Necessity is the mother of invention
If you have occasion to visit 88 year old Second World War RCAF navigator, Frank Cauley, in his 12th floor Blossom Park condo, he sees you out with a loot bag containing one item 24 sticks of Wrigley’s gum.
It is a reminder of March 10, 1944, when Wrigley’s Spearmint gum was used to plug bullet and shrapnel holes in Frank’s Sunderland Flying Boat.
Frank was a 22 year old navigator on RCAF 422 Squadron, flying Sunderland Flying Boats out of Castle Archdale beside Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. He had already completed a tour of 30 bombing raids over France and Germany and Turin, Italy. His commanding officer was Guy Gibson who was later awarded the Victoria Cross.
After 30 night bombing raids in Whitley and Lancaster bombers, Frank was “sweet talked by a smooth tongued RCAF wing commander into staying on in England”.
On his very first outing Frank navigated his Sunderland to a U Boat 500 miles off the coast of Ireland.
The Sunderland was an ungainly craft with a top cruising speed of 125 mph, but it had a long range and could stay airborne for 13 14 hours.
The plane bristled with 10 .303 calibre machine guns and carried 5,000 pounds of bombs and depth charges. The crew could electronically roll out four depth charges on rails under the wings below four Pratt and Whitney engines.
The Sunderland was feared by U Boat commanders who called it the “Flying Porcupine.”
By March 1944, the British had br pandora ring oken German Enigma codes and Frank’s flying boat was ordered to proceed to “5235 North and 2019 West,” where a German sub had shot down a Liberator bomber the previous day. After being airborne for several hours, Jimmy Rushton, a nose gunner, reported he could see a U Boat on the surface about six miles away.
The crew of U 625 was caught napping. German sailors were sunning themselves on the hull and others were swimming in the ocean. One German sailor manned a 50 calibre machine gun in front of the conning tower.
The Sunderland lumbered in, 50 feet above the waves. The preferred angle of attack was bow first, but the U Boat kept turning and the flying boat found itself approaching from the port side.
The sailor manning the machine gun peppered Frank’s plane with bullets and the huge craft “shuddered.”
The Sunderland bracketed the U Boat with four depth charges. Spray rose 100 feet in the air.
The U Boat skipper gave the order to abandon ship and an hour later it sank. Frank’s crew watched 53 German submariners climb into dinghies, never to be seen again.
Bullets f pandora ring ired at the flying boat made holes below the water line. One hole was large about six inches in diameter. There were three dozen smaller holes. The main fear was the skin could peel back and the plane might sink if it tried to land.
The flight engineer, Sergeant Ted Higgins, managed to patch the large hole with an emergency leak stopper a piece of metal that covered the hole. Three dozen smaller punctures presented a problem. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Every crew member had a package of five sticks of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum in his ration pack. Higgins asked the crew to chew like mad and give the wads of gum to him.
He used all 55 sticks to plug the holes. The pilot took the plane up to freeze the gum.
Back at base, EK591 landed smoothly and there were no leaks.
The plane’s pilot was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Frank was promoted from warrant officer to pilot officer and mentioned in pandora ring dispatches. He flew another 800 hours in the air searching for German subs in the Atlantic and in the English Channel on D Day but he never saw another one.
To this day, Wrigley’s Gum in Chicago continues to replace Frank’s stash of Spearmint gum. Back home, Frank had pandora ring a street named after him and served as an elected trustee on the Carleton Board of Education and as a councillor in the old city of Gloucester.