View Full Version : RAF Oban, the Sunderland, and the Duke of Kent

2nd Nov 2013, 22:37
It's been suggested that a thread I kicked off on Military Aircrew might have a better home here. The original thread can be seen here:

The post that kicked it off was:

A recent visit to Oban prompted a few thoughts about the wartime operations of the Short Sunderland from there. The central question is this: what length of water did the Sunderland routinely need to land and, especially, take off in?

The main base for RAF Oban was on the island of Kerrera, on the west side of Oban Bay. Oban Bay is less than a mile across (pretty much however you measure it). Did/could the Sunderlands take off and land within Oban bay, or did they have to head out beyond Kerrera to do so? The latter seems a possibility as there was a secondary maintenance base at Ganavan Bay, around the corner to the north.

Incidentally, the RAF Oban memorial at Ganavan is worth a visit, despite being overshadowed by a new and very upmarket housing development right next to the public car park and beach.

The landing and take off runs of the Sunderland also have a bearing on the theoretical possibility of a long standing conspiracy theory about the loss of Sunderland W4026 on 25 August 1942 while carrying the Duke of Kent. Officially this was bound for Iceland, and took a wrong heading in cloud. You don't have to look far to find theories that suggest it was instead going to Sweden for peace talks, and was intending to land on Loch More in the far north of Scotland to pick up Rudolf Hess en route, when it crashed 11 miles to the south...

Seems to me that fundamental to the theory is the question of whether it was a viable proposition for a Sunderland to land, and then take off, from a loch with a clear run of over (but not much over) 1.25 miles. This is actually rather more than is available in Oban Bay, and the surrounding landscape seems much flatter than than at Oban, which seems relevant given the Sunderland's noted lack of climbing ability. So setting aside the likelihood of this theory actually having any substance, how viable would it have been from the point of view of the performance of the Sunderland?

3rd Nov 2013, 10:25
I was a Flight Engineer on Sunderlands, post war but flew with many crew members who were on Sunderlands throughout WW2. I never heard mention of Loch More.

3rd Nov 2013, 14:43
Loch More is an inland loch at ND 078 457 and thereabouts, measuring about 1.75 miles from north to south (but with a bend restricting a straight line to a little over 1.25 miles) and 0.5 miles across. Judging from the map and online photographs, its defining characteristic appears to be its remoteness. Lines due south from Thurso and due west from Wick intersect about three miles north east of the loch.

And, no, I doubt it was ever a base for anything except perhaps the odd rowing boat used for fishing, and a cottage and a fish ladder. I didn't know about Hess's circumstances in August 1942, which do seem a show-stopper, but my interest revolves around the question of whether the idea, whatever its othe merits (or lack of them) was even theoretically possible given the landing and take off performance of the Sunderland.

Krakatoa: any thoughts on how big a piece of water would have been considered reasonable for a Sunderland to put down in and get off from again?

3rd Nov 2013, 15:15
I read a conspiracy book on Hess some time back(it's out in the shed somewhere).
The Sunderland bit , even from my limited comprehension seemed to have all the "fine pitch" v "coarse pitch" arguments A about B. I apologise if this has all been discussed before on the original thread.

3rd Nov 2013, 16:45
I went to a presentation at the Berkshire Museum of Aviation a couple of years or so ago and the guest speaker there gave a very interesting account of the life and death of Rudolf Hess. In summary, that there was an aircraft crash in north Scotland during WWII and on board was both the Duke of Kent and Rudolf Hess. Immediately after the crash there was a manifest souls count which quickly and directly reported back to Churchill. It indicated that there were no survivors.
Unknown at the time was that there was a survivor who was in the tail-gunner position who got free and climbed down the other side of the mountain the following day before blowing notifying the authorities. The man in Spandau prison was a substitute and his suspicious death pre-empted and prevented him spilling the beans before he would die of natural causes. Churchill slapped a 100-year curtailment on the release of all the files. I'm intrigued as one of our veteran group members was on duty as Spandau at the time of the "Hess" death. G.

3rd Nov 2013, 19:12
There are certainly big question marks over the theory. The biggie is why we would have entertained peace talks in 1942, having refused them in May 1941 when Hitler and Stalin were buddies, all Europe firmly under the jackboot and the USA maintaining splendid isolation. But then there are big question marks about this flight too. Does anyone have the answer to Kluseaus question on take off dist?

3rd Nov 2013, 19:22
Landing/take off distance does not matter a jot if the wind is not along the longest available run.


3rd Nov 2013, 19:45
For what it's worth, this is for the Short S.25V Sandringham 7...


3rd Nov 2013, 20:11
You can read the briefed route, weather conditions, witness statements etc in the Court of Inquiry Form 412 in the archived Casualty File of P/O Smith RAAF

Also in the casualty file is the Form 765c Forced Landing report.

Any direct link will time out but the steps below will get you to it at anytime.

Air Force ? Up to and including World War II ? National Archives of Australia (http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/raaf.aspx)

Click the link for casualty files

Click top left Basic Search and add the following to the keywords box

Smith 403961

then hit search

Click on the sheaf of papers icon in his A9300 file

Form 412 starts at page 48


3rd Nov 2013, 21:22
I have an old copy on graph paper of take off performance of the Sandringham. This would be closer to the Mk 5 (P&W engines) than the Mk2
with the less powerful engines.
I have managed to scan the document but I am not very clever at sending it to this forum. If you could give me an email address I will try to get it to you.

4th Nov 2013, 13:14
Thanks Krakatoa: I've PMd you my email address.

22nd Nov 2017, 20:43
From Wikipedia....

"Prince George died on 25 August 1942, at the age of 39, along with thirteen others, on board RAF Short Sunderland flying boat W4026, which crashed into a hillside near Dunbeath, Caithness, Scotland, while flying from Invergordon, Ross and Cromarty, to Iceland on non-operational duties.

Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince alleged in their book Double Standards, which has been criticized for its "implausible inaccuracy", that Prince George had a briefcase full of 100-krona notes, worthless in Iceland, handcuffed to his wrist, leading to speculation the flight was a military mission to Sweden, the only place where krona notes were of value.

His death while in the service of the RAF marked the first time in more than 450 years that a member of the Royal family died on active service. The Prince's body was transferred initially to St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and he was buried in the Royal Burial Ground, Frogmore, directly behind Queen Victoria's mausoleum. His elder son, six-year-old Prince Edward, succeeded him as Duke of Kent. Princess Marina, his wife, had given birth to their third child, Prince Michael, only seven weeks before Prince George's death.

One RAF crew member Flight Sergeant Andrew Jack, the Sunderland's rear gunner, survived the crash on Eagle's Rock near Caithness. His niece has claimed that Jack told his brother that the Duke had been at the controls of the plane; that he had dragged him from the pilot's seat after the crash; and that there was an additional person on board the plane whose identity has never been revealed."

23rd Nov 2017, 00:51
Landing/take off distance does not matter a jot if the wind is not along the longest available run.


An inland Loch might have a flat calm surface. From what I've read, I understand flying boats cannot unstick from this and need a bit of 'chop' to break the suction.

India Four Two
23rd Nov 2017, 09:20
I understand flying boats cannot unstick form this and need a bit of 'chop' to break the suction.

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to have a flight in a BC Airlines Mallard. An intermediate stop involved a water landing and takeoff (:ok:) at Tahsis, which is in a sheltered fiord.

The takeoff run, on calm water, seemed to take forever. It was easily more than a mile.

23rd Nov 2017, 13:54
Did they not used (and probably still do) taxy around a bit to break up the smooth surface before attempting take-off

23rd Nov 2017, 21:56
Going down to Rochester (as one does ...), to the ramp into the River Medway in front of where the Short works was, it surprises me the quite short distance available for all the aircraft produced there to take off. I am conscious that the high M2 motorway viaduct, about a mile upstream, was not there then, but the river is quite curving, and almost immediately downstream is the old Rochester Bridge, which must have concentrated minds if taking off easterly. It wasn't only factory takeoffs with minimum fuel and payload, as some substantial trips by the Empires, and even the Mayo Composite, were made from there.

India Four Two
25th Nov 2017, 18:09
Did they not used (and probably still do) taxy around a bit to break up the smooth surface before attempting take-off Wander00,

Yes, that is what I was taught (in theory) during my float rating course. However, in the case of Tahsis Inlet, there's a 20 nm clear run to the sea, so firewalling the throttles and heading down the fiord was probably quicker. ;)

26th Nov 2017, 14:49
I42 - I am jealous. Still need to fix a visit and flight at Biscarosse

27th Nov 2017, 04:22
Talking of flying boat take offs, the following comes from a 1945 report of QANTAS Empire Airways non stop operations during the war from Perth, Australia to the now Sri Lanka using Catalinas. Chief Pilot Capt. L. R. Ambrose was author, "A Brief Outline of Indian Ocean Operations". As for the terminals, the take off area at Perth could have hardly been improved upon. Clear stretches of water up to two and three miles were available with no obstacles higher than 300 to 400 ft. within fifteen to twenty miles of the site. Very occasionally were delayed due to rough water when a strong and gusty wind blew in from the southwest.

At Koggala, the take—off was not so simple due solely to the limited area of the lake. When our services first commenced operating from this lake, the difficulty did not present itself in spite of our having noted that there was only one dog-leg take-off path as it was the period of the southwest monsoon, and the take-off path lay only slightly out of the quite strong south—west to west wind which blew continually. With the coming of the north—east monsoon, however, ushering in as it did, long periods of calm or light cross winds, a special technique had to be devised to get the rather heavily laden boats into the air.

It was noticed at once that the heavy aircraft lay very low in the water, and that if the throttles were opened normally, the bow compartment would build up an ever-increasing mound of water ahead of the aircraft, with a consequent loss of acceleration. If the throttles were opened as quickly as possible, consistent with smooth power development, whilst the control column was held hard back, the large amount of air-screw slip acting on the quite large elevators would blow the tail down, which allowed the nose to slide over its water barrier.

Because of the drag of the large aerofoils, it then became urgently necessary to return the control column to central. Any movement of the controls from central had a marked effect on the acceleration. At the same time, however, it soon became evident that the tail needed to be raised in order to decrease the angle of attack of the mainplane and to assist the boat to the step. The most effective way to do this was to adjust the elevator trim tabs very coarsely. In case this is not clear, perhaps it may be understood more fully if I point out that only when the aircraft reached such speed as made the controls fully effective, could the tail be raised in the normal manner. Any movements before this period would only delay its arrival by increasing the drag and only long experience and consistent watching of the air speed indicator would show its arrival. Watching for this speed would have been just something else to watch for, whereas by altering the trim tab, its drag was negligible and yet it announced automatically the arrival of the effective speed by itself acting upon the elevators and raising the tail. Immediately this movement was felt, the trim tab had to be adjusted back to the take off setting. With practice, this could be done quickly and without reference to the adjustment scale. By now, in our take off, the floats should be raised and the post—hump porpoise had commenced. This latter was normally stopped by a slight rearward movement of the control column, but in conditions of flat calm, it was found advantageous not to damp it right out, as the slight rocking motion tended to introduce air under the planing bottom, and so help to unstick the boat.

From the time the craft was on the step, no further special technique was required, as it quickly accelerated to the point where it became airborne. In glassy calms up to 115 seconds have been taken, but the average was 90 to 100. Using the special drill this time was cut down to from 70 to 80 seconds. Taking the worst of the latter and comparing it with the best of the former times, an advantage will be seen of 10 seconds, which, when converted to horizontal distance over the lake reckoning on a speed of 60 miles per hour (and the Catalina was going faster than this at 60 to 70 knots) shows that approximately 900 feet was saved, which in a limited take off area, such as Koggala, represented a very valuable saving.

India Four Two
27th Nov 2017, 10:46

I had to look up Biscarosse. Definitely try to get a floatplane flight.

As a long time glider pilot, I am forced to admit that float flying is the most airborne fun I’ve ever had. In my case, it combined safe mountain flying, in the sense that there is always somewhere to put a floatplane down in the case of an emergency, with “simply messing about in boats”!

Floatplanes have an advantage over flying boats in glassy water takeoffs. Once you are on the step, you can use the ailerons to “lever” one float out of the water, thereby immediately halving the hydrodynamic drag.

27th Nov 2017, 12:58
I42 - Thanks - will do - and a bit of glider flying too over the years

Good Business Sense
27th Nov 2017, 13:09

Floatplanes have an advantage over flying boats in glassy water takeoffs. Once you are on the step, you can use the ailerons to “lever” one float out of the water, thereby immediately halving the hydrodynamic drag.

.... but tilting the lift vector !:)

27th Nov 2017, 15:14
My first flight was in a Sunderland during a 10 day CCF summer camp at Pembroke Dock in 1953. One of my flights involved a trip to Shorts at Belfast to pick up spares before setting off for a six hour patrol over the Western Approaches. We landed in Belfast Lough and taxied a long way before tying up next to the dockside near the factory. I do remember the take off seemed to take for ever, the sea was choppy and the water being sucked up through the props made a hell of a racket.

India Four Two
28th Nov 2017, 16:29

True, but only a few degrees and a lot less than a wing-down crosswind landing.

29th Nov 2017, 14:49
It's probably been mentioned somewhere before, but the Museum of Hydroaviation at Biscarosse is well worth a visit. Having said that, last time I was there I did mention in the visitors' book that I found it surprising there was no mention whatsoever of the Saunders-Roe Princess!

29th Nov 2017, 18:13
VF - visited last year - interesting place. Cannot recall a Princess reference, but there was a link with my old school, Harrow County, as there is plaque commemorating the winning of the Schneider Trophy in 1931 by the then Flt Lt John Boothman, an old boy of the school. The event is commemorated by a stained glass window over the main entrance of what is now Harrow High School