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Patrol Squadron 34 (VP-34) "Black Cats"
United States Navy (USN)

Established as Patrol Squadron Thirty-Four (VP-34) on 16 April 1942.
Redesignated Patrol Bombing Squadron THIRTY-FOUR (VPB-34) on 1 October
1944. Disestablished on 7 April 1945.

Squadron Insignia and Nickname
The squadron’s only insignia came into being during its first tour of duty in the South Pacific in early 1944. VP-34 was one of ten Navy patrol squadrons to be designated Black Cats during the war. The nickname came from the flat black paint applied to the Catalinas and the nighttime strike missions assigned to these squadrons. The VP-34 squadron insignia featured a cat’s face with its jaws champing down on an enemy cargo vessel. On top of the cat’s head was a set of radio headphones and a ball cap. Across the top of the insignia was the legend Black Cats, and at the bottom VPB-34, and Southwest Pacific. Nickname: Black Cats, 1944–1945.

Chronology of Significant Events
16 Apr 1942: VP-34 was established at NAS Norfolk, Va., under the operational control of FAW-5, as a seaplane squadron flying the PBY-5 Catalina. A shortage of aircraft prevented the squadron from receiving its full complement of Catalinas until early June 1942. In the interim VP-81 loaned the squadron one PBY-5 with which to practice. Several aircrews were sent to Banana River, Fla., and Key West, Fla., for flight instruction with other squadrons.

25 Jul 1942: VP-34 was by this time fully equipped and manned. Orders were received for duty at NAS Coco Solo, C.Z., with detachments at Kingston, Jamaica, and Trujillo, Honduras. During this period the squadron conducted ASW training, and provided convoy coverage patrols under the operational control of FAW-3.

10 Oct 1942: The squadron was transferred to NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, under the operational control of FAW-11. Detachments were maintained at Great Exhuma Island, San Juan, Antigua, Trinidad, and Essequibo. Coverage for convoys and ASW patrols in the Caribbean were provided around the clock.

7 Jun 1943: VP-34 was relieved of duties in the Caribbean and relocated to NAS San Diego, Calif., under the operational control of FAW-14. Personnel were given home leave prior to the pending departure to the South Pacific. Upon return from leave, all hands began preparation for the transpac to NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii.

8–10 Jul 1943: VP-34 arrived at NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii, and came under the operational control of FAW-2. Squadron personnel were given a brief period of combat training in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.

24 Jul 1943: The squadron was split into detachments with six aircraft at Midway Island, five at Canton Island, and one at Johnston Island. Search patrols in the vicinity of the islands were conducted during the daylight hours. The squadron detachments returned to Kaneohe on 11 August 1943.

18 Aug 1943: A detachment of six aircraft was sent to Funafuti Island.

23 Aug 1943: A detachment of three aircraft returned to Johnston Island, remaining until 12 September 1943, when they returned to NAS Kaneohe. Two days later this same detachment was sent to Canton Island to conduct daytime long range searches for enemy vessels.

21 Sep 1943: The Canton and Funafuti detachments were relocated to Perth, Australia, arriving on 29 September 1943. Training and long-range search patrols were conducted by the squadron through mid-December under the operational control of FAW-10.

18 Dec 1943: VP-34 was relocated to Palm Island, Queensland, Australia, under the operational control of FAW-17. By 26 December 1943, the squadron was located at Samarai, Papua New Guinea, where it began its first offensive combat operations against the enemy as a Black Cat squadron.

31 Dec 1943–22 Jan 1944: Lieutenant Commander Thomas A. Christopher, the squadron commanding officer, set the pace for VP-34 operations in the Bismarck Sea area of operations. On 31 December 1944 he attacked and damaged one enemy vessel during a night patrol.

On 22 January 1944 he again attacked and damaged an enemy vessel at night, receiving damage from heavy AA fire resulting in injury to one crewmember. For his leadership in seeking out the enemy and pressing home the attack under heavy fire Lieutenant Commander Christopher was awarded the Navy Cross. On 15 January 1944 Christopher led a five-aircraft attack on a strongly escorted enemy convoy attempting to cross the straits. He made a mast-head attack at extremely close range and personally accounted for one 6,800-ton merchantman, while the remainder of the flight destroyed two more. For this action Lieutenant Commander Christopher was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross.

31 Dec 1943–15 Feb 1944: Lieutenant Ellis J. Fisher led his PBY-5 Catalina in numerous attacks on Japanese shipping in the Bismarck Sea. On the nights of 31 December 1943, 4 and 15 January 1944, and 15 February 1944 he participated in attacks on heavily escorted enemy convoys, sinking a large merchant ship, heavily damaging another and aiding in the destruction of a large tanker. On 18 January and 2 February 1944 he damaged a large merchant vessel and sank a medium sized tanker. On 13 February 1944 he successfully strafed and destroyed an armed enemy vessel, sank five motor launches and probably damaged a midget submarine. For his actions between 31 December 1943 and 15 February 1944 he was awarded the Navy Cross.

Jan–Feb 1944: During the nights of 16 and 22 January and 15 February, Lieutenant Harold L. Dennison led his PBY Catalina against enemy ships in the Bismarck Sea and within the vicinity of strong enemy bases. He bombed an enemy destroyer under intense antiaircraft fire which caused severe damage to his aircraft. However, with his damaged aircraft, he returned to make repeated strafing attacks. Under hazardous weather conditions he carried out an attack against a large merchant vessel in a strongly defended convoy. Receiving heavy and constant enemy fire, he caused heavy damage to the merchant vessel. In another action he forced an enemy tanker to run aground. For his actions in these engagements he was awarded the Navy Cross.

12 Feb 1944: Several VP-34 crews were relocated to Port Moresby, with the remaining crews and ground personnel remaining at Samarai Seaplane Base to conduct maintenance, overhauls and a brief period of relief from combat operations. The detachment sent to Moresby boarded Half Moon (AVP 26) and San Pablo (AVP 30) for passage to Langemak Bay. On 19 February 1943, air-sea rescue and evacuation missions were conducted in support of TG 73.1.

15 Feb 1944: Lieutenant (jg) Nathan G. Gordon and his crew of the Samarai detachment were assigned to provide air-sea rescue support to the Army for an air attack on the enemy-held Kavieng Harbor, New Ireland. Lieutenant (jg) Gordon made four full stall landings in the rough waters of the harbor to collect survivors, coming under intense enemy fire. He and his crew located and picked up 15 Army fliers shot down during the attack. After escuing the last man, Lieutenant (jg) Gordon was running out of fuel and was forced to land at Wewak, New Guinea. There he unloaded the Army fliers on the recently arrived tender San Pablo (AVP 30) before refueling and returning to Samarai. Lieutenant (jg) Gordon was later earned the Medal of Honor for his conduct [ read citation ], and each member of his crew received the Silver Star.

17 Feb 1944: Lieutenant Orazio Simonelli was awarded the Navy Cross for his action in rescuing five airmen who had been forced down by enemy gunfire on 15 February during the air attack against Kavieng Harbor, New Ireland. Although his PBY Catalina lost its fighter escort before reaching the downed airmen, Lieutenant Simonelli continued on to his object and the successful rescue, which included several severely injured men.

17 May 1944: The Langemak Bay detachment was relocated to Hollandia aboard Half Moon (AVP 26), where it continued air-sea rescue and evacuation missions through mid-July.

18 May 1944: The Samarai detachment was relocated to Manus Island supported by the tender Tangier (AV 8). Daytime scouting missions and long range scouting patrols were conducted through mid-July.

16 Jul 1944: VP-34 was relocated to Mios Woendi and Middleburg islands for a continuation of Black Cat operations.

31 Jul 1944: On the night of 31 July 1944 Lieutenant Norman L. Paxton led his PBY-5 Catalina in an attack against a large enemy freighter-transport protected by two escorts at anchor in a small harbor. He attacked in bright moonlight and against an intense barrage of antiaircraft fire. His low altitude attack succeeded in destroying the freighter-transport. He safely brought his plane and crew back to their home base despite the AA damage it had sustained during the attack. For his actions Lieutenant Paxton was awarded the Navy Cross.

1 Sep 1944: Operational control of the squadron was shifted from FAW-17 to FAW-10. A detachment was returned to Manus Island, leaving five aircraft at Mios Woendi to conduct day and night antishipping patrols.

7 Oct 1944: Five additional crews flew to supplement the detachment at Mios Woendi for patrol duties.

23 Oct 1944: VPB-34 was relocated to San Pedro Bay, Leyte Gulf, with tender support provided by San Carlos (AVP 51), San Pablo (AVP 30), Orca (AVP 49) and Currituck (AV 7). By 6 November 1944, the squadron once again commenced its hallmark Black Cat operations, alternating with daytime air-sea rescue and evacuation missions.

3 Dec 1944: At 0013 hours, USS Cooper (DD 695) was struck by a torpedo while engaging Japanese surface craft and barges in the waters of Ormoc Bay, Leyte, Philippines. The ship broke in two and sank in less than a minute, resulting in the loss of 191 crew members and 168 survivors left struggling in the water.

At 1400 Lieutenant Frederick J. Ball and his crew were returning from a long-range reconnaissance mission and spotted the survivors floating in the bay. Ball landed his Catalina in the bay and proceeded over the next hour to pick up survivors within range of enemy shore fire. He rescued 56 sailors from the bay, and when the aircraft could hold no more Lieutenant Ball began a takeoff run that took three miles before liftoff could be achieved. He safely returned to his base with his passengers, many of them wounded. The remaining 112 survivors were collected by another VPB-34 Catalina which taxied to safety outside the bay where they were offloaded onto another ship. For his bravery under fire Lieutenant Ball received the Navy Cross.

23 Dec 1944–16 Jan 1945: VPB-34 was relieved of combat operations and relocated to Manus Island in preparation for return to the U.S. Squadron personnel boarded Hollandia (CVE 97) at Kaneohe, Hawaii, on 10 January 1945, arriving at San Diego, Calif., on the 16th. Upon arrival all hands were given home leave and the squadron was reduced to caretaker status.

7 Apr 1945: VPB-34 was disestablished.

Home Port Assignments
NAS Norfolk, Va. 16 Apr 1942
NAS Coco Solo, C.Z. 25 Jul 1942
NAS Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba 10 Oct 1942
NAS San Diego,
Calif. 7 Jun 1943
NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii 8 Jul 1943
NAS San Diego,
Calif. 16 Jan 1945

Commanding Officers
LCDR Renwick S.
Calderhead 16 Apr 1942
LCDR James G.
Craig, Jr. 21 Aug 1942
LCDR Thomas A.
Christopher 2 Nov 1943
LCDR Vadym V.
Utgoff 12 May 1944

Aircraft Assignment
PBY-5 Jun 1942

Major Overseas Deployments
Date of Date of Base of Type of Area of
Departure Return Wing Operations Aircraft Operations
25 Jul 194210 Oct FAW-3 Coco Solo PBY-5 Carib 1942
10 Oct 19427 Jun FAW-11 Guantanamo PBY-5 Carib 1943
8 Jul 1943 10 Jan FAW-2 Kaneohe PBY-5 WestPac 1945
24 Jul 1943* FAW-2 Midway PBY-5 WestPac
24 Jul 1943* FAW-1 Canton PBY-5 WestPac
24 Jul 1943* FAW-1 Johnston Is. PBY-5 WestPac
18 Aug 1943* FAW-1 Funafuti PBY-5 SoPac
21 Sep 1943* FAW-10 Perth PBY-5 SoPac
18 Dec 1943* FAW-17 Palm Island PBY-5 SoPac
26 Dec 1943* FAW-17 Samarai PBY-5 SoPac
12 Feb 1943* FAW-10 Port Moresby PBY-5 SoPac Half Moon (AVP 26) San Pablo (AVP 30)
17 May 1944* FAW-17 Langemak PBY-5 SoPac Half Moon (AVP 26)
18 May 1944* FAW-17 Manus Isl. PBY-5 SoPac Tangier (AV 8)
16 Jul 1944* FAW-17 Mios Woendi PBY-5 SoPac
1 Sep 1944 * FAW-10 Manus Isl. PBY-5 SoPac

23 Oct 194423 Dec FAW-10 San Pedro Bay PBY-5 SoPac 1944
San Carlos (AVP 51)
San Pablo (AVP 30)
Orca (AVP 49)
Currituck (AV 7)

* Continued combat deployment in the Pacific, moving from base to base.
† This deployment only involved a squadron detachment. The main body of the
squadron remained at NAS Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Wing Assignments
FAW-5 * 16 Apr 1942
FAW-3 25 Jul 1942
FAW-11 10 Oct 1942
FAW-14 7 Jun 1943
FAW-2 10 Jul 1943
FAW-10 21 Sep 1943
FAW-17 † 18 Dec 1943
FAW-10 † 1 Sep 1944
FAW-2 † 23 Dec 1944
FAW-14 † 16 Jan 1945

* Patrol Wing 2 was redesignated Fleet Air Wing 2 (FAW-2) on 1 November 1942.
† The squadron remained a part of FAW-4, but was assigned the tail code DD on 7 Nov 1946.

Unit Awards Received
Presidential Unit Citation 15 Sep 1943 - 1 Feb 1944

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