Back at Palm Island, Australia, Patrol Bombing Squadron 52 under Lieutenant Commander
H. A. "Hal" Sommer had been readying itself to move north and relieve VPB-11.
Here, one of the war's more colorful Black Cat pilots, Lieutenant W. J. "Bill"
Lahodney, was deeply involved in a project which he hoped would substantially increase the
striking power of the Catalina. Something was needed, he felt, to enable a Cat to press
home an attack even after all bombs or torpedoes had been expended. Further, he knew that
they would encounter many targets, too small to waste bombs on, which would succumb to an
attack by concentrated gunfire.
In his quest for increased firepower, Lahodney made several flights in the Army's B-25 bombers and was impressed with their gunfire capabilities. These planes had 75-millimeter cannon in the nose but also mounted several fixed-quad .50-caliber machine guns which were of particular interest to the Cat pilot. He decided to with the same .50-caliber installation in the nose of his PBY. It was a somewhat radical concept and, as might be expected, there were many raised eyebrows. The PBY after all was a patrol plane, not a fighter, and it was the opinion of some that the fifties would tear the nose off of the airplane. The old Cat was simply not built to take that kind of abuse, they said. Others thought the installation would have an adverse affect on aircraft weight and balance. Few were optimistic that the idea would work.
Lahodney was not to be deterred. Removing the bombsight (which had not proven very effective for the specialized work of the Black Cats) and the small bow plate window, he bolted the guns, mounted two over two, to the keel of the big boat. The top set of two were mounted forward of the lower set, so the muzzles of all four were aft of the angled bow plate. An aluminum panel with four blast tubes extending forward for seven inches replaced the window, and was all that was visible of the lethal addition from an exterior view. An electric trigger on the pilot's yoke, and a selector switch which permitted the pilot to fire the guns individually or together, completed the installation. Bill Lahodney was confident that the Cat would not only withstand the vibration of the fifties, but that the twin thirties normally mounted just above that spot could be retained along with the gunner's position.
With a minimum volunteer crew, consisting of himself, a flight engineer, and a bow gunner, Lahodney took off from the Palm Island seadrome to try out his idea. Dropping a floating smoke light in the water for a target, he executed a wing-over and put the Cat into a steep dive. Eyeballing the burning smoke light he pressed the trigger and the fifties responded with a burst that churned the water and extinguished the smoke. That was the kind of firepower he was looking for, he thought with satisfaction. During the run he had also noted that the extra weight in the nose had no perceptible effect on the aircraft's performance. The test was repeated with the same result and upon returning to base, a careful inspection revealed that the old Cat had shouldered her new burden without complaint. The experiment was a complete success, so much so that quad fifties were installed in at least three planes in every succeding squadron.
Other tests also bore out Lahodney's views. They demonstrated that a gunner could straddle the quad mount and operate the thirties with almost as much mobility as before. A burlap pad was placed on the hot .50-caliber barrels to prevent the gunner from being burned.
One problem with the installation was that because of its positioning it was difficult to keep salt water from getting into the muzzles. Rubber plugs were made to fit in the blast tubes but they leaked badly. Then someone got the idea that the standard rubber devices used for the prevention of venereal disease would be just the thing to make the blast tubes watertight. And they were.
In preparing for the coming deployment, Lahodney flew over to Townsville on the Australian mainland on a supply run. He picked up two additional quad mounts from the Army Supply Depot and an unusually large quantity of condoms to protect the gun muzzles. The swells were heavy that day and during the take-off run one bounced the Cat into the air prematurely. The starboard wing dropped about forty degrees and full power on the starboard engine would not bring it level. It hit the water and broke off and the rest of the airplane came down hard. As it began to sink, Lahodney again applied full throttle and ran the broken Cat up on the rocks of the Townsville breakwater. Incredibly, no one was hurt.
With a heavy on-shore wind, the condoms were scattered about and it looked like there were many thousands as they floated ashore. Lahodney recalls that since there were no women on Palm Island there was much humorous speculation concerning the intended use of all those contraceptives.
(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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