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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


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Transatlantic Flight of “Wrong Way” Corrigan

Douglas Corrigan, an American aviator born in Galveston, Texas, earns the nickname “Wrong Way” Corrigan on July 17, 1938. After a transcontinental flight from Long Beach, California, to New York City, he flies from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York, to Ireland, though his flight plan is filed to return to Long Beach. He claims his unauthorized flight is due to a navigational error, caused by heavy cloud cover that obscures landmarks and low-light conditions, causing him to misread his compass. However, he is a skilled aircraft mechanic and has made several modifications to his own plane, preparing it for his transatlantic flight. He had been denied permission to make a nonstop flight from New York to Ireland, and his “navigational error” is seen as deliberate. Nevertheless, he never publicly admits to having flown to Ireland intentionally.

On July 9, 1938, Corrigan departs California in his 1929 Curtiss Robin OX-5 monoplane bound for Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York. With the Robin cruising at 85 miles per hour (137 km/h) for maximum fuel efficiency, the outward journey takes him 27 hours. Fuel efficiency becomes critical towards the end of the flight as a gasoline leak develops, filling the cockpit with fumes.

Upon his unannounced arrival at Floyd Bennett Field, in the midst of Howard Hughes‘s preparations for takeoff on a world tour, Corrigan decides repairing the leak will take too long if he is to meet his schedule. His logged flight plan has him returning to California on July 17. Before take off, Corrigan asks the manager of Floyd Bennett Field, Kenneth P. Behr, which runway to use, and Behr tells him to use any runway as long as he does not take off to the west, in the direction of the administration building where Behr has his office. As recorded in Corrigan’s autobiography, Behr wishes him “Bon Voyage” prior to take-off, perhaps in a nod to Corrigan’s intentions to fly the Atlantic. Upon take off at 5:15 on the morning of July 17 with 320 US gallons of gasoline and 16 US gallons of oil, Corrigan heads east from the 4,200-foot runway of Floyd Bennett Field and keeps going. Behr later swears publicly that he has no foreknowledge of Corrigan’s intentions.

Corrigan claims to have noticed his “error” after flying for about 26 hours. This is not entirely consistent with his claim that after 10 hours, he feels his feet go cold. The cockpit floor is awash with gasoline leaking from the unrepaired tank. He uses a screwdriver to punch a hole through the cockpit floor so that the fuel will drain away on the side opposite the hot exhaust pipe, reducing the risk of a midair explosion. Had he been truly unaware he was over ocean, it seems likely he would descend at this point. Instead, he claims to increase the engine speed by almost 20% in the hope of decreasing his flight time.

Corrigan lands at Baldonnel Aerodrome, County Dublin, on July 18, after a 28-hour, 13-minute flight. His provisions for the flight consisted of just two chocolate bars, two boxes of fig bars, and 25 US gallons of water. Corrigan’s plane has fuel tanks mounted on the front, allowing him to see only out of the sides. He has no radio and his compass is 20 years old.

Aviation officials require 600 words to list the regulations broken by his flight in a telegram, a medium that encourages brevity by charging at a rate per word. Despite the extent of Corrigan’s illegality, he receives only a mild punishment a his pilot’s certificate is suspended for 14 days. He and his plane return to New York on the steamship Manhattan and arrive on August 4, the last day of his suspension. His return is marked with great celebration. More people attend his Broadway ticker tape parade than had honored Charles Lindbergh after his triumph. He is also given a ticker tape parade in Chicago.