Sunday, December 12, 2010

An afternoon with David Hornell.

A while back, my son and I were introduced to David Hornell. We bumped into him rather unexpectedly while we were at the Shearwater Aviation Museum. 
My Son, using the same Cockpit Procedure Trainer my Dad used.
Mr. Hornell is from Mimico, Ontario. He spends all his time now in Lerwick, a small town situated on the Shetland Islands of Northern Scotland. He doesn’t get around much anymore, so it was very fortunate that we had a chance to make his acquaintance.
He was a pilot during the second world war and flew with 162 Bomber Reconnaissance Squadron. Most of his time during the war was spent patrolling Northern England and Scotland for Nazi submarines. He logged 60 coastal patrol missions and finished his career with 600 flight hours on the PBY Canso. He successfully ditched the aircraft on his last mission, and never flew operationally again.
Submarines, I looked for in Scotland.
I told my son that his Grandfather also flew in Northern Scotland, looking for submarines. I mentioned that I have as well, but I don’t think my son was listening to me anymore. He was mesmerized by Mr. Hornell’s story. 
I’ll try and retell it the best I can remember.
Sometime in June of 1944, Mr. Hornell and his crew were on patrol somewhere over the North Sea. The day started like any other, and the crew were fully expecting another long, uneventful trip. It wouldn’t be what they expected. To their surprise, they sighted a fully surfaced U-boat.
Mr. Hornell and his crew closed to attack. At a three quarters of a mile, the submarine began to fire at the Canso with its anti-aircraft guns. Mr. Hornell continued to press.
At roughly 1200 yards Hornell engaged the boat with his two guns. Almost immediately, their starboard gun jammed. Mr. Hornell continued to press.
At 800 yards the aircraft was hit by flak. Two fairly large holes appeared in the wing. Mr. Hornell pressed.
At approximately 500 yards it was noticed that the starboard engine was pouring oil and a fire had started trailing on the leading edge of the wing. He did not waiver.
At 300 yards the starboard engined feathered, but Hornell pressed on with the attack, dropping the depth charges it was carrying. The first depth charge hit between the bow and the conning tower of the submarine. The second hit the water approximately 45 feet from the port side of the U-Boat.
The pilots struggled with controlling the aircraft.  Starboard engine continued to vibrate and fell out of the wing. The aircraft couldn’t stay airborne, so Hornell decided to ditch. The aircraft was brought into wind and the pilots carried out a fully stalled landing, boucing twice. The first time approximately 150 feet, and the second time about 50 feet. Ditching successfully accomplished despite 50 foot swells.
It is our responsibility to teach the future of our past.
The aircraft sank to wing level within 8 minutes and completely disappeared within twenty. No one was injured in the ditching. For 21 hours the crew took turns in the life raft. The wind was 45 knots and the waves were 50 feet tall. Hornell lead his men, keeping moral and spirits high. He whistled and sang. They invented a game of “Ride em Cowboy” as big swells threatened to swamp the dingy.
They lost two men due to exposure. They released their bodies to the sea. Hornell was blinded by the fuel and oil. He lead his men, without sight until the end. He died fifteen minutes after his crew was rescued. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. It is one of three that Canadian airmen were awarded during the second world war.
F/L Hornell is buried in Lerwick, Scotland. His Victoria Cross can be seen at the Shearwater Aviation Museum. His account can be read here.


  1. Good read C. A true warrior... "awe-inspiring" for those following in his foot-steps; and,we as a country, owe him a great deal of gratitude... Thanks for sharing.

  2. You're welcome. Lots of untold stories there. Best kept secret in Nova Scotia.

  3. Great blog post! We here at SAM are so happy to hear that you got the chance to get to know Mr. Hornell a little better. Also, I just wanted to take the opportunity to let you know that the Victoria Cross medals displayed here at the Shearwater Aviation Museum are replicas- if we're not mistaken, Mr. Hornell's is with his family.


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