BOAC Liberator II Landing At Prestwick

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Could '36' be a c/n?

The following chronology, sent to me by Matt, might indicate that AL538 c/n 36 was at Prestwick over the summer of 1942. If so, perhaps the 'scene' was set up especially for the filming, using 'any old Liberator' that was to hand. AL538 may not have been on the ferry service but it happened to be available on the day in question. Just a thought.

And perhaps SAL painted an aircraft's c/n on its rear end end while they were working on it. Thoughts anyone?

I am happy to have such notions thoroughly debunked but, meanwhile, here's the extract I mentioned:

AL538 c/n 36;
TOC Dorval 16.11.41;
Gander - Prestwick 23.11.41;
SAL, Prestwick, 23.11.41;
SAL - 51 MU 5.12.41;
1653 Flt 16.3.42;
ground accident, ROS 21.3.42;
SAL 6.9.42;
1445 Flt 18.10.42;
on night delivery flight from Prestwick to Lyneham 18.10.42, overshot in bad visibility and crashed at Clyffe Pypard;
SOC next day;
to Prestwick by road, arr 6.11.42, as Cat E for reduction to produce.

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That's interesting. In BOAC correspondence about individual Liberators, and about spares provision, they are always referred to by either their British or American military serials, or UK civil registrations when they got them. I'm not saying SAL wouldn't have used the c/n, but I don't think anyone else did.

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As regards Bothas with a code behind the roundel, I have attached a relevant image, apparently taken at West Freugh, 1939/1940. The photo is in my photographic collection and I am unfortunately unable to determine the source of the image. [ATTACH=JSON]{"data-align":"none","data-size":"full","data-attachmentid":3855807}[/ATTACH]

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Thank you, Iain, for the photo. That seems to settle it, i reckon.

And, Adrian, it is just a theory on my part regarding the c/n but here are a few other thoughts ---

[1]. I can't recall the details but I seem to recall that SAL mixed up two Liberator c/ns at one stage. perhaps it was a potential problem that they tried to guard against.
[2] The '36', if that's what it is, seems to be stencilled on, rather than painted on, which suggested to me that it might have been applied temporarily.
[3} I'm pretty sure that, some years ago when I phoned the BA Archive about BOAC Lodestar flights to Sweden by in WWII, I was told that BOAC allocated their own code numbers to aircraft; Could they have been applied to aircraft at any time, do you know?

But, again, just a theory or two.

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Those BOAC code numbers are called Chart Serials. The charts they refer to are the 'Slip Charts' - taken from 19th century railway practice, I believe - which record the disposition of the fleet. The charts are on large sheets of paper, and each one refer to a particular route for a month, generally for a single aircraft type, although there are exceptions. For each fleet, the chart serials start at 1 for the first aircraft to be taken on charge (not necessarily the same as 'delivered', and certainly bearing little relationship to the operation of a first service) and going up sequentially as far as it gets. Sadly neither the charts for the Liberator operations, nor the cards that reference the Chart Serials have survived. Although it is possible that as many as 40-odd Liberators were in some way associated with BOAC operations, some of them were only used post-war and others only on the South Atlantic route. I don't see any way a Liberator 1, with that early camouflage still applied, would have had a Chart Serial higher than maybe 12 or 15, and probably only in single figures. Aside from the odd letter arranging administrative items such as a change of base, I've seen no mention of the Chart Serials other than the charts themselves - it's just a shorthand so that the charts don't get any more cluttered than they need to. Certainly at the time, and in some cases even now, other airlines painted fleet numbers on their aircraft, but I've never seen any indication that Imperial or BOAC ever did so.

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Thanks, Adrian.

I tried to look up 'slip charts' but only found use of the phrase in connection with project management - that is, how much slippage there had been in time between the planned completion date and the actual completion date.

From that earlier telephone conversation, I rather had the impression that there was one run of numbers covering all aircraft types in the fleet. Clearly, if each aircraft type had its own run of numbers and, more than that, if each run of 'aircraft type' numbers was allocated only to aircraft of that type operating from one particular base, then, as you say, it is very unlikely that '36' was such a code number or chart serial. I assume that, in the case of the Liberators used on the North Atlantic run, the base would have been Dorval, where Ferry Command's HQ was located.

If the BOAC code numbers / chart serials theory can be discounted, does anyone have a view on the 'c/n' theory?

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I think I've said before that I have a number of non-aviation demands on my time and this coming week is one of those periods when the other demands will be high. Thus, I will not be able to contribute anything in this period, though i will do my best to keep a watch on this thread.

Meanwhile, i think i have also said that back in my youth, an interest in aviation resulted in some older enthusiasts giving books, magazines, photos and the like. Much of this 'stuff' has been kept and it includes two matching photographs taken at Dorval. The two photos show the 'hind quarters' of BOAC Constellation G-AHEK. For this thread, it is what can be seen under the tail of the Constellation, on the tarmac, that may be of interest. The two photographs were taken from either side of G-AHEK, so there is a fair number of aircraft to be seen, including a number of Liberators..

The date stamped on the back of the two photographs is 10 May 1946

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Well, that's interesting, Ian, because G-AHEK wasn't taken on charge by BOAC, at Dorval, until 12 May 1946 (edit: oops! read the wrong card - that should be 1 May). That, of course, means I have no idea of its movements prior to that date - I had assumed that it flew in on that day for formal delivery, but apparently that's not the case.
The Liberator in the middle of the first photo is clearly a BOAC aircraft (don't know which one, though!) The others appear not to be.

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My assumption (theory?) is that BOAC would not just take an aircraft on charge without first getting the technical people (and maybe a flight crew) to check it over first, particularly as it was the first of its type for the airline (wasn't it?). Perhaps G-AHEK arrived a few days before being taken on charge for this purpose.

I can't do it now, so it will probably be quite a few days ahead, but I will locate the photos and double-check the date on the back.

Meanwhile, I've isolated the Lib in question and the image is attached. being in the background of a photo, it is out of focus but perhaps someone has 'gizmo' that will sharpen it a bit.

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And what about the Liberator on the left of the first photo (largely hidden by the Dak)?

Were 'slip charts' still being used in 1946? If so, did they survive and are they are held at the BA Museum? And, if all the 'ifs' get positive responses, would it be possible to identify which of the BOAC Liberators were at Dorval that day?

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The majority of the slip charts do survive, in the BA archive, and they carry on well past 1946. The Liberator charts are not amongst them. I assume, as you say, that this is because the operation was run out of Dorval, so the paperwork never came back across the Atlantic.

My apologies, I made an error with the date. 049 Constellations deliveries were G-AHEJ 26 April, G-AHEK 1 May, G-AHEL 12 May, G-AHEM 23 May, G-AHEN 31 May, all "To Montreal for training purposes", and they all stayed there on training until July or later. I don't know the handover procedure for the initial Constellation fleet in detail, but for the Stratocruisers only three years later all the technical checking, etc., was done at the Boeing factory (or in flights around the local area) prior to handover. The Connies would have been similar; despite being pre-owned they were refurbished by Lockheed. I doubt either party would have wanted the added complication of an aircraft being a couple of thousand miles from the factory in another country while the customer still had the option of declining to take delivery.

I've had a play with the picture in post 314, and if it is a BOAC aircraft I could convince myself this is AL592. The window configuration is right, and the rather-more-than-usual tail-down 'sit' seems to be a particular characteristic of that aircraft - or is it taking off in that picture, caught just at the moment of rotation? I can't decide. On the other hand, the layout of the markings, and particularly the rearward location of a somewhat under-size roundel, is not something I've seen in other photos of BOAC aircraft. There appears to be something painted above the roundel, which I can't make out to be a company title, and is in the wrong place for one anyway. What I initially though was the Speedbird on the nose, when sharpened up looks more rectangular - I'm wondering if it's a window, which might mean it's not a BOAC aircraft at all. The other Liberator in post 315 also has that small roundel further back than usual.

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As I said, I've been otherwise engaged this past week and the coming week is quite full, too.

I checked the photos - 10 May 1946 is the date on their reverse side.

It is eminently sensible that the Connies would be checked out earlier than I suggested.

Thinking about BOAC documentation for WWII in general, were slip charts also produced for the services to Stockholm and to Lisbon, for example? .Or did BOAC use a different method of recording the disposition and movements of the aircraft that operated from these other bases?

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Looking through some notes a contact made in the Hatton Cross days of the BA/BOAC archive there are references to the Liberator ops in 1942-1943 charts titled intially 'North Atlantic Landplane Operations', then 'Montreal Base Operations' and later 'Liberator Operations' .

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Thank you, longshot. It's good to hear that some details of the Liberator service across the North Atlantic may have survived in the BA archive. Having recently been concerned whether some of my own (non-aviation) material survived a house move a while back (a matter still to be resolved), I hope that details of the BOAC Liberator flights in WWII will see the light of day.

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I thought I'd better clear something up.

Earlier, in Post 309 [Point 1], I mentioned recalling that SAL had once mixed up the construction numbers of two Liberators; I've now had the chance to check. It actually occurred post-war, in the middle of 1951 and it may not have been caused by SAL The two aircraft involved were c/n 90 (ex-AL592) and c/n 101 (ex-AL603) and it is apparently unclear whether this happened at Prestwick or at Tollerton. Whichever, the mix-up continued for the better part of a year, it seems.

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In Post # 163, longshot wrote the following and asked about AM260:

Jack Bamford in his book 'Croissants at Croydon' describes AM260 as the first RFS Liberator and flown down from Prestwick to Heston with a Spitfire escort for conversion by Airwork at Heston. He records its first trip back over the Atlantic was from Squires Gate as the Prestwick runway wasn't ready. Has Bamford got it all wrong?

Peter Berry wrote this of AM260: "Delivered St.Hubert-Gander-Squires Gate 5/6 April 1941 … cracks found in tailplane at Gander on 28 March. Tailplane of AM915 fitted. First westbound BOAC RFS service from Squires Gate, 4 May 1941".

The reference to the tailplane issue is out of chronological order, which doesn't help but compare and contrast Berry's information, then, with that from another source (the Oughton book, I believe):

25 Mar 1941 = TOC at St Hubert;
28 Mar 1941 = St Hubert > Gander - delayed by bad weather;
5 April 1941 = Gander > Squires Gate;
6 April 1941 = Squires Gate > DGRD Heston ;
4 May 1941 = returned to St Hubert - presumably Heston > Squires Gate > (possibly Gander) > St. Hubert
-- May 1941 = at St Hubert, considerable cracking found in tail unit; tail section of AM915 fitted to AM260;
8 June 1941 = began RFS service

From the above, it would appear that AM260 did fly to Heston on first arriving in the UK (as stated by Jack Bamford) but whether there was "conversion by Airwork at Heston" is unclear. If DGRD carried out testing and development work at Heston, then perhaps some modifications were undertaken by Airwork there.

Both sources agree that AM260's first trip back to North America was from Squires Gate on 4 May 1941. Again, this accords with Jack Bamford's account.

As for Prestwick's runway, work on the main one (6600 feet) began in March 1941 but was not completed until 21 September 1941. Transatlantic flights did arrive there, however, when it was still a grass airfield. Its early use by Hudsons is well documented. Hudson T9426 had arrived (somewhat unexpectedly) on 29 November 1940 and T9464 made the first (planned?) Gander - Prestwick crossing on 11 February 1941. From March 1941, Fortresses began to be delivered across the Atlantic, some using the hard runways at Ayr/Heathfield but some landing at Prestwick. The last of the first batch of 20 Fortresses (AN518) arrived at Prestwick on 14 June 1941.

Liberators were also delivered to Prestwick before the hard runway was completed: AM258 (on 5 May 1941), AM920 (13 May), AM918 (14 May), AM261 and AM263 (both 2 June) and AM915 (5 August). AM262 arrived on 27 May 1941 but at either Ayr/Heathfield (one source) or at Prestwick (a second source, that gives its return flight as from Ayr, however). Only AM259 and AM260 were delivered to Squires Gate (on 14 March and 6 April 1941, respectively). Some Liberators were delivered to Ayr/Heathfield even after Prestwick's hard runway came into use. (In all cases, I have given the likely date of arrival in the UK).

In short, the lack of a hard runway at Prestwick does not appear to have been the issue in respect of AM260's first flight back to North America, as suggested by Jack Bamford. AM260 flew from Squires Gate on 4 May 1941 but AM258 flew into Prestwick on 5 May 1941. Maybe the switch from Squires Gate to Prestwick was made over that night.

As ever, comments, corrections and even brickbats are most welcome.

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Great find, longshot. Since first reading Peter Berry's book on Prestwick, I have wondered about these "TWA for the USAAF" flights to Prestwick in WWII.

Though clearly marked "N-19908" (see image), it appeared as NC19908 in the wartime logs for Prestwick, where it first arrived on 18 April 1942 {EDIT - probably 20 April 1942 - see post 327 below] , departing on 23 April 1942. It made a further 10 or so trips to Prestwick in the next three months. I believe that the Stratoliners acquired military serial numbers later in the year - can anyone confirm this?.

The IWM caption notes that there is a censor's stamp on the reverse and that the photo was cleared for publication. I assume that the squiggles to the left and right of the aircraft were made by the censor to indicate those parts of the photograph that were to be 'painted out' before publication. Is my assumption correct.?

And the car on the right looks more American than British.

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The caption to the image brought to us by longshot in Post # 321 says that it was cleared by the censor on 12 August 1942. It was published in the 13 August 1942 issue of THE AEROPPLANE SPOTTER as a very small image with a high degree of screening but it is the same photo. And, yes, all the background was removed.

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Here's the panel from AEROPLANE SPOTTER showing the Stratoliner alongside some other U.S. 'heavies'. Though the drawings are not exactly to scale, they are pretty close and they give some idea of its size.

Despite its outward markings, the civilian Stratoliner was surely a lot more comfortable an aircraft in which to travel than the Liberator conversions. No wonder the U.S. top brass chose them; among those who flew across in the Stratoliners were Generals Arnold, Eisenhower and Marshall. The first-named must have been Gen. Henry 'Hap' Arnold who initiated the 'Arnold Scheme' for training British pilots in the U.S.A. - not to be confused with Col. William Arnold of Ferrying Command, after whom the 'Arnold Line' transport service across the North Atlantic was named. The first of these arrived at Ayr/Heathfield on 3 July 1941 in the shape of a B-24 with the serial number 40-702.

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