The Consolidated PBY (Patrol Bomber the Y designating manufactured by Consolidated) was christened Catalina by the RAF, a name later adopted by the US, and Canso by the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force).
Developed from a line of flying boats manufactured by the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation over 4000 PBY Catalinas where produced and they served with distinction in nearly every theatre of the Second World War.
Up to the PBY-5 they were built solely as flying boats but in 1941 a retractable tricycle undercarriage was added converting the PBY-5A into an amphibian. The RAF continued to almost exclusively use the flying boat version but most of the production after 1943 was of the amphibian. In 1937, the Soviet Union showed interest in the PBY which resulted in an order for three aircraft and a license for production. They were designated as the GST (гидро самолет перевозчик) and were powered by Mikulin M-62 radial engine which was a derivative of the licensed built M-25 Wright Cyclone. The first GSTs appeared in 1939 but many were destroyed in the German onslaught of 1941.
With a range of around 2500 miles (4000 km) much of the Consolidated PBY Catalina’s crews time was spent on long, monotonous, maritime and anti-submarine patrols, far from land, over the oceans of the world. These patrols had a major influence on key events of the war, one PBY found the Japanese fleet of Admiral Yamamoto before the battle of Midway and an RAF Catalina located the German battleship Bismark. This sighting led to the battleships eventual sinking.
Action, when it came could be destructive and two Victoria crosses were won (one posthumously) by Catalina captains for pressing on with attacks against heavily armed U boats. By the end of the war forty U Boats had been sunk by Catalinas.
In 1944 the Soviets also acquired, under Lend-Lease, 137 PNB-1 Nomads, an updated model of the sea plane version of the PBY, which had a longer range and heavier armament than the previous models. Now able to stay aloft for over thirty hours Catalinas completed some of the longest journeys in terms of time airborne in aviation history. Qantas Catalinas making weekly flights between Perth and Ceylon a distance of 3592 miles (6652 km) which took the relatively slow flying boats 28 to 32 hours.
Countless airmen and sailors were rescued by the flying boat and the Catalina continued its search and rescue operations after the war. Although the RAF disposed of all its Catalinas at the end of the war and the US had retired its PBYs by the mid fifties the aircraft continued in service with smaller air forces and many were converted for civilian uses as diverse as ocean fishing platforms, private flying yachts and firebombers.
Catalina History David Legg May 2006, 2011
Soviet Catalinas of World War Two Patrick Kinville