Patrol Squadron Memorial
Veterans Memorial Park
Honoring the Patrol Squadron Personnel of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
Patrol Squadrons have been on duty with the Navy since before World War I. The first recognizable patrol mission of naval aviation involved the scouting of trenches to monitor ground force action near Vera Cruz in the Mexican-American war of 1914. Shortly thereafter, squadrons were formed to guard our nation’s coastlines from German submarine attacks even prior to our involvement in World War I. Navy patrol squadrons have gone through a variety of mission-specific titles and numbering systems that began in the 1920’s and eventually lead to the current VP designation (V for heavier than air; P for patrol) that was applied to all patrol squadrons after the Korean conflict.
VP squadrons began with the scouting duties of WWI and rapidly progressed to additional missions as aircraft capabilities improved, as new electronic systems were developed, and as the need arose for a more diverse airborne weapons system. As early as WWI, the need for airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities was recognized, but the technology to keep up with the German submarine threat was lacking. During WWI, airborne patrol squadron forces were credited with diminishing the submarine threat, but not because our patrol planes were able to destroy many German submarines. The presence of our planes, especially those involved in convoy escort duties, kept many submarines from attacking their intended targets.
At the outset of World War II, the Navy began searching the Pacific Northwest for a suitable location from which to launch land a seaplane patrol aircraft to provide surveillance and reconnaissance of the Puget Sound and the Pacific coastal waters of Washington, Oregon and Vancouver Island, B.C. In 1942, the first Navy seaplanes flew from the sea lanes adjacent to Oak Harbor, Washington. Within months, Ault Field was completed in Oak Harbor allowing operation by patrol land planes. Soon, both land and seaplane squadrons home-based at NAS Whidbey Island were deploying to the Aleutian Islands to participate in operations against Japanese naval forces and the Japanese homeland. Patrol squadrons operating from the NAS Whidbey Island sea lanes and runways since 1942 have contributed valiantly to the nation’s defense. Aircraft such as the PBY Catalina, PBM Mariner, PV-1 Ventura, PV-2 Harpoon, PB4Y-2 Privateer, P2V Neptune, P5M Marlin, P3A, P3B and the current P3C Orion have been used in the patrol squadron mission virtually around the world while home-ported at NAS Whidbey Island.
As aircraft, weapons and electronics improved, patrol squadrons took on a wider array of tasks, including bombing, reconnaissance, surveillance, mining and electronic warfare, in addition to their continuing role in ASW. After World War II and continuing through the 1950’s, the Navy’s air ASW forces lost ground to the rapidly advancing capabilities of submarines. The advent of the German-developed submarine snorkel, which allowed submarines to charge their batteries without surfacing, further eroded the ability of air ASW forces to find submarines with radar and the human eye. The introduction of quiet nuclear power into modern submarines created all new problems for our ASW forces.
In the early 1960’s, a new electronics package began to be installed in land-based VP aircraft initially, and later in carrier ASW aircraft, that finally turned the tide in bringing airborne ASW capability up to the level of the existing submarine threat. For the first time, Navy ASW aircraft were able to detect, track and, if need be, attack submerged submarines with far greater assurances of success than ever before. Even the relatively quiet nuclear submarines began to be detected and tracked with greater frequency. This new electronic system, especially the portion devoted to long range detection of submarines, which became known as JEZEBEL, was highly classified.
The equipment and the techniques employed to detect and localize submarines could not
be discussed outside of the heavily cloaked “need-to-know” circles within the Navy. Many in the Navy and in the other armed services, who didn’t have the need to know, were uninformed about this profound development in ASW. Even crewmembers’ wives and families were unaware of the details of this unique and sophisticated new ASW capability. As a result, few people knew of the great successes that VP flight crews were having in locating and tracking the growing Soviet submarine threat of the 1960’s and 1970’s. What the wives did know at the time was that their husbands were flying around the clock, in all parts of the world, often in some of the most severe flying conditions imaginable, and their morale had never been higher. The lack of widespread knowledge of this newfound ASW capability fostered a lack of recognition for the success of the VP squadrons in carrying out what had become their primary mission… keeping track of the immense Soviet submarine fleet.
As submarine technology and quieting measures have improved since the 1970’s, so has the ASW equipment employed by air ASW forces. First the P3A, then the follow-on models of the P3B and P3C, have been equipped with greatly expanded search and detection capabilities as the result of multiple updates of their electronics suites.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and with most remaining Russian submarines tied up to piers in port, the Navy’s VP force has taken on new and different roles commensurate with the capabilities of their aircraft. For more than a decade, Whidbey-based VP crews have been used in Latin America and South America to detect seaborne and airborne drug-running activities. These same crews were used in the first Gulf War to support ground troops with their electronic warfare equipment and to protect allied naval forces in the immediate ocean areas. These crews are being used around the clock today to support the ground war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We are indebted to the Naval Historical Center and, in particular, to Captain Michael D. Roberts, MSC, USNR (Ret.), who, with the NHC staff, authored the “Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons, Volume 2 – The History of VP, VPB, VP(H), and VP(AM) Squadrons.” The Naval Historical Center has made this publication available for viewing on its website at www.history.naval.mil. Those who wish to learn more about the history of VP squadrons would do well to look up this valuable compendium of information. Below is a chronological sample of events of Whidbey Island-based VP squadrons, many of which were taken from Captain Roberts’ publication. These entries are not a complete tabulation of the important events of these squadrons, but are provided to show the scope and diversity of activities of these squadrons while home-ported at NAS Whidbey Island:
VPB-1318 Oct 1944: VPB-131 departed NAS Whidbey Island for NAS Attu, Alaska as the relief squadron for VPB-135. The squadron of PV-1 Venturas began anti-shipping searches, fighter decoy and task force coverage throughout the Kuriles. These missions were continued through the end of December, with most of the attacks being made using only the five bow guns. Despite the emphasis in training on masthead bombing attacks, none of the squadron aircraft ever carried a bomb.
VPB-1314 Nov 1944: Lieutenant Robert A. Ellingboe and five crewmen were reported missing in action during a daylight attack on Toroshimo Retto, the squadron’s first combat mission. Eight VPB-131 Venturas were serving as fighter escort for the Army 28th Bombardment Group’s B-24 Liberators when attacked by ten enemy fighters. Lieutenant Ellingboe’s Ventura was hit and crashed in flames into the sea.
VPB-131Nov–Dec 1944: During a patrol in late November one of the VPB-131 (PV-1 Ventura) aircraft spotted what appeared to be a weather balloon. Upon reporting the sighting to base, the pilot was ordered to destroy the balloon. When fired upon, the device detonated with an enormous explosion. It was the first contact with the new Japanese balloon-bomb released at high altitude where the prevailing wind would carry them across the Pacific to Alaska, Canada and the United States. The intention was to create fires in the heavily wooded areas of the northwest, disrupting the local economies and spreading fear from these random weapons of terror. In reality, very few of the bizarre weapons ever reached their intended targets and the majority either went down at sea or were shot down before reaching Canada or the U.S.
VPB-13124 Jan 1945: The squadron conducted its first rocket attacks against enemy positions at Kokutan Zaki, Shimushu, Kuriles. Further attacks were conducted against military targets and fisheries at Kurabu Zaki, Paramushiro; Kokutan Zaki and Minami Zaki, Shimushi; Masugawa, Paramushiro; Hayake Gawa, Paramushiro; and Torishima Retto, through the end of March 1945.
VPB-1317 Apr 1945: Lieutenant (jg) Patton and his entire crew were killed when their aircraft crashed into Casco Cove (Attu). He had been attempting to make a landing against wind gusts of up to 60 knots (the infamous Aleutian Willi-Waw) when his PV-1 Ventura stalled while making a 180-degree turn on his approach leg to the runway.
VPB-1396 Apr–Jun 1945: Four VPB-139 PV-2 Harpoons attacked Kokutan Zaki, Kuriles, with rockets and machine guns. On 6 May, attacks against ground targets were stopped on the order of BuAer. Problems with the strength of the wings and stabilizers on high-G pullouts over the targets confined Harpoon squadrons thereafter to patrols and occasional attacks on surface vessels until repairs could be made. Throughout the month of May, searches and photographic runs were made over Minami Zaki and the Okhotsk areas in the Kuriles. Little enemy fighter opposition was ever encountered on these missions. AA fire, however, was always present. On 10 May, a group of eight aircraft attacked radar installations at Minami Zaki, Shimushu, and five of the eight were hit by AA fire. All returned to base with no casualties. On 22 April, Lieutenant William D. See and his crew of five failed to return from a patrol and were listed as missing in action. In June, the squadron made several strikes on Shimushu and numerous ships in the harbors. Although fighter opposition was often present, few attacks were ever pressed home.
VPB-62Sep 1945: A PBY-5A piloted by VPB-62’s commanding officer Commander George R. Smith, which took off from Cold Bay, Alaska, carrying a full crew and nine passengers, crashed at the foot of Old Woman’s Mountain (NS Kodiak). Eight of the 15 people aboard were killed.
VP-13029 Sep 1946: The “Truculent Turtle,” the squadron’s first P2V-1 Neptune land-based patrol bomber, flew from Perth, Australia, to Columbus, Ohio, a distance of 11,236 miles in 55 hours and 18 minutes. The aircraft was manned by Commanders Thomas D. Davies, Eugene P. Rankin, Walter S. Reid and Lieutenant Commander Roy H. Tabeling. The flight was nonstop, without refueling, establishing a world record for nonstop flight. When the aircraft was taken out of service years later, it was placed on display at NAS Norfolk, Va. This historic aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Fla.
VP-ML-421 Jun 1948: A squadron P2V-2 departed on a routine flight and lost an engine due to fire within the cowling. The engine fell from the wing, necessitating a wheels-up crash landing. All squadron aircraft were subsequently grounded until engine replacements could be completed. The squadron was back on operational status by 31 August 1948.
VP-203 Nov 1948: LT Paul R. Parker and his crew of eleven were lost when their PB4Y-2 crashed ten miles off Port Moller in Kodiak, Alaska.
VP-14 Nov 1948: LCDR Albert Hall and his crew of eight were lost when their P2V-2 crashed on Vancouver Island, B.C.
VP-17 Aug 1950: On 25 June 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea. On 30 June President Truman authorized U.S. military forces to deploy to repel the aggressors. VP-1 deployed to WestPac under the operational control of FAW-1 (TG 70.6), beginning combat operations from Naha AFB, Okinawa, on 19 August 1950 with their P2V-2 aircraft. The squadron’s primary duty was patrolling the sea lanes of the Formosa Straits for enemy resupply vessels.
VP-7721 Sep 1950: VP-772 was called to active duty by the President for service during the Korean War. Aircrews were given transition training for conversion to the Consolidated P4Y-2/2S (a redesignated PB4Y-2) Privateer. The 2S version of this aircraft featured surface search radar. A brief lull occurred in the intensive training cycle when the squadron paid a visit to the fighting French in Saigon. The squadron left several Privateers for use by the French in the Indochina war.
VP-427 Nov 1950: VP-4 suffered its first fatal accident since its reactivation in 1947. The accident, which occurred during a routine P2V-2 rocket training flight off Oahu, Hawaii, took the lives of five personnel.
VP-93118 Dec 1950: LT Lalonde M. Pinne and his crew of ten crashed into a mountain peak on Vancouver Island, B.C. The cause of the P2V accident was never determined.
VP-7721–31 Jan 1951: VP-772 deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, where it became the first activated naval reserve squadron to participate in the Korean conflict. On 31 January 1951, the squadron began combat operations from NAS Atsugi, Japan, flying missions over Korea, the Sea of Japan, the Yellow Sea and the Tsushima Straits.
VP-24 Jan 1954: LT Jesse Beasley and his crew of nine were lost in a crash in the Yellow Sea on a mission from NAS Iwakuni, Japan to patrol the coast of North Korea/China. The P2V crew reported an engine failure and their intention to return to base, but were lost on radar as the plane descended. After a final transmission indicating their lone remaining engine was running rough, nothing further was heard from the crew.
VP-29 Apr 1954: A P2V Neptune from VP-2 was attacked by a Chinese MiG-15 while on patrol over the Yellow Sea. The MiG made three firing passes and the crew of the Neptune returned fire. There was no apparent damage to either aircraft resulting from the encounter.
VP-15 May 1955: VP-1 returned to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., the first patrol squadron to complete an around-the-world flight. The squadron had departed the continental U.S. on 21 April 1955. The event demonstrated the Navy’s ability to deploy quickly with an entire land-based P2V-5 Neptune-equipped squadron to virtually any spot on the globe.
VP-410 Nov 1955: VP-4 departed NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., with the squadron’s 10 P2V-5 aircraft to complete a 17,000-mile goodwill tour, including stops at Iwakuni, Japan; Manila, R.P.; Singapore; Honolulu, Hawaii; and San Francisco, Calif. The squadron returned to NAS Whidbey Island within three weeks.
VP-11956: The squadron was deployed to the island of Kwajalein for a period of three months to monitor the radiation in the aftermath of nuclear testing in a project called Operation Redwing.
VP-5011 Feb 1960: LCDR R. F. Clement and his crew of eight were lost in the Puget Sound off NAS Whidbey Island during rocket firing practice when a rocket exploded under the wing of their P5M aircraft.
VP-2Summer 1961: VP-2 was one of the first VP squadrons to deploy with the newly installed Jezebel equipment and with all crews trained in its use. During the six-month deployment to Alaska, flying P2V-7 aircraft from NS Kodiak, NS Adak and Shemya AFS, the squadron detected, localized and tracked more Soviet submarines in the Bering Sea and North Pacific than had ever been found in the cumulative history of ASW operations in that area.
VP-1710 Jan 1963: The squadron incurred its first aircraft accident in over eight years. A squadron SP-2H (P2V-7) crashed into a mountainside while attempting a wave-off at Naval Station Kodiak. Five of the crew survived but seven lives were lost.
VP-4717 Aug 1964: VP-47 deployed to WestPac, based at NS Sangley Point, Philippines, participating in wartime patrols off the coast of Vietnam. It was the first complete patrol squadron to deploy to war-torn Vietnam subsequent to the 2 August 1964 Tonkin Gulf incident. The detachment of P5M seaplanes, based off the coast of Vietnam, was provided tender service by Salisbury Sound (AV 13).
VP-17 Oct 1964: VP-1 deployed its SP-2H (P2V-7) aircraft to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, for ASW and shipping reconnaissance off the coast of Vietnam and in the Gulf of Tonkin. A detachment was maintained at NAF Tan Son Nhut and Da Nang. The squadron returned to NAS Whidbey Island on 1 April 1965.
VP-227 Nov 1964: LT Dennis Wilson and his crew of eleven were killed on a patrol in the Bering Sea when their SP-2H (P2V-7) aircraft impacted a mountain near Cape Newenham.
VP-113 Feb 1966: VP-1 relieved VP-22 at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, with a seven SP-2H (P2V-7) aircraft detachment at NAF Tan Son Nhut Air Base in the Republic of Vietnam in support of Operation Market Time. The primary objective of the Market Time coastal patrol was to prevent seaborne delivery of supplies and munitions to the enemy. VP-1 became the first patrol squadron to suffer casualties in the Vietnam conflict when the Tan Son Nhut Air Base was attacked on 13 April 1966. During this attack one squadron member was killed and five others wounded, and five of the detachment aircraft were damaged.
VP-179 Nov 1967: VP-17 deployed its SP-2H (P2V-7) aircraft to NS Sangley Point, R.P., with a detachment in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam. Following the seizure of the intelligence ship Pueblo (AGER 2) by the North Koreans, VP-17 participated in missions from 14 January to 11 February 1968 to provide an ASW patrol net for elements of the Seventh Fleet in the Sea of Japan. On 4 March 1968, a Vietcong unit mortared the detachment at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base. One squadron aircraft was heavily damaged, but no VP-17 personnel were injured.
VP-4214 Dec 1967: A VP-42 SP-2H (P2V-7) disappeared enroute from NS Kodiak, Alaska, to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. No trace of the aircraft was found until it was spotted near Sea Otter Glacier, Mt. Fairweather, Alaska, in the fall of 1982. Remains of three of the fourteen crew members were identified and returned for burial.
VP-1February 1969: LT Al Hegblom and his crew, in YB-5, returning to Whidbey Island after completing a deployment to Sangley Pt., R.P. and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, experienced a double engine failure 475 miles west of Guam and crash landed into the sea. Two accompanying squadron aircraft notified Air-Sea Rescue out of Guam and diverted the ocean liner SS President Cleveland to the scene. All hands, including two USAF paramedics who parachuted in with survival equipment, were rescued seven hours after the accident.