Dutch Catalina's during the war in the Far East

( Texts by Wilko Jonker and Meindert de Vreeze; translation Henk de Jong) 

(lees dit artikel hier in het Nederlands...)

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            Former Dutch Indies Colony , over 1,000 islands and much larger than The Netherlands

The German occupation of The Netherlands, in May 1940, abruptly stopped the supply of maritime patrol aircraft to the Dutch Indies. Only a little over a third of the license built Dornier Do 24s on order had been delivered, leaving the defence needs of the East Indies unfulfilled. It therefore became a matter of urgency to find an alternative. Since the Allies were already operating the PBY, in the area and the MLD (Dutch Naval Aviation) had shown interest in the PBY as early as 1937, the choice was quickly made.

After much negotiation, an order for 36 PBY-5 flying boats was placed, quickly followed by a second order for 12 PBY-5A amphibians.

The first two flying boats, bearing the registrations Y-38 and Y-39 were delivered in September 1941. The delivery went smoothly. But subsequently, Y-50 was damaged at Wake Island during its delivery flight, necessitating a return to the factory for repairs. Y-68 was at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on 7 December 1941, and was destroyed. Y-69, en route to Pearl Harbor, was confiscated by U.S. authorities.

The Japanese attack cut the supply route, and a new route was planned through Africa and West Asia. By this route, Y-50 and Y-71 to Y-73 arrived at Surabaya. On 15 October 1941, Y-52 to Y-54 were handed over to the RAF in Singapore to bolster local defences. They were assigned to RAF 205 squadron.

The American navy squadron VP-22 was meanwhile stationed on Central Java in Tjilatjap with its own American Catalina's in March 1942. VP-22 than went to Ambon January 11, 1942. Furthermore, a number of naval men succeeded in making an abandoned PBY-4 of VP-22 flyable again, gave it the unofficial Y-3 number. Five MLD Catalina's joined VP-22 in January 1942. VP-22 suffered big losses and February 1942 evacuated to Darwin in North Australia and the 5 MLD Catalinas went to Rathmines (and than transferred May 1942 to Ceylon). VP-22 itself then probably went to South Australian Perth.

After the Dutch Indies capitulated to the Japanese forces, many crews escaped with their planes. Y-55, Y-56, Y-57 and Y-64 arrived at Koggala, Ceylon. They were assigned to RAF 222 Group. Y-45, Y-59, Y-60, Y-67, Y-70 and Y-71 reached Australia. Unfortunately, in the unexpected and devastating attack on Broome on 3 March 1942, Y-59, Y-60, Y-67 and Y-70 were lost.

In April 1942 a decision was made to establish a Dutch Naval squadron on Ceylon, under RAF control. Equipment consisted of the resident PBYs with the addition of the remaining 5 in Australia, which were flown to Ceylon. The unit was officially established at the end of May as RAF 321 squadron, part of 222 Group Coastal Command. Additional planes arrived, beginning with PBY-5A Y-74, followed by the remaining 11 amphibians on order in October. These PBYs were equipped with radar. Unfortunately Y-75 hit a rock on arrival in China Bay and sank but could be repaired. It was subsequently used as a passenger transport with the name of ‘Sky sleeper’, transporting VIPs.

Because of a threat by a Japanese raider, from 11 October to 1 November 4 PBY-5As were based at Mombassa, Kenya. Nothing was found, however, through lack of radar assistance. On 8 November the operational strength was reduced to only eight aircraft when Y-71 was lost on a test flight.

From 15 December, 4 PY-5As were based at Ratmalana, Ceylon. Besides the routine patrols, special missions were flown for intelligence groups. Early in 1943, activities by enemy submarines near the Cape of Good Hope prompted a detachment of 6 PBY-5As and 3 PBY-5s to South Africa. The amphibians went to Darlin and St Albans, the flying boats to Durban. The Durban detachment lasted until 8 April, after which the planes returned to Ceylon. At the end of May, the detachment at Darling was hit by a storm and moved to Brooklyn Air Station. The detachment was disbanded on 19 September, the planes going to the island of Socotra off the coast of Yemen where they were joined by the detachment at St. Albans. Socotra was disbanded on 30 December 1943.

In June 1943 two new PBY-5As, Y-86 and Y-87 replaced the old Do24K, the X24, with the MLD detachment in Australia. Based on photographs and other information, it is thought that these planes wore RAF camouflage. Y-86 moved to Ceylon in July. On 25 August, Y-84, coded ‘S’ was lost after a forced landing when it ran out of fuel.

On 23 April, 1944 three PBYs were again sent far away to South Africa, to Fasantenkraal. In mid 1944, three flying boats, Y-55 ‘C’, Y-56 ‘D’, and Y-64 ‘G’ which had been in use as training aircraft, were replaced by three PB2B-1 Catalina IVs borrowed from the RAF. These planes were coded Y-88 ‘W’, Y-89 ‘X’ and Y-90 ‘Y’, followed in August by Y-91 ‘Z’, Y-92 ‘B’ and Y-93 ‘N’. In early 1945 321 squadron transitioned on the B-24 Liberator, after which the PB2B-1s were returned to the RAF. At the end of 1945, Y-80 was written off, and on 13 October Y-62 was lost in an accident.

Period after VJ day

After the Japanese surrender, the registration system was changed, Catalinas were re-coded ‘P ‘. Still later, numbers were used instead of letters, and the Catalinas received the number ‘16’ (P being the 16th letter in the alphabet).

In 1946, 7 additional flying boats were received, and several older flying boats retired. At the end of 1946 four PB2B-2 Catalina VI flying boats were received from Australia. These had slightly different fin and rudder configurations. 321 squadron was disbanded in 1947, and its Catalinas joined Dakotas in the OVTS squadron. After the Indonesian Republic was recognised in 1949, the MLD moved to Papua New Guinea. There, No. 7 Aircraft Squadron was established, and equipped with Catalinas P-76, P-77, P85, P-202, 203 and 205. In 1950 P-200, P-75, P-79, P-82 and P-83 were added to the inventory. P-82 was lost in an accident op 28 December 1950.

As late as 1951 another 6 PBY-5As were obtained in the USA, and were put into service as P-211 to P-216 after a thorough overhaul by Aviolanda. P-212 and P-216 remained in the Netherlands as SAR aircraft, and older aircraft were retired. The final acquisition was 6 Catalinas purchased from the RAAF in Australia at the end of 1953 (P-220 to P-225, with P-223 broken up for spares).

The last Dutch Catalina was phased out in 1957.


FOR Photos:  look at the Dutch texts

FOR REGISTRATION DETAILS:  look at the table on the Dutch page

Deze pagina werd voor het eerst opgesteld april 2013 / first page version published April 2013; updated VP-22 info Summer 2019