Navy PBY Catalina Squadron of WWII

Excerpts from a letter written by George Poulos of VP-11

VP/VPB-11 history starts with the first Pegasus squadron VP-61. This squadron was formed in San Diego in 1936. VP-6 flew its 12-plane squadron to Pearl Harbor - the first squadron to accomplish this feat. The Commanding Officer was Lt.Cmdr. William McDade and I have no other names of the participants except that I have reason to believe that Leading Chief "Duke" Byron and Chief Radioman "Spag" Spagnola (who many of us remember) were in the flight.

At Pearl Harbor, the squadron was re-numbered VP-232 and was assigned two more PBYs - BuNos 0140 and 0141 - to become a 14-plane squadron. Do not know the details or the reason for that assignment. In September 1940, the squadron became a 13-plane squadron when BuNo 01113 had to be "scrubbed" from the records after performing a mission of mercy.

The USS RAMAPO, a tanker about 1000 miles from Pearl, reported that its Pharmacist's Mate 1/c had diagnosed himself as having acute appendicitis. There was no doctor aboard, nor another Pharmicist's Mate aboard to take care of him. The Commander Pacific
Fleet decided the Pharmacist's Mates were worth saving and ordered VP-23, which had the PBY weekend duty, to get a doctor aboard Sunday morning, September 28, 1940.

Two VP-23 PBY-1s took off. Lt. Jack Collett, Operations Officer, led the flight with Ensign Jack Coley as co-pilot and Ensign Joe Hill as 3rd pilot/navigator. The second airplane, which had the doctor aboard, was pilotted by Lt.(jg) "Smoke" Strean, with Ensign "Sully" Kauffman as co-pilot and Ensign "Willie" Howe as 3rd pilot/navigator. They found the USS RAMAPO; "Smoke" and his crew had to take off in the open sea. Those of us who have done this using PBY-5s, with marginal success, will appreciate the hazards of the attempt for a PBY-1 with 17% less take-off power than a PBY-5. BuNo 01113 badly damaged its right float on the second attempt and had to be towed back to Pearl by the RAMAPO. The additional damage incurred during several days of towing was so extensive, it could not be saved.

In July 1941, Kaneohe4 became the headquarters of Patrol Wing ONE and VP-23 was the first to transfer to this newly-commissioned NAS5. Accordingly6, it was
re-numbered VP-117 - the identity it carried and made famous during WW-II:

In early October, VP-11 mass-flew its 13 PBY-1s back to North Island8, thence to Corpus Christi9 and Jacksonville10, thus becoming the first squadron to mass-fly its entire fleet both ways across the Pacific. We received new PBY-5s - BuNos 2429 through 2441 - at the same location that VP-6 obtained their PBY-1s and, in late October 1941, flew them back to Kaneohe. Every one of them were destroyed or badly damaged on December 7, 1941 by the Japanese.

The third time our squadron obtained PBYs at the same ramp was in March 1943 when it reorganized for the second deployment to the South/Southwest Pacific. The roster discloses the 12 officers and 43 enlisted men who were in the squadron for the first deployment stayed in the squadron for the second deployment. These guys deserve special recognition for the longest tours of duty with the greatest Patrol Squadron to fly on the face of the earth.

1VT-19D14 was established 1924-Feb-07. It was redesignated VT-6D14 on 1927-Jul-01, VP-6B on 1931-Apr-01, VP-6F on 1933-Jul-17, and VP-6 on 1937-Oct-01. The squadron received the first production PBY on 1936-Oct-05.
2VP-6 was redesignated VP-23 on 1939-Jul-01.
3BuNo 0111 was actually lost at sea 1938-Mar-25 and officially stricken 1938-Jun-30, while the squadron was still VP-6. BuNos 0140 and 0141 were transferred from VP-4 on 1938-Apr-07. 1938-Mar-25 was opening day for Phase II of Fleet Exercise XIX, in which VP-6 was part of Red Force, defending Hawaii. On 1938-Mar-29, carrier USS Saratoga launched a successful pre-dawn surprise attack from the northwest. Admiral Yamamoto is purported to have been a guest observer on this Exercise.
4NAS Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, US Territory
5Naval Air Station
6The first digit(s) of a Patrol Squadron (VP) matched its parent Patrol Wing's. The last digit indicated the squadron's sequence within the wing.
7VP-23 was redesignated VP-11 on 1941-Jul-01. It was redesignated to VPB-11 on 1944-Oct-01.
8NAS North Island, San Diego
9NAS Corpus Christi, Texas - a seaplane training base
10NAS Jacksonville, Florida - an operational training base