HISTORY OF THE SKINNY DRAGONS
Notes on Earlier Squadrons
Over the years cruise books and squadron histories have mentioned earlier squadrons dating back to 1928. The first squadron bearing the designation VP-4 was formed up about 1928, and operated out of Pearl Harbor. In 1939 the first US Navy patrol wings were formed and all patrol squadrons at Pearl Harbor were organized under the command of Patrol Wing Two. A new squadron numbering system was also instituted at that time, where the first number designated the patrol wing and the second number designated the squadron within the wing. All of the 21 U.S. Navy patrol squadrons were renumbered under this new system. VP-4 thus became VP-22, Number two squadron under Patrol Wing Two.
VP-4 was flying all PBY-3’s in 1939 when its designation changed to VP-22. Based on Ford Island, Pearl Harbor in December 1941. During the Japanese surprise attack on December 7th, seven of these aircraft were destroyed and others damaged. In January 1942 VP-22 was sent to the Philippines to aid Patrol Wing Ten. Heavy losses throughout Patwing 10 resulted in the decommissioning of three of the four patrol squadrons attached to the wing, including VP-22, in April 1942, and all remaining assets and personnel were absorbed into VP-101.
VB-144 was a brand new squadron commissioned at NAS Alameda on July 1, 1943, with no connection to the above-mentioned VP-4/22. Its designation was changed to VPB-144 in October 1944. In late 1946 the squadron was demobilized, its assets dispersed, and all personnel sent home to the US for reassignment or discharge.
Some confusion exists about the connection of this squadron to the current VP-4. This is because while VPB-144 no longer actually existed as an operational unit, it was kept on the Navy’s books, a squadron on paper. On May 15, 1946 the designations of all VPB squadrons, whether actually existing or only on the books, were changed to VP squadrons. The ink had hardly dried on this change when in November 1946 patrol squadron designations were again changed. The new designations reflected the type of patrol squadron, and VP-144 became VPML-4. This stood for heavier-than-air, medium (twin engine), land-based patrol squadron. All still just on paper with no actual squadron existing, but this was about to change. In June 1947 new P2V-2s began coming off the Lockheed assembly line at Burbank, California, and new squadrons were needed to operate them. Thus the stage was set for the formation of the VP-4 that we know today.
Patrol Squadron VPML-4 was formed up at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station Miramar, California on November 1, 1947. On that November 1st the squadron consisted of 59 enlisted men, 14 officers and no aircraft. On November 25th CDR Thomas F. Pollock arrived on board and assumed command as the first permanently assigned Commanding Officer. Three P2V-1s arrived in early December, on loan from VPML-1, also based at Miramar. On the day before Christmas 1947, three new P2V-2s were flown in from Burbank, the first aircraft received by the squadron for permanent custody. On April 10, 1948 the squadron’s administration was moved to Whidbey Island, Washington, the squadron’s new homeport, under the command of Fleet Air Wing Four. About September 1, 1948 the patrol squadron designation system in effect since November 1946 was dropped and all patrol squadrons were again simply VP squadrons. And so VPML-4 became VP-4, the name it carries to this day.
VP-4 conducted an aerial photographic survey of Southeastern Alaska from Annette Island and began regular rotation tours to Kodiak, AK from NAS Whidbey Island, WA. Following the onset of the Korean War, the squadron was deployed to Barbers Point, HI. in July, 1950, developing aerial mining capabilities and remained there until its return to Whidbey Island, in January, 1951. During this deployment, Aircraft BuNo 39340, SC-3 was lost with five crewmen during a rocket firing training exercise off Kaena Point. The squadron was redeployed to Barbers Point, HI in mid 1951, and from there to Kodiak, AK in September, returning to Whidbey in late December of that year. In April, 1952 VP-4 again was deployed to Barbers Point and from there to NAS Agana, Guam in September. The squadron returned to Whidbey in January 1953, having turned in its P2V-2s and receiving P2V-5s in February. VP-4 remained in Whidbey until November of 1953, and was then transferred to Kadena AFB and subsequently to Naha NAS, Okinawa, where the squadron flew shipping patrols in the vicinity of Taiwan. The squadron returned to Whidbey in mid 1954.
Naha, Okinawa became the new homeport of VP-4 in 1956. From this base, the squadron flew reconnaissance and ASW coverage to counter the Communist Chinese threat to the islands of Matsu and Quemoy. In 1964 the squadron completed four years of unequaled operational excellence that resulted in three COMNAVAIRPAC Battle Efficiency “E” Awards, three CNO Safety Awards, and four Arnold J. Isbell ASW Awards. Having returned to their original home of Hawaii, VP-4 began transitioning from the P-2V Neptune to the P-3A Orion in 1966. The “Skinny Dragons” went on to participate in the 1968 RIMPAC Exercise with representative squadrons from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
In August, 1968, VP-4 continued its’ long history of quality service by deploying to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan with its’ newly acquired P3 Orion Aircraft. VP-4 not only carried on its’ regular missions in Japan but also provided support for operations in Viet Nam by maintaining short-term detachments to NAF Cam Ranh Bay. Returning to NAS Barber’s Point in February 1969, VP-4 continued to stress the need for preparation and training of all flight crews and ground personnel on the P3 aircraft. In November, 1969, the squadron deployed to NS Adak, Alaska, maintained a small detachment in Viet Nam and also maintained a three crew detachment to NS Agana, Guam from March, 1970 until the end of the deployment in May. While in Adak, VP-4 was advised that it had won the competition for the Arnold J. Isbell Trophy as well as the CNO Maintenance award for Pacific based Patrol Squadrons.
VP-4 deployed to MCAS Iwakuni once again in February, 1971. While the conflict in Viet Nam was winding down, VP-4 continued to send flight crews and ground support personnel to NAF Cam Ranh Bay until ending its’ deployment on July 31, 1971 and returning to NAS Barber’s Point.
During a subsequent deployment in 1972 to Cubi Point, Republic of the Philippines, VP-4 was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for its effort during operations “Market Time” and “Yankee Station“.
During the 1975 deployment to Cubi Point, VP-4 participated in the evacuation of South Vietnam and the “Mayaguez” recovery operations. 1976 saw detachment operations to NAS Agana, Guam during which the squadron participated in Australia’s Kangaroo II fleet exercise.
Following Guam detachment operations, the squadron relocated to Midway Island to take part in multi-service RECON operations of Russian long range missile shots. In April 1976 the squadron found itself back in Cubi Point where it operated throughout the Western Pacific, South China Sea, and Indian Ocean. Highlight of the South China Sea operations was the sighting by a VP-4 crew and eventual rescue of a small boat with thirty Vietnamese refugees fleeing South Vietnam following its fall to North Vietnam. All thirty of the refugees eventually immigrated to the United States, and have successfully established themselves and their families within both the Vietnamese and American communities.
In July 1978, the “Skinny Dragons” assumed the Guam Detachment and simultaneously conducted operations that stretched around the world from Cubi Point to Barbers Point, Moffett Field, Brunswick, and Sigonella. Patrol Squadron FOUR finished transitioning to the P-3B (MOD), or “SUPER BEE” in May 1979. The squadron then started a work up period for its next Cubi Point deployment, which began in November 1979.
In May 1980, VP-4 returned from a very productive six-month Cubi Point deployment with a detachment in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory. In February 1984, Patrol Squadron FOUR commenced transitioning to P-3C aircraft and had the honor of becoming the first P-3C squadron at NAS Barbers Point, Hawaii.
VP-4 became the first Barbers Point squadron to deploy to Diego Garcia in January 1985. The squadron concluded this remarkable deployment by surpassing over 100,000 hours of mishap free flying.
In June 1986, the “Skinny Dragons” deployed to remote Adak, Alaska; the first Barbers Point squadron to do so. In November 1987, the “Skinny Dragons” again deployed to Cubi Point. During 1987 VP-4 earned the Golden Anchor Award and the Battle “E” Award.
1988 saw the “Skinny Dragons” return to Hawaiian waters, where they participated in numerous exercises, including RIMPAC and READIEX. The highlight of the year was receiving their second consecutive Golden Orion and Golden Anchor Awards for retention, an unprecedented accomplishment for a deployable pacific squadron.
1989 saw the “Skinny Dragons” complete a highly successful deployment to Adak, Alaska. While in Adak, VP-4 conducted numerous ASW operations and participated in PACEX-89, the largest Naval exercise since World War II.
Deploying to Diego Garcia in November 1990, the “Skinny Dragons” quickly established a detachment in Masirah, Oman to enforce the UN embargo against Iraq during Operation DESERT SHIELD. By early January 1991, 179 missions had challenged 3,669 merchant vessels. The embargo gave way to Battle Force Protection as war was declared on 17 January 1991.
Flying 279 combat missions and 2,779 flight hours in the Arabian Gulf in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, the “Skinny Dragons” provided detection and targeting, resulting in the total destruction of the Iraqi Navy. In the fall of 1991 Patrol Squadron FOUR transitioned to the newest P-3C model, the Update III. In 1992, VP-4 once again deployed to Diego Garcia, B.I.O.T. with permanent detachments in Masirah, Oman and Kadena AB, Okinawa. Deployed from May-November 1992, VP-4 resumed missions in support of Operation DESERT STORM and successfully conducted numerous multinational exercises and independent operations.
Upon returning home to Hawaii, Patrol Squadron FOUR learned that it had again received the Golden Anchor and the COMPATWINGSPAC Golden Orion for retention excellence.
In November 1993, VP-4 deployed to Misawa AB, Japan, and established a permanent detachment in Kadena, Okinawa. While on deployment, Patrol Squadron FOUR received the 1993 Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award for a Pacific Fleet Maritime Patrol Squadron, the Commander Seventh Fleet Award and the Captain Arnold Jay Isbell Trophy, both for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) excellence.
After completing a challenging at home training cycle, Patrol Squadron FOUR again received the 1994 Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award. In November 1995, VP-4 conducted a split-site deployment to Misawa AB, Japan and Kadena, Okinawa, fully integrating into COMSEVENTHFLT operations. During this deployment the squadron flew around the clock for seventeen straight days during the PRC-Taiwan Crisis in support of both the Nimitz and Independence Battlegroups.
After a highly successful deployment, the “Skinny Dragons” continued down the path of excellence, immediately jumping into RIMPAC ’96 and conducting a flawless Harpoon shot.
In early 1997, VP-4 again set the West Coast standard with outstanding results on the Mining Readiness Certification Inspection, the Aviation Maintenance Evaluation (AME), the Conventional Weapons Technical Proficiency Inspection (CWTPI) and the Operational Readiness Evaluation (ORE). In addition, the squadron performed superbly during the first ever detachment operations from Point Mugu, CA while supporting the Constellation Battlegroup and Boxer ARG in JTFEX 97-1. In recognition of their superb performance, the Skinny Dragons were awarded the CNO Safety Award and the Battle Efficiency “E” award in March 1997.
From May to December 1997, VP-4 completed a quad-site deployment to Diego Garcia, Masirah, Bahrain, and Kadena. While on deployment the Skinny Dragons flew over 5,600 mishap free flight hours in support of 5 Carrier Battlegroups and 2 Amphibious Ready Groups. VP-4 set new standards of mission excellence, flying over 100 armed sorties while carrying over 200,000 pounds of ordnance. Skinny Dragon aircrew and maintenance personnel conducted the first armed detachment from Doha, Qatar, flying 21 straight days with weapons and exercised the first 24-hour armed ready alert MPA posture in the Arabian Gulf. In addition, VP-4 participated in numerous bilateral ASW exercises, SAR and Med. Evac missions and Maritime Interdiction Operations, and was present during increased tensions with Iraq.
During RIMPAC ’98, VP-4 flawlessly hosted three countries in support of 35 events. In December 1998, Patrol Squadron FOUR deployed to six sites around the Middle East, covering three Fleet Areas of Responsibility.
During their December-June 1999 deployment, the Skinny Dragons participated in three combat operations. Operation Desert Fox, where they were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation; Operation Southern Watch, where VP-4 triggered the initial strike and delivered pre- and post-strike imagery; and the Operation Allied Force/Noble Anvil, which resulted in the Skinny Dragon Crew 10 being awarded 11 Air Medals.
Again dictating Navy standards, Patrol Squadron FOUR was the first VP squadron to introduce the Avionics Improvement Package (AIP) to the Fleet. The Skinny Dragons proved AIP’s power during deployment by supporting three Battlegroups in the Arabian gulf, and by becoming the first squadron to achieve reliable AIP imagery transfer. VP-4 was also the first squadron in the Seventh Fleet to fire the Maverick Missile from an AIP aircraft.
In November 1999, Patrol Squadron FOUR flew to North Island, California to participate in Joint Fleet Exercise. While at JTFEX/FLEETEX, the Skinny Dragons participated in 23 events including C3F AIP and Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM) demo flights.
In June 2000, the Skinny Dragons kicked off the new millennium with an outstanding WESTPAC deployment, compiling the highest mission capable aircraft rate of any recent patrol squadron deployed to Misawa, Japan. VP-4 was detached to 13 Pacific Rim countries and participated in 27 multi-national exercises. The multi-mission P-3 was also used to save twenty-two lives in various SAR operations within Seventh Fleet’s area of responsibility. Continuing their high standards of excellence, the squadron was once again honored with the Battle “E” Award in 2000, making it their third award in five years.
Thus far in the 2001 inter-deployment cycle, the Skinny Dragons have continued on their quest towards distinction with a successful Maverick missile launch and participation in an internationally recognized search and rescue effort. Now in their twenty-ninth year of mishap-free flying, the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron Four proudly look forward to many more years as the leader in U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol Aviation, emboldened by their motto, “Pride and Excellence.”
After the tragedy of 11 September 2001, the “Skinny Dragons” were once again called to the defense of America. The “Skinny Dragons” found themselves in the skies above Afghanistan flying armed reconnaissance missions and over the waters of the Middle East conducting Leadership Interdiction Operations in the first days of what has now become the Global War on Terrorism. Over Afghanistan, VP-4 aircraft provided commanders a bird’s eye view of the terrain where special operations forces were operating to dislodge Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters from their mountainous hideouts. The “Skinny Dragons” played a pivotal role in Operation ANACONDA, the largest land battle in Afghanistan to that date. Over water, aircrews were instrumental in operations to intercept and cut-off fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters. For their efforts, the “Skinny Dragons” were once again recognized with the 2002 Navy “E” Ribbon Award.
During the 2003 deployment, Patrol Squadron FOUR continued their contributions to the Global War on Terrorism by flying daily missions in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM-Philippines providing critical real time intelligence. These missions highlighted the expanse of Coalition operations against Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda backed terrorists. Patrol Squadron FOUR also had the opportunity to conduct the P-3C’s primary mission, Antisubmarine Warfare or ASW, against diesel and nuclear powered submarines. All told, the “Skinny Dragons” successfully completed this deployment by flying over 4,000 mishap-free flight hours and completing over 800 missions.
In 2005, VP-4 successfully completed a wartime deployment to the Middle East and Western Pacific. Patrol Squadron FOUR carried out a wide variety of missions ranging from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support missions to the Indian Ocean tsunami victims, to direct support of ground combat operations in support of Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM-AFGHANISTAN.
In December 2006, VP-4 deployed to Misawa and Kadena, Japan, and to the Philippines in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.
This was followed by a return to Iraq in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, in November 2008. Also on this deployment, VP-4 supplied detachments in support of numerous joint, multinational exercises, in Lakenheath, Scotland, and Sigonella, Sicily. This experience proved invaluable during the ensuing interdeployment readiness cycle, when the “Skinny Dragons” successfully planned, hosted, and executed the world’s largest joint, multinational military exercise, RIMPAC 2010.
Following completion of a series of detachment operations providing exemplary fleet antisubamarine warfare support PATRON FOUR departed Kaneohe Bay for a split site deployment in November 2010, supporting assets in both 5th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility. Following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11th, 2011, VP-4 forward-deployed to Misawa AB, Japan, in fewer than 24 hours and re-established CTG 72.4 as an operational entity and the first US aviation unit on-station for Operation TOMODACHI. The Skinny Dragons provided 254 hours of critical humanitarian and disaster relief support to the Japanese people.
Now in their 38th year of mishap-free flying, with over 250,000 flight hours, the Skinny Dragons of Patrol Squadron FOUR proudly look forward to many more years as the leader in US Navy Maritime Patrol Aviation, emboldened by their motto, “Pride and Excellence.”
Special Thanks go out to Richard M. Douglass for his research and his book, “A Brief History of Patrol Squadron Four, The Neptune Years 1947 – 1966″
Last updated 20 March 2012