In 1944, a total of 138 PBN-1 Nomads were made available to the U.S.S.R. by the United States under its Lend-Lease program. Of these, 48 were destined for Russia’s Northern Fleet (Bu numbers 02795 to 02856).
An improved version of Consolidated Aircraft’s PBY-5 Catalina flying boat, the PBN-1 was manufactured by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The finished aircraft were ferried from Philadelphia to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where the U.S. Navy had a wartime base at the Coast Guard Station. After U.S. Navy acceptance, they were formally transferred to the Soviets. As part of the Lend-Lease agreement, the U.S. Navy provided aircraft-specific training to approximately 300 Soviet airmen at Elizabeth City in April 1944. The whole operation was known as Project Zebra.
Since delivery would be by air via the North Atlantic route pioneered by the British ferry organization, the Royal Air Force Transport Command (RAFTC) was made responsible for dispatching the aircraft from Elizabeth City in groups of three or four. The first PBN-1s for the Russian Northern Fleet left Elizabeth City on May 25, 1944, and the last departed on July 27, 1944.
To bridge the language gap during critical activities such as weather briefings, filing flight plans and radio communications, the RAFTC assigned a pilot and radio operator to accompany each Russian crew to Gander, Newfoundland, and on to Reykjavik, Iceland. From that point, the Russian crews continued alone to Murmansk, in the Soviet Union.
About the List
The present list covers the 48 PBN-1s destined for Russia’s Northern Fleet organized by date of departure from Elizabeth City and consequently reflects the groups in which the aircraft were dispatched. At a second level, it shows the name of the RAFTC captain on board each aircraft, identified by its Bu number. The date of arrival in Reykjavik is also given. Details of any diversions are included.
This list builds on the work of Joseph F. Baugher as published in US Navy and US Marine Corps BuNos Third Series.
A companion article PBN-1 Nomads through Gander for Russia appears on Flights of History here.
Information on routes, dates and the names of RAFTC pilots comes from Gander Airport, Record of Internal Flights, May 1943 – December 1945 (GN 166.10, box 1, The Rooms Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador).
Supplementary details were taken from selected crew assignment cards held at the Directorate of History and Heritage, Canada Department of National Defence (DHH 84/44). Since the PBN-1 Nomads were dispatched in groups of three or four travelling together, the date of arrival has been established from the assignment card for one captain per group.
The Operations Record Book for RCAF Station Sydney for July 1944 was also consulted.
The three-view drawing of the PBN-1 is from “PBN-1 Nomad SEAPLANE Flight Characteristics,” a document of the U.S. Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department dated May 1, 1944, reproduced by the Catalina Preservation Society.
A few points to note:
- Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949
- the PBN-1 flying boats landed at Gander Lake
- the RAFTC operated on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
May 25 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
May 27 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
May 28 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
June 3 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
June 1 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
June 11 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
June 4 1944 – Elizabeth City to Dartmouth (diverted from Gander due to weather)
June 5 1944 – Dartmouth to Gander
June 10 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
02828 – Not in Internal Flight record
Baugher’s entry reads: Delivered 4Jun44 by No. 45 Group, Royal Air Force from Elizabeth City, N.C. via Gander, Newfoundland to Reykjavik, Iceland. Handed over to Russians for onward delivery to Murmansk. Delivered to The Soviet Navy as 02827. Departed Elizabeth City 4Jun44.
June 10 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
June 14/15 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik overnight
June 10 1944 – Elizabeth City to Argentia (diverted for lack of mooring space at Gander)
June 12 1944 – Argentia to Gander
June 14 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
June 11 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
June 14/15 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik overnight
|Capt. Webber||02826||Crashed on Sørøya Island, Norway, June 17 1944, Col. V. N. Vasilyev in command|
June 29 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
July 1/2 – Gander to Reykjavik overnight
July 1 1944 – Elizabeth City to Sydney (diverted from Gander due to weather)
July 2 1944 – Sydney to Gander
July 4 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
July 5 1944 – Elizabeth City to Dartmouth (diverted from Gander due to weather)
July 6 1944 – Dartmouth to Gander
July 9 1944 – Departed Gander for Reykjavik – Diverted to Goose Bay due to weather
July 11 1944 – Goose Bay to Reykjavik
July 8 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
July 9 1944 – Departed Gander for Reykjavik – Returned to Gander Lake due to weather
July 11 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
July 15 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
July 16 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik
July 21 1944 – Elizabeth City to Gander
July 24/25 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik overnight
NOTE: The original entry in the Internal Flight Record for this group shows Bu02813 – Capt. Perlick; Bu02816 – Capt. Ruggles; and Bu02824 – Capt. Hawthorne. The names were changed in blue on the flight log as shown above. These pairings correspond with entries on the crew cards for Baird and Perlick. DHH found no cards for Hawthorne.
July 27 1944 – Elizabeth City to Dartmouth
July 29 1944 – Dartmouth to Gander
July 30 1944 – Gander to Reykjavik – Bu02823 arrived Reykjavik on July 31
PBN-1 Nomads to the Soviet Pacific, Black Sea and Baltic Fleets
The 48 PBN-1s allocated to the Soviet Northern Fleet represented only part of the total 138 to be delivered to Russia under the U.S. Lend-Lease program. Thirty Nomads for the Soviet Pacific Fleet were ferried by the U.S. Navy to Kodiak, Alaska, in late August and early September 1944. Russian crews then ferried them from Kodiak to Vladivostok. Another 60, destined for the Soviet Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, left Elizabeth City between late September 1944 and late March 1945. RAFTC provided safety crews including a flight engineer for this last group which went through Brazil and North Africa to Lake Habbaniyah in Iraq. Russian crews ferried the Nomads on to Sevastopol in Crimea.
PBN-1 Nomads Delivered to the U.S. Navy
Only 17 of the 156 PBN-1 Nomads produced saw service with the U.S. Navy. The Bu numbers given by Baugher for these aircraft are: 02791- 02794; 02796; 02799; 02801; 02803 – 02805; 02807 – 02808; 02821; 02838 – 02839; 02840; and 02851.
One PBN-1 was lost in the factory. Baugher notes that the original Bu02946 was damaged by fire on the production line in December 1944. Its serial number was then reassigned to Bu02802, which was diverted for Lend-Lease to the U.S.S.R. as Bu02946. This accounts for the entire production of 156 PBN-1s.
This list would not have been possible without Joseph F. Baugher’s extensive work on U.S. aircraft serials, specifically his third series of U.S. Naval serials.
For research assistance, my thanks to Emilie Vandal, Chief Archivist, Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH), Department of National Defence, Government of Canada, and to Major Mathias Joost (Ret’d.), former member of the Operational Records Team at DHH, both of whom provided numerous crew assignment cards for members of RAF Transport Command and its predecessors. Thanks also to Darrell Hillier for sharing background documents, and to Ian Macdonald for comments on the list format and for proofreading the end result.
List compiled by Diana Trafford in July 2021. Your comments and corrections are welcome.
Revised 8 August 2021 to include explanatory note re group that left Elizabeth City on 21 July 1944.
Revised 17 August 2021 to remove reference under 1 June 1944 to Bu02846 being reserialled from 02802. Thanks to Torben Jensen for pointing out that the reserialled number of Bu02802 was in fact 02946.