US Patrol Wing 10
in the Dutch East Indies, 1942

Allan Alsleben

US Patrol Wing 10

"In the Hands of Fate"

After a Trans-Pacific flight through Midway, Wake and Guam, VP 26 joined VP 1 at Cavite on December 16th 1940. After their arrival, their numbers would be changed to VP 101 and VP 102 of PatWing 10. These two squadrons were the only ones to operate the PBY-4 Flying boat and would be taking it into combat. Commanding PatWing 10 was Capt. Frank Wagner with Lt. Cdr John Peterson commanding VP 101 and Lt. Cdr. Edgar Neale commanding VP 102. All three were concerned at the growing buildup along the South China coast and as a result decided to deploy their charges at various places. 7 had been sent up to Sangley Point, up the peninsula from Cavite in Manila Bay, while others were stationed at Los Banos. 7 more were operating out of Olongapo on Subic Bay, while another group was based near Manila on tender, Childs. Three were sent with Preston down to Malalag Bay in Davao Gulf. The routine was the pilots up at 0400, briefed and sent out on sector searches.

Admiral Hart clearly expected war with Japan, what he didn't expect, was to loose command of the air over Luzon so quickly. With the destruction of the air bases on the 8th, Hart sent his remaining surface ships to Balikpapan and recalled Heron from Palawan. This would leave PatWing 10 and the Philippine Coastal Frontier units on the front line.

Down at Davao Gulf, Ryujo aircraft had sunk 101-P-4 and 101-P-7 of the 3 P-boats that were there. Preston promptly weighed anchor and made for Menado in the Celebes.

Early morning of the 10th found PatWing 10 out searching for the expected Invasion Fleet, and they were not disappointed. About 250 miles west of Luzon, Lt. C. Keller found and shadowed the fleet. Wagner sent out 5 P-boats from Los Banos for a bombing run on the fleet. In the meantime 4 more from Sangley Point lifted off with torpedoes. They were met by elements of the 3rd Kokutai and lost 101-P-12 of their number. The invasion fleet was not damaged. At this point, Cavite was hit, and hit hard.

When word that the Japanese were landing on Luzon on the 12th, 7 P-boats lifted off to search for the convoy, but found nothing and returned. At this point, the Tainan Kokutai swooped down and destroyed 102-P-16, 102-P-17, 102-P-18, 102-P-19, 102-P-20, 102-P-21 and 101-P-10 at Olongapo. A refueling stop had been made at Lake Lanao in Mindanao, and would be used as such, but here, 102-P-24 would strike a rock and be lost. At this point, PatWing had only 11 P-boats in commission. On the 19th, found Captain Wagner at Balikpapan, surveying what strength he had left. He also had part of the utility squadron with him and ordered it to Surabaya.

Back on Luzon, 4 of the 6 unservicable were repaired and flown to Laguna de Bay and camouflaged during the day, then at night, flown back to Cavite. When the time came to move south, evacuation of priority personnel was ordered.

On December 23rd, VP-102 was decommissioned and merged with VP 101. On the 25th, VP 101 would lose 101-P-2, 101-P-5 and 102-P-29 to a devastating strafing attack at Laguna de Bay. The first retaliatory air strike was launched on the Japanese invasion fleet on December 27th at Jolo. The strike came from a detachment at Ambon and consisted of 6 aircraft. The strike was lead by Lt. Burden Hastings of the 1st section and Lt. John Hyland of the 2nd section. It was their bad luck to run into 8 Zeros of the Tainan Kokutai and the intense anti-aircraft fire from the ships. After the bomb run, VP 101 would lose 101-P-1, 101-P-6, 101-P-9 and 101-P-11. Lt. Hastings did not survive.

On January 5th, the remainder of PatWing 10's utility squadron was destroyed at Mariveles Bay by the Tainan Kokutai from Legaspi. It consisted of 2 Curtiss SOC, 2 Vought OS2U and a J2F Grumman Duck. Up to this time, the only missions that were flown were of evacuation, but on January 10th, 1942, an aircraft had spotted an invasion force coming down from Davao. For VP 101, the situation was beginning to intensify. VP 101 sent a four plane strike from Ambon to the invasion force coming to Menado. The Dutch and Australians also sent units against this invasion force, but did little damage to it. VP 101 lost 102-P-28 to a Chitose Fighter Seaplane (F1M2) and the Dutch lost Y-58.

On January 11, 1942, Patrol Squadron 22 arrived at Ambon from the Central Pacific with 12 sorely needed PBY-5 aircraft and crews, but the reprieve would not last. With the Japanese at Menado, Ambon would be in easy reach for constant air strikes. The crews of VP 101 had called that stretch between Menado and Ambon "Cold Turkey Alley" with good reason for on January 15th they lost 22-P-10 on the ground to the 3rd Kokutai, lost 22-P-3 to a G4M1 of the Kanoya Kokutai on the 16th that was on a search mission, 102-P-23 to an accident at Ambon on the 21st, and then a devastating raid on the 25th that cost PW 10 the services of 22-P-5, 22-P-7, 22-P-8, 22-P-11 to the 3rd Kokutai. 102-P-22 was abandoned and destroyed on the 26th, also at Ambon. Clearly, Ambon was just too hot a place to continue operations from there.

Back at Surabaya, Hart and Wagner had set up shop to begin operations from there on January 15th. As with the Dutch, they would set up searches from that base. VP 101 would cover Makassar Strait while the Dutch would cover the other areas. Meanwhile, the tenders Childs, Heron, and Preston rotated as needed to service the P-boats.

The first strike by the Japanese on Java was on February 5th, and it was the same thing over again. 22-P-1 and "43" were lost at Surabaya while 22-P-6 was shot down by aircraft from the 3rd Kokutai and 22-P-9 ruptured her hull on landing at Ambon. At this point, with the loss of Kendari on January 24, Ambon on the 31st, and Makassar City lost on February 8th. On the 11th, Patwing had only 12 aircraft of which only 5 were servicable. There were 6 at Surabaya and 6 at Darwin. VP-22 had fallen back to Darwin, while VP-101 remained at Surabaya.

On February 19th, at 0622, in the Banda Sea, Nagumo's Carrier Striking Force aircraft took off, destination Darwin. At 0635, 27 aircraft from the Kanoya Kokutai lifted off from Kendari, destination Darwin. Also at 0640, from Ambon the 1st Kokutai took off with 28 aircraft for the same destination. It was one of the most complete destructive raids. With the destruction of the harbour facilities and outlying airfields, Darwin would no longer be of assistance to the Java defenders. PatWing 10 lost 101-P-8, 102-P-27 and "41" at their moorings to Soryu aircraft while 22-P-4 was shot down near Melville Island by Kaga aircraft. On successive days, PatWing 10 lost "42" on a sector search near Makassar to Tainan Kokutai Zeros on the 24th, then on the 25th, "44" was lost returning from a search to 3rd Kokutai. Then on the 27th off Madura, "45" was lost to Tainan Kokutai. This last one had spotted the Eastern Task Force coming down Makassar Strait.

On March 1st, PatWing 10's personel began evacuating Java Island. Capt. Wagner departed Java in the last aircraft available. Of the five PBYs that reached Australia, two would be lost at Broome on March 3rd to the 3rd Kokutai. They were 101-P-13 and 102-P-26. By March 7th, the remaining three, 101-P-3, 102-P-25 and 22-P-12 reached Pelican Point at Perth.

So ended the 88 day East Indies crucible. Their record was enduring, with countless searches, in one of the most inhospitable climes, yet they did manage to shoot down 2 Zeros, one Pete, and a Babs during their 88 days. Like their Dutch Allies, they did the best they could, with what they had, but without control of the air, the result was but a foregone conclusion. There is one note, and that is that 101-P-3 flew out of Tjilitjap as Y-3, and on arrival at Perth, was turned over to the RAAF as A24-28.

Untold Stories Index . Bibliography . Article List . Geographic Names
Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942
Copyright Allan Alsleben 1999-2000