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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 1st Mar 2012, 18:21
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"A Fall of Fortresses"
It was by Elmer Bendiner. My brother-in-law brought me a copy from the States about twenty years ago. Brilliant narrative on what really happened in the Mighty Eighth.
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Old 1st Mar 2012, 22:21
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I can but join in the accolades so deservedly being heaped upon you Danny, for your elegant and evocative style. I must say though that I am surprised. I offer you the most prestigious of the PRuNe Towers Ante Rooms and you spurn it in favour of a litter strewn corrugated dispersal hut. So be it, we must be at war! Steward, draw the blackout and get me another G&T please!
Wikki is still keeping track of you but I fear that eventually you will fall off its radar:-
Gunter Annex - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
How ironic that your instructors knew less about war than their pupils. How soon they would discover that the reality is always worse than the rose tinted view of it seen through their Ray-Bans!
Your mention of the PX's (BX's I believe for the USAF as Army Posts became Air Force Bases) strikes a chord. My favourite was the one at Lajes Field in the Azores. An Aladdins Cave of domestic bliss! We still have some of the Corning dish-ware that I bought there shortly after marrying, and the Samsonite "Gents 2 Suiter" Suitcase that I bought in the Hickam BX out flew my RAF career and half way into my civilian one. Bargains all!
Sobranie ciggies? I recall them, black with a gold filter, sold in white tins. As you say, very effete and somewhat suspect. Keep an eye on him, if you get my drift, old chap!
You bring a far off world, of which we know little, to life. Thank you Danny!
Well! Thank God at least for these few armchairs, now that we've had to quit our Pied-a-Terre for this "quaint" abode. Thanks for the coffee by the way, it tastes surprisingly good. Camp? Rings a bell somehow. Ah yes, an Indian Servant in attendance in a tented bivouac. That would never do these days though. Dear me, no!
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Old 2nd Mar 2012, 19:56
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Question Light at the end of the tunnel.

Fareastdriver, Adam, Tom and Chugalug, thank you all for your kind words of encouragement. But I have an uneasy suspicion that this Thread is turning into something into a monologue: I'm "hogging it", and that is neither necessary nor desirable. However, my faithful "Starwriter" will have to go into dock soon (printer u/s), this will cut off my story as it is all on Floppy Disc, and I have no confidence in my ability to remember all the details "off the cuff". So you're all due for a rest from me fairly soon. How long for? How long is a piece of string? Time for someone to take over!


In the early new year of 42, my time at Gunter had finished. I moved by road to Craig Field, Selma, for the last stage in my flying training - Advanced School on the AT-6A. Craig was another Army Corps field 40 miles from Gunter (but still in Alabama), near the small town of Selma (then unknown, but destined to become notorious round the world twenty years later for the Race Riots there).

At Craig they decided that. as allied combatants, we should now bear arms, and so we learned American arms drill. The US seemed to be better off than we were in the UK, and had a large stock of Springfield rifles kept in mothballs since 1918. So we did not have to use "pretend" wooden rifles, or pickhelves, as we (and the Home Guard) had to do in the early part of the War. It might have been better for us if we had, for these museum pieces had been inhibited against corrosion when they put them away in 1918. They'd been smothered in an evil Vaseline-like goo. It has a trade name, which I've forgotten. Twenty years of drying out had turned this into a coating which wouldn't shame a rhinoceros. We had to shift this stuff, and the only way was with steel wool, kerosene and elbow grease.

It's a wonder we had any prints left on our fingertips. To this day, I can't smell paraffin without recalling the hours spent on that miserable chore. Thankfully, we only had to clean them externally, so as to make them look nice. To clean out the bores would have been an awful job; even if it had been done. I wouldn't have cared to be the man who fired the first round through them. Looking back, I suppose the only reason we got them in the first place was that nobody in the US forces would touch them for love or money.

It would be nice to record that we took pride in our new playthings, and could perform like the Marching Bands you see on films and TV. But US arms drill is comical enough (in our eyes) even when it is done properly - I dare say they would say the same of ours. It is better to draw a veil over our efforts, which almost drove our Master Sergeant to apoplexy.

Then we met the "Harvard", in its original form as the North American AT- (Advanced Trainer) - 6A. While Harvards were built under licence in Canada and elsewhere, the AT-6A was peculiar to the States, and varied mainly in the fact that it was armed. (None of the Harvards I flew in the UK and India were). A single .300 Browning was mounted in the top right of the nose, firing through the prop. The cocking handle stuck out from the top corner of the front cockpit panel, so you could deal with a No.1 stoppage (common, as I suppose the ammo dated back to WW1, like the Springfields, and there would be a lot of duds in it). We used it only on ground practice targets, and that without much success; the cordite fumes came back into the cockpit and choked us. I think they had a different kind of heater, too, but I could not be sure about that.

We no longer wore our RAF flying helmets with the mask/mike, but only a pair of headphones over our RAF forage caps. There was a hand-mike to transmit, and a little hook to hang it on. This often came off when you were upside down, and could give you a nasty clout. The Harvard is well enough known to need no description here. Nearly all the Empire's pilots did the later part of their training on it, and after the War there was usually one on every flying station, doing odd jobs and giving ground-duties pilots a bit of flying practice.

Not only did Craig Field have plenty of AT6s for us, but over on the far side of the field sat a few lonely, sinister shapes under tarpaulins. These were AT-12s, long out of memory except for specialist historians. These put the fear of God into our instructors, for whose use they had been supplied (for Staff Continuation Training), for they had a grim history behind them.
(EDIT: I have Google/Wikied the thing; the official story says nothing about this; I can only tell you what our Instructors told us).

They were built by the Republic Aircraft Corporation, who for decades had supplied generations of good piston-engined aircraft for the US forces (ending with the fine P-47, the "Big Fighter", which we used as the "Thunderbolt"). This AT-12 was originally designed as a one-off single seat dive bomber for the Swedish Air Force, and looked very similar to the Republic "Lancer" of the same era.

Even with today's computers, aircraft design is still something of an art as well as a science; you can never really tell how an aircraft will turn out until you build and fly it. A murderous gremlin had crept into this one. Any wing will "flick" ("snap" in US) stall if you suddenly pull enough "G" at a low airspeed. But this one would do it at approach speed, wheels and flaps down, if more than the slightest back-pressure were applied when coming in over the fence. The effect was to roll you into the ground with no time to recover. I can only hazard a guess that a new, untried wing section had been decided on, and as Burt Rutan once memorably said of a similar case: "It was a real bad dude".

The Swedes sent over two of their test pilots to try out their intended purchase. It killed them both. The customer called off the deal (wouldn't you?), and Republic was left with a pre-production batch on its hands and no offers for them.

What to do? Sell it to your Air force as a trainer, of course! This always happens when an aircraft is no use for anything else, but too expensive to throw away. Why would an Air force buy these lemons? Because the maker is on the doorstep, crying "Save us, we perish!" It's all too true, the aircraft industry lives from hand to mouth on the edge of bankruptcy. The capital cost of scrapping a whole new design, its production line and the surplus unsaleable product, could tip it over. Why should that worry an Air force? Because if you don't keep some of his competitors alive, the last man standing has you over a barrel. (Come to think about it that's pretty well our situation in the UK today.)

Our instructors were required to put in two or three hours a month on these horrors. It was always a crowd-puller when one took off, and even more so when it came back to land (don't begrudge us our schadenfreude, we didn't
have much other fun). A speck on the horizon, exactly aligned with the runway, and scraping dead straight and level over the scrub, would gingerly lower its wheels onto the concrete (nobody dared to try to three-point). Excitement over for the day, back to the crewroom for coffee!

We were naturally interested in these machines; they held no terrors for us; we didn't have to fly the beastly things, and we went over to have a good look at them. All the instrumentation was metric, and all notices in Swedish, of course (it is surprising how many of these little metal plates they can find room for on an instrument panel). We noted with approval one nice little touch. There was a "rounds gone" counter (like the trip mileage recorder in your car) for each wing gun (I think they were .50 Brownings). This is so simple and so useful an idea that you would expect all fighter aircraft to have it. But the Spitfire and Hurricane certainly didn't. From memory, I think they put tracer in the last hundred rounds, so when it appeared you knew you had only a few seconds' firepower left. That was the idea, but my figure may be wrong.

It was at Craig that our first RAF officer appeared, in the form of a "creamed off" Pilot Officer Instructor. I don't know whether he was ex-Canada or ex-US trained, as he had nothing to do with us other than to instruct. All our other Instructors were "Lootenants", as at Gunter.

That'll do for tonight, chaps. Sleep well!


Don't you know there's a war on?

Last edited by Danny42C; 17th Mar 2012 at 04:26.
Old 3rd Mar 2012, 10:43
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Danny, however you and your fellow WWII brevet gainers choose to tell your tales is of course entirely up to you, but speaking as a devoted recipient could I just say that the sequential format, ie one tale at a time, is much the easier to follow. Far from "hogging" the limelight, you are doing a great service in enhancing the understanding of later generations of aviators as to what was really involved in producing the vast skilled manpower to launch, for example, thousand bomber raids over and over, never mind the machinery itself. Your generation is famous for its taciturn reluctance to speak out for itself, but I can only beg you to do just that for the sake of posterity. Of course if technical problems have first to be overcome they must be addressed, but please do consider the use of the deferred defects sheets in your Starwriter's F700, if at all possible.
I can assure you that there are many many more who read and appreciate your words than the handful of us that post in response to them. None of us can do other than simply to thank you for your effort and literary style in posting them, and I most sincerely do.
Craig (recently deceased in your days there it would appear) Field for those following Danny's perambulations via Wikki:
Craig Air Force Base - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 3rd Mar 2012, 11:22
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Marvellous stories, Danny. Keep them coming - please!
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Old 3rd Mar 2012, 20:27
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Strange doings in the USAAC.

Thank you, Chugalug and Ricardian. I'm a bit worried about Cliff. We haven't heard from him for some time, and at our age.......?


Either USAAC regulations were very loose, or they took a cavalier attitude to them. It was not unusual to have your instructor champing on a fat (lit) cigar in flight (his cockpit may even have had an ashtray, but I doubt it). On dual formation sessions, the No.2 instructor sometimes added spice to the proceedings by closing in tight on his leader, and gently tapping wingtips together. We loved it. (Don't try this at home!)

Our exercises were generally a continuation of those at Gunter, complicated by the fact that we had a retractable undercarriage and a constant-speed propeller to play with. Apart from that, the AT-6A was so superior to the BT-13 that it quite restored our shaken faith in aircraft designers. We did a lot of formation practice, and started to use oxygen for the first time.

Their masks varied from the RAF pattern, having an external rubber bag for re-breathing (much like the anaesthetic mask used by dentists in the old days). Wearing one of these, I managed to get an AT6 up to 21,000 ft, and can confirm that as the absolute ceiling of the type. It took me about half an hour, and I was just hanging on by my wingtips at 75 mph with the throttle wide open. and maximum revs. The thing was sitting up like a Praying Mantis. Any attempt to get any higher, and it fell fifty feet out of the sky. Try as I might, I couldn't get another foot out of it.

This was our first experience of retractable undercarriages, but the absent-minded "wheels-up" landing, popular in myth, never happened while I was there. Of course, we were in radio contact with the Tower all the time, and the AT-6 had a warning horn which sounded when you closed the throttle without your wheels being locked down. You'd need to be a dumb bunny indeed to get down without them, but an apocryphal tale told (throughout the RAF) of one who had managed it in a Harvard. Coming in, "wheels-up", the Controller had bawled at him (over the radio) to go round - to no avail, he slithered to an ignominious stop. Duly arraigned, he was asked why he hadn't obeyed. "I couldn't hear what you were saying, Sir," he said, "for the row this damn' horn thing was making!"

American Bases still rang to bugle calls ("Taps" is a lovely call, even more haunting than our "Last Post"). I don't know the derivation of the name, as I recall, it was their "Lights out" call, late in the evening. We expected to be awakened in the usual way, by "Reveille" over the Tannoy. But for the first few weeks, we were treated to the luxury of a full brass band. At 0600, in the cold and pitch dark, these unfortunates marched up and down between the barrack blocks, giving spirited renderings of "Washington Post", other Souza favourites and (inevitably): "You're in the Army Now". An unappreciative audience shivered under thin blankets (it was a very cold winter) and cursed them.

An amusing tale lay behind this. Some time late in the previous year, the Craig Field band had been engaged to play sweet airs at a State Governer's official function in Montgomery. This was a great piece of publicity for the Base (Selma was right out in the sticks), and the Colonel stood to get no little kudos for himself (not to mention a pair of invitations for him and his lady).

The Band arrived at the Governer's Mansion early on the appointed day, so as to have plenty of time to settle in place before kick-off. Their hosts, mindful of the duty of Southern hospitality, plied the bandsmen with the hard stuff ad lib. Give a donkey strawberries! You can imagine the scene when the performance began. It was hilarious for the guests, the talking point of Montgomery next day, and all over the State in a week.

The Governer was mortified, the Colonel furious. He put the whole band under arrest on their return to camp. Hauled before him, the miscreants
were awarded this novel form of collective "jankers" (an early form of "Community Service", perhaps?) It must have been for several months, for they were still at it when we got there. Nowadays it would be regarded as a Cruel or Unusual Punishment, but a US Colonel was (and is) a power in the land, and can do what he pleases "on his own patch".

During our time there, we spent two weeks detached for gunnery training to Eglin Field, Valpariso (on the coast of the Florida "Panhandle"). There we blazed away with our single gun at ground targets without much success. There was no air-to-air practice.

The single runway at Eglin had to serve for all purposes - parking, refuelling and take offs and landings. This meant having to land on a half-width runway, and a swing could be very expensive. They were really pushing their luck, but it held and there were no accidents while we were there.

That'll do for tonight, more later.


We don't get much money, but we do see life!

Last edited by Danny42C; 4th Mar 2012 at 00:14.
Old 4th Mar 2012, 01:51
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Two of our instructors decided to see whether it was feasible, wearing parachutes, to abandon the aircraft via the front and back knock-out side panels in the canopy. Perhaps a five-dollar bill was riding on the outcome. They were not the mountainous Americans you see today, but wiry young men. One got hopelessly jammed half way, like Pooh Bear, and it took a lot of manhandling to push him back into the cockpit. The other got out, but it took over five minutes.
Just missing the necessary adrenaline Danny.

RAAF chap had a ditching from a height which precluded getting the canopy open in time. Exited through a knock out panel with chute, an exercise he was unable to repeat on dry land later.

Keep up the great yarns, think you missed a great vocation. Know much of the US country side you talk of, having trained out of Pensacola - brings back memories.
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Old 4th Mar 2012, 22:48
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Come out, come out, wherever you are !

I am still worried about the extremely narrow base this wonderful Thread is resting on. As far as I can see, the present "core" of circa 90-year olds is only four strong: Cliff (who started it), Padhist, Fred and myself. There must be more of us out there somewhere.

Padhist has put his finger on it (#2221, P.112).


"I am amazed how few of my old aircrew mates are on the web".

I can say "Amen" to that. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. I myself held out until last summer. How I found PPRuNe, I don't know. Even then I watched timidly on the sidelines until a month or so ago.

What's to be done about it? The only thing I can suggest is that our younger readers go to work on any old Great/Grandfathers* whom they know (or suspect) to have been in our happy band. Be ruthless - threaten to cut off their cocoa and hot-water bottles unless they "give". Dig out their old logbooks - they'll have them tucked away somewhere. You have all the skills to do the rest. The "hits" on this thread outnumber Posts 170/1. So there must be plenty of you about - it's your history you're letting slip through your fingers. Go to it!

* As it's RAF wings, I think we can safely exclude Grandmothers - yes, I was told there was one delivering Lancs in the ATA.

Any more ideas?

Old 4th Mar 2012, 23:39
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Chugalug hit the nail on the head when he said...

Your generation is famous for its taciturn reluctance to speak out for itself
...please do not worry that you are hogging the thread; the impressive posts/views ratio you refer to is simply because of the sheer quality of the narrative. Please address your technical issues and continue!

You're absolutely right that we all need to encourage other contributors to share their experiences; however small they may consider them to be, it is all "meat on the bones" and a vital part of history that would otherwise be lost. Perhaps if you are members of Squadron Associations you could persuade your colleagues to register with PPRuNe?

Where are you Cliff?
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Old 4th Mar 2012, 23:44
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Agreed.Please keep these tales coming.They're priceless.
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Old 4th Mar 2012, 23:51
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The end is in sight.

In hindsight, the pattern they used at Selma for local night flying raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Then, knowing no better, we accepted it without question. It really needs a diagram to explain it properly, but I can't do diagrams, so I'll have to do the best I can without one.

Imagine a huge 3-layer cake centred on the airfield. Slice it across in two along the line of the runway. Then slice again at right angles. Now you have four equal slices. Call them Zone 1, 2, 3, and 4. I think Zone 1 was 12 o'clock to 3 viewed from take-off. Zones stretch quite away out - can't remember exactly, but must have been at least two miles for safety.

First man off goes into Zone 1, climbs up to 2500 and orbits left inside the Zone. Second man follows into same Zone, orbits at 2000. Third man, same thing at 1500. Then same thing over again in Zones 2, 3, and 4 until all Zones full.

Then recovery starts. First man leaves his perch on order from Tower, clears well away down to 1000 outside the Zones, comes round on a very wide circuit, does a roller and climbs back to 2500 in his Zone, which should now be empty as the Tower has cleared Nos. 2 and 3 down on time delay after him. Now Zone 2 starts down after all three Zone 1s have rolled. And so on.

(No, I have not just dreamed all this up! - any ex-Selma type will confirm).

The whole thing was reminiscent of that music-hall turn, where plates are spinning on canes, and the juggler has to dash round furiously to keep them up. As a way to set up a mid-air collision, it could hardly have been bettered. We didn't have any fatal ones, but we did have the closest near-
miss imaginable.

One AT6 managed to cross over another diagonally so close that the prop of the upper aircraft cut slots in the canopy of the lower and twitched the headset off the pilot's head, but left him without a scratch! The radio mast of the lower aircraft was carried away, but no other damage was done to it. The other aircraft was unscathed (prop blades are harder than Perspex). Both got down safely, the occupants rather pale about the gills.

Nobody could believe it, or imagine how it could happen without a wing knocking off a rudder, or the props colliding. Many were the sketches on the backs of envelopes, or chalked on blackboards, and flat-hand demonstrations of the kind more commonly seen in "line-shooting".

At one point on the Course there was an epidemic of "ground-looping". The AT-6 is above-averagely susceptible to this at the hands of the ham-fisted (or I suppose I should say, the ham-footed) student. There were cases on night landing, and our instructors devised a special technique to deal with it.

You came in at 70 mph, flaps down, with enough power set to give a descent of 700 ft/min. Then you simply flew into the runway with no attempt to check or hold off. There was an almighty bang, you shoved the stick forward, the aircraft skipped once then thumped down, tail-up onto its wheels. You held it there until it had slowed down enough to let the tail down.

It was a "controlled crash". How the AT-6 stood up to this barbarous treatment, I'll never know. The undercarriage must have been massive. I suppose, as a training aircraft, it had to be. At least, none of ours broke.
(en passant, I've recently read that the German for a ground-loop is ringelpilz ("fairy ring"). Rather nice, I thought (is it true?)

My six months in the States came to an end, and my log book proudly attests that, on 6th March, 1942, I received my Wings and an Air Corps diploma from a Colonel Julius P. Haddon, who, I suppose, must have been the Base Commander. The Diploma has long since disappeared, but the Wings (which are not sewn on like ours, but in the form of a brooch in dollar-alloy silver) are somewhere around yet.

The brooch is quite a good idea, as it is easily moved from uniform to shirt or bush jacket - you could put it on your pyjamas if you wanted! But you are not allowed to wear it with RAF uniform, although foreign decorations can, with permission, be worn. This seems a bit illogical, but I suppose it's a question of where you could put them. Over the right breast pocket, I suppose.

Having successfully completed the Course for an Aviation Cadet in the United States Army Air Corps, it was rumoured that we would become (honorary) Second Lieutenants in that Service. It was a pleasing conceit; the RAF gave it no credence. But the rumour insisted that we were so recorded in the records of the USAAC in order to account for the Aviation Cadets who would otherwise (on paper) simply have disappeared. Why anyone would bother, I don't know, for Hitler couldn't very well complain now about our having been trained there! If the rumour be true, and normal rules of seniority apply, I must be at least an honorary Brigadier by now.

And so ended my six months in the States. It had been quite an experience. Now for Canada, our RAF wings, and then home to Britain for the final stage of our training - Operational Training Unit. Now we must learn to fly whatever weapon the RAF chose for each of us, and start to earn our keep on our first Squadrons.

Goodnight, all.


Not to worry!

Last edited by Danny42C; 17th Mar 2012 at 04:46.
Old 5th Mar 2012, 09:13
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The whole thing was reminiscent of that music-hall turn, where plates are spinning on canes, and the juggler has to dash round furiously to keep them up. As a way to set up a mid-air collision, it could hardly have been bettered. We didn't have any fatal ones, but we did have the closest near-miss imaginable.
It brings to mind the ingenuity of those auto-changer record players of the 60's. First record finishes, tone arm is run out towards the centre of the disc, lifts, retracts to the side, allowing the stack above to release the next one to fall onto the first, tone arm moves to above the start, lowers and commences to play. Nothing can possibly go wrong...go wrong...go wrong...Until the whole stack is released simultaneously to land with a crump on those below!
Also reminds me of "Exercise Tense Caper", the most aptly named ever! Having had a met briefing that lied like a cheap Changi watch, a stream of Hastings waited to launch on a dark and wet night. We were about number 8, and just as number 7 was about to roll ahead of us, the stream leader broadcast an abort. Those already airborne had carried out the "Scatter Plan", which to cut a long story short put each one on a diverging heading and height. They were then on their own and for the rest of the evening they arrived back, shut down, and converged on the bar. Many were the ingenious measures related to ensure that they could do just that, including filing airborne flight plans in order to join Controlled Airspace. Eventually the last one made it.
"What did you do?"
"We thought the best thing was to go where there was no-one else, so we held in Pxxx (a Prohibited Area near Bath)"
"Oh! So did we, what Altitude were you?"
"x,000 Feet"
"Oh! Which way round were you holding....?"
More please Danny.
Cliff, check in, please.
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Old 5th Mar 2012, 10:21
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not to mention the Bevs and the Argosy's also doing their own thing at different speeds ! Danny your devoted following await the next instalment with eager anticipation.
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Old 5th Mar 2012, 13:46
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re products of the Empire Training Scheme

Have just read Yellow Belly by John Newton Chance and The Devil Take the Hindmost by Denis Peto-Shepherd. Both were Flying Instructors on SFTS during WW11 and both said the following which clearly is a generalisation as follows.

In the autumn of 1941 the first fruits of the EFTS fell into our laps and they were rotten.

What had happened was that the SFTS's had been shipped out to Canada and the US for their flying training. They were then shipped back as Sergeants and Officers with their wings up. It was then arranged that we should become (Pilot) Advanced Flying Units with the object of just brushing up these pilot's flying before shipping them off to their Operational Units.

From this it would seem we Instructors would have a jammy time. Afterall we were not going to be given pupils but but fully trained pilots. This was the case with those from those trained in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but these were few in numbers.

In the case of those from the US and Canada, they were so bad that the whole of the old SFTS course had to be reinstituted. It was just as if they had come straight from Elementary Training School, needing the full treatment.

The mind boggles at the cost of this. Their navigation was hopeless as they could follow a road or railway in conditions of startling vis and they had never flown in total blackout.

THe Air Ministry calmly ordered the old SFTS course back into effect so those Pilots were getting three whole courses of which the middle one was cancelled out by the third.

Our situation became Gilbertian as we found ourselves sitting beside men with more flying hours then ourselves and putting up pilots for rejection who had qualified elsewhere. They could not be bowler hatted and had to be found ground jobs elsewhere etc etc
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Old 5th Mar 2012, 22:51
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This is a most surprising story. I have never heard of it (which of course is no evidence that it didn't happen).

Cliff (where are you?) can answer for the BFTS in the States. I can answer for the Arnold Scheme. Is there anyone out there who can answer for the SFTS in Canada?

First shot out of the locker: the two authors quoted speak of graduates coming back to the UK "from Autumn 1941". The first Arnold/BFTS people only started out there in July, 1941 and (to the best of my knowledge) did not finish until January, 1942. There would be a time lag before they appeared at AFU - see my experience below. On this basis, the only people they could be talking about must be from Canadian SFTS.

To illustrate the time frame I am talking about, I append my own dates:

"Wings" 6.3.42.

PRC Moncton 9.3.42. - 19.3.42.

(Transit to UK and (hopefully) some Disembarkation Leave).

3PRC Bournemouth 30.3.42. - 3.5.42.*

9PRC Harrogate 4.5.42. - 4.6.42.*

9 (P) AFU Hullavington 5.6.42. - 30.6.42.**

57 OTU Hawarden 1.7.42. - 21.9.42.

* Illustrates the extent to which we were "bug--red" about in those days.

** Perfectly normal AFU ("UK Familiarisation") There was never any mention of the existence of any "re-SFTS" Courses - and I must have been there right in the middle of any such Course going on. (Could nobody know about it?)

As to the gravamen of the charges:

a): We followed roads/railways under cloudless skies - "Guilty as Charged, m'Lud". - so did everbody else out there!

b): We couldn't fly in the blackout - there was no blackout! - did they have blackouts in Aus/NZ/S.Africa, then?

I would like to see "further and better particulars" of this - preferably from some official record.

Old 6th Mar 2012, 07:29
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I can't say anything definite, but I have this from a letter written home by an Australian pilot in the UK on 02NOV41. You already know about the English blackout conditions of course, the relevent bits are the first two sentences:

I was surprised to hear you complaining about the blackout practise. If they make a permanent thing of it you will find it a dreadful worry. In all English homes these days it's quite a ritual blacking out and it has to be done well because there are always snoopers about and they complain about the smallest cracks of light and can impose a fine if their complaints are not attended to after a couple of warnings.
A tremendous amount of work has been done making blackout fittings and all bathrooms passageways etc are fitted with very faint blue lights. "
The pilot's family lived in Sydney. I read it as there being no permanent blackout at that time, but preparations had been made to implement one if it became required. Bear in mind this was a month before Pearl Harbour - I don't know if anything changed once the Japanese had entered the war and appeared to be a direct threat to Australia.

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Old 6th Mar 2012, 21:56
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Just going off thread for a second

I would love to be able to experience getting on board a Lancaster or Halifax in 1944 / 1945 and flying an operational sortie (and getting home safely of course).

I have had my briefing along with the rest of my crew and had my egg and bacon. It is dark and cold as we are on a night time raid ..... we are on the dispersal pad.

Do I need a torch or are there lights on in the aircraft?

What is that smell when I enter through the doorway?

Who's got my rations and the coffee flask?

I can only ask questions .... is anyone able to talk me through what I will experience until I get back on this pad in the small hours of tomorrow morning

Last edited by Petet; 7th Mar 2012 at 09:52.
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Old 6th Mar 2012, 22:10
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England, home and beauty.

My time in the States ended in March 1942, and I went back to Canada with my pair of USAAC silver wings. We bypassed Toronto, ending up in a transit camp (where else?) in Moncton, where we waited for a ship back to Britain. They issued us with our first pair of RAF wings - come to think of it, it was the only pair of issue wings I ever got, you had to buy your own after that, and at 5/6 a pair (say 11 in todays' money) it wasn't funny.

Needless to say, sewing them on (using your "hussif") was a first priority, and you did that yourself, too. We'd have sewn them on our pyjamas if we could! These wings may have been very old stock, differing from the later pattern: they were deeper and more arched. It would have been nice to report that I held on to this first pair through thick and thin, and in fact I managed to do so for quite a long time before they disappeared. Of course the USAAC wings could not be worn with RAF uniform, and were kept as mementos.

They also gave us a brand new pair of sergeants' stripes to sew on the creased and scruffy uniforms we got at Babbacombe when we first joined (and which had spent six months stuffed in a kitbag). They would need some pressing to make them half way presentable.

We'd risen a long way in the RAF hierarchy. We were remustered from Trade Group IV as Aircrafthand (General Duties) - the bottom rung on the airman's ladder - to Group I (Pilot), top of the tree, and promoted to Sergeant. The pay was 13/6 a day (27 today, seven days a week and "all found"). We were better off by far than any newly commissioned Pilot Officer.

It was here that the selections for commissions were notified. I wasn't among them. I think that only a few were granted to our bunch of thirty-odd, and they went to the older (and hopefully more mature) men. There was a Selection Board, but I wasn't invited to attend. I suppose there was a thinning-out process before that, and most of us were thinned-out.

I remember hearing of one chap who did go before this Board. He was a pukka public-school type and was expected to be a "shoo-in". He was asked the inevitable question: "Why do you want a Commission?" (always followed up by: "Why do you think you should have a Commission?). But before he came to the second question, he dealt with the first. Instead of spouting the usual flannel about wishing to extend his capabilities in the service of his country, blah, blah, he replied insouciantly (and probably truthfully): "So as to get to wear a decently fitting pair of slacks, Sir". His candour did not impress the Board - they threw him out. The rest of us did not nurse any grievance, it was the luck of the draw, and if we were interested there'd always be another day.

A ship came in - I forget its name - and we were packed on board. No cabin for me this time, just a hammock on a mess deck. They're quite comfortable once you've worked out how to get into them. You must have a "spacer" - a strip of wood about 15 inches long to hold the top ropes apart where your pillow is going to go. As to getting in, my memory is that there was some form of handhold on the deckhead between the hammock hooks. You grabbed hold of this and hoisted yourself up into the fold of the hammock. An RN rating could give you a better description, but all I can say is that I did not fall out and slept like a log. The hammocks had to be taken down each morning ("lash up and stow"), and stowed against the ship's side, out of the way of the mess deck tables where you ate and spent most of your day. They'd also absorb the steel splinters which would be flying about if the ship were hit by gunfire.

We spent a week at sea, our convoy playing hide-and-seek with the U-boats, and docked on the Clyde. I think we got a fortnight's disembarkation leave. I have only the haziest recollection of that time, but a single incident stays bright in my memory.

At that stage of the War, the RAF enjoyed enormous prestige. Only eighteen months before, against all the odds, it had won the Battle of Britain and saved the country from invasion. "I do not say that the French cannot come", old Admiral St.Vincent had said a century and a half before, "I only say they cannot come by sea". To this we had added: "Or by air".

Moreover, we were the only Service fully on the offensive. Bomber Command was hitting back, night after night, far harder, but in exactly the same way, as the enemy had bombed (and were still bombing) us in the "Blitz". Nobody felt the slightest guilt about it at the time - that was a luxury we could allow ourselves post-war, long after the danger was past.

The other two Services simply could not compete in the glamour stakes. The Army had been routed and chased out of France at Dunkirk. There was a body of opinion that Hitler had deliberately let it escape, reasoning that Britain would soon sue for peace anyway, and meanwhile he couldn't be bothered having to feed and house 300,000 prisoners. If he had thought along those lines, he mightn't have been all that far wrong. The Chamberlain/Halifax government might well have run up the white flag. Luckily for Britain: "Came the Hour, Came the Man" - Winston Churchill !

Until 1944, the Home Army could do little but re-equip and train. The Desert Rats were keeping up the Nation's spirits, but North Africa was really only a sideshow. (I think the Germans had some half dozen divisions out there: they had 130 on the Russian Front). And in 1942, the less said about our military prowess in the Far East, the better.

The Navy had its back to the wall, keeping our sea lanes open, but theirs was essentially a defensive war against the U-boat, and we were far from winning it. (It is arguable that but for Ultra we would have lost it). It didn't make headlines. With hindsight, we should be thankful that Hitler hadn't learned the lesson of WW1, and didn't put far more resources into his U-boat campaign. It is clear from both wars that this was (and still is) the way in which this country can be brought to its knees. Kipling put it into verse a century ago:

The sweets that you suck and the joints that you carve
Are brought to you daily by all us big steamers,
And if anyone hinders our coming, you'll starve!

The Navy was engaged in a life-or-death struggle, but with them it was a case of: "No news is good news". Theirs was a mundane day-in day-out slog that didn't catch the public imagination in the same way as the more flamboyant deeds of the "Brylcreem Boys".

And we were the "blue-eyed boys". A little of it rubbed off on me one morning. I was trotting along in Liverpool with my new wings and sergeant's stripes. I can remember exactly where I was - by the side of Lewis's, opposite the Adelphi. A dear little old lady buttonholed me: "GOD BLESS YOU, MY BOY", she quavered (surprisingly loudly). Passers-by murmured approval. Liverpudlians wouldn't see all that many aircrew at that stage of the war, so I suppose I stuck out a bit. Naturally shy, I was dumb with embarrassment, but managed to stammer a few words of thanks. I hadn't even flown my first "op", but Liverpool had taken two year's battering from the Luftwaffe, so I suppose I looked like a possible St.George for their dragon. I'll never forget that day.

I was posted to Bournemouth, another Transit Camp, in a seaside hotel - had been a rather swish one, I think, but can't recall the name. Here the natives were well used to seeing aircrew and old ladies did not greet you with little glad cries - nor young ones either, come to that, (the Yanks were in town).

Got the bit between my teeth tonight, I'm afraid.

Danny 42C

Tallest on the left, shortest on the right.

Last edited by Danny42C; 7th Mar 2012 at 01:25.
Old 7th Mar 2012, 17:43
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My thanks to Cliff and all who wished me a Happy Birthday, yesterday. Does this mean I am "The Oldest Member" of this thread? Fredjhh
TO Petet 2385
Have you been aboard the re-built Halifax in the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington? I strongly recommend a booked visit to go on board. A guided tour of four will explain everything, and they even have the sound effects of take off, etc. I told the engineer in charge that the only thing missing was the smell, - a mixture of Elsan fluid, oils, cordite fumes and others difficult to name. He promised to work on that!
Tiny orange lights were in the Navigators, Bomb Aimers and Wireless
compartments, which could all be blacked out with curtains. Torches were not issued but I had a "Waterproof" torch which I acquired from Coastal Command in 1942. Pilot and F/E worked entirely by the luminous dials and by knowing exactly where each switch or knob was. Fifty-five years later the the Elvington engineer tested me blindfold, and the only mistake I made was on the position of the Landing Light switch. BUT the Elvington cockpit was for a Mk 111 and I only flew Mk 11. - the switch had been repositioned.
Flasks, night flying rations in steel boxes, pigeons, and navigation equipment were shared among the crew. The Wireless operator was responsible for collecting the pigeon. The Locker room was next to the Parachute Section and, when we collected parachutes, we could also plug in and test headphones, mikes and the oxygen flow before boarding the crew bus, which dropped us at dispersals.
We exchange greetings with "the owners," who let us fly their 'plane, and dumped parachutes, etc. inside the rear door.
The pilot and F/E walked round for the usual inspection, then went on board for the internal check, starting by removing the rudder locks. In the cock-pit the ground staff Sergeant, usually a Fitter 1, A & E, would have removed the control column lock when he did his earlier engine tests. The crew stowed 'chutes, checked in to the pilot to say all was well, then the pilot switched on oxygen to 10,000 feet and each crew point was checked - a little kicker on each flow meter showed oxygen was being delivered.
Then we started the engines, ran them up and checked mag drop, rotated the turrets and closed down. The Fitter would then hand the Form 700 to the pilot to sign in column 14 and so transfer the responsibility to the pilot. Then we all got out so the smokers could have a final cigarette, and others could relief themselves. There was an AM order prohibiting the practice of urinating on the port wheel (or the tail wheel) - it caused problems with the metal!
During this time the Wing Commander or the Night Flying Officer would drive by each aircraft to ask if all was well and wish good luck.
Shortly after that a Green Very Flare would be fired from the Watch Office and, within minutes, the airfield would erupt as engines were started up, then "Chocks away" and the slow crawl round the perimeter track to take off point.
There was usually a small group of well wishers standing by the caravan to wave us off.
We turned onto the runway in turn, the rear gunner called "No aircraft on the approach," the ACP flashed a Green Aldis and we were away.
There are dozens of books which describe operations far better than I could, but an Elvington on board tour will give you the best impression.
My flying ended in 1943, courtesy of an 88mm shell. 1944/45 brought more aircraft on target and lynchings by the Germans on aircrew who baled out. Fredjhh.
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Old 7th Mar 2012, 18:19
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Fred - awfully sorry, didn't know, (Bad Officer!) Happy Birthday, anyway. Have put it in my diary for next year (we live in hope !)



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