The ferrying of earliest RAAF Catalinas, an exchange, and one for RAF 205 Sqn.
Put together by Wynnum B Graham, May 2002.
One might suitably begin a discussion on ferrying Catalinas across the Pacific at 10Jan41 – this is when British Air Commission Washington advised UK Ministry of Aircraft Production that Australia had received US State Department approval as follows (paraphrased) – "American crews to deliver PBY’s [sic] to the last refuelling base in American territory and not till this point can they be handed over to crews which must be composed of civilians and not service personnel. For the Australians crossing via Noumea, their civilian crews could take over at Hawaii."
The British Embassy was to approach the State Department for similar approval for a northerly route via Midway, for RAF Catalinas on delivery to 205 Sqn, where the civilian take-over point was Manila, Philippines – such approval was subsequently received.
Note that the nineteen ferry flights to Australia, eighteen for RAAF, and one for RAF, all had QEA captains, and most had a QEA flight engineer and a QEA radio operator. Other civilian crew members met the letter of the law by being temporarily demobilised (officers) or released from service (other ranks).
Inscription of the RAAF & RAF serials.
The planes were inscribed at the factory with their previously notified numbers, and they were not removed prior to or during ferry. The factory inscriptions of interest here were A24-1, A24-2, AH534 and AH540.
Military identity of the planes
I have never encountered any requirement for the military identity of the planes to be deleted or disguised. To the contrary, evidence exists of the military markings being inscribed at the factory and remaining in place through the ferry.
Supporting note re military serial numbers remaining inscribed - I spoke a couple of years ago with Will. Wallace. As a CAC employed flight engineer he crewed Catalinas on stages of delivery from San Diego. W Wallace recorded the military serials in his log book, crewing, amongst others :--
AH531 San Diego to Bermuda 02Jan41
A24-1 San Diego to Hawaii 12Feb41
AH539 San Diego eastward 22Feb41
A24-2 San Diego to Forth Worth to Elizabeth City. (date not recorded in my notes)
W8410 San Diego eastward 10Mar41.
Civilian radio callsigns were needed for the civilian operation of the ferry flights – these were allocated from the Australian VH- register, VH-AFA to VH-AFS. I’ve not found evidence of the callsigns being inscribed on these Catalinas.
Note – these were not civil aircraft registrations.
Note – many other examples exist, in Australia’s area of responsibility, right through WWII, of VH- radio callsigns being allocated to military aircraft, not just the first Catalina ferry flights.
Genesis of the exchange
Paraphrased from a British Air Commission, Washington, signal –
"There is some doubt whether we shall have crews to ferry across the Atlantic this month all the boats due for delivery during the month so we could not divert civilian crews to deliver boats to Singapore. Therefore in order to take away all boats due for delivery we have with the approval of Morris Wilson made following proposition to Australians who have two ferry crews at San Diego. One boat off the British quota for January to be taken over by Commonwealth in return for their second boat due for delivery end of February .
Second Australian crew to deliver one British January boat to Singapore and remain there for a fortnight to indoctrinate British crews. This will mean that two boats will be in British or Australian hands near possible theatre of war in Far East some weeks earlier than otherwise possible and will save despatch of one British crew from Singapore to US. One Australian boat and two more British boats will follow to Australia and Singapore respectively in February. Australians here are anxious to adopt this proposition and are cabling their Government for approval."
Australians agree to the exchange and ferry arrangements
More from British Air Commission, Washington, on 24Jan41.
"Proposal made to Aust Govt , in Briny 2505 was welcomed by them, and all arrangements completed for two boats to leave San Diego this morning.
One for Australia, the other for Singapore via Honolulu, Canton Island Noumea and Brisbane."
This plan did not come off exactly as planned. For some reason, Lord Beaverbrook tried to halt the proceedings. But, as evidenced below , he didn’t quite get his way, and 25Jan41 saw the departure from San Diego, of AH534.
To Beaverbrook from H Self. Re telephone conversation about Catalina Flying Boats
We are committed to the Australian Government with regard to the first boat which was exchanged for their boat due end of February. Documents have been exchanged and the boat in fact left for Australia today. Arrangements were too far advanced to permit cancellation.
Departure of second boat for Singapore has been suspended and it is now standing by at San Diego awaiting instructions. This boat is our property and we are only committed to the Australians to the extent that we asked them to deliver the boat to Singapore and they altered their arrangements to meet our wishes.
So there we have the first ferry flight to Australia under way. QEA Trip A.
This was AH534, built on hull number 27, being CAC number 5 within the contract F-210. [French contract, taken over by the British at the fall of France.]
It flew from San Diego to Hawaii as AH534 25/26Jan41 under Captain Greer of CAC. QEA Captain Lester brain was co-pilot. Australian Captain P G Taylor was navigator, CAC radio operator and flight engineer (names missing). Also aboard were D Wright QEA engineer, A Patterson QEA radio officer, RAAF Sergeants Richmond and Bemrose,no doubt under civilian status, as was Captain Allen, a Squadron Leader when not temporarily demobilised from RAAF duty.
At Honolulu, the three CAC crew left the flight and QEA Captain O Denny joined the flight. AH534 flew Honolulu to Canton Island 28Jan41, QEA Trip A, radio callsign VH-AFA, under Captain Brain. Then depart Canton 30Jan41 reach Noumea next morning (now 01Feb41 due to the dateline crossing).
At Noumea O Denny and A Patterson departed the flight, to return to Honolulu.
AH534 under QEA Capt Brain flew Noumea-Rose Bay, Sydney on 02Feb43. QEA Trip A was completed.
On 04Feb41, RAAF Crew under S Ldr Allen flew AH534 to RAAF Base Rathmines, where it was taken on RAAF accounts as A24-1. It held this A24-1 identity until written off in 1945, having been damaged and converted to parts.
The second Catalina ferry flight to Australia QEA Trip B.
This was factory A24-1 (not to be confused with "in RAAF service" A24-1 mentioned above). It was built on hull number 40, being CAC number 1 within contract A-58.
It flew from San Diego to Honolulu as A24-1 12/13Feb41 under CAC personnel Captain McMakin with navigator Mitchell, radio operator McFarland, and (afore-mentioned) engineer Will Wallace. These four CAC crew left the flight at Honolulu.
Also aboard from San Diego were Australians, second pilot F Chapman, navigator G Nicoll, engineer F Rowson radio operator A Clark, and engineer J Tennant.
At Honolulu O Denny joined the flight as Captain, Capt. Crowther joined as second pilot, and A Patterson joined as radio operator. [ Denny & Patterson had deplaned AH534 previously at Noumea, and returned to Hawaii on PAA clipper.]
A24-1(factory number) flew Honolulu to Canton Island 15Feb41, QEA Trip B, radio callsign VH-AFB, under Captain Denny. Due first to engine fuel problem, then cyclonic weather enroute, A24-1 was held up at Canton Island. Then depart Canton 24Feb41 reach Noumea next morning (now 26Feb41 due to the dateline crossing).
At Noumea W Crowther and F Chapman left the flight for return to Honolulu.
A24-1 (factory number) departed Noumea 27Feb41 reaching Rose Bay, Sydney on that afternoon. QEA Trip B was completed.
On 01Mar41 factory A24-1 was allotted to Seaplane Training Flight at Rathmines and was taken on RAAF accounts as A24-2. It held to this A24-2 identity through-out WWII.
Again, more from British Air Commission, Washington.
Australian crew now available to deliver Catalina to Far East. This crew will take delivery first aircraft at Honolulu approximately 21Feb41.
The third Catalina ferry flight to Australia. QEA Trip C.
This was AH540, built on hull number 55, being CAC number 11 within the contract F-210. It flew from San Diego to Hawaii as AH540 04/05Mar41 under Captain McMakin of CAC. QEA Captain Crowther took over at Honolulu and with second pilot Mr F B Chapman (demobilised RAAF Flight Lieutenant).
AH540 flew Honolulu to Canton Island 05Feb41, QEA Trip C, radio callsign VH-AFC, under QEA Captain Crowther. Then, via Noumea, to reach Rose Bay, Sydney, on 12Mar41; QEA Trip C was completed.
AH540 was then ferried to RAF 205 Sqn, under RAAF F Lt F B Chapman as captain, 20/23Mar41 from Sydney via Townsville, Darwin, and Sourabaya to Seletar, with F LT Anderson, F Sgt O’Donnell, Lac Pilkington, and LAC Dawson as crew. This crew remained at RAF Base Seletar, Singapore, until 04Apr41 to give instruction.
Factory A24-2 ferry San Diego to UK. Re-identified DP202 20May41.
This was factory A24-2 (not to be confused with "in RAAF service" A24-2 mentioned above). It was built on hull number 57, being CAC number 2 within contract A-58.
CAC flight engineer Will Wallace log book shows he crewed A24-2 from San Diego to Fort Worth and on to Elizabeth City. The date is not recorded by me, but it was between 22Feb41 when he crewed AH539 to Elizabeth City, and 10Mar41 when he crewed W8410 to Elizabeth City. Then, still as A24-2 it was ferried from Bermuda to Greenock 22Mar41, to spend its time at RAF Helensburgh being fitted/tested with the first long-range ASV. It was re-serialled DP202 on 20May41.
Summary of the first QEA Catalina ferry flights Honolulu to Rose Bay, Sydney, Australia.
AH534 => A24-1 arrived Australia 02Feb41
A24-1 => A24-2 arrived Australia 27Feb41
AH540 arrived Australia 12Mar41, to RAF at Singapore 20/23Mar41.
A24-3 arrived Australia 04Apr41
[And on like clockwork, as someone neatly put it.]