PBY Catalina International Association
1990 Volume 2, Number 3 (p.05)

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


This "short-time-respite" had been explained to them at the U.S.Navy briefing room back on Ile Nue. This crew was to take possession immediately of the repaired PBY-5, except "FARMILOE" and "RIGGER" were to be replaced respectively by "Squadron Leader McGILL" & "Flight Engineer BARTLETT". The plane had already been full-fueled, bomb racks loaded with 250 pound bombs plus depth charges, plus full ammo cans and food for the galley. They were to proceed at once to an indicated position east of New Caledonia and rendezvous with a 14-ship convoy that had been torpedo attacked by a submarine only FOUR hours previously. Jack Bartlett had been assigned apparently, because the plane had not yet received its post-maintenance test flight and therefore had not completed his major tasks. Soon after contact had been made with the convoy, they commenced their submarine search pattern. Too soon after the search commenced, Jack reported that the starboard engine temperature was indicating a malfunction either in the engine or indicating system. By 0100 on 9 Nov. after having departed at 1820 from Ile Nue and at 0755 on 8 Nov. from Espiritu Santos ("Vanuatu" since 30 July 1980), the long hours were beginning to catch up with the crew except McGill and Bartlett who may have had a little more rest before the flight. The "auto-pilot" (George) and the fresher pilot, McGill afforded John some relief. When all of a sudden, everyone was alerted from their fatigue/"sinkies" right after the starboard engine lost power and before "George" could be disengaged, the plane engaged itself into a flat-spin. As centrifugal forces were affecting the crew members' emergency procedures, so was adreneline replacing fatigue. Under manual control, John MacGrane regained control at 500 feet altitude and normal engine performance was restored for the time being! However, wireless operator ORMESBY had advised Ile Nue the prevailing situation. The crew was advised to return to Ile Nue, but be prepared to have to bail-out nearby as the wind and bay waters were too dangerous to set down to! By now, the "panic session of engine malfunction and unscheduled pirouetting display was over"; it was decided to stay on station until daylight. The landing back at Noumea harbor at 0610 coincided with an abated wind although most of the crew had remained awake since 0530 the previous morning. While with the convoy, no further attacks were made on the ships. Although the crew had been in the air for over 16 hours, flight rescheduling was set for only a couple of hours. The cylinder with the thermocouple for CHT (Cylinder Head Temperature) at its spark plug had apparently not been securely tightenend as the cause for erratic engine temp readings and as for the engine loosing power, that had been blamed on a temporary passing of a bit of water through the carburetor. So with Farmiloe and Rigger back aboard, there were two crew members who had a full night's sleep as we again became airbourne at 0805 again on the 9th. Seven hours and five minutes later, a landing was made at Lauthala Bay, Suva, Fiji. Following a debriefing, the crew was permitted to really get some bed-sleeping in until the afternoon of the 10th. The crew was able to give its plane a decent inspection and tidying through until the afternoon of the 11th, then went into Suva for a little recreation. While eating noon meal on the 12th, the crew was summoned to get ready for flight. The question was asked if this was finally for a test flight? "Hell no!" was the reply it's for ops! At briefing, it was learned that the "San Juan", with some 1,429 men aboard, had been torpedoed at 0900 that day, taking one torpedo in the engine room and another in the No.1 hold. (This "San Juan" was a troop ship, not the U.S. light Cruiser "CL-54"). The attack had taken place some 100 miles south of the Tonga Islands. Up to now, the crew had expected to return to Espiritu Santo. A slight change had been made to the flight crew with Flight Officer Stanley KIRK of Auckland replacing Ross LAURENSON as navigator. Airbourne at 1250 on the 12th and arrived on scene in tropical rain storm at 1620 at an altitude of 70 feet, but still with extremely poor visibility, but anything lower and a collision could take place with the ship. Suddenly a clearing took place with a dreadful view of hundreds of men in the sea, some fortunately in lifeboats or rafts, some clinging to flotsam, others in life-jackets. There was a liberty ship cruising quite slowly with its cargo nets lowered over the sides near the survivors to enable them to possibly cling to the net and climb aboard. The liberty ship obviously was not going to be stopped and be a target itself for torpedoing, then as it was obscured in a rain squall, it proceeded on to its presumed destination. Next that came into view was a Pan American Airways flying boat that was on the water and had taken on about 40 survivors. Not able to make radio contact with it, it was laboring in perhaps 16-foot swells and its starboard wing tip float had been damaged. Then Harry Formiloe's voice came over the intercom: "Stand-by the Pan Am plane