VP-731 Port Lyautey Cruise 1958
I have to go back in time and into my log books to remember how I became a plane commander for that great flight to Port Lyautey in July 1958.
I had been a fighter pilot before being recalled to active duty during the Korean War.
I was assigned from Norfolk, Virginia to a squadron in Sanford, Florida. The VC-9 squadron flew AJ-2s which is a “savage” aircraft built by North American. We also had one PV-2 in the squadron that we used to get parts and equipment for our squadron. Since my wife was still in Michigan, I was available to fly and wanted to get as much flight time as I could in multi-engine aircraft. Whenever parts or equipment was needed, I volunteered for the assignment to accumulate flight time in the PV-2.
I returned to Grosse Ile in January 1955, and was assigned to VP 731 just in time as a P2V-5F was being assigned to reserve VP squadrons. The purpose of the flight to Port Lyautey, French Morocco, was to train reserve VP squadrons to fly P2V5-Fs to operate with NATO forces and familiarize flight crews with European bases. The reserve squadrons were trained to be in combat readiness.
Lt. Gerrit Lydecker and I were the 6th crew assigned for the flight to Port Lyautey in 1958. About two weeks prior to the trip, Lt. Roger Golden, who was a PC on one of the five P2Vs we were taking on the trip, was unavailable. Lt. Beesley, who was the VP Training Officer at Grosse Ile, arranged for a check ride for Lydecker and myself.
On July 11, 1958, Lydecker and I took a five hour ORI flight with pilots from an active duty squadron who had flown to Grosse Ile for the check ride from the east coast. I was then designated a PC in P2V-5Fs that enabled me to command one of the five P2Vs to Port Lyautey.
We departed NAS Grosse Ile July 13, 1958, for Argentia, Newfoundland flying P2V-5F, 127734 Side #204. We were the first plane departing from Grosse Ile therefore making us the first plane to arrive in Argentia. Upon our arrival, Argentia was completely fogged over and we made five GCA approaches to the airport without success. Lt. Lydecker and I were put into a holding pattern for 30 minutes allowing the other four P2Vs to fly over Argentia and land at Torbay, Newfoundland. We then climbed out of the fog over the mountains and landed at Torbay. We were happy to see the ground once more after flying in fog for over one hour.
We departed Torbay July 14, 1958, for Lages in the Azores which entailed about a 6.5 hour flight. Upon arriving at Lages, the ground control operator created landing intervals so that all five P2Vs were on final approach at the same time. In my mind, I can still picture that beautiful moment when all five planes engulfed by mountains made our final approach to Lages airport. What a great memory!
July 15, 1958: As we were departing Lages for Port Lyautey, my radioman called and asked us to listen to a special news broadcast he had picked up. The president had ordered the marines into Lebanon. I then called the other planes in the squadron to tune into the news broadcast. Within the next 48 hours, there were more planes arriving and departing from Port Lyautey than we had ever seen before. As fast as they could be refueled, they would be sent on or were headed back to the States for more men and equipment. It was a 24 hour a day operation.
We were the only P2V squadron in the area and if this incident in Lebanon had erupted into a full scale confrontation, the navy would have detained us in the Mediterranean longer than our two week cruise time. Fortunately, it all ended in about 72 hours and VP 731 could resume our regular flights.
July 19: Good old P2V-204 and crew flew to Barcelona for sightseeing and Med Fam. That night we all met at Las Carrescolas (a restaurant I had been to before with my wife when I was stationed with the 6th Fleet). Lt. Lydecker charged the dinner to his credit card that was something new for the rest of our flight crew and me. Most of us had not used a credit card internationally before this.
July 20: We flew to Naples, Italy where we met Charley Davis in P2V #203. On July 21, Charley Davis with his crew and my crew in #204 flew out into the Mediterranean for an exercise with an Italian navy sub. Charley Davis and his crew were the first to do an attack on the sub while we circled overhead. At one time #203 flew so low over the water we could see the wake flying behind his left wing tip. I called Flt 203 to pull up which they did. In submarine exercises, it is very easy for both pilots to be looking at charts in the cockpit while engaged in these exercises. After #203 completed their exercises, it was our turn to replicate the same procedures successfully. Both crews returned to Naples, Italy, and were debriefed about the exercise.
July 22: As we were getting to depart from Naples, a police car drove up and parked in front of my airplane. I went out and talked to the police and was informed that someone from my crew had taken some towels from the Hotel Mediterranean. I told Bob Losie to tell the crew that I was going to walk to the rear of the plane to the rear hatch and whoever had the towels to drop them in my hand. I returned same to the police and departed for Port Lyautey. I’m glad it wasn’t I who had taken the towels.
July 25: Departed Port Lyautey for Lages which took 6.5 hours. As we approached Lages, we were having a problem with our starboard engine in addition all the radios in our plane died. The only radio I could receive on was ARC-5 receiver. I made a couple 90 degree turns and Lages called to ask if we were having radio problems. They asked us to acknowledge by making several additional turns. Once they were certain who we were, Lages brought us into a GCA landing using only the ARC-5 receiver. After we landed, we were parked next to a super constellation that flew out of Argentia. I talked to my radioman to see what we could do about the radios. I never knew but always felt there was some midnight swapping of radios with the super constellation. Also, the mechanics worked long into the night on the starboard engine.
July 27: Departed Argentia for Selfridge AFB to clear customs. I don’t know if my plane captain ever forgave me for leaving Argentia without the box lunches that were late in arriving. We cleared customs at Selfridge and returned with all five P2Vs to NAS Grosse Ile in the late afternoon.
Flight time on 1958 cruise was 73 hours.
LCDR Ralph McBrien PC
Lt. Gerrit Lydecker was a very good pilot. We flew together for four years.
Plane Captain: Robert Losie ADR-1 for 204 for both ‘58 & ‘59 cruises
Chief Stralka flew with #204 both 58 and 59 cruise
It is my opinion that VP731 could not have been able to undertake a cruise of this type in 1958 without the strong leadership of people like CDR. L. B. Ulstrom, Skipper of VP731. Lt. Howard Beesley, who was the VP Training Officer at NAS Grosse Ile was the person who thought we could accomplish this mission and worked many hours getting all of the flight crew up to flight proficiency. Lt. Beesley knew more about the P2Vs than any pilot I have known and was an excellent instructor to the many pilots in the VP squadrons at Grosse Ile.
Lcdr. Ralph McBrien
13 March 2001