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Consolidated Catalina, FP273, Lough Gill, Sligo, November 1942

On the 17th November the tranquility of a north Sligo lake was broken by the arrival of a British flying boat. Lough Gill is located to the east of Sligo town and the lake drains in to the town and out to the Atlantic via the Garavogue River.

The diary of the Royal Air Force Ferry Command station at Gander, contained the following entries for a Catalina flying boat that was making the dangerous crossing of the South Atlantic that week:

Tuesday, 17th November 1942
Delivery Catalina FP273, left Bermuda 1536, 16 Nov, due Greenock 1347, 17th Nov missing.  Aircraft and ships searching.

Thursday, 19th November 1942
Missing Catalina FP273 (Bermuda to Greenock) located at Lough Gill, Eire,.  Expected to arrive at Lough Erne today.

At around 16:25 on the evening of the 17th, a flying boat made a landing on the lake and the crew made contact with local people and authorities. It was found to have a crew of six on board. They reported that they were on a delivery flight from Bermuda to Scotland when they began to ran short of fuel. The crew were accommodated locally that night, four of the men staying at Hazelwood House while to remaining two stayed overnight onboard the aircraft. Hazelwood house was around this time unoccupied and was being used by the Irish Army as a billet. The crew members names were recorded by the military officers who attended the scene but this has allowed the identification of only three of the men due to the way the the names were recorded or through inability to find matching names in the wartime records.

Between the records held by the Irish Military Archives in Rathmines and the National Archives in Dublin, City Centre, the crew names can be found to be recorded as:
Captain G A Herson (Civilian)
First officer (Co-pilot) P/O A G Buchanan RAF
1st Radio Officer T J Howard US War Department Civilian
2nd Radio Officer C Push or Fuchs or Fushs US War Department Civilian
Navigator Sgt G Cantley Canadian Air Force
Flight Engineer Sgt P Barter or Darter RAF

The Irish Authorities contacted their counterparts in Northern Ireland after determining that the aircraft was on a non combat mission and that the airmen should be released. The RAF in Northern Ireland arranged for fuel to be sent to be sent across the border and the big Catalina flying boat was refueled on the lake. With the aircraft and its crew replenished, the aircraft took off again from the lake at 16:41 the following day.

The following photo of a Catalina appeared in Donal McCarron's book, Landfall Ireland and his research records indicate that it came from a local Sligo source.


The scan comes from a blog post by Terence O’Reilly which quotes the following from former Lt Owen Quinn in an article titled "On a Wing and a Prayer" published in the Irish Army magazine, An Cosantóir in September 1968.  It is interesting as its contains clues to the identity of two of the crew members as 'Tony Baxter' and 'Mr Fuchs'.

The steak was tender and thick. So were the onions. Only Trooper Conway could have salvaged such a morsel from the Officers’ kitchen. Late for the meal as usual, I sat in splendid isolation beside a Georgian kitchen range and lashed into the drum-up. Sgt. Fitzgerald stuck his impish grin through the kitchen door:” Plane circling overhead, Sir,” he announced, “Catalina by the looks of her.” This was sheer impertinence-or maybe keen observation, coming from a Cavalry Sergeant to a Coastwatching Second Lieutenant. Fitz had been studying the aircraft identity silhouettes which covered some of the damp spots on the Orderly Room wall of Hazelwood House, Sligo.

He was right. It was a Catalina flying boat and she spoiled my steak, for she had no business circling dangerously over a heavily wooded area. By the time I was astride my M.20  the Catalina had dropped out of sight through the trees and Lieut. Murphy (Cavalry) was ten lengths ahead of me on his M.20 heading for Lough Gill. But local knowledge is the essence of the problem; Spud overshot the boreen and I cut inside him, arriving on the lakeside cobbles with sufficient headway to claim the salvage, and save my face. The Catalina had touched down and was now miraculously sailing like one of Willy Yeats’s swans in the lee of his Isle of Inisfree. Miracle is no understatement because that Yankee pilot put her down on the only half mile of open water in the lake. Like a deus-ex-machina from a Greek play, one of the Sligo Gallaghers appeared in a rowboat.

” You are under contract,” says I without waiting to contact S4, “row me out to the flying- boat.”

We took Spud aboard just to show there were no hard feelings, and we were only a few cable– lengths ahead of an outboard launch manned (and womaned) by the Red Cross from Dromahair. There were six people aboard the flying boat, looking a bit shook, but not a feather out of any of them. Five of them came ashore but the Skipper would not budge-must stay with his ship. We knew he was carrying the current top secret equipment, a Norden bombsight. but he couldn’t know that we knew” and he had to keep his secret. The aircraft guns were sealed in protective tapes -a point which the Skipper made clear before we took the five into protective custody.

We  left the Skipper to the tender mercies of the Dromahair Red Cross who were last seen following a Christmas hamper into the bowels of the Catalina.  We made our landfall on the isthmus of Hazelwood and were welcomed by Captain Pat Cahalane, OC Cyclists, and current incumbent in the Hazelwood living. I can only remember the names of three of the five, Lt. Buchanan, R.A.F.; Flight Sgt. Tony Baxter, R.A.F., and an American civilian whose name I could not spell. He spelled it out F-U-C, and I winced as I waited for the H-S.  We proceeded in Capt. Cahalane’s bug-chaser but not before the unnamed Texan knelt down, literally kissed the sacred soil of Sligo and plucked a small green plant.”Is this a shamrock?” asked he, and I cast a botanical eye on it and said “No, it is a four- leafed Clover” and so Tinpan Alley was in business.

On arrival at Hazelwood I phoned my headquarters at Castlebar, and was kicked-to-touch to Athlone where everything else stopped. “We will phone you back,” said the anonymous voice and I put up the receiver which bounced back from Dublin.  I outlined the Facts. ” We will phone you back,” came the familiar echo, and the Sligo exchange began to develop earache. The next call was from Western Command Headquarters. ” May we take your men into Sligo for a meal,” I asked the Power-That-Was, for Troopers Conway and Ryan had exhausted their foraging prowess with the steak.”  You must stay with them,” came the warning voice from Athlone.

“Two of them are in uniform,” said I. ” They can’t go,” said the voice. So we fitted Lt. Buchanan and Sgt. Baxter out with sweaters and sports coats, and headed for Noone’s pub in Wine St. where we knew we would be secure. Mine host did us well as he phoned the Grand Hotel and ordered victuals for five shipwrecked mariners. On arrival at the Grand we found all Sligo had anticipated us, or so it seemed from the clamour in the bar where everyone wanted to  buy a round for the house. A judge, who was on circuit at the time, saved the situation by sending down his card from his chambers upstairs and ordering the castaways to take audience of him, on the plea that the Yanks had given him one hell of a swell do when last he crossed the Herring Pond.

In the meantime we gleaned the cause of the forced landing. Some discrepancy in the navigational instruments had caused the navigator to zig-zag along his directional beam (to somewhere in Scotland). As a result they had to call on emergency fuel tanks but the pump was kaput. Faced with the prospect of touching dawn on a foul shore off Easky they made a last desperate effort to make Lough Erne. Shortage of fuel forced them down on Lough Gill.

Meantime we had to protect the Catalina and our neutrality from repercussions. The OC Cyclists., being the senior officer present, ordained that no boat should approach within three hundred yards of our sitting duck, as all Sligo turned out on picnic to Lough Gill on the third day. One boat broke bounds and a camera lens flashed from amidships. The ubiquitous Sgt. Fitz put one round, live, through the bows of the offending craft and the sound of that round was the only report made on the matter. The cameraman sheered off, but probably made his kill.

With fuel and assistance from Baldonnel the Catalina was groomed for take off and, like one of the Children of Lir, she took off majestically, did a circuit of Ben Bulben for our edification and was gone forever from our ken. If the Skipper was nervous about his bombsight he was NOT nervous about his flightmanship. He took the topmost acorns off the Hazelwood oaks as a souvenir to match the Texan’s four-leafed clover.

The planes serial number is confirmed from the RAF Ferry Command record cards of four of the men who delivered her across the Atlantic. Catalina FP273 was a Consolidated built Catalina IB destined for anti U-Boat operations with the RAF.

The aircraft, a Catalina Flying boat, was finally delivered to the RAF and was assigned first to 302 Ferry Training Unit. With this unit Catalina crews would have made practice flights in preparation for hazardous long distance delivery flights to bases in Africa and the Far East. The aircraft was then posted to 209 Squadron based in East Africa and later to 259 Squadron, head quartered in Kenya, before being struck off charge in 1945.

George A
            Hersam JrGeorge A Hersam Jr was born in Stoneham, Middlesex, Massachusetts, the son of George and Mable Hersam. His father was a lawyer and in 1930, George Jr was working as a Insurance Agent, the same as his brother Raymond. He enlisted in the Air Corps reserve that Summer. Just a year later, the Air Corps newsletter of July 1931 lists George A Hersam Jr of Stoneham, Mass. as being among 98 cadets graduating as pilots from the Advanced flying school at Kelly Field, Texas. His posting to the 94th Pursuit Squadron was announced in the August newsletter and in December 1931, the newsletter reported a close call which 2/Lt Hersam survived. The Squadron was undertaking long distance high altitude test flights to test new oxygen equipment and the ability to move aircraft over long distance. The newsletter reported the problem as follows:
A short distance out of Washington, members of the flight noticed the plane piloted by Lieut. Hersam started cavorting crazily about the sky and then div1ng for the earth. Down he plunged out of sight of the remainder of the flight who, wondering, kept on towards Washington. They were delighted, indeed, to have him join the flight just before they landed. It was learned that Lieut. Hersam had accidentally detached the tube leading from his oxygen supply to his face mask while reaching for his map, He was soon unconscious, and his plane, out of control, dove towards the earth until at 7,000 feet the pilot recovered and righted his ship. He joined the flight over Washington, and the 12 planes landed as one unit at Bolling Field, Anacostia, D.C., the first one touching the ground at 3:50 p.m. [AFHSO website]

In December 1933 however he appears to have had a crash in which he suffered serious injuries.  The crash took place in Florida.

By the time of the 1940 census, George appears to be staying in a Chicago hotel with an occupation of Air line pilot. In his college alumni magazine, 'The Tomahawk of Alpha Sigma Phi' in 1939, he reported that he was flying New York to Chicago with American Airlines. This follows through to his appearance on the cards of RAF Ferry Command in July and August 1941 when he delivers three Hudson bombers across the Atlantic, returning each time by the ATFERO Return ferry service on board a Liberator transport. The 'Who's Who in Aviation' published in 1942 describes him as being: Capt. Amer. Airlines Inc. since 1936; engaged on leave from Amer. Airlines Inc. in ferrying new airplanes across Atlantic Ocean from Canada to England since June 1941.. He continued flying with the RAF Ferry Command and 45 Group which took over operations later in 1944. He records credit him with delivering at least 31 aircraft around the world including to South Africa and Egypt. The aircraft were a mixed bag of wartime multi engined aircraft including, Hudsons, Liberators, Catalinas, a Mosquito, Coronado, Mariner and Dakota.

The Vermont based, Newport Daily Express recorded on 15 July 1944, that Capt. George Hersam along with Flight Engineer and Mrs Woodard had stayed with friends in in Newport. The Woodard is expected to be the Charles Oakley Woodard who arrived in Ireland on Catalina JZ330 in March 1944.

The Vermont Journal of 4 Jan 1945 mentioned George in the following visit:
"Capt. George A Hersam Jr., of the R.A.F. Transport Command, spent the Christmas Holiday at the home of Miss Blancha Daniels.  Capt. Hersam has recently been awarded a citation from King George VI for outstanding service.  Following his visit here, Capt, Hersam has returned to his base in Bermuda."

By Dec 1937 newspapers report he is an aviator with American Air Lines.  He is mentioned in a 1946 Tennessee newspaper as being a pilot with Trans Air Inc. and flying through Nashville airport.  The 1958 magazine 'Skyways for Buiness' reported that a George Hersam was chief pilot at Cornell Dubilier Electric Corp. and flying a DC-3.

George passed away in Dade, Florida aged 69 in February 1978.

Alistair
            Scott BuchananAlistair Scott Buchanan hailed from Glasgow and was born in 1922 to Georgina and William Scott Buchanan. He was commissioned as an officer in the RAF in March 1943 having commenced service with Ferry Command in September 1942. His records show him having been co-pilot on five Catalina deliveries before taking command of another three deliveries of the famous flying boat. These eight aircraft took place over a sixteen month period, the gaps between been filled by slow journeys by boat, train and aircraft back to Canada.

Alistair married in Canada in November 1945, to Joy Woodferne Lawrence of Mont Royal, Montreal.  He remained an RAF officer until the summer of 1946 when the London Gazette recorded his commission being relinquished due to medical unfitness for service.  It is not known what this related to.

Sadly, he was to loose his life in a car racing accident in 1953, as recorded by the The Autocar magazine: "ALISTAIR BUCHANAN, the third member of the crew of Sunbeam-Talbot 131, who was tragically killed when the car was involved in an an accident near Liege during the Monte Carlo Rally, was a keen Scottish motor sporting enthusiast, and will be sadly missed by his many friends over the Border. He served during the war as a pilot with Ferry Command. His wife and three children have my deepest sympathy.".

Alistair's daughters were so very kind as to provide the photos and newspaper cuttings shown on this page.

Alistair Scott
        BuchananAlistair Scott Buchanan


William
            Grant CantleyWilliam Grant Cantlay was born in February 1912 in Toronto to Gladys Mary and William Cantlay, both of whom had been born in Scotland.  He was working as a clerk with the Loblaw Groceterias Company in Toronto at the time he enlisted in August 1940.  He was also studying a scholarship in Commercial Art at the Federal Art School.  He was very involved with rowing in Canadian Henley Regatta.

His training brought him from 20 EFTS in 1941 through, 16 SFTS, 8 AOS, 9 B&GS to the 1 ANS in Jun 1942.  He had originally been lined up for pilot training but, having been deemed unsuitable as a pilot while at 16 SFTS, was put forward as a navigator, or observer.  His observer training being carried out at the AOS, BGS and ANS.

He was commissioned as a pilot officer in July 1942.  He was classified as a Nav B (Spec) in October 1942.  His passport, contained in his RCAF service file, shows a stamp dated November 4th, 1942, stating "Seen at the passport office, Ottawa.  Good for the journey to Egypt."

Catalina FP273 is the first aircraft delivery listed on his Ferry Command card, and he continued on this duty for the next eighteen months.  The Queen Elizabeth was his means of returning to Canada after the delivery, arriving in Halifax along with at least Buchanan on 10th December.

He is listed on 13 deliveries including a Catalina again, serial number FP323, in January 1943.  He arrived back in Montreal on 29 January 1943 and has no posting out until late March.  The most of April was spent on a posting to 'N.B.' and it was not until August 1943 that he was again involved in a transatlantic ferry this time on Ventura FP580.   This was followed by eleven Baltimore and Marauder aircraft, all of which were deliveries to Accra in Africa.  His Ferry Command card lists his final delivery as Marauder HD548 and states he was killed in crash on 28-5-44.  His service file however tells a fuller picture.

The 3rd of June 1944 would find William scheduled to fly on a delivery of a Marauder twin engine bomber out of Khartoum in Sudan.  He was crewed on that occasion with three other Canadian men, and were in the process of delivering the aircraft from Accra to Cairo.  The aircraft, Marauder HD417 suffered an engine failure on take off and while attempting to make a belly landing 10 miles east of Khartoum, crashed killing at four crew including William Cantlay.  All four lie buried in Khartoum War Cemetery.

The Flight Engineer on the aircraft had proven a little bit of a mystery to determine the identity of.  The archival copies of the correspondence kept by the Irish Army and the Department of Foreign affairs are, as mentioned above, of particularly poor copy, this individuals name can be variously read as Sgt P Barter RAF or P Darter RAF.  However, based on the testimony of Lt Owen Quinn, the Irish Army officer who met the crew, who describes a crew member as being Sgt Tony Baxter, it turned out that he was in fact F/Sgt Thomas Anthony BAXTER 633692 who two years later and in similar circumstances would find himself on another stricken Catalina at the flying boat base at Foynes in County Limerick. 

Thomas A
          BaxterSgt Baxter came from Atherton near Manchester in England, born in September 1921 to Martha and ?? Baxter. 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 two remaining men proved more elusive to identify and it is understood they were civilian American employees or contractors with RAF Ferry Command, the term 'US War Department' was used by the Irish army in describing them.  And both were recorded as being Radio Operators.

One name was that of T J Howard but the other name is very difficult to read from the reports, being both hand written and typed, but only on carbon copies.

One of these men recorded above by Quinn as having the surname Fuchs, the Irish Army report, while being difficult to read, seems to give him the initial C.  The DHH in Canada have no records for any Ferry or Transport Command officer with that surname or similar, and there is no likely candidate listed in the Transat - Bulletin of Trans-oceanic Radio Officers association published in October 1945.

Philip FuchsThere is however one American Radio Operator, Mr Philip Fuchs, born 1907 in Maryland, who flew throughout the war with American Export Airlines (AEA), making at least ten trips from Foynes, Limerick to New York between July and November 1942.  It is felt that he well might be the mysterious Mr Fuchs from Catalina FP273.

Before this period, he had served as a Radio Operator for a number of years on ships.  He was on AEA duty on a flight returning from Foynes to New York on the 29th/30th November 1942.

It is thought that perhaps he was assigned for additional duty from AEA to RAF Ferry Command at that time, but this is only a guess.

He was registered for the draft in 1940, at which time he was working for Moore McCormack Steamship Company and living with his wife Christine in the Bronx, New York.

It might be the case that he was able to return to the US quick enough to take a flight from New York or Botwood before the 29th November.

He passed away in California in May 1979 and appears to have a US Coast Guard veterans headstone.

The final crew member, also unconfirmed, is the Mr T J Howard.  Again the records of Ferry and Transport command along with shipping records on genealogy websites throw very little light on who this individual might be.  He is not mentioned in Quinn's post war account. 

Thomas J
          HowardA possible person was a Thomas J Howard, born 1910 in Pennsylvania, who is found in the 1940 US census, working as a Radio Operator in civil aviation.  He was a former US navy aviator, and in 1940 was resident in Melbourne, Florida with  his wife Elizabeth but later that year they were living in San Diego.  He later in 1940 enlisted back into the US Navy and served with VR-11, Transport Squadron 11.  A photo of this man on a family tree on ancestry.com shows him in a flying suit with an RAF Ferry Command badge on the breast. 

It is hoped that his family might be able to confirm is he was on board FP273.



Compiled by Dennis Burke, 2021, Dublin and Sligo. If you have information on any of the people listed above, please do contact me at dp_burke@yahoo.com