Tracking Sunderland Crew Members for a Journal Article
I submitted the piece "Australia to the Rescue" to the Australian War Memorial journal WARTIME, they have just told me it will be published in their April, 2003 issue.
I have been trying to track down the actual Sunderland Aircraft and its wartime Squadron to see if we can get a list of the 9 crewmen we saved + the 4 who died to publish their names with the article.
(I asked Mac what sort of research was needed to find the names of the Sunderland's crew. Here is Mac's response, published here in hopes that it may help another researcher. - TK)
I knew the date we rescued 9 of the 13 from my Midshipman's journal, it was Wednesday the 29th. of October 1940.
When the Australia was damaged by 5 Kamikaze aircraft in January of 1945, she was sent off to England for repairs, as she came up the channel she was escorted by Sunderland aircraft from 10 Squadron, an RAAF Coastal Command Squadron, I then assumed the Sunderland crew we had rescued came from 10 Squadron.
Talked to the RAAF Museum Director here in Melbourne, but no RAAF Sunderland crew members had died in October 1940, so my Sunderland must have come from an RAF Coastal Command Squadron.
I searched the web for Coastal Command Squadrons, and came up with a list of them 135 squadrons, I went through each squadron looking for those who flew Sunderland 1 aircraft in 1940 and around October in particular.
Narrowed 135 down to 3, then looked at where they flew from, and selected Squadron No 204 flying out of the west coast of Scotland from Oban, as the most likely base from which my Sunderland flew on the 29th of October 1940.
Talked to the UK Coastal Command Association Secretary, he could not help, no records.
Looked at the Oban RAF net sites, nothing of use.
Wrote to three book sellers In UK, USA, and Holland who had Coastal Command Books about WW2 for sale, all helpful, but no crew lists published.
Tried the RAF museum at Hendon, no response.
Tried the Public Record Office at Kew in London, they keep all the RAF Operational Records for WW2, but one really needs to be able to visit them personally, can't access from the net.
Then I visited the largest Military Book shop in Melbourne to look for books on Coastal Command in WW2. Found Books on the daily losses for Fighter and Bomber Commands by a Ross McNeill, but nothing on Coastal Command losses. Talked to the owner of the shop, he said the Coastal Command book was about to be published, rang the distributors who said it was to be published in April this year in UK, also by Ross McNeill.
In chasing round the net for Squadron 204, I noted Ross McNeill with an E-Mail site, wrote to him with my problem, he came back indicating from all his searches and records, the Operational Record Books for Squadron 204, noted that Sunderland 1 KG-K flew from Oban on the 28th. of October 1940 taking off at 1640 for an Atlantic Patrol.
It recorded the Pilot and Captain by name, and the four who died the next day when we could only save a total of 9, the pilot Flight Lieutenant Gibbs was amongst the survivors. It gave a brief story of running out of petrol in the gale, landing on the Atlantic Ocean at 0615 on the 29th. 200 miles NW of Cape Wrath ( the most northern and western tip of Scotland ) and being rescued by HMS Australia ( That of course should be HMAS Australia )
But Terry, it seems that the other 8 who we picked up were not recorded on the Form 540 used by Squadrons to record daily operations.
Now I have tracked down HMAS Australia's deck log for October 1940, it is held in the National Australian Archives in their Sydney offices. I am not able to get to Sydney before the deadline for this article going to press for the Australian War Memorial journal Wartime, but have requested the Archives to try and find some kind soul to look for the 29th. of October 1940 entry in Australia's log to see if those rescued were recorded, that is my last chance of finding the missing 8 names, I am surprised in hindsight that I did not notate them myself in my journal at the time, stupid me.
It has been a real detective sort of operation, that has taken a lot of time, and the lady at the War Memorial who is nursing my article to publication, Anne-Marie Conte, has been very supportive and enthusiastic.
Sorry it took so long to relate for you.
Update: 27 February 2003
I have one of my College term, John Lorimer going off to the National Australia Archives to view the deck log of HMAS Australia for the 29th. of October 1940. I have tracked down the logs for 1940 to the Sydney archives and gave John the Series No of these logs, and the bundle they are all in.
This is the absolute last throw of the dice, the very last stone to turn over.
I have exhausted all other avenues without any further result of getting the last 8 survivor names.
Will keep you posted.
2nd Update: 27 February 2003
We have done it!!
John Lorimer has just phoned from Sydney, he visited the Archives today, I was able to give him their reference for this log, and the Bundle they were stored in. On the appropriate page, the 9 names of those we rescued is recorded, with their Rank or Rate.
He has a copy of the actual log page and is posting it tomorrow. It certainly does not do to give up too easily.
I can now give these names to Ross McNeill, the author in England of a new book to be soon published about all the aircraft lost with the crew names in Coastal Command in WW2.
I am on a complete high with this latest news, so please excuse me.
All the best,
Update, 3 March 2003
The names from Australia's Log:
No initials were recorded.
The rescue was made at 1437, and the search for the last 4 was abandoned at 1725,when visibility was down to about 500 yards.
At noon the ship's position by Dead Reckoning was 60 degree 20 minutes North, 10 degrees 12 minutes West.
When we abandoned the search, the wind strength on the Beaufort Scale was Force 10, ie seas up to 30 feet high with wind up to 55 mph.
With the sea behind us, when steaming to the Sunderland, we made 26 knots, I can recall watching us surf a wave and the speed going up to about 31 knots, after the rescue we steamed into the sea and made but 9 knots.
The exciting search for the names now over.
Update 4 March 2003
The response from Ross McNeill in UK, he is the one who gave me the Pilot's Name and the 4 who died. We also have two sets of initials, and confirmation it should be Ennis, and how two of those we rescued fared, but it was unfortunate that Sergeant Taylor was killed in an accident. As I noted to Anne-Marie at the Australian War Memorial, one does not know how the web will be spun once you find the spider.
I suspected that the log may have held the clues but did not have access to it in the UK.
Sgt H W Taylor was killed on the 23rd April 1941 when Sunderland N9023, 204/G flew into a mountain near Fragjadalsfjall, Iceland. 10 of the crew of 13 were injured and Sgt Taylor died from his injuries just after rescue.
F/L J M Ennis was rescued by HMS Velox two days after Sunderland T9041, 204/V ditched into the South Atlantic while escorting convoy OS.31 on the 28th June 1942. He was the captain of the aircraft.
The loss of P9620 cost the squadron another Sunderland when T9045 took off to search for Sunderland P9620 on the 29th October but was forced landed at sea, 21:45 hrs, due to darkness and veering wind. The starboard float was smashed on landing and a trawler in the vicinity came alongside and lines were passed. Attempts to tow the aircraft were foiled owing to the roughness of sea, and after the port float had been stove in by the trawler it was decided to abandon the aircraft. All personnel were safely transferred to trawler A76 and the aircraft eventually sank about 5 miles east by south from Strathie Point, Caithness-shire.
The first edition of Coastal Losses Vol 1 has already been typeset but I'll gladly add the information and an acknowledgement into the subsequent Addenda.
Dear Mr Gregory,
Thank you for your enquiry, which was received on 18 February 2003. I have consulted the accident card for this particular incident and although it provides many details, this does not include the full crew. You are welcome to a copy of this if it is of interest to you. The best place to try for full crew names is the relevant squadron's operations record book, details of how to track these down are in the attached leaflet.
I hope this information is of use to you, and if you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me again.
Katherine Boyce (Miss)
Thank you for your response, through several sources, but in the main, from the entry in HMAS Australia's log for the 29th. of October 1940, which is held in the Australian National Archives in Sydney, I have been able to find the names of the entire crew including the 4 we were unable to rescue.
Should these names be of any interest to you, for your records, I would be pleased to send them to you, if you wish.
My thanks and best wishes from Australia.
Here are the names from Sunderland 1 P9620, KG-K Coastal Command Squadron 204, which force landed in the Atlantic Ocean at 0615 on the 29th. of October 1940, 200 miles North West of Cape Wrath.
The nine we were able to rescue from the RAN heavy cruiser HMAS Australia:
Those who we could not rescue owing to the fierce gale blowing at the time, and who drifted out of reach:
It is interesting that the loss of Sunderland P9620 cost the squadron another Sunderland when T 9045 took off to look for P9620 on the 29th. of October, but was force landed at sea at 2145, due to darkness and bad weather.
Her starboard float was smashed on landing, and a nearby trawler came alongside and lines were passed.
Attempts to tow the aircraft were foiled owing to the extreme roughness of the sea, the port float was stoved in by the trawler, and the aircraft then abandoned.
All the crew were rescued by the trawler A76, and the Sunderland sank about 5 miles east by south from Strathie Point, Caithness-shire.
Thats about it Katherine, I had a lot of pleasure in finally tracking down all the crew from this Sunderland, and still regret we were not able to pluck the entire crew from the raging Atlantic Ocean so long ago now.
It is my pleasure to share these names with you for your records.
Thank you for this information, it is a useful addition to our records.
Katherine Boyce (Miss)
About a year ago you were enquiring as to the full crew list for K/204. It's probably too late, or you may have the info already, but here is the answer below, from Ross McNeill's new book.
I had come across a photo of the upturned aircraft, taken from the cruiser, and used it in our newsletter.
A question. Back in 2001 there were many intersting pictures published by http://aviation.image.gallery on the Zing host website. The ones of special interest were ones of RAAF units in Coastal Command. This site appears to have mutated into an all-singing dancing thing. Any idea where the photos are now sitting?
From Royal Air Force Coastal Command Losses of the Second World War, Vol 1 39 - 41by Ross McNeill.
28th October 1940
204 Sqn Sunderland I P9620 KG*K
F/Lt S R Gibbs Safe
Encountered a severe electrical storm which affected the compass. Ran short of fuel and then force-landed into the sea some 200 miles NW of Cape Wrath at 06:15 hrs on the 29th. The aircraft stayed afloat for almost nine hours in a full gale, only to break up and sink shortly after the rescue ship was sighted. Nine survivors were rescued by HMS (sic) Australia. All those killed, including Sgt MacDonald, from Wellington, New Zealand, are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial.
All the best,
My thanks for your message, it was kind of you to remember me.
Actually the crew list of the 9 airmen picked up by HMAS Australia, I eventually traced to the ship's log held in the Australian National Archives in Sydney, an entry of their names had been made by the Officer of the Watch on duty at that time.
I was able to furnish these names to Ross McNeill, so he could record them in his new book.
You have sent them back to me, so they have gone full circle.
Again my thanks for your thoughtfulness Ian.