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CONFIDENTIAL

Interview of

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER J. 0. COBB, USN.,
ComPatRon 91

in the
Bureau of Aeronautics
26 April 1943.

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Lt. Comdr. Cobb discusses operations of patrol planes and night fighting in the Solomons campaign. Among topics which he deals with are anti-sub work, rescue work, the PBY-5, ambulance planes, night attacks by PBY's, radar operators, flame dampers, use of vitamins, flares, service and maintenance, equipment, clothing, torpedoes, bombs, guns, gunnery schools, landplanes vs. seaplanes, camouflage, blinding, bombing, advanced bases, night landings, and Jap patrol planes.

Distribution: To all units ashore and afloat concerned with aircraft.

OPERATIONS OF PATROL PLANES IN THE SOLOMONS CAMPAIGN

         

     After the Battle of Midway we began moving planes down into the vicinity of New Caledonia, with the idea of either putting up a fight for New Caledonia, or, as it developed, commencing an offensive. The patrol planes moved into Espiritu Santo just a few weeks before our seizure of the Solomons. Espiritu has turned out to be the most important base in that area, and in my opinion probably one of the places with the greatest future possibilities for a naval base.

     Then, on August 5th, two days before the Solomons action, the patrol planes and their small tenders moved north. The operation order for this task force read to seize Ndeni. So we steamed in -- five patrol planes and landed in Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Islands, tended by the USS MC FARLAND, - that constituted the seizure of Ndeni.

(An island, more information is available here and here)

     Another group, VP-23, on the 7th moved into Malaita. This miscellaneous group of which I had charge, VP-11 and VP-l4, with the MC FARLAND as tender, covered the northern flank of the Solomons. Fortunately, the whole operation was a complete surprise to the Japs, we ran into almost no opposition except a few float planes. We lost no planes because of enemy action, although one plane disappeared.

     The Solomons were duly seized, with a few hitches, on the 7th; and we began routine search operations, the main reason for our existence down there. Since then the patrol planes have never missed a day of search.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

P A T R O L  O P E R A T I O N S

     Under the present system, the main base for patrol planes is at Espiritu Santo. We run sectors, using little way stations in order to get 800 miles out from Vanikoro. We got out of Ndeni because the Japs came in at night and shelled the place. We moved down to Vanikoro, a little safer. One small tender stays there, of the MACKINAC or destroyer-tender class. They stay there a week or ten days. Planes go out in shifts. They go out from Santo 800 miles, come in to Vanikoro, stay a day, fuel, rest, go put 800 miles, and come on back into the main base. That's the standard procedure to stretch the range of a PBY to 800 miles. It's a good way of keeping the big tender in a safe place, the main base, by putting a small tender up in an advanced area.

We cover other sectors from the main base with daily patrol. The only reason we're out there is to look for Japs, principally Jap task forces with carriers, and when we find a Jap task force, about two out of three times the PBY didn't come back - a little hard on morale. He sends his contact, tries to track, and on many occasions gets shot down before he starts back. Now that we're getting B-24's to take care of the so-called "hot" sectors, that situation is much better. The PBY's still cover the greatest area down there, but the hot sectors are covered by the B-24 type, the PB4Y. The PB4Y's also stand by as relief trackers. When a PBY makes a contact, he gets his contact report out as fast as he can; then a PB4Y standing by takes off and proceeds out to continue tracking.

While I'm talking about losses, I'll mention that my squadron, VP-91, was originally twelve crews, of which four were lost. That's thirty three percent - a little higher than average. We formed nine new crews down there from personnel we bummed from Headquarters Squadron and from squadrons that were better off than we were to keep up to full strength.

Everything else we do is limited because we have to keep up this daily search. The whole security system is based on daily search. The security system has been so good down there that the Japs have never pulled anything by surprise. Everything that they've tried to move down for the last nine months has been anticipated soon enough to be met, except for very small destroyer forces or occasional submarine shelling. We had our forces moving up in time to stop them or to work on them.

A N T I - S U B  W O R K

Our next job was anti-sub. There are lots of Jap subs down there, but we didn't see many of them. The PBY's just aren't fast enough to get over and attack those we saw before the subs disappeared. Occasionally we caught some on the surface. A lieutenant in VP-11 caught a Jap sub on the surface and attacked it with his depth charges. He got hits which apparently didn't hurt the sub, since it was on the surface. They opened fire on him with AA. He got in a flipper turn around the sub and expended all his ammunition. He then sent in a message that he had attacked a sub on the surface, expended all bombs and machine gun ammunition, and the sub marine refused to submerge! Before leaving, however, he mowed down with the .50 caliber waist gun every AA crew they tried to put on deck.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

R E S C U E  W O R K

     We did a great deal of rescue work. We would do a lot of extra flying before and during battle; then after the battle, while everybody else was resting, besides our patrols, we'd have to send every available plane out to look for survivors. We made many open sea landings. My squadron alone saved eighty-one aviators during the six months that I had command of it. A Lieutenant in my squadron found a general and sixteen members of his staff who had been in rubber boats for five days. There was also a carrier squadron commander who landed out amongst the Japs. His squadron reported the exact position in which he'd been shot down. We figured out his drift and sent a plane out which landed and picked him up. He had stood up in his rubber boat and tried to thumb a ride in a Jap destroyer, which was picking up Jap aviators. They came over, saw who he was, and wore so amused at his thumbing a ride that they didn't shoot him up.

     This rescue work is a great help to morale. A special rescue detail is right up in Tulagi. We can't base seaplanes there now because it's not safe enough, and it's too unhealthy a climate. We keep two PBY's there with four crews on a ten-day stretch. They stand by in their planes with their radio turned on; and if Guadalcanal has any plane go down in the area, they announce right over their control radio, "Dumbo, take off". They call it a Dumbo Detail and Dumbo is the PBY rescue plane. He takes off, circles Henderson Field, picks up a fighter escort, and they lead him to the spot. They're on a twenty-minute notice in the PBY ready to go. One day a lieutenant landed within sight of Tonolei airfield to pick up an Army pursuit pilot that'd been shot down. He landed beside the pilot, in sight of two Jap destroyers, easy gun range. The Jap destroyers thought it was a trap, turned away, and went off in the other direction. One of the other Army fighters, escort detail, got so interested in what was going on he forgot to shift his gas; his engine conked, and he crashed. The PBY pilot had enough presence of mind to skip the boy in the rubber boat, pick up the Army pilot, and then come back and get the one that had been in the boat overnight.

P B Y - 5

     If we are going to go to a different type of patrol plane that won't land in rough water, then we've just got to keep enough PBY's on a detail like that to do it. And it almost has to be a PBY-5. The 5-A will land and take off in rough water but not nearly so well as the PBY-5. They don't use the 5-A for rescue down there at all. Of course, there are some areas where the 5-A has to be used because of the difficulties in operating from water - Alaska, for instance; but a PBY-5 is the ideal rescue plane. At Midway it saved a great many aviators, also.

A M B U L A N C E  P L A N E S

     After the big battles the PBY's also run ambulance shuttle trips. We used to carry sometimes as many as fifteen critically wounded people back to the base hospital at Santo and Efate. Although they have transport planes for ambulance work, they never have enough when things get bad. The PBY's always help out.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

N I G H T  A T T A C K S  BY  P B Y ' S

     We had such a shortage of planes, and our search was so important that we were used in attacks only in emergencies. When they called out the PBY's to do bombing or torpedo work, we knew things were really bad. It was a very pleasant change from the monotony of search. We limited our attacks, however, to night work. We didn't stand a chance in a PBY in a hot area except at night. They're very good for night; they're slow and comfortable. They can take off in the afternoon and come back the next morning with no worry about coming in or taking off at night. They carry a lot of bombs a long way. And with their very good radar equipment, which we all thought was marvelous, they were very successful night planes. Our main regret was we could only spare two or three PBY's on the many attacks we made at night, instead of thirty or forty.

     I think we made the first radar night torpedo attacks. It was done on an absolutely black night during the Battle of Santa Cruz islands. We picked up a Jap target about 2 a.m. by radar at about twelve miles distance, lowered down to 100 feet altitude by the altimeter, which turned out to be accurate (that's just a pressure altimeter), and followed our blip on in until we sighted the Jap force, with one large ship in it (we couldn't tell what it was). But we could see its course and speed and its size mainly by its wake. On a black night down in tropic waters the wake of a ship is very bright and very visible. We turned out away from the ship and made a couple of practice approaches by radar. They didn't shoot at us. Finally on the fourth approach we got an ideal setup, came in, leading with the radar, and dropped as soon as we could see the ship, it was pretty close. We got a nice hit, but we suspect that the torpedo didn't go off. We'd already passed over the ship by the time the torpedo hit the ship. We could see a very bright wake, but we are afraid we dropped too close to arm. It takes 1500 feet to arm, too long at night. On a black night you first see the ship at 1500 feet, and you've got to make your last minute adjustments. 500 yards is too much of a torpedo run. We'll talk about torpedoes a little later.

     There was one more torpedo plane headed for Guadalcanal that night, roughly 180 miles away. We got him on the radio and sent him MO's. He came straight on in (this time they fired on him), through the AA fire, and got a very nice hit on the stern of a cruiser, with a beautiful explosion. He used our MO's and then his radar to come in on. It worked very nicely.

     Another job we did a great deal of at night was bombing. We started the Black Cat operations and made the first air raid on Munda. The Japs were building Munda secretly, they thought, at night. Construction had been discovered by the photographic reconnaissance people, who are doing a wonderful job down there, with very advanced photographic reconnaissance. They discovered it, and we decided to make some night raids. We could only spare one plane per night, a shame, as we would have put the whole thing out of commission in short order if we had had the airplanes. We took off from Santo and raided Munda, 720 miles away, spent three hours over the target, and returned to Santo. We carried in that PBY, I was the PPC, forty-eight bombs - the greatest number of bombs, I think, ever carried by a PBY. We carried eight 100's across the bottom of the wings,

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

including the torpedo racks; on the bunks we had forty 30-pound fragmentation bombs. Our mission was to interrupt their work on the field during the night. We came in about 6000 feet along the coast of New Georgia, traveling on in at about 5000 feet altitude on the coast side so the Jap radar couldn't pick us up. It was a black night, but you could see the shore line down there due to phosphorescence of the water. We had studied the target carefully with the photographic briefs given us by the photographic unit, who make very fine photographic studies of any objective. We spotted the field on which we could see about two or three thousand workmen going full blast. We could see their little hooded blue lights buzzing all over the field. We stayed in lean mixture to keep our exhaust dark, just pushed over at low power, and went right down the runway at a thousand feet, dumping bombs off the racks and throwing them out the hatches of the airplane. We caused quite a commotion. The boys in the waist said they could see trucks going end over end and all kinds of excitement down below. As we finished our run, we did what we always did on these night attacks, that is, pull flares. These bombardment flares we think are wonderful things to help your getaway; they're so bright and blinding that any AA fire is usually completely thrown off by pulling a flare. We dropped about half our bombs on the first run, then came back an hour later and dropped a few more of the 30-pound bombs and a few more flares to interrupt their work. We then went out an hour and a half and came back in and dropped the remaining bombs, each time going right down the runway. That attack started a regular nightly routine that's been kept up ever since. We kept it up for about a week from Santo. VP-12 had just arrived in the 5-A's, and they started operating out of Henderson Field. That was the beginning of the so-called Black Cat operations, which have been extremely successful down there. The losses have been almost zero.

     Night flying is considered by everybody down there very much a specialty. Our squadron did it now and then, but we just happened to be one of the few squadrons left that had "old" pilots in it. The squadrons going out now are far, far greener than any we had out then. We got away with night flying because we'd been organized for some time and because we had old pilots who were able to make torpedo attacks and navigate through mountains at night without special training. When VP-12 came down, the Black Cat outfit, they became night specialists, since they couldn't fly in day time in that area in the PBY-5A. Every night for 2½ months they worked out of there and built quite a reputation for the Navy patrol squadrons.

R A D A R  O P E R A T O R S

     Of course radar is essential at night. We wouldn't think of taking a plane off without radar at night. Our radar operators got very good, on their own, without any previous training. They were just regular Navy radiomen. They got so they could read, see, almost anything on radar. They could describe islands up ahead so that we could recognize them; they could head us into the wind, if we wanted to know what the wind was; and they could tell us whether the target was shoreline or ships or planes. In future squadrons they'll have to have training. It took us darn near a year to build up good radar operators. For future squadrons they'll have to have a program of radar training. That is under development now.

BUREAU COMMENT: It is.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

F L A M E  D A M P E R S

     I mentioned flame dampers, Every plane the Navy's got is going to have to have flame dampers. I believe that's being done. The exhaust flame shows up very brilliantly On a dark night.

BUREAU COMMENT: Being handled.

     Another thing we found very useful was dark red goggles. We wore the red goggles whenever we looked at the chart or went back into the navigation department. If you don't and go into the presence of a bright light, it takes you a good half hour to adapt your eyes to the darkness again. Put on red goggles, look at the brightest light you've got, go back to the cockpit and take them off, and your night vision is still perfect.

V I T A M I N  A

     Another thing used was vitamin A. In fact, we sent for some air mail. When we were doing night work, we were eating that by the handful. It seemed to be very effective. Everybody thought he could see better. Another noticeable thing about the vitamin A pills we were eating was that the boys eyes stood up much better in the daytime. Instead of coming back with their eyes blood-shot, and being very particular to wear goggles on their flights, they got to where they didn't notice any eye strain at all. We were enthusiastic in our squadron about the vitamin pills.

F L A R E S

     Those bombardment flares were also tried for illumination, on our night harassing attacks. We'd fly over a target and pull the flares; if it was a clear night, they'd illuminated a land target very nicely. In the least bit of haze they were no good. One night I illuminated a destroyer action off Guadalcanal - the action in which the LITTLE and GREGORY were sunk. Three Jap destroyers opened up on the LITTLE and GREGORY. As a matter of fact, our ships opened up on the three Jap destroyers first, right off Guadalcanal. I was illuminating. I dropped about thirty of the million candlepower flares to the seaward side of the Japs, and our ships got a few good hits before the Jap salvos got on. The minute the Jap salvos got on our two old destroyers just went up in smoke and were sunk in a few minutes. I never did find out just how they liked the illumination. In general, flares are a weapon of opportunity. There are many conditions under which you are much better off not dropping a flare. In general, they didn't like aviators to pull flares when anything else was going on.

S E R V I C E  A N D  M A I N T E N A N C E

     We were based on a tender principally, which was very crowded. They put out good gas and oil service, good sleeping and living accommodations, good boat service, and were very anxious to help us; but they weren't much help in maintenance. The Air Departments of tenders don't know a great deal about maintenance although they are supposed to be organized for that

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

purpose; they've never been used for it, and they don't have the talent or the equipment. We had a great deal of trouble with spare parts when we first went down there. Many a time there would be a dozen airplanes tied up at the buoy for the want of some minor part, such as generators. Now the situation is much better. We're getting spare parts pretty well.

     Our main maintenance organization was this new Headquarters Squadron. That doesn't work out the same out there in the Solomons as it does in Hawaii or Alameda. The Headquarters part of the Headquarters Squadron isn't used much. It, in this case, was way down in Noumea. We were operating out of Santo, 500 miles away. The Headquarters Squadron kept our records and did a lot of our paper work, but we had a devil of a time keeping any kind of liaison with them. The boys who really did the work in the Headquarters Squadron organization were the Patsu's - the service units. We all felt down there in the squadrons that the Patsu's or service units are the coming maintenance organization and that the Headquarters Squadron could be done away with. Part of their work can be turned over to the Patsu's or the service units and the rest of it should be absorbed by the Patrol Wing. There is really no need in the campaign for Headquarters Squadrons; the Wing can handle part of the job and the service units, one per squadron, organized for whatever type the squadron is, can service the squadrons.

     That's the way we like it.

     These Patsu's should be given a little more dignity in their organization. They throw a lot of mechanics together and put one man in charge. He doesn't know whether he is Commanding Officer or the Man in Charge, or what. I'd like to see them organized just like a squadron, with a Commanding Officer and a standard organization. Replacement Patsu's should be formed on the Coast; and a regular rotation, the same as squadrons, should be carried out. The Patsu C.O. would report to the Commanding Officer of the Squadron that he is going to maintain. When that squadron shoves off, he could report to another one. They must be rotated out there, though, because there are a lot of people out there in the Solomons whose health is very poor and who have been there too long already. Those aviation ground complements, the ones that I know of in particular, have been there much too long; their morale is not too good, and their health is getting poorer all the time. The only way they can be rotated is to organize new service units here on the Coast, and send them out to relieve one unit at a time. This rotation of ground personnel is a most important and essential part of fighting the war.

     Plane crews must, and do, assist in maintenance. Whenever they had a flight, they'd get the next day off. The rest of the time they would assist the service units in maintenance. It was good for the plane crews; kept them more interested in their planes; and it was a great help to the service units. Such help was especially necessary in radio because the service units had no radio talent. We never could give up our radiomen from the planes to form service units. We just didn't have enough. All the old timer radiomen were in flight crews instead of in maintenance. In general we are very weak in patrol plane maintenance in the Navy. That was our greatest and most glaring weakness in the campaign out there. Everyone one out there, every aviator, wanted to be an operator, and nobody wanted to be a maintenance man. It is important to push this maintenance organization as a permanent setup in naval aviation. Officers that

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

we've brought up from Chiefs, enlisted men, who know maintenance, should be kept after the war so that we have specialists interested in maintenance.

E Q U I P M E N T

     One thing you have to always do out there, when a new group of planes come out, is to start stripping. We take 1600 pounds out of a PBY when it first arrives, unnecessary equipment which includes de-icers; oxygen equipment, and hoisting slings. We even took out the anchors, and anchor cable, because we never used them. In any area in this war, when new planes arrive, you'll find the local people throwing unnecessary equipment away. That doesn't mean that it shouldn't have been put in the plane in the first place, because you don't know where the plane is going to go. When it gets to the spot where it is going to be used however, the unnecessary equipment has to come out to make room for bombs and gasoline.

     There are several things developed out there as equipment for the planes that should be standard throughout the Navy. One is a Battle First Aid Kit developed by Fleet Air Wing One. It's a far better first aid kit than the standard naval aviation first aid kit. We saved many lives, especially on rescue hops, by having that kit, which contained instructions on how to give first aid for wounds, and all the latest equipment sulfanilamide powder, large heavy bandages, and things like that.

BUREAU COMMENT: There is a proposed revision of the First Aid Kit now in use now being considered by the Army and Navy Standardization Board. At the same time further investigations are being made among representatives of the Royal Air Force, and the Army and Navy Air Forces which will be shortly concluded.

     Another good development is a droppable Rescue Kit for dropping to people in boats, people in the water, or people on the beach. Lots of the survivors are on the beach where you can't get to them right away with a plane or where it's too dangerous to try. Fleet Air Wing One took an ammunition can, a 5-inch powder can, and made a very fine kit. It included water, a first aid kit, hunting knives, matches, compass, mosquito nets, water purifying tablets, quinine pills, and a small amount of food. We carried one kit in every plane. It's so made, and so cushioned inside that you can throw the thing overboard without hurting the contents. It's got positive buoyancy and is painted yellow.

BUREAU COMMENT: Droppable rescue kits have been developed and are being distributed.

     Another point that I want to bring up is that Navy clothing for use in the jungle is worse than poor, it's stinko. The Navy clothes are fine for aboard ship or fine for the office but they just don't work in the jungle. The light shoes and the blues and the whites and the white hats and the lack of rain clothes, of good bedding, of mosquito nets,

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

made any Navy outfit down there in advance bases a sorry sight. They had to borrow all their gear, or steal it, or beg it from the Army and Marines. Every individual got himself a little bit different equipment. The Navy is going to have to work on a field uniform and field equipment. I suppose they are already doing it. I would suggest that whites and blues go out for the duration for aviators going to squadrons. When an aviator comes out of Pensacola and other training centers, he has no real use for either whites or blues. He goes out to a campaign, and he's got to leave them all behind. That's one of their worries out there - what's happened to all their spare gear. It would save a lot for the war effort if they'd just stop issuing whites and blues to new aviators.

     The same applies to the cotton coat. We found no use for a cotton coat out there, although we lugged it every place we went. It would be much nicer to have a heavy weight shirt for occasions and locations where you need something slightly warmer than just a shirt. There were no coats or ties worn in the South Pacific. The Army arrangement of cottons with a woolen shirt seemed to us to be a very fine idea.

BUREAU COMMENT: All clothing, except flight clothing, is being standardized throughout the Navy. Recommendations from combat areas have been correlated and adopted, and units are being equipped with suitable clothing of highest priority.

T O R P E D O E S

     We very much want a torpedo with a bigger warhead. We want a torpedo with more speed. There's many a night plane on torpedo attacks that would find itself following in the wake of a ship. That's an ideal way to make a torpedo attack. You wind up at the ship on the quarter, and you would like very much to pull your torpedo right there, rather than turn out and come in and make another run. But a thirty-knot torpedo isn't fast enough. We've got to have at least ten more knots in order to catch a ship that's running away from you, especially at night. We'd very much like a shorter arming run, as I told you before. And we're wondering down there if it wouldn't be possible to have water-contact arming, and a further device so that if the torpedo hits something solid it'll go off. It's so easy at night to overrun the target, to get too close. And it's a shame that you can't pull that torpedo even in at a few hundred feet and have it explode. You get lots of opportunities at that range.

BUREAU COMMENT: A warhead of 600 lb. torpex is being shipped now......A water-contact torpedo is impracticable... A shorter arming run has been accomplished in the Mark VIII Detonator. It arms at approximately 225 yds.... The actual speed of a torpedo is 33½ ± 2. A 40 knot torpedo is under development. The average speed can be raised if the torpedo is dropped at a higher altitude at a higher speed.

B O M B S

     The Jap 100-pound bombs were more destructive against our own planes than their 1000-pound bombs. The 1000-pound or the 500-pound bomb dropped 30/40 feet from one of our own planes would dig a big hole without hurting the plane. 100-pound bombs explode on the surface and just raise the

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

devil with the plane. The explosion of the heavy bomb is underneath the ground, instead of above the ground. ComSoPac asked the Bureau of Ordnance about the possibilities of grass-cutter fuses, extender fuses, and found that there had been no development of them. Rather than wait he pushed the development down there at Noumea. Fleet Air Wing One ran the tests on some extender fuses that they manufactured right down there. They were very successful. The only catch was that it is a fixed extender on the Mark 19 fuse, about 18 inches long, and won't fit in a bomb bay. They've designed down there a few rough designs for an extender fuse that extends after the bomb has been released. They're complicated, however, and they can't manufacture them down there. They're reporting that to the Bureau of Ordnance.

BUREAU COMMENT: 6000 36" and 6000 42" extensions for AN Mark 219 (formerly Mk 19) instantaneous nose fuse, have been ordered and deliveries of 1000 per month each will begin shortly to the South Pacific. The Mark 19 fuse may be uaed on all Navy type bombs.

     The depth charges were very fine as soon as we learned about maintenance. The fuses have to be pulled out and maintained about every other week.

     We found that many of the bombs especially the depth charges, corroded too much. The paint on the bombs is very poor and very often, especially in seaplanes, you carry a bomb for several months before it's used. They need a good durable coat of paint.

BUREAU COMMENT: The paint now on bombs consists of 1 coat of zinc crommate primer, followed by 2 coats of olive drab. There will be further investigation of the problem of corrosion.

G U N S

     The .50 caliber gun is very successful and very popular.

     We like .38 caliber pistols with shoulder holsters for all plane crew members. A .45 on the hip is impossible to carry, and you have to wear the pistol if it is going to be available when you need it most.

BUREAU COMMENT: .38 caliber pistols and shoulder holsters are available in pools located at Pearl Harbor and other localities. They are on the allowance list for naval aviators.

     There should be a tommy gun in every plane. When a gun jams, the Japs notice it right away, and come right in. We tried to carry a tommy gun with tracer ammunition in it. One of the men, while they were repairing a gun, would stand in the position of the .50 gun and fire with his tommy gun. The Japs wouldn't know the difference. They'd keep clear - they have great respect for that .50 caliber, the kind of planes we ran into - and they'd keep clear of a tommy gun just as they would of the .50 caliber.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

BUREAU COMMENT: Tommy guns are available in pools located at Pearl Harbor and other localities and will be issued to VPB and VR aircraft, VR aircraft having first priority.

G U N N E R Y  S C H O O L S

     We had a lot of graduates of gunnery schools come to our squadron down there. They were young fellows with very little Navy training, very little aviation training; but they were very good gunners, right from the start, with a lot of enthusiasm for their job, which is more than you can say for some of the oldtimers. They demonstrated to us that the gunnery schools are a wonderful thing, and I'd like to put in a good word for them.

P A T R O L  P L A N E S

     The most important thing to a patrol pilot is to get a plane with some protection. We have to go out alone, all by ourselves, no escort; we're looking for Jap carriers, mainly, or cruisers with their floatplane fighters - and we've been using a plane that's almost defenseless. The thing we want most, outside the essential of range, is protection. I've seen a sketch of this PB4Y-2, and that looks like a patrol pilot's dream.

     Seaplanes are not as necessary, I think. We have to have a squadron or two down there for rescue work and service of coast watchers and general utility work, but most of the patrol work could be done just as effectively, or better, by land-based planes.

     The PV program sounds wonderful to pilots in patrol planes. We think they can do the night work as well as the PBY and be land-based. They can take off at any time during the night. A seaplane at a busy harbor is unable to operate at night, whereas a landplane field is available 24 hours a day. We're all happy to hear about the PV program, and the PB4Y program.

S O L O M O N S  C A M P A I G N

     There's no doubt about it that the Solomons campaign was unique in the history of naval warfare and there probably won't be another like it, but it was the best example of amphibious warfare we've yet seen. It was a bitter and bloody struggle. Many times we didn't know whether we were still holding the area or not. Many times we moved all our equipment that we could move and ships and spare planes out of the area because we thought we were going to lose it. We evacuated Santo except for the tenders and the patrol planes that were actually on search; and although it probably sounded here most of the time, at least as far as the Press went, that we were holding the Solomons and were shooting down Japs by the dozen, it was very, very critical. Many times if the Japs had sent in one more wave they would have had the place. We'd used up all we had.

     On the other hand, with a little bit more equipment, we all felt and still feel that we could have rolled the Japs up in a ball. There is nothing they did down there that gave us the impression that they were supermen or anything that approached it. I don't think anybody who was

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

in that campaign has any qualms about going out there and rolling the Japs up, if and when we can put our major effort into it.

Q U E S T I O N S

Q.    Is there a landplane field in the Santa Cruz Islands?

A.   There's no landplane field in the Santa Cruz Islands and no very suitable place to put one.

L A N D  P L A N E S  V S  SEA  PLANES

Q.   Why isn't that an argument for the use of flying boats?

A.   If we'd had the landplanes, we could have run a patrol out of Guadalcanal. Now from here on - this is the roughest country we'll ever run into, in the Pacific as, far as I can see - from here on any place'we take has either land fields or places where we can put land fields. This SeaBee organization, which is marvelous and which we all thought the world of, could slap in a fairly serviceable strip in any level spot in a few weeks, and we could fly the planes in. Of course, we had to have seaplanes to start this campaign, and a certain percentage of seaplanes, I think, should be continued as part of our air organization. We should also develop new types of seaplanes. The P4Y is a very fine development. But they should be kept at a smaller percentage than we used to believe.

     A plane on a field is not nearly so vulnerable to attack as a plane on the water. And anyone that was out at Pearl Harbor on December 7 knows that every plane we had on the water and on the beach (Kaneohe I'm thinking of) was destroyed in the attack. One burst on a seaplane on the water, and it's a goner; it sinks, and the salt water does the rest. You have to do a lot of shooting at a plane on the land to fix it so that it can't be repaired by a good service unit. We'd take three airplanes and take the best parts of each and build a plane in a few days in an emergency. Out of thirty-three planes destroyed on the ground at Kaneohe December 7, badly knocked up by bombs and cannon fire and by burning, we had ten of them in good flying condition within ten days.

C A M O U F L A G E

Q.   Did you make use of camouflage in any of the locations where you were?

A.   No, we never seemed to get the time. A great deal of camouflage work was done, but right on Henderson Field there was no time for camouflage. The planes were in constant use. They relied entirely on dispersion and fighter protection to protect the planes. If they'd had the forces to do it, people to put up the nets and the revetments and build the roadways, they probably would have used revetments and camouflage. The only thing they could use there was dispersion, which was very effective. Most of the large losses in planes were due to the long bombardments they'd get at night from destroyers. Up until very recently there wasn't much damage done to any planes by bombing or strafing.

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M A I N T E N A N C E

Q.   What do you think about giving all the maintenance back to the squadrons?

A.   We had divided ideas on that after trying this Patsu system. Each squadron would like to keep its own service unit. It works much better because you get the personal touch. It's the difference between a mechanic's working on his own car and working on a customer's. They'll work their eight or ten hours - they work hard - but when it comes time to eat they'll knock off. In the old squadrons when we had an emergency come up, food didn't mean a thing; they'd work all night in an emergency.

We think the Patsu system should stay and if possible a Patsu should stay with one squadron, rotate right back with it.

B L I N D I N G

Q.   Were you bothered much by blinding from muzzle flash?

A.   No, but the searchlights were bad in low altitude attacks. On a high level bombing attack, a searchlight doesn't blind a pilot except that he can't see the ground. But if you're making a torpedo attack, a searchlight can just spin you in right there. We carried red goggles around our neck. Some of the boys who got caught in a searchlight dumped their torpedo and got away while they could still see something. A combination of polaroid and red - red polaroid might be something you could work. The trouble is, our instruments are green. You put on a red goggle and the instruments disappear. If we could have our instruments red, we could wear our red goggles and still see our instruments, and then they could shine their searchlight all they wanted.

Q.   What do you mean by green instruments?

A.   The luminescence is green. You put on a red goggle and the thing disappears. Red illumination on instruments would be much better. That little bit of bright luminous paint on the instruments does a lot of damage to your night vision. You can turn out all your lights, and the instruments are bright enough on a black night to spoil your night vision.

T R A C E R

Q.   You don't think a delayed tracer is really essential?

A.   Well, we didn't do much shooting with our tracers. With a night fighter, it probably would be more necessary. We never were attacked at night, although we were stalked and had Jap planes approach us at night over Jap targets; but one burst of tracer at a Jap at night, and he's gone. They're very much impressed by tracer. We like lots of tracer in our ammunition for that reason.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

F L A R E S

Q.   How many flares did you carry?

A.   We carried a flare in each tube always set on a minimum setting. If we ever got in a barrage or AA fire, we'd pull that flare, even at low altitude. In a night torpedo attack, we expected, as we passed over, the whole ship would open up at us, so the minute we got above the ship, we pulled one flare on instantaneous setting. Instructions read a 300-foot drop, but that can't be, because the flare burned for a couple of minutes very brightly just after we'd passed over the mast of the ship. Then we climbed a little more and pulled the other one and turned away from the flares. They were so bright they blinded us. We carried a rack full of spare flares too. Sometimes on these harassing raids we'd carry ten or even twenty flares. The night that I was illuminating for a dive bomber attack in a destroyer action I carried forty flares, and dropped thirty-one. We threw them out by hand - just hung onto the string and threw the flare over the side.

Q.   Did you use the flare rubes? I swear the original said rubes and not tubes

A.   Couldn't work fast enough. We dived down and went across the line where we wanted to drop the flares as fast as we could travel and threw them out the tunnel as fast as we could throw. We'd had them all set ahead of time. Those bombardment flares are really swell. Where flares can be used, I don't think you can do better than to have the bombardment flares with the delay adjustment.

B O M B I N G

Q.   Did you use the Norden bombsight at all?

A.   No. We carried them and used them constantly as a very fine stabilized drift sight. But all our bombing was glide bombing or inadvertent dive bombing. We did some unintentional dive bombing at night, overran the target and pushed over. We had those Army "Doolittle" sights, nothing but a weight and a protractor, which we used to get our dropping angle. Then we'd put that aside and drop by eye. It was accurate enough for bomblng an area, or dispersed planes, or dropping a string across a ship.

     Another thing we tried is thls so-called skip bombing. The skip bombs arrived with no instructions, and an Army colonel told us that the idea was to dive in as fast as you could go and release the bombs about 300 feet short of the target, that they would go skipping along the water until they hit the target. So we took six planes up to intercept the Cactus Express one night. The weather was bad, and only two of them found the Express coming. They dived down through heavy AA fire and dropped their skip bombs 300 feet or so short of the target. The bombs immediately sank. With a 4-second delay you couldn't even see the explosion. The gunners said they could see a flash in the water, 300 feet short of the Jap ships, but no disturbance on the surface.

Q.   How steep were you coming in for that?

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A.   We pushed over from about 2000 feet, with low power. The most speed we got was about 130 knots. We were trying to make them skip but we didn't dare to use throttle because the minute you put throttle on, the exhaust stacks would shoot out a flame about two feet long. All these night attacks were done in low cruising power and lean mixture, because of the lack of flame dampers.

BUREAU COMMENT:
     1.   Bombs should be released at a point to hit the ship (water line preferably) without skipping.
     2.   Point of release is governed by speed and altitude. Final approach is made in level flight.
     3.   Bu Ord will make modified fixed gun sights for this type bombing available.
     4.   Armament has the necessary ballistic data available to compute the correct angle for sighting at various speeds and altitudes.
     5.   The skip feature is one that may help in getting a hit if the bomb is dropped too soon. This tactic will not work if the plane is height slow.

B L I N D I N G

Q.   How far away will a searchlight blind you?

A.   At almost any distance, if he gets on you. They very seldom pick up the plane. They apparently don't have radar on their searchlights, and they just wander around with them and give themselves away. One sortie you'd find lights, and then you'd come down a few weeks later, and there, wouldn't be a light shown or a gun fired. They tried different things.

Q.   Would you have to pull out of a bombing attack with a searchlight on you?

A.   Well, the beauty of a dive bombing attack is that you can release high when the light is tutrned on, with some chance of hitting.

Q.   Are searchlights a good defense against dive bombers?

A.   I doubt whether they would be a very good defense but they're wonderful defense against torpedo attacks. You have to fly smooth; you're flying at 100 feet; and if you get a little off, you'll smack the water. Or if you get high, the torpedo won't run. If you stayed far enough out not to be blinded by the light, you'd be too far away for your torpedo to get a hit. They very frequently turned towards the torpedo plane after the drop and caused a miss. One of our planes got a very nice hit on a Jap carrier.

     Emergencies would come up, and the most we could scrape together was six PBY's in any one night. If we could have used twenty-four of them, night after night, we could have done a terrific amount of damage. But the patrol had to go on, and the most we ever had down there was forty planes. We were very lucky to have twenty of those in commission at any one time.

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

Q.   Would the area down there support a large increase in the number of planes?

A D V A N C E D  B A S E S


(Yes, this is ordered a little bit weird)

A.   You'd have to have more tenders, or beach establishments. We built ramps, with the help of the Sea Bees at Noumea, Fiji, Tulagi, and Santo. It only took a couple of days to build a good ramp with Marston matting at Santo, which would hold two squadrons of planes. Then you've got to have a camp. A camp takes a lot of overhead, a lot of cooks and equipment, sewage, and countless other things. The Navy has done very well moving ashore for the first time on such a big scale. They've done almost as well as the Army. Their camps look very nice. They're not standard; everybody's built himself a different looking shack in many of the camps; and everybody's in a different uniform, depending on what kind of combination he could borrow or bum; but they do fix themselves up, move into the jungle very well. Many times they are more comfortable than the professionals - the Marines and the Army.

Q.   What was the general atmospheric condition at night?

A.   Lot of haze, especially over the Solomons; about two a.m. it started getting hazy every night.

Q.   Low haze?

A.   It's a low haze up to about 2000 feet; a thin haze, but it completely thwarts your night vision. It will be clear until 2 or 3 a m.; that's when it starts getting hazy. The patrol planes would just climb up above it and wait until morning before they came in. Carrier planes and Army planes with less range weren't so well off; they couldn't stay out overnight, and they had a lot of operational losses. We had none on the night work, no operational losses.

N I G H T  L A N D I N G S

Q.   What lights did you use for night water landings?

A.   The best thing is a string of lights on the water, with every ship turning her red lights on.

Q.   How long a string?

A.   Not very long, just five or six lights to mark the center and the direction of the boat landing area. Then we used to turn a searchlight into the wind; and as the plane circled the bay, we took the searchlight and led it, just to show him the shoreline. But that isn't necessary. If the truck lights are on and the string of lights is into the wind, that's all a plane needs. If there are any high obstacles, of course, such as high hills, they have to have a red light. But Santo is very nice for a night approach, except when they have sixty or eighty ships in the harbor. Every ship has a couple of boats running

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

around which aren't so well disciplined as the boats around Pearl Harbor; they don't keep out of your landing area. It's unsatisfactory operating seaplanes amongst so many ships at night.

Q.   What percentage of fuel protection did you have?

A.   We had the rubber cells on one side and just regular PBY tanks on the other. We had the CO2 fitting, but we never did get the rest of the CO2 purging equipment; so we never tried it. Of the planes that were shot down we only positively know of one which burned.

EQUIPMENT

Q.   Did you have parachute liferafts?

A.   No.

Q.   Did you want them?

A.   Well, I don't think so. The planes fly so low that a parachute wouldn't do any good. If they get attacked, they get right down on the water.

Q.   How about the back-pack kits?

A.   The PBY's didn't worry about them, though the carriers were anxious to get them.

Q.   I asked because it has been indicated by ComAirPac that he wants them for everybody, and it seems a little difficult to provide them.

A.   Well, I certainly would put the patrol planes at the very end of the priority for back-pack kits; because they fly low, they never wear their parachutes. It's hard to get them to wear their life jackets.

Q.   Where did you carry the rubber boat, forward or aft?

A.   Aft, right mear the waist hatch so we could get it out in a hurry. That's the last part of a patrol plane that sinks.

SEA PLANES

Q.   Do you feel that ability to land in the open sea and take off in the open sea is important in seaplanes for patrols?

A.   It certainly is. Throughout this war we're going to have lots of aviators landing in the water.

Q.   If you had a utility seaplane with this capacity, do you believe we should have a patrol seaplane in addition to it?

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

A.   That's a question. You oould get by without the patrol seaplane and yet, on the other hand, you could find many uses for it. Personally - I think that the utility seaplane is all we need. A campaign may come up, however, where the seaplane would be very useful, as it was when we first moved into the Solomons. For that reason the combat seaplane should be developed. One thing about the combat seaplane is that it doesn't occupy valuable area on the land field. Land fields are always quite crowded.

P L A N E  E Q U I P M E N T

Q.   Is a workable scheme in existence which would make it possible to provide a gadget which would detect clouds for you at night at several miles? Would such a gadget be of any advantage in night operations, or is your visibility sufficient so you could detect clouds anyhow?

A.   Well, that would be a nice thing to have, but it's a nonessential. Anybody's that's been in a thunderhead - just one - would like to have that from then on, but it isn't essential.

Q.   Do you usually get sufficient warning in some way or other?

A.   I think so; you can usually tell.

Q.   For night work, what do you consider the more important instruments?

A.   On the board, you mean? Well, one thing I think no pilot over uses any more in a big plane is a gyro compass. You can throw that away.

Q.   How about the directional gyro in the Sperry pilot?

A.   Well, you have to have that to make the Sperry pilot work.

Q.   I mean particularly for Black Cat operations? Are you satisfied with the pressure altimeter?

A.   No, we should have that radar altimeter. That is very desirable for night operations.

Q.   How about the radar itself?

A.   The radar is absolutely necessary. We never use the search antenna on the side of the plane, except to check the time when we pass an island abeam or something like that. We're so interested in what's ahead that we never turn on the sweep radar which extends out on both sides.

Q.   Do you believe the instrument panel should have red lights?

A.   I certainly do. The air speed is slightly red already. But it should be red illumination, because you can look at a red light

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

and look out without affecting your night visibility. They are very rapidly converting everything on the bridges of ths ships to red. All the battle lights on the ships are red now. You can walk from a compartment lighted red, or charts lighted red, out into the darkness and see very well.

BUREAU COMMENT: All new aircraft are to be equipped with red indirect lighting. Existing aircraft, where design of lighting permits, will be supplied with red bulbs to replace the present white lights.

Q.   What flight instruments do you use mostly?

A.   Artificial horizon gets more popular as it gets more reliable, especially when you have a nice one in your plane, such as is part of the Sperry gyro pilot.

Q.   Do you use the artificial horizon much?

A.   Except when things get bad; then it goes wild, and you don't pay any attention to it any more. The air speed is more reliable when you get bumpy air.

Q.   How many crews did you have, or how many do you recommend for operations of that kind? .

A.   Eighteen crews for twelve planes seemed just about right.

Q.   That's all you need?

A.   That's all we need because you never have the twelve planes in commission; you're lucky to have six. I'd like to say that the average flight time down there for crews ran 100 hours a month. In VP-91 every pilot and crew man who had been in active operation throughout '42 and who hadn't been in the sick bay had very close to 1200 hours for the year 1942. That's pretty high time for a year's work.

Q.   Have you any comments about defensive tactics with patrol planes?

A.   We had standard procedure when we got attacked; and we used to get attacked pretty regularly, mostly by Japanese cruiser float planes, or by Japanese patrol planes. The .50 caliber gun would always maneuver to give the waist gunner a chance. Down there we installed the twin .30's in the bow. They helped a great deal. And now VP-44 is busy putting two extra .30's in the tunnel of the PBY. They put in an extra little celluloid window and got the Army .30 caliber socket mount. They have a .30 mount on either side, aft of the regular waist gun. The tunnel gunner, who very seldom gets a shot anyway, can shoot out either side.

Q.   Would you advocate taking the tunnel gun out?

A.   No, because just lately almost daily we've been running into the Jap land plane patrol out of Nauru. They liked to make pass-under

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

runs, which gave the tunnel-gunners a shot. We were begging the powers that be to let us go up and raid them at night; we could have raided them with the PBY's very nicely. But they just couldn't spare the planes for the job, Finally the Army-Navy raided them in the daytime. We wanted to go down there at night. Their patrol overlapped ours, and we ran into them almost daily, usually about eleven o'clock in the morning. They'd come in and attack. They had about 180 knots to our 120; they'd come in and make some half-hearted runs for about half hour; then they'd go on with their patrol and we'd go on with ours. We might see them again coming back, take one more shot, and let them go. We were thinking we could work up some gunner's dream where they'd tell us what was down here and they'd tell us what was up there. Then we could shoot at each other a half hour longer. As it was, we got a few bullets in their planes; and they got a few bullets in ours. Only on two occasions that I know of have planes been shot down on those patrol plane dog-fights. They're scared, and we're glad of. it. But if we get these new patrol planes, these PV's with fixed guns, we'll surprise them.

J A P  P A T R 0 L  P L A N E S

Q.   What were the Japs using for patrol?

A.   It looks very much like a PV; it's a twin-engine landplane.

Q.   Were Jap seaplanes fighters a menace to you?

A.   Very much to a PBY. We had to keep clear of them. That was one of our so-called hot sectors up alongside Malaita where the Jap seaplane fighters used to stay and try to get our patrol planes or our B-17's. They'd attack our B-17's, though not very successfully; they'd get shot down by the B-17's. But they could shoot us down very easily. We had many a plane come back after an hour or half-hour fight with two or three of those boys. They usually travel in sections. One of the pilots in 23 fought off five of them for over an hour. He put his engines in take-off power, over take-off power, 50 inches manifold pressure, 2750 rpm; and they fought for an hour and twenty minutes. The Japs ran out of ammunition; every gun in the PBY jammed - that's when we first got down there and before we learned better how to take care of our guns. The Jap's flew up alongside the PBY, flew formation at him, and thumbed their noses at him. It made our pilot mad; he jumped out of the cockpit and ran back to the waist and begain shooting at the Jap from the waist with his .45 pistol. His second pilot was shot through the lung, and died on the way back from internal bleeding. It is very easy to apply first aid to a punctured lung, but if it isn't applied, the patient dies in a few minutes. The idea is to put the patient in such position that the lung will drain, and to stuff the bullet hole with gauze bandage. Since they didn't know first aid, the second pilot died on the way home.

Q:   What do the Japs use for their flying boat patrol planes down there?

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

A.   They seem to be just about out of them. They had lots of them early in the Solomons campaign. Our fighters shot them down, two of them by PBY's. They had very slight speed advantage over a PBY. One of our pilots got up above one one day and came down on him by surprise. He made one pass-over run, as we used to practice on a sleeve, so that every gunner he had got a very nice run on the Kawanishi. It went down in flames.

Q.   Were they using them just as we were, for search purposes?

A.   Just as we were, but they have none left now - four-engine Kawanishi's. We hadn't seen one in six weeks or two months. They're going into twin-engine landplanes that look very much like our PV's. We figured their top speed was 180 knots; the PV is much faster.

Q.   Did you use your automatic pilots?

A.   Constantly. We thought the world of that SBAE. We didn't care which we had, though, SBAE or Sperry. It just happened we had better maintenance down there for the SBAE, so that was usually working when the Sperry wasn't. It used to be the other way around. When the patrol planes had only Sperry, the Sperry was very reliable because they had good maintenance. Then they switched to the SBAE. All the Sperry men disappeared and they stopped the spare parts. Then everybody swore the SBAE was the best instrument. It doesn't matter which; there's no need having both. We had both for a long time, There's no need of SBAE in a patrol plane, no need of the bomb-sight.

Q.   Would you have a radar repeater for the pilot for night torpedo work?

A. Yes. We asked for that. I'm not familiar with that fluorescent screen, but it would have to be red, since after looking at a green light you can't see anything else.

Q.   Have you seen any of the PPI type?

A.   No, I haven't. Are they green or red?

Q.   They're green.

Q.   In that raid over Munda, how high up we're you, 1000 feet?

A.   A thousand feet is about the lowest we can get with our bombs.

Q.   Did you feel any effect of the bomb drop?

A.   Oh yes; we thought we were in an AA barrage, at the first run, but then we realized it was just our own bombs. One pilot dropped his 500's at just a few hundred feet when he dive bombed a cruiser and blew it up. He came back with shrapnel holes from his own bombs. He had the tunnel gun manned, and he filled the tunnel gun with salt water. He must have been pretty low!

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LT CDR COBB CONFIDENTIAL

Q.   What type fuse?

A.   Instantaneous. But he was making a glide bombing run and evidently had a tail wind; or got too far over the target, pushed over steep, dropped quick, and then pulled out very close to the target.

BUREAU COMMENT: The Bureau has designed for night torpedo work a radar pilot repeater tube for use with both ASE and ASB Radar, This indicator is now in production and decision for installation is awaiting recommendation by the fleet. The additional installed weight of this unit is approximately 27 lbs. The screen is a nonglare green and with the dimming control on the indicator, night adaptation has been found acceptable.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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SOURCE:
National Archives & Records Administration, Seattle Branch
District Operations Office Central Subject Files 1943-56 "Central Subject Files, 1943-44"

Transcribed by RESEARCHER @ LARGE. Formatting & Comments Copyright R@L.

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