PV-1s in the USSR Quotes are from Otis Hays' and Ralph Wetterhahn's books
3/25/44 34641/33V, Lt. Walt Whitman, crashed on Mutnovsky Volcano, USSR in an attempt to divert to Petropavlovsk after being attacked by Japanese fighters over Shimushu. Reconstruction of the events of that mission was vividly written by Ralph Wetterhahn in his book “The Last flight of Bomber 31”.
Crew: Lt (jg) John W. Hanlon, Donald G. Lewallen, AM2c, Clarence C. Fridley, AMM2c, Samuel L. Crown, ARM3c, James S. Palko, AOM3c, Jack J. Parlier, AerM2c
25 March 1944. PV-1 BuNo 34641, piloted by Lt. Walt S. Whitman of VB-139, with crew of seven, sustained engine damage from the enemy fire over Shimushu. The pilot attempted diversion to Petropavlovsk, but crash-landed on the slope of Mutnovsky volcano, Kamchatka. The crash site was first discovered by Russian geologists in 1962. Back then the KGB vetoed any information about the aircraft, and even attempted to disperse the wrecks to, perhaps, make it less visible from the space. Only in 2000, the initial evaluation was performed by the U.S. team of experts. Ralph Wetterhahn, former military pilot and aircraft crash investigator was part of that team. He wrote a great book, that sparked my initial interest to the aerial war in the north pacific region. Unique pictures from the crash site were kindly provided by Mr. Wetterhahn.
Curiously enough, after familiarization with original Squadron documents I learned that Whitman’s Ventura had Squadron Code 33V, not the 31! Please refer to the comments to the photos in the gallery below, and resolve this puzzle for yourself
6/15/44 48910/9V(R), Lt Russel P. Bone reached the target (Miyoshino airfield in central Shimushu) before the other planes. Was seen by Lt. Vivian flying low south across Paramushiro Strait under intensive AA fire, making erratic maneuvers, and “was obviously in difficulty”. Last seen turning toward Kataoka naval base.
OH: “Separated from the other bombers in his flight, Russel Bone’s aircraft lost an engine to gunfire during the strike, and was forced to make a decision. As a result, he and his crew became the first navy airmen to crash-land in “neutral country” and to be interned by the Soviet Union.”
Crew: Ens Ralph W. Stevens, Ens Glenn W. Mantle, Laurence E. Sommers, AMM1c, Sam Gelber, ARM2c, Frank L. Crow, Jr., AMM3c, John P. Horvath, AOM3c
6/15/44 48930/11V, Lt. Howard B. Schuette: went under heavy AA fire during the bomb run over Miyoshino airfield.
Byron Morgan: ” We made a high speed bombing run… over the airfield at Shimushu. The fighters picked us up after we left the target…. One fighter chased and fired at us for 150 miles before turning back.” OH: “None of the crew had been scratched during the fight. One of the main fuel tanks, however, had been punctured, and Schuette knew it was impossible to reach Attu on the remaining gasoline.” Schuette landed in Petropavlovsk smoothly, escorted by I-16.
RW: “Near Schuette’s plane, a group of Soviets was having a raucous chuckle over the tail art painted on the side of fuselage aft of the door.” A cartoon of fat Japanese general in elegant attire, getting a report from a battered Japanese pilot whose bullet-riddled plane was resting beside a palm tree …”broke the ice with the Soviets. Soon Soviet navy and air force officers came over and began animated exchanges, bridging the language barrier with laughter and pantomimes.”
Crew: Lt (jg) John E. Brassil, Ens Byron A. Morgan, Willie A. Donaway, AMM1c, John F. Beggin, AMM2c, Walter H. Morris, AOM2c, John E. Jage, ARM3c
6/19/44 48938/12V, George A. Mahrt: accidentally siphoned about 500 gallons of fuel overboard during the mission to Paramushiro. Urgent message stated: “Out of gas, Russia”.
RW: “Still in the dark as he crossed into Soviet territory, Mahrt found the area fogbound. He orbited above the clouds until dawn, when he spotted a hole in the weather. Mahrt slid the bomber through the gap in the clouds, then saw rising terrain ahead. Too late to react, the Ventura plowed through a stand of trees. One wing slammed into solid lumber. The nose was ripped off forward off the cockpit as the plane plowed through the forest. Fortunately, the crew escaped without serious injury and there was no fire”.
The plane landed on the beach by Anglichanka Bay near Petropavlovsk.
Crew: Ens Richard M. Johnson, Ens William A. King, Clifford C. Patzke, ARM3c, William E. Dickson, AMM2c, Richard T. Everad, AOM2c, William D. Storm, AMM2c
An article about Mahrt’s and other crew experiences was published in the Naval History magazine in February 2017.
8/12/44 49525/81V Three PV-1s experienced difficulties with navigation due to unsatisfactory Loran reception and unexpected wind. They made a landfall about 150 miles south of the target. The bombers eventually returned to the target area (Matsuwa Island) but, faced with the prospect of a fuel shortage, jettisoned their bombs and set a returned course for Attu.
Lt. Carl W. Lindell encountered enemy antiaircraft fire and was attacked by two fighters. OH: “According to Russell Manthie (Lindell’s gunner), ” The bomber received several hits, and the starboard engine was running rough.” The propeller was feathered. Radioman C. J. (“Pat”) Brown recalled that the crew had been briefed on what to do if a crash landing on Kamchatka became necessary. On Lindell’s order, he radioed a terse message to Attu: ” Starboard engine trouble, 500 gallons of gas, proceeding to Petro.” Using his emergency checklist, Brown then switched to the Petropavlovsk tower frequency and notified the Soviets by a prearranged code-Wave signal, “American bomber forced down”.
“As we approached Soviet air space, antiaircraft fire erupted, and several Soviet fighters aimed shots in our direction,” Brown said. “The pilots then warned us by rocking their fighter’ wings. Those actions were orders, we thought, that we should land. Fearing that the Soviets had not heard our first transmission, I got on the radio and repeated the message to Petropavlovsk tower.”
Lindell: “We had been briefed to lower our landing gear and circle the Petropavlovsk airfield three times. I tried to comply, but the antiaircraft fire boxed us in, and I landed as fast as possible.” The bomber touched down and went off the end of the field and into the trees. After the aircraft came to rest and the crew spilled out, some of the men could see several other damaged navy bombers parked at the edge of the field.
Ens James S. Head, Ens Murlin K. Richardson, Henry H. Williamson, AMM1c, Cyril J. Brown, ARM3c, Russel L. Manthie, AOM3c.
It is known that the Soviets repaired some of crash-landed PV-1s, and used them with the 128th SAD (Смешанная Авиационная Дивизия, Composite Air Division) under designation “B-34”. One of the planes became the favorite mount of the Division CO Lt. Colonel M. A. Yeremin. Note the top turret and frontal MG fairings are “patched”- perhaps, this aircraft remained in service for some time after the war. Part of the 128 SAD was transferred to Kataoka airfield on Shimushu immediately upon the completion of the island’s occupation in August 1945. The rest of the prop inventory of the 128th SAD (mostly Lend-Lease P-63s) was flown from Kamchatka to Shimushu later, with the arrival of MiG-15s. The graveyard of the planes in different stages of decaying is still there, perhaps, due to the logistical difficulties of the scrap metal removal.
8/19/44 49507/75V Lt. Jack R. Cowles: during the bomb run on Kakumabetsu airfield (Paramushirio) the bombs failed to release.
RW, Cowles: “On the second run we saw the prettiest line of ships lined right up in the harbor that you ever saw in your life. And it looked like easy pickings”. A “perfect drop” was made in the midst of heavy AA fire. A cannon round exploded in right engine and another one plowed through the port wing. 25-mm exploded in the empty ventral gunner position, cockpit gunsight had been knocked out, the radio was hit, the navigator’s sextant disintegrated, and gasoline was spurting onto fuselage floor. Cowles was able to climb to 2000 feet on one engine, but could not get any higher. Immediately he was attacked by three “Oscars” one of which was shot down from a damaged single-barrel top turret. Cowles crash-landed on Lopatka with both engines stalled. The crew escaped through the flames. Seconds later the plane was destroyed by explosion. They were met by the Soviet soldiers, who according to Cowles, treated them very well cosidering the Soviets “extreme poverty”. After six days they were taken to Petropavlovsk.
Crew: Ens Leonard Panella, Jr., Ens Millard B. Parker, Harold R. Toney, ARM1c, John R. McDonald, AOM3c.
7/23/44 48909/2V(R), Lt. John P. Vivian attacked and sunk Jap picket boat, but suffered right engine damage. ” I nursed the engine along as we set course for home”, he recalled, “but it just wasn’t going to run”.
RW: “As Vivian crossed the beach near Petropavlovsk, coastal batteries opened up. By now the Soviet antiaircraft gunners on Kamchatka had been ordered to fire behind American aircraft to ward off any Japanese fighters that might be following. Vivian looked aft: “The bursts were behind us but correct on altitude”. Vivian’s landing went badly. He overshot the concrete runway and came to a stop in the sod overrun. He glanced across the field and spotted three disabled Venturas lined up and weathering in open”.
Crew: Ens David R. Wilson, Ens Thomas H. Edwards, Kenneth G. Anderson, AMM2c, Emil I. Nommenison, Jr., AOM2c, Paul J. Schasney, AMM2c, F. A. Vibrant, ARM2c
2/20/45 49654/96V, Lt John W Powers- port engine damaged by debris from his own rockets over Minami Zaki, attempted to land PK, escorted by 3 other PVs. Lt Dawson in one of the escorting planes was probing the weather and could not break the fog at 200 feet. OH: “Powers turned back toward Cape Lopatka. Meanwhile, the fuel limitations of the three escorts forced them to abandon Powers and fly back toward their Attu base. Powers sighted the lighthouse at Cape Lopatka, but the terrain was not suitable for an attempted landing. His final message stated: “Bailing out over Lopatka.” All six men landed safely in deep snow. The plane continued north on automatic pilot.” (Of note: to the best of my knowlege, the wrecks were never found).
Any additional photos or suggestions are welcome!.