"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
Guide The Way
The Taylor Gydeway Compass
Below is a composite photo we made while still trying to ID the compass. An internet photo was changed to black and white, resized and manipulated to approximate the Norfolk compass. Satisfied we had a match (except for the previously mention "needle" issue), the hunt was on.

And the winner is.....................the needle-less version of the Gydeway compass, as seen below. The majority you see will be the needled variety and will occasionally be found with the original box as seen in the auction photos here. Thanks to a copy of the instruction sheet that was packaged with the compasses, we now know that what we have been calling the "needle-less" version was actually called the "floating dial" type. This same source from Taylor also gives us the very simple reason why it was preferred for service use over the compass type that did have a needle:

"Some compasses shown are the floating dial type. These have the advantage over the needle type in that the dial is always set and ready for use."

Thanks to Dustin (see Collector Profile, Page 2) we now also have an idea of how the compass was packaged for the Navy. His research has uncovered a photo that was included in a 1943 report to the BuAero by VBS-19,  that gave their suggestions for improving the accessories of the two-man life raft. As seen below in an enlargement, and along with an M554 compass / match safe, a pocket knife, a length of cord, a whistle, a flashlight and a large pile of rice, we have none other than the commercial Gydeway compass box.

You can chalk this up to serendipitous confluence, or just plain old-fashioned detective work, but Dustin also found a report that helps explain why we almost always see the Gydeway being worn by a pilot in a highly visible and easily accessable location. If forced to bail out, or ditch, it's safe to say your compass would not be one of the first things you would need to have at hand.

We'll let LT Fisher, the Air Combat Intelligence Officer of VB-6 explain, using a part of  the narrative report he wrote as a supplement to the squadron's Air Combat Action reports (7/24/45-8/15/45) and on behalf of the Commander of Air Group Six while they were aboard U.S.S. Hancock: 

"The remote electric compass in the aircraft (SB2C-3) often fails due to vibration or to electric failure. The magnetic compass was often not installed calibrated. This compass is highly inaccurate due to many magnetic influences. The gyro compass continually precessed* and was of little use when the remote compass went out.
Equipment Compass: The little safety equipment compass carried on the life jacket proved accurate enough to navigate within YE** range on several occasions. It seemed to be influenced very little by the magnetic forces that fouled the regular aircraft magnetic compass."

There you have it! If, on occasion, a problem developed with both the magnetic compass and the gyro compass installed in the aircraft's instrument panel, the pilot had a simple, but effective, backup available to guide him back home.

We recently found a first-person account of one Helldiver pilot who fell victim to this type of equipment failure, but luckily for all concerned, was ready for the challenge:

THURMON: "The incident that I think about most, and is most interesting to me, occurred on Oct. 24, 1944, the day before our attack on the Japanese carriers. I was scheduled to go on a single plane search due north. I took off and noticed that on take off I was headed due north, so I settled back to endure a 4 hour flight, and I noticed that the sun was right in my eyes. That gave me pause for thought. I was going north in a late afternoon, and the sun was directly ahead! I checked my standby compass, and, sure enough, I was going due west. I called Stamm in the rear seat and told him that I would take a course that would intercept our intended track. I started a turn to the right, when Stamm said "Look down there at 2 o'clock." I looked, and saw enough green dye to dye the entire ocean, and at the head of the green streak was a yellow raft with two persons in it. We flew back to the carrier and dropped a note on deck (We were in radio silence.) telling them of the raft and bearing 270 degrees - 20 miles. They dispatched a destroyer to the spot and picked up LT E.E. Newman and his gunner, Robert S. Stanley. They had been shot down when returning from a flight to hit the battleships going down the "gut" west of the P.I.
The Lord had a lot to do with this, I am convinced. The compass stuck on due north was no accident."

LT Thurmon's*** account of his "standby compass" saving the day was found in this 138 page pdf format book, "The Voices of Bombing Nineteen", which recounts the wartime experiences of the men of VB-19 http://www.oocities.org/hse.geo/voices.pdf
We highly recommend you take the time to read it. The above mentioned VSB-19 was redesignated VB-19 in late 1943, so this is the same squadron that provided us, via Dustin, with a period photo of the Gydeway compass box. 

*In the context it is used here, the 
word "precessed" is the past tense of "precession", which refers to "the motion of a spinning body, such as a gyroscope, in which it wobbles so that the axis of rotation sweeps out a cone." 
So, the CAG-6 report above is saying the gyro compass continually "wobbled" and was of little use when the magnetic compass went out on the VB-6 Helldivers. 

** The Top Secret YE-ZB homing system was used by all US Navy carriers during WW2. "YE" used a morse code transmission of a particular letter for a particular bearing with a different letter denoting a 15 degree arc of a circle with the carrier at its center. Navy aircraft used the AN/ARR-2 UHF homing receiver (called "ZB") to pick up this signal. Pilots were given daily information so they would know which direction corresponded to each Morse letter.
"YE" was a UHF line-of-sight system with a 30 mile range, so the higher you flew, the better the reception. If the letter you were receiving changed, you knew you were moving tangentially to the transmission point. When you found the strongest signal, you followed it back to the ship. 

*** LT Norman Edwin Thurmon, USNR, was awarded a Navy Cross for his actions on the following day, 10/25/44, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, when his squadron was credited with sinking three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers. It is telling that he would consider his role in the rescue of two fellow squadron members as personally more memorable than his decoration worthy contibution to the largest naval battle in WW2.   
Above:  The vast majority of surviving examples you will see are the needle type with a red Bakelite case, however, the floating dial type is what you are looking for.

Below:  To complicate matters further, variations do exist. The compass at right below, has a case made in a very dark cordovan color plastic, which at a distance, appears to be black. This color is very similar to the shade found on WW 2 vintage Marine Corps leather items, for example, the brim of the barracks cover. When seen in a black and white photo, it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between the two colors. A green-cased example has also been seen, but the bright shade would appear to match that used for Girl Scout items of the era.
Below:  LCDR Frank J. Peterson, CO of VC-77, wears a Gydeway compass and whistle together on what appears to be a dog tag chain. He was K.I.A. on 2/19/45 when the TBM-1C he was piloting was hit by anti-aircraft fire while attacking ground targets on Iwo Jima. His plane was seen to crash off the island's coast with no survivors.