P5M Marlins of Patrol Squadron 40

Circa:Early 60's


VP40 Laging Handa Patch

 

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 These images are from my collection of 35mm slides, both full- and half-frame, taken while I was attached to VP-40 from 1963 to 1966. When I first joined the squadron, it had been advance based at Naval Station Sangley Point, Republic of the Philippines for about five years. My initial ground job was Squadron Legal Officer and it was a real eye-opener for a young "jg" from a small western Washington town. Cavite City wasn't quite Olongapo, but it offered some "recreational opportunities" that I'd never imagined... and many VP-40 sailors had to come to see me because they had been "partaking to excess".

 My first six months in the squadron were filled with pilot training, area familiarization flights, OSAP's (Ocean Surveillance Air Patrols) over the South China Sea, a typhoon fly-away or two, occasional tender/seadrome ops at Subic Bay -- and, of course, my ground duties. I lived with my wife, toddler son and (after appropriate quarantine) scruffy little terrier in Certeza Court, an American compound across town from the Naval Station. We occupied an elegant old house that reputedly had quartered Japanese officers during the war. While there, we were under the constant surveillance of a tiny, toothless woman of undetermined age who was always leaning out the window of her nipa hut, watching the strange Americans over the high security wall that ringed the compound. Although her hut was shabby and dilapidated, it featured at least one unique decorative feature: the wall directly behind her was completely papered with Playboy centerfolds!

 At any rate, we were generally enjoying the good life of overseas duty. That came to an end, however, the following spring, when SecDef McNamara ("Yo-Yo" McNamara as he was "affectionately" referred to by the troops) ordered advanced based squadrons back to the US and we headed for our new home base at NAS North Island, CA. After a pause to catch our breath, we began "port and starboard" deployments back to Sangley, swapping airplanes, tools, supplies, spaces etc. with VP-50, one of our sister squadrons, every six months. As you might guess, by the time we'd finished a couple rotations, relations between the two squadrons were getting pretty tense. In addition, the long Sangley NX shopping lists we all carried on our rotations outbound must have easily wiped out the projected savings that "Yo-yo" had used to justify the new deployment scheme.

 During our initial period at North Island, we trained for anticipated WestPac tender/seadrome operations by flying the entire squadron north to the mouth of the Columbia River and operating with Salisbury Sound (AV-13) from a seadrome just off the Astoria, Oregon riverfront. I recall that buoy watches on the moored birds could get pretty exciting when the tide was on its way out. At times, the river current seemed nearly fast enough to get us "up on the step" while still tied to the buoy!!!

 When we returned to Sangley Point for our first deployment, we began tender/seadrome operations almost immediately. Initially we went to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, for a some final training, and then we turned our attention westward to sites along the coast of Viet Nam. Nearly all of our flights "in the area" were in support of Operation Marketime, the effort to block the flow of arms and supplies into South Viet Nam. We worked with all three active Pacific tenders: the Sally Sound, Pine Island (AV-12) and Currituck (AV-7), and operated at various times out of Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay and Con Son (Condores) Island. By my reckoning, our VN experiences were interesting but relatively unremarkable, at least in comparison with what the Army and Marine grunts were experiencing ashore. Among my most vivid memories are the night buoy watches at Da Nang and Cam Ranh, watching fire-fights in the nearby hills, keeping a sharp lookout for VC sappers swimming near the planes, listening to BBC and Radio Moscow on my Sangley NX short wave radio wired to the airplane's flat-top antenna and wondering when some of those mortar shells would start reaching out for our big seaplane tender and its moored airplanes. We seemed to offer such juicy sitting targets.

 I left the squadron in 1966 in mid-deployment, on the day that CDR Hugh Longino relieved CDR Harry Hindon as CO. I was headed for flight instructor duties at NAS Corpus Christi where, several months later, I encountered an old friend on the seaplane ramp. Buno 135533 had stopped over on its way to the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. I checked my log book and determined that I had about 35 pilot hours in the grand old bird.

 My final encounter with P5's (other than the one in the museum) occurred a few years later, when I visited North Island and spotted a boneyard full of the retired birds in a remote corner of the base. Most were in derelict condition but three were right out of rework, covered with preservative and ready to go. I slipped through the tail hatch of one and found myself in what seemed like a brand new airplane - it even smelled new. On a subsequent visit, I was shocked to find that all but the three preserved birds had been literally chopped to pieces and bulldozed into a huge pile of jagged aluminum scrap. I poked around the pile, looking for a souvenier or two but, after nearly losing body parts to shifting slabs of razor sharp aluminum, gave up the effort. According to the civilians operating the yard, all three remaining P5's were destined for static displays and safe from their blades. However, only a month or two later, I returned to find that they, too, had been reduced to scrap. Somebody (definitely NOT a seaplane aviator) had concluded that the upkeep of static displays that big would be too expensive.

 I had one more encounter from my seaplane days a few years later when I visited my parents' home near the southern end of Puget Sound. Their easterly panorama of the bay included a mothballed ship anchorage - and there, among rows of grimey old merchants, were two big, gray, very familiar silhouettes: the USS Salisbury Sound and the USS Pine Island! Alongside the much smaller, dingy black freighters, they positively glowed in the sunlight. Unfortunately, like the seaplanes they'd supported for all those years, their days were over. By my next visit, they were gone, probably recyled into Hondas, Toyodas and rebar. I understand that Currituck survived a few more years, transferred to a South American nation for service as a command ship.

Comments or Feedback to:bigleytl@earthlink.net
T. L. Bigley, CDR USNR-TAR (Retired)

Distinguished Flying Cross Defense Meritorious Service Medal Air Medal Navy Commendation Medal Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal National Defense Service Medal Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal Armed Forces Reserve Medal Gallantry Cross Unit Citation RVN Gallantry Cross with Palm Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal


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All the color images are my originals. Permission is granted for noncommercial use of these graphics, as long as you give me appropiate credit.


NS Sangley Point, RP NS Sangley Point, RP The Ramp at Sangley Sangley Flightline

This is NS Sangley Point in the Philippines, viewed looking westerly from a point about halfway between the base and Manila. Corregidor and the mouth of Manila bay are just out of sight on the right horizon. The old Sangley Naval Base of WWII PT boat fame is on the peninsula to the left.

Although it functioned as a Naval Air Station, Sangley was classifed as a Naval Station to comply with the US/Philippine bases agreement. The seaplane ramp is in the center of the picture and the seaplane operating area and sealanes are to the upper left. Cavite City is in the background.

Sangley Ramp area, looking northerly. The launch ramp and beaching crew shack is on the right, nose dock, admin huts and Sid's gedunk on left, runway, taxiway and opposite shoreline in back. Base ops, BOQ, etc are off the picture to the left.

QE-7's "new" low vis paint job. This shot was taken during our port-and-starboard deployment period and, after our 6 months "in the barrel", the birds would shift to VP-50 colors - until we returned after another 6 months and repainted them again... Note the JATO exhaust streaks aft of the port hatch. We were flying pretty hard those days.

Sangley Flightline Sangley Flightline The BOQ at Sangley Point Sunset on the Sangley Point Ramp  

Looking westerly across the ramp at QE-12 (one of "my" birds). Note the beaching gear and tractor on the left. The lanch ramp is farther left, out of the picture, and our admin quonsets and nose dock are to right. Cavite City is in the background.

Another shot of QE-12. This shot was taken during VP-40's advanced basing at Sangley, prior to the adoption of the gray and white paint job. At the time of our first deployment back to Sangley (about 12 months later), about half the birds had the new paint job. By our second deployment, they were all "low viz".

The Sangley Point BOQ. I hardly noticed this building while VP-40 was homebased at Sangley and I lived in town with my family... but I became thoroughly familiar with it during the two subsequent deployments.

Spectacular sunsets are a common sight in the Philippines. This shot is looking down the seaplane ramp and over the lights of Cavite City after the "duty" evening shower.

Head of the Sangley Ramp Down the Ramp at Sangley On the Buoy at Sangley Casting Off at Sangley

QE-12 at the head of the Sangley Ramp. LCDR J. Cooper in the cockpit and AMS3 N. De Lisle manning the bow. The birds were moved around the ramp by large tractors like the one in the "FlightLine2" picture above, attached to the tail.

Once at the head of the ramp, with the bow line attached to the launch/recovery buoy and tractor shifted to a long tail line, engines were started and used to start the bird down the ramp. The tractor used its brakes to control the plane's speed down the ramp.

The bow buoy maintained proper aircraft alignment via control lines leading back to the shore through anchored blocks. Note: This shot is actually a "ringer", probably taken during tender ops, since the engines were not (normally) shut down during a launch.

Once in the water, the beaching gear was cast off by aircrew members working through open hatches under each wing and in the tail, and then pulled clear by the beaching crew. On command of the pilot, the aircrewmen released first the tail line and then the bow line and the bird was on it's way.

QE4 on the step Over Corregidor Formation at Sangley HVAR firing at Sangley

QE-4 on the step at Sangley. We used JATO on most operational flights or when the airplane was heavy. This bird is at roughly the point on it's take-off run when the JATO would be fired. Once airborne, the JATO bottles would be jettisoned over open water and not recovered.

This shot was during a SEATO exercise in '63. It shows a VP40 P5, an Australian P2 from 10 Sqn, RAAF, and an RNZAF Sunderlund over Manila bay. Corregidor is in the background with its airstrip directly ahead and the "head" of the island, with its tunnels and gun emplacements, just off the picture to the left (west).

Contrary to what my old Neptune buddies claimed, we frequently got enough P5's airborne to fly formation. Here QE-4 has joined up on the way back to Sangley from a mining exercise.

HVAR firing in the range near Lubang Island. This was a 5 inch, solid propellent rocket with a solid steel warhead designed to punch through a submarine hull. It's the type of missile thought to have destroyed a VP-50 Marlin in 1967 when it exploded on firing and blew the wing off.

Formation at Sangley Buckner Bay  Okinawa WestPac Tender Ops WestPac Tender Ops

Even VP-40's troops had to stop and watch in awe when this formation of P5's broke over the Sangley sealane upon their return from tender ops at Subic Bay. Only the beaching crew objected to sights like this since they meant a "traffic jam" at Sangley's only ramp.

This is a chart of the Buckner Bay Seadrome at White Beach, showing the pre-surveyed sealanes and anchorages. I was awed by at how quickly a quiet bay could be transformed into an operational airbase. We operated out of Buckner during work-up for the coming ops along the Vietnamese coast.

Either Cam Ranh Bay or, more likely, Buckner Bay, judging from the land contour and the blue wingtip float - I had a gray bird at Cam Ranh.

An undetermined tender at an undetermined site. I think this is most likely Cam Ranh or Da Nang but won't swear to anything. If anyone can identify the tender - it's either the Sally Sound, Piney Maru or Currituck - I'd appreciate feedback.

Tender Ops at Cam Ranh Con Son Island Seadrome Sally Sound at Cam Ranh Hoisting Aboard

Definitely Cam Ranh (according to the label on my slide). And probably the Salisbury Sound. We had constant visits by Swift Boat and Coast Guard cutter crews who thoroughly appreciated the fresh water showers and "civilized" dining facilities.

One of our Marlins in the Con Son Island seadrome off the mouth of the Mekong River. This was a great location for our base since we were "on station" as soon as we got airborne - our Marketime Patrol track ran right over the island. We stayed here until seasonal weather shifts pushed ocean swells into the seadrome.

This is the Salisbury Sound at Cam Ranh Bay. Note the different aircraft paint schemes. We didn't stay here very long, due I suspect to the possibility of attack by swimmers or shore fire. To reinforce our concerns, we were often "entertained" by fire fights in the hills during night buoy watches.

Coming aboard at Cam Ranh. The birds were hoisted aboard only when they needed major work such as an engine change. Note the shore facilities in the background. I hope the Soviets appreciated all our construction and equipment during their use of the bay a few years later.

Mothballed in Puget Sound, Washington The Bone Yard at North Island, CA Museum P5 Model P5M-2

Imagine my surprise to find the Sally Sound and Piney Maru moored across the bay from the house I was buying on Puget Sound. Sadly, they were awaiting their turn with the ship breakers and were gone by the next time I visited the area.

And then there were four. Three were at NAS North Island in the late 70's, supposedly set aside for static displays - the fourth had gone east to the Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola. The two "grubby" birds were actually in pristine condition, fresh from overhaul and coated with preservative, and the third was nearly as nice. When I returned a month later they had been reduced to a pile of scrap.

  and now there's one! The only remaining P5M Marlin is retired to the Naval Aviation Museum on NAS Pensacola. The rest are "serving" in their new form as cookware, pop cans and car parts.

Includes:
   Post-Ivan Sitrep

No, not Sangley Point. This is a "secret" P5M seadrome, currently operating from a hidden cove in South Puget Sound!

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Well, actually, it's a 1/72 plastic model perched on my deck railing - but wouldn't it be great...

VP40 Crew 3  - Circa 1964
My first crew in front of
the Sangley nose dock.

 

Links and Such
Two books that should be in every Marlin sailor's library!
"The Martin P5M Marlin", by Bruce D. Barth is now available in PDF format on CD-ROM. Price is $14.95 + $4 shipping. Adobe Acrobat Reader included. Contact Bruce Barth via email or via "snail-mail" at 7049 Auckland Drive, Austin, TX 78749-4162.
"The Martin P5M Patrol Seaplane", by Capt Richard Hoffman, USN (Ret). Available at HistoricAviation.com. Price is $34.95 + shipping.

The Cutaway PBY-5 Catalina
Familiar to EVERY
Naval Air type.

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