Saturday, February 18, 2023

John Blackshoe Sends: Serendipity History - OAFS Cats

Who would dare disobey these majestic deities?
So, where was I? Oh, and this is no malarkey …

Everyone loves some cats.  

All kinds of cats.  Big cats like the Maine Coon cat which can grow to 18 pounds with a double coat of fur.  Or the cats from the Isle of Manx with tiny tails (unrelated to “Monkeys have no tails in Zamboanga’), or the Hemingway Polydactyl cats with six toes.   And not just the cuddly, furry little rat catchers.

At Chez Sarge, cats are held in near Egyptian reverance, where “Cats were not worshipped as gods themselves, but as vessels that the gods chose to inhabit, and whose likeness gods chose to adopt.”  For a fuller account of cats and Egyptians see Cats in Ancient Egypt.

Bees in Little Rhody used to love cats …

Back in ancient times, before bridges crossed the Narraganset Bay, the U.S. Navy was a major presence and major economic factor in the state.   Vital defense work was done at Naval Station Newport, then home of the Atlantic Fleet Cruiser Destroyer forces;  Quonset Point Naval Air Station (1941-1974) a center for ASW excellence and a carrier homeport;  and the Davisville Naval Construction Battalion Center (1942-1994) mecca for all things SEABEE related.   Now there is but a token presence of a few schools and unremediated environmental spills and government payroll and taxes to feed the local politicians.

But, back in the old days, they sure loved their cats.   As long as they were species D-5, D-7, D-8 or D-9, and painted green with the SEABEE stenciled on them. 

A trainee operates a Caterpillar D-7 bulldozer at the Quonset Point training facility near Davisville, Rhode Island. Circa 1943.
And Cats from the Grumman Iron Works  

Airedales Naval Aviators have long loved their Grumman cats.   

(Source - labels added)

All kinds of cats, single seat, single engine, multi seat or multi engine, with a great tailhook.  For half the history of U.S. Naval Aviation, Grumman has been the leader.

There is an incredibly short list of aviators who had the distinct honor and notoriety of flying each and every Grumman cat during their illustrious flying career. The last living member of this all Grumman Cat driver’s club was Glenn Tierney — a true icon in Naval Aviation.  He also bears the unique title as the one aviator who has shot more AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles than any other fighter pilot in the Navy or Air Force, as the development Chief Test Pilot for the Sidewinder program. Much more on this interesting guy here.

Catalinas and Navy Black Cats

The Consolidated “Catalina” PBY-5 seaplanes and later PBY-5A amphibians were amazing planes which made many valuable contributions to the allies during WW2, with over 4,000 built by several different makers in different countries.   Besides scouting, bombing, and logistics, they also performed “Dumbo” missions to rescue people in the water after ditching aircraft or ship sinkings, and later as air-sea rescue craft for USAF or USCG use.

British Catalinas- and USN “Copilots”

The Brits bought 200 of thePBY-5s in 1940 and began using them upon delivery under “Lend Lease” in 1941. A secret part of the deal was the inclusion of U.S. Navy pilots to assist with training.  Ensign Leonard B. “Tuck” Smith, USN was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions on 26 May 1941, when he, as the “copilot” on a RAF 209 Squadron Catalina flying an 18 hour mission out of Loch Enren, Ireland.   Their mission was to find the German battleship Bismarck which had sunk the British battlecruiser HMS Hood and damaged the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales.  Of course, the U.S. was not yet in the war, and he could not tell people why he got the medal.  Two more Catalinas, both with USN “copilots”, subsequently confirmed the sighting and tailed the Bismack until the Brits sunk her the next day.

Ensign Smith’s Catalina WQ-Z of 209 Squadron

 Six months later, on Dec 7, [Smith] was standing in front of a hangar on Wake Island when the Japanese attacked, killing his squadron-mate and destroying their aircraft. He spent the next four years fighting in the Pacific.

He fought the Korean War and flew in the early stages of the war in Vietnam.

He was fearless. He led men into battle and brought them home safely from war. He was the guy you wanted flying your airplane or navigating your ship. Despite the fact he was a highly-decorated Navy officer, he'd laugh if you ever called him a hero. He didn't see things in those terms. Of his lengthy wartime service, he would simply tell you he was doing his job and expected nothing in return.” (Source)

[Another source indicates on 7 Dec 1941 he was actually airborne between Midway and Pearl Harbor.]

U.S. Navy “Black Cats”

 By war’s end, there were fourteen Navy Patrol (VP) squadrons flying “Black Cats” mainly on night time interdiction and attack missions in the Pacific theater.   Able to operate from the water, they did not need runways, and got most of their support from Seaplane tenders until shore facilities were available.  These aircraft were specially equipped with radar for spotting targets and navigation, and very importantly with radar altimeters as most attacks were conducted at very low altitude (50 feet!) with no lights.   The low level also made it difficult for the Japanese to attack them except from above, and their flat black paint and flame arresters on the engines made them extremely hard to spot.

The Royal Australian Air Force also operated at least two squadrons of similarly equipped “Black Cat” Catalinas.

PBY-5A of VP-71 in southwest Pacific 1944-45. Note the radome above the cockpit, and additional antennae on the sides of the fuselage [behind officer on right] and atop the wing.
(Click here for enlarged version to see details.)

Although VP-12 was the first of the “Black Cat” squadrons all were pretty similar to the example above from VP-71.   The Catalinas were the first aircraft to see widespread installation of radar, and there huge success spurred the addition to many other aircraft. (See this link for a lengthy discussion of airborne radar.)

Grab some popcorn and check out this 19 minute video “Story of the Black Cats” made in 1945.  Really excellent imagery of the conditions they operated under, even though the attack scenes are hokey and they could not really film at night!  Note that the film shows PBY-5’s which take off and land from water, and use detachable dual tired beaching wheels to be ramped up for servicing on land.   The later PBY-5A had the large retractable gear shown in the VP-71 photo above, and could operate from water or runways.

Yup, gotta love all those cats!


  1. Wasn't aware of a couple of the Cats with non-piston engines. Excellent post JB, not to mention several links to chase later. Good selection of photos too including that first one Sarge..... :)

  2. Wow. Attacks as low as 50'. I am uncomfortable enough at take offs and landings...

    1. There is an account of a Catalina launching a daylight torpedo attack off Guadalcanal. It had flown in with two torpedoes under its wings. The Canal had no torpedo planes, so the pilot got a few minutes of instruction from a fighter pilot who had a brother who flew a torpedo bomber and joined the attack on several Japanese transports. At 9000 feet, the pilot put the big Cat vertical. A Catalina was built for 160 knots, and they were diving at 270. They leveled off at 75 feet and put two torpedoes into a transport, then returned to Henderson Field with a close escort of five Zeros...

  3. In WW2 before Dec 7th and continued up to service in Vietnam, not many who did that!

    Back in the early 80's I was going into the PHS hospital in San Francisco in my CG uniform, there was a guy standing there with a WW2-Korea-Vietnam ballcap on. As I'm walking by he says "I don't like the Coast Guard", I stop and "say what?". He says "I get on a boat the Coast Guard is driving and they take me places where people shoot at me", then he smiled.
    It's easy to forget that if your 20 years in the service were between 43 & 63 you could have been busy.

    1. Back in those days I was a crewman on the Grumman Albatross (HU-16E), ya it's not a cat...

    2. Though, from what I heard, the Albatross was one nice plane.

    3. Beans,
      Especially when it landed close to your life raft. Then it was BEAUTIFUL!

  4. Ahh, JB, ya had to know this was coming.

    I loved to see the Grumman Cats, specifically the last one. It looked my gun camera film.

    Just sayin'


  5. That D7 is sporting some LeTourneau options. It's a WCK7 angle dozer attachment. I read that Catepillar's Peoria IL plant was three miles away from LeTourneau's plant. The D7 crawler was trucked over and outfitted with the blade immediately. Very good picture.

    The Catalina always looked like a weird rig to me. But they sure did their part. Thanks JB! Good stuff.

  6. Crusty Old TV Tech here. And those C-B's prior to about Vietnam had to manhandle cable-control Cat's, no hydraulics. I can imagine, but still am incredulous at the scene...getting shot at, bombed (no, not in the Club, really bombed with HE and like that), charged upon, etc. whilst trying to scrape coral to make a Pacific island runway. And all with clunky old cable-operated equipment. Oh, and having to maintain the aforementioned equipment whilst the bad guys are doing all of the above to you.

    Grumman is nice, but Convair, ah, B-58, F-106, 880 airliner, even the Consolidated stuff, B-24, the aforementioned Catalinas...and the PGM-, CGM-, and HGM-16 ICBM's. The latter better known for launching its facility rather than itself!

  7. And of course we all love CAT-apults!

    1. I thought about adding the shipboard catapults, which consumed lots of that wonderful fresh water distilled by the snipes down in the nether regions of the carrier. And, when water was short, the snipes always got blamed for water hours, never the airdales and their frequent flying habits. But, I had pounded out enough verbiage to give Sarge another day off, so I quit.

      But, I bet Beans could enlighten us about catapults of the pre-aviation era!

    2. Bless you, Brother Blackshoe! Both for the fun "cat stuff" and cutting Sarge a bit of a huss. Perhaps the Muse will return based on competition.
      Story has it that the F7F was to be the Tomcat but the name was considered too risque' in the 40's
      Boat Guy

    3. I am acquainted with a gentleman who flies a PBY5A on a regular basis; to paraphrase, he says it's "kind of a pig" but He LOVES flying it! This guy knows from flying "cats" too, he recently took an F7F on a cross country trip to/from Florida.
      Boat Guy

  8. I am especially fond of Norwegian Forest Cats.

  9. The PBY got around after WWII.
    A gentleman at REDACTED had a photo of a much younger self standing in the side blister of a PBY. In same frame was a group photo with a wider angle of the plane floating behind them, tied up to a tree. NO national markings. A camo pattern that no USN or USAF aircraft ever used. At least one of the crew was holding a Swedish K sub-gun. I arched an eyebrow. He said "I'll give you one guess." Knowing the office was in (I was putting a connector on a printer or copier cable) I guess "The Congo River?" "Close enough. One of it's tributaries." Hum? Gotta go see if local hobby shop has any PBY models. I see a diorama n my future.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.