PBY Catalina – The Dutch Navy’s “Eyes in the Sky”

The first Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina’s were ordered by the end of 1940 and delivered in 1941.


Early delivery PBY-5 Catalina’s in Dutch wartime camouflage – mid 1941. (Source Royal Dutch Navy)

A total of 75 Cats found their way to the Dutch Naval Air Service. The initial order was for the ‘standard’ PBY-5 version; subsequent orders were for the more versatile PBY-5A amphibian. The Type would see continuous use with Dutch Navy until the final “Cat” was withdrawn from use in the summer of 1957 (!)

The Dutch navy used its seaplanes as “Eyes in the Sky”, guiding submarines to their targets This tactic was remarkably successful during the opening phase of the pacific war when the Japanese forces had not yet established their air superiority. The Dutch seaplanes had to abandon their offensive role when Japanese fighters started to operate from captured airfields around the Java Sea. From then on, the remaining seaplanes (Cats and Dornier 24K’s) were relegated to reconnaissance duties.

26 Catalina’s were shot down or destroyed during the fierce fighting for the Indonesian islands. After the Battle for Java was lost, a number of survivors, some of them overloaded with refugees, escaped to Australia (Broome) or Ceylon in early March 1942. (See my post “Broome, Australia’s Pearl Harbor)

In April 1942 it was decided to establish a Dutch Naval squadron at China Bay, Ceylon, under RAF control. It was formed around the surviving ‘Java’ PBYs, to which another five were added that had been delivered to Australia at the time of the Dutch capitulation. The unit was officially established at the end of May as RAF 321 squadron, part of 222 Group Coastal Command. 321 Squadron’s Catalina’s served all over the Indian Ocean until the squadron transitioned to B-24 Liberators early in 1945.

Y-38 Morokrembangan 1941

PBY-5 Catalina “Y-38” at anchor at Morokrembangan, Java, mid 1942. (Source: Royal Dutch Navy)

More information on the Dutch Cats can be found on the page “Consolidated PBY Catalinas in Dutch service”

About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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One Response to PBY Catalina – The Dutch Navy’s “Eyes in the Sky”

  1. GP Cox says:

    Not enough can said about the PBY – Excellent!!


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