This section is a sample chapter from Mel Crocker's book "Black Cats and Dumbos" (currently out of print, but soon to be reprinted).
It provides a good overall summary on Black Cat operations.

Perhaps the most notable time slot of the Catalina’s decade-plus naval service was that period between September of 1942 and the spring of 1945. While participating in all other war zones and contributing to each, the PBY, with its deadly accurate night bombing and elusive tracking of the Japanese fleet, was forcing the Pacific enemy out into the open – into daylight – a situation which eventually weakened his ability to stem the allied advance.

With their fighting confidence restored by the success at the Battle of Midway and the slowing of General Tojo’s advance into New Guinea, Allied Forces began the long drive back to Japan and victory. But, in spite of a growing American military might, the Japanese whittled away at the Allied forces protecting our foothold on Guadalcanal. Historically, one well-executed attack, coupled with their strategic timing, could have slowed or eliminated American resistance.

However, the Catalina squadrons, compiling accomplishments far beyond their design expectations in other war zones, were beginning to show their worth in the Solomons. Their slow speed and light armament had presented small cause for concern on the part of the enemy and warranted little confidence from most Allied military leaders.

Relegated to the role of convoy duty, search and rescue, air ambulance and freight hauling, the PBYs had few opportunities to prove their aggressive ability. But by October the simple arithmetic of attrition in Allied aircraft presented them with the opportunity to play a major role.

PBY squadrons of the Solomons area were some of the first to receive the new airborne radar. The system lacked sharp, specific details but was capable of spotting ships and submarines within a 10 to-20-mile range.

The Japanese were using the cover of darkness to supply their Solomon Island garrisons and to move troops into forward staging areas of Guadalcanal. Since the PBY’s 100-plus-per-hour speed handicapped its daylight actions, that same slow speed proved excellent when coasting in at masthead altitude in the dark of night. The Cats dropped their bombs on unsuspecting enemy vessels then slipped away, most often unscathed.

The "Black Cats," PBY-5 seaplanes and PBY-5A amphibious Catalina patrol bombers, were officially named on December 14, 1942 by Commander C.E. Coe. The honor of the first squadron so named went to VP-12 who, along with VP11, VP91 and a detachment of VP51 Catalinas, began harassment raids on enemy held islands, supply barges and troop concentrations in the Solomons as early as September of 1942. Several of VP11 planes were painted black under the wings and hulls while beached at Espiritu Santo and flew "targets of opportunity" raids, beginning in early October.

Commander Clarence Taff, Commanding Officer of VP12, landed on Henderson Field, Guadalcanal on the 15th of December, 1942, piloting the first official Black Cat PBY. On December 21, four more of the dull-black Catalinas joined him. It would be March before the sixth plane arrived but in that brief period of time the squadron flew 236 missions, logging 1660 hours. The greatest percentage of these flights were night raids and reconnaissance.

Normally, the Cats carried four 500 – pound bombs, or one torpedo and two 500-pound bombs under the wing, plus highpowered illuminating flares and dozens of fragmentation bombs. In addition, the Catalinas that prowled the night used another weapon that must have struck fear into the hearts of enemy troops as they crouched in and out of shelters during air raids. This secret weapon was a couple hundred empty beer and coke bottles. Tossed from the blisters and tunnel hatch – hurtling toward the ground – they whistled an eerie, blood-chilling screech, a suitable cats-in- the-night serenade to give the Nips insomnia.

The Black Cat’s worst enemy wasn’t the Japanese, it was weather. The Solomon Island area  presented the PBYs with some of the most violent weather fronts, with turbulence an almost standard condition. Thunderstorms bounced the aircraft around so severely that only the durability of the machine and its pilots brought it through. It was not uncommon to find a returning Black Cat with major sections of the wing and fuselage stripped of black paint from the effects of storms it had encountered.

In March of 1943, Patrol Squadron 54 relieved VP12 on Guadalcanal. Carrying on the Black Cat tradition, VP54 whetted and added to it as the Cats bombed the Japanese airstrips at Munda and Vila on frequent night raids. Among VP54’s exploits, while serving the Black Cat cause, was the rescue of 52 pilots, crewmen and fleet sailors. Their commanding officer, Commander Carl Schoenweiss, and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Erhard, picked up a fighter pilot and eight dive – bomber pilots during one night of rescue operations off Rennell Island.

The art of night-bombing merchant vessels, tankers, barges and, on many occasions, vessels of war, was developed by combining the incredible capabilities of the PBY with the skills of young American pilots. The average age of PBY pilots during this period was 24. Their confidence and dedication to the job was buoyed by the all-forgiving aircraft they flew. The more they flew it, the more they trusted it.

With the successes of late 1942 to encourage them, the Black Cat squadrons of the South Pacific spread their operations to the Bismarck Archipelago, to the Marshalls and Gilberts, to the Marianas and Carolines. And, as the Allies captured key islands, while bypassing others on the way back to the Philippines, the PBYs, with their tenders and advance island airstrips, kept pace. Wherever enemy shipping of troops and supplies presented a danger to the Allied advance, the Black Cats set up operations.



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