But the PBY pilots were beginning to understand that while night operations were fraught with danger, the darkness also concealed and protected them. And because it covered their approach so well, it injected a new element of surprise into the game and enabled them to exploit natural human apprehensions that come with darkness. They were turning the tables on their nocturnal enemy.

Some of the more innovative Cat crews of VP-11, now operating from the tender Curtiss at Espiritu Santo, devised a way to enhance survivability during these nighttime forays. Using materials readily at hand they concocted a mixture of soap and lamp black with which they covered the PBYs from nose to tail. The Cats, never known for their great beauty now took on a somewhat shabby and sinister appearance. But on a black night the new look made them almost invisible to surface ships or the occasional floatplane fighter. When encountering the latter, the Cats found that they could descend to skim low over the water so the enemy pilot could not get beneath them. Seen from an overhead position, the black Catalina seemed to blend into the dark surface of the ocean and disappear. If the fighter somehow continued to hold contact and made a diving pass, he risked flying headlong into the sea, for his depth perception was distorted and at that altitude there was no margin for error. It was a very effective defense.*

Now the Cats took a page from the Japanese handbook of dirty tricks. One night Jim Cobb took off for Guadalcanal where he would spend several hours giving Japanese troops ashore a taste of their own medicine. Wing racks were loaded with heavy ordnance while inside the aircraft smaller anti-personnel bombs were stashed wherever there was an unoccupied niche. All night they flew back and forth across enemy lines, sometimes making a single drop and sometimes letting their weapons go in a stick of three or four. The bombs which were stowed internally were flipped out of the waist hatch by gleeful crewmen on signal from the pilot. After each pass the PBY would depart the area for a time, suggesting to the enemy that all was clear. Then it would return to repeat the performance. These operations came to be called "Louie the Louse" flights.

That particular night, Cobb may have unwittingly coined the name by which PBYs would become known throughout the South Pacific. As he departed Espiritu Santo for the flight north, he sent word ahead to General Geiger on Guadalcanal that they were coming. In an effort to minimize radio transmissions his short cryptic message read simply, "THE BLACK CAT FLIES TONIGHT."

*A VP-12 narrative summary of operations entitled "The Old Black Cats", dated June 29, 1943, credits Commander C. F. Coe, COMAIRSOPAC operations officer, as being the originator of the name "Black Cats." No doubt the term occurred to a number of people independently at one time or another at about the same time, as simply an apt description of this unique aircraft.

(The above section of text was taken from "Black Cat Raiders of WWII" by Richard C. Knott, 1982)(now out of print)


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