ROCKWALL, TX (November 10, 2014) Taylor McClure graduated from high school in 1942 in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Military service in World War II was imminent, and the idea of being a Navy cadet seemed adventurous and exciting.
An enlistment application received no response so Taylor hitch-hiked to the Dallas Navy office, only to learn that voluntary enlistments had been suspended. The Selective Service was charged with regulating all recruiting through a draft.
So Taylor enrolled in college and was drafted as soon as he finished a semester there. At that time draftees were sent to an enlistment center where the Army, Navy and Marines each had a table where they would answer questions and process applications. Young Taylor proudly chose the Marines and was abruptly told, “Move away Mac, the guy in front of you just completed our quota.”
Taylor was stunned and “like any ‘smart’ teenager, blurted, ‘Well, what do I do now?'” The salty Marine recruiter rolled his eyes and said, “You go to another table!”
Aptitude tests qualified Taylor for Aviation Radioman/Gunner. He says, “This is exactly what I wanted if I was unable to get into Air Cadet training.” He would be a technician on board the aircraft, trained in communication technologies of airborne radio, radar, sonar, Morse code and semaphore. “Even today I can translate anything I see into Morse code.” He gave me an example of the dots & dashes that spell Office Depot. “A certain amount of entertainment when I have nothing else to do,” he quipped.
After boot camp it was on to Arial Gunnery School on the Florida Gulf Coast. I asked why the radio man would need gunnery school. Taylor replied, “All crew members aboard the aircraft had their primary duty at their action station. But each had a greater responsibility for all the crew in combat.” Each man had to be familiar with every station.
They would train from railroad cars equipped with 12 gauge shotguns mounted on gun turrets. Riding through the sand dunes, clay pigeons would be released at random and they would operate the turret and shoot the clay pigeons as if they were actually airborne. (Sounds like fun to me!)
After Gunnery School, Taylor was now a skilled technical aviator and was assigned to a squadron that was based in Rhode Island. The aircraft that he would serve on was a PBY Catalina. At this time during the war, supplies, troops and ammunition were transported to Europe via ship convoys. The PBY Catalinas flew surveillance escort for these ocean convoys. German submarine packs roamed the Atlantic, searching for these convoys. They were common, but could be limited as a menace with detection, speed and clever maneuvering.
Troops and equipment were moved across North Africa and into Italy, and consequently the Mediterranean area was a very strategic military position. Taylor’s crew was transferred to a squadron that was guarding the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea; the Strait of Gibraltar.
But before they were deployed to North Africa, Taylor and his crew trained at Columbia University in New York. Columbia had developed a “Magnetic Airborne Detection” system for detecting submarines. It was necessary to be trained in this very simple and somewhat primitive system.
This system consisted of a magnetic bar apparatus that was mounted on the tail of the airplane. When a submarine was detected it would activate a signal to the radioman and action would be taken. The one “slight” drawback was that this system would not operate higher than 50 feet off of the water’s surface. So the patrols over this area were at an altitude of 50 feet as enemy submarines were searched for.
The Strait of Gibraltar is the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, a narrow 16 mile bottleneck between the Rock of Gibraltar and the North African coast. The PBY’s would fly this 16 mile stretch at 50 feet, constantly searching for the German subs.
When a signal was recorded from the magnetic detecting system, a smoke bomb would be dropped and the pilot would begin flying a cloverleaf pattern, dropping more smoke each time a signal was recorded. This way the submarine’s path could be detected.
These flights could only be made in daylight because at 50 feet, visibility was essential. At night the British dropped depth charges across this narrow strait and the US placed blimps at the same 50 foot altitude as the PBYs flew. German submarines were constantly defended against, 24 hours a day. “This was a very dangerous place for enemy submarines,” Taylor remembered.
The wingspan of the PBY Catalina was 104 feet. So when flying at 50 feet and a turn was required, speed and altitude would be critical to begin the cloverleaf pattern. As the sweep continued it was physically very difficult for the pilots, and their 12 crew members often became sick because of the extreme motion.
Taylor is very fond of the PBY Catalina aircraft because he worked aboard it and because it was a very important weapon in World War II. The PBY Catalina was the first Navy casualty in World War II. It was shot down in the Bay of Biscay by a pack of German Luftwaffe. Taylor knew some of the men that were lost that day.
The PBY Catalina was instrumental in spotting the Japanese fleet that was attempting a surprise attack at Midway. This led to 4 Japanese battleships being sunk by Navy fighter-bombers and changed the course of the war in the Pacific. It was also the aircraft that located the German battleship, Bismarck, that Winston Churchill demanded be destroyed at all costs. The Bismarck was sunk as a result of this successful reconnaissance.
Taylor says the PBY Catalina “was like a duck. It could swim, fly or walk. It had lots of mobility but it was not very fast. It was used for reconnaissance, bombing and rescue and we did all three.”
Following Hitler’s demise, at the end of the war, the German high command ordered all submarines to surface and display the white flag over the Swastika. The Navy PBY crews had felt fairly cocky, believing they had done a great job of keeping the submarines away from our shipping lanes. When that order came down, submarines “began popping up like dandelions in the shipping channels before getting to Gibraltar. But they knew we were at Gibraltar,” Taylor said. This PBY squadron successfully protected this narrow, strategic passage, protecting lives and contributing to victory.
Well done, Taylor McClure. We thank you for your service. We thank you for keeping that critical strait open to Allies and a barrier to enemy submarines. You and your crew were “Those Magnificent Men in Your Flying Machines” that were an integral part of securing freedom from tyranny.
By Blue Ribbon News special contributor John Adams of Rockwall. John is in telecom sales and also serves as an Associate Pastor at Poetry Baptist Church. He is active in the Rockwall Breakfast Rotary. Visit his guest columns at BlueRibbonNews.com and his blog at written4u.com.
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