The Flying Boat
13/01/2009 04:25 PM
Art Field of Southampton died yesterday. He had a full and interesting life. I wrote a story about a key incident in Art's life as a small chapter in a book called 'As Time Goes By'. He had not talked about it for more than 40 years. When I asked him, if I could publish it, he was not sure. I wrote it and gave him the proof. He said go ahead. I was glad he was able to look back and in some ways look forward.
Art was a grand man and I got to know him well playing golf and at the Propeller Club. He was a very kind man and walked every day with his dog. You can tell a man by the way he interacts with his dog. They were devoted companions. Every day he would walk down Morpeth to the lake and sit on a bench viewing the great expanse of water and life.
Here is a small story from Art's life
The huge Flying Boat was a staple of the anti-submarine warfare of WWII along with its smaller brothers due to its great size and range. It could fly 20 hours and at an optimum air speed could go 3000 miles making it 'THE' long range aircraft of the war. Subs nearly choked the UK, sinking thousands of tons of shipping a month.
After initial disaster in the sea-lanes and off the coast of the United States, the Allies finally got down to counter measures. They formed convoys consisting of fast escort vessels like Destroyers and Corvettes, which had sonar and depth charges to defend against the lone U-Boats.
Awakening to this, Grand Admiral Doenitz, countered with the "Wolf Pack" which was hunter group formed with a number of U-Boats. They would search out the convoy and attack the stragglers and sometimes cut right through to the heart and soul, the allied troop ships. England's survival hung in the balance.
At any one time only one-third of the U-Boats were available for attack while another third were in transit either to or fro and the final third was in refit. Churchill knew that England could be starved, if the U-Boats increased their efficiency. It was a knife edge.
Amazingly, Hitler did not allocate enough steel production to U-Boats until much later when the Allies could counter with high frequency radar. You see, U-Boats were not really submarines, but attack vessels which could submerge for short periods of time. When they were on the surface to recharge their batteries, they could be found and engaged and were far more vulnerable. The game of wits had begun.
One defensive and finally offensive weapon that was not feared enough by the U-Boat fleet was long-range aircraft. Since Germany only built attack bombers to support land operations, they did not see the power of long-range four engine planes until it was too late.. The Heinkle and Junkers planes were wonderful for the Blitz and support of troops in Russia, but were not adequate to protect U-Boats in the Atlantic, which had to refuel from other larger cargo subs called 'Milch Cows'.
The Allies had a 'dark spot' in the convoy lanes from Canada and the United States. Planes searching for U-Boats had limited range and huge flying bombers like the Lancaster and B-17 were not good for sub-chasing. There were not efficient at slow speed and low altitude and were needed for bomber runs deep into the heartland of Germany. Fighter planes did not have the range and much needed aircraft carriers were in short supply and could not be risked.
The Sunderland Flying Boat was ideal, however,. It had tremendous range and had good firepower at low speed. It was used to locate and track U-Boats, which had to surface. Guided by Enigma decrypts, they would radio back the precise location of Wolf Packs in the Atlantic.
They had other purposes too! They could ferry important people and documents over tremendous distances and avoid the coastal areas of France and occupied Europe where others would be vulnerable. They could vector to and away from land based fighter planes and short range bombers. This was vital in the war that was taking place in the Middle East in 1941 and 1942.
Carrying a crew of 12 or 13, these giants required 3 qualified pilots to endure the long flights. One could sleep, while the other two flew.
There is a man who has retired in Southampton who was a Sunderland pilot. He has had a long and wonderful life. He is an engineer and has farmed. On a mission his Sunderland crashed with the crew of 12 on board. At the time he was sleeping and not on duty and managed to escape through a hatch with another crewmember to a raft. The other crew did not survive the crash. Trapped on a small raft one man died overnight and one lived. Art Field was back flying in two weeks after being picked up alone in the sea.
What was not in the story that I wrote was the fact that Art went to visit the families of the other crew members. They did not greet him warmly because he and not their loved one had survived. That part of the story Art held in his heart for many long years.
Art was very proud of his military service. He was a fine man and a member of the "Band of Brothers"
Follow the Obituaries for Art's Funeral arrangements (Eagleson's Funeral Home)