January 19, 2017

1941. Air Patrol in the Battle of the Atlantic

On Patrol Aboard a Catalina Seaplane
"A U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina taking off," 1943 (source)
Printed in the Kansas City Kansan, early 1941:
Grandstand Seat for Air Battle Fails to Make Former K. C. K. Man Feel Happy


United Press Staff Correspondent

Aboard Catalina flying boat, on Atlantic patrol — (UP)

"Aircraft ahead!"

The pilot's curt announcement and the shrill shrieking of the alarm horn transformed that laughing group of 20-year-olds aboard the American-made patrol plane into a crew of fighting men with itchy trigger fingers.

The kid from London stopped slicing bread in his capacity of utility cook and crawled into the tail to man the rear machine gun.

The port and starboard gunners in their "blisters" on the sides of the California-built craft prepared their guns.

The observer almost bowled me over as he rushed to man the forward gun.

For the first time I felt that my grandstand seat in this Battle of the Atlantic was not exactly comfortable.

Through my binoculars the cloud-hopping plane two miles ahead looked like any other plane to me. But the pilot said it was a 2-motored Dornier 115.

We all knew that if there was one German plane in the vicinity, there might be twenty. Or the one plane might indicate the presence of a German convoy, or warships, below. One plane alone could signal our presence to others, and before long we might be in a trap.

The Catalina kept on its course. It is a magnificent craft. But for a matter of seconds I had one criticism of the California mechanics who made it. I caught myself wishing they had equipped it with 12-inch naval rifles—something you could get your teeth in.

But the danger passed. Apparently the plane ahead was on reconnaissance and didn't want to fight. The crew members were disappointed. I told them I was, too.

The crews love their "cats," praise their maneuverability and damn their long range. Catalinas can fly so far and so long that patrols average 18 to 20 hours in duration. The Catalina which spotted the German battleship Bismarck and summoned the British craft which sank it was in air 27 hours.

How many submarines have been sunk by Catalinas cannot be reported, but it may be said that the number is constantly increasing.

Patrol crews have time occasionally to think up wild schemes that would do credit to a Texas yarn spinner. The pilot of our Catalina told me one.

"The idea is," he said, "to throw green paint into the ocean where a submarine is reported. Later, when the submarine comes to the surface, the paint will cover the periscope and the commander will think he is still underwater and keep on rising.

"When the submarine reaches an altitude of about 2,000 feet, we will come along and shoot him down."