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As I’ve said before, I have moved provinces, and am now working CRM archaeology. It’s busy work, but great. My things are starting to arrive from Newfoundland, but I am still missing a lot of my books and documents. Along with that, the Digital Archives are currently having issues, which does cut down on some of my research access. But, no more excuses, I plan to really start to try to get a few posts up, especially seeing as there is so much aviation history hitting the 100 year anniversary of the Trans-Atlantic Air Race. On that note, for any Canadian writers out there, I will be the guest editor on a collection of short stories inspired by early aviation published by Engen Books. For more information, check out all the details on their website.

Engen Books is now accepting submission for Flights From The Rock.

Prior to the 200th rowing of the Royal St. John’s Regatta, I was asked for information about aviation history on Quidi VIdi Lake. I did a brief write-up, but because of work, could not participate in an interview. I am sharing some of that history now.

The C-5 was an unexpected entry for the Great Trans-Atlantic Air Race. The American non-rigid airship built by the Goodyear and Goodrich companies for the US Navy did anti-submarine and coastal patrols during the First World War. In 1919, it was to be another attempt by the United States at crossing the Atlantic. The US Navy was also trying to be the first to fly the Atlantic with the NC flying boats leaving from Trepassey. The airship flew from Montauk, on Long Island, where 15 km/hr winds made the 192 ft airship hard to handle. It took 300 people to walk it out of the hangar. The captain was Lieutenant-Commander Emory Coil, and the crew were co-pilots Lieutenant John Lawrence and Ensign David Campbell, Lieutenant Marcus Easterley, and chief machinist mates T.L. Moorman and H.S. Blackburn. Officially, the flight was to a testing of the practical radius of this type of airship, but the press didn’t believe that. Coil told newsmen, just before takeoff, “We’ll beat the seaplanes yet”.

U.S. Navy blimp C-5 about to leave Cape May, New Jersey (Rowe 1977).

The C-5 passed over Saint Pierre on the morning of May 15, but arrived 3 or 4 hours later than expected. The blimp was reported over Placentia Junction, Whitbourne, Brigus Junction, Avondale, Holyrood, Petty Harbour and Kelligrews before crossing the Narrows and arriving in St. John’s, passing Quidi Vidi Lake and landing at a cricket field in Pleasantville, on the north side of the Lake. They experienced some Newfoundland fog as they arrived on the island, lost their bearings, and had to drift low at Placentia Junction to ask surprised locals directions.

The C-5 arriving at Pleasantville, in St. John’s (Rowe 1977).

The airship landed at Woodley field, and thousands of people were there to see her land. The crew were greeted with cheers and handshakes by the crowd, and were brought to the American cruiser Chicago, docked in the harbour. Young officers from the Chicago got to work preparing the C-5 for her crossing. When the blimp landed, she had been tied down with earth anchors sufficient for 20 mile/hr winds but within a half hour, the winds were at 30 miles/hr. One hundred men from the Chicago were having trouble controlling the airship. As winds continued to increase, they had to decide if they would take the airship up and ride out the storm, or pull the ripping panels, which would deflate the craft and take them out of the running for the trans-Atlantic race. The carburettors had been removed for servicing, so the only option was the pull the ripping panels.

The C-5 airship shortly after it landed in Pleasantville (Rowe 1977).

When they attempted to pull the cord to release the ripping panels, the cord broke, and at the same time, two steel mooring cables snapped. Many of the Newfoundlanders present tried to help save the airship. There were casualties when the steel cables broke. Two boys were hit. A fifteen year old, son of James Cleary, had a broken collar bone, and the son of Garrett Kavanagh suffered a severe concussion. Early reports said he had been killed. Lieutenant Charles Little, Lieutenant Preston, and a machinist from the Chicago were in the control car of the C-5 as it started to lift away. They jumped down about 7m to avoid being blown away with the ship. Little sprained his ankle in the jump. As hundreds of people tried to hold on to the C-5, the hemp lines continued to break. The aircraft raised 200ft, bounced back to the ground and the control car broke away from the bag. Then “with mooring lines trailing like streamers” (Rowe1977) the blimp flew over Signal Hill and out to sea. It was last seen travelling east by the Cape Spear lighthousekeeper. She was reported by the British steamer War Nipigon, but that might have also been an iceberg. The destroyer Edwards searched for the C-5, but it was never seen again. The last sighting was a piece of spruce wood with C-5 on it recovered from a beach in New Jersey.

The C-5 bring walked from the hangar for takeoff at Cape May, New Jersey (Rowe 1977).

 

 

Sources

Deal, M.
2012 Airships over Newfoundland. Canadian Aviation Historical Society Journal, 50(1): 14-25.

Meaney, J.T.
1979 Aviation in Newfoundland. The Book of Newfoundland, vol. 1: 141-152.

Rowe, P.
1977 The Great Atlantic Air Race. McClelland and Stewart Limited: Toronto.

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Something a little new this time, I’m just sharing an article. Darrell Hillier is a name familiar to any regular readers, especially if you read through my sources. He is often listed as a source, and has been a great help throughout all of my research. Darrell’s MA thesis has just been published through Memorial University, and I wanted to share it here with everyone. It is well worth the read and looks at the history and crash of USAAF B-24 Liberator No. 44-42169 which crashed near Gander on 14 February 1945 killing all 10 servicemen on board. But his thesis doesn’t just look at the crash. He has done extensive research, talking to family members and reading correspondences to look at the impact of this incident on the home front; how the families were notified, their questions, and how they lived with their loved ones first being declared MIA, then dead. I had the privilege to read a draft of the thesis a while ago, and have been waiting anxiously for it to be published so I could share it here. I haven’t written about this crash on my blog for a number of reasons, but it is the first crash site that I visited and it is the site that really woke up this passion for aviation archaeology. I made no secret that I am not an expert in aircraft, but do try to surround myself with people who continuously educate me on the finer points or who point my research in the right direction.

The tail fin from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

You can find Darrell Hillier’s thesis, Stars, Stripes, and Sacrifice: A Wartime Familiar Experience of Hope, Loss, and Grief, and the Journey Home of an American Bomber Crew on the Memorial University Research Repository.

A machine gun and other wreckage from USAAF Liberator 44-42169. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2007.

As for myself, I am still getting settled into a new job, and it looks like my things (including any research documents I own) will not be delivered for a couple of months. That said, I have been working on some articles, and you can find one about the mock dogfight that happened over Gander that lead to the collision of a B-25 and an A-20 in their January/February 2018 edition of In Formation.

The engine from the USAAF A-20 involved in the 27 October 1943 crash. Photo by Lisa M. Daly 2011.

I do hope to be better settled soon so that I can get back to semi-regular posts.

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