View Full Version : John Beeman, GM

5th January 2011, 01:31
Obituary at

BEEMAN, Lieutenant-Commander (P) John Henault, CD (O-5390) - George Medal - awarded as per Canada Gazette dated 7 February 1959. Born in Fort William, Ontario on 13 August 1923. Appointed Lieutenant (Temp) RCNVR on 9 November 1943. Commanded HMC ML 065 (Q065) and Commanded the 72nd Motor Launch Flotilla from 26 January 1944 to 1 August 1944. Then served on HMC MTB 727 later in 1944. Took flying training and promoted Lieutenant (O), RCN, on 09 February 1945. Served with No.743 Squadron on 27 November 1947. To 18 Canadian Air Group, 825 Squadron on 1 December 1948 until 19 December 1949. To HMCS Shearwater as Assistant Operations Officer on 19 December 1949. Promoted to Lieutenant-Commander. Also honoured were Lieutenant-Commander (P) F.R. Fink (George Medal), Petty Officer L.W. Vipond (Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct) and Leading Seaman P.A. Smith (Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct). See also Kealey and Russell, A History of Canadian Naval Aviation, 1918-1962, p.60. This officer was a member of the Corps of Commissionaires at the Canadian War Museum until 1996, when the museum dispensed with the services of that Corps.

On November 26, 1955, Lieutenant-Commander J.H. Beeman (pilot), Lieutenant-Commander F.R. Fink (co-pilot) and two seamen were jointly responsible for saving the 21 members of the crew of the Liberian freighter SS Kismet II, which had run aground on the rocky coast of Cape Breton Island against a cliff which rose almost vertically from the sea to a height of some 400 feet and was being pounded to pieces by heavy seas. It was decided by the authorities concerned that the rescue could not be effected from shore while heavy seas and reefs made any attempts from sea impossible.

At 0815 hours on November 26, 1955, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman and Lieutenant-Commander Fink and the two seamen who had volunteered to be crew members, flew his helicopter towards the wreck. The wind had veered slightly and he found that along the cliff face, the turbulence was not so great and he was able to approach close to the Kismet II and still maintain control of his helicopter. His co-pilot and crew, by hand signals, were able to make the crew of the ship understand that they wanted the after steering platform cleared away by the removal of ventilators, rails, etc, so that the helicopter could land. This operation was accomplished in short order and Lieutenant-Commander Beeman succeeded in balancing his helicopter on the deck on three wheels; the fact that fairly heavy turbulence was still being encountered and that the cliff was only about 25 feet away, made any attempt at a rescue by hoist, with the helicopter hovering, impractical. He embarked four members of the ship's crew, and by watching his opportunity between gusts, was able to take off from his precarious position and land them ashore.

Leaving his co-pilot and one seaman behind, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman made a second trip to the Kismet II, this time removing seven of the crew. Lieutenant-Commander Beeman was considerably fatigued by this time, and the third and fourth trips in which the remaining ten members of the ship's crew were removed, were made by the co-pilot, Lieutenant-Commander Fink.

NOTE: The above citation does not describe almost equally dramatic events that occurred the day before this rescue. An RCN Press Release issued in November 1959, adds the following information:

The rescue, which has been called one of the most daring and dramatic of modern times, was effected within 30 hours after the Kismet II, bound for Prince Edward Island, experienced steering trouble during a heavy storm and was driven aground on the rocky Cape Breton coast.

Alerted by RCAF Search and Rescue Headquarters in Halifax, an RCN helicopter, piloted by Lieutenant-Commander Beeman, took off on Friday morning, November 25, from Shearwater, for Sydney, 165 miles away. Slowed by numerous snow squalls, the aircraft arrived two hours later. After preparing the helicopter for rescue operations, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman headed for Cape St.Lawrence, 70 miles away and near the scene of the grounding. Heavy snow squalls were met and at times visibility was reduced to zero.

He touched down briefly at Cape St.Lawrence and then for nearly an hour attempted to approach the stricken ship from different heights and angles. A heavy gale was whipping across the face of the cliff, and snow showers at times cut visibility to less than half a mile. As the helicopter flew in towards the ship the severe turbulence suddenly dropped it almost to wave-tops, and as suddenly flung it aloft again.

Any effort to get in close could only result in the machine being smashed against the cliff or thrown into the sea. Rescue from the air under these conditions appeared impossible.

Returning to the lighthouse, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman got in touch with Search and Rescue, and then flew two sorties with RCMP constables, naval dockyard representatives from Halifax and a quantity of rescue equipment to speed up the possibility of rescue from the cliff top by breeches buoy.

Following this he returned to Sydney, bucking heavy snow, and there prepared his aircraft for a pre-dawn take-off.

At 7:45 a.m., the helicopter was back at Cape St.Lawrence. Again, heavy turbulence was encountered. When it was decided that rescue could not be effected from ashore and heavy seas and reefs precluded any attempts by sea, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman took of at 8:15 a.m. for another sortie. Flying along the cliff face, he discovered the wind had veered enough so that the turbulence was not so great. He approached the Kismet II more closely and found he could maintain control.

Hand signals were made to the ship's crew to clear away the after steering platform. With axes and hammers the crew went to work removing ventilator rails and other obstructions, and the helicopter came in under the cliff and balanced precariously on three wheels. Despite still fairly heavy turbulence, four crew members scrambled aboard and Lieutenant-Commander Beeman, waiting his opportunity between gusts, took off and landed them ashore.

Leaving his co-pilot and one crew member behind, he made a second trip to the wreck and this time recovered seven of the crew.

Lieutenant-Commander Beeman was considerably fatigued by this time and the two final trips were flown by Lieutenant-Commander Fink, who, along with the other crew member, brought the remaining ten members of the ship's crew to safety.

An hour later, Lieutenant-Commander Beeman headed back to Shearwater, via Sydney, leaving behind another rising gale with snow squalls which spelled doom for the ship.

More on these events can be found in Cape Breton Shipwreck Stories, collected by Ronald Caplan and published by Breton Books, Wreck Cove, Cape Breton Island (1999, ISBN 1-895415-48-9)

Bill Walker
5th January 2011, 02:51
Thanks for that Hugh. The helicopter was a Sikorsky H04S-3, RCN serial number 55877. (This serial number was also the Sikorsky company number and not a BuAer number, as some sources report). The co-pilot Fink also received a George Medal. This helicopter later served in Egypt with the UN, and went to the Museum of Science and Technology at Ottawa in 1970, but then I lose track of it.

Edit: on a little further digging, this was the last aircraft to fly off from HMCS Bonaventure in 1969.

David Duxbury
6th January 2011, 20:40
Great stuff Hugh, shows the true meaning of cool courage: tenacity, calculated fine judgements, and sticking your neck out for others with the knowledge that if you can pull it off, everybody benefits. Every move has to be carefully calculated and thought through, no place for impulsive moves in this sort of operation.
David D

Keith Bryers
18th May 2020, 11:11
Great stuff Hugh, shows the true meaning of cool courage: tenacity, calculated fine judgements, and sticking your neck out for others with the knowledge that if you can pull it off, everybody benefits. Every move has to be carefully calculated and thought through, no place for impulsive moves in this sort of operation.
David D

As a footnote, Lt Beeman was flying Firefly FR.1 MB637 of 766 Sqn, Lossiemouth on 15 April 1948, when it swung on landing, collapsing the undercarriage. It was SOC 8 June 1948.