On August 27, 1944, VC-13 lost ten aircraft (five FM-2 Wildcats and five TBM-1C Avengers) near the Azores Islands, in an event somewhat reminiscent – albeit on a smaller scale – of the group ditching of 23 VMF-422 F4U Corsairs in the Pacific Ocean on January 25, 1944. Aviation Archeological Investigation and Research’s website indicates that all ten pilots of these VC-13 aircraft survived, which hopefully implies that the TBMs’ radio operators and gunners (whose names are unknown) survived as well.
The aircraft, listed by aircraft Naval Bureau Number and pilots’ names, are given below:
16245 Blanks, Thomas N. Lt. JG 16008 Brown, Edward V. Lt. 16077 Brownstein, Julius R. Lt. 16255 Gregg, Donald B. Lt. 16789 Johnson, Alden V. Lt.
46287 Carpenter, John E. Ens. 46390 Ecclefield, Vincent Lt. 46365 Hurst, Fred J. Ens. 45876 Rockett, P.M. Lt. JG 46394 Smith, Thomas Ens.
This incident, as recounted by Julius Brownstein:
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The story of Julius Brownstein’s rescue from the North Atlantic, specifically the way this event was visually captured in such thorough detail, is simultaneously dramatic and fascinating, and makes one ponder the myriad of similar events – some with equally fortunate outcomes, some with far more tragic endings – the accounts of which never became part of the photographic or historical record. Like most aspects of human endeavor – whether in World War Two or other conflicts; in the routine of “life”, in general, the memories of these events remained – for a few brief decades – in the personal memories of their participants and observers. Well, it would seem that this aspect of our existence – the fragile natural of the historical record, and memory, both individual and collective – has always been and will ever be a central part of the human condition.
On a more contemporary level, it’s notable that I simply, nominally learned “about” this incident purely through chance; solely by luck; only by happenstance, using a markedly “low-tech” information storage and retrieval system: 35mm celluloid microfilm, viewed through an electro-mechanical reader / printer. While hardly negating the convenience, versatility (and economic advantages) of information storage and retrieval in a purely “digital” medium, this small discovery is a telling reminder that there is, and will continue to be value that refreshingly cannot be quantified! – in the “real”, as well as the “virtual” world.
– References –
Doll, Thomas E., Jackson, Berkley R., and Riley, William A., Navy Air Colors – United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Aircraft Camouflage and Markings, Volume 1 – 1911-1945, Squadron-Signal Publications, Carrollton, Tx., 1983.
A Navy Pilot Takes an Unscheduled Dip in the North Atlantic, The New York Times, January 27, 1944.
The photographs in this posting comprise the four images that formed the composite photo that appeared in the Times, and, five other images in the sequence that remained – at the time – unpublished. In the account presented here, below each picture is Julius’ own description of the events shown in that image, transcribed from his notes on the reverse side of the original photograph. A scan of those those same notes accompanies each image.
An excellent photograph of a restored FM-2 Wildcat in the low-visibility Atlantic Theater anti-submarine paint scheme – identical to that carried on Julius’ F4F, and carrying the insignia of VC-13 – can be found at the sim-outhouse website.
And now, the story and the photos:
“This is a picture of death itself, only “death” was cheated. One chance out of a hundred to survive a charging sixty degree crash into the cold waters of the North Atlantic.
This picture shows the start of the crash in which yours truly was the pilot. Plane is completely stalled and is falling off on right wing. Contrary to norm spin to the left. Right wing tank hidden in picture made from spin to the right. Things to note in this picture –
1) Water on flight deck, caused from the proceeding pitch of ship which took water over the flight deck. Deck in this picture is at the top of its pitch. It was this later movement that slowed my plane down below flying speed and I knew that I was going in before I left the deck, however I never expected to spin to the left.
2) Destroyer in the back ground – notice water going over its bow. Waves and swells in the water were about twenty-five feet. Temperature of water a little below fifty degrees. Freezing a person in about one to two hours.
3) Notice left wing aileron raised upwards to depress left wing. Plane being in stall this has no effects on plane’s movements.” (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89619 / CVE 13 / # 409)
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Plane out ahead of carrier, deck starting down. I still had hopes that plane would get squared away before hitting water.
Note – Left aileron on full. Flaps open. There’s a twenty foot wave coming up in the right hand corner of this picture. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89620 / CVE 13 / # 410)
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Plane going down – carrier closing distance on plane. In picture No. II plane is well out from ship in number three I’ve gone down more and carrier has closed some of this distance. Normal height of deck is fifty feet. When I left deck it was at the top of a maximum pitch – probably seventy five feet above water. (Normal five story building.) Note – I slacked off on left aileron and started to prepare for the ducking. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89621 / CVE 13 / # 411)
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Just before the crash, almost underneath the bow of the ship. I knew now that I was definitely going to crash. Contrary to everything I ever learned I leaned as far forward as possible. Tried to take up all the play in my shoulder harness & safety belt. I knew that if I got socked out I was a “goner”. Actual photos prove that my plane sank in less than eight seconds and that it only took me about three second to get out. Those two small swells in the foreground picture are in reality pretty big fellows. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89622 / CVE 13 / # 412)
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Actual crash – Close aboard – starboard bow. Damn near got rammed by carrier. Plane completely under water. Note life rafts on cat walk – One swell in the eight hand corner just past next swell coming up in background. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89623 / CVE 13 / # 413)
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After initial hit bounced back to position you see in this picture. Note. Dazed expression on my face – helmet is off – bumped back of head slightly on gun sight – that’s what usually knocks most of the boys out. They hit the gun sight with their forehead. I had ducked below sight before landing.
2) Position of plane – completely reversed. Plane landed on right wing & engine forward, motion threw tail around. This motion probably saved my life as it threw me sideways avoiding the gun sight. Bruised my whole left side slightly – played badminton four days later, not a scratch from the whole affair.
3) Notice how I’m working to free the safety belt. I did this without knowing it for I’m already starting to get out of plane. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89624 / CVE 13 / # 414; scanned at 800 dpi)
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Very good close-up. Shows size of swell towering over tail of plane. Plane sinking fast and I’m getting out. Plane was sinking so fast that as I shoved away from plane I didn’t get any push. Note gas tank floating in water. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89625 / CVE 13 / # 415)
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The last of “Fox 5”. Incidentally this was my own plane. Had my name on it and everything. Still slightly dazed, but had enough sense to inflate my “mae west” life jacket and swim away from tail of the plane. Was a little afraid of getting sucked into the carrier. Note – thumbs up by one of the men on the cat-walk. If I must say so myself the men aboard this little baby think quite a lot of me. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89626 / CVE 13 / # 416)
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All alone and amazed at the speed in which the carrier is passing me by. Swallowed plenty of water gas & oil, but heaved all this up the first four hours aboard the tin can destroyer to amuse lesser sailors. Had to stay aboard the destroyer for four days before we had calm enough weather to transfer me back to carrier. (Photo: NARA RG 80 G 89627 / CVE 13 / # 417; scanned at 800 dpi)
The Past Within the Present ~ or ~ The Story of a Story
A cultural theme pervading the latter part of the twentieth century was the recognition of the accelerating scope and impact of electronic technology – manifested through networked computers – upon the availability, access, and ubiquity of “information”. In a popular vein, examples of this were evidenced by the publication of Scientific American’s 1995 Special Issue, “The Computer in the 21st Century”; Time’s Spring, 1995 Special Issue , “Welcome to Cyberspace”, and, The New Yorker’s October 1997 “Next” issue, which covered such topics as “The NEXT Space Odyssey”, “The NEXT Big Thinker”, “The NEXT Frontier”. In essence, the complimentary spheres of human endeavor – the intellectual and physical – whether embodied in the worlds of science, the military, economics, government, academia, and inevitably pop culture – were increasingly characterized and transformed by a transition from largely physical, “traditional” methods of information storage and retrieval, to the retention and near-instantaneous provision of text and images in electronic – “digital” – formats.
Depending on one’s priorities about the retention and preservation of information – ease of access, storage space, speed of replication, redundancy, physical survivability, and (inevitably) cost, all of which can be measured – arguments can be posited in favor of either physical or virtual information storage. But, maybe a there’s another factor for which – refreshingly! – metrics may be irrelevant: Luck. Which leads to the images in these two posts…
In Philadelphia, during the mid-1990s, I discovered that Drexel University’s Hagerty Library possessed a full “run” of The New York Times in 35mm microfilm format, commencing with its first issue, from September of 1851. Similarly, the University of Pennsylvania’s nearby Van Pelt Library possessed a “run” of The Philadelphia Inquirer, and, other periodicals in the same media. Having long been interested in the history of the Second World War, I knew I was “in luck”. Solid and profound luck, at that. The opportunity to access the Times and Inquirer gave me ready and immediate access to a deep and expansive trove of information about that conflict. Internationally, in terms of the breadth of military and political reporting. Culturally, as perceived and reported from the vantage of the New York and Philadelphia Metropolitan areas. Photographically, given the commonality and quality of images and artwork – whether news or advertisements – presented in these newspapers.
So, I began to peruse issues of the Times and Inquirer published between 1940 through 1946, to “see what I could see”, using the microfilm reader / printer machines at both universities. By nature and default, this was a purely visual review, done chronologically; roll by roll. An examination entirely independent of search strings, Boolean Operators, truncation (suffix or prefix!), the quantity of “hits”, or, the number of “likes”. These criteria were irrelevant, because, with the exception of the time period – with each microfilm storage box labeled with the time-frame of the film contained within – there was no other search criteria.
But, what about serendipity? What about simple, straightforward, chance?
That’s how, while reviewing the Times for January of 1944, I discovered the composite four-photo image you see below: A photographic sequence showing an F4F Wildcat carrier-borne fighter plane being ditched in the roiling waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, in October of 1943. These pictures were entirely new to me. From my earliest days of building model aircraft – particularly WW II military aircraft; especially 1/48 scale Fujimi, Hawk, Monogram, and Tamiya plastic models – my avid reading of Wings, Airpower, and occasionally Air Classics, and, all manner of books about WW II aviation – I’d never, ever seen these images before. And, I wanted to learn more about them.
The Times’ photo captions contained two clues: The pilot’s name – “Lieut. Julius R. Brownstein” and his wartime address – “Chicago”. In 1997, I was fortunate to locate, contact, meet and interview him (no longer quite a Lieutenant) “in person”, 54 years after the incident. I learned more about the ditching of his Wildcat; about his experiences as a naval aviator in VC-13; about his life in general. He generously shared his photographs and memorabilia, images of some of which accompany these postings. (That I located Mr. Brownstein via Switchboard.com does lend more than a little irony to this essay, but hopefully does not refute its main undercurrent! *Ahem.*)
I eventually found both the four images that comprised the item published in The New York Times, as well as five other images in the series that had remained unpublished, in the holdings of the United States National Archives at College Park, Maryland. These images are part of NARA’s Record Group 80 – “General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1798-1947”, and were reviewed and scanned in the Archives’ Still Picture Research Room.
Photographic portraits, the complete sequence of images of the ditching, and excerpts from an interview I conducted with Mr. Brownstein, appear in these three postings.
The photographs, as published in The New York Times (and beyond…)
Julius Brownstein’s account of the publication of the photographs.
Photographs of Julius Brownstein from the National Archives.
“Lt. (jg) Brownstein on flight deck of the USS Core (CVE 13)”, by PhoM Montgomery, 30 August 1943. (NARA photo RG 80 G 268943 / CVE 13 / 358)
Julius Brownstein, seated in an F4F Wildcat. (NARA photo RG 80 G 299447)
Fifty-four years later: Julius R. Brownstein, veteran and civilian. (Michael G. Moskow; October 5, 1997)