Red Star Catalinas
It is an odd thing that
the first Catalina of a country that produced Catalinas herself was a
second hand Catalina: In 1937, Dr. Richard Archbold purchased
Consolidated's first commercial PBY. It was a modified PBY-1 licensed
as a model 28-1. Guba, as Archbold called his aircraft, was to be used
in support of a planned expedition to New Guinea. These plans were
altered when Archbold was asked to aid in a mission of mercy. The
Soviet government had asked him to sell Guba to them for $230,000.
Archbold agreed and the Soviets used Guba to search for Sigismund
Levanevsky and his crew who disappeared during a flight across the
North Pole from the Soviet Union to Fairbanks. The Canadian researcher
Sir Hubert Wilkins flew Guba to Coppermine in Canada's Northwest
Territory on the 23rd of August 1937 and made five search-trips during
August and September. In the end of 1937, Guba, now registered L-2,
was flown to New York, dismantled, and shipped by steamer to the
Soviet Union. From January to March 1938, Wilkins flew four more
flights, two of which were during the polar night. Sadly Levanevsky
and his crew were never found.
Wilkins wrote a letter to Reuben Fleet, saying he had flown 19,000
miles "... under the most adverse weather conditions, flying over
rough and uncharted terrain, and for the most part heavily loaded with
fuel, supplies, and equipment. It is my privilege to congratulate you
and your associates and all those who had part in the fabrication of
this airplane, and in no uncertain terms. Without this magnificent
airplane, we could not have attempted our difficult task."
In the summer of 1938, L-2 was delivered to Moscow. The letters URSS
(French short for USSR) were changed to CCCP, the registration L-2
removed, and the aircraft was equipped with military gear. This
military gear consisted of 4 'SHKAS' machine guns (7.62 mm) in the bow
turret, tunnel gun, and where the two waist gunner's hatches should be
in small closed blisters; 6 bomb racks for several types of bombs; and
other equipment. All these changes were standard on the GST, except
for the blisters. Note that L-2 must have been the first Catalina
with (some sort of) blisters!
During her operational life, L-2 took part in the search for survivors
of convoy PQ-17. After the search, while she lay at anker at Moller
Bay, Novaya Zemlya, L-2 was destroyed by shellfire of a German
submarine on the 25th of July, 1942.
The Soviets impressed with the performances of Guba, negotiated a
contract in 1937 with Consolidated for three Model 28-2 aircraft, a
license for production, and engineering support in the establishment
of an assembly plant. One of the Model 28-2 aircraft, comparable to a
PBY-1, was completed and test flown in San Diego. Later she was
disassembled and shipped to the Soviet Union together with the other
two aircraft. These three aircraft were the only three PBY's build in
the USA that were powered by other engines than the Pratt & Whitney
R-1830s. Instead they were equipped with Wright Cyclone R-1820-G3
The GST (the Soviet designation for Soviet build Catalinas) was not
exactly the same as the three Model 28-2's the Soviets bought. First
of all, the engine cowling front was different. It was possible to
open or close it, probably for cold weather operations. The cowlings
enclosed M-87 engines and not M-62 engines (which would have been
license build Wright Cyclone R-1820-G3's). The M-87 was a 2-row,
14-cylinder, air cooled, radial engine, rated at 950 h.p. The third
difference was the bow turret. The few photos released of the GST show
that it looked quite different from the PBY turret.
The Soviets did not produce as many GST's as some sources state.
Instead of the 150, only 27 were produced. There were several reasons
for that. First of all, the military interest in the GST was not
large. Then the Soviets had difficulties building the GST and the
production plant in Taganrog was overrun by the Germans in 1941. Most
GST's that came into service were later disarmed and given to
'Glavsevmorput' for civil purposes. The engines were changed as well
and became M-62 engines, the license build R-1820-G3. These aircraft,
with designation MP-7, could carry up to 20 passengers.
Very little is known about operations with either GST's or MP-7's. Of
one GST though, a part of its history is known. On the 22nd of
November 1941, a GST landed at Morphou Bay, Cyprus. The aircraft was
flown by a Soviet sailor with, it is said, no previous flying
experience. The sailor had taken off from Sevastopol and had flown
across the Crimea, Black Sea, and Turkye. The aircraft was pressed
into RAF service and wore the RAF serial HK850. It remained unused in
Aboukir, Egypt, until blown ashore in a gale on the 23rd of February,
An effort of the U.S. Navy to improve the PBY, resulted in a major
re-design. The changes to the hull, wing and tail, improved the
performance and handling very much, both on the water and in the air.
In order not to interrupt the PBY deliveries to the Navy, a new
production line was established at the Naval Air Factory in 1941 to
produce the new aircraft under the designation PBN-1 Nomad. Deliveries
of the Nomad did not start until February 1943, with the last accepted
in March 1945. Of the 156 PBN-1's ordered, only 17 were delivered to
the Navy. The Soviet Union received 137 aircraft through
lend-lease. Of the other two, one was destroyed on USA territory and
the other was lost during ferry to the Soviet Union. N.V. Romanov was
the commander on the plane when it was lost. Apart from the 137
Nomads, the Soviet Union also received 48 PBY-6A Catalinas through
These lend-lease aircraft came to the Soviet Union via three different
routes. In 1943, mixed English and Soviet crews ferried PBN-1's from
Elizabeth City (North Carolina) to Habbaniyah (Iraq) via San Juan
(Puerto Rico), Trinidad, Bélem (Brazil), Natal (Brazil), Bathurst
(British West Africa, now Banjul (Gambia)), Port Lyauty (Morocco),
Djerba (Tunisia), and Kasfareit (Egypt). From Habbaniyah the Soviet
crew took the plane to Sevastopol via Bagdad and Baku (USSR).
In 1944, PBY-6A's were delivered via Newfoundland and Iceland to
Murmansk, and in the same year Nomads were delivered to Vladivostok
via Kodiak (Alaska), Anadyr, Magodan, and Nikolaevsk (all USSR). Of
the 148 Catalinas and Nomads flown to the Soviet Union, 46 were
delivered to Murmansk, 30 to Vladivostok, 59 to Sevastopol, and 28 to
Moscow. Several of the Catalinas and Nomads had radar. Photos exist
of Soviet PBY-6A's with radar and probably all the 48 delivered
PBY-6A's had radar. Of the 137 Nomads, it is said that 48 had radar.
Confirmation of this figure is not found (could these be a mix-up with
the 48 PBY-6A's?).
The usage of the Catalinas (from here on Nomads and Catalinas are
referred to as Catalinas) commenced in the summer of 1944 in the
Baltic Sea, Barents Sea, and Black Sea areas. In July 1944 the fleet
of the White Sea had 9 Catalinas. The air-regiment involved was the
118th omrap and the main activities of the Catalinas were escorting
convoys and ati-submarine patrols.
Little is known about Soviet Catalina operations and whether the
following facts are correct or not is questionable. Still, these facts
give us an insight of how Soviets used their Catalinas.
• On the 12th of August 1944, two Catalinas attacked a submarine on
the surface near White Island. One plane, commanded by S. M. Ruban
opened fire with its machine guns, which the submarine answered with
its own guns. Two Catalinas that came to help, threw 8 depth charges
on the submarine which, by that time, had submerged. Debris and oil
• On September the 5th of the same year, submarine U-362 was sunk near
S. Kirov Island by joint effort of a Catalina, sweeper T-116 and
• An other submarine was sunk in a similar way while a Catalina was
escorting convoy DB-9 on the 24th of October 1944.
• In April of 1945 a lone Catlina attacked a submarine with depth
charges and sank it.
• A very successful attack was made by lieutenant Panichkin and his
crew while they were patrolling over the Black Sea. During the patrol
they spotted the wake of a periscope on the water. They attacked the
submarine with depth charges and managed to severly damage it. But,
unknown to them at that time, a second submarine, which must have been
very close to the first one, was damaged as well. Survivors of both
submarines were picked up, among them the two captains.
• The Soviets used their Catalinas also for rescue missions. During a
raid on Pillay, PBY-6A's with fighter protection were patrolling some
distance from the base and watched for downed aircraft.
• On the 19th of August 1944, a Catalina picked up a downed Pe-2 crew
and shot down a German fighter. A second source states that on
the same day a PBY-crew shot down a BLohm & Voss Bv.138 over the Black
Sea during a rescue mission. Although a Bv.138 is not a fighter, this
was probably the same mission being described.
An other purpose the Soviets used their Catalinas for was landing
group delivery. Special forces or agents were put ashore at places
unreachable to other craft or with relatively more safety.
• On the 29th of August, 1944, a landing group was delivered by
Captain Knjazev near Constanta (Rumania). An other source states
that on the 8th of September, Catalinas brought a new communist
government to Bulgaria. They landed near Constanta (Rumania) with
special 'Spetnatz' forces and some 'good, old commerades' of the
Bulgarian communist party. Either these two missions were one and the
same (in which case on of the dates must be wrong) or these were
really two missions. Probably the second source is in error and has
Constanta mistaken for Varna (a Bulgarian port on the Black Sea). The
first source does mention a mission to Varna on the 8th of September
but does not give any details. A new Bulgarian government was declared
on the 9th of September.
• On the 9th of September, 2 Catalinas delivered troops to Burgas and
other Catalinas landed troops at Rönne on the Danish island Bornholm.
Two more landings were on the 24th of August, 1945 near Port-Arthur
(?) and Dairen (?). Ten Catalinas brought 135 troops of sea infantry
to Port-Arthur and seven Catalinas landed 90 paratroopers near Dairen.
• While a fight was going on, I.Z. Maslin of the 48th omrap, landed a
group of 'submarine gunners' on a Japanese airfield using a PBY-6A.
This was on the 27th of August,1945 on the island Iturup.
The Soviets did a lot of experiments with motherships (converted
bombers) carrying fighters. Among the many different types used and
projected was also the GST. Theprojected development using a GST would
have carried two I-15s on top of its wings.
It is clear that the Soviets used their Catalinas in many roles in
many theatres of war. Although not in as large numbers as the
Americans or the British, the Soviets used a large number of
Catalinas. How many exactly can fairly precisely be estimated:
type/name number remarks
PBN-1 137 through lend-lease
PBY-6A 48 through lend-lease
GST 27 Soviet build Catalina
Guba 1 NC777; L-2
Model 28-2 3 assembled in the Soviet Union
Many Soviet Catalinas were used until the mid-fifties and some PBN-1's
(or KM-1's as the Soviets called them) were refitted with new engines.
The new engines were ASH-82FN engines which were rated at 1850 hp.
Aircraft with these new engines got the designation KM-2.
It is unknown if Catalinas still exist in the GOS. There are rumours
of a Russian pilot telling about a Catalina standing somewhere on her
own. And about a Catalina doing guard duty at a military base near
Nikolaev (Ukraine). It either is true, lets hope some enthusiast finds
her and brings her back to static or even airworthy condition.
 Air Enthusiast Thirty-Nine
 Roscoe Creed; PBY, The Catalina Flying Boat
 Pĺl Forus in a letter to the author
 Andrew Hendrie; Flying Cats, The Catalina Aircraft in World War II
 W. W. Iwanov in a letter to the author
 Mau / Stapfer; Unter rotem Stern, Lend-Lease-Flugzeuge für die
 W. E. Scarborough; PBY Catalina in action; Squadron/Signal
 Krylia Rodiny no. 9 & 10, 1992 (Russian aviation magazine)
Many thanks to all the people who helped putting this article
together, especially Nikolai Lyssenko and wife for the translation of
the Russian articles and letters.
GST KM-1 MP-7 KM-2
Type Military aircraft Russian PBN Civil aircraft Upgraded PBN
Wing span 31.7 m 31.77 m 31.7 m 31.77 m
Length 19.35 m 21.2 m 19.35 m 21.2 m
Height 5.65 m 6.47 m 5.65 m
Wing area 130 m2 130 m2 130 m2 130 m2
Flight weight 9800 kg 16524 kg 11800 kg
Max. speed 329 km/h 299 km/h 277 km/h
Ceiling 5500 m 4602 m 5100 m 9000 m
Range 2600 km 4165 km 2800 km
Engines M-87 P&W R1830-92 M-62IR* ASH-82FN
*The engines M-62IR are licence build Wright Cyclone R-1829-G3
The Russian Catalinas