The Imagination and Cunning of Crew 12
My name is Dick Novetzke and I was a Ltjg with VP-6 out of NAS Barbers Point in the 1953 to 1956 time frame. I was a Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) in the P2V-5F's. As PPC of crew 12, I was assigned a group of guys to man the aircraft, and keep it ready and willing for whatever the Navy decided would be our next mission. I hasten to add here that I was the luckiest guy in town to have drawn from the ranks, the group of guys that made up Crew 12. A more professional and really great group of guys I have not met anywhere else in my career in the Navy or as a civilian. It was indeed an honor to know and serve with these men.
Early on in my assignment as PPC, my crew and I were sent to Johnston Island to participate in a Search And Rescue (SAR) for a Slick Airways DC-6 that went down with 21 souls on board. We were on Johnston Island for about 3 days as I recall, when the debris field was finally spotted by another SAR participant and all souls were given up for lost. Incidentally, for those of you who may not know or even remember, Johnston Island is about 700 NM southwest of Barbers Point (roughly half way to the Marshall Islands) and is about four and a half times larger than the The Mall in Washington, DC. Anyway, it is a god forsaken place with nothing to wile away the hours except sleep or drink booze that had a average price of about $1.75/bottle.
My Plane Captain shall remain anonymous for the purposes of this sea story. My Plane Captain was a man who knew the P2V from the rubber on the ground to the flashing beacon on the tail cap and there was not a thing about that airplane that escaped his attention. Whether it was our Plane Captain who dreamed up the idea, or another of our imaginative crew I will probably never know, but it was the Plane Captain who came up to me the night before heading home and basically told me that "they" (the crew) were going to smuggle booze back into Barbers Point and they wanted me to know about it but “stand aside” while they did it and not make waves. It was like getting a order from SECNAV. Our Plane Captain was a diplomat but you did what he told you to do or you might suffer some sort of consequence you did not want to think about.
The P2V was powered by two J-34 jets and a pair of Wright 3350 engines that were "water injected" to deliver extra cooling during the take off run. The water injection tanks were located in each nacelle and contained, as I recall, about 10 gallons each of isopropyl alcohol. It was our Plane Captain’s plan to drain those tanks of the government issue and replace the contents with bourbon on the port side, and scotch on the starboard side. At 10 PM the night before our departure for Barbers Point, our Plane Captain and a select band of conspirators backed the duty van up to BE-12 and began the drain and replace (bottle by bottle) operation which I am told lasted until roughly 3 AM.
I recall leaving the O’ Club about midnight. It might be said that I was certainly going to violate the old rule of 8 hours from bottle to throttle since our flight plan called for a Dark AM departure. Our Plane Captain and I preflighted the airplane about 5 and we mounted up for the ride out of Johnston about 6. It was dark and I was hung over. There were lots of places that I would rather have been other than on the end of the runway on Johnston Atoll with 4 hours enroute time ahead.
The checklist was complete and we were cleared for take-off. My right hand brought the throttles up. . . BMEP came up on schedule as those 3350's and J-34s roared to life. With that, as was the normal routine, my throttle hand dropped to the water injection toggle switches to activate the water injection. It was right at the moment of rotation when I felt the heavy hand of our Plane Captain slam down on my throttle hand. "You dumb son-of-a-bitch, you just pumped a gallon of booze through those engines" came the voice between the seats. I could hear uproarious laughter from aft of the flight deck. Our Plane Captain secured the injection switches and gave me the look that many a junior officer has received in his career . . . . it was a look from a true salt who knew his way around the Navy and had to put up with punks like me. I knew I was not in lasting deep trouble with him when we leveled off at altitude and he handed me a cup of coffee. He had forgiven me . . . . . . . . although for months after that every time we gathered for a briefing he reminded me that I owed the crew $3.75 for bourbon and $4.25 for scotch.
I was very impressed by my crews imagination, foresight, and planning. When we arrived at Barbers Point, the aircraft was secured until it could be inspected by US Customs. When Customs was complete, the airplane, for reasons known only to the crew, was rolled into the hanger and despite the fact that it was an 80 degree day, the hanger doors were closed. I watched from the second deck railing overlooking the hanger deck as 5 gallon tins appeared from nowhere. . took their place in the line-up of tins under the nacelles, and then made their way into the Maintenance Office never to be seen again. As luck would have it the CO happened by and stopped to chat. As we looked over the hanger deck he commented on the tin cans lined up and made some reference to the idea that the crew may be doing an oil change. Fortunately he did not ask if I knew about the cans being there. I am not sure I could have dodged and weaved well enough to evade the question should he have asked. I learned later that the entire enlisted crew were benefactors of the entire scheme. Customs was never the wiser. To this day the episode brings a smile to my face.
Imagination and cunning. . . . .that was the hallmark of the enlisted men of crew 12.