Tag Archives: PB4Y-2

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.

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.”