The work of a sailor.

Today my Dad describes a typical working week in safety equipment on HMS Ocean.

Reveille was at 6.30am, breakfast at 7am.  Straight after breakfast one made a quick dash up onto the flight deck for a glance up at the flagstaff on the island.  If the white flag with black crosses on it was flying you gave a little cheer.  This was the negative flag which meant there was no flying.  No reason would be given.  It could be the weather which would be obvious.  There could be other reasons not obvious to us.  However it meant Sam and I could spend a day in the Safety Equipment Section either working or skiving.

On the other hand if there was flying it would be the usual busy day.  Check the flying times.  First flight off would be a pair or our Seafires (in effect a Naval Spitfire) and would maybe be off at 8am.  Therefore each pilot’s chute and dinghy had to be in his plane already on (or due on) the after end of the flight deck.

Sam and I had already spent the previous half hour lugging six sets of chutes and dinghies from our section three decks down to either the hangar or the open gun sponsors just below the flight deck to put in the planes.

Flights generally went off in twos at hourly intervals.  If the first flight went off at 8am the next pair of Seafires had to be ranged ready to take off at 9am.  As soon as they went off, the first pair landed on.  At this point the ship was steaming at full speed 30 mph into the wind and the sea was causing the flight deck to rise and fall several feet.

Taking off needed both planes to be as far back along the flight deck as possible, shocks under the wheels, engines revved up to full power and at the batsman’s signal “chocks away”, brakes off and the first plane went hell for leather down the flight deck  (690 feet long) and off at the bow.  In every case the plane dropped height as it left the deck and disappeared.  You held your breath until the plane appeared some half a mile ahead and climbing.

On rare occasions the plane did not appear and then us on deck rushed to the port side as the ship went still steaming full speed past a Seafire in the sea, gradually sinking and the pilot trying to scramble out of it.  More of that later.

As soon as the first pair of planes landed on they were pushed to the hydraulic lift to be taken down into the hangar, one by one.  Here we had to be quick to dash and jump on the plane wing and heave the chute and dinghy out of the cockpit before the lift went down.

Half hour’s respite before the next pair were ranged ready for take-off.  And so it went on until the flying programme for the day was completed usually daylight hours until 7pm.

Amidst all this flying by 805 Seafires the other squadron 816 flew off and landed their Fireflies fighter torpedo bombers but they had longer intervals as they had 6 hours endurance.  At the end of 805 squadron flying all the chutes had to be stored.  Sometimes if we had a late finish and an early start next day we would store the chutes in the gangway next to the anti-aircraft gun sponsor ready for the following morning.

Flying took place every day, weather permitting, except Sunday which was a rest day and Wednesday afternoon which was called a make and mend a time when the crew could carry out personal tasks like washing clothes, doing any sewing etc.

Most lower deck (i.e. non-officer crew) took Wednesday afternoon to be leisure time.  Some would play deck hockey, tennis or badminton.  The less energetic could simply lie in the sun on the flight deck.

When the ship was at flying stations and from time to time the planes were taking off and landing in the intervals between deck hockey was played.

There was a flight deck crew of about 30 plane handlers whose duty it was to manhandle aircraft before and after landing.   Between times they would form teams to play hockey and there was a keen rivalry between the teams.

Today. Dad describes H.M.S. Ocean history.

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Thus I have outlined the general picture of the operation of a squadron and as I say I joined 805 when it was ashore at Hal Far.  After a few days we were to embark on HMS Ocean.

First, the ship came into Marsachlok Bay and half the ratings were transferred by boat to the ship.  Sam Turner went with them whilst I remained at Hal Far with the other half.  I had to see that the pilots were equipped with their parachutes.  Meanwhile Ocean had sailed.  The squadron aircraft took off from Hal Far and flew out to and landed on the ship.  The ship then returned to Marachlok and then the other half of the ratings and stores were transferred by boat to the ship.  This entire manoeuvre took place over a period of only a few hours.  When we were aboard, Ocean sailed.

HMS Ocean, a light fleet carrier, was laid down at Alexander Stephen’s yard Govan on the Clyde in November 1942.  Building took 2 years and she was launched in July 1944.  Then followed a fitting out period and sea trials until she was eventually commissioned in August 1945 just as World War 2 ended.

Her full weight was 18 400 tons with a length of 695 feet and a beam of 80 feet.  Her draught was 23 feet with a speed of 25 knots (some 29 mph)  Her main armament of anti aircraft guns was situated in sponsons, give on each side extending just below the level of the flight deck.

The Ocean carried two squadrons of aircraft and at the time of my joining her these consisted of:-

816 Squadron with 12 Fairey Firefly RR1 which is addition to 4 x 20mm cannon in the wings carried 2 x 10001b bombs or 16 x 3 rich rocket projectiles.  These aircraft had a maximum speed of 335 knots but with a cruising speed of 191 knots had an endurance of 6 hours.  The crew consisted of one pilot and one observer.

The other squadron 805 consisted of 12 Seafire FXV11 (the Naval equivalent of the Spitfire) with an all up weight of 3 and a half tons the weapons of which consisted of 2 x 20mm cannon and 4 x 303 Browning machine guns in the wings.  The length of a Seafire was 32 feet wing span 36 feet and height 10 feet.  Top speed 333 knots, cruising speed 290 knots.  Endurance depended on rate of speed but at best would be about 90 minutes.

816 Squadron’s purpose was reconnaissance and attack of sea on land targets.  805’s was air defence of the parent ship.

A few months after she was commissioned HMS Ocean was involved in a historic event when in December 1945 a Vampire Jet piloted by Lt Commander E Brown was the first true jet aircraft to be landed on a ship at sea.  Later in December the ship set sail for the Mediterranean and in the early months of 1946 did trials for night flying and became proficient as the only carrier in the Fleet able to operate around the clock night flying.  After a short period in the Mediterranean she returned to England 892 Hellcat Squadron was replaced by 805 Seafire Squadron under Lt Commander Peter Hutton and the ship set sail again for the Mediterranean.  The ship joined the Mediterranean Fleet in July 1946.

The Ocean with her sister carrier HMS Triumph formed the 20th Carrier Air Group and were the only two Royal Navy carriers in the Mediterranean Fleet in 1946 and 1947.  The Air Admiral was Rear Admiral Denis Boyd who had been skipper of the HMS Illustrious at the battle of Taranto.  He flew his flag in the Triumph and as a consequence it was felt by the crew of our ship that the Triumph got all the soft options.  However there was no animosity between the two and on the few occasions when we were in company there was just a friendly rivalry.  In the Royal Navy, not just in the Mediterranean Fleet, but in every fleet and indeed in every port there was rivalry between ships.  There was pride in one’s ship from the Captain down to the most junior crew member so that everyone strived to do better than any other ship.

Unfortunately when ships were in port and crews met in bars taunts would be exchanged and fortified with drinks, it was frequent for fights to result.  Then along would come a Naval Patrol and those arrested would be returned to the ship to receive the Captain’s punishment.

This did not occur with the two carriers because it was rare for us to work in company.  Often the Triumph was operating in the Western Med whilst we operated in the Eastern Med.

In October 1946 Ocean was in Greek waters when two British destroyers the Volege and the Saumarey were mined in the Corfu channel between Corfu and Albania.  Albania had illegally mined the Channel and Saumarey was struck first and then Volege was struck when going to her aid.  Between the two crews 44 were killed, 31 of whom were never recovered and many others from both crews suffered serious injuries.  Ocean was the nearest ship with substantial medical facilities including a hospital and several surgeons.  She hurried to the scene and took on board many of the injured.  After three days patrolling the area in anticipation of further incidents with the Albanians she was returned to Malta to transfer her casualties to hospital in Malta before resuming normal duties.

In January 1947 Ocean became flagship to Flag Officer Air Mediterranean Vice-Admiral Sir C J Harcourt and spent a further period cruising before returning once more to Malta where I joined her.