Having researched how my uncle was killed during WW2 and written an article about him I thought I would turn my attention to my father Robert (Bobby) McGill. I submitted an article to The Catalina News – this is the text…
Bobby McGill – Catalina Pilot 262 Squadron RAF
My father Robert (Bobby) McGill was born in Edinburgh on 8 January 1915 and after completing his education went to work for his father in the family wholesale grocery business. As the second world war loomed he joined the TA in 1938 with his younger brother. The siblings joined 78th Field Regiment, RA which was the local TA artillery regiment serving Edinburgh.
The regiment was sent to France after Dunkirk in June 1940 as part of the Second Expeditionary Force. However, they were evacuated after a matter of a day or two as part of Operation Ariel and returned to the UK to regroup.
Somehow my father was able to leave the army and join the RAF. He was sent for pilot training at the US Naval Base in Pensacola, Florida. Crossing the Atlantic on the Stratheden, a P&O liner which had been requisitioned for the war effort as a troopship, he landed in Halifax on 16 August 1941. From there he made his way to the US, presumably by rail, entering in Detroit on 27 August then completing his journey to Florida.
Bobby started Course No2 on 9 September 1941 and left on 5 May the following year. According to his log book, incidentally an RCAF one, his first flight was of 1 1/2 hours duration on 7 October in an N3N-1, serial 0044. This was an open cockpit primary training biplane built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. During the month he had 17 flights in the type totalling 23 hours, going solo after 12 1/2 hours of instruction.
Over the next few weeks he undertook further training flights in this type of aircraft which did look like a Boeing Stearman, however, he did have a couple of flights in a Stearman serial 9707 on 13 January 1942. Later in the month he had some familiarization flights in a NA Harvard variant, the SNJ-1 before commencing training in a Chance Vought OS2-U3 “Kingfisher”, a single engined float plane.
February 1942 was spent flying the latter two aircraft mentioned in the previous paragraph. Formation flying in the “Kingfisher” with instrument instruction in the SNJ series, he flew both SNJ-2s and 3s. By the end of the month he had flown 144 hours, 90 of which had been solo.
In March he was introduced to the P2Y2 and P2Y3, two variants of a Consolidated Aircraft flying boat. This type began to enter service with the USN in 1935. However, when the US entered the war they were withdrawn from active service and relocated to Pensacola and Jacksonville for training missions. During March he flew 11 hours with the same instructor, W R Lewis. More training flights followed in April on this type with several different instructors. Towards the end of the month he had two flights in a Catalina which he would become very familiar with when he joined his squadron.
When he left Pensacola he had 175 hours 10 minutes of flying under his belt of which 108 were solo. In all during his time there he made 143 flights lasting some 245 hours, 70 hours were flown as a passenger. His final report said that this flying aptitude was average save that his instrument flying was below average. Navigation in the squadron was described as good but his instrument flying reactions were slow.
My father returned to the UK and was posted to 7 P.R.C. in Harrogate, Yorkshire. From what I can gather from an online search this was where aircrew who had been trained in the US and Canada were posted prior to completing their training. Harrogate would have been familiar to Bobby as he had been sent to board at Ashville College there in the early 1930s.
In October 1942 he was posted to RAF Little Rissington in Gloucestershire starting Intake No24 at 6 (Pilot) Advanced Flying Unit. He spent the next two months here gaining more multi engine experience on Airspeed Oxfords flying no particular individual aircraft. Part of his time on this course was spent at RAF Bramcote in Warwickshire on a Beam Approach Training Flight. This course lasted a week and his assessment was classed as “average”. The course at Little Rissington ended on 7 December 1942, with the remarks on his final report stating that he was “a good pilot, keen and conscientious worker”.
The next posting was to No4 (Coastal) O.T.U. based at Stranraer in SW Scotland. This OTU provided flying boat crews for Coastal Command and was formed within No17 Group on 16 March 1941. There was no flying recorded in the logbook until 1 February 1943 when he commenced training flights in Catalina 1b (PBY-5B), serial FP270 as second pilot to F/O Cowle beforethe crew joined 262 Squadron. 262 Squadron had been formed in late 1942 receiving its Catalinas in February 1943 prior to being sent to South Africa.
During the buildup to leaving for South Africa Bobby completed 72 hours as co-pilot to Johnny Cowle (who incidentally I met in 1989 at a corporate golf day). They left the UK on 25 February in FP270 arriving in Durban on 28 March after 72 hours flying time, however, they did not fly every day. The route taken was Stranraer – Mount Batten – Gibraltar – Bathurst – Jui – Lagos – Libreville – Leopoldville – Stanleyville – Kisumu – Mombasa – Tulear – Durban. Test flights were flown out of Jui and Mombasa.
The main function of 262 Squadron was convoy escorting and anti submarine patrols. The squadron established other bases, one at St Lucia about 170 miles north of Durban and Langebaan roughly 80 miles north west of Cape Town. My father spent time at both of these “satellite” bases. Over the course of the next 18 months he flew numerous patrols with what seemed, well from the logbook at least, nothing out of the ordinary.
The convoys that the squadron escorted were those prefixed DC – Durban to Cape Town, DN – Durban northwards, MC – Aden to Cape Town via Kilindini (Mombasa) and Durban, CM – Cape Town to Aden, WS – UK to Suez Canal and then to Mumbai and CB – Durban to Beira. Thanks to the internet, in particular the late Arnold Hague’s Ports Database www.convoyweb.org.uk I was able to find details of some of the individual ships that were escorted by the squadron. In the main he flew as 2nd pilot with Johnny Cowle in FP270. There were occasions when he flew in other Catalinas, see list at the end.
Whilst my father had no direct contact with U boats, well nothing in his logbook, he did fly on at least one occasion with each of the squadron members who were involved in the U boat kills attributed to 262 Squadron. The individual aircraft FP174 in which F/Lt Nash sank the UIT-22 on 11 March 1944 was one of the aircraft that my father flew. FP174 had been on the strength of 210 Squadron as mentioned in the article about John Coulson featured in Issue 90 of The Catalina News.
Bobby’s tour with 262 Squadron ended in autumn 1944. He had flown 62 sorties totalling 866.15 hours. At this point in his RAF career his total hours stood at 1416 hours 10 minutes. A spot of leave must have been granted to give him the chance to catch up with my mother and my sister who had been born in May 1943, I didn’t arrive until December 1955!
The next posting was to 131 O.T.U. at Killadeas where his Catalina flying continued with a combination of local flying, air tests and the odd transit flight to and form Felixstowe. It was during April 1945 that my father had his only flight in a Sunderland W6007 when he was second pilot to F/O Stephens on a transit flight to Wig Bay. As there is no record of him being a passenger on a flight he presumably travelled by train to Felixstowe to be able to return to Killadeas in Catalina IV JX218 on the 12th sharing the main piloting duties with W/O Barrell.
War in Europe came to an end in May 1945. There was no flying for Bobby in May, however, on 21 June he undertook photographic flights totalling 1 hour 45 minutes with a Sunderland V for an Army Film Unit. These flights were from the Catalina Flight stationed at Castle Archdale. July’s flying was limited to an air test in Catalina IV JX261 on the 26th and a transit flight to Sullom Voe on the 27th returning on the 29th. For these latter flights he shared the flying duties with G/C Burgess.
Flying in August 1945 comprised a flight to and from Wig Bay and the following day Bobby flew a 6 hour sortie with F/O Gooding on an air sea rescue mission for a meteorological Halifax crew. One final air test lasting 1 hour 5 minutes in Catalina IV JX267 on 25 September again with G/C Burgess brought my father’s RAF flying career to an end.
Bobby McGill’s flying experience with the RAF lasted from 7 October 1941 to 8 October 1945 during which he flew a total of 1470 hours 10 minutes. Since returning from South Africa he had only flown 56 hours. In all he flew 10 different types of aircraft.
Civilian life beckoned and after several jobs over the years he retired, aged 60 from Shell & BP Scotland in 1975. Sadly he did not have many years to enjoy his retirement as he died in June 1984, aged 69.
262 Squadron Aircraft flown – all Catalina 1B – March 1943 – October 1944
FP118, FP174, FP226, FP236, FP251, FP254,FP257, FP270, FP274, FP279, FP284 and FP315. Other aircraft on squadron strength not flown by my father were FP129, FP159, FP185, FP265, FP288, FP322 and FP307. Some of these arrived after he returned from South Africa. Source – Flying Boat by Ivan Spring published 1995 by Spring Air Johannesburg. My father also flew the Avro Anson serial 1116 attached to the squadron.
131 OTU – Killadeas – all Catalina IV – February 1945 – May 1945
FP245, JV934, JX216, JX218, JX248, JX274, JX309, JX379, JX412, JX422, JX424, JX425, JX578 and JX935.
Catalina Flight – Castle Archdale – all Catalina IV – June 1945 – August 1945
JX205, JX222, JX255, JX261 and JX267.