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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Like Hogan's Goat: Part I

Picture courtesy of Brad Lago

Chapter 27
“Like Hogan’s Goat”
(There is an old Navy legend about a goat belonging to a chief petty officer named Hogan.  I do not recall the original story buy Hogan’s goat was, purportedly, a dumb critter that did everything wrong or for which everything went wrong.  He was one fouled up goat.  The story was the basis for a common Navy expression for anyone or anything that went totally wrong.  It was “fouled up like Hogan’s goat.”  One of my early wartime patrols with Lt. Clark’s crew was exactly that—fouled up like Hogan’s goat!)
Official war records telescope sometimes dramatic events into a few terse entries in the war diaries of tactical commands.  The ending of a patrol we flew during January 4th, 1942, as a relief flight crew for airplane 71-P7 (VP-11 had not yet received any new airplanes) is recorded in the archives as follows:
War Diary
Patrol Wing Two
U.S. Naval Air Station
Pearl Harbor, T.H.
Sunday, 4 January 1942
1040     Kaneohe Bay NAS reports PBY 71-P-7 more than two overdue from patrol.
2130       PBY 71-P-7, overdue from patrol out of Kaneohe Bay, requested bearing. Transmission indicates plane bearing approximately 130 degrees from Pearl, distance unknown
2230       71-P-7 reported landfall, position given as 30 to 40 miles east of Maui bearing 060 degrees from Haleakala.

2240       71-P-7 landed at se3a because of lack of fuel bearing 050 degrees from Haleakala, distance 30 miles.
Monday, 5 January 1942
0000       Received broken transmission from 71-P-7.  Bearings place plane between 115 degrees and 152 degrees from Pearl.  No further transmission
1145      Dispatched 5 A-20s to search between 115 and 165 degrees for purpose of locating 71-P-7.
1153       Launched five PBYs from Kaneohe Bay to search for 71-P-7
1635       A-20s extend search to 170 miles from Pearl without finding patrol plane 71-P-7
2048       PBYs executed square search from last reported position of 71-P-7 to 100 miles.  No trace.  Search secured.
Tuesday, 6 January 1942
0835       Sikorsky 1-J-10, Ch. Bosn. Dunham, reported sighting missing PBY 71-P-7 at latitude 20-10, longitude 155-25.  Dispatched 14-P-1, 2-J-2, and USS HULBERT to effect rescue of personnel and to salvage plane.
                                        Such terse war records leave many questions unanswered.  Why was 71-P-7 overdue from patrol?  How did the airplane, cruising at 110 knots, get from its assigned patrol sector west-northwest of the Hawaiian Islands to a position many miles east of Oahu?  Why did the VP-11 pilot of 71-P-7 report going down in a position 130 miles from the actual location where the airplane was found two days later?  What set the airplane on fire?  How did the PBY get a hole shot in its tail?  The answers, of course, lie with Hogan’s goat.
                                        As for our modern-day newsman, Paul Harvey, would say, “Now for the rest of the story!”
                                        It began at 0415 on 4 January 1942 on the ramp at Kaneohe Bay NAS.  My VP-11 crew was scheduled to fly a patrol in relief for VP-71.  After early morning chow, I fumbled my way in the blackness preceding the first light of dawn until I found our assigned airplane, 71-P-7.  As I climbed into the waist hatch there was only a hint of false dawn in the east.
                                        It seemed to be the beginning of just another routine and monotonous 12-hour patrol.  Davenport, our plane captain, was already aboard.  He had started the APU putt-putt and was checking equipment.  He gestured with his thumb that I was to take the first watch in the tower up between the broad wing and the fuselage.
                                        Before climbing into the tower to check instruments and start engines, I continued forward to the radio/navigation compartment.  There was a strange third-class radioman seated at the radio.  He introduced himself as Gilbert.  Our first radioman was in sick bay and Gilbert had been assigned as replacement for this patrol.
                                        I did not like it.  Our regular radioman was not only a first class radioman, but he was also deft with the thirty-cal machine gun in the tail hatch—the radioman’s battle station.
                                        The chart laid out on the navigator’s table showed that we had a “milk run”.  The penciled course ran 750 miles west by northwest toward Midway Island.  It ran just south of Nihoa and Necker Island, then out past French Frigate Shoals.  A hundred miles beyond French Frigate, we would cross over fifty miles to the north-northeast then return to Kaneohe.  We would have the tips of submerged mountains in the Hawaiian chain that runs from Hawaii to Midway for visual checkpoints both going and coming.
                                        I stuck my head into the cockpit and was surprised by another strange face to our flight crew.  A very young ensign was seated in the raised left-hand seat.  He introduced himself a Douglas, a pilot replacement just arrived and assigned to our crew for training.  His khaki uniform was crisply pressed and he was even wearing a necktie.  (I was to find later that Douglas had just graduated from flight school and it was to be his first flight in a PBY.)  He must have been in his early twenties—I doubt if he shaved more than twice a week.
                                        Settling myself in the tower, I found everything in order—white sheet clipboard for half-hourly recordings of engine instrument readings in its holder and the glass tube fuel gages behind the seat showing a full load of 1550 gallons of gasoline.  I re-set the tower altimeter to zero then produced my good luck charm from my shirt pocket and hung it on the knob of the altimeter.
                                        My good luck piece was the small carved wood statue of the Laughing Buddha that had been given to me by Vivian, the Chinese girl I had dated two or three times.  The upraised hands of the Buddha fitted nicely over the knob of the altimeter on the tower instrument panel.  I gave the little statue’s fat belly a rub for good luck before I hung it on the panel.
                                        The ground crew fire guard was in place beneath the port engine.  I primed it then hit the interphone, “Tower to Pilot—ready on One, Sir.”
                                        The answer was slow in coming, “Ah—yes—okay—ready on One.”
                                        I hit the energize switch and the Jack & Heinz inertial starter built up its high whine.  Shoving the mixture control to Full Rick, I called out “Contact One” and when Douglas answered “Contact One” flipped the starter switch to engage.  The big propeller rotated silently through three revolutions and came to a halt.
                                        I cursed to myself.  It was embarrassing to fail to start an engine on the first try.  We tried it again—again the engine did not so much as fire.  I waved the fire guard to the starboard side and went through the start procedure for Number Two.  When it, too, failed to fire I had a suspicion.  I dropped out of the tower and looked forward.  In the dim cockpit light I could see the ignition switches on the control yoke.  As I suspected, the starboard engine switch was still on “Both Mags” but the master switch in the center had not been pushed in.It was the only occasion that I recall when I cursed at a Naval officer.  I scrambled back into the tower and snatched the microphone.  “If you would push the goddamn master switch in, I might be able to start these friggin’ bastards—SIR!”
                                        Douglas quickly answered, “What?  I—oh yes—the master switch!  Yes—I got it now!”
                                        Both engines started on the first try after that.  They were idling with a low grumble when Clark and Willis passed beneath me on their way to the cockpit.  Willie gave me a friendly whack on the leg and a thumbs up.  In a few minutes the beach tractor hook clanked into the fitting and we were lowered down the launch ramp for the beaching gear to be removed.  We taxied out for takeoff just as the first light of dawn revealed the horizon to seaward of Kaneohe Bay.
                                        The outbound leg of our patrol was routine and uneventful.  Once level at our patrol altitude of 750 feet, Davenport handed up that first cup of hot black coffee.  I sat comfortable sipping the strong brew and watched the soft rays of the rising sun touch the green slopes of Kauai that drifted by off to [ort.  The big fourteen-cylinder engines were settled into their synchronized drone.  The air was smooth above the ocean and beneath the scattered white cumulus clouds.  Below, the incomparable blue of the Pacific was flecked with silver in the early morning sun and was streaked here and there by breeze on our port quarter.  I was content.
                                        Unbeknownst to any of us, the gremlins had already set to work.  Below my station and forward, Clark was just turning navigation of our flight over to Ensign Douglas.  Clark’s reasoning was that the patrol would be a piece of cake and the neophyte navigator would have the visual check points of Niihau, Nihoa, Necker Island, and French Frigate Shoals both outbound and inbound.  It would be an ideal exercise for the new officer.
                                        An hour after takeoff, Davenport relieved me in the tower.  I went aft to the waist compartment to have a smoke.  Paul Herrin, the third mech, and Little Bruck, the radio striker, were on watch in the gun blisters.  Shortly thereafter, Ensign Douglas came aft, notebook in hand, and announced that he was to take a drift sight.  I sense that he was not familiar with the drift sight pelorus in a PBY so I volunteered to set it up for him.  He quickly accepted.
Lying on my belly in the low tail compartment, I opened the tunnel hatch and installed the pelorus in its bracket.  Before I backed out I lined up the grid with our track over the ocean and read the scale.  We had five degrees right drift resulting from the 10 to 12-knot breeze that had now shifted to our port beam.  The ensign confirmed the reading and went forward.  I stowed the pelorus and closed the hatch.
                                        An hour short of the end of our patrol sector, we sighted French Frigate Shoals.  The low-lying reef was a distinct area of light green off on the horizon to starboard.  It included a good anchorage lagoon bordered only by some uninhabited sand spits.
                                        At 1130 Clark turned to starboard for our crossover leg during which he throttled back and descended to just over the surface for our altimeter check.  I was back on watch in the tower and idly noted as I adjusted the altimeter to zero that the barometer pressure had dropped considerably since takeoff.  I was not alarmed—weather and navigation were not the responsibility of an enlisted mechanic.  The engines were my prime responsibility and they were droning comfortably along on Automatic Lean—each using about 42 gallons of gasoline per hour.
                                        After the turn toward home at almost exactly noon, we cruised along serenely under a thickening cloud cover, “fat, dumb, and happy”.  Clark had neglected to check Ensign Doulas’ navigation and no one detected that he was now committing the classic error of applying the wind correction backward.  He was still using the five-degree right shift that we had read five hours earlier and had not taken a new drift sight after the turn.
                                        Meanwhile, also un-noted, the wind had shifted further to the west and was freshening on our starboard quarter.  It apparently increased from a breeze to a wind of more than 25 knots early in the afternoon.  The result was an undetected tailwind and several degrees left drift that compounded the young ensign’s error.  The combination was pushing us steadily to the north of our intended track of 105 degrees and was increasing our ground speed by more than 25 percent.
                                        Another problem that was not detected until much later was that we were still near enough to our intended course at 1330 hours that French Frigate Shoals was visible off to starboard as we expected.  I saw it form the tower.  Willis saw it from the right-hand seat.  Davenport saw it from the starboard gun blister.  Unhappily, our new navigator failed to see the low-lying strip of green on the far horizon.
                                        More than an hour later we passed just within sighting distance of Necker Island far off our starboard wingtip.  Douglas sighted Necker, but he plotted our position at 1410 as being abeam of French Frigate an on course.  (Clark was to calculate later that, at the time, we were actually nearly one hundred miles further along and were far north of our intended course.)
                                        At about 1630, Clark requested a Kaneohe ETA for transmission to the base.  The 1830 calculated by Ensign Douglas seemed very logical.  The message was sent and we went back on radio silence.
                                        By 1730 the weather was worsening.  The cloud cover had become a solid grey overcast and our horizon was limited and indeterminate; therefore, no one was unduly alarmed when we failed to make landfall on Kauai by 1800.  The fact that we had failed to sight little Nihoa an hour and a half earlier then Nihau later also went unnoticed.  We flew on into the early grey twilight murk confidently expecting Kaena Point on Oahu to loom up momentarily.
                                        Doubts began to assail us when 1830, our transmitted ETA, came and went.  Seven hundred feet beneath 71-P-7 was a lead colored, wind-whipped ocean devoid of all but whitecaps and merging in the near distance with grey clouds.  The darkening horizon was indefinite.
                                        We flew doggedly on—to change course without reason would be foolhardy.  An hour later as the murky daylight began to fade, it was obvious that the gremlins had moved the Hawaiian Islands.  I was again on watch in the tower.  Below, both Clark and Willis were bent over the chart checking Douglas’ navigation while AP Miller held the airplane steady on course.
                                        Eventually Clark and Willis determined that Douglas had been applying an incorrect wind drift backward since the turn at noon.  We had obviously missed the islands an undetermined distance to the north but we still had no idea what the tailwind had been all afternoon.  They sea state below before darkness fell indicated a wind of 25 to 30 knots, mostly on our tail.
                                        Questions flew back and forth but there were no answers.  How far had we missed sighting Kauai and Oahu?  At what time would we have been abeam of Oahu?  What had the actual winds been all afternoon?
                                        Clark now directed Gilbert to take a bearing on one of  the Honolulu radio stations with the radio direction finer.  The radioman twiddled the RDF loop for several minutes and failed to get a null.  Both Ensign Willis and the AP tried it but also failed to get a bearing.  Apparently the meter was out of order.
                                        Meanwhile, tension had pervaded 71-P-7.  I had been nervously watching the fuel gages and, for more than an hour, had been gradually manually leaning the mixture control settings until I had the fuel flow below the 36 gallons per hour.  The cylinder head temperature inched toward the red line.  It pained me to abuse those faithful big engines, but behind my head the fuel level in the gages were sinking steadily lower.  I opened the cowl flaps a bit, then calculated that we had something over three hours of gasoline left—if the gages were correct.  Since 71-P-7 belonged to another squadron, I had no idea when the gages had last been calibrated.  I had to take the readings on faith.
                                        At that point our logical action was to break radio silence, contact the base, and request that they take a bearing on our transmission.  We delayed, however.  Just as Gilbert was about to start transmitting Morse code, the pilots sighted a tiny point of light far off to starboard in the gathering darkness.  Assuming that someone on one of the islands was breaking blackout, Clark triumphantly brought the big PBY around onto course for the light.  We relaxed, believing that shortly we would be off the coast of an island.
                                        It soon became apparent, however, that the light on the horizon was behaving strangely.  After several minutes of flying on a course of 286 degrees, it became painfully apparent that Clark’s “light” was not a light at all—it was a tiny sliver of the setting moon breaking through the thick cumulus clouds blanketing the horizon!
                                        Now we were obviously totally lost.  With the setting of the moon, the night became inky black.  The PPC reasoned that we had missed the islands to the north and east.  He brought the airplane around to a course of 190 degrees and had Gilbert finally contact Pearl Harbor.
                                        Pearl answered our plaintive call and, after our two minutes of sending a repetitive signal for them to home on, indicated that we were bearing 130 degrees from Pearl Harbor.  We came about to 310 degrees headed for home through the black night as our fuel supply continued to dwindle.
                                        Davenport replaced me in the tower.  I watched anxiously from below as he leaned the fuel mixture further.  He opened the cowl flaps wide as the cylinder head temperatures rose into the red.
                                        I sat uneasily in the folding seat of the port gun blister aft, straining my eyes into the darkness beneath the port wingtip.  Herrin occupied the starboard waist position, stoically gazing towards the unseen horizon while he munched on an apple left over from our lunch rations.  Miller was up in the bow turret leaning against the machine gun, his eyes peering into the darkness ahead.  Clark and Willis were in the cockpit.  Young Ensign Douglas leaned dejectedly against the navigator’s table and stared unseeing through the side window.
                                        Around 2230 a prolonged silence on the interphone was broken by Miller’s voice, “Hey—ain’t that the loom on an island to port there?!”
                                        Nine pairs of eyes peered into the blackness.  It was barely distinguishable on the black horizon, but beneath the dark cloud cover, there was definitely a blacker presence.  A partial break in the clouds and the last faint glow of the already set moon allowed us to make out a black peak to the left of the shape and a lesser mass to the north.  It looked like Haleakala and the north Maui mountains.  The size of the nebulous island indicated that we were quite far off shore.  We appeared to be thirty or forty miles north and east of Maui.
                                        After we had transmitted to Pearl our supposed position as 40 miles off Maui bearing 060 degrees from Haleakala, Clark requested a fuel reading.  Dave’s answer on the interphone was, “We read 75 gallons in each tank, lieutenant, but I can’t vouch for those gages.    We’ve got less than 34 gallons per hour—practically running on fumes.  Should have a little over two hours left.”
                                        “Nossir—the cylinder heads are way into the red now and I have never seen the exhaust collector ring so cherry red and I’ve got the cowl flaps wide open.  They’ll seize up if we get them much hotter.”
                                        Convinced that we would go into the water, hopefully close to Diamond Head, Clark advanced power a bare minimum and climbed to fifteen hundred feet.  There he ordered the two five hundred pound bombs and two depth charges jettisoned from the external wing racks.  At the same time, he gave Gilbert a message to send advising Pearl of our action and giving our presumed position as now bearing 050 from Haleakala and about thirty miles out with our fuel running low.
                                        In the middle of a repeat of the radio transmission the engines suddenly quit.  Those big Pratt & Whitneys did not falter and sputter.  They simply sucked up the last drop of 100-octane fuel and quit simultaneously as if the ignition had been turned off.  Our transmission to base broke off in the middle as the long range CW radio, dependent on the generators for power, went dead.  Dave swiveled his head and peered accusingly at the fuel gages.  They still read more than fifty gallons in each tank. 

Clark dropped the nose of the suddenly silent PBY toward the unseen and wind-shipped ocean somewhere in the darkness below.  The instrument panel lights came on using battery power.  His eyes went to the altimeter and airspeed indicators and he cursed—we had not gone down to the surface for an altimeter check since our crossover leg at noon!  That was more than 10 hours and 1,100 miles back and the weather had changed.  The surface of the ocean could be anywhere from one thousand to sixteen hundred feet below in the blackness.

                                        The word was passed to prepare for a rough landing.  I checked the lashings on our two life rafts in the waist compartment then went forward to my ditching station on the forward bunk with my feet braced against the forward bulkhead.  There was not a sound in the airplane except the sigh of the slipstream as we glided inexorably down.

                                        I figured that I was not going to die in a crash as my life did not flash before my eyes as it was supposed to do just before you die.  It was scary, however, as I knew that ocean was rough down there.  If Clark did not do a perfect job, we could hit too hard and split the hull open.  Worse yet, if he dug in a wingtip float the airplane would cartwheel and wind up in pieces.  I braced my feet firmly against the bulkhead and reached an arm to grasp a brace beneath the bunk.

                                        In the eerie silence of our descent, I could hear the voices of the pilots in the cockpit.  Clark said, “Whiskey, keep a sharp eye out for any sign of the surface!”

                                        The PPC then pulled up the nose of the airplane until the airspeed dropped to 68 knots, barely above stalling speed, and made a gliding turn in the darkness to what he hoped was roughly the direction of the wind.  We had no clue as to the direction of the swells and waves that we knew were down there.

                                        Up in the tower, Davenport had frozen momentarily when the comforting rumble of the engines suddenly ceased, then he came alive and hit the wobble pumps.  The engines failed to as much as cough.  He cursed as he swung his flashlight to the fuel gages behind him.  They still showed more than fifty gallons each with the tanks obviously empty.  The big propellers wind milled uselessly.  Dave shut off the offending gages and hit the flowmeter shutoff valves in preparation for ditching.

                                        The Floats Down light flashed on the tower panel annunciator.  Dave slapped the control handle and the tip floats thudded down.  I dimly saw him use the manual crank to ensure they were locked down without hydraulic power.  Dave yanked his seat belt tight and grasped the overhead assist handles to brace himself.  We glided down for an eon of three or four minutes.

                                        In the cockpit, Willis caught a glimpse of a whitecap beneath the bow and yipped, “Surface!”  Clark heaved back on the control yoke, but before the sluggish nose came up, the big PBY slammed into the top of a swell and bounced high.  I heard the clatter of falling gear in the galley locker as the impact banged me down in the bunk and the aluminum brace I was grasping bent.  Dave said later that he saw the altimeter register 75 feet on the bounce.

                                        The PBY lost all flying speed and stalled.  Clark was fighting the wheel attempting to keep the wings level.  The airplane seemed to hang for a moment then dropped sickeningly.  The bottom of the hull hit the water with another shuddering impact.

                                        The second bounce totally out of control would be when a wing was likely to dig in and cartwheel us.  I waited tensely but it did not come.  We were on the dark and heaving ocean to stay.  Spray and solid water cascaded against the side of the fuselage, then the airplane was pitching and rolling.  Waves banging against the wingtip floats then smashing against the hull sent regularly-jspaced shudders through the pitching aircraft.

                                        It was a tremendous relief to be down in one piece.  No one moved or spoke for several long seconds.  In between crashing waves, I heard water in the bilges.  My skin crawled—my god—the bottom!

I came up from the bunk fumbling for a flashlight clipped to the bulkhead in the galley.  The beam swept the bilges beneath the catwalk and revealed many miniature fountains where sea water spurted upward from holes from which rivets had popped from the force of the two impacts.  Fortunately, no seams had opened. 

                                        Davenport dropped from the tower.  Those holes (we later counted thirty-two) had to be glugged.  The emergency riggers kit held nothing useful.  It contained plugs but they were sized for bullet holes.  Dave had an idea.  “Get all the navigator and radioman’s pencils—we can cut ‘em into pegs!”

                                        I stepped into the radio compartment and was snatching up pencils when Clark heaved himself out of the pilot’s seat and came aft.  “Much damage?”

                                        “Not much, skipper,--you did a great job!  Just popped some rivets in the bottom.  We will plug them with these then we are going to have some bailing to do.”

                                        We cut the pencils into pieces an inch long and hammered them into the rivet holes.  When the last were plugged, water was sloshing six inches deep in the bilges.  Clark organized Gilbert, Bruck, Herrin, and Ensign Doulas into a bucket brigade to the waist hatches with the two buckets we had available.  Dave and I continued our inspection of the hell and re-stowed the galley gear and tool boxes that had bounced around.  Willis and Miller rigged the sea anchor to hold the nose of the airplane into the wind so that it would ride a little easier and our drift would be minimized.

                                        It was nearly midnight when we had the airplane secured and most of the water bailed out.  We turned our attention then to starting the APU so we could have power to the CW radio and could advise Pearl that we were safely down.  The battery-powered VHF set in the cockpit had a range of only thirty or forty miles.

                                        The little gasoline engine started.  Gilbert fired up the long-range radio and started sending a message.  In the middle of his transmission, the putt-putt sputtered and died.  The radio panel went black.

                                        After some minutes of puzzlement and unsuccessful attempts to re-start the APU, we realized Consolidated Aircraft had “improved” us out of business.  Whereas our old PBY-1s had an putt-putt that ran on its own little tank of white gasoline, 71-P-7 was a newer PBY-5.  The putt-putt had been replaced with one designed to run on 100 octane avgas and was plumbed directly into the right main fuel tank in the wing.  When the engines ran out of gas, so did the putt-putt.  It had run for a short time on residual fuel in the fuel line.

                                        We were not unduly disturbed.  Pearl Harbor had received and acknowledged our position report before the engines quit.  Since the radio had quit in the middle of the repeat transmission, the base would know that we were down in that location.  If they had heard our partial transmission just then, they would know we got down in one piece.  They would send someone to find us in the morning.

                                        Lt. Clark set watches in the cockpit and waist hatches, allocated the bunks to three men (whom we shall mercifully leave un-named) that were already seasick, and we settled down to an uncomfortable night in the pitching airplane.  I bunked down on some life jackets on the ribbed catwalk that ran the length of the fuselage.  Waves were running at an angle to the swells and were pounding the tip floats and fuselage.  I knew that the wing was taking a severe beating.

                                        Clark, taking the first watch in the cockpit with Miller, put out repeated calls on the battery-powered VHF radio but its limited range produced no answer.  He shut it down finally to conserve battery power.  Every half hour, the cockpit watch fired a Very pistol flare in the hope that it might be seen from the distant island or by a passing ship.  At two-hour watch changes, the bilges were bailed of water that continued to seep through the battered bottom of the hull.