From the beginning, VP-12 operated from Henderson Field in split shifts. Half the planes and crews were at Guadalcanal for three of four weeks while the rest of the squadron flew their missions from Espiritu Santo. Then they traded off. It was a good arrangement because living conditions in the forward area were very primitive. Malaria and other tropical diseases ran rampant and were carried freely by the swarms of vicious mosquitoes whose larvae flourished in the oozing black mud, the pools of putrid green water, and the incessant jungle heat. These problems added significantly to the perils inherent in low-level night operations. Flight-crew members often flew with fever, chills, diarrhea, and other ailments simply because it was their turn to go and there was no one else. Ronald Stultz, VF-12 Executive Officer remembers the problem well. Our squadron was infected with malaria quite heavily, 85% might be a good figure. Although atabrine tablets were taken daily, the toll was still quite high. Many found that small scratches became sores that ulcerated and took weeks to cure. Antibiotics were not known, nor penicillin at that time. The sulpha-drugs were available and the sulpha powders were our friends for these sores. Some squadron members, however, did not even respond to this treatment and ultimately required evacuation and hospitalization for the ‘jungle rot'." By the end of February, Radioman Ledoux recorded in his diary that, "Malaria has just about knocked out most of the squadron. Most flight crews are composed of odds and ends. In our crew only Ragusa and I are left out of the original crew. McKinney, our Chief A. P. [enlisted pilot] is still here too."

As a matter of routine, each crew flew a mission every third night and sometimes more frequently. Because of the special capabilities of the Catalina, they were often called out during the day as well for special rescue missions, mostly involving downed pilots and crewmen.

At night, "Washing Machine Charlie" arrived over Henderson at unpredictable hours, dropping occasional bombs that kept maintenance personnel and off-duty flight crews from getting much sleep. Muddy foxholes, sometimes half-filled with water, offered little sleeping comfort. While flight-crew members were often able to catch catnaps after the sun rose, morning found the maintenance people back on the job, working through the blistering heat of the day to keep the Cats airborne at night. They did their jobs well.

(The above section of text was taken from "Black Cat Raiders of WWII" by Richard C. Knott, 1982)(now out of print)


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