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Scout Planes

Discussion in 'Allied Aviation Of WWII' started by ColyH, Jan 28, 2024.

  1. ColyH

    ColyH Member

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    I have been trying to get information on scout planes and I know there job was directing fire from the battleships but they also could drop bombs and carry machine guns. One thing I am trying to find out is more information about the observer who was in the rear seat of the plane. What were the qualifications needed to be an observer and what exactly was his job?
     
  2. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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  3. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    Most of the guys in the back seat were enlisted aviation ratings and most of them were of the ARM variety, ARM2c, and ARM3c, that is Aviation Radioman of the 1st, 2d, or 3d class. Their job was to maintain radio contact with the ship and when necessary operate the free gun to protect the rear and side of the plane.

    Aircraft assigned to battleships, in the USN, were Observation Scout Squadrons (VOS) and were numbered in accordance with the battleship division; thus VOS-1's aircraft were assigned to BatDiv1 and were spread in detachments to the three or four battleships of the division. Aircraft assigned to cruisers, were Cruiser Scout Squadrons (VCS) and were numbered in accordance with the cruiser division; thus VCS-1's aircraft were assigned to CruDiv1 and were spread in detachments to the three or four cruisers of the division.

    VCS and VOS aircraft early in the war were of the SOC/SON or OS2U/OS2N varieties, perfectly capable of carrying a small bombload, but more likely to carry depth bombs as they were often utilized as task force internal ASW patrol.

    Gunners on planes so equipped, once the training pipeline kicked had to go to gunners school, and while one’s rating was immaterial these slots were predominated by the ARM, AMM, and AOM ratings. Before such places as the Naval Air Gunners School at NAS Hollywood, Fla, were established gunner training was at the squadron level. In a VOS or VCS squadron. Being handy with the free gun was nice, but being able to handle communications was more important.

    Note, these folks were not referred to as "observers," rather, they were "radio gunners." "Observer" is a very specific meaning referring to officers who completed the naval observer's course (and the vast majority of them, and there were not that many, in the mid to late 1930's) at NAS Pensacola.
     
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  4. ColyH

    ColyH Member

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    Thanks for the information.
     
  5. Carronade

    Carronade Ace

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    Thanks for some good information, but as usual it leads to requests for more ;) What was the role of the designated observers? Gunnery spotting, primarily for BBs? Or reconnaissance, more likely to help cruisers accomplish their mission?
     
  6. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

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    Specifically, in the WW2 years, the guys in the back seat were not naval aviation observers, but were enlisted aircrewmen, usually of the ARM variety, but could be any of the aviation ratings as long as certified to operate the radio equipment and, of course, the free gun for rear defense.

    Originally, naval aviation observers were established during WW1 and served as bombardiers and, surprise, observers, in aircraft operated by the USN in Europe. Most were trained at French facilities. There was no particular official designation, just these were non-pilots, officer and enlisted, performed duties not done by the pilot who was otherwise occupied. The nomenclature somewhat languished until the early 1920’s.

    But . . .

    In the early 1920’s Congress decreed that commanders of aviation units, ships, installations, whatever, by law, had to be naval aviators. It was not long before it became obvious that almost all the existing naval aviators were too junior for command of the carriers and large shore installations. So senior officers, that is, commanders and captains, who wanted to change their career path to aviation were allowed to apply for aviation training at NAS Pensacola if they could pass the physical requirements. It was found that most of these officers could, indeed, become naval aviators, but some fell short for one reason or another. Of those, some returned to the fleet, but others went to a shorter, non-pilot, training program, completed same, and were designated naval aviation observers. There were even those who went to Pensacola specifically to take the naval aviation observer course, most due to age; Joseph Reeves comes to mind. He was rated as a naval aviation observer in 1925, a 53 year old relatively senior captain and immediately took command Commander, Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet aboard USS Langley (CV-1). Somewhat ironically, he had earlier commanded the collier USS Jupiter, the ship which was converted to become Langley and he was the first 4-star Admiral to sport wings of any kind. One might note that even the Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1921 to his death in 1933, RAdm William A Moffett, was not an aviator but, rather, a naval aviation observer and for lighter than air service, at that.

    Anyway, in the meantime, Congress, in 1922, changed the original law requiring naval aviators command aviation activities to allowing also for naval aviation observers to do same. So by the time Lexington and Saratoga were entering the fleet, there were captains who were rated as naval aviators, such as Ernest King or William Halsey, senior enough for command and also naval aviation observers who could also exercise command.

    For examples, we can look at commanding officers of USS Lexington (CV-2);
    • The first commander of USS Lexington (CV-2) was Capt Albert Marshall. Marshall was designated a naval aviation observer as a captain in 1925 and a year later was designated a naval aviator after completing the pilot training course. Commanding December 1927 to August 1928.
    • The ship’s next captain was Frank D Berrien who as a captain was designated a naval aviation observer in 1928 and subsequently took over Lexington when Marshall was promoted to RAdm. Commanding August 1928 to June 1930.
    • Third up was Capt Ernest J King who had completed the pilot training and had been designated a naval aviator in May 1927. Commanding June 1930 through May 1932.
    • Charles A Blakely was fourth, he had been a captain when designated a naval aviation observer in in 1932 and immediately replaced King. After his relief and a year or so at the Naval War College, Blakely returned to Pensacola and in 1936 completed the pilot training course and was designated a naval aviator. Commanding June 1932 to June 1934.
    • Fifth commander of Lexington was Arthur B Cook (who earlier had commanded USS Langley) who had been designated a naval aviator as a captain in 1928. Commanding June 1934 to April 1936.
    • All the subsequent commanders of USS Lexington were designated naval aviators; Aubrey W Fitch, April 1936 to April 1937, designated a naval aviator as a commander in 1930; Leigh H Noyes, April 1937 to June 1938, designated naval aviator as a captain in 1937; John H Hoover, June 1938 to June 1939, designated naval aviator as a commander in 1929; Alva D Bernhard, June 1939 to June 1940, designated naval aviator as a commander in 1927; and Frederick C Sherman, June 1940 to May 1942, designated naval aviator as a commander in in 1936.
    Generally, amongst aviators who were designated early in their careers as ensigns, lieutenant (JG)s or lieutenants, these more senior officers who were designated in the 1920’s and 1930’s as commanders and captains were referred to as “JCL,” Johnny-Come-Lately.

    The Navy continued to designate naval aviation observers, Navy and Marine Corps, but it must be remembered that they were few in number.

    As the war went on, naval aviation observers picked up such specialties as navigation, bombardiers, radar specialists, aerology, operations, and such, all duties involving flying, but not as pilots. Most of these gents could be found in the lighter-than-air and patrol plane communities.

    In today’s Navy and Marine Corps the title is Naval Flight Officer. NFOs can exercise the same command opportunities as naval aviators. One of my VMI classmates went Navy (very unusual in the pre-NROTC days at VMI) became an NFO and eventually reached the rank of captain and before retiring commanded a carrier, USS Kittyhawk.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2024
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