Following my mother’s death in September 2009, Dad took a break from writing his memoirs but picked them up again in June 2010. He began by describing aircraft carries accidents from his time on HMS Ocean.
Narrative resumes June 1010
Taking off and landing on was not always straightforward. Accidents did happen from time to time mainly in the landing process. Mainly they were relatively minor as mentioned before when either a plane missed the arrestor wires or where there was a mechanical failure in the plane.
One I recall was a more serious accident when Lieutenant Ellis a popular pilot landed on and the left hand landing wheel collapsed and plane and pilot did a right angled turn to port and went straight over the side. Those of us on the flight deck rushed over to the port side to see the Seafire sinking and only the cockpit clear of the surface. Lt Ellis was calmly climbing out of the cockpit as the ship sailed by. He inflated his Mae West and was shortly picked up by our escort destroyer HMS Raider who was following in out wake. A few hours later he was returned to HMS Ocean via breeches buoy ready to fly again.
A sad accident occurred when Ocean was anchored in Marsascholock Bay in Malta. We were practising take offs by means of the steam catapult which was situated at the forward end of the flight deck (Just above our mess). The process was that the Seafire with pilot already strapped in the cockpit was placed on the rear of the catapult and at the given signal with the plane on full revolutions would be projected forward at take off speed of 80-90mph and would climb away.
On this occasion the pilot was Lieutenant Pennington-Bird. With a roar the plane was catapulted off but instead of immediately going into a climb it took a nosedive immediately in front of the ship. Once again there was a rush by those of us on deck to peer over the front of the flight deck and there was Pennington-Bird still strapped in with the plane of the bottom in 40-50 feet of water. Catapulting ceased for that day. That was the only fatal accident but there was another occasion when we thought there was going to be another.
In September of that year, our popular C.O. Lt Commander Hutton left the squadron and was replaced by a newcomer Lt Commander Bailey. Bailey was little bit aloof and consequently the squadron were a bit wary of him. One day he was up aloft leading a flight and was coming in to land aboard. His Seafire could be seen first to come round in the circuit probably a couple of miles behind the ship. Suddenly black smoke belched from the engine. In no time the word went round the flight deck of an impending prang.
The island quickly filled with goofers those who did not want to miss the drama including me and Sam in the forward gun sponson. Everyone was cheering as “Bill” Bailey brought the Seafire in more I think in expectation of a spectacular prang.
Give Bill credit he did a perfect landing picking up the arrestor wire cleanly but with even more smoke and flames coming from the plane’s engine. Bill Bailey was out of the cockpit at record speed and everybody cheered and clapped whilst the asbestos clad fire crew doused the flames. Relief – it could easily have been a fatality. The disabled plane had to be moved away with all speed as the remaining flight were still circling the ship awaiting the signal to land on.
Another time the other squadron’s Fireflies were lined up on the after end of the flight deck waiting to take off. Their armament consisted of six cannon slung under the wing. People were just cleaning the flight deck prior to the Fireflies taking off when the pilot of one of the leading planes accidentally pressed the wrong button in the cockpit and the cannons fired sending six rockets shooting down the length of the flight deck and away to sea. Once again, fatalities fortunately avoided. I bet the seventh rocket was the one the guilty pilot got from Commander Air in the island.