I have been putting this off long enough… like about 25 years.
I probably bought it in the late 90s since Monogram’s instruction booklet says 1996.
I always have to find a reason to start building a model kit.
This time, learning about Air Commodore Leonard Birchall from a reader who had met him personally, and then reading more about him after, was the deciding factor.
At 1600 hours on 4 April, Birchall and his crew sighted the First Air Fleet 360 miles from Dondra Head, the southernmost point in Ceylon, bearing 155 degrees from Ceylon. As noted earlier, they had just arrived in Ceylon on 2 April. They were given 24 hours to rest after their 10-day trip from Sullom Voe, but then, before being given any opportunity to familiarize themselves with their new operational area, they were ordered to join the search for Nagumo. They took off from Lake Koggala, the Catalina base on the south coast of Ceylon, before dawn on 4 April, and they were scheduled to return after dawn on 5 April.
Birchall arrived in his patrol area just as the sun rose. Hour after hour, the Catalina flew 150 mile-long east-west lines, spaced 50 miles apart, at an altitude of 2000 feet over the water. While they were flying the last assigned leg, Birchall’s navigator, Warrant Officer Onyette, the only other Canadian aboard, pointed out that if they flew an extra leg, he could confirm their actual position by using the moon, which was then rising. Since they were required to remain airborne until after dawn the next day in any case, Birchall agreed.
Birchall’s crew had been assigned the southernmost search sector. And just as they were completing this extra leg and were at the southernmost point in their search, ships appeared on the southern horizon. If the Japanese had been any further to the south, or if the Catalina crew had not flown the extra leg, they almost certainly would have escaped detection until their aircraft arrived over Colombo the next morning. What follows is Leonard Birchall’s own account of what happened next:
“As we got close enough to identify the lead ships we knew at once what we were into but the closer we got the more ships appeared and so it was necessary to keep going until we could count and identify them all. By the time we did this there was very little chance left.”
The Catalina was then attacked by up to 12 Zeros.
“All we could do was to put the nose down and go full out, about 150 knots. We immediately coded a message and started transmission … We were halfway through our required third transmission when a shell destroyed our wireless equipment and seriously injured the operator; we were now under constant attack. Shells set fire to our internal tanks. We managed to get the fire out and then another started, and the aircraft began to break up. Due to our low altitude it was impossible to bail out, but I got the aircraft down on the water before the tail fell off.”
Furthermore, after-market decals for his plane were still available on Aviaeology Website where most decals are out of stock.
Now without further ado…
Next time, let’s build, it’s never too late…