Dick Hunt's Blog

August 30, 2011

The Stranraer Story Isn’t Over.

Filed under: Current — Dick Hunt's Blog @ 11:41 am

The Stranraer Story Isn’t Over.

by Dick Hunt, August 30th, 2011.

Today I back up and cover more Flying Boat History. Bella Bella was a wartime Bomber and Reconnaissance station with the R.C.A.F. and charged with keeping an eye on the North West Pacific region. Mot of the Japanese activity was in the Aleutian Island Chain, a long curving Archipelago bordering Southern Alaska and the Barents Sea.  It was partially occupied by the Japanese from early 1942 until the end of hostilities in 1945. Our planes were charged with the Patrol of the North West Pacific region as far as they were able to reach and still get home without refueling.  That severely limited our part of the operation, which was taken up by the United States forces, Army, Navy and Air Force.

Our planes were pretty ancient, slow and limited but we did maintain a presence  and did what we could.  We had some Army Personnel in the Aleutians put ashore in very difficult weather and living conditions throughout those years. I will report chiefly what I was involved with in the maintenance of our Stranraer Planes and some of the ridiculous accidents that occurred.   The first event that I was able to know about was a blunder made by one of the First Pilots who loved to fly low and fast just skimming the waves with his Stranraer. The problem was that there was a fishing boat in his path as he swerved around the point of an Island and he hit the trolling “masts”, taking them with him and endangering the fishermen.  He got away with that, as I understand and went on with his career.  The second incident, again with a Stranraer was flying at wave top close to the shoreline as he passed the point where the C.O. had his home, taking his wife’s clothes line and laundry with him with his wing tip float.  Again, he seemed to get away with it.  The third time he landed near the Slipway much too low and close to shore, striking a reef and tearing a hole in the Aluminum Hull when the reef stopped his momentum.
That time I was involved with a small crew, making very temporary repairs with felt bed mattresses stuffed in the hole, pumping the water out as the tide receded and then sitting on the mattresses to keep them in place as the tide rose again. With a couple of crash boats pulling it carefully to the slipway, our riggers were able to affix the beaching gear  and a tractor pulled the Plane onto the tarmac and into a hanger for repairs.

Some time later Larry Goodwill and I were sent to  tiny Spider Island farther offshore where we were installing a Radar Base and we flew over in old 915.  The Pilot made a rough landing near the docking area and the tail section fell off in the water.  A crew was sent over by boat  to make repairs and make the Plane Airworthy again and in due course we flew back to base in it. The Island was about one quarter of a mile wide and a mile long, rising from sea level to around 400 feet in altitude and was mostly bare rock. We were there on Easter Sunday and the crew which came to repair the plane brought some mail, including a letter from my Mother.  I was greatly blessed!

Not long after that trip, our first Canso amphibian flying boats arrived at Bella Bella piloted by the C.O. of the station.  The weather was calm, not a breath of wind and the surface of the bay was glassy.  In that condition it is almost impossible to determine where sea and air divide.  The first landing approach resulted in a vigorous bounce back into the air, as did six more attempts.  Finally the C.O. turned over control to his Pilot Officer in the right seat, who managed a good landing. The problem would have been avoided, I was told, if someone had gone out in a motor driven dinghy and “stirred the waters” so it would have been clearly seen where water and air met.  We were all duly impressed with our Canso.  With her 102 foot wingspan she was just able to fit into our hangars. And, with internally fitted extra fuel tanks 15 man crews were able to patrol for up to 24 hours without refueling.
Back now to our sea skimming Captain.  After being duly checked out as competent to Captain the Canso, he took off as planned just before sunup for a patrol, down the channel between Denny Island and Campbell Island. He had all his charts,  necessary data and flight plan. But he made a left turn near the south end of Denny Island without enough clearance under his Port Wing and sliced off the trunk of a tall fir tree.  Unfortunately the wing also came off as did the Port engine and fuel tank.  The ful sprayed the mountainside and the conflagration blackened the mountain. The Air Gunner was in the gun blister which was carried away with him in it.  Miraculously, he was barely injured as he slithered down the slope through the trees.  And he was able to make his way down the mountain three miles to the shore and hail a fishing boat to alert Bella Bella.

The Flight Engineer was not so fortunate as he was carried away with the wing from his station under the centre of the wing and was killed.  He was to leave for Ontario to be married very soon after that flight.  The other five crew members did a rapid exit from the remainder of the hull through the forward escape hatch and suffered only flash burns and the abrasions from a slide down an almost vertical cliff.  The wreck had been stopped at the edge of the cliff by a large tree. In due course a crew of about forty men was transported by sea around the Island and we made our way up a watercourse to the crash site to clean up the mess.  Food supplies and some cooking utensils were taken along for each day we were up there, and we were taking down with us each day whatever was of value and recycling  classified secret items each evening. One of the fitters was given the job of cook. He rescued a piece of steel armor plate from the wreck for his stove top, placed it on four rocks suitably placed and built his fire underneath.  Then he dumped all the food in the one large pot and we had stew. We were hungry and it tasted great, even the egg shells.  When the job was done, he resigned as cook.
Taking the retrieved materials and equipment down to the beach was a major operation. Near the crash site we had to cross the stream on a large log, felled for the purpose. On one of my trips to the beach, with about 80 pounds on my back, I lost my balance and fell into the mud on the edge of the stream.  With  such a load fastened to my back I was totally helpless.  Very soon, a young Pilot Officer came down the trail in his spotless and very new uniform.  Seeing me there, he ordered me to jump to my feet and salute him.  I tried to explain why I couldn’t but he didn’t hear me. He was angry.  Then, along came a Squadron Leader who seeing me, instantly knew why I was there and ordered the irate Pilot Officer down into the mud to rescue me. And he complied, with ill will and fire in his eye.  I never did learn why he was there unless it was to rescue me from the mud, some of which messed up his new clothes.

So ended the life of our first new Canso.  And so ended the employment of the Captain of the dead Canso who soon departed for elsewhere. The Canso’s soon proved their worth and their toughness.  A call for the rescue of a seriously ill Seaman from a Naval Ship off Prince Rupert brought a Canso to their aid. The pilot, a Squadron Leader, landed in seas with ten foot waves and with motors running for stability, was able to take the man aboard from a ships’ motor boat and get him to the emergency ward in Prince Rupert for surgery. The man was saved from dying of a ruptured appendix. Not long after the rescue of the seaman, I was transferred to Calgary and lost track of the adventurous lives of flying boats and crews. But I must mention one more incident. One of the Pilots on our station married a wife and needed a cabin, which I helped him build, off station.  As a thank you, he allowed me the courtesy of the right hand seat in his Canso on a flight test and even tentatively  let me take the controls in level flight. I soon retired.


  1. Dick, I would love to get in touch with you. My father was with 9(BR) Sqdn.

    Comment by Doug Barry — April 26, 2012 @ 8:41 am

  2. Thanks for the Stranraer stories.Very enjoyable. My dad was a Wireless Air Gunner with 9BR Sqdn. He had a story or two about Stranraer crashes.

    Comment by John Maysmith — May 30, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

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