In another thread of mine some doubt was cast over what RAF pilots did in their training in WW2. Obviously it varied a fair bit throughout the war but my impression was that someone going onto single engined fighters might do about 40 hours on the Tiger Moth then about 40-60 hours on a Harvard before being converted onto operational type. Does this sound about right? Because there were some people who reckoned they had 30 hours on a Tiger Moth before going straight onto Spitfires: surely this couldn't be right, could it?
It is difficult to generalise helpfully on this one, T-M, as the situation seems to have varied from theatre to theatre, and at various times during the war. The training system was significantly improved during the course of the war, particularly after 1940. When the fighting started, there were three main groups of pilots: the regulars who had been in for a while and had been trained fairly extensively, the V R weekend pilots, who had typically learned on Tiger Moths, then moved on to the late biplanes such as Hawker Harts, and the new wartime recruits. At least initially there appears to have been a shortage of monoplane trainers to assist pilots in moving from the biplanes to the far more powerful new frontline fighters, and first solo on type might often also count as first solo with retractable gear, vp prop, w/t, flaps, etc etc.
In "The Burning Blue", Wallace Cunningham DFC relates how he joined the VR at the time of the Munich crisis, trained on Moths and Harts, then spent two weeks on a Spitfire familiarisation course before joining 19 Squadron at Duxford at the time of Dunkirk. He had time to do a little formation and fighting training before the Battle really kicked off.
From the same source, Nigel Rose, another Munich volunteer, relates how he arrived at 602 Squadron in late June 1940, but his letters home indicate that he was not allowed into a Spitfire before he had spent some time flying around in Moths and Magisters. By late July he was writing to his parents explaining how he'd bent a Spitfire to the tune of £3000 worth of damage on landing. A few weeks later he was in action. He later became an instructor.
Roald Dalh's memoirs relate that he joined up in Africa, and was posted to an operational Gladiator Squadron when he had 156 hours on Moths and Harts. After six months in hospital following a Gladiator crash, his squadron had moved to Greece with Hurricanes. He says that he was simply given a Hurricane and told to fly it to Greece and join in.
Len Deighton in "Fighter" relates a story of one frontline squadron in the UK in 1940 which had to scrounge a Harvard from another unit as neither its CO nor several of its new pilots had flown any monoplane when they were equipped with Hurricanes.
Despite all this, the understandable romantic tales of "here you are, laddie, ten minutes circuits and bumps in a Moth, then strap on your Spitfire and fly off in the general direction of Dover" appear to be somewhat exaggerated, and the make do and mend arrangements of 1940 were superceded by a more systematic approach as the initial crises were overcome. I haven't yet been able to detect from the books, however, what the average training pattern would be. Deighton observes that pilots on the Luftwaffe bomber force in 1940 might have about 250 hours logged, but neither he nor the official history suggest average figures for the RAF crews.
As an indication, my father was a Beaufighter pilot, and joined up in early 1941. He did 5 weeks in Cornwall on classroom theory, then went to Meir, in Stoke on Trent, for EFTS on Miles Magisters, which took some 100+ hours. After that was Little Rissington (operating from a satellite airstrip at Windrush) for c 200 hours on Oxfords, after which he was awarded his wings.
January 1942 saw him do about 100 hours on Blenheim 1 & IV's, with an hour solo in a Beaufighter before being sent to 219 nightfighter squadron at Tangmere. One hour being little use, he went off to St Athan to get some hours up flying (top secret) radar tests, getting about 40 hours in 3 weeks.
Needless to say, after another 3 weeks back at 219 on operational night sorties, he was then sent to North Africa (603 Squadron) for anti shipping/day ops.....
Very much still with us, but it's a bit of a hike from Melbourne.. I've dragged him up in one of my machines, he seems to enjoy it still. Avalon Airshow next month is just down the road, we'll be there.
Bushfires permitting, 15 weeks non stop so far on the fire line