Smilin’ Jack and the Civil Air Patrol in WWII

(It’s summer and time for re-runs.  Here is an earlier post from Col. Bob Mosely, brother of Zack Mosely, the cartoonist who created the popular war time strip “Smilin’ Jack.)

The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) had been given a mission by the  US Army Air Forces to perform shore patrol duties off the Fla. coast from Palm Beach up north to Cape Canaveral (about 130 miles of coast) and then there was another CAP unit out of Miami for the area south of us and others on up the north coasts, all the way to Maine (as I remember it). German submarines by that time were sinking many cargo ships along the east coast. The Gulf Stream is a current of water about 50 miles wide (just a guess) and moves at about 10 to 15 knots and flows around the bottom of Fla. out of the Gulf of Mexico and north along the coast and then on out into the Atlantic.

The US ships moving south would often get in very close to shore, to get inside the Gulf Stream and avoid the current so as to not lose that 10 to 15 knots of speed. At this time the  Army Air Forces were short on planes and could not provide much in the way of patrol coverage. And if a submarine was spotted by some other source, a call would have to be made through channels and a very slow observation plane could then be dispatched, but  if the observation plane did not happen to be in that particular area at that, it might have to come all the way down from Savannah Georgia. This was obviously no threat to the Germans so they were having a field day out there sinking  merchant ships.—- When the ships were in so close to land, inside the Gulf Stream, the Germans would silhouette them against the lights of Palm beach at night and blaze away at them (this led to more strict blackout rules). They were in so close we were awakened several nights (living in West Palm Beach) by torpedo explosions sinking ships. Some of the broken hulls stayed around for a long time; one in particular off of Vero Beach was visible for as much as 20 years later.

These sinkings led to a bunch a things; one being a lot of oil on the beaches, one being a total black out at nights (we had to tape up the head lights of our cars and leave only a little slit of light for night driving, but with gas rationing there wasn’t all that much driving going on anyhow) and another thing it brought about was the change in the mission of the CAP being upgraded from an observation/rescue role to a more aggressive role, to try to help out with the German submarine menace. The idea was to put 100 pound bombs on the little Stinson 10 A, 90 HP planes we flew. Now we really did not expect to do a lot of damage with those little planes, although they could possibly inflict some damage. But, mainly it was figured that the Germans had  some kind of electronic gear to detect an airplane was over head, and it might deter an attack. 

Bob and Zack Mosely

With the advent of the beginning of the war, that sleepy little airport in West Palm Beach that I had fallen in love with when I arrived in West Palm Beach in 1940, became Morrison Field and a bee hive of activity with military planes of all sorts parked everywhere. Thus, there was no room for any civilian operations like there had been for the original Florida Air Patrol and early CAP operations, so the CAP operations had to be moved to the new Lantana airport, about 5 miles to the south of West Palm Beach. 

It was at this time, thanks to my brother, Zack, that I got into the CAP as a pilot because I had my pilots license. I went from a grunt working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for $10 dollars— washing, fueling and hangaring airplanes— to a  Second Lieutenant in the CAP, where they paid me $8 dollars a day and I could get all of the flying time I wanted. They called that pay Per Diem; a word I came very familiar with later on in my career. I had definitely moved up in the world and I was beginning to realize that my decision to become a military pilot; i.e. work for the Government, was not a bad idea from a monetary stand point as well as getting to fly their beautiful airplanes.

I really loved that CAP experience. For as mentioned before, nearly all of those  Civil Air Patrol pilots were of Zack’s age or older (a couple of them had even been in World War One). They were successful people by my standards in that they had made enough money to buy their own planes, and also they were very experienced pilots. I had enormous respect for them and it was an honor to get to fly with such men. They seemed to respect me also even though I had done nothing to prove myself except that I did have a pilot’+s license. Part of their respect for me, I’m sure, came from the fact that I was Zack’s brother.  But I suspect it also was the fact that they knew I was going to be getting in the real shooting war very soon and they were too old and would not be able to get to do that. That is a strange thing to think about as I write this, in that people really wanted to go to war which could mean getting killed.  But a person needed to have lived at that time, when your country was really in danger of being taken over by the Germans and the Japanese, to understand how Americans wanted to get in the fight. It was an extremely threatening period and almost everyone wanted to do their part.

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