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Interpreting wartime photography: Catalina in Ceylon


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Hi all

 

I've began work on a 1/72 Airfix Catalina, inspired by the following photos, and wanted some thoughts about how to interpret it.

769px-Koggala_test_flight_1944.jpgmid_000000.jpg?action=e&cat=photographs

The same plane has been interpreted in the following colour plate:

raf-catalina.jpg

 

To my knowledge, this is a 205 Squadron aircraft, JX431, operating in that photo from the flying boat base at Koggala, Ceylon, in 1942. I've actually been past Koggala lagoon on the bus when I visited Sri Lanka, and as I find the scheme with blue SEAC roundels very fetching, I'd love to model it. That photo is a brilliant inspiration. IWM caption it as a Catalina Mk. IVb; AKA a PB2B-1, manufactured in Canada.

 

I feel the colour profile is basically accurate, although the photo shows the engine cowlings are wraparound white. A few things to note for building it from the Airfix kit:

- It's not amphibious, so Airfix's wheel wells need filling, and a small window added to the hole. 

- It has got the de-icer exhausts attached to the engines. An unusual feature! I expect this means the small de-icer scoop on the tail root is present too, although we can't see in this 

- The wings are heavily weathered, but I don't know how to interpret it. There are several areas with ruler-edge demarcations which clearly show different shades of grey. I'd love to model this.

- The photo just shows the fuel jettison pipes protruding from the trailing edge of the wing.

 

So, questions:

1) Can we assume, from the light circles around the wing roundels, that standard blue/red roundels have been overpainted? Why not just overpaint the central circle? I'm planning to paint a circle of lighter-coloured grey around my roundels on the model.

2) What might the dark grey square patch be on the left horizontal stabilizer? I know the ailerons were fabric, so maybe this is a sewn-on patch?

3) What could explain the very square, ruler-edge colour modulation at the centre of the wing? Particularly at the trailing edge, there is a very dark rectangle. 

4) Outboard of the roundels, we see some bizarre weathering, where dark streaks appear in a pattern like this: -|-|-|-       What might explain this? 

5) There are 2 small black rectangles on the upper wing. I've found little information on these and not all Catalinas had them, but I think they're related to the deicing system?

 

 

I'll throw a WIP up if you guys are interested. I'm doing a bit of interior scratching at the moment.

 

Hopefully this topic is of interest! I love trying to puzzle out the clues that photos like these give us. 

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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The SEAC roundels appeared in two stages, which for convenience I will call 1943 and 1944 standard - the dating is rather less than precise but it's about right.  In 1943 red was removed from the roundels, leaving a large white disc.  Some units did no more, others reduced the size of this disc by adding more dark blue.  In 1944 it was decided to replace the white with a new colour sometimes called SEAC White, but apparently fairly close to Azure Blue.  Simultaneously it was decided to reduce the size of the roundels.  That explains the size of the roundel on the upper wing, although the light appearance of the surround is odd.  Otherwise I'd suggest that we see a very faded EDSG with the area behind the engines repainted fresh because of scuff stains from working there and from the engines' exhausts.  It's not uncommon to see painted dark patches in the areas where exhaust staining occurs - e.g Fw190s, Bf109s, HeIIIs, and Lancasters postwar.  Partly because it makes them look tidy but also because it helps protect the metal from corrosive elements in the exhausts.  Beyond that I think that you'll have to get a bit imaginative.

 

The PB2B-1 often carried the later nose cupola with a circular gun position and a semi-circular raised section above the flat-top.   But not all RAF ones...

Edited by Graham Boak
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1 hour ago, mahavelona said:

What could explain the very square, ruler-edge colour modulation at the centre of the wing? Particularly at the trailing edge, there is a very dark rectangle. 

 

Hello Mahavelona Im currently building a 1/48 scale Catalina i can tell you regarding question #3 that area is all metal as its above the central pillar. Its a solid section of wing. What Graham said is quite valid as well. Im guessing thats why its dark as it hasn't faded as bad as the cloth to either side. The area ahead is a maintenance walkway area which accounts for the fading in front of the dark rectangle. Heres an example from the same article i found your aircraft in. Its a USN Blackcat and you can see the same effect on the upper wing

gmvOmQE.jpg

      As for your subject aircraft i have this photo from a scanned article from “Aircraft in Detail”. A fellow BM’r sent me last year. 

5SD5aNA.jpg

Which confirms your legwork in identifying the unit. I find it odd that an aircraft based in the indian ocean needs the aircraft heaters installed ? Thats what those structures on top of the cowlings are. If theres anything i can help with please ask. 

 

Dennis

Edited by Corsairfoxfouruncle
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Regarding point #4 , the bizarre weathering, on the inside of the wing at this location is the float retraction mechanism.

 

pbycutaway2.gif

 

The mechanism is a screw jack operating at 3000 r.p.m. it probably slings a lot of grease which seeps through the panel seams due to the low pressure above the wing.

 

Just a guess,

 

Garry c

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, mahavelona said:

5) There are 2 small black rectangles on the upper wing. I've found little information on these and not all Catalinas had them, but I think they're related to the deicing system?

Hello again ... This is possible but could they maybe be exhaust ports for a superchargering system ? Does anyone know if the Wright R-1830’s on PBY’s used superchargers ? Im not in my office so i cant look at my PBY book. Hmm nevermind i found the answer, its yes a single stage. Heres a link to the website i found it on. 

http://pbycatalina.com/specifications/

 

 

Dennis

Edited by Corsairfoxfouruncle
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All Catalinas had superchargers.  There's no reason to link small square outlets well outboard with anything to do with engines.  Fuel vents?  Look more like small access panels, but why so dark?

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Hello Graham @Graham Boak The fuel breathers are the little posts behind the loop on top in between the nacelle’s like in this photo. 

9ABQHa9.jpg

There are two fuel dump pipes underneath the wings one on each side outboard of the nacelles. 

Es3jpaN.jpg

I doubt the squares were fuel related. Graham do you think it could be an access panel misinterpreted, and added incorrectly to models though ? 

 

Dennis

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13 minutes ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Hello again ... This is possible but could they maybe be exhaust ports for a superchargering system ? Does anyone know if the Wright R-1820’s on PBY’s used superchargers ? Im not in my office so i cant look at my PBY book. Hmm nevermind i found the answer, its yes a single stage. Heres a link to the website i found it on. 

http://pbycatalina.com/specifications/

 

 

Dennis

 

PBY's were powered by P&W R-1830's, not Wright R-1820's. I'm sure they had superchargers, but mechanical driven ones, not exhaust-driven turbos.

 

 

Chris

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First of all, thankyou everybody for your fantastic replies. I didn't expect to learn so much, so quickly! I'm glad the topic is of interest.

 

16 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

The SEAC roundels appeared in two stages, which for convenience I will call 1943 and 1944 standard...

 

The PB2B-1 often carried the later nose cupola with a circular gun position and a semi-circular raised section above the flat-top.   But not all RAF ones...

Thanks for the info about the roundels Graham. Clearly I am wrong about the 1942 date! The lighter surrounding circles are still mysterious, I'm tempted to put it down to the old 'variation in shades of paint' explanation.

 

I like your idea about the re-painted rectangle. On an aircraft at sea there would be particular need to protect the metal from the elements.

15 hours ago, Corsairfoxfouruncle said:

Which confirms your legwork in identifying the unit. I find it odd that an aircraft based in the indian ocean needs the aircraft heaters installed ? Thats what those structures on top of the cowlings are. If theres anything i can help with please ask. 

 

Dennis

Thankyou so much for your scans Dennis. The caption provides a good confirmation that this is indeed a 1944-5 photograph, supporting what's said above. I'm not sure where I got 1942 from - 205 Squadron's Wikipedia page even says they operated catalinas from Koggala from 1942 onwards! I think your thoughts on the canvas and metal sections appearing differently probably hold true; I'm going to think about how I represent that in 72 scale.

15 hours ago, Garry c said:

Regarding point #4 , the bizarre weathering, on the inside of the wing at this location is the float retraction mechanism.

 

Garry c

Perhaps just a guess Garry, but I like it! Especially as it occurs along what look like panel lines. It explains why the staining appears to be from a liquid which is being slowly blown backwards during flight, if that makes sense.

7 hours ago, dogsbody said:

Chris that image is superb and explains the spots well. Thanks!

 

 

 

 

 

Regarding the mysterious de-icing system, which does indeed seem out of place for a tropical theatre. I've found ONE other image of Catalina IVbs with this unusual engine configuration, from the IWM collection:

large_000000.jpg

In this photo, the first and third Catalina in the line-up appear to have a wraparound-white painted engine, with the de-icers on top. The second plane in the line-up has EDSG painted on top of the cowlings, and no de-icers. IWM's caption for this image is: "Fitters of the RAF and Royal Indian Air Force work on the Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engine of a Consolidated Catalina at Korangi Creek, near Karachi, India.

So to learn more I'll have to track down which squadrons were based at Karachi... 

 

 

I've learnt from http://www.rafweb.org/Squadrons/Sqn201-205.htm that 205 squadron reformed in July 1942, from detachments from 202 and 240 squadrons. As such, I expect their aircraft varied somewhat, and we can also learn something about our plane from photos of those squadrons.

The same page says that 202 squadron operated Catalinas around Gibraltar area from 1941 until September 1944, when they moved up to Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. Google image search for 'Catalina 202 squadron' shows up lots of cats with the rock of Gibraltar in the background; none of them have de-icers attached and they're not in the Atlantic white/EDSG scheme we see here. 

 

Wikimedia gives us this image. It's a 240 squadron Catalina, 4th August 1945, at 'Red Hills Lake, Ceylon', which I haven't found a real location for. 

RAF_groundcrew_and_local_Singhalese_lowe[/ 

Notable features:

- Also has the lighter-coloured circle surrounding the SEAC roundels on the wings

- No visible squadron codes or lettering on the tail. I was planning to paint those onto my Catalina, so this might be an option if I'm feeling a little lazier with masking! 

- No de-icers, and the engine cowlings are painted EDSG on top. In this respect, this plane differs from our 205 squadron machine.]

 

Another great 240 squadron pic from IWM, from September 1944, at Red Hills Lake:

large_000000.jpg

VERY similar colour scheme but without the all-white engine cowlings, smaller inner circle on the roundels, and dark paint up the front of the tail. I'm guessing the dark line on the front plane's hull is algae growing at the waterline. 

 

So photographs of the 240 squadron machines in Sri Lanka don't suggest our 205 squadron plane came from 240 squadron. However....

http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/RAF/240_wwII.html

This link says that 240's catalinas patrolled the North Atlantic in 1941, from Ireland, and protected a convoy en route to northern Russia in late 1941, before the planes were moved to Red Hills Lake, Ceylon, in June 1942. Apparently they remained there until the war ended. 

 

This page: http://www.seawings.co.uk/Bases&PlacesGal-Castle Archdale.htm 

has many images of Catalinas in Ireland, some from 240 squadron; no de-icer gear to be seen anywhere...

 

SO I'd speculate that my 205 squadron machine is an ex-240 squadron machine, which has de-icer gear attached and looks so battered because it operated in the north Atlantic and up to Russia in 1941. 

 

Is my reasoning sound? Or am I crazy? If anyone has any other ideas, let's hear them! 

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This aircraft JX 431 is a late model Catalina IVB's  (PB2B-1's), these were only delivered in 1944 from the factory, they were configured to very late model PBY-5 specs with heated leading edges with the exhaust heat exchanger  (no black leading edge boots on wings or tail), these Catalina's came with .50's in the waist position not twin .303's like earlier RAF Catalina's, machines in Europe usually had the std nose turret with 1 x ,303 in it  rather than the 2 x .303 "eyeball" turret(for some reason the RAF didn't push to have these fitted despite the U-boat AA menace), 6 x PB2B-1's to the RAAF and 34 to the RNZAF in similar serial Blocks all had twin gun nose Eyeball turrets fitted, also these later Catalina's usually had the later ASV radar in the pod over the cockpit not the underwing aerials array, they were in the std late Coastal scheme of EDSG over white which faded very badly in the tropics (the RNZAF operated there's in this scheme , the RAAF repainted theirs Black before issue to Sqns) 

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1 hour ago, Sydhuey said:

, machines in Europe usually had the std nose turret with 1 x ,303 in it  rather than the 2 x .303 "eyeball" turret(for some reason the RAF didn't push to have these fitted despite the U-boat AA menace)

I suppose that, when faced with 37mm and quad 20mm cannon, the difference between 1x and 2x 0.303" is a bit academic.  

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27 minutes ago, Seahawk said:

I suppose that, when faced with 37mm and quad 20mm cannon, the difference between 1x and 2x 0.303" is a bit academic.  

2 is better than 1 , the RAF didn't put a lot of effort into upgrading armament , still had there heads in a dark place persisting with .303's, Australian, Canadian and Norwegian Sqn's all went to lengths to add extra guns to their Sunderland's and Cats but RAF Sqn's were stuck with inadequate armament .

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Coastal Halifaxes had 0.5in, some Sunderlands had four fixed forward-firing 0.5s.   I've no idea why Catalinas seemed to be ignored in this respect, although that they were slower and more vulnerable, thus being kept away from the more active sea areas, might have been part of the reason.  The RAF were trying to get 20mm to replace 0.303s, being more effective than 0.5s, but the Hispano was too large a gun to make turrets easy with early 1940s technology.  Might have been better with Oerlikons for turrets - an inferior gun but smaller and lighter.

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3 hours ago, mahavelona said:

I'm guessing the dark line on the front plane's hull is algae growing at the waterline. 

Hello again Mahavelona. By the way @Sydhuey is a good person to listen too, hes given me some help with my build as well. My sources have told me that the RAAF covered the lower hull in Lanolin below a certain point, as an anti-corrosive. I wonder if what you’re seeing in that photo is the lanolin ? Australia and Ceylon operating in similar environments. It could be that they both used the same ideas/materials. Not that im an expert but it seems plausable. 

 

Dennis

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Red Hills Lake is near Madras, so not Ceylon.

 

Karachi was where new aircraft arrived in India, and were (where necessary) modified to be suitable for the theatre.  In very of the immaculate appearance of the lower hulls, these all look like new aircraft.

 

Lanolin-based paints were used on other flying boats, I don't know about Catalinas,  to protect below the waterline; but I suspect that what the lower picture shows is just muck.

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3 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

Coastal Halifaxes had 0.5in, some Sunderlands had four fixed forward-firing 0.5s.   I've no idea why Catalinas seemed to be ignored in this respect, although that they were slower and more vulnerable, thus being kept away from the more active sea areas, might have been part of the reason.  The RAF were trying to get 20mm to replace 0.303s, being more effective than 0.5s, but the Hispano was too large a gun to make turrets easy with early 1940s technology.  Might have been better with Oerlikons for turrets - an inferior gun but smaller and lighter.

 

Sunderlands had 4 fixed .303's in the bow, below the turret, not .50's. The .50's were swivel mounted in side hatches.

 

 

Chris

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11 hours ago, Sydhuey said:

This aircraft JX 431 is a late model Catalina IVB's  (PB2B-1's), these were only delivered in 1944 from the factory, they were configured to very late model PBY-5 specs with heated leading edges with the exhaust heat exchanger  (no black leading edge boots on wings or tail), these Catalina's came with .50's in the waist position not twin .303's like earlier RAF Catalina's, machines in Europe usually had the std nose turret with 1 x ,303 in it  rather than the 2 x .303 "eyeball" turret(for some reason the RAF didn't push to have these fitted despite the U-boat AA menace), 6 x PB2B-1's to the RAAF and 34 to the RNZAF in similar serial Blocks all had twin gun nose Eyeball turrets fitted, also these later Catalina's usually had the later ASV radar in the pod over the cockpit not the underwing aerials array, they were in the std late Coastal scheme of EDSG over white which faded very badly in the tropics (the RNZAF operated there's in this scheme , the RAAF repainted theirs Black before issue to Sqns) 

This is fantastic information. Thankyou very much for this. It appears my speculations were wrong! I'm curious where you could find this out from? 

 

So, if I understand you correctly, this aircraft, JX 431 should likely have a radar dome over the cockpit? I had presumed otherwise because the picture of the Karachi Catalinas, which are the only SEAC catalinas I know with the same engine & de-icer configuration, shows no radar above the cockpit. I don't think either type of radar is visible in the JX 431 photo, unfortunately. I'm sure you are correct, mind, as your information source seems detailed and accurate! I only throw this up because you said these late catalinas usually have the ASV radar pod, which implies some likelihood JX 431 didn't. I'll admit I'd be a little dismayed to learn the Catalina I'm modelling has that radar, as I do feel it detracts from the aircraft's aesthetics. Hey ho! 

 

(Photo in the spoiler so you don't have to search up the thread)

Spoiler

large_000000.jpg

 

Edited by mahavelona
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8 hours ago, Graham Boak said:

Red Hills Lake is near Madras, so not Ceylon.

 

Karachi was where new aircraft arrived in India, and were (where necessary) modified to be suitable for the theatre.  In very of the immaculate appearance of the lower hulls, these all look like new aircraft.

 

Lanolin-based paints were used on other flying boats, I don't know about Catalinas,  to protect below the waterline; but I suspect that what the lower picture shows is just muck.

D'oh - no wonder I couldn't find a Sri Lankan Red Hills Lake. Sometimes it pays to google a little wider. Thank you for that. 

 

I've just done some quick reading on lanolin-based paints. It seems that the implication would be that algal growth isn't a problem? I've not found a wealth of information on this. Not got far in the stage of considering how to weather my catalina yet, but I'd assumed anything sitting in the water gets algae, even if the flight prevents bigger things like barnacles. Maybe I'm wrong though, I'd love any info about this!

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1 hour ago, mahavelona said:

D'oh - no wonder I couldn't find a Sri Lankan Red Hills Lake. Sometimes it pays to google a little wider. Thank you for that. 

 

I've just done some quick reading on lanolin-based paints. It seems that the implication would be that algal growth isn't a problem? I've not found a wealth of information on this. Not got far in the stage of considering how to weather my catalina yet, but I'd assumed anything sitting in the water gets algae, even if the flight prevents bigger things like barnacles. Maybe I'm wrong though, I'd love any info about this!

The Lanolin paint (Grey or Clear) was primarily for helping to water proof the hull below the water line, it certainly didn't

stop marine growth (barnacles, is one I can think of)

 

Japanese POW's re-applying Lanolin Paint on a Sunderland Far East.

Sunderland and Lanolin paint

 

Regards

 

Alan

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The photo of the Catalina in Karachi getting the engine worked on , the Cat in the background is a late IVB with an eyeball nose turret, late style radar housing over cockpit and a Leigh light under the right wing, JX431 COULD be in this config or the earlier single gun nose turret and under wing Radar antennas, unless you have a pic of the front of the aircraft or the history of the aircraft anything is possible.

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On ‎06‎/‎07‎/‎2018 at 12:15, Sydhuey said:

The photo of the Catalina in Karachi getting the engine worked on , the Cat in the background is a late IVB with an eyeball nose turret, late style radar housing over cockpit and a Leigh light under the right wing, JX431 COULD be in this config or the earlier single gun nose turret and under wing Radar antennas, unless you have a pic of the front of the aircraft or the history of the aircraft anything is possible.

Thanks for this! I must admit I only noticed the radar on that Karachi cat when I went to the IWM website and zoomed into the higher quality copy. I've not found any more detailed information on this aircraft than that photo so I guess it's a gamble either way. 

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