But despite its well-deserved reputation for reliability there were occasions when the PBY didn’t make it all the way home. On one such night, July 16 – 17, Lieutenant (j.g.) Jim Anderson and his crew had searched the Slot to Bougainville and were headed south again. As they came abreast of Vella Lavella Island, the starboard engine began to act up and finally burst into flames. All attempts to extinguish the blaze failed and Anderson knew he would have to set the plane down in the open sea – and quickly. The fire was burning brightly now and he was concerned that it might reach the fuel in the wing tank.

As he made his hasty approach to touchdown, the fire reflected off the water and provided him with some visual reference. But it was not enough to permit him to determine the direction of the swells or the wind on the water’s surface. Trusting to luck, he continued his descent.

The Cat hit hard and stuck. In fact it was such a jolt that the burning engine was torn from its mounts and fell sizzling into the water. Miraculously, they had not torn the bottom out of the airplane and it bobbed about on the waves. But Anderson and his crew were in a tight spot. Vella Lavella was occupied by the Japanese and they had almost certainly seen the burning airplane land in the open sea. Soon they would be out to investigate.

Quickly he ordered the crew into two rubber rafts. Then he made his way aft to one of the .50 caliber waist guns. He turned the gun inward and riddled the Cat’s bottom with holes. Now there was no time to waste.

Having administered the coup de grace, he climbed into one of the rafts. They began paddling furiously to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the sinking aircraft. Perhaps a half-hour later, a launch arrived on the scene and searched the area briefly. The Cat crew watched quietly from a distance. The Japanese apparently believed the burning airplane had crashed into the sea and the pilot had gone down with the wreckage. They soon gave up and headed for shore.

With the immediate danger past, the Cat crew now set out for the beach in hope they could make it before dawn. The next morning found the group on Vella Lavella making their way gingerly along the beach at the edge of the jungle. They had no idea what they might find, but they could not simply wait to be discovered or to starve to death. Suddenly they heard someone coming along a path to the beach. Aviation Radio Technician first class Doug Roberts remembers that "he was one of the fattest Japanese I have ever seen, before or since – Mr. five-by-five." They decided to station themselves along the path and jump him when he returned.

But fate intervened again and before they could put their hastily made plan into action, two F4U Corsairs, whose pilots had no idea that Americans were down there, came in low and began strafing a large Japanese camp no more than a hundred yards into the jungle. Seeing their chance the Cat crew took off down the beach in the opposite direction and regrouped. Only one man, the plane captain, was missing. By this time the Corsairs had left and were winging their way out over the ocean toward home, still unaware of the drama that had taken place below.

While the Cat crew was wondering what to do next, they heard the missing crewman shout. Then there was a single shot and all was quiet. There was not much question what had happened.

Strangely enough the Japanese did not search the area. Perhaps they thought they had killed the pilot of the downed aircraft and that there was no one else about. Whatever the case, the Cat crew members put more distance between themselves and the enemy camp and then stopped to rest. Here fate interceded again.

That morning when they had first come ashore, one of the crewmen discarded his flight jacket in the brush. There a native found it and took it back to his village. The chief recognized it as belonging to an American and organized a search party.

A few hours later the crewmen saw the jungle foliage part, and before they could get to their handguns they were surrounded by natives. Through sign language and pidgin English the tribesmen made themselves understood. They were friends. They would take the Americans to a safe place.

Roberts says they then struck out on "a hell of a hike," ascending high up into the mountains. After hours of climbing they finally came to a camp. There they were introduced to coastwatcher Leftenant Jocelyn of the Royal Navy. With him were four Samoans in blue uniforms. Things had begun to look up.

Jocelyn had a radio, of course, and soon made contact with the Americans at Guadalcanal who promised to dispatch a PT boat to pick up the Cat crew. A few nights later they left the camp just after dark and after six hours of walking broke out of the jungle onto the beach. Natives in dugout canoes were waiting for them to paddle them out to the PT boat waiting offshore. By next morning they were telling their story at Henderson Field.

(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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