Real Life on a Fighter Squadron.
In my early days with the Squadron I found myself on standby together with Flt. Lieut Bluey Dahl, a mad New Zealander and my flight commander. Whilst on standby it was usual to sit strapped in the cockpit, all ready to go, with the engine kept warm at all times. This was often on the end of the runway if the wind was blowing away from dispersal or, otherwise, if we were lucky, immediately in front of the dispersal. The scramble flare (red) was fired from the Control Tower and we could be airborne within thirteen seconds, perhaps as low as eleven seconds. On this occasion the weather was poor and visibility bad. Just the sort of occasion when we were likely to be fired off. Sure enough we were scrambled and vectored over the channel on what we gathered was a shipping strike. The visibility was truly awful and, as we were approaching the French Coast, we were not surprised to hear Fighter Control advising us that the mission was cancelled and we were to return to base.
Flying in very close formation, so as not to lose each other, we successfully found Manston and landed without too many problems. I was first out of the cockpit and into the dispersal to be confronted by a parson, who had been waiting for me to return. He explained that I had originally registered as a Wesleyan Methodist and he had come along to welcome me to his church. It was all very embarrassing and noticeably subdued in the dispersal, which was usually full of chatter and shove-ha宮y. We were stood very close to the door when Bluey burst in, dropped his parachute on the floor and said--- "Jesus Christ, what a f-----g abortion!" Then he looked up and found himself face to face with a real live parson. The parson fled and the place exploded into merriment.
2 The squadron 鬤 man硳 a French Canadian. Flt Lieut Plamondon. Always up to something associated with explosives of some kind. You would regularly find him sat in a deck chair outside dispersal, armed with a 22 bore shot-gun. Taking pot-shots at passing sea-gulls he would, quite often, be surrounded by a ring of dead birds which he had shot without getting up from his chair. He claimed it was the best possible practice for deflection shooting, which was probably true.
I caught him one morning opening cartridges and pouring the powder down the barrel before ramming the shot down. He claimed that he was going to blow the next bird to kingdom come. As the complete load was only a few inches from the end of the barrel we all found something else to do, elsewhere, and in rather a hurry. It must have been ten minutes later, when we had all forgotten about Plum, that there was a loud explosion from just outside the hut and shrapnel rapped along the corrugations of the dispersal. Thinking we were under attack we rushed outside to find Plum stood, with a perfect smoke ring around him, a bemused expression on his face and the butt of the shot-gun still held to his shoulder. There wasnࡠbit of gun left larger than an inch longhe was completely unhurt! An angry C.O. ordered Plum to pick up all the pieces and return them to the armoury. Being Plumୡte I went with him. Ostensibly to offer support but really to enjoy the fun as he poured the parts onto the armourerഡble.
3 On another occasion I was once again on standby and was scrambled almost at first light. This time I was instructed to orbit base whilst the rest of the flight joined me and, as a section of nine aircraft, we were vectored across the English Channel with myself as flight leader. The weather was glorious as the sun came up on an empty sky and the controller in an unusually excited voice informed us that he had a hundred plus bandits for us at angels ten. We gained height as quickly as possible and could soon see about fifty miles in each direction a completely empty sky. The controller insisted that there were at least a hundred plus and we were right on them. Nothing-------we were then instructed to vector 180 degrees (In other words turn around) and stillﴨing. We continued in this manner for some time seeking an invisible enemy. As a rule controllers were usually extremely calm but, on this occasion, we all thought he was going to have epilepsy as we continued to chase an unseen enemy across half of the Channel. Then, in a subdued voice, we were instructed to return to base and pancake. (land).
It was subsequently explained to us that a new type of radar had been put into service that morning which was so powerful it could detect enemy aircraft as soon as they took off from French airfields. Great! The only snag being that the operators were not yet used to it and we had been chasing a flock of pigeons. with rings on their legs, just off the Dover coast!
4 I became a close friend of the mad French Canadian, Plum as we called him, and this resulted in our sharing a tent when the squadron was transferred to Second TAF. I suspect that everyone else decided he was too dangerous to have as a companion! Transfer to tented accommodation was, at first, a tremendous cultural shock. An overnight transformation from being somewhat cosseted to finding that you had to make your own coffee in the morning was a mini disaster. Each tent had an oil fire dug nearby in order to supply warm water for washing and shaving, besides the odd brew up. This consisted of half an oil drum, filled with sand then soaked with oil. It was difficult to light but, once that technical difficulty was overcome by a small can of 110 octane, was a very effective way of heating water. A far greater problem proved to be the decision as to who got up early in order to light the fire. Plum resolved that he would not pull rank and we agreed to take alternate mornings.
The first morning was, of course, my turn. I had never noticed before how cold it could be so early in the morning and the potential delights of camping were somewhat dimmed that particular May morning. It is almost impossible to light oil at six in the morning, crouching in wet grass. Eventually persistence prevailed and, maybe an hour later, we had boiling water.
The next morning would be Plum೨ift and he spent the whole morning in a somewhat thoughtful mood. He had no longing to get out of a nice warm camp-bed in the early hours in order to light an oil fire and he had devised a way in which it would be unnecessary for either of us to be up so early. So, at Plumࢩdding, I helped him to load a small battery, a spade and a roll of wire into the flightʥep and we took our illicit cargo to the camp site, to hide the loot under Plumࢥd until our morning stint was over and we could return, legitimately, to our own devices. After lunch in the mess tent, we returned and after Plum had explained what he proposed to do, we set about his devilishly ingenious plan. It was simple really. Plum cut a one inch hole in the clay at the side of the fire trench and fixed a small wooden shelf immediately underneath. In the mean time he asked me to dig a shallow trench from the oil fire to our tent and to bury the wire in it, replacing the grass on top so that it was not so obvious. He then produced a Plessy cartridge (used in the Typhoonarter) fastened the wire to the contacts on the cartridge and then pushed the whole thing into the hole which he had prepared. He then explained that, before we turned in tonight, we should sit a small can full of petrol on the shelf. In the morning, without even getting out of bed, all he had to do was pull the battery from underneath the bed and connect our end of the wire to the terminals. The Plessy cartridge would then fire, shoot out of the hole and knock the can of petrol off the shelf. The flaming cartridge would then light the petrol and, hey presto, fire lit!
The following morning it worked like a dream, except that Plum had seriously overdone the petrol. Granted the fire lit, completely unattended, but also accompanied by a pretty loud explosion and, just as 裸 would dictate, our Commanding Officer was also walking past at the same moment! He must have been frightened to death! Needless to say, that was the end of Plumlf igniting oil fire! ----- Pity really.
5 Another occasion when Bluey and I were scrambled across the Channel, when the weather was so bad that even the birds were walking. We hadn৯ne far, flying with my wing tucked in behind Bluey೯ as not to lose him, when we were recalled to base. We executed a wide turn and headed back home. Less than 250 feet above the sea, according to the altimeter, but still unable to see anything. With eyes rivetted on BlueyԹphoon I was vaguely aware that we had crossed the coast when Bluey suddenly yelled "Break". I turned violently to the left then realised that, through the murk, I could see the central tower of Canterbury Cathedral much nearer than comfort would allow. Now I was on my own, but this was no problem because I was practically flying in my own back-yard. I was safely down on Mother Earth a few minutes later but began to be concerned when Bluey failed to arrive. It was a good ten minutes before he entered the circuit and also landed safely,
I strolled across to his aircraft to find out what had happened and found Bluey examining a deep indentation on the leading edge of his port wing, between the protruding cannons. Apparently he had flown into a barrage balloon cable, catching the cable between his port cannons in a sort of scissors movement. The cable must have broken for there were deep scour marks over the top and underside of the wing. He was very lucky indeed, in fact I had never heard of this happening before.
After the wonderment had died down in dispersal Bluey decided that he should report the incident to Balloon Command. He duly gave them all relevant details and they told him that they would investigate and ring him back. As we had been scrambled I was entitled to the rest of the afternoon off but decided to hang around for a bit - this could be too good to miss.
Twenty minutes later Balloon Command rang back to say that they had no reported incident but, if Bluey was sure, they would investigate further and ring back as soon as they could.
When they did eventually ring back it was to tell Bluey that no incident had occurred and that Bluey must be mistaken. It was then that Bluey really disclosed his full command of Aboriginal expletives, finishing up by telling the poor unfortunate on the other end of the line that "When one of their dozy crews wound their wire down tonight they would find no balloon on the end of it!"
So what could life in the Squadron be like? - Former 198 pilot Richard Armstrong gives a rare glimpse.