Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Canadian Warplanes 3: The Second World War, and post-War, Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina and Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A

Canadian Warplanes, 

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina, and Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A 

Data current to 13 Jan 2019.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM54-S4-: LP 112)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina, RCAF (Serial No. 9751), "Athlone", the first PB2B built at the Sea Island plant, near Vancouver, British Columbia, 27 July 1942.

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA (10), RCAF (Serial Nos. W8430-32, Z2134, Z2136-Z2140, DP202), Mk. IB (8), (Serial Nos. FP290-FP297), Mk. IVA (12), (Serial Nos. JX206, JX207, JX209, JX211, JX212, JX213, JX217, JX219, JX571, JX572, JX579, and JX580), for a total of 30 aircraft. 

The PBY-5 was not amphibious.  The PBY-5A Catalina is the American amphibious version.  The designation "PBY" was determined in accordance with the US Navy aircraft designation system of 1922; PB representing "Patrol Bomber" and Y being the code assigned to Consolidated Aircraft as its manufacturer.  Catalinas built by other manufacturers for the US Navy were designated according to different manufacturer codes, thus Canadian Vickers-built examples were designated PBV, and Boeing Canada examples were designated PB2B.   In accordance with the contemporary British naming practice of naming seaplanes after coastal port towns, the RAF used the name Catalina and the US Navy adopted this name in 1942.  The USAAF, later the USAF, used the designation OA-10.  

Boeing Canada built 240 PB2B-1 (PBY-5, non-amphibious) for the RAF and the RCAF from 1942. 

Boeing Canada also built 67 PB2B aircraft with a taller fin.  Most were supplied to the RAF as the Catalina Mk. VI.

Canadian Vickers built 50 Catalina Mk. II (non-amphibious) for the RAF.  

 (DND Photo via Bob Ayres)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 11089), over RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario, 1951.

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, (244), RCAF (Serial Nos. 9701-9844, 11001-11100).

RCAF examples of the amphibious version of the Consolidated PBY-5A were named Canso, after the town of that name in Nova Scotia.  The PBV-1A Canso is the Canadian Vickers-built version, of which 380 were built, including 150 provided to the RCAF as the Canso A and the rest to the USAAF as the OA-10A.  620 variants of the Canso were built in Canada.  

The PBY-5A models had hydraulically actuated, retractable tricuycle landing gear, with a main gear design based on one from the 1920s designed by Grumman, for amphibious operation.  The bow gun position featured a turret equipped with twin .30 calibre machine guns, improved armour and a self-sealing fuel tank.

 (DND Photo via Bob Ayres)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 11089), last flight ferry flight from RCAF Station Trenton, to Dunnville, then placed in storage, Ontario, 1952.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM1184-S3-: CVA 1184-11862)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina, RCAF (Serial No. 9751), "Athlone", the first PB2B built at the Sea Island plant, near Vancouver, British Columbia, 27 July 1942.

 (City of Vancouver Archives Photo, AM1184-S3-: CVA 1184-1196)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina, RCAF (Serial No. 9751), "Athlone", the first PB2B built at the Sea Island plant, near Vancouver, British Columbia, 27 July 1942.

 (SDA&SM Photo)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA, RAF (Serial No. W8406), No. 209 Sqn, Jan 1941.

 (SDA&SM Photo)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IV, RAF (Serial No. JX637).

 (SDA&SM Photo)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA, RCAF (Serial No. Z2136 ), 26 May 1941.

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IVA, RCAF (Serial No. JX212).  (RCAF Photo)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IVA, RCAF (Serial No. JX580) in flight.  (RCAF Photo)

(SDA&SM Photo)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IVA, RAF (Serial No. JX286), Mar 1944.

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA, RAF (Serial No. AM557), on beaching gear, preparing to be ferried to the UK, 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3545895)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA, RAF (Serial No. W8432), on beaching gear, preparing to be ferried to the UK, 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3545899)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IA, RAF (Serial No. W8432), being ferried to the UK, 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3545900)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IVA, radio equipment, 29 Sep 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3581907)

Boeing Canada PB2B-1 Catalina Mk. IVA, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 29 Sep 1941.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388278)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9741).  (RCAF Photo via James Craik)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9742), after breaking through the ice on the Ottawa River near Rockcliffe, Ontario, 1942.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582015)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, 29 June 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583331)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, 13 May 1944.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9792), No. 3 OTU, RCAF, Patricia Bay, BC, 3 May 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388268)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, No. 160 (BR) Sqn, Newfoundland, 13 Oct 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388269)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9798), No. 160 Sqn, Newfoundland, 13 Oct 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388270)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9793).  Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 358979)

 

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF.   (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583330)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF, 11 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583403)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 11079), 11 Aug 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583405)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, bow nose guns, 21 July 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3582988)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF, 25 Sep 1944.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3583517)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF(Serial No. 11040), AK-D, No. 408 Sqn,  2 Apr 1951.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388267)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, 11 Dec 1948.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584169)

 

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 11074), 23 Nov 1951.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584648)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9645), post war.  (RCAF Photo)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, 2JATO equipped, 17 Jun 1950.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584376)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, on the water, 1949.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584323)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, on the water, 1949.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584319)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9787), Fairey Battle, RCAF (Serial No. R7439), Avro Anson, RCAF (Serial No. 11631), Lockheed Hudson, RCAF, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 30 June 1943. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3589737)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9787), Fairey Battle, RCAF (Serial No. R7439), Avro Anson, RCAF (Serial No. 11631), Lockheed Hudson, RCAF, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 30 June 1943.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3589727)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9787), Fairey Battle, RCAF (Serial No. R7439), Avro Anson, RCAF (Serial No. 11631), Lockheed Hudson, RCAF, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 30 June 1943. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3589675)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, (Serial No. 11093),  CF-NJL.  Gananoque Airport hangar, Ontario.   (Alain Rioux Photo)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A (Serial No. 9830), C/N CV-264, C-FPQK.  1942.

 (Author Photo)

Consolidated Vultee PBY-5A Catalina (BuNo. 46655), C/N 2019, 4, C-FIZU, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Forest Service, Goose Bay, 1977. 

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF, No. 413 (Tusker) Squadron, 15 Dec 1948.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3643747)

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, RCAF (Serial No. 9830), coded CH*M with No. 103 Search and Rescue Flight, on the water at Moose Factory, Ontario, 1949. (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3388272)

RCAF Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall in his Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, ca 1942.  (DND Photo)

An RCAF Canso flown by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall foiled Japanese plans to destroy the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet on 4 April 1942 when it detected the Japanese carrier fleet approaching Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  He would later serve as Air Commodore Leonard Joseph Birchall, CM, OBE, DFC, OOnt, CD, (6 July 1915 – 10 September 2004).

In early 1942, he joined RCAF No. 413 Squadron, then based in the Shetland Islands and flew patrols over the North Sea.  After the Japanese successes in southeast Asia, the squadron was sent to Ceylon to provide a reconnaissance force.  On 4 April 1942, only two days after his arrival, Squadron Leader Birchall was flying a PBY Catalina that was patrolling the ocean to the south of Ceylon.  Nine hours into the mission, as the plane was about to return to base, ships were spotted on the horizon. Investigation revealed a large Japanese fleet, including five aircraft carriers, heading for Ceylon, which at that time was the base for the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet.  Birchall's crew managed to send out a radio message, but the Catalina was soon shot down by six Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters from the IJN carrier Hiryu.  The Easter Sunday Raid went ahead despite Birchall’s signal, but his warning put the defenders on alert and allowed the harbour to be partially cleared before the Japanese attacked Colombo.

Three of his crewmen were killed in the action and the others, including Birchall, spent the rest of the war as prisoners of war (PW).  For many captured servicemen, a trip to a Japanese camp meant death.  As the senior Allied officer in four successive Japanese prisoner of war camps, the resistance led by Birchall helped to reduce the Allied death rate from an average of 30% to less than 2%.  During his time in the PW camps, he repeatedly stood up to the Japanese and demanded fair treatment of the prisoners, in compliance with the Geneva Convention.  In his first camp, he struck a Japanese soldier who was forcing a wounded Australian to work.  This earned Birchall a severe beating and solitary confinement, but won him the respect of the other PWs.  In 1944, Birchall encountered a situation in which sick men were being forced to work on the docks.  He ordered all of the men to stop working until the sick were excused.  Birchall was beaten and sent to a special discipline camp, where he again was beaten.  He saved many ill soldiers by taking their beatings.  Birchall was liberated on 27 August 1945 by American troops.  His wife Dorothy had not known whether he was dead or alive for two years.  His diaries, written during his captivity and buried, formed the basis of a number of Allied wartime trials at which Birchall testified.

Flight Lieutenant Hornell was flying as aircraft captain on a Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A with RCAF No. 162 (Bomber Reconnaissance) Squadron, operating from RAF Wick f in Northern Scotland, when the following action took place for which he was awarded the VC.  On 24 June 1944 on sea patrol near the Faroes in the North Atlantic, Hornell's aircraft was attacked and badly damaged by the German U-boat U-1225.  Nevertheless he and his crew succeeded in sinking the submarine.  Hornell then managed to bring his burning aircraft down on the heavy swell.  There was only one serviceable dinghy, which could not hold all the crew, so they took turns in the cold water.  By the time the survivors were rescued 21 hours later, Hornell was blinded and weak from exposure and cold.  He died shortly after being picked up.  He is buried in Lerwick Cemetery, Shetland Islands.

Citation

Flight Lieutenant Hornell was captain and first pilot of a twin-engined amphibian aircraft engaged on an anti-submarine patrol in northern waters.  The patrol had lasted for some hours when a fully-surfaced U-boat was sighted, travelling at high speed on the port beam.  Flight Lieutenant Hornell at once turned to the attack.

The U-boat altered course. The aircraft had been seen and there could be no surprise.  The U-boat opened up with anti-aircraft fire which became increasingly fierce and accurate.

At a range of 1,200 yards, the front guns of the aircraft replied; then its starboard guns jammed, leaving only one gun effective.  Hits were obtained on and around the conning-tower of the U-boat, but the aircraft was itself hit, two large holes appearing in the starboard wing.

Ignoring the enemy’s fire, Flight Lieutenant Hornell carefully manoeuvred for the attack.  Oil was pouring from his starboard engine, which was, by this time, on fire, as was the starboard wing; and the petrol tanks were endangered.  Meanwhile, the aircraft was hit again and again by the U-boat’s guns.  Holed in many places, it was vibrating violently and very difficult to control.

Nevertheless, the captain decided to press home his attack, knowing that with every moment the chances of escape for him and his gallant crew would grow more slender.  He brought his aircraft down very low and released his depth charges in a perfect straddle. The bows of the U-boat were lifted out of the water; it sank and the crew were seen in the sea.

Flight Lieutenant Hornell contrived, by superhuman efforts at the controls, to gain a little height.  The fire in the starboard wing had grown more intense and the vibration had increased.  Then the burning engine fell off.  The plight of aircraft and crew was now desperate.  With the utmost coolness, the captain took his aircraft into wind and, despite the manifold dangers, brought it safely down on the heavy swell.  Badly damaged and blazing furiously, the aircraft rapidly settled.

After ordeal by fire came ordeal by water.  There was only one serviceable dinghy and this could not hold all the crew.  So they took turns in the water, holding on to the sides.  Once, the dinghy capsized in the rough seas and was righted only with great difficulty.  Two of the crew succumbed from exposure.

An airborne lifeboat was dropped to them but fell some 500 yards down wind.  The men struggled vainly to reach it and Flight Lieutenant Hornell, who throughout had encouraged them by his cheerfulness and inspiring leadership, proposed to swim to it, through he was nearly exhausted.  He was with difficulty restrained.  The survivors were finally rescued after they had been in the water for 21 hours.  By this time Flight Lieutenant Hornell was blinded and completely exhausted.  He died shortly after being picked up.

Flight Lieutenant Hornell had completed 60 operational missions, involving 600 hours’ flying.  He well knew the danger and difficulties attending attacks on submarines.  By pressing home a skilful and successful attack against fierce opposition, with his aircraft in a precarious condition, and by fortifying and encouraging his comrades in the subsequent ordeal, this officer displayed valour and devotion to duty of the highest order.

Canadian Vickers PBV-1A Canso A, 35 cent stamp, 1979.  (Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 2218627)