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Corgi 1:72 Consolidated Catalina IVA JV928 ‘Y’ F/Off Alexander Cruickshank VC 210 Sqn July 1944

Corgi 1:72 Consolidated Catalina IVA JV928 ‘Y’ F/Off Alexander Cruickshank VC 210 Sqn July 1944

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  • Product Code: AA36111
  • 1:72 Scale Diecast Model
  • Diecast Aviation Model
  • Interchangeable Undercarriage
  • Stand Included
  • Limited Edition
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Consolidated Catalina IVA JV928 ‘Y’, F/Off John Alexander Cruickshank VC, RAF No.210 Squadron, Sullom Voe, Shetland Islands, 17th July 1944 – the sinking of U-361.

As an Island nation, Britain would rely heavily on the contribution of long ranging maritime patrol aircraft during WWII, particularly the flying boats and brave crews of Coastal Command. Working alongside the mighty Short Sunderland, the American built Consolidated Catalina proved to be one of the most successful aircraft of its type, able to mount patrols which sometimes exceeded eighteen hours in duration and more than capable of destroying any enemy shipping they encountered along the way. During one such patrol on 17th July 1944, Catalina JV928, piloted by Scotsman John Cruickshank, was five hours into a mission west of the Lofoten Islands in the Norwegian Sea, when the crew obtained a radar signal from the sea below. Aware that the Royal Navy were reportedly in the area, the aircraft flew down for a closer look, only to be confronted by German U-boat U361 and its compliment of anti-aircraft guns. Immediately preparing to go on the offensive, Cruickshank executed a perfect attack run, only to see the depth charges to fail to release from the aircraft. Determined to press home their attack and with the weapon issue now resolved, the Catalina was brought in for a second run, this time into a hail of well aimed shells from the U-boat crew now fully aware of the aircrafts destructive intentions. Taking multiple hits to the front of the Catalina and inflicting significant injuries on crew members, the attack resulted in the depth charges deploying at exactly the right moment, straddling the U-boat and causing its destruction. John Cruickshank had suffered 72 wounds during the frenetic attack, but despite the pain and loss of blood, refused morphine so he could remain alert to help his inexperienced co-pilot land the aircraft following the five hour return flight. For his part in this action, John Cruickshank was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Although the Battle of Britain is regarded by most people to be the RAF’s most decisive victory of WWII, the constant struggle to protect Britain’s vital sea lanes against German U-boats and surface raiders proved arguably more decisive. It is difficult to imagine the mental and physical strain placed on the crews of Coastal Command aircraft, who were forced to endure arduous patrols, often lasting many hours and having to constantly scan vast expanses of ocean for even the smallest sign of enemy activity. Should a target present itself, they would potentially have to launch an effective attack at short notice, aware that the enemy would be frantically attempting to disappear below the waves or were preparing to defend themselves with every gun at their disposal. Add to this the knowledge that they were still many miles and several hours flying time from the safety of their home base and completely exposed should the engagement leave them with damage to their aircraft, or injuries to crew members and you understand why these men are viewed with such admiration to this day. As if to underline the perilous nature of these missions, four brave Coastal Command airmen were awarded Britain’s highest award for gallantry in the presence of the enemy, the Victoria Cross during the Second World War, but only one survived to receive the honour in person – Flying Officer John Alexander Cruickshank, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, RAF No.210 Squadron.

As the crew of Consolidated Catalina IVA JV928 took off from their home base at Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands on 17th July 1944, they knew that many hours of open ocean lay ahead of them and as usual, they would be relying on their trusty flying boat to bring them home safely. Their patrol area would take them to the west of the Norwegian Island of Lofoten, on the approaches to the port of Narvik and its German submarine bases, but their briefing had warned them of Royal Navy activity in the area, making positive identification of vessels essential. Five hours into the sortie and patrolling in their assigned area, the crew detected surface vessel movement below on their radar and informed pilot John Cruickshank to go and investigate. As they approached, it quickly became clear that they had discovered a surfaced U-boat and the crew immediately prepared to attack – in 48 previous missions, the crew had only ever seen one U-boat, which had quickly slipped beneath the waves before they could sink it, so they were determined not to let this one get away.

As they prepared their attack run, the anti-aircraft guns of the U-boat burst into life and sent shells hurtling in the direction of the Catalina. Despite the incoming gunfire, Cruickshank expertly positioned his aircraft, ensuring that the depth charges would have the best chance to inflict maximum damage on the German vessel. Passing over the U-boat, the weapons were released and they waited for the sound of explosions, but there was nothing other than the drone of the engines and the crackle of anti-aircraft fire – the depth charges had failed to release. Instructing the crew to find out what the problem was, Cruickshank immediately prepared the Catalina for another attack run, with all the depth charges still intact and determined not to let the U-boat get away. As they started their attack run however, the U-boat gunners were now better prepared and had the opportunity to correctly sight their guns, bringing them fully to bear on the incoming Catalina, which was now flying into a wall of anti-aircraft fire. The aircraft suffered multiple hits, causing significant damage to the airframe and peppering the crew with bullets and shrapnel, but the Catalina defiantly held its course and pressed home the attack, with the depth charges this time releasing as intended and hitting their mark. U-361 was destroyed with the loss of all hands, but her gunners had left their mark on Catalina JV928 and her crew.

In the immediate aftermath of the engagement, the scene on board the Catalina must have been one of confusion and devastation as the crew assessed the damage to both aircraft and personnel. Despite being hit multiple times, the aircraft appeared to be operating normally, without any signs of immediate danger – the crew, however, had not faired quite so well. The navigator/bomb aimer had been killed during the attack and half of the remaining crew had suffered bullet or shrapnel injuries. John Cruickshank himself had been very badly wounded, with his crew believing that he may succumb to his injuries at any moment. With no less than 72 separate wounds, he had significant injuries to his lungs and lower body and was bleeding profusely, passing out from the pain almost immediately, with the injured co-pilot having to take control of the aircraft. Dragging him from his seat and resting him on a bunk aft of the cockpit, the able crew tended to his wounds as best they could and were about to administer morphine in the hope of make Cruickshank more comfortable, as he was clearly in severe pain. Passing in and out of consciousness, he refused the drugs and insisted on regaining command of the aircraft, needing to satisfy himself that the aircraft was airworthy and that a correct course for home had been plotted – even at this time, Cruickshank’s primary consideration was the welfare of his crew. With darkness descending and a perilous five hour journey across open water ahead of them in order to make it to their home base, Cruickshank finally accepted that everything was in hand and once again wrestled with consciousness as he attempted to cope with the agony of his wounds, but still refusing to accept any pain relief which he felt may impair his judgement.

To the amazement of everyone on board, Cruickshank survived the journey back to Sullom Voe and despite continual loss of blood and having severe difficulty breathing, he displayed exceptional leadership with one final act of bravery and devotion to duty. Once again caring only for the safety of his men, he knew that the co-pilot was not experienced enough to land the aircraft on the water and insisted he be dragged back to his pilot’s seat, where he could help to bring the aircraft safely home. With his injuries making this short journey agonising beyond belief, he eventually made it into position and regained command of the aircraft, immediately identifying that there was insufficient light for a safe landing and ordering his co-pilot to fly a holding pattern. This continued for the next hour, with Cruickshank fighting through the pain, having severe difficulty breathing and needing to be propped up in his seat by other crew members, but all the while passing instructions to the inexperienced pilot and checking the all important fuel levels. Finally, he judged that it was light enough for a landing to be attempted and he helped guide the damaged Catalina onto the water at Sullom Voe, even having the mental fortitude to safely beach the aircraft so it might easily be salvaged and returned to active duty in due course. Almost as soon as the base medical staff boarded the aircraft, Flying Officer Cruickshank finally collapsed and needed an immediate blood transfusion before he could be moved from the aircraft and taken to hospital.

Miraculously, John Cruickshank was to survive his terrible injuries, although they proved so severe that he would never fly in command of an aircraft again. For his actions in sinking U-361 and selfless heroism in ensuring the safety of his aircraft and crew following the engagement, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry in the presence of the enemy. Announcement of the honour was published in the London Gazette on 1st September 1944 and he was presented with the medal three weeks later by King George VI, at Holyrood House. His co-pilot during the action, Jack Garnett was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal at the same ceremony.

John Alexander Cruickshank was the only Victoria Cross recipient from RAF Coastal Command to survive the war and on leaving the RAF in 1946, he returned to his previous job in banking. In May 2018, the Centenary year of the Royal Air Force, John Cruickshank VC will be marking a significant celebration of his own - his 98th birthday.

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