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Birchall, Leonard Joseph CM (Air Commodore)

Prisoner of War Japan 1942-April-04

Birth Date: 1915-July-06 (age 26)

Born: St Catherines, Ontario

Home: St Catherines, Ontario

Decorations: CM, OBE, DFC, O Ont, CD, Legion of Merit (USA)

Order of the British EmpireDistinguished Service CrossOrder of CanadaOrder of OntarioCanadian Forces Decoration
413 Sqn- Squadron
Ad Vigilamus Undis We watch the waves
Koggala Lake, Ceylon
Air Commodore
Air Chief MarshalA/C/M
Air MarshalA/M
Air Vice MarshalA/V/M
Air CommodoreA/C
Group CaptainG/C
Wing CommanderW/C
Squadron LeaderS/L
Flight LieutenantF/L
Flying OfficerF/O
Pilot OfficerP/O
Warrant Officer 1st ClassWO1
Warrant Officer 2nd ClassWO2
Flight SergeantFS
Senior AircraftmanSAC
Leading AircraftmanLAC
Aircraftman 1st ClassAC1
Aircraftman 2nd ClassAC2
Service Numbers

Citation Order of Canada

Order of Canada

Member of the Order of Canada

Awarded on: October 21, 1999

Invested on: February 09, 2000

A Second World War hero, he is known as the "Saviour of Ceylon". Retiring from the Royal Canadian Air Force with the rank of Air Commodore, he went on to serve twenty-two years with the 400th Air Reserve Squadron. He also joined York University as Executive Officer in the Faculty of Administrative Studies. In his retirement, he continues to be active in many military and charitable organizations. Governor General of Canada

Citation Order of Ontario

Order of Ontario

Citation Order of the British Empire

Order of the British Empire

Citation Distinguished Flying Cross

Distinguished Service Cross

This officer was the first to sight and report the approach of the Japanese naval forces which attacked Ceylon. He did not return from his mission, but his timely warning enabled preparations to be made which resulted in considerable losses to the enemy forces. Only two days before this flight he had arrived from England where he had achieved a long record of operational successes.

Public Record Office Air 2/8951

Catalina AJ155, 413 Squadron, enemy action, aircraft shot down and crashed 400 miles south of Ceylon.

Birchall and his crew were on a reconnaissance flight in Canso aircraft AJ 155 QL-A and spotted Admiral Nagumo's Task Force of the Japanese Fleet steaming towards Columbo Ceylon (Sri Lanka). This same task force had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbour and included five aircraft carriers. As a significant portion of the Royal Navy's Eastern Fleet was at anchor there, another surprise attack could have resulted in a similar catastrophic loss for the British and significantly strengthened Japan's position in the Pacific.

Birchall and his crew managed to get a warning message out before being attacked and shot down by six A6M2 Zero fighters from the Japanese aircraft carrier "Hiryu". The Japanese still proceeded with an attack on Ceylon in what was known as the "Easter Sunday Raid" but Birchall's action gave advance warning to the British Fleet, averting disaster and after which S/L Birchall was known as the "Saviour of Ceylon"

Canada Source RCAF Leonard Birchall

General Combat Duty

Leonard J. Birchall-the "Saviour of Ceylon"

On 4 April 1942, Squadron Leader Leonard J Birchall led Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Squadron 413 on a reconnaissance flight to an observation position 250 miles (400 kilometres) south of Ceylon. Birchall's squadron of Catalina "flying boats" had just completed a tour of patrol duty over the convoy route from Britain to the Soviet Union known as the "Murmansk Run"

During the patrol, RCAF Squadron 413 did not encounter any vessels. As the squadron was returning to the British naval base in Ceylon, Squadron Leader Birchall sighted a small dot on the southern horizon. Birchall changed course, while the rest of his squadron turned for home. As his plane approached the target, he was able to identify it as a Japanese task force. Japanese aircraft spotted the RCAF Catalina as it approached the fleet. Despite heavy enemy fire from anti-aircraft guns and Japanese fighter planes, Birchall conducted a low-level flight to identify the Japanese ships in the task force. It consisted of five aircraft carriers and four battleships supported by several cruisers, destroyers, and troopships.

Squadron Leader Birchall immediately began sending coded transmissions to the British base in Ceylon. According to regulations, units were to send each transmission three times. Birchall was in the middle of the third coded transmission when anti-aircraft fire destroyed the radio and seriously damaged his Catalina. After crash landing his plane in the ocean, Birchall and his crew were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The Japanese brutally interrogated Birchall and his crew, who insisted that they had not had time to send any transmissions. When questioned about the strength of British forces in Ceylon, Birchall told his captors that he had no knowledge of the British defences because his squadron had only been posted in Ceylon for a day. Birchall and his crew were taken aboard the Japanese Imperial Navy carrier Akagi and were later transported to Japan. As a result of Birchall's heroic actions, the British were able to repulse the Japanese assault. The Japanese suffered heavy losses, losing 50 fighters and 50 bombers in the attack before retreating.

In captivity, Birchall proved to be a champion of prisoner's rights in the brutal conditions of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. He repeatedly endured savage beatings by Japanese guards when he intervened to protect prisoners from torture or when they were denied medical care.

Squadron Leader Birchall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions, and was later given the Order of the British Empire for his leadership and courage while in captivity. Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill declared that Birchall had made "one of the most important single contributions to victory." Loyal Edmonton Regiment Military Museum

Google MapSt Catherines, Ontario
Google MapCataraqui Cemetery

Canso AJ155

Consolidated Canso Catalina PBY PB2B A-10 OA-10 Black Cat

RCAF Canso A (Serial No. 9754), No. 162 Squadron, F/L David Ernest Hornell aircraft.

The Consolidated Catalina and Canso were close cousins. The Canso was the true amphibious version of the design and therefore included a conventional undercarriage to allow for either water or land use. The Canso provided more than two decades of valuable service to the RCAF. The Catalina variant came first and was produced beginning in 1935 for the United States Navy. The amphibious version, designated PBY-5A, came in service early in 1941 and the RCAF began using the aircraft on anti-submarine patrols that same year. After the Second World War, the RCAF used Cansos for search and rescue, Arctic survey missions and various transport operations. RCAF

YouTube Canso PBY

Wkikpedia Wikipedia Canso PBY

General Harold A Skaarup Web Page

CASPIR Aircraft Groups:
RCAF On Strength (274), RCAF 400 Squadron (13), Canadian Aircraft Losses (82)
last update: 2022-03-15 19:52:22

Canso I AJ155

Modified by Saunders-Roe after delivery from US. With No. 413 (GR) Squadron, RCAF in Scotland and Ceylon, coded "QL*A". Flown to Ceylon via Gibralter, Malta, Egypt, Iraq and India from 19 March to 1 April 1942. Detected approaching Japanese fleet, radio warning before being shot down on 4 April 1942. 3 fatalities and 6 survivors, including pilot S/L L.J. Birchall who became known as "Saviour of Ceylon". All survivors taken prisoner, all survived the war.

413 Sqn Ad Vigilamus Undis ("Tusker")

History of the Squadron during World War II (Aircraft: Catalina I, IB, IV)

The squadron was formed as the eleventh RCAF squadron created overseas in WWII. It was formed in Stranraer, Scotland on July 1, 1941 as a flying boat General Reconnaissance unit, flying Catalina aircraft on reconnaissance and anti-submarine patrols. It flew from Stranraer and from Sullom Voe in the Shetland Islands. In March 1942 it was hurriedly sent to the Far East, to Koggala in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) , and was pressed into service to maintain reconnaissance to watch for the Japanese fleet that was thought to be on the way to attack Ceylon. Indeed, the fleet was detected by Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall on April 4, 1942 and the defenders in Ceylon were alerted so that the invasion did not take place. S/L Birchall was awarded the DFC for his operation, on which he was shot down and taken as a POW. The squadron remained in Ceylon, with outposts at different locations in the Indian Ocean until January 1945. The squadron personnel were returned to England by sea, and the squadron was disbanded at Bournemouth, England on February 23, 1945.

In the course of operations the squadron logged over 11,500 operational hours for the loss of 3 aircraft, with 27 aircrew being killed, missing or POW. Squadron members were awarded 1 DSO, 4 DFCs, 2 AFCs and 1 MiD. Battle Honours were: Atlantic 1941-43, Ceylon 1942, Eastern Waters 1942-44.Wikipedia, Kostenuk and Griffin

Maps for Movements of 413 Squadron 1941-45

MAP 1: 413 Squadron Movements 1941-45(right-click on image to display enlarged in new tab)
MAP 2: 413 Squadron Bases in the Indian Ocean 1942-45

413 Squadron History Summary 1941-45

History of the Squadron Post-WWII (Aircraft: Lancaster X, Mitchell II, Canso A, Norseman, Sabre II & V, Canuck, Labrador, Hercules, Cormorant)

Re-created at RCAF Rockcliffe, Ontario on April 1, 1947, it took over the duties of No. 13 (Photographic) Squadron, flying Avro Lancaster X, North American Mitchell II, Consolidated Canso A and Noorduyn Norseman aircraft. It operated in this photographic role until November 1, 1950, when it was disbanded.

The squadron re-formed again on August 1, 1951, as a fighter squadron at CFB Bagotville, Quebec . Equipped with the F-86 Sabre II and V they deployed to Zweibr├╝cken, Germany in April 1953. In 1956, it was decided to replace one Sabre squadron in each of the Air Division Europe with an all-weather fighter unit. The squadron accordingly was stood down on April 7, 1957, returned to Canada and was then reactivated on May 1 as an all-weather fighter squadron, operating the Avro CF-100 Canuck out of Bagotville. The squadron again disbanded on December 30, 1961.

The squadron was reactivated at CFB Summerside, Prince Edward Island on July 8, 1968, in its current role of a Transportation and Rescue Squadron. With the closure of Summerside, the squadron relocated to CFB Greenwood, Nova Scotia on June 10, 1991. The CH-113 Labrador helicopter was used during this time. The present duties of the squadron are to conduct search and rescue and airlift throughout an 1,800,000 square mile area in eastern Canada. As the primary air search and rescue unit on Canada's East Coast, 413 Squadron crews cover an area extending from the south of Nova Scotia, north to Iqaluit on Baffin Island as far west as Quebec City and east out to the middle of the Atlantic. The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre, Halifax (JRCC) operationally controls one Hercules and four Cormorant Aircraft for primary Search and Rescue response. 413 Squadron has crews on standby 24-hours a day to respond to marine vessels or aircraft in distress, to carry out medical evacuations, or search for missing persons year round. 413 Squadron has an intimate working relationship with the non-profit Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) in the Maritimes and Newfoundland/Labrador. Both the Hercules and the Cormorant carry out annual visits to each of the zones in the Halifax Search and Rescue Region to assist in the training of CASARA member as spotters. 413 Squadron also provides one Hercules aircraft for global strategic transport. Missions include humanitarian airlift and support of other units of the Canadian Forces. Generally the destinations are in North America, the Caribbean, or Western Europe, but could be anywhere in the world.

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