Monday, June 8, 2015

Sunderland on Grass

W.W.II is full of remarkable and unique events. As a counterpart of the earlier post about a large flying boat taking off from an airfield (here) this is a film of a large flying boat landing on a grass airfield.

The Short Sunderland of 461 Squadron RAAF had managed to take off in a heavy sea, after a remarkable multiple open-sea rescue effort, but smashed a huge hole* in the forward planing hull, meaning there was no way it could land back on the water.

Despite being a pure flying boat, not an amphibian, the crew decided to land on the local airfield of Angle Aerodrome, near their base. This film footage was shot by the squadron commanding officer from a car chasing the landing Sunderland.

Having read about the story recounted with remarkable presence and emotion by Ian Southall (a decorated 461 Sunderland commander himself, and later writer of the official squadron history) in 'Fly West', it was a great privilege a number of years ago to be able to view the footage on a VHS tape in the research library's video booth at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).  The film brough something I'd read about to life in a dramatic and different way.

The smiles of the relieved crew were an unforgettable memory.

Now, the film is uploaded by the AWM on their website (here) and, as we see above, is also shared on YouTube for any interested viewer, such is the accelerating pace of internet access.

Here is the film's description, including the crew details and the story of how they got to be in such an awkward situation:
"This is an eyewitness film which shows Sunderland 'E' of 461 Squadron RAAF landing on Angle aerodrome near Pembroke Dock, Wales on 29 May 1943. It was shot from a moving car by Wing Commander D L G Douglas, DFC, squadron Commanding Officer.
Aircraft 'E' for Emu sustained a large hole in the hull plates in the region of the toilet when taking off in a lumpy sea 150 nautical miles beyond Bishop Rock, after rescuing crews of two other Coastal Command aircraft. One of these was a Whitley and the other was Sunderland 'O' of 461 Squadron RAAF which had crashed while attempting to land to rescue the Whitley crew. Sunderland 'E' landed in the open sea at 7.00 hours (Double British Summer Time) at a spot 175 nautical miles southwest of Bishop Rock and picked up the two crews from dinghies.
As the sea was too rough for a take off the Sunderland began taxying towards England and at about 10.00 hours was met by the Free French destroyer La Combattanter. The destroyer took 21 persons including five of the Sunderland 'E' crew on board and sent an armourer to disarm the aircraft's depth charges which were then jettisoned. At 13.00 hours the destroyer took the Sunderland in tow but many difficulties were met. Finally at 15.00 hours the towline broke and at 18.00 hours preparations were completed for take off. This had to be commenced across wind because of the state of the sea and took three or four times as long as usual. It was finally achieved after turning head-on to the wind and striking large waves, the last one of which hurled the Sunderland into the air but also ripped a large hole in the hull. This ruled out any possibility of a sea landing.
At 20.00 hours Sunderland 'E' was near the entrance to Milford Haven and its skeleton crew spent the next half hour throwing overboard flares and loose heavy items in preparation for a crash landing. These preparations proved unnecessary when a gentle landing was made at 20.40 hours on the grassy Angle airfield. Half of 461 Squadron was at Angle airfield to see the landing and the unorthodox disembarkation of the crew. The motley uniforms worn by the crew were what was left after wet survivors of the two rescued crews had been given an open go at the clothing originally worn and carried by the crew of 'E'. The destroyers delivered all of its passengers safely including a pilot of Sunderland 'O' of 461 Squadron RAAF who had been very badly injured. Apart from him all the others were able to continue with their duties as soon as aircraft could be found for them. Sunderland 'E' for Emu never flew or floated again."
(Commentary written by Harry Winstanley, DFC)
 Crew members: Captain 400841 Pilot Officer (PO) Gordon O. Singleton of St Kilda, Vic; Co-Pilot 415195 Flight Sergeant (Flt/Sgt) Pearce E. Taplin of Midland Junction, WA; Navigator 401356 PO Harry Winstanley DFC of Geelong, Vic; Engineer 9429 Sergeant (Sgt) H. Hall of Moonee Ponds, Vic; Wireless operator-mechanic Flt/Sgt Hughie Church, RAF; Wireless operator-gunner 405228 Sgt Johnny Lewis of Brisbane, Qld; Airgunner 407210 Flight Officer George Viner of Adelaide, SA. 
* The hole in the Sunderland's hull (seen at 3:30 in the film) seems to have been about 2 metres by 1 metre (6 ft by 3 ft) and in the forward starboard area, where, if they had attempted to land, as the aircraft settled deeper, the water would have been forced into the hull by the aircraft's forward motion. Not only would it almost certainly have filled quickly and sank, there was a very real chance the sudden inrush of incompressible water would have blown the hull apart.

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