Convoy Patrol

All posts tagged Convoy Patrol

Royal Canadian Air Force Canso 9807 was requested to urgent operational duties, mainly convoy coverage. The aircraft departed in radio silence on 5 May 1943 at 0631 GMT from runway 15 and crashed a minute later, killing six of the seven crew on board (Table 1). Cpl. Urbain Edmond Antoine, who was located in the bunk compartment, was seriously injured, but survived the crash (Mulvihill 1943).

Table 1: Crew list for RCAF Canso 9807. Adapted from Library & Archives Canada and Mulvihill 1943.

Name Rank Serial Number Unit Duty Injuries
Casey, Brian Anthony F/Lt. C.1061 5 B.R. 1st Pilot Fatally
Barsalou, Joseph John F/Lt. C.1237 5 B.R. 2nd Pilot Fatally
Cleeland, James Rayson Wallace F/O J.11797 5 B.R. Navigator Fatally
Millar, James Herbert P/O J.20859 5 B.R. W.O.A.G. Fatally
Morrice, Alexander Frederick W.O.2 R.93368 10 B.R. W.O.A.G. Fatally
Stallwood, John Benjamin Sgt. R.122657 5 B.R. 1st engineer Fatally
Dube, Urbain Edmond Antoine Cpl. R.63059 5 B.R. 2nd engineer Seriously

*There were a number of discrepancies between the incident report and the Library & Archives Canada records. The changes from the incident report are to add the first names where possible, J.P. Barsalou to J.J. Barsalou, Claeland to Cleeland, Miller to Millar, Morricee R.93362 to Morrice R.93368 and Cpl. Dube could not be found, indicating that he must not have died during the war. Dube was listed both as Urbain Edmond Antoine and W.E.A. within the incident report.

Prior to takeoff, on the evening of 4 May 1943, the Canso 9807 was inspected as part of the daily inspections. LAC Donald Harry Scott, R144305, signed off on the inspection work sheets. The aircraft was carrying a full load of gas (1,300 gallons) and of oil (80 gallons), and would have weighed approximately 33,150lbs. The maximum load for a Canso aircraft was 34,500 lbs., keeping the aircraft within the allowable weight. When Canso 9807 took off, the weather conditions consisted of fog coming in from the south with a ceiling of about 600ft but dropping rapidly. At a temperature of 31.5°F (about 0°C) there was the potential that ice could have formed in the carburetor, but not on the wings. But, according to the report, had ice formed in the carburetor the pilot would have noticed as he would not have been able to achieve takeoff speed with a full load. The aircraft took off without issue and flew over the American side before crashing (map 1). Witness reports vary from this point on. Some witnesses saw normal exhaust coming from the engines, but other witnesses reported the starboard exhaust flames going out, indicating the failure of that engine. Other witnesses saw both engines functioning, but said a whining noise indicated that the engines were using more power than normal prior to the crash. No witnesses reported any sputtering or backfiring of the engines, or other major indicators of engine trouble. The report concluded, based mainly on the witness testimony of Cpt. Dube and Captain George William John Gander, Commanding Officer of the 1st Aerodrome Defense Company C.A. (A) and the final witness to see the aircraft before the crash that both engines were functioning prior to the crash but were using more power than normal.

Map 1: Approximate location of the crash site relative to the airport. From GoogleEarth2016

Map 1: Approximate location of the crash site relative to the airport. From GoogleEarth2016

According to the witness statement of Cpl. Dube, as part of the takeoff preparations, the pilot “ran up his engines in front of the hangar and then again at the end of the runway. Both times they sounded normal” (Mulvihill 1943). After a normal takeoff, Dube stated that the air was rough and once airborne, the flight was extremely rough. The aircraft began to climb, and then dropped suddenly. The aircraft leveled out again for a couple of seconds, then stated to fall once again. At this point, in his words, Cpl. Dube heard the crash and was thrown 40ft from the aircraft (figure 1). The final thing he could remember was a loud explosion which he believed was a depth charge. He regained consciousness later when in the hospital (Mulvihill 1943).

Figure 1: The tail of the aircraft where Cpl. Dube was located before the crash. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 1: The tail of the aircraft where Cpl. Dube was located before the crash. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

The first priority for crash responders was to locate any survivors. Unfortunately, the crash was severe and due to the full fuel load, burned too hot to allow for anyone to approach the main area of the crash (map 2); the aircraft and surrounding trees were burning. Cpt. Dube was located and transported to the hospital. No crew members could be found outside of the main crash area.

Map 2: The high energy crash scattered aircraft fragments over a significant area.

Map 2: The high energy crash scattered aircraft fragments over a significant area.

The crash was high energy and the aircraft was extensively damaged, so that no information could be collected from the instruments or controls to indicate the cause of the crash (Mulvihill 1943). The wings were damaged in that the port wing was relatively intact, but separated from the rest of the aircraft and the starboard wing was fragmented (figure 2). Due to the damage to the starboard wing and the relatively narrow swath created by the aircraft entering the forested area (only four feet wide), it was determined that the aircraft must have entered while on an almost vertical bank. The port wheel was found to be fully retracted in the wheel well, which would indicate that there was power to the starboard engine just prior to the crash (Mulvihill 1943). The rest of the damage is reported as follow:

Figure 2: Wing tip that has since been removed from the site by persons unknown. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 2: Wing tip that has since been removed from the site by persons unknown. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Hull

Broken in two main parts at the bulkhead between the blister and bunk compartments. The pilot’s compartment practically disintegrated while the navigator’s compartment was torn and twisted back over the engineer’s compartment (figure 3).

Figure 3: The hull, badly damaged. Lisa M. Daly 2010

Figure 3: The hull, badly damaged. Lisa M. Daly 2010

Wing & tail section

The starboard wing was shattered and littered along the first seventy yards of the swatch. The port wing was relatively intact and lay one hundred and five yards down on the extreme right of the swath (figure 4). The tail was broken off and lay under the aft part of the hull (Mulvihill 1943).

Figure 4: The largest section of wing. Lisa M. Daly 2009

Figure 4: The largest section of wing. Lisa M. Daly 2009

The report concludes that Canso 9807 crashed because it “stalled due to climbing at a critical angle in rough air” (Mulvihill 1943). The weight of the aircraft may have been a factor, as it was the second incident with a Canso under similar conditions. Therefore, it was recommended that the maximum weight of the aircraft be reduced to prevent further accidents.

This is a very concentrated crash site. Based on both archaeological and documentary evidence, this was a sudden crash and burned quickly. There is very little evidence of fire on the aircraft remains, such as melted metal, but site investigators reported that at first the crash was too hot to approach to located crew members. This does illustrate that fire and explosion are not always obvious in the archaeological record; the evidence of fire in this case being that the area is populated with birch trees rather than the more common spruce trees (figure 5). That said, the area of highest artifact concentration, which was most likely where the fire concentrated, is rather wet, with part of the fuselage being partially submerged. This could be hiding evidence of fire, or helped to keep the fire slightly more contained.

Figure 5: Area of high artifact concentration around the hull sections. Lisa M. Daly 2009

Figure 5: Area of high artifact concentration around the hull sections. Lisa M. Daly 2009

The site shows that the wing separated from the remainder of the aircraft first, followed by the tail, the front of the fuselage was at the furthest point from the runway. The cockpit was not located, but the report indicates that it was destroyed and the fuselage section could not be fully analysed due to it being partially submerged. As indicated by the site and the report, the wing broke in a number of places and scattered around the site. A wing tip was on the site in 2009, and photographed by archaeologists, but in 2010 this piece was missing from the site (figure 2). In 2011 the site was visited again to try to find this piece, without success. The tail is still in relatively good condition, and one of the blisters from the aircraft is still intact and in the possession of a Glenwood resident. The engines, tires and propellers are visible in pictures of the site taken at the time of the crash, but these were not found, indicating that they were removed by recovery crews during the war era (most likely) or by site visitors in subsequent years. I believe that they were removed at the time of the investigation due to the site’s proximity to the airbase, making it easy for the removal of all sensitive material but leaving the shell of the aircraft at the site. The interest in the starboard engine for the crash investigation would certainly suggest that the extra effort be made to recover that part of the aircraft (figure 6). The amount of aluminum remaining on site would also indicate this.

Figure 6: Images of the hull from the original crash report (Mulvihill 1943). Note changes to site in figures 3 and 5.

Figure 6: Images of the hull from the original crash report (Mulvihill 1943). Note changes to site in figures 3 and 5.

An interesting feature on this site is a small, round pond near the wings. In the report, USAAF servicemen who were helping with the rescue (at this point waiting for the fires to die down) were surprised, but not hurt, when one of the depth charges exploded about a half hour after the crash (figure 7). Cpl. Dube also noted that he heard an explosion which he believed to be a depth charge (Mulvihill 1943). This was most likely due to the heat of the fire. The hole created by this explosion is now filled with water due to the wet nature of the site, and now sits as a stagnant pond on the site. The depth of the pond was not established, but the diameter was so that it could be placed on the site map (Map 1).

Figure 7: The hole created by the depth charge exploding. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

Figure 7: The hole created by the depth charge exploding. Lisa M. Daly 2009.

The archaeological investigation does not add much information to the detailed report, but instead confirms much of what is stated, and provides an inventory of what is on site. It also shows changes to the site. I visited the site in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and because of Hurricane Igor in October 2010, the site had changed a little. Uprooted trees revealed more pieces of aircraft which were then added to the archaeological inventory and map (figures 8 and 9). Extreme weather can move objects as large as aircraft fragments, shifting them around the site as informants have indicated with the Burgoyne’s Cove B-36, covering them in debris as Hurricane Igor did to some objects on the Dolan B-24 near Gander, or uncovering them as seen with this site.

Figure 8 and 9: Changes to the site caused by Hurricane Igor. Top, uprooted trees; bottom, what the lifted roots uncovered. Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Figure 8 and 9: Changes to the site caused by Hurricane Igor. Top, uprooted trees; bottom, what the lifted roots uncovered. Lisa M. Daly 2011.

Canso Fig 9

It is obvious from the missing wing tip that the site is threatened. The wing tip (figure 2) is obviously a very interesting piece, and could be of use to historical groups of the museum, but under provincial law, should be collected and catalogued by an archaeologist so that the province has a record of what historical material is available. The Rooms gladly work with museums to help them display artifacts, and also offer help when it comes to storing and conserving pieces.

Sources

Library & Archives Canada (LAC)
2016  Service Files of the Second World War – War Dead 1939-1947. Accessed 09 July 2016: http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/second-world-war/second-world-war-dead-1939-1947/Pages/search.aspx

Mulvihill, J.C.
1943 Proceedings of Court of Inquiry or Investigation Flying Accidents: Canso “A” #9807, Royal Canadian Air Force, Gander.

For an explanation of RCAF serial numbers, please visit: http://www.rafcommands.com/forum/showthread.php?6411-RCAF-Service-Numbers

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My originally scheduled post was supposed to be a review of A Gentlemen’s Agreement: Newfoundland and the Struggle for Transatlantic Air Supremacy by Robert C. Stone, but I still have half of the book to read. I figured it would be unfair to quickly read the remainder of the book just for a blog review, so instead I am posting the next scheduled post instead. This was first adapted from my own thesis, then a version of it posted on the Gander Airport Historical Society page under their Warbird Down section. So, while you may not know my planned schedule, I really am trying my best to stick to it this year to bring you new content every second week.

On to explore RCAF Digby 742, crashed at Gander. For video of this site, please see my Land and Sea episode “Fallen War Birds“.

Measuring the debris field. Photo by author, 2010.

Measuring the debris field. Photo by author, 2010.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this site is how little it has changed since the crash.

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Some of the Digby that remains on the site. Note the similarity to the picture below. Photo by author, 2014.

Image of the RCAF Digby wreckage taken during the crash investigation. Note the similarity in the site picture from 2014 (above). From Heakes 1941.

Image of the RCAF Digby wreckage taken during the crash investigation. Note the similarity in the site picture from 2014 (above). From Heakes 1941.

At 1856 GMT on 24 July 1941, RCAF Douglas Digby 742 left Gander with a crew of six for the purpose of convoy patrols. At 2320 GMT the weather began to deteriorate and the Meteorological Office predicted that the ceiling would remain at about 1500 feet with showers. At 2326 GMT the aircraft was recalled, but Digby 742 did not immediately respond. The recall notice was repeated four times by Gander Station and twice by RCAF Station, Sydney. The recall was acknowledged at 0030 GMT and at 0151 GMT the aircraft was in range of the Gander airbase. Digby 742 was spotted by Airport Control, but the aircraft reported that it could not see the airport. By this time, the ceiling had deteriorated to 200 feet with rain and increased wind and the cloud had begun to blow across the runway. When Digby 742 arrived, RCAF Digby 756 was attempting to land at Gander and Digby 742 was instructed to circle until Digby 756 had landed. Digby 756 landed safely at 0219 GMT but for approximately the next twenty minutes, Digby 742 was out of communication range. Captain Tomsett was instructed to proceed to Dartmouth where the weather conditions were more favourable but the Captain stated that he would attempt to land at Gander one final time and would proceed to Dartmouth if that landing was unsuccessful. At 0310 GMT a loud explosion was heard and there was no further communication with the aircraft. At 0330 GMT, the ceiling began to steadily rise becoming 1400 feet by 0530 GMT (Heakes 1941).

Name Rank Serial Number Unit Duty Injuries
Tomsett, M.E. F/Lt. C.1069 10 (BR) Pilot Fatally
Mather, W.H. P/O J.3479 10 (BR) Pilot Fatally
Pratt, A.G. P/O 10 (BR) Navigator Fatally
Hunt, M.S. Sgt. R60720 10 (BR) Air Gunner Fatally
MacDavid, R.L. Sgt. R73032 10 (BR) Air Gunner Fatally
Crawford, T.J.E. AC 1 R65641 10 (BR) Wireless Fatally

Crew list for RCAF Digby 742. Adapted from Heakes 1941

At first light, two aircraft were dispatched to search for Digby 742. The wreck was located almost immediately after take-off and a ground party which had been organized during the night was sent out to the scene of the accident. F/L MacLennan, Medical Officer at the RCAF Station Hospital, was in the ground party and assessed the injuries of the crew. The bodies were located throughout the site, and in some cases were thrown as far as 240 feet from the main wreckage. All of the crew except Sgt. MacDavid died instantly; MacDavid succumbed to his injuries shortly after the accident. All crew were found to have extensive injuries, and in all cases except for AC 1 Crawford, showed fractures to the skull and long bones. Crawford sustained massive trauma to the abdominal and thoracic areas, causing death. When the crew were examined they were all in a state of rigor mortis (Heakes 1941). As a result of this crash, it was believed that there would be further casualties in Gander, so an area was selected for the Commonwealth War Graves and these airmen were the first RCAF crew to be buried in Gander (Heakes 1941; Pattison 1941; Walker 2002).

Map of the debris field. Daly 2015.

Map of the debris field. Daly 2015.

The accident report gives the evidence that the aircraft came in too low and the starboard wing struck the bog, resulting in the crash. It states:

From the furrow out in the ground it appears that the starboard wing tip struck the ground after which the aircraft cartwheeled resulting in the wing, nose and engines being torn from the fuselage and the fuselage breaking in the centre behind the bomb-bay (Heakes 1941).

Where the wing struck the bog in 1941 is still visible. Note the debris in the scar. Photo by author, 2010.

Where the wing struck the bog in 1941 is still visible. Note the debris in the scar. Photo by author, 2010.

The archaeological map of the site agrees with this assessment. The scar where the wing tip struck is still visible and does contain some aircraft debris. The artifacts in the scar could not be measured accurately to be placed on the map because while the whole area is unstable, the areas that were damaged in the crash are much too unstable to walk on. The wings are to the northwest of the impact point, and the tail is partially submerged to the east of the impact point. The cockpit was not visible and may have been destroyed by investigators or sank through the bog. One piece in an open area of water could not be measured in the field and was measured from GoogleEarth images. This piece, which looked like a section of engine cowling, is approximately 260 feet (75 meters) from the main area of wreckage: the tail and rear end of the fuselage. This could be approximately where the bodies of P/O Pratt and AC 1 Crawford were located as the witness statement states:

I was shown the body of P/O Pratt. The body was 240 feet from the main wreckage, body partly submerged in a small pond, face and head above water. […] I was shown the body of AC 1 Crawford, T.J. The body was 220 feet from the main mass wreckage and was attached to seat [sic]. It was found in the small pond with head submerged in water (Heakes 1941).

Approximate location of the wreckage. Google Earth.

Approximate location of the wreckage. Google Earth.

The engines were in good condition prior to take-off and the aircraft had passed inspection. The altimeter settings had been passed on to the aircraft more than once, but Digby 742 never acknowledged receiving them. Salvage of the aircraft was requested, but given that the engines and bombs had sunk beneath the bog, Eastern Air Command in Halifax determined that the salvage values of the engines would not warrant the expenditure necessary to drain the bog to retrieve them. Similarly, due to the boggy nature of the area, it was believed that the six-hundred-pound live bombs from the aircraft would soon rust through to become inert and up to that point the area should be treated with caution. Until the bombs were determined to be inert, it would be unsafe to attempt salvage operations, especially of the engines (Heakes 1941).

Excerpt from the 1941 crash report discussing the viability of recovering the engines. From Heakes 1941.

Excerpt from the 1941 crash report discussing the viability of recovering the engines. From Heakes 1941.

Although weather conditions had deteriorated, at this time there were no regulations for minimum ceiling. The conditions that were present at the time of the crash were poor and landing should only have been attempted by an experience pilot. As a result of this crash, recommendations were made to the RCAF to put in place regulations for landing in poor conditions based on the time of day (day or night flying) and the experience of the pilot; an experienced pilot is considered to have completed at least 300 hours of flying on that specific type of aircraft. The determination that weather conditions are poor would be based on the ceiling level and at the discretion of the Aerodrome Control Officer (Heakes 1941).

Based on images taken after the initial accident compared to the site in 2010 and 2014, it looks as if the wreckage has been relatively untouched since the incident. The major change visible is a slow settling and sinking of the aircraft into the bog. As well, the different times of year will make the site look different depending on the amount of recent precipitation.  As stated in the incident report, the heavier items, such as the engine and the bombs sank under the bog before investigators reached the site, so the assumption can be made that any other heavy pieces of the aircraft, especially those with a small surface area, sank as well. What does remain are essentially pieces of aluminum of varying sizes (from small fragments of a few inches to a large wing section) “floating” on the bog. This does leave the site relatively intact since the crash, and thus allows for a better idea of the crash mechanics (Young 2014). As seen above, the crash report was detailed regarding the mechanics of the crash, and looking at the site it is possible to see the site similarly to how it was seen in 1941. In this case, the incident report has been able to inform the researcher and point out other areas, such as the engine cowling in a nearby area of open water, where debris can be found. This makes this site one of the most intact in the Gander area that has so far been examined by archaeologists.

What remains of the wings, "floating" on the bog. Photo by author, 2010.

What remains of the wings, “floating” on the bog. Photo by author, 2010.

That said, there is evidence that people have visited the site.  As is typical for known crash sites, a yellow X was painted on one of the larger pieces of wreckage. Names and dates of site visitors have been scratched into that paint. The majority of these names date between 1961 and 1968 and between 1983 and 1999. The Circularly Disposed Antenna Array (CDAA) was opened in 1970, which most likely prevented access to the site (RCAF 2009). According to staff at the facility, the antenna near the crash site was inactive in the 1980s and erected again in 2000, making the easiest access route to the crash site a restricted area (Fudge 2010). In fact, this researcher had to be escorted through the boundaries of the CDAA to gain access to the site. Because the site is still in operation, there is limited information about the area except that it is restricted.

Graffiti on the aircraft wreckage. Photo by author, 2010.

Graffiti on the aircraft wreckage. Photo by author, 2010.

While this site can be accessed by other routes, it is not recommended as the site is unstable, especially near the debris and the scar from where the wing struck, and visitors are at risk due to the unstable nature of this bog (Hillier 2010). In fact, which investigating the site, even walking near a fragment of aircraft could cause it to shift on the landscape. As well, according to a bomb disposal expert with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, caution should still be taken on site until the time that the status of the bombs can be determined (Deacey 2011). The incident report believed that the bombs would be deactivated as they would rust through in the bog, but this may not be the case as bogs are environments that can actually preserve materials rather than destroy them.

Some of the Digby that remains on the site. Photo by author, 2014.

Some of the Digby that remains on the site. Photo by author, 2014.

 

References

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.

Deacey, C. (RNC)
2012      Personal Communication

Fudge, M. (CAF)
2010      Personal Communication

Heakes, F.V.
1941      Douglas Digby Aircraft No. 742 Fatal Accident to Above at Newfoundland on 25-7-41. Department of National Defence – Canada RCAF, Gander, Newfoundland.

Hillier, D. (Newfoundland aviation historian)
2010      Personal Communication

RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force)
2009      9 Wing Gander: History. http://www.rcaf-arc.forces.gc.ca/9w-9e/page-eng.asp?id=509 (accessed 28 Aug 2012).

Pattison, H.A.
1941      Letter to the Secretary for Public Works 10 February 1941. On file, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, GN Box S5-5-2.

Walker, R.W.R
2012      Canadian Military Aircraft Serial Numbers, http://www.ody.ca/~bwalker/index.htm (accessed 13 Sept 2012).

Young, D. (Aircraft maintenance engineer)
2014      Personal Communication

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