RAF No. 204 Squadron

When I first added my page on the Honolulan to the site in December of 2011, there were not any books I could find written specifically about No. 204 Squadron, only passing references, a paragraph here or there. Nor were there any tribute websites created by families. The best suggestion anyone could offer was to order what was referred to as ORB’s, or Operations Record Books for the squadron for the month in question from the British National Archives. At the time, however, this was not an easy task if you did not live in the U.K.

Just a few months later in 2012 while I was researching for my page on the Montanan (which involved two RAF squadrons), I discovered the process for ordering the ORB’s had become much easier, and you can now order the records on-line for a reasonable price through the National Archives website and have a digital copy within minutes. I had moved on to other topics with my research, but I made a promise to myself to order the No. 204 Squadron ORB’s and one day circle around to complete this aspect of the Honolulan’s story.

In the intervening years there were still no new books written about No. 204 or family websites, but I was able to purchase a number of those No. 204 Squadron records from the British National Archives, which as promised, provided a great deal of insight on their operations. These included; Operations Record Books for the period from July 1st to 31st of 1942, Detail of Work Carried Out for the month of July, 1942 and Operations Record Book Appendices for the period from March 1st, 1942 to May of 1945.

While it won’t be possible for me to give a thorough accounting of their entire wartime history here, I thought it would be useful and interesting to at least provide a snapshot of their activities for the month of July and a broader summary of their time in West Africa wherever possible.

Hopefully this information will prove useful to future researchers and historians. It is also my hope that by including this information, living members of the squadron and/or their descendants, will find this site and be able to one day provide more details on this search and rescue effort and the brave men who took part in it.

As I also discovered with my research into the Montanan’s loss, there were so many of these RAF squadrons scattered around the globe. Often based in very remote locations, operating under extremely difficult circumstances with too much to do, too little to do it with, and with little confirmation that all their hard work was making any difference. Man and machine were pushed to their limits.

The records indicate No. 204 Squadron was no exception.

After spending the early years of the war patrolling the North Atlantic for U-Boats from various bases in southern England, northern Scotland and Iceland, and dangerous reconnaissance missions over Norway, the Squadron moved to RAF Half-Die at Bathurst (present day Banjul), The Gambia, West Africa on August 28th, 1941. The squadron would spend the remainder of the war there. The rather ominous sounding ‘Half-Die” was not a contemporary description, but named for a cholera epidemic that wiped out a large portion of the population in the mid-1800’s, and the name stuck.

Note that the date the squadron moved to West Africa was a little over 3 months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that would draw America officially into the war. The squadron was sent there as a response to increased German U-Boat activity and successes in the area. In the latter half of 1940 the U-Boats had claimed only 10 vessels in this region. There was only one loss in January of 1941, none in February, but starting in March of 1941 the situation took a drastic turn for the worse, and the allies lost 68 vessels in only five months. Six more vessels would be lost from August to December of 1941, bringing the year’s total to seventy-five.

One of these would be the Lehigh at the end of October, 1941 to Arkansan’s nemesis, U-126 (Bauer). The Lehigh was significant as she was American flagged and therefore still a neutral at this point, one of six neutral American merchant vessels that would be lost prior to our entry in the war. In fact, four of the six (in addition to Lehigh were the Robin Moor, Astral, and Sagadahoc) were lost somewhere off the west coast of the African continent.

The squadron also detached aircraft to operate from Jui near Freetown, Sierra Leone from time to time during their stay and later, beginning in January 1943, from Port-Étienne (present day Nouadhibou), Mauritania after Vichy controlled French West Africa fell in November of 1942.

The closest friendly forces in the summer of 1942 were a Lockheed Hudson Squadron, No. 200, and another Sunderland Squadron, No. 95, which had a Hawker Hurricane fighter wing (necessitated by the Vichy French presence) which eventually became No. 128 Squadron. All of which were based near Freetown, Sierra Leone, 420 miles to the south, as the crow flies. From the ORB’s this appears about a 3 1/2 hour flight one-way from Bathurst, although at a bare minimum according to the ORB’s, No. 204 usually conducted reconnaissance over Vichy territory or searched for U-boats along the way. They often helped escort convoys as part of the move, heading out deep into the Atlantic, resulting in the typical 11-12 hour flight.

No. 95 Squadron eventually moved to Bathurst as well in March of 1943. There is a wonderful website on No. 95 Squadron, which includes many pictures of Sunderland operations at Bathurst which you can view here. These photos provide great insight on the men and the conditions they worked under.

Other than that, the closest allies were over 1,700 miles, 13 hours flying time (right at the limit of the Sunderland I’s range) to the north at Gibraltar, with a vast expanse of Vichy controlled French North and West Africa between them. Between Gibraltar and England the Sunderland crews also had to brave German long-range fighters over the Bay of Biscay.

The Vichy French in West Africa, for their part, seemed to have held to the principal of armed neutrality, despite the debacles of Mers-el-Kébir in July of 1940 and Dakar in September of 1940. Bathurst and Freetown were largely left alone by Vichy French Navy and its air arm (Marine Nationale and Aviation Navale, respectively), and Air Force (Armée de l'Air de Vichy) based in Senegal and Guinea.

I could only find a hand-full of examples of Vichy French aircraft shot down over British territory. These were not overt offensive attacks, but solo reconnaissance missions involving American made Martin167’s provided before the fall of France.

On June 13th, 1941 a Martin flown by the commander of the French Navy Squadron 5B, Lieutenant Brard was shot down over Sierra Leone (unclear if by ground fire or a RAF Hurricane). Brard and EV Eschbach survived and became POW’s, PM Lemoine and SM Schreyeck were killed. According to ‘Hurricane Aces 1941-45’ by By Andrew Thomas, John Weal (Osprey Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 1472801709, 9781472801708):

In West Africa, the British territories of the Gambia and Sierra Leone were surrounded by potentially hostile Vichy French-controlled colonies. Martin 167 bombers from Dakar, in Senegal, were able to reconnoitre the anchorage at Freetown, and it was thought that this information was then being passed on to the Germans [subject to debate]. Accordingly, in June 1941 the Freetown Defense Flight was organized as part of the resident flying boat unit, No. 95 Sqn. One of the original pilots was Battle of Britain ace Flt Lt John Kilmartin. On 22 August Sgt Arthur Todd [flying a Hurricane Mk I Z4484] brought down a Martin [Nr 141, crew consisted of LV Morange (who had replaced Brard), IM Koch, SM Carpier and QM Rabathaly – all killed and buried with full military honors by the British] near Hastings. The flight duly became No, 128 Sqn on 7 October, and a week later its new CO, Sqn Ldr Billy Drake, arrived. He recently told the author that, ‘Hastings was a tatty runway from which we took off towards the jungle-covered hills. The unit duties were convoy protection and the defense of Freetown, as well as countering any Vichy reconnaissance aircraft that ventured near.’

Success for the new squadron soon came, and Drake described this rare action in his autobiography; ‘They had some Glenn Martin 167F attack bombers at Dakar, which were quite fast and were flown, I understand, by airmen of the French Navy. One of these would occasionally stray into our airspace on a reconnaissance flight. On 13 December 1941- a Sunday – I had been scrambled on the approach of one such intruder, and was patrolling over the harbor when he appeared. I flew up alongside him and indicated that he should land at our airfield, which he refused to do. This left me with no alternative but to do my stuff and shoot him down – which I did, although I did not like having to do so at all.’”

Drake describes the incident in an IWM interview conducted by Richard McDonough, which you can listen to here, Reel 5 of 11.

Squadron Leader Billy Drake stands in the cockpit of his Hawker Hurricane Mark IIB, BD897, at Hastings, Sierra Leone, at the conclusion of his command of No. 128 Squadron RAF. Note Drake's personal emblem ("Zut") painted on the nose, and the red, white and blue spinner sported by many of this unit's aircraft. Photographed by Royal Air Force official photographer Gale (Plt Off). Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Catalogue number CM 2531. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212115

Drake’s Hawker Hurricane Mark IIB (BD897) had shot down a Martin M-167F (aka ‘Glenn’) over Freetown harbor. Rather than French Air Force units from Dakar, these were actually French Naval Aviation aircraft from Flotilla 5BR operating from Conakry, Guinea. The crew of the Martin is not known at this time.

As Drake mentioned, the French also had four Groups (or Groupes de Bombardement, i.e.; GB) of the Glenn’s based at Thiès, Senegal, just inland from Dakar; GB I/62, GB II/62, GB I/63 & GB II/63. I don’t believe these were ever used to recon Sierra Leone, and there is no mention in the ORB’s I have of them being used to recon Bathurst.

Sgt Arthur George Todd (754247) RAFVR - (later 119873 W/C., DFC) mentioned above would later be rescued on May 10th, 1942 in a rare water landing by No. 204 Squadron. The exception was likely made because of the proximity of Vichy forces and the possibility of the pilot being captured. Sunderland B/204 happened to have been sent to Freetown the previous day for temporary duty. According to a forum posting I came across on forum12oclockhigh.net, Todd had taken off on reconnaissance mission (accompanied by the Commanding Officer of No.128 Sqn., Squadron Leader John 'Killy' Kilmartin, also mentioned above), searching for a missing American B-25. They overflew Conakry airstrip in Guinea and Todd’s Hurricane IIB (BH146) was hit by stray rifle fire. Todd was forced to ditch in a coastal marsh.

According to the No. 204 Squadron ORB;

“10/5/42: SEARCH. B/204 was airborne from Freetown to search for and rescue a Hurricane Pilot who had forced landed in the sea. At 1024 hours B/204 alighted 2 ½ miles off the coast – Matakong Island [a little more than half-way from Conakry to the Sierra Leone border], where the Pilot was sighted in a dinghy. The Sunderland anchored and launched its dinghy and at 1225 hours it took-off with the Hurricane Pilot on board. B/204 returned to Freetown at 1328 hours.”

Most RAF flights between Gibraltar and Bathurst and vice versa over Vichy territory appeared to have been uncontested and encounters were rare. Even though these flights also served a dual purpose and reconnaissance was conducted. No. 204’s Sunderland’s also performed dedicated reconnaissance flights from Bathurst over Vichy territory according to the ORB’s. There were only two skirmishes involving No. 204 Sunderland’s that I could find with an exchange of gunfire, although neither leading to any confirmed casualties (claims were made by both sides) in men or machine.

I will detail the second involving X/204 a bit later in this article, but the first occurred in the early days of the transfer to Bathurst on September 29th, 1941. Sunderland N.9044 C/204 was attacked off the coast of Senegal by GC I/4 (Groupe de chasse, aka fighter group) flying Curtis 75 “Hawks” based at Dakar-Ouakam. The Curtis 75 was also known as the P-36 Hawk, the predecessor to the P-40 Warhawk, sold to the French before hostilities began. Sergent Chef Georges Lamare flying No. 9 (s/n 295) managed to take out one of the Sunderland’s engines but defensive fire from the Sunderland’s crew eventually drove Lemare off before he could complete his task.

The name of the Sunderland pilot is currently unknown, however according to ‘Sunderland Squadrons of World War 2’ by Jon Lake (Osprey Publishing, 2000, ISBN-13: 9781841760247), the co-pilot was Ray Gough, quite possibly the same Flight Sergeant R.E.J. Gough that flew N.9024 H/204 during the Honolulan search and rescue, and which dropped supplies to the survivors on the 24th of July.

As if the situation of having a French pilot attempt to shoot down a British aircraft with an American aircraft was not bizarre enough, after the fall of French West Africa Lemare became part of the Free French Airforce and according to Jon Lake was trained by Gough on the very same N.9044! Lemare, a fighter pilot at heart, apparently did not stay with the Sunderland for long and transferred to a special French fighter squadron called Normandie-Niemen, flying Russian Yak fighters on the Eastern Front against the Germans. He survived the war after becoming an ace with a total of 11 kills plus 2 probable (allied and axis) but died in a crash while an instructor in 1948. Other than damaging the Sunderland, his one allied kill was a British FaireySwordfish from HMS Ark Royal during the failed British attack on Dakar in September of 1940.

The engagement with Sunderland C/204 was depicted by aviation artist Iain Wyllie for the cover of ‘French Aces of World War 2’ by Barry Ketley and Mark Rolfe (Osprey Publishing, 1999, ISBN-13: 9781855328983)

Getting back to the U-boat threat, 1942 started out fairly calm with only four vessels lost in the first six months. The end of July would herald another large wave of allied losses, beginning with Honolulan. Forty-one more vessels would be lost by year end, bringing the year’s total to forty-six. In fairness, many of these were at or just beyond the effective range of No. 204’s Sunderland’s. No vessels are known to have been lost in convoy under No. 204’s protection. However, many vessels, such as the Honolulan, traveled independently. There were simply too many to escort over such a vast area.

There were nine German Kreigsmarine grids that overlapped No. 204’s operational area: to the north were DS, DT & DU, to the west were EH, EJ & EK, and finally to the south were ER, ES & ET (see map below):

As you can see from the attacks in the latter half of 1942, most of the activity was either centered off Freetown, Sierra Leone, where the Germans were much more aggressive at attacking close to shore, and along a long arc sweeping to the northwest, to the west of the neutral Portuguese Cape Verde Islands. This kept our vessels away from the unpredictable Vichy French forces along the French West African coast but funneled them closer together along the eastern edge of the mid-Atlantic gap/western limit of No. 204 Sunderland’s range.

One of the few things that Bathurst appeared to have going for it was the climate. It is sub-tropical and the temperature remains amazingly consistent throughout the year, varying less than 10° F between the mid-70’s and mid-80’s during the day. There are distinct dry and rainy seasons, the later running from June through October, and peaking in August at an average of 18 inches, resulting in about 80% humidity during this period. There is nearly no precipitation in the dry months. The Honolulan sinking occurred right as the precipitation was ramping up at the end of July, which explains all the rain the survivors had to endure in the open lifeboats. Only one sortie was noted as being impacted by weather during the month of July. Despite the pleasant temperatures, there was, however, also always the constant risk of catching malaria or Blackwater fever in this area, which may explain some of the single casualties the unit suffered.

According to the ORB’s, No. 204 squadron started the month of July 1942 with the following personnel:

      • 29 Officers

      • 2 Warrant Officers

      • 19 Flight Sergeants

      • 55 Sergeants

      • 273 “Other Ranks”

      • 378 Total

They ended the month of July 1942 with the following personnel:

      • 19 Officers

      • 1 Warrant Officer

      • 13 Flight Sergeants

      • 30 Sergeants

      • 166 “Other Ranks”

      • 229 Total

For the month, they flew 19 convoy escort sorties (2 aborted), 2 reconnaissance sorties (1 move from Gibraltar) and 9 search and rescue sorties for a total of 30. They also performed two test flights after repairs were made. Of these, 23 sorties involved either night take-off or landing. They would log 270 flight hours for the month.

Their commanding officer at this time was Wing Commander J.P. Cecil-Wright. Cecil-Wright flew back to the U.K. on Sunderland E/204 March 3rd, 1943.

Per historian/author Ross McNeil and other sources on the RAF Commands website, Cecil-Wright was:

John Patrick Cecil-Wright (26176)

Born: March 9th, 1911

Entered Wrekin College (RAF) in January 1929

Commissioned: December 20th, 1930

Flying Officer: June 20th, 1932

Flight Lieutenant: April 1st, 1936

Squadron Leader, No. 201 Squadron: April 1st, 1939

He was with 201 Squadron on January 21st, 1941 when his Sunderland made a force landing off Uist, Shetland Islands

Wing Commander: Dates unknown, however with No. 204 Squadron at least from July of 1942 through March 3rd, 1943

Group Captain: July 1st, 1950

Retired: GD January 28th, 1951

Died: April, 1992, age 81

Flight Commander was Squadron Leader C.A. Wood, who as noted previously, flew on the first aircraft to find the Honolulan’s survivors. Unfortunately, to date I have not been able to locate any additional information on Wood.

No. 204 Squadron Sunderland’s flown in July (number of flights):

L.2158.M (8)

N.9024.H (9)

T.9070.E (8)

T.9074.L (7)

I was somewhat surprised that they only had four aircraft to work with.

The Short Brothers S.25 Sunderland was an amazing aircraft, clearly one of the best flying boats of the war. At this time, all the aircraft operated by 204 Squadron were of the original Mk. I variety.

These aircraft were lightly armed with a single .303 machine gun in the FN.11 nose turret, a quadruple .303 mount in the FN.13 tail turret plus two more handheld .303’s mounted high on either side of the fuselage in blisters just behind the wing. The latter operated by the wireless operators like Sgt. Carey. In addition, they carried up to 2,000 lbs. of bombs or depth charges mounted on unique racks inside the fuselage which were cranked out under the wings through doors on each side of the fuselage when needed. It’s unclear whether these aircraft at this time would have had the most primitive ASV (Airborne Surface Vessel) Mark I search radar, or had been upgraded to the improved Mark II. Besides improvements in search radar, armament and fuel capacity (and therefore range) were also improved as the war went on.

L.2158 M/204 was built at Rochester and was actually the first production Sunderland, first flown April 21st, 1938. Sadly, she would not survive much longer as I will detail a bit later.

N.9024 H/204 was built at Rochester in April 1939 and struck off charge August 16th, 1944.

T.9070 E/204 was built at Rochester, delivered December 9th, 1940. It blew up at its moorings at Half Die, Gambia August 16th, 1942.

T.9074 L/204 was built at Rochester, and delivered sometime between July of 1940 and March of 1941. Final fate unknown. Was likely a Sunderland forced to ditch ahead of Convoy SL.123 due to engine trouble on September 24th, 1942 and towed to Freetown by HMS Cowslip. L/204 was not mentioned again until February 20th, 1943, having flown in from Gibraltar. It’s unclear if this was the same aircraft after an overhaul, or its replacement.

It appears reading the ORB’s that their schedule, at least for 1942, was pretty repetitive. Usually one to two flights a day, morning and night every 2 to 3 days to provide round the clock coverage for their primary focus; the constant stream of SL (Freetown to the U.K.) and OS (U.K. to Freetown) convoy’s passing through their operational area. Engine failures were quite common, but in most cases the aircraft made it back to base safely. Depending on the timing and what else was going on, they would send a replacement aircraft out. They would occasionally escort the odd independent passing through if the timing was right.

204 Squadron had just lost Sunderland T.9041 V/204 in June. The aircraft had to ditch, presumably due to engine failure, on June 28th while escorting convoy OS.31.

The month of July continued where June left off, with flights searching for their mates from V/204. The survivors had been spotted in their raft by Lockheed Hudson E/200 on the 30th of June. No. 204 Squadron’s H/204 was in the vicinity at the time but was specifically instructed not to land and return to base. Pilot J. M. Ennis and most of the crew were picked up by the destroyer HMS Velox two days later on July 1st. Two men were lost (noted in the table below). Ennis was hospitalized for a fractured vertebrae and it is unclear if and when he may have been able to return to service. P/O Dlin was hospitalized for exposure, but returned in time to take part in the Honolulan search and rescue flights.

The squadron was actually down to three aircraft for a couple weeks until Sunderland T.9074 L/204 was flown in by F/Lt. Douglas and F/O Cockburn on July 10th, 1942 from Gibraltar to replace V/204. They had departed RAF Mount Batten on July 7th.

At the time of the Honolulan attack there were actually no No. 204 Squadron Sunderland’s in the air.

In fact, the squadron appears to have stood down for several days, possibly as a result of a heavier than normal schedule the previous week escorting Convoy’s OS.33, SL.116 and Force F. The squadron had last flown on the 19th, when the newest addition, L/204, helped escort convoy SL 116 and elements of Force F. This was a Royal Navy task force comprised of the battleships HMS Rodney, HMS Nelson and the destroyers HMS Derwent, HMS Pathfinder, HMS Penn and HMS Quintin which had sailed from Sierra Leone on July 17th bound for the Home Fleet in Scapa Flow. Ironically it would be the dispersed elements of convoy OS.33 that were so badly mauled south of the Azores by U-582 and her compatriots from July 12th through the 15th once they were beyond the protective reach of No. 204.

No. 204 Squadron personnel who flew in July (number of sorties):


* indicates men that took part in Search & Rescue flights for the Honolulan.

+ indicates men Killed in Action

I assume “Mr. Pithers” was a squadron mascot, possibly of the feline variety. Whatever his genus, he appears to have earned his wings on an actual eleven plus hour convoy escort mission (WS.19.PQ) on July 25th.

A summary of sorties for the month included:

July 3rd marked the opening of the Airmen’s Recreation Club at the marina. A place for the weary crews to take a break from the war. According to the ORB, this was;

complete with picture projection room, gramophone pick-up and amplifier, stage, and seating accommodations for 140 persons. Weekly programmes of pictures (2 nights), debating and dramatics, tombola, whist drive [types of games], and informal concert being maintained. Library opened 28/7/42, adjacent to Education Room opened 16/7/42.

Groundcrew of No. 204 Squadron RAF gather round a mobile canteen, run by local volunteers of the British American Ambulance Corps, during a break for refreshments at the flying boat station in Bathurst/Half Die, The Gambia. Part of the tail section of one of the Squadron's Short Sunderlands can be seen at upper left, surrounded by servicing scaffolding. Photographed by Royal Air Force official photographer Gale (Plt Off). Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Catalogue number CM 2554. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212116

As I alluded to earlier, unfortunately Sunderland L.2158 M/204 was lost the following month. On August 17th, 1942. According to the ORB Appendices;

Sunderland “M” was airborne at 0545 hours to carry out escort to Convoy SL 119. The flying-boat made contact with the Convoy at Dawn, but disappeared and was not seen again. No messages received.

Five search flights were made between August 18th and 20th, but nothing was sighted. Most of the crew (all but Quinn who was new) on M/204 had taken part in the search and rescue operations for the Honolulan. They were on the plane the survivors heard but could not see their second night after the sinking. M/204’s crew of nine consisted of:

P/O J Quinn

P/O H Horner

F/Sgt E C G Jackman

Sgt J James

Sgt K O'Meara

Sgt W A Davis

Sgt W D Maconnell RCAF

Sgt E H Connell RCAF

Sgt D Stevens

Five of the nine men survived; Quinn, Horner, James, O’Meara and Stevens.

Co-Pilot Harold Vincent Horner (406595) was singled out for his actions in the ORB Appendix and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His commendation read as follows:


This officer has completed over 850 hours flying with No. 204 Squadron. His flying is of a very high standard and he has been called upon to undertake sorties calling for great care and endurance.

On the 17th August, 1942, Flight Lieutenant H.V. Horner, was second Pilot on an Aircraft which landed at sea and broke up. The five survivors spent 105 hours in a rubber dinghy before landing in Neutral Territory. During this time, he was greatly responsible for the continued good health and the moral of his companions. On shore, until rescued two days later, it was due to his efforts that the physical condition of all concerned remained of a high order under arduous tropical conditions.

He has shown much enthusiasm in his Station duties and has done much for the welfare of the men. The standard of efficiency maintained by his Crew has been a good example to the other Pilots of the Squadron.

The four casualties, sadly all of which had taken part in the Honolulan search, included:

      1. Flight Sergeant Edward Charles George Jackman (521691), age unknown, RAF, home location unknown.

      2. Flight Sergeant Eugene “Ernie” Hastings Connell (R/76031), age 20, RCAF, from Granville Centre, Nova Scotia, Canada

      3. Flight Sergeant Walter Douglas Maconnell (R/71384), age 21, RCAF, from Field, British Columbia, Canada.

      4. Sergeant William Arthur Davis (976636), age 22, RAF, from Bedford U.K.

All four consistently flew with Horner, so he would have known them well. According to a newspaper account, the survivors were assisted by natives.

Horner was born on January 20th, 1911 in Midland Junction, a suburb of Perth, Western Australia. He was educated at Perth Modern School and went on to earn his B.A at W.A. University where he was a top lacrosse player. Prior to the war he was a teacher at the Central School, Midland Junction. He enlisted in the RAAF on February 3rd, 1941 at the age of 30. His flight training was conducted from July 15th to September 25th, 1941 on the twin-engine RCAF Avro Anson as part of Course 33, No. 7 Service Flying Training School (SFTS), Fort MacLeod, Alberta, Canada.

Harold married local girl Doris Balinski (1919-unknown) while home on leave August 23rd, 1944 and they had a son named Neil. Doris was serving as a corporal in the W.A.A.F. at the time. They had been engaged before the war. Harold’s younger brother Arthur (who also jointed the RAAF) married Doris’ sister Irene.

Harold was discharged from the RAAF on March 12th, 1945, at which time he is assumed to have resumed his teaching career. He passed away in 2001.

The replacement for L.2158 M/204, X/204 was flown down from Gibraltar on September 2nd. As alluded earlier, unlike most of the other replacement flights which arrived unscathed after flying hours and hours over enemy held territory, X/204 had the misfortune of passing through when the French were apparently again in a sour mood and became the second No. 204 Sunderland I found that was engaged by the Vichy Air Force.

As the ORB reads:

2/9/42: MOVE: Sunderland X/204 was airborne from Gibraltar at 0541 hours for Bathurst. At 0724 hours in position DTSU 5350 while flying at 900 feet, the Sunderland was attacked by three Vichy Curtis 75A fighters. One Enemy aircraft came in from the port bow, then swung away and returned to attack with two other fighters, one considered a Dewoitine 520. One enemy fighter carried out starboard beam attack opening at 500 yards, and as it turned away the Sunderland rear gunner gave two bursts of a 100 and 50 rounds which appeared to go well home, the enemy aircraft was seen to stagger and was last seen flying very low towards the coast. The other two enemy aircraft made further dummy attacks before the Sunderland managed to evade them in cloud cover. When the Sunderland was waterborne at Bathurst it was found that there were approximately 24 holes in the fuselage as a result of the combat.

RAAF Flight Lieutenant H.V. Horner, DFC circa October 25th, 1943, London, England. Photo courtesy of the Australian War Memorial, Accession Number UK0771. https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C257027

I was somewhat surprised to discover from the ORB’s for July that there were a large number of civilian flights taking off and landing at Bathurst at this time as well. See list below.

Apparently Bathurst was a major hub for flights transiting between Europe and the African continent. Most of these were British Overseas Aircraft Corporation (BOAC) Short Empire series flying boats (Types S.26 & S.30), cousins of the Short Sunderland, but also many Boeing 314A Clipper Flying Boats provided by the Americans. You’ll note there were a couple flights by Pan American Airways Clipper flying boats as well.

Short S.30 'C' Class Empire Flying Boat, G-AFCZ "Clare" of BOAC, moored at Gibraltar after flying King George of Greece and Sir Stafford Cripps to the colony for a visit. On 12 October 1941, "Clare" made BOAC's first flight to Cairo, routed through Lisbon, Gibraltar and Malta. She was destroyed by fire off Bathurst, West Africa, on 14 September 1942. Photographed by Royal Air Force official photographer Daventry, Bertrand John Henry (Flight Lieutenant) . Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, Catalogue number CM 6525. https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205209147

Sadly, one of the Short Empire series flying boats, Clare was lost on September 14th, 1942 in transit from Bathurst, Gambia, to Britain via Lisbon, Portugal. According to Volume One of ‘For Your Tomorrow’:

S.30 Empire Flying-boat G-AFCZ (named Clare) - took off in the evening captained by Fg Off G B Musson, RAF, and little over an hour later signaled it was experiencing engine difficulties. About 20 minutes later there followed an emergency call of “fire, fire, fire!” Clare’s fate remained unknown until the 16th, when searching Catalina G-AGDA located wreckage and six bodies floating in the water off the Senegalese coast at position 1420N:1732W. Clare’s six crew and 13 passengers all died; amongst the latter were at least eight tour-expired 37 Sqn personnel being repatriated to Britain, including a New Zealand navigator. The bodies of two RAF members of the Squadron were recovered and buried at Faraja in Gambia, the remainder of their comrades and at least five of the Clare’s crew being commemorated on the Malta Memorial. The other five passengers were apparently Army, Navy or civilian personnel. Operating at the limit of their range, with minimum safety margins, the other S.30s were promptly withdrawn from the route following Clare’s loss.

L/204 and A/204 were sent to search for Clare, but neither were able to find any trace of her. Per the ORB Appendices:

“SEARCH: Two Sunderland aircraft were detailed to search for the missing B.O.A.C. Flying Boat “CLARE” from which an S.O.S. message had been received at 2007 hours on the 14/9/42 to the effect that the aircraft was on fire.

L/204 was airborne at 2220 hours and carried out a search of area ZWMF 2910 – ZWMF 2940 – HYMF 2610 – HYMF 2640. No trace of the “CLARE” or any survivors seen. 1 M/L was seen in position ZWMF 0530 at 0038/15. The aircraft returned to Base at 0724 hours 15/9.

The second Sunderland A/204 was airborne at 0707 hours on the 15th, and searched area HYKE 4500 – HYUD 4540 – ZWUD 5040 – ZWMF 1527 – ZWKE 1500. No trace was found of the “CLARE” or any survivors. At 0752 hours 1 M/L was sighted in position ZWMF 1329. The aircraft was waterborne at 1832 hours.

GAM/33, 38/15/9.”

In November of 1942, No. 204 Squadron Sunderland’s flew in support of Operation Torch, the allied invasion of North Africa, keeping an eye on Vichy shipping movements. Only one of these flights appears to have been challenged. On November 11th, 1942, Sunderland D/204 was one of four flying boats shadowing the Vichy shipping. They reported:

“At 0945 hours one Convoy believed VICHY was seen in position QWDX 0020 – 130 – 10 knots, consisting of one merchant vessel of 12,000 tons, single fawn funnel, one goal-post mast, fore and aft, appearance similar to “Champlain”. One merchant vessel of 10,000 tons black funnel, appearance similar to “CHANTILLY”, another two merchant vessels of 6,000 and 2,000 tons respectively, also one possible escort vessel, also one Latecoere 302 aircraft. The Convoy was inside Vichy territorial waters, showed no flags or colour. This Convoy was sighted from over 3 miles, as it [D/204] approached to investigate the Latecoere aircraft came up to 1,500 yards and D/204 sheared off, and returned to Base at 1405 hours.

GAM/076, 77, 78, 79/11/11.”

While it would have made for an interesting dogfight, everyone behaved themselves, and in this case no shots were fired.

In all, judging by the information on the Common Wealth Graves Commission website, No. 204 Squadron appears to have lost at least 91 men during the war. I say ‘at least’ because during the course of this research I was able to identify five more men that were not correctly identified as having served with No. 204 Squadron, so there could still be more.

In addition to the 91 personnel, the squadron lost 18 Sunderland’s during the conflict:

No. 204 Casualties

As you can see from the list, the conditions under which they operated caused more casualties than the enemy. Of the 18 aircraft lost, 8 were lost either during take-off or landing, 5 ditched, 3 were shot down, 1 was lost to an accident while moored and 1 to unknown causes. It appears that often when the aircraft would ditch the depth charges would explode as the aircraft sank, resulting in high loss of life. Reading through the ORB’s, in the last year of the war it became standard operating procedure to jettison the depth charges and in some cases fuel on return, whether the aircraft was in distress or not, just to be on the safe side.

As noted, Sunderland N9028 KG-A, which was shot down over Norway on July 21st, 1940 included American Gerald Edwin MacDonald. MacDonald was actually born in Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada on May 5th, 1921. His father Samuel was born in Manitoba Canada and his mother Hazel was born in Bay City, MI. They had only immigrated to Washington State in July of 1939 and became U.S. Citizens, retiring to a farm outside Edmunds, WA, just North of Seattle. His father Samuel registered for the draft in April of 1942 at the age of 62, but is not believed to have been called up. Gerald’s U.S. citizenship has been called in to question as he had so recently immigrated. An official ‘REPORT OF THE DEATH OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN’ was filed (see below), and it was noted a year after he went missing that he was “Believed to be an American citizen”. His body was never recovered and sadly his parents held out hope for a year that he would be reported as a prisoner of war, until the RAF updated his status to “presumed killed in action”. Besides his parents, Gerald left behind two older brothers, Glenn and Vernon, and two sisters, Grace and Hazel.

Report of the Death of an American Citizen for Gerald Edwin MacDonald via Ancestry.com

No. 204 squadron was not credited with any U-Boat kills, however overall, Sunderland’s accounted for 26 U-Boats during the war. U-Boats claimed 11 Sunderland’s, although none from No. 204 squadron.

The only direct action against U-Boats that I could find for 1942 was in April. The ORB read:

18/4/42 CONVOY ESCORT. Two Sunderlands were detailed to escort Convoy “SL.107”.

The first Sunderland C/204 was airborne at 0458 hours to carry out the escort of “SL.107”. At 0701 hours the aircraft sighted a Submarine in position, 10.15.N 18.48.W., which had submerged before the aircraft could arrive overhead. A sighting report was sent to base at 0715 hours, but by this time there was no further sign of the Submarine and a search was commenced. At 0752 hours another sighting was made with the submarine on the surface, course 010 – 8 kts., and an amplifying report was transmitted to base. At 0800 hours the aircraft advised base that it was resuming the search for the Convoy, at the same time submitting a weather report to base. Base signaled the aircraft at 0855 hours to return to the U-boat position after meeting the Convoy. At 0922 hours the Enemy Submarine was again sighted and two D.C.’s were dropped as submarine appeared to dive. Oil streaks were observed near the spot where the D.C.’s struck the surface; the course and speed of the submarine were – 290 – 8 kts., visibility - 6/8 miles. A message was received by the aircraft from Freetown, “You will be relieved by D/95 at 1240 – return to Convoy.” C/204 replied to this message at 1010 hours with, “Have attacked U-boat – oil observed, 2 D.C. left, continuing search for Convoy.” The Convoy “SL.107” was met at 1200 hours in position, 10.00.N 19.10.W. The Convoy comprised, 29 Merchant Vessels and 2 Escort Vessels, 2 Destroyers having been detached from the Convoy to search for the U-boat. Another message was received from Freetown; “Return to U-boat position periodically until D/95 arrives.” At 1416 hours the Convoy was left in position, 10.07.N 10.32.W. – 289 – 7 ½ kts. C/204 was waterborne at base at 1648 hours.

The U-boat that C/204 had attacked was U-505 (KrvKpt. Axel-Olaf Loewe), which was returning to its base in Lorient, occupied France after its successful second patrol, during which Loewe had sunk four vessels off Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. The damage was termed “minor”, and the U-505 made it safely back to base on May 7th, after a patrol of 86 days.

According to an article on History.net, crewman Hans Goebeler who was aboard at the time of the attack described it as follows;

At one point, a technical failure caused the relief valve on diving tank No. 7 to stick in the closed position. The resultant imbalance of weight caused the U-boat to float on the surface with its stern sticking up into the air at a 40-degree angle. The crew experienced several anxious moments before Loewe could get the boat on an even keel and dive to escape an approaching British Short Sunderland flying boat. Loewe’s handling of the incident impressed Goebeler. ‘This was one time when a Kapitän would have been justified for yelling, but he remained cool and calm,’ Goebeler recalls. ‘We had a lot of respect for the Kapitän‘s self-control, even though our boat looked like an ostrich, with our head buried in the water and our tail up in the air!’

Loewe made one more patrol on U-505 before being promoted off the boat to a shore position. Over his three patrols he sank seven vessels totaling 37,832 tons. He survived the war as passed away in 1984.

The U-505 (then under the command of Oblt. (R) Harald Lange) was famous for eventually being captured off Mauretania by a USN hunter-killer group two years later on June 4th, 1944 during which her four rotor enigma code machine was retrieved. Goebeler was still serving aboard the U-505 and was the man that opened the main sea valve in a desperate attempt to scuttle the U-boat before the allies could capture her. The U-505 is currently on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I highly recommend a visit if you have an opportunity to do so.

The only other potential attack on a U-boat I could find in the set of records I received occurred on March 9th, 1943. The report reads:

9/3/43: BLOCKADE RUNNER: Sunderland C/204 was airborne at 0314 hrs. on BLOCKADE RUNNER SEARCH. At 1142 hrs. a Submarine on the surface was sighted, on Port Bow 2 miles distant, in position [unreadable] – 190 – 12/15 kts. The aircraft lost height preparatory to attacking but came too close and at too great an altitude to warrant a successful attack, so circled again losing height. The Submarine took no evasive action and no apparent offensive action causing doubt as to whether allied or enemy. At this point the Port outer engine failed, causing the aircraft to bank steeply to Port and preventing further investigation. Two bullet holes were subsequently found in the forward rear turret. At 1115, the aircraft maintaining height on three engines [the next two lines were typed over each other making it difficult to read, however the gist of it appears that they attempted to get in position for another attack. It continued:] Flight Engineer having remedied defects. At 1232 the French Cruiser George LEYGUES was sighted in position [unreadable] – 030 – 18kts. The Cruiser was asked by Aldis Lamp if there was a French Submarine in the area and replied “No” [The French submarine La Sultane was attacked on January 6th]. At 1240 course set to search area to extreme limit of endurance. Search concluded at 1311 hrs. and course set for base. Waterborne at 1710 hrs.

Sunderland A/204 took off at 1410 to continue the search, but nothing was found. The Flight Engineer mentioned in C/204’s failed attack was Sergeant W. McTaggart, who received the Distinguished Flying Medal for that and two other occasions when he climbed inside the wing to affect the engine repairs in-flight. C/204 was noted as being only 100 feet above the water when:

Sgt. McTaggart without hesitation succeeded in entering the Wing and repairing the engine”.

It is unclear from the ORB where C/204 was flying from, but it was sent to Port Etienne on February 16th. If from Bathurst, there were no U-boats within the nine KM grids within range. If C/204 had been detached further to the north at Port Etienne, then four U-boats were within range: U-66 (Markworth) and U-504 (Luis) in position DH71 (28°57'00"N, 022°54'00"W), and closer still, U-202 (Poser) and U-558 (Krech) in position DH77 (27°09'00"N, 022°54'00"W). Unfortunately, none of these U-boats list an air attack against them on this date in uboat.net’s summaries, nor do any of them mention it in BdU (headquarters) KTB’s for this time period.

Finally, one more notable action the ORB’s revealed occurred on August 12th and 13th of 1943 when No. 204 Squadron Sunderland’s H/204 and F/204 helped save 7 crewmembers of a German U-boat. The U-boat had been sunk by a No. 200 Squadron Liberator D/200 (they had upgraded from their Hudson’s starting in July of 1943). The Sunderland’s were actually searching for the survivors of D/200, when H/204 found a dinghy 7 hours into their patrol at 1451. They dropped two Lindholmes (self-inflating dinghies) which were picked up and they circled the dinghy for over 3-1/2 hours taking pictures. Before they left at 1835, they dropped emergency packs and two flame floats. Sunderland F/204 took off at 2323 to continue the search and rescue efforts. At 0445 they sighted the dinghy and guided the Flower Class Corvette HMS Clarkia (K 88) to the scene, which arrived at 0630 and signaled to F/204 that the survivors were German. This turned into somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as the entire crew of D/200 were lost in the attack and sinking of U-468, and the German’s were the only surviving witnesses to the battle.

According to uboat.net:

The B-24 pilot, Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg RNZAF, who sank U-468 but perished with his entire crew in doing so, was awarded the Victoria Cross based solely on the testimony of officers from the U-boat, including the commander, Oblt. Klemens Schamong. This was the only instance in the war of a statement from the enemy resulting in the award of such a high decoration. F/O Trigg pressed home his attack even though his aircraft was on fire and flying extremely low, an example of extraordinary bravery.

You can read more about the attack here.

No. 200 Squadron’s costly success against U-468 would be the RAF’s only success in the theater. Two more U-boats were lost off West Africa in 1943, U-105 in June and U-403 in August, both to air attacks by our new Free-French allies off Dakar.

1943 would see the shipping losses drop to twenty-four, mainly concentrated in the spring. The last allied loss in the area would be in November, when U-68 (Lauzemis) sank the French freighter Fortde Vaux off Monrovia.

After this the German’s seem to have largely abandoned the theater, and 1944 and 1945 saw the losses finally drop to zero. In 1944 the gap between No. 204 squadron and their compatriots in West Africa and allied units operating off the east coast of Brazil, in which the U-Boats had attacked with impunity earlier in the war, was finally closed by USN Hunter-Killer groups with escort carriers and teams of destroyer escorts. 1944 saw the loss of eight U-boats, including the critical capture of the aforementioned U-505.


  • Ancestry.com for crew lists and biographical information on various people related to this story.

  • Australian War Memorial website for information and photos on H.V. Horner and RAAF personnel lost while serving with RAF No. 204 Squadron.

  • Aviation Safety Network for information on Sunderland losses.

  • Carey, Richard for information on his father, Harold Carey, RAF.

  • cieldegloire.com for information on Georges Lemare.

  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for information on No. 204 Squadron losses during WWII.

  • Evans, John for his book: 'The Sunderland Flying-Boat Queen, Volumes 1 &2 (Paterchurch Publications, ISBN: 1870745035, 9781870745031).

  • Fold3.com for military reports relating to this story.

  • Forum.12oclockhigh.net for information on actions between No. 128 squadron and Vichy French aircraft.

  • Imperial War Museum for various photos and information relating to this story.

  • Ketly, Barry for his book: ‘French Aces of World War 2’ (Osprey Publishing, 1999, ISBN-13: 9781855328983) for cover art.

  • Lake, Jon for his book: ‘Sunderland Squadrons of World War 2’ (Osprey Publishing, 2000, ISBN-13: 9781841760247) for information on No. 204 Squadron.

  • McNeil, Ross for various details relating to Sunderland's of RAF No. 204 Squadron and personnel.

  • National Archives for numerous pieces of documentation relating to this story.

  • National Archive of the U.K. for No. 204 Squadron Operational Record Books.

  • Naval Grid Calculator for excellent on-line tool to convert German Kriegsmarine Grids into Longitude/Latitude coordinates.

  • postedeschoufs.com for information on Vichy Naval Aviation actions with RAF No. 128 Squadron.

  • Ribbans, Bryan for his 'The Flying Boat Forum' at www.seawings.co.uk, which was of great help in identifying the RAF Sunderlands that assisted the Honolulan survivors - specifically forum member Richard (aka "sunderlandnut").

  • Thomas, Andrew for his book: ‘Hurricane Aces 1941-45’ (Osprey Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 1472801709, 9781472801708) for information on No. 128 Squadron.

  • Uboat.net for information on Schulte, U-582, their victims, and for information on other U-boats related to this story.

  • Wikipedia free on-line encyclopedia for summaries on miscellaneous topics related to this story.