Flying Boats & Fellow Travellers

Wing Commander Derek Martin

Born in 1920, Derek began flying Sunderland Flying Boats at the age of twenty.

On 15th March 1941, he suffered major injuries in a serious crash off Oban, and was amongst the first patients to receive plastic surgery under Dr. McIndoe.

In 1942 he travelled by train to Windermere to collect the first plane built at White Cross Bay, DP176, and fly it back to his base at Pembroke Dock.


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  • Ref. Number: FB001DM
  • Date: 18.11.06.
  • Interviewer (I): Trever Avery.
  • Subject: Commanding a Sunderland Flying Boat.
  • Period: 1942


I know we chatted earlier, there was issues with simply keeping alert, briefly what role did the Sunderland have, did the crew have when they were out on a flight - what was their principle job?


Well the principle job it varied, if you were out over the Atlantic north Atlantic particularly up near Iceland and so on, there was not any significant air enemy activity so your principle job is looking out for enemy submarines and you had to be on the alert and on the wake the whole time. So you would have a look out in the 2 ((inaudible) positions and you would have the tail gunner and then the captain and the second pilot in the cockpit all looking out the whole time. It was the most deadly boring thing to do because you fly for hundreds and hundreds of hours over thousands of square miles and see absolutely nothing and you were looking out for at best a snorkel or - a snorkel enables the submarine to stay just between, beneath the waves, this stick , this thing up to get air to run the engines and it gives a slight, if you imagine putting a broomstick through water you'll get a little wake behind, that's all we would see, and if you can think of the Atlantic with the waves going up and down 20/30 feet high, you're hard pushed to see anything at all really and you have no radar. I mean nowadays it's simple.

That's in the north Atlantic, down the bay of Biscay you have the additional problem of enemy aircraft from the French, the bases in France, and so you would have the guns manned all the time and everybody on the alert looking out for enemy aircraft as well as for the submarines, and this would go on throughout the whole of the trip. There were some amusing things sometimes, I remember coming back again up between Iceland and Greenland coming back and somebody I think it was the rear gunner, reported a, he thought he saw the red glow of an aircraft exhaust pipe which you can see in the dark, and so I told him to keep an eye on it, keep an eye on it and then he said it seems to be following us, it seems to be following us, and after a bit the navigator said what's going on and I said well the rear gunner says there's a red glow in the back there and he thinks it might be enemy aircraft so the navigator went away and looked up his ((inaudible), came back and said no it's not an enemy aircraft it's mars (laughs) he could see mars! But that sort of thing didn't happen very often, it was usually hard graft all the time, and the main problem was of course coming back and after 12/14 hours as you'd imagine, landing on Windermere was difficult.


How did you keep, you must have had refreshments when you - if you were out for 12 hours.


Oh there's a galley, on the Sunderland there was a galley and in the tape or (inaudible) the one of the - it's usually the fitter does the cooking and there are 2 primas stoves and so you have hot meals and of course you have air crew rations. During the war air crew, operation air crew have priority for rations so I mean you'd have a nice steak and sitting in the middle of the Atlantic and flying along eating a grilled steak but we did quite well for that.

Derek's Photographs

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