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The Flying Officer Scratch Affair, part II


Last week's column cited an entry in the RCAF Gander Station Diary on July 18, 1944: "A General Court Marshall was convened today to try Flying Officer D.P. Scratch of 10 Squadron on three charges connected with low flying and unauthorized use of a 10-Squadron aircraft." Flying Officer Scratch had, singlehanded, and without authority, taken a huge Liberator Bomber, also known as a B-24, and had flown low passes over Gander and Argentia. Flying Officer Scratch had been co-pilot to less experienced captains, but had been refused promotion due to his slight stature and an injury to his ankle. He was flying Liberators on monotonous 20-hour antisubmarine patrols and wasn't happy with the assignment. He wanted a posting to a war zone. A heated debate had ensued with regard to whether one man could successfully take off, fly, and land a Liberator without help. The consensus was that it was impossible. There were too many switches, instruments, controls and taps. Flying Officer Scratch disagreed and took a Liberator and proved his point, but at great cost.

Last week's column cited an entry in the RCAF Gander Station Diary on July 18, 1944: "A General Court Marshall was convened today to try Flying Officer D.P. Scratch of 10 Squadron on three charges connected with low flying and unauthorized use of a 10-Squadron aircraft."

Flying Officer Scratch had, singlehanded, and without authority, taken a huge Liberator Bomber, also known as a B-24, and had flown low passes over Gander and Argentia. Flying Officer Scratch had been co-pilot to less experienced captains, but had been refused promotion due to his slight stature and an injury to his ankle. He was flying Liberators on monotonous 20-hour antisubmarine patrols and wasn't happy with the assignment. He wanted a posting to a war zone. A heated debate had ensued with regard to whether one man could successfully take off, fly, and land a Liberator without help. The consensus was that it was impossible. There were too many switches, instruments, controls and taps. Flying Officer Scratch disagreed and took a Liberator and proved his point, but at great cost.

When Flying Officer Scratch returned to Gander, he was placed under arrest, later court marshalled, and on Sept. 9, 1944, he was demoted to Sergeant and dishonourably discharged. The court-martial transcript recorded that he flew the Liberator "with considerable skill."

Flying Officer Scratch went back to Canada, and it seems incredible, but somehow he managed to re-enlist. He had 800 flying hours in his logbook. He was posted to No. 5 Operational Training Unit at Boundary Bay, BC, as a sergeant pilot. The unit had Liberator Bombers (B-24) and Mitchell Bombers (B-25).

On Friday morning, Dec. 6 at 4 a.m., Flying Officer Scratch walked out to where the Liberators were parked and signed one out, and then taxied the huge bomber onto the field. There was no flying scheduled and the tower was unmanned. The Liberator bomber is a huge aircraft powered by four 1,200-hp Pratt and Whitney supercharged engines. Flying Officer Scratch was five-foot, nine-inches and weighed only 135 pounds, but must have been incredibly strong because it took enormous strength to wrestle with the controls of the huge aircraft with its 110-foot wingspan.

There were no runway lights on, and Flying Officer Scratch lined up with what turned out to be a paved road. He taxied over a wooden bridge that was not designed to accommodate a 30-ton bomber, and all four propellers hit the hard-surfaced road. The nose wheel leg sheared off and the aircraft flopped on its belly. Flying Officer Scratch walked back to operations and said the Liberator was "unserviceable." He then signed out a Mitchell Bomber. The Mitchell had two engines and was smaller than the Liberator, but could fly at 285 mph.

Flying Officer Scratch taxied out and took off in pitch darkness. Then he flew the 170 kilometres to Seattle and buzzed the city at 5:50 a.m. He flew around office buildings and over residential neighbourhoods and then made several low-level passes over Seattle Airport.

The Western Air Command was alerted and gave the command that if the aircraft returned to Seattle and repeated his aerobatics, US fighter planes would be ordered to shoot him down.

Flying Officer Scratch then flew to Vancouver and made low passes over the city. He then flew to Vancouver Airport, where he made several low passes causing Trans Canada Airlines to cancel their flights.

Flying Officer Scratch's antics continued for several hours, and finally, he climbed, rolled the Mitchell over on its hack, aimed for a spot on the uninhabited Tilbury Island and dived vertically in.

The RCAF lost two bombers a B-24 Liberator and a B-25

Mitchell and one of its most gifted pilots, Sgt. Donald Palmer Flying Scratch of Maymont, Sask. He was 25.

References: Airforce Revue Magazine, Winter 08 by Pat Macadam; The RCAF Gander Station Diary; The United Sates Army Air Force Gander Diary.

The author and The Beacon wishes to acknowledge with thanks David Hanrahan's contribution to this column.

Next week: Wrong runway?

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