The Consolidated PBY Catalina

Operational history - Miltary

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Operational units

Operational photos


Roles in World War II

The final construction figure is estimated at around 4,000 aircraft, and these were deployed in practically all of the operational theatres of World War II. The PBY served with distinction and played a prominent and invaluable role in the war against the Japanese. This was especially true during the first year of the War in the Pacific, because the PBY and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress were the only two available aircraft with the range necessary. As a result they were used in almost every possible military role until a new generation of aircraft became available.


Anti-submarine warfare

PBYs were the most extensively used ASW aircraft in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters of the Second World War, and were also used in the Indian Ocean, flying from the Seychelles. One of their jobs was escorting convoys to Murmansk. By 1943, U-boats were well armed with anti-aircraft guns and two Victoria Crosses were won by Catalina pilots pressing home attacks on U-boats in the face of heavy fire: John Cruickshank RAF, in 1944 against U-347 and in the same year Flight Lt. David Hornell RCAF (posthumously) against U-1225. Catalinas destroyed 40 U-boats in total but suffered losses of their own. On December 7, 1941, Mitsubishi A6M fighters from Akagi attacked NAS Kaneohe Bay at Oahu, Hawaii, destroying or disabling all of the 33 PBYs stationed there.


Maritime patrol

In their role as patrol aircraft, Catalinas participated in some of the most notable engagements of World War II. The aircraft's parasol wing and large waist blisters allowed for a great deal of visibility; this, combined with its long range and endurance, made it well suited for the task.
  • A Coastal Command Catalina with a USN commander among the British crew which located the German battleship Bismarck on May 26, 1941 while she tried to evade Royal Navy forces.
  • A flight of Catalinas spotted the Japanese fleet approaching Midway Island, beginning the Battle of Midway.
  • An RCAF Canso flown by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall foiled Japanese plans to destroy the Royal Navy's Indian Ocean fleet on April 4, 1942 when it detected the Japanese carrier fleet approaching Ceylon (Sri Lanka).


Night attack and naval interdiction

Several squadrons of PBY-5As and -6As in the Pacific theater were specially modified to operate as night convoy raiders. Outfitted with state-of-the-art magnetic anomaly detection gear and painted flat black, these "Black Cats" attacked Japanese supply convoys at night. Catalinas were surprisingly successful in this highly unorthodox role. Between August 1943 and January 1944, Black Cat squadrons had sunk 112,700 tons of merchant shipping, damaged 47,000 tons, and damaged 10 Japanese warships. The Royal Australian Air Force also operated as night raiders, with RAAF four squadrons Nos 11,20,42 and 43 Catalinas mounting mine-laying operations from 23 April 1943 until July 1945 in the South West Pacific area deep into Japanese-held waters, that bottled up ports and shipping routes and kept ships in the deeper waters to become targets for the US Submarines; they tied up the major strategic ports such as Balikpapan that produced 80% of the Japanese oil supplies. In late 1944 their precison mining sometimes from as low as 200 feet in the hours of darkness in missions that sometimes exceeded 20 hours duration, one included the bottling up the Japanese fleet in Manila Bay planned to assist General MacArthur's landing at Mindoro in the Philippines. They also operating out of Jinamoc in Leyte Gulf, mined ports on the Chinese Coast from Hong Kong as far north as Wenchow. They were the only non American heavy bombers squadrons operating north of Morotai in 1945. The RAAF Catalinas regularly mounted nuisance night bombing raids on Japanese bases, they earned the motto of 'The first and the Furthest' as a testimony to their design and endurance. These raids included the major base at Rabaul. RAAF aircrews developed 'terror bombs', essentially empty beer bottles with razor blades inserted into the necks, these produced high pitched screams as they fell and kept Japanese soldiers awake and in fear of their life.


Search and rescue

PBYs were employed by every branch of the US military as rescue aircraft. A PBY piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Adrian Marks (USN) rescued 56 sailors from the USS Indianapolis after the ship was sunk during World War II. PBYs continued to function in this capacity for decades after the end of the war.


Early commercial use

PBYs were also used for commercial air travel. Still the longest commercial flights (in terms of time aloft) ever made in aviation history were the Qantas flights flown weekly from 29 June 1943 through July, 1945 over the Indian Ocean. To thumb their nose at the Japanese (who controlled the area), Qantas offered non-stop service between Perth and Colombo, a distance of 3,592 nm (5,652 km). As the PBY typically cruises at 110 knots, this took from 28-32 hours and was called the "flight of the double sunrise", since the passengers saw two sunrises during their non-stop journey. The flight was made with radio silence (because of the possibility of Japanese attack) and had a maximum payload of 1000 lbs or three passengers plus 65 kg of armed forces and diplomatic mail.


Post-WWII employment

With the end of the war, flying boat versions were quickly retired from the U.S. Navy, but amphibians remained in service for many years. The last Catalina on active U.S. service was a PBY-6A operating with a Naval Reserve squadron, retired 3 January 1957. It must be noted a PBY was being maintained at Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines, as late as 1968. The PBY subsequently equipped the world's smaller armed services, in fairly substantial numbers, into the late 1960s.

The USAF Strategic Air Command had PBYs (OA-10s) in service from 1946 through 1947.

The Brazilian Air Force flew Catalinas in naval air patrol missions against German submarines starting in 1943. The aircraft also performed air mail service. In 1948 a transport squadron was formed and equipped with PBY-5As converted to the role of amphibian transport. The 1st Air Transport Squadron (ETA-1) was based in the port city of Belem and flew Catalinas and C-47s in well-maintained condition until 1982. Catalinas were convenient for supplying military detachments scattered among the Amazon waterways. They reached places where only long range transport helicopters would dare go. ETA-1 insignia was a winged turtle with the motto "Though slowly, I always get there". Today, the last Brazilian Catalina (ex-RCAF) is displayed at the Airspace Museum (MUSAL), in Rio de Janeiro.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau used a PBY-6A (N101CS) as part of his diving expeditions. His second son, Philippe, was killed while attempting a water landing in the Tagus river near Lisbon, Portugal, June 28, 1979. His plane had just been repaired when he took it out for a flight. As he landed, one of the plane's propellers separated, cut through the cockpit and killed the younger Cousteau.

Of the few dozen remaining airworthy Catalinas, the majority are in use today as aerial firefighting planes.

China Airlines, the official airline of the Republic of China (Taiwan) was founded with two PBY amphibians.




The Catalina affair

The Catalina affair was an incident on June 13, 1952, when a Swedish military DC-3 flying over the Baltic Sea carrying out signals intelligence gathering operations for the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment, disappeared east of the Isle of Gotland. Three days later, two Swedish military Catalina flying boats searched for the DC-3 north of Estonia. One of the planes was shot down by Soviet warplanes but the crew ditched near the West German freighter Münsterland and were rescued.

The USSR denied shooting down the DC-3, but a few days later a life raft with Soviet shell shrapnel was found. In 1956, while meeting the Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev admitted that the Soviet Union had shot down the DC-3. This information was not released to the public at the time.

In 1991, the Soviet air force admitted it had shot down the DC-3. In the summer of 2003, a Swedish company found the remains of the downed DC-3 by using sonar. Some time later the Catalina was also found, 22 kilometers east of the official splashdown point.

Bullet holes showed that the DC-3 was shot down by a MiG-15 fighter. The exact splash down time was also determined, as one of the clocks in the cockpit had stopped at 11:28:40 CET. To this date the remains of only five of the eight-man crew have been found.

Military operators




The Royal Australian Air Force ordered its first 18 PBY-5s (named Catalina) in 1940, around the same time as French purchase. Some of which would be used to re-establish the British-Australian airlink through Asia (see Order of the Double Sunrise). By the end of the war the RAAF had taken delivery of 168 Catalinas. The RAAF used Catalinas in a wide range of roles including reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols, offensive mine-laying and air-sea rescue as well as psychological warfare. In addition, RAAF PBYs were used to transport Australian personnel home at the end of the war. The RAAF retired its last Catalina in 1952. It has been suggested that the Catalina was for Australia what the Spitfire was to England.
Royal Australian Air Force
  • No. 11 Squadron RAAF
  • No. 20 Squadron RAAF
  • No. 40 Squadron RAAF had aircraft placed on establishment, but not actually issued.
  • No. 42 Squadron RAAF
  • No. 43 Squadron RAAF
  • No. 6 Communication Unit RAAF
  • No. 8 Communication Unit RAAF
  • No. 111 Air-Sea Rescue Flight RAAF
  • No. 112 Air-Sea Rescue Flight RAAF
  • No. 113 Air-Sea Rescue Flight RAAF
  • Seaplane Training Flight RAAF
  • No. 3 Operational Training Unit RAAF





Canada had its own close associations with the PBY, both as a manufacturer and customer. Under an agreement reached between the Canadian and U.S. governments, production lines were laid down in Canada, by Boeing Aircraft of Canada (as the PB2B-1) in Vancouver, and by Canadian Vickers (PBV-1) at the Canadair plant in Cartierville. Canadian aircraft were known as Cansos. Canadian squadrons flew Cansos on both sides of the North Atlantic, as well as in the Indian Ocean.

Royal Canadian Air Force
  • No. 413 Squadron RCAF
  • No. 422 Squadron RCAF







Colombian Air Force



Royal Danish Air Force
  • No. 721 Squadron RDAF received aircraft from No. 722 Squadron RDAF in 1965.
  • No. 722 Squadron RDAF transferred aircraft to No. 721 Squadron RDAF in 1965.


 Dominican Republic





Soon after the receipt of Britain's first order for production aircraft, a French purchasing mission ordered 30 aircraft in early 1940. Allocated the Consolidated identification Model 28-5MF, none of these were delivered before the Battle of France.



Icelandic Coast Guard
  • ICG Aeronautical Division





Israeli Air Force





Netherlands ordered 48 planes for use in the Dutch East Indies.

Royal Netherlands Air Force
  • No. 321 (Dutch) Squadron RAF


 New Zealand

From 1942 New Zealand used 56 Catalinas in the South Pacific, to replace the Short Singapore with the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 5 Squadron and 6 Squadron, initially operating out of Hobsonville and Fiji on maritime patrol and air-sea rescue roles. Additional aircraft were used by 490 (NZ) Squadron in the anti submarine role during the battle of the Atlantic. 490 squadron operated Catalinas out of Jui, East Africa, from 1943 until they were superseded by Short Sunderlands in 1944. The last RNZAF Catalinas were retired in 1953 and all had been sold or scrapped by the end of 1956. An airworthy Catalina in 6 Squadron markings is privately owned. The Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum is restoring a former fire training Catalina.
Royal New Zealand Air Force
  • No. 5 Squadron RNZAF
  • No. 6 Squadron RNZAF
  • No. 490 Squadron RNZAF



Royal Norwegian Air Force
  • No. 330 (Norwegian) Squadron RAF
  • No. 333 (Norwegian) Squadron RAF







 South Africa

South African Air Force



Three Canso amphibians, built by Canadian-Vickers, were bought by the Swedish Air Force in 1947. The Swedish designation was Tp 47. After modifications for their new post-war missions, they were based at Wing F2 at Hägernäs near Stockholm and were used mainly for air and sea rescue service. Also reconnaissance missions were flown.

The Tp 47 was equipped with PS-19/A radar. The aircraft had a crew of five and had also room for six stretchers. It was powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp 14-cylinder radial engines of 1.200 hp each. It was unarmed.

Swedish Royal Air Force


 Soviet Union

The Soviet Union had shown an interest, resulting in an order for three aircraft and the negotiation of a licence to build the type in USSR. When these three machines were delivered they were accompanied by a team of Consolidated engineers who assisted in establishment of the Soviet production facilities. This aircraft model, designated GST, was powered by two Shvetsov M-62 or ASh-62IR radial engines of 900 to 1,000 hp (671 to 746 kW). The first GST entered service towards the end of 1939. It is estimated hundreds more served with the Soviet Navy. Soviet Union also received 138 PBN-1 Nomad variant of the Catalina built by the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia along with 48 PBY-6As under the Lend-Lease Act.

Soviet Naval Aviation


 United Kingdom

The British Air Ministry purchased a single aircraft for evaluation purposes, the Model 28-5. This was flown across the Atlantic Ocean to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, Felixstowe, in July 1939. With the outbreak of war anticipated, the trials were terminated prematurely, and an initial 50 aircraft were ordered under as "Catalina I"s. These aircraft were similar to the PBY-5, except for installation of British armament. The name Catalina had been used by Consolidated for their commercial sales prior to the British order, and was eventually adopted by the US Navy on October 1, 1941.

Initial deliveries of the Royal Air Force's Catalinas began in early 1941 and these entered service with No. 209 and No. 240 squadrons of Coastal Command. In all, nine squadrons of Coastal Command were equipped with the Catalina, as were an additional 12 squadrons overseas. The total acquisition was approximately 700 spread over the following designations: Catalina Mk I, Mk IA (PBY-5A amphibian in RCAF service only), Mk IB, Mk II, Mk III, Mk IVB (Canadian built PBY-5, the PB2B-1), Mk IV, and Mk VI (a PBN-1 style tall tail version built in Canada). The Catalina Mk Vs, which would have been PBN-1s, were cancelled.

In British service, the Catalina was fitted with .303 machineguns, typically a Vickers K in the bow and [[Browning Model 1919 in the waist. Some received the Leigh light to aid anti-submarine warfare by night.

Royal Air Force
  • No. 119 Squadron RAF
  • No. 190 Squadron RAF
  • No. 191 Squadron RAF
  • No. 202 Squadron RAF
  • No. 205 Squadron RAF
  • No. 209 Squadron RAF
  • No. 210 Squadron RAF
  • No. 212 Squadron RAF
  • No. 240 Squadron RAF
  • No. 259 Squadron RAF
  • No. 262 Squadron RAF
  • No. 265 Squadron RAF
  • No. 270 Squadron RAF
  • No. 357 Squadron RAF
  • No. 628 Squadron RAF


 United States

United States Navy
  • VP-61





Civilian operators



Between 1940 and 1945, five ex-RAF aircraft were used by Qantas for a Ceylon to Perth service.





 New Zealand

When Sunderland MR.5s replaced the New Zealand-based Catalinas, two of the ex-RNZAF machines was transferred to TEAL for crew training - one (ZK- AMP) made pioneering air survey flights throughout the Pacific.



 United Kingdom


Between 1940 and 1945, two ex-RAF aircraft were used by BOAC for a Poole to Lagos service.