the book “Blue Catalinas of World War II” by James Mills and was on my library shelf back at home. This was one of the five Catalinas that I knew were expended in the area. This “house” looked identical to the plane in the photograph. It must be the same PBY-5, but I thought it was salvaged and placed in the shallows? Why was it here in 178 feet in mid-harbour? And why does the MBES sonar image show a massive , complex site? Where is that? That did not match what I was looking at! As I swam around this distinct piece of wreckage I realized that we had made an accidental find…we were not on the main piece of large aircraft wreckage at all. That must be very close nearby. I wanted to swim out into the darkness to try and find the main target but in 178 feet also knew that was impossible…the visibility was too bad; I was using a single 15L tank and time was too limited to do a visual search, and it was far too risky loosing the “house on the bottom of the sea” and consequently the shot line back to the surface. I focused on making a record of what we found. I felt happy too; I thought it was very lucky we had found this smaller object, as it meant there was yet another site, bigger, remaining to investigate.

 

“A little house under the sea” appears out of the gloom at the bottom of Gavutu Harbour

“A little house under the sea” appears out of the gloom at the bottom of Gavutu Harbour, Florida Islands on November 9, 2011. This was one of a multitude of man-made targets discovered in the area by HMNZS Resolution (A14) during sonar survey on November 4, 2011. All are in easy SCUBA diving range and due to limited time, most were not dived. If you would like to sponsor an expedition to discover and survey some of these targets, contact Archaehistoria.

 

I had trouble with my underwater camera…due to the poor ambient light conditions, I tried to increase the ISO rating to make my shutter speeds higher to avoid camera movement blurring the images, but was unable to make the adjustment; consequently the stills turned out poor. Nitrogen narcosis certainly was having a big effect. I started videoing near the bottom and swam around recording…I enjoyed my few moments being alone with the “house” on the seafloor, then was joined by a second diver, young South African, Graham Joordan. I humorously wondered what Graham was thinking of the strange “object” as I saw him looking at it…I watched him swimming part way into the interior of the section, investigating inside. I thought that was quite adventurous, considering it was dark in there, confined, and who knows what kind of underwater marine life could be at home…later, after the dive, Graham admitted he had been rather perplexed by the “house” sitting on the seafloor.

After video, I switched mode to still images, clicking away as rapidly as I possibly could. Time was very precious. In minutes, it was time to get out of there… Neil Yates and five Australian divers were just starting to swim around the wreckage. The five were Craig Taylor, Norm Rohner, Michael “Mick” Harris, Vince Misiti and Brad Freeman. A great bunch of keen divers who dive through Shell Harbour Scuba Center in South Australia. I turned around looking for the shot line…but was disorientated and could not see it or find it. Suddenly alarming! I indicated to Graham “where is it?” and he pointed it out to me…at least he was more clear-headed…having swum around with face down in the camera view finder I had become disorientated quickly…I started my ascent. At the deco stops, all the divers ended up over lapping as usual with wildly different deco schedules. The Suunto dive computer I was using I had set on “air” mode and a very safe level of decompression profile and consequently my deco was very long which I don’t mind one bit in the warm Solomon Sea, preferring to be safe and sure. In addition, I used a 50% o2 deco mix in a 8L side bottle but decompressed as on air. I have too much to do and accomplish, to risk getting bent in the Solomons. Remember the lazy shot line? For some reason, at a late stage at the deco stop, I touched it, and with seconds it had wrapped around my dive gear, around my back and behind me…I couldn’t see it… and it was sticking to me…what was I going to do?…this was going to be a problem, as if I couldn’t release it, it would hold me to the bottom and I could not swim…I would also have difficulty controlling my depth at crucial deco stage…why had I touched it? I very well knew how dangerous a lazy line was in the water…sharp-eyed Mick was also decompressing nearby, and instantly spotted my situation and swam over and kindly unwrapped the line off me…I got well away from the line and soon it disappeared out of sight. A trio of us decompressed together, Craig and Mick deploying their deco buoys. On the surface, Neil quickly picked us up having spotted the deco buoys on the surface. I was elated! A significant, accidental find probably identified on the spot! It was an amazing experience at 180 feet under the sea recalling the photograph and looking at the object in front of me…I felt time-warped back to 1943. Oh, what fun!. My total dive time was 53 minutes.

 

The starboard side. At lower left, Graham Jordaan swims over the starboard engine nacelle.

The starboard side. At lower left, Graham Jordaan swims over the starboard engine nacelle. The arrows indicate holes where the wing struts may have been chopped out for possible use as spare parts at the Halavo Bay seaplane base.


 

Site Description
Mid-section only of a PBY-5 Catalina flying boat lying upside down, sitting on its wing. Both wings just outside of the engines are missing. Both Pratt & Whitney R-1830-82 (1,050 horsepower) engines are missing. The bottom of the keel , probably 4 meters or so off the seafloor is the shallowest point of the site. The triangular bottom of the hull forms a roof-like structure, smooth and in good condition. There is not a great deal of growth on the wreck, but tough single strand (black?) whip corals spirals out from the wreck looking like radio aerials. The depth and lack of current inhibits prolific growth.

The wreckage sits on white sand at a depth of 54.3 meters (178 feet). Moments after checking my depth at 43.5 meters, I could faintly see the site below. There is little soft coral growth but there is a heavy encrustation of coralline growths. No really big fish were seen but lots of small fish schooled around. The darken interior contained a large school of the ubiquitous glass? fish. A bunch of brilliant white translucent squid eggs were found by diver Craig Taylor attached to the cut off corner of the wing close to the engine nacelle. The lack of current and harbour site makes the site silty and dark with visibility about 6 meters or so. No other wreckage was seen sitting on the sand nearby but visibility was limited.

The aft fuselage section has been severed just a fraction behind the step in the hull of the boat. The forward fuselage and cockpit is missing from in front of the wing. Several small service access lids behind the engines on the underside of the wing have been opened and the panels are missing.

The section encompasses the mechanic’s compartment between bulkheads 4 and 5. The doorways are intact through each bulkhead but doors are missing. In an amphibian Catalina version this section would normally carry landing gear, but it is not fitted, so this is the pure PBY-5 flying boat model.

The ‘mechanic’ was later called the ‘flight engineer’. The mechanic sat high up inside the mounting structure for the wing which Catalina crews typically referred to as the “tower”. This is confusing on site because everything is upside down, so on the site, the mechanic’s station is below and downwards from you as you look into the compartment.

The mechanic’s section normally contains the following equipment:
1. Mixture control handles for engines
2. Panel of gauges, handles and switches to control and monitor engines
3. Emergency hand crank for manually lowering or raising the retractable wing tip floats
4. APU

Study of the brief underwater video of the interior of this compartment appears to show this equipment is absent, although the video is not a complete survey of this area. It is suspected the equipment is missing due salvage efforts by the plane crew and small PATSU 1-4 ground unit stationed at nearby Halavo Beach.

As Neil Yates pointed out post-dive, the wreckage has a “clean” look about it. Wiring, piping, conduits and connections have been mechanically stripped. There is no rough tearing apart of services, engines, wings or fuselage as in a violent crash. The section looks clinically salvaged. There are no peels or tears of wing structure at the severed points.

The severing of the wings, nose section and aft section are not rough crash results but have been sawn off, fairly neatly straight across the section. This is unlikely to have occurred as a result of the original crash.

This section of Catalina also normally supports two main wing struts each side. These are completely missing, as if clinically removed.

A rectangular window on each side of the compartment allows the mechanic to observe the engines and wing floats. Both these windows are missing.

Three pieces of damage can be observed on the wreckage. At the forward end of the keel, near the apex, is a tear in the hull which has lifted a 400mm piece of aluminium skin. Near the outer edge of the bottom of the hull on the starboard side is another small tear; this one looks like something has possibly punctured through the hull and pushed skin outwards. On the starboard side of the hull appears a perforation, possibly due corrosion, of about 400mm in diameter.

 

 

PBY-5 Catalina Aircraft Losses in the Florida Islands

  • 16 August 1942, Sqd VP-23, BuNo unknown, Plane No. 23-P-14, Loss location Reef near Tulagi, PPC Lt. (jg). Leo P. Riester, Site status debris field on reef—needs Archaehistoria survey.
  • 18 November 1942, Sqd VP-91, BuNo 04513, Plane No. 91-P-3, Loss location Tulagi, PPC Lt. (jg). James P. Doyle Site status Discovered by Dr. Ballard 1992 & HMNZS Resolution.
  • 1 January 1943 Sqd VP-72, BuNo 04502, Plane No. unknown, Loss location Tulagi, PPC Lt. Roger S. Norton, Site status unknown; last known on shore Tulagi Is.
  • 24 March 1943 Sqd VP-44, BuNo 08136, Plane No. 44-P-8, Loss location South of Gavutu Is, PPC Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons, Site status discovered Archaehistoria/HMNZS Resolution.
  • 12 July 1943 Sqd VP-24, BuNo 08246, Planr No. unknown, Loss location Halavo Bay vicinity, PPC Lt. (jg). Robert C. Allen, Site status believed discovered Archaehistoria/HMNZS Resolution.

 

View to the North over Gavutu Island and harbour, c 1943-1944. 

“View to the North over Gavutu Island and harbour, c 1943-1944. A net laying ship is tied up at Gavutu Wharf which could very well be the 560 ton USS Butternut (AN-9). The steel spheres stacked in the foreground are for the anti-submarine nets that sealed off Purvis Bay and Tulagi Harbour. In November 2011, one of these buoys sunk in the shallows off Tulagi was innocently reported by locals to the HMNZS Resolution (A14) as a “mine” for EOD work. [As published in “1008 Construction Battalion Detachment Tour of Duty Solomon Islands July 1943-May 1945”]



Site Identification
From historical research, five Catalina type aircraft are known to have been expended in the Florida Islands area. Which of the five match “the little house” at the bottom of Gavutu Harbour? The first Catalina lost was one from Patrol Squadron 23 very early in the Guadalcanal Campaign when facilities and navigational markings were non-existent in the area. This PBY-5 accidentally hit a reef near Tulagi and stranded upon it. Much of this plane remained above water for some time, so this is not our plane. The plane loss of November 18, 1942, was a crash on takeoff near Tulagi and was also discovered in Archaehistoria/ HMNZS Resolution (A14) November 2011 survey of the area (see site FLOR2). The Catalina loss on New Year’s Day 1943 was the result of a crash landing near Tulagi. This Catalina was salvaged to recover bodies and the wreck appears to have been placed on the East coast of nearby Tulagi Island to facilitate this. It is possible our piece of stripped Catalina wreckage in Gavutu Harbour is from this PBY, but seems unlikely a single mid-section piece from this would be dumped in Gavutu Harbour when there is plenty of deep water nearer Tulagi to dump things in. The last known PBY loss, from Patrol Squadron 24, was a disastrous night landing near Gavutu. It is recorded that this plane sank very quickly and there is no record of it being salvaged. Archaehistoria believes this could be the large complex site shown in the MBES sonar image.

The plane loss that looks most like our ‘house under the sea’ is the loss of March 24, 1943, from Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44). On this date, two Catalinas from VP-44 were on duty based at Halavo Bay. This bay is an extension of Gavutu Harbour. On that day, the two Catalinas and crews had been on forward rescue and logistics duty at Halavo for 11 days and were being relieved by the arrival of other PBYs. The relieved crews would return to their main base at Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo Island, in the New Hebrides Group. The first of the pair to take off was plane 44-P-8, piloted by Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons. It was around midday and there would have been Catalinas, Kingfishers and Grumman Ducks moored in the bay and a general feeling of relief by the 44-p-8 crew, that their tour in the dangerous combat zone was over for the time being. A Seabees unit, a detachment from the 34th Construction Battalion, was also busy constructing the Halavo base at this time.

Jiggs took off and climbed the 30, 000 pound plane into the sky. At 1500 feet, he pointed towards Halavo Bay and steeply dived 44-P-8. He was going to “buzz” the base in a send off aerial stunt. One of the crew, Roy H. “Robbie” Robinson, AP1c (NAP), reckoned Jiggs was trying to blow down the miserable tent they had been accommodated in at Halavo. He nearly did much more than that. After zooming over the bay, he climbed the big flying boat at maximum climb rate when suddenly both engines stopped dead. At the steep angle, water residing in the fuel tanks had been sucked into the carburettors. Lieutenant Lyons managed to swing the plane around for an emergency water landing and it was looking good, but then the port wing float struck violently, cart wheeling the plane and breaking off the port wing. The Consolidated flying boat spun around again and shed the starboard wing also, finally sinking in 60 feet of water, South of Gavutu Island. The time was 1230.

Robbie quickly escaped out the pilot’s hatch then discovered he was still wearing his radio headset and tethered to the plane underwater. Miraculously, he and the entire crew managed to survive the crash. A U.S. Navy net layer, the USS Butternut (AN-9) was nearby and raced over to rescue the crew. The ship was ideally suited to salvage the plane too, as it had powerful winching gear and a bow crane apparatus. Before nightfall, plane 44-P-8 had been raised. The next day, the Butternut delivered the wet Catalina wreckage to Halavo Bay, beaching it in the shallows. Whilst the other relieved crew took off in plane 44-P-7 to return to Segond, Lyons’ crew and the PATSU unit stayed behind to commence salvage operations on the carcass of PBY-5, Bureau of Aeronautics No. 08136.

 

The blue Catalinas of VP-44 looked identical to this artwork by Jim Laurier of a PBY-5 from VP-71. 

“The blue Catalinas of VP-44 looked identical to this artwork by Jim Laurier of a PBY-5 from VP-71. By the end of 1943, more were turning a matt black and finding their niche at night in aerial recon and harassing Japanese land bases and naval units up the Solomon chain. The matt black colour must have made the planes incredibly hot to touch and service during the day in the blazing tropical Solomon’s sunshine” [As published in “US Navy PBY Catalina Units of the Pacific War” by Louis B. Dorny.]

 

A crucial piece in the puzzle is the photograph taken of the wreck of plane 44-P-8 lying on the beach in Halavo Bay as published in 1995 in the book “Blue Catalinas of World War II”. The photo has a remarkable resemblance to the ‘house under the sea’ wreckage:

· same missing both engines
· same upside down disposition
· same missing service panel on the starboard engine nacelle
· same missing mechanic’s window on starboard side

There are also some differences between the site and the photograph. There is more wing structure, forward and aft fuselage attached in the circa March 1943 photograph. The above account of the plane loss is largely based on James Mill’s published work. It appears he based the account on Robbie Robinson’s recollection of the incident. The photograph of the wreck reveals far more of the wings intact than one would surmise from the published crash account. Did the wings really break off in the crash?

 

The wreck of Catalina 44-P-8 as dumped on the beach in Halavo Bay by USS Butternut circa March 1943 with PATSU ground crew. The wreck of Catalina 44-P-8 as dumped on the beach in Halavo Bay by USS Butternut circa March 1943 with PATSU ground crew. Note machete in hands of man kneeling and Colt 45 Model 1911 pistol in hand of ground crewman on right. The indicated features match those on the “House under the Sea”. (Thomas G. Monahan, as published in “Blue Catalinas of World War II” by James C. Mills).

 

Original crash site for 44-P-8
It is recorded in the Squadron “log of operations” that the “Plane sank in 60 feet of water two (2) miles bearing 230ºT, from HALAVO Beach”. Plotted on Google Earth this works out to an approx. GPS position of 9º 7.680’S, 160º 10.990’E. This site is on top of a unnamed reef ¾ mile South of Gavutu Island. The fact that the site plots out on top of a shallow reef is consistent with the recorded depth of the crash wreckage. Archaehistoria proposes this unnamed reef is hereby named “Blue Catalina Reef” to commemorate the history of the early U.S. Navy Patrol Squadrons in the area. The early Catalinas in the South Pacific were painted a blue-grey colour. Later, they operated at night and from about December 1942 many were painted matt black and thereafter called “Black Cats”.

Possibilities
It appears that after the Butternut salvaged the sunken PBY-5, the wreck was cannibalised for parts. It is unclear at which point the wreck lost the engines. It is possible the engines broke loose due the violence of the crash and may still be located on “Blue Catalina Reef”. If they are still there, they archaeologically mark the original crash site. It is unknown how long the wreck of the PBY remained ashore at Halavo Bay. Equipment was stripped out, freshwater washed and saved for re-use later. There was a myriad of parts that could be reused. The struts were taken off. The crashed occurred in March 1943. There would be a further two years plus of Catalina operations from Halavo Bay and plenty of opportunities to use the parts from 44-P-8. If it is accepted our ‘house under the sea’ wreckage is 44-P-8, then at some point after the salvage the wings were cut off the wreck as well as the nose section and tail. Why do this? Were these parts used? One possibility is it made these large sections much easier to strip and cannibalise. The twenty foot long ailerons in each wing would have been valuable and all the control surfaces, rudder and horizontal stabilisers of the tail assembly would also be useful. I can imagine these sections would have been cut off and dragged up the beach to the workshop area at Halavo Bay to make the salvage work easier.

At some point, after every possible use of the wreckage has been made, perhaps in 1944, the remaining mid-section of 44-P-8 has been taken out into mid-Gavutu Harbour and dumped. It is possible, the section was simply picked up in the upside down position and released into the water in the same attitude and come to rest on the sea bed in the same way. Perhaps the wreckage on the beach was in the way of operations or construction works expanding the base. From February 1943, the 34th U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, greatly developed the base at Halavo Bay; building sea plane ramps, aprons, barracks, control tower, workshops, small boat wharfs, fuel tanks and a 200 bed hospital.

A careful study of 1943 aerial photographs of Halavo Bay may show the wreckage of 44-P-8 on the beach and this may help to date the movements of this wreckage.

Significance

  • The only remaining archaeological aircraft evidence in existence of the WWII service of Patrol Squadron 44, the unit that found the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway.
  • Increases the awareness of PBY operational heritage of the area.

The History
U.S. Navy Patrol Squadron 44 (VP-44) was commissioned June 3, 1941, at the Naval Air Station in San Diego with six PBY-5 aircraft assigned to it. Little did the men of VP-44 know that in just seven months they would be in the middle of the Second World War. The U.S. Navy had only just begun receiving the PBY Catalina the year before, so the planes were new, and the people were new too, as more servicemen and recruits were accepted by VP-44. Training, training and more training was the order of the day…pilots and crew striving to achieve various qualifications. Training and patrol flights were undertaken, the main role being reconnaissance of the West Coast of the United States.

Then the shock of Pearl Harbour attack…December 7, 1941…a Sunday. Many VP-44 crews were on liberty. They were recalled to base immediately and “confusion reigned on the seaplane ramps” according to crewman James C. Mills, but nevertheless, some of Patrol Squadron 44’s Catalinas were in the air that Sunday afternoon to conduct some of the first West Coast wartime air patrols of World War II. Such was the unpreparedness, each PBY-5 was only loaded with one 500 pound bomb (there was insufficient bomb numbers in stock; a PBY could carry four of them) and 50-caliber machine guns had to be hurriedly installed; some Catalinas took off without the waist guns.

With the war now on, things changed rapidly. Within the week, VP-44 changed station to NAS Alameda, near San Francisco and changed Catalina models too. The amphibian version- the PBY-5A- was now assigned. The relentless but vital air patrols off the coast continued. In April 1942, the Squadron with its dozen Cats was ordered to Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbour. The Squadron was moving closer to the action and the burnt, smashed hulks of sunken battleships on the nearby shores was an everyday, vivid reminder. Within a month the squadron was thrown into the breach itself.

The dozen Catalinas were dispatched nearer Japan and deployed to Midway Atoll. By the end of May 1942, the dozen amphibious Catalinas of Patrol Squadron 44 were operating from the airfields of Eastern Island. A sister squadron from Patrol Wing Two, VP-23, operated PBY-5s from the lagoon itself. Both Squadrons would eventually end up serving extensively in the Solomons theatre. Another future Solomons connection at this early time, was the Cats shared the airfields with Marine Dive Bombing Squadron 241 (VMSB-241) under the command of Major Lofton H. Henderson…the future namesake of the all –important airfield on Guadalcanal.

The monotonous ten hour, 700 mile, patrols continued day after day. In early June the action began. The Catalinas started making aerial contact with their Japanese aerial patrol counterparts presumably operating from Wake Island. The Japanese were using twin engine BETTY or NELL bombers on reconnaissance. As the opposing patrol panes made contact, an aerial battle would ensue with exchanges of gunfire and aerial manoeuvring. Both Japanese aircraft types were much faster and more manoeuvrable than the lumbering PBY; only two things saved the Catalinas from disaster was a nearby cloud they could hide in and the 50-calibre Browning Machine gun. On the first day of June, one Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) that made contact was Ensign J.J. “Jiggs” Lyons in PBY-5A Plane 44-P-6. The twin-engine Japanese aircraft tried to make a surprise attack on the balky flying boat. A dozen firing runs were made by the Japanese plane before it disengaged. The Catalina crew put up a desperate defence, including shifting the bow guns during the fight to port waist position after the 50-caliber gun there had jammed. The Americans fired 300 rounds of ammunition and the Japanese also tried to bomb the Cat with five bombs. A few minutes later, the adjacent 44 Squadron Catalina came under aerial attack. Jiggs headed for the scene and two Cats drove off the Japanese plane. One crewman on Jiggs crew was injured and 44-P-6 sported five bullet holes. This style of aerial combats would be repeated 10 months later during VP-44’s Solomons tour.

It was obvious to everyone on Midway that things were heating up. Unknown to the Midway defenders and most of the American forces deployed at the time, was that U.S. Intelligence already knew that Midway Atoll was the next invasion target for the Japanese. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, had positioned his carrier forces accordingly, and set up an ambush. He also bolstered the air and ground defence of Midway Atoll as much as he could. Then he just had to nervously wait for the crucial sighting reports to come in and the battle to develop.

 

The VP- 44 crew on Midway Atoll in June 1942 which spotted the main body of the Japanese Midway invasion fleet.

“The VP- 44 crew on Midway Atoll in June 1942 which spotted the main body of the Japanese Midway invasion fleet. PPC Jewel H. “Jack” Reid is at the top. Patrol Squadron 44 operated the amphibian Catalina at Midway but changed to the pure flying boat for the later combat tour in the Solomons. The section of Catalina depicted here is approximately the section that was found in November 2011 in Gavutu Harbour. [As published in “Blue Catalinas of World War II” by James C. Mills].

 

It was Patrol Squadron 44 which made that first crucial report. One historical document called it “the most important patrol plane sighting of World War II”. On the morning of June 3, 1942, PPC Jewel H. “Jack” Reid in plane 44-P-4 was at the very end of the patrol line when ships were sighted on the horizon. At 0925, the Cat reported back to Midway, “Sighted main body” followed by “Bearing 262, distance 700”. Admiral Nimitz described the sighting, “…Reid’s thrill when he sighted the enemy through a rift in the clouds was no greater than my own when his dispatch reached me”.

For the next two hours, Jack Reid and crew bravely tracked the ships. Reid keeping the Catalina low on the horizon, flying around the convoy formation, popping up briefly to sight the ships and then back down again, reporting more information. The crucial body of the convoy was a dozen big transports bearing the troops for the landing on Midway. They were under the command of RADM Raizo Tanaka…an Admiral which would serve extensively in the Guadalcanal Campaign three months later as the commander of the “Tokyo Express”. A main troop contingent aboard was Col. Kiyonao Ichiki’s detachment of crack, well trained soldiers. Whilst the Ichiki detachment would be spared encountering the U.S. Marines on Midway, Ichiki and his men would be annihilated a few months later on Guadalcanal. For the next few days, Patrol Squadron 44 was fully embroiled in the pivotal Battle of Midway. The Japanese were dealt a shocking defeat, losing three fleet carriers in the process, and abandoning their assault of Midway. Patrol Squadron 44 had one of its brood shot down, another four Cats damaged, 7 men killed and 5 wounded. As the battle receded, the PBYs began rescuing survivors. One notable case for VP-44 Squadron was a single downed aviator picked up on June 5. PPC Lt. (jg). Shelby “Pappy” Cole in plane 44-P-10 carefully manoeuvred and hauled aboard Ensign George H. Gay. He was the sole survivor from 32 aviators in Torpedo Squadron Eight’s (VT-8) attack on the Japanese carrier fleet. Ensign George Gay would later serve in the Solomons aerial war too, in 1943, with Torpedo Squadron 11 (VT-11) operating out of Henderson Field.

Shortly after the battle was over, VP-44 was pulled out and returned to Hawaii. Lots of liberty was issued, and slowly VP-44 personnel recovered and re-grouped after the intensity of the Midway action. For the next 7 months the squadron was based at NAS Kaneohe and flew patrols out of Hawaii. In early October, the Squadron participated in the large search and rescue operation for missing World War One ace Captain Edward V. “Eddie” Rickenbacker, who had gone missing on a transit flight to the South Pacific. (He was rescued by another unit). In November 1942, the Squadron reverted to the PBY-5 model with a dozen planes numbered 44-P-1 to 44-P-12. These planes would be the ones that would serve in the Solomons theatre. Just before Christmas, the squadron received orders for a second deployment to the frontline…which, at this time, was deep in the South Pacific and specifically in the Solomon Islands.

Patrol Squadron Forty Four Aircraft Assignment, First tour in South Pacific

Type Plane Side No. BuNo.
PBY-5 14-P-1 08128 Crashed Tutuba Is / Stricken

PBY-5

14-P-2 08129

PBY-5

14-P-3 08130

PBY-5

14-P-4 08131 On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-5 08132

PBY-5

14-P-6 08133

On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-7 08134

On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-8 08136

Crashed Tutuba Is / Stricken

PBY-5

14-P-9 08137

PBY-5

14-P-10 08138

PBY-5

14-P-11 08139

On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-12 08140

On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-13 08148

On Nauru mission

PBY-5

14-P-14 ?


It is known that the following Bureau of Aeronautics numbered PBY-5s were flown by VP-44 crews in the South Pacific, (some may be VP-24 planes), but the plane side numbers are not confirmed: 04426, 04451, 04503. Also, in May 1943, two PBY-5 aircraft were received from VP-72 bringing the total complement to 14 aircraft. The Bureau Numbers for the VP-72 planes are not confirmed.

The “P-boats”, as the crews called them, island-hopped the long way Southwards. Plane 44-P-8 was in the second contingent to leave, departing NAS Kaneohe shortly after 0800 on Boxing day 1942. By early January 1943, the dozen PBY-5s were at moorings in Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo Island. The crews lived aboard the seaplane tenders USS Curtiss (AV-4), USS Tangier (AV-8) and USS Mackinac (AVP-13) anchored nearby. The 700 mile patrols began again, many to the northwards over the Solomons, looking for units of the Japanese fleet. Sometimes the P-boats operated from an advance base at Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Group. A seaplane tender was stationed there too. It wasn’t long before the action began again. On February 1, 1943, a small Japanese freighter was discovered well North of the Solomons and plane 44-P-2 dropped four depth charges upon it. It’s unclear if the ship sank. The following day, the first aerial clash in the South Pacific occurred for Patrol Squadron Forty four. Well North of the Solomons again, at 200 feet altitude, over a featureless sea in the middle of nowhere, PBY-5, Side No. 44-P-2 encountered a Kawanishi Type 97 flying boat, no doubt operating out of the Japanese flying boat base in the Shortland Islands. Two hundred rounds of American 50-calibre gunfire was exchanged with Japanese 20mm cannon and 7.7mm machine gun fire. After the 200 rounds, the MAVIS flew away. There was no damage to the PBY. This was the first of at least a dozen aerial clashes in the Solomons theatre:

Aerial Combats between Catalinas of VP-44 and Japanese Recon aircraft in the Solomon Islands

Date Plane PPC Enemy Type US rounds fired Battle in mins

2 February 1943

44-P-5

Lt (jg). Henry S. “Hank” Noon

MAVIS

200 5

3 February 1943

44-P-2

Lt. (jg). John N. “Andy” Andregg

MAVIS 500 Several minutes

4 February 1943

44-P-?

Lt (jg). Henry S. “Hank” Noon

MAVIS 375

12 February 1943

44-P-9

Lt. (jg). Robert A. “Bob” Swan

MAVIS Sighted only No battle

28 February 1943

44-P-10

Lt. (jg). Thomas G. “Tom” Monahan

NELL 75 3

28 February 1943

44-P-9

Lt. (jg). Robert A. “Bob” Swan

NELL? 200

6 March 1943

44-P-?

Lt (jg). Henry S. “Hank” Noon

NELL 200

7 April 1943

44-P-12

Lt. (jg). Robert B. Fellmeth

NELL 50

8 April 1943

44-P-?

Lt. (jg). W.E. Roy

NELL 50 30

8 April 1943

44-P-?

Lt. (jg). Ralph C. Donaldson

NELL 50 5

9 May 1943

44-P-1

Lt. H.J. Skelley

NELL 187

21 May 1943

44-P-?

Lt. C.G. Conrad

NELL 440 30

3 June 1943

44-P-10

Lt. (jg). Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

NELL 850 15

The official line from the Commander of Fleet Air Wing One was that the PBYs were not to engage in combat; their primary role was surveillance, and he did not want to lose any of his PBYs. The P-boat crews didn’t have much choice in the matter as the Japanese would engage them but fortunately retained a healthy respect for the 50-calibers in the side blisters.

Whilst the majority of the Squadron’s tasks was aerial searches based on Segond Channel (codenamed BUTTON), typically two of the blue Catalinas from the Squadron would fly North for temporary duty at the forward base at Halavo Bay. The existing Cats at Halavo would thereby be relieved and return for some respite at BUTTON. The duty would last one to two weeks, and involve DUMBO rescue and logistics missions for Coast watchers and high-ranking military personnel in the area. The flights were invariably into enemy airspace, and although flights were often escorted by friendly fighters, the slow and lumbering P-boats were exceedingly vulnerable. When VP-44 began ops at Halavo, there was practically no facilities whatsoever. A few tents pitched in the scrub behind the bay, a leaf hut or two and some buoyed moorings in the bay was practically all there was. Two weeks of such rough living didn’t help the health condition of the crews. The first two VP-44 planes deployed to Halavo Beach was on February 5, 1943, just as the Japanese were in the midst of Operation “Ke”, their evacuation of Guadalcanal.

 

The original caption to this photo says this is coast watchers at Choiseul approaching 44-P-8 in March 1943.

 The original caption to this photo says this is coast watchers at Choiseul approaching 44-P-8 in March 1943. Plane 44-P-8 did not visit Choiseul between March 14 and the date of its crash, and from research so far, it appears unlikely that 44-P-8 visited Choiseul in early March either. One recorded visit to Choiseul was on February 12 by plane 44-P-5 with PPC Lt. Hanthorn. On this occasion, four stranded American aviators were picked up. It is quite possible this rare photograph records this pick up, and was taken in the quarter hour that the plane was landed in Boe Boe Bay. The coast watchers in the canoe are Lt. Alexander “Nick” Waddell, RAN, and Capt. Carden Seton, AIF. Nick Waddell described Carden Seton as a “gigantic man with his long beard, looking like a bearded tank”. These two officers were lucky to survive their coast watching tenure on Choiseul. (Dale E. Brown, as published in “Blue Catalinas of World War II).

 

 

One of the first DUMBO missions for Patrol Squadron Forty Four occurred on February 12, 1943 and was directly connected with Operation Ke. On the second run of Operation Ke on February 4th, the Japanese sent no less than twenty destroyers down the slot to pick up thousands of sick and starving Japanese soldiers off the Western end of Guadalcanal. Two Coast watchers in their mountain OP on Choiseul, Lieutenant Alexander N. “Nick” Waddell, RAN, and Captain Carden Seton, AIF, kept a close eye on the slot and duly reported the big ‘Tokyo Express’ on its way. The Cactus Air Force at Henderson Field, still under the belief that it was a reinforcing run , dispatched two air strikes to deal with it. Some 33 SBD and TBF bomber aircraft escorted by 41 fighters attacked the nimble destroyers. The Zero fighter cover and destroyer’s AA fire took a toll, downing 11 American planes, whilst four destroyers suffered damage. Some of the damaged American planes fled towards the nearest land, which for some was Choiseul Island where they ditched nearby. One plane was Dauntless dive bomber, SBD-3 (BuNo. 06862), from VMSB-234 Squadron, crewed by pilot Lt. Howard J. Murphy and rear gunner Corp. G.W. “Warren” Williamson. They ditched off the Choiseul coast in the vicinity of Rengi Island. Another casualty was a Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber TBF-1 (BuNo. unknown) from Navy Escort Squadron 11 (VGS-11) piloted by Ensign Keith Hollandsworth. As Zeroes continued to blast away at the TBF, he ditched offshore Choiseul, and along with his crewman Radio Gunner Adcock and turret gunner Walker successfully escaped the plane. The Zeroes then continued strafing the survivors in the water and Walker was killed. The four remaining aviators were picked up by islanders and gathered at the village of Boe Boe where they were well looked after. The scouting network alerted Waddell and Seton and via teleradio a pickup was arranged. It was to rescue these four aviators that a Catalina from Patrol Squadron Forty-Four was dispatched. It was the very first DUMBO mission to Choiseul, and well into enemy airspace, so the Cactus Air Force was taking no chances and sent along an escort of 15 fighters (Seven F4F Wildcats + eight P-39 Airacobras).

The blue Catalina that made the flight from Halavo, was 14-P-5 with PPC Lt. George W. Hanthorn. Coast watcher Nick Waddell recounted the rescue:

“This was the first pick-up by VP-44, a squadron that was to become famous for its “Dumbo” missions. The PBY with fifteen fighters flying cover overhead came in at dawn. On shore [at Boe Boe village] three bonfires were lit, to give the prearranged smoke signal. Five or six canoes took off from the beach and were alongside the Catalina as soon as she had opened her cargo door. The aviators extricating themselves from much hand shaking and back slapping would jump aboard, a ton or so (if we were lucky) of stores, rations, rice, medicines, cloth, but regrettable no liquor, would be unloaded into the canoes, the door shut and the PBY would be off all within 15 minutes. Our record was 12 minutes I think, due to the abrasive encouragement of the Dumbo Captain who did not relish the role of a sitting duck. While this was a happy conclusion to the air battles of “4 February 1943” it was overshadowed by the thought that many of those [downed aviators] were still missing.”

 

This Grumman TBF-1 Avenger was discovered by Archaehistoria in 70 feet of water off Choiseul’s South East coast not far from Boeboe village on November 18, 2011, and could be Ensign’s Keith Hollandsworth’s plane.

This Grumman TBF-1 Avenger was discovered by Archaehistoria in 70 feet of water off Choiseul’s South East coast not far from Boeboe village on November 18, 2011, and could be Ensign’s Keith Hollandsworth’s plane.

 

On the same day, the other blue Catalina (14-P-2) of the Halavo pair, under PPC Lt. Summers, made a similar DUMBO mission to the Coast watchers on Vella Lavella, bringing back two Grumman Wildcat pilots who had been shot down. One of them was 1st Lt. Jefferson J. DeBlanc, USMCR, soon to be awarded the Medal of Honor for the aerial action that had brought him to Vella Lavella. For the next two weeks, the two P-boats at Halavo were very busy with logistics missions to coast watchers on Santa Isabel, Russell Islands, Ontong Java, Vella Lavella and Choiseul. As the Russell Islands now became the next invasion target for the Allies, the VP-44 Cats were also conducting intelligence flights to that locale with high ranking officers. On February 19, another VP-44 Cat, with PPC Lt. J.N. “Andy” Andregg, arrived at Halavo Bay for DUMBO duty. All the American patrol plane activity and recent base development centred at Halavo Beach had not gone unnoticed and on February 22, three Japanese planes swooped on the concentrated shore facilities at 1.30am, dropping four bombs which killed 5 and wounding 23. An ammunition stockpile at Halavo detonated. Of the casualties, four were from Patrol Squadron 44. Clifford Alton Olin AOM1c from Seattle was killed and Lt. (jg). Trejo and Ensigns Morris and Hutchinson were wounded. For wounded ensign R.W. Morris, there was no respite (and little sleep) after the devastating bombing, as before dawn he took off with Lt. Hanthorn in plane 44-P-5 to search for a pilot and raft sighted the day before off Simbo Island by a Hudson from No. 3 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force. Unfortunately the downed aviator was not found.

The Halavo DUMBO duty in the first weeks of March were taken over by two crews from VP-91 and one crew from VP-72 patrol squadrons. Then on March 14, 1943, two Catalinas landed in the bay to relieve the VP-91/24 crews...the Cats were side numbered 44-P-7 and 44-P-8…Patrol Squadron Forty-Four was back on deck! The P-boats brought in a spare crew from VP-24 Squadron and a ground service detachment from PATSU 1-4. (Patrol Aircraft Service Unit). The named crew for 44-P-8 on Halavo DUMBO duty was:

The crew of 44-P-8

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons (PPC)
Lt. (jg). Thorn (PP1C)
Roy H. Robinson, Jr. AP1c (NAP)
Zygmunt F. Zydak AMM1c
Albert D. Allen AMM2c
Clifford L. Studdard AMM2c
Dale E. Brown ARM1c
Robert L. Shafer ARM2c
William W. Burns, Jr. AOM2c

 

The crew of 44-P-8 on the seaplane tender USS Curtiss (AV-4) anchored in Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo Island, in April 1943 after the crash of the plane.


“The crew of 44-P-8 on the seaplane tender USS Curtiss (AV-4) anchored in Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo Island, in April 1943 after the crash of the plane. Standing left to right: Unidentified, Robert Shafer, Clifford Studdard, William Burns, Jr., Albert Allen, Zygmunt Zydak, Dale Brown, Roy Robinson. Sitting: Unidentified, Jarloth Lyons, Thorn. [Dale E. Brown, as published in “Blue Catalinas of World War II” by James C. Mills].

 

Plane 6 of Patrol Squadron Forty-Four (44-P-6) and crew at Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Group of the Eastern Solomons.

 

“Plane 6 of Patrol Squadron Forty-Four (44-P-6) and crew at Vanikoro Island in the Santa Cruz Group of the Eastern Solomons. Note the crewman standing out of the starboard pilot’s sliding roof window hatch. It was out of this hatch type that Roy Robinson escaped in the crash of 44-P-8. A canvas covers the bow turret with the twin 30-cal Browning machine guns stowed inside. [As published in “Blue Catalinas of World War II” by James C. Mills].

 

One of the above men was a trained mechanic and his station was in the tower in our “House under the sea”. It is not known at this time who the mechanic was. Although the above crew normally flew plane eight (and were when it crashed), all three crews shared the flight duties and flew all the aircraft. The Patrol Squadron 24 crew was under PPC Norris and the plane seven crew was under PPC Olson. The flight duties were rotated daily with one crew designated “First Available” for the day, a second crew as “Second Available” and the third crew “Off Duty”. The duty flights began immediately with 44-P-7 and the Olson crew on a logistics flight transporting high level officers and 500 pounds of gear to the Russell Islands on March 15. Lt. Lyons in 44-P-8 also took off at 1005 and picked up Commander Taft [sic] (probably Commander Clarence Taff, CO of VP-12) and three passengers at Lunga and transported them to Tulagi. In late afternoon, the Commander and passengers were returned by 44-P-8 the 25 miles back across Iron Bottom Sound to Lunga. Such flights were typical of the duty of the Halavo Detachment in between DUMBO rescues. The following day the Norris crew were first available and took off in 44-P-8 for a fruitless search for a reported raft sighting. Some 75 square miles of ocean were searched.

A Coast watcher logistics mission was slated for the 17th. Lt. Lyons took off at 1310 with the pivotal coast watcher Captain Donald G. Kennedy, Sergeant Harry Wickham of the BSIPDF, two native boys and two tons of provisions for the Segi outpost in the New Georgia Group. This destination was only a few miles from the big Japanese airfield at Munda and well into enemy territory so Lyons flew over to Fighter II (Kukum) airfield on Guadalcanal where an escort of fighters joined up. The coast watchers were dropped off and an American recon ground party were picked up and returned to Lunga.

The remainder of the temporary tour at Halavo consisted of similar logistics flights to the Russells and another back to Segi. The relief crews arrived on March 24, and that’s when Jiggs Lyon took off in 44-P-8 to return to BUTTON with the disastrous flight ending. Catalina 44-P-8 was not the only operational loss by VP-44 in the South Pacific. A little over a month later on May 8, plane 44-P-2 (BuNo. 08129) conducted a forced landing offshore Tutuba Island, adjacent Segond Channel. It was evidently a rough landing, as the plane never flew again and was salvaged for parts.

Jiggs Lyons was a reasonably experienced pilot and is listed as being a member of the Squadron in March 1942. He flew air patrols through the dangerous Battle of Midway during which he and crew experienced two aerial gunfights with Japanese aircraft. Then it was back in the combat zone in the Solomons theatre. Lt. Lyons and crew were very lucky to survive the crash of 44-P-8 off Gavutu, but in two months there was another very close call for Lieutenant Lyons in the worst aerial engagement the Squadron would experience in the South Pacific Theatre.

On June 3, 1943, PPC Jiggs Lyons was heading North in 44-P-10 (call sign 3V36) out of either Segond or Vanikoro on another routine aerial reconnaissance over the warm South Pacific ocean. The weather was foul. Rain squalls, broken cumulus and a low overcast forced the PBY-5 (BuNo. 08138) down to 700 feet altitude. At 1125 hours, at position 04º 40’ S, 168º 10’ E, the blue Catalina emerged from a rain squall and was immediately smashed by nine 20mm cannon shells. The bunk compartment erupted in flames. The slow, ponderous P-boat had been effectively ambushed. Frantically the American aircrew manned guns and tried to spot the enemy so they could retaliate but could not see the aggressor. Jiggs Lyon pushed the PBY over and dived for the sea. It was then that a NELL bomber was spotted below them at 300 feet, on the same course. The Japanese Navy Type 96 (G3M) Mitsubishi-built bomber had twin engines of about the same power as the PBY, but a much smaller, sleeker airframe. A NELL could fly around a PBY. Lyon’s knew this and with a fire inside the plane, headed for the nearest appropriate cloud. It was a mile and a half away to starboard and 2000 feet higher. Before Jiggs could reach it, the NELL came in for a second firing run. It struck the port quarter of 44-P-10, blasting 20mm cannons shells towards the Cat from 400 yards. The twin 30-caliber machine guns in the bow of the Catalina fought back as well as the port waist 50 –cal Browning. The NELL then pulled away and over to the starboard side to have a third go. The tunnel 30 –calibre machine gun was brought up to the starboard waist position, firing a hundred rounds in addition to 150 from the 50-calibre waist MG. The bow twins expended another hundred rounds. Finally, after fifteen furious minutes, 44-P-10, reached the cloud and were safely enveloped. Jiggs turned South and flew for 45 minutes and escaped the NELL before heading for home base where a safe landing was made. It was time to take stock of the damage. Five of the nine crew were injured including Lt. Lyons. He suffered a lacerated great and 2nd toe on the right foot. Ensign William Hubbard received a puncture wound in the right leg; crewman Albert Allen also received a puncture wound, but in the neck. Crewman William Burns left buttock suffered a laceration and Craig Johnston left forefinger was cut. All survived their wounds and later returned to duty. The PATSU metal smiths were going to be busy too. There was three holes in the port wing, one hit in the bow, one hit in the bunks, two hits in the after station, one hit in the tunnel section and one hit in the port elevator. It was a miracle no one was killed, and it turned out to be the very last aerial combat experienced by Patrol Squadron Forty-Four in their first South Pacific tour.

As a last strike effort of the VP-44 tour, half a dozen Cats from VP-44 made a rare bombing sortie to the Japanese airbase on Nauru Island (previously called Pleasant or Shank Island). The isolated, phosphate-rich island, was hundreds of miles North of the Solomons and was being used by the Japanese Navy as an air patrol base to reconnoitre the Solomons area. It must have been enormously satisfying to the personnel of VP-44 to strike at the heart of where all those NELLS had been originating from. In a nice feat of navigation, half a dozen Cats staged through Vanikoro and found the 4 mile wide Nauru Island in the middle of the night of June 18th. At just 1200 feet above the ground the Cats dived in and dropped eighteen 500 pound bombs and ten incendiary clusters (two planes also officially record dropping 49 beer bottles…). All the Cats returned safely to Vanikoro. By month’s end, flights of blue PBYs from VP-44 were heading home to NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii. The first tour in the South Pacific was over; and the Allies were mounting the next big amphibious attack in the New Georgia Group of the Western Solomons. It was also ending the reign of the blue Catalina. The role of the Catalina was changing; they began to operate solely at night and were predominantly turning matt black. The reign of the Black Cat was beginning.

Some Flights of PBY-5, 44-P-8, BuNo. 08136.

Date PPC Notes
Late November 1942

Received by Squadron, designated plane No. 8

26 December 1942

Departed NAS Kaneohe Bay for Palmyra Atoll on way to SoPac

27 December 1942

Palmyra to Canton Island

?

Canton to Fiji

?

Fiji to Noumea, New Caledonia

?

Noumea to Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo Is

11 January 1943

Lt. George W. Hanthorn

12 hour patrol out of Segond

5 February 1943

Lt. (jg). W.E. Roy

9.1 hour patrol out of Segond. 9.1 Crew of 8.

26 February 1943

Lt. (jg). W.E. Roy

Patrol to Vanikoro. Crew of 8.

12 March 1943

Lt. George W. Hanthorn

10.5 hour patrol

14 March 1943

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

Transit Segond to Halavo for DUMBO duty

15 March 1943

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

Passenger flight Lunga to Tulagi and back again

16 March 1943

Lt. Norris (VP-24 crew)

Special search for life raft sighting. Not sighted.

17 March 1943

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

Very likely 44-P-8 was used to deliver CW Donald Kennedy to Segi

21 March 1943

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

Search for missing B-17F from 5th BG

24 March 1943

Lt. Jarloth J. “Jiggs” Lyons

Halavo Bay take off to return to Segond; THE END of 44-P-8

 

 

A page from the official U.S. Navy action report for VP-44’s momentous attack on Nauru Island on June 18, 1943 showing “24 beer bottles” as weapons employed.

 

A page from the official U.S. Navy action report for VP-44’s momentous attack on Nauru Island on June 18, 1943 showing “24 beer bottles” as weapons employed.

 

 

The page from Log of Operations for Patrol Squadron Forty Four which records the loss of plane 44-P-8 and its original crash site.

The page from Log of Operations for Patrol Squadron Forty Four which records the loss of plane 44-P-8 and its original crash site.

 

 

Future Archaeology

  • Repeat visit to improve underwater still images using strobes
  • Photography main wing support area to compare missing panels pattern with 1943 photo to add further confirmation that this is 44-P-8 
  • Repeat visit to obtain better video record using lights 
  • Prepare drawings of the site

Future of the Site
This site is protected under Solomon Islands legislation of the “War Relics Act of 1980” which prohibits any interference with WWII sites. On the initial SCUBA dives above, no artefacts were retrieved or site disturbance was made. This is in accordance with Archaehistoria’s philosophies. The sheltered nature of Gavutu Harbour will help preserve the site. The deep depth assists in site preservation as there is little wave surge effect. The hull sides of the section do look fragile, and there must be structural stress on the main wing support pylon. The missing wing struts also mean the entire weight of the remaining fuselage and hull is taken by the main wing pylon. At some point in the future, the hull structure will fall over and collapse. The abundance of preserved Catalina aircraft still flying and other PBY examples on land, mean this heavily corroded and damaged mid-section is not particularly valuable. The stripped-out nature of the section also lessens its technical value. It is unlikely to warrant raising and the subsequent very expensive conservation process required to halt and stabilise the corrosion process.

The aluminium structure is fated to continue to corrode and dissolve into the Solomon Sea until nothing remains of 44-P-8. Will this take perhaps another 40 years?.

References
Crocker, Mel. Black Cats and Dumbos: WWII’s Fighting PBYs. Blue Ridge Summit, PA: TAB Books Inc., 1987, 273pp.
Dorny, Louis B. US Navy Catalina Units of the Pacific War. Osprey Combat Aircraft 62. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2007, 96pp.
Feldt, Eric. The Coast Watchers. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 425pp.
Stevenson, Ewan M. Allied Aircraft Losses in the South Pacific during World War II. Auckland, NZ: Archaehistoria Publishing, June 1999, 235pp. (Manuscript).
Stevenson, Ewan M. Bibliography of the Guadalcanal and Solomon Islands WWII Campaigns. Auckland, NZ: Archaehistoria Publishing, January 11, 2010, 491pp. (Manuscript).
Op Calypso. Navy Today Issue 164 (December 2011): pp. 28-29. Magazine of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Describes HMNZS Resolution mission in Solomons November 2011.
Kinzey, Bert. PBY Catalina in Detail & Scale. Vol. 66. Carrollton, TX: Squadron Signal Publications, 2000, 80pp.
Mills, James C. Blue Catalinas of World War II. Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1995, 157pp.
Waddell, Sir Alexander. The Ancient Order of The Rubber Rafters of Choiseul. UK: Privately published, c1990, 21pp.
Scarborough, Captain William E. , USN (Ret.). PBY Catalina in Action. Aircraft Number 62. Carrollton, TX: Squadron Signal Publications, 1983, 50pp.
Thompson, Allen J. Veteran of VP-44, correspondence with author in 1999.
Mills, James C. Veteran of VP-44, correspondence with author in 1995.
Aircraft South Pacific Force, United States Pacific Fleet, Task Force 33 War Diary.
Flight Commander’s Report of Attack on Nauru Island. Patrol Squadron Forty-Four, VP-44/A16/rlf, June 20, 1943, 16pp.
Aviators Flight Log Book. N. AER. 4111. For VP-44 vets James Mills, George W. Hanthorn and John W. Griffith. Some courtesy of www.pbycia.org
VP-44 Squadron webpage: www.vp44goldenpelicans.com
Mills, James C. Tales from the Solomon Islands: Log Book Entry March 24, 1943: The Last Flight of 44-P-8.
Intelligence Division, South Pacific Force, United States Pacific Fleet. “Dumbo” Operations in the Solomon Islands, Jan. 1 to Aug. 15, 1943. September 5, 1943. 27pp.
Patrol Wing Four, Patrol Squadron Forty-Four. Patrol Bombing Squadron Forty-Four (VP/VPB-44) History, 3 June 1941-8 May 1945. VP-44 Association, 30pp.
Knott, Richard C. Black Cat Raiders of WWII. Annapolis, MD: The Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1981.
War Diary, Patrol Squadron Forty Four. 1 July 1943 – 24 September 1944. This War Diary is for the Squadron’s second tour at Espiritu Santo and Green Island.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Contact Action Report. Serial 021, 20 May 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Forwarding of ACA Reports for 28 February 1943. No Serial, 1 March 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Contact Action Reports, South Pacific Area. No Serial, 7 February 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Daily Operation Reports, Halavo Beach, Florida Islands, Solomons, February 12 to February 23, 1943. No Serial, 1 March 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Forwarding of ACA Reports for 28 February 1943. No Serial, 1 March 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. War Diary for Period 1 February 1943 to 28 February 1943. No Serial, 16 March 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Rescue Detail, Halavo Beach, Florida Island. Serial None, 3 April 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Contact Action Reports, South Pacific Area. No Serial, 16 April 1943.
Commander, Patrol Squadron 44. Contact Action Report, South Pacific Area. No Serial, 4 June 1943. Acknowledgements
HMNZS Resolution (A14) and Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Matt Wray, RNZN.
Thank you for having me onboard and working hard, day and night, to make such a great contribution to WWII underwater archaeology in the Solomon Islands. Thank you also to the wonderful crew of the HMNZS Resolution for looking after me so well onboard. The results obtained by this hydro graphic ship in such a short time period in Iron Bottom Sound will not be surpassed for many years.

Gene Leslie of FL, USA.
Thank you so much Gene for your great assistance over many years in obtaining research materials from the USA and assisting Archaehistoria.

Colonel Edward Lavin, USAF, of TX, USA.
The successful Archaehistoria November 2011 expedition to the Solomon Islands was largely sponsored through the generosity of this man. Thank you Ed for your kindness and a whole lot of fun in the Solomons!

Dennis Letourneau of Alberta, Canada.
Thank you for the great research assistance.

James C. Sawruk of PA, USA.
Jim Sawruk is the world expert on US Navy Catalina operations in the South Pacific during WWII. Jim has been crucial in identifying aircraft sites in the South Pacific and providing excellent research support to Archaehistoria for over 15 years.

Neil Yates of Dive Solomons dive operation, Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Thanks Neil for your great logistics support during the November 2011 Archaehistoria expedition and getting me on site. If readers would like to visit this site, please contact Neil through Dive Tulagi website.

Craig Taylor, South Australian SCUBA diver.
Thank you for supporting Archaehistoria and sharing your still images of the “House under the Sea”.

Vince Misiti, South Australian SCUBA diver.
Thank you for supporting Archaehistoria and sharing your videos of the “House under the Sea”.

Michael “Mick” Harris, of Shell Harbour SCUBA Center, South Australia
Thanks Mick for untangling me at the dive’s end!

Help Archaehistoria!
If you enjoyed this discovery and report, consider helping Archaehistoria directly to do much more. Archaehistoria is entirely privately funded by Ewan Stevenson and could accomplish many more discoveries and surveys with a little additional funding. What about funding Archaehistoria to return to take better video and still images?

If you have any research materials on Catalina operations in the South Pacific, these would be very helpful to Archaehistoria’s archaeological work in the Solomon Islands and South Pacific. Copies of Aviators Flight Log Books of service in the South Pacific would be of interest. Copies of operational / action reports or war diaries relating to VP-44 (or other South Pacific VP) are relevant to Archaehistoria’s work. A copy of Fleet Air Wing One (FAW-1) diary for South Pacific Operations would be most helpful. This is located at NARA College Park, RG-38, Box 329, Folder 1.

Copyright by Ewan M. Stevenson, February 2011, www.archaehistoria.org

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