Aircraft History

Consolidated Catalina PBY-5

From the beginning of the Second World War the RCAF's medium range coastal patrol bombers lacked the range to engage German U-boats and surface raiders operating in the western Atlantic. To fill the void until orders for their own long-range aircraft could be fulfilled, the RCAF lobbied the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Americans for a share of the coastal patrol bomber Catalinas coming off the American production lines. The RCAF required these long-range aircraft to counter the expected U-boat threat off Canadian harbours and to escort convoys in the western Atlantic. But, since the U-boat had yet to present a serious threat in the western Atlantic the RAF and the Americans had higher priorities for the Catalinas and the RCAF had to make due with their shorter range Supermarine Stranraers, Douglas Digbys and Lockheed Hudsons.

As a result of the increasing Royal Navy and RAF success in countering the U-boat in the eastern Atlantic in the spring of 1941, the U-boats shifted their attacks on convoys to west of 35 degrees West longitude. On 20 May 1941, convoy HX 126 was heavily attacked 680 miles (1130 km) east of Newfoundland. The RCAF pressed again for immediate delivery of Catalinas; the plea was strengthened by the fact that a number of these aircraft were lying idle in the United States and Bermuda waiting to be ferried across the Atlantic. The next day bearings on a German radio transmission placed a U-boat at 55N 50W, on the fringe range of No. 10 (BR) Squadron Digbys forward based in Gander. The RCAF made the point that Catalinas with an effective range of 600 miles (1000 km) could have made a thorough search of the area. On 24 May the Air Ministry informed RCAF authorities in London that nine Catalinas on order for the RAF were being diverted from Bermuda to Eastern Air Command. The aircraft were being lent subject to replacement from the first delivery of Catalinas from the RCAF's own orders.

Also on 24 May the RCAF's need for a more effective coastal patrol aircraft was underscored when the German battleship Bismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugen broke contact with shadowing Royal Navy cruisers. No. 10 (BR) Squadron Digbys searched for the Prinz Eugen , which had continued to cruise the western Atlantic, but well beyond the range of the Digbys based in Newfoundland.

The nine loaned Catalinas were promptly delivered to No. 5 (BR) Squadron at RCAF Station Dartmouth in June. Having already sent personnel to Bermuda for training on type, No. 5 (BR) crews were well advanced in converting to the Catalinas by the end of the month. However, the squadron was considerably shaken by orders to transfer its most experienced personnel and all Catalinas to No. 116 (BR), a new squadron forming at RCAF Station Dartmouth. By the end of July No. 116 (BR) had dispatched a detachment of four aircraft to the seaplane station at Botwood NF. where it carried out the important task of escorting convoys routed through the Strait of Belle Isle. In the meantime, No. 5 (BR) Squadron reactivated its Stranraer biplane flying boats at Dartmouth.

By late 1941, small numbers of Canso aircraft, the amphibious version of the Catalina flying boat, were becoming available off both American and Canadian production lines. Finally in October 1941, No. 5 (BR) was the first RCAF squadron to convert to the famous Canso, greatly extending the range and endurance beyond the venerable Stranraer on convoy escort and anti-submarine patrols.

The RCAF returned the nine Catalinas to the RAF after taking delivery of a total of 30 Catalinas, which the RCAF operated from 1941 until 1946.

Type: Seven - nine crew long-range maritime patrol bomber flying boat.

Catalina Power Plant: Two 783 kW (1,050 hp) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-72 Twin Wasp radial piston engines.

(Following statistics are for PBY-5A Canso, which was similar to the Catalina except for being amphibious.)

Type: Seven - nine crew long range maritime patrol bomber amphibian/flying boat

Wing Span: 31.70 m (104 ft)

Length: 19.47 m (63 ft 10 in)

Height: 6.15 m (20 ft 2 in)

Max. Speed: 288 kph (179 mph)

Service Ceiling: 4,480 m (14,700 ft)

Range: 4,096 km (2545 miles)

Max. Weight: 16099 kg (35,420 lb)

Empty Weight: 9,485 kg (20,910 lb)

Power Plant: Two 895 kW (1,200 hp) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial piston engines

Armament: Two 7.65 mm (0.3 in) machine guns in bow, two 12.7 mm (0.5 in) machine guns (one in each beam position) plus 1,814 kg (4,000 lb) of depth charges.