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Created: 25 July 2002 Updated: 10 January 2013

P4M-1Q Mercator

Ray Holden was serving aboard HMS Chevron in 1952 when his ship was diverted to rescue a downed US Aircrew. This is his story.

From what I recall about the event is that we were already at sea, I can't remember for what reason only that we sailed regularly in those days, ships were kept on top notch training because at this time there were troubles blowing up all over the place, one very close to us in Egypt, we regularly went there to bolster our Army lads ashore. It was night and very dark, from what I recall the sea was running very rough, a signal  was received from C in C Malta to say that a US Navy aircraft had ditched in the sea and she could possibly be in our area. We carried out a very wide search for some hours using our radar and searchlights and additional look-outs were closed up. It seemed that we were not going to be in luck, it seemed fairly hopeless there were some large waves around anything small could be lying in the trough of one of those waves.

Then by luck a faint signal was heard, then we lost it, but we turned to its last recorded position. We heard it again very faint, this could be a homing signal from our American friends. Those men have a great deal to owe to our No1 an officer, a true gentleman and a very determined officer. It seemed like hours before our radar got a true bearing but we still couldn't find whatever it was hidden among the waves. Then one of the lads on the searchlight picked up a rubber life-raft and  the Whaler was lowered, how glad I was that I wasn't one of her crew, at times she seemed to almost stand on end. There were quite a few survivors in the life-raft, we rigged scrambling nets and some of our men went down and helped them up the nets. A small radar set was handed up and put on deck against the guardrails, this little set is what had saved the crews life.

A senior member of the aircrafts crew walked across and kicked it overboard, it obviously wasn't intended that we should know about that one. The pilot was missing so we continued the search for some time but then called it off because it was obvious that the pilot had no life saving gear, very sad to know that some one is out there all alone. HMS Chevron carried a leading sick bay attendant, no medical officer. One of the aircrafts crew, I believe it was the navigator had struck his head when the plane crash landed and he was completely scalped, his scalp was hanging down the back of his head. Our sick bay attendant scrubbed his scalp with a nail brush and soap to get the aviation fuel out of the wound and then sewed his scalp back.

When we arrived back in Malta he received a glowing report from the surgeon Commander ashore and was immediately promoted to P/O. Sadly after that he left the ship to take up his new rank elsewhere. Some time later the Captain of Chevron received a letter of thanks from the  aircraft crew and a number of photos signed by all the men who were saved, now you know where that tattered old photo came from. It will always be treasured.


HMS Chevron in Malta

And now, an email from a member of the Squadron involved.

The aircraft involved in this loss was P4M-1Q Bureau Number 124371.  The aircraft ditched after all fuel was exhausted, at night, with the loss of only the Patrol Plane Commander, LT Robert Hager, who was heard in the water after all hands had exited the aircraft but who was unable to reach a life raft.  At the time the aircraft was assigned to the Patrol Unit based at Naval Air Facility Port Lyautey, Morocco.  I have been in contact with the co-pilot of this flight who has given me a written statement of the entire incident.  The NAF Patrol Unit eventually became VQ-2 in 1955.

The P4M-1 pictured in your website appears to be a retouched photo of XP4M-1 Number 02789 as pictured in Steve Ginterís very fine book "Naval Fighterís Number 37, MARTIN P4M-1/-1Q Mercator" on page 13.  A portion of the photo was printed in an article in the March/April 1997 issue of "Naval History" magazine.  If you would like I would be happy to send you a photocopy of the article and of the page from Steve Ginterís book. 

I was one of the 12 original pilots who, in Jan 1951, began training that led to the eventual formation of VQ-1.  We flew the first four P4M-1Q aircraft assigned to the US Pacific Fleet.  I helped ferry one of the four aircraft to our base at Naval Station Sangley Point, Philippines and spent two years flying electronic reconnaissance patrols along the east edge of the Asian continent.  We were the Special Project Division of the Air Operations Department of Naval Station Sangley Point.  It was not until 1955 that the unit was designated as VQ-1.

Our unit at Sangley, the unit at Port Lyautey, and VP-21 were the only US Navy units to fly the Martin Mercator.  VP-21 flew the P4M-1 version in a high speed mine laying mission.  Eventually 18 of the 19 production P4M aircraft were converted into the -1Q version and flown by V1 & VQ-2.  The only P4M-1 not converted crashed during flight test shortly after being accepted by the Navy.

Mel Davidow, LT USNR (Ret)
Miami, Florida, USA  33173

July 2002

July 2007: More light has been shed on the plane, its mission & its fate. Ray Holden found this info for me:

P4M-1Q BUNO 124371 - NAF PATROL UNIT/NAV COMM UNIT 32G NAS PORT LYAUTEY MOROCCO

CREWNAMES: KILLED: (1) LT Bob Hager, Pilot.

CREWNAMES SURVIVED: (14) LTJG Ralph Parsons, Copilot. Ens John Wojnar, Nav. LT. Don Huddleston, Pilot Route Fam. Ens Bob Ottensmeyer, Signals Eval. ADC E.J. Blair, P/C. ATC W. Flanagan, Sr. Signals Op. ADC W. Gregg, Assist. P/C. AT1 H. Shaw, Radar Operator. AL1 D. Johnson, Radio Op. AL3 A. Bostick, Assist. Radio Op. AO2 K. Woll, Turret Gunner. AL1 G. Bundy, Signals Op. AT3 E. Connelly, Signals Op. AT3 J Melo, Signals Op.

On 02/06/1952 the aircraft launched from the RAF base in Nicosia, Cyprus. The P4M-1Q was based out of NAF Port Lyautey, French Morocco, on a special electronics search project mission. There were 15 on board airplane crew and intelligence specialist from the Patrol Unit and Naval Communications Unit 32 George (32G). The take off and climb were uneventful. After crossing the southern coast of Turkey near Adana at the planned altitude and on course, LT Bob Hager, the plane commander, secured the two J-33 jet engines. The aircraft and crew then settled down. Normal operations meant radio and radar silence; the radar, if used at all, was operated discretely in short sweeps in specific directions. The aircraft continued on track and crossed the north coast of Turkey between Trabzon and Batumi, a few miles from the border between Turkey and the Soviet Union. All hands were alert for any unfriendly reactions to our presence over the Black Sea. The aircraft then climbed and signal activity increased. At approx. 50 miles southwest of Sevastopol and Yalta in the Black Sea, the Starboard R-4360 engine blew an oil line; the crew feathered the prop and secured the engine. The situation of the aircraft was evaluated and the mission was aborted. LT Hager started the 2 J-33's and headed home. The aircraft descended to get below the Soviet radar horizon and picked up 150 knots to conserve fuel, crossing back into Turkey NW of Samsun in the vicinity of Sinop. At 10,000 feet the aircraft cleared the Kuzey Anadolu mountain range, but the aircraft was consuming too much fuel using both jet engines, LT Hager secured the port J-33 and told the crew to lighten the load to maintain altitude. The aircraft had some more mountains in front of it. The nature of the mission precluded a landing in Turkey; Nicosia was the only option, hatch was opened and the classified equipment was destroyed and thrown out. The crew then went to bail out stations, passing Mount Hasan Dagi and its peak 10,672 feet which was higher than the P4M-1Q was flying. The aircraft cleared the ranges and the Taurus Mountains. On 02/07/1952 at approx 0045 the aircraft crossed the Turkish coast outbound at Tasuco and the crew went to ditching stations. Approx. 10 minutes after crossing the coastline all of the engines stopped, the aircraft was at 7,500 feet. The only lights in sight were in the glow over a city in the distance. LT Hager executed an open-ocean dead-stick ditching at approx. 0100. There were large swells, the aircraft was landed smoothly, sea state was 4 to 5. Moments later, all hands began getting out, life rafts were deployed. All crew members names were called everyone was accounted for except for LT Hager, LTJG Ralph Parsons then called out stating that LT Hager had helped him out of the plane because he had hurt his back on impact with the water, LT Hager had escaped from the plane, but he apparently re-entered the aircraft to ensure all were out and was trapped and sank with the aircraft. Injuries to crew, LTJG Parsons appeared to have a broken back, ENS. Wojnar had a nasty cut on his head and LT Huddleston had some bruises and contusions. At 0820, the HMS Chevron rescued the crew.

http://www.portlyautey.com/ECM-2.htm

So, it was definitely a spy mission! Which was my thoughts all along.

May 2010: I am delighted to see these images of the very same plane, the last images ever taken before it took off on its fatal flight. Ken Chilton took these and Anthony Chilton has passed them on to me for your enjoyment. Thanks Anthony.

Jan 2013:  I want to thank you, and all members of the crew of the HMS Chevron who rescued the aircrew of the P4M Mercator mentioned in your article. I was a member of the small air group stationed in French Morroco, I believe I was a member of that crew, who was transfered back to the States prior to that flight. I am eighty one now, so my memory is not the best. Richard Hendrix.

 

 

If anyone reading this has images or information on this aircraft, please mail me soonest to enable me to update this story

http://www.vpnavy.org/nasport_mishap.html - more at this site

April 2007. Received an email from William Fell, Texas, with the following link:

http://www.aero-web.org/specs/martin/p4m-1.htm