VP -731  Port Lyautey Cruise 1958

   In July 1958, VP-731 from NAS Grosse Ile and a VR squadron from NAS Willow Grove made a two week deployment to Port Lyautey, Morocco.  At the time I was an AT2 in the Air Maintenance Department at NAS Grosse Ile, and assigned to be part of the crew of P2V 201.  This would be my first trip across the Atlantic to Africa and Europe. This plane’s  pilot was  Lt. John Paul from Fort Wayne, IN,  Co-pilot was Cdr. L. B. Ulstrom, from Battle Creek, squadron CO, and the Navigator was Lt. Howard L. Beesley, VP Training Officer.  As I remember:

    On Sunday morning 13 July 1958 five P2V-5F aircraft depart NAS Grosse Ile on runway 17 for Argentia, Newfoundland.  The Pilots for the planes are:  201 Lt. John Paul,  202 Lt. Herbert Ermolik from Dearborn, 203  Lt. Charles Davis, from Dowagiac,  204 Lcdr. Ralph Mc Brien, from Detroit, and 205 by Lt. Kenneth Drew, from Taylor. 

    The route takes the planes over London and Ottawa in Ontario, Montreal Quebec, Fredericton and Moncton in New Brunswick, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Sydney, Nova Scotia then on to Argentia Newfoundland.  As we near Argentia we are notified that Argentia is fogged in.  One of the planes, 204, tries a GCA,  Ground Controlled Approach, but the weather is too bad, so this flight diverts to the Canadian air base at Torbay north of St. John’s Newfoundland.  The sky is overcast when we land.  The crews are bussed to the Pepperell Army base in St. John’s where we spend the night.  We now learn that Newfoundland is in a time zone that is not the usual one hour difference but a 1/2 hour time zone.

 Monday 14 July 1958

    The sun is shining this morning as we ride the bus back to Torbay.  The area around Torbay has many trees, almost like forest.  After take-off we head out to sea to the ESE toward Lajes in the Azores about 1300 miles away.  About a ½ hour after take off I go down to the observers position in the bow of the plane.  Can see only miles and miles of open water.  About an hour later I go back up to the flight deck and watch the Navigator, Lt. Howard Beesley at work.   He is using sun fixes as well as radar.  About 3 ½ hours into the flight we pass ocean station “Delta”, a ship located about ½ way from Newfoundland and the Azores.  About 5 hours into the flight we can now see the island of  Flores on the radar, and about 40 minutes later we are near Graciosa, in the Azores.  Lajes Field is on  Terceira  Island.  The Field has one long runway in the valley between two mountains.  After servicing the planes we take the bus to the barracks area across the field and on a mountain.  From this side of the base we can look down into the valley and see the airport and the planes across the field.  A surprise is finding slot machines in the Barracks.   The Azores belong to Portugal.

 Tuesday 15 July 1958

     Today we will fly from Lajes, Azores to Port Lyautey, Morocco.  We depart Lajes and head to the SE about 100 miles until over Santa Maria then turn to the east toward Casablanca.  For a while we are in and out of the clouds.  About 2 hours out of Port Lyautey we learn that President Eisenhower has ordered the marines to land in Lebanon.  The flight continues to the African Coast over Casablanca then turn to the NE, toward Rabat and  Port Lyautey, at Kenitra, Morocco.  As we  circle the field we can see the regular Navy P2V’s departing for the Eastern Mediterranean.  VP-731 is now the only patrol squadron in Port Lyautey.  As we depart our aircraft we are immediately aware that we are in a Moslem  country.  Later in the day we go to the Navy Exchange and find out that our US money is no good.  All sales on the base are made with “script”,  MPC,  Military Payment Certificates.  I buy  7 X 50 binoculars which I have to this day.

 Wednesday 16 July 1958

     Now there seems to be a never ending stream of marines being airlifted to the eastern Mediterranean.  Planes are arriving refueling and departing,  and troops are eating in the mess hall at all hours.

     This afternoon we all go to an orientation meeting to learn about the world situation, the marines had landed in Lebanon without opposition, the status of VP-731, and about the local area around the base, where it was safe to go and what areas to avoid.

Thursday 17 July 1958

    Today we learn that 201 and 202 will fly to Naples, Italy on Friday and return on Sunday.  The other planes will go to other locations then to Naples.  This evening as we were leave the mess hall we are shocked to hear of the death of Lcdr Alan Dale and Lt. Don L. Southworth in the S2F crash at Grosse Ile.

 Friday 18 July 1958

     201 and 202 will fly directly to Naples.  On this flight we have Detroit Times reporter Jerry Kabel with us.  Leaving Port Lyautey we fly along the coast of Morocco to the Strait of Gibraltar, then head east over the Mediterranean Sea, south of the Balearic Islands, across Sardinia and on to Capidicino Airport in Naples.  NAF Naples is located at Capidicino.  As we taxi to our parking spot can see farmers cutting hay on the field between the taxiways.  Also we have our first view of Mt. Vesuvius.  After servicing the planes we are taken into the city to the Mediterranean Hotel, on Piazza Municipio. The hotel was new, only about a month old.  In the area near the hotel it was still possible to see some damage to buildings from WW II.  From the roof of the hotel is a beautiful view of the harbor, the Castle, and Mt. Vesuvius.  This flight included the following: Harold McNeil AD2,  Roosevelt Secars AD2, Charles Mitchell AT? and Leroy Kelly.

     Back in Michigan the Detroit Free Press has a headline “Grosse Ile Airmen Join Sixth Fleet  Planes Called To Hunt Subs”.  The Detroit Times has an article on page one, “Ile Fliers On Secret Mission”.

 Saturday 19 July 1958

     Today we will participate in an Exercise with the Italian Navy, locating an Italian Submarine.  This will take place in the Mediterranean near Naples.  Jerry Kabel is with us.  (On Monday 28 July 1958, after return to Grosse Ile) he writes about this flight in the Detroit Times.  They Play a Deadly Game Over the Mediterranean” and includes a picture of the crew.  He said this exercise took place at a secret location in the Mediterranean.  (This actually took place within sight of the Isle of Capri.)

 Sunday 20 July 1958

     This is another beautiful sunny day in Naples.  The farmers have now stacked the hay on the field.  Just before our departure Jerry Kabel takes several pictures of the crew.  Today we will fly back to Port Lyautey, departing about 1100 for the 6 hour flight.  It is a beautiful afternoon can clearly see Sardinia and also have a good view of the Rock of Gibraltar.  Can clearly see across the strait of Gibraltar with Spain, Europe to the north and Morocco, Africa to the south.  We arrive back in Port Lyautey about 1830.   The other 3 P2V’s had departed for Barcelona and then to Naples.  They will return on Tuesday or Wednesday.  From what I am told 204 went to Barcelona and many of the crew attend a bullfight.

 [Other information:

                Each P2V had one or two stationkeepers on board. This is how I remember it:

                201  - Homer Crook  AD1 and John Sanger AT2

                202  - Donald Coombs  AD1

                203  - Wm. Jerome Steele AD1 and Robert E. Raines  AT2

                204  - Bruce Badger AD2 and Edward Phillips AD2 (changing rate to AT)

                205  - A. A. Bartczak AT1 and George Yoscovitts AD1

     Three newspaper reporters accompanied VP-731 on the cruise they were: USNR Capt. John C. Treen from the Detroit News, Civilians Jerry Kabel from the Detroit Times, and Miller M. Hollingsworth from the Detroit Free Press..          

     After arriving in Port Lyautey the Willow Grove VR squadron was put into service flying to and from Beruit, Lebanon.  

     From Monday 21 July to Friday 25 July the Grosse Ile P2V flew  patrols near the Strait of Gibraltar.]

Thursday 24 July 1958

    We are preparing our planes for the return flight to Grosse Ile.  Going to the planes I am surprised to see names on the four Grosse Ile planes.  The names are as follows:  201  “Adios Mama”, named after an Arab entertainment place in Kenitra.  203   “Little King”  There were two stories about this name:  One is that is was named for Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco and the other was that this is Jerry Steele’s plane and he can be very English at times. Also when 203 landed at Grosse Ile “Have Fez Wont Travel” was painted on the plane.  204  “Barcelona Baby” because the crew had gone to Barcelona and to a bullfight, and 205  “Pogo”  because of the landing on arrival at Port Lyautey.   We receive word that a Willow Grove R5D will need an engine change when it returns to Port Lyautey.  So the P2V crews are changed.  Most stationkeepers will stay in Port Lyautey and return on the R5D later.  I am assigned to return on 205, 127737 with Lt Kenneth Drew and his crew,  co-pilot was Lcdr Doyle and navigator Lt. Parkey.

Friday 25 July 1958

    Make the flight back to Lajes without incident.  One of the Willow Grove R5D now has to leave 1/2 of its passengers in Lajes and go to Argentia and return to Lajes for the others due to the duration of the flight over 8 hours, and fuel requirements.  

Saturday 26 July 1958

    Flight from Lajes to Argentia is long over 8 hours.  On the way there is some concern about the weather in Argentia, and where we can go as a possible alternate.  However when we arrive the field is open with clouds and some fog. All planes make a GCA  landing.

Sunday 27 July 1958

    Depart Argentia early for Selfridge ANG Base.  Follow the same route that we took going to Argentia.  It was a nice sunny day and I can see Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the locks on the St. Lawrence River near Montreal.  All 5 P2Vs land at Selfridge for Customs. We are bussed to a building and the customs inspector takes our declarations and clear us.  The 5 planes take off and fly in formation across Lake St. Clair, down the Detroit River over Wyandotte and Trenton arriving over Grosse Ile about 1400.

     Back in Port Lyautey Morocco, Grosse Ile stationkeepers were busy “Working Their Way Home” by changing the engine on the Willow Grove R5D.  This engine change crew consisted of: Bruce Badger, Becker, Ed Harker, Jerome Steele, Harry Barriger, James Osgood, George Yoscovitts, and Haynes. The remaining stationkeepers returned to Grosse  Ile on the repaired Willow Grove R5D early Tuesday morning.

John P. Sanger, Lt USNR, Ret.

Rev. A, 5 May 2000 

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Revised: June 30, 2010