Chapter 6 – Spotting Submarines

Spotting submarines in the Atlantic

The PB4Y airplanes at Key West were equipped with big lights

Leigh Light
Leigh light mounted on wing

They were about 5 feet in diameter, they were carbon arc lights. The British had introduced them. I think they were called Leigh lights.
To attack a suspicious target, the plan was to descend to 100 feet while approaching the target, and about one mile from the target, turn on the light and if it was an enemy sub, cross it and straddle depth charges. I guess the British had done this several times with success. The pilot had only a few seconds to decide if it was a sub. It could be a friendly destroyer.

Key West was an interesting place. Ernest Hemingway lived there once. I even got to play a couple games of golf while I was there. I also got to see a blimp make some touch and go landings. The Navy used blimps for convoy coverage. Blimps were slow and not too good to be in if thunderstorms were around. Later in the spring of 1945 at Port Lyautey North Africa, I was on a duty when a blimp crew was celebrating their trip across the Atlantic in a blimp. It had been a long and scary trip. I think the blimps must have been stationed in the ocean off Key West for us to practice attacks on, but I think we also made practice attacks on bridges on the highway to scare night motorists.

After finishing training at Key West, we went to Norfolk for our next assignment. I was assigned to VPB-114 which was stationed at Lajes Air base in the Azores. Steve Gillmore was assigned to a squadron in England.

VP-114 – The Azores

I went to New York to get transportation by military air to the Azores. While in New York I went to radio city and got to see a radio broadcast. It was the Perry Como show. Along with Perry were the Mills Brothers. It was a good show.

Me and VP-114

The next day I went to the airport used by the military. I got aboard a C54 which landed in Newfoundland. We stayed all night. The next day I got on another C54 which took me to the Azores. The base I went to in the Azones was Lajes which was on Terceira Island. VP-114 airplanes had British insignia. Terceira was Portuguese and Portugal was neutral so American airplanes were not supposed to be there. Before the war the British had been given a contract to build on Terceira so that made it ok.

I arrived at Lajes in March 1945 and stayed until November 1945 when the war was over. The war in Europe was over in May 1945. In March 1945 the Germans equipped their submarines which a device called a snorkel. It allowed the sub to run their diesel engine during the daytime. A hatch could be left cracked open so the air in the sub would not get polluted. The sub could not go fast but was hard to detect and the sub did not have to exhaust its batteries. At night the sub would surface and go faster. Germans were going out into the Atlantic about 100 miles from the Azores. Airplanes of VP-114 were sent out to find them. Two of our planes did find a couple. The area our planes were sent to was full of US destroyers looking for the subs. One of our planes made an attack run on a sub and lighted it up, but decided too late it was a sub. At first they thought it was a destroyer. A few nights later another plane lighted up a sub but did not drop depth charges because it lost an engine during the run.

The war in Europe was over in May 1945. After that I got to do exploring on the island. Terceira was interesting. The air base was on the east end of the island, 20 miles to the west was the town of Angara. There was no exciting night life, but the town was interesting. In the center of town was a fort complete with a calvary which paraded around town at noon time. There were alot of wine shops. I was not a wine expert but one of friends was, so we went on wine tasting tours. There was also a bull ring and I got to see a bull fight. The Portuguese do not kill the bull but they do torment it alot. Some time before the fight they turned the bulls loose in the streets to chase some brave would-be bull fighters. One of our flight crews got in on this by mistake and had to climb up on top of their vehicle. The towns people got a kick out of this and applauded.

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