RCAF S/L Norville Small - He Sank the Sub
by Frank Tibbo
The next time you visit the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Gander, look for Norville Small, DFC, AFC. As far as can be determined, he is the only pilot buried there who was responsible for sinking an enemy submarine.
During WWII various RCAF squadrons tasked with carrying out antisubmarine patrols and convoy escort work over the Atlantic were based at Gander. No. 5 Bomber Reconnaissance (BR) Squadron arrived in November 1942 operating Canso aircraft.
On January 7, 1943, a Canso from No. 5 Squadron crashed on the south side of Gander Lake just after taking off. It was thought at the time that the aircraft, heavily laden with depth charges and fuel, was caught in a severe downdraft. Two of the seven crew members survived, but sadly Captain Squadron Leader Norville Small, DFC, AFC, Pilot-Officer Donald Hudson, Pilot Officer John Mangan, Flying Officer Aubrey Tingle, and Sergeant Harold White were killed.
Squadron Leader Norville E. “Molly” Small was a decorated officer who was referred to as a leader, tactician, and innovator. It was these qualities that brought him to Gander only days before the accident. On the morning of the crash, he had departed on a special operational patrol.
Some of the German Wolf Pack subs were operating too far out in the Atlantic to be reached by Gander’s bombers. Small’s mission was to prove that the Canso bombers could stretch their range by shedding some weight. He ordered smaller depth charges, less ammunition and eliminated everything nonessential in order to take on extra fuel. Altogether he shed almost 1300 pounds.
This eventually allowed his bombers to get to mid-Atlantic where the U-boats were operating freely without danger.
Prior to his being assigned to Gander, Squadron Leader Small was in command of 113 (BR) Squadron at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, where they used Hudson Bombers for sub hunting. By this time, he had been awarded the Air Force Cross in recognition of his devotion to duty and tireless work since the start of the war.
It was July 31, 1942, when he spotted and attacked German submarine number U-754 southeast off Cape Sable. He and his crew dropped four depth charges sending the submarine to the bottom of the Atlantic. That victory was the first sinking of a submarine by an aircraft from Eastern Air Command.
S/L Small, ever the innovator, had ordered the bottom of his Hudson Bomber painted white in order to camouflage it. He considered this a contributing factor in his ability to get close to the submarine before it had an opportunity to submerge. The British Royal Air Force Coastal Command used the same tactic with some success.
Small also established a system whereby aircrews waited in full readiness on twenty-four hour standby and arranged as well to be contacted immediately should intelligence information from intercepted U-boat radio transmissions reveal a probable enemy position. Such a system was also a contributing factor leading to the destruction of U-754.
Small was considered to be an outstanding and enthusiastic leader, a master pilot, and an excellent tactician. He was also described as a conscientious student of maritime air power. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his exceptional airmanship, courage and devotion to duty in the face of the enemy during six U-boat attacks for his initiative in completing difficult tasks in adverse weather and his assistance in effecting a number of sea rescues.
Thank you to Mr. Darrell Hillier, formerly of Gander, for his assistance with this column. A great deal of the foregoing was published in the newsletter of the North Atlantic Aviation Museum and compiled by Mr. Hillier. (Hillier)
Submitted by F. Tibbo