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HistoryUSS Bering Strait (AVP-34) HistoryHistory

Circa 1945

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...My late Father, James Sussex, was the medical officer aboard the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34). I have recently come across link describing the rescue of the crew of a B-29 in March 1945 by the crew of the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) - SEE: WebSite: LifeLeak 1945 ABSOLUTELY UNEDITED! B-29 Ditching & Rescue RAW. It was such a thrill to find this film (my father is in it at about 5:18-5:40)..." Contributed by MaryPat Sussex Jones mpjones@mail.nih.gov [01JUL20112]

WebSite: LifeLeak 1945 ABSOLUTELY UNEDITED! B-29 Ditching & Rescue RAW:

This footage (http://edge.liveleak.com/80281E/u/u/ll2_player_files/mp55_2/player.swf) used to lay forgotten for decades. We received it directly from the B-29 pilot's son, Mr. Mike McCaskill.

We choosed to leave the entire 12 min raw footage uncutted. Following our request, Mr. McCaskill was so kind to write the story behind this "never seen before" footage, giving us all the particoulars about this forgotten episode of WW2.

Here Mr. McCaskill's notes:

"(cut) ...During the ditching my father's back was broken and he was evacuated back to the US for convalescence. During his long stay in a military hospital he met the cameraman who had filmed the rescue. It was a chance meeting. The cameraman gave him two unedited copies of the 16mm film, each in a metal can. We never had a 16mm projector, so these film canisters lay undisturbed in my father's closet for over 50 years."


On March 9, 1945 over 300 B-29 bombers took off from airfields on the islands of Tinian, Saipan, and Guam and headed for Japan. Their mission was to bomb the port and urban areas of Tokyo.

To complete the mission, the crews had to fly 1,500 miles to get to Japan, make their bombing runs, and then fly the 1,500 miles back to their home base--fifteen stressful hours of flying over water.

In order to increase bomb capacity, fuel loads were kept to a minimum. Consequently, planes damaged in combat, suffering from mechanical malfunctions, or thrown off course often could not make it back to base.

Many were lost without leaving a trace; some were seen to crash after crewmen had bailed out, and others were deliberately put down at sea, in a procedure known to airmen as "ditching."

The B-29 seen ditching here is the "Hopefull-Devil" under the command of Captain Bernard "Barney" McCaskill Jr. Aircrew 84-02, 484th Squadron, 505th Bombardment Group, 313th Bombardment Wing.

Realizing they did not have enough fuel to reach the home base on Tinian Island, the "Hopefull-Devil" radioed a call for help.

The distress call was picked up by the seaplane tender USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) on lifeguard duty approximately 20 miles north of Pagan Island. The ship vectored the "Hopefull-Devil" to its position and Captain McCaskill ditched alongside at 12:38PM on March 10, 1945.

Ocean swells at the time were about 6 feet (2 meters) making a smooth ditching impossible. Per their training, all crew members, except for the pilots, were at ditching stations with their backs against a bulkhead of some kind. As you can see, the force of the impact was tremendous. The plane went from 100mph to zero in less than a plane length.

In a newspaper article reporting on the incident Capt. McCaskill explains what happened while the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) launched its whaleboat to pick up the crewmen in the water:

"I was pushing down on the rudder pedals for the landing, and that and handling the wheel made my body pretty stiff for the impact. That's why my back got broken.

"I couldn't stand up afterwards and I looked up and the co-pilot [Col. Macomber who was along for a guest rid]) was already getting out. The water started rushing in about then. It washed me back to my seat."

But Capt. McCaskill managed to grab hold of the window and pull himself outside. "I had a canteen on my belt. It was knocked off. I was jerking so hard to get myself out."

Outside Capt. McCaskill said he counted heads and saw all were there. But he found that the two gunners back at the tail were having a 'rough time'. They couldn't swim. Capt. McCaskill inflated the Mae West of one of the boys so he was all right. The other [Corporal Rivas] was holding on to the plane and was being slapped back into the water each time the plane was caught by a wave.

"I told him to turn loose the airplane. He didn't want to but did. It was at the wrong moment, though. For just then a big wave caught him and he went down."

So Capt. McCaskill slid out of his own Mae West and dove down after the young gunner. Under the water he inflated the gunner's Mae West and that was what brought them up.

The rescue vessel had a life raft near them and Capt. McCaskill got the boy on it. [Col. Macomber] had to swim in front of the raft to pull it and Capt. McCaskill was behind it, pushing to keep it clear of the plane which was still being tossed about in the choppy sea.

The crewmen on board the "Hopefull-Devil" were saved, with only two significant injuries. Capt. McCaskill suffered a broken back from the impact of the ditching, and Corporal Binger had a severely gashed jaw. Both received the Purple Heart.

The USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) was part of a well coordinated Air-Sea Rescue operation deployed each time the B-29s attacked Japan. It was a prime concern of the Bomber Command to rescue as many of these downed crewmen as possible. For American aircrews, this was a huge morale booster.

Mike McCaskill -From Romano Archives

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: VH-3 Picture ThumbnailCamera "...My dad served on the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) from commissioning thru the end of the War. I recently met an old gentleman who served with VP-21, I believe, and we were sharing stories and pictures. He drug out his log book and we discovered that his aircraft as well as the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) were at Kerama Retto on March 28, 1945. I have attached a picture of the USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) and part of her flock of PBMs from VH-3 at Keramo Retto, circa March 28-April 1, 1945..." Contributed by Wayne Tudor a.w.tudor@worldnet.att.net [E-Mail Updated 05JUL2001 | 31DEC98]

Circa 1943

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Bering Strait (AVP-34) ..." http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/auxil/avp10.htm [03JAN2001]

Bering Strait (AVP-34)

Built by Lake Washington SY. Laid down 7 June 1943, launched 15 January 1944, commissioned 19 July 1944. Had 3 5/38 mounts.

Served in seaplane roles througout WWII. Decommissioned to reserve 21 June 1946. Loaned to USCG as WAVP 382 14 Sept 1948. Designation changed to WHEC 382 1 May 1966.

Transferred to South Vietnam 1 January 1971 as Tran Quang Khai (HQ 15). Fled to the Philippines 4/1975 and commissioned in Philippine service as Diego Silang (PF 9); formally sold to the Philippines 5 April 1976. Decommissioned 6/1985 due to very poor condition. May still exist as a hulk. http://www.hazegray.org/navhist/carriers/us_sea3.htm#avp34.

Circa Unknown
Can you identify the Month and or Year?

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Tender ThumbnailCameraUSS Bering Strait (AVP-34) Contributed by Wayne Tudor a.w.tudor@worldnet.att.net [05JUL2001]

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