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VB-139 and VPB-139 | Patrol Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED THIRTY NINE


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VB-139 and VPB-139 | Patrol Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED THIRTY NINE


Established as Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED THIRTY NINE (VB-139) on 1 April 1943.
Redesignated Patrol Bombing Squadron ONE HUNDRED THIRTY NINE (VPB-139) on 1 October 1944.
Disestablished on 13 September 1945.


Aircraft: PV-1, May, 1943; PV-2, August 1944.


Nickname: V-BEES, 1944–1945.


Squadron Insignia
The insignia submitted by VB-139 was accepted by CNO on 16 May 1944, with the reservation that “the color red is not used in the insignia, and the numeral designation is removed.” The squadron’s submission made a clever play on its designation as a V BEE, with the V standing for victory, and the BEE as the personification of the bombing squadron flying missions over the entire face of the globe. The BEE in the design holds a bomb in each foreleg and sports a cigar in his mouth. The BEE was superimposed over the letters VB and is looking downward on a hemisphere showing the Aleutians and northern Japan. Colors: field, deep purplish-blue; bee’s body, striped rust and purplish-blue; face, rust; eyeballs, purplish-blue with white pinpoints; upper arm, rust; lower arm, purplish blue; bombs and cigar, tan; mouth, white; continents, white with purplish-blue water.


Embroidered on wool | Type I





Fully embroidered | Type II





In an article by Al Mark in Trading Post, October-December, 1996, we learned that Ensign Don McMillan, serving on the first tour, designed the insignia. Quoting from correspondence with him at the time:


"Yes - I did design the Insignia for VB-139 now known as VPB-139, in 1944 (either on Adak or Attu) in the Aleutians. It was a 4-3/4 circle and because equipment was scarce or non-existent in those days I made copies on sepia paper, which had a brownish color. I then hand colored the Wings and body of the BEE and rubber cemented them to a piece of canvas or cloth, which could be sewn on a jacket. Quite a few of the boys wore these on their jackets and hopefully it raised the morale of the whole squadron.




The significance of the insignia is that it was the V-B: V for Victory and B for bomber, flying over the Aleutian chain. The commander of Fleet Air Wing 4 was opposed to showing the chain but then realized that it was not a security risk because it was just the top of the world. The BEE is holding one bomb and about to throw another. The face of the BEE IS determined and chomping on a cigar. This refers to our beloved skipper Wiliam R. Stevens, who guided our squadron through some really rough times. It is too bad the Forgotten War didn't give more credit to men like him.


Before I left the Aleutians in May of 1944, I redid the VB In a different blue and white color scheme, not as shown on the enclosed insert. In theory this was supposed to be sent to the Dept. of the Navy but I don't know it it ever was. I do know patches were made up in the blue and white color scheme."


The Trading Post article continues:


"The accompanying record from the Aviation History Branch of lhe Department of the Navy records a somewhat different color scheme as described by Mr. McMillan. No examples have been located that have these colors as indicated in official records. To date I have not been able to locate exactly where or when they were made. Certainly before the squadron was redesignated VPB-139 on October 1, 1944 and the second tour."

Chronology of Significant Events

1 Apr 1943: VB-139 was established at NAS Ault Field, Whidbey Island, Wash., under the operational control of FAW-6, as a medium bombing squadron flying the PV-1 Ventura. Ground school and familiarization flights in the Ventura continued at Whidbey Island until the end of July. During this period, commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander G. H. Hughes became ill and was relieved of command. On 22 July, the squadron was relocated to NAS Alameda, Calif., where new instrument panels were installed in all of the aircraft. Upon returning to Whidbey Island, the squadron flight crews began training with a new instrument flying syllabus.


1 Oct 1943: VB-139 departed NAS Whidbey Island for its first combat tour in three five-plane sections, arriving at NAF Amchitka, Aleutians, between 7 and 10 October. The squadron then came under the operational control of FAW-4 and was assigned routine search sectors. Missions were generally uneventful but weather always posed a serious hazard. Yet despite the poor weather conditions, the ground crews always managed to have the Venturas ready for the next mission.


1 Nov 1943: A three-aircraft detachment was sent to NAS Adak, Alaska, for patrol duties and special training. On 8 December, three other squadron aircraft relieved this detachment. The first detachment continued on to a new assignment at NAS Attu, Aleutians.


10 Dec 1943: The entire squadron relocated to Casco Field, NAS Attu, relieving VP-136. Routine searches out to 350–550 miles were conducted until 19 January 1944, when the squadron undertook several photographic reconnaissance and bombing missions over the northern Kurile Islands. Occasionally, attacks were made on picket boats as well. On one such attack an aircraft was badly shot up, and the copilot, Lieutenant (jg) Clifford Thambs, was killed. Planned shipping attacks generally never came about due to the vagaries of the weather. Icing was always a problem and crews never knew after returning from a mission whether the home field would be socked in with heavy fog. On one mission during this period, Lieutenant W. S. Whitman and his crew of five never returned and were listed as missing in action.


19 Jan–Apr 1944: Lieutenant Mantius of VB-136 had earlier demonstrated that the PV-1 could fly operationally as far as the Kuriles. On 19 May, Lieutenants R. A. MacGregor, D. M. Birdsall and T. H. McKelvey made the first night flights over the same area in VB-139 Venturas. Until this flight, it had been assumed that only the B-24 and PBY aircraft had the range to make strikes on the Kuriles. For the next four months the squadron became a part of Empire Express missions over the Kuriles, making photographic runs and bombing through the clouds.


30 Jun 1944: VB-139 was relieved for return to NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. Upon arrival, personnel were given home leave.


1 Aug 1944–Feb 1945: VB-139 reformed at NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., under the operational control of FAW-6. The squadron received all new equipment and aircraft, the PV-2 Harpoon. During January, the crews spent a great deal of time in rocket-projectile firing. Much emphasis was placed on mastering the new GCA equipment. NAS Attu had recently installed this new form of landing control, and it greatly reduced the risks faced by the squadron when returning from long missions and had the field covered by fog. Training and flight familiarization was completed by the end of February 1945.


26 Feb 1945: VPB-139 deployed to Casco Field, NAS Attu, arriving on 16 March. It relieved VPB-136. Upon arrival the squadron came under the operational control of FAW-4 and was assigned routine searches and patrols in conjunction with VPB-131.


27 Mar 1945: One of the squadron aircraft crashed on Shemya and burned, but the crew was able to exit safely and without injury.


6 Apr–Jun 1945: Four VPB-139 Harpoons attacked Kokutan Zaki, Kuriles, with rockets and machine guns. On 6 May, attacks against ground targets were stopped on the order of BuAer. Problems with the strength of the wings and stabilizers on high-G pullouts over the targets confined Harpoon squadrons thereafter to patrols and occasional attacks on surface vessels until the HEDRONs and PATSUs made repairs. Throughout the month of May searches and photographic runs were made over Minami Zaki and the Okhotsk areas in the Kuriles. Little enemy fighter opposition was ever encountered on these missions. AA fire, however, was always present. On 10 May, a group of eight aircraft attacked radar installations at Minami Zaki, Shimushu, and five of the eight were hit by AA fire. All returned to base with no casualties. On 22 April Lieutenant William D. See and his crew of five failed to return from a patrol and were listed as missing in action. In June, the squadron made several strikes on Shimushu and numerous ships in the harbors. Although fighter opposition was often present, few attacks were ever pressed home.

24 Jul 1945: A detachment of six VPB-139 aircraft was relocated to NAF Amchitka, Aleutians, with the rest remaining at NAS Attu. Duties consisted of routine patrols, searches and mail runs between the island outposts.


20 Aug–13 Sep 1945: VPB-139 was relieved by VPB-135 for return to NAS Seattle, Wash., arriving on 23 August less one aircraft with a breakdown at NAS Kodiak. All aircraft were turned over to HEDRON-6, and all personnel were given extension or demobilization orders on 31 August. Squadron files arrived from NAS Attu on 11 September, and the squadron was disestablished on 13 September 1945.


Home Port Assignments | Location Date of Assignment
NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. 1 Apr 1943
NAF Amchitka, Aleutians 7 Oct 1943
NAS Attu, Aleutians 10 Dec 1943
NAS Whidbey Island, Wash. 30 Jun 1944
NAS Attu, Aleutians 26 Feb 1945
NAS Seattle, Wash. 23 Aug 1945



The Lockheed Ventura is a twin-engine medium bomber and patrol bomber of World War II. The Ventura first entered combat in Europe as a bomber with the RAF in late 1942. Designated PV-1 by the United States Navy (US Navy), it entered combat in 1943 in the Pacific. The bomber was also used by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), which designated it the Lockheed B-34 (Lexington) and B-37 as a trainer. After USAAF monopolization of land-based bombers was removed, the US Navy ordered a revised design which entered service as the PV-2 Harpoon for anti-submarine work.






The PV-2 Harpoon was a major redesign of the Ventura with the wing area increased from 551 ft2 (51.2 m2) to 686 ft2 (63.7 m2) giving an increased load-carrying capability, and which first flew on 3 December 1943. The motivation for redesign was weaknesses in the PV-1, which had shown itself to have problems in taking off when carrying a full load of fuel. On the PV-2, the armament became standardized at five forward-firing machine guns. Many early PV-1s had a bombardier's position, which was deleted in the PV-2. Some other significant developments included the increase of the bomb load by 30% to 4,000 lb (1,800 kg), and the ability to carry eight 5-inch (127 mm) HVAR rockets under the wings.




While the PV-2 was expected to have increased range and better takeoff, the anticipated speed statistics were projected lower than those of the PV-1, due to the use of the same engines but an increase in weight. The Navy ordered 500 examples, designating them with the popular name Harpoon.





Mark, Al. Bombing Squadron 139 (VB-139) USN. Trading Post. October-December, 1996. pp 53-54.

Insignia and Decorations of the U. S. Armed Forces. Revised Edition December 1, 1944. National Geographic Society. p 178.

Roberts, Michael D. Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons. Volume 2. Naval Historical Center. pp 567-569.

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