When John Iverach read the Winnipeg Tribune headline, “It’s War – and Britain’s In It!” on Labour Day weekend 1939, his life was changed forever. Iverach was an accounting student at the University of Manitoba and at age 22, he was exhilarated by the idea of “… a new career as a military hero.” Iverach writes in his autobiography Chronicles of a Nervous Navigator, “The greatest problem I could visualize was finding room on my chest for all those decorations.”
To his chagrin, the recruiting officer told Iverach that, as an accountant, he would be assigned to bookkeeping duties. He was ready to give up on his new career until he heard from a friend that the Royal Canadian Air Force was badly in need of personnel. Iverach volunteered and within the year he was training as part of the combined first and second class of what would later become the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Due to his propensity for numbers, he was assigned the role of ‘observer’ – this designation was soon renamed to ‘navigator’.
With only one sister in Winnipeg, his parents living out of town, and two brothers already serving in the Canadian Air Force, Iverach had few farewells to bid before traveling to Malton, Ontario for initial training on Tiger Moth biplanes. He and six other Canadian observers were soon assigned to 240 Squadron, stationed on the west coast of Scotland. Although the Canadian observers were inexperienced, they had the latest training in astronavigation, including the knowledge of how to use a sextant to measure angles between stars and the horizon. Iverach replaced a veteran navigator on board a Supermarine Stanraer flying boat, who in turn was shipped off to Canada for astronavigation training. Along with Iverach the flying boat crew consisted of two pilots, two wireless operators/air gunners, an engine mechanic and an airframe mechanic.
As battles intensified in the Atlantic in spring 1941, outdated Stanraers were traded for Consolidated Catalinas to face a new German threat to British supply lines – the enormous German flagship Bismarck. At 823 feet and crewed by more than 2,000 men, the Bismarck was the largest battleship in European waters. It was up to 240 Squadron to track her down. One evening while returning to base, Iverach spotted the British flagship HMS Hood firing its cannons in the distance. “Having gunnery practice,” the crew figured. They later learned to their horror that they had witnessed the final battle of the Hood, which had been sunk by the Bismarck with all but three hands. The next day, 240 Squadron was shadowing the Bismarck from above the clouds, helping to coordinate an ambush with the Royal Navy. Iverach tried to snap some pictures but, “… whenever we attempted to move in, the giant ship almost blew us out of the sky, so accurate was her gunnery.”
Within days, the Bismarck was swarmed by Swordfish torpedo bombers, which scored a lucky hit on the ships rudder, fixing her in a wide turn. British battleships sunk the Bismarck on May 27, 1941. John Iverach went on to complete nearly four tours of operation before he retired from the service in 1946 and returned to ‘’Civvy Street’’ as an accountant in Winnipeg. John Iverach, a long-time museum member and volunteer, passed away in 1992.
To learn more about 240 Squadron and John Iverach, please visit the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, where Iverach’s log book and sextant are on display in our Coastal Patrol Gallery. Regretfully, our gift shop is sold out of John Iverach’s book Chronicles of a Nervous Navigator. We would be grateful for any information about where we can find extra copies.
Pictured is flying officer Hugh Hirst on the right in one of the last operational Stranraer Flying Boats used by the RAF. Sgt John Iverach RCAF, as navigator is on the left in the picture. Photo courtesy of: http://www.castlearchdale.net