Catalina Flying Boats at Foynes
Three unexpected landings at Foynes Flying Boat base during The
The flying boat base at Foynes on the Shannon River Estuary had been developed before the war as a crucual hub of the then fledgling trans Atlantic flying business. The technology of the 1930's aviation meant that the most efficient equipment at that time to cross the Atlantic were the large flying boats. This business was just beginning to blossom when the war interrupted events. But was for this very reason that opertions however continued through the base as the United Kingdom and later the United States used Foynes as a hub for their civilian airline operations, with flights arriving from the United States and Portugal on a regular basis. The aircraft as one might imagine did not carry holidaying passengers but for the most part people flying on war related tasks. It was into the base at Foynes that doomed BOAC Sunderland G-AGES was bound on the night of July 27th, 1943. Her flight ended in tragedy on Mount Brandon in Kerry. The story of that crash can be read at this link on the site.
The above map comes from a 1938 article in the British magazine Flight discussing The former base at Foynes is now a museum and their website contains a wealth of information about its extensive wartime activities. A visit to the museum, which is only a few minutes outside Limerick City is well worth while. To visit their website, simply click on the logo for the museum to the left of this text.
This page on my site however details three unplanned wartime landings by military flaying boats who had experienced difficulties. All three were Catalina flying boats, one flying with an RAF training unit based at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland and two more aircraft who were on their delivery ferry flights from North America. The short stories of Catalina's FP202, JX330 and JX422 are told below.
Consolidated Catalina, FP202, 1942
On the 19th of November 1942, a Catalina flying from the RAF base at Lough Erne in Fermanagh was forced to make an emergency landing on the Shannon Estuary. Notification was made to the base personnel at Foynes and vessel was sent to tow the aircraft into the Flying boats slipways. The combination made it to the base after a tow lasting two hours. The crew reported that they had experienced radio trouble and an engine fault. They also said they had bumped the aircraft upon landing on shallow mud flats. The landing was recorded as having taken place at 00:40 on the 19th. The crew disembarked from the aircraft for a few hours but following some rest, they departed Foynes at 13:45.
The Crew of Catalina FP202 were recorded in rather poor hand
writing in the Irish Army report but luckily all bar one of the
men had their service numbers recorded. With this information it
was possible to confirm the names of all but two of the
men. As they had been posted to a Ferry Training Unit, it
ws assumed that they were in the process of being posted
overseas and by searching the Operations Record Books for some
of the overseas Catalina units for the early 1943 period, all
the crew members were found to have been posted to 270 SQuadron
based in West Africa. There they flew Catalina patrols for
the most part of Feb 1943 through to the new year of 1944.
Bitz and Carter are evident on one patrol in March 1944, but by
that time the ORB was being partially hand written in a most
unreadable fashion. The Form 540 summaries are largely just
patrol summaries for most of 1943, with no mention of officer
postings and are devoid completely of airmen's serial numbers.
An exception is a listing of personnel in May 1943 who had been
awarded the distinction of wearing the 1939-43 Star
Ribbon. In that C G Moore and W Bitz are listed
F/Lt Cecil George MOORE 68796. This officer
appears to have been active with 270 Squadronn well into 1944,
flying Catalina missions even after the unit was transitioning
P/O John Douglas HENDERSON 132077 ? - This officers serial number was not recorded by the Irish authorities however review of the London Gazette and the RAF Air Force lists at the time indicate that he may have been the officer listed here.
F/Sgt Mark MEHR R/83970 RCAF is believed to have come from Quebec.
F/Sgt Norman Edward CARTER R/83378 RCAF
F/Sgt John Raymond WOODCOCK R/87023 RCAF
Sgt William Edward BITZ R/58577 RCAF - This Canadian airman may have come from Regina, Saskatchewan. During his time with 270 Squadron he was commissioned as an officer with number J18554. A man with this name married an Ann Boyd in Wirral, Cheshire in 1942
F/Sgt Alan BLACKWELL 1169378, an RAF airman, nothing else is known about him at this time.
F/Sgt Maurice HEWES 1489484 - The name of this airman
was difficult to confirm due to the poor quality of the
handwriting and typing in the Irish Army file. However, from the
270 SQuadron ORB it becomes clear he was Maurice Hewes.
Cpl Donald Vaughan SWEETING 568527 - With his rather distinct surname Donald Sweeting is one English man on this aircraft that can actually be traced at this time. D V Sweeting was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Air Force, as opposed to thr RAF Volunteer Reserve, in late 1943 with new serial number 53268. His name appears in the London Gazette being granted the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In 1953 he was appointed to the rank of Flying Officer in the Reserve of Air Force Officers (RAFO). This appointment was relinquished in 1955. This appointment in Class CC of the RAFO is consistent with reserve officers who flew with civilian airlines and the family of Donald understand that he continued to fly the Atlantic after the war, probably with BOAC. Donald never married and died in 1989 aged 69 in Sussex.
If anyone reading this knows anything about any of the airmen above, I would love to hear from them.
The aircraft was a Consolidated Catalina flying boat and is at least more easily traced than its crew. The Irish Army report records the aircraft having the marks FP202. This aircraft is recorded as being assigned to 302 Ferry Training Unit (FTU) which was setting up at RAF Stranraer in Scotland during the winter of 1942. Its function was to train crews for the arduous tasks for flying aircraft from bases in the UK to places such as Gibralter, it is not clear yet to where this crew were posted. The aircraft itself was posted to 212 Squadron which was formed up in India at about the same time. The Squadron Operation Book records that Catalina FP202 left the UK on 21 January 1943 and arrived at 212 Squadrons base at Karachi in India on February 1st. The crew that flew her out included the Squadron Commanding officer, Sqn Ldr A F Johnson DFC. It was sent on a detachment to Masirah off the coast of Oman.
Consolidated Catalina, JX330, 1944
On the afternoon of March 9th, 1944 a Catalina flying boat landed on the Shannon river near the flying boat base at Foynes. Foynes was a well known flying boat base in neutral Ireland during the war, it was a terminus of the route from neutral Portugal so there was much traffic through it from there, the UK and America. The base was run by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), the wartime airline in the UK.
The crew of the Catalina were seen by the staff at the base and given assistance by them. They were towed or taxied themselves up to the actual base and moored there. Captain Adams elected to stay the night at the Flying Boat base as they had just flown a tiring 26 hours after leaving Bermuda. The aircraft would have been flown on the southern Atlantic route, it being still rather early in the year. Officers from the Irish Army met them at the base and took their details which formed the basis for learning more about each of the six crew men on board. Many of the names were confirmed from the Ferry Command records held by the Canadian Directorate of History and Heritage.
Captain Adams reported they had been flying over 26 hours and they were a little lost and getting tired. They took full advantage of the hospitality shown them at Foynes and some members of the crew had to retire to bed rather worse for ware. They were allowed to depart the next day after being refueled with 300 gallons from stocks at the base. Their intended destination was Largs, on the Clyde in Scotland. Had they continued on the previous day they might well have met with a mishap on the mountains of Ireland or Scotland or maybe had to ditch at sea.
The crew were four civilian RAF Transport Command staff, as well as a serving member of the Royal Air Force and one officer from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). All six survived the war.
|Capt. Ralph Elishea ADAMS (Civilian Pilot, Captain)||Clyde Cecil FOREMAN (Civilian Pilot, Co-Pilot))||P/O Charles William MCGREGOR-SHAW 404612 RAAF, Navigator|
|John Gilderdale GASCOIGNE (Civilian, Radio Operator)||Sgt John Vernon LOCKE 1582748 RAF, Radio Operator||Charles Oakley J WOODARD (US Civilian, Flight Engineer)|
Ralph Elisha ADAMS was a Texas born pre war airline pilot. He was indeed one of the very first pilots employed by Canadian Pacific Railway when the Ferrying Operation was begun and he flew Hudson T9418 on the very first ferry operation of the war in November 1940. He went on then to fly all throughout the 1941 to 1944 period, delivering aircraft to destinations mainly in Europe but also including trips to India and Russia. He was at times a flight crew member on the vital Return Ferry Service which delivered crew members from England back to Canada after their deliveries. On other occasions he can be found arriving in New York on transatlantic liners. His last deliveries on his Ferry Command card are in December 1944 but he can be found traveling to New York again during 1945. In 1943, he obtained a pilots license from the Royal Aero Club. He was mentioned in many American and world wide newspapers in the summer of 1942 when he flew the Atlantic five times in nine days, breaking all previous records. This endeavor was carried out in Liberator AL514 of the Return Ferry Service in June of that year. The story was recorded in the newspapers as shown:
The above article was found in the Globe and Mail newspaper,
dated 11th July 1942.
Ralph's daughter explained that her father joined the US Marines when he was 17 and was sent to Nicaragua where he learned mechanics and eventually to fly. The photo at left shows him during this time. After his stint in the Marines he came back to east Texas and from there took various courses in airplane engines, and flying. He always maintained that a pilot needed to understand the engine as well as how to fly. Ralph later flew with the CIA organization, Air America in South East Asia, being involved in the delivery and training with deHaviland Canada L-20 Beavers in early 1962. Ralph passed away in Orange County, California aged 74 in November 1985.
Clyde C FOREMAN was another pre-war commercial pilot. He hailed from Oklahoma and had his home in Texas, with his wife Earline Foreman, at the time of joining up with Ferry Command in July 1943. His name is found in aviation journals in 1937 reporting on the aviation news from Houstan, Texas. In 1941, he was among the pilots sailing to the United Kingdom aboard the SS Nerissa when she was torpedoed. His Ferry Command service was varied much like Adams' and Gascoigne's and he found himself at the controls of various aircraft in various far flung lands including the powerful Mosquito fighter bomber. Clyde passed away in 1974 in Texas. His photo comes from his Ferry Command card. Ralph Adam's family explained that Ralph and Clyde remained friends after the war.
Charles W McGregor Shaw was an officer of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) whose wartime career was spent with Ferry Command. Charles came from Sidney in New South Wales. Enlisting in 1940, he sailed for Canada in March 1941 where he completed his flight training with various training establishments including, 1 SFTS Camp Borden; 5 AOS, Winnipeg; 7 BGS at Paulson, Manitoba and finally 1 Air Navigation School at Rivers, He was assigned to Ferry Command in the summer of 1942 and served with on Ferry operations until late 1944. Many of his deliveries were to African destinations across the long south Atlantic route.
John G Gascoigne was a long term member of Ferry Command having flown for the first time with them as early as August 1941. Indeed this first ferry ended with the aircraft crashed at Gander, Newfoundland. He went on to fly throughout the war as a Radio Operator, having up to 29 deliveries to his credit and having travelled to places as far afield as India and South Africa. Being a radio operator, he was able to fly on any number of aircraft, and his list was impressive, including Liberators, Hudsons, Mariners, Fortress', Mitchells and Catalinas. His daughter Lynn and her husband Graham were kind enough to provide a number of scanned items from this items he left. His daughter said of him: "He was born in Worcester England in 1907 , the middle of three children to Frederick Octavius Gascoigne and Agnes Mary Philpot. He emigrated to Canada when he was 17 as his intention was to farm. He worked on many farms over the depression, often just for room and board, all across Canada. In the mid 1930’s he took a radio course in Chicago and joined Canadian Pacific where he was a radio operator on the Great Lakes until the war started. He married my mother, Mary, in 1942 in Montreal and I was born in 1945. After the war he joined the Department of Transport where he continued to work as a radio operator until technology took over around the time he was due for retirement. He died in 1978 of cancer after a valiant struggle."
A photograph of a burning Hudson bomber from among John's things, it is thought that this is Hudson V9181, the first ferry aircraft listed on his Ferry Command card. It is recorded that this aircraft crashed on take off at Gandar on this date.
John Vernon Locke was a serving member of the Royal Air Force. He began his service with Fery Command as a Sergeant, Wireless Air Gunner (WAG) and it was his training as a radio Operator that seen him flying on JX330. He flew for Ferry Command for one year, from March 1944 to March 1945. During this time he was promoted to Officer rank. He continued to serve in the RAF after the war and his retirement was published in the London Gazette in 1969. He was born in Matlock in 1924 and he appears to have passed away only three years after his retirement in 1972.
Charles Oakley Woodard was a 30 year old pilot and came from Illinois. No wartime card exists for him in the DHH but he is found traveling through New York on at least two occasions with other Ferry personnel during 1944. After the war, he can be found as the co-pilot to the famous William 'Bill' Vanderkloot flying with the Johns Manville Corporation in business aircraft, including Beech D18, NC44643 in the years 1946 to 1948. He passed away in Arizona in 1995. His ferry flight records indicate he served as a Flight Engineer during his time with the Ferry organisation and beginning with one flight in October 1941 on a Liberator, thereafter on almost one aircraft per month to the UK, India or Africa. He resigned from his job in December 1944.
Catalina JX422, Foynes, Limerick
On the 5th September 1944 one of the more mundane of the wartime aircraft landing occurred in the Shannon Estuary of County Limerick. However what now appears as mundane must have been quite a worry for the crew of five airmen who found themselves putting down a large Catalina flying boat early that Autumn morning.
The crew taxied the aircraft from the area they landed towards the Flying Boat base at Foynes. There they made themselves known to the British Overseas Airways Corporation staff.
The local Gardai in Foynes submitted the following report on
the 6th of September: In confirmation of my telephone call
to your office on the 5/9/44 in connection with above matter,
I beg to report that at 1 p.m. on the 5/9/44, an R.A.F. twin
engined Catalina flying boat landed in Foynes Harbour. The
aircraft was taken under control by the Shannon Airport
Control Launch and conducted to a mooring in the harbour,
after which she was boarded by Captain Hewitt, Security Army
Officer at Foynes.
It was ascertained that the aircraft which carried a crew of five was a Catalina twin engined machine, registration Number J.X.422, carrying four mounted guns, which were sealed as received from the manufacturers, had no ammunition for same, and carried no small arms, and was in the course of delivery from Canada to United Kingdom by R.A.F. Transport Command. Information to hand is that the aircraft made an unsuccessful attempt to land in two Ports in the United Kingdom , and at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland, but was unable to do so owing to unfavorable weather conditions prevailing in the places stated.
After receiving instructions from his Hd. Qrs., Captain Hewitt had the machine placed under Military guard, and had the crew taken off, and accommodated at the British Airways Camp outside Foynes, where they remained until the morning of the 6th instant, when they left, boarded the aircraft at 11 a.m. and left Foynes Harbour for Northern Ireland was stated to be due to complete their journey. The reason for the going to Northern Ireland was stated to be due to bad weather conditions prevailing in the U.K. their final destination. it was stated by the crew that the aircraft was eighteen hours in the air in the course of her flight between Canada and the United Kingdom, before landing in Foynes Harbour, and this was borne out by the fatigued looking condition of the crew when they did come ashore. The machine did not present the appearance of being in combat, and the paper sealing was plainly visible on the guns of the aircraft. The report went on to detail the names and addresses of the crew and noted that only Thomas A Baxter was a serving RAF officer and the others were in their words, 'more or less civilian employees of the Manufacturing firm attached to Transport Ferry Command'.
The Army security officer Hewitt mentioned above submitted a
further report the same day and stated therein: As soon as
possible I boarded plane, and learned from the pilot, Capt.
Lancing, that he had left Gander Lake some 18 hours
previously, had twice attempted to land at Lough Erne, but was
prevented by adverse conditions and as he was running short of
petrol, made for Foynes. Owing to the tired condition of crew,
he wished to stay the night of possible, before proceeding to
Prestwick. At this point Lt. M. Graham of the Mt. trenchard
Garrison arrived in another launch, and said that he had
orders that "only the badly wounded were to be allowed
ashore". I told Captain Lancing there would be a delay, and
proceeded ashore. Cmdt. J. Lane had arrived, and was
contacted. He repeated the order that no one was to be allowed
to land. It also appeared that he wished to take the crew
under escort to Mount Trenchard. I particularly stressed the
fact that he was not dealing with ordinary RAF ratings, one
member of the crew only, was a regular RAF; that the plane was
in charge of a pilot of the Transport Command on a delivery
flight; that although there were 4 machine guns aboard, they
were all sealed as received from the manufacturers and there
was no ammunition of any kind on board: I also repeated the
request to be allowed to bring the crew ashore as they had
been on duty for 18 consecutive hours, were very tired, and
were getting sick from the motion of the aircraft at the
moorings in rough water. This was refused, as Cdt. Lane said
he must get into touch with Collins Barracks Cork first.
After contacting Cork, Cdt. Lane told me he was entrusting the crew to my care. Crew were therefore brought ashore about 45 minutes after mooring. A Corporal O'Sullican of the 15th. Batt. was placed aboard by the Cdt., and as there was a good deal of loose equipment about, I requested Capt. Lancing to leave a member of his crew aboard. This crew member was later replaced by a BOAC watchman in agreement with the Captain, as no member of the crew was fit to be on watch. BOAC had been asked by their London officer to render every assistance possible after obtaining the approval of the State authorities. Crew was taken to Bolands meadow where they were provided with beds and given food. They slept there on the night of 5/6 Sept., and as weather conditions had improved today, left at 11.24 by the the Lough Erne Corridor. C.S.O. of the Air Corps authorised refueling, and 400 gallons of 100 octane spirit was supplied by the Shell Coy.
It is understood that instructions have already been issued to those concerned, that RAF Transport Command, or passenger carrying planes alighting in this area, will be dealt with by the Foynes Airport Security Officer. May it be respectfully suggested that these orders be repeated and so obviate delay and confusion in future case of a like nature.
The crew of the aircraft gave their names to the Irish military and from this source, their names have been confirmed from wartime records to be the following five men:
|Wayne Frederick LANSING||Charles Alfred CHILDS||F/O John Henry HORLER 153748 RAFVR||F/Sgt Thomas Anthony BAXTER 633692||Marcel Mendel MORRIS|
Wayne Frederick LANSING was a 45 American pilot at the time of his short stay at Foynes. Wayne was born in Indiana in 1897. He was in 1927 the chief instructor of and vice president of Decatur Airways Corp., a flying training school set up near Decatur and Clinton, Illinois. The Decatur Evening Herald recorded that he was a veteran of the A.E.F., the First World War, American Expeditionary Force, and it was during his time in France that he met Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and other famous members of the in American Flying service. His interest in flying stemmed from this time. In 1928 he was flying as a commercial pilot in Iowa, piloting a Ryan Brouhgam during a June 1928 aviation tour of cities in Iowa. He became a pilot with Braniff in 1929 and was married in 1930 in Mexico, newspaper reports of the time mention that he was then a Pan American pilot. He is mentioned in the 1942 Who’s Who in Aviation as being pilot with Pan American Ferries. His Ferry Command records indicates he began flying with that service in May 1943 and flew numerous aircraft to Europe and Africa. He passed away in 1963 in California where he had made his home.
Charles A CHILDS was born in Michigan in 1915. He was
the co pilot on Catalina JX442 during it journey to Europe. He
flew extensively with 45 Group from his joining in 1943.
In 1966, he featured in an advertisement of Wilcox Transponders in American Aviation publications, being the Chief pilot with Gerber Baby foods.
Charles passed away in 1992 in Michigan. Buried with his wife Verna, his grave stone carries an engraved DC-3 image.
The name John H Harley was recorded by the Irish Army at the time of the incident at Foynes. He was aged 21 and was the navigator on the aircraft. It is implied in the Irish Army report that he was a civilian and was from Reading in England. This airman was confirmed in 2013 as being John Henry HORLER from Reading and a letter to an address near in Reading was replied to by Mr Horler who supplied a copy of a page from his wartime log book confirming that he was on Catalina JX442. He later served with the RAF’s 231 Squadron on trans-pacific transport flights during 1945 and his name appears on my flight manifests for that year.
Thomas Anthony Baxter was a young Flight engineer from Atherton near Manchester in England. He was a serving member of the RAF and held the rank of Flight Sergeant. He had flown with Ferry Command and 45 Group as early as August 1942 when he delivered three Catalina’s overseas. The rest of his wartime deliveries were on Liberators with some Catalina’s interspersed. He also helped deliver two Canadian built Lancaster’s to the United Kingdom, KB711 and KB755, during 1944. His name can be found on the manifests of four aircraft arriving at New York during May, June and July 1944. He was returning to North America having been on ferry duties. He traveled to India during 1944 also. Thomas Baxter passed away in Taunton District in April 2006.
The radio operator on this Catalina was Marcel Morris,
a 33 year old civilian from London, the son of Celine Morris.
His name appears on British Postal Service Appointment books in
1940 as being a certified Wireless Operator, a common occupation
for those who later flew as ferry radio operators.
Marcel was married in 1947 to Marguerite Ellenson (nee Kholodenko). He passed away in London in September 1970 aged 59.
The aircraft itself was a version of the famous Consolidated Catalina Flying boat. This aircraft was not built be Consolidated but by the Boeing of Canada company at their Sea Island facility at Vancouver. This was one of a batch of Boeing PB2B-1 Catalina's delivered to the US Navy and the Royal Air Force and Royal New Zealand Air Force. These aircraft were license built versions of Consolidated's own PBY-5 model and were non amphibious airframes.