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Archive Report: Allied Forces

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16.07.1942 No. 111 Squadron R.C.A.F. Kittyhawk I AL166 LZ-O Fl/Sgt. Baird loss

Operation: Relocation flight

Date: 16 July 1942

Unit: No.111 (F) Squadron, RCAF

Type: Curtis P40 Kittyhawk

Serial: AL166

Code: LZ-O

Base: Elmendorf Field, Anchorage, Alaska

Location: Bering Sea near Umnak Island

Pilot: Flt/Sgt. Gordon Douglas Russell Baird, R/95331 RCAF Age 21 Killed

REASON FOR LOSS

Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbour on 3 June 1942, the Japanese launched an attack on Dutch Harbour on Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Island chain that stretches out west from mainland Alaska between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. This was followed three days later by the invasion and occupation of Kiska and Attu Islands some 1000 miles further west from Dutch Harbour. Although the Americans had intercepted messages and were aware of a planned attack the actual raid came as somewhat of a surprise.

This occupation of United States territory brought about great concern for the vulnerability of the large American west coast cities of Anchorage, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Canada, should further advances be made eastwards by the Japanese forces.

Knowing that an attack was imminent and to assist the Americans in the defence of the islands, the RCAF dispatched No.111 Fighter Squadron equipped with P40 Kittyhawks to Elmendorf Field, Anchorage from their base at Patricia Bay B.C., on 1 June 1942.
On July 13 the squadron was to relocate to Unmak Island to be much nearer the Japanese-held islands of Kiska and Attu by way of Naknek and Cold Bay where the advance party had landed at 13:00 hours. Intending to depart Cold Bay the next day, the party was thwarted by the typically bad weather for the area and unable to get through. In the meantime, while waiting for an improvement in the weather, their Commanding Officer, W/C Gordon McGregor, returned to Elmendorf to enquire about a missing pilot and also to pick up two other pilots, P/O Eskil and Flt/Sgt. Baird, returning to Naknek at 17:40 hours

Forced to wait out the weather conditions for a further day, W/C McGregor and six other pilots were finally able to leave Naknek at 10 o’clock on the morning of the 16th arriving in Cold Bay two hours later. At 14:00 hours, with the weather conditions deemed suitable enough to continue on to Unmak, the formation led by W/C McGregor took off. Shortly into the flight, the notorious Aleutian fog and low cloud closed in and MacGregor gave the order to turn back to Cold Bay. With the low ceiling and zero visibility, five of the aircraft were lost. Search parties later located the wreckage and the bodies of four pilots scattered over the hillsides of Unalaska Island. Flt./Sgt Baird was not seen or heard of again after entering the fog bank and it is assumed that after trying to fly low under the fog he crashed into the sea or was lost trying to find his way back to Cold Bay and crashed into the sea when he ran out of fuel.

From the Squadron Daily Diary, Summary of Events:

"16.7.42 W/C McGregor and six pilots left Naknak today for Cold Bay at 10:00 hours, accompanied by the two Transports, arriving at Cold Bay at 12:00 hours. At 13:30 hours one of the Transports piloted by Captain Fillmore left Cold Bay for Umnak. Weather was reported as suitable for the flight. At 14:00 hours, seven of our Kittyhawks took off for Umnak. Shortly after passing Dutch Harbor, the aircraft ran into bad weather. Fog was in front, behind and on the starboard side. The Wing Commander gave the order to turn back but owing to the low ceiling (50 feet), the others lost him in the turn and went into the fog. W/C McGregor landed at Cold Bay and one aircraft piloted by P/O Eskil arrived at Umnak. Apparently, the remaining five had been lost. Two Transports and nine pilots, one Medical Officer, and seventeen men arrived at Umnak. Radio communications between Transports and P40s were very poor. The Wing Commander made an attempt to locate the missing aircraft and pilots in a P.B.Y., but to no avail, owing to hopeless weather conditions.
17.7.42 Two of our P40s were located in the morning on a hillside on Unalaska Island. A search party left by boat from Umnak, located the aircraft and identified P/O 'Whitey' Whiteside and Flt./Sgt. 'Pop' Lennon. The bodies were brought back to Umnak. W/C McGregor arrived at Umnak.
18.7.42 The squadron got the tents set up and established themselves at Umnak. In the evening the funerals of P/O Dean Edward Whiteside and F/Sgt. 'Pop' Lennon were held. They were buried with full military honours on the hillside overlooking the field and the services were conducted by American, C of E and RC Chaplains.
22.7.42 . . .A search party left Umnak early this morning in search of our missing pilots in charge of W/C McGregor. Party consisted of two officers and nineteen men. Two crashes were found on Unalaska Island. S/L Kerwin and Sgt. Maxmen were identified and the remains brought back to Umnak by boat. To date four bodies and the same number of aircraft found. F/Sgt. Baird is still missing."

The formation consisted of the following pilots:

W/C Gordon Roy MacGregor, DFC C/936 P40 Kittyhawk, Unit No. Unknown. Safe - landed at Cold Bay
P/O Odin John Eskil J/11076, P40 Kittyhawk, Unit No. Unknown. Safe - landed at Umnak
S/L John William Kerwin, C/922 P40 Kittyhawk Unit No. AK954 LZ-F. Killed - crashed Unalaska Island
P/O Dean Edward Whiteside, J/10607 P40 Kittyhawk Unit No. AL201 LZ-H. Killed - crashed Unalaska Island
Flt/Sgt. Gordon Douglas Russell Baird, R/95331 P40 Kittyhawk Unit No. AL166 LZ-O. Missing - presumed dead
Flt/Sgt. Frank Robert Lennon, R/79072 P40 Kittyhawk Unit No. AL138 LZ-G. Killed - crashed Unalaska Island
Sgt. Stanley Ray Maxmen, R/100245 P40 Kittyhawk Unit No. AK996 LZ-S. Killed - crashed Unalaska Island

Note:

Gordon Roy McGregor CC, OBE, DFC joined the RCAF in 1936 and rose to the rank of Group Captain. He flew Hurricanes with 401 Squadron in the Battle of Britain and was awarded his DFC in October 1940. After the war, he joined Trans Canada Airlines, the forerunner of Air Canada, becoming the president of the company until 1968 when he retired. He died at the age of seventy in 1971.

P/O Odin John Eskil rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He left 111 Squadron in 1943 going to the European theatre where he joined RAF132 Squadron. Odin was killed in an accident on 1 August 1944 while landing at an airfield in France.

For this and further information about RCAF 111 (F) Squadron see Bill Eull's excellent and highly recommended website



Flt/Sgt. Gordon Douglas Russell Baird

One of four brothers, Gordon was born at Shoal Lake, Manitoba on 6 September 1920. After graduating from Daniel McIntyre High School in 1938, he worked as a mail-order clerk and correspondent for the T. Eaton Company in Winnipeg. During and after high school Gordon was a very competitive cyclist but also participated in a variety of sports to a lesser degree.
He enlisted in the RCAF after serving as a trooper in the 2nd. Armoured Car Regiment from March 1940 until July 1941. After the customary stay at the Brandon Manning Depot and temporary duties at No.8 Repair Depot, Winnipeg, Gordon was posted to No.2 Initial Training School at Regina, Saskatchewan on 16 May 1941 completing the course there on 16 June. Selected for pilot training he was posted to No.2 Elementary Flying School, Thunder Bay, Ontario from 21 June to 7 August 1941. Posted to No.2 Service Flying Training School at RCAF Station Uplands, Ottawa, he graduated with his pilot's badge on 24 October 1941. That same day Gordon submitted a request to marry his fiance, Miss Alice Shirley Ramona Dott. Permission was granted and the ceremony took place at Norwood, Manitoba on 29 October 1941. Shortly after their marriage, Gordon was posted to RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario where 111 Squadron was based and trained on flying the Curtis Kittyhawk fighter.
After the attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941, 111(F) Squadron was transferred to RCAF Patricia Bay, British Columbia as part of the Western Air Command tasked with defending the Pacific coast and Gordon was taken on strength there on 16 December 1941. After the Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands in early June 1942, the squadron moved to Anchorage on 12 June where Gordon arrived ten days later.

Alice, married to Gordon for just eight months, went on to have a career in nursing. She re-married in 1947 to Eric W. M. Wheeler in Bermuda with whom she had three daughters. Alice passed away in Gloucestershire, England in 2006.

A second tragedy struck the Baird family on 7 March 1945 when Gordon's younger brother Nelson, who was also serving in the RCAF, was killed when his aircraft was shot down during a raid on Hemmingstedt. See Halifax NP718

Burial Details:

F/Sgt. Gordon Douglas Russell Baird, Ottawa Memorial, Ottawa, Ontario Panel 1 Column 5. Son of James Humphrey and Sara Amelia (nee Russell) Baird of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Husband of Alice Shirley Ramona (nee Dott) Baird of Norwood, Manitoba, Canda.


Baird Bay on Granville Lake, Manitoba was named after F/Sgt. Baird in 1995





Commonwealth Air Forces Ottawa Memorial

F/Sgt. Baird photo from Veterans Affairs Canada (CVWM)
Ottawa Memorial photo courtest Veterans Affairs Canada

CHB 05.11.2021

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Acknowledgements
Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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