Veteran Stories:
Jim McRae

Air Force

  • A portrait of Flight Lieutenant Jim McRae taken in 1945.

    Jim McRae
  • Jim McCrae's medal display (from left to right): the Distinguished Flying Cross, the 1939-1945 Star,the Atlantic Star, the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, the 1939-1945 War Medal, the Special Service Medal, the UN Congo Medal and the Canadian Forces Decoration.

    Jim McRae
  • Jim McCrae's certificate of wartime service dated the 26th of September, 1945.

    Jim McRae
  • Camp Maple Leaf sign at Reykjavik, Iceland in 1944.

    Jim McRae
  • Personnel of 162 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron at Wick, Scotland in 1944.

    Jim McRae
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"We were found by a Sunderland aircraft, that’s a flying boat in Coastal Command and they told us that help was on the way. And they dropped us an extra dinghy, which we eventually picked up. But as I mentioned, three of our crew didn’t survive, suffered from hypothermia and lost their lives."

Transcript

We were sent from Wick [Scotland] to search an area of about 150 nautical miles north of the Shetland Islands, east of, between the Faroe [islands] and Norway. And we hadn’t quite reached our search area when I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat because Wing Commander Chapman had decided to get into the action. And my crew was without a co-pilot at the time so he sort of took over me and my crew.

And as I mentioned, just before we reached our search area, I saw a little disturbance on the water several miles, at about 2 o’clock from our position and seeing that, you know it could have been a piece of seaweed or whales or porpoises, something like that, but we had binoculars at hand and when I spotted them with the binoculars, I could see that there was a submarine at periscope depth leaving a small wake. So we turned towards it and our method of attack was to dive in over the submarine and drop a stick of depth charges, four of them, about 50 feet apart, and trying to straddle the submarine, hoping that one would be close enough to make the kill. So this is what we did.

And after dropping the depth charges, the submarine came to the surface, made a slow turn and was heading westward when we made the attack. It made a slow turn and ended up heading north on the surface. And for a while, we circled at a safe distance, knowing that they would have anti-aircraft guns onboard. But when the submarine started to sink, the nose went down, the conning tower disappeared and the tail was sticking up at an angle out of the water. So we came in close to get pictures and at this point actually, Wing Commander Chapman used a different method than I would have. Our aircraft had what we called mirror cameras in the rear and these mirror cameras would take a series of pictures of a submarine attack showing the depth charges and the submarine.

So when we came in to take pictures, he elected to use that camera rather than two handheld cameras that we carried with us at the same time. I would never have even considered flying over it directly to use the mirror camera. If I was to take pictures of it, I would have flown alongside it at low altitude and the navigator would be manning one of the cameras and we had two of them and we could have got pictures. And also, we might have had a better chance to see that the submarine was gradually leveling off and the conning tower reappeared just as we were diving in to make another high speed attack overhead. We had no more armament so it was simply to get pictures. And all the guy, when the guns became clear, all he had to do was point them up and pull the triggers and we flew right through it. So that’s when we were hit.

So actually, we had enough speed to get up to altitude. One engine was damaged, we couldn’t feather the propeller, we couldn’t maintain altitude with only one engine and our intercom had quit during this so that we couldn’t communicate with each other. So although we headed for the nearest land, which was the Shetland Islands, we could only go a few miles before we finally struck the water, bounced twice and then there we were.

We had lots of time to get out of the aircraft, although there was a hole in the bottom, that it had been hit and water was coming in pretty fast. But we had time to don our, we had immersion suits with us, we had time to deploy our two dinghies and if you’re familiar with the Canso, there are two blisters [bulbous hatch/windows] at the rear, so we deployed one dinghy on each side and we were putting all sorts of our survival gear, when one of the dinghies exploded it had been overcharged with extra large CO2 bottles and got so tight, it just blew up and everything in it went to the bottom. And the other one luckily didn’t explode but it got a hole in it. So it was only very partially inflated all the time we were, the eight hours or so before we were picked up. So there was no way that all of us could get in it and stay out of the water. And the immersion suits, they were like a big coverall which was supposed to be waterproof. The water gradually seeped into them and the cold water would creep up and this was what caused the hypothermia.

So we were found by a Sunderland aircraft, that’s a flying boat in Coastal Command and they told us that help was on the way. And they dropped us an extra dinghy, which we eventually picked up. But as I mentioned, three of our crew didn’t survive, suffered from hypothermia and lost their lives.

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