PBY CATALINA

For an aircraft still flying today, its remarkable to realise that at the time of its maiden flight in the early 1930s, most of the PBY Catalina’s contemporaries were biplanes.

Originally designed as a long-distance maritime patrol bomber, the PBY Catalina was one of the most widely used seaplanes of WWII and served with every branch of the US armed forces as well as numerous air forces and navies of other nations including Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Even as early as the 1930s, the US Navy had been anticipating future conflict in the Pacific and in preparation, commissioned the design of a long range aircraft that could locate and attack enemy shipping thus disrupting their supply lines or protecting their own. Flying boats had the advantage of not requiring runways, in effect having the entire ocean available. Several different flying boats were adopted by the Navy, but the PBY was the most widely used.

Although slow and lumbering, the PBY Catalinas distinguished themselves throughout the war in numerous roles including:

Anti Submarine Warfare

With an operational range in excess of 2500 miles, the PBY Catalina could range far and wide across the Pacific, North Atlantic and Indian Ocean as convoy escorts and sub hunters and were used aggressively against the German U. Boats shadowing the Allied convoys. By the close of the WWII, PBY’s had accounted for 40 U. Boats despite them being extremely well armed with anti aircraft guns.

Maritime Patrol

The Catalina’s overhead wing and large observation/gunnery blisters provided excellent visibility and combined with its extensive range, the flying boat became the maritime eyes of all Allied forces and played a significant role in the hunting and eventual destruction of the German Battleship Bismark.

Having successfully evaded Royal Navy surface ships, the German battleship steamed toward the naval port of Brest to join up with the large German fleet stationed there. Her aim was to then wreak havoc on Allied shipping as they moved out into the North Atlantic as an unstoppable battle fleet. In deteriorating weather the RAF Coastal Command sent out a PBY Catalina from its base in Northern Ireland in one last ditch effort to locate the Battleship before it reached the safety of the main fleet.

After many fruitless hours criss-crossing the dark and inhospitable North Atlantic and with fuel tanks running dangerously low, the Catalina located the Bismark still some 790 miles from port. Its sighting eventually led to the destruction of the German battleship.

Night Attack, Interdiction & Rescue

The RAAF operated Catalinas as night raiders with four squadrons managing to bottle up Japanese held ports and shipping by laying mines across strategic entrances and shipping routes forcing ships to venture into deeper waters and become targets for US submarines. In the lead up to the US landings in the Philippines, RAAF Catalinas succeeded in mining Manila Bay trapping the Japanese forces and later mined ports along the Chinese coast to the same effect.

The first US aircraft to carry radar, a number of US ‘Black Cat’ squadrons roamed the western Pacific in all over black painted aircraft locating Japanese shipping at night and picking up Allied survivors from sunk and downed ships and aircraft. One of the most tragic of these was the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Returning from their top secret mission of delivering the crucial components of the first operational atomic bomb to the US Airbase on the Pacific Island of Tinian, the USS Indianapolis with her 1196 crew was struck by Japanese torpedos and sunk within 12 minutes. 

With no time to send end a distress call, over 3700 US sailors went into the shark infested waters where they floated for over 4 days before a long-distance patrolling Catalina came across the survivors. 

Landing close by, the aircrew filled the Catalina with as many injured sailors as they could manage with still more being tied to the floats and climbing aboard the wing-tops. Rather than attempt to take off, the Catalina became a floating life-raft as it radioed for help from the US Fleet. Over 900 sailors were reported as having gone into the water with only 317 being finally rescued with the majority being lost to shark attack and exposure. 

Over 3300 Catalina’s were built during WWII with many continuing their naval maritime patrol duties well into the 1950s and 60s. Many more went on to be converted for civilian use  and can still be found today across the globe as water bombers, tourism charters and logistical transportation.

All PBY Catalina Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.

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