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Engine failure in WWII

Old 27th Dec 2019, 11:28
  #21 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Torquay Vic
Age: 73
Posts: 14
To return to the OP’s question, here is a Wellington engine failure story. Nothing spectacular, but it illustrates the routine hazards (quite apart from enemy action) faced by aircrew in World War Two.

Like so many of his generation my father, Bill Setterfield, would not talk about his wartime experiences. The following comes in part from his logbook, and more from the diary kept by his co-pilot, New Zealander Cecil Rainey, part of which by a remarkable coincidence came my way in 2004.

On 12 July 1942 my father, newly qualified to fly the Wellington 1c and with a grand total of 265 hours in his logbook, took off from Portreath in Cornwall to deliver himself, Wellington HX487 and crew to 40 Squadron in Egypt, via Gibraltar and Malta. They reached Malta without incident, but for reasons unstated the aircraft remained on the island while my father and crew went on to Egypt as passengers in a DC3.

At this period 40 Squadron operated from various landing grounds in Egypt. Targets in my father’s logbook for July- November 1942 include Tobruk, Bardia, “Western Desert”, Mersa Matruh, “Enemy Transport”, “Enemy Concentrations”, “Shipping outside Tobruk”, “Tobruk – Minelaying”. Most of the squadron’s aircraft were well-worn and engine failures were frequent, with desert dust and sand no doubt a factor. “Returned – engine trouble” appears twice in my father’s logbook.

In early November 1942 six Wellingtons of 40 Sqn were detached to Malta, to operate from Luqa in support of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa which began on 8 November. My father and crew flew a sortie from Luqa on 8 November to bomb the airfield at Almas, Sardinia. They were tasked to attack the same target again on 10 November, this being my father’s 32nd operation. Their aircraft was Wellington 1c R1182. They found searchlights and some flak over the target but nothing too threatening. The rear gunner reported seeing their stick of bombs fall among parked aircraft.

About an hour into the return trip, on course for Malta, the starboard engine began to surge with increasing frequency. At 6000 feet, after a routine oil transfer to both engines, the same engine began to miss and bang, sending out sparks and flames. Before long it seized solid. [My understanding, but others may know better, is that the Wellington 1c with Pegasus XVIII engines had non-feathering propellors.] The co-pilot went back to help the rear gunner from his turret, and they set about jettisoning all moveable objects. From Cecil Rainey’s diary:

“Everything possible went out via the flare chute: flares, flame floats, surplus oil tins, incendiaries, everything loose. Even with full revs and full boost on the port motor she would not maintain height, and no wonder, for the starboard engine had seized up so tight that the prop was not turning. Aggy was working overtime on the set, getting QDMs and sending the SOS. The Malta searchlights came in sight but we were losing height too fast, so we did our drill – removed the astro hatch, pulled the floatation, removed parachute harnesses and prepared for the worst.

"To say the least, we hit the drink with a smack (75 mph) and pulled up in a very short distance. All the lights went out, but Church was out of the astro hatch like a shot and yelling that the dinghy was nowhere to be seen. I was hanging onto the dinghy rations with my left hand but managed to find the release with my right hand - immediately the dinghy burst forth from the starboard nacelle. The water was rising rapidly and Paddy had gone out, but somehow I had caught the sextant steadier over my shoulder and with the water up to my chest couldn't get away from it. Finally I let the rations go, freed myself and managed to get out."

So: my father's war-weary Wellington 1c was unable to maintain height on one engine. If there is any interest in the short sequel to this story, ie from dinghy to rescue, I will happily post more.

Good health to us all in the year ahead.

Last edited by KJ994; 27th Dec 2019 at 11:32. Reason: paragraphs
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Old 27th Dec 2019, 13:14
  #22 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2014
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Come on with the sequel.
Thread drift forgiven!
Best wishes to all Ppruners!
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Old 27th Dec 2019, 20:33
  #23 (permalink)  
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Post away!
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Old 28th Dec 2019, 03:50
  #24 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Torquay Vic
Age: 73
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OK, two nods will do! This is too slight a tale, I feel, to qualify for the “Gaining a Brevet” thread, so I hope the Mods will tolerate a little well-intentioned drift. To continue with Cecil Rainey’s diary:

“My flying boots were full of water so away they went, also my Irvine jacket – the latter when soaked becomes a terrific weight. Bill and Aggy, who had come out of the pilots’ escape hatch, were crawling along the fuselage, Paddy and Church were in the dinghy. Nick was on his way up from his turret.

“By this time the machine was almost completely submerged. Aggy was helping Bill, who couldn’t swim but had his Mae West inflated, while I put Nick into the dinghy. Nick still had his full kit on, making the job pretty tough, and by the time it was done the machine had completely disappeared, tail fin and all. I helped Aggy get Bill into the dinghy, then we both climbed aboard.

“It was pitch black, our only consolation being the searchlights over Malta. We had no Verey pistol with us – the nuts on the pistol were so tight that Aggy had not been able to loosen them. So we knew we had to wait for the dawn. Luckily the dinghy had worked perfectly, not the slightest leak. Everybody got comfortable and settled down for a long cold wait. Aggy knew that our SOS had been acknowledged, which was a cheering thought.

“The dinghy was tossing in the swell and all except Ag and I were hanging over the side. Numerous aircraft passed overhead but our .38s were useless for signalling. After about two hours we saw the searchlight of the Air Sea Rescue boat, but we couldn’t signal to them and in spite of our energetic whistling we remained unnoticed. The minutes slowly drifted by, until dawn began to blot out the stars and the outline of the Gozo cliffs began to show up.

“We heard the chugging of a small boat – fishermen from Gozo out with their nets. They were very suspicious of us and stood off at a safe distance. For about half an hour we talked to them, telling them we were RAF, English from Malta, Air Force from Luqa etc. They argued long and loud about us, until finally our uniform wings and stripes convinced them and they took us aboard and set off for Gozo with the dinghy in tow.

“What a sorry sight we all looked. Bill had been cut rather badly, all you could see was two eyes looking out though a mass of congealed blood. Nick too had received a cutover his lefteye and had blood everywhere. We were all cold and shivering like mad. However we settled down amongst dry canvas, sails and bags and started to tell the Gozo boys what had happened. It was tough going but I think they got the general idea of what we had been up to.

“We came ashore after about an hour at a village called Xlendi, and everyone swarmed down to the wharf to see us in. They talked plenty and fast about us but I didn’t get a word of it. Fortunately the local policeman and publican could speak English, so we gave them the gen and off we went to the hotel. We had a tot of whisky and did that ever warm the cockles of my heart. Then we changed into some dry clothes – gee but it was great to be back in civvy clothes again. Bill and Nick looked pretty shaken – bed for them.

“They had hot bovril ready for us in no time. Talk about hospitality, they couldn’t do enough for us. After half an hour the local chief of police arrived. He took all the particulars, then went off to the phone while we had breakfast. Fried fresh fish and chips with bread and butter – I was in like a Sydney burglar. There’s nothing like an early morning dip for an appetite. After breakfast I was feeling pretty good again and ready for some sleep.”

Here was a Wellington engine failure with a fortunate outcome for its crew. I will post a third and final instalment in the next day or two, a postscript with some acknowledgements.

Last edited by KJ994; 28th Dec 2019 at 03:52. Reason: paragraphs
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