75 years ago: You can run…

A Japanese Navy Kawanishi H8K2 “Emily” patrol seaplane, #801-77, flies close to the ocean while trying to escape from a PB4Y-1 Privateer patrol bomber (a U.S. Navy B-24 Liberator with only minor modifications), just East of the Ryukyu islands, (25 20’N, 130 30’E) on 31 October 1944.

The PB4Y these images were taken by, flown by LT. Herbert G. Box of VPB-117 (“The Blue Raiders”), shot this Emily down, recorded at 1345(I).

Equipped with the early AN/APQ-5 low-altitude radar bombing gear, the PB4Y-1 shown above could carry 10 .50 cal machine guns in four turrets and two waist positions as well as 1,200-pounds of bombs on up to 1,500-mile patrols.

A big help in the air war over the Pacific between the U.S. and Japanese flying boats was the armored and hydraulically-powered ERCO bow turret, with twin .50 cal machine guns and 800 rounds of tracer at the ready. It could rotate 90 degrees to either port or starboard.  

In the old adage of “he who lives by the sword,” Box’s aircraft, Sweating it Out (USAF B-24J-155-CO 44-40312, BuNo 38760), was less than two weeks later severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire from Muko-Jima Retto in the Bonin Islands, the site of a Japanese weather and radio station. The crippled PB4Y made it back to within 30 miles of its Tinian base before being forced to ditch. Upon hitting the ocean, the plane broke into three pieces and five enlisted aircrewmen were lost. Seven survivors, including an injured Box, were rescued the next morning.

Between its establishment on 1 February 1944 and its decommissioning on 4 November 1945, Patrol Bombing Squadron 117 flew an impressive 1,617 missions, averaging 11.4 hours each, primarily on 1,000-mile patrols in support of the U.S. Third Fleet.

Throughout the Blue Raider’s Pacific War, they tallied 210 Japanese ships of some 109,000 tons (24 during one three week period alone), made 300 attacks on Japanese installations, and were credited with 58 enemy aircraft shot down, earning a Presidental Unit Citation.

VPB-117s crews were so good at splashing Zekes, Emilys, Jakes, Vals, and Judys that they count the highest number of air-to-air victories among U.S. Navy patrol squadrons of all time and had an unprecedented five crews that chalked up five or more “kills,” an impressive number when you take into account that the whole fleet only had eight such crews. At least two individual PBY4Y-1 gunners earned the title of “ace” with five kills each: SFC Richard H. Thomas of VPB-117 and ARM2 Paul Ganshirt of VD-3.

In exchange, The Blue Raiders lost 17 of their own PB4Ys along with 72 officers and men.

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