Memoirs of Robert W Marshall


Robert W. Marshall
 This is the training that I went through in the Navy V5 program in WWII

11/04/42-Enlisted  Naval Aviation Cadet #731-73-30 V5 Program   01/01/43 Went on active duty 01/01/43-Rensselaer Polytechnic , Albany, N.Y.  Bat. 1, Platoon 2, 
04/12/43-Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y.
07/12/43-University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Bat 31 Plat A1  10/12/43-Bunker Hill Navy Air Station, Bunker Hill, Ind. 
02/27/44-Saufley Field, Pensacola 
04/07/44-Whiting Field, Pensacola
05/31/44-Bronson Field, Pensacola
07/28/44-Commissioned  Ensign USNR,-Naval Aviator# 403139/1315 
08/14/44-Intermediate Flight Instructors School, Chevalier Field, Pensacola.
09/19/44-Basic Flight Instructor-Ellyson Field, Pensacola-Squadron  VN2D8-A 
06/30/45-Advanced Flight Instructor-Whiting Field, Pensacola-Squadron VN3D8
01/12/46-Honorable Release to Inactive Duty, Lt. J.G. Standby Reserves-Niagara Falls, N.Y. non pay
6/30/61-Honorable Discharge

When I retired from Upjohn Co. 1987,  I donated all my training books and gear to the Kalamazoo Air Museum. They thought they might make a display of Naval Air Training during WWII. I was asked if I would submit a write up of the sequence in my Cadet training years. What follows is, in most part that, report:

In  October of 1942, I was 19 years old and wanted to join the Navy as a pilot.  The war was going badly for the US.  The Navy needed pilots and  waved the requirement for two or more years of college if you could pass a series of mental and physical exams.  I walked into the Buffalo N.Y. Post Office and asked to sign up.  They administered a written quiz and a physical and I was told to go home and stay in school until called for a final testing in New York City.  On November 4, 1942 they sent me to New York City for three days of intensive mental tests, physical exams and a final board of review.  I passed and was sworn in as a Naval Cadet V5.  The V5 program was an all new program. Our group was called “The Buffalo Bombers” . They had a big send off dinner for us with our fathers at the Statler Hotel, Buffalo N.Y.  There were lots of Navy brass, reporters, and film crews and speeches.  We were battalion #1 the first to go through the V5 program.  So new that when we arrived at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, at Albany, N.Y. the only uniform we had was a black sweater, rejected Marine pants (off color pink), army boots, a hat, and a V5 pin.  

Rensselaer Polytechnic , Albany, N.Y.  Bat. 1, Platoon 2 -The  program here was two periods of physical education.  One from 10:30 to 11:50 in the morning and 4:00 to 5:15 in the afternoon. Boxing, Football, Swimming, Wrestling, Basketball, military drill.  The times in between were for college courses in Physics, Math., Naval History, Navigation, Recognition, Engines, Aerology,  Morse Code, Geography,  Theory of flight, and etc.  The evenings were for study.   At the end of 3 months if you  failed any of the exams or physical tests you were sent to Navy Boot Camp as a Seaman 2nd Class. Those who passed were transferred to the next base.  This was the beginning of the phrase, “The right stuff”. Roughly 1/4 of the cadets at each of the following stations failed before graduation.

Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y.-This base was called CAAWTS, Civil Aeronautics Administration  War Training Service.  Here we were taught to fly by CAA pilots.   The yellow Piper Cub was the plane and most of us soloed with about 9 hours of instruction.  The day was spent with Physical Education in the morning, a half day flying and ground school, College in the afternoon and more physical education before dinner.  Total flight time here was 53 hours.  Again after 3 months training, final exams and flight checks.   . Of the 40 of us cadets here at Siena 12 did not make it.  Roughly 30%  off to Boot Camp. Those of us who passed went on to Pre-flight School.

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Bat. 31 Platoon A1-Called Pre-flight School-College courses for half a day and very extensive physical training the other half.  Then every day at 4:00 PM you had to participate in a major competitive sport,i.e.  boxing, football, wrestling .  The Navy had expert instructors in every sport.  Ed Don George World Champion for wrestling.  Gene Tunney World Champion Boxing.  King from the “Seven Blocks of Granite”  and James Crowley for football.  Craighead brothers for survival training.  Lt. Gerald Ford who became president was one of the instructors. Just to name a few of the famous instructors. The only time we had off was Sunday afternoon after chapel.  We were permitted to walk into town only as far as the midtown street sign .  We were not permitted to walk on the grass, ride in a car, nor could we hold hands with a girl. After three months, it was exam time.   The tests for sports were increased at each base so that now you had to run faster, swim further, beat someone in hand to hand combat and the infamous obstacle course.  Again,  fail any and off to Boot Camp.  Those who passed went on to Primary Flight School. In addition three cadets in our group were killed here. One in football and another jumping off the tower to speed up his time in the obstacle course. His leg caught in the cargo net. The third I am not sure how he died. 

Bunker Hill Navy Air Station, Bunker Hill, Ind. Here we learn to fly the N2S Stearman, a open cockpit biplane.  Also,  we were introduced to acrobatics, and night flying.  Toward the end of the three months training we flew the Timm N2T-1, an open cockpit low-wing monoplane which was made mostly of plywood.    The Timm was used for formation flying.  Total flying time at Bunker Hill was 98.5 hours total; 33.5 hours dual, 55.5 hours solo and 9.5 hours of tests called check rides.  Ground school was stepped up again. You were required to receive Morse Code at 20 words per minute, blinker 10 wpm,  swim one/half mile with all your clothes on, pistol and shotgun practice, ship and plane navigation, and recognition.  Recognition entailed sitting in a dark room and a picture of a plane was flashed on the screen for 1/500 of a second.  You were required to identify the plane, friend or foe, how fast it was flying, and how much of a lead you would give it to shoot it down.  Ships were also flashed for identification.  For practice to speed up our ability to visualize they would flash a twelve digit  figure for 1/1,000 of a second.  It was amazing how often you could get most of the twelve digits and a few, times in the correct order.    Again, fail any test and off to Boot Camp.  Those who passed went on Pensacola, Florida for Basic flight training.

Saufley Field, Pensacola -Basic Flight School-Here we flew the Vultee SNV-1 “Vibrator”, for about 3 hours every day and ground school the remainder of the day.  We were also given 20 hours in the Link Trainer to prepare us for instrument flying.  Emphasis at this base was on precision formation flying, night flying and circle shots.  Circle shots were precision three point stall landings in a 200 foot circle with out “S” turning.  This was to prepare you for carrier approaches and landings.  Total flight time at Saufley was 31.5 hours in a two month period.  Again check rides at every stage and the final exams.  Fail any test and off to Boot Camp.  Those who passed went on Whiting Field, Pensacola, Florida for Intermediate flight training.

Whiting Field-Pensacola-Intermediate Flight School-Here we flew the SNJ-5-The training was mostly Instrument flying and unusual attitude recovery.  That is where you pull a canopy over your head and fly on instruments only, unable to see out side.  Then the instructor would flip the plane over, go into a spin,  snap it up into a stall and say, “You’ve got it.  Now recover to level flight.”  Of course ground training in the Link Trainer continued as did ground school.  Flight time at Whiting was 39.3 hours completed in two months.  Again, the inevitable tests with the constant threat of, “Make it or we will wash you out to Seaman 2nd class”.  If successful here, you go to Advanced Flight School at Bronson Field, Pensacola.

Bronson Field-Advanced Flight School-Flying time here was 83.4 hours in the SNJ-5.  Now it could be equipped with 30 cal. machine guns and wing bombs.  We practiced dive bombing runs; fighter approaches firing on a target sleeve towed by another plane; acrobatics; circle landings; fighter formation flying; cross country trip; search and rescue operations 75 miles out over the Gulf of Mexico; formation night flying and dog fights.  All this plus demonstrating a recovery from an inverted spin in a N2S Stearman. One  day we were taken to Mainside for the famous Dilbert Dunker experience.  This was a section of a plane’s fuselage that had just the cockpit and shortened wings.  It was hauled up on a ramp.  You got into the seat in your flight clothes, MaeWest, and parachute.  When you were strapped in they would give a signal and the plane rapidly slid down the ramp, hit the water, flipped over, and sank to the bottom in twelve feet of water.  If you got out in 60 seconds you passed.  Ground school and physical education filled up the rest of the schedule.  Now we were approaching the end of training.  Navy pilots had to be able to handle many skills.  They had to be able to qualify as a navigator, gunner, and radioman as well as pilot.  While the final exams  and check rides were going on, we purchased our officer’s uniforms, selected the service we wanted i.e.. Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, and the type of duty.  I requested US Navy TBF duty, torpedo/dive bomber. 

June 1944  The Chief of Naval Operations issued plans to make drastic

reductions in pilot training.(See *3) It was disheartening to see some cadets make it all the way to the finals and wash out to become Seamen 2nd class instead of officers within a week of graduation.  The rest of us were transferred to Mainside NAS to await our commission and operational base assignments.  The Navy Training Program had  taken 19 months and 257 flying hours to completion. My preferences for duty was #1 TB Torpedo Bomber. The navy changed my designation to #1 fighter pilot at graduation. This is possibly because I had fairly good hits on the sleeve (7%) and on Glide bombing, 15 hits of 25 bombs. My class here was  Cadet class 2D-C

07/28/44-Commissioned  Ensign USNR,-Naval Aviator 403139/1315, and pinned on my Navy Wings of gold.  My orders however, stated,“Ordered to Chevalier Field Pensacola, Intermediate Flight Instructors School”.  After two months of training I was designated Basic Flight Instructor and assigned to Ellyson Field, Pensacola

09/19/44 Ellyson Field-Flight Instructor  teaching formation flying,  circle landings, and night flying in the SNV-1.  Ground School courses were required of all instructors to increase their knowledge and ability as  Naval Officers.  You never escaped further courses and exams. This tour of duty was completed nine months later.  

The Chief of Naval Operations issued plans to make drastic reductions in pilot training. These reductions brought an end to the CAA-WTS and flight preparatory school phases of pilot training, and release of a number of training stations in September.(See *4) So they started training new cadets at Whiting Field.  They started them out flying the SNJ-6 bypassing the Piper Cub, N2S Stearman, and the SNV training.  The SNJ was not built to be flown from the rear seat.  It was made for a machine gunner and converted with controls for an instructor.  The visibility is poor from there especially  when doing landings.  From the back seat the runway disappears when you bring the nose up for a three point landing.  It was difficult to demonstrate close formation cross-overs, and etc., without being able to see well.  Whiting Field started losing too many planes due to crashes.  The Commander said,” All unmarried instructors at Ellyson will be assigned to Whiting for their next tour of duty.”  So, instead of the Fleet I was sent to Whiting Field.  In one three month period we lost seven instructors killed in different crashes. (see *1 & *2)

6/30/45-Whiting Field-Advanced Flight Instructor SNJ-6-Here I taught night flying, acrobatics, and formation flying eventually becoming a trouble shooting Check Pilot. A few months later the war was over and I was discharged 1/12/46 and released to the Standby Reserves.  I remained active in the non-pay Standby Reserves and flew out of Niagara Falls, New York, NAS while attending the University of Buffalo. 

Stand by Reserves-I attended classes each month at the Buffalo Navy Offices. This gave me points toward the 20 year retirement requirement. This was Navy Reserve with training but no pay. In 1947 the Navy decided that they would try to get Congress to fund a full time Navy Base at the old Bell Aircraft airport on Niagara Falls Blvd. The goal was to make it full time paid Reserves that could fully staff a carrier if called upon. They put in a small staff of mechanics and maintenance and asked us if we would be willing to fly SNJ’s. So they sent a DC3 to pick up 6 of us and flew us  to Floyd Bennett Field, New York. There we picked up 6 SNJ’s and flew them back to Niagara Falls. The orders were to put as much time on them as we could to show Congress that there was an interest. So I had my own plane to fly any time I wanted to while going to college. I took Muriel out to watch me fly one day when were dating. In 1948 Congress did appropriate funds to establish a full time base.  Eleven of us stayed on the non- pay status. All others were paid and had to go into the Reserve program. In the fall of 1948 the Navy sent us to Floyd Bennett for a two week cruise. However, they did not have a  program set up. Since I had been an Instructor I had to check the other pilots out in SNJ’s. Then we were told to fly any where within 900 nautical miles. Stay at any Government airfield, get gas and food. I did not want to fly all day in a SNJ so I signed on as a co-pilot for a twin engine Beech Craft and flew all over the country. In June 24, 1950 the USA went to war in Korea. The Niagara Falls Reserve was not activated because they did not require another aircraft carrier . However, as the Navy needed replacement pilots for the for the war they started taking from the non-pay Reservists. There were 11 of us. Seven of the 11 were called back to active duty.  I was not called. I stayed in the Reserve until Upjohn transferred me to Rochester, N.Y. There was no Naval Air Reserve there. So I had to stop participation in the program.

  I received my Honorable Discharge June 30, 1961.  LTJG Robert W. Marshall, USNR-Commercial Pilot Certificate 186787

*1--- Pilot Training Remarks from “The Smithsonian” magazine November 2003. Article “Crash Junkie” page 11:

“ America’s rush to transform itself into an air power after Pearl Harbor took a greater toll in lives than most people realize.  About 15,000 air-men died in training mishaps in the  primitive, often-difficult-to-fly aircraft of the area, roughly about a quarter of those actually killed in combat. “It wasn’t combat,” says Fuller, but is was the cost of keeping America free.”

*2---Naval Aviation in WW II-By Capt. Matt Portz, USNR(Ret.)NAVAL AVIATION NEWS September-October 1990


“Information about the numbers of training accidents as compared to those in the fleet is unavailable. Probably there were more of the former. Overall Navy flight statistics for 1945 are available and the numbers are impressive. That year, 15.5-million hours were flown. More than 13,000 major accidents occurred; half resulted in destroyed aircraft. The more than 3,000 fatalities were at the rate of 20.5 per 100,000 hours flown.”

*3---Naval Aviation in WW II-By Capt. Matt Portz, USNR(Ret.)NAVAL AVIATION NEWS September-October 1990

“Navy planners fixed total pilot output for 1944, 1945, and 1946 as 20,000, 15,000, and 10,000. The Chief of Naval Operations issued plans to make drastic reductions in pilot training. Some students in preflight and earlier training stages were to be transferred to other duties. Enough were retained to maintain a preflight course expanded to 25 weeks. So called “deselection” and voluntary withdrawal from flight training began in June, the month of the Normandy landings in Europe and the beginning of the Mariana Islands campaign in the Pacific”. “Many who earlier would have made it, did not. Flight or ground school, psychological or medical unfitness, or any of a dozen reasons caused washouts.”

*4---Naval Aviation in WW II-By Capt. Matt Portz, USNR(Ret.)NAVAL AVIATION NEWS September-October 1990

“More than 48,000 pilots were on Naval Aviation roles in 1944, as well as 31,000 nonpilot officers and 275,000 enlisted personnel. Reassignment of missions of a number of training bases in 1944 should have signaled that the need for pilots was winding down. These reductions brought an end to the CAA-WTS and flight preparatory school phases of pilot training, and release of a number of training stations in September.”

As I mentioned above, of the 123 of us Flight Instructors at Ellyson Field, Pensacola, 7 instructors were killed in crashes in just one three month period.

If you want to learn more on flying the SNJ (Navy) Also known as Texan-6 (T6) Air force

Go to this web site



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