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As there is an obvious love of cats among our community and in penance to my comments some weeks ago regarding my concerns in relation to protecting our native wildlife I thought I would just clear the air by doing an article about a breed of cats that I do love because they are no danger to wild life.. Or are they? 

I have always worried about cats who pursue birds. But then there are ships cars and cats who can fly that bring down ships.

Some cats slumber while others hunt.

Cats have been a part of ocean going ships since time immemorial being needed to keep the rat population under control. The most famous one of course was Matthew Flinders’ cat which has been the subject of a book of the same name. The ship’s cat has always been a favoured mascot among the crews of warships except submarines.

Then of course is the cat-o-nine tails, another nautical animal that was neither furry nor purry but dearly hated by all except bosun’s mates and ruthless captains.

My favourite cats were originally bred in the United States on 21st March, 1935 to fulfil an order from the US Navy. The first born was named PBY. It was a flying boat. The PBY designation standing for Patrol Bomber, the Y being the US Defence department code for the Consolidated Aircraft Company which designed and built it.

 

In the 1930’s the US Navy had vast distances to cover and re-supply. They had a big base in Hawaii and the Philippines was a US colony with a very large naval base at Subic Bay. The specification was for a very long range patrol bomber that could function as a supply carrier and carry out air-sea rescue duties. The navy had commissioned several flying boat designs preferring them to land based aircraft which needed runways and maintenance.

On its maiden flight in 1936 the first prototype covered 3,443 miles non-stop, a world record at the time.

The design was very, very successful and manufacture was licensed to Vickers Canada and Boeing Canada as well as local manufacturers Martin and Douglas.

The aircraft was adopted and put into service by every allied nation that had an air force. They were used by the RAF which gave it the name “Catalina” in 1941 after Santa Catalina Island in California. The US method of aircraft identification was to use the code designation, in this case PBY. The British method was to attribute names and Catalina became the norm then reduced simply to CAT.

 

Although it was a flying boat it was also equipped with wheels and could be brought onto land by towing it up a ramp as trailer boats are now launched at ever marina in the world. This had the advantage of being able to store the planes on land under cover for protection and maintenance.

The design of the plane was tremendously strong. The wing, mounted in one piece above the fuselage and supported by struts attached to each side, provided great intrinsic strength that cantilevered wing attachments did not have. The two engines were mounted on the wing just above the cockpit. It had a nose gun turret and two bubble turrets on each side of the fuselage. The design allowed great flexibility in usage. Under the wings it could carry bombs, torpedoes, reserve fuel tanks and radar equipment.

The Cats were a mainstay of Coastal Command of the RAF. During the Battle of the Atlantic Cats accounted for 40 U Boats sunk, more than the entire Royal Navy. It was a Cat that first spotted the Bismark and in the Pacific it was a Cat that first saw the Japanese fleet that resulted in the Battle of Midway.

 Probably the most famous squadrons were the ones known as The Black Cats. 

In December, 1942 during the Guadalcanal campaign 14 squadrons of Catalinas were painted matt black. They were employed to harass Japanese shipping at night, coming in unseen at masthead height, the black colour scheme being invisible to the naked eye against a dark sky. Being slow and thus able to fly very low they caused extensive damage to Japanese shipping of all types and sizes as well as land based installations.

The Black Cats operated from remote islands, taken up onto land during the day for servicing under cover of the surrounding trees and palms then emerging at night to attack Japanese shipping and installations.

 

The RAAF operated many Catalinas. In fact, the RAAF had more Cats in service than any other type of aircraft. During the course of the war the RAAF had 150 of them in service based around Australia and the nearby islands. They had a large base at Lake Boga, near Swan Hill in Victoria, safe from any enemy action along the coast. There were other bases at Gove, Exmouth Gulf and Bowen. The Bowen base was a home for the US Black Cat squadrons. They were a slow aircraft but with great endurance, they frequently flew missions lasting 20 hours or more.

As an air-sea rescue aircraft they carried out its most defiant and endearing operations. The most well-known of these was the saving of 56 shipwrecked sailors from the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.This ship was a heavy cruiser which had delivered the atomic bombs to the Tinian Island Naval Base in July, 1945. Having completed her very secret mission, she departed for the Philippines. With mission completed and being outside of local operational command, her movements were not being monitored and as the Japanese Navy had virtually ceased to exist the captain was not adhering to the normal standing orders of following a zig-zag course to guard against possible submarine attacks. Further, as her mission was top secret her whereabouts were not made known through normal channels.

On 30th July she was torpedoed and sank very quickly taking with her about 300 crew. 890 other sailors were adrift in the ocean without sufficient numbers of lifeboats and floats to accommodate them. They drifted around for 4 days with many being taken by sharks or dying of exposure. Nobody knew that they were there until by pure chance a patrolling aircraft spotted them in the water. A Catalina went to the rescue, landed and took on board 56 sailors by locating them on the wing. Obviously the Cat could not take off so it radioed a ship for help and remained on the sea surface until the rescue ship arrived. From an original ship’s compliment of 1,195 only 316 survived the ordeal.

You can read about it here. 

 The Catalina has been described as slow, ugly but incredibly successful. Nick-named the “pig boat” by US navy personnel it was the most comprehensively used aircraft of any nation of WW2.

After the war it filled a role as a long range civilian aircraft and was the mainstay of Qantas’ early forays into long distance routes. They covered the route from Sydney to South America, a distance of 5,600 miles taking up to 33 hours non-stop. The four engined Empire Flying boats that Qantas had operated in the 1930’s were commandeered for service in WW2 and all were lost. The Catalina took over at war’s end and remained as the preferred air liner until the arrival of land based long distance aircraft. Their shortcoming was that there was limited room inside the aircraft for passenger accommodation and comfort.

I have often had a debate with myself as to what was my favourite aircraft of WW2. It’s a toss-up between the Mosquito and the Catalina. I oscillate between one and the other and in the end I convince myself that I am not comparing apples with apples. They are both head and shoulders above the rest.

In the meantime, I love Cats whether they fly through the air or doze at our feet, they are always ready to take flight or stand and fight. Are we? 

 

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