Book Review: Pacific Profiles, Volume 7 by Michael Claringbould
I never saw this space as a place for book reviews, but after fielding some inquiries about a new publication I feel compelled to include one. The book at issue is Pacific Profiles, Volume 7: Allied Transports: Douglas C-47 Series: South & Southwest Pacific 1942-1945 by Michael John Claringbould (Kent Town, Australia: Avonmore Books, 2022). Claringbould has some reputation as a Pacific War scholar, which is a large part of why I feel this review is necessary.
Having devoted considerable resources to present as complete and accurate a history of MAG-25 as possible, and in so doing keep a promise that I made to the last surviving members of the group, it is highly frustrating to me to see a respected historian suddenly introduce a flood of misinformation. These sorts of profile books have never done justice to MAG-25 or SCAT, which is why I put so much effort into the color profiles on this site, such as they are. I’m not aware of a single accurate color profile of any SCAT aircraft in any book published to date, although some have been better than others. This new volume does nothing to change that. What’s new is the level of misinformation, both in the artwork and the text.
Beyond the artwork—and it is not my intent to judge artistic merit, but rather the accuracy of the markings—the book’s many errors sometimes involve quite basic information that most historians and enthusiasts will pick up on. Other errors, though, will only be obvious to a select few of us. What follows is a review and correction of the book’s minor and major errors that are relevant to this web site and my own (fairly narrow) expertise. I won’t comment on the 5th Air Force and Allied Forces portions of the book as those are outside my research focus, although I see no reason why they would be more accurate than any other part of the book.
To begin, the book’s marketing overview includes the following plug, which certainly raised some eyebrows:
In particular until now there has been a paucity of information about the markings of Thirteenth Air Force C-47s and USMC R4Ds, a gap largely filled by this volume.
This was news to those of us who have been presenting information on these markings for many years, including on this site. Sadly, despite the promise, the volume fills no gaps whatsoever, instead introducing falsehood after falsehood.
On to the book:
The book itself is a nicely presented paperback, 160 pages, most of them illustrated. It covers most of the squadrons that served in the Southwest Pacific and South Pacific Areas (SWPA and SOPAC, respectively), including U.S., Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch units (but no U.S. Navy units). A few pages are devoted to each. It features the profile artwork (representative sample here), plus numerous black and white and some color photographs. The photographs are the best part of the book, although the captions aren't always accurate. Many are public domain images that have been published elsewhere, including on this site, but a few were new to me and may not have been published before. Unfortunately they're surrounded by inaccurate content.
An important point that I did not originally clarify in this review: when Claringbould refers to Marine or USMC aircraft, he is referring specifically to Marine Aircraft Group 25, the only Marine Corps operator of the R4D (C-47) in the SOPAC area (aside from a handful of aircraft from other headquarters squadrons) and the primary Marine Corps R4D operator in the SWPA. There were other Marine Aircraft Groups that operated the R4D, primarily in the Central Pacific, but those are geographically outside of this book's focus.
The organizational chart on this page places the three MAG-25 transport squadrons and MAG-25 as a whole (and the Navy?) under the 13th Air Force. This is inaccurate, of course, and the type of serious error that makes me question how much effort really went into this book. The 13th Air Force, which was activated in January 1943, was famously subordinated to the Navy during its time in the South Pacific, not the other way around.
A more minor issue with the chart is lack of detail. The chart lists MAG-25's VMJ squadrons as under Marine Corps command, which they were, while placing MAG-25 itself directly under US Navy command, which technically isn’t inaccurate but it was directly under the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force. Given this book's focus on the SWPA and SOPAC I suspect, although obviously I don't know for certain, that Claringbould meant to include COMAIRSOPAC (Fitch) in this chart rather than COMAIRPAC (VAdm. John H. Towers), though technically that part of the chart also isn't wrong. In short, the complicated and sometimes confusing organization of SOPAC forces is not captured well here.
“…most C-47s suffered two or three major accidents during their time in the theatre.”
I want to edit this section to clarify my language: This is not borne out by documents I have examined or the veterans I spoke with. Yes, major accidents did occur, but most MAG-25 crews/aircraft never experienced one. I can’t say that this is absolutely wrong for every unit, and the term “major accident” is perhaps subject to interpretation, but it doesn’t mesh with my research.
“[MAG-25] was reformed in late November 1942 as the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command…”
I would not have used this language. MAG-25 was not "reformed" or altered in any way, certainly not structurally, except that some HqSq-25 personnel, including the group commanding officer, officially now had duties with SCAT as well as MAG-25. This was not a huge change because HqSq-25 formed SCAT's core and its mission and the duties of its personnel were generally unaffected. SCAT formalized the existing working relationship between Marine and USAAF units, and enabled USAAF units to be assigned to the joint-service SCAT rather than directly to MAG-25, even though HqSq-25 essentially functioned as SCAT's headquarters and there was no doubt that the Marines were in charge. Much later, of course, toward the end of December 1943, a separate SCAT commanding officer was added to HqSq-25's personnel, so that there were separate individuals dedicated to commanding SCAT, MAG-25, and HqSq-25. However, in nearly every other way, MAG-25 was still structured and staffed as any typical Marine aircraft group.
The date that SCAT was organized is also the subject of some debate, particularly since some personnel referred to the unit retroactively. It was ordered established in November 1942 and appears to have been functioning, even if unofficially, in December 1942: it had a commanding officer as of December 2, and the Navy later recognized its effective date of origin as December 10. However there is (and was) disagreement upon when the unit “officially” activated with all of its assigned USMC and USAAF components, which may not have been until early 1943. There was even a joke among some Marines that it never had been officially activated, and just sprang into existence on its own to the perplexity of all present.
“It grew from VMJ-253 and small MAG-25 detachments, together with the 13th TCS…”
Again, this is inaccurate language. HqSq-25 and SMS-25 were both squadrons, not small detachments, and they, along with VMJ-152, were all original components of SCAT identified in November 1942. The sentences after this are also not worded particularly well. A minor nitpick, but the 801st was not yet a Medical Air Evacuation Squadron when it was assigned to SCAT—officially, it was the 801st Medical Squadron, Air Evacuation Transport, and later the 801st Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron (MAETS).
“Other additional units that also joined were…the 64th TCS.”
The jury is still out on this, which is a potential error in my own book. As noted on this web site, my subsequent research has indicated that the 64th TCS may not have been—at least officially—assigned to SCAT, even if it is documented that its personnel flew SCAT missions and that it performed similar duties to SCAT during key operations. It did, however, receive SCAT’s Navy Unit Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy as part of the 403rd Troop Carrier Group. It appears that the author read my analysis of this and paraphrased it, but his wording is less cautious than mine. I disagree with the language of the Air Force's postwar assessment, but I’m also not yet convinced that the attachment was official.
In the third paragraph (and in several other places in the book), Claringbould suggests that the Philippines were not in the SWPA. They were. Of note, logistics chains for the Philippines Campaign ran through SOPAC as well as SWPA.
In the last paragraph, the assertion that 'nearly all' R4Ds were painted with forest green patterns could be misleading. Early R4Ds/C-47s did not have that camouflage, which was introduced later in the production run, and in the South Pacific those early aircraft were still prevalent through the New Georgia Campaign.
"Faded Olive Drab became browner due to harsh tropical wear, not reddish or pink (as one author has creatively claimed, presumably misinterpreted from faded Kodachrome slides)."
This book is heavily marketed toward scale modelers, of which I am one, so forgive me for getting a bit into the weeds here. On olive drab and pink…I’ve seen some faded olive drab that bordered on pinkish or had orange or reddish tones, which I understand depended on the paint batch (including the primer) and environmental conditions. Contrary to popular belief, olive drab was not a uniform color during the war, despite there being standard color chips that it was supposed to match. It had to have standard properties as a paint, but being exactly the same shade as the previous batch wasn’t one of the important ones. I think what struck me about this sentence was the tone, especially when I’m pretty sure I know the author he’s chiding, and especially when that author cited noted wartime paint expert Dana Bell.
One example of a very faded C-47, for reference (original color image). This
does not look like faded Kodachrome. Note that the wings, control surfaces,
and fuselage were supposed to be the same color (this reflects different paint
batches used by Douglas and its subcontractors).
“Fuselage interiors were sprayed with etch primer which was an outstanding zinc chromate green.”
Most of the interior received corrosion prevention treatment prior to assembly. The fuselage skin ranged in color from a sickly yellow to a sickly chromate green. The frame and bulkheads were coated separately, as were the cargo and mail doors. Cargo doors also ranged in color from a yellowish zinc chromate to an olive-like color to chromate green. Cockpit areas were mainly a darker forest or ‘bronze green’ color, painted over the chromate anti-corrosion coating. Other interior components, such as the cargo floor and troop seats, were not green at all. The interior of newly-built C-47s was not a single color as seen in modern restorations, and fortunately there are wartime color photos that show this.
There's a lot of interesting detail here if you look closely. (source; original held by NARA)
“Both the USN and USMC officially disapproved of personalizing aircraft, however there are many cases where artistic creations briefly appeared for photo opportunities, only to disappear when the shutter had done its work.”
This statement isn’t wrong, although "forbade" is more accurate than "disapproved of," but does not really apply to transport aircraft. Evidence of rule-breaking (and getting away with it, at least for a time, under the approving eye of less rigid authorities) is well-known, especially in some of the land-based Corsair squadrons and of course the infamous, wonderful Hellcats of USS Princeton, but the only wartime MAG-25 aircraft to ever carry nose art were those borrowed from the USAAF 13th and 63rd Troop Carrier Squadrons.
"R4Ds...converted from USAAF contracts, appeared in Olive Drab schemes..."
A minor point, but even the first R4Ds, which were R4D-1 models procured under U.S. Navy contract, were factory-finished in olive drab over neutral gray, just as C-47s were. There has been some question over the years, including among veterans, regarding whether those early aircraft were actually finished in blue-gray over light gray, as the Douglas R3D had been. The two schemes would be virtually impossible to distinguish in most black and white photographs, and some units, such as VR-7, did repaint their R4Ds in Navy colors. However, preserved paint from the wreck of an early Navy-contract MAG-25 aircraft confirms that these aircraft were painted in olive drab (which indeed faded to an orangish-pink).
"..R4Ds retained only a BuAer number in small stencils on the fin, usually in black but sometimes applied in white."
The standard fin markings, as described within this web site, were typically so small as to be invisible in most photographs, or perhaps vaguely visible as a tiny dark blob. The typical format consisted of a two-line aircraft identification, with the text "NAVY" above the BuAer serial number. On some MAG-25 aircraft, there was evidence of a larger version of this text being painted out. A separate line of text, typically on the rudder, identified the aircraft type. On at least some later aircraft, the "NAVY" was replaced by "MARINES." "U.S. MARINES" became the standard format after the aircraft were stripped to bare metal, at which point the size of the text was made much larger (MAG-25 does not seem to have ever put the aircraft type stencil on its natural metal aircraft). All MAG-25 aircraft that I am aware of had the fin text in black.
"Small" is no exaggeration. Note the painted-out previous version of
these markings on BuNo 17104 in this remarkably clear photograph (the
full image is here). The rudder stencil likely reads R4D-5-DK, denoting
an R4D-5 (constructed as a C-47A) built by Douglas in Oklahoma City.
The "DK" and "DL" (Douglas - Long Beach) suffixes were not always
applied. These tiny markings make it very difficult to identify most
MAG-25 aircraft by BuAer number.
Note that in the book's color profiles, only the rudder stencils are provided, and while diminutive they are still too large. They also all appear to read "R4D-1," despite the fact that all of the represented aircraft were probably R4D-5s.
"Natural metal finish C-47s started appearing late in the war first in the shape of new USMC R4Ds..."
A minor point, but MAG-25's first natural metal aircraft were older aircraft stripped of paint in-theater. Also, the first natural metal R4Ds in the Pacific were probably operated by the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS), which flew via Hawaii to various rear area logistics bases, including in the South Pacific. NATS began removing paint from some R4Ds servicing Pacific routes in February 1944, long before MAG-25 began the process, and all of VR-13's aircraft were paint-free when it deployed to the SWPA in July 1944. MAG-25 did not start removing paint until late in 1944.
The chart on this page erroneously simplifies the Marine Corps aircraft numbering system and incorrectly states that aircraft numbers were placed on the engine cowl (never); we’ll return to this as it is a recurring theme and accounts for several of the author’s subsequent errors. In addition, technically, these were not squadron aircraft numbers as described on this page and repeated in various places in the book, but group aircraft numbers (i.e., there were no duplicate numbers on operational aircraft between HqSq-25, VMJ-253, VMJ-152, and VMJ-153).
I noted that Claringbould in past volumes has referred to a “Buer” instead of “BuAer” (U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics) serial number. He’s fixed that for the most part in this book, but the misspelling of the abbreviation persists in this table. For the record, BuNo 12323 (Claringbould's example here) was an F4F Wildcat, not an R4D.
“USMC R4D units applied the last two digits of the BuAer number to the fin, fuselage or engine nacelle, or a mixture thereof.”
This is partially accurate, but does not accurately describe any particular scheme. Initially the numbers were applied to the nose cone, engine nacelles, and rear fuselage, and that scheme held until about July 1944. During July and/or August 1944, around the same time that the original SCAT was dissolved, the numbers were moved to just below the cockpit, and at some point subsequent to that they were also repeated on the tailfin/vertical stabilizer.
This image of #73 shows the standard placement of MAG-25 aircraft numbers from 1942 to July 1944 (the number on the aft fuselage is just visible on the passenger door). Numbers on the port side fuselage could be on either the passenger door or the large cargo door (placement was inconsistent). This numbering scheme was not initially unique to MAG-25, having been used on R3Ds of VMJ-152 by the summer of 1942. (NARA)
Of note, though—and again, this is a recurring theme in this book—the last two digits of the BuAer number (“BuNo”) were only definitely used as the aircraft number on the initial aircraft that went overseas (even then, I’m hesitant to say that it was 100% universal without the full documentation, which to my knowledge no longer exists). That’s a fact—by mid-1943 you could no longer assume what a newer aircraft’s BuAer serial was based solely on its aircraft number. We’ll return to this.
Of additional interest, you may recognize the photo on page 20 from my book. It’s publicly available in high-resolution digital format now because I paid the Library of Congress to digitize it (I have the receipt). To be clear, the Library of Congress is the sole source for this image, so a legitimate historian would give due credit. I’m happy that the high-res copy is out in the world now, because this history is important to me and sharing it is a labor of love, but its unsourced presentation in this book seems part of a broader pattern with this author. You can download your own free copy from the Library of Congress here.
Images of Aviation: Marine Air Group 25 and SCAT (2017), p. 16.
For the 13th TCS content, I will mainly defer to Seth Washburne, the longtime squadron historian, but suffice it to say that there are many errors throughout this section, again both in the artwork and the text. Claringbould was informed of these errors before publication but declined to make corrections. I am also informed that some photos in this section appear to have been lifted from copyrighted material without permission or attribution.
“Nicknamed The Thirsty 13th and without having to negotiate dangerous mountainous terrain like their New Guinea counterparts, the squadron attained a remarkable safety record.”
This sentence almost reads as insulting, and it is inaccurate to imply that SCAT's routes were somehow inherently safer. The 13th TCS was an outstanding unit and did have an enviable safety record. It also flew the exact same routes as MAG-25. Please visit the Roll of Honor on this site for a fuller understanding of how dangerous it was to fly transport missions in SCAT’s area of operations.
In the second paragraph there are several references to SCAT operating in October 1942. While the precise moment that SCAT “began” operating is subject to debate, it could not have been before November 24, 1942. However, even veterans sometimes referred to SCAT retroactively, and I have done so accidentally myself, including in my book.
“The squadron’s pilots flew to the most diverse number of destinations in the South Pacific…”
This is probably no truer of the 13th TCS than their Marine counterparts, who flew the same routes until July 1944, and subsequently flew regularly into SWPA and Central Pacific bases.
I’ll refrain from commenting on most of the 13th TCS profiles, despite the many artwork and textual errors, but Profile 5 was an aircraft that my grandfather loved: CatFish, with its cat eyes and shark mouth. It accompanied him on several missions, and he took several photos of it on the ground and flying off his wing. I was trying to build a model of one of his airplanes when I was a kid, and he wanted me to build CatFish instead. Claringbould's cartoonish profile doesn’t do it justice, to put it mildly. Here it is, right from the family album:
CatFish, 13th TCS. Photo by 1st Lt. W.E. DuRoss, VMJ-152. ⓒ All Rights Reserved
Content on this page regarding SCAT mirrors errors or unnecessarily imprecise language from Page 14. The initial units of SCAT, ca. 10 December 1942, were MAG-25/HqSq-25, VMJ-253, the 13th TCS, SMS-25, and VMJ-152. There were no "detachments" or sub-units contained in this list. Shortly thereafter SCAT absorbed the 801st Medical Squadron, Air Evacuation Transport, and VMJ-153. Later still it received MAR&SSq-1. Again, all squadrons, not "detachments." The dates on which various units were assigned to SCAT are known, even if SCAT's official start date is less clear.
"Medical flights typically carried a nurse, a corpsman and sometimes a flight surgeon as part of the crew."
"And" should be "or" in this sentence. It was atypical for a crew to have more than one medical attendant, although there were certainly instances when it happened.
In the fourth paragraph, regarding the loss of C-47 41-18675, there were six crewmen total, not four: five USAAF (from the 64th TCS) and one U.S. Navy (from HqSq-25). Regarding the loss of C-47 42-24418, it had a standard crew of five plus an assistant radio operator (likely in a trainer or trainee role), according to official records, not the "four crew and one passenger" described. Details regarding these losses can be found here, a list compiled from official primary source documentation.
The content regarding the 64th TCS again uses some slightly more definitive language than I would have (e.g., "began contributing to SCAT missions"), which is interesting, because I’d bet money that much of this content is paraphrased from this web site, despite Claringbould's dubious claim that his research "draws exclusively from primary sources" (p. 158). In short, it’s not certain that the 64th TCS was ever officially part of SCAT, although many people, including SCAT officers, thought it was.
Claringbould at least acknowledges receiving microfilmed records from Maxwell AFB (that would be the Air Force Historical Research Agency, or AFHRA), but the microfilm would not include the image at the top of this page (or, if it did, the image would be of extremely poor quality). It is, however, available here, as well as in the original paper copy of the 64th TCS history at AFHRA. I know this because that's where I scanned it.
Again, to be perfectly clear, AFHRA is the only repository that holds the original image, so if it appears in anyone's book AFHRA should be credited. Interestingly, there are actually numerous photos of this event; this is simply the one that I chose to post on this web site (since the mission was likely not a SCAT flight). I'll let you judge where he is most likely to have obtained it.
Courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency.
The top photo seems to have been used as a placeholder, as this was a SCAT aircraft (taken by USMC 2nd Lt. David Douglas Duncan while he was temporarily attached to the outfit), but it is sandwiched between 65th and 66th TCS content (neither of them a SCAT unit). Also, Claringbould's description of the aircraft as a "USAAF C-47" rather than an R4D seems rather bold, unless his eye is better than mine (I have my original 1200 dpi scan and can't see any indication that it is one or the other).
This is one of several images in this book that arouse my curiosity, since I went to significant effort to obtain quality versions of them...the reason being that the prints (which themselves hadn't been published before to my knowledge, and require in-person research to review) are damaged. It's odd that the photos in Claringbould's book have the same image restoration qualities as those on this web site, and the same unfortunate dust specks from my scanner bed, which aren't too obvious but I know where they are. Then again, fitting the pattern, Claringbould provides no indication in his 'sources & acknowledgements' that he's visited the sole repository where these prints and the original negatives are held.
Interestingly, if he was going to go the distance, you'd have thought his image on page 86 would have been a better copy. Instead, upon close inspection, it's the damaged version, which is fine because during the pandemic I haven't gotten around to getting a better image, either (what a coincidence!). Of course, Claringbould cites his own "extensive collection of C-47 photos," which apparently are "too numerous to further credit" (p. 158), so that's that.
If he did collect these images from this web site, though, attribution would have been nice (or, at least, don't call me lazy...see below).
Note the incorrect date on this photo, which should read 3/44. Sometimes
photos contain subtle clues that help to identify aircraft as C-47s as
opposed to R4Ds, but I don't see any in this picture. (NARA)
The aircraft in this photo is almost certainly a C-47, with its yellow serial still visible, though it appears washed out in this version of the image (which is an official photo held by the National Archives and Records Administration, and has been reproduced elsewhere). The image would look about the same, though, if it were an R4D, because the aircraft flew the same types of missions. In other words, it's a good representative image, it just doesn't show a Marine plane as claimed.
“…USMC transport units operated modified Douglas C-47s designated by the USN as the R4D series…” [etc.]
The R4D was not a modified C-47; the vast majority of them were C-47s. There may have been a few minor differences between the first batch of 38 Navy-contract R4D-1s and the stock C-47, but they must have been very minor (the first few R4D-1s seem to have gotten a smaller rear cargo door that was quickly done away with; my understanding is that this door was also fitted to the earliest C-47s). I’ve never read the full contracts, and therefore can't speak to every small detail, but the aircraft were even delivered in Army olive/gray camouflage. In fact, the Navy retained the R4D-1 designation when it began the joint procurement process, applying it to planes purchased under USAAF C-47 contract, rather than designating them as a new model. By that point, the aircraft were exactly identical, each getting a USAAF serial number per the contract, and select examples then being turned over to BuAer. Every R4D-5 began life as a C-47A, which was externally identical to the C-47/R4D-1.
"The R4Ds incorporated a few differences to their USAAF counterparts. The R4D-1 had a reinforced metal floor with tie-downs..."
The floor Claringbould is referring to was common to all C-47/R4D aircraft. Again, the idea that there were any significant differences between C-47s and R4Ds is erroneous.
“the interior was configured with either folding wooden seats…”
The seats were aluminum, and were always present. They folded flush against the cabin walls when carrying full stretcher loads or cargo-only loads.
“The R4D series came equipped with a glider-towing cleat, a discernable feature which differentiated it from most C-47s.”
This is a strange statement, since the glider-towing rig was a hallmark of the C-47 design as any student of WWII airborne operations will know. And, while the rig was used to good effect by the USAAF (and Allied nations) in numerous engagements, among them Sicily, Normandy, Southern France, Market-Garden, and Varsity, not to mention several operations in the Pacific, the Navy and Marines never towed gliders in combat. There were no “discernable features” separating C-47s and R4Ds, aside from unit markings and—in the Pacific—the preference for/availability of carburetor dust filters (which the USAAF almost universally used, and the Marines almost universally didn’t, but even then there were exceptions). And yet, the illustrations in the book give accurate tail assemblies to all of the R4Ds while the C-47s get a mix of accurate tail cones and inaccurate DC-3-style tail cones.
“All R4Ds had smaller carburetor intake air scoops than their C-47 counterparts, placed on top of the mid-cowl.”
Again, technically this is a difference that did not exist. C-47s in-theater usually had a dust filter placed over the scoop, which functioned as an extension of the scoop, but this was removable. At least one R4D-1 was fitted with them per photographic evidence, but they were uncommon on Marine planes. I don’t know whether this was the Marines' choice, or if the Navy didn’t procure filters for the aircraft (the Navy didn't typically use the filters, either). Nevertheless, the actual carburetor scoop on all of the aircraft was the same, unlike depicted in Claringbould's profiles. Later models of the C-47 (e.g., C-47B) had a larger, integrated carburetor/air scoop housing, as did their Navy counterparts from the same contracts (R4D-6).
BuNo 05052 with dust filters fitted, the only documented USMC use of the item that
I am aware of. If you look closely, the carburetor is exactly the same as on any other
C-47/R4D-1 or C-47A/R4D-5. (NARA)
“…Flying Boxcars was widely used to denote SCAT R4Ds and C-47s…”
This is a minor point, but I’m not aware of this being an Army thing. MAG-25, however, made the Flying Boxcar its unit insignia. The Marines never referred to the aircraft as “Skytrains.”
**Edit: The SCAT passenger leaflet indeed referred to the "SCAT 'Flying Boxcar'," so I retract this comment, although that leaflet was published by HqSq-25 and I'm still not aware of "Flying Boxcar" being in common usage among USAAF personnel.
"A total of 23 R4Ds were lost to operational causes in both the SOPAC and SWPA theatres from 1942 to 1945..."
I'm a little hesitant to weigh in on how correct this is, because shoddy contemporary recordkeeping and conflicting information about aircraft losses have always led me to avoid citing a total, but this number seems low. We know that there are aircraft losses that were not properly recorded at the time, and that those included fatal losses as well as non-fatal airframe write-offs due to accidents, weather, and enemy action. However, I think it's worth mentioning here that we know the total of fatal MAG-25 R4D losses in these two operational areas, which were nine aircraft: four aircraft from VMJ-253, two from VMJ-152, two from VMR-153, and one from HqSq-25. Eight of MAG-25's aircraft were lost with most or all of those on board; one suffered a single crew fatality during a ditching. Additional details are available here.
In addition, the U.S. Navy lost eight R4Ds with the loss of all aboard, including three from VR-13 and three from the Seventh Fleet, bringing total fatal R4D losses in the SWPA and SOPAC to at least 17. These USMC and USN losses are not discussed in the book, unlike at least some of the USAAF losses (the book does not discuss USN aircraft at all).
In addition, MAG-25 lost at least seven aircraft in non-fatal incidents, including one destroyed on the ground by a lightning strike, one lost in a successful ditching, and (reportedly) one destroyed by Japanese artillery on Guadalcanal, although I have yet to fully confirm the latter, which may have been an aircraft already written off when a dive bomber collided with it on the runway. The rest were takeoff and landing accidents, one of which resulted in a single fatality to an individual from another unit on the ground. It is likely that the Navy also suffered non-fatal incidents, and at least one other Marine unit (HqSq, MAG-11) suffered a non-fatal R4D loss on Peleliu (SWPA) after V-J Day.
“This volume corrects the falsehood derived from lazy scholarship that R4Ds were allocated random two-digit numbers. They were hardly random, but instead derive from the last two digits of the BuAer serial number accessible in the relevant unit records. These BuAer numbers used by USMC squadrons in the South Pacific fall in the following ranges: 01648 to 01984, 05052 to 05064, 12395 to 12436 and 37663 to 39090.”
Putting aside other irony in this paragraph, its weirdly vitriolic language (which I can only assume is directed at me, since this page is probably where most of the MAG-25 scholarship currently lies) actually makes it less accurate. His earlier assertions on this topic at least have the benefit of being partially correct, or correct at a certain point in time, without overtly declaring that all other information is invalid.
Originally, the aircraft numbers were derived from BuAer serial numbers, and that is no secret. Aircraft 01981 was #81, and so forth. That would be clear to anyone who had perused the contents of this web site. However, for whatever reason (overlapping serial number digits may have been one factor, but could not have been the only factor), this method was abandoned in whole or in part beginning around mid-1943.
You cannot look at a MAG-25 aircraft number from mid-1943 onward and presume to know the aircraft’s BuAer number without additional information. Unfortunately, in most instances there is no record of which BuAer serials were assigned which aircraft numbers. However, we do know some. For instance, BuNo 12423 was #23. We know this from the “relevant unit records.” BuNo 12424 was #02, also from the “relevant unit records.”
This error leads Claringbould to make some startling misidentifications (below). The “random” numbers may not have been random at all; there may have been a standard procedure for numbering those aircraft, which is likely lost to history. But the fact that numbers on new aircraft seldom matched by the end of 1943 is not in doubt, and by the end of 1944 multiple aircraft had been renumbered, causing even more confusion (BuNo 17095 of VMJ/VMR-152—one of many aircraft absent from Claringbould’s incomplete list—was first #95 and later #10).
R4D-5 BuNo 17095, aka #95, aka #10, VMJ/VMR-152. (NARA)
R4D-5 BuNo 39073, #93, VMJ-152. Sadly, this aircraft has been MIA since 18 May 1944.
Records related to its loss confirm its identity. (NARA)
After MAG-25’s aircraft were stripped of camouflage, the serials and aircraft numbers were placed right together on the tail, and while photographs from that period are more scarce I’ve never seen a matching pair of numbers. Again, all of this information is available to anyone who peruses this web site or my book.
One of these things is not like the other (VMR-153). (NARA)
Returning to Claringbould’s list of serial numbers, those are ranges from which MAG-25 received aircraft, but the group did not receive every aircraft within those ranges (I think his language reflects that, but I wanted to clarify). On the other hand, he is missing several batches, including 03132-03142, 04694-04706, 05065-05069, 12437-12438, 17095-17116, 17149-17159, and 17180-17219 (again, not always inclusive).
[VMJ-253] “By February 1943 the squadron was operating a dozen R4D-1s.”
This is one of those sentences that isn’t inaccurate, but is oddly written. VMJ-253 operated a dozen R4D-1s before arriving overseas in September 1942, and continued to do so until it started receiving R4D-5s. There were also later periods when MAG-25 squadrons operated fewer than a dozen aircraft apiece.
Note that entire phrases in this summary for VMJ-253 were lifted verbatim from this web site (which is copyrighted, by the way), which ought to put to bed any notion that Claringbould relied on primary source research here. I wish he'd learned more while he was visiting. He did a better job of paraphrasing the other squadron entries...
As if the careless inaccuracies weren't enough, the book also features plagiarism. At least the plagiarized portion is accurate. Text at left ⓒ 2018 at this web site.
[VMJ-152] “…VMJ-1 which had been disbanded on 7 July 1941.”
VMJ-1 was not disbanded, it was redesignated (renumbered, if you prefer). It and VMJ-152/VMR-152 (and VJ-6M) were the same squadron in the eyes of the Navy/Marine Corps. Just like VMGR-152, VMR-253, and VMJ-253 are all considered the same squadron today. I’m not saying it makes sense, but it’s how it works.
[VMJ-152] “Its complement in the SOPAC theatre was a dozen R4D-1s.”
This was true at first, but by the middle of 1943 many of the R4D-1s had been replaced with R4D-5s. MAG-25’s war-weary R4D-1 aircraft nearly all went to MAG-15, the training group based at Camp Kearny in Southern California near San Diego. Many of the aircraft in my grandfather’s flight log during his time with MAG-15 were Guadalcanal-veteran R4D-1s.
The last pre-V-J Day commander of VMR-152, LtCol. John Coursey, is left off of the CO list for reasons unknown. VMR-152 remained in the SWPA (HQ on Bougainville) through V-J Day, and while it and VMR-153 increasingly flew missions into the Philippines and even the Central Pacific, they also continued flying routes throughout the Solomons (routinely as far south as Guadalcanal) and along the eastern coast of Australia to the end of the war.
The squadron's last three pre-V-J Day COs are missing from the list, again for reasons unknown, as the squadron was based on Bougainville in the SWPA throughout that time. While Maj. Sanford was the last squadron CO under the original SCAT, he and LtCol. Harold Brown both served under the second SCAT (Solomons Combat Air Transport Command), which disbanded in February 1945. The "second SCAT" is not mentioned in this book.
[SMS-25] “...operated a handful of R4Ds throughout SOPAC outposts.”
To my knowledge SMS-25 never had any aircraft assigned to it. SMS-25 personnel performed check ("test") flights on group aircraft that received maintenance, and did operate forward echelons, but it was not considered a flying unit. I stand to be corrected if it can be proved otherwise.
In several places Claringbould interprets "SMS" literally as "Service Marine Squadron," which is weird (it's Marine Service Squadron, or colloquially just Service Squadron) but a very minor error. He does not list SMS-25's commanding officers beyond March 1944, even though SMS-25 was still based in the South Pacific (New Caledonia) until September 1944, and was then at Los Negros in the SWPA.
[MAG-25] “…operated a solitary R4D-5 (Bu 17159) throughout 1944.”
HqSq-25 operated several aircraft from 1942-1945, including BuNo 17159, which served during the period after the dissolution of the original SCAT, and possibly before that time. Thus far only two of those aircraft are identifiable in photographs: 12412, which appears to have been #12, and #81, which we’ll come back to.
For some reason Claringbould only names one of HqSq-25's nine wartime commanding officers here, deviating from the format he chose for other squadrons, and does not list the commanding officers of MAG-25 and/or SCAT (all of whom were assigned to HqSq-25) anywhere. It's not clear why Capt. Leroy James made the cut and the rest did not. Anyhow, you can find them all here, of course.
In the top caption, the foremost aircraft is #81, not #8. This was a mixed flight of MAG-25 aircraft, not all from VMJ-253 as the caption claims, and #81 was assigned to HqSq-25.
Hey...you don't suppose that's where he got...nah... (that horizon angle, though...)
R4D #81. The markings and camouflage on this aircraft poorly reflect photographic documentation (available on this web site), and the aircraft number is on the engine cowling instead of the nacelle; there is also no nose number. Engine cowlings were replaced on occasion, which is why numbers were never applied there (except perhaps crudely in chalk, which was sometimes done during maintenance).
Claringbould asserts that this aircraft is BuNo 01981, but that is wrong (and quite impossible), as this aircraft is well documented as having served in 1943 and 1944, and 01981 was lost in a crash in 1942. And, to be clear, 01981 would not have looked anything like this, being a Navy-contract R4D-1 with small 6-position national insignia without bars, no medium green overspray, and all-black aircraft numbers (see the first color profile on this site for an approximation).
Rather, it is likely that this aircraft was numbered in honor of 01981, whose pilot was the very popular and respected XO of VMJ-253. The men who initially flew this aircraft, such as Col. Fiske Marshall, had known him well. This seems to be the first example of Claringbould’s insistence on matching aircraft numbers with BuAer serials steering him wrong. He isn't helped by an apparent unfamiliarity with basic national insignia changes, which could have helped guide him in the right direction. As this was an HqSq-25 aircraft, it was not assigned to VMJ-253 as Claringbould claims. A more accurate portrayal of the second #81 is available on this web site, in the Color Profiles section.
One of the second #81's many photographic appearances
between 1943 and 1944, alongside VADM Fitch on
Bougainville; note number on nacelle. (NARA)
R4D #27. I am not familiar with this aircraft and can’t comment on its accuracy, except that the number has an atypical font for the period, the number on the nacelle is almost certainly missing, and part of the “7” should be visible on the nose. Claringbould may have a photograph showing that these discrepancies are uniquely accurate, but did not include it in the book. Interestingly, he says that its BuNo is "unknown" but that it "served with SCAT throughout 1942 to 1944." How he comes to that conclusion without a BuAer serial is anyone's guess, unless he's sitting on a bunch of unpublished photographs of the same aircraft (unlikely). But just as interestingly, if this aircraft existed as shown, it should have clued Claringbould in to the fact that his assertion that BuAer serials always matched aircraft numbers could not have been accurate. There was no BuNo assigned to MAG-25 that ended in 27. Lazy scholarship indeed.
R4D #13. This profile also doesn’t match photographs particularly well (those are available on this web site), with both port-side aircraft numbers in the wrong locations and no nose number. The author claims that this was BuNo 12413, and it might be, but there are also discrepancies in the historical record, which includes my own grandfather’s flight log (he flew 12413 fairly often; for what it’s worth, he remembered its aircraft number as #92, but that was later in life and I wouldn’t cite it as fact). We know where #13 was on certain dates, when the war diary and log books sometimes indicate that 12413 was elsewhere; Ted’s father was #13's crew chief, although sadly his flight log is no longer extant. In any event, both 12413 and #13, whether the same aircraft or not, were/was assigned to VMJ-152, not VMJ-253 as Claringbould claims. A more accurate portrayal of #13 is available on this web site, in the Color Profiles section.
R4D #30. I appreciate that this aircraft is presented as both a profile and a photograph. This is another aircraft that I've never seen a photo of, and while it might be a HQ 1st Marine Aircraft Wing plane, I'd say there is a much greater probability that it is BuNo 17103 of VMR-153, which was #30 and would have carried these markings. By contrast, HQ 1MAW appears to have used a single-digit “1” or “2” on the nose of its aircraft, and a complete set of small but readily visible aircraft data stencils on the tail. The markings on the tail should probably read “U.S. MARINES” on the first line, the BuNo on the second line, instead of the depicted, nonstandard "U.S. MARINE CORPS." The font on the artwork is noticeably slimmer than shown in the photo, and as noted above, MAG-25 does not appear to have put the aircraft type stencil on its natural metal aircraft (it is the most minor of points, but while the artwork stencil reads "R4D-1," BuNo 17103 was another R4D-5-DK).
R4D #32. Claringbould claims that this is BuNo 12432. That is impossible, as 12432 went missing in December 1943, and this aircraft is in post-July 1944 markings (except for the national insignia, which would not have looked like this after August-September 1943). The author dates the appearance to 1943, but this numbering scheme wasn't in use at that time. Given that VMR-153 operated #30, #33, #34, #35, #36, possibly #37, and #38, I’d say there’s a good chance that the author is correct in this being a -153 machine (no longer VMJ, though, but VMR). Then again, BuNo 12432 was a VMJ-153 aircraft, so Claringbould probably just made the identification based on his initial error. This is a color scheme with very little photographic documentation, so it’s unfortunate that Claringbould didn’t include this one, as it's hard to trust that this artwork is an accurate representation, given all of his other artwork errors.
R4D #85. While Claringbould made some semblance of an effort, the look of this aircraft utterly fails to capture details evident in photographs (available on this web site), and again the aircraft number is erroneously depicted on the cowl instead of the nacelle, with no visible nose number. I’m not sure how these number placement errors occurred for aircraft with such extensive photographic documentation, but I find it difficult to avoid the feeling that Claringbould wasn't trying particularly hard. In addition, the port side wing insignia is upside down, which is an error unless Claringbould has photographic evidence (this is also mostly moot, because during the period depicted this insignia should be shown painted out).
Claringbould assigns this aircraft to VMJ-253, but its actual squadron assignment, like its BuAer serial, is currently unknown (there’s about a 50% chance that he is right). He also claims that the patchwork is due to "combat damage," but while I suppose that is a possibility I’m not sold on it and would not make such a definitive claim without further evidence. A more accurate portrayal of #85 is available on this web site, in the Color Profiles section.
#85's patchwork paint covered both sides of the fuselage. That would be a lot of
combat damage for a plane that wasn't written off, not to mention that one would
expect the wings to have been damaged, too. My bet is simple corrosion control
on an old airframe. This is an early R4D-5, which originally had 6-position
national insignia. (NARA)
The image at top is beautiful. Almost too beautiful, since the archival print is damaged:
Several runs of official USMC prints were damaged by water at some point. (NARA)
Again, I'd be interested to know where Claringbould got the nice clean copy from. Perhaps he or someone he knows obtained it and formatted it the same way that I did, but it would have taken some effort to get it looking...exactly the same. Call me suspicious, but I'll withhold any outright accusation, even though there's an oddly familiar dust artifact and it's aligned in exactly the same way. But again, this image is held by a single repository (NARA in College Park) which Claringbould does not credit. As historians we are obligated to credit our sources, no matter how many images we collect, or how many places we source them from. And, while you can list as many repositories as you like as sources, that list is meaningless unless it or your in-text citations include the one(s) that specifically hold the image(s) you're using. Failure to cite is lazy and unethical, and making excuses for why it's too hard to bother is just pathetic. Here is the image again, as you may have seen it on the home page:
Image source aside, how Claringbould assigned this aircraft to VMJ-253 is anyone's guess.
"RAAF transport operations in the Pacific were extensive but mainly confined to the SWPA, with the occasional foray into Bougainville."
Bougainville was located within the SWPA, as was the New Georgia Group (and as were Australia, New Guinea, the Netherlands East Indies, and the Philippines).
In summary, readers of this volume are left with a list of both minor and major errors, all of which could have been avoided with more careful research. If this was the work of an amateur I might not be so concerned, but it is being marketed as the authoritative work of a distinguished historian. We all make errors—the ones in my book have been disclosed on this site as I’ve uncovered them, painful as they may be to acknowledge. I’m loathe to criticize too heavily when an author appears to be making a good faith effort, but the pattern of what appear to be careless and sloppy errors, all while boasting to be a definitive work, using language that disparages others, and–as I strongly suspect–likely using others' work and content without credit, invited correction.
I hope that this review was helpful to you. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.