Article by Rich Thistle ©
On the night of June 7, 1944, a few hours following the day called "D", the full moon was a beacon through two-tenths cloud. A young Canadian, at the controls of an RAF Coastal Command Consolidated B-24 Liberator was about to make aviation history, although history was about the furthest thing from his mind.
His attention, and that of his crew of 10, including seven Canadians, was riveted on the calm water of the English Channel below. Somewhere down there lurked their dangerous quarry, a growing force of Kriegsmarine U-boats, hardened veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic, gathering to mount a desperate attack on the marine supply line supporting the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe.
Only three short years earlier, a young Ken Moore from Rockhaven Saskatchewan joined the RCAF, and, over the flat prairie of western Canada, became one of 137,738 other airmen from Canada and many other countries to receive almost two years of flight training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Canada. Even in the dark days of 1941 aircrew training under the Plan was long and thorough, but by September 1942, K.O. (Ken) Moore finally pinned on the coveted pilot badge.
After another nine months of advanced training at GR (General Reconnaissance ) School, Charlottetown, P.E.I., No.111 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in the Bahamas, and 1 OTU RAF in England, he finally reported to a front-line RAF Squadron, No. 224 Coastal Command. No one could have guessed his future accomplishment would have been one for the record book. Patrolling the broad expanses of the ocean and coast in the ongoing war against the German U-boats was a daunting and usually boring task, interspersed with many hours of training. In often appalling weather conditions, trips became tests of endurance and patience, and even sightings could prove to be a rare event. So when the crew of the Liberator, captained by Flying Officer K.O. Moore, sank not only one, but two submarines in the space of twenty-two minutes, it was an exceptional feat never to be equaled.
Moore's first action occurred on March 31, 1944 in the Bay of Biscay, and ended with a close depth charge attack and the escape of a damaged submarine. A little more than two months later the story had a very different ending. The weather in the early morning hours of June 8 was ideal for sub hunting. It was a warm night. The stormy weather of D-Day had dissipated. The sky was full of stars and the moon painted a path of gold across the quiet water. Suddenly at 0211 hrs, the radar operator's voice was a jolt of direct current over the intercom, electrifying the whole crew. This was no drill.
"Contact dead ahead, range twelve miles." The years of training and the adrenaline pumping set up a high-energy but controlled response. The crew reacted as one. Moore maneuvered the aircraft up-moon. With the big bird on an attack heading, a scant hundred feet above the calm water, there, a black sliver in the shimmering reflection ahead, U-441 was riding the surface. Moore's nose gunner opened fire, and his 0.5 inch round from the Brownings were seen striking among the sailors on the conning tower, and forward gun platform.
Almost immediately, the Lib swept across the fleeing boat, forward of the conning tower, and six depth charges straddled the U-boat. Five seconds later, in full view of the rear gunner, the depth charges boiled and then exploded, lifting the stricken submarine up out of the sea. Back broken, it quickly sank, leaving only a slick and some debris swirling in the foam-churned water.
Still in the flush of victory a few minutes later, the highly improbable occurred. Six miles away just off the coast of Ushant, France, a second contact was confirmed. Two and one half miles away the fully-surfaced sub appeared in the reflection of golden moonlight, but in a position unsuitable for attack. Moore muscled the huge B-24 into a steep turn and rolled out into attack position. Descending to fifty feet and approaching from the starboard beam, the Liberator's nose position quickly silenced the opposing ack-ack and again depth charges erupted across the submarine.
Circling for another attack, Moore's crew saw the boat listing heavily to starboard. The bow rose up to a very steep angle and the U-boat was seen disappearing stern first into the boiling turmoil. Three dinghies containing survivors were spotted in the intense beam of the Liberator's Leigh light. Another submarine, U-373, was sunk. Between the sighting of the first and the sinking of the second sub, only twenty-two minutes had elapsed. Following the second attack, a droll radio message was sent to base: "Sighted two subs, sank same." (K.O. Moore)
Moore and his crew had made their mark in the history of war in the air. For his skill and audacity in the record-making double- header attack, F/O K.O. Moore was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and the American Silver Star. Moore and his crew had become the most decorated crew in RAF Coastal Command.
It was during my first reading of this story, while searching for a fourth theme to complete my series VALOUR OVER DANGEROUS SEAS on W.W.II Canadian airmen that my painting QUARRY IN THE MOONPATH virtually leaped from the printed page. The words produced such a strong image that it was literally like a slide projected on my mind's screen, a definite 500 watt vision!
Of all the written accounts which have inspired paintings, this one stands out in my mind as the most "visually evolved". The event in question was bathed in moonlight, and the position of the moon, as well as other atmospheric conditions, were well described in the written accounts. It was the description of the moon path on the water which inspired me to paint it.
It was well after the painting was complete and the image had been published as the 4th plate in a collector plate series VALOUR OVER DANGEROUS SEAS, that I discovered Ken Moore was alive and well, living in Victoria. I decided to get in touch. I sent him the collector plate of QUARRY IN THE MOONPATH and he sent me photos of his plane and crew and agreed to read a draft of an article I was writing at the time about this event.
When I found out Ken was to be Canada's senior military representative at the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic in England, and was invited to dine with the Queen on the Royal Yacht, I agreed to send with him a set of my four-plate series VALOUR OVER DANGEROUS SEAS, as a Canadian gift for Her Majesty. QUARRY IN THE MOONPATH
- original painting available in catalog
- limited-edition fine-art print available in catalog
THE DANGEROUS SKY Tom Coughlin, The Ryerson Press, Toronto
THE RCAF OVERSEAS Oxford University Press, Toronto