A Look Back at the Last Days of the Mighty Martin Marlin

One of VP-50's SP-5Bs at anchor in Cam Ranh Bay. The aircraft is floated starboard wing down because a fuel tank is installed in the #2 bomb bay located in the #2 engine nacelle. Notice the 2.75 rocket pods under the port wing. When at anchor the flight crew had to keep a three man launch crew on board the aircraft in case of an emergency or the bird had to get underway. (photo by Raymond T. West)
One of VP-50's SP-5Bs at anchor in Cam Ranh Bay. The aircraft is floated starboard wing down because a fuel tank is installed in the #2 bomb bay located in the #2 engine nacelle. Notice the 2.75 rocket pods under the port wing. When at anchor the flight crew had to keep a three man launch crew on board the aircraft in case of an emergency or the bird had to get underway. (photo by Raymond T. West)
One of VP-50’s SP-5Bs at anchor in Cam Ranh Bay. The aircraft is floated starboard wing down because a fuel tank is installed in the #2 bomb bay located in the #2 engine nacelle. Notice the 2.75 rocket pods under the port wing. When at anchor the flight crew had to keep a three man launch crew on board the aircraft in case of an emergency or the bird had to get underway. (photo by Raymond T. West)

Several months ago, WarbirdsNews published a fascinating article (HERE) by Will Tate about his time flying with the US Navy on long, maritime patrols from Reykjavik, Iceland. At the time, he told us about a friend of his, Raymond T. West, who had served with VP-50 during the Viet Nam War. VP-50 was one of the last US Navy flying boat squadrons to see wartime operations. They flew the mighty Martin P5M Marlin; re-designated as the P-5 after 1962. Will Tate kindly contacted Raymond West, and we will let him  take up the conversation here and hope you enjoy the story…

Naval Station Sangley Point, as seen from the air in 1964. (photo via Wikipedia)
Naval Station Sangley Point, as seen from the air in 1964. (photo via Wikipedia)

My friend and former shipmate, Raymond T. West, has kindly written a short synopsis of his tour of duty in Vietnam, 1966-67, while serving in one of the last Navy seaplane squadrons to see active wartime service. Ray West writes…

“In October 1966 I was stationed in VP-50’s home port at NAS North Island, San Diego. We were deployed to Sangley Point, Philippines with a 30 day TAD (Temporary Additional Duty) detachment to Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam. There we operated off a sea plane tender; in our case the USS Currituck (AV 7). We were involved in Operation Market Time, the interdiction of supplies coming down the coast of North Vietnam into South Vietnam. The SP-5B Marlin would take off and fly a four hour round-trip patrol north of Cam Ranh Bay or a four hour round-trip patrol south of the base.

The USS Curituck, as seaplane tender working with the SP-5B Marlins of VP-50 in Cam Rahn Bay. (photo by Raymond T. West)
The USS Currituck, as seaplane tender working with the SP-5B Marlins of VP-50 in Cam Rahn Bay. (photo by Raymond T. West)
Another view of the USS Curituck working with the SP-5B Marlins of VP-50 in Cam Rahn Bay. (photo by Raymond T. West)
Another view of the USS Currituck (AV 7) working with the SP-5B Marlins of VP-50 in Cam Ranh Bay. (photo by Raymond T. West)
Marlin Alley, Cam Ranh Bay. A line up of VP-50s Marlins during the type's final wartime deployment. (photo by Raymond T. West)
Marlin Alley, Cam Ranh Bay. A line up of VP-50s Marlins during the type’s final wartime deployment. (photo by Raymond T. West)
The Currituck’s divers are going over the side of the ship to check if North Vietnamese divers had concealed mines under the ship overnight. (photo by Raymond T. West)
The Currituck’s divers are going over the side of the ship to check if North Vietnamese divers had concealed mines under the ship overnight. (photo by Raymond T. West)

The SP-2Hs, SP-5Bs, and P-3Bs armed with 2.75 folded fin rockets were hard pressed to knock off the small sampan, loaded to the gunnels with supplies and equipped with a large outboard. They were very fast and nimble targets. But the SP-5Bs armed with four M60 machine guns, one at the forward and aft hatch on each side of the fuselage made short work of the spirited craft. More than one Charlie was seen abandoning ship when faced with a Marlin skimming across the wave tops heading his way. The squadron did not lose any planes or crew members in carrying out these patrols.

Marlins at anchor in Cam Ranh Bay as seen through the windshield of another SP-5B. (photo by Raymond T. West)
Marlins at anchor in Cam Ranh Bay as seen through the windshield of another SP-5B. (photo by Raymond T. West)

By January 1967, VP-50 had returned to Sangley Point for a final month of operations before returning home to North Island. On 6 January, 1967 we launched Crew 13 on a ROCKEX (Rocket Firing Exercise) with a Marlin loaded with 5 inch HVAR rockets. One of the rockets exploded on the wing during lunch. The wing broke off the aircraft and the Marlin fell into the sea killing all ten of the crew. The Navy surmised that the rocket had been either dropped or mishandled in storage, causing the solid propellant to fracture. This caused the rocket to explode on ignition while still on the rail. After this incident, the Navy stopped using the 5 inch HVAR rocket.”

A young AX2 Ray West on the deck of the Currituck with the coast of Vietnam and a Marlin in the back ground. (photo via Raymond T. West)
A young AX2 Ray West on the deck of the Currituck with the coast of Vietnam and a Marlin in the back ground. (photo via Raymond T. West)

WN: VP-50’s deployment would be the penultimate in Marlin operations, with VP-40 making the type’s final sortie in November, 1967. Sadly, of the 250 or so examples to see service, there is only one complete survivor known to exist, SP-5B Bu.135533 currently on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. The image below shows this aircraft landing after her final operational flight, although her actual final flight was in to Pensacola.

A U.S. Navy Martin SP-5B Marlin (BuNo. 135533) of patrol squadron VP-40 Fighting Marlins landing after its last operational flight in San Diego Bay on 6 November 1967. It is now on display at the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola, Florida (USA). (photo via Wikipedia)
A U.S. Navy Martin SP-5B Marlin (BuNo. 135533) of patrol squadron VP-40 Fighting Marlins landing after its last operational flight in San Diego Bay on 6 November 1967. It is now on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida (USA). (photo via Wikipedia)

WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Raymond T. West for writing in, and for the generous use of his images. We are especially grateful to Will Tate for his help in the story as well!

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8 Comments

  1. I just love stories about “Big Ugly Round Engine Airplane”. Thanks for sharing, would like to see more. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Bob, what a gallant bird you flew! Proud to know you, the man that wore the best looking gold wing a guy could! My wings took me to the air for Fed Ex, and that was my claim to fame.

  3. I was there with you ,I road the ship from PI to Cam Ranh Bay. I was a AME work in the PR shop. Was you there when they drop a flare in the the boat we use to get from one plane to another, I had just got off to check the life raft and other gear when it happened. I love your story it sure brought back a lot of memories. Thanks

  4. I was there with VP-50’s last deployment to Cam Ranh Bay. Served for twenty and live in Payette, Idaho. Very nicely done article.As a side note, I was scheduled to go ahead of crew 13 the day they went in; As plane captain I ran the engines up on my crew’s plane and had too many fouled plugs to launch with. I worked the plugs and while I was doing that crew 13 took our HVAR’s and went flying. We loaded the next ones and went out and fired them with no incident. on our way back we were diverted to the range to see if we could find SG13. All we found was debris. Sad memories.

  5. Great story. I wondered where vp-50 went after I war separeted. I was in vp-50 from 1962 to 1965 crew 9 panel operator. Great experience!

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