George Francis Maier grew up in Saskatchewan and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941.
His introduction to flying had a rough start when an engine failure forced the pilot to do an emergency landing onto a frozen slough. George became a Pilot Officer in January 1943 and was sent overseas to England.
After his final training, George was initially posted to the RCAF Squadron on the Isle of Islay as part of Coastal Command flying the Sunderland Flying Boat. He flew a total of 55 missions on anti-submarine and convoy patrols in the North Atlantic stretching from Iceland to Spain, completing a total of 55 sorties during his tour of duty.
George Maier's story
George Maier was born on 31 March 1922 in Regina, Saskatchewan and attended the prairie school, St. Johannes, located two miles west of Kronau, Saskatchewan and at Campion College in Regina.
In 1941, George's older brother, John, joined the Royal Canadian Navy, and George joined the Royal Canadian Air Force.
As George said, "I was called to duty on November 11, 1941". He proceeded to No.2 Manning Depot, Brandon, Manitoba, then served Guard duty at Paulson, MB and then to Mossbank, Sk where he had his first aircraft flight as the sole passenger.
It was on this flight in a Fairey Battle that the pilot was forced to make an emergency landing due to engine failure. The aircraft came to rest over a frozen slough but the impact broke the ice and the pilot and George had to jump into chest deep freezing water. The outside temperature was minus 30 degrees. They were rescued within a short time and suffered only minor injuries.
George proceeded through numerous training schools, including No.2 ITS Regina for ground school, No.15 EFTS in Regina flying Tiger Moths and No.10 SRTS in Dauphin, MB on Cessna Cranes. On January 22, 1943, he was awarded his Pilot's Flying Badge (Wings) and appointed a Commissioned Officer with the rank of Pilot Officer.
However, as George recalled, he was still in a state of shock having just returned from Hoosier, Sk the previous day on January 14, 1943 as the official RCAF escort with the body of his chum, Murray Dewar, in a sealed casket. His friend Murray had been killed along with his instructor and another student pilot while on their final instrument check. George also recalled how difficult it had been to comfort the family and explain to them what might have gone wrong.
George was then was posted to No.1 General Reconnaissance School (GRS) in Summerside, PEI for special training where he was awarded his "B" Class Navigators wings on April 17, 1943. The following month he set sail on the SS Cavina, a Banana Boat with 50 other Air Force Officers aboard. They docked in Avonmouth, England five or six days later. While walking to the railroad station, they were attacked by machine gun fire from a German ME-109 fighter, but there were no casualties in the group as they had sprawled behind a two-foot stone fence.
They spent a week spent in Bournemouth for their indoctrination period, followed by a week in Derby with the YMCA manager and his family. George then attended a one-month airport defence control program in Sidmouth.
George and his friend, Gary Arnold, were posted to No.4 OTU at Invergordon, Scotland to join their crews as Second Pilots. They tossed a coin to determine which First Pilot (and Captain) they would be flying with on Sunderland Flying Boats. George's friend Gary won the toss and the experienced Captain with 5000 hours, but unfortunately he was killed a few months later when the same Captain misjudged his height during a flat calm landing on the crystal clear water of Lough Erne, Ireland, resulting in the total destruction of the aircraft.
On September 7, 1943, after their final training at Invergordon, they were posted to RCAF Squadron No. 422 in Bowmore on the Isle of Islay attached to No. 15 Group Coastal Command, an anti-submarine and convoy patrol in the Northern Atlantic stretching from Iceland to Spain.
According to George, their operations room was actually the office of a whiskey distillery which provided a few extra benefits. However, a month later the squadron moved to Castle Archdeale on Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. George was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on July 8, 1944 and took over as Captain of a 12 man crew.
Final Tour of Duty
A few months later the squadron was transferred to Pembroke Dock in Wales in October 1944 George was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.
On February 13, 1945, George completed his final tour of operations, having flown 55 sorties, which included over 600 hours of operational flying, 300 hours of logged non-operational flying and over 200 hours non-logged time.
After completing an instructor’s training course at St. Angelo based in Lough Erne, George then became a flying instructor with 302 FTU at Killadeas, Lough Erne, Northern Ireland before being repatriated to Canada about four months later.
Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 and the war in the Pacific ended on September 2, 1945 with Japan's surrender. George arrived back in Canada on August 12, 1945 after a five-day ocean trip from Southampton to Halifax aboard the Royal Mail Ship Alcantara.
He arrived home in Regina on August 20, 1945 and was greeted by his entire family at the train station. George remarked afterwards that the experience, "was one of the most memorable events of my life. After 2 years overseas, it was so good to see them all again even though I had some difficulty reconciling the fact that the younger ones were so much taller from when I last saw them."
George turned down an offer to fly in Transport Command and on September 21, 1945 he was transferred from Active Service to "RCAF Reserve General Section Class E".
George was granted the following campaign awards and medals:
Pilot's Flying Badge; RCAF Operational Wing; 1939-1945 Star; Atlantic Star; Canadian Volunteers Service Medal and Maple Leaf; War Medal 1939-1945
The Sunderland Flying Boat
In the early days of the Second World War, German submarines were wreaking havoc on the convoys of ships carrying supplies and personnel from North America to the United Kingdom. They roamed the Atlantic with impunity as no allied aircraft had the range to seek out and destroy the submarine Wolf Packs that were sending thousands of tons of ships and war materials to the bottom of the ocean. One of the answers to this dilemma was found in the Sunderland Flying boat.
The Royal Air Force prior to the outbreak of hostilities was using Sunderlands in a maritime patrol capacity and it was the largest allied aircraft flown during the Second World War. The Sunderlands were sometimes nicknamed "The Pig" by its crews because the early models were underpowered. The German flyers however, had more respect for this huge aircraft and referred to it as "The Flying Porcupine" because of the 18 machine guns it mounted for all-round protection, the greatest number of guns carried by any regular British military aircraft during the war.
The Sunderland had one vulnerable area and that was the belly. Because of the boat design it could not mount a belly turret. So in order to prevent the enemy aircraft from coming up and underneath, they flew their patrols at a maximum height of 1000 feet above the water, but usually much lower then that.
The fuselage design also prohibited the installation of a bomb bay, so the designer came up with a unique method to store, mount and dispense light ordnance. These stores were hung inside the fuselage and under the centre-section of the wing on carriers that ran on lateral tracks. In combat, large fuselage side panels were opened under the wing root and a drive motor ran out the weapon rack.
After the explosives were dropped, the racks were brought back in and reloaded. The Sunderland's maximum ordnance load was approximately 1000 kilograms of bombs, depth charges, mines or other stores kept in the "stores and loading room" beneath the wing racks and in the lower part of the fuselage.
Two Canadian squadrons flew Sunderlands from bases in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. No. 422 Squadron was formed on 2 April 1942 at Lough Erne, Northern Ireland and was equipped with Sunderland Mk IIIs. At the end of February 1943 it began anti-submarine duties over the Atlantic, and commenced operating from Oban, Scotland.
For the most part the squadron's duties were dull and monotonous, flying for hours over the empty ocean with little action. Occasional attacks were made on U-boats, some with success. In early 1945 the squadron had its most successful actions, with four U- boat attacks in four days.
No. 423 Squadron formed on 18 March 1942. Its first aircraft, Sunderland Mk IIs and Mk IIIs, arrived in July and the squadron was operational by the end of August. Within the next two months it had attacked four submarines and destroyed two of them. By the autumn it was flying patrols from Pembroke Dock, Wales to Gibraltar and back, covering the Biscay area en route. It increased its operational intensity during 1944, being especially busy during the invasion of Normandy. The anti-submarine work continued through to the war's end in Europe, by which time the squadron had sunk five U-boats.
The most notable Sunderland sortie was over the Bay of Biscay. The skipper would patrol during daylight and set down on the sea at night, shut down the engines and drift with the swells. This routine continued for 7 days when low provisions and fuel forced them back to base. Unfortunately this long and arduous patrol did not result in any contact with enemy ships or aircraft.
By wars end, 422 and 423 squadrons would fly 2508 operational sorties, log over 40,000 hours, lose 15 aircraft on operations and suffer 101 men killed. There were also accidents, often on take-off or landing or crashing into terrain in bad weather. Another culprit was engine failure. When heavily laden a Sunderland could not maintain height on 3 engines which would oblige the skipper to set down, often with disastrous results to both crew and aircraft. If an engine failed over land, the results were predictable.
In conclusion, the Sunderland was the gentle giant of its day. While the battles it fought were not glorious ones, its presence above the waves forced the enemy U-boats to keep their distance from allied convoys thus allowing more war supplies to reach their destinations. They were also instrumental in saving the lives of many downed airmen and torpedoed sailors who were then able to return to their units and fight another day.