Catalina affair. Soviet MIG-15 shots down Swedish DC-3 and rescuer PBY-5

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Date:
13.06.1952
Additional information

The Catalina affair (Catalinaaffären) was a military confrontation and Cold War-era diplomatic crisis in June 1952, in which Soviet Air Force fighter jets shot down two Swedish aircraft over international waters in the Baltic Sea. The first aircraft to be shot down was an unarmed Swedish Air Force Tp 79, a derivative of the Douglas DC-3, carrying out radio and radar signals intelligence-gathering for the National Defence Radio Establishment. None of the crew of eight was rescued.

Names:

  • Alvar Almeberg, pilot and commander;
  • Gosta Blad, navigator and radio-communicator;
  • Herbert Mattsson, technician;
  • Einar Jonsson, group-chief and signal intelligence officer;
  • Bengt Book, sigint officer
  • Ivar Svensson, sigint officer
  • Borge Nilsson, sigint officer
  • Erik Carlsson – sigint officer

The second aircraft to be shot down was a Swedish Air Force Tp 47, a Catalina flying boat, involved in the search and rescue operation for the missing DC-3. The Catalina's crew of five were saved. The Soviet Union publicly denied involvement until its dissolution in 1991.

Both aircraft were located in 2003, and the DC-3 was salvaged.

The first aircraft involved was a Swedish Air Force Douglas DC-3A-360 Skytrain, a military transport derivative of the DC-3 known in Swedish service as Tp 79.

It carried the serial number 79001. In the media coverage following the event, it became known simply as "the DC-3."

The aircraft was manufactured in 1943 with original US serial number 42-5694, and was delivered to USAAF 15th Troop Carrier Squadron (61st Troop Carrier Group).

It saw action in northern Africa before being stationed at RAF Barkston Heath. It was flown on February 5, 1946, from Orly Air Base via Hanau Army Airfield to Bromma and was registered as SE-APZ on May 18, 1946 as a civil aircraft to Skandinaviska Aero AB.

On June 13, 1952, it disappeared east of the isle of Gotska Sandön while carrying out signals intelligence-gathering operations for the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA). The aircraft was lost with its entire crew of eight in the incident. Three of the eight crew members were military personnel from the Swedish Air Force, and the other five were civilian signals intelligence (SIGINT) operators from the National Defence Radio Establishment.

Catalina

Three days after the initial incident, on June 16, 1952, two Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina flying boats, known in Swedish service as Tp 47, searched for the DC-3 north of Estonia.

16 June 1952 Soviet pilots N. Semernikov and I. Yatsenko-Kosenko shared in the downing of a Swedish PBY Catalina (Tp 47 47002) outside the island of Dagö. The PBY was looking for survivors of the Swedish SIGINT C-47 lost on June 13th. After taking hits in the fuselage and the engines the PBY was forced to land on the water with two of the crew of seven injured. The crew was rescued by a German merchant ship Münsterland

The Soviet Union 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.

Sweden maintained for nearly 40 years that the plane was undertaking a navigation training flight.

Only after pressure from crewmembers' families did Swedish authorities confirm that the DC-3 was equipped with British equipment and had been spying for NATO. The first public and official recognition of a secret mission from the government came in 1983, after  book “Flygaren som försvann” (“The pilot who disappeared”) had been published.  Still the information was untrue in many respects. It denied that the plane was gathering radar intelligence, in cooperation with the West. In my family we sincerely believed that my father, and perhaps all the crew, were imprisoned by the Soviets after the DC-3 was forced to land. This was the result of many myths spread around in Swedish society and high military circles. After 1992 we were convinced that the DC-3 had been shot down over the sea, but still thought all, or some, of the crew had been rescued and imprisoned.

In 1991 General Fyodor Shinkarenko (ru), a colonel in the early 1950s from Tukums military airport (Latvia, that time occupied by RU), admitted he had ordered the DC-3 shot down in 1952 by scrambling a MiG-15bis to intercept it.

On June 10, 2003, airline captain Anders Jallai and historian Carl Douglas with the Swedish company Marin Mätteknik AB found the remains of the downed DC-3 by using sonar at 126 m (413 ft) depth.[2][16][18][19] Some time later the Catalina was also found, 22 kilometres (14 mi) east of the official splashdown point.

After 52 years, the remains of the DC-3 were lifted to the surface on March 19, 2004 by freezing the wreck with some 200 m3 (7,100 cu ft) of sediments. The wreck was transferred to Muskö naval base for investigation and preservation, and was finally put on display at Swedish Air Force Museum, Linköping on May 13, 2009.

A 1:12 scale model of 79001 was loaned to the Air Force Museum on May 5, 2009.

Bullet holes on 79001 showed that the DC-3 was shot down by a MiG-15bis fighter. The exact splashdown 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 four of the eight-man crew have been found and positively identified

***

Soviet document, declassified in June 1992 by a Soviet-Russian committee working parallel with a Swedish committee and dated June 13, 1952, reveals that a Soviet MiG15 attacked the Swedish plane.  This document and additional ones – among them a report to Stalin himself – states that the pilot reported ‘crew parachuted’ – which could mean one or many.

As Soviet planes usually worked in groups, the attack by a single MiG15 — whose pilot was a political commissar sent out over international waters — was a highly irregular mode of fighter-operations.  Efforts were still made to conceal the fact that the attack was prepared in advance.  No explanation was given as to why the Soviets didn’t try to force the DC-3 to land within their borders, as occurred during a number of other attacks and shoot-downs.

Another document from the then Chief of the Ministry of Interior, S. Ignatiev, dated July 2, 1952, says that the operation against the DC-3 went wrong due to bad communications and cooperation.  This would suggest that the Soviets planned to have submarines and navy on hand to pick up equipment and crew.

fragments by Roger Älmeberg, 01-04-2008 

***

The same day

13 June 1952 A US Air Force RB-29 Superfortress (44-61810) of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, based in Yokota Japan, was shot down by Soviet fighters over the Sea of Japan, 18 miles from the Soviet coast, near Hokkaido. Soviet MiG-15 Fagot pilots Fedotov and Proskurin reported intercepting the aircraft in the area of Valentin Bay, nine miles from the Soviet coastline. They reported that the RB-29 fired on the Soviet fighters, when intercepted. The Soviet pilots returned fire and the US plane descended, burst into flames and crashed into the water at a distance of about 18 miles from our coastline. Official US records state that the aircraft was on a classified surveillance mission of shipping activity over the Sea of Japan. The plane was followed by radar over the course of the flight until 1320 hours at which time the radar contact was lost. Empty life rafts were spotted by search aircraft the next day. Radio Moscow stated on June 16 stated that one officer survivor had been picked up by a Russian vessel about two days before. The name of the survivor was not given and efforts to confirm the report were unsuccessful. The crew of Sam Busch, Robert J. McDonnell, Roscoe G. Becker, Eddie R. Berg, Leon F. Bonura, William R. Homer, Samuel D. Service, James A. Sculley, William A. Blizzard, Miguel W. Monserrat , Danny Pillsbury and David L. Moore were all listed as missing, presumed dead.

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Map

Sources: wikipedia.org, news.lv

No places assigned

    Persons

    Name Born / Since / At Died Languages
    1
    Alvar Almeberg13.06.1952en
    2
    Gosta Blad13.06.1952en
    3
    Herbert Mattsson13.06.1952en
    4
    Erik Carlsson13.06.1952en
    5
    Borge Nilsson13.06.1952en
    6
    Ivar Svensson13.06.1952en
    7
    Einar Jonsson13.06.1952en
    8
    Bengt Book13.06.1952en
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