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First published on 24 November 2013

At the end of this post I mention a radar system Fales’ crew were involved in testing. So far I have yet to discover if it is the same as the one found on a crash site in Gander (more about that crash on my Land and Sea episode or Deal 2008 or Deal, Daly & Mathias 2015). On to the post…

 

I did make an interesting discovery today: http://airportcoffeeshop.blogspot.ca/. This came to my attention via academia.edu when I noticed someone found my page from the blog. After glancing through the blog, there are some very interesting aviation links, and a great way to keep updated on the goings on at GIAA.

Flight from Gander

I picked up Flight From Gander: On Board A B-24 in the C.B.I. by Staff Sgt. Al Fales, WWII Radio Operator, 493rd Bomb Sqdn. primarily based on the title. Without reading anything but Flight From Gander, I thought the book would be about Gander, Newfoundland. Turns out, Michigan was also (still is?) referred to as Michigander, and because that is where Fales and his crew initially flew out of, the book is called Flight From Gander. But, all is not lost when it comes to it being a resource for Newfoundland aviation history. Fales and his crew did fly from Gander to the Azores on their way to overseas.

Fales (front row, 2nd from the right) and his crew. Fales 2007

Fales (front row, 2nd from the right) and his crew. Fales 2007

Fales describes Gander is “colder than Scrooges [sic] heart” and learned what they needed cold weather gear for as they landed on the ice and snow covered runways. They were actually delayed for two days due to the runways being too slippery after a cold weather system moved through.  While waiting, Fales enjoyed the high calorie meals provided, and between those and the winter suits, were quite comfortable during their stay.

Fales talks about how many aircraft were decorated with images of their women back home. Fales 2007.

Fales talks about how many aircraft were decorated with images of their women back home. Fales 2007.

Most interestingly is how Fales remembers the little details. To leave Gander, the engines had to be heated because the cold weather would make the oil in the radials of the engine slow and difficult to pour. Trying to use the engines in that state would make them stiff, overheat the starters and drag on the batteries. So, big fan forced oil heaters were used and long flexible ducts were used to warm the engines enough that they would start. They were heated for about a half hour, then they started each engine in turn, giving each one time to cough, sputter, and “belching smoke like a cold diesel engine” before “settling into a smooth rumble”. The propellers “fanned a cloud of snow across the field as the engines were run up” and once they were at full power, the B-24 took off from Gander.

Fales and others on their way home. Fales 2007.

Fales and others on their way home. Fales 2007.

This is just an example of the detail used by Fales in his book. He tends to focus on what would typically be considered the mundane; the food, the Postal Exchange, his crew mates, and people that he met when out on pass. Fales’ book a great look into the lives of servicemen in the USAAF and focuses the day-to-day operations and activities, something which is often lacking in memoirs. While I was disappointed in the lack of talk about Newfoundland (especially when I was expecting the book to focus on Gander, Newfoundland), Flight from Gander is still a great source to know what the lives of those passing through Gander were like. Certainly there would be big differences between being stationed in in US or overseas than in Gander, mostly because Gander was so isolated and passes to go to Grand Falls or Corner Brook were less frequent than passes to go into “town” when stationed somewhere a little closer to the nearest community. One thing in the book that I do need to research further is a reference near the end of the book (and the end of the war) of an experimental flight the author was involved with. Well, the flight wasn’t experimental, but the radar on the aircraft was. The aircraft looked a little different, with the bottom turret removed and a “cream colored plastic tub that could be raised and lowered” in its place. It was a special radar that they were to use along the coast of Burma which proved that radar could be mobile and effective. I would need to do more research, but the first site I worked on in Gander involved a USAAF B-24 which was carrying a top secret radar and the aircraft carrying it were designated “Eagle”. Unfortunately, as I worked on this one, it did end tragically, with a crash at it was flying into Gander on 14 February 1945, killing all 10 men on board. When I look into it a little more I will see if I can figure out if this is the same radar system.

An image of a B-24 carrying the radar system. On this image, you can see a long beam under the aircraft. This was one portion of the radar. From Masters 1945.

An image of a B-24 carrying the radar system. On this image, you can see a long beam under the aircraft. This was one portion of the radar. From Masters 1945.

Part of the APQ-7 radar system found in Gander, Newfoundland. Photo by Lisa M. Daly.

Part of the APQ-7 radar system found in Gander, Newfoundland. Photo by Lisa M. Daly.

 References:

Fales, Al. 2007
Flight From Gander: On Board a B-24 In The C.B.I. Xlibris: USA.

Masters, D.
1945       The Eagle Strikes. It Paid Off at War’s End. RADAR (11):36-45.

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RCAF Lodestar 557 (DfAp-15)

By Lisa M. Daly

Adapted from Daly 2015, post first published on the Gander Airport Historical Society page.

Map 1: Location of RCAF Lodestar 557 (DfAp-15) in relation to the Gander International Airport and side roads. From MapSource

Map 1: Location of RCAF Lodestar 557 (DfAp-15) in relation to the Gander International Airport and side roads. From MapSource

 

Royal Canadian Air Force Lodestar 557 (Borden DfAp-15) is currently located on the edge of a tree-lined bog with all of the wreckage being located in the bog. It sits between Radio Range Road and Boot Pond Road (map 1), but is a long and sometimes difficult hike through trees and bog. In fact, researchers had difficulty finding the sites, even with the information provided by historians, locals, and aviation engineers. The site is relatively intact, but is heavily contaminated. The point of impact where the aircraft burned is heavily contaminated with fuel, and much of the water around the wreckage has the rainbow colour that shows contamination (figure 1). Any archaeological work done on site was done with protective material, including heavy duty gloves, to ensure that contaminated water did not touch skin. The site should be approached with caution and care taken to avoid any fuel contamination.

Figure 1: Contamination of the site. Photo by author, 2011.

Figure 1: Contamination of the site. Photo by author, 2011.

Lodestar 557 departed Moncton. New Brunswick, at 2345 GMT on 7 May 1943 on a cargo transport flight to Gander. At 0313 GMT the following day, the aircraft contacted the Aerodrome Control Officer at Gander Station to request landing clearance. The aircraft was given landing clearance by P/O Thomas Howard Murray, aerodrome control officer, and was told to check their wheels down. The messages were acknowledged by 557. At this time the ceiling was practically unlimited. The aircraft was heard to pass over Gander airfield shortly thereafter, but the ceiling had unexpectedly fallen to 700 feet. This lowering of the ceiling possibly meant that ice may have formed on the aerials. It is unlikely that icing would have occurred on the wings or engines. This fly over was apparently done on instruments. The Lodestar contacted the Control Officer to indicate they had missed the field and were to try again. The aircraft then acknowledged being given the ceiling height and barometric pressure by the station.

Name

Rank Unit Duty Injuries
Svendsen, H. WO2 #164 Sqn. Pilot Fatal
Allen, C.H. WO2 #164 Sqn. 2nd Pilot Fatal
Sewell, A.G. LAC #164 Sqn. W/Opr. Fatal

Table 1: Crew of RCAF Lodestar 557. From Mulvihill 1943.

At this point, the landing of the aircraft on the control tower side was taken over by the station manager of Trans Canada Airlines (TCA), Mr. Harry Beardsell. The aircraft was carrying cargo and under the operational control of TCA and therefore should be under TVA radio coverage. Instructions were passed to the aircraft by TCA as to the proper landing procedures for Gander, and these were acknowledged. The aircraft broke through the now 600 ft. ceiling, and was advised to circle and approach runway 27 (note, runway 27 is no longer in use at YQX; ourairports.com). At this point, TCA spoke directly to the pilot. According to Beardsell, he advised Svendsen to make one more attempt before proceeding to Sydney where the ceiling was at 1000 ft. and visibility was 3 miles. P/O Murray, who was listening to the communications between the control tower and Lodestar 557 denied that the aircraft was advised of a secondary landing location. According to the radio log, it was actually Lodestar 557 who suggested that it would try for one more landing and if not successful would return to Sydney and TCA seconded the decision. The aircraft approached, but seemed to be lined up with the wrong runway and was advised to circle again and attempt runway 27. P/O Murray believed that the boundary lights were confusing 557, causing it to line up with the wrong runway, so he switched off the lights and informed the aircraft through Beardsell. One the second attempt, the aircraft did not turn enough and was again told that it would probably not make it to the runway and to attempt again. The aircraft was told to make a right turn over the field near the airport, but it could be seen that the aircraft would not make the turn successfully. The pilot was advised to pull up two or three times by TCA, but at this point 557 was in a steep bank and went into a stall, losing altitude until it crashed. One witness saw the aircraft moments before the crash and stated it was flying very low at 200 ft. with engines functioning properly. The crash was indicated by a flash followed by a second, brighter flash, indicating it had crashed and was burning. Fire trucks and ambulances were dispatched to the scene. It crashed at 0340 GMT on 8 May 1943 approximately two miles east of the RCAF Station in Gander. All crew were killed and found in their proper seats in the aircraft (Table 1; Mulvihill 1943). The crew were buried at the Commonwealth War Graves in Gander.

According to the accident report:

AIRCRAFT:               Scattered over a small area but distributed over approximately 190 yard line. The starboard wing tip made first contact with a tree and then the port with the resultant that the starboard wing came off first, followed by the port. The fuselage continued on and finally both wheels struck the ground, at this point the aircraft must have bounced into the woods where it caught fire and was almost completely burned out except for portion just forward of the rear door to and including the empennage.

EMPENNAGE:          The empennage [tail assembly] was twisted completely around and was facing in the opposite to normal direction (figure 2).

Figure 2: The tail of the aircraft, slightly twisted and fragmented. Photo by author, 2011.

Figure 2: The tail of the aircraft, slightly twisted and fragmented. Photo by author, 2011.

WINGS:                      Starboard damaged but not seriously while the port was fairly well intact, but both were torn from centre section outboard of root fittings.

FLAPS:                       It was observed on examining the crash that the section of flaps remaining on the centre section was in the up position. It is improbable the flaps would have been retracted as a result of the crash.

INSTRUMENTS:       There were no instruments or controls present to indicate the attitude [sic] of the aircraft or the performance of the engines.

ENGINES:                  Port engine was seriously damaged while the starboard was completely burned out. The salvage from the two engines would be almost negligible (figure 3).

Figure 3: Engine in the main area of the crash. Photo by author, 2011.

Figure 3: Engine in the main area of the crash. Photo by author, 2011.

UNDERCARRIAGE: The undercarriage was severely twisted but it appears certain that it was locked “down” at the moment of impact, since one of the [botusting] cylinders was found in the retractor or “undercarriage locked down” position and it is considered impossible for the cylinder to be forced into this position by a crash. The other cylinder was partially extended but this could have been caused by the crash. In addition one of the drag struts was observed to be buckled as indicating it had experienced a severe compression load which it could not experience if the undercarriage had been retracted.

GENERAL:    Other than the above, all other parts of the aircraft were so badly damaged or burnt that they were of no value in disclosing further information (figure 4; Mulvihill 1943b).

Figure 4: The crash site. Photo by author, 2011.

Figure 4: The crash site. Photo by author, 2011.

The aircraft had been certified as airworthy and in serviceable condition; the pilot, WO2 Svendsen, was fully qualified to fly a Lodestar in all conditions, and had twice flown the same route to Gander on transportation flights. The cause of the crash was determined to be “pilot error, while attempting to get into position to make approach under low ceiling” (Mulvihill 1943). The aircraft slipped or stalled after changing from a left turn to a right turn in an attempt to realign with the runway. Because it was already in low altitude, the slip or stall caused it to strike the trees while trying to recover from the turn. The report recommends safety changes to the airbase. As Lodestar 557 had to make a final attempt because it had aligned with the wrong runway, the report determined that the runway lighting system of the RCAF station in Gander was confusing and should be studied and improved (Mulvihill 1943).

Figure 5: Sketch of the RCAF Lodestar crash site. From Mulvihill 1943.

Figure 5: Sketch of the RCAF Lodestar crash site. From Mulvihill 1943.

Based on a comparison of the archaeological investigation and the incident report, the site is mainly intact. Even a comparison of the sketch in the report, the site map, and recent pictures of the site show an almost identical layout of the crash site. It is known that this site has been visited (based on conversations with people from Gander), but very little seems to have been removed. Interestingly, most people who visited the site in the past, or who know of it, have the impression that the site has largely been recovered or looted by salvagers in the recent past. Contrary to this, the site shows very little disturbance, to the extent that the tail rudder appears to be in the same location as indicated by the 1943 map. In agreement with the crash report, the cockpit, including all instruments, was destroyed. What is present on the site is an area of slag with pieces of instruments and aircraft scattered throughout. This area was explored by archaeologists, but instead of trying to measure in every piece and burnt fragment, some of which could not be identified because they were too deep under contaminated water to be moved, it was decided that the points of measurement would be taken around the area and large, identifiable pieces, such as engines, would be measured separately. In fact, it was a similar method used to create the 1943 map (figure 5; figures 6 & 7).

Lodestar fig 6

Figure 6 7: The burnt area of the crash site. Photos by author, 2011.

Figure 6 7: The burnt area of the crash site. Photos by author, 2011.

Due to the fact that the crash report describes the scene in such great detail, and the site is still very much intact, the archaeological analysis does not add much information about the crash. One exception is that pieces of the aircraft were found up to and over 30m west of the main impact point. These pieces were measure into the map first by using a 30m measuring tape until pieces were too far, then they were measured directly from the stadia rod. Most of the site was measured into the map using a measuring tape and surveyor’s level (figure 8). The pieces the furthest from the wreckage indicated that the burnt area was not the first area of contact during the crash, but that Lodestar 557 clipped the trees and began taking damage prior to the final impact. This is mentioned in the report, but the artifact distribution better indicates how the aircraft came in while attempting to turn.

Figure 8: Surveying the wreckage. Photo by Kathleen Elwood, 2011.

Figure 8: Surveying the wreckage. Photo by Kathleen Elwood, 2011.

While it was stated that the archaeological investigation did not add much to the information available in the incident report, this site is of archaeological importance due to the fact that it is very much intact. It is a relatively well-known crash site around Gander, but because it is a fair distance from any road or path, it is difficult to access and is therefore mostly untouched by site visitors. As well, the fact that the crash report and the archaeological investigation line up so neatly is a way for archaeologists to check their methods and make improvements for the investigation of other sites as necessary. Very little post-war damage has occurred at this site, and now that it is listed as an archaeological site and given its remote location, it will continue to remain intact.

 

Sources:

Daly, L.
2015      Aviation Archaeology of World War II Gander: An Examination of Military and Civilian Life at the Newfoundland Airport. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Hillier, D. (historian)
2010      Personal Communication

Mahr, R. (aviation engineer)
2010      Personal Communication

Mulvihill, J.C.
1943      Lodestar Aircraft: R.C.A.F. No. 557: Accident to Above at Gander Nfld., on 7-5-43 WO. 2. H. Svendsen, WO. 2 A.C. Needham LAC A.G. Sevell All Killed. Royal Canadian Air Force, Gander.

Ourairports.com.
2006      YQX pilot info. http://ourairports.com/airports/CYQX/pilot-info.html#runways (Accessed 23 Feb 2016).

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