As one of the most distinctive aircraft of WWII, the Consolidated PBY Catalina may appear somewhat ungainly at first view, but actually proved to be one of the most effective maritime patrol and attack aircraft of the war. With the ability to conduct maritime patrols deep into the ocean, Catalina crews would search for enemy shipping and either relay their position to nearby naval units, or attack the vessels themselves, using an array of bombs, depth charges and torpedoes. Able to land in all but the heaviest seas, the Catalina proved to be the saviour of many a downed airman, as this incredibly versatile aircraft provided the US Navy and other operators with an effective Search & Rescue capability, in tandem with its many offensive capabilities. Used extensively by the Royal Air Force, many Catalinas survived to see service long after the end of WWII.
On the morning of 7th December 1941, Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina 14-P-2 was undertaking a patrol off the coast of Hawaii, when Ensign Otto F Meyer Jr and his crew became aware of the Japanese attack against the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. At around 10am a formation of nine enemy aircraft passed directly in front of his aircraft, before turning in to attack. In the ensuing melee, Meyer skilfully flew his large flying boat to evade each enemy attack, whilst his gunners returned fire, inflicting damage on a number of the enemy aircraft. Running low on fuel and ammunition, the Japanese aircraft flew off in the direction of their carriers, leaving the bullet ridden Catalina to search for the Japanese Task Force.
Back at the Catalina’s home base at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, the Japanese attack had left a scene of absolute devastation, with many aircraft destroyed, or seriously damaged. Of the sixty-one Catalinas available on the island of Oahu that fateful morning, all but eleven aircraft were destroyed or severely damaged by the Japanese attack – all remaining serviceable Catalinas were ordered into the air to search for the Japanese Fleet.