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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
books
Vic Hodgekinson
28.04.1941 N0. 10 Squadron R.A.A.F. Sunderland I T9075 F/O. Hodgkinson crash

Operation: Crossover Patrol - 100 miles off Brest, Bay of Biscay.

Date: 28th April 1941 (Monday)

Unit: No. 10 Squadron R.A.A.F. (Coastal Command)

Type: Short Sunderland III

Serial: T9075

Code: RB-C

Base: Pembroke Dock

Location: Irish Sea

Captain: F/O. Victor Alean Hodgkinson R.A.A.F. Survived. Injured (1)

Pilot 1: Fl/Sgt. Tom A. Egerton 1941 R.A.A.F. Survived. Injured

Pilot 2: F/O. Thomas Gracie Joyce AUS513 R.A.A.F. Age 25. Killed (2)

Nav: Sgt. J. Bradbury 938198 R.A.F. Survived. Severely injured (3)

Fl/Eng: Sgt. Con L. Gehrig 3953 R.A.A.F. Survived. Injured

2nd Fl/Eng: L.A.C. Ralph Douglas Bell AUS207712 R.A.A.F. Age 21. Killed

1st W/Op: Cpl. Clifford Oswald William Amos AUS3332 R.A.A.F. Age 27. Killed 

2nd W/Op: Cpl. Francis Hewitt AUS205727 R.A.A.F. Age 31. Killed

Fitter IIA: L.A.C. Norman Raine AUS3683 R.A.A.F. Age 24. Killed

Armourer: AC1. John Charles Francis AUS15774 R.A.A.F. Age 22. Killed

Air/Gnr: Cpl. Len G. Corcoran AUS4503 R.A.A.F. Survived. Injured

REASON FOR LOSS:

We have been contacted by relatives of the pilot and they have supplied us with the details recorded by Vic Hodgkinson before his sad death in November 2010. We have submitted this on this remembrance page rather than the other reports that we have researched:

Duration (roughly) 9 hours 05 Day, 6 hours night (approx.).

TRIP:

We departed Angle Bay, Milford Haven around midday on the 28 April 1941 to our Patrol Area, which was approx l00 miles west of Brest, via the Scillies. These patrols were planned to cover the entry and exit routes of U Boats and enemy shipping to and from enemy occupied ports and the Atlantic and to report and attack such vessels, day and night. Being so close in to enemy territory opposition from enemy aircraft was expected, especially during daylight.

In late evening, having completed our sortie of numerous Crossover patterns we set course to retrace our tracks to P.D. making the customary landfall over the Scillies around midnight (all times approx.) to set course for Angle Bay expecting to arrive about 50 minutes, our normal operating height was 1000 feet.

The country was under Blackout Regulations of course and our objective was the flare path laid in Angle Bay. This consisted of three lighted launches, in a line approx. 100 yards apart. At this point the sky was clear and from overhead one could see the outline of the islands from the waves breaking on the shore.

The main operating area at Angle Bay was some 7 miles from the RAF base at Pembroke Dock. There was no radio contact between the crash launches, the base or the aircraft. The only contact was by W/T between the base and the aircraft and that only used for operational messages when on service. So, no contact in the landing base area except by Aldis Lamp - Morse code. Red Aldis meant “DON’T LAND”, GREEN meant ‘CLEAR TO LAND.’ Normal messages were sent with a clear glass fitted. All very primitive - but it worked. There were no visual – e.g. searchlight or recognised radio homing facilities. It was basic ‘Seat of the pants’ flying.

Our Squadron had foreseen the dangers and had suggested that a searchlight from one of the local Army Searchlight Brigade be made available on dirty nights to mark the operating base’s position, to returning aircraft, but this was refused on security grounds. This was approved after my incident.

On entering the estimated alighting area. I turned slightly onto a more easterly heading to find the flare path. Seeing nothing after a short while, my Radio Operator suggested we call for a QDM from the Stack Rock radio station situated on the island in Angle Bay. (QDM = Course to steer to reach this station). No one in the Squadron had heard of this facility before, let alone used it. It was worth a try, as things were becoming desperate. As the course given was the same as the one being steered I remained on it thinking we had lobbed short and the next two gave the same course. Our doubts were raised when we estimated that we must have passed this station. Also we had passed over some semi circular furnace shaped fires sighted below us in what appeared to be fog or haze and certainly not over the Pembroke area.

Suspecting that we had been given reciprocal headings I decided to head due West for 15 minutes to make sure we were west of the D/F Station then call for more QDM’s Knowing that whatever was received it would be the correct one or 180 degrees out with the easterly course being the correct one.

            

The next QDM gave a westerly course to steer. So we had been given reciprocal headings (180 degrees out). Just before we turned the cloud (fog) cleared and there ahead was a lighted town, which was without doubt in Southern Ireland. Arklow(?). Southern Ireland was Neutral during the war and so not blacked out. Nice to have friends!

By this time we were seriously short of fuel and I gave the crew the option bailing out over Eire or attempting to force land in the Irish Sea. They opted to stay with the aircraft.

I explained my intentions were to fly due east and when 10 miles from the UK coast by Radar (ASV) to descend to 500 feet, throw out a Flame Float, do a 360 degree, turn, come back over this marker, throw out three more at intervals, to make a flare path, another 360 degrees and attempt a landing.

All was set up and I descended to 500 feet - on the altimeter and dropped the first marker and commenced the turn to Port. There was a terrific bang and I was thrown forward and remember being dragged under water by something around my head. Probably my head was through the windscreen. I managed to free myself and surfaced, For once I was wearing a lifejacket. All was very dark and foggy - we would never have seen the flame floats in this mire. Vaguely through the fog I could see the floating main plane - bits of the aircraft burning on the surface. I splashed my way to this to be hauled aboard by the surviving crew and eventually joined by Len Corcoran, who was the only survivor from the aft end of the aircraft.

Len had surfaced near a deflated dinghy and when he turned on the valve to inflate it he got the full force of the compressed air in his face. The inner and outer sections had been split. Luckily he had retained the dinghy and we were able to repair with the repair kit and the use of my tunic jacket to retain the inner tube in the outer casing. This was a three-man dinghy.

On a head count we numbered: Egerton, Bradbury, Gehrig, Corcoran & self. Corcoran was the only survivor from aft. He said that when we hit all of the others were thrown forward and he survived as he was thrown against the aft ladder. On the Flight Deck both the radio operator on duty and the third pilot, Joyce disappeared. Bradbury suffered concussion and a broken leg but the remainder of us only superficial injuries. I think that Cliff Amos was duty R/O at the time, had also disappeared. He floated by after dawn, but was obviously dead.

The hull had broken off fwd. and aft of the of the main plane. Three engines had broken off and the main plane was floating, with the trailing edge just awash, the empty fuel tanks maintaining buoyancy. Owing to the dense fog and darkness the visibility was about 20 feet. A small amount of light was provided by small pockets of burning oil. It was quite cold, being soaked didn’t help.

Around first light someone noticed a queer object near the trailing edge above the waterline. It was one of the two pigeons, which were carried in basket - to be released in case of emergency. It was very wet and covered in oil. We recovered the bird and tried to dry it but we were just as damp. However we recovered the message slip from the small plastic carrier tube wrote on it our estimated position (which, as we discovered, to be 120 miles out) and the number of survivors and reattached it. There was little hope of our pigeon becoming airborne in its present condition.

            

We had propped Jack Bradbury up on the maiplane as he was unconscious & the only one wearing an Irvin Jacket (with a high collar) so we placed the pigeon in there hoping it would warm up and dry out a little. Jack of course didn’t know it was there. By this time we had named the bird “SHAGS”.

Around this time we heard a ship heading for us in the dense fog and it passed close by unseen. Someone, probably Con Gehrig had grabbed the Verey Pistol on evacuation plus two cartridges so we booped off one, then thinking the ship was returning fired the other. But it was an illusion, which disappeared into the thick fog. Being of no further use the pistol joined the rest of the aircraft at the bottom of the Irish Sea.

By about 10 AM the mainplane showed signs of sinking so we hung on as long as possible and then settled for the dinghy. It was a tight squeeze. Bradbury, as he was semi conscious by now took up all of the floor space. It was only a three man dinghy and triangular (an old type), and there were five of us. The rest of us perched around the edges as best we could with our legs in the water. There was no freeboard and I guess we all hoped our repairs and my jacket plugging the hole would hold. The sea was fairly calm. SHAGS had been replaced in the collar - still no complaints from Bradbury! The mainplane sank about ½ hour afterwards.

            

Shortly after this visibility improved and we could just see land around 5 to10 miles to the east, so we decided to paddle towards it - more for something to do, for we made little headway under the circumstances - if any.

Around this time, SHAGS suddenly took off flapping madly with wing tips hitting the water, towards the land. Amid loud cheers and encouragement - he flopped into the drink exhausted. It is amazing that it made that distance considering its wet, oily and cold condition. It floated in the sea like a Seagull, looked at us and no doubt thought that our company was preferable to this. We beckoned and called it back. It seemed to recognise its given name by now and flapped its way back to us over the surface, very relieved to be placed back onto its perch in Bradbury’s collar.

Around 11am another coaster hove in sight to pass us, despite our calls and arm waving. We had given up hope when it turned around to head back. They had apparently seen the wreckage and came to investigate.

On coming alongside us we were greeted by half a dozen sailors pointing

.303 rifles at us from the deck. Regarding this as most unfriendly we politely asked them in Australian vernacular to restrain themselves, and they threw us a line. This was grabbed by one of us, but as the ship had some way on we were pulled under the water and smartly let go. We eventually manoeuvred Bradbury aboard up the ships ladder followed smartly by us, to be a most Royal welcome by the Captain and Crew. The Coasters name was ‘Busiris’ which plied between Liverpool and the Scillies on the flower and fruit trade. A battered old hulk of about 2000 tons, but to us could have passed as the Queen Mary. They searched the sea for survivors amongst the wreckage but there was no one. Not even the crew member who had floated by in a Mae West soon after dawn.

The reason for the armed reception was that they had been bombed by a German aircraft the day before and had we been Germans they assured us we would have been shot in the dinghy. They had been briefed that all RAF crews wore yellow Skull caps when in the sea. I explained that we didn’t have time to collect ours. It was the first time I had heard that one and sure we were never issued with them by this time. Our dark blue uniforms didn’t help with our identification either.

We were duly stripped of our wet clothing, given a bottle of Rum to thaw out and a warm bunk. Bradbury was out for the count and well looked after by the crew. As he was not interested in the grog we had his share. SHAGS was taken to the Galley for a warm and clean up etc., and the next thing remembered was going ashore at Holyhead amongst a large gathering of the public. The Police took charge of SHAGS and returned to our base at Pembroke Dock. She, as we found out later, was nursed back to health and taken off Ops. Amongst other bombs dropped on Pembroke Dock during our week in the Holyhead Sailors Hospital, a German mine hit the Pigeon Loft on the station and the only survivor was SHAGS.

            

We were Royally treated by the Matron and Staff of the Hospital and also by the two Doctors who saw to our needs and entertainment in the evenings visiting the local pubs. Considered fit after a week we returned by train to our base, except Bradbury with his concussion and broken leg, who remained. Being on posting from the RAF he never returned to our Squadron and the next meeting was at a 10 Squadron reunion some 25 years later at Poole, Dorset. It was then a quick check on the aircraft (SUNDERLAND), a medical and back to Ops. - all in a couple of days. My injuries were listed as a broken nose and scratches. Lower spine troubles surfaced around 1960. Treated with epidurals, etc. Finally in 2000 an operation, lower spine decompression/stabilisation/fusion.

The Court of Enquiry, carried out during that week by an old Group Captain (RAF), who had probably not flown an aircraft beyond the old Biplanes of pre-war years, when all they had was air speed and altimeter instruments thought that I had slipped in during my turn from 500 feet? Some sideslip. As mentioned before we hit the water immediately the turn was started. Also the Station (Flight Lieutenant) Radio Officer was severely reprimanded and posted for not training his radio personnel correctly on the operation of the direction finding equipment. The basic fault lay with the lack of communications between the Operations Room, at Pembroke Dock and the Flare Path Officer. As it was we had no hope under the prevailing fog conditions, of locating the flare path or even landing. Our only hope of survival would have been diverted to Mount Batten, Plymouth had that base been open, for once we were committed to P.D. from departure from the Scillies, we would have possibly had little fuel to have made Plymouth after passing that point.

                                           

ALTIMETER SETTING: 

The only explanation I can offer on this false Altimeter setting, which contributed to this crash is as follows;

It was normal during a patrol, in daylight, to descend to approx. 50 feet above sea level, reset the Altimeter to that height and read the Barometric setting. This was for the Meteorological people giving approx. position of the reading. The Altimeter was reset to its original position. That is the original base sea level setting. This could be carried out up to ten times each patrol at hourly intervals. If it was not reset to the original setting then an additional error would be built in on the altimeter to the expected normal daily pressure changes at base during our absence. That is, up to 200 feet.

One could accept these differences in daylight approaches and landings and also at night when in sight of the flare path, but in total darkness, as in my case, there was no reference point in these conditions. So it was a case of trusting the reading on the ‘clock’.

NOTE: Unlike RAF land-plane bases, of which there were dozens in the UK, our flying boat bases were few and far apart. In daylight one had unlimited alighting areas in an emergency. Our operating and emergency bases in the UK, providing marine craft, flare path facilities, refuelling and maintenance were:  Plymouth (Mount Batten), Pembroke Dock (P.D.) where the operating areas were at Angle Bay or Milford Haven stretching from the main base at Pembroke Dock down to Angle Bay. During daylight if the prevailing wind was east/west or the other way round one could operate either way, thus saving a long (7 mile) taxy to Angle Bay. The latter was used also for all night operations. This gave a minimum run of approx.1 mile but if the flare path was angled appropriately could extend to about 2 miles. All a bit of a toss-up on a dark night and one relied on the expertise of the resident marine craft crews and their local knowledge in this confined space. Land plane crews, even today, imagine that we had unlimited landing and take off runs. It was seldom so and there was invariably a large hill at the approach or end of the run. That and/or a glassy sea or rough surface contributed to the hazards of flying boat operations. Other bases during the early days were; Oban, Invergordon, Bowmore (lslay), Lough Earne (N.Ireland), Sullom Voe (Orkneys?). All out of our reach.

Of this crew the following were involved in a crash at Oban the night of the 2nd September1940.

Con Gehrig

Aircraftsman Norman Raine

Len Corcoran was further involved in a third crash on the night of the l9th June 1941 in a Short ‘G’ Class F/B “Golden Hind” in the Bay of Biscay. Double Engine failure, at night, survived, rescued by German submarine then transferred to Heinkel Floatplane and POW for the remainder of the War.

NOTE: I was told by Tom Joyce’s room-mate, F/O Martin, shortly after my return to the Squadron that just before Tom Joyce reported for this trip, he said to him, “I am not coming back from this trip. You can have any of my gear and see that the rest is sent home to my family”.

Martin told him not to think that way but he was quite adamant about his premonition. Martin offered to replace him, but he refused to accept his offer.

            

Thoughts on Crew survival or otherwise:

Pilots. Although full harness was provided on the Pilots seats, I never knew of any of us using it. We had a theory that it was better to go through the windscreen than be trapped inside the aircraft and be drowned. Neither my Second Pilot nor myself were strapped in on this occasion. I think this saved our lives for the bow section broke off (and the aft section aft of the trailing edge.) Note. The Parachutes were stowed under the starboard bunk in the Officers Ward Room. They were considered useless to us for we normally flew at 1000 feet and also there was no point in bailing out into the sea well away from land. It was far better to stick with the aircraft and the wreckage, which was more likely to be seen, specially in a rough sea.

Flight Deck Crew. At night the blackout curtain, immediately behind the pilot’s seats, was drawn to prevent the light from the flight deck restricting our night vision forward. On landing or T/0 the third pilot (if carried) or a crew member some times stood behind the Skipper’s seat to watch. Joyce was in that position that night - between the curtain and this seat. About six feet behind him was the Radio Operators position. This contained the Marconi Transmitter and Receiver attached to a metal frame. As with these pre and wartime items they were large and heavy. The supporting framework always appeared fragile - no doubt weight saving. It was common knowledge amongst crews that in a crash it was advisable for the Skipper to duck on a crash impact to allow this equipment to pass overhead, otherwise one would be decapitated. As Joyce was in this line of fire I feel he took the full force of this object.

As for the remainder of the Flight Deck Crew. Con Gehrig was seated in the Engineers seat, which faced aft. So he was probably in the safest seat and suffered little damage. The Navigator was never provided with a seat, as such. He normally used the Astro Dome platform, so I am not sure where he was except in the vicinity of the Navigation Table. He suffered the worst injuries. The duty Radio Operator could have been thrown forward as he only had a seat belt, like the Engineer, and bashed his head against the Radio Equipment or table, rendering him unconscious. As for the crew below, Len Corcoran, the only survivor from that area, said that they were all tidying up the aircraft - stowing loose objects, closing bulkhead doors etc. at the time of impact. When we hit they were all thrown forward, including himself. The aft ladder, which led to the upper deck and aft gun positions, prevented him from being thrown forward. The aft end of the hull broke off near there and he was thrown out and fortunately surfaced near the dinghy, which he found in the darkness.

All the aforesaid is mostly speculation on my part.

NOTE: On large British aircraft the radio units were invariably mounted on racks athwartship (across the fuselage). This left them vulnerable to breaking away in a crash. The Americans normally mounted their Radio Equipment fore and aft along the side of the fuselage where they had less chance of breaking away to damage interior fittings and personnel.

            

(1) F/O. Vic A. Hodgkinson went on to become a Wing Commander and died in November 2010. Obituaries

(2) F/O. Thomas Gracie Joyce was the second pilot under supervision and this was his first trip.

(3) Sgt. Bradbury his first trip solo.

PHOTO HERE

Burial details:

F/O. Thomas Gracie Joyce. Runnymede Memorial Panel 62.

Son of John and Margaret Chapman Joyce; husband of Henrietta Wilhelmina Joyce Andrew Avenue, Tarragindi, Brisbane, Australia.

Cpl. Clifford Oswald William Amos. Whicham Churchyard N.E. Portion.

Son of William Frederick Elijah and Flora Aston Amos, of 2 The Crescent, Brighton, South Australia.

Cpl. Francis Hewitt. Runnymede Memorial Panel 63.

Son of James Walter and Elizabeth Hewitt; husband of Thelma Dulcie Hewitt, of Mornington, Victoria, Australia.

L.A.C. Ralph Douglas Bell. Runnymede Memorial Panel 63.

Son of Ralph and Edith Maud Bell, of Windsor, New South Wales, Australia.

L.A.C. Norman Raine. Pwllheli Borough Cemetery Sec B. Row D. Grave 24.

Son of Percy and Margaret Raine, of Earlwood, New South Wales, Australia.

AC1. John Charles Francis. Whicham Churchyard N.E. Portion.

Son of Charles Nicolas and Mary Violet Francis, of Haberfield, New South Wales, Australia.

Researched for relatives of the crew.

Acknowledgments: With thanks to the following: Rod Hodgkinson (son of Vic Hodgkinson) and family for the supply of photographs and the detailed report of the ditching, Ross McNeil - "Coastal Command Losses", the superb work of the C.W.G.C.

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