Tag Archives: Balikpapan

An Unwanted Sword, 76 Years Ago Today

17 September 1945: Surrender of Borneo at Bandjermasin. The Japanese major general, a career officer in his full uniform with some 2,500 of the Emperor’s troops under his command, attempted to hand his family sword to the senior Allied officer on the scene, a malarial temporary lieutenant colonel in field dress with rolled-up sleeves and a bush hat, who, after suffering the loss of one out of four men in his battalion in the preceding campaign to reach that moment, ordered the general via an interpreter to place his sword on the ground before of the Australians.

Note the Digger with his Enfield revolver at the ready. Photo by Corp. Robert Eric Donaldson, AWM 118033

“Major General Michio Uno, Imperial Japanese Army, Commanding the Japanese 37th Army Forces in the area, lays his sword at the feet of NX349 Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Ewan Murray Robson, CBE, DSO, Commanding Officer, 2/31 Infantry Battalion during the Japanese surrender ceremony on the local sports ground. Also identified is Warrant Officer Class 2 Arthur Pappadopoulos, Interpreter with the Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), GHQ beside Robson, and on the extreme left, behind Lt Col Robson is Warrant Officer Class 1 George Hawkins.”

Part of the 25th Brigade, 7th Division, the 2/31st was formed just as the 70th Battalion (Australia) after Dunkirk in England from assorted Australian non-infantry types and trained to be infantry to defend the British Isles against a looming invasion by Hitler. Renamed the 2/31st, following the end of the Battle of Britain, the unit was sent to North Africa then served in the Syrian campaign before being rushed back to defend Australia in early 1942 after Japan entered the war.

This photograph from State Library Victoria is of the 2/31 Australian Infantry Battalion walking in high cane along the Banks of the Brown River, circa 1943. When the Japanese arrived in Papua, their goal was to make their way across the Kokoda Track and form a base from which to attack the mainland of Australia. The Kokoda campaign is remembered as one of the most difficult operations in Australian military history – a campaign that cost the lives of many soldiers.

After being decimated through two years of fighting in the fierce jungle during the New Guinea campaigns, the reconstituted battalion landed at Green Beach at Balikpapan along with the rest of the 7th Division on 2 July 1945. Overcoming fierce Japanese opposition as they pushed inland from the beach, they were again in the Green Hell of jungle fighting, suffering the highest casualties of any Allied unit in the Borneo campaign, with nearly a quarter of the battalion killed or injured. On the way, they liberated a huge camp at Kandangan, which held Dutch women and children that had been interned since 1942, as well as a second large camp that held some 2,000 Indian POWs captured in Burma.

Soldiers of the Australian 2/31st Battalion passing through the town of Bandjermasin in Borneo as they took responsibility for the area from the Japanese. “They are being given an enthusiastic welcome by local civilians.” AWM photo 118018

The 2/31st Battalion received 22 battle honors for its service during the war, and its members earned a VC, three DSOs, four MCs, one DCM, and a score of MMs. It was disbanded in March 1946, and the unit, assembled from “odds and ends” had never since uncased its flag.

Its commander, Lt. Col. Murray Robson had been mustered out even before then, discharged in November 1945, his war service at an end. A solicitor by trade and a member of the NSW parliament, he had joined the Australian militia at age 33 as a reserve lieutenant three weeks after Hitler crossed into Poland in 1939 and, serving with the 2/31st since June 1940, earned the DSO in New Guinea after being wounded in Syria and mentioned thrice in dispatches.

No word on whatever became of Major General Uno’s katana.

Battlewagon in the anti-ship missile age, 29 years ago today

While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.

Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.

The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.

With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.

Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.

16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306

As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!

While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.

USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U
Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”

The AP reported at the time:

Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.

Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.

The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”

Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.

Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.

Shades of Balikpapan

The largest Australian-led amphibious landing and offensive assault in history were the OBOE 2 landings at Balikpapan, Borneo (then the Japanese-held Dutch East Indies) in which some 33,000 troops hit the beach in July 1945. We’ve talked about that operation a couple weeks ago on a Warship Wednesday. 

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Division Australian troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo in July 1945. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands Indies amphibious forces, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces, hit the beach. 

Therefore, it is fitting that this month’s Talisman Saber ’19 exercise saw the largest Australian-led amphibious landing since OBOE with an extended multi-day combined force assault on Langham Beach, near Stanage Bay, Queensland, involving not only the Australians but also U.S. Marines, New Zealand troops, and elements of the British MoD, Japanese Self-Defense Force (ironically) and Canadian Forces.

As part of the exercise scenario, the fictional Pacific nation Kamaria invaded nearby “Legais” island, sparking global outcry and a response from the Blue Forces to liberate the occupied territory. Recon elements were inserted on D-3 with a full-on landing on D-Day with amphibious assault vehicles, landing craft, and helicopters bringing troops to shore.

The imagery was great.

More here. 

Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will profile a different ship (or unit) each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, July 3, 2019: The Frogmen of Balikpapan

U.S. National Archives 80-G-274676 via NHHC

Here, on a special WW where we take a break from an actual warship, we see a group of young U.S. Navy Underwater demolition personnel of UDT-18 aboard the fast transport (converted destroyer) USS Kline (APD-120) watching as Army B-25 bombers of the 13th Bomber Command plaster the Operation OBOE 2 invasion beaches off Balikpapan, Borneo circa 3 July 1945– 74 years ago today. They are waiting for orders to leave their boat to clear underwater obstacles to go clear the beach to allow allied Australian troops to land. While the Pacific War would be over in less than two months, these frogmen, many of which are on their first mission, could not know that was looming and they had a Japanese-held beach to clear of obstacles.

According to Lt. JG C.F. Waterman, who took these amazing pictures, “Things looked rather bad at the moment and everyone was thoroughly scared.”

Originally formed in May 1943 as Naval Combat Demolition Units (NCDU), teams were created to clear beach obstacles in enemy-held areas. During the Torch Landings in North Africa, a group of Navy salvage personnel with a one-week crash course in demo hit the beaches but it was obvious that a more dedicated force would be needed. That led to LCDR Draper L. Kauffman’s efforts to train teams ready to go ashore to clear a path. By Normandy, 34 NCDU teams would land on D-Day, suffering 53 percent casualties. They would repeat their efforts in the Dragoon Landings in Southern France in August 1944.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific, nine dedicated Underwater Demolition Teams were formed, largely from Seabees with a smattering of Marines, to work across Japanese-held atolls. First hitting Kwajalein on 31 January 1944, the Pacific teams initially were dressed for land combat like many of the NCDU members in Europe, with uniforms, boots, M1 helmets, and small arms in addition to their demo charges.

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

Underwater demolition team members boarding a landing craft off Saipan. Note belt equipment, life belt equipment, life belt and M-1 carbine of man in right-center. His shirt indicates that he is a member of UDT-6. Photographed by Commander Bonnie Powell. 80-G-274665

This soon changed as men skipped down to their swim trunks and swam on night missions to map the beaches before the landings. This later morphed into standard gear.

A model of the typical late-war UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Musesum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins and knife. Around his chest is a board for drawing his section of beach. (Photo: Chris Eger)

A model of the typical late-war 1944-45 UDT swimmer shown at the SEAL/UDT Museum in Ft. Pierce. Note the dive mask, boots for use on coral, swim trunks, emergency life belt, demo bag, fins, and knife. Around his chest is a pencil to use on a board for drawing his section of the beach. Around his right wrist is a plumb for measuring depth and distance. (Photo: Chris Eger)

Across Peleliu, the Philippines, Guam, and Iwo Jima, UDTs left their mark and went in first to guide the landing craft in and make a hole for them to hit the beach if needed.

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

A UDT (Underwater Demolition Team) explosive charge blows up an underwater obstacle off Agat Beach, Guam, during the invasion of that island, July 1944 80-G-700639

By Okinawa, no less than eight full teams with 1,000 frogmen were utilized. There the nearly naked combat recon swimmers used aluminum paint (yikes!) to camouflage their skin against Japanese snipers– and to help insulate against the chilly Northern Pacific waters which could quickly lead to hypothermia.

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Okinawa UDT members daubed aluminum paint on their bodies as camouflage to throw off Japanese marksmen. Photographed on the fantail of a fast transport (APD), circa Spring 1945 80-G-274695

Japanese Army type 93 anti-tank mine in the sand of Tinian Island. This mine was nicknamed a “tape measure” by UDT men due to its shape

A selection of Japanese mines found and defused on Iwo Jima. USMC photo.

Japanese Type 4 anti-landing mines, Iwo Jima island, February 1945, with their horns removed. Buried in the low-tide surf line, party favors like this waited for Allied landing craft across the Pacific

The Balikpapan assault

Balikpapan would be the swan song of WWII frogmen ops with the final UDT demolition operation of the war on 3-4 July 1945, as the swimmers UDT-11 and UDT-18 removed their helmets and slid over the side of their landing craft before paddling to destiny in broad daylight.

Balikpapan Beach Map AWM

Under the watchful eyes of Gen. MacArthur, whose flagship was just offshore, the frogmen, armed just with knives and demo charges, first mapped the beaches and then helped clear them, coming within range of Japanese mortars and small arms.

Balikpapan was to be no walkover, as the roughly 2,000 Japanese regulars there (augmented by 3,000 local Indonesian conscripts) defended the beaches well and, while they did not have Rommel’s Atlantikwall complete with Belgian Gates and Czech Hedgehogs, they did have thousands of punji stakes to impale infantry, mines, fougasse oil traps to burn men alive, wire obstacles, log barriers to hole landing craft, and the like.

Beach invasion spikes Posts were sunk in the sand, 2 feet and interlocked with barbed wire. Balikpapan, Borneo, 4 July 1945

Off-shore log barricade on the beach at Balikpapan, Borneo.

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

Underwater demolition swimmers, awaiting the signal to enter the water, watch American planes strafe the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. 80-G-274677

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. Name on his trunks is "Hopper". Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

An underwater demolition swimmer checks his swim fins and face mask, during UDT operations at Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The name on his trunks is “Hopper”. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. Note tattoos. 80-G-274693

The above frogman, William DeWolf Hopper Jr., served with the Navy as a volunteer with the Office of Strategic Services in addition to his UDT work. As a member of UDT 10, he participated in operations on Peleliu, Anguar Island, and the Occupation of Ulithi in addition to the Invasion of Leyte, earning a Bronze Star. Originally from New York, Hopper reluctantly returned to California after the war and went on to have a career in Hollywood in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Although he is best known for his role in the series Perry Mason as PI Paul Drake, his other credits include the series Gunsmoke and the movie Rebel Without a Cause. William Hopper passed in 1970 at the age of 55.

An underwater demolition team's LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

An underwater demolition team’s LCPR leaves its fast transport (APD), towing a rubber boat, 3 July 1945. This shows the way the rubber boat is positioned for UDT swimmer discharge and pickups in a method still used 75 years later. The machine guns of the LCPR are the only direct support the swimmers had– and they were typically out of range by the time the swimmers closed with the beach. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274700

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. Photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

UDT swimmers prepare to recover their gear and swim towards their objective area, after being dropped off by a landing craft. The photograph released circa 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion that July. 80-G-274690

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup, after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. Pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Underwater demolition swimmer prepares for pickup after he had completed his work off the Balikpapan beaches, 3 July 1945. A pickup boat is a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waters. 80-G-274701

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a power boat. Note swimmer's life belt, sheath knife and other equipment. Photo released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Recovery of a UDT swimmer, using a rubber raft towed alongside a powerboat. Note swimmer’s life belt, sheath knife, beach markers, and other equipment. The photo released on 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan operation early in July. 80-G-274683

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means "Clean sweep, day's work done". They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). Boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Underwater demolition team swimmers wait in the rain to be taken aboard their fast transport, off Balikpapan, 3 July 1945. The swab mounted on the stern of their LCP(R) means “Clean sweep, day’s work done”. They are watching casualties going aboard from another LCP(R). The boat is from USS KLINE (APD-120). Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274686

Amazingly, the UDT teams at Balikpapan only suffered one, non-fatal, injury.

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Underwater demolition swimmer, SF1c John Regan gets a drink and smoke after setting charges off Balikpapan, circa early July 1945. Note his sheath knife 80-G-274698

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit, but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Ensign S.E. Lanier holds the nose of a Japanese 37mm shell which hit but did not pierce, his helmet. Photographed released 31 August 1945. It may have been taken during the Balikpapan Invasion, early that July. 80-G-274691

Underwater demolition swimmers, MoM2c G.J. Bender, rests on board his UDT fast transport after working near the invasion beach, 3 July 1945. He is covered with oil, which was thick on the water near the beach. Note the boots. Photographed by Lieutenant Junior Grade C.F. Waterman. 80-G-274678

With the path cleared by UDT-18, 7th Australian Division troops come ashore from landing craft during landing near Balikpapan oil fields in Borneo. Some 33,000-strong combined Australian and Royal Netherlands (KNIL) troops would land in OBOE 2, the largest ever amphibious assault by Australian forces.

As for our frogmen, it was expected that if they would have hit the beaches at Honshu in late 1945, a mission they were detailed to until the A-bombs intervened, the men of UDT-18 would have suffered 100 percent casualties.

As it was, their unit was disestablished 3 November 1945, at Coronado.

At the SEAL/UDT Museum in Fort Pierce, where NCDU’s and UDTs were formed and trained in WWII, they have a massive 7-foot long model of the old USS Kline on display and a statue of an era frogman dedicated to the “naked warriors” of Balikpapan and all the other beaches in which their brothers landed.

USS Kline (APD-120) at Seal Museum Fort Pierce (Chris Eger)

(Chris Eger)

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The broken Hart

Awakened about 3:00 A.M., 8 December 1941 (2:00 P.M. Washington, D.C., time; 8:30 A.M. Pearl Harbor time, both 7 December), Admiral Thomas C. Hart scribbled this message to alert his fleet.

“Asiatic Fleet, Priority
Japan started hostilities. Govern yourselves accordingly.”

With the Philippines indefensible from a naval standpoint, by 14 December Hart had managed to withdraw his outgunned fleet in good order to Balikpapan, Borneo and continue operations from there. While his submarines kept slipping through the Japanese blockade of the PI, he engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Balikpapan Bay and came out ahead.

Hart held the command of the U.S. Navy Asiatic Fleet in WWII until 5 February 1942, at which point the command ceased to exist though not a single ship was lost while he was in charge of the force.

An excellent 95-page overview of the two months between the two bookend dates is here

Bring in the BAT!

Throwback Thursday! On this day in 1945, a U.S. Navy PBY4Y-2 Privateer patrol bomber of VPB-109 employed “Bat” missiles against Japanese shipping off Balikpapan, Borneo in the effective first combat use of the only automatic homing missile to be used in World War II.

The squadron, though less than two years old, had already had an eventful war.

VPB-109 privateer

A VPB-109 Privateer

VPB-109 was established at NAS San Diego on 2 August 1943 as a heavy bomber unit flying PB4Y-1 Liberators under the operational control of  FAW-1, chopping to FAW-2 at NAS Kaneohe by November and moving up to the Gilbert Island chain by the end of the year. Scouting over Eniwetok and Wotje led to a transfer to Kwajalein Atoll in March 1944 from where they conducted numerous mining missions in the Truk Atoll and strikes against Oroluk, Ponape, Wake and Puluwat. This led to low-level photographic runs over Saipan and Tinian during the landings there that summer followed up by obligatory strafe and bombing missions.

They then proceeded to scratch the Japanese submarine RO-117 and raid Iwo Jima before heading back to Hawaii in August 1944 to switch over to PB4Y-2 Privateers. Shipping out after that on the jeep carrier USS Fanshaw Bay (CVE 70), they were selected in April 1945 to become the first unit to use SWOD Bat.

What’s a Bat?

BAT Air-to-Surface Guided Missile homes in on a target ship during tests. Photograph released 16 October 1946. National Archives photograph 80-G-703161. launched from PBM

That’s going to leave a mark. BAT Air-to-Surface Guided Missile homes in on a target ship during 1944 tests. The photograph released on 16 October 1946. National Archives photograph 80-G-703161. launched from PBM

BAT-Cutaway-1

The SWOD Mk.9 (Special Weapon Ordnance Device) Bat radar-guided glide bomb has been called, “arguably the most advanced of the early guided bombs” of the WWII era.

It was developed by the US Navy as a standoff anti-shipping weapon, with a secondary role of attacking coastal targets with good radar contrast, such as moored shipping, fuel storage tanks or warehouses. The Bat was the first fire and forget guided weapon, and the first radar homing anti-shipping weapon. It was a development of the “Pelican” glide bomb, which was equipped with a Receiving Homing Beacon (RHB) that required a radar beacon to illuminate the target.

The Bat used a Bell Telephone Laboratories developed S-band active radar seeker, and a 1,000 lb warhead with an impact fuse. The 1,700 lb weapon was released at medium to low altitudes and would home on its target once the seeker was activated. Tested by the  Naval Air Modification Unit (NAMU) in 1944, it was thought to have a 60 percent probably of hitting a ship.

Want more? Let’s tap in Gerald McRaney:

Squadron technicians were known as “The Batmen” and, deploying from Puerto Princessa, Palawan, VPB-109 got to work trying out the cranky new weapons.

BAT Missile is given a pre-flight checkup 16 October 1946. National Archives photograph 80-G-703165.

BAT Missile is given a pre-flight checkup on 16 October 1946. National Archives photograph 80-G-703165.

23 April: LCDR Hicks and LT. Kennedy dropped the first Bat weapons employed on a combat mission against shipping in Balikpapan harbor. Both devices were defective and did not strike any targets.

They soon worked the bugs out:

VPB-109 PB4Y-2 Privateer in flight with a Mark 9 BAT under each wing. Later ASM-N-2. NH 92485. Note heavily weathered color scheme

VPB-109 PB4Y-2 Privateer V527 in flight with a Mark 9 BAT under each wing. Later ASM-N-2. NH 92485. Note the heavily weathered color scheme and ERCO bow turret. 

28 April: Two of the Bat-equipped  Privateers flown by LCDR Hicks and LT. Chay again attacked shipping in Balikpapan harbor. Three Bats were released in an attempt to sink a large transport. Two of the Bats went to either side of the vessel, sinking two smaller freighters, while the third executed a sharp right turn to strike a large oil storage tank a quarter of a mile away in the Pandanseri Refinery, which the Dutch were probably happy about.

Although in the first week of May the squadron sank 45 Japanese vessels, though these were mostly small coastal craft unworthy of a Bat. This led the unit to be moved to juicier target areas off Okinawa, flying from Tinian. There, attacks by Bat-armed Privateers on 13, 15, and 16 May all failed due to defective missiles.

It turned out Bat was too sensitive to corrosion– so using it in the humid islands of the Pacific was probably a bad idea.

This, however, did not stop VPB-123 and VPB-124 from receiving the new weapons and using them briefly, though not very successfully.

In perhaps the Bat’s swan song, a VPB-109 Privateer flown by LT. Leo Kennedy crippled the 970-ton Japanese escort ship Aguni with a SWOD from 20 miles away while off the coast of Korea on 27 May then used dumb bombs to wipe out a 2,000-ton freighter and three smaller freighters in the same 90-minute action, winning the Navy Cross– which is perhaps the first U.S. decoration involving the use of an automatic homing missile.

In July, all of VPB-109, VPB-123, and VPB-124’s SWOD-specific “Batmen” were transferred to Combat Air Service Unit Seven (CASU-7),  Yontan Field, Okinawa, where the use of the Bat was consolidated moving forward and was to be carried by TBM Avengers and Curtiss SB2C Helldivers.

Apparently, the Navy tried using them to hit bridges late in the war but the early electronics couldn’t find them in the ground clutter. Then came the practical end of the war at the tail end of August.

As for VPB-109, the squadron was disestablished on 12 October 1945 in San Fransisco.

Aircraft is PB4Y-2 59522 VPB-109 (Miss Lotta Tail)

Aircraft is PB4Y-2 59522 VPB-109 (Miss Lotta Tail)

An excellent 69-page war book for the squadron is available online here (though BAT is only mentioned in like one sentence).

A U.S. Navy ASM-N-2 BAT radar-guided bomb mounted under the wing of a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer at the Philadelphia Ordnance District during development and testing. (U.S. National Archives Photograph.)

What of the Bat you ask? Well, some 2500 of these primitive anti-shipping weapons were built but very few actually dropped before the end of the war. The Navy re-designated them the ASM-N-2 post-war and kept them in inventory until after Korea when they were replaced by more efficient air-launched weapons (ASM-N-7/AGM-12 Bullpup in the late 50s, AGM-45 Shrike in the 1960s and AGM-65 Maverick in the 1970s before Harpoon came around), then used them as targets.

When the Privateers went away, they were carried on Lockheed P2V-5, -6B, and -6M Neptunes as well as at least one Corsair:

BAT-Corsair nagts

We are betting you aren’t going to want to land an F4U with a center-line BAT on a carrier even though the 1,700-pound glide bomb was inside the Corsair’s 2,000-pound ordnance capability.

At least seven Bat airframes are still around:  one can be found at the Planes of Fame Museum (Grand Canyon AZ), one at the Admiral Nimitz State Historic Park (Fredricksburg, Texas), and one has just been refurbished at the NIST site (Gaithersburg, MD).

BAT-Chico

The number of Bats produced was rather large for their brief time in service. By comparison, some 6,072 AGM-84A air-launched Harpoons have been made since 1979 but they are arguably much more widely used.

Here is an interesting USAAF evaluation of the Bat over at Retro Mechanix.

The most enduring part of this story is the Casablanca-class jeep carrier, Fanshaw Bay, who carried VPB-109 and her Bats off to war. She wound up picking up five battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation before entering red lead row in 1946. She lingered until scrapped in 1959– long after VPB-109 was disbanded and the Bats were removed from service.

Maybe she should be remembered as “The Bat Cave.”