On April 2, 1942 Flight Lieutenant Leonard Joseph Birchall, DFC, OBC from St Catharines, Ontario was assigned a posting to Columbo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
Leonard and his air crew, were sent to Sri Lanka to hopefully help stem the recent tide of military disasters that had already befallen the Allies (SEAC - South East Asian Command), in the Pacific South East, since the Imperial Japanese Navy's recent attack on Pearl Harbour.
Remember, "Pearl Harbour" was less than five page flips on the calendar or, for linear thinkers… only five short months ago at this point.
The Japanese had been quite busy since.
Right after Pearl Harbour… Japan had attacked Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaya! Soon thereafter, while on the march again, they attacked Burma, the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands.
The Japanese war pace was swift. And successful. Honestly, the Allies were taking a beating.
British Navy ships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales had just been sunk by the Japanese.
Thailand had fallen, and then allied itself with Japan.
Malaya soon fell.
Hong Kong finally fell. But the Canadian forces, there at least, had held back the attacking Japanese for an unbelievable 17 days!
But now, even Northern Australia, was under siege! Yikes!
Folks, in the early 40s, Japanese victories were counted in days, not weeks.
That's why Birchall's unit, 413 Squadron RCAF, had been hurriedly dispatched to Sri Lanka; to immediately bolster area surveillance for any Japanese activity, or for any incursion attempts into the remaining, and precariously held, Allied territory.
The Allies just couldn't afford any more losses in the South Pacific to the Axis!
It would be only TWO DAYS after his arrival, that Birchall's new posting, would pay off for the Allies.
Late afternoon, April 4, F/L Birchall was on long patrol.
Wait! He thought he saw a a tiny smudge over on his southeast horizon.
Better have a look, he thought. The large PBY Catalina floatplane Leonard was flying was gently coaxed to its starboard side, and was now on an intercept course with this mysterious "smudge".
As Birchall and his crew flew closer, he and his crew were all alone, should they meet up with the enemy.
Worst fears were soon confirmed! It was the Japanese!
And not just a lone ship. A task force of the Imperial Japanese Navy!
They would have to get the hell outta' there… but not before they got closer, unbelievably! Yes, CLOSER!
NUMBERS, COURSE, and SPEED of the Japanese Imperial Fleet had to be accurately determined, and radioed back to base!
As more ships kept appearing over the horizon… Birchall finally counted five aircraft carriers, four newer class battleships, attendant cruisers, and destroyers. This was a large and threatening force, Leonard noted.
WAS THIS the very fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour five months previous?
Their RCAF Catalina was soon spotted. Birchall could see in the distance Japanese Zeros rising up from the aircraft carriers. Flying at only 2,000 feet, soon those distant Zero fighter-planes were on the attack, and all over Leonard's lumbering Catalina. All 12 of them!
But it was too late for the Japanese. Too late!!
Leonard's crew HAD sent off two encoded messages straight back to their base at Columbo.
The presence of the Japanese Imperial Fleet was now known by the Allies! This action of discovery, by Birchall and his crew, would later be praised by the then larger-than-life prime minister of Great Britain, none other than Winston Churchill, himself!
The Canadian press would refer to Birchall as the "Saviour of Ceylon".
The Royal Navy's Indian Ocean Fleet had gotten the heads up. With plenty of time to prepare, and respond. They now knew the Japanese Navy was on the way. There would be no second Pearl Harbour, this time.
It didn't end as nicely for Birchall.
Wish we could say differently—
Leonard's Catalina, now badly shot up, damaged beyond imagination, and on fire, lurched downward. Birchall skillfully piloted the gravely wounded bird down, until it's flight controls no longer responded!
… and thus it finally crash landed on the seas below.
Once down the Catalina was quickly evacuated. The severely wounded of Birchall's crew were fitted with life jackets, and pushed out, and away, from the sinking floatplane.
UNBELIEVABLY, the Zeros continued their attack! The defenceless, and helpless wounded, were fired on, and murdered! Wearing their Mae Wests, they couldn't dive to escape the Zero's strafing runs!!
Birchall, and the men of his that escaped these merciless Zeros, were soon picked up by a Japanese destroyer.
Once on board they were treated brutally. They were violently interrogated. Had they dispatched a warning message back to their home base?
Yes or No?
During their torture, Birchall encouraged his crew.
These RCAF airmen never did reveal to their torturers that messages, had indeed, been sent.
In the meantime, these Canadian heroes were housed in a small paint locker where one person could stand, two could sit, and only one could lay down. They had to sleep in turns. They received no medical attention, and very little food.
Eventually, they were transferred out, to another ship, and sent back to Japan.
The Japanese military who, by edict of the Emperor were not allowed to surrender, looked down on captured Allied personnel who allowed themselves to be taken alive. And the Japanese PoW camps were well known to harshly treat their captured, who they deemed as ethically inferior.
In spite of this, Birchall who spent almost 40 months as a PoW, and was often the most senior officer present, protested the abuse of prisoners at his camp. He stood up to his Japanese captors. And he was routinely beaten as a reward.
When Birchall's camp was finally liberated by the Allies, his acts of courage were relayed back home.
Was Birchall really the "Saviour of Ceylon?"
The Sri Lankans at the time certainly thought so. But we now realize that this was not the case. The Japanese only intended to raid Ceylon's two main ports, Columbo and Trincomalee.
So what did Birchall really do?
He saved the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy's Indian Ocean Fleet, that is. Birchall allowed them to get away to their secret base in Addu Atoll, 1,121 kilometres away. Upon word of Birchall's sighting, the British High Command ordered the Indian Ocean Fleet, to preserve themselves, for future operations.
Canadian F/L Leonard Joseph Birchall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his discovery, and subsequent reporting of the position of the Imperial Japanese Navy Fleet in the South Seas. This action caused his airplane to be shot down, and his crew to be taken prisoner. This correspondence saved the Royal Navy from surprise attack in the South Pacific. Mr. Birchall was also awarded the Order of the British Empire for his courageous actions, taken to protect his fellow prisoners, while he was a PoW.
In 1950, US President Harry Truman appointed Birchall an officer of the Legion of Merit, saying: "His exploits became legendary throughout Japan and brought renewed faith and strength to many hundreds of ill and disheartened prisoners."
Air Commodore Leonard Joseph Birchall, CM, OBE, DFC, O.Ont, CD, Order of Canada became the longest serving officer in the RCAF (Air Commodore) and received a fifth bar to his CD in 1996, for six decades of military service in times of both war and peace! He died on September 10, 2004.
(PICTURED ABOVE: Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's "Catalina". Birchall's SEAC Catalina was not likely painted in the same colour scheme as this, which is David Hornell's Catalina (really Canso) flying toward us. Birchall's Catalina was mostly olive green.)
©2009 Paul Cardin - Special Projects in Research
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
On April 2, 1942 Flight Lieutenant Leonard Joseph Birchall, DFC, OBC from St Catharines, Ontario was assigned a posting to Columbo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
Monday, December 28, 2009
THEY FOUGHT UNDER the most horrendous conditions.
Tropical weather extremes, incredible heat, tropical disease, and against a merciless and inhumane Japanese enemy.
Many, became heroes.
Can you name any of these Canadian war heroes?
Know any of their exploits?
… that's what I thought.
Back to sleep, Canada.
And you're still paying property taxes, to fund Canadian schools, that fail to teach significant Canadian history, because… why?
The DC-3 above carries a low visibility SEAC roundel. Canadians flew under SEAC as RCAF personnel in their own Canadian squadrons AS WELL as in RAF squadrons stationed in the same Asian area of conflict.
SEAC stands for South East Asian Command which was a joint venture of all Allied nation's fighting forces.
CANADIANS in the RCAF also flew in RAF squadrons in North Africa, and in Great Britain, as well as in their own separate RCAF squadrons fighting alongside these very RAF squadrons!
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
… comin' right at cha'.
A PICTURE… I wish I had taken…
Year in, year out… the Canadian Christmas shopping hordes make their rounds at Best Buy, Zellers, Future Shop, HMV, Canadian Tire, MALWART etc., you know, like THESE are the only stores that are out there.
Folks, this year be original. You got a few days left.
Don't get the same old tired-out predictable gifts you always buy your loved ones.
If you already did… take 'em back!
Remember why your ex-wife left you? You know some of those nasty things she said about you were true. Stop keeping' her predictions alive! She lives to mock those sweaters, scarfs, gloves, chocolate, and after-shave you always buy. Every year.
This year its gonna' be different.
Go to your local aviation museum and admit to them… you need help. Laugh about it for sure, but they'll get it.
My local museum is the CANADIAN WARPLANE HERITAGE MUSEUM.
The one in TO is the Canadian Air & Space Museum.
I go to both.
They got great mags, movies, models, shirts, framed art, jackets, calendars etc. Different stuff. Not what every other store is offering.
Again, wish I had taken this picture. But Rick Radell took this, and the other glorious photos inside. This pic alone makes this 2010 calendar worthwhile for me.
And if ye needs a calendar for 2010, you might want to consider this one available at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for $20 CDN!
Yup, $20 CDN!! Cheap—
Monday, December 14, 2009
HAD A BIT OF CHRISTMAS shopping to do in Downtown Toronto this weekend so down we all went!
I drop my lot off at the Eaton's Centre, one of the last remaining remnants of the Eaton Company family empire, that ended with a fizzle in the early 90s.
Soon I'm flying up to Yorkville because of FrizzText, and this: www.flickr.com/photos/frizztext/4170856431/
Donovan, the folk singer who sang Universal Soldier made it a hit BUT IT WAS always Buffy's song. Thought everyone knew that. Me was wrong.
AND yes, THAT Yorkville, where the Toronto International Film Festival descends every year in a lot of puffery, and makes it's base. YO is the upscale part of TO where one can get executive gifts, and a whole lot of snobbery.
I'm here, for neither.
I get out, my vehicle not entirely stopped.
I'm on Yorkville Ave. I see a short row of low-rise buildings. One of these IS the The Purple Onion Cafe.
I approach some of the locals. "Do you know the location of the Purple Onion Cafe?"
The Purple Onion predates the Toronto's famous Riverboat Cafe era, where all the Canadian folkies used to jam during the hippy-trippy Woodstock era, so we could in trouble here, folks.
The answers are varied.
Finally, I get a break—
"Hey man, that was the 60s and I lived through it! Don't remember any of it!! Wait, the Purple Onion, you say… no, I do remember it. It was on a corner somewhere."
None of the pictures I have look anything like the buildings in front of me. So, I walk down to the corner.
Bingo, there it is, a match. The "Seen" now… but once the Purple Onion cafe.
Here, in the basement of the Purple Onion, in 1963, Buffy Saint-Marie wrote her classic anti-war song, "Universal Soldier". She was in LAX (Los Angeles airport) when she first saw wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam, and when she flew back to Toronto later that day, Saint-Marie penned her famous song. Personally, I thought her 1970 video ( www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9wqw4OHRs0 ) was the best version of the song, but this rendering, sung from the heart, was never a success commercially.
In 1965, Donovan made a hit of it.
Universal Soldier became the anthem for the Vietnam Peace movement.
In the naive 60s, the hippies wrongly believed that if everyone would just lay down their arms, then the world would become this wondrous, peaceful place. That approach offered no real solution to those hostile types that would never lay down their arms. Those lunatics, worldwide, who forever think that America, or the Western world is responsible for their local woes.
Buffy Saint-Marie is a Canadian First Nations (Cree) singer-songwriter, guitarist and mouthbow player who shuns fame, and lives in self-imposed exile in Hawaii.
She was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. Saint-Marie wrote Up Where We Belong, Until Its Time For You to Go, Universal Soldier, He's An Indian Boy in a Rodeo, and several native songs. Buffy was probably the first artist of note to use an Apple Computer to compose, and send her songs to her producer in Europe, through an early version of the internet.
© 2009 Paul Cardin - Special Projects in Research
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
MARCH 31, 1949
JOHN W MCKAIG had stepped out of his house and was going up the laneway to check the mail, at roughly about 10:30 am, when he heard an airplane flying nearby. Thought nothing of it really. He lived close to the airport, and he heard twin engine airplanes, like these, all the time.
But, when he finally did look up, what he saw, startled him!
He set his eyes on a Dow Chemical Beech 18 coming from the west, and it was heading directly for his house!
His wife and the children, he thought. Have to warn them… to get out. He started running back to the house…
Good grief, the aircraft was now flying only about twelve feet off the ground! And look at how fast it was going!
Suddenly, AJ Bowie, the Dow Chemical pilot, violently swerved the company's Beech 18, just narrowly missing the occupied home. John noted that Beech 18 had already passed between the Dobinson home, and the Dobinson barn safely, when the collision course toward his homeshead been adopted.
Thankfully, the pilot had been able to make this crucial, last second, adjustment.
John watched, spellbound, as the Beech with its wheels down, dropped even lower, and continued on.
Finally, tragically, it plowed into a knoll that was on the far reaches of his property, only about a half mile away. As it hit the knoll, flash fire flames engulfed the entire cabin of the aircraft. It became a flaming streak as the plane bounced, and continued forward for another 200 feet before it heaved to a full stop.
ERNIE DOBINSON who was entering his barn when the Beech 18 flew by, watched in horror as it passed, only to crash into the knoll.
He was the first person to arrive on scene.
What he saw when he got to the flaming wreck astounded him.
Somebody, was actually, getting out of the airplane!
Soon enough, they'd learn it was Calvin Campbell. And he was trying frantically to pull something out of the wreck!
NO! Not something! Someone!!
Sadly… it was the body of his wife!
But the heat was too much, and Calvin finally stumbled backwards to safety. Momentarily. He attempted yet again to enter the burning plane, but had to fall back even more quickly. The heat was so intense. He couldn't accept it, but he knew then, that she was already gone.
Calvin, and Ernie watched helplessly now, from a much safer distance, as the inferno consumed the rest of the cabin.
The engines and the Beech undercarriage were behind the wreck! But how?
WILLIAM CORFIELD was flying overhead and was amazed at what was unfolding on the ground below him. He swung his single seater around, and immediately dropped down to the runway, which surprisingly, was almost just below him. By the time he had stopped and was out of his airplane at the other end of the runway, there was now an RCAF airport truck bearing down on him. Someone motioned him to get on, and so he, too, was on his way back to the crash.
When William got out to the crash, about a dozen folk had gathered. They were milling about the wreck. John and Ernie brought Calvin, who was now overcome with grief, over to the RCAF truck. He had to be helped aboard, he could hardly stand, and as soon as Calvin had settled in, the truck lurched forward, and left, speedily making its way to St Joseph's hospital.
Calvin couldn't understand it. How did this happen? Sure the weather had been sketchy, yet the flight crew didn't seem overly concerned. And now, everyone, was gone!
What would he tell his kids?
William walked up to the Beech 18. The onlookers were silent. Courtesies, were extended through nods. Stoic, these Ontario farming types, he thought.
The Beech 18 was not an airplane Bill liked. He wasn't impressed with it, at all. The manufacturer sung a different tune, for sure… but he had flown the "18", and he didn't like it.
As he approached charred wreckage, "– – – – – –", he thought to himself, "…the Beech's magnesium roof was gone!!"
William was absolutely shocked. Since the Beech's roof was conveniently gone, burned off, he could lean over the still mildly smouldering fuselage, and look right inside the cabin, and into the cockpit!
Like some sort of horrendously, gruesome, displayed cutaway!
Everyone was in position.
The five occupants though were burned to an unrecognizable mound, of charred, glazed flesh, and clothing materials.
Willard, and the women, or even the flight crew, hadn't had a chance to move. They were roasted alive in that final 200 foot journey inside that burning coffin!
What a horrible way for these RCAF airmen to go, William thought.
A flash fire had enveloped the Dow airplane as it struck the knoll, and that horrific fire was fed by the airplane's full to capacity fuel load.
At this point in time, no one knew that it wasn't an RCAF aircraft, as all aircraft registration and identification lettering, had been burned off the Beech's fuselage. And the RCAF had lots of Beech 18s.
No one even thought it for a moment that it could be a civilian airplane.
Clearly, it was a Beech 18, and that's all that was immediately known.
It would be later, as Calvin was checked out at the hospital, that the true identities of the airplane, its destination, and its occupants would become known.
And when that knowledge was imparted, to the people that needed to know, the crash investigation would take a whole different and more serious direction.
One toward secrecy and containment, and a need-to-know basis.
A famous person and his wife, had died, right here, in the small town of Fanshawe, near to the London airport, and no one had a clue as to why—
But the investigators were going to find out… make no mistake about that friends… and a large entourage of Dow people, American crash investigators, and Michigan police were packing their things, and getting ready to fly up to Canada, from that state, to make sure of that.
One additional, startling, revelation emerged rather quickly.
There was something missing from the airplane.
And it was something important. Something expensive…
TO BE CONTINUED… (Part 2 of 3)
Top photo: Crashed Dow Chemical Beech 18, cabin and cockpit, fore of the antenna are clearly burned out…
Bottom Photo: (left - right) DA Brown (expeditor, Dow Chemical), RW Rogers (Chief of Police - Midland), Ira Smith (Sheriff - County of Midland), Ray Rowe (Constable - Midland Police)
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
60 YEARS AGO: MARCH 31, 1949, Two Beech 18s Attempted to Land at London Airport, one RCAF, one Dow Chemical… One Turned Back, and One Didn't…
THIS IS THE STORY of the Beech 18 THAT didn't turn back—
WINSTON CHURCHILL had just given his famous Iron Curtain speech in America. In it, Churchill lamented the future plight of European nations which would be threatened by an ever greater Russian expansionist influence that had already begun, just after World War II. He was still in America, and now he was scheduled to give another speech in Boston. Churchill promised it would be as important as the previous Iron Curtain across Europe speech. The world would be listening on radio broadcasts all over the world. These stations would be airing his 40 minute address live.
Some would be lucky enough to attend.
Some, had received personal invitations, from Winston Churchill, himself.
One of those very few, was Dr. Willard Dow, 52 year-old president and CEO, of the industrial corporate giant, Dow Chemical Corporation of America.
Willard was somewhat of a giant himself.
His father, Canadian, Herbert Henry Dow, established the company in 1897. But it was the son who developed and expanded his father's company far beyond the original vision. Rarely does a son reproduce the success of a father. But Willard did, and he was a genius.
Not only did he carry around company's 700 chemical manufacturing formula's in his head, in 1940 he had developed a process to produce magnesium from seawater, now allowing "man to mine the oceans for metal". Dow Chemical became a strategic partner to the Allies during WW II because of this. Magnesium, which was needed in abundance, could now be had, in abundance, because of Dow's new process. Fabricating large quantities of lightweight magnesium parts for military aircraft would never be easier. And since Dow's North Carolina plant was the only plant on the east coast producing bromine, it was the one attacked by a German U-boat in 1942.
In 1943, Willard had received the Frederick Chandler Award by Columbia University for his "dynamic and successful leadership of the American Chemical industry.
Dow "always seemed able to come up with the right formula at the right time!" Chemistry became magic for him.
Sorcerer or conjurer, Willard could bend chemistry's laws to his will. And in 1943, he produced synthetic rubber and plastics for the first time. In 1944, he was honoured by the American Institute of Chemistry when they bestowed their annual Gold Award on him.
Times were never better for Willard, and his family. Youngish looking and sharp, he was known and loved by thousands of men, from his various plants all across North America. Employees, he had grown to know personally, through the years.
Maybe millions of people worldwide didn't know who Willard was, but those very millions used dozens of his products on a daily basis. Products, that had been produced, by his incredible ingenuity.
On March 31, 1949, at about 9:10 am Willard, his wife Martha, Calvin Campbell , head of Dow's legal department, Calvin's wife, AJ Bowie, the pilot and Fred Clements, the co-pilot, took off from an airport near Midland, Michigan where Dow Chemical had made its headquarters, and where they all lived.
Only one of them would ever see Midland again.
Onboard, the mood was festive. The world was waiting for Winston's latest pronouncement. And the Dow women had risen to the occasion by being decked out in their very finest. Extravagant jewellery few mortals had ever seen, let alone owned, and wore, were soon to be appreciated by Boston society's elite, and the numerous international attendees.
Yes, soon the Dow representatives would be rubbing shoulders with other dignitaries, and notables, in Boston, and there with "Winnie", reflecting on, and enjoying those recent hard won freedoms, that had emerged for the world from the bloody battlefields of World War II.
Or so they thought.
Dow chemical's Beech 18 had been flying for a little over an hour, uneventfully, and had already flown past London, Ontario, vectoring its way towards Boston, at a steady pace of 175 mph. And that's just when trouble began.
A garbled message came over the radio at the London Airport.
It was from the Dow airplane.
The Dow Chemical Corporation's Beech 18 had turned back! It was seeking the safety of London.
It was now speedily heading west, back, toward London Airport for an emergency landing!!
TO BE CONTINUED.
© 2009 Paul Cardin - Special Projects in Research