View Full Version : 231 OCU Bassinbourn - 1955 era - Canberras

17th Apr 2007, 19:47
Good evening all.
I wonder if any of you Canberra blokes did your course with 231 OCU at Bassingbourn in 1955(ish)? Reason I ask is that I read something curious recently in a back-issue of Aeroplane (August 1994) in article by a Flt Lt Mike Retallack who was there doing Canberra conversion from May 1955.

To my surprise he mentions that the T.4 he flew didn't have ejection seats for the pilots! Rather, the right hand seat slid back on rails to allow student entry.

Have never heard of this state of affairs before and can find no gen in all the Canberra books I have.

The denizins of this forum seem to be able to trawl up the most obscure titbits of info which is why I'm asking here.

Hope to hear from someone - a picture would be a top bonus.

BTW, this query is in conjuction with Jackonicko's similar query on the main mil forum - spreading the net so to speak.


17th Apr 2007, 20:46
Photographs of Canberra T4 cockpit here:-
They look like ejection seats to me.

17th Apr 2007, 22:11
Thanks for the reply but the T.4s I'm interested in were those used in on 231 OCU in 1955. I know that all T.4s have/had ejection seats but at one time there seems to have been a few that didn't - possibly before a suitably small/narrow seat had been designed.


18th Apr 2007, 16:12
Slightly off-thread I'm afraid but does anyone know of the alleged incident regarding a 'fight' in the cockpit of a Bassingbourn Canberra when the navigator and pilot both thought that the other was anoxic? I have heard the tale several times and could never establish whether it was apocryphal or real.
Many thanks.

henry crun
18th Apr 2007, 22:05
Have not heard of one in a Canberra, but I know of one in a Venom 3 between the nav, who was not anoxic, and the pilot who was. :)

19th Apr 2007, 14:18
Delving deeper into this subject I have found an article written by Anandeep Pannu concerning the Canberra Marks T.4 and T.13 in which he mentions the problems regarding the ejection seats on the early Mk T.4 the following is an extract:-
"The trainer version dubbed the T MK 4 first flew on 12 June 1952 and entered service in August 1953. It was a “minimal change” derivative of the Canberra B.2 bomber; the most noticeable visual difference was the T 4 had a solid nose instead of the glass nose of the B.2. Two pilots on ejection seats sat in the front fuselage, which was designed so that the layout of the B Mk 2 was preserved. This resulted in rather cramped accommodations for both pilots! The left hand side was, essentially, a B.2 – the pupil having been moved a little to the left of the B.2 seating position. The instructor was given a sliding and swiveling ejection seat, on the right side of the aircraft. The navigator had to crawl past the instructor’s seat, which slid forward, to his seat in the back of the aircraft after getting in through the lift-up door on the starboard side."
The full article can be found at:-
Hope it helps.

19th Mar 2013, 17:42
I worked as groundcrew 1953-1957 at Bassingbourne and yes there was what we called a dickie sit next to the ejector seat on the T 4's. The idea was that in an emergency a handle could be turned on the top of the entrance door and this released the hinges allowing the door to be kicked out thus allowing the pilot in the dickie seat to bale out. Fortunately this was never used in my time to prove if it worked. As a matter of interest Bassingbourne put together a flying display team,this was used at the Paris airshow in about 1956 a for runner to the black diamond Hunter display team

20th Mar 2013, 07:58
Virtually all Mks of Canberra, except, of course, PR 9s and BI 8s had the winding handle for releasing the main door in an emergency. The only problem for the Rhumbold seat crew was if the gear was down, rolling out of the door meant an immediate impact with either the undercarrieage or the door. :eek::eek:

From dim memory, I seem to remember one of the ground crew at Wyton, had to do exactly that (with the gear up) and although unhurt, landed in the middle of Grafham Water. Pilot and Nav banged out and were also unhurt.

Wadd HC exhibits
23rd Mar 2013, 10:49
Fantom Zorbin

7th Feb 2012, 07:56
This has probably done the rounds before but perhaps worth telling on a thread about the Canberra.

Whilst serving at Bassingbourn during the early 60's, as a cpl tech, I recall an incident (which later appeared in 'Air Clues') regarding a train of events that could have been disastrous.
A student crew were on a night sortie at 20,000ft or so when the pilot called up the nav for a routine oxygen check. In spite of several attempts he couldn't make contact so, believing the nav may be suffering from anoxia he put the a/c into a spiral dive. The nav, upon seeing the altimeter unwinding at great speed tried to contact the pilot, to no avail. Believing the pilot may be suffering from anoxia he unstrapped and went forward to find the pilot hunched over the controls (apparently he was peering closely at the panel). The nav, convinced the pilot had passed out and that they were out of control attempted to pull back the stick. At this, the pilot looked up and decided that although the nav. had come round he was still suffering from the effects of anoxia. After a bit of a tussle over the controls the pilot took the hydraulic emergency pump handle and hit the nav on the head telling him to 'go back to his seat' or some such words! It transpired that the intercom had failed and they eventually made a safe landing.
The result of this incident was a mod consisting of two dolls eyes for each crew member indicating that his, and the other crew member's oxygen was flowing.
As 'Wing Commander Spry' commented 'a good story to tell in the bar but also a good illustration of how things can quickly go wrong.'

ISTR reading it in airclues as well.

Bill Macgillivray
23rd Mar 2013, 17:13
Canberra T4 aircraft did not have "bang seats" for the pilots until about 1961, I think. I went through 231 OCU, RAF Bassingbourn in late 1960 and the T4 had two bucket seats for the pilots and a Mk.2 (?) "bang" seat for the nav.. I seem to remember the first T4 I flew with "bang" seats up front was on 58 Sqn. at RAF Wyton in early 1961. Will have to find log-books!:ok:

23rd Mar 2013, 19:36
Mike Retallack is an interesting character who flew Hornets (lucky fellow)as a national service pilot before becoming a regular.

24th Mar 2013, 08:58
Wadd HC exhibits

Yes, that's the one. Very many thanks for that ... at least one of the 'old grey cells' is working then, that's a relief!

24th Mar 2013, 10:07
I've got a programme for the Royal Air Force at home at Bassingbourn on Saturday 20th September 1958 with an amazing airshow line-up, but how do you upload a pic?


14th Jun 2015, 12:35
In are local church there is a part of WE119 which crashed into the New River just missing a childrens home on 20/12/1954 saddly the two navigators died in the crash, the pilot lucky ejected safely. Our local society has copies of the reports, a local modeller has offered to make a model for the church, however we are unsure of the actual Canberra version and the colour scheme. The report says a B2 and one of the locals remembers lots of yellow fragments. Can you help

9th Jul 2015, 20:57
I was an instrument mechanic (Navigational) at 231 OCU RAF Bassingbourne from 1955 to 1959. We had T4 dual control trainers, B2 bombers and PR9 photo recon kites at that time. I can assure the enquirer that the T4 instructors seat was not fitted with Martin Baker ejector seat but instead was on a roller track so it could be pushed back to allow the pupil to enter and sit in one of the two ejector seat which was fitted in the T4. The other was for the navigator who sat in the rear of the cabin. I sat in many of these aircraft over that period, carrying out tests and compass swings etc so I speak with some authority,



11th Jul 2015, 11:17
I thought this one had been laid to rest. I went through Bassingbourn, finishing in February 1957, and at that time the pilots in the T4 still did not have ejector-seats - the RH one rolled back to let Bloggs get across to the LH. And you didn't go solo in the T4. Instead, you went for a 45 minute famil ride on the Rumbold seat of a B2 with your instructor driving and your nav, with a nav instructor, in the back. The staff then got out, engines running, and left the pair of you to get on with it.

Ejector seats (Mk3?) for T4 pilots appeared in the early 60s and you then (coincidentally?) did go solo in the T4 before you flew the B2 or PR3. Anyone know when it changed?

11th Jul 2015, 12:04
One of the pilots who joined Britannia Airways in Feb 1978 was Ron Ledwidge. With his pipe and tweed jacket he looked like a schoolmaster and modestly rarely spoke about his background, which included Canberras and ETPS. I believe he won either a Green Endorsement or possibly an AFC for his superb handling of a Canberra incident: during low level manoeuvring the a/c suffered loss of roll control (aileron jam?). One or two of the crew members had no ejectors so Ron did a climbing barrel roll until he had sufficient height for them to bail out. (Might have got the details a bit wrong.) Very impressive to us UAS cadets who read about it in Air Clues. Our summer camp was at Bassingbourne in 1967 - I can still remember the 'Royston rejoin' call we made when returning to base. Sadly Ron is no longer with us.

11th Jul 2015, 13:13
Like many others I read of this case in the late 60's. IIRC he "push pulled" from low level climbing the rolling Canberra up to c.9000ft before getting the Nav. out.
It was noted that , if he hadn't achieved this, then it would probably have been written of as yet another "aircrew error" incident at low level.

11th Jul 2015, 21:03
Pilot's Notes 3rd Edition 1960. Page 40 Para 64:-
Pilot's seats post-Mod.2350
The pupil is seated in an ejection seat Mk 3 CT1 and the instructor in a Mk3 CT2.
The pictures in the back still show the original bucket seats.
The right hand seat, in either version, was excruciatingly uncomfortable after the first hour or so.
Would post a picture but quite beyond a technomoron.

11th Jul 2015, 22:21
ISTR that Ron Ledwidge was awarded a very well deserved AFC for the incident described above. As to the right hand seat in the T4, I did not fly in it often (my old log book confirms I was "Right hand seat qualified") but I am sure it has something to do with the back problems I suffer today. I can confirm that it was very uncomfortable.

5th Nov 2015, 13:15
I would like to interact with anyone who has memories of the Accident of WE 114 on 24 July 1957 at Bassingbourne. The Canberra was flown by my uncle, Flt. Lt. Seerala Hari Kumar Naidu.

I would consider myself very lucky to get a reply.


6th Nov 2015, 06:31
Dear Sir,

Would you be able to recall of the Accident of WE 114 on 24 July 1957 at Bassingbourne? The Canberra was flown by my uncle, Flt. Lt. Seerala Hari Kumar Naidu. Anything you recall of the accident, my uncle, etc would be useful.

My Email ID is [email protected]

I would consider myself very lucky to get a reply.

With best regards,


6th Nov 2015, 12:21
Hudson80 I think you may be a little confused. Bassingbourn never operated the PR.9 but did in fact operate the PR.3 on photographic training.

Incidentally the Control Tower Museum there has some really nice displays to remember those who served there on Canberras, including those who sadly lost their lives, but is always looking for new photos or material should anyone have anything to donate.
The museum is currently closed but all being well it will reopen next year.

The website is Welcome to the website of the Tower Museum Bassingbourn (http://www.towermuseumbassingbourn.co.uk)


6th Nov 2015, 16:55

I am sorry for your reason to post here on PPRuNe. One of our regular contributors may be able to help you further. His PPRuNe call sign is "Old Duffer".

All I can tell you was from his book that the aircraft crashed whilst overshooting (going around in today's jargon) and dived into the ground 2.5 miles south west of the airfield. The crew were both trainees, F/L Seerala H NAIDU (age 27) and F/L Dwarika P PANDAY (age 25). Both crew were sadly killed.

The aircraft was from 231 OCU based at Bassingbourn.

There is no mention of the cause or weather condition at the time. The National Record Office at Kew (London) will have a file and perhaps a copy of the accident report and investigation from the Board of Inquiry. That is your best chance of finding out more of what happened to your uncle. The same happened to my uncle in May 1956 (WT328).

I hope that this gives you more to go on. Good luck with your quest.


8th Nov 2015, 02:14
Dear MB,

Thanks for your mail. I have sent a mail to "Mr. Old Duffer" and hope to get a reply.

I had been to London last year and had copied the entire report from the National Archives. It gave me a lot of relief since the Report had acknowledged an instrument failure also as a contributory factor.

It is nice that we are in company for the loss of our Uncles way back in the 50s and still remember them.

With best regards,

E. Devendar

8th Nov 2015, 18:33
While we are talking about the Canberra, we all know that there were more accidents practising assymetric than "real" incidents, but were practice accidents mainly on squadron aircraft, or was there a similar accident rate in training, ie on the OCU, as well

9th Nov 2015, 10:48
Off the top of my head I can think of three - possibly four fatal Canberra accidents at Bassingbourn that were the result of assymetric situations going wrong, one of which was a return to base with literally one engine u/s.


25th Feb 2016, 03:40
In Oct 1977, I had a short story published in 'Adam' a long defunct Australian magazine. It was titled 'High Drama' and the plot was similar to the one you remember, written from the tyro pilot's and nav's viewpoint. I went through two courses at Bassingbourn in the early and late sixties so it's possible I picked it up in the bar there. Either that or I thought it up myself but I wouldn't bet on it.