The Lockheed Ventura was a bomber and patrol aircraft of World War II, used by United States and British Commonwealth forces in several guises. It was developed from the Lockheed Lodestar transport, as a replacement for the Lockheed Hudson bombers then in service with the Royal Air Force. The RAF ordered 675 Venturas in February 1940. They were delivered from mid-1942 onwards.
The RAF placed a further order for 487 Ventura Mark IIs, but many of these were diverted to United States Army Air Forces service. The U.S. Army Air Force placed its own order for 200 Ventura Mark IIA, which were put into service as the B-34 Lexington. Later redesignated RB-34.
Before completion of the first O-56, the U.S. Army Air Force dropped the O- category used to designate 'observation' (reconnaissance) planes. The O-56 was redesignated the RB-34B (RB- for 'reconnaissance bomber'). Before the first of these flew, the design was redesignated again as the B-37, because it used different engines.
While 550 were ordered by the Army Air Force, acquisition by the USAAF stopped after only 18 were accepted, when the Army Air Force agreed to turn over exclusive use of the Ventura to the United States Navy (see Naval Service below).
The PV-1 Ventura, built by the Vega Aircraft Company division of Lockheed (hence the 'V' Navy manufacturer's letter that later replaced the 'O' for Lockheed), was a version of the Ventura built for the U.S. Navy (see Venturas in U.S. Navy service below). The main differences between the PV-1 and the B-34 were the inclusion of special equipment in the PV-1, adapting it to its patrol-bombing role. The maximum fuel capacity of the PV-1 was increased from 1345 gal to 1607 gal, to increase its range; the forward defensive armament was also reduced for this reason. The most important addition was of an ASD-1 search radar.
Early production PV-1s still carried a bombardier's station behind the nose radome, with four side windows and a flat bomb-aiming panel underneath the nose. Late production PV-1s dispensed with this bombardier position and replaced it with a pack with three 0.50 inch (12.7 mm) machine guns underneath the nose. These aircraft could also carry eight 5 in (127 mm) HVAR rockets on launchers underneath the wings.
The PV-1 began to be delivered in 1942 December, and entered service in 1943 February. The first squadron in combat was VP-135, deployed in the Aleutian Islands in 1943 April. They were operated by three other squadrons in this theatre. From the Aleutians, they flew strikes against bases in Paramushiro and Shimushu, Japanese islands in the Kurile chain. Often, PV-1s would lead B-24 bomber formations, since they were equipped with radar. In late 1943, some PV-1s were deployed to the Solomon Islands as night-fighters.
While the PV-2 was expected to have increased range and better takeoff, the anticipated speed statistics were projected lower than those of the PV-1, due to the use of the same engines but an increase in weight. The Navy ordered 500 examples, designating them with the popular name Harpoon.
Early tests indicated a tendency for the wings to wrinkle dangerously. As this problem could not be solved by a 6 ft (1.8 m) reduction in wingspan (making the wing uniformly flexible), a complete redesign of the wing was necessitated. This hurdle delayed entry of the PV-2 into service. The PV-2s already delivered were used for training purposes under the designation PV-2C. By the end of 1944, only 69 PV-2s had been delivered. They finally resumed when the redesign was complete. The first aircraft shipped were the PV-2D, which had eight forward-firing machine guns and was used in ground attacks. When World War II ended, all of the order was cancelled.
With the wing problems fixed, the PV-2 proved reliable, and eventually popular. It was first used in the Aleutians by VP-139, one of the squadrons that originally used the PV-1. It was used by a number of countries after the war’s end, but the United States ceased ordering new PV-2s, and they were all soon retired from service.
It was never a very popular plane among RAF crews, and despite the fact that it was 50 mph (80 km/h) faster and carried more than twice as many bombs as its predecessor, the Hudson, it proved ill-suited to its task as a bomber. By the summer of 1943, the Ventura had been phased out of service in favour of the de Havilland Mosquito. Its last mission was flown by No. 21 Squadron RAF on September 9, 1943. After leaving bombardment service, a number were modified to be used by Coastal Command; they served as the Ventura G.R.I.
A total of 21 Mk. I, 108 Mk. II, and 157 G.R. Mk. V were in service during this period for a grand total of 286 aircraft.
The first 19 RB34s arrived by sea from the U.S. in June had much equipment either missing or damaged. 6 airworthy machines were hurriedly produced by cannabilisation and sent into action with No. 3 Squadron RNZAF in Fiji. On June 26 the first PV.1s were flown to Whenuapai and No. 1 Squadron RNZAF was able to convert to 18 of these by 1 August, replacing the mixed 3 squadron in action at Henderson Field, Guadacanal in late October. By this time No. 2 Squadron RNZAF at Ohakea and No. 9 squadron RNZAF were also using the type. The following year No. 4 Squadron RNZAF and No. 8 Squadron RNZAF also received Venturas. Some squadrons were retained on 'garrison' duty, while others followed the allied advance to Emirau and Green Island and New Britain. RNZAF Venturas were tasked with routine patrols, anti shipping strikes, minelaying, bombing and strafing missions, air sea rescue patrols, photographic reconnaissance, and in an apparently bizarre case of taking Lockheed marketing's slogan of "The Fighter-Bomber" too literally, even (briefly) fighter sweeps.
RNZAF machines did often clash with Japanese fighters, notably during an air-sea rescue patrol on Christmas Eve 1943, NZ4509 was attacked by nine Japanese single engined fighters over St.George's Channel. It shot down three later confirmed and claimed two others as probables, although being heavily damaged in the action. The pilot, Flying officer D Ayson and navigator Warrant Officer W Williams were awarded the DFC, the dorsal turret gunner Flight Sergeant G. Hannah was awarded the DFM.
By late 1944 the Ventura began to be phased out of frontline action, as the RNZAF backed away from the Patrol bomber concept, orders for PV 2 Harpoons being cancelled after a handful or aircraft had been delivered. At V.J. Day, only 30 PV-1 s remained on the front line with 3 Squadron at Jacquinot Bay.
Planned re-equipment with Mosquitoes did not take place until after the cessation of hostilities. 2 Squadron was the last Ventura unit, continuing to operate PV1s and 2s on meteorological duty until 1948. A restored RNZAF RB34 (NZ4600) is owned by the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland.
During the early months of 1942, the primary responsibility for anti-submarine warfare in the United States was shouldered by the Army Air Force. This irked the Navy, as it considered this region of battle its burden. To carry out such a task, the Navy was pursuing a long-range, land-based patrol and reconnaissance aircraft with a substantial bombload. This goal was always resisted by the Army Air Force, which carefully protected its monopoly on land-based bombing. This forced the navy to use long-range floatplanes for these roles. The Navy was unable to upgrade to better planes until the Army Air Force needed the Navy plant in Renton, Washington to manufacture its B-29 Superfortress. In exchange for use of the Renton plant, the Army Air Force would discontinue its objections to Naval land-based bombers, and provide planes to the Navy. One of the clauses of this agreement stated that production of the B-34 and B-37 by Lockheed would cease, and instead these resources would be directed at building a navalised version, the PV-1 Ventura.
The PV-1 began to be delivered in 1942 December, and entered service in 1943 February. The first squadron in combat was VP-135, deployed in the Aleutian Islands in 1943 April. They were operated by three other squadrons in this theatre. From the Aleutians, they flew strikes against Paramushiro, a Japanese island. Often, PV-1s would lead B-24 bomber formations, since they were equipped with radar. In late 1943, some PV-1s were deployed to the Solomon Islands.
After the war the US Navy deemed many PV-1's as obsolete and the aircraft were sent to Naval Air Station Clinton, OK to be demilitarized and reduced to scrap.
Note: VB and VPB denote a Patrol Bombing squadron.