View Single Post
Old 17th Apr 2010, 11:39
  #1720 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: where the north starts
Posts: 98
Peter Brett's Typhoon pilot memoirs part 21

Beautiful weather, I was supposed to do my first solo navex this afternoon, but the Icelandic ash has put paid to that. Never mind, here are some more of Peter Brett's memoirs. TOW

Settling down to Squadron life

It was during this leave [Christmas 1943] that I met two people, one of whom made sure that all my future home leaves were enjoyable, and another who figured in my service life at a later time. The first was an Army Captain who I never knew other than as 'Johnny'. He was the C.O. of an Italian Prisoner of War camp which was situated only about a quarter of a mile from my home on what had been waste ground behind our local 'Gaumont' Cinema in Rayners Lane, in the north west London suburbs. He invited me to dinner at the camp. There were only four officers on the camp so the Officers’ Mess was not large. It was in a Nissen hut exactly the same as those in which all the prisoners were accommodated. The security was extremely lax since none of the prisoners had any desire to escape! They were mostly employed locally doing odd jobs or being 'let-out' to farmers further outside London. Those that remained on camp were the ones whose skills could contribute most to the comfort of the camp staff!

The Officer's Mess was staffed by ex waiters, some of whom had been with large hotels in Italy; there were also three top flight chefs and experienced kitchen staff. The Catering Officer, an elderly, to my eyes at the time, pre-war hotelier had co-opted the services of several English speaking prisoners who had been barmen and had made suitable arrangements with several local pubs and hotels to provide staff in exchange for certain 'perks'. Thus it was that, in the middle of war-rationed Britain I was treated to a superb four-course Italian dinner which included wine and liqueurs!

The evening even included a short concert of operatic arias by ten of the prisoners who had formed a choir. This was the first of many visits I paid to this POW camp and it was still in existence at the end of the war. In fact quite a lot of the prisoners opted to stay in Britain and carry on with their war-time jobs. At least two of them later obtained licences and became pub landlords in their own right!

The other person that I met on this leave was a mysterious Wing Commander "Bill" Brown, DFC and Bar, AFC. I did not find out much about him until a lot later. On this first meeting I only found out that he was flying Spitfires and was attached to a special operations unit - all very 'Hush-Hush'. We met up a few times and, since it appeared that he was based at home and 'living out', he was usually around whenever I obtained leave. During the early part of 1944 his decorations were added to by a DSO and shortly after 'D' Day a bar was added to this. More about him in a later installment!

However, to get back to the story, after a most enjoyable leave I returned to Predannack on January 3rd 1944. I should remark here that, at no time when I was UK-based on operations did I have to travel home on leave or return by public transport. The C.O. always arranged things so that the pilots going on leave would fly an aircraft to a station near their destination which would then be picked up and flown back by a pilot returning from leave. A 'spare' parachute was kept available so that these pilots had something to sit on and most of us kept our helmets and goggles with us when going on leave. I lived at Rayners Lane which was relatively near Northolt [just north of what is now Heathrow] and since most of the chaps wanted to spend their leaves in London - Northolt being the most convenient airfield for London - I never had any difficulty arranging to fly home for leave. The journey from Predannack to Rayners Lane by train would have taken anything from 8 to 12 hours. Flying a Typhoon at about 400mph - I was always in a hurry going home and economy of fuel was not a consideration - the journey took just over the hour!

On returning to the squadron I found that 'my' aircraft 'HF-B' was in for a major service and that I was allocated 'HF-A'. I flew this aircraft to Harrowbeer on the 6th January where we did two dive bombing operations, both against 'Noball' targets - Buzz Bomb launching sites again. On the first one I noted in my log book that it was a 'Wizard show'; slang for a good operation; and also noted that there were many direct hits in the target area. On the second operation in the afternoon there was little flak, it seemed that the site was still under construction and had not yet been fully protected by AA guns. From this operation we returned direct to Predannack.

The next day I again flew aircraft 'A' on two operations. First, a fighter sweep around the Cherbourg area in the morning which produced no result, and a dive bombing operation once again against a 'Noball' target in the afternoon. On this latter show there was a good deal of flak and Flight Sergeant Grant, who was diving just before me, was hit in his starboard leading edge petrol tank whilst in the dive. I saw the burst of flame from the aircraft in front of me in the dive and expected to see an explosion or for the aircraft to disintegrate. However, after the initial burst of flame, nothing further seemed to happen and he pulled out O.K. What had happened was that the tank was nearly empty and the fuel remaining was burnt very quickly and the flames blown out by the speed of the dive. The net result was a fairly large hole in the wing and a noisy and vibrating journey home but fortunately no other damage.

Next day saw me again in aircraft 'A', this time without bomb racks but with long range tanks, carrying out a fighter sweep round south of Lorient and across the Brest peninsular. There was not much doing on this trip, the weather was lousy with a low cloud base. F/O MacLennan had a go at a small ship just before we turned south of Lorient but with no obvious result. As we turned to come in towards Lorient from the south I had a very weird experience. The sea was grey and like glass with no whitecaps. The sky was a uniform grey with absolutely flat low cloud at about 500 feet. As we turned I suddenly realised that there was no horizon at all. I had no sense of orientation and felt as if I were flying inside a completely grey sphere! For a few seconds I panicked and was sure I was going to fly directly into the sea! I jerked back and right on the stick to come out of what I was sure was a spiral dive into the sea. Fortunately the C.O., Squadron Leader Dring, must have seen that something was wrong for he called up on the R.T. He ignored all proper RT procedure and said "Hey! Relax Pete! Formate on the aircraft on your right". I looked right, and there was another Typhoon. Trying to ignore my weird feelings I kicked rudder and slid up beside him. Another few seconds and my sense of orientation returned as I spotted the coastline. I feel that had the C.O. not intervened at that moment, I might surely have dived into the sea. There had not been much time for him to react since, at the low altitude and high speed at which we were flying, a couple of seconds made all the difference.

There were no operations for the next few days and I note that on the 9th I did a cannon test. This merely involved taking off and heading out to sea, checking that there was nothing ahead and then firing the four wing mounted 20mm cannon. Since the Officers Mess at Predannack was an ex-hotel sited on the cliff-top it had previously become a favourite trick to fly very low over the mess and to open up with the cannon just as you passed over the roof. The idea being to wake up all the 'ground types' who were assumed to be snoozing in the armchairs! This was fine as long as you judged the moment of opening fire correctly. Too late and the impact was lost, too early and damage to the roof of the mess was likely. The reason for this was that, when the four cannon were fired the empty shell cases and the connecting links between the rounds were ejected from the undersides of the wings. Since each cannon fired some 180 rounds per minute and each round ejected the cartridge case and a belt link there was a total of some 24 pieces of metal being ejected every second. These metal bits, since they were travelling at over 300mph as they were released, were quite capable of smashing roofing tiles. This had occurred twice in the previous month and consequently the Station Commander had expressly forbidden the firing of cannon within 300 yards of the coastline. This effectively stopped the practice of 'shooting up' the mess and we had to be content with annoying the local fishermen by firing the cannon whilst passing over their boats! We were a most inconsiderate lot at that age!.

However, "pride goeth etc." and a few days later, on January 14th I disgraced myself. We were due to operate from Harrowbeer once again and I flew aircraft 'HF-G' there. On arrival, I completely misjudged the wind speed and floated much too far down the runway. Of course I should have opened up and gone round again, but being cocky I tried to get down, ran out of runway, and finished up with a bent propeller against a pile of rocks just inside the airfield boundary past the end of the runway!

My next flight was being ferried back to Predannack in a Tiger Moth by Flight Sergeant Jack Bridges, whereupon I was grounded for seven days as a punishment. I met Jack again many years after the war, and he remembered the incident. He, by then, highly outranked me! In 1944 he was a Flight Sergeant and I was a Flying Officer – equivalent to an army lieutenant, but after the war he could not settle to civilian life and re-enlisted in the army as a career. He eventually retired as a Brigadier, equivalent to an Air Commodore! The highest rank I attained was Acting Squadron Leader, three ranks lower!

Thinking back now it seems odd that my 'punishment' was seven days being denied the opportunity of being killed, although of course, at the time, I did not take that view!
tow1709 is offline