Category Archives: B-24

Remembering Pattern Lancaster Mk. I R5727

Clarence Simonsen’s research on the Lancaster X was published on my main blog Lest We Forget in July 2015. It has been dormant since then until last week. Clarence Simonsen’s research is always well-documented although sometimes it’s quite long to read. But I don’t complain since I believe Preserving the Past is important. 

You can refresh your memory by reading again what Clarence wrote in 2015 or read it here on Preserving the Past for the first time… 


Research and article by Clarence Simonsen

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This classic 1939 British poster celebrates fifty years of British aviation design and aircraft production, as the topless English lady looks to the beginning of her dark war-torn future. The next five war years will bring together the development of British and American aircraft and aero-engines which will effect combatant air forces until the end of the hostilities in May 1945. My story will be told by poster ads used in that time period, also demonstrating how the Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X bomber idea was created and constructed using North American engines and parts.

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This pre-war British ad possibly appeared in 1938, when the first production Spitfire Mk. I fighters were delivered to No. 19 and 66 RAF Squadrons. The prototype Spitfire was fitted with the first Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and flew in March 1936, setting a world record of 342 mph [547.2 km/h]. A total of 305 Spitfires were built before the war and over 21,000 during the war years, which appeared in 29 different versions. Over 730 were supplied to the U.S. Army Air Force under reverse “Lend-Lease.” This British aircraft design combined with the Rolls-Royce engine made it a front ranked WWII fighter of all time.

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Rolls-Royce Ltd. was established on 15 March 1906, with aero-engine works at Derby, Crewe and Glasgow. They specialized in the production of high performance liquid cooled aircraft engines named the Merlin and Griffon. This 1940 ad promotes the new type Griffon engine which was produced with the outbreak of war in September 1939. This engine was also drawing large interest from the American aviation industry and Government Defense agencies.

In June 1940, the American Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., held discussions with Henry Ford’s son Edsel, regarding the building of the British Rolls-Royce aircraft engine in the Ford Motor Company plant. Edsel tentatively agreed to produce 6,000 Rolls-Royce engines for Great Britain and 3,000 for the United States. In mid-July, Henry Ford called off the entire deal when he refused to manufacture any engines for Great Britain to support their war effort.

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Get the facts

LIFE magazine 2 December 1940

The American Defense Advisory Commission subsequently turned to another car manufacturer located in Detroit. In September 1940, an agreement for $130,000,000.00 was signed with the Packard Car Company and this turned out to be a very good choice for the future war effort, Great Britain, the United States and British aircraft manufactured in U.K. and Canada. The Packard built Merlin Rolls-Royce aircraft engines are sometimes confused with the American Packard built Marine engines used in the U.S. Navy PT-Boats.

In 1939, the U.S. Navy contracted the Huckins Yacht Corporation and Electric Launch Company [ELCO] to design three different high speed boats [P.T.] and these were constructed in eight different boats, designated PT-1 to 8. In testing they were found to lack the speed and capabilities the Navy sought. The ELCO company made a trip to England and procured one high speed 70 foot British Hubert Scott-Paine constructed power boat. This British boat was used on an experimental basis and designated PT-9 on 17 June 1940, by the U.S. Navy.

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On the left is the British built [Hubert Scott-Paine] experimental PT-9 boat sporting the new Walt Disney designed “Mosquito Fleet”. On the left is Lieutenant Earl S. Caldwell, Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C., the officer who wrote to Walt Disney requesting the new Patrol Torpedo insignia.

The U.S. Navy was pleased with the British design and ordered ten examples to be constructed by ELCO and they were given the designation PT-10 to 19. These new boats were installed with three Packard built Marine gasoline engines of 1,350 horsepower each. These engines were built by Packard’s chief engineer, Jesse Vincent beginning in 1929, and were not part of the British Rolls-Royce contract. The first ten boats were built at Bayonne New Jersey 70′ and the first PT-10 was launched on 20 August 1940. PT-10 was transferred to the Royal Navy on 11 April 1941 and became H.M.M.T.B. 259.

The most famous ELCO constructed boat with Packard Marine engines became Bayonne New Jersey 80′, launched on 20 June 1942 and designated PT-109, skipper John F. Kennedy.

Located by deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard on 22 May 2002, the remains are 1,200 feet down in the South Pacific. Can you imagine the American historical value to this Walt Disney created insignia on PT-109 if it were recovered? This is the second Navy art image which promoted Disney to create a five-man design team which produced over 1,200 insignia during WWII.

PT boat

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LIFE magazine 13 January 1941, shows the very first PT-10 which was launched on 20 August 1940. In eleven months 12 PT Boats will open fire on Japanese attackers at Pearl Harbor and for months later these same boats were the only front line defense against possible Japanese invasion. Packard built over 14,000 Marine 4M 2500 engines, at their East Grand Ave. plant, Detroit, which were not part of the Merlin Rolls-Royce aviation engine built under contract from England.

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This early 1941 ad features the P-40 fighter and the PT Boats but the engines were two different designs.

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The Packard Car Company began by redrawing all the British blueprints from first-angle projection to American third-angle projection used in the United States, including manufacturing specifications in American terminology. Several significant American improvements were also incorporated into the Packard engines, and a most significant change involved the crankshaft bearing material. This had been developed by General Motors Pontiac Division to prevent the corrosion of auto crankshaft bearings, a common design adapted and used in the manufacture of large American radial aircraft engines.

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This ad appeared on 20 April 1942, showing the war production drive of General Motors in America. Lost in this drawing is the fact that the crankshaft bearing material improvement invented by General Motors would make a significant change to the American built Packard aircraft engines. The original British Rolls-Royce crankshaft used a lead bronze with a lead-indium flash finish. Packard engines introduced the General Motors silver with lead-indium flash finish which prevented corrosion from all lubricating oils, even low grade oils. This new bearing coating also improved the break-in time for a new Packard Rolls-Royce engine and boosted the load-carrying ability of the surface, giving the engine a longer life-span.

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This ad promotes the American built Allison engine, however it also demonstrates the General Motors invention of the main crankshaft bearings manufacture using silver with a lead-indium flash, which improved the Packard engines.


The first Packard built Rolls-Royce Merlin engine was test run in August 1941, and received the U.S. Army designation V-1650-1 which was equivalent to the Merlin 28 or 29 single stage with a two-speed supercharger.

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The early Merlin 28 engines built by Packard were installed in the Kittyhawk Mk. II [P-40F] and the British built Lancaster Mk. I and Mk. III.

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The Merlin 28 engines built by Packard were first installed in the Canadian built Hurricane Mk. X aircraft [490 built] constructed by Canadian Car and Foundry Ltd. Later the Packard Merlin 29 engine was installed in the Canadian built Mk. XI, [150 built] Mk. XII and XIIA Hurricane fighters. In total 1,451 Canadian Hurricane aircraft were built, which were also installed with American Nash-Kelvinator Corporation Hamilton Standard propellers that could not accommodate the British spinners. The trade mark Canadian built Hurricanes flew without spinners.

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The Merlin 31 Packard built engine [V-1650-1] was first installed in the Canadian built Mosquito Mk. VII aircraft, all of which remained in Canada. The next Canadian model Mk. XX, received the Packard built Merlin 31 and 33 engines, delivered to England in August 1943, and saw action on 29 November 43 attacking Berlin. Later in the war the Packard built Merlin 225 [same as British Merlin 25] was installed in Canadian built Mosquito Mk. 25, Mk. 26, and dual-control Mk. 27 trainer aircraft.

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The 1,400 h. p. Merlin 68 [V-1650-3] was installed in the American Mustang P-51B and C models, entering service in early 1943. This long-range fighter could now escort the 8th Air Force deep into Germany, and saved thousands of American lives.

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American nose art “Sky Clipper” City of Packard War Workers, on a P-51B donated by the Packard war workers.

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The P-51B-NA, serial 43-12484 flew with the 354th Fighter Group, 355th Fighter Squadron.

Due to the tremendous war time production pressures Rolls-Royce faced, particularly in 1940 and 41, the British had been unable to introduce a two-piece cylinder bank into their engine manufacture. Packard became the first to manufacture a two-piece cylinder head and bank assemblies. American manufactured magnetos were used and the AC Delco units were designed to be interchangeable with British counterparts.

Several other important improvements were incorporated into the Packard engines, such as the far superior Bendix fuel injection carburetor. [the British used Skinner’s Union carburetor of Morris Group] The Packard team made a significant change in the redesign of the supercharger drive for the two-stage engines. The epicyclic gearing drive which was patented by Wright Aeronautical was also used on the two-stage engines.

The Packard engines manufactured for Canada and installed in the Hurricane, Mosquito, and Lancaster Mk. X were produced with the standard British propeller shaft used by Society of British Aircraft Constructors.

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Thousands of American Packard built Merlin 38 engines [V-1650-1] were installed into the British Lancaster Mk. I & III’s. These were the same as the British Rolls-Royce Merlin 22 with 1,390 h. p. at 3,000 r.p.m. The painting shows No. 44 Squadron Lancaster code KM-T, but the serial is not known. The squadron lost five Lancaster bombers with the code “T”, serial L7548, [17 Apr. 42] W4106, [23 Mar. 43] W4778, [3 Aug. 43] DV331, [21 Dec. 43] and ME699, [5 July 44]. Lancaster PD422 survived the war, off-charge on 14 Dec. 1945.

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The superior Bendix fuel injector carburetor and the Bendix “Eclipse” Aircraft Engine Starter were installed in the American P-51 plus the Canadian built aircraft, including the Lancaster Mk. X.

The World War Two historical achievements of the British built Avro Lancaster bomber has been recorded in many books, on film, and today appear on many aviation internet websites. To a lesser extent, the history of the Canadian Lancaster Xs built at Malton, Ontario, by the Victory Aircraft plant tend to be combined with the total production of 7,377 bombers built during World War Two. Last summer, [2014] the Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X serial FM213 [painted as Mynarski Lancaster KB726] made a famous return to England and joined her British built Lancaster cousin. An American pilot-friend [B-25] ask me if the two Lancaster aircraft were in fact manufactured the very same. I informed him the Lancaster Mk. X was totally Canadian production, thanks to the cooperation of “Uncle Sam” and the United States War Industry.


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The original design and manufacture of the Canadian Lancaster Mk. X’ were identical to the British Lancaster Mk. III, the first 75 aircraft [KB700 to KB774] received the Packard built [USA] Rolls Royce Merlin 38 engines, which produced 1,390 h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m. Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB775 onwards were installed with the American-Packard Merlin 224 engines. These were manufactured in Detroit by Packard and based on the British Rolls-Royce Merlin 24. They were given the “2” prefix and became the Packard Merlin 224, producing 1,620 h.p. at 3,000 r.p.m.

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Altogether during World War Two over 150,000 Merlin Rolls-Royce engines were manufactured in Great Britain and the United States. The Packard Car Company manufactured 55,873 engines in Detroit which were installed in American, British, and British aircraft manufactured in Canada. The Packard engines built for North American Aviation and Curtiss were constructed with the American SAE No. 50 propeller shaft, while the engines supplied to England and Canada were built with the Society of British Aircraft Constructors standard British propeller shaft.



By the fall of 1940, the British still stood alone in the fight against Hitler and the war situation had worsened, which greatly affected the British Aircraft Production Industry. The United States had not yet entered the war, while the Dominion of Canada aircraft production and construction of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan were still in the early stages. The British urgently needed to speed up aircraft production and place it out of the reach of German bombers. This was all accomplished in a special meeting held in the offices of the British Supply Council in Washington, D.C., on 18 September 1941. The production in Canada of the British heavy bomber [Lancaster] would soon begin, with the official order announced in December 1941. This was combined with a sudden crippling attack by the Japanese on the United States naval and air forces at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, quickly changed the tempo of the world war. The entry of the United States into World War Two would also change the Canadian Lancaster manufacture and parts supply switched from British to North American. In January 1942, the British Lancaster bomber blueprints had arrived at the Aircraft Division of the National Steel Car Corporation at Malton, Ontario. This Aircraft Plant had been constructed for the new [N.S.C.C.] Aircraft Division and opened on 1 February 1938. In 1941, a large extension to the plant was constructed due to a contract to build the American Martin B-26 Marauder bomber. The Marauder contract was cancelled and the Canadian Lancaster Mk. X manufacture took its place. On 25 August 1942, American pilot Clyde Pangborn piloted British built Lancaster Mk. I, serial R5727, from England to Ottawa, [Rockcliffe] Canada, making the first east to west crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by a Lancaster.


This event was reported to American and Canadians in the 28 September 1942 issue of LIFE magazine. The Lancaster first stopped for fuel at Gander, Newfoundland, and then headed to Ottawa, [Rockcliff] where these American photos were taken.

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Note the rubber life rafts and survival supplies in the bomb bay of Lancaster R5727 [above] for this first historic Atlantic crossing.

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American pilot Clyde Pangborn had a rich aviation history which involved many long distance flights. He was the chief test pilot for Bellanca Aircraft Corporation when the Second World War began. Pangborn officially offered his services to the Allied war effort in 1940 and helped the Royal Air Force establish the early Ferry Command of American aircraft to Great Britain. He piloted the delivery of 175 Atlantic Ocean crossings of British aircraft including the first flight of Lancaster R5727 from England to Rockcliffe, Ontario.

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This [American] LIFE magazine photo was taken at RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario, where the Lancaster was demonstrated to RCAF Ottawa high command, including Minister for Munitions and Supply in the Canadian Government, the Right Honourable C.D. Howe. The Lancaster was next flown by pilot Ralph Bell and passenger C.D. Howe to Malton, Ontario, on 31 August 1942.

In September 1942, work began immediately on the new Lancaster production line and R5727 became the master tool and pattern standard aircraft model. This produced a variety of serious [infighting] management problems, which resulted in the National Steel Car Company Aircraft Division being taken over by the Canadian Government. The new Crown Company was renamed “Victory Aircraft” which later [1 December 1945] postwar became A.V. Roe Canada Ltd. or commonly called Avro Canada. British built Lancaster R5727 was later acquired by Trans-Canada Airlines, modified with 10 seats, extra fuel tanks, and began ferrying passengers, air mail, and freight on trans-Atlantic service beginning 22 July 1943.

The initial plans for the building of the Lancaster in Canada begin in early 1942 and involved Sir Oliver of the Churchill War Ministry and Canadian Minister of Munitions and Supply, Hon. C.D. Howe. The British Conservative Coalition Government under P.M. Churchill was formed in 1940 and remained until the elections in 1945. The Churchill War Ministry appointed special members to control the war against Germany in these crucial years of battle. Sir Oliver  [below] was appointed the Minister of British War Production in March 1942 and remained in charge until May 1945.

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Oliver Lyttelton, 1st Viscount Chandos

On 4 June 1942, Sir Oliver arrived in Washington, D.C. for a special meeting with President Roosevelt and the American Joint War Production board members. On 9 June 42, Sir Lyttelton toured the huge Ford Willow Run B-24 factory and stated -“If Hitler and Goering had made this trip with us through these plants, they would “cut their throats.” The Philco radio company placed this ad in LIFE magazine.

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On 16 June 42, Sir Lyttelton departed Washington by train for Ottawa, and a meeting with P.M. Mackenzie King and the Canadian War Production chiefs. At these meetings the details for the building of the Canadian Avro Lancaster Mk. X bomber were formalized. A major challenge was the manufacture of interchangeable parts made in the United States and Canada to that of the British design. While the American built Packard engines high-quality of engineering had been a complete success, other obstacles had to be overcome to build the Lancaster bomber. The manufacture of the Canadian/American parts for the Lancaster can be seen in the following ads.

All Lancaster instruments, radios, ball bearings and a completely new electrical fuselage wiring system came from [North American] Canadian and American companies.

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The new novel Canadian wiring system could quickly be converted from a one-wire to a two-wire circuit by pulling out a plug and converting the system, allowing repair and replacement of battle damage without costly repairs being shipped from Canada. Even the Canadian lighting systems were manufactured to be interchangeable with the British production.

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The Bendix Aviation Corporation supplied two major improvements for the Packard Rolls-Royce engine plus Lancaster Mk. X precision pilot instruments.


This Before This

The seats came from New York.


The Canadian Good Year Rubber Company [New Toronto] received the contract to produce the Lancaster Mk. X tires.

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Nash-Kelvinator manufactured the Lancaster Mk. X propeller blades.

In March 1941, Nash-Kelvinator was contracted under license [U.S. Government] to build 1,500 Hamilton Standard Hydromantic variable pitch aircraft propellers per month. By 1945, they had built and assembled 158,134 three blade propellers, plus 85,656 spare blades. A large number of these propellers were shipped to England and installed on the British Lancaster bombers. Other propellers were sent to Canada and installed on British built aircraft, including the 430 Lancaster Mk. X aircraft built at Malton, Ontario.

The arrival of KB700 [15 September 1943] and shortly after KB705 [used for component mating tests] allowed the British Ministry of Aircraft Production to test the new Canadian built Lancaster X and all major components were successfully mated with the British counterparts. KB705 went to British Rolls-Royce for testing [interchangeable test] in January 1944. The British were both surprised and impressed with the Canadian workmanship and the joint Canadian/American parts manufacture.

The first production order of 300 Lancaster X’s received the serial numbers KB700 to KB999, produced between August 1943 and March 1945. The first 154 bombers were finished with the gun positions faired over, flown to England where the standard British .303 guns were installed.

The forward turret – two .303 machine guns F.N.5. [Frazer-Nash]

The mid-upper gun turret – two .303 machine guns F.N.50.

The rear gun turret – four .303 machine guns, F.N.20.

During the complete war the British Bombers carried enormous bomb loads combined with highly inflammable aviation fuel, incendiary bombs, and oxygen tanks. The crews flew long hours of combat endurance, only escaping death in seconds by the famous ‘corkscrew’ manoeuvre, which was far inferior to the speedy night-fighter attacks. The aircrew always knew they were outpaced and outmanoeuvred by the German fighters but they also understood they were outgunned by the German fighters, who could stay out of range of the British .303 cal. machine guns [450 yards] and pump 20 m.m. cannon fire into the huge black slow flying bombers. A number of surviving RCAF air gunners expressed the simple cause for the majority of Bomber Command losses was the refusal of the RAF to upgrade to the .50 cal. machine guns. They were sitting ducks.

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The Americans took a much different approach and installed a high muzzle velocity and larger caliber machine guns in all their bomber aircraft, giving them a much stronger destructive power, and crew survival.

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The most widely manufactured high power upper turret gun used by American aircraft during WWII was the Martin 250 CE-7 to 23 series, which fired twin .50 cal. Browning M2 machine guns. These guns packed a very destructive force and had a full field of fire traversing 360 degrees, with a range of 800 yards.

Lancaster Mk. X. serial KB783 [below] arrived in England in October 1944 and was sent to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. This Canadian Lancaster was fitted with the .50 Cal. Martin turret and used for flight gun trials, which proved to be very successful. Due to the new gun weight gain the Martin turret had to be moved further forward to correct the aircraft balance.

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Beginning with Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X, serial KB855, [below] the American manufactured twin .50 cal. Martin 250 turret was installed in all the bombers that left the plant in Malton, Ontario.

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The Canadian installed Martin 250 CE-23 turret was mounted in the middle of the Lancaster fuselage [in front of roundel] while the old British Frazer Nash 50 was mounted closer to the rear [behind the roundel]. This was due to weight gain, however it also gave much better protection for the complete top of the bomber, which had a 360 degree of fire with two feeds of 800 rounds of .50 cal. ammo. [two ammo boxes on each side, right and left supplied 400 rounds each for a total of 1,600 rounds.

These Canadian Lancaster Mk. X’s were the only RAF bombers to use two .50 cal. machine guns during WWII and this saved many RCAF lives. The range of the British .303 cal. machine gun was best at 450 yards, compared with the .50 cal. American range of 800 yards. Can you imagine the surprise when a German night-fighter pulled into what he believed was a safe distance, then was blasted out of the dark sky by a Canadian Lancaster .50 cal. mid-upper gunner.

Many RCAF veterans believed the Canadian built Lancaster Mk. X manufactured with American Packard engines and North American parts was the safer bomber, and in the case of the mid-upper gunner, it was far more advanced with American .50 cal. fire-power.

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LIFE magazine 1944 shows Martin turret fire power.

Update June 2, 2017

Last May I was given many photos with these three that were filled with forgotten memories from the past that I wasn’t aware of. Having spent my childhood and my young adult life in Montreal I was mesmerized by looking at them. I was not born in 1942, but these photos brought great memories from my past.



R5727 had just taken off from Dorval probably to take more fuel having departed from Gander. The date is August 24, 1942. R5727 is heading east towards St-Hubert airport.

It will fly over the St. Lawrence River and Victoria Bridge before heading to RCAF Rockcliffe.

If you have read Clarence’s research you have seen this image.

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R5727 was ferried from England. The story is told here in The Gazette.

THE GAZETTE 1942-08-25_11-1

Clyde Pangborn was the pilot. We already know this from Clarence’s research, but The Gazette lists the crew.


One small detail attracted someone attention…


Jean Claude Charlebois was wondering who was sitting beside the pilot. He wanted to know who he was. 


It could only be the Flight Engineer E.G. Longley who would lose his life later in the crash of a Liberator II which ran out of fuel…



9 February 1943

Liberator II AL591
Return Ferry Service.

Ran out of fuel and crash-landed in a blizzard with sever icing conditions 10 miles north east of Gander, killing nineteen of 21 on board.

Crew and passengers.

F A. Dugan . American civilian. Pilot +
Sgt. J R. Elding. RAF. Pilot +
G P M. Eves. British civilian. Pilot +
T R. Harmes. British civilian. Pilot +
Sgt. H L B. Lewis. RAF. Pilot +
R M. Lloyd. American civilian. Pilot +
Sgt. D J. Owen. RAF. Pilot +
Sgt. G P. Pollard. RAF. Pilot. (Died in hospital)
J. Stagner. American civilian. Pilot +
Sgt. W H. Kyle. RCAF. Navigator +
P/O. R I. Scott. RCAF. Navigator +
F J. Brown. British civilian. Radio Officer +
J D. Jones. British civilian. Radio Officer +
F. Scrafton. Canadian civilian. Radio Officer +
R. Wadsworth. British civilian. Radio Officer +
E G. Longley. Canadian civilian. Flight Engineer +
J B. Merriman, British civilian. Flight Engineer +
I W. Wilmot. Canadian civilian. Flight Engineer +
Lt-Col. L T, Grove. British Army. Passenger +

Survivors Captain R.E. Parker Jr and P/O G.N. Abelson.

Movement history of Liberator II AL591

Construction Number. 89
Operated by the Ferry Command Communications Squadron 20 December 1941- 2 April 1942
Took on Charge Dorval 3 April 1942
To BOAC for the Return Ferry Service.
First Return Ferry Service eastbound to Prestwick 25 July 1942, onward to Cairo on 30 July 1942 returning 6 August 1942.
First Return Ferry service westbound Prestwick – Gander 12 August 1942.
Crash-landed Gander 9 February 1943.

More on the Liberator II here: 

More on the crash:

Crash of a Consolidated LB-32-3 Liberator II in Gander: 19 killed

Accident description

Destroyers for Bases

Updated 7 November 2021

Research and story by Clarence Simonsen

That was the title in LIFE magazine for the 16 September 1941 issue describing the trade of 50 old American destroyers for control of the North Atlantic. President Roosevelt acted alone when he transferred the 50 warships to Britain and acquired a 99 year lease for eight U. S. air and naval bases from Newfoundland to British Guiana.

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These first eight American bases would become the stepping stones for a new series of outpost air fields that would become dominant in transporting new American and Canadian built aircraft across the Atlantic to the war fronts. The northern route from Gander, Newfoundland, Goose Bay, Labrador, to Greenland, and Iceland, became the early staging routes to Scotland and England, but they became impossible in the Arctic winter months. That led to construction of a southern route from Miami, Florida, to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico, then 1,058 miles to Georgetown, British Guiana, then landing at an airstrip carved out of the jungle near Belem, Brazil. The next flight was 1,000 miles to a malaria infested air strip at Natal, Brazil. Air crews could remain at this large base for up to 14 days, and their departure was shrouded in total secrecy. The Atlantic Ocean around Ascension Island was also patrolled by German U-Boats looking for the ferry aircraft, which flew at 5,000 feet when they began landing descent.

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This map from the inside cover of 1944 book “Flight to Everywhere” details the north and south routes that transported man, material, and aircraft to the war in Europe and Africa. From 1942 to 1945, thousands of aircraft containing officers and men were lost in this remote part of the world. The most dangerous part of the journey became the 1,450 miles of flight over the Atlantic from Natal, Brazil, to a dot in the Ocean named Ascension Island. To avoid a navigational error, the fighter aircraft flew in groups of four, led by a C-87 Liberator transport carrying a navigator.

While the air crews enjoyed Natal’s beach, others drink beer [Cervesa] at the Grande Hotel. The Liberator Transport aircraft are loaded for the trip to Africa, while the P-38 fighters wait for a departure time. Note the extra fuel pods for the long 1,450 mile flight.

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Images from 1944 book – Flight to Everywhere

LIFE war correspondent artist Peter Hurd painted Ascension in 1943.

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Named for the Christian Holy Thursday, 39 days after Easter, and the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven, this 34 square miles of barren lava rock was discovered by Portuguese navigator Joo Nova on Ascension day in 1501, but the worthless spot was not claimed or desired by any country. The island has no water supply, little rain fall, and the only vegetation grows high up on the only mountain top named “Green Mountain.” A small British naval force took the island without any opposition in 1815, and why the British wanted this rock “Clinker” is not fully understood. When the South Atlantic cable was laid the complete island was leased to the English communications firm, Cable and Wireless Ltd. It became a cable station and the lonesome island was home to seventy-five Britons who lived on the rock and were dependent on one ship a year bringing water, provisions, and a welcome replacement. The island is the most populated bird haven on the earth and if you like eggs cooked in any fashion, they are eatable.

The island was leased from the British in January 1942, and a detachment of American Army engineers arrived in March. In 91 days, they had blasted, bulldozed, and carved out a 6,700 foot landing strip. Then they constructed a barracks, mess hall, machine shop, and tents for the 2,000 U. S. Army Air Force staff that would live on this rock. The air base named “Wideawake”was in full operation by the Americans in September 1942.

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The completed 1942 airport lava rock runway and the living conditions. Weekly water ration was five gallons per man.

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Peter Hurd painting of runway in July 1943, when over one hundred aircraft arrived that single day. This was also the peak period for German U-boat attacks on the ship convoys approaching the Straits of Gibraltar.

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Images from 1944 book Flight to Everywhere


American Colonel John C. Mullinex and British Governor Colonel J. N. Tomlinson supervise the remote base activities.

While the island remained the loneliest place Americans were serving, they are also called upon for hard work, with plenty of time to eat and sleep. The airport was one of the busiest with all food, thousands of tons of aviation fuel and boxes of spare parts flown in daily. The water purifying plant makes sea water fit to drink and each man is allowed five gallons per day.

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While the island appears from the air to be heavily defended, the antiaircraft batteries are just dummy.

The real protection of Ascension has not been left to dummies or imitation guns. It is performed by a special group of pilots and aircrew who land on the island every day and take every precaution to prevent any surprise attack by enemy ship or submarine. The strategic importance of this rock island in delivering supplies and combat aircraft to Africa, year around, was the first priority. It also became a very special re-fueling point and rest stop for the newly formed 480th U.S. Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Group from 20 June 1943 until 29 January 1944.

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This early 480th Group B-24D flew with Type 2 National Insignia, introduced 18 August 1942 until 29 June 1943. The aircraft number 15 was orange. Only the upper surface is Olive Drab, remainder is insignia white. This could be the first 480th Group B-24D to land on Ascension, May 1943.

On 8 December 1941, the U.S.A.A.F. First Air Force received new orders to begin overwater reconnaissance patrols looking for German U-Boats on the Atlantic coast of United States. This was a new style of war for the Americans and it would take time to form and learn new anti-submarine tactics. The First Air Force had been activated on 18 December 1940, to train new air force organizations and provide air defense for the eastern United States of America.

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On 15 October 1942, the Army Air Forces Antisubmarine Command was activated, and a good portion of its tactics and techniques would be learned from the British at RAF Station St. Eval. RAF St. Eval was situated near Cornwall, England, with the primary role to provide anti-shipping and anti-submarine patrols off the south-west coast.

On 7 September 1942, Consolidated B-24D bombers from the 93rd Bomb Group, 409th Bomb Squadron, based at RAF Station Alconbury, were transferred to RAF St. Eval and the first American antisubmarine bomber training began. At this point many plans were being made in haste and with great secrecy.

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Some of these B-24D Liberators came with the official 409th Squadron nose art emblem of a running Panda bear, carrying a white 500 pound aerial bomb. These standard B24D Liberator antisubmarine training aircraft and crews were returned to the 93rd Bomb Group on 6 December 1942, replaced by the new formed 1st Antisubmarine Squadron from Langley Field, Virginia, U.S., who arrived at St. Eval on 10 November 1942. The 2nd Antisubmarine Squadron from Langley arrived at St. Eval on 2 January 1943, and these two squadrons took over the first American operational submarine attack training. They arrived with new modified B-24D aircraft with radar and modern detection equipment.

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These two American Army Antisubmarine squadrons began combat training on 15 January 1943, flying from RAF Station St. Eval on operational killer hunts against German U-boats in the Bay of Biscay. They were placed under command of Colonel Roberts, working as a detachment of the 25th Antisubmarine Wing. The 1st Squadron flew its first mission on 16 November 1942. The 2nd Squadron flew their first mission on 16 January 1943, exactly two months later. On 20 occasions the Americans sighted a German U-boat and in eleven instances the submarines were attacked. The squadrons encountered four German Ju-88 aircraft and two were damaged and possibly shot down. During training they lost 65 officers and men, with seven B-24D aircraft destroyed.

In late March 1943, the two squadrons were next reassigned to Port Lyautey, French Morocco, and on 19 June 1943 they became the 480th American Antisubmarine Group. They flew a modified B-24D Liberator bomber equipped with radar, external long range fuel tanks, and other special equipment for hunting German U-boats. Their new combat operating area was north and middle Atlantic from Newfoundland to Trinidad. The southern route was from the Bay of Biscay to Ascension Island, a major part of the Battle of the Atlantic.

The B-24Ds used by the 480th Group were initially painted in normal olive drab and grey camouflage with the serial number and radio call letter in yellow on the tail fin. With their arrival at Port Lyautey in June, the aircraft all received insignia white sprayed undersurfaces, which modellers call shade 46. This white was sprayed up the aircraft fuselage sides and some even painted the outer two vertical tail fins. Code single letters appear in white, while aircraft numbers on nose are yellow. No two aircraft appear to have the same white sprayed color markings, just a wave pattern.

On 10 May 1943, two B-24D aircraft were dispatched to Natal, Brazil, as an experimental detachment to protect Ascension Island. On 27th of May this detachment moved its ground echelon to Ascension Island, and the following month increased its B-24D strength to four aircraft. It is believed they were the 480th Antisubmarine Group men and aircraft. The following four nose art images were 480 Group B-24D aircraft, possibly taken on Ascension Island in August 1943.

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Refueling a B-24D Liberator code letter “C” from the 480 Antisubmarine Group on Ascension Island 1943. The nose art appears to show a red devil with horns about to attack a nude lady floating on the surface of the ocean. The words are ‘EM DIVING, possibly for “keep them German U-Boats diving?” This could be one of four B-24D aircraft that were moved from Natal, Brazil, to Ascension Island on 27 June 1943.

It could also be one of the long-range B-24D aircraft that flew over one thousand miles from home base at Port Lyautey and then re-fueled at Ascension.

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Another view of B-24D code letter “C” named ‘EM DIVING, showing eleven German submarine attacks. The months of July and August 1943, was the period when the most submarine attacks were made.

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Impressive nude lady with double meaning nose art name. It appears the B-24D serial number has been painted over.

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More B-24D nose art from the 480th Antisubmarine Group taken on Ascension Island. Note the long line of eleven German U-boat attacks painted as sub silhouettes. These appear in the same color order as those painted on “The Sad Sac” and I believe they were the total 480th Group German submarine and aircraft attacks, displayed on each B-24D.

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This B-24D nose art reflected on the life style of Ascension Island. This image was taken on Ascension Island and it is possible this B-24D was one of those based on the rock 27 May 1943.

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The Sad Sac was painted on both sides.

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These B-24D aircraft carried the Type 3 U.S.A.A.F. National Insignia, introduced on 29 June 1943. This featured the new 2″ wide red band running around the complete national insignia. This shows in the photo with nose art name ‘EM DIVING.

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After hours of long range patrol looking for German aircraft and U-boats, the Liberators crews would land at Ascension for fuel and a rest period. A normal long range flight covered over 1,000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean. Compared to their home base at Port Lyautey, French Morocco, the tent living conditions on Ascension were a hell hole. The nose art of the famous “Sad Sack” appeared on hundreds of WWII aircraft but this spelling of “SAC” referred to the poor aircrews who stayed on Ascension.

The WWII spelling of “SAC” was a common derogatory term to define the poor soldier as the skin that surrounds the male balls.

This photo image of “The Sad Sac” appeared in the 1944 book titled “Flight to Everywhere” by Jvan Dmitri. The photo was taken in August 1943 on Ascension Island, and records the white kill of three Fw 200C-1 long range convoy attack aircraft. The last kill was recorded on 17 August 1943.

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The list of German submarine attacks only appears on the port [pilot] side of the B-24D bombers. The submarine silhouette was painted in three colors, white [possible surface day kills] yellow, [possible kill] and black for [under water kill].

The nose art marking on “The Sad Sac” clearly show three aircraft attacks in white, which appear to be German Focke-Wulf Fw 200C-1 Condor, identified by the large vertical gondola.

The Condor began patrols in mid-October 1943, providing target information for the German U-boats on Allied convoys leaving Gibraltar. They operated over a huge area from Gibraltar to the west coast of Africa, and made contact with 480th Antisubmarine Group B-24D aircraft on a number of occasions. The first came 18 July 1943, when Capt. Hugh Maxwell’s Liberator fired on a condor making a bomb run on a convoy. On 28 July 43, Lt. Elbert Hyde and crew chased a Condor which was attacking a straggler ship some fifteen miles behind the main convoy. The firefight took place as low as 30 feet off the water surface and the Condor plunged into the ocean. The next attack occurred in the same area west of Portugal on 31 July, when Capt. Gerald Mosier shot down a Condor that exploded when it struck the ocean. On 13 August 43, Lt. F. W. McKinnon damaged a Fw 200 which later crashed at El Ferrol, Spain, a claimed victory. On 17 August 43, Capt. Hugh Maxwell found two Fw 200 aircraft making bomb runs on a convoy and attacked. The two German aircraft then attacked the B-24D causing damage, and in the gun fight one Condor was shot down. The B-24D had to ditch and three crew members were pinned in the wreckage and died in the sinking. On 27 August 43, two more Condor aircraft were attacked by Capt. Maxwell but both eluded the Liberator in cloud cover. The last attack by the 480th came on 28 October 43, Lt. W. S. McDonnell chased a Condor into the clouds and it escaped.

It would appear the three Fw 200 Condor kills marked in white on the B-24D Liberators stood for the three kills – 28 July, 31 July and 17 August 1943.

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“Off Limits” was the June 1943, Vargas pin-up in Esquire magazine. Photo taken Port Lyautey.

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Another B-24D at Port Lyautey, showing a Beetle in flight.

The U.S. Army Air Force antisubmarine units were dispersed on the 28 October 1943, and their duties were slowly turned over to the United States Navy. The 480th Antisubmarine Group returned to Langley Field, Virginia, in November and they were disbanded on 29 January 1944.

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Albert W. James collection taken at Langley Field, Virginia, November 1943.

“Old Bessie” was one of the veteran B-24D aircraft that won and survived the antisubmarine Battle of the Atlantic, then returned to the United States. The nose art image was the most famous 1936 Borden Milk company marking mascot named “Elsie the Cow.” In 1940, this American cow ranked very close to Santa Claus in popularity. From 1941-45 Elsie raised 1.6 million in war bond sales and remained a huge draw until the early 1970’s. She also flew with the 480th Antisubmarine Group as nose art.

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Elsie the Cow at the New York World’s Fair 1939. [New York Public Liberty].

This proud Old Cow [Elsie] had done her part and was rewarded when the 480th Antisubmarine Group was presented with a Distinguished Unit Citation in 1944. How many German aircraft and U-boats did Bessie attack, and how many landings did she make on Ascension Island.

Today it’s hard to believe the U.S. Army Air Force pioneered the American attacks on German long range aircraft and U-boats, but that is the fact. Their unit combat action lasted only twelve months [10 November 1942 to 28 October 1943] and often they are forgotten in the war on German U-boats. It is also long forgotten that a little rock island named Ascension, played such a strategic part in winning World War Two.

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This is dedicated to the Officers and men of the United States Army Air Force 480th Antisubmarine Group, the first sub-chasers.