PBY Catalina International Association
1990 Volume 2, Number 3 (p.04)

I've made minor corrections. Click here to see the original Search


In the first paragraph of this letter, enlisted aviation pilots have been respectfully lauded. So many other enlisted airmen as a whole, were so very responsible for aviation progress and specific mission successes. The following is a requested anonymous account that took place late in 1942 during the Solomon Islands Campaign. A PBY-5 had just come out second best in a conflict with a Japanese "NELL" (Mitsubishi-96 or G3M model twin-engined torpedo-bomber, also equipped with 20MM cannons.) The PBY had received a hit in the right-front (as viewed from rear) reduction gearbox of the starboard engine. The engine was shut down immediately and cruising continued on the single port engine for some time until a protective cove of a small, hoped-for secure island was chosen to examine the damage. The flight engineer/plane captain surveyed the extent of damage, utilizing those handy portable "catwalk" type of engine access stands that easily attaches to the leading edge of the wing and the speed-ring of the engine cowling. His assessment revealed that the engine nose section had indeed been penetrated with one of the planetary gears being shattered and an adjacent exhaust valve pushrod housing and its enclosed pushrod had been severed. He also reported that he believed he could get the engine restored for them to fly back to their "tender". Sections of one of the canvas bunk-bottoms were cut to required shape along with part of an empty ammo-can, while debris was removed from the gearbox cavity. A necessary amount of fuel was drawn from the "A.E.L." fuel strainer drain-cock to clean the affected area. The formed canvas and metal backing was given an application of "Permatex", then secured over the hole in the gear-box (nose section) with a spider-web form of safety-wire application. The intake valve actuating pushrod and its housing assembly was transferred to the exhaust side. Then, with the aid of an evaporated milk can material shaped in the form of the damaged pushrod housing tube, it was placed back where the intake pushrod assembly had been and given a coat of Permatex and wrapped with adhesive tape. The question arose as to why this pushrod exhange procedure was done? The exhaust valve has to be actuated mechanically whereas the intake valve can be actuated to some extent by differential pressure between the cylinder's intake stroke and manifold pressure. Shortly after two hours duration, the engine was started and the PBY flew back the extra few hundred miles to the "tender" with all engine instruments and behavior within normal ranges. NOTE: The PPC recommended an "Air Medal", but reportedly, it was rejected because the task was performed on the surface! Ponder this over, "readers!
Now! An abbreviated account submitted from New Zealand member, Walter "Bill" LEADLEY's more lengthy account, that is intended for the association's compilation of more detailed reading. "Bill" had been one of a member of nine other crew members who had been on extensive patrol section search operations, operating from the seaplane tender "USS WRIGHT" (AV-1) positioned at Espiritu Santos in late 1943. As a welcome respite from this busy operational scene, his crew was assigned to fly one PBY-5 flying-boat to the Seaplane Repair Facility at Ile Nue in Noumea Harbor of New Caledonia in exchange for one that had just been completed under the supervision of another New Zealander (now a member of The PBY Catalina International Association also), Jack BARTLETT. For respective identity of these crew members, they were (by position): Flying Officer Captain, John McGRANE of Auckland*; 2nd Pilot, Harry FARMILOE of Auckland; 1st Wireless Operator, Abb ORMESBY of Auckland; 2nd Wireless Operator, Larry HEATH of Waimate; Navigator, Ross LAURENSON of Wellington; Chief Air Gunner, Walter LEADLEY of Wellington; Chief Flight Engineer, Ralph RIGGER of Hamilton; 2nd F/E, Noel MELVILL of Timaru and 3rd F/E, Jack WAKEFORD of Wellington. As soon as they were "buoyed" at Ile Nue on 8 November 1943 and within TWO hours they were on their way via a small transport barge across the harbor to enjoy the privileges of the French city of Noumea. It was only too short of a "look-see" about town, when a couple of "jeeps" manned by American "MPs" interfered with the question: "Are you New Zealand Airmen"? Following the affirmative reply the following "MP" statement was "Get In"!'

* Co-incidently: John McGRANE & Jim Morrison (this editor) had met the previous year (42) and had become quite good friends. Then in 1960, we met again in Auckland, when Jim M. had some business to transact with "Tasman Empire Air Lines" (TEAL), predecessor to "Air New Zealand". John McGrane was my business contact. Small World (John is now deceased!)