Squadron History:  VP-81


Established as Patrol Squadron NINETEEN (VP-19) on 1 October 1937.
Redesignated Patrol Squadron FORTY THREE (VP-43) on 1 July 1939.
Redesignated Patrol Squadron EIGHTY ONE (VP-81) on 1 July 1941.
Redesignated Patrol Bombing Squadron ONE HUN-DRED TWENTY ONE (VPB-121) on 1 October 1944.
Disestablished on 1 June 1946.

Squadron Insignia and Nickname

The CNO-approved insignia for VP-81 was the Polar Bear, often known as the patrolman of the north. It is indigenous to the northern regions and was symbolic of the offensive power of a patrol squadron. In the design, the bear stood on a pinnacle that represented Mt. Edgecombe, the volcanic cone just outside Sitka Harbor. Above the bear was the constellation of Ursa Major pointing to an accentuated Polaris. The squadron retained the insignia after its redesignation from VP-81 to VPB-121.

Nickname: None on record.

Chronology of Significant Events

(Squadron history prior to WWII removed as not pertinent to this website.)

21 Dec 1941: The squadron claimed a U-boat sunk off the coast of Key West, Fla. Postwar examination of enemy records does not indicate any losses in that locality on that date.

1 Sep 1942: VP-81 was transferred to NAS San Juan, P.R., under the operational control of PatWing-12. The squadron conducted ASW searches in the Caribbean area.

1 Jun 1943: The squadron was relocated to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the operational control of FAW-11. ASW patrols, night antishipping patrols and convoy coverage were the primary duties of VP-81.

1 Aug 1943: VP-81 was transferred to NAS San Diego, Calif., in preparation for the transpac to the South Pacific. New amphibious models of the Catalina, PBY-5As, were assigned as replacement aircraft while the squadron underwent additional training for its upcoming combat assignment.

1 Nov 1943: The squadron flew its transpac to NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii, where additional training was given before further reassignment to the combat zone.

25 Nov 1943: VP-81 was transferred to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal. The squadron relieved VP-54. Its duties consisted of search missions of the Saint George Channel, providing convoy coverage and nighttime Black Cat operations. The squadron came under the operational control of FAW-1.

3 Feb 1944: VP-81 was transferred to Munda, New Georgia Islands. Black Cat operations were conducted in conjunction with nearby PT-boat squadrons. Bombing strikes against land-based installations were carried out in the Choiseul Bay area.

7 May 1944: VP-81 was relocated to Piva Yoke, Bougainville, where Black Cat nighttime operations were conducted against enemy shipping.

1 Jul 1944: The squadron returned to NAS San Diego, Calif.

8 Sep 1944: Upon return from leave, squadron aircrews were reassigned PB4Y-1 Liberators in place of Catalinas. Ground school and flight training took place at NAAF Camp Kearney, Calif. The squadron came under the operational control of FAW-14. Training had progressed to the advanced syllabus at NAS Brown Field, Calif., in preparation for the upcoming second combat tour in the Pacific. While in training, the squadron was assigned the PB4Y-2 Privateer in place of the older Liberator aircraft.

6 Jan 1945: VPB-121 flew its transpac to NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii, where the squadron began intensive training in radar navigation. Operational search patrols in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands were also assigned as part of the training.

26 Jan–1 Feb 1945: The squadron was relocated to Midway Island and put on barrier patrols and daytime ASW patrols, returning to NAS Kaneohe on 1 February 1945.

1 Mar–1 Apr 1945: VPB-121 was transferred to Eniwetok. On 7 March 1945, the squadron conducted its first strikes on land installations at Wake Island. The missions continued through 1 April, when Ponape was added to the target list.

3 Jul 1945: VPB-121 was transferred to the island of Tinian. On 8 July a detachment was assigned to Iwo Jima.

3 Aug 1945: Two Privateers from the Iwo Jima detachment spotted a downed P-51 pilot floating near the enemy-occupied island of Sagami Nada. While directing an American submarine to the location, the two aircraft sank one enemy ship that tried to interfere, and downed three Japanese fighters. Lieutenant Ralph D. Ettinger and his crew accounted for two of  the eight fighters that attacked the Privateers. For his bravery in leading the defense against superior enemy forces for over 40 minutes of constant action, Ettinger was awarded the Navy Cross. Lieutenant Commander Raymond J. Pflum, commanding officer of VPB-121, was the pilot of the second aircraft. His crew shot down one of the enemy fighters and was responsible for sinking the Japanese cargo vessel. He was also awarded the Navy Cross.

7 Aug 1945: Two of the squadron’s Privateers were caught by five enemy fighters in the area of Sagami Wan. One enemy aircraft was shot down and one of the squadron PB4Y-2 bombers was shot down in flames, with no survivors.

1 Sep 1945: VPB-121 was assigned weather flights out of Iwo Jima until the end of September when the squadron was relieved for return to NAS San Diego, Calif..

1 Jun 1946: VPB-121 was disestablished at NAS San Diego, Calif.


Home Port Assignments

Location Date of Assignment
NAS Key West, Fla. 22 Oct 1941
NAS San Juan, P.R. 1 Sep 1942
NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba 1 Jun 1943
NAS San Diego, Calif. 1 Aug 1943
NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii 1 Nov 1943
NAS San Diego, Calif. 1 Jul 1944
NAAF Camp Kearney, Calif. 8 Sep 1944
NAS Brown Field, Calif. Nov 1944
NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii 6 Jan 1945
NAS San Diego, Calif. Sep 1945


Commanding Officers

Name Date Assumed Command
LCDR Frank B. Schaede 2 Jun 1941
CDR Benjamin E. Moore, Jr. 20 Jan 1942
CDR Thomas B. Haley 30 Jun 1942
CDR James R. Compton Jan 1943
CDR Eugene P. Rankin Sep 1943
CDR Raymond J. Pflum 8 Sep 1944
CDR Harold R. Swenson 19 Sep 1945


Aircraft Assignment

Type of Aircraft Date Type First Received
PBY-5 May 1941
PBY-5A Aug 1943
PB4Y-1 Sep 1944
PB4Y-2 Oct 1944


Major Overseas Deployments

Date of Departure Date of Return Wing Base of  Operations Type of Aircraft Area of Operations
1 Sep 1942 1 Jun 1943 FAW-12 San Juan PBY-5 Carib
1 Jun 1943 1 Aug 1943 FAW-11 Guantanamo PBY-5 Carib
1 Nov 1943 * FAW-2 Kaneohe PBY-5 EastPac
25 Nov 1943 * FAW-1 Guadalcanal PBY-5A SoPac
3 Feb 1944 * FAW-1 Munda PBY-5A SoPac
7 May 1944 1 Jul 1944 FAW-1 Bougainville PBY-5A SoPac
6 Jan 1945 * FAW-2 Kaneohe PB4Y-2 EastPac
1 Mar 1945 * FAW-2 Eniwetok PB4Y-2 SoPac
3 Jul 1945 * FAW-1 Tinian PB4Y-2 SoPac
1 Sep 1945 30 Sep 1945 FAW-1 Iwo Jima PB4Y-2 WestPac

* Continued combat deployment in the Pacific, moving from base to base.


Wing Assignments

Wing Tail Code Assignment Date
PatWing-5 Dec 1941
PatWing-12/FAW-12   † 1 Sep 1942
FAW-11 1 Jun 1943
FAW-14 1 Aug 1943
FAW-2 1 Nov 1943
FAW-1 1 Jul 1944
FAW-14 23 Oct 1944
FAW-2      6 Jan 1945
FAW-1      3 Jul 1945
FAW-14      19 Sep 1945

† Patrol Wing 12 (PatWing-12) was redesignated Fleet Air Wing 12 (FAW-12) on 1 November 1942.


Unit Awards Received

Unit Award Inclusive Date Covering Unit Award
   None on record.

The information on this page is from the   Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons - Vol. 2 CD-ROM (which is unfortunately no longer available).

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