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HistoryVP-71 HistoryHistory

Circa 1969

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation August 1969 "...On Patrol - Page 30 to 31 - August 1969..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1960s/1969/aug69.pdf [17SEP2004]

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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...In early 1969 all three squadrons (VP-871, VP-872 & VP-873) concentrated into one hardware squadron ( VP-71). This effort culminated on 13 July 1969 when 12 SP2H were launched within a 55 minute period for transpac to NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii. This was an accomplishment recognized and lauded throughout the reserve command. In spite of less than optimum support for the SP2H aircraft, a total of 700 aircraft hours were flown and a significant increase in readiness accomplished. In August 27,1970 VP-71 was notified of disestablishment..." Contributed by Roger Busbee rlbusbe@sandia.gov [26OCT99]


Knife World Magazine, PO Box 3395, Knoxville TN 37927
by Bernard Levine brlevine@ix.netcom.com

Mr. Steve Jones of Florida sent in photos and a drawing of an unusual military machete that he found at a gun show in 1996. Overall length is about 30 inches. The 23-13/16 inch blade is double-edged for its entire length. The blade is 2-9/16 inches wide at the guard, flaring gradually to 2-7/8 inches wide behind the point. It is 3/16 inch thick along the median ridge.

The guard is made from 1/8 inch thick steel. It is 4-1/8 inches long, 15/16 inch wide, and rounded at both ends.

The handle slabs are a blond colored hardwood, lightly varnished, and are 6-1/8 inches long. These handles are secured to the full tang with four large brass compression rivets.

On the front handle, between the first and second rivets, is a blind stamp of a setting sunburst over BARR BROS. CO./ OAKLAND, CAL. Between the second and third rivets is a faint ink stamp of an anchor, flanked by U S.

The fitted scabbard is made of smooth, flat, brown leather, 1/8 inch thick, stitched and riveted all around. A leather belt loop is stitched and riveted to the back. There is an illegible blind stamp on the belt loop. Hand written on the front of the scabbard is the original owner's name, rank, and unit. Mr. Jones transcribed the name as "Van Beurschaten...," but I discovered that it in fact reads: "Van Benschoten, R. S./ Lt. (jg) VP-71."

Most military knives are anonymous mass-produced items, each one indistinguishable from the hundreds, or thousands, or millions of other examples of the same pattern. However, sometimes a military knife was personalized by its owner, giving today's collectors a glimpse into its history of use and carry. This machete is an unusually good example.

Two years ago, it would have been virtually impossible to track down any information about this knife. Today, thanks to the Internet, it proved fairly straightforward.

[Two years ago I was a total skeptic of the Internet. Today I am endlessly amazed at how valuable a research tool it has become. Sure it is riddled with inaccuracies and nonsense. So are libraries, encyclopedias, academic journals, newspapers, and all other human records. So what? Half of research is learning how to use resources; the other half is learning how to evaluate their quality.]

Here is how I went about researching this knife. The stamped anchor and U S suggested U.S. Navy issue. "V" in Navy parlance refers to an aircraft squadron; "VP" indicates an aerial patrol squadron. I went to the Navy's website, http://www.navy.mil, and emailed an inquiry about the significance of "VP-71."

Within two hours I received a reply from Mr. Alan Goldstein, Assistant Chief of Information for Technology Integration, Navy Office of Information - The Pentagon. He wrote, "VP-71 was one of four VP squadrons (Patrol Squadrons) which had one of their PBYs equipped with a British radar. These squadrons were part of patrol Wing 7, the firstoperational unit to have radar-equipped aircraft. These squadrons operated from the NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The aircraft, the squadrons and the NAS are long since decommissioned." While awaiting this reply, I did an Alta Vista search on "VP-71" and "VP71." I quickly found an entire website http://www.vpnavy.org devoted to history and reminiscences of Navy patrol squadrons of the past seven decades. A page of this site was devoted to VP-71.

On the VP-71 web page are quite a few snippets of history about the squadron. The designation VP-71 was adopted July 1, 1939, for the former Squadron 1 of Patrol Wing Operating Area 7 (East Coast-Atlantic Bases). The four squadrons of Patrol Wing 7 (VP-71, VP-72, VP-73, and VP-74) were based at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, but they flew "Neutrality Patrol" over the North Atlantic out of Rhode Island ( NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island), Newfoundland ( NAS Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada), Iceland (Reykjavik), and Greenland.

These squadrons mainly flew PBY-5 Catalinas, monitoring German U-Boat and surface activity, in secret collaboration with the British and Canadian navies. On July 18, 1941, "Commander J. V. Carney, Senior Support Force Staff Officer, reported that British type ASV radar has been installed in one PBY-5 each of VP-71, VP-72, and VP-73 and two PBM-1 Mariners of VP-74. Initial installation of identificationequipment (IFF) was made about the same time. In mid-September radar was issued for five additional PBM-1's of VP-74 and one PBY-5 of VP-71, and shortly thereafter for other aircraft in Patrol Wing 7 squadrons. Thereby the Wing became the first operational unit of the U.S. Navy to be supplied with radar-equipped aircraft."

As described by a contemporary source, the patrol squadrons were the "'Eyes of the Fleet.' Their primary missions were over-sea patrol and search from coastal or advanced bases, or from aircraft tenders; the protection of merchant shipping; and anti-submarine operations. Carrying bombs, torpedoes, or mines instead of maximum fuel, they could perform offensive missions against enemy vessels or shore objectives... At the end of Fiscal 1941 the Patrol establishment included twenty-five Squadrons. Additional units were organizing. Patrol Squadrons normally operated twelve twin-engined or six four-engined Flying Boats, plus spares."

This was all interesting, but the best was yet to come. The VP-71 web page included several messages from veterans of the squadron, along with their email addresses. Most interesting was this one, about a newly published book, posted December 31, 1997:

"The Buccaneers of Harry Sears, The History of Navy Bombing Squadron 104. Henry J. Thompson, 1997. 276 pages, 26 x 19 cm. perfect bound, maps, roster, photos ISBN 1-889553-05-0. Mail order: H. J. Thompson, 842 B Avenue, Coronado CA 92118. $18.50 includes priority mail. This book also covers VP-71 (PBY-5's and -5A-s) from 7 December 1941 to 10 April 1943. On that date, the new squadron, VB-104, split from VP-71.VB-104 transitioned to PB4Y-1 Navy Liberators and deployed to the Solomon Islands, August 1943 to April 1944. Presidential Unit Citation for that period. The book concludes with the return of VB-104 to the states where it later reformed. Note: for the second tour of VP/VPB-104 see: Low Level Liberators by Paul Stevens." Contributed by Henry J. Thompson hjt@ix.netcom.com. I sent an email to Mr. Thompson, asking if he knew anything about this machete, or its original owner. Within hours he replied: "Ensign (later Lt. (jg) and Lt.) Robert Seymour Van Benschoten, a Naval Aviator, joined VP-71 in Norfolk, Virginia, just before Pearl Harbor. Two days after 7 December, the Squadron left for Hawaii,flying their PBYs to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, San Diego, San Francisco, reaching Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station on windward Oahu on aboutChristmas.

"VP-71 was the patrol squadron operating out of Noumea, based on the Seaplane Tender USS Curtis, for the Battle of the Coral Sea, circa 6May 1942. Van Ben was probably there although some of the VP-71 pilots stayed at Kaneohe ( NAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii).

"VP-71, still in PBYs, flew out of Canton, Johnston, and Midway islands until April 10, 1943, when the squadron was divided, forming anew VP-71 and VB-104. Van Ben was a plane commander in VB-104, thesquadron flying Navy Liberators, PB4Y-1s [Navy B-24s]. The squadron trained at Kaneohe but each crew made trips to San Diego to pick upthe new PB4Y-1s.

"The squadron (and Van Ben) deployed to Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, in August of 1943, moved to Munda in February of 1944, and returned to the States in April of 1944. The squadron was awarded the presidential Unit Citation for this deployment. VB-104 (later VPB-104) has had many reunions but no one has ever relocated Van Ben..."I had the same knife/machete that you describe. I am not sure where I got it, perhaps while I was in VP-71 or VB-104, or I may have purchased it at a war surplus store in Santa Monica after WW II. I recall that the handle was made of a very coarse oak wood, probably Quercus lobata, an abundant oak in central California. I no longer have the knife but one of my boys may have it."

I sent Mr. Thompson a check, for a copy of his book, and it has proven to be fascinating reading. It is a day-by-day account of the activities of this small, closely knit unit, compiled from flight logs, aircraft action reports, unit records, and individual recollections.

He writes that before Pearl Harbor, there had been more than 50 Navy PBYs stationed in Hawaii. They failed to detect the approaching Japanese fleet, and only seven of these aircraft survived the December 7, 1941, surprise attack. Other Navy patrol squadrons were rushed to Hawaii, to fill in the gap. VP-71 was one of the first.

On the way to Hawaii, VP-71 stopped in San Francisco Bay, the first time this East Coast squadron had ever been in California. They had first stopped overnight to refuel at San Diego, flown anti-submarine patrol northward along the California coast, then landed at NAS Alameda, California, a stone's throw from downtown Oakland, where they stayed four nights (December 21-25, 1941). In subsequent months, individual VP-71 crews stopped briefly in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, Alameda, or Mare Island) on the way to San Diego to pick up new aircraft. Most likely on one of these visits, probably the first one, someone in the squadron acquired a quantity of these Barr Brothers machetes.

Machetes would be useless in the North Atlantic, but aircrewmen on remote tropical islands in the Pacific might have found them valuable. Since the mid-1930s, the Army Air Force had included a machete in its pilots' tropical bail-out kits. I do not know if the Navy had similar regulations in this regard, nor do I know if any other unit besides VP-71/VB-104 carried these distinctive Barr Brothers machetes. I also do not know if these Navy machetes were bought directly from Barr Brothers, in Oakland, or if they were bought from a Navy exchange, or if they were issued from Navy stores. I do know that they were acquired prior to to the spring of 1943. I know this because R. S. Van Benschoten was transferred then from VP-71 to VB-104, newly created on April 10, 1943. Also, on about October 18, 1943 he was promoted from Lieutenant (junior grade) to Lieutenant.

In VP-71, Van Ben had piloted PBYs, two-engined seaplanes; some of these were amphibians, capable of landing on runways. In VB-104 he was Patrol Plane Commander of Crew 11 (the squadron had 18 crews and 15 bombers; each crew had three pilots -- PPC, First Pilot, and Co-Pilot). His four-engined, land-based PB4Y-1 Bu. No. 32071 sported nose art "Red's Devils." The author of the book, Mr. Thompson, was First Pilot in Crew 9 of VB-104.

On Guadalcanal in 1943, VB-104's PB4Ys shared runways with Army squadrons flying identical B-24 Liberators (the PB4Ys had been built on Army contract, and were painted Army brown). The Army crews mainly flew tactical bombing runs against Japanese-held islands and bases, while the Navy crews mainly flew long-range ocean patrols. VB-104 aircraft occasionally joined their Army counterparts for bombing raids, and sometimes performed pre-invasion aerial reconnaissance with Marine Corps or Army intelligence personnel aboard. First-generation radar countermeasures technology was tested aboard VB-104 aircraft. Patrolling PB4Ys would engage Japanese aircraft, ships, and submarines whenever the opportunity presented itself. Nearly every one of Lt. Van Benschoten's flights in the Pacific Theater of Operations is documented in Mr. Thompson's new book.

The history of Barr Brothers was recounted in Knife World some years ago (October 1985) by Mr. Dennis Ellingsen. I very briefly summarize this history on page 492 of Levine's Guide to Knives, 4th Edition (LG-IV). Barr Bros. was a small cutlery manufacturing firm, founded by Hugh & William Barr in Eugene, Oregon, in 1891. It specialized in butcher knives and sack-sewing needles. The firm relocated to Oakland, California, in 1911, and continued in business until some time after World War II.

I have no idea what this machete might be worth. Given its rarity, its unusual design, its high quality, and its unambiguous military background, I suppose it should be worth "several" hundred dollars.

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