S for Sugar was Guy Plamondon's plane. Once they had been on the squadron for a while pilots had a plane allocated to them, which they usually flew. There were always more pilots than serviceable aircraft so someone else might have to take yours if he was picked for a particular sortie.
Guy was a French-Canadian in my flight, a nice enough chap even though his English was a bit funny. I didn't know much about French-Canadians in those days and anyway we were a pretty mixed bunch on the squadron, Australians, New Zealanders, American and even a Argentinian, quite a number of other Canadians and , of course, our Belgian from 609, Cheval Lallemant.
Many years later I realised that Guy was one of that select group of French-Canadians who had volunteered at the beginning of the war. I also realised, later that like a Quebecer, he was particularly sensitive to being slighted. He must have felt it difficult at times when we used to make fun of each other and trade insults in the Mess and around the stove at dispersal whilst waiting for the next show to come up. If I had known about this sensitivity of his maybe I wouldn't have flown his plane that time. At least I might have said I was sorry that it had to go to the scrap heap even before he could get his hands on the controls.
In February 1944, 198 Sqdn was always short of aircraft, although the engine trouble that had beset the Typhoon in its early days had largely been solved, we were losing a lot of planes and pilots over the other side. Damage, mainly light flak, was often enough to scrap those planes that did come back.
The Station Commander at Manston in those days was a Group Captain who was very proud of the reputation that his station had. A squadron that didn't measure up was soon out and on its way elsewhere. I knew of this personally when I had been with 56 Sqdn the previous summer. We had been sent off to the quieter reaches of Bradwell Bay after only a few weeks at Manston when "Dakar Dan", our C.O. had complained about losing too many pilots, however I was soon back at Manston with 198.
When the old, (he must have been at least 40!) Groupie saw me again he gave me a sort of jaundiced look at first but when he found out I had asked for a transfer back to his station his attitude changed and he seemed quite pleased. He, I'm sure, had a great deal to do with our getting new aircraft to replace our losses as quickly as possible. They seemed to be flown in straight from the factory without the usual air testing, we didn't mind doing this ourselves anyway as we had more time to try out some of the newest modifications before using them operationally.
It must have been Guy Plamondon's turn for a new aircraft, his old S for Sugar had dived straight into the sea near Calais. I later found out that the pilot, Jack Stanley, had got out of the cockpit under water and was eventually made a POW.
So the new aircarft turned up and Guy was all smiles, it had the latest bubble canopy and overload tanks etc, all it needed was for the squadron markings to be put on, the compass swung and the cannon firing pattern checked before it was ready for dispersal and Jack Scambler, our acting Flight Commander, who told me to take it up.
It really was a lovely aircraft and handled very well, I said so to Guy when I got down again. He didn't say much, but when I had to fly it again the next day to check the guns he was livid by the time I got back. The following day he was happier, he sat in the aircraft for two hours on cockpit standby waiting for the white "Scramble" Varey flare from the control tower but none came, however he had at least sat in the thing. We had a pint of beer together in the Mess that evening and he seemed to be mollified little knowing what the morrow would bring.
The next morning there was an early show on, an escort job for some American bombers to Eindhoven in Holland where the Phillips factory was turning out a lot of important equipment for the Germans. With our new external fuel tanks we easily had the range and half way back the Spitfire wing from Hornchurch was to take over from us and we would come back at low level looking for any German planes from their Dutch and Belgian bases. We always found something to shoot at down low, at least trains, transport or, near the coast, some shipping.
Manston was really busy that morning, the Hornchurch wing landed to fuel up and some Mosquitoes were there with some Spitfires from Tangmere which all seemed to taxy past our B flight dispersal after landing. Quite an impressive sight, but the Merlin engines seemed quiet as sewing machines compared to our noisy Sabres.
I was to lead blue section in my plane X. At the briefing it was all straight forward, scattered cloud most of the way, clear over the target and wind from the west 15 to 20mph. We all noted the courses to fly on the back of our hands and our maps with the time for each course. This fighter pilots dead reckoning was usually sufficient for us to know where we were most of the time, especially if we had the chance to pick out a landmark occasionally. We marked the tracks on the maps with heavy pencil and folded these so as to be able to glance the necessary without trouble.
Back at dispersal we checked our escape kits in our Mae Wests, the first aid kit in the collar and the little knife in our escape boots. This was to cut the top off the boots if we were downed on the other side and also to puncture the dinghy if it should blow up by accident in our seat whilst flying then checked my anti-glare googles and rubbed the inside with an anti mist cloth.
Everthing seemed set when at the last moment my usual aircraft X wasn't serviceable. "Take S", shouted Scambler as we walked out. Guy was standing right there as he wasn't on the show, "Look after it, Pete", he muttered, "Don't bring it back full of holes" as that was what had happened to me on the previous few shows, but I wasn't expecting anything worse this time. "Don't worry, I promise to look after it", I shouted back as an "erk" adjusted my parachute.
I strapped myself in, turned on the oxygen supply and set the regulator to full on, plugged in my R/T and switched on to ground control, checked the gun sight was set with the graticules for the wing span of a FW190 and a range of 300yds, our standard setting in those days, checked the spare bulb was in place and did a routine cockpit check, I was ready to start up.
Starting the engine on a Hawker Typhoon was an acrobatic exercise. You had to have the mixture, pitch and throttle accurately set with ignition on, prime the the cylinders with a hand pump, build up the carburettor pressure with another hand pump, then, without a moments delay, press the two buttons for the Coffman starter and the ignition boost, whilst at the same time using the priming pump to catch the engine as it turned over. Once it had started you could screw the pumps closed and gradually use the throttle to get the engines revs up.
We were eight aircraft that morning and we all started up on the synchronised time. 609 Sqdn was on the same show and we saw their eight aircraft taxying over from the other side of the field. Everything went according to plan and we rendez-vous'd with the bombers just off the coast which were Marauders or A26's, known to the Yanks as "Flying Coffins" because they were so hard to fly. We liked escorting them as they were faster than any of the other bombers, so we could keep position more easily and maintain our speed which were important considerations if the formations were attacked. However, there were two things we didn't like, but they always seemed to happen and there was nothing we could do about them, these medium bombers always seemed to fly at about twelve thousand feet which was about the worst height for us performance wise.
S for Sugar is continued on the Next Page.
S FOR SUGAR 1
After the Second World War Peter Roper moved to Canada and became an internationally respected Doctor in Space Medicine.
Here Peter relates some of his memories of serving with 198 Squadron RAF during the early part of 1944 and the sensitivities of dealing with fellow pilots among the problems of flying the Hawker Typhoon in combat.