The vast expanses of the Pacific meant a lot of patrol aircraft were needed.
Let’s take a look at a successful wartime expedient to fill that need.
The Ventura had a fairly complicated development history, so this may take a little longer than I normally devote to the technical details!
The story really starts way back at the Model 10 Electra, a light airliner that first flew in 1934. This type was best known as the plane Amelia Earhart disappeared with in 1937.
That same year she disappeared a larger, more powerful plane known as the Model 14 Super Electra first flew. Even though the pace of aviation technological development was rapid at the time, sales were slow due to the lingering effects of the great depression. Almost immediately with the launch of the Model 14, Lockheed produced engineering drawings for a fully militarized version. This would prove to be a wise move since the little Lockheed could not really compete with the Boeing 247 or Douglass DC-2. But the RAF ordered 200 of the military version in 1938. This was the largest order in Lockheed’s brief history.
The type was named “Hudson” by the British and it had several significant “firsts”. In October of 1939 it was the first RAF aircraft flying from England to down a German aircraft, that also made it the first American-built type to score a kill. It later became the first aircraft to capture a warship on the high seas when a No 269 Squadron Hudson flying from Iceland damaged the U-570 so that it couldn’t submerge. The crew waved a large white flag to the plane which circled until RN naval vessels arrived on scene. When the US found itself at war several Hudsons were taken over and re-badged A-28 or A-29 (depending on R-1830 or R-1820 engine) by the Army Air Force. These were used for training and anti-submarine patrols from the continental US.
For those first several months of war there was a bit of a turf battle between the AAF and Navy about those ASW patrols. The Navy finally won the dispute, and took over several A-29s that were renamed PBO.
Meanwhile, things were happening at Lockheed too. The Super Electra was really never successful as a civilian type. Mainly because it was too small and under-powered to be economical. So it was enlarged and given more power and designated Model 18 Lodestar. This type was ordered into production as the military transport C-56/C-60.
And of course, it was also militarized much as the Model 14 had been. Again, the RAF was the first customer for the type. The Ventura Mk I had the same layout as the earlier Hudson and looked very similar. Superficially it would be hard to tell the two apart but side-by-side it would be apparent that the Ventura was slightly bigger and had much bigger engines (R-2800 replacing R-1820 or R-1830). Instead of patrol work the British felt the type would be a good replacement for the Bristol Blenheim as a light day bomber. But, as was the case of most converted airliners, it quickly proved too fragile and too vulnerable for that role. It did however, excel as a replacement for the Hudson with better load, range and speed.
The USAAF also took a number of Model 18s as the B-34 Lexington. They used it mostly as a bomber trainer before giving up all production rights to the US Navy.
The Navy designated it PV-1 (a small number were taken from British orders as PV-3, but I believe these were all used stateside). It seems a little odd that the “bomber” designation was dropped from this aircraft (the earlier Hudson was a PBO, even the Catalina was a PBY), and the “V” part of the designation was because the type was built by Lockheed’s new Vega subsidiary. The Navy version was different in having extra fuel and an ASD-1 search radar in place of the bombardiers station.
The one knock against the type was its high wing loading that often made it difficult for fully loaded planes to get airborne from a hot, humid, tropical airfield. This led to the PV-2 Harpoon which was mostly similar except for a larger wing; of course this fixed the complaint but made the plane slower.
Apart from Britain and the US; Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa were major users.
The new Ventura’s intended role with the navy was long range patrol and harassment missions to all the minor trouble spots in the Pacific. Not quite as long range as the Catalina, but much faster, more maneuverable, with heavier firepower and bomb load. Patrol pilots who found themselves assigned to Ventura squadrons developed an almost fighter pilot mentality and conducted patrols VERY aggressively. Of course that may also be because many of them were assigned to Marine squadrons! In early 1943 when the type entered service, the quality of Japanese pilots was slipping badly and Ventura pilots were happy to exploit this. Many scored kills, even over fighters. Missions were mostly flown in singles or pairs. The first squadrons were based in the Aleutians but they were quickly assigned to many scattered islands. Especially those with by-passed Japanese bases nearby. They were also used for taking a closer look at things spotted by other types (PBY, PBM, PB4Y); it was on one such mission at the tail end of the war when a Ventura crew first spotted survivors of Indianapolis before anyone officially knew the ship was missing.
As the Navy’s first type in broad production to carry radar it was used in number of unexpected roles too. Venturas were called on as leaders for AAF bomber squadrons, especially when weather was poor. The Marines also used the type as a night fighter in the Solomons for several months. It was an improvement, faster than, the P-70 Havoc. But still mostly inadequate for that job.
The aircraft shown here was flown by VP-133 and based out of Tinian in the last year of the war. The whole squadron carried the octopus tentacles around the turret. They raided by-passed bases including Truk. Summer of 1945 a detachment was sent to Iwo Jima to attack picket boats and radar installations along the coast of Japan to help clear the way for B-29 attacks.
This is the Revell kit. Anyone familiar with the large Monogram kits from the 1970s will find plenty familiar here. I believe this was the last such kit made (after Revell bought the brand out). Dating to early this century it is more modern in terms of good detail and fit with engraved panel lines. Its a surprisingly minor type to get the big brand treatment, but I for one am completely pleased we got this before the end of that era.
Aircraft photos from American Warplanes of World War II by David Donald