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.
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 accomodated localy that night, four of the men staying at Hazelwood House while to remaining two stayed overnight onboard the aircraft. Hazelwood house was around htis time unocupied 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 aircraft, a Catalina Flying boat, was finally delivered to the RAF and was assinged 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 and later to 259 Squadron before being struck off charge in 1945. The planes serial number is confirmed from the RAF Ferry Command record cards of three 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.
Captain George Alexander Hersam Jr, Civilian, Pilot
P/O Alistair Scott Buchanan 130950, RAF, Pilot
Mr T J Howard, Civilian, Radio Operator, (Name to be confirmed)
Mr C Fuchs/Push/Fushs, Civilian, Radio Operator, (Name to be confirmed)
Sgt William G CANTLAY R/100829 RCAF, Navigator
Sgt P Barter/Darter ? RAF Flight Engineer, (Name to be confirmed)
George 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 equpment 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]
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 Retruns ferry service on board a Liberator transport. The 'Who's Who in Aviation' publised 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 1958 magazine 'Skyways for Buiness' reported that a George Hersam was chief pilot at Cornell Dubilier Eltric Corp. and flying a DC-3. George passed away in Dade, Florida aged 69 in February 1978.
Alistair Scott Buchanan hailed from Glasgow and was born in 1922. He was commishioned 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. Sadly, he was to loose his life in a car racin gaccident 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.".