Military AircrewA forum for the professionals who fly the non-civilian hardware, and the backroom boys and girls without whom nothing would leave the ground. Army, Navy and Airforces of the World, all equally welcome here.
On Tuesday 3rd June, 1986, my wife Rosemary, Silvia and Harry McIver and I arrived in Munich to meet Wolf Stiebler, the captain of U461.
On the flight to Munich, I was beset with not a little trepidation - how does one greet a man whom you once did your damnedst to kill? However, I need not have worried. We recognised each other immediately. His handshake was firm, his smile was genuine.
"Peter," he said, "We last met in the Biscay!" and laughed.
We all got on wonderfully well. Wolf spoke reasonable English, Silvia spoke German quite well, and as Harry and I had spent the previous 12 months going to German classes once a week, we could communicate quite well. Wolf could detect - and got great amusement from - our Australian accent.
In our discussions with Wolf, he gave his version of what has been described as the greatest battle of the war involving U-boats. U461, U462, and U504 left Lorient on the evening of 29th July 1943. As senior officer, Wolf was in charge of the group. He ordered that they cruise on the surface all night and rendezvous at a point in the Biscay next morning.
U461 and U504 made the rendezvous, but U462 was missing. They stayed on the surface as long as they dared and Wolf was about to give the order to submerge when they saw flashes against the rising sun. It was U462 signalling with his searchlight.
They sailed back to him to discover that he had been submerged all night and had flat batteries. Using his searchlight had flattened them further, so it was impossible for him to submerge.
Wolf had to make a decision. He knew to remain on the surface during the day was dangerous. So should he stay with U462 and protect it, or submerge and leave it to its fate? He decided to remain surfaced, and was soon spotted and the battle began.
Our depth charges broke U461 in two, something on Wolf's clothing caught, and he was dragged down to a considerable depth before he was released and came to the surface. We had seen a Halifax bomb U462 and saw the crew abandon the boat and had assumed that it had been hit. Apparently this was not so. The bomb had missed and the crew had merely scuttled the boat.
We dropped one of our dinghies to the survivors of U461 (the crew of U462 all had one-man dinghies) and Wolf and the other survivors swam to it. They put three or four wounded men into the dinghy and the rest stayed in the water, holding on to the edge of the dinghy.
The sloops now arrived and U504 submerged. The sloops began depth charging about 800 to 1000 meters from the U461 survivors. According to Wolf, the men in the water suffered excruciating pain. They pulled themselves out of the water as far as they could but , (in Wolf's words), his stomach was forced into his chest and his eyeballs felt as if they were being forced out of his head. He honestly thought he was dying.
Wolf is very bitter over the whole affair. As he put it, he sacrificed two good boats and two good crews to save a boat which merely scuttled itself.
Silvia asked him if he had a good crew. "Yes," he said simply, "the best!"
After all these years it still rankles with him. He has never joined the U-boat association, but is a member of the "Cape Horners" (those who have rounded Cape Horn under sail).
For his efforts, Dudley received a DFC for sinking the sub. and a DSO for the combat with the Ju88’s. Pierre Bamber and Bubbles Pearce were both awarded the DFM.
Dudley had now completed his tour of 800 operational flying hours and was posted to Mountbatten to a desk job in the ops room. Pierre was in hospital having shrapnel removed from his legs and was finally invalided home.
Jimmy Leigh took over the crew as captain and we were posted to Carew Sherrington for an A.P.C. - (Armament Practice Course). This lasted a week and we then returned to the squadron.
For some time, Coastal Command losses in the Bay of Biscay had been giving H.Q. concern, and when we were shot down, they stopped all patrols on the eastern part of the Bay. Then shortly after we returned to the squadron, they gave the OK for a T3 patrol to test it out – and who did they pick? Us, of course!
4th November 1943. It was with some trepidation that we embarked on this patrol. The saying ‘third time proves it’ was on all our minds, but unspoken. Another first light takeoff on a T3 patrol! I would rather have stayed in bed.
Fortunately, there was plenty of cloud – (good old life insurance) – even as we set course from Finisterre. However, as we progressed, I began to realise that we were approaching the position of our previous battle, and not far from the location where we had sunk U-461. I was having these unpleasant thoughts when suddenly, George the navigator jumped up onto his table and had his head in the astrodome. (I was on the wireless.)
My heart missed a couple of beats. I switched on the intercom in time to hear the mid-upper say “They look like 88’s to me.”
I called the skipper and asked if he wanted a signal? “Yes,” he said, “bash out a 465 quick!”
I said: “How many?”
He replied: “Four.”
I switched on the transmitter, raised Group and bashed out “465 – 4,” with our position, got an acknowledgement from Group, then got back on the intercom to find out what was happening.
It appeared we had just flown out of cloud to find ourselves in the middle of a group of four Ju88’s. Jimmy had woken up before the Germans, and had turned back into the cloud. We never saw them again.
We all relaxed and tried to get back to normal. George started to compile a coded message for me to send to Group with details of the incident. I sat back waiting for the message and tried to calm my nerves. When the receiver came alive, I grabbed my pencil and started writing. The Morse came through, slower and clearer than usual, starting with about 10 or 12 callsigns, then a coded message. The strange thing was, our callsign was not included.
I called Jimmy. “Skip,” I said, “Group is calling every aircraft in the bay, but not us. The message is in code.”
Jimmy replied: “Get George to decode it.”
I handed it to George, who decoded it with the SYKO box. When he finished, he said: “I can’t understand it. The message reads to proceed to a position where four U boats have been reported. The position is 30 miles behind us.”
I suddenly went cold. I grabbed my log and looked at the last message – 465-4. I should have sent 487-4. (465 meant U boats, 487 meant enemy aircraft.) I just wasn’t thinking straight. When Jimmy said 465, I just sent it! What a mistake. I had to correct it before more harm could be done, so using plain language, I sent to Group: “Last message, cancel 465, substitute 487.”
There was no response from Group for four or five minutes. Then came the same slow Morse, all the previous callsigns: “Resume patrol.”
I couldn’t believe I could have done such a thing and wondered what the outcome would be. It must have gone around the base like wildfire. When we landed and moored up, a dinghy came alongside, and when we opened the aircraft door, the dinghy driver poked his head inside and said: “Who sent 465?” with a big grin on his face.
At debriefing, they told us that the Navy had been expecting a new wave of U boats to set out from the Channel ports, and when they received our signal, they said: “This is it,” and orders had gone out to the ships to get steam up, M.P.s were sent around the pubs to get matelots back to their ships – altogether a big panic.
The next few days, I had to put up with quite a bit of leg-pulling. I was called ‘465 Jensen’ and other uncomplimentary remarks. Then finally the Signals Leader came up to me and said the C.O. wanted to see me.
“What for?” I said.
“Don’t know,” he said, "probably that 465.”
With sinking heart, I went to Wing Commander Douglas’ office, knocked on the door, went in, saluted and said: “You wanted to see me, sir.”
He looked up, puzzled. “Did I?” he said.
“Yes sir.” I replied, and stood there.
He looked more puzzled. “What for?” he said.
I thought this was a bit funny, but might as well make a clean breast of it, so I said: “I assume it’s about the 465, sir.”
His face lit up and a broad grin crossed his face, to be suddenly replaced by a serious frown. “This is serious,” he said.
“Yes sir,” I said, “serious.”
He continued: “You know you scrambled the whole British fleet in the south of England.”
“Yes sir,” I said.
“You know M.P.s were sent around to all the pubs, sending sailors back to their ships.” He paused, savouring the thought, “Just imagine, all those drunken sailors, rolling back to their ships.” It was just too much. His face broke into a broad grin again. With a great effort, he wiped it from his face. “You know you should have sent 487, don’t you?”
“Yes sir,” I said.
He was beginning to get the smile back on his face again, I noticed. “You won’t do it again, will you?”
“No sir,” I said.
By this time, he was having difficulty keeping a straight face. “Dismissed.”
“Thank you sir.”
As I closed the door and walked down the corridor, I heard an unsuppressed laugh somewhere behind me.
Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:51.
Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
Over the next couple of weeks, the memory of the 465 signal gradually faded from squadron memory. As winter approached, the cold, wild weather made flying difficult, and even when moored, the flying boats had to be constantly guarded and protected. There always had to be at least two of the crew on board day and night. Refuelling especially could be a nightmare, especially at night. Also, re-arming with depth charges or ammunition for the guns had to be experienced to be believed.
I remember one dark and stormy night, we had landed after a long patrol. It was pitch black, the wind was blowing hard and the moisture in the air couldn’t make up its mind whether to hail or sleet. The skipper and the navigator went ashore for de-briefing, leaving the rest of us to get the aircraft ready for takeoff the next day. (It was requirement that the aircraft be fully refuelled and re-armed by the crew immediately after landing.)
I had the job of topping up the oil tanks, so I climbed out on the wing with a small torch. I started with the starboard inner engine, opened the panel covering the oil tank cap, and with the aid of the torch, read the dip stick. I pulled up a cord that was attached to the oil pipe from the refuelling barge below, put the nozzle into the oil tank and called: “Oil on,” and oil started flowing into the tank. When the tank was full, I called “Oil off,” and when the oil stopped flowing, I replaced the cap and panel and carefully stood up holding the nozzle close. It was pitch black, a bitterly cold wind blowing, hard-laced with hail and snowflakes, the aircraft was bucking – and then I started to slip. I couldn’t keep my feet. I went down on to my knees, switched on the torch and found that the oil line was still oozing oil and the oil was running down the front of my battledress, over my flying boots and the rubber soles couldn’t grip the oil-covered wing. I expressed my deep feelings into the wind, and finished up topping up the oil in the other three engines on my knees.
One of my most memorable experiences happened on Christmas Day 1943. On Christmas Eve, a signal was received from a 228 Squadron Sunderland. They had sighted a mystery ship, possibly a blockade runner. And so it turned out to be. Then a short time later, a signal was received from another Sunderland from 201 Squadron, (captained by Les Baveystock, who, for a short time, flew as our first pilot during our Poole days). The positions were close together and the question was – were there two ships, or did one aircraft have the wrong position?
Both aircraft were told to check their positions, but the 228 Squadron aircraft was never heard from again – obviously, it had been shot down. The panic was on. Les was told to shadow his ship, and when the Navy was called, all they had on hand was an old WW1 cruiser that had been converted to a minelayer. It was sent at full speed – about 12 knots! – to the area.
Jimmy was told to prepare for take over from Les Baveystock when he had to leave to refuel. We all went to bed to get what sleep we could.
We assembled at 4 a.m. for briefing. It was the most diabolical briefing I had ever attended. There were two blockade runners, and the Germans were desperate to get them into port. They had sent out eleven destroyers, (Narvik and Ebling class – modern ships with heavy armament), two Sperrbrekkers (flak ships), and there was intensive air cover of Ju88’s.
I thought: “Great! But what’s the cloud like?” Les had reported good cloud cover, but when the Met. man came on, he said he predicted a clear sky – no cloud! The last word was from the Operations Officer, whose comforting remark was: “There will be a Mosquito standing by at St Athan, but don’t bother calling him. You’ll be way out of his range.”
We were a quiet bunch walking down to the jetty, each with his own thoughts. To make matters worse, we weren’t flying our own aircraft. For a reason I can’t remember, we were told to take another one. This was something we didn’t like, as every aircraft is different and you become used to your own – you become comfortable with it.
It was to be a first light takeoff and dawn was just breaking as we slipped moorings and started towards the flare path. Then George Done the navigator came on the intercom to Jimmy and said: “There’s good light, Jimmy. Why not take off down river?” This was surprising, as I had never heard a navigator advise a pilot before.
Jimmy said: “Good idea. There’s a lot more water,” and proceeded to take off.
We had just got airborne when there came a loud banging noise. I looked over to the engineer’s position to see red lights flashing. This was all I needed. I grabbed my seat cushion, put it against the transmitter, sat on the bench, back against the cushion, feet on the piece of armour plate behind my position, in a crouch, with my head in my hands – and waited to hit!
In a wonderful example of airmanship, Jimmy brought the aircraft down on the water so softly that I didn’t know we were down. How fortunate that George had made his suggestion. If we had taken off on the flare path, we would have ended up in the township of Neyland, and if the depth charges had gone off, there wouldn’t have been much of the town left.
The panic was really on – we had to get airborne within 20 minutes or the op. would have been classified as an operational failure, and someone would have to be blamed for it. The Engineering Wing Commander came running down, a greatcoat over his pyjamas, determined it wasn’t going to be pinned on him. He came aboard with a couple of erks, who climbed up on the wing, opened the nacelle and found the trouble – the petrol line to the carburettor had been disconnected.
A big relief for the Wingco! He immediately blamed us. “Must have been one of the crew milking petrol out of the tank.”
This was loudly denounced by Bubbles, as it was not our aircraft.
“Well,” the Wingco said, as he nervously looked at his watch, “it’s all OK now. Get airborne.”
Bubbles and Joe Taylor stood their ground. “I want the other engines checked.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the other engines are OK,” said the Wingco.
“As far as you were concerned, the port inner was OK before we took off,” said Bubbles and Joe.
There was a moment’s silence as the two factions faced each other. Then the Wingco tried a new tack. He turned to Jimmy: “I am ordering you to take off,” he said.
What a responsibility for a young man, with ten lives plus his own at risk and with a job to do that he knew was dangerous for all involved. To his credit, he didn’t hesitate. “I’m taking off,” he said. “Who’s coming with me?”
We were all near the end of our tours and the experience of the immediate past had us all with a dose of the shakes, but when your skipper asks, what can you do? One by one, we said OK, as much as we would have all liked to go ashore and back to bed like the Wingco.
So off went a very relieved Wingco and his erks in the dinghy as we prepared for takeoff.
We started the engines and I switched on the R/T and requested permission for takeoff. We took off – down river again! – did a circuit of the base, then the navigator gave the captain a course to steer. The captain took up the course and I leaned over to switch off the R/T and change to W/T when I heard a faint voice on the R/T. I switched to intercom and asked the captain to do another circuit of the base, as base could be calling us. Sure enough, as we got into range, the voice came calling us.
I replied, and the message came: “Return to base, sortie cancelled.”
What a relief! We had Christmas dinner after all!
The drama unfolded over the next few hours. Apparently, the Navy had managed to get two cruisers into position and didn’t need us, and a battle took place which led to a magnificent victory by the Navy. They suffered no damage, but on the German side – disaster! They lost the blockade runners and their valuable cargoes and several destroyers. (I don’t know the exact number.)
Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:53.
Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
All these new contributors are rivetting stuff, so please, please carry on!! Just to interject a little background:- 23 Dec 1943 - 28 Dec 1943: Destruction of Brest and Bordeaux Flotillas On Christmas eve 1943 HMS Glasgow left the sanctuary of Horta to intercept a blockade runner, the Alsterufer. This blockade runner was sighted by a Sunderland flying-boat aircraft on 27th December and it was eventually sunk by bombs dropped from a Liberator bomber. In the meantime a signal was received aboard Glasgow that enemy warships from the German Bordeaux flotilla were at sea to protect the Alsterufer and that five ships might be encountered. On 28th December 1943 several "targets" were picked up on the cruiser's radar screens and at 1330 hours the enemy were engaged. During the course of the action, in which HMS Edinburgh also participated, three enemy destroyers were sunk with an additional four put out of action. Two crew members from Glasgow's ship's company died in the action and were buried at sea with wreaths made from the Christmas tree which had been intended for use at a children's party at Horta.
Hope that helps put the loss of the 288 Squadron Sunderland into context. They stopped at least one blockade runner and caused the loss of several powerful German warships.
This Forum should be running as the daily feature in a good newspaper so that the truth of what actually happened in so many different theatres of the war could reach a wider public. I note the thread that runs through so many of the fascinating, different tales and that is how often makeshift equipment, inferior weapons and stupid higher orders are overcome in the face of vastly superior ,well equipped modern enemy forces by the sometimes desperate tactics of quick thinking and ingenious methods. Not always , alas. I wonder whether we shall ever learn. ? Regle
Hmawbe (the ‘H’ is silent) was an airstrip 28 miles north of Rangoon. The other runway was at Mingaladon, this was about 8 miles north of Rangoon and it is now the modern airport.
They assembled most of the remaining Hurricanes and Harvards at Hmawbe and we had to get them serviceable. One plane needed a replacement generator and I knew that there was one on an abandoned aircraft at Meiktila. I offered to go back and get it. You know what they say, ‘Never volunteer for anything!’
I usually had Sgt. Harrap as a pilot; we took off on the morning of 25th. of August 1945 in a Harvard and flew north. The weather was absolutely foul. We flew by compass above the clouds for about an hour, then we descended to look for the bend in the River Sittang. As we were flying along at 600ft. above the jungle, I heard a metallic bang on the port mainplane and there was a hole.
We had been hit!
The pilot had his helmet on and I thought that he might not have heard it. We had no intercom., so I gave him a poke in the back with a screwdriver! I pointed to it and he saw it, he waggled the ailerons to check that they still worked.
We proceeded on our way to Meiktila and reported the incident when we arrived. A squadron of Thunderbolts were sent out to bomb the area. Dad also told me that a load of 'brown jobs' had to go out into the jungle to find the stubborn Japanese and bring them in. Dad was not flavour of the month with them as obviously it was quite dangerous.
I stripped out the generator and put it in the locker of the Harvard, behind my seat. I then went to lunch.
We took off, to return in the afternoon and on the way back the weather was even worse. There were storm conditions, the aircraft was all over the place and the canopy leaked like a sieve. We were lucky to make it.
Whenever I flew over the jungle, I used to have an emergency kit; a knife, a little box of ‘K’ rations, chocolate and a pair of socks.
Going to Meiktila to get parts from the abandoned aircraft was deemed to be a great success and a list of parts for a second visit was prepared. However, I developed yellow jaundice, Hepatitis; (disease of the liver).
I was sent to the military hospital in Rangoon. Apart from the fact that I was not allowed to eat eggs, I received no treatment and gradually I got better. It was all reasonably comfortable as there were electric ceiling-fans and there was a little open-air cinema in the garden at the back.
When I had recovered and was convalescent, I used to go for a walk around Rangoon in the afternoons. The centre of the town was very ‘British Colonial’, with wide roads and impressive stone buildings. It could have been Whitehall.
I visited the Yacht Club and the boating-lake, but the main attraction in Rangoon is the Shwedagon Pagoda. This is all gold, several hundred feet high and it dominates the town. It is covered in gold leaf and gold plate with a large ruby on the top! It looks quite stunning in the sunshine and is in the centre of a raised village of temples, approached by a stone staircase.
During the course of the action, in which HMS Edinburgh also participated...
An error. Edinburgh was sunk in the Barents Sea in May 1942 while famously carrying a load of Russian gold. The next HMS Edinburgh in commission was the Type 42 launched in 1983 and still in service. The other cruiser engaged with Glasgow was the light cruiser Enterprise. In the action the two cruisers sank three and damaged four out of eleven German destroyers.
Thanks Blacksheep. I had seen reference to HMS Enterprise elsewhere but the source had Edinburgh, which I thought more likely (not realising it had been sunk until you pointed out about the Russian gold) and thought if I put in Enterprise, we have Star Trekkies joining in!
On the 29th December, we were on patrol and sighted a lot of wreckage as a result of the naval battle, including a lifeboat containing 35 German survivors. We took a photograph, which was printed in ‘The Western Mail’ on 11th January. The boat was so full of survivors, they were all standing. It was a typical Biscay winter’s day, stormy and dull with thick low-lying cloud – life insurance. We kept just under the cloud, ready to duck back in if danger threatened. I was in the tail turret. Someone saw the lifeboat and the skipper decided to investigate. He told all turrets to keep a watch-out, and we left the safety of the cloud and down we went towards the lifeboat. I swung my turret from side to side, searching the space above us – it was not unknown for the Ju88’s to use survivors (even German) as decoys. However, there was no problem. We took photographs and went back to the safety of the cloud.
Later on, the skipper told me that as we swooped over the boat, I swung my turret towards the boat, and apparently, the survivors thought we intended to shoot them up, and all the men swayed over to the other side of the boat. As there was standing room only, there was nothing else they could do. He said it was like a paddock of wheat being blown by the wind.
I often wondered what happened to them. Hopefully, they were picked up by a British ship and made prisoners of war.
(**I understand that the name of one of the blockade runners was the ‘Alstrerufer’, [possibly ‘Alsterufer’], and that the survivors Peter’s crew saw made it to Spain, for they mentioned after making landfall that the only aircraft they saw whilst in the lifeboat was a Sunderland, [almost certainly Peter’s]. )
In a letter written to the editor of the Coastal Command and Maritime Air Association** newsletter in 2008, Peter says in part:
The battle had good coverage in the English press, and I well remember one newspaper reporting the great victory of so many enemy ships sunk for no casualties on our side. The loss of the 228 Squadron Sunderland with eleven men didn’t rate a mention. What did they call us? – ‘The Cinderella Service’? It should have been ‘The Forgotten Service’.
(** the CCMAA website is well worth a look)
With Peter’s mention in his letter of the men of Coastal Command calling themselves ‘The Cinderella Service’, I thought this poem by the late Sqn Ldr Tony Spooner DSO, DFC, AE was appropriate to insert here.
No Spotlight for Coastal
“Bombers or Fighters?” his friends used to say But when he said “Coastal”, they half turned away Yet Coastal’s patrols which traversed the Bay Forced the U-boats to dive for most of the day
With the U-boats submerged for much of the day The convoys ploughed on, midst the salt and the spray While the men on the ships did silently pray That his plane would appear; both to circle and stay
When his plane did appear; to both circle and stay Then the Wolf Packs held back; wholly robbed of their prey And the convoys sailed on in their purposeful way And the seamen reached port where their loved ones did lay
“Fighters or Bombers?” his friends used to ask
“Coastal”, he said, his face a tired mask
“Though not in the spotlight where others may bask, We’ve a tough job to do and I’m proud of the task”
Our next operational sortie was on 2nd January 1944. The weather closed in at PD and we were diverted to Poole. We went ashore and as I was signing in at the Officer’s Mess, a pilot looked at what I was writing and said: “461 Squadron? Did you know Dudley Marrows?”
I said: “Yes, he used to be my skip.”
He then asked; “Were you with him when he was in the drink?”
I said: “Yes.”
“Well,” he said, “I’m John Cruickshank and I found you.”
I held out my hand and shook his vigorously. “John,” I said, “I don’t know what a life is worth, but I reckon it’s worth a beer,” and I bought him one.
For the rest of January, we flew fairly constantly in very poor weather. Patrols would sometimes be cut short with a signal to return to base, or diverted to Poole or Mountbatten, then next day, a transit flight back to PD. In between time, we did some bombing and gunnery practice and an air test to check out a suspect engine fault.
On 3rd February, we did a patrol of 13 hours 20 minutes, and as I had now completed my 800 hours operational flying, I was taken off ops and awaited a decision on what was to constitute my ‘rest’ (as it was laughingly called).
For a couple of weeks, I stood in for the Adjutant while he went on leave. My main recollection is of issuing clothing coupons to the aircrew NCOs. (The real Adjutant was parsimonious in this regard, and the boys made the most of my liberal tendencies.)
I did one last trip with the old crew on 14th March – 1 hour 30 minutes on radar training – then on 17th March, set out for Alness in an old aircraft with a scratch crew to begin my ‘rest’.
Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 00:58.
Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
If Peter's remarks about his staying over the downed Sunderland crew in 'Tiger Country' until well after first light and leaving only when forced to do so by his fuel state are anything to go by, his actions on the night he won the VC were by no means the first time he displayed that degree of bravery.
For those readers with no experience of air/sea rescue, it probably needs to be repeated here that a dinghy, (let alone a lone survivor in the water), is very difficult to see in anything but a pond-like sea state. Even after you've spotted it, it's extraordinarily easy to lose sight of it, and once you've lost it, unbelievably difficult to locate it again. So along with their incredible bravery, the Catalina crew's high degree of expertise should probably be acknowledged here.
After my illness, I was offered two-weeks sick-leave, clear of a week’s travel out and a week to return.
I decided to try to visit Darjeeling. It was quite an undertaking and one was not supposed to travel there unless there was an address to go to. I did not have one, but I took a chance that I would find somewhere to stay when I got there.
I asked for transport and got a flight on a Dakota going to Calcutta. It flew up the coast of Burma and Bengal; over Ramree Island, Akyab and Cox’s Bazaar. As we approached Calcutta I could see a large brown mushroom cloud in the sky, just like an atomic bomb. It was smoke and dust from a population of over nine million.
We landed at Alipore, South East of Calcutta and quite near the centre of town. That evening I caught the overnight train to Siliguri, the town at the foot of the Himalayas. The first part of the journey was over the flooded area of the Ganges delta. At about eight o’clock the next morning I arrived at Siliguri and had breakfast in the station restaurant. I then crossed the platform to the narrow gauge railway and joined the little train to Darjeeling, that was to climb 5,000 ft. in fifty miles and take five hours. It is said to be one of the great railway journeys of the world.
It was most interesting in the way that it gained height. It went round and round in circles, climbing all the while, then when it got to a section that was too steep, it would rise in a series of ‘Z’ shunts, There were sections of line, about 300 feet in length with catch-points at each end. The train would go forward over the points and then travel in reverse up the next section and over that set of points. Then it would rise up the next section going forward. This went on for about six sections, up the sheer face of the mountain.
Two men sat by the front buffers of the engine and they would drop sand onto the line, so that the driving wheels would grip.
Before the train turned inland, the views over the Bengal plain were quite stunning. The first stop was at the highest point (5,200ft.) at Ghoom station. I got out and went to the toilet.
Whilst I was in there a voice said, ‘Hello Bill’, it was a sergeant from 4. C.M.U. at Dum-Dum. We spent the rest of the journey in enthusiastic conversation.
The train then descended 200 ft. over a few miles to Darjeeling. I reported to the transport office and was offered a stay at the Hodges household, at the top of the hill. I was very lucky, it was splendid!
I was a bit concerned because an Indian lady was detailed off, to carry my case up the zig-zag path to the top of the hill. She carried it on her back with the aid of a head-band.
The bungalow and garden were on the top of the ridge with fine views over Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world at 28,208 ft. It was covered in snow and appeared to be just across the valley, though of course it was many miles away.
Mr. Hodges was a retired gunsmith, He and his wife had lived in India all their Jives and had retired to Darjeeling.
Darjeeling was one of the Indian hill-stations, where the British would take a break from the heat down on the plains. The climate was rather like Britain, with cool frosty nights and warm sunshine during the day. As I have said, the views of the Himalayas were terrific, but one could see even morefrom Tiger Hill. Makalu and also onto the top of Mount Everest. The OCR has mucked up here. Basically I think Dad climbs Tiger Hill)
That same morning the Aga Khan and his wife were there. He was old and been pushed up in a wheelchair!
There were several paying guests at the Hodges household, There was
(OCR muck up again)-
Her husband was the harbourmaster at Visagapatam, a port down on the Indian sub-continent. There were two or three other airmen who were were on individual amounts of leave and there was also the Hodges’ niece, Rosemary.
The evening meal was held around the large table inl the dining-room and it lasted quite a while. It was a very dignified affair and we all sat around with Mr. Hodges at the head of the table and his wife at the other end. There was polite conversation and ???
We were served by the bearer and we usually had some form of curried meat and rice. This could be followed by ice-cold pomegranate. After the meal I would sometimes go to the Bagman CIub that was about half-way down the till!. There was a bar, table-tennis and sneaker ??.
It was always warm inside, but outside there would be a frost. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was always thick (??
The guests all got on well together, sometimes in the afternoon we would play Mahjong together in the bay window of the dining-room. It was played with little Chinese tiles.
Some afternoons we would go to the cinema in the town that showed English films. The lndian projectionist could not read English arid he often got the reels in the wrong order.
In the mornings, I would walk round the market, I bought a good length of tweed material and sent it home to my sister. I also walked a mile or so down the road to the Happy Valley tea plant-atioa. I saw the tea being processed and had a small chest of it. sent horne to my parents. My stay in Darjeeling was quite wonderful.
I returned down the narrow gauge railway, then down the main line to Calcutta. I got a Dakota flight back to Rangoon and found out my unit had moved on to Singapore.
I waited at Hmawbe for a flight going south. Ultimately I was taken to Butterworth, that is an airstrip opposite Penang Island. I stayed there for a few days. I visited Penang and on the ferry coming back at night, the sea was (??) .... it was caused by fluorescent organisms in the sea.
After a couple of days I flew the last section of the journey to Singapore.
Many years later when I was working in Asia I went and took pictures of places Dad had been to and sent them back to him. Of course, most places had changed beyond all recognition, but stuff like the funicular railway on Penang were just the same. The Darjeeling chuffer still runs.
Also, it's amazing that the RAF were so generous with their sick leave arrangements. I remember Dad saying he had seen some wonderful sights, "and I was paid 7/6 a day to do it!"
Like Reg I have been sitting back (having a rest) and reading the extremely interesting contributions of Angels, Johnfair, Wiley etc. Particularly Angels posts covering ground staff. However, we still require a Navigator , a Bomb Aimer, and (wishful thinking ?) a member of the Luftwaffe. I did follow up an excellent suggestion of Regle’s and emailed the German Embassy , but no results so far. Surely we have at least one reader in Germany , who could supply email addresses of Luftwaffe ex servicemen’s associations. I am prepared to type a request in English, email to that reader, who could interpret and pass on. If any one in Germany would like to post on this thread or to P.M me they would be more than welcome. To P.M me click ,USER CP above, click control panel. Click send new message (I hope)
in military aviation could read them in the years ahead; any chance that the central story threads could be grouped together in the History & Nostalgia section?
An excellent idea Armymover, but collecting collating and typing would be a very time consuming job. I do know that one or two people who have P.Md me have extracted and printed sections, they may be willing to help ?Any offers ?
With regard to the A.C1, AC2. L.AC. Discussion, I stand to be corrected, but, as I understand it these were trade classifications with L.A.C being the highest trade classification the R.A.F could award. The titles A.C1 and L.A.C (leading aircraftsman) were awarded according to marks achieved in the trade exam. Therefore an L.A.C. engines could be as equally skilled as a ‘Chiefy’ engines
As an example , after the war finished , I and many others were posted to R.A.F Kirkham on an equipment assistant’s course. Most of us were uninterested and on examination, narrowly scraped through as A.C1s
It was sad experience to leave the squadron which had been my home for only 20 months, but which had delivered such experiences as I would never have thought possible, to still be alive when so many others had not been so lucky - (some on their first patrol!) – seemed somehow unfair. But you closed your mind and wondered if you would be next. My recollections of the long lonely patrols gradually faded, to be replaced by the photographic-like memories of sudden unexpected events, like once, we came upon a windjammer in full sail! We went down for a good look – it was obviously old and in poor condition. The sails were yellow and patched and it had an air of sadness about it. We took photos, and when we reported it, the Intelligence people were surprised and intrigued. Nobody else had seen it!
I often wondered who it was. Where from? Where to? Could it have been the Flying Dutchman - or Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner? (Pull yourself together!!)
Another time, on the infamous T3 patrol, we were doing a coast crawl up the coast of Spain. We were three miles out from the coast in accordance with international law. I was in the nose turret doing my search for U-boats and aircraft, (knowing that the Spaniards would be reporting everything to the Germans), and I noticed that ahead was a neck of land sticking out from the coast perhaps half a mile or so. Naturally, I expected us to follow the coastline out to sea, but to my surprise, we kept course and cut across the invisible line, putting us within the three mile limit. When we had progressed for a short distance, I heard the first pilot (then Jimmy Leigh), who had been scanning the coast with binoculars, say over the intercom to Dudley: “There’s a great big gun on that point – and it’s pointed at us.”
How funny. What a joke, pointing a coastal gun at an aircraft!
I swung my turret over to starboard to look in that direction just in time to see a puff of white smoke emanate from the gun’s position, then, to my horror, I saw in the middle of the smoke, a small black dot, and as I watched, the dot gradually became larger and faster as it headed in our direction, then it suddenly flashed past only a few feet ahead and slightly above us. I don’t know if it was my imagination, or did I really hear the ‘swish’ as it passed us?
I had been mesmerised as I watched the shell coming at us, but then, as it passed, I came to life. (I didn’t have my helmet on at the time, but was wearing ear phones with a mouthpiece dangling in front of me.) I frantically groped for the mouthpiece, finally found it, switched it on and yelled: “They’re shooting at us!”
This woke everyone up and the skipper turned out to sea as fast as he could.
I often thought what good shooting that was. Fancy hitting an aircraft with a coastal gun – and how disappointed the gun crew must have been that they had missed.
We continued our patrol, and a few miles north, we passed a Halifax flying south well within the three mile limit. I wonder if they had a shot at him too?
The flight to Alness was uneventful, except that while we were airborne, the weather closed in and we were diverted to Oban, where we were stuck for four days until the weather cleared at Alness. My main recollection of Oban was a notice on the Officers Mess noticeboard which read: ‘The meteorology officer would like to advise all those persons who have inquired that the large yellow object seen in the sky last Tuesday was a natural phenomenon known as ‘the sun’.
We left Oban on 23rd March 1944 and flew up the Caledonian Canal (strictly forbidden, but a lovely scenic flight) and after a 45 minute flight, landed at Alness.
Last edited by Wiley; 1st Feb 2010 at 01:00.
Reason: Typos, new info from PJ
FROM TODAY'S FACEBOOK ON PAULA'S PAGE. We are still remembered in Ponca City,
Paula K. Denson Friends of Marland's Grand Home, Ponca City, Oklahoma Organizations - Non-Profit Organizations This is a 501-c-3 not for profit group dedicated to the restoration and maintenance of the 1916 home of Ernest Whitworth Marland, also known as E.W. Marland. This oil baron was responsible for finding oil in northern Oklahoma and brought beauty and culture to the prairies of Oklahoma. 11 hours ago · Comment · LikeUnlike · Share Write a comment... Paula K. Denson Paula K. Denson Here is my official website for No 6 British Flying Training School. Many men from the UK and other areas trained in my hometown during World War II so if you are interested in military history, you gotta see this site! There is also information there about Ernest Whitworth Marland, tenth governor of Oklahoma, and the... estate he owned in Ponca City during the 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is very entertaining reading. I am proud to say I am the publisher of this book. If you have questions - just ask! See More Paula K. Denson | Ponca Prairie Press Paula K. Denson | Ponca Prairie Press The Royal Air Force in Oklahoma: Lives, Loves, and Courage of the British Air Crews Trained in Oklahoma During World War II 11 hours ago · Comment · LikeUnlike · View Feedback (5)Hide Feedback (5) · Share 3 people like this. Paula K. Denson Paula K. Denson I give credit for the web design to my nephew, Kevin Carmack. Really great at designing! Thanks, Kevin 7 hours ago C.f Leach C.f Leach And I give credit to Paula for a factual. accurate, and informative description of our life at the Darr School of Aeronautics 54 minutes ago · Delete Write a comment... RECENT ACTIVITY
In May, the weather got better and better and we were kept quite busy. We did a number of sweeps, here, there and everywhere and after I’d landed from one, feeling a bit shakey, I was told to go and see the doc for a medical, prior to my going up for my commission. So I got on my bike, went across to the hospital, saw the doc and I found that I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to keep the mercury stuck up the tube. So Doc White, who was an awfully nice chap told me that if I put my hand over the tube and held my cheeks in while I was blowing, I could hold the mercury up there for weeks on end. So I did that, and he passed me as absolutely fit and all was well. I could never understand why, if I was flying as a Sergeant Pilot and coping alright, I had to have a medical to prove that I could do the same thing as a Pilot Officer!
I was told to report to Bentley Priory, where Leigh-Mallory would interview me. (Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, was, at that time, Air Officer Commanding 11 Group, Fighter Command, having previously, during the Battle of Britain, commanded 12 Group. He was promoted to Air Chief Marshal and later killed in an air crash in the French Alps in 1944 whilst en route to take up his appointment as Air Officer Commander in Chief. South East Asia Command). I was put in an interview room where I met two or three other chaps that I’d seen before and where I learnt how Pat Lust had been killed when the wing came off his Spitfire. I was shown in to see Leigh-Mallory and stood in front of his desk. He had all the details of my career in front of him and he said,
“Ah, I see you’ve had to use your parachute. Did you come out alright?”
And I said, “Yes, thank you very much”
“And you’ve done 22 sweeps, but haven’t been lucky enough to destroy any German aircraft?”
So I said, “No, so far I’ve done 46 sweeps, got one destroyed, one probable and one damaged”
Anyway, he seemed to think that was alright and I was shown out and went back to Biggin Hill.
Early in May we were given a job of top cover to a wing that was escorting a squadron of bombers to Caen. Now top cover is not a bad job, you’re not as restricted as you are if you are giving close escort where you have to stick with the bombers and make sure nothing comes through. But with top cover, the idea, obviously, is to keep anything off that is likely to come down and there’s normally far more chance of having a shot at something. ‘B’ Flight were a man short and so I was flying with them and being led by Flight Lieutenant Hugo Armstrong, an Australian, and it was always his section that got bounced, wherever we went and this day was no exception. We got jumped by four 190s, somewhere near Le Havre, and they did their usual trick of two coming down followed by a further two and we were going round and round and having shots here and there and it got a bit hairy and eventually I finished up very close to the deck. Having got there the only thing to do was to belt home as fast as possible as there was no future in trying to climb up from the deck to get height again, you were a sitting duck. I could hear Hugo calling out,
and I was weaving like a so-and-so, right down on the deck and suddenly I found I was being chased to by two 109Fs and we went round and round in the Channel at nought feet. Eventually one of them cleared off, I presume he got fed up with the roundabout, and left me with one, still going round and round and eventually I managed to get a shot at him, mainly because the Spit can outturn anything and the next thing, there was a great splash and he’d gone for a Burton, so I continued on and eventually got to Tangmere, running very short of fuel, just as the wing was lined up ready to take off. I explained that I was a little short of petrol so they kindly gave me permission to drop in first before the others took off.
It was whilst I was there, getting refuelled, I was chatting to a few Sergeant Pilots who were loitering about that I learnt that Jack Ranger, who had been with me at Kidlington, and been posted on Beaufighters, had been killed in action.
Towards the end of May, the squadron was doing a sweep over Dieppe and Faixcombe (?) and Tommy Wright was flying as my number 2. We spotted a couple of 190s about 1000’ below us, in a beautiful position for us to bounce them, but unfortunately, at that particular moment my engine was hurling out oil all over the place and smothering the windscreen. I couldn’t see forward at all and could only just see out the side so I had to call up Tommy and say,
“Forget the bounce, get me home”.
So I flew home as gently as possible, with Tommy weaving behind me, cursing the fact that we’d missed this lovely chance to bounce. Anyway, we got back to Biggin Hill and I had to formate as well as I could on Tommy Wright and he led me down to the runway and I managed to land all right, though I wasn’t at all popular with my groundcrew because the aircraft was literally smothered from front to back in black, horrible oil. There was only one good thing about it and that was that at that particular time, we had some ATC (Air Training Corps) cadets on the aerodrome and they were delighted to do any little job and consequently they got the job of washing down my aircraft, which saved a lot of hard work for my groundcrew.
On 31st May we did a sweep to Dieppe, which normally wasn’t too much hassle, but on this occasion we met umpteen enemy aircraft and the squadron had a fair old time. I managed to get one 190 destroyed and one damaged, but our squadron really had a very good day. I think a lot of it was due to the fact that the Jerries were slightly upset over the fact that the night before they’d had a “Thousand Bomber Raid” over Cologne and they were doing their best to see what damage they could do us in return.