FLYING MEMORIES 6
The aeroplane was the last one in the row on the hard standing, had a car type of canopy from which visibility to the rear was almost nil. The seat and foot pedals were adjustable, and one sat on your dinghy and parachute that were placed in the aircraft before you climbed aboard. The 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine of the Tiffy was not started by an auxiliary battery, but had its own Coffman starter, which consisted of cartridges similar in, looks with the ones used in a shotgun. The engine had to be primed according the temperature of the engine, also climatic conditions, the throttle adjusted and various other knobs moved. When all was set you called out "all clear" to the ground crew, who affirmed it was so, switched on, pressed two buttons to fire the cartridge hopefully to see the prop rotate and the engine to start up. I think we were allowed to fire three cartridges attempting to start, after which everything had to be switched off, then the ground crew had to manually turn the propeller several times in order to remove excess fuel from the cylinders. With a F/Sgt Fitter standing just beside the cockpit on the wing to ensure I didn't damage his plane, I successfully started up and was all ready for my first trip in a TYPHOON.
I crept down between the other stationary aircraft afraid to ZI -ZAG, as I had been taught, because there just didn't appear enough room without my wing tips hitting the other aircraft. I reached the end of the hard standing and thankfully rolled onto the grass of the aerodrome, where I proceeded to taxi to the down-wind end of the airfield in order to carry out my pre take off cockpit drill. I had been told that the Tiffy would swing strongly to the right if not controlled properly early in the run up to take off, so remembering a good tip from Mike Covert, my Florida instructor, that it is better to keep the stick central when gaining speed, rather than pushing it forward in order to get the tail up quickly, I completed my preparations for take off, and with the green light from flying control I turned into wind and smoothly opened the throttle. The plane quickly gained speed and with more left rudder than I expected, held an almost straight course and was soon airborne. I was up to 1500 ft before I had retracted the undercarriage, raised the 15-degree of flap used in take off, and was flying at 250 mph. This was really flying! I levelled out reduced throttle, changed from fine pitch to coarse, closed the radiator flap and began looking around whilst getting the feel of the plane. Once I had trimmed her I was amazed how responsive she was to handle and a joy to fly, attaining speeds in access of 500 mph in quite shallow dives, my dream come true!! I had been told to fly around for twenty minutes or so and then do a couple of circuits and landings, but as I mentioned earlier Manston was prone to these sea mists. I returned over base at 3000 ft and could clearly view the drome through the mist, but as I descended lower everything disappeared. I tried two or three times to get down but was not at all confident that I would make it, but as luck would have it my guardian angel decided our sister squadron 609 should return from a show, they obviously were not worried about a bit of sea mist, broke formation and proceeded to make their landing approaches, whereupon I decided to get on the end of their flight and follow the last one in. Was I glad of their arrival, received praise from Bluey for not only keeping my cool but for making a smooth landing at my first attempt.
My only complaint about the Tiffy was the cockpit canopy, which had lots of framework, with windows you could wind down like a car window and little if any rear view. The planes used on Ops had all been converted with super "Bubble" type hoods, which gave the pilot all-around unobstructed view, it was only the new boys that flew the other type. Manston in January 1944 was the home of both 198 and 609 Typhoon Squadrons, and they remained sister squadrons for the entire war operating from the same aerodromes in this country, also the same airstrips when on the continent. Later to be joined by other squadrons and leave 11 group, to become part of 2nd TAF as 123 Airfield. My second sortie in a Tiffy was a nightmare in that I started up OK, but in taxiing out from the hard standing and once again not ZIG-ZAGING, I failed to see a contractors wagon depositing gravel where the grass and hard standing joined, because at this point it had become very muddy due to recent heavy rain. I could not see ahead because of the very large engine, but I have no idea why the lorry driver failed to get out of my way for he must have heard the engine noise from my plane. The end result was the next thing I see is a figure jumping from the top of the cab on the lorry, plus the horrible noise of my prop chewing into the lorry. This incident resulted in me receiving a severe reprimand together with a red endorsement for "Gross Carelessness" in my Log Book from the Station Commander. One good thing came out of this fiasco, and that was ground crew had to be used as guides when leaving or returning on the hard standing.
The month of January 44 was a wonderful period for both 198 and 609 Squadrons, it being a time when over 20 enemy aircraft were destroyed with the loss of only 4 of our pilots. My own C.O.Johnny Baldwin, increased his own tally to 13 and one half destroyed and to be awarded the DSO in February for his efforts. Being a new boy I took no part in any of these operations, but I was thrilled to be a small part of such a successful squadron.
Telegrams arrived from Churchill, Chief of Air Staff and numerous other High Ranking officials, plus the Daily Express interviewed and photographed the C.O. and others. I failed to mention that Oxygen Masks were worn at all times due to the high amount of Carbon Monoxide Poison from the engine, filtering into the cockpit.
Towards the end of January some of the Squadron's Tiffys were fitted with Rocket Rails, the seasoned pilots were just not interested, because the Rails plus the Rockets slowed the plane, and also decreased its manoeuvrability. We new boys were given the chance to get quite a bit of practice at firing solid warheads fitted to the Rockets, at wrecks on the Goodwin Sands. We all became fairly proficient but Don Mason was outstanding and would prove his skill a little later on. The C.O. informed us that 198 and 609 had been chosen to eliminate the various types of Radar Stations situated along the coast of the continent, and our first target to be attacked would be at Ostend. The equipment to be destroyed consisted of a chimney with antennae either side, with various out buildings. This chimney which could be raised or lowered and we had to wait until it was in the upright position.
The day arrived when everything was as required, weather, mast in upright position and the OK from Fighter Command. Don Mason was chosen as one the three others to escort Johnny Baldwin in the attack with rockets, with 12 other Tiffys as fighter escort whose job would be to protect the Rocket firing aircraft, and also attack any anti aircraft guns that might open up at them. We crossed the coast north of the target at about 9000 ft. circled right, and then came down at the target out of the sun and in complete surprise. There was little if any flak and although the target was hit it failed to topple. We all returned to Manston and were informed by the C.O. that we would be returning after lunch as he felt the job had not been satisfactory. The return trip was far livelier with quite a bit of Flak being thrown up at us, everyone returned safely, with the Radar Station well and truly put out of action.
The poor ground crew didn't know if they were coming or going, as they were required to remove or refit the Rocket Rails according to the operation to be carried out. We were escorting Mosquito bombers to targets at almost our extreme range, which meant the rails had to come off and long range tanks fitted. We would take off on main tanks, staying at deck level, change over to long -range tanks, praying that they hadn't fallen off, and set course for the rendezvous with the Mossies. It was quite a sight to see twelve Mosquitoes and maybe 36 Typhoons all at sea level rushing along towards France.