Story of the Black Cats

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Written and Produced

in the

Southwest Pacific


to the Officers and Men

of VP Squadrons

Commander of Aircraft

Seventh Fleet

Black waters of the Southwest Pacific, enemy waters, sea-roads for the passage of Japanese armaments going South to smash US troops fighting over island beaches, domain of the escort destroyer, guarding convoys of anti-aircraft, machine guns, concrete for pillboxes. Then, one night, suddenly, mysteriously, two ships were wiped out of a convoy. One ship left burning, one sunk. This was only the beginning. In one month, 41,000 tons of Jap cargo vessels were sunk, 43,000 damaged. Next month, 13 ships attacked, 6 damaged, 7 sunk. News of the losses leak out. Radio Tokyo invents alibis, new American superplanes reported in the Pacific, surpassing anything known in speed and maneuveurability. Reverberations in the Japanese high command. New detachments of night fighters called up. Jap fleet adjustments made, more destroyers, cruisers, more convoy escorts. The attacker was an unidentified American plane, hitting at night. They bombed the destroyers, light cruisers, heavy cruisers. What is this superplane?

Anything familiar? That torso, with a middle-aged sag, her speed less than some cars can do. Maneuveurable? Some days all right, on others she brings around like a ten ton truck. She dives under protest. Wings can't handle half the pressure dive bombers make. Got her? Right. The old Cat. Navy Catalina patrol boat, PBY in a black nightgown, for night camoflage. A Black Cat. She hides by days in one of the secret US Cat bases, which the enemies would love to know about.

It's 8 AM, base personnel watching for a Black Cat overdue, last heard from at midnight, attacking a Jap merchant ship. But they don't watch long, here comes the Cat, and it's assumed, the signal that she did it again, one more enemy ship on the bottom.

Ploughing around for the lee shore now, in flat waters. A wait for the tow-line. Up the ramp, tail first. The squadron commander, wanting to know any wounded. After 14 hours of flight. Commodore Combs, commander of the Task Force, rides in his Jeep with Captain Peck, in charge of the group. Lage crater, made two bombing runs, exploded, ammunition cargo. Now, off to get the tables and new plans for the coming night's mission. And that beer, which all hands look forward to. But, there's one bottle left over. A Navy cameraman hit on the first run, so no pictures. But tonight's another night for the mate to take his place.

As soon as the Cat's home, she's groomed for the next prowl. That's a blitz buggy towing into her into position for overhaul. Some job for a maintenance officer, keeping an aerial antique acting like a dive bomber. The bad symptom sheet, fourth propeller throwing oil. Nothing serious, but a new part is needed. These Cats take plenty. Some here are nearly four years old.

Now, 8 bullet holes, starboard wing. 6, 7, 8, not so bad. Black Cats have wheezed home with more than a hundred holes showing through their side. It came out here, the shrapnel that nicked our cameraman. Such holes are penciled first, lift, plate bored, riveted. The leak in the fuel tank plugged, gas goes in. Don't ration it, you'll be up all night and part of the next day. Last night's strain told on the tail assembly, repaired now, wagging her tail and raring to go. But first she needs her claws sharpened. The Black Cat's bomb dump. Quarter tonners, and this, the size Jap cruisers have a weakness for. Fifty calibers, defense against Jap fighters at night. The tail fins screwed on tight. When you swan dive through anti-aircraft you want bombs that lay in right.

Back to the Cat. Patrol Boats weren't made for bombing. She wears them under her wing because there's no other place. For every pound of bombs dropped last month, one ton of enemy shipping was sunk or damaged. Records like that are worth plenty in any language, dollars or yen. Now, a tin fish for the port wing. And the fifty caliber, just in case, but we'd rather not have to use it. Darkness is the Cat's best defense. Darkness, and her black nightgown.

But the guns are checked, and the Cat stands ready, feeling her years, but as fit for combat as good wishes can make her. But first looking for a stowaway aft. Yes, two kinds of black cats at this base. Overside, you. In the meantime, the crew we're flying with in an hour is off for a spot of water polo. Coconuts to you.

Now, a quick look in on the officers' quarters. Our Cat's masters. That's the squadron commander at the mirror. Big game hunters are night, but the housekeeping has to be done. Evening clothes, fourty-fives, jungle knives just in case luck runs out and you have to walk home. And the picture, mmm-mmm. Off for a briefing. Final instructions, final warnings. Six Black Cats will fly tonight. Their pilots, navigators. First discussion: new angles of enemy strategy. To draw more blood from US invading troops, Japan is feeding key defences with ammunition, guns, concrete for pillboxes. Our objectives: to stop at sea where one bomb can sink what a hundred bombing runs ashore might not destroy.

Latest enemy convoy sighting, southbound one tanker, three freighters, probably artillery and ammunition, estimated position at 0200. Watch out for Jap air fighters. Nearest airstrip only sixty miles away. Can they destroy our escorts? Two cans like this, five inch guns, elevation for anti-aircraft barrage, two aft, one forward. Two ack-ack topside. And you may have a light cruiser on your hands, one sighted yesterday in that area. The search plan for locating the convoy, area A, for the command plane, area B, whoever spots the convoy first will signal the other planes immediately, including the two standby planes. Command plane will direct attack.

On the way North, the command plane will search enemy-held harbor X, where the convoy may have dropped anchor temporarily. Watch out for land ack-ack, there's plenty. A nest of six heavies to the North, two heavies here, four mediums South. Last topic, weather. on some nights even more of a headache than ack-ack. Storm front's building up to the North, thirty knot headwings to flight on the way home. Turn back early. If the night clears, don't make a target out of yourself by getting in front of the moon.

Now, a half hour left for some quick chow. Command plane over side in five minutes. Sandwich makings from home. California sardines, Chicago ham spread, oragne juice from Florida to wash it down. A squall bearing down from the sea, but the Cats leave for schedule. In all this base's history, foul weather has never stopped a flight. He slides in, hull settling deep under bomb-laden wings. Landing gear disengaged, following out for the take-off. Peeling away into the run, motors growling over the job of lifting too many men off the water, too much gas. But she's up on the step. We're off.

Another night, another mission, another prowl into the dark. The Cat needs its nine lives on these jobs. Night, and the weather kicks up. We're up enough to be air-sick if you had time. But getting near harbor X, where the convoy might be hiding out, weather or no weather, the Cat gives up altitude to find out. Navigator to captain, harbor X reckoned ten miles ahead. Repeat to waist gunners. Harbor X three miles off port bow. Lookout posted on the Black Cat's nose. A last check of the land ack-ack positions. The moon breaks through, silouetting. Enemy fighter planes coming up, captain. Harbor X dead ahead. No convoy down there. Lower, for a second look. Harbor X empty, convoy still at sea. Now to get out, quick. Spotted. We took one. Another. Night fighters hard off port beam. Standby for a dive to high. The cab blackens out, here's where a black nightgown counts. The Japs need better glasses. Now, a cautious bank to sea to resume convoy search. Convoy's original 0200 position was fifty miles bearing five degrees. Convoy, convoy off port bow. Tail end of the convoy, ammunition freighter, position signals to five other Black Cats, 0240 South, 15012 East, the plane veers into the wake of the cruiser. Other Cats arrive.

Take our angle on the cruiser. And pounce. Press the pickle and lay an egg. A hit! And two goes in. Miss. Another run, a hit. Plane three goes in. Now the Cats get out, with one freighter sunk, one damaged, one tanker burning, a cruiser hit. The cost: Black Cat number five, whose night light went up in the smoke with the freighter she sank. One more flight completed. One less convoy flying the Rising Sun. Another loss in losses adding up to billions of dollars in equipment that didn't get there. A job done by planes that can't maneuever, but do, that can't dive, that can't rev up speed to wiggle out of a run but go in anyway for a second try, a third. What keeps them going?

This, among other things. These are American troops grabbing at a beach, a beach guarded by pillboxes and machine guns, by Jap cannons, mortars, grenades. These things don't grow there. They come in ships, that can be sunk. And every less ship gives the men who are landing a better break. And that's keeps the Cats flying.



This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).