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Ownership Of The Night
CSC 1989
SUBJECT AREA - Operations
                                          Major Bron Madrigan
                        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
THESIS:  With the introduction ov the AV-8B and the F/A-18D night
attack variants, it is worthwile to take a look at where the
Marine Corps has been with night specific missions to better
predict where we are going.
     The real history of Marine night aviation begins with the
Marine study of tactics and equipment used by the RAF before US
entry into World War II.  Much was learned from the British, and
their approach to nignt fighting would influence the early
development of Marine night specific units.
     The emphasis on the night fighting capability came after
the assault on Guadalcanal.  The Japanese harassed the weary
Marines at night with aerial bombing missions; consequently, all
efforts were made to train and equip units so as to rush them out
to the Pacific theater.
     In addition to the many night fighter squadrons, some night
bombing squadrons were also formed.  These squadrons were
equipped with PBJ's (B-25's), and were retro-fitted with radars.
It is reported that a Marine PBJ flew the last combat mission of
the war.
     The years between the wars saw a massive scale down in
procurement and force size.  The most notable exception was tne
development of a fighter that was designed as such from the
ground up.  What makes this even more notable was that this
airplane was jet powered.  The F3D Skynight would not be ready
for the bulk of the Korean war but would see action until the
late 60's.
     The Korean war reinforced the idea that air warfare would
have to become a 24 hour affair.  Even so, most of the missions
flown by Marine night squadrons were flown during the daytime.
Close Air Support was the main mission of Marine air to include
the night specific squadrons.
     Vietnam was unique in that the night missions became routine
for most squadrons and missions.  Technology was beginning to
catch up with the need to be able to operate efficiently at
SUMMARY: Technology has now reached the point where night
operations can be accomplished with great efficiency.  This
specialization requires different aircraft capabilities than
found in the regular squadrons.  As was seen in World War II, the
need for additional training in the night environment utilizing
night specific instrumentation and sensors is necessry to
preserve assets and to accomplish the mission.
                                                Major Bron Madrigan
                     OWNERSHIP OF THE NIGHT
      With the introduction of the AV-8B and the F/A-18D night
attack variants, it is worthwhile to take a look at where the
Marine Corps has been with night specific missions to better
predict where we are going.
1.  History of Night Aviation.
      A.  WW II night attack and night fighters.
          (1) The need for night fighters in the pacific.
          (2) Evolution of training and employment.
          (3) Lessons learned.
      B.  Korea
          (1) Prop aircraft to the Jet age.
      C.  Vietnam
          (1) The absence of the night squadrons.
2.  Present Technology.
      A.  Lessons learned in past conflicts.
      B.  Present and future need to use the night.
                                        Major Bron Madrigan
                      OWNERSHIP OF THE NIGHT
     In 1911 there were few military aviator, but of those that
were stationed in the Washington area, many had Jobs in the
Washington Navy yard or the Washington barracks and perfored
their flying duties out in College Park, Maryland.  It was not
abnormal to go into work at 6 a.m., stay there until 9 a.m. or
so, and and then go to College Park to fly. Once finished, they
would go back to Washington for a few hours and then return out
to the airfield for the afternoon training flights.
     On a brisk November day in 1911, Captain Charles Chandler
took off from College Park destined for the Naval Academy.
The Army-Navy game was that day and Captain Chandler did not want
to miss it.  After the game was over, he mounted his aeronautical
steed only to find that the engine was malfunctioning.  By the
time that the mechanics had  fixed the engine, it was after 7
p.m. and not wishing to remain overnight, he took off in hopes of
making it back to Collage Park before dark.  Unfortunately, the
tail wind that had asssisted his morning flight had become a
brick headwind for his evening return.  It was soon dark and
Captain Chandler was still miles from College Park.
0wnership of the Night
     By following the signal lights on the B and O railroad, he
was able to navigate back to College Park where the ground crew
was waiting to light the gas and oil that had been poured around
the airfield. Using the fire as a reference, Captain Chandler
safely landed his biplane and became the first military aviator
to execute a night mission.1
     With the introduction of the AV-8B and the F/A-18 night
attack variants, it is worthwhile to take a look at where the
Marine Corps has been with night specific missions to better
predict where we are going.  A look at this issue will mainly
consist of Marine Corps night aviation history with a special
emphasis on lessons that can be learned from the past as
it relates to training and employment.
   1Steve Tillman, " Army-Navy Football Game Gave Birth to Night Flying"
Army-Navy Review. vol.78: Nov 23, 1957
Ownership of the Night
History of Niaht Specific Aviation
     World War II.
     Not much is written about missions that were flown at night
prior to the introduction of reliable all weather instruments in
the 193O's. The pioneers of those days were the mail pilots that
plied the airways between the east and west coast navigating from
light beacon to light beacon. In the Marine Corps, aviation
thinkers were developing new and innovative tactics and ideas.
Much was learned from the first deployments to France in 1917,
the air races that captivated the publics attention in the
1920's, and the Marine involvement in the Carribean, China, and
Central Africa in the 2O's and 3O's.1 It wasn't until World
War II that a squadron was formed with the primary purpose of
providing night support. A very significant occurence happened
before the war, in August of 1941, that would shape the future of
Marine night squadrons.  The Chief, Bureau of Aeronautics ordered
the installation of the British Mk II ASV search radar into a
Navy TBF.  It was further directed that a Mk IV radar be
installed in a SBD aircraft and later installed in a F4U.  This
was remarkable because it was the first installation of an air
   1Willian Odell, Col. USAF, "The Development of Night Fighters in World War
II" Naval History  vol. 3, no. 1.
Ownership of the Night
intercept radar in small, single engine Naval aircraft.1  The
early testing of the radar sets provided a sound foundation for
future developeents of the Naval service night fighters.
     In April of 1942, the Navy established a unit at NAS Quonset
Point under the code name of Project Argus. This codename was
later changed to Project Affirm to eliminate confusion between
two elements of the project. This project was the first night
fighter developeent unit and its purpose was to develop and test
night fighter equipment for the Navy and the Marine Corps.2
     In August of 1942, the first full scale amphibious assault
took place on Guadalcanal. The historical significance of
Guadalcanal as it pertains to Marine night specific aviation, is
that the Japanese flew many aissions at night to harass and
interdict the beleagured Marines. The Cactus Air Force, as it was
named, under the command of General Roy S. Geiger, flew missions
against these invaders but the capabilities of the day fighters
were limited against the night agressors. These night attacks
provided new impetus to the fledgling night fighter program.
     In November, 1942, the first Naval service squadron that had
night capability as its primary mission was commissioned at MCAS
   1NAVAIR 00-SOP-1, United States Naval Aviation 1910-1980,
COMNAVAIRSYSCOM and DCNO (Air Warfare), 1981.
   2Ibid. pg. 114
Ownership of the Night
Cherry Point, North Carolina. VMF(N)-531 was its designation and
Lieutenant Colonel Frank H. Schwable was its first Commanding
Officer. Lt Col Schwable was one of the Marine aviators that was
assigned to learn about night fighting in Britain. He brought
back to the US the plans and working models of the British Mark
IV radar1.  Others were along that initial cadre and learned
much about British night fighting capabilities and about Ground
Controlled Intercepts (GCI).
     The next decision was what kind of aircraft was to be the
first night fighter.  The first choice of the Marine Corps was
the USAAF's P-61 Black Widow that was designed and built from the
ground up as a night fighter. Unfortunately, there was not a
great enough production capability to support two service runs.
Additionally, there was some parochialism involved because it was
not a carrier capable aircraft.  The next choice was the P-70
which was the aircraft the USAAF was using on Guadalcanal to stop
the night harasseent flights.  It was determined that the P-70
was not suitable for the mission as the USAAF pilots were
finding out.  They ended up taking the radar out of the aircraft
and attacking their prey by use of ground searchlights.  The A-20
was also considered but was also rejected.  The F4U Corsair was
considered for the role but it was determined that it wasn't
   1Peter P. Mersky U.S. Marine Corps Aviation: 1912 to the Present, Annapolis,
Md. Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America. 1983
Ownership of the Night
ready yet.  The SB2C Helldiver was rejected for much the same
     In the early stages of this concept there was a strong
lobby for a night fighter much like the British had.  They
proposed a two engined, multi-crew aircraft; consequently, the
British Beaufighter and Mosquito were nominated for the role but
were rejected because the policy makers wanted the fighter to be
of American manufacture.  The PV-1 was finally selected to become
the first Naval night fighter. The Vega Ventura was a stable gun
platform and had plenty of room for the radar and its operator.
It also had room for a radio operator and a turret gunner.  A
turret was on the top and sported two .50 cal machine guns with
four .50 cal machine guns installed in the nose. The Ventura's
shortcomings were that it had an electrical system that was at
best tempermental and it could not fly high enough to accomplish
the mission effectively. The poor oxygen system was a partial
limiting factor to the altitude cap and the aircraft had to
struggle to get above 15,000 even with its top turret and guns
removed.  The PV-1 would do in a pinch and would provide valuable
lessons learned for the squadrons that would follow but it was
certainly not an adequate answer.
     It is interesting to note that the Marine Corps night
fighter program was almost stillborn at its inception.  In
January of 1942, Capt. Ralph Davison  of the Navy's Aeronautical
Ownership of the Night
Board wrote. " The Job of Marines is to seize a beachhead and
hold it until replaced by the Army.  To do this, night fighters
will be an absolute necessity."1  With this sort of
endorsement, Marine night fighter proponents were dumbfounded
when they found out that the Commandant's office approved eight
squadrons to be activated in 1945 and no sooner.  It was only
with some very dedicated advocacy that VMF(N)-531 was eventually
     On April 1, 1943, the second night fighter squadron was
commissioned as was the first night fighter group. These were
VMF(N)-532 and Marine Night Fighter Group-53. The first Navy
night fighter squadron, VF(N)-75, was formed 10 days later.  Both
squadrons were outfitted with the F4U Corsair, which was being
equipped with the APS-6 radar. This change to a single seat,
single engine fighter was a major divergence in previous
thinking. Perhaps the change came about because it was recognized
that the defense of the carrier battle group would have to become
a 24 hour affair and any Naval service night fighter would have
to be carrier capable.
     In the meantime, VMF(N)-531 was deployed to the Pacific
theater with their PV-1's and their GCI crews. So it became
history that a Marine squadron became the first Naval service
   1Bruce Porter Col. USMC(Ret) with Eric Hammel Ace!: A Marine
Night-Fighter Pilot in World War II. (Pacifica, Ca.: Pacifica Press)1985
Ownership of the Night
night specific squadron to see action in the Pacific.1 VF(N)-75
followed closely behind and acheived the first kill in October of
1943.  This was the first American kill at night utilizing an
airborne radar and a Ground Controlled Intercept team.  The
Marines shared a portion of that claim since it was a VMF(N)-531
GCI team that performed the intercept. It wasn't until December
of that year that VMF(N)-531 scored a night kill.
     A number of squadrons were outfitted with the special
Corsair with the APS-6 radar and operated in the Pacific theater.
These aircraft differed not only in the fact that they had a
radar, but they had exhaust flame dampners, VHF radio, 5 instead
of 6 machine guns, and a fairly new system called an IFF
(Identification, Friend/Foe).  The Corsair wasn't the only
aircraft to see action as a night fighter. The F6F Hellcat was
developed into a night fighter initially with the APS-6 radar and
then with the upgraded APS-13.  As time went on, operation of the
radars became more user friendly.2 In addition to the new
radars, other innovations were included in the Hellcat
conversions.  Special lighting and low detectible paint schemes
were now being added to the night fighter.
     Near the end of the war, the F7F Tigercat was designated as
   1Ibid pg. 183
   2Porter,  Ace!  pg 270-275
Ownership of the Night
the optimum replacement for all of the night fighters  but would
not see action in World War II. It represented the state of the
art in night fighting capability when it was introduced.
     Night air to air combat was not the only arena for night
specific aircraft and squadrons. Many times the VMB squadrons
were overlooked because their mission just simply wasn't the
sexiest story to tell.
     In 1943, the North American production line had produced
more B-25s than the USAAF could absorb. The Marine Corps happily
absorbed eight squadrons worth of these B-25s and five squadrons
saw action in the Pacific theater. The (N) designation was not
added to the squadron designation, but the mission was mainly
the night bombing of enemy logistics installations and shipping.
This B-25 was designated the PBJ-1, and the night versions were
models D/H/J. These squadrons were deployed in 1943 and saw such
action in the Solomons, Marianas, Iwo Jima, and in Japan itself.
It is recorded that a Marine PBJ flew the last combat mission of
the war on a shipping raid to Yokusuka.*
   *  It is interesting to note that one of the most notable VMB squadrons was
commanded by Mad Jack Cram who in 1942, on Guadalcanal, jury rigged two
torpedoes to the underside of General Geiger's personal PBY. He then sank a
Japanese troop ship. General Geiger threatened to have Mad Jack courtmartialed
if he got as such as a scratch on his PBY. Mad Jack Cram was eventually awarded
the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal.
Ownership of the Night
     While discussing the night flyers of WW II, it is necessary
to address the formation of the training structure and bases that
were used to train the night fighters.
     As was previously mentioned, the US Navy began the
experimeent with Project Affirm. Out of that project came the
first training and evaluation unit based at the Naval facility at
Quonset Point. Its head was Commander W.E.G. Taylor who was a
member of the famed Eagle Squadron in the U.K. during the Battle
of Britain. Project Argus/Affirm was primarily concerned with
development and experimentation. In August of 1943 the project
name was changed to the Night Fighter Training Unit and moved to
Charleston, Rhode Island. At the same time, the Marine Corps had
already begun their training at MCAS Cherry Point, North
Carolina; however, it is uncertain what, if any, cross training
was accomplished. The Navy expanded the unit to becose the Night
Attack and Combat Training Unit (Atlantic/Pacific). The Marine
Corps further expanded its training program to include the
training bases at Vero Beach, and Opa Locka, Florida; and at El
Centro, Goleta, and North Island, California. A pilot was
assigned to Cherry Point for initial night fighter indoctrination
and then assigned to a work-up squadron. Normally that squadron
would be brought up to speed and then assigned combat duty in the
Pacific theater.
     In October of 1944, it was decided that two Marine Air
Ownership of the Night
Groups would be formed and deployed aboard two escort carriers
since the Marine Corps had such a surplus of aviators and
aircraft. These became MCVGs (Marine Carrier Air Wings) 48 and
51.  The composition included a detachment of nine night fighters
that were assigned to each MCVG. In order to properly prepare for
night operations aboard a carrier, each detachment was assigned
to the Night Attack and Combat Training Unit(Pacific).  By this
time, all Night Fighter squadrons of both services went through
night carrier qualifications with NATCU(Pac).  Many of the
problems that were initially encountered can be attributed to the
relative inexperience of its pilots. For example, almost 80% of
the first pilots in VMF(N)-544 were right out of the Training
Command. As a result many were killed because of the limited
training in instrument flying.1 A great amount of instrument
training became the main focus of the program at Cherry Point and
in subsequent training. Many other problems can be attributed to
the lack of focus in regards to selecting the service-standard
night fighter. This caused many logistical and training problems
for support crews. It wasn't until 1944 that the Bureau of
Aeronautics decided upon the F6F Hellcat as the service-standard
night fighter.
   1Bruce Porter, Ace! pg 182-19O
Ownership of the Night
     The years between the war naturally saw a great draw down in
equipment and personnel.  There were some programs that received
emphasis, but many did not. The Marine Corps received very little
money for aviation during those years while the new Air Force
seemed to be getting all that it wanted; consequently, the Marine
Corps went into the Korean war with only a few jet squadrons.
When the call for mobilization went out, the Marine Corps quickly
responded with Marine Air Group 33. The group consisted of
VMF-214 and 323, VMF(N)-513, Tactical Air Control Sqd. 2, Marine
Ground Control Sqd. 1, and VMO-6.  The "Flying Nightmares" of
VMF(N)-513 flew F7F Tigercats which were specially modified with
an air to air radar.  The "Blacksheep" of 214 and the "Death
Rattlers" of 323 were outfitted with the penultimate prop
fighter, the Corsair.  These units flew their missions from the
USS Sicily and the USS Badoeng Strait respectively.  VMF(N)-513
flew their missions at the beginning of the war from Itazuke,
Japan.  VMF(N)-542 later joined 513 once Kimpo airfield was
uncovered after the Inchon landings.1 The Night squadrons
provided night air defense and provided much needed air support
   1LtCol. C.A. Phillips and Maj. H.D. Kuokka, "First MAW in Korea", Marine
Corps Gazette, vol. 41 no. 5 May 1957. p.42-47
Ownershipo of the Night
during the day and at night.  Most of the air defense during the
day was done by the US Air Force.
     During this time period, the first jet night fighter was
being produced.  What made this aircraft unique was that it was
being designed as a night fighter fromi the ground up, jet or
otherwise.  This aircraft was the F3D Skyknight.  Many would come
to know it as the DRUT or "Willie the Whale."  The terms were not
altogether complimentary but the "Whale" would go on to see
honorable service in Vietnam up until 1969 as an electronics
warfare platform.
     Night close air support was receiving much attention
during Korea as well.  Target acquisition remained the major
problem.  New ways of trying to accomplish night acquisition were
experimented with.  One such experiment using searchlights to
illuminate targets was conducted off of the coast of Korea to see
if it was a viable solution for target acquisition.  Airborne
searchlights also were tried with only limited success.  It seems
that the use of air delivered or artillery delivered flares were
attempted but they proved too dim to be useful.  The use of radar
direction was also attempted but results were inconclusive.
     The most significant events of the conflict that would
influence the future of the Marine Corps were the tactical use of
Ownership of the Night
helicopters, and the need to be able to fight at night.  Korea
changed the importance of night warfare.  The Chinese owned the
night and we were terrified by it.  Seneral Bruce Livesey
commented at a recent speaking engagement to the Command and
Staff College at Quantico about this very subject.  Recounting
his experiences in Korea as a ground commander, he swore that he
would do all that he could do in the future to ensure that
Americans would be able to use the night as effectively as the
enemy did.
     The years after Korea saw the fading away of the Night
squadrons.  The missions did not necesearily go away but the need
to accomplish the mission at night became integral to the fighter
and attack missions.  The exception was the F3D previously
mentioned which primarily flew at night since that is when many
of the attack packages to North Vietnam were flown.  Night became
a cover for an aircraft that was neither fast nor maneuverable.
Many of the other missions that were flown at night were because
of the ability of the North Vietnasese and the Viet Cong to
resupply at night.  Again, the enemy was using the cover of night
to its advantage.
     US technology came a long way to aid the aviators in
Cwnership of the Night
accomplishing their mission.  Night vision devices and infrared
technology made great advances during the South East Asian
conflict.  It wasn't until later in the war that the Navy would
introduce an aircraft that was engineered primarily for night
     In the late 60's the Navy developed a derivitive of their
A-6 aircraft based upon the TRIM (trails, roads, interdiction,
multi-sensor) program.  The A-6C was developed with new sensors
that would enable it to search, acquire, and destroy targets in
North Vietnam, and along the enemy's major north-south resupply
     The night vision goggles were first introduced during
Vietnam but were not used in the front line units.  Their use
were mainly for specialized units.
     Post Vietnam to Present
     The advance of technology has made a big impact on the
ability to conduct night operations.  For the most part, all of
these technological gains have resulted in the enhanced
capability to conduct night operations across the board.  The use
of Forward Looking Infrared Receivers (FLIR) and night vision
   1"Night Warfare A-6's" Armed Forces Journal, vol.1O6 no. 23, S Feb. 1969
0wnership of the Night
goggles have closed the gap in Marine capability to operate as
freely at night as we do during daytime.  The gap is still open
but will close with the re-introduction of night specific
aircraft such as the F~A-1SD and the AV-S (Night Attack).  These
aircraft will not necesearily be restricted to night operations,
but are optimized for night missions.
     The amount of specific hardware and software that is
required to optimize an aircraft for enhanced capability at
night, would make it prohibitive to include in all aircraft of a
common type.  This realization brings the issue full circle to
what it was in the early days of WW II.
     The current night minimums for most Marine pilots are not
nearly enough to make the proficient in night attack missions.
As was proven in the night fighter squadrons during the 40's, the
need for added training at night and on instruments is a must to
preserve assets.  In addition to the basics which are taught
at all levels of training, the added time needed to train
utilizing FLIR, night vision devices, and other such tools is a
     The need to be able to conduct air operations at night has
become a priority for a numbers or reasons.  In many cases it is
a matter of survival.  The capabilities of the enemy's threat
Ownership of the Night
systems drive our air operations into the night environment.
This is very true when speaking of helicopter operations.  Night
air defense must always be a 24 hour proposal and goes without
saying.  Night close air support and interdiction has been done
for years and continues to be of foremost importance.  It is no
longer enough to be able to just conduct some operations at
night, it is now necessary to conduct these missions at night as
effectively and efficiently as is done during the day.  One can
say that the same is true for missions flown during times of bad
weather; however, the current capability is only available with
the A-6E with its RABFAC equipment.  This capability is still
     The historical parallels are a true judge of where we need
to focus to maximize training efforts.  Time is a dimension that
is a concern of the ground commander, and he needs to have the
means of which to influence dimension.  Aircraft that can
effectively accomplish the mission at night will provide the
commander the means to own the night.
1. Mersky, Peter P. U.S. Marine Corps Aviation: 1912 to Present.
          Annapolis: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Co. of
          America, 1983
2. NAVAIRSYSCOM. Naval Aviation 1910-1980. NAVAIR 00-80P-1, 1981
3. Odell, William Col. USAF(Ret). "The Development of Night
          Fighters in World War II."  Naval History vol 3, no 1,
          Naval Institute Press, 1989.
4. Porter, Bruce R., Hammel, Eric. Ace! A Marine Night-Fighter
          Pilot in World War II. Pacifica Ca.: Pacifica Press,
5. Sherrod, Robert. History of Marine Corps Aviation in World
          War II. 2nd Ed. San Raphael, Ca.: Presidio Press, 1980.
6. Tillman, Steve "Army-Navy Football Game Gave Birth to Night
          Flying." Army Navy  Review. vol 78, Nov 23 1957.

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