USS Pine Island (AV-12)

Eastern Group
Capt. Henry H. Caldwell, USN

(fig. 2a) Signed and flown, LT(jg) J.L. Ball
Ship was at NAS COCO SOLO in Panama on this date

(fig. 2b) Signed and flown by 1st Radio/Radarman Milton Blake, Jr.
Ship was at Rio de Janeiro on this date

2 DEC 46 Departed Norfolk, VA.
7 DEC 46 Transited Panama Canal and moored at Balboa Submarine Base.
10 DEC 46 Departed Balboa, C.Z. for the Antarctic.
11 DEC 46 Crossed the Equator at Longitude 28° 47'W.
17 DEC 46

Proceeding towards Peter I Island on Longitude 99° 30'W .

25 DEC 46 Crossed the Antarctic Circle at 99° 44'W.
29 DEC 46 First successful flights made over Thurston Island.
30 DEC 46 Mariner aircraft "George One" crashed killing three crewmen. Flights to locate the downed craft were hampered by bad weather. Please read the compelling story on this site: Antarctic Mayday by crash survivor James Robbins.
11 JAN 47 "George One" crash site located; supplies dropped.
12 JAN 47 Crash survivors rescued.
18 JAN 47 Crash survivors transferred to the USS Brownson to be taken to the USS Philippine Sea for transfer back to the U.S.
22 JAN 47 Operating north of the Amundsen Sea.
25 JAN 47 Operating northwest of Thurston Island.
6 FEB 47 Located northwest of Charcot Island.
8 FEB 47 Southernmost position reached at 69° 55'S.
13 FEB 47 Rendezvoused with USS Brownson off Adelaide Island.
14 FEB 47 Proceeding towards Bransfield Strait and north of the South Orkneys en route to the Weddell Sea.
28 FEB 47 Located off Princess Martha and Astrid Coasts.
1 MAR 47 Short flights made to coast on March 1 and 2.
3 MAR 47 Antarctic operations terminated; headed for Brazil.
18 MAR 47 Arrived Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
24 MAR 47 Departed Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
6 APR 47 Arrived Cristobal, C.Z.
7 APR 47 Transited the Panama Canal.
8 APR 47 In dry-dock at Balboa, C.Z. to replace port screw.
11 APR 47 Undocked at Balboa, C.Z.
14 APR 47 Underway for San Diego, California.
?? ? 47 Arrived at San Diego, California. (date not known).


Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 4


Two different four-bar hand cancels were used by the USS PINE ISLAND, one incorporating the ship's branch number 15763 (figure 1), the other with the ship's name and designation (figure 2). A single-line ship's name handstamp, measuring 38.5mm x 2mm high, is found on some Highjump covers from this ship (figure 3). Another large cachet, which appears to be homemade, can be found on a few covers (figure 4). This is referred to as the "Chaplain's Cachet" although the reason for this is unknown to this writer.

In regards to figures 2a and 2b, these covers were ostensibly "flown" on PBM 5 BuNo 59052, a.k.a. GEORGE 2 . In figure 2a, according to the rubber stamp this cover was carried on a flight to the "Antarctic Continent" and was signed by Lt. (jg.) Jim Ball, pilot of GEORGE 2. It would appear that the cancellation date nullifies its authenticity as having been flown to the "Antarctic Continent" since the USS PINE ISLAND was at the Panama Canal on this date. Of course this cover (and others?) could have been carried on an Antarctic exploratory flight weeks earlier and once arriving at the Panama Canal, Lt. Ball simply sat down and signed them, however that logic hardly seems plausible. For reasons below, I personally doubt this cover was ever actually flown. Fig. 2b is a "flown" cover signed by ARM 1/C Milton Blake, Jr., who was First Radio Radarman on GEORGE 2. The cancellation date on this piece puts the ship at Rio de Janeiro.

According to Gene Litz, co-pilot and navigator of GEORGE 2:

"Task Group 68.3 put into Rio harbor on March 18, 1947. I still have the official program for the visit. We departed March 24. We made one flight while in Rio and circled around Corcovado and Sugarloaf. I remember that a Brazilian feerry almost ran us down when we were taxiing on the water. That flight could have been on March 23 but it's not in my log book because the plane, probably flown by Ball, was loaded with aviation personnel getting in the required 4 hours in order to qualify for flight pay.

The April flight had to have been made at NAS COCO SOLO in Panama for the same reason. Both crews were assigned temporarily to that base while awaiting our orders to new duty stations. Both George 2 and 3 were there as well. The PINE ISLAND couldn't transit the Panama Canal with the aircraft aboard because the wings extended well beyond the width of the ship and couldn't fit in the locks. Blake was not a member of any of the flight crews in the Eastern group to the best of my knowledge. He could have been part of the PINE ISLAND's ships company and quite possibly been one of those getting their flight time in when we were in Rio.

My log book records two flights while in Coco Solo - one each in George 2 and 3."

When I put the question to him as to whether or not he'd ever witnessed souvenir mail being carried on any of the flights of GEORGE 2 , his response was:

"Absolutely not! Also, the mailman aboard the PINE ISLAND was a guy from Baltimore that I got to know fairly well. If there had been any action in that area I'm sure he would have let me in on it."

A number of souvenir covers were supplied by the "Collegiate Philatelic Society" to the seaplane tenders USS PINE ISLAND and USS CURRITUCK as well as the expedition flagship USS MOUNT OLYMPUS. Covers flown on the R4D's out of Little America are a known fact. However, in coversation with Bill Kreitzer, pilot of a PBM with the other seaplane tender USS CURRITUCK, no such covers were ever witnessed being carried aboard his aircraft.

Are there legitimate flown covers from the seaplane tenders? I've yet to find anyone who can give me a definite "yes" or "no" on this matter. Unfortunately, none of the signatories have stepped forward to authenticate them and most likely never will since most, if not all, have passed away. This mystery will probably remain unsolved. Interestingly enough, the souvenir covers produced by the CPS were also utilized during the followup to Highjump, OPERATION WINDMILL. So "buyer beware" when these items are offered at auction. It is very wise to do your homework as these "flown" pieces command prices far greater than typical ship's mail.

Of all the cancels, this writer has observed of both types used by this ship, not a single one has been seen with the "time" (A.M. or P.M.) slug in place on mail serviced during Operation Highjump.