"The Oldest and the Best"


EST. 1931

IMAGE of P-3C History Patrol Squadron Four Six (VP-46) has the distinction of being the oldest American maritime patrol squadron, and the second oldest squadron in the entire United States Navy. The only squadron more senior is VFA-14, as their history is unbroken back to the establishment of the Air Detachment Pacific Fleet in September of 1919. Tracing a squadron's lineage is a complicated matter. Only the uninterrupted operation of a squadron from its establishment, through any redesignations until its disestablishment is recognized. Additionally if there is a break where a squadron is disestablished, and then reestablished at some later date, the squadron may continue the traditions of the old organization, but cannot claim its history or lineage. VP-46 has maintained a continuous history back to the founding of Patrol Squadron FIVE-S.

The Grey Knight's history began with the establishment of VP-5S on 1 July 1931 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Coco Solo in the Canal Zone, Panama. The squadron's first year saw a redesignation to VP-5F, and a temporary home port change to NAS North Island, San Diego, California. During this time the squadron flew the PM-2 twin engine sea going biplane. This open cockpit aircraft carried a crew of five, and boasted a range of 865 miles.

In June 1933 the squadron transitioned to its second aircraft, the P2Y-1, which offered several improvements over the PM-2. The P2Y-1 remained a twin engine biplane design, but incorporated more powerful engines. Besides being a significantly larger aircraft, the P2Y-1 also had just over twice the range of the PM-2. During this period the squadron continued to patrol the Caribbean and provide support to the fleet's annual training exercises.

On 18 May 1938, VP-5S transitioned to arguably the most famous and recognizable seaplane ever built when they began flying the PBY Catalina. The PBY was larger and more capable than either of the previous aircraft. It carried a crew of 5 to 8 individuals for a range of roughly twice that of the P2Y, and it was more heavily armed. VP-5S was soon put to operational use as the newly redesignated Patrol Squadron Three-Two (VP-32). The outbreak of hostilities in Europe prompted President Roosevelt to declare the United States neutral, and all Maritime Patrol squadrons were tasked to perform neutrality patrols up and down the Atlantic coast.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, America as well as the men of VP-32 were thrust into the Second World War. The squadron operated from advanced locations around the Caribbean, where their primary tasking transitioned to ASW and convoy patrol. Throughout the first year of the war there was little contact with enemy submarines, resulting in only a few sightings.

By the end of 1942 VP-32 began the transition to the PBM Mariner, incorporating many improvements over the PBY fo include the introduction of radar. The transition to the PBM was completed by April 1943, just in time for the most productive two weeks that they experienced during the war. From 15 July to 28 July 1943, VP-32 was successful in sinking three German U-boats, U-159, U-759, and U-359 south of Haiti.

At the close of the Second World War, the squadron was re-designated to Medium Patrol Plane Squadron SIX (VP-MS-6) and changed its home port to NAS Alameda, California. It was from this location that the squadron supported fighting the Cold War including various nuclear tests in Operation Sandstone. 1 September 1948 marked the squadron's final redesignation to Patrol Squadron Four Six.

From June to December of 1950, VP-46 attained another milestone becoming the first seaplane squadron deployed to perform combat patrols in support of the Korean War. Throughout this deployment squadron aircraft patrolled off of the Chinese coast and in the Formosa straight. Before hostilities ended in July 1953, VP-46 deployed twice more to the region. The Grey Knights conducted anti-submarine warfare patrols, as well as over water search and reconnaissance throughout the waters east of the Korean peninsula.

In 1961 VP-46 started landing on runways instead of the water by transitioning to the P2V Neptune. This marked the first time the Grey Knights operated a land based aircraft in their history. This was a short lived change, as the transition to the P-3A began only three years later. VP-46 had the privilege of being the first west coast squadron to fly the P-3A Orion, the aircraft it has continued to fly in various versions to this day. The Orion boasted a far more capable ASW suite and a much more aircraft transition spacious airframe than any of the previous aircraft flown. Coinciding with accepting a new aircraft, VP-46 also made a home port change to NAS Moffett Field in the San Francisco Bay Area.

When hostilities erupted in Southeast Asia in the mid-1960s, VP-46 was again tasked to support. The squadron made its first deployment in support of the Vietnam conflict in 1965 to Naval Air Facility Naha, Japan. It was during this deployment that VP-46 provided around the clock surveillance of Vietnamese Coastal waters as part of Operation Market Time. The Grey Knights again returned to Naha two years later, but by 1968 the squadron also operated out of Adak, Alaska tracking Soviet submarines helping to win the Cold War: In 1970 and 1972, VP-46 again returned to the Vietnam conflict, based in the Philippines as well as MCAS Iwakuni.

The Cold War helped VP-46 prefect submarine tracking techniques. In coordination with the Office of Naval Research, the VP community was able to use a network of seabed listening arrays, known as the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), deployed by the Navy to listen for submarines in the deep, maintaining a constant vigilance on the Soviet fleet. While working with SOSUS, and US submarines, individual crews honed their skill to a level not previously attained. The pressure that was applied by the P-3 navy to the Soviets Yankees (ballistic missile submarines) while they attempted, usually unsuccessfully, to patrol off the coast of the US was a major contribution in the NATO victory in the Cold War.

The close of the Cold War saw VP-46 continue to maintain its primacy in Anti-Submarine Warfare and answer the call to perform overland Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and strike support. During Desert Storm, VP-46 was deployed to NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines, with detachments to Al Masirah in Oman. The Grey Knights were one of only a small number of patrol squadrons in the Arabian peninsula, and were among the last maritime patrol squadrons to leave on March 10th, 1991. With the closure of Moffett Field in 1993, the Grey Knights moved to their current home port of NAS Whidbey Island.

P3C Orion VP-46 returned to the Middle East at the end of 2002 as vital contributors to Operation Iraqi Freedom. The Grey Knights provided valuable intelligence to Soldiers on the ground while performing ISR operations. On April 16th 2003, the Grey Knights had the distinct honor of being the first naval aircraft to land in Iraq at Baghdad international Airport. Throughout the remainder of the deployment, the Grey Knights continued to conduct armed patrols overland Iraq and supported the Coalition soldiers on the ground.

VP-46 celebrated their 75th Anniversary while on deployment to the western Pacific and the Middle East in July 2006. The squadron was scattered across five different detachment sites, where they all performed at a high operational tempo. As a result the Grey Knights were unable to celebrate this milestone while deployed. Over the course of the last seventy five years, the Grey Knights have established themselves as the premiere Maritime Patrol squadron in the United States.

VP-46 has participated in every major US military conflict since the squadron's inception, and has constantly maintained the highest standards of service. Even with the high tempo the squadron has completed 44 years and more than 300,000 hours of accident free operations, a Pacific Fleet record! Throughout the squadron's long history, the men and women of VP-46 have performed with pride, unity of purpose, and total professionalism. In keeping with this spirit, the command has earned the title "THE OLDEST AND THE BEST".

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