Herbert Marshall GODSALL MiD

Poppy

GODSALL, Herbert Marshall

Service Number: 429427
Enlisted: 10 October 1942, Sydney, New South Wales
Last Rank: Flight Lieutenant
Last Unit: No. 461 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: Toowoomba, Queensland, 30 September 1913
Home Town: Toowoomba, Toowoomba, Queensland
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Solicitor
Died: Killed in Action, North Sea, 1 October 1944, aged 31 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Runnymede Air Forces Memorial
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World War 2 Service

10 Oct 1942: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Aircraftman 2, SN 429427, Sydney, New South Wales
1 Oct 1944: Involvement Royal Australian Air Force, Flight Lieutenant, SN 429427, No. 461 Squadron (RAAF), Air War NW Europe 1939-45

The loss of Marshall Godsall and Crew

It is now 72 years since the 29th September 1944 when Herbert Marshall Godsall led a detachment of Sunderland aircraft of 461 Squadron RAAF from its base Pembroke Dock south west Wales, to Sollum Voe in the Shetland Islands.

This was a place described by Vince McCauley who was a member of the detachment as

” the most god forsaken place on earth ,freezing cold , constant, strong winds driving snow and sleet into everything “.

a windy sub-arctic outpost, alien to the comparative warmth of south west Wales and the Bay of Biscay and its seemingly predictable weather patterns and a world away from the warmth of their homeland, Australia.

The Norwegian Sunderland squadron (330 RNAF) based at Sollum Voe needed rest and retraining on new radar, radio altimeters and other new technology that the Australians had perfected in operations against U-boats and the Luftwaffe in the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic

Arriving late in the day, via the Irish Sea, and Oban in west Scotland , from where Marsh rang his young mate Norm Sheehan (who was by then a veteran combat instructor at 4( C ) OTU at Alness on Moray Firth) to check on the 20 year olds well being and to inform him of the Squadrons “flying visit” in the next few hours as they transited overhead to the Shetlands

It had already been decided by “Command “ in what was a typically stupid, and lethal, show of bravado, by those not at personal risk from the consequences of their own decisions, that the Australians would commence flying operations immediately on arrival at Sollum Voe This would show the locals just how good the Australians were !!

This decision was made, even though those who made the decisions and the crews dispatched to fulfil them, were in a totally alien environment both, meteorologically and operationally

More importantly for the crews who were to fly that first missions ( Marsh Godsall ,Vince McCauley and Ivan Southall , Sharp and others ) , the decision was made despite the fact that the local Norwegian squadrons , who had years of experience in these, their usual conditions ,had suspended air operations due to the detection of weather conditions indicating that a severe low pressure system was building and approaching from the North with the accompanying violent electrical storms and wild seas

Sollum -Voe was located just 150 miles east from Herada , 13k north east of Bergen, the nearest German air force base , from which the Luftwaffe was operating Messerschmitt 110 night fighters equipped with radar. The proximity of the Sunderland’s base to the German fighter bases offered the Germans comparatively unlimited time in which to locate and eliminate Sunderland’s searching for U-boats, unlike the Bay of Biscay where the Sunderland’s could simply fly west to limit the time that the Germans could engage in combat

The Germans had based Messerschmitt 110 night fighters equipped with their version of air to air radar in south western Norway to interdict anti -u -boat aircraft and to protect the U-boats exiting the Baltic via the North Sea into the Atlantic. This was essential because Allied advances in France after D-day had deprived the Germans of their bases on the Atlantic coast of France and their ready access to the Atlantic



For years the Germans had developed bases up the West Norwegian coast beyond the Arctic circle equipped with the most advanced fighter aircraft, Focke -Wulf 190, s Messerschmitt 109, s ,110, s, There was no overwhelming allied air superiority to protect the Sunderland’s along the Norwegian coast as was then the case in the Bay of Biscay and over the Atlantic. It was the deployment of Mosquito Squadrons in the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic in the pre-D-day period which had decimated the German fighter threat to Coastal Command aircraft hunting u- boats there

The Norwegians had suffered substantial causalities hence the need for retraining on radar techniques to locate and avoid German night fighters and radio altimeters to counter the deficiencies in the standard altimeters which operated on atmospheric pressure which could vary suddenly and wildly in the meteorological conditions of the North Sea and the sub artic regions around the Shetland Islands

But, it was Marsh Godsalls 31st birthday. So, there were drinks to be drunk, speeches delivered from atop the table in the mess and a song or two to be sung by the birthday boy .

Vince McCauley recalled;

“Marsh and I were both down for ops the next day so we had to leave the party early and I remember we both ran to our huts together through the freezing rain, wished each other good luck and parted It was the last time that I saw him “

The Official reports states;

“Sunderland aircraft ML 735(A/46 was the aircraft which had been assigned to Tim Bunce) Squadron took off from Sullom Voe Shetland Islands at 12.35 hrs on the 1st October 1944 on an anti-submarine patrol near the west coast of Norway west of Bergen

At 1310 hours 18 Group signaled ML735 to shift their patrol eastward for which an acknowledgement from the aircraft was received at 1316 hrs.

The aircraft was due to return to Sollum voe at 0135 hrs. on the 2nd October 1944 but nothing further has been seen or heard of the aircraft or crew ‘

This was and remains all that is known of the fate of the eight young and brave Australians and three young Englishmen who crewed that aircraft.

Bad news travels fast, even in 1944, but the process of finding out what happened to Marsh and his crew was prolonged and torturous and it was a process experienced and endured by thousands of Australian families

First step

On the 2nd October 1944 families in Toowoomba QLD (Godsalls) , Melbourne and a girlfriend in Halifax Nova Scotia( Willis) Launceston(Jennings) Hobart ( Jennings) Toorak (Turnbull) Boree Creek NSW (Toose ) Kingsford NSW a girlfriend in Waban Mass USA (Cottier ) Kingston SA ( Criddle ) and Kew ( Brewin ) and three English families Reed ( Penarth South Wales) , Remblance ( Bungay Suffolk ) and Cottam ( Parkstone Dorset )

received the dreaded telegram which was as simple, as it was brutal, in what it conveyed

“Regret to inform you that…. (insert name)… is missing as a result of air operations on the 1st October 1944, known details are that he was a member of crew of Sunderland aircraft detailed for operational flight which failed to return to base This information is confidential and not for publication The Minister for Air joins with the Air Board in expressing sincere sympathy in your anxiety when any further information is received it will be conveyed to you immediately “

However, this was not the first telegram received by the Godsall family advising them of the loss of their son /husband /father. On the 17 December 1943 a similar telegram was received however on that occasion, unlike this occasion , the information it contained was false ,the person responsible for sending it was never discovered

Second step

The letter from the CO ;

Dated the 3rd October 1944

“ It is with deep regret that I must write to you to confirm my recent telegram that your…. (insert status) … is missing as a result of air operations

Your …….. was engaged on an anti-submarine patrol which was been carried out by one of the Squadrons aircraft on the 1 October 1944
The aircraft took off at 1235 hrs. and no further news has been heard of its whereabouts
Extensive and continuous searches both by air and water have failed to locate the aircraft or crew members, but please believe me when I say that everything possible is been done to find your ……
Rest assured that should any further information become available you will be notified immediately
Your …….. has been with this Squadron for some time and has made many friends.
May I express on behalf of myself and those friends in the Squadron the deep sympathy we feel with you at this most anxious time “

Third step

Requests for more information were met with the standard reply

“Unfortunately, the regulations of my Headquarters do not allow me to communicate any information to you but I have forwarded a copy of your letter to RAAF Headquarters who will advise you of details “

Mary Margret Godsall having obtained the names and addresses of lost crew members next of kin from Hampshire CO of 461 Squadron so that she could contact them wrote again on the 6th December to 1944

“…there is one matter that I don’t understand The Air board advises that he was last heard from 30 miles west of Bergen but your letter states he was not heard from after leaving the Station ( Sullom Voe ) I would appreciate if you could clear this matter up if he was close to Norway he may have been taken prisoner If any of his crew turn up would it be too much trouble to you to see that I am advised .I would like to get in touch with them

“Would it ever be possible for me to learn what that last message was ? If he died there I would like to know how he met his death, if he was shot down or had engine trouble or was forced down and surely that last radio message from his aircraft must tell what happened “

Then 8th February 1945 her letter to Air Board, Melbourne

Concerning the loss of her husband and crew

“the information received was conveyed in a letter written in England on the 17th January (1945 ) by Flying Officer Sheehan who was close friend of my husband and served on 461 Squadron at the same time although he has since been posted I do not know where
.His exact words were
“you must now realise that no matter how much we all hoped for his safe return there is now no chance that he or any of his crew could have survived “

I take it from this letter that Flying Officer Sheehan knows what happened to my husbands aircraft. I have of course written to him asking for details “

To which letter some genius at RAAF HQ had written

“I take it Mrs Godsall does not want us to investigate further as she’s written herself asking Flying Officer Sheehan for more details “


Clearly what had been conveyed to the families did not add up, explanations were required , but no further information was forthcoming from the RAAF

Fourth step

Then came the lists of personal effects to be returned to family, socks, razors, wallets (final letters writing by the missing sent the day of their loss ) bills, bank books correspondence back and forth concerning the return of personal effects of those lost. George Toose ‘s motorcycle ,Remblances piano accordion, took up many pages of correspondence

Then a year or so after the receipt of the telegram notifying that your loved one was missing, the arrival of his trunks containing the personal effects and the steely resolve to open the trunk and sort out the items it contained

Fifth and finally

The 12 August 1948 almost four years later

A letter from the Air Board Melbourne “I now advise that a report has been received from Overseas Headquarters RAAF London. The report states;”

“all efforts to find any trace of your husband’s aircraft or to establish whether the bodies of any members of the crew were ever recovered for burial have proved unsuccessful
In view of this complete lack of evidence it is now concluded that your husband and his comrades were lost at sea.
It is proposed therefore to commemorate your husband by including his name on a memorial which will be erected at a later date by the Imperial War Graves Commission(the Runnymede memorial) to the memory of those deceased members who have no known grave “

The end of the story? well not quiet, the full story had yet to be told





Herbert Marshall Godsall known as” Marsh “Godsall from Toowoomba Qld was 29 years of age, married with a two year old daughter and a practicing Solicitor when he enlisted to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force on the 10 October 1942 at Sydney. Also enlisting that day were two teenagers, both aged 18 years, Norman Sheehan and Fredrick (Tim) Bunce. All three were posted to Bradfield Park for initial training

Then on the 8th January 1943 Godsall and Bunce were posted to Elementary Flying Training at Narromine NSW ,Sheehan to Narrandera, where they were taught to fly on Tiger Moths .Godsall befriended Fredrick Bunce known as “Tim “ an 18 year old Air Force Cadet and tannery technician from Vaucluse NSW.

When both passed their courses, both were posted to 8SFTS at Bundaberg to undertake training on multi engine aircraft, Avro Anson’s. There they both met and befriended Norm Sheehan an 18 year old, first year law student at Sydney University ,from Rose Bay and North Narrabeen. He had been conscripted into the Sydney University Regiment but a compound fracture of the leg disqualified him from Army service so he volunteered for service in the RAAF

The three were Commissioned, Pilot Officers, off course, and posted overseas. Departing from Brisbane on the 8th July 1943 bound for the Panama canal and New York where they were, surprisingly, feted by the American military who never realized ,and were not told, that the eagle on the Australian rank badges designated the wearer a Pilot Officer not a full Colonel !!

Television sets for sale in the stores , night clubs and good times were followed by embarking on the Queen Mary, moored next to the capsized SS France, with an American Infantry Regiment each member of which received a red or green button as they boarded the ship. Red button below deck for the first 12 hours of the trip green button above deck for the first 12 hours of the trip, then rotate.

As officers the Australians were assigned state rooms , eight persons per room

Norm Sheehan remembered
“there were constant announcements on the ships public address system repeating the message;
“Do not sit on the ships rails. If you fall overboard the ship will not stop for you. Any person who throws any object from the ship or anything to assist the person in the water will be court martialed and shot “

Despite these announcements, he recalled

“They did and were “

The large fast ships such as the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth et el, relied on their speed and the routes they took, which were secret, and taken to avoid U -boats to transit the Atlantic alone. If the Germans could locate a route from debris in the ocean they could ambush the ship

The sprint across the Atlantic was not without incident. Race became an issue with the Americans. The Australians noticed that a small group of three or four American negro officers were ignored their comrades and sat quietly alone

“Come and join us, like a drink, a chat, a game of cards, come and eat with us “

A group of American Infantry officers were trying to prove how brave they were by drinking their way across the Atlantic objected” whites don’t drink with them” “Are all aussies nigger lovers? “’the Australian reply was as succinct as it was apt

It was sorted by the ships British officers, Drunken yanks confined to below decks

Disembarking in Liverpool, then train south to Brighton and the RAAF personnel depot 11PDRC awaiting posting to a Squadron.

But a very rude reception occurred, courtesy of the Luftwaffe

A group of Focke -wulf 190’ s on a hit run bombing raid on Brighton greeted the young Australians

Norm Sheehan recalled;

“we had only arrived the night before and after breakfast there was this god almighty explosion, sirens and the whine of aircraft engines at full power, guns firing. We had no idea what had happened. But the locals were calm.” just the Jerries’” they said as if it was not a matter for concern We were very bloody concerned !! Here I was young, fit, in a beautiful blue uniform ,we were being treated like rock stars and having a great time and some German bastard drops a bomb on me It spoiled the whole bloody war !!”

Lolling around a personnel depot full of unassigned pilots was not a healthy place to be for a pilot in England in late 1943.British Bomber Command was devouring pilots at an alarming rate with causalities said to be around 85%

Of course it was the mature and astute Marsh Godsall who recognized the pitfalls of been posted to a bomber squadron, even a RAAF bomber squadron , which predicated a very short and very stressful career He was instrumental in having himself Sheehan and Bunce ,and anyone else he could persuade , to put their name down for interview by officers from 461 Squadron RAAF which was looking for aircrew thereby removing the risk of them been posted to a bomber squadron

461 Squadron RAAF was an Australian squadron attached to British Coastal Command. It operated Sunderland flying boats from Pembroke Dock south west Wales and conducting, at that time, general reconnaissance anti-submarine patrols and convoy escort duties over the Bay of Biscay south to Cape Finisterre in Spain and west out over the Atlantic .It had seen some action and had given a good account of itself

When Godsall Sheehan and Bunce were posted to 461 Squadron on the 2nd September 1943 they did not know that they were to cause and implement changes leading to it to be designated a‘new Generation “ squadron .

This was a consequence of their agitation to re-equip their aircraft , to train their crews to become expert in utilizing advances in technology, to locate and destroy U-boat’s at night in the Bay of Biscay to eliminate the u- boat threat to the invasion fleet being prepared to invade occupied France

461 Squadron RAAF as an Australian squadron, operated in a fundamentally different manner to British Sunderland squadrons ,201and 208 Squadrons RAF, with whom it shared its base

Air crew posted to 461 Squadron were trained whilst on operational duties, while flying operational missions with operational crews, with the object of sustaining a pool of operationally experienced personnel within the Squadron

British aircrew who were trained by Operational Training Units, staffed by personnel who were experienced operational aircrew, who trained prospective crews according to a training manual and the trainees were then posted to an operational squadron

Therefore , Godsall Sheehan and Bunce were immediately assigned to operational crews then engaged in flying operations against the Germans Each was tasked to learn as much as they could from each member of the crew, from air gunners, flight engineers ,wireless operators, navigators and flight crew Undertaking tasks from cleaning the toilet and cooking meals to plotting course and taking the aircraft out of the water “up slip “for maintenance and graduating, on a task completed basis, to Second Pilot then Skipper (aircrew captain )

Eighteen-year-old Norm Sheehan flew his first operational combat mission on the 6th September 1943 eight months after he first flew in an aircraft, a Tiger Moth, on the 17 January 1943 at Narrandera No 8EFTS

In 1943 461 Squadron, flew operations relying on visual observers to locate U-boats during daylight hours, transiting to and from patrol areas either just before or just after daylight and they had success.

Dudley Marrows and crew sighting three U-boats and sunk one in the one engagement which coincidently bore the same unit designation as their aircraft U-461

The aircraft were originally manned by a crew of eleven with a nose turret, mid upper turret, and tail turret, a navigator, radio operator and flight engineer and two pilots They were moored a mile or two down the sound from Pembroke Dock at Angle Bay where the flight path was Crews travelled down to the aircraft in tenders then dinghy to the aircraft

The Navigator plotted courses over thousands of miles of featureless ocean by DED reckoning taking sun and star readings with a Sextant from the astro- dome and calculating drift by taking readings from smoke floats dropped from the aircraft every thirty minutes In 1943 to 1944 the usual patrol involved a 15 to 16 hour trip across the ocean from Lands end to cape Finisterre in Spain then in toward Bordeaux or out over the Atlantic or down the Spanish coast toward Portugal Pre D-day the patrols were along the French coast from Brest to Bordeaux. Departure was in the early mornings in the dark returning at night Always in strict radio silence to conceal their presence from German and Spanish listening posts However with the advent of better radar more and more time was spent on night patrols

They were phenomenally accurate navigators. By way of example

If bad weather closed Pembroke Dock to aircraft returning from patrol they would have to divert to Plymouth (10 Squadron RAAF) Castle Archdale (Northern Ireland) Oban (Scotland) remain there until the weather cleared and which was a huge inconvenience to the crews. To avoid this, inconvenience the navigators located an area of relatively flat land inland from Milford haven where the Sunderland’s landed on the water

Rather than divert to another flying boat base they would navigate the aircraft to overhead this area and the pilot would descend under the cloud base and turn onto the landing path on Milford Haven, scattering the local livestock as he went by and landed on the water

When Tim Bunce and crew was shot down and having spent a night floating in a dinghy off the north coast of Spain a Sunderland captained by McKeown and crew dropped out of the cloud base some two hundred yards from them and vectored a British destroyer to them to pluck them from the ocean

In 1943 the gunners rotated position every 40 minutes or so and there was a wardroom for rest and a kitchen for cooking meals, usually two crew members were at rest at any given time

As was common with Australian military units, rank was not given as much significance as with other nations, Norm Sheehan recalled

“there was only one rank in the air and that was the “skipper “or crew captain who alone gave the orders We varied this later when we put the navigator in “Control “to coordinate the defense to fighter attacks, he would coordinate all the information coming in from the crew, develop a response and give the pilots instructions as to what action they should take , then it was he who gave the orders. We wanted to produce a close efficient unit who lived and fought together so rank was not that important “

Within the Squadron it was the most experienced operational pilots who were treated as having the higher rank, irrespective of their actual rank

Consequently it was Norm Sheehan who was the youngest crew captain in Coastal Command at 19 years and the ranking operational officer in the Squadron with 38 operational sorties as captain and 1116.4 hours of operational flying who was accorded the “honor “of introducing the forth coming Governor -General of Australia the Duke of Gloucester to his crew on Anzac day 1944. His recollection of the esteemed gentleman “He smelt of gin and he appeared to be drunk ”

Norm Sheehan continued;

“the other great advantage of the eleven, or twelve ,man crew was that we had a readymade cricket team. A very willing cricket competition developed among the crews of the squadron. On D-day, my mother was sure that I would be among the casualties but I was actually playing cricket with the crew watching the Canadian paratroops being flown overhead on their way to France”

However, the aircraft were woefully underpowered and under gunned this was a major concern for air crews late in 1943.

The regulation method of a Sunderland defending an attack by enemy aircraft was to do a climbing corkscrew maneuver into the attacking aircraft the problem was that the Sunderland’s did not have the power to do climbing maneuver’s and it was outgunned by German aircraft which were armed with cannon

Norm Sheehan replaced Don Howe (Melbourne) as first pilot on Roger Newton’s crew, after Howe was promoted to captain with his own crew. Howe and crew disappeared while on patrol over the Bay of Biscay on the 29th November 1943 after sending a signal

“being attacked by enemy aircraft “

never to be heard from again

Norm Sheehan recalled;
“the German Junkers 88, s were faster than us and were armed with cannon They would fly abeam of us and turn in to us on beam attacks and pull out of their attack when they were still out of range of our guns “
The regulation method of defense was for the Sunderland to” corkscrew” a tight turn into the attacking aircraft while climbing into the attacking aircraft. But the Sunderland’s did not have the power to do a climbing corkscrew unlike a Lancaster which had four Merlin engines

However, we had discovered that the Sunderland was very aerobatic with an extremely strong air frame It could roll and dive and had an incredibly tight turn In the right hands it could turn inside some of the advanced British fighters including the Mosquito

So to counter the Germans advantages we developed a tactic, that when we were sighted by German aircraft, we would climb and try to get to about 2000- 4000 feet

The navigator would be placed in the astro dome and acted as “Control “to coordinate all the information coming in from the crew and coordinate our response to the attack and direct the pilots how and when to respond to the German maneuvers

As the Ju88 dived into attack us, the navigator would judge the moment and anticipate just before the German aircraft was about to break away he would order that we dive steeply in and under the German aircraft. To keep his guns trained on us he had to deepen his dive by putting his nose down and if he pulled out of the dive he may induce a high-speed stall and crash either way he would find himself flying at high speed into the water
When he pulled out of the dive, which he had to do, we had exposed his underbelly and brought him into range of our guns and we could rake him with our fire Then we would pull out of the dive and return to altitude to repeat the maneuver with the next attack “

“But Don Howe didn’t agree We argued with him until we were blue in the face but he wanted to stick to regulation method “When he failed to return we assumed that his tactics had brought him undone “

Fast forward to Noosa 2001.

Lunch with Norm Sheehan discussing what had been discovered from British and German archives
Me, thoughtlessly “Don Howe was a friend of yours wasn’t he. I found this photo of his aircraft exploding in midair ‘It was taken by the pilot of a German Ju88 “

Silence

Then a pale faced, clearly shocked Norm Sheehan ‘yes he was a good mate “

The photograph showed a Sunderland in a climb enveloped in a ball of flame and smoke as one of the depth charges it carried exploded after been hit by gunfire
Pause then
“we thought that he had been shot down while climbing into an attack. He just would not listen to us!! The stupid bastard!! I can see him now, just adamant that he was right. I can remember thinking to myself at the time “you stupid bastard you will get yourself killed “and just look at that (photo ) look, he did !! (The expletive being an expression of frustration and anguish which was still there, all those years later)
Then more
“Tim (Bunce ) and I were friends with the trainee on that crew, I just can’t remember his name now (GWB Bye of Bellevue Hill or GY Temple of Adelaide ).He was really anxious about flying on that patrol ,it was his first trip, and we encouraged him, telling him that he would be alright and that he would do a good job. When they did not return, we were assigned to pack up his personal belongings. It was a dreadful task. I remember that we struggled to hold back the tears Tim said to me “the poor little bastard didn’t stand a chance he was only 18 years old “I looked at Tim and said “what do you mean, that’s how old we are !!”

The problem with the Sunderland’s lack of power was solved by the Squadron fitting the American Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines to their aircraft then retro fitting each aircraft with the engine ,Soon all Sunderland’s were fitted with these engines

Head on attacks were a concern to crews as were the Sunderland’s general lack of fire power. 461 Squadron overcame these deficiencies by replacing the standard .303 machine guns with .50 Browning machine guns and installing extra gun positions in both galleys, four pilot operated fixed .50 Browning or 20mm cannon in the nose to suppress fire from U-boat’s and to assist in bomb aiming, a machine gun loaded with tracer shells to deter head on attacks in the cockpit and two additional Browning in the cockpit to be operated the first and second pilots to ward off attacks from the port and starboard quarters .

Combating fighter attacks was another issue The Sunderland’s patrols required them to fly generally in a north/south direction to patrol areas So the Luftwaffe fighters flew east -west and would sight the Sunderland’s visually and then close to attack Cloud cover offered protection as did the Sunderland’s endurance,. On sighting, enemy fighters, the flying boat immediately flew west, relying on its endurance and the fighters lack of endurance to shorten the time it could spend in aerial combat

Dudley Marrows and crew were shot down and rescued from the ocean. Col Walker was attacked by 8 Junkers 88 shot down three and escaped to crash land on Para sands Cornwell

When he telephoned base and announced who and where he was he was told” It can’t be you, you’re dead “
When he returned to the mess at Pembroke Dock another wag at the bar claimed “You’re piss weak Walker, three Jerries’ got away !!”to which he gave the legendry reply “They didn’t get away We let them go, so they could tell their mates what had happened and the bastards wouldn’t try taking us on again “

Cultural differences with the British also existed for example;

Spanish fishing boats and German U-boat’s and fighter aircraft had a” strange affinity “with each other If one was present the other was invariably nearby

But Spain was neutral so the British approach to the problem of Spanish fishing boats alerting Germans to the presence of Sunderland’s was to fly down the Bay and drop pamphlets’, in Spanish, asking them to” please stop informing the Germans” where they were.

The Australian solution was quite different, as Norm Sheehan recalled

“we flew down and every time we saw them out in deep water, we shot up the bastards”

It did not take long for the Spanish to realize that it was in their interests to stay near their coast and away from Germans

Another difference from how the British operated was that if an Australian aircrew shot down a German aircraft and the crew escaped into the water of if the crew of a German boat was in the water The Australians would always go to their assistance dropping a dinghy or floats and vectoring allied shipping to their location They did this contrary to orders from the British command .Why? Two reasons were given firstly the Germans were human beings and we were out to stop them, not murder them! Secondly if they shot us down then, maybe, they would come to our assistance too In fact they did

It was the use and development of radar which was one of the fundamental differences in the manner in which 461 Squadron operated in 1944 as opposed to how it had operated in 1943

Norm Sheehan recalled

” Most crew captains regarded the radar sets a useless junk I started fiddling around with ours and found that I could identify land marks so I used it to get fixes when navigating, then I could locate ships and it occurred to me if we could locate aircraft we could avoid German fighters so I started fiddling more and asking the boffins for better equipment “

The need to develop this technology was vividly impressed upon Norm Sheehan on the 26 December 1943 while on an operational patrol over the Atlantic as he and Ron Hawthorn recalled.

A little the worse for Christmas cheer the crew were

“stooging along minding our own business when this bloody great German Focke-wulf 200 came screaming past firing cannon at us. As it went past Ron let fly with his ‘303 machine guns from the mid upper turret None of us saw it coming!!

Roger Newton said to me “get on the radar and see if you can find where it’s gone “
as we headed for the nearest cloud bank, I got on the radar but could not find it anywhere
Hawthorn said “Hey Skip I think I hit it “
Newton” Shut up Hawthorn and keep looking, anyway, you only fired six shots”
Hawthorn “that’s all it takes !!”

An abashed crew then made an understated note of the event in the log book

Three weeks later. Crew report to the Wing Commander “Why did you fail to report shooting down a Focke -wulf 200 on the 26 December last?” Well it was like this….

Hawthorns” six shots “had ignited a bomb hung from the FW -200’s wing. It ditched into the Atlantic, all crew survived and were picked up by a British warship “How did you get here? We were shot down by a Sunderland on the 26th December “Oh were you!”

Hawthorn was inconsolable;” I told you bastards that I got it!! I could have got a gong if we had reported it!! You bastards have cost me a gong !!”

The story did not end there

July 2000
A letter is received by Norm Sheehan’s son from Walter Schmidt of Hanover Germany;

“I was the radio operator on a F-w 200 aircraft shot down over the Atlantic on the 26 December 1943 by your fathers Sunderland ( Roger Newton died in 1988 ) I was wanting to get in touch and find out if they survived the war and what happened to them. I spent the rest of the war in Canada which saved me from the eastern front where my brother was killed “

Telephone call to Ron Hawthorn in Bunbury “would you like to speak with the radio operator of that FW 200 that you shot down ?“ OK”

Correspondence ensued then about Christmas 2001 Roger Newtons son visited Hawthorn, accompanied by his wife who is German “Would you mind translating this letter for me, its mostly in German? “” Of course, I will”

“Oh, my God, that’s Herr Schmidt he lives next door to my mother in Hanover !!”

As the crews became more experienced in using the radar and as they got more advanced radar it gave them an advantage in that the crews found that they could detect other aircraft at 30 miles distance no matter what altitude they were flying at

The Sunderland was particularly susceptible to detection by German fighters in clear weather.

To counter this the 461 Crews began flying patrols at very low altitude 100’ to 200 ’above the water and invariably they would not be seen by German aircraft flying overhead. If they were spotted the could use the radar to manoeuvre their aircraft to gain time and height and to deal with fighter attacks

Norm Sheehan recalled;

“One day we followed a British Sunderland down the Bay for six hours in beautiful clear weather We were flying at 100 feet he was at the regulation 800feet He had no idea that we were there. When we got back I saw the pilot in the mess and told him that we had been right behind him and that he had better smarten up his crew or they would not survive He got such a shock he had to be taken off flying duties “

It requires phenomenal ability to concentrate and phenomenal skill to fly any aircraft for hours at extremely low altitude


However, improvements in radar did not necessarily guarantee a uneventful trip as Vince McCauley recalled
“It was a beautiful clear day about 70 degrees and we had taken our cold weather gear off and were sunning ourselves as we patrolled along the northern coast of Spain. To our north about 25 miles away there was a bank of cloud which designated where the coastal water deepened into the cols Atlantic
Then ;
“Radar to skipper I have two aircraft at 30 miles to the East approaching at high speed “

Crew to action stations, claxon sounding as we all scrambled to our posts, Turn north toward the cloud and climb to two thousand feet Navigator into control, engines full rich mixture, increase engine revs and speed, run out depth charges ready to jettisons guns test fired

“Radar to skipper I have four aircraft at twenty miles approaching at high speed”
Heart beats increase engines primed for greater performance

“Radar to skipper six aircraft approaching at high speed ten miles they should be visual at any moment Jettison depth charges “

“Control to skipper six aircraft off port beam going like hell. God !!will you look at that!!!”
Four Ju88 flashed past us closely followed by two British Mosquitos also going flat out trying to catch them. All six aircraft disappeared into the cloud bank moments before we did There was more traffic in that cloud then at Piccadilly Circus on a Saturday night!!

By early 1944 the Sunderland could well and truly hold its ground against attacking German fighters as was proven on the 23 March 1944

Tim Bunce was on patrol in the Bay flying at 100feet. At 1.35pm the crew were changing positions when the tail gunner spotted two Ju88 approaching on the port bow at 1000 feet Navigator into” Control he saw Ju88’s wheel around as they apparently spotted the Sunderland. The Sunderland climbed .At 1200 feet the Ju88 came into attack and more Ju88’s were seen on the port and starboard bows, the attack was opened by two Ju88 in close line astern diving from 1400 feet to 1200 feet into the Sunderland which waited until enemy aircraft approached to 800 yards then made a steep diving turn to port and underneath the attacking fighters Mid upper nose and tail got off good bursts into these aircraft as they passed over, Ju88’s broke off at 800 yards No damage to Sunderland Two enemy aircraft seen on port quarter four on the starboard beam enemy aircraft on port made feint attack while enemy aircraft on starboard attacked the Sunderland feinted a port dive but reversed to starboard with enemy aircraft closing to 600 yards with three other enemy aircraft following closely the sudden manoeuvre of the Sunderland seemed to non plus the enemy aircraft with only the first two aircraft making an attack as the Sunderland swept underneath the attacking aircraft the mid upper gunner whose canopy had been blown away got off a long burst at point blank range with tracer seen entering along the enemy aircraft as it went away to port with black smoke pouring from it
The enemy aircraft flew off to port then nine (9) returned and formed up ,to the port and starboard while the leading starboard aircraft came into attack firing at 1200 yards closing rapidly the Sunderland continued on course west gaining height until enemy aircraft approached 800 yards then executed a steep diving turn to starboard underneath the enemy with mid upper gunner getting a long burst on one enemy aircraft at close range tracer seen entering fuselage however Sunderland crew noticed that the port middle fuel tank was blazing Control gave orders to ditch however mid upper gunner remained at his post firing at enemy aircraft which followed the Sunderland down to 200 feet then broke off contact

At sea level Tim Bunce was confronted with a 40 to 60 foot swell and 35 to 45 knot cross wind and he tried to land along the swell but crashed through the swell as the aircraft ditched into the sea .Bunce was swept out of the cockpit and saw a dinghy been swept past the aircraft but he could not catch it The mid upper gunner caught one dinghy by exiting the aircraft through the rear turret and three crew scrambled into it As he was struggling around the sinking aircraft Bunce was struck on the leg by an object which appeared in front of him and inflated It was the J type dinghy ( the largest dinghy which was kept in a compartment at the wing root )which had detached from the sinking aircraft He saw that the second pilot had succumbed to panic and was clinging to a propeller screaming for his mother Bunce edged the j type dinghy as close as he could to the stricken second pilot but could not persuade him to release his grip on the propeller and he sank with the aircraft The first pilot was seen on the wing of the aircraft after ditching but could not be found and it was assumed that he was washed away in the swell . The four-remaining crew entered the dinghy with Bunce and after hours hard paddling they joined up with the other survivors All crew then got into the j type dinghy

The next day a 461 Squadron Sunderland dropped out of the cloud base two hundred yards from the dinghy, which carried a non-directional beacon, and the squadron provided cover to the survivors during daylight on the 24th and 25th and then and vectored HMS Saladin to their rescue 50 hours after they had entered the water

Tim Bunce was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, at 19 years of age said to be the youngest recipient in the RAAF

Later, Tim Bunce visited the family of the second pilot to offer consolation. However, he was greeted with abuse and accusations for not having saved him as he had saved himself. It was an experience he never completely recovered from.

Marsh Godsall was 54 miles away when he intercepted the” fighter attack “message from Tim Bunce and set course for that position ( a course of action that other crew captains would not have necessarily followed ) and at 1400 hrs. whilst flying at 1500 feet sighted four Ju88s on the port bow. The Sunderland went to action stations and descended to 1000, feet the Ju88’s flew to the rear of the Sunderland then approached from the rear forming up abreast of the Sunderland, two on the port beam two on the starboard beam two miles distant
The enemy aircraft on the port beam close to 1200-1500 yards and turned in to attack in line astern The Sunderland turned steeply into the attack with the enemy opening fire from 1200 yards breaking off at 600 yards the tail gunner of the Sunderland shot up. one of the enemy aircraft as it passed astern
The enemy aircraft on the starboard side did not attack and all enemy aircraft proceeded to 3 miles astern the Sunderland which turned west to take the fight away from enemy bases
The second attack was commenced in the same manner but the starboard enemy aircraft made a dummy attack but control (Henry Turnbull of Toorak) anticipated this tactic and the Sunderland turned steeply to port to meet the genuine attack The enemy opened fire at 1200 yards breaking off at 600 yards with the Sunderland diving below them with three turrets firing into the enemy at close range
The Enemy repeated this maneuver five times over forty minutes before breaking off and flying away with minor damage to the Sunderland and without injury to the crew

The Germans soon realized that the Sunderland’s, well at least, the Australian Sunderland’s, were capable of fighting it out with them

Marsh Godsall was Mentioned in Dispatches

Having been assigned the task of suppressing German U-boat attempts to interdict D- day and post D- day invasion fleets and destroy the vital artificial harbor’s created off the beaches it was 461 Squadrons crews mastery of the use of Radar and just as importantly the Radio altimeter which was the measure of its success .The new Norton bomb sight fitted to the Sunderland’s required that the crews drop their bombs from precisely 250 feet for them to be effective against the u -boat The radio altimeter which was pivotal in the training and expertise of and success of the 461 Squadron crews .It is also pivotal in ascertaining what happened to Marsh Godsall and crew

Norm Sheehan was aged 20 years on the 8th June 1944 when he and his crew set out on his 44th operational patrol off the coast of France at the entrance to the English Channel 90 miles west of Brest. He had been there on the 4th/5th June the day before D-day and it was said that his was the only allied aircraft in the air as storms battered the Normandy coast He later recalled that trip

“There was myself, Vince (McCauley )and the auto pilot on the controls trying to keep us out of the water We were 100feet above the crest of the waves and we were reading crest to trough of the swell at 150 feet on the radio altimeter, that’s when they decided to postpone the invasion When we got back the C O was over the moon as we were the only allied aircraft out there and we had “scooped the group “whatever that meant. We didn’t care we were just glad to be back on terra firma”

This attitude of “scooping the Group” or “showing off” was a to be a portent for disaster for Marsh Godsall and crew.

Allied air command had dissected the air space over the approaches to the English Channel into hundreds of box patrols to be flown day and night by allied aircrews providing a continuous anti -submarine air cover Sunderland’s and Liberators manned the outer boxes in the closely spaced patrols

Vince McCauley recalled “there was a Liberator flying an adjoining box patrol. It came so close to us I saw the pilot put his hand to his mouth as he smoked his cigarette We had to tell it to get back on its proper course “

On the night of the 8th June 1944 Sheehan and crew set course for their designated box and commenced their patrol For good measure the CO was flying as first officer in an all Australian crew which was as Norm Sheehan said later was “the last thing we bloody well needed “

At 0032 hrs 9 June 1944 Sunderland P/461 was flying at 800 ft with 9/10 cloud cover with base at 3000 ft and obtained faint radar contact at 5 miles rapidly strengthening to strong contact at 4 miles. The aircraft turned onto reciprocal bearing of contact loosing height to 400feet and endeavoring to run out bombs but trolley circuit fused bomb racks run out manually At 6.5 miles radar contact was lost so the aircraft turned on to bearing and climbed to 700feet and at 6 .miles strong radar contact reestablished Aircraft homed on contact losing height to 250 feet until range of 2 miles from contact when the nose gunner saw tracer coming up from sea, at 1 mile flares were called illuminated a fully surfaced and alert 740 ton U-boat bearing port 15 degrees distant 3 miles in position 47 degrees 11min North 06 degrees 27 minutes west The aircraft immediately turned to port commencing its run in to attack The U -boat opened up with accurate cannon fire both nose and mid upper gunners returned fire U-boat ceased fire at 400 yards before aircraft passed over at 250 feet releasing 6 mark XI Torpex depth charges set to shallow depth spaced at 55 feet while the U boat was on the surface The rear gunner observed the depth charges enter the water both sides of the conning tower in two long splashes and explosions were observed The aircraft continued on its course and at 3.5 miles the contact was lost. 40 mins later the aircraft returned to scene and the nose gunner saw an object in the water

At 0915 hrs. nine hours after the attack a British Sunderland N /201sighted in position 47 degrees 27 minutes’ n 6 degrees 40 mins’ west oil streaks converging to the same spot and unidentified debris

Ron Hawthorn in the mid upper turret quipped “you had better do that again skipper I didn’t see a bloody thing “

Norm Sheehan recalled
” after hours of training, homing on a constant radar bearings and in the Link Trainer I actually got a surprise when the flares lit up the area and there was actually U -boat , .right in front of us. I remember pretty red lights floating up toward me then whooshing over my head and instinctively ducking as the German gunners tried to get their range and target”

Norm Sheehan was given an Immediate Award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for which the 20-year-old was embarrassed “I only did what I was trained to do” “If the C.O had not been with us I would not have been given a decoration “

What he did not realize was that this was the first time an aircrew had used radar , radio altimeter and flares whilst flying at 250 feet above the water in the dark to successfully locate and attack a fully alerted U -boat prepared to fight it out while remaining on the surface and more importantly nobody thought that it could be done

Back at base the Squadrons administrators were enthusiastic in their congratulations Ken Mc Caffeys (Adelaide) the Adjutant said to Norm Sheehan “If you get another sub they will give you a DSO “his reply “I don’t want a bloody DSO I just want to go home “

Earlier that night and not that distant from where Sheehan had executed his attack a British Sunderland made a similar attack on a surfaced U-Boat but was shot down with the loss of all crew





Marsh Godsall, s final patrol was to be carried out in a position 61 00 degrees North 200 degrees east to 6010 degrees North to 0230 east

Departing Sollum voe located at 60degrees 28 minutes 25 seconds North 1 degree 13 minutes 29.9 seconds west the Sunderland would have transited in a North Easterly direction and a distance of circa 100-120 miles to commence the patrol which was to be conducted from a position North East of Sollum voe and travel south easterly to a point due east of Lerwick then return North again

The area covered by the patrol was located circa one third of the distance (about 50 miles east of the Shetlands) between the Shetland Island Islands and the Norwegian coast. Lerwick is located south of Bergen, the patrol area commenced circa 200 miles North of Bergen and the southernmost point was circa 60 miles south of Bergen and circa 100 miles to the west of the Norwegian coast

However, it is most unlikely that the crew ever commenced the patrol and consequently it was unlikely that they were ever 30 miles west of Bergen as the families were told

At 12.55 a message was sent to the crew “shift patrol bodily direction 090 degrees T 58 miles “

The Message was acknowledged but it is not known if the crew complied with the direction to alter course because they did not report that they were on patrol.

This “on patrol “ report was an essential operational requirement and it was a compulsory report ,The fact that it was not sent can only mean that the crew did not commence the patrol at the altered position

The fact that the crew did not report “on patrol “is the determining fact from which it is reasonable to deduce that the aircraft did not reach the new patrol area ’s start point.

Consequently it can be deduced that the event which caused their loss happened whilst the aircraft was in transit to that position 58 miles east of the initial start point at 61 degrees 00 north 0200East The aircraft would have taken a track from a point about 40 miles North East of Sollum voe to a point180 miles north east of Sollum voe on the 61st parallel of latitude , and ending at circa 0150East longitude adjacent to the Norwegian coast abreast of , and perhaps 50 to 150 miles to the west of Soghefjorden. The wreckage of Sunderland lies in a narrow arc of the North Sea 090 degrees to the south from the original track to that point

The question is, of course, what happened?

Well, the correct answer is that nobody knows. However, we can deduce what probably happened

The aircraft was due back at Sollum voe at 02.35am on the 2nd of October. When it failed to return, a signal was sent to all 18 Group aircraft at 3.26 am “keep a look out for dinghies “which was an extremely optimistic request given the state of the weather and the seas

At 10.00 on the 2nd October 1944 two Warwick (Wellington bombers fitted with a detachable dinghy) air sea rescue aircraft were sent to search the track however nothing was seen except “very rough seas “

Flying officer Sharp from 461 Squadron flew an adjacent patrol reported having sighted a white object at 0755am in position 6050north 0337 east and at 0955am he sighted a similar object in position 6048 north 0340 east but on both occasions’ lost sight of the object while turning to investigate the object

Given Norm Sheehan’s observations on the 3 January 1945 at Alness on Moray Firth of the manner in which that Sunderland broke up when crashing into the sea, with parts of wings breaking away from the fuselage, and given the location of the objects in the vicinity of the track the lost aircraft would have taken, it is probable that these objects were in fact pieces from the lost aircraft, probably pieces of the wing

The official conclusion was that;

“the aircraft was forced down into the sea without sufficient warning to send out a distress signal as had such been sent it would have been certainly been picked up “

‘Whilst literally correct, this conclusion still does not answer the” what happened” questions or and perhaps more importantly the” why it happened” question

The best evidence for deducing what happened comes from Vince McCauley He who had taken over as skipper of Norm Sheehan’s crew and who flew a patrol that night to the North of Marsh Godsalls patrol and transited the area through which Marsh Godsall and crew had flown when transiting to and from the patrol area

He recalled;

“I took off a couple of hours after Marsh and we immediately encountered incredible turbulence We had flown for hours in rough weather in the Bay of Biscay but never anything like this The entire crew was strapped in for the duration of the trip and every one was violently ill The bridge was awash with vomit There was lightning and rain squalls, no visible horizon, and it was like flying in a washing machine. The night was pitch black and we could not see anything outside and we were flying on instruments Even the smoke flares that we dropped to calculate drift were extinguished and we had never seen that happen before
I managed to move around the crew positions checking on each crew member passing around water etcand checking that everyone was alright

About 4hours into the trip I stepped onto the bridge after one of these outings and I felt a faint shudder through the aircraft as if something had impeded our forward motion” Darky” Goode was flying and I leant forward over his shoulder and switched on the radio altimeter To my horror it showed that our altitude was 80 feet above the water ,the aneroid altimeter was showing 200 feet!! Our wing span was 112 feet so we were in very big trouble !!

If a wing or float were to hit the water we would crash into it. I immediately grabbed his hands on the controls and pulled the stick back while pushing the throttles forward with my other hand and we slowly gained altitude and flew out of the sea We were within seconds of crashing !!

One of the problems that Marsh had in flying operations was that as a qualified solicitor he was always off defending somebody at a Court Martial and it was difficult for he and his crew to keep up their operational hours and” the edge” or instinctive expertise that a crew gets when constantly performing on ops As I remember it he had only recently returned from a couple of weeks leave days before we travelled to Sollum voe

We discovered that when operating in the North that the normal altimeter was extremely unreliable as it was susceptible to variations in air pressure which occurred when intense low pressure weather systems passed through that region The altimeter worked on an aneroid barometer In extreme low air pressure the altimeter gave an altitude which could be as much as a 200 feet higher than the altitude at which we were actually flying.

I am certain this is what happened to Marsh .He flew into the sea, as I nearly did
.
No one could survive a collision with an ocean swell at about 120 miles an hour in those circumstances, and if they did, the cold would kill them very quickly even if the conditions of the crash and the sea had enabled someone to get into a dinghy

Of course, we should never have been flying in those conditions!! If the weather was too extreme for the Norwegians to fly in, far too extreme for us. !!

When I got back to Sollum voe there was a hell of a flap on ,I did not know that Marsh and crew had not returned until after I went ashore

I remember Dick Oldham was waiting for me on the dock
I said” what are you doing here?”
He said to me” Marsh hasn’t returned, we haven’t heard anything from him, There has been a full investigation into what has happened
I was stunned and after what we had just been through on our patrol, furious that we had all been put at unnecessary risk and that eleven good me had been lost to satisfy someone’s ego
“ That’s bullshit !How could you have had an investigation !“
he looked at me and said “why do you say that?”
I replied
“ Nobody has f*** well spoken to me about what has happened, ,or what the f*** conditions were like out there It was f*** suicide flying into that storm and those responsible for sending us out into it should be shot!!”
He said “ why didn’t you come back !!
I replied “for the same f*** reason Marsh didn’t turn back He did not want to be called gutless by you bastards back here That’s why I didn’t turn back, that’s why he didn’t turn back, that’s why no one would turn back”

He said “do you think that he was bounced by German fighters”

I said “For Christs sake Dick use your bloody brains!! The f*** Germans are smart enough not to fly in those conditions The only ones who were stupid enough to do that was us !! Showing how good we are …. What bullshit !!
A German aircraft wouldn’t have got within 30n miles of Marsh without him spotting it”
He then said ‘What do you think happened to them ? where would they be ?
I said “They will be exactly where they were supposed to be”” They flew into the sea, like I nearly did”

This statement” “they will be exactly where they were supposed to be” was repeated verbatim by each member of the Squadron who I spoke with concerning the loss

In fact there were no German aircraft flying in the area that night This was confirmed by searches of German archives by the writer and also later by Herr Schmidt of Hanover

Similar statements were made by Tim Bunce, who arrived to replace Marsh Godsall and crew , the next day, and Ron Hawthorn and Norm Sheehan

The following week Tim Bunce tracked a Messerschmitt 110-night fighter, which was stalking him over the North Sea. It did not get closer than 25 miles to him although it pursued him for nearly four hours, before giving up

Ron Hawthorn expressed the same opinion concerning the aneroid altimeters
He said
“ I was sent to a British Wellington Squadron to train them how to calibrate and use the radio altimeter .They had lost thirteen aircraft and crews ,who had flown into the sea, while flying at low level, using the aneroid altimeter “That’s sixty men killed !”

The loss of Marsh Godsall and crew was a tremendous shock. Neither Tim Bunce nor Norm Sheehan ever got over it.

I can still recall the look of shock of recognition on their respective faces when I gave them both photographs of him, years later, in 2000

In that year I had located and contacted his daughter Kerry, who was living in America but returned to Australia frequently because her mother was ill. I invited her to meet with both of them., Neither could do attend the meeting, the memories were still too raw

Norm Sheehan had received another type of shock on the 28th July 1944.

As he recalled;

“I was beginning to feel burnt out. I was doing a (12 hour) sortie every other day and I and the crew were getting jaded New personnel had been added to the Squadron for D-day and members of the crew had left the Squadron tour expired, and we had to leave crew on board the planes overnight so that it wasn’t assigned to scratch crews in our absence and things just weren’t the same

.I was sitting in the mess and Hampshire ( CO 461 Squadron ) came in. He sat down beside me and asked me how I was going I replied “OK “and he said to me “have you got your log book handy? ”I thought to myself “that’s a strange question “and said “I will just go and get it “ I went upstairs and came back with my log book and handed it to him

Then he said “you have done 60 operational trips 38 as skipper” I replied “yes” thinking to myself “what the hell are you on about “ He then said “well you’ve done more than your share ..you’ve paid the rent, son….. your now tour expired “and he drew a line across the pages of my log book “You are now on a holiday , you are to report to 4 ( C ) OTU at Alness in 21 days’ time “The next day he came down to Pembroke railway station to see me off.

“I was absolutely stunned, I had no idea that he was about to tour expire me .I did not know what to do, I had a crew to look after, now I didn’t,!! A new Sunderland ML741 2-P … ( for relief ) ….with all the technology we had asked for in it ,now I didn’t !! There were targets to achieve, meetings with Intelligence and weather briefings in the hut near the slipway, then into the tenders down the sound to Angle Bay, on board the kite, start up and away, hundreds of miles of flying to do ,now I didn’t have anything to do. Nerves on edge, forever alert for that blip on the radar a then back to base clean up the aircraft for the next sortie, well-oiled procedures, part of a well-oiled machine it had been like that for months… now …nothing!!

A visit to a mate on a Lancaster squadron…… a big mistake!!

” It was like visiting a funeral parlour, Shot up crews returning every morning dozens of missing places in the mess, places which were usually filled by those who had not returned from the previous night’s operation Then dozens of new faces coming in to replace the missing, then dozens of missing places the next day “

4 ( C) OTU Alness on Moray Firth , as cold as charity, was a RAF establishment where the fat cats of the RAF sat out the war” They occupied the plush manor house while “Other Nations “ occupied the tents pitched in the grounds with coal fire heaters glowing red hot trying to battle the cold .
But there were mates there, Ron Hawthorn (Bunbury WA) and Paul Pfeiffer (Point Pass SA ) to have a laugh with

12th October 1944 Pilot Officer Sheehan DFC, Australian, 20 years of age veteran Sunderland combat pilot was taken up in a Sunderland by the British Squadron Leader and crew for fighter affiliation provided by Phil Davenport ,Australian, Mosquito pilot of the nearby ANZAC wing in a gleaming new Mosquito to be shown how it was done.
Davenport to Sheehan;

“ OK Sheehan I’m here to shoot you down !! Some bastard should have done it long before now !!”

An hour of steep turns, dives, stall turns, tight turns, extra tight turns Squadron Leader’s face distorted by G-forces and fear

Then “Mosquito to flying bordello I couldn’t get a bead on you …well done, I will send over the photos “

Squadron Leader to Sheehan” I would not have believed that you could do manoeuvres like that in a Sunderland …extraordinary, Kindly present yourself before CO an hour after we land “

CO who had spent hundreds of hours flying a desk in Lagos, Nigeria prior to his posting to Alness said to Sheehan

“we have developed the best tactics for a Sunderland aircraft to use to ward off fighter attacks They are in the manual When you are instructing crew here you will not vary from those tactics or the methods set out in the manual. Is that understood!!

Back to mess

In a predominately Australian mess a Court Martial is held,

Justice R Hawthorn presiding, Paul Pfeiffer German language scholar for the Prosecution (with moustache), addresses the Court and presents the Prosecution case in an all too hilarious perfect imitation of Adolf.

Which when translated states

” How dare this Colonial prick have the utter gall to attempt to teach we British officers how to train their Sunderland air crew to survive the war Doesn’t he realise if they survive, then there will be no need for us to be here!! The bastard should be done for treason.!! Irish heritage you say!! ,IRA more like it!! . Take him down !!What ?!!he’s been Offered a BOAC and QANTAS contract for after the war. We haven’t been offered anything!! Good God has the world gone mad !!Shoot him at once!!

(As the war wound down both BOAC and QANTAS offered the long-range air crews contracts of employment to commence after the war These were greatly sought after because possessing one expedited the holders return to Australia and discharge) It was such an offer which expedited Norm Sheehan ‘s return home

Having been duly sentenced, Norm Sheehan beat a strategic retreat to No 3 School of General Reconnaissance for a full month course away from the 4(C)OTU and its pompous CO

Return to 4(C) OTU on the 24 December 1944

Norm Sheehan was sharing a tent with Paul Pfeiffer. He was described by Ivan Southall as one of the leading poets of his generation.

Norm Sheehan remembers that the 3rd January1945 was a freezing cold day. He walked down to the slips and saw a Sunderland, motors running at idle, out on the Firth and Paul boarding a tender to travel out to the aircraft ““Bulls eye” Pfeiffer off to battle” Paul called out. Noting how cold it was Sheehan walked into the crew hut and asked “who has authorised flying in this weather “ No one knew who had given the authority

Back outside, the Sunderland has turned onto the flight path and the motors begin to roar and the aircraft began to lift off the water. It climbed sluggishly to about two hundred feet then it appeared to stall, drop a wing and crash into the water with the right wing ripped off.

Norm Sheehan recalled;

“I jumped into a boat and went straight to where the aircraft had struck the water I was looking for the dark blue Australian uniform. I saw it and pulled Paul from the water He had a surprised look on his face, but had a terrible gash across his neck where a wire or something similar had cut him He was alive but unconscious We got him back to the dock and an ambulance and he was taken to hospital, but died the next day He must have fallen out of the aircraft where the wing was ripped off

Nobody really knew why the aircraft crashed. I think it was caused by the water freezing and ice jamming the controls “

On the20th February 1945 Norm Sheehan departed Alness for Brighton back to 11PDRC then back across the Atlantic to New York then across the Pacific to Sydney arriving on the 9 April 1945.

After disembarking these veterans, of the Air War In Europe were addressed by an overweight sweating Air Commodore at Bradfield Park Sydney who told them that their “overseas holiday was over” and that they now had to face the “real war “ The assembled veterans started to talk among themselves then simply turned and walked off the parade ground en masse leaving the fat fool spluttering to himself

A posting on the 7 June 1945 to 37 Squadron Melbourne as a second pilot on a DC3 transport followed.

Then on the 9th September 1945 with a posting to 40 Squadron flying Sunderland’s out of Port Moresby, with old friends

Finally, on the 7th March 1946 a flight from Port Moresby to Cairns to Rathmines just south of Newcastle and the last Sunderland flight He is heard to say “good bye and bugger you “as he steps into the dinghy to take him ashore

Then on the 14th March 1946 discharge after 3 years and 5 months of service

Back to Sydney University Law School age 23

He was heard to say on occasions “I had my 20th birthday on patrol over the Bay of Biscay and my 21st as an instructor over the North Sea “

For years after the war his mother would say “You know, before Norm went away to fight the war in Britain, the only place he had been to, was to Collaroy, to the pictures, on a Saturday night “

She was correct, but the later journey, covered far more than distance.


Norman Sheehan did not set foot in an aircraft again until the 14 December 1970 when he flew in a jet, a Boeing 727, from Melbourne to Hobart and return. It flew so differently to the aircraft which he had flown he was sure that it was crashing

By 1975 he was flying again This time in his own aircraft

He passed away on the 19th December 2009 aged 87 years two months

Tucked into the back pages of his RAAF log book was a note, which he had written to himself, handwritten on a piece of paper, on the 29 January 1944, by the 20-year-old combat veteran wondering about his uncertain future, it reads ;

“Well you wondered where you’d be when this page was being used. Now you bloody well know “

Well now, we all know

I remember saying to him “But you were all volunteers!! , Marshall Godsall was married with a child ,why did you all volunteer ?”

The answer was as simple, as it was obvious to him, and as it was as obvious to all the volunteers of his generation

“Because it was the right thing to do “


Marshall Sheehan BA LLB
Albury NSW
10 October 2016

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