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Thread: BOAC Liberator II Landing At Prestwick

  1. #1
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    BOAC Liberator II Landing At Prestwick

    There should be three images below. I have 'enhanced' the second and third a touch to make them a bit easier to read. I hope that they may be of interest:

    1. AL528, Liberator II about to land

    2. the reverse of the photo showing the handstamp of the photographic agency, with the attached 'blurb' folded up

    3. the 'blurb' itself: (a) the main text of which was standard -I have at least one other photograph with this blurb; (b) below the main text, the proposed photo caption, stating that it is a BOAC Liberator landing at Prestwick after a trans-Atlantic flight; and (c) above the main text, the reference number of the photograph - CH.14375
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  2. #2
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    Even when you click on the above images to expand, the first is a bit small, so I'll try to get it a bit larger (wish me luck):
    Attached Images Attached Images  

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    Interesting stuff. I assume that BOAC aircraft onl;y carried civil markings if they were operating to neutral countries then? I believe the Liberators had a number of accidents in BOAC service on the north Atlantic shortly after entry into service? From what I have read most of the passengers were returning ferry pilots?
    Rob

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    I don't know for sure but I believe that you are correct. I base this on the need for aircraft and crews on the Stockholm run and on the service to Lisbon, for example, to be civilian - ostensibly at least. The Norwegian crews on the Stockholm Run were nominally British and wore BOAC uniforms.

    AL528, along with some other BOAC Liberators, was allocated a civil registration (G-AGEM) apparently in case it was required to visit a neutral country, though I have no idea if it actually bore these markings at any time.

    Yes, they were used on the Return Ferry Service, which BOAC operated from September 1941 onwards. One BOAC Liberator (AL512/G-AGEL) crashed at Gander in December 1942. I'm not aware of any other BOAC Liberator losses on the North Atlantic, though there were a number of incidents, such as birdstrike, and at least one belly landing).

    AL528, itself, did crash in Canada but this was in February 1946.

  5. #5
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    According to 'G-INFO', Liberator II G-AGEM was placed on the British civil register on 31 July 1942. Its owner was BOAC with an address at the Grand Spa Hotel in Clifton, Bristol. The base for the aircraft, however, was given as Montreal, Canada.

    According to AJ Jackson's book on British Civil Aircraft, its C of A was issued on 7 August 1942 and then, going back to 'G-INFO' once more, its civil registration was cancelled by the Secretary of State on 28 August 1942.

    So it was officially G-AGEM for less than one month. I suspect that it never bore its British civilian registration markings in this brief period.

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    Just some further background info, and a nice photo, from the James D. Oughton book, "The Liberator in Royal Air Force and Commonwealth Service" (Air-Britain):

    AL528 Construction Number 26; retained in USA following Pearl Harbor; Taken On Charge by USAAC 12.41; released to RAF and Taken On Charge Dorval (Montreal) 3.4.42; released to BOAC for Return Ferry Service 3.4.42; loaned to Ferry Command 30.6.42; Dorval-to-Prestwick 10.7.42, Prestwick-to-Lyneham 13.7.42; made special flights UK-to-Cairo first 14.7.42, returning to Lyneham 21.7.42, Prestwick 22.7.42; second flight 25.7.42 to 1.8.42, for which received Air Ministry commendation; registered G-AGEM to BOAC; Certificate of Registration (9370) issued 31.7.42; Certificate of Airworthiness (6939) issued 7.8.42, aircraft remained as AL528, and G-AGEM registration cancelled 24.8.42; flown Prestwick-to-Goose Bay 7.8.42, Goose Bay-to-Dorval 8.8.42, possibly a Return Ferry Service flight; first Return Ferry Service eastbound flight 16.8.42; crashed and caught fire at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, 21.2.46, while attempting emergency landing in snowstorm and severe icing conditions; civilian co-pilot only fatality.

    A full-page photo of AL528 appears on page 102 of the book.

    Cheers,

    Matt
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    Last edited by Matt Poole; 7th April 2017 at 22:27. Reason: Bleedin' sodding bloody freakin' effin typo
    "The RAF Museum show has been forensically examined and was deeply unimpressive. I knew that their whale of a story was loaded with baloney".

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    I base my info on these RFS libs on one of Don McVicar's books, 'Ferry Command'. He describes several return flights on Libs and his lack of confidence in the crews experience on the North Atlantic. If anybody has not read his books they are a brilliant read.

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    The question of civil markings vs RAF markings for BOAC aircraft was not properly addressed througout the war. Broadly the idea was that if you were flying in, or near, a live combat zone, then your aircraft should be camouflaged; if not, then it should not be. That left open the question of whether camouflaged aircraft should have 'targets' on them. At the stage depicted in those photos, the RFS LB.30s were being operated by a unit that was overburdened with it's own, and ad hoc RAF requirements and it would seem that it was simply expedient not to take the time to repaint them. More than one did get extraordinarily scruffy before the decision was taken to remove the paint altogether, at which point the RAF roundels were retained, and a BOAC Speedbird appeared on the nose. Of course, for a while, the North Atlantic was considered an active combat zone, and the RFS crews were in fear of meeting FW.200s, against which they would have had little defence.

    It would appear that the photo from the book shows AL528 at the very beginning of her RFS career. Precise conversion dates for individual aircraft are lost, but very early on they were internally converted so that passenger entry was through the bomb bay, enabling the original entry hatch/ tunnel gun position to be used for freight. The ladder there shows the rear hatch is being used for entry/egress.

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    Thank you for all this additional information. It is so very welcome. As I have said in other posts, I am a lapsed aviation enthusiast, whose Air Britain membership ended about 55 years ago. It is therefore quite invigorating to read about all this further research (and its publication). Perhaps you will permit me some additional comments.

    From AL528’s chronology, provided by Matt, it would seem that it made at least two trans-Atlantic flights when registered as G-AGEM. The second is shown as an RFS flight, the first only “possibly” so. Nevertheless, this again raises the question of whether it bore civil or military marks for one or other of these two flights.

    It is also noteworthy that it made a couple of return flights to Cairo before it was registered as G-AGEM. According to AJ Jackson’s book on British Civil Aircraft, two Liberators were allocated to this service in 1942. Both wore their civil registration markings for this duty. G-AGDR (formerly AM918) made the inaugural flight from Hurn to Almaza in late January 1942 but, on its return, was shot down near the Eddystone Light on 15 February 1942. The other Liberator, G-AGCD (formerly AM259) apparently continued this service on its own until the end of 1942. I wonder if AL528 made these Cairo flights to supplement the efforts of G-AGCD.

    With regard to these Cairo flights, Lazy 8’s comment about the lax application, in wartime, of the ‘rules’ on civil versus military markings is apposite. One would think that, if it were advisable for G-AGDR and G-AGCD to be in civilian guise, the same would have applied to AL528, yet the mark G-AGEM was only registered while it was away on the second of its two Cairo flights. I wonder if, around that time, there was a notion to use it more permanently on that service to join G-AGCD but, after carrying out two trans-Atlantic flights in the course of August 1942, the second of which was apparently for the RFS, it was decided that the RFS flights had priority and thus AL528’s civilian registration could be cancelled. Pure speculation but it would seem to fit the dates.

    In respect of the requirement to apply camouflage for the North Atlantic run, the first Lodestar obtained by the Norwegian Purchasing Commission for use on the ‘Stockholm Run’ was delivered to Dorval in bare metal and had to be ‘camouflaged’ there before continuing its delivery flight to Prestwick (later purchases were camouflaged at Lockheed’s factory).

    Farnboroughrob, I do not have the MacVicar book but shall look out for a copy. I seem to recall that “Atlantic Bridge”, the 1945 HMSO account of Transport Command’s ‘Ocean Ferry’ activities, said that the RAF could not release sufficient pilots for the service, so that delivery crews were made up with all manner of civilian pilots, including barnstormers and those more used to crop spraying. Whether this was the case for the Liberator crews on the RFS, I don’t know but wouldn’t be surprised. Of course, the other element, at that time, was that very few pilots indeed had flown such long distances, over vast oceans, in such cold winter conditions.
    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 8th April 2017 at 15:21.

  10. #10
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    The other reason for the Atlantic Ferry pilots being civilians was that, until America entered the war it was not permitted that military pilots of any foreign combatant collect military aircraft from American factories. The RFS operation was based at Dorval, where TCA provided the maintenance facilities (not a 100% happy arrangement). If a flight reached Canada and found the weather against them, a diversion into an American airfield was a possibility (they weren't going to turn back...) so military crew could have presented a problem. The retention of full RAF markings on the aircraft tells us that this was, perhaps, a convenient fiction to keep the more dove-like elements in the US Congress happy. AFter the US entered the war, and as the RAF built up their own pool of long-range experience, it was not uncommon for RAF crew members to supliment their BOAC colleagues on the RFS flights.

    BOAC records generally show the registration that an aircraft was carrying when it was lost, be that civil or RAF. Unusually, for the LB.30/Liberator fleet, for those aircraft which had civil registrations, they unerringly show both, so can't help in this case. However, as noted, AL528/G-AGEM was lost in February 1946, nearly four years after it's civil registration was supposedly cancelled. My own thoughts are that the apparent cancellation of the civil registration in 1942 may have more to do with using LB.30s to open up a route to Moscow, which BOAC wanted nothing to do with as it very definitely had to cross a combat zone and they were in dispute with the government at that point as to whose risk such operations should be.

  11. #11
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    If you haven't seen this, it is worth a few minutes of your time:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAGDxzC71-Y

    It is a 1942 Pathe Newsreel about RAF Ferry Command. It features Liberator II AL592 (G-AHYF) in the opening section.

  12. #12
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    The USA's Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936 and 1937 certainly provided a stumbling block at the start of WWII. In 1939, initial efforts to amend their provisions were rebuffed but, following Germany's invasion of Poland, a new Neutrality Act was approved by Congress in November 1939. This allowed for arms to be provided on what was known as a 'cash-&-carry' basis, though American citizens were still barred from entering a war zone. It seems that Canada, as a belligerent nation counted as a war zone.

    The effect was as follows. American-built aircraft were flown to northern states in the Mid-West, parked really close to the border, then towed into Canada (sometimes by horses). I believe this arrangement started early in 1940. Once in Canada, the aircraft were flown away to be delivered to Britain and also, I believe, to France. The Lend-Lease Act didn't come in until March 1941.

    A bit of an aside, now. Though not directly involved in the war, USA's ships were being sunk by German subs, so Roosevelt then allowed the US Navy to defend its merchant ships. On Hallowe'en 1941, the US destroyer Reuben James was sunk; some of you may know the Woody Guthrie song that goes, "Tell me, what were their names? / Tell me, what were their names? / Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?". The Neutrality Acts were repealed within a fortnight, allowing merchant ships to carry war cargoes and to be armed. This was about four weeks before the USA declared war on Germany and Italy.

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    I hadn't seen that. Thanks for the pointer.
    Interesting to note that the early Ferry Libs usually had the last two of their serial painted on nose and tail - on the back of AL592 in that sequence it had '37'.
    AL592 didn't become G-AHYF until postwar, when the RAF had no further need for the ferry service and BOAC tried to use the LB.30s for freight. Although Scottish Airways took the service over and also tried (unsuccessfully) to make a profit, basically it came to naught because the none of the Liberator versions could meet postwar British CofA requirements. That meant no passengers, and fast freight just wasn't enough of a business.

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    The USN was already escorting British convoys on the western side of the Atlantic, attacking U-boats, before the sinking of the Reuben James.

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    The USN was already flying in Coastal Command aircraft on Operations from UK bases well before the Ruben James.

    Take a look at the crew of the Catalina that re-located the Bismark.

    Also the date for the grave of Ensign D A Eldred in Scotland
    http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/FowlerAL.htm

    Ross
    Restorer of Canberra PR.9 XH175 and anon (but looking more like 8249) Anson Mk.II

  16. #16
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    I don't think I said that the USN was involved only after the sinking of the Reuben James and I'm sorry if I gave that impression. I was trying to say that it was the sinking of the Reuben James that hastened the repeal of the Neutrality Acts and also to point out that their repeal pre-dated Japan's raid on Pearl Harbor and the USA's formal entry into WWII.

    I was aware that the USN was permitted to defend merchant shipping before the sinking of the Reuben James. I concede that this was not limited to defending US merchant shipping, which is what I implied.

    In respect of the involvement of USN aircrew in Coastal Command, was this an extension of the permission given to the surface fleet to protect merchant shipping?

  17. #17
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    No the numbers involved were too small for any meaningful attempt to protect shipping.

    The first batch of three or so serving USN pilots were an add on to the RAF crews collecting a squadron of Catalina from Consolidated factory in Feb/April 1941.

    Ensign (jg) L B Smith USN was part of the first group. The USN pilots took part in squadron working up on the new type when it reached the UK and seem to have been initially acting as conversion instructors beside RAF pilots who had flown the PBY used by Coastal Command in 1939/40.

    However as the squadrons moved to Operational flights the USN pilots stopped instructional flights and start to appear in crew lists.

    The new task for the USN pilots is to gain experience on how the Catalina fares in combat (a similar event with USAAF pilots occurs with RAF introduction of the B.17-C).

    It is reputed that Smith was flying in May when the Catalina broke cloud over the Bismarck and Briggs who was aft at the radio/nav station composing the sighting report had to return to the cockpit in a hurry. Briggs always said "he did not find Bismarck, she found him!".

    After May more USN pilots arrived making 9? in total and appear in most of the Catalina Squadron ORBs in operational flights between then and Dec as 2nd Pilots.

    Ensign (jg) D A Eldred USN was flying with No.413 (RCAF) Sqdn when he was killed on 23rd Aug 1941, the only fatality of the USN military mission.

    You mentioned the Liberator losses in Gander/Canada did you know about AM261 on Arran.

    Ross
    Last edited by Ross_McNeill; 9th April 2017 at 07:42.
    Restorer of Canberra PR.9 XH175 and anon (but looking more like 8249) Anson Mk.II

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    Thank you for that information, Ross. It reads as though the USN pilots were 'military advisers', in modern diplomatic parlance.

    No, I didn't recall AM261 (nor AM260, which crashed on take-off at Prestwick around the same time). I was commenting more on those Liberators allocated civilian registrations (whether or not they used them). Opening this thread was prompted by the photo posted at the start. I do have the 1945 HMSO booklet "Atlantic Bridge" and did consult some of my old aviation books but it has been so very interesting to read more about the Return Ferry Service.

    Below is another Liberator photo I have. I have seen a similar photo in published sources (marked as CH 14158) and, though the one I've just posted has no details on the reverse side, I assume it's from the same series of official Air Ministry photos.

    Incidentally, I lived for some years quite close to Prestwick Airport and indeed, well before that, my first night in Scotland was spent in the old terminal building there, possibly the one used by the RFS. Also, for a short period, I worked on the first floor of a building near the Ayrshire coast with a clear view some days across the Clyde to snow-capped Goat Fell (and quite likely the crash site of AM261).
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    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 9th April 2017 at 09:51.

  19. #19
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    I should have mentioned that I assume that the above photo shows the Liberator flying along the coast of Arran because the other one (the one labelled CH 14158) is captioned, 'HOMEWARD BOUND: A Liberator passing the coast of Arran after flying the Atlantic from Montreal".

    I also have a full frame photo of AL614 on the ground. Again, it isn't captioned but it could be at Prestwick. Was AL614 employed on the Return Ferry Service?

  20. #20
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    "Was AL614 employed on the Return Ferry Service"

    Mapping the use/owner for these aircraft is looking into the gates of hell..

    AL614 is an RAF serial and denotes that the aircraft was supplied to an Air Ministry contract and was officially taken on RAF charge as per form AM78 dates.

    However it was officially TOC by BOAC on 31/8/42 no subsequent transfer was made to RAFFC/ATFERO/ATC (pick an era) so likely that it remained listed as "in transit" and hence used by RFS.

    All ATA staff in the UK were BOAC employees and ATA ferry aircraft were on RAF charge so in a sense ATA/BOAC/RFS aircraft and crews were all BOAC.

    In Canada the admin was Canadian Pacific Railway with Trans-Canada Air Lines maintenance and BOAC crews so somewhere a very complex paper ownership dance was happening.

    in the early years one way trippers regardless of actual service were also employed under BOAC contract for the ferry flight to the UK but as ATFERO then RAFFC became established then the pretext of civilian crew disappeared and Air Training Plan graduates operating under the national service became the norm.

    One of the underlying reasons for the ownership alphabet soup for the Liberators was to try to stop Harris acquiring the aircraft and stopping the RFS.

    Harris had arranged the purchase for Coastal Command when he was part of the British Purchasing Committee as he saw no need for them in Bomber Command. However with the move from medium to heavy bomber to give the tonnage and range into Germany and the failure/delays of two/four engined new types into Bomber Command service one of moves as AOC was to make strong representations for all aircraft to be diverted from Coastal to Bomber.

    Carl Christie is one of the few authors to make any headway in truly recording the service, most sources, including me only scratch the surface and record a fleeting image of the moment.

    Ross
    Restorer of Canberra PR.9 XH175 and anon (but looking more like 8249) Anson Mk.II

  21. #21
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    Regarding the location of the photo, if it is Arran the location could be between Dougarie and Imachair on the West side of the island over Kilbrannan Sound.The clue, apart from the rising ground is the two marker boards on the shore showing the location of a buried submarine cable and you can see one on this chart marked http://www.visitmyharbour.com/harbou...-of-arran-2017

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    Thanks, scotavia. I think I recall reading somewhere that RFS aircraft departing Prestwick would tend to gp round the southern end of Arran before heading off across the Atlantic. Your identification of the likely location of that photograph seems to indicate that those coming into Prestwick adopted the same practice, only in reverse, of course.

    I show below the photograph that appears in HMSO's "Merchant Airmen" booklet, which seems to have the Liberator slightly further down the Arran coast. I also show the same photograph as it appeared in FLIGHT in 1945; the quality is lower but it shows a bit more of the coast, in case that helps. It also shows the photo reference number scrawled on. It looks like there is beach and a small jetty in the background

    If the images are too small, just click on them to show them larger (or double-click to make them even larger).
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    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 10th April 2017 at 14:29.

  23. #23
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    Hi, gents,

    No time to post comparison shots, but my initial comparison links the photos to SANNOX, on the NE coast of Arran. I'll later post a Google Earth comparison. The Liberator would be flying northward, on a heading of 340-345 degrees. I think it will be clearer after I take a comparison shot in 3D. Too rushed at the moment -- sorry. This heading is not towards Prestwick. Possibly an outward leg to N. America, or the inbound landing pattern would have taken the Lib to the NW of Prestwick before turning and approaching the airfield from the NW.

    Matt
    Last edited by Matt Poole; 10th April 2017 at 14:59. Reason: Arras changed to Arran!
    "The RAF Museum show has been forensically examined and was deeply unimpressive. I knew that their whale of a story was loaded with baloney".

  24. #24
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    In "Merchant Airmen" (HMSO, 1946), the photograph is captioned:-

    'COMING IN. A Return-Ferry Liberator flies low along the hilly, cloud-capped coast of Arran after a flight from Montreal. With a good tail wind she can do the west-to-east crossing - over 3,000 miles - in something under fourteen hours.'

    In FLIGHT (22 March 1945), the caption reads:-

    'HOME BOUND : A Liberator passing along the coast of Arran after flying the Atlantic from Montreal."

    It is an Air Ministry photograph and it is possible that, originally, it was issued with a press 'blurb' attached (rather like the one at the start of this thread) and that the blurb identified the location as I've given it here. Does that mean that the 'blurb' was 100% accurate? I don't know but views are welcome.
    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 10th April 2017 at 15:22.

  25. #25
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    Comparison shots. Definitely the location is in the Sannox area of Arran. The modern satellite comparison, at an oblique angle, with a 1:1 vertical exaggeration factor for the relief (essentially an accurate portrayal of terrain), matches up nicely. The village of Sannox is approx. 24 miles from Prestwick.

    If this is an inbound flight, as per the caption, then the Liberator is in a landing pattern which took it north of Prestwick, and a turn to starboard will bring it back towards Prestwick for the landing.

    Cheers,

    Matt
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    Last edited by Matt Poole; 10th April 2017 at 16:27.
    "The RAF Museum show has been forensically examined and was deeply unimpressive. I knew that their whale of a story was loaded with baloney".

  26. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Matt Poole View Post
    Hi, gents,

    No time to post comparison shots, but my initial comparison links the photos to SANNOX, on the NE coast of Arran.
    The last shot looks very much like Glen Sannox. Just checked the 1927 OS map which confirms the scenery.

    Cheers
    Steve P
    Last edited by steve_p; 10th April 2017 at 16:36.

  27. #27
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    Thanks, both, for the confirmation of the location. As I indicated in Post #18, my assumption has been that the two photographs showed the same aircraft on the same day but perhaps that was not the case. If my assumption was correct and the photos show the same aircraft, what route would it have taken between the two places, I wonder.

    Flying north past Sannox and turning to starboard would indeed line up with the main runway at Prestwick, as you show in one of your images, Matt. It would have been a long run-in but perhaps they did so for the benefit of the photographer.

    Incidentally, this looks to be the same runway and from the same direction as AL528 in the photograph I showed in Posts #1 and #2.
    Last edited by ianwoodward9; 10th April 2017 at 22:21.

  28. #28
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    There is one other photograph of a Liberator in HMSO's "Merchant Airmen" booklet. For those who haven't seen this booklet, I have posted the photograph below

    The aircraft is flying at a higher altitude, there is no land mass in sight, the photograph is taken from a very different angle and has no caption but it does precede Section VI, "ATLANTIC STORY", of the booklet.

    It is possibly the same Liberator as the one flying near Arran in the photos posted earlier.
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  29. #29
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    Many thanks for the tip about the Don McVicar memoir, "Ferry Command".

    I said that I'd look out for this book and, today, a more-than-decent second-hand copy, complete with dust jacket, popped through the letter box. It cost all of 82 pence plus postage, so I'm very pleased indeed and I'm looking forward to reading it.

    Thanks again.

  30. #30
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    Enjoy! It's a very good read. The only problem is... you might find you would like to read his other books as well

    (North Atlantic Cat, A Change of Wings, Mosquito Racer, More Than a Pilot. See here for more about him: http://www.donmcvicar.com/)
    A Little VC10derness - A Tribute to the Vickers VC10 - www.VC10.net

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