VB-112

Panoramic VB-112 squadron photograph taken in October, 1944 at Craw Field, Port Lyautey, Morocco.

All Photographs on this page were contributed through the courtesy of Mr. Thomas Paine, Wellesley, MA.

The aircraft is a PB4Y-1 Privateer, Navy equivalent of the B-24 Liberator.

Our thanks to Dave Swanson, who flew with VB-112, in noting that the aircraft was a PB4Y 1 Privateer. The PB4Y 1 Privateer had a single tail.

The family of the late Lt. Cmdr John B. ("Buzzer") Paine, who was a Personnel Officer with VB-112, is seeking any and all information regarding VB-112's deployment, mission, mishaps and operations while at Port Lyautey. Lt. Cmdr Paine, reported to Port Lyautey in October of 1944 as a Lieutenant. He was under the command of Captain Josef Gardiner and later, Lt. Cmdr A. Y. Parunak. Lt. Cmdr Paine passed away in 1976. Please contact Thomas Paine, the son of the late Lt. Cmdr John Paine, with any information.at either jubileep@comcast.net or tmpaine@gmail.com.

The following photographs are section enlargements of the above panoramic photograph. Many signatures, though faded, are still present on the original photograph owned by Lt. Cmdr Paine as well as location and date information. At the time this photograph was taken, it was considered secret information.

Left Side Facing Aircraft

Right Side Facing Aircraft

As a footnote to all of the above, Craw Field, Port Lyautey, was named after Col. Demas T. Craw, USA. Col. Craw led an assault during the initial invasion by American troops at Port Lyautey. He was killed in action by French troops loyal to the Vichy Government and, along with LtCol. Pierpont M. Hamilton, were subsequently awarded the Medal Of Honor. Go to any web browser, type in "Demas T. Craw", and the resultant search will provide a myriad of documents concerning his actions at Port Lyautey.

"Lest We Forget"

Interestingly, LCDR Paine had met COL Demas Craw at his home in Weston, MA a few years earlier. The following is an excerpt from a journal of the Paine Family History and relates to LCDR Paine's Port Lyautey experience. It is re-printed with permission of the Paine Family.

PORT LYAUTEY

Then came his tour of duty. In a war he once did not think we should be in or could win, in a service whose focus on sea power he felt was obsolete, Dad could take comfort in not only the Naval Air Service but also the last word in bombers, the B-24 Liberator, "one of the world's most potent weapons of air power," according to a book he had devoured in 1942, Victory Through Air Power. He was headed to an airfield named for a military hero who had been his Weston house guest not two years before. And he would stay out of harm's way.

While stationed at Norfolk, Dad met Commander Josef Marshall Gardiner USN, who asked him to serve as Personnel Officer, Bombing Squadron VPB-112, headed for North Africa. A year before, Major General George Patton's amphibious invasion of German-controlled (Vichy) French Morocco had changed the balance of air power in the Mediterranean. Braving artillery fire, the U.S. Destroyer Dallas and an Army Raider team had forced their way up the obstacle-strewn Sebou River to liberate the airbase on the floodplain below Port Lyautey. From here Naval Air squadrons no longer needed to depend on carriers to conduct anti-submarine warfare operations against German and Italian subs plying the Mediterranean and Atlantic and preying on the Allied supply line of convoys converging on the Straits of Gibraltar. Keeping U-boats farther away would require the enemy to build more of them, thereby taxing German production capacity. Soon U. S. Naval Air antisubmarine operations had pushed the U Boat arc some 700 miles west of Port Lyautey.

Commissioned on August 8, Bombing Squadron VPB-112 comprised experienced flight crews drawn from other Atlantic Fleet squadrons. Its goal was to retrain crews, with a minimum of delay, to fly the B-24 Liberator, or PB4Y-1 in Naval parlance. Powered with four 1,200 horsepower Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Engines and armed with thirteen 0.50 caliber flexible machine guns and 8000 pounds of bombs, the 67-foot planes had a wingspan of 110 feet, stood 17 feet tall, could deliver speeds up to 270 mph and reach a ceiling of 32,500 feet. The 2,700-gallon wing tanks permitted sorties for up to twelve hours or a range of 2,100 miles. The bomb load was fixed at nine depth charges (250 pound torpexes) to be dropped in a string of six, spaced sixty feet apart, with three kept in reserve for a second attack. Between the machine guns were 1,200 rounds for the nose turret, 600 for the crown and tail, and 600 for each of the waist guns. The total operational load was 61,000 pounds, including the eleven-man crew.

Dad thought very highly of the Liberator's Norden bombsight, a gadget that could direct a bomb to within 100 feet of its target from an altitude of four miles. During a bomb run, which lasted several tense minutes, the bombardier flew the plane through the bombsight and the pilots were supposed to keep their hands off all flight controls. So valuable were the secrets of the sight's manufacture that the plants were some of the most carefully guarded installations of the war. Inventor/manufacturer Norden himself was always accompanied by two bodyguards. Bombardiers were required to swear an oath to destroy any bombsight which had the potential to fall into enemy hands, and bombsights were always covered on the ground and not unwrapped until the plane was airborne.

Flight crews who had previously flown only seaplanes now trained to land on runways. In October, the squad reported for two weeks of training at Quonset Point with the Aircraft Anti-submarine Warfare Development Detachment. On October 24, twelve aircraft reported to NAS Norfolk to begin fitting for departure for Port Lyautey, where VPB-112 would join VPB-111. Leaving wives behind, on November 2 the squadron flew in fourteen B-24 Liberators, sixteen persons per plane, by way of Morrison Field Florida, Borinquen Puerto Rico, Waller Field Trinidad, Belem Brazil, Natal, Dakar to Port Lyautey, French Morocco. The crossing was the first time everyone got a clear idea of just what a Liberator could do.

The base at Port Lyautey was commissioned as Craw Field on 12 January 1944. It was named for Army Aviation officer Col. Demas "Nick" Craw, who had been killed by the Vichy French while he was on a desperate mission to persuade them to capitulate to U. S. forces and save thousands of lives; soon afterwards the French did so. Craw received a posthumous Medal of Honor. Uncannily, in September 1940, Jack had entertained Craw and his family, friends of Julia and Kennard Wakefield, at the Big House; the son loved the Lionel trains. From this first-hand experience Dad knew that his post was named for a man who had horse-sense. As he wrote in 1940,

Major Craw [is] one of the top-notch officers in the air force and particularly in charge of espionage, etc…He is four or five years older than I and fought as a soldier in the World War, going thru West Point afterwards and then getting into the air service. He agrees entirely with me about the treasonous nature of Rosie-White etc. sending so many of our planes out of the country and according to him, the army only has two or three hundred usable planes on hand all told, now!!! [that would change in eighteen months]…He also agrees that navies are a thing of the past and an absolute waste of money that an air force can incapacitate at will anytime…

Craw Field's two 6,000-foot runways, 150 feet wide, were ample even for a heavily loaded Liberator and were well lighted for night operations. There was a traffic control tower. Ground fog and hills on three sides prevented take-off to the north without at least a 20-knot wind. The French had erected a large concrete hangar, which afforded plenty of space for maintenance. For living quarters there were three large concrete barracks built by the French, and some sixteen Quonset huts put up by the Army. These were adequate for only a third of the personnel, no doubt including Dad, but the rest had to sleep in tents.

As a Very-Long-Range (VLR) squadron, VPB-112 wasted no time in coming into contact with the enemy. On November 28 Lt. G. M. Donahoe was lost while climbing for cloud cover to evade a fully surfaced submarine. Sometimes a more deadly enemy was simply the fog. On the morning of November 30, VPB-112 had sent up four operational flights. By noon heavy fog had been forecast, and the radio operator made repeated efforts to contact the four planes and order them to return early. Shortly after 18:00, heavy ground fog reduced visibility to a matter of yards, closing not only Craw Field but also alternate landing sites at Gibraltar, Casablanca and Rabat. Still unaccounted for were two planes flying in a dead-spot notorious for poor radio reception. The first that pilot Lt. (Jg) J. M. Hill knew of the fog was when he piloted his plane over the station's flashing beacon and looked for the field. Told to go to Marrakech, he replied that he was too low on fuel to make it, since the distance required at least eighty minutes of flying time, fifty more than he had left. After a brief attempt to fly to a nearby British airfield, he flew back and told ground control that he had fuel for only a few minutes more. Flares and pistol shells were shot off from the end of the runway in an attempt to land him. The fog was thick but shallow and he was able, he said, to make out an occasional shell-burst. But when he attempted an approach and entered the fog-layer, his visibility fell to zero and the approach necessarily became a pull-up. Shortly after the pull-up, Hill ordered his crew to abandon ship. While they were still jumping, all four engines cut out. With both pilots still on board, the plane dropped into the sea five miles northwest of the jetties of the Wadi Sebou. Hill was himself the last to leave the plane. Three crewmen who hit the water near the beach made it through the heavy surf to shore. A fourth who landed on land also survived. Six crewmen died. For four days nothing was heard from the second plane, until the American Embassy in Portugal sent word that the plane had crashed in sixty feet of water, killing five crew members. On return from an anti-boat patrol, Pilot Lt. R. L. Trum had relied on a faulty compass and false bearings due to Spanish radio interference. Six survivors recuperated in a local hospital. They had lost the equivalent of a whole flight crew, eleven men. Chastened by these losses early in their arrival, VP-112 worked hard to improve safety conditions. Despite all its flight miles, the squadron suffered no further loss of life in Port Lyautey.

In February, 1944, Commander Josef N. Gardiner was detached, becoming Air Group Commander at USNAF Agadir, and was replaced by the Squadron Executive Officer Commander A. Y. Parunak USN, the butt of Dad's war stories as "Ack-Ack". Over the course of the year, combat flight crews were transferred to Gibraltar and elsewhere, and aircraft were replaced, until by January 1945 operations at Port Lyautey would cease, a month after Dad had returned stateside. As I tried to piece together the story in 2002, I sent off Dad's war stories to a VP-112 web site and received this email from Ray Marrs:

I am always glad to hear stories about VPB-112. My crew got to Lyauety in October 44 so we missed a lot of the things you tell about. Parunak was Skipper when we reported in and he took our new plane after a couple of months. We raised so much fuss that we got another new one before we went to England in January of 1945. Ack Ack was removed from his post in England after taking over the control tower from the Brits. The VP Squadrons became VPB in October of 1944.


[There was] a mishap my crew had in England. We had a gas leak and had to land with a full bomb and gas load …Parunak had ordered us to get back in the air when he knew our plane was not ready and how we had discussed his ancestry on the way to the takeoff point. Parunak is alive and well and read my story. He wrote that he remembered the incident and knew how we must have felt. He also reports that he is 92 1/2 years old, walks with a cane, is stone deaf and mean as ever. His bp is 130/60 and he takes no pills. Hard to get a man down with that kind of numbers.

In his first December in North Africa, Dad caught a glimpse of tough-guy American actor Humphrey Bogart, who had made cinematic history the year before in the best film of that year, or any other year for some of us, Casablanca. It had been filmed on the Warner lot in the summer of 1942, and released in 1943, but screening it was forbidden in North Africa itself. No matter. Bogart was on hand in person, rallying the troops, courtesy of the Hollywood Victory Committee. (No matter, as well, that real life Casablanca had been liberated between filming and theatrical release, in November 1942.) I wish I had asked Dad when he first saw the movie, and if he liked it. It seems that the fog at the airport in the movie could have doubled for Craw Field as well.

Dad spent the day in Marrakesh, and was appalled at the way the French authorities interrogated Arabs suspected of some wrongdoing. Dad witnessed one suspect having his head knocked against a concrete wall. With some pilots Dad went on several quail hunts in which Arab beaters took the part of bird dogs. In the spring of 1944 the desert surrounding the air base was covered with gorgeous yellow lupines, the like of which he had never seen, and he sent some seeds to Mom. He and some friends visited Volubilis, an ancient Roman city eighty miles away, in ruins, with decapitated columns and sun-parched mosaics. I have not yet read the letters Dad wrote her from Port Lyautey that Mom tells me she has kept, and although Dad was aware that censors would not permit full military disclosure, I suspect some nice stories did make it through.

Dad was attached to Bombing Squadron One Hundred Twelve (VPB-112) for over half of its life between commissioning on 8 August 1943 through decommissioning on 1 September 1945. The squadron is immortalized in a panorama photo, taken in October 1944, of the entire squadron spread over the wings of a B-24 Liberator (PB4Y-1), though placing personnel on aircraft wings was strictly against regulations. Lt. Commander A. Y. "Dick" Parunak signed the photo "with best wishes to John Paine and for the superlative job you've done." The treasured photo was framed and hung in Dad's library in Weston near his easy chair above the arrowheads.