VP-23, Patrol Squadron 23, PATRON Twenty Three, Patrol Squadron TWENTY-THREE , the World Famous Seahawks, was a U.S. Navy fixed-wing, anti-submarine and maritime Patrol Squadron based at Brunswick Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine, USA. VP-23 was established 1 July 1941 with her first Commanding Officer, LCDR Francis Massie Hughes, and a plane complement of twelve PBY-2 flying boats at Naval Air Station Ford Island, Pearl Harbor Hawaii. During November 1941, the squadron returned to NAS San Diego, to acquire twelve PBY-5 “Catalina” flying boats. She was disestablished on February 28, 1995 after almost 54 years of proud heritage and distinguished service.
Crew of the Patrol Squadron 23 (VP-23) PBY-5A patrol bomber (Call sign: Strawberry 5) that found the approaching Japanese fleet's Midway Occupation Force at the start of the battle.
On December 7, 1941, Seaman 1st class E.J "Chuck" Kohler was assigned to security watch in the VP-23 hangar on Ford Island and when the first bomb fell on Pearl Harbor, fragments from the explosion as well as window glass injured his head, ears, neck and shoulders. He then courageously returned fire all afternoon and survived the attack. Click Here to see him tell his story. Patrol Wing TWO Report for Pearl Harbor Attack.
Squadron Aircraft Through The Years
VP-23 in World War Two
“…We made contact with a Jap Scout plane about 30 or 40 minutes before we sighted the fleet. He veered around us. I guess he was looking for our carriers and didn’t want to fight. … There was a lot of ocean… The carrier gang deserves all the credit… All we did was make contact and get out of the way.” Midway, 1942
Personal letter from AMM3 Thomas J. Schatz, VP-23 Midway Island, 1942
- 17–21 May 1946: VPW-3 was established as a weather reconnaissance squadron under FAW-14 at NAAS Camp Kearney, Calif., for duty in the Caribbean. Its aircraft and personnel were drawn from VPW-2. Four days after its establishment, the new squadron departed for its assigned home base at NAS Miami, Fla., where the crews began flying the PB4Y-2M Privateer fitted with radar for weather reconnaissance. When the squadron arrived at NAS Miami it came under the operational control of FAW-5.
- 15 Nov 1946: VPW-3 was redesignated VPM-3, continuing to serve as a weather/meteorology squadron still based at NAS Miami, Fla..
- 8 Dec 1947: VPM-3 was redesignated VP-HL-3 after another squadron with that same designation had been disestablished at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii, on 22 May 1947. Although designated as a Heavy Patrol Squadron (Landplane), it continued to provide weather reconnaissance and hurricane surveillance flights for the East Coast.
- 15 Jan–Sep 1948: VP-HL-3 was relocated to a new home port at NAS Atlantic City, N.J., but their stay at the new station was cut short by an order on 29 March 1948 to base at NAS Patuxent River, Md. However, the move to Patuxent River never occurred. The squadron deployed from NAS Atlantic City on 15 April 1948 for Argentia, Newfoundland, with a detachment at NAS Miami. The entire squadron joined the detachment at Miami at the close of the hurricane season in 1948 for the filming of the 20th Century Fox movie Slattery’s Hu rric an e.
- 1 Jan 1949: After the Navy sequences for the movie Slattery’s Hu rric an e were completed at NAS Miami, preparations for the squadrons transfer to NAS Patuxent River were halted and VP-23 was permanently assigned to NAS Miami under the operational control of FAW-11.
- 1 Jun–11 Nov 1949: VP-23 broke all records for hurricane surveillance by Navy patrol squadrons, entering the “eyes” of 33 hurricanes during the season from 1 June to 11 November 1949. The squadron then ended its career in weather and converted to the ASW role effective 15 November 1949. The squadron’s aircraft were redesignated PB4Y-2S and were retrofitted with the APS-15 ASW radar.
- 4 Dec 1949: VP-23 began its new role as a patrol squadron, with ASW as its primary mission, and deployed to Newfoundland and Greenland for cold weather training. RON (Remain/Over Night) visits were made to remote air bases at Goose Bay, Labrador; and Narsarssuak, Greenland, carrying mail. Temperatures during the two-month deployment frequently dropped to minus 20º F. During the deployment extensive use was made of LORAN gear.
- 7 Dec 1941: Two detachments of aircraft had been sent to Johnston Island and Palmyra Island the day before, and on the 7th began to practice circular patrol pattern searches. On that same morning, Japanese carrier forces attacked Pearl Harbor, destroying eight of the squadron’s aircraft in their hangars on Ford Island.
- 6 Aug 1942: Lieutenant Maurice "Snuffy" Smith and his crew of seven were reported missing after a patrol flown out of Espiritu Santo. On 14 January 1994, a team of loggers discovered the remains of the aircraft, BuNo. 2389, and its crew where they had crashed on a ridge of a hill on the island of Espiritu Santo.
- 15 Sep 1943: A squadron PBY-5 Catalina piloted by Lieutenant W. J. Geritz spotted a submarine southeast of San Cristobal. The destroyer Saufley (DD 465) assisted in the sinking of the submarine. Postwar records indicate the submarine sunk was RO-101 and the entire crew of 50 was lost.
- 18 Sep 1943: VP-23 conducted a bombing attack on Japanese positions at Nauru Island.
- 30 Nov 1944: VPB-23 conducted a bombing attack on Japanese positions on Wake Island.
- 1 Sep 1945: On this date detachments were maintained at Peleliu Island, Palau; Falalop Island, Ulithi; and Agana Field, Guam. Primary missions conducted consisted of air-sea rescue work, antimine sweeps and leaflet drops on bypassed Japanese held islands.
- 13 Dec 1945: Squadron operations were ended and all detachments were returned to Tanapag Harbor, Saipan. Shortly thereafter, the squadron departed Saipan to return to San Diego, Calif., via Kaneohe, Hawaii.
- 25 Jan 1946: VPB-23 was disestablished at NAS San Diego, Calif.
- 1 Jul 1950: VP-23 surveyed the Gulf Stream in Operation Cabot, in support of San Pablo (AVP 30). The squadron recorded color changes in the gulf, took APS-15 radar signatures, and noted LORAN fixes on surface and subsurface features. During the operation at least one aircraft was designated to provide weather reconnaissance for the surface vessels participating in the project.
- 9 May 1952: VP-23 was transferred from NAS Miami, Fla., to a new permanent home base at NAS Brunswick, Maine, under the operational control of FAW-3. Although the squadron was transferred, 7 officers and 109 enlisted personnel remained at NAS Miami to form VJ-2, a weather squadron that took the place of VP-23. Shortly after the transfer, the squadron was equipped with PB4Y-2 aircraft that were soon redesignated P4Y-2S, fitted with antisubmarine radar.
- 19 May 1952: VP-23 deployed to Argentia, Newfoundland, for three months of advanced base training in cold weather operations, relieving VP-24. The squadron flew long-distance reconnaissance flights over the Labrador and Davis Straits and Baffin Bay. A four-aircraft detachment was maintained at Thule, Greenland.
Jan 1953: VP-23 deployed to the Spanish Air Base at Reus, Tarragona, Spain, for one week of training with Spanish Air Force personnel. At the end of the week the squadron flew to Port Lyautey, F.M. The operations in Spain represented the first formal cooperation with the Spanish armed forces since before WWII.
Jun 1953 : VP-23 deployed to Argentia, Newfoundland, with a detachment at Thule AFB, Greenland. The detachments charted ice conditions in the surface shipping lanes between Newfoundland and Greenland, moved urgent supplies to remote bases, conducted research for the Hydrographic Office in Washington, transported personnel and dropped mail to fleet units at sea and ashore. Routine ASW patrols were also flown by the Argentia detachment.
7 May 1954: One of the VP-23 Neptunes, MA-5, crashed on takeoff from Nassau during exercises with the Atlantic Fleet, killing the entire crew.
- 29 Jul 1954: A squadron aircraft developed engine trouble 110 miles east of Montauk Point, Long Island, New York, and was forced to ditch. Following their procedures perfectly, Crew SEVEN evacuated the plane in less than two minutes and boarded rubber life rafts. An hour and thirty-six minutes later the entire crew was rescued and on their way home. RADM Cornwell later extended a "hearty well done" to the Squadron for its rapid response during this crisis.
- Apr 1955: The SEAHAWKS began transitioning to the P2V-7 aircraft. The P2V7 carried two jet engines in wing pods, in addition to its tow powerful R-3350 reciprocating engines. At the end of the month the squadron received operational training in the new aircraft during its deployment to Bermuda. A three-aircraft detachment was maintained at Lajes, Azores. Exercises were conducted in ASW techniques with fleet submarines, surface units, other patrol squadrons and blimp squadrons.
16 Jul 1958: With the landing of U.S. Marines in Lebanon on 15 July, the squadron was quickly flown to NAF Keflavik, Iceland, the next day to assume station over the North Atlantic approaches. TheSeahawks remained on station at this location until the international climate had cooled, returning to NAS Brunswick in early September.
- May 1959: All twelve squadron aircraft departed Brunswick for NAS Glenview, Illinois, to participate in "Operation Inland Seas" under the OPCON of Carrier Air Group EIGHT. This was most likely the first tiime a Patrol Squadon was controlled by a Carrier Air Group.
- Jan 1961: The Seahawks had just deployed to Argentia, Newfoundland, when they received a special assignment. VP-23 was one of several patrol squadrons put on alert for the hijacked Portugese liner San ta Maria. The search for the missing vessel took five of the squadron’s aircraft to Barbados, Trinidad and Recife, Brazil, before the liner was found. This detachment remained at San Juan until March, when it rejoined the squadron at Argentia. The remaining months of the deployment were spent in shipping surveillance and evaluation testing of the Tiros II weather satellite.
- 1 May 1961: The squadron established a new endurance record for the P2V-7 Neptune during their deployment to Argentia, remaining in the air for 22 hours and 54 minutes. The flight was planned in honor of the 50th anniversary of Naval Aviation.
- 8 Aug–Nov 1962: VP-23 deployed to NAF Sigonella, Sicily, relieving VP-16. Detachments were maintained at NAF Rota, Spain; Almas, Sardinia; and Soudha Bay, Crete. On 30 September two detachments of four aircraft each were put on standby at Ben Guerir, Morocco, and Lajes, Azores, for Test 66, the six-orbit space shot of Sign m a 7 containing Navy Commander Walter M. Shirra. The test concluded successfully and the detachments returned to NAF Sigonella on 5 October. From 21 October to 21 November 1962, the squadron was put on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, flying round-the-clock surveillance and ASW missions in support of the Sixth Fleet. Soviet surface units were kept under surveillance during transit of the Mediterranean Sea.
- Feb 1963: While preparing to return from Operation Springboard exercises in Puerto Rico in late February, the squadron was tasked to locate another hijacked ship, the Venezuelan cargo vessel An zotegu i. Searches were conducted in the South Atlantic and Caribbean before the ship was discovered by VP-23 in the mouth of the Amazon.
- Apr 1963: VP-23 was tasked with the futile search for survivors or debris from the Thresher (SSN 593) disaster. On 30 May a squadron aircraft flew the honorable John H. Reed, Governor of the State of Maine, to the site for a ceremonial drop of a memorial wreath to those who lost their lives in this tragedy.
- 6 Sep 1963: VP-23 deployed a seven-aircraft detachment to NAS Guantanamo, Cuba, relieving VP-45. Numerous patrols were conducted in support of Cuban refugees adrift at sea.
- 3 Dec 1967: A squadron aircraft, LJ-4 with crew 11, crashed in adverse weather off the end of the Otis AFB, Falmouth, Mass., runway. The crew egressed safely, but the aircraft was totally consumed by fire.
- 15 Apr–Aug 1968: VP-23 deployed to NAF Sigonella, Sicily. On 1 August, a detachment deployed to Souda Bay, Crete, supported by Tallahatchie County (AVB 2).
- 1 Nov 1968: The squadron had been scheduled for disestablishment on this date, but the decision was rescinded at the last moment by the Secretary of Defense.
- 27 Jun–Aug 1969: VP-23 deployed to NAFSigonella, Sicily, relieving VP-21. During the deployment squadron aircraft made contacts on 37 Soviet Bloc submarines in the Mediterranean Sea. A minor accident occurred on 31 August when the nosewheel of one of the squadron’s aircraft collapsed during its landing roll. Only minor injuries were sustained by the crew and the aircraft was repairable.
- Nov 1969–Jun 1970: The squadron received its first P-3B Orion, completing transition training on 15 June 1970. VP-23 was the last remaining active duty patrol squadron to fly the SP-2H, retiring its last Neptune on 20 February 1970.
- 13 Jun–Jul 1974: The Seahawks deployed to NS Rota, Spain, with a detachment maintained at NAF Lajes, Azores. Three aircraft were sent to NAF Sigonella, Sicily, during the Cyprus unrest on 20 July in case the need arose to evacuate U.S. citizens. The detachment returned to Rota on 23 July.
- 23 Mar–Apr 1978: The Seahawks deployed to NS Rota, Spain, with a four-aircraft/five-crew detachment maintained at Lajes, Azores. On 26 April 1978, aircraft LJ-04, BuNo. 152724, crashed at sea on landing approach to Lajes, killing seven. Cause of the accident was undetermined due to inability to recover aircraft remains from the extreme depths.
- 18 Jul 1979: VP-23 became the first Navy patrol squadron to fire the new McDonnell Douglas Harpoon AGM-84 air-launched anti-ship missile. VP-23 was the first operational fleet patrol squadron to make an operational deployment with the Harpoon.
- 5 Sep 1979–Jan 1980: VP-23 deployed to NAF Keflavik, Iceland, for NATO exercises. A detachment was maintained at the NATO airfield at Bodo, Norway. With the seizure of the American embassy in Iran, a detachment of three Harpoon equipped Orions was sent on 1 January 1980 to the island of Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T. The squadron’s performance earned it the Navy Unit Commendation.
- 1 Jan 1980: VP-23 deployed from Keflavik, Iceland, to Diego Garcia and made its first operational flight out of the Indian Ocean base within 10 days after receiving orders, demonstrating its rapid deployment capability.
- 12 Jun–Oct 1983: The squadron deployed to NAS Bermuda, with detachments in Panama; Lajes, Azores; and Roosevelt Roads, P.R. On 28 October 1983, VP-23 transported a film crew to observe a Victor III Soviet submarine that had been forced to surface after developing problems with its propulsion system while being tracked by the squadron and Mc Cloy (FF 1038). The film footage was used by all major television networks in their prime-time broadcasts.
- 29 Oct–3 Nov 1983: VP-23 provided a three aircraft detachment at Puerto Rico for patrols in the vicinity of Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury, when U.S. forces landed in Grenada to protect the lives of Americans on the island.
- 16 Jan–Apr 1985: The Seahawks deployed to NS Rota, Spain, with a detachment at Lajes, Azores. The Rota detachment supported the Sixth Fleet’s retaliatory strikes against Libya during the 24 March to 15 April 1986 period of operations.
- May-Nov 1987: VP-23 deployed to NAS Keflavik Iceland
- 10 May 1990: VP-23 deployed to NAS Bermuda, with a detachment at NAS Roosevelt Roads, P.R. The Puerto Rico detachment set a record assisting in the seizure of a 1,400-kilo batch of cocaine on a ship in the territorial waters of the Dominican Republic.
- 26 Sep–Nov 1990: The squadron was tasked with providing a detachment at Jedda, Saudi Arabia to provide support for Operation Desert Shield.
- 1 Nov 1991: VP-23 deployed to NAS Sigonella, Sicily. During the deployment a detachment was maintained at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in support of the UN embargo against Iraq.
- 1994: VP-23 operated from NAS Sigonella, Sicily, on its last deployment. The squadron provided NATO forces in Bosnia with real-time tactical reconnaissance in support of Operation Deny Flight. The squadron’s P-3Cs, armed with AGM-65 Maverick missiles, flew more than 300 armed sorties in support of Operation Sharp Guard in the Adriatic Sea.
- 7 Dec 1994: The squadron held a disestablishment ceremony at NAS Brunswick, Maine. 28 Feb 1995: VP-23 was disestablished at NAS Brunswick, Maine.
VP-23 Aircraft Assignment
This "Turtle" taxis into position after landing at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Norfolk, Virginia, following a flight from its last operational home, Patrol Squadron 23 (VP-23), at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Brunswick, Maine. With this flight, the life of the Neptunes came to an end after a quarter century of service.
Another VP-23 WWII Hero is Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd and Flight Engineer Jack Holder. Jack joined the Navy in 1940 at age 17 to "get off the farm," with no real sense that war was imminent. Stationed at Pearl Harbor, Holder survived the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. On duty that day, he narrowly avoided getting strafed by a Japanese pilot by diving into a ditch between airplane hangars. Assigned to VP-23, Jack flew as a flight engineer in a PBY. Deployed to Midway, he helped scout for Japanese forces. His crew was the second to spot the Japanese armada.
Jack later flew missions over Guadalcanal, then re-trained in the B-24 in San Diego and completed his WWII service flying patrol missions over the English Channel.
Jack published his memoir "Fear Adrenaline and Excitement" in 2014. Jack takes you on his personal journey. You’ll get inside stories of major events in American and World History from someone who actually experienced them. And you’ll understand why Jack Holder is proud to be a member of “The Greatest Generation.” On December 13th 2021, Jack will celebrate his 100th Birthday!
When he received his honorable discharge in 1948, U.S. Navy Flight Engineer, Jack Holder also took with him the following awards & decorations:
- 2 Distinguished Flying Cross Medals
- Combat Action Medal
- 9 Air Medals
- World War II Victory Medal
- World War II Victory Commemoration Medal
- Sea Service Medal
- Overseas Medal
- Airborne Medal
- Air Assault Medal
- 1 Presidential Citation
- 7 Commendation Medals
On Sunday, December 7th 1941, eight of VP-23's twelve PBY-5 Catalina’s were damaged or destroyed when violent explosions rocked the Ford Island flight line during the initial stages of the infamous Pearl Harbor attack by Japan. The squadron was reported to have been the only Patrol Squadron airborne that day when the squadron CO, LCDR Hughes, launched the first of its four undamaged PBY aircraft.
In the months that followed, VP-23 was conducting combat patrols from Palmyra and Johnston Atoll. In February, the squadron was taking part in raids on the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Later they conducted many of the first combat patrols in the South Pacific.
In May 1942, the squadron was deployed to Midway Island and on June 3rd, 1942 a VP-23 Catalina spotted the main body of the Japanese task force through the low cumulus clouds and scattered cumulus clouds and scattered showers, thus putting Midway on alert. On June 4th, another VP-23 Catalina, 100 miles northwest of the atoll, spotted over 50 Japanese planes heading for Midway and at 0544 sent a plain language message: “Many planes heading Midway”. These were the first accurate intelligence reports of enemy naval dispositions preceding the Battle of Midway.
In July 1942, VP-23 transferred to Noumea, New Caledonia, and operated with the USS Curtis as its base in support of the U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal. As the war moved across the Pacific, VP-23 moved with it to exotic sounding places with names like: Espirito Sanot, Malaita, Ndeni, Funafuti and Halavo Beach. During this period the squadron was kept busy flying open ocean ASW patrols, search and rescue operations, supply drops to Allied coast watchers, and convoy escort missions.