Author Topic: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread  (Read 58408 times)

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Offline Rusty Edge

Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« on: April 20, 2014, 12:03:44 AM »
My interest in navies had me reading about PBY Catalina flying boats in WWII. They were nicnamed Dumbo, after the Disney flying elephant. I remember that Ed MacMahon had spent the war in one. I thought it was unglamorous, but recently I've come to appreciate them as some of the most important parts of the war.

* Finding enemy task forces so that admirals can make decisions with good information.

 * Hunting subs and stopping them before they can do more damage. Protecting convoys.

 *Recovering shot down aviators and surviving sailors to give the rest of the navy and the folks back home courage and hope, and to preserve that experience from being lost.

 PBYs evacuated some of the people from Corregidor, found the Bismarck ,   the Japanese fast carriers at Midway, and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis, among other things.

I recently read two books about them.

 "Snafu Snatchers: Air Sea Rescue Featuring PBY Catalina by Grey T. Larison Not a well written book, but it tells true stories of heroism.

 It's one man's memoirs of Air Sea rescue out of Clark airbase in the Phillipines in 1946, when there were still Japanese holdouts and Chi-Com sponsored HUK guerillas shooting at them. Because of his deer hunting skills, he  himself shot 3 guys with an M-1 carbine. The training for people being inducted at the end of the war to replace combat veterans for the occupation was non-existent. Otherwise, it was the story of saving lives, and they were great at it. If they couldn't land on the ocean, ( officially waves over 4 feet, but they would risk their lives by landing to save others in heavier seas and somehow taking off again) they would drop rafts and supplies. If the castaways were too weak to get aboard, volunteers jumped out of the planes and put them aboard the rafts.

I just finished "In the Hands of Fate: The Story of Patrol Wing Ten"

 This was another book about PBY flying boats in WWII. These guys were based in Manila when war broke out. MacArthur's aviators wanted to launch a counter-strike against the airfield on Formosa early December 8th. He declined, waiting for provocation, and didn't strike when a few of the PBYs and their tender were attacked mid-day. Needless to say, Japan struck first, that afternoon,  destroying most of his bombers and fighters on the ground Pearl Harbor style. From there on it was defensive.

 From everything I've read -

 1) American built Curtiss P-40 War hawks generally didn't have a chance against a zero unless there was a "Flying Tiger" in the cockpit. It was like throwing barbs against a Civ - free experience points.

 2) Accurate as a B-17 could be against a fixed installation, I have yet to find one instance where a B-17 hit a moving ship in the Pacific. When the lookouts see the bombs start to fall, the ship changes speed and direction. That's why everybody used dive bombers.

 3) A single .30 caliber machine gun was effective against the baling wire re-enforced canvas covered aircraft of WWI. Against the riveted metal aircraft of WWII, it was useless. It took multiple thirties or a single .50 at the minimum to bring one down.

 Well, in this story the PBYs were mostly old when the war started. They had a single .30 in the bow. They had a single .30 in the ventral position. They had a .50 on each side behind the wings. They cruised at about 90 or 100 knots. Great for observation, but bad for battle.

 The plans called for the Army Air Corps to fly fighter support in wartime, but there weren't enough left, so they didn't even try. The PBYs did manage to shoot down a few Zeros with the waist guns, as a matter of survival. I think they managed one bomb hit from 10,000 feet, and that was a transport that wasn't under way. They tried dive bombing, but the plane wasn't built for the punishment of double the designed speed. They were also hard to miss because of their size. These daylight bombing missions were basically suicide.
 Perhaps the biggest problem was that as a long range plane, a lot of fuel was carried in the wings, which were attached to the top of the fuselage by a pylon. They DID NOT have self-sealing gas tanks. Whenever they got strafed from above, gasoline leaked into the bilges and they had to land at sea to put the fires out or stop using the guns and engines to prevent one from starting.

 Well, not exactly. This was a patrol, search, and rescue unit. They had multiple people aboard every flight who could navigate well enough to perform a grid search on a tractless ocean ( that is more than can be said of the Americans flying bombing missions over Europe. ).These guys knew a lot about reporting positions, headings, wind, soft landings, getting everybody out, going under water when being strafed, and inflating the life rafts afterward. Enemy evasion at sea and on islands. Their buddies were pretty diligent about finding them, too. So it was more throwing away planes than personnel .

 Which was good, because when the evacuation from Manila to Mindanao to the Dutch East Indies to Darwin to Perth began, they had to leave half the men behind on Bataan to make room for priority passengers. Some of them were big brass, or intel people who knew too much to be captured alive, Filipinos who would organize resistance, wives nobody wanted to contemplate being captured, the list was endless. The planes were packed so full of people and sometimes baggage, too, that they were ruining engines by redlining them to get airborne. They had no replacement engines beyond what they could scrounge from their own wrecks. They were short on parts for scheduled maintenance.

 Ultimately the unit set a record for fastest and farthest fighting retreat in history, arriving in Perth in 3 months, in spite of re-enforcements of PBYs. The Dutch were hurt and resentful because of the American failure to hold the Japanese, but they weren't surprised by the British withdrawal to India.

 Sadly, while they were expecting the USN to come to their rescue, it wasn't happening. They risked their lives gaining intelligence that was never acted on, unless it was to plan a safer retreat route. They did buy a little time. They did save lives. They did learn a lot in the process. How to fishtail the plane to confuse the fighter pursuit and give their waist gunners a chance to fight back.
 How to become masters of concealment, flying within clouds, or just above the wave tops. Night operations. How to find & recover survivors of shoot downs and sinkings. How to paint and camouflage their tenders to conceal them against an island shore. The experience was put to good use when the survivors in this unit were relieved and sent to staff and training positions in Hawaii and the US, or leadership elsewhere in the Pacific.

 Also, the sailors left behind in the Philipines managed to beat back a larger force of seasoned Imperial marines by improvisation and unorthodox tactics.

 In 3 months of operations under Japanese air supremacy, they lost 41 of their 45 planes. 14 shot down. 24 destroyed on the surface. 3 lost in accidents. Over 60 % of those captured at Corregidor died in captivity.

 What I find profound is that 9 destroyers were named for it's pilots, and 4 more for it's enlisted men.
« Last Edit: May 02, 2014, 03:49:08 AM by BUncle »

Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2014, 06:28:03 AM »
Two more books about PBY Catalinas.

"Black Cat Raiders of WWII" by Richard C. Knott
"The Magnificent Flying Machine: PBY Catalinas" by Frank Newby

The planes were nicknamed "Dumbo" on the rescue missions, and "Cats" on the patrol/attack missions. PBYs were arguably obsolete when the war started.  The Martin Mariner PBM was a better design, with more speed and better armed. But the Mariner cost more and couldn't be produced as fast. So a lot of PBYs were produced.

The new model PBY had self-sealing fuel tanks, radar, a radio altimeter, a twin .30 caliber machine gun mount in the front, blisters in the waist ( like the previous picture ) that provided a lot of visibility, more power, and landing gear on some models.

After the first carrier to carrier battle The Coral Sea, and the ambush at Midway the naval offensive shifted from the Japanese to the Americans. Guadalcanal in The Solomons became the key piece of real estate. The Japanese were building an airfield which could control the approaches to Australia and New Zealand. The Americans wanted it as part of the return to the Philippines. 

The Americans captured the island, and the PBYs operated from there while the airfield was being completed. Since the PBYs didn't stand a chance against zeros, or the anti-aircraft fire of Japanese cruisers and destroyers, but times were still desperate and something had to be done. They tried something new. Night operations.

This was secret at the time. They painted everything black, including the insignia. They modified the exhaust discharge so it wouldn't show red at night.  Against the Japanese troops they would drop four 500 lb bombs, one every half hour. They would also throw 20 lb grenade-like fragmentation bombs out the hatches, and some empty beer bottles, which whistled as they fell. The purpose was not just to harm the Japanese marines, but to prevent them from sleeping.

Against the Japanese Navy they tried torpedoes for a while. The torpedoes didn't work 2/3rds of the time. Also, it meant approaching the ship's broadside, endangering the plane. If a searchlight found the plane, it blinded the pilot and he had to abandon his run  because he couldn't see to launch his torpedo.

They experimented with bombs. This is what worked best- They would fly at about 2000 feet. They would use radar to find enemy ships. Then they would spot the phosphorescent wake, which would point to the ship. If it were a column of ships they would start with the rear one. If they were in another formation they would start with the biggest one.  Approaching from behind they would cut the throttles and dive - "glide bombing"  . They would try to fly just over the top of the ship's mast.  The four bombs would be released in this pattern with 75ft. intervals- 500lbs/1000lbs/1000lbs/500lbs.    Then they would release a bunch of flairs to blind the gunners, firewall the throttles and escape at wave skimming height.  When zeros did try to attack them, they couldn't judge distances in the dark and suicided into the ocean.

The battles in the Solomons became night landings and shellings by the Imperial Japanese Navy. Since the Japanese were trained in night operations, and had greater numbers, the United States Navy got the worst of those night battles, until the PBYs spotted for them.

To be continued...

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Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2014, 03:22:49 PM »
 ;popcorn

Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2014, 04:28:13 AM »
Maybe I should elaborate on the battle.
As I said, both sides had too much at stake, and kept pouring more lives and machines into the contested island(s).

By day the air forces of both nations fought it out, with the US Navy joining in.
By night the "Tokyo Express" ( Imperial Japanese Navy ) came down ( northwest to southeast) "the slot" ( the channel between the parallel chains of islands ) to land more troops and supplies on Guadalcanal.  There were so many ships sunk there, it was called "Iron Bottom Sound".

So, with the PBYs night spotting, USN ships were able to score direct hits on the third salvo.
Likewise, with PBYs spotting, they could "walk" the bombardment across the Japanese tents, and piles of food, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies.

That was fortunate, because with the Tokyo Express bringing cruisers and battleships down to shell the airfield most nights, there weren't many planes still in one piece on the airfield, and they had to rebuild the field every day before they could use it.

Pressure from the PBYs sunk a lot of freighters and transports. So the IJN switched to destroyers to fulfill that role, they were faster. They transitioned to barges. Barges were slow, but they had shallow draft and  could hide close to shore and were hard to pick up on radar. The loss of a barge didn't mean much, and they could land almost anywhere without a dock.

Meanwhile the black cats were evolving as well.  They mounted pilot controlled quad .50 caliber machineguns in the bow, like the p-38 Lightnings. This gave them enough firepower to sink barges or destroy their contents by strafing.

They also started to carry tommyguns with tracers. They could use this to substitute for  one of the waist guns if it jammed. They couldn't shoot down zeros with them, but the zeros couldn't tell the difference and kept their distance.

In three months of black cat operations, they only lost two planes. Obviously they were much safer on a night mission than being shelled at Guadalcanal.

! No longer available
« Last Edit: February 21, 2017, 03:15:08 AM by Rusty Edge »

Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2014, 05:28:33 AM »
MacArthur himself praised the Black Cats. "No command in the war has excelled the brilliance of their operations."

I can't find the totals in print, but the Japanese ships were as defenseless against the stealthy night attacks of the black cats as the PBYs ( Patrol Bomber Consolidated Aircraft Corp. )  had been defenseless against the zeros in daylight.

I believe I've read that the submarines sunk more tonnage than the surface navy, and the PBYs more tonnage than them.  It makes sense. Putting into a harbor was not a defense against a Black Cat attack, but it was against subs.  Harbors meant land based air support, which was a defense against warships. But since Black Cats could operate from a forward tender and return to another one, they were always able to surprise strike behind enemy lines, without the enemy knowing where their base was to retaliate.

Not only did they spot for capital ships, but they worked in conjunction with groups of patrol torpedo boats, finding the enemy and making the initial surprise attack, then calling in the PT boats and spotting for them.

There was another task for them. They mounted a rectangular "bedspring" radar antenna on each side of the PBY, and with analysis of a captured Japanese radar set, used it to home in on Japanese ground radar installations. If the signal strength was equal on both antennae, it was directly ahead. When they came under a lot of anti-aircraft fire they knew where it was.
Then they could send B-17s in to eradicate the installation.

The plane could stay airborne all night. For that matter they stayed airborne 24 hour or more when crossing the Indian Ocean. That was a key to their ability as a search platform.

They sunk twenty U-boats in the Atlantic. From what I've read about PBYs in the battle of the Atlantic, The U-boats were pretty good at defending themselves from air attack while on the surface. You could get shot down sinking one, and chances of survival weren't nearly as good adrift in the Atlantic. It took a lot of courage. But trading 10 guys and a $90K airplane for a submarine and 50 or 60 guys, is the kind of thing that wins wars when you can do it enough.

I got some interesting reading material related to PBYs while antique shopping, I'll tell you about it once I've read it.

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Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2014, 05:49:46 AM »
I do think this is worthy of its own thread.  Let me know if you agree, and I'll split off your posts.

Fascinating stuff.

Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2014, 04:27:50 AM »
I've been contemplating apparent differences in anti-aircraft effectiveness between the Germans and Japanese. This is what sense I could make of it. -

1) The Japanese enjoyed air superiority. Therefore, protocol was to make sure it was an enemy before you fired, because chances are a plane was Japanese. So they didn't get much practice and when they did get to open fire, they didn't have much time left to do it.

2) Germany was bombed like no country before it. Day, night, industry, civilians and military.
They must have learned all about air raid survival. U-boat crews were elite forces. They must have had some pretty good aircraft spotters and ant-aircraft gunners to choose from.

Who is going to be the first to spot the threat and shoot at it like their lives depended upon it?

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Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #7 on: May 02, 2014, 04:30:32 AM »
Wasn't the Zero a rejected American design or something?  Can you tell me anything about that?

Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2014, 05:45:09 AM »
Wasn't the Zero a rejected American design or something?  Can you tell me anything about that?

That I don't know.  I'll look into it. According to Wikipedia-

"It has been claimed that the Zero's design showed clear influence from American fighter planes and components exported to Japan in the 1930s, and in particular the Vought V-143 fighter. Chance Vought had sold the prototype for this aircraft and its plans to Japan in 1937. Eugene Wilson, President of Vought, claimed that when shown a captured Zero in 1943, he found that "There on the floor was the Vought V 142 [sic] or just the spitting image of it, Japanese-made," while the "power-plant installation was distinctly Chance Vought, the wheel stowage into the wing roots came from Northrop, and the Japanese designers had even copied the Navy inspection stamp from Pratt & Whitney type parts."[9] While the sale of the V-143 was fully legal,[9][10] Wilson later acknowledged the conflicts of interest that can arise whenever military technology is exported.[9] In fact, there was no significant relationship between the V-143 (which was an unsuccessful design that had been rejected by the U.S. Army Air Corps and several export customers) and the Zero, with only a superficial similarity in layout. Allegations about the Zero being a copy have been mostly discredited.[10][11]"

If I were Snopes I'd call this partly true. Japan was looking to improve their fighters. Vought sold them a rejected design he couldn't sell elsewhere. The Japanese had to work things out for themselves. 

Maybe they learned from the German Focke-Wolfe 190? Who knows?


I do know they were faster, more maneuverable, and had more firepower than the single engine/seat fighters they faced until the Hellcats and Corsairs came on line.

This came at a cost- lighter construction. Grumman liked to build self-sealing fuel tanks, and put steel plate behind the pilot so that he couldn't be killed or exploded in the air when an enemy got on his tail.

Zeros didn't have that security. When enough planes, or peer planes attacked them, they could be destroyed.

That wasn't the limiting factor. It was pilots. By destroying  the elite IJN carriers at Midway, the zeros were forced to ditch in the ocean as they ran out of fuel. Those experienced pilots were lost. They were too proud to become prisoners of the Americans, so they died. That's why they started using Kamikazes. They were short-handed.

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Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #9 on: May 02, 2014, 03:01:46 PM »
Partly true  ;nod the Zero was a fine machine.  All that watching Baa Baa Black Sheep as a kid pays off.

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Offline Rusty Edge

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2014, 10:20:33 PM »
Thanks. My internet is too slow to watch the History Channel feed, but I enjoyed the Black Sheep TV show flashback.

"The Magnificent Flying Machine: PBY Catalinas" by Frank Newby contained an archieved  de-briefing interview with a Black Cat officer. He recommened  gunnery school. I saw a Life magazine (July 13th 1942 ) with "Air Corps Gunnery School" on the cover, so I bought it. It's interesting. When I get in tonight, I'll try to transcribe it. It was only one column, some pictures and captions.



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Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #13 on: May 02, 2014, 10:44:17 PM »
Cool.

Those Corsairs were fine-looking aircraft - that was a non-trivial portion of the show's appeal.

Offline Lord Avalon

Re: Rusty's Naval/Military History thread
« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2014, 12:27:31 AM »
Also from the Mitsubishi A6M Zero Wikipedia page:
Quote
Most of the aircraft was built of a new top-secret 7075 aluminum alloy developed by Sumitomo Metal Industries in 1936. Called Extra Super Duralumin (ESD), it was lighter and stronger than other alloys (e.g., 24S alloy) used at the time, but was more brittle and prone to corrosion which was countered with an anti-corrosion coating applied after fabrication. No armor was provided for the pilot, engine or other critical points of the aircraft, and self-sealing fuel tanks, which were becoming common at the time, were not used. This made the Zero lighter, more maneuverable, and the longest range single engine fighter of WWII, which made it capable of searching out an enemy hundreds of miles away, bringing them to battle, then returning hundreds of miles back to its base or aircraft carrier. However, that trade in weight and contruction also made it prone to catching fire when struck by enemy rounds.



It was armed with two 7.7mm machine guns in the engine cowling, with 500 rounds per gun, and two 20mm cannons in the wings, with 60 rounds per gun. The Vought F4U Corsair had six .50 caliber machine guns, four with 400 rounds per gun, two with 375.


From the specifications sections, an A6M2 Type 0 Model 21 Zero had a loaded weight of 5313 lbs (2410 kg) and a max speed of 331 mph (533 kph). An F4U-1A Corsair had a loaded weight of 11,432 lbs (5185 kg - more than twice as much) and a max speed of 417 mph (671 kph)

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