"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 Navy Spits
      VCS-7 In Normandy

 
As a result of the unacceptably high losses suffered by the Navy's gunfire-support spotting aircraft at the hands of the German Luftwaffe and anti-aircraft fire during the invasions of Sicily and Salerno in 1943, the planners of Operation Neptune sought to increase their survivability with an improvement in equipment. The agreed upon solution was to re-equip a U.S. Navy scouting squadron, which would become  part of the Air Spotting Pool (comprised of four Royal Navy and five R.A.F. squadrons), and to replace the slow Curtis SOC Seagull and Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes previously flown from the battleships and cruisers with 20 landbased Spitfire Mk Vb aircraft borrowed from the British. In preparation for the Normandy landings, the newly formed Cruiser Scouting Squadron Seven, with 17 pilots and 40 enlisted men, under the temporary command of LT Robert W. Calland, began the transition in February 1944, under the tutelage of the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group of the 9th U.S.A.A.F. (which also flew Spitfires) at Middle Wallop, Hampshire. With the prescribed 35-hour course of training being completed in only three weeks on May 28th, VCS-7 was declared operational  and relocated to the Royal Naval Air Station at Lee-on-Solent, at which time LCDR William  Denton, Jr. assumed command of the unit. From their new home, they would provide air spotting for the fire support ships of the Western Naval Task Force which would land the U.S. First Army on Utah and Omaha Beaches.

A typical gun-spotting mission was carried out by a two plane section, with the lead aircraft acting as the spotter and his wingman protecting them from enemy interception. Standard operational altitude was 6,000 feet, but the poor weather often encountered could force them to drop down to 1,500 feet or lower at times. The Spitfires were fitted with a 35 gallon auxiliary "slipper" fuel tank which allowed flights of up to two hours duration, 45 minutes of which were on station and pilots flew two or three hops a day.

From D-Day, June 6, 1944 until June 26, when the naval bombardment of Cherbourg was terminated, VCS-7 Spitfires flew 191 sorties. One pilot, LT Robert M. Barclay, was killed in action on 6/6/44 (while flying his second sortie of the day) when shot down by anti aircraft fire. Nine aircraft are believed to have been lost to all causes before the squadron was disbanded.

If you study the photos of the VCS-7 pilots, you will notice their extensive use of  R.A.F. flight gear and clothing. Of the seven pilots we have photos of, you will see the type C flying helmet with British earphones and cords and type G oxygen masks used as microphone carriers (no oxygen tube fitted), which was a common British practice for low altitude flight. The R.A.F. pattern 1941 Mae West and 1943 escape boots appear to have been favored by many as well. U.S. Navy equipment seen consisted primarily of AN-6530 or Polaroid 1021 goggles, A-14 oxygen masks (also without oxygen tube), B-4 vests, intermediate or winter flight jackets, summer flying gloves, summer flight suits and .38 cal. revolvers carried in shoulder holsters. Both R.A.F. seat parachutes and Navy QAS parachutes are noted.


Below:  When not in flying kit, the squadron pilots wore a variety of service uniforms befitting the changing temperatures of the late spring and early summer English weather.  We can observe the aviation working greens, winter blues, summer khakis and even Royal Navy officer's battledress, adorned with U.S. Navy buttons and rank insignia (standing, third from left). Due to the poor quality of this photo it cannot be determined if the pilot standing, fourth from left, is wearing a modified R.A.F or British Army battledress blouse with his khaki trousers.

Middle:  A VCS-7 Seagull, seen in mid or late 1943.

Bottom:  The fire support element of the Western Task Force included six capital ships from which the VCS-7 pilots were sellected. The battleships Nevada (seen here), Texas and Arkansas and the cruisers Quincey, Augusta and Tuscaloosa.

Last:  The view inland from Utah Beach to the flooded Norman fields, 6/6/44. This would have been a familiar sight to the spotter pilots.