"Pilots, Man Your Planes!"   
                                         WWII U.S. Naval Aviation Collector's Guide                                                                              
 
Navy V. D. Goggles   
Seen in flight over the Bay of Biscay, this aircrewman stands by to man the .50 caliber machinegun in the left waist position of a PB4Y-1 from VB-103. The heavy bombing squadron was tasked with anti-submarine patrol and was subject to aerial interception from German Ju-88C-6 long-range fighter-bombers based in France. With the help of his variable density goggles and a pair of 7x50 binoculars if needed, his primary duty is to scan the air and sea for any sign of enemy activity. The improved visibility afforded by the open waist windows came at the cost of constant exposure to the cold air of the slipstream, countered here with an electrically heated flying suit (with attached electric gloves and boots) and a fleece lined NAF-1092W flight helmet.

    
Below:  Attention is now shifted to something on the starboard side of the aircraft and the binoculars are deployed for a closer look. Seated, the plane's navigator studies his chart while gnawing on his pencil. Although only one man here wears his life vest, the others would have theirs within easy reach, if needed. The headsets in use appear to be the A.A.F. HS-33 type.

The view from the waist window, showing the glare encountered when searching sea, sky and coastline on even a moderately sunny day.
Above:  The HS-33 headset, fitted with black rubber TC-66 earcups, worn over an NAF-1092W, as seen in our vintage photos. The navigator appears to have the red rubber cups fitted to his headset. Both are identically marked and were made by the Miller Rubber Co. (of Akron, Ohio) on a sub-contract for Telephonics Corp.   


Below:  Aircraft "B-8" / "H", Bureau No. 32200, of VB-103, on the hardstand at NAF Dunkeswell, Devonshire, England. The Erco bow turret proved effective in suppressing enemy anti-aircraft fire if the plane was attacking a surfaced U-Boat.

The crew of "B-8" / "H", the subject of our photos at the top of the page. Standing, from left to right, is the navigator, patrol plane commander (LT Kunnert) and second pilot (an enlisted NAP) with the remaining being enlisted crewmen. Our left waist-gunner is standing second from right. Note that the enlisted men are wearing RAF battledress. Their normal casual working wear, consisting of a blue chambray shirt and dungaree trousers, was not considered a "proper" military uniform by the Germans. To avoid the risk of being shot as a spy if captured, the battledress was handed out as an expedient uniform. In most cases, small American shoulder-flags and/or wool ratings were applied. Typical headwear with this uniform was the wool watch cap, but on occasion, white "dixie-cups" have also been seen. The flight gear is all conventional Navy issue clothing and equipment.

Our vintage photos of VB-103 were taken by David E. Sherman, in January of 1944, for Life Magazine and are part of the series "Bay Patrol".

To learn more about VB-103, the other squadrons that were part of Navy Fleet Air Wing 7, and their base in England, please visit the web site of the Dunkeswell Memorial Museum at  http://dmm103105110.btck.co.uk .

Above:  A closer look at the American flag patch that, in this instance, was hand sewn to the battledress blouse of the second pilot.

Below:  The flag appears to be the type that was printed on a cheescloth material and is of the same size as one variation of the flag worn by some airborne troops. This example is from the collection of "Goz".  
Above:  Not wanting to give the wrong impression, that V.D. goggles were only used by crew members, we include this shot of a VB-103 pilot, which unfortunately, is out of focus.

Below:  These goggles were featured in a news letter given to AO factory workers. As witnessed by the note written to war workers at American Optical by the Chief of the Bureau of Ships, they did their job well.
Above:  No doubt, the majority of use seen by these goggles was by lookouts aboard ships at sea. The following is quoted from the "LOOKOUT MANUAL" by the Bureau of Naval Personnel, NavPers 170069:

"A type of goggle used by some lookouts is the variable density polaroid goggle. The lookout can adjust them to admit a comfortable amount of light, regardless of the brightness of the part of the sky he is searching. By adjusting the goggles to their greatest degree of density he can search the area around the sun with perfect ease. However, goggles should never be adjusted "too dark" as the range of visibility of objects would be decreased." 

The color image above is a screen capture from footage taken off the Normandy coast on 6/9/44 and shows a U.S. Coast Guard lookout using an example of the early goggles with a rubber strap. The clip shows him using the adjusting knob as he swivels his head to scan the sky.

Below:  Drawings from the patent application, filed May 4, 1942. The stated purpose was to provide an anti-glare goggle with stationary lenses (the front pair) to polarize light and to vary the density of light transmission by rotating the rear lenses via a lever-arm arrangement used to control the lens system with a single manipulation of the control knob. When fully rotated, the lenses turn red. This not only promotes night vision, but also enhances the viewing of tracer fire.  As mentioned on the previous page, both of these features would seem vital to an Avenger turret gunner flying at night. Even the suppressed muzzle flash of the .50 calibre gun, only a few feet from the gunner's face, could prove blinding if his eyes were not suitably protected.

Above:  The goggle disassembled, to show the dual-lens system. The fixed lens remains in place. The thin rubber ring separated the surface of the two lenses, while the metal ring served as a spring to provide friction on the rear movable lens.

Below:  We don't know how he acquired them, but U.S.A.A.F. Brigadier General Robert F. Travis, on the left, has a pair of "Navy" V.D. goggles. He was the commander of the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing of the 1st Air Division of the Eight Air Force. On this day, he flew as co-pilot in the 303rd BG, 359th BS's ship "The 8 Ball" (a B-17F), which carried the lead crew of the entire Division force that attacked the Focke-Wulf plant at Oschersleben, January 11, 1944. He is seen here after their safe return from this very harrowing and costly mission, shaking hands with his pilot, Lt Col W.R. Calhoun, Jr.

Bottom:  The very common Army Ground Forces version have a red "flip shield" for use when following tracer fire.

We hope that now, after reading through this article, you see the V.D. goggles in a new light and will consider adding a pair of these unsung-heroes to your Naval aviation collection. We think they deserve it.
Above:  While combing the photo archives of the National Museum of Naval Aviation's web site, doing research for another article, we ran across this image. Aboard CV-17, USS Bunker Hill, F6F-3 Hellcats from VF-8 are seen warming up before a mission in support of the Saipan landings on D-Day, June 15, 1944. Our attention is drawn to the aircraft in the foreground, #18. The squadron insignia, in decal form, is visible on the engine cowling.

Below:  What caught our eye was the choice of goggles worn by the unidentified pilot of plane #18. He is clearly wearing V.D. goggles. Enlarging the image allows us to discern the gray rubber face mask, black front, side ventilator and central adjusting knob that are unique characteristics of these goggles. This is the first photographic evidence we have found of these goggles in use by the pilot of a VF aircraft in the PTO.

Bottom:  An amazing new find. Here is LCDR Ronald W. Hoel,  VF-8's XO (and a 5 victory ace), in a photo taken during the same cruise on the Bunker Hill in the summer of 1944. His V.D. goggles are worn with an intermediate leather helmet of either the AN-6540L, or AN-6541 type.
Above:  Gun drill aboard USS Shipley Bay, a Casablanca Class escort carrier, as she moves toward Okinawa in the Spring of 1945. The lack of life jackets or belts tells us this is just a drill, but she would soon see plenty of action in the life and death battle against the massed Kamikaze attacks that were to be unleashed against the fleet. The pointer and trainer, both equipped with VD goggles, track their target across the sun with impunity, their eyes being well protected. Our thanks to Dustin for this image from the National Archives.