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Thread: Survival time in the Channel

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    Default Survival time in the Channel

    I asked this once before as an add-on question that got no response but I will try again. Does anyone know how long one could survive after ditching in the English Channel? I have one fellow, F/Sgt. John Melville McDonald, RCAF, who died from exposure on 23 Jul 1942 in North Devon Royal Infirmary at Barnstaple, after being rescued with his fellow crew mates. The a/c was Whitley Z9215 from 51 Sqn.

    I am wondering how long they were out there before being picked up and does anyone have the crash details?
    Last edited by dfuller52; 9th January 2010 at 05:02. Reason: corrected a/c s/n
    David

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    Hi David,

    In this case a dinghy with exposure sheeting needs to be taken into account.

    Z9215

    Ditched in position 51 10N 005 37W due to engine failure. The dinghy was sighted in position TRUW 0620 at 13:50 hrs by aircraft of the squadron. At 14:15 hrs the survivors were picked up by Destroyer L115.

    (TRUW 0620 decodes to 51 06N 005 20W)

    Regards
    Ross
    The Intellectual Property contained in this message has been assigned specifically to this web site.
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    Default Six days?

    Hi guys

    On 13 April 1944 G/Capt Peter Donkin OC 35 Wing flew a photo recce sortie to the Ostend area with F/Off Frank Normoyle of 268Sqn; they took off at 1030 hours. Donkin bailed out into the Channel about 20 miles of the Belgian coast; it was believed he had been hit by flak. Some efforts were made to find him because he was briefed on the invasion plans but he was given up for lost. He was able to get in to his dinghy; at one stage was washed out of it but manged to climb back in. He was finally found and picked up at 1930 hours on 19 April.

    Steve
    Last edited by SteveBrooking; 12th January 2009 at 11:34.

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    Default Survival Times

    Hi David

    Obviously it would depend upon (a) the time of year and (b) whether the chap was in a dinghy or simply in the water. I think the advice is that you lose body heat something like 20x (?) faster in water than in air, so if no dinghy and in winter you'll only last a few minutes.

    Coincidentally, if you take a look at the 214 Squadron website (214squadron.org or something like that) you'll see a link to the 'Nightjar', Squadron Association newsletter. The latest one, recently released, includes the story of Sgt Robin Murray, an air gunner on a 214 Sqn Wellington which came down in the North Sea in February 1942 while on 'Operation Fuller', the Scharnhorst / Gneisenau Channel Dash.

    Not a good place to be, in a dinghy in the North Sea in February!

    His plane came down after engine failure (icing) and of the 7 on board (5 crew and 2 'passengers'), 5 made it into the dinghy. Sgt Murray was picked up by the Germans almost 3 days later, the other four having died in the meantime from exposure.

    Ian

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    Thanks all, great input. And Ross, thanks for the crash details. I assume, then, that McDonald must have gone in the drink and been fished out to spend his time shivering in the dinghy. Either that, or he was slighter than the others and hypothermia developed quicker.

    Can anyone tell me the chronology for this raid (and target) leading up to the sighting at 13:50? They must have gone down well before that, since they were picked up 25 minutes after being spotted.
    David

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    Default Sgt AV 'Taffy' Dorman 276 sqn 7-6-43

    Hi There,
    On 7-6-43 Sgt 'Taffy' Dorman was on a ASR off the Sept Isles trying to locate a 412 sqn downed pilot P/O RW 'Dick' Thatcher. Taffy was flying a ASR Spitfire II, P8674 AQ-J of 276 sqn, 'B' Flt. While orbiting the search area he was shot down and managed to get into his dingy. In spite of many searches by his own sqn Taffy was not located. For 7 days he drifted until being located by 2 Me109's by flares. They called up a Do17 ASR flying boat which recued him. How ever when it tried to land off Jersey it crashed heavily in rough water, with the pilot sustaining 2 brocken legs.
    Taffy spent the rest of the war as a POW, some at Stalag Luft 4B.
    Regards,
    Roy

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    Hi David,

    a Wellington of 311 Sq shot down on 29.9.42 in late afternoon, 5 men went into drink and then survived about 11 hours in a dinghy on stormy sea when the dinghy was full of water mixed with theie boold as all except one were wounded. They werre picked up by ASR boat next morning and all survived.

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Those of us that had to go and do things meteorological on oil/gas platforms/rigs in the N Sea, whilst employed by HM Govt, had to go and do our Helicopter Escape Course which was run by, in those days, the Navy in the Diving Tank in Portsmouth. The Chief Petty Officers absolutely loved having a junior RAF Officer to play with! At the end they announced "Well, Sir, you've passed! Here is your certificate. And, Oh By The Way, the "Heads" are over there - can we have some of our water back!!!".
    The RAF would have liked nothing better (to get their Sustificate) than to chuck you (a bloody Met Man!!) off the back end of an HSL into the 'Oggin, and then spend some considerable time in coming round to pick you up!!
    But, to be serious, these guys who survived hours/days in WW2 in the winter N Sea have my utmost admiration. I've only had the slightest perception of what it might have been like for real!! Not funny!
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Last edited by Resmoroh; 12th January 2009 at 16:26.
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Default North Sea Ditching

    As Ian said in his message much of this was down to time of year, sea state, injuries sustained, and whether a dinghy was available.
    Searching 83 squadron records there are a couple of instances where a navigatior has bailed out over water to be washed up dead on the shore later.
    Hampden AE191 ditched in the morning of 8/12/41 with all the crew uninjured, The navigator died from exposure on 10/12/41 and the W/Op on the following day, both were buried at sea. The two survivors were picked up on the afternoon of 12/12/41 both with severe frostbite and remained POW for the rest of the war.
    James

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveBrooking View Post
    Hi guys

    On 13 April 1944 G/Capt Peter Donkin OC 35 Wing flew a photo recce sortie to the Ostend area with F/Off Frank Normoyle of 268Sqn; they took off at 1030 hours. Donkin bailed out into the Channel about 20 miles of the Belgian coast; it was believed he had been hit by flak. Some efforts were made to find him because he was briefed on the invasion plans but he was given up for lost. He was able to get in to his dinghy; at one stage was washed out of it but manged to climb back in. He was finally found and picked up at 1930 hours on 19 April.

    Steve
    Air Commodore Peter Donkin CBE DSO RAF was my wife's father

    Notes of Squadron Leader Laurence Irving, Intelligence Officer 35 Wing RAF

    On 13 April 1944 Pete Donkin Group Captain, OC 35 Wing RAF) and Flying Officer Normoyle (an Australian translated from travelling salesmanship in ladies’ underwear) took off at noon to take low oblique photographs of the Belgian coast at Ostend. For some time past I had deplored Pete's appetite for action. The weather was calm, the sky overcast, the visibility limited to 1500 yards from coast to coast. As he neared Ostend Pete turned his Typhoon almost on its back and dived steeply for the run-in to his target.

    At 500 feet the section swept past Ostend through heavy flak. At the end of the run Pete climbed away from the coast calling Normoyle to close him as his aircraft had been hit and he would have to bale out. Normoyle saw his leader jettison his hood and heard him send out the usual Mayday signal; his own transmitter was unserviceable.

    For two minutes Pete flew northwards with smoke streaming from his aircraft; then turning it on its back he fell clear, his parachute opened, and as he landed in the sea he was seen to pull himself into his inflatable dinghy. He waved to Normoyle circling overhead who, satisfied that he was unhurt, returned to base. At noon intensive search and rescue operations were set in motion by our own squadrons reinforced by others of 11 Group.

    I was appalled by the prospect of Pete's loss for, perhaps, I had a keener understanding than most of the Wing's dependence on his wise and stern control of its activities. Moreover he would be known to the enemy as one of an elite of operational commanders and might, if he was taken prisoner, receive rough treatment at the hands of interrogators who would suspect that he had access to information that could be critical as the day of reckoning approached.

    Squadron after squadron searched the area unavailingly except to rescue another pilot in a dinghy off the North Foreland. As dusk fell I left Gatwick with a heavy heart to break the news of his loss to his wife, Betty, at their home in Rudgwick, daunted by the knowledge that she was expecting imminently the birth of their second child. I knew that he would be contemptuous of any attempt on my part to wrap up the cruel facts in sentimental reassurances or to raise false hopes unjustified by the day's fruitless search. I knew that her courage and plain spokenness matched his own. Yet I still remember with gratitude the quiet composure and dignity with which she eased the stress of the harshest duty that the war, so far, had imposed upon me.



    HQ 35 Wing
    17.iv 44
    My Dear Mrs Donkin,

    I felt I must write to tell you how very sorry I was to have been the bearer of such sad news and to thank you for making my task so much easier by your calm courage.

    I told you at the time that I was confident Pete was in the hands of the enemy and nothing that has happened since has made me alter my opinion.

    This will be infuriating for him and a sad separation for you, particularly at this time, but as long as you know that you will be reunited, it won’t be so difficult to bear.

    In a way, I am relieved, for it is not granted to many men of his courage and determination at all times to show how this most difficult of jobs should be done, to survive a war like this.

    We all miss him more than I can say. It was a privilege to have served with him. He has a knack for getting more out of his staff than they knew they had to give. The Wing owes all its success and reputation to him, and above all the very light casualties which, considering the dangers of their tasks, it has not suffered.

    I do hope that when it is all over we shall be able to foregather often and renew what was, for my part at least, a true friendship. How Pete would hate my saying this – but I mean it!

    Will you please let us know when you are going to Kings and how we can reach you there. In the meantime, if we can be of any help, you know have only to call on us.

    Good luck in the coming weeks,
    Yours ever
    Lawrence Irving


    Next day fog hampered the continuing search and as the third day drew to a close so our hopes of Pete’s survival finally waned.

    On 18 April 1944 "Andy" Anderson ( Group Captain Alan Anderson DSO and Bar, DFC) was sent from 2TAF to take command of the Wing. His ebullient spirits and legendary prowess in action quickly restored the morale of our pilots, depressed not only by the loss of their leader but their failure to rescue him. Indeed they responded recklessly to Andy's expert command, accepting risks cheerfully taken by himself and a consequently higher rate of casualties than Pete would have tolerated.

    Six days and five nights later, on 19 April 1944, the duty officer wakened me at 3.30 a.m. with the incredible news that Pete had been found alive in his dinghy by naval craft minesweeping in the Downs. He had been admitted to hospital in Dover an hour earlier.
    Andy and I set off at once and arrived at the hospital to find him, all things considered astonishingly well. Sitting up in bed and relishing his breakfast he looked like a famished eagle - his beak-like and sun-scorched nose projecting from his pale and emaciated face below a pair of dark sockets from which his eyes blazed fiercely. The only serious injury he had suffered was to his feet swollen by continual immersion in the sea.

    He greeted us sardonically and came straight to the point. He did not think he had been hit by flak. His first intimation of trouble was the smell of escaping glycol and the reflection in his mirror of the trail of vapour behind him at the end of his run.

    He had made a rough landing in the sea about 15 miles off Ostend slightly injuring his hand and thigh and losing the smoke flares that were part of the dinghy's equipment and perhaps -for lack of them- his life. For although many aircraft flew over him he was unable to signal to them.

    The first night adrift had been the hardest to endure; thereafter his mental approach became purely objective, his will to survive sustained by persistent optimism. Once he fell out of his dinghy, managed to clamber back into it and realised that it would be fatal to do so again. One heavy fall of rain saved him from dying of thirst. Though I knew his capacity for self-discipline, I was astounded to hear that when he was picked up four of the dozen or so concentrated chocolate and condensed milk tablets in his survival kit were still in reserve.

    His most anxious time had been when wind and tide carried him towards the French coast near Gravelines. He planned, in the event of being cast ashore, to find a boat and make a bid for home - unaware that his crippled feet rendered him immobile. He caught a seagull and, in the tradition of maritime adventure, killed it and tried to swallow its blood, only to be instantly seasick. As I listened to his terse account of his miraculous survival my diagnosis of his psychological endurance was that he had been sustained by his smouldering rage that the 'clots' of his Wing had failed to find him.

    When we returned to Gatwick, Andy summoned all our pilots to an 'indaba' outside our operations room. He expounded the lessons to be learned from the near loss of their Group Captain, insisting on the need for intense dinghy drill, assessing the flaws in the conduct of air sea rescue operations which should be studied and rehearsed by every squadron. He coated the bitter pill of justifiable criticism by telling them of the esteem in which 35 Wing was held in high places, Army and RAF., where great value was set on the increasing importance of their photographs.

    When I returned to Rudgwick with the glad news of Pete's survival I was not prepared for the effect on Betty whose pent up grief so bravely borne found instant relief in floods of tears and signs of emotional stress that made me, in my ignorance, more fearful for her unborn child than I had been after my previous experience of her composure. But all was well, and as in such fabulous stories, their second daughter arrived safely and lived happily ever afterwards.

    A week or two later a refreshing breeze of Elizabethan chivalry stirred the air of our headquarters. To Andy, deeply distressed as he was by the assumed loss of an old companion in arms whose temper and humour perfectly complemented his own, the appointment to command the Wing, in which he had served since its inception with such distinction, on the eve of great events that he had helped to plan must have fulfilled his heart's desire. Pete was soon on his swollen feet again and in May resumed his post. Though this was a relief that could but inspire Andy’s' thanks, the prospect of returning to his office desk must have galled him. I was deeply moved as I witnessed the public hail and farewell exchanged between two young gentlemen whose urbanity proved as invincible as their courage. Behind the banter and ribaldry of this most unceremonious ceremony both concealed a deep emotion that this quirk of fate must have stirred in them - the one taking possession of a new lease of life, mortgaged to the hilt and so nearly forfeited; the other surrendering the fortuitous and brief fulfilment of his consuming but selfless ambition.

    Both would have mocked at my admiration of their dignity and generosity on an occasion long remembered in a changing world when the resumption of competition for personal fame or power would erode a chivalry that can illumine the grim visage of war and too often fades behind the smiling mask of peace.

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