“The Luck of the Draw” (Pt 2) - from the logbooks of a WWII Catalina engineer.

“The Luck of the Draw” (Part 2) – a story from the Catalina Archives

In the Spring edition of our CONTACT newsletter we featured Part 1 of a story from Philip Cook, taken from one of the detailed logbooks his father, Allan George Cooke, a 1st Engineer on Catalinas in 20 Squadron, kept during his WWII service as member of a Catalina flying boat crew.  Part 2 continues this story…                                                   

“During October 1944 we were transported to Nadzab (New Guinea) thence by C54 “Skymaster” via Guadalcanal, Canton Island, Kaniohe to San Francisco. On arrival at San Francisco we were cleared by the authorities and transported to the “Palace Hotel”. We were quick to realize that on RAAF pay we could not stay there. Fortunately, a crewmate and I through a personal introduction to a delightful lady, we were able to obtain board and lodging at a nominal rate (usually this lady only took in a few Naval officers). Note she was the widow of the late Captain Tom Kearney, Commander of the original battleship “Oklahoma”.

We still needed sufficient “everyday” money and were both able to find employment with the Turko Persian rug & cleaning Co., Van Ness Ave. San Francisco. All our crewmembers worked at a variety of jobs during this period. When advised we were to travel to San Diego to pick up our aircraft, we did not know at the time that a manufacturing problem would cause a two-month delay. This we did not resent owing to “above average” American hospitality. When finally called we travelled by rail to Los Angeles and spent a few interesting days in Hollywood. We were personally entertained by Rudy Vallee (not a nudist camp as Dad would say! – P.Cook), Sir C. Aubrey Smith (actor and ex English cricketer). Also, many others in passing which all make for memories.

However, the great day came and we travelled South to pick up our new aircraft. After a successful test flight, and at approximately 4pm on 15th December 1944, we took off from San Diego and headed West, soon to fly into darkness for 16 hours. Somewhere and sometime in the night it was disclosed that “ostensibly” we were lost! Our navigator hadn’t fully comprehended the new navigation equipment and its application. The need to climb “upstairs” for a “star shot” entailed more revs and boost, and consequently more fuel usage. We were fortunate in that the higher altitude provided a clear sky and we were enabled once again to get our bearings. By this time additional fuel usage entailed that we seek an alternative to Kaniohe (Hawaiian Islands), so we set course for Hilo Bay (nearer).

Come the dawn and the sight of scarlet bougainvillaea’s (now I know why he always loved bougainvillaea’s, and he died right next to one of the same colour – PCook) cascading down the cliff face at Hilo Bay restored my depressed feelings – by now we had been in the air for 24 hours. After landing, my job as Flight Engineer was to check on fuel remaining, as I knew one tank was empty and the other just flashing blue at tank bottom – yes, 90 octane was dyed blue.

Fuelled again we then returned safely to Australia via Palmyra Island and Fiji. Ironically as it was now Christmas Eve, guess what? My crewmate and I were placed on standby flying duties whilst the pilots went home for Christmas dinner!

Signed A.G. COOKE

(All events stated in my true story can be verified by reference to my logbook)

Editor’s Note: You can also find Part 1 of this story from AG Cooke’s log book on the Catalina Branch page of our website: https://afavic.org.au/content/757/branch-catalina.


Above:  US C54 Skymaster, circa 1943 - Converted Douglas DC4.

Above: San Diego Consolidated Catalina PBY-5A, circa 1943.

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