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The Scratch Affair Part 1


The RCAF Gander Station Diary has an interesting entry on July 18, 1944. It's rather short and to the point with little detail: "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." There is no mention of what happened at the court marshall. Donald P. Scratch was born in Saskatchewan, July 7, 1919, and enlisted in the RCAF in Edmonton on July 20, 1940. He progressed through the lower ranks and earned his wings as a Sergeant pilot. He was posted to Gander, and was assigned copilot on a Liberator Bomber (B-24) flying antisubmarine patrol. Mr. Scratch was a natural pilot, and was promoted to the commissioned rank of Flying Officer.

Aviation - The RCAF Gander Station Diary has an interesting entry on July 18, 1944. It's rather short and to the point with little detail: "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." There is no mention of what happened at the court marshall.

Donald P. Scratch was born in Saskatchewan, July 7, 1919, and enlisted in the RCAF in Edmonton on July 20, 1940. He progressed through the lower ranks and earned his wings as a Sergeant pilot. He was posted to Gander, and was assigned copilot on a Liberator Bomber (B-24) flying antisubmarine patrol. Mr. Scratch was a natural pilot, and was promoted to the commissioned rank of Flying Officer.

Flying Officer Scratch accumulated hundreds of hours flying the giant Liberators and seemed in line for a promotion in rank and the position of captain. The Commanding Officer of the squadron, known as 10BR (Bomber Reconnaissance), held him back because of slight build and an ankle injury he had suffered. It seemed that his boss didn't think Flying Officer Scratch would not have the strength to control a Liberator in an emergency. It didn't help matters that the captains that Flying Officer Scratch was flying with had less experience that he did.

He requested a posting overseas, but was told that he was needed in Gander. Apparently, Flying Officer Scratch became very depressed. On the evening of June 19, 1944, he was in the mess hall and in hot debate concerning whether one man could fly a Liberator. It is not beyond the realm of possibilities that the debaters were consuming some alcoholic beverages. In any case, Flying Officer Scratch was hotly insisting that one man alone could successfully take off, fly the aircraft, and land again

That's when the Scratch Affair began.

It seems difficult to believe today, but Flying Officer Scratch left the mess, went down to the hangar, fired up a Liberator, and took off. That's the short version. But just how did he do it? All of the aircraft were guarded. All had ground personnel to assist when they start up. Were the hangar doors open? It doesn't say. Did he tell the guards he was going aboard to get something he left behind on the last mission? We don't know. Did the guards try to stop him when he started the engines - all four? Don't know. What were the ground crews thinking? Good question.

With a load of unanswered questions, Flying Officer Scratch guided the big bomber to the runway and took off all by himself.

He made some low passes over the field at Gander, threw the Liberator around like a fighter, flew between hangars, skimmed rooftops, blew pebbles off tarred roofs and rattled windows. Then he headed off for Argentia. The US control tower at Argentia didn't know what was happening when the Liberator showed up without warning and made a low pass over the field. After several more low passes and no radio contact, the Americans sent up two P-40 Kittyhawk fighter aircraft to see what, as one of the fighter pilots probably put it, "to see what this nut is up to."

When the fighters got close to the Liberator they saw that the cockpit was empty. Then they saw Flying Officer Scratch in the mid-upper turret. He had put the aircraft on autopilot and was rotating the turret with guns that were armed and operational.

The American fighter pilots tried unsuccessfully to get Flying Officer Scratch to land. He waved at the pilots, went back to the cockpit and turned the aircraft for Gander. By this time everyone seemed to know what was going on and a crowd of military personnel had gathered near the hangar when Flying Officer Scratch taxied the bomber in.

The Commanding Officer had ordered the military police to arrest Flying Officer Scratch the minute he stepped off the aircraft.

Some one could probably hear him say as he was escorted to the lock-up, "I told you I could fly that thing alone."

Next week's column will reveal what happened to Flying Officer Scratch.

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