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Thread: Seeking info on Catalina AJ155

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    Default Seeking info on Catalina AJ155

    I would like to learn some additional information about Catalina I AJ155. This aircraft was shot down, as QL-A of 413 Squadron, on 4 April 1942 after reporting the approach toward Ceylon of the Japanese task force which attacked Colombo the next day. (See http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo7/no4/stuart-eng.asp) The pilot was S/L Birchall, RCAF, who won the DFC and OBE and later became known as the Saviour of Ceylon. I know it was completed at San Diego in October or November 1941. How might I learn when it was ferried to the UK, when and where it was taken on charge by the RAF, if it was modified by Saunders-Roe and/or Scottish Aviation, and when it was taken on strength by 413 Squadron?


    Thanks,

    Rob Stuart
    Ottawa

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    Rob:

    There does not appear to be a manufacturer's serial number or US serial, if there was one, recorded for AJ155 (per Air-Britain's 'British Air Commission and Lend-Lease').

    For some reason the records I have don't contain a delivery date or route for AJ155 but AJ154, 157, 158 and 159 all departed Bermuda for the UK on Nov 22, 1941, while AJ156, 160 and 162 left on Dec 4 (which doesn't prove much but gives an idea of a possible date range). That accounts for seven of that batch of nine (AJ154-162), all of which were delivered to the UK.

    I found a lot of delivery dates for my area of interest in the Ferry Command aircrew assignment cards at DHH in Ottawa, although the cards are by airman and then aircraft crewed rather than by individual aircraft so it can be a long search. But if a Catalina had a crew of five (at a guess), that would narrow the odds.

    Am sure others can help with squadron dates.

    Good luck!

    Regards:

    Robert

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    I believe that this batch was a direct purchase by the UK, and therefore would not have US serial numbers. I also believe that the whole batch was brought up to RAF standards by Saunders Roe before delivery to squadrons, but I'm going by memory here.

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    Rob and Bill:
    From 'Air Arsenal North America', AJ155 was one of a batch of nine aircraft on option to Australia but purchased by Britain prior to Lend-Lease. Hence no US serial.** From the same source, Saunders Roe Ltd. at Beaumaris was the 'sister firm' for the Catalina.

    **That said, the 20 purchased Boeing Fortress Is (B-17Cs) had USAAC identities although looking at a shot of newly-finished AN536 at Boeing Field it doesn't appear that they were ever applied.
    Regards:
    Robert
    Last edited by robstitt; 28th October 2010 at 15:27. Reason: Note re Fortress Is

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    Robert and Bill, thanks for the great information. It's a real help.


    Cheers,

    Rob

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    Default Catalina I AJ155 information

    Hello gentlemen,
    I can't add too much to the aircraft's production history as our research here agrees with what has already been said. I do, however, have some detail from the other end of her service life. The copy of a page from S/L Birchall's log book which I have reveals the following:

    • March 19 – self [S/L Birchall] plus 9 crew Pem. Dock [sic] to Gibralter [sic] – 3:30 day + 12:00 night

    • March 22 – self plus 9 crew Gibraltar to Cairo (Egypt) – 3:50 day + 12:00 night

    • March 26 – self plus 9 crew Cairo to Abu Qir (Egypt) – 2:00 day

    • March 29 – self plus 9 crew Abu Qir to Basra (Iraq) – 9:00 day

    • March 30 – self plus 9 crew Basra to Karachi (India) – 10:10 day

    • April 1 – self plus 9 crew Karachi to Koggala (Ceylon) – 3:50 day + 11:00 night

    • Total hours for Sqn. move 74:55 (39:55 day + 35:00 night)

    S/L Birchall's signature is immediately below this total hours summary below which is added "Flight Commander 413 SQD."

    Below all of this is an interesting line, apparently by the same writer (Birchall post-war?) but in a slightly modified printing which accounts for the April 4th mission thus:

    • April 4 – self plus 9 crew Patrol. Spotted Japanese Fleet, Sent Message & Was Shot Down. – 10:15 day

    below that, in an entirely different handwriting is written "Sergeant Brian Catlin's log - Flight Engineer, Q-LA 413 Squadron.


    I'm currently working up research on the markings and technical details of this aircraft and the 4 other initial arrivals from 413 to Kogalla in preparation for model decal design and profile illustrations. Please feel free to get in touch should you have anything to add. Hope that doesn't hijack the thread too much(?).

    Cheers,
    Terry @ Aviaeology

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    Hi Terry. This is very interesting info on several fronts:

    1. I had wondered if Birchall's pilot's log had gone down with his Catalina or if, more likely, it had been left behind at Koggala for security reasons. May I ask how you got a (partial?) copy?

    2. "Pem. Dock" would be Pembroke Dock.

    3. I am intrigued by the reference to "self plus 9 crew" in each entry. There were definitely only 9 crew, including Birchall, when QL-A was shot down: Birchall, Kenny, Onyette, Phillips, Colarossi, Davidson, Cook, Catlin and Henzill. Does the log include some other name?

    4. I have 413 Sqn's ORB for March and April 1942, but there is no entry for 31 March or 1 April, and the entry for 30 March has info only on QL-G, so thanks for filling these gaps.

    5. On 4 April QL-A took off at 0652 (according to the ORB) and was shot down at about 1620 (according to the Japanese), which was 9 hours and 28 minutes. The 10:15 may include taxiing time and I suppose Birchall may have been a little uncertain of the time he was shot down.

    6. You refer to "the other 4 initial arrivals". I am aware of only three others:

    QL-Y (F/L R. Thomas), arrived 28 March
    QL-P (F/L Roberts) , arrived 6 April
    QL-G (W/C Plant), arrived 7 April

    I think there was a distinct delay before another 413 Sqn aircraft arrived.


    Thanks for "hijacking" the thread in a direction of real interest!


    Cheers,

    Rob

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    Default Catalina AJ155 continued

    Hi Rob,
    Glad to hear that you find it useful. In answer to your questions:

    1) Yes, I assume that the logs had remained at Koggala as well and stayed with the Group / Squadron admin. I have a copy of one page of Birchall's, which seems to cull its last entry from Catlin's as noted.
    I got it from Birchall's personal papers, some of which should be available via LAC in the near future. I think the collection is currently being catalogued there in preparation for public access.
    Feel free to email me if you would like a scan for research/reference.

    2) My assumption is the same as yours… the literature and history on the subject certainly agrees.

    3) Sorry, this "plus" may be an error introduced by my method of transcribing for the post, combined with Birchall's own log entry. What's in the "PILOT, OR 1st PILOT column in the log I placed to the left of my "plus" with that in the "2nd PILOT. PUPIL or PASSENGERS" column to the right of it. He may have included himself in the overall count I suppose?
    My research indicates he saem crew as yours for the final sortie, but I am not certain if an extra was carried on the ferry flight (at least one other 413 aircraft making the same voyage carried a passenger for example).

    4) I'd love to see that. I ordered a copy but it never turned up (3 months and still waiting!).

    5) Your assessment here makes sense to me. The 10:15 appears to come from flight engineer Catlin's log, transcribed to Birchall's log after the fact. One wonders if the Flight Engineer may have made his start time official the second the engines were both running? Makes sense, no? ;o)
    I was also thinking was there may be a potential for local time / zulu time error in meshing the data derived from A) a crew that just arrived after crossing many time zones and B) a Japanese ship that had a similar journey from a different direction.
    Further, does the Japanese report come from aircrew (who claimed the victory) or the ship that picked up the survivors?
    I suppose a combination of variables could make either time turn out to be correct, within a narrow margin, depending on how you look at it.

    6) My mistake… you are correct, there were 4 total initial arrivals. Incidentally, as you may know, Birchall refers to QL•G as "my aircraft." This aircraft, which Plant took to Ceylon, had the unofficial Squadron emblem painted under the L/H cockpit window. Some good material on how this surfaced has come up in the papers now going through the organizational mill at LAC. I'll save the specifics for our upcoming profile prints and model decal docs.
    The log page has two entries for "G W8427"… both with 14 crew… Sullom Voe to Oban on March 2nd (3:55hrs) and Oban to Pembroke Dock, again with 14 crew on the 4th (3:40 hrs).

    Again, my reading of the subject agrees with your statement… ref the delay before more arrived.

    Prints and model decals aside, I'm very interested in building on the Second World War story of 413; both forward from the "Saviour of Ceylon" incident, and backwards from it to their work with the UK based Coastal Command. Thanks for allowing the hijacking!

    Detail aspects of the technical evolution of the Consolidated Model 28 through its various PBY / Catalina / Canso is also of interest if anyone who might be lurking is "in the know?"
    Cheers,
    Terry

    PS: Rob, I really enjoyed your recent(ish) article on this subject for the Canadian Forces Military Journal. Excellent read. Great context. Level-headed conclusion. Positively good history all around IMHO.

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    Hi Terry,

    There seems to be one discrepancy between Birchall’s log and the 413 Sqn ORB. Both have QL-A leaving Gibraltar on 22 March but the ORB has it arriving at Aboukir (using the ORB’s spelling for this place) on 23 March rather than the 26th. Both then show it leaving Aboukir for Basra on 29 March. I think we can assume that Birchall’s log would be the more reliable source and that the ORB is wrong in this particular case. I’ve been wondering about who compiled the info in the ORB for the period when 413 Sqn was in transit. The groundcrew, including no doubt the operations section and the orderly room, did not arrive until 29 May, when Nieuw Holland made Colombo. I presume that the CO, W/C Plant, compiled the March ORB himself after he arrived on 7 April, mostly from the logs of the four aircraft captains.

    So far as I know, the crew of QL-A totalled nine, including Birchall, and he is not known to have carried any passengers during the transit to Ceylon. QL-Y (F/L Thomas), on the other hand, is reported to have carried two passengers. Radar mechanic Joe Soper flew aboard QL-Y all the way to Ceylon, according to "Canadians on Radar in South East Asia 1941-1945", at http://www.rquirk.com/cdnradar/cdnseacradar.htm, and on board as far as Cairo was Lt-Gen Sir Archibald Nye, Vice CIGS, according to "The Most Dangerous Moment", pp. 84-85. Thomas’s crew apparently numbered eight, including himself. QL-G and QL-P had nine, including the captain.

    The 413 Sqn ORB is on oversize paper, bigger than the screen on my scanner, but I may be able to make a copy at the local library and mail it to you. I’ll email you shortly.

    Regarding the 10.15 flight time, I too was supposing that it might be based on engine start up time if derived from the flight engineer’s log. The navigator’s log would have recorded take-off time, no doubt.

    You’re right that time zone conversion errors can be a problem. In the chapter on Ceylon in "Bloody Shambles" volume 2 a few of the timings given are out by exactly one hour from other sources. However, I don’t think that there is any doubt about the approximate time QL-A was shot down. All the Japanese ships kept Tokyo time (JST), which was three hours ahead of local time, which was in turn six hours ahead of GMT. It’s pretty clear that QL-A was shot down between 1620 and 1622, local time.

    Regarding QL-G on 2 and 4 March: because the squadron did not do any operational flying in March, the ORB has just a summary. The first two entries read as follows:

    1/3/42: Squadron preparing to leave Sullom Voe. Two A/C left for Pembroke Dock.

    2/3/42: Remaining aircraft left Sullom Voe. Part of ground crew left for West Kirby by air.

    The next several entries refer only to personnel and administrative matters. The next entry which refers to any aircraft movement is for 18/3/42, and has QL-Y departing from Lough Erne in Northern Ireland (where 240 Squadron was based) for Gibraltar. It’s just about certain that QL-G had no passengers when it arrived at Koggala, since the Koggala ORB names the nine crew who were aboard when it arrived there and lists no passengers.

    A question that has bugged me for a while is whether or not QL-A was fitted with extra ferry tank(s) when shot down. Birchall claimed post-war that it was, but apparently Catlin says it did not. Can this be confirmed from the log you have, or from some other source? Also, where would the ferry tanks have been fitted – under the wings, or maybe inside the fuselage?

    Thanks for the great info, and for your kind words about my CMJ article. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered a few errors in it but no real faux pas so far!

    Cheers,

    Rob

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    Rob,
    Standard ferry tanks for the early Catalinas being delivered to RAF and Netherlands Navy in 1941 (and possibly the same for US Navy?) comprised four cylinderical (aluminium or steel?) tanks strapped in a wooden cradle in the fuselage on the Centre of Gravity (directly below the wing position), with a crude arrangement of an electric drum pump which could be moved from one tank to another as they were in turn drained, to transfer the fuel up to the main tanks from where it was drawn on by the respective engines. I believe that these tanks were highly unpopular as the cabin tended (not surprisingly) to fill with petrol fumes during these transfer operations. Much later on Catalinas had underwing streamlined tanks (beleived non-droppable) complete with pumps which accomplished the same job, but out in the fresh air, but this was not till about 1944. Obviously the earlier cabin tank system was very dangerous and all measures had to be taken to avoid asphyxiating the crew or destroying the aircraft by explosion, which is why they were only ever intended for ferrying duty. The standard wing centre section tanks in the Catalina contained fuel sufficient for about 16 to 20 hours flying, which could probably get them from San Diego to Hawaii, but I believe to give them some safety margin, ferry tanks were normally fitted for this stage. Despite this, the RAF did use ferry tanks on operations in the early days (as in the hunt for the Bismarck) to help close the mid-Atlantic "gap", and QANTAS used them on their "Double sun-rise" trans Indian Ocean service from Ceylon to Western Australia (27 hours flying!) Possibly there was at some stage a redesign of the cabin tank system to incorporate proper plumbing to all these tanks so that the dangerous fumes were kept under control. Nobody ever claimed that flying in WW2 was safe or comfortable. Any other comments on this subject welcome!
    David D

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