FLYING MEMORIES 7
At a pre arranged point we would all climb steeply to about 10000 ft. to cross over the enemy coast. We did at first have problems with the long range tanks, which were prone to coming off if you hit an uneven patch of the drome on take off, this was simply rectified by placing a long ribbon inside the fairing holding the Long Range Tanks to the underside of the wing, which would stream out beyond the trailing edge of the wing should the tank not be there, so a quick look either side was all that was needed to know if was safe to use the long range tanks. We always dropped these tanks prior to making an attack and also if engaged by a lot of 88mm Flak, simply because a bit of shrapnel or the odd rifle bullet hitting them could blow half your wing off. The Mosquito escort operations were a great help in getting clued up on: - Map Reading, watching the effect of bombing, seeing how accurate the 88mm German Anti Aircraft fire was and learning how to set the right course for home should the occasion arise. We saw on two or three occasions the appearance of enemy aircraft, but as soon as we turned towards them they also turned and dived away.
Also we watched fascinated when an unfortunate bomber was hit by the very accurate 88mm flak, when it would either peel away from the formation, an escort section would be detailed to try and get it back home, or the bomber would just explode and the broken parts slowly spiral down to earth. At that time, it seemed uncanny how the German 88mm gunners were able to put a box of Anti Aircraft fire around the bombers, even when we were all flying above cloud with no sign of the earth below. I knew about Radar, but being a greenhorn I didn't realize that the guns could be laid off quite as accurately, my experience in N. Ireland on army co-op made me think it was more luck than judgment. Another lesson quickly learnt, never fly straight and level for more than was necessary when over enemy territory. Life at Manston was a thrill a minute, mainly due to it being the nearest aerodrome to enemy territory, also the American Air Force were carrying out a lot of daylight raids. When not flying ourselves, we would sit outside our dispersal hut and watch all these damaged aircraft firing off red very lights way out over the channel, indicating that they were in trouble and were coming straight in to land. I remember watching a Thunderbolt fighter trying to land with a jammed fully opened throttle, the pilot made two attempts but failed, then going around again for his third attempt he cut the switches too late and came in over boundary fence much to fast. He bounced across the grass without a hope of stopping but suddenly hit a mound of earth, which threw the plane 50 to 60 ft. in the air to come crashing to earth upside down.
We all thought he had "bought it" but a few minutes later we see the pilot walking back puffing away at a cigar. All American fighter aircraft were fitted with a very sturdy crash bar, which went from side to side above the pilotਥad, proved its worth in this case! On another occasion an American Liberator bomber was in the final part of its emergency landing, when flying control started firing Red Very flares at it, the pilot opened up the throttles and started to go around again. The plane on its approach for landing had full flap down, but now that it was going around again these flaps had to be retracted. Unfortunately the mechanism used to operate the flaps on this type of aircraft was electrical and not hydraulic, when the pilot selected flaps up a spark must have set alight fuel pouring from a fractured pipe, which turned the plane into a blazing inferno. We watched horrified as members of the crew were jumping out at about 100 to 200ft without parachutes, the plane crashed somewhere between the end of the drome and Margate. It was safer to stay outside the dispersal hut when bomber raids were returning, and watch the Yanks make their emergency landings regardless of the wind direction.
The dispersal hut was heated by means of a large cylindrical coke fired stove, with a galvanized chimney, fuel to feed the stove was offered through a circular plate at the top and the furniture consisted of about three easy chairs plus odd hard backed chairs and several benches. It was the norm for chaps wanting an easy chair to drop one of the starting cartridges into the fire via the circular plate, await the bang and then grab a chair when hastily evacuated by its occupant. We all got used to this performance and stayed put refusing to vacate our chair putting up with being covered in coal dust. One day someone removed the bullet part from a 20mm cannon shell and threw the explosive remainder into the stove. The explosion that followed blew the circular metal plate on the top of the stove straight up through the roof of the dispersal hut sending hot ashes all over the place. Thank goodness nobody was hurt but we had to have a whip round to pay for the repairs, and the practice of chair claiming was stopped with the threat of being posted to training command if caught. About the middle of March we ceased to be part of 11 Group and both squadrons were posted to Tangmere (Sussex) as part of 123 Airfield 2nd TAF. From now on until I returned to this country TOUR Expired, we all lived and dined under canvas. 123 Airfield consisted now of four Squadrons with Group Capt Gillam DSO, DFC, AFC. in command.
He would lead the four Squadrons on various shows when maximum effort was requested from H.Q., otherwise we would be sent off as individual squadrons to attack targets chosen once again by H.Q. During our stay at Tangmere we attacked several Radar stations and on occasions changed from Rocket firing to become BOMBPHOONS, this time to attack targets called NOBALL or in other words the Flying Bomb sites. These sites were dotted around in woods and in some instances in the middle of a village. I was more than pleased when we reverted back to Rocket firing which I personally consider to be far more accurate. A fellow pilot became disenchanted with having to wash and shave in cold water every morning, so he decided to attempt at creating a fire to boil a kettle of water for an early cup of tea and enough water for a wash and shave.
He built a fire with sticks and coke and at the base of this he placed the contents of a Coffman Starter cartridge, which he then wired up to a spare wet radio battery. He set his alarm clock to awaken him about 20mins before he needed to get up in order that he could connect the wires to the battery beside his bed. The theory behind his thinking was that the cartridge would ignite the fire and he could have another 20 mins in bed while the kettle came to the boil. The cartridge exploded igniting paper and bits of wood, which were blown all over his tent causing holes to appear. The outcome of all this was that he had to have money deducted from his pay book to replace the tent he shared with another pilot.
We remained in the Tangmere area moving to Thorney Island, Funtingdon and Hurn with just short breaks at Llandbedr, N.Wales. for Rocket Firing refresher course and a brief respite from OPS, until we eventually started operating from France in July. May onwards things started hotting up, and we were sometimes doing two shows a day attacking marshalling yards, petrol installations, Chateaux, Radar Sites and on one occasion Cheval, leading DON, BILL and myself came across some German Armour which we left in flames. The best trips were when just four of us went out on low level Rangers just looking for Targets to appear, on these trips you might come across Trains, Shipping and anything that looked worth attacking.