Today my Dad remembers the British Fleet travelling to show the flag in Turkey.

dardanelles
Every year circumstances permitting the Ocean took part in the Autumn Cruise a Fleet visit to some port of the Mediterranean showing the flag. Word went round that this year the Autumn Cruise would be to Istanbul in Turkey. There was some interest in the ship because this would be the first visit of a British Fleet since before the war.

It was intended to be an impressive visit to Turkey as Turkey had been a neutral during the war but being a buffer between British forces in the Middle East and the German forces in the Balkans, there was always the uncertainty which way Turkey would jump in pressured. In 1947 the German threat was gone but Communist Russia was only up the road.

So in early October the British Fleet was formed in Aegean. Two carriers (Flag Officer in the Triumph!) Liverpool and three more heavy cruisers and six destroyers. Liverpool as flagship leading the way with the other cruisers. Two carriers following and the destroyers bringing up the rear.

We entered the Dardanelles scene of the carnage of Gallipoli in the First World War. The peninsular on our left and Asia on our right. The channel gradually narrowed and the fleet continued in line ahead travelling slowly. You could somehow feel the atmosphere a sort of foreboding that you were being watched. I suppose we were although there was no sign of life on either side.

Halfway along the channel the channel narrowed even more. We were coming to two small villages Camak to the right and Hilikbahir to the left. The Ocean’s crew were ironically aware that it is this part of the Dardanelles that a battleship being the previous HMS Ocean has been sunk by the Turks in 1915. The Dardanelles is some 50 miles long until it opens into the Sea of Maenara.

I for one felt happier when we reached this point. We had about the same distance to go until we reached Istanbul. Leaving the Sea of Bosphorus which flows from the Black Sea past Istanbul. It was evening as we arrived and we anchored in line ahead the flow of water causing us to be facing up the channel. After leaving the warm Mediterranean that morning with prevailing wind now blowing down the Bosphorus it was quite cold.

As I recall we were here for three days giving ships the opportunity of inviting dignitaries from the city to pay us a visit and at the same time it gave the opportunity for the three watches of the ship to have time ashore.

    Today my Dad talks about aircraft carrier landing of planes aboard HMS Ocean.  It seems it was quite a dangerous activity.

    batsman

    Flying from a carrier at sea was a hazardous task for the pilot.  I have mentioned the take off but the riskier process was the return.  At the end of the flight the two (or more as the case might be) planes would descend to about 200 feet above sea level and fly up the starboard side in the same direction as the ship was travelling, proceed some 3-4 miles ahead and turn to the left until they were going in the opposite direction of the ship some 3-4 miles off the port side and almost disappear into the far distance beyond the ship which was now turning into the wind and increasing to maximum speed.

    The flight deck was now completely clear of crew apart the Landing Control Officer or batsman who stood on the edge of the flight deck on the port side where he could be seen by the incoming pilot.  The batsman held in each hand a bat not unlike a ping pong bat which he used to signal the pilot.

    The snag here was that the pilot who had to bring in and land with the nose up could not see over the engine and propeller.  The pilot had to look out of the cockpit sideways to the left to keep the batsman in view and yet in the last few yards of his approach to the flight deck the plane had to be flying straight towards the centre of the flight deck and to be at the right height above it.  He relied completely on the signals of the batsman to know the aircraft altitude.  The landing speed at this point meant that the Seafire was travelling at 80 mph.

    The trick was to land nose up so that a hook below the tail wheel picked up on one of three cables stretched 6 inches high above the deck and one of which would operate hydraulically to stop the plane in 20 yards.  Various things could happen here.

    Firstly if the pilot’s approach was wrong the batsman would wave the pilot off to do another circuit.  The plane would then be screaming down the length of the flight deck at zero feet on full throttle.

    Alternatively if the hook caught one of the wires it could be torn out of the plane if the landing was too fast or was bouncing and the plane would got at a fast speed into a safety net across the flight deck.  This would have the same effect as the hook missing the arrestor wire completely.  Hitting the safety net could land the plane on its nose.

    Sometimes I’ve seen the batsman jump for his life backwards off the flight deck when  a plane comes too near the edge.  Fortunately there was a safety net behind the batsman to stop him falling overboard.

    Sometimes a plane’s wheel may collapse and the plane does a swift left or right turn and finish up over the edge of the flight deck and part way into the gun sponson just below.  Failing that the next stop is the sea.

    Collapse of the right undercarriage leg would take the plane nose first into the ship’s island.  Either alternative (or collapse of both legs) could have serious consequences for the pilot.

    Accidents like these were not infrequent.

    Once the plane was down in one piece the pilot jumps out of the cockpit and goes straight into the island to report his presence.  Meanwhile the aircraft has to be manhandled by the flight deck handlers to the forward part of the flight deck where it is parked with wings folded to allow room for the next plane to touch down.

    As this point I have to make a swift dash to retrieve the pilot’s chute and dinghy because at the earliest opportunity the plane ill be put on the forward lift in the middle of the flight deck and lowered into the hangar two decks down.  It is an awkward journey if the chute and dinghy has gone into the hangar to get it back up to the flight deck level through watertight doors and stairs and hatches.

     

     

    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.

    Message from my Dad dated 1st August 2009

    “I decided that if there was any purpose in this story then I should complete it”

    I hope my readers see the purpose in the story and welcome comments.

    Today my Dad talks about flying times from HMS Ocean.

    Derek “Sam” Turner and I worked together.  There was no one else in the squadron who was experienced in our particular trade and we worked well together.

    At the end of the flying each day whatever the time might be we had time to take our meal and then either Sam or I had to distribute the next day’s flying programme.  This was drawn up by the Commander Flying, typed up by a writer from whom one of us collected the flimsy putting in the duplicating machine and producing some 25 copies.  These I then had to distribute to a number of senior officers such as the ship’s Captain, various Commanders who were heads of departments down to our own squadron C.O. each of the squadron pilots and our Air Engineer Officer.  This took me to various parts of the ship’s “island” and also to other places within the ship.  Each officer on the list had to be found and personally given a copy.

    If I caught the right time of evening apart from the Captain who got his in his cabin, the other officers could be located in the wardroom anteroom or in the wardroom itself, a magnificent large room with the tables set out for dinner with silver service.  If the dinner was over my distribution was a longer job as I had to trace every officer in his cabin, in his workplace, whatever.

    Having said all this, if the ship was doing night flying I couldn’t give out the next day’s flying schedule until the last plane touched down.  Night flying, thank goodness, only took place from time to time.

    Normally after this duty it was time to relax  and go back to the mess, get out of full dress uniform (which I had to wear in Officer Country) and don a pair of shorts and enjoy a fag.  Meanwhile the ship was steaming along through calm or tempest.

    Today Dad shares memories of the Navy and rum.

    thFPZDSEST

    Every morning at 11am came the long awaited pipe over the tannoy of “Up Spirits” when as far as possible every member of the mess contrived to be present when one man was detailed to take over the ubiquitous galvanised bucket and dash along the part of the ship where an officer was supervising the rum issue.

    The exact number of tots to equate with the number of men in the mess who were entitled i.e. over 20 years of age was measured into the bucket and the collector “the rum bosun) hurried back.

    Back at the mess the rum tots were carefully measured out under the supervision of the Leading Hand of the mess to each man entitled.  The process was watched with a keen eye by every recipient to make sure that it was measured meticulously.

    It was illegal to store your rum and it was supposed to be drunk on receipt which mostly it was but it was sometimes stored for a special occasion.  Woe betide a sailor who was caught storing his rum supply.  Neither could it be traded although if a man had a birthday his tot would be augmented by a small drop out of each of his mates’ rum.  (known as “slippers”)

    During that year there was an incident on HMS Ajax where twin sailors had a 21st birthday and consumed so much rum that both died.  This resulted in a signal from the Admiral reinforcing the rule of no sharing and not storage of rum which was obeyed for a short while.

    There was no other form of alcohol available to the lower deck as all crew who were not officers were known.  Navy ships were dry ships but as ever there was an exception to this rule.  Alcohol was available to officers.  There was no limit to how much alcohol an officer consumed.  This disparity between officers and men on the lower deck was accepted as part of life  I did not come across any resentment about this.

    Inevitably after a run ashore, some members of the lower deck tried to bring alcohol back on board.  It was not easy to get away with because for the most part returning on board involved a motor boat journey to the ship to the only boarding point which was by way of a Jacob’s ladder thus any bottle of booze stood in danger of falling out of a jumper into the sea.

    On reaching the boarding deck, one had to stand and salute in the presence of an Officer of the Watch, a Duty Petty Officer, a Master-at-Arms and sundry others who recorded each man’s name and handed him his Watch Card which was in effect his identity card.  This system ensured that the ship knew when everyone was aboard and would also identify who, if any, were missing.

    With all this scrutiny (and there was a light to search) it would be near impossible to smuggle any booze on board.  If caught the culprit was put straight in cells and subsequently punished.   So much for alcohol or the absence thereof.  The same applied to tobacco.

    Incidentally there is a sequel to the returning aboard system.  Sometimes you bought things maybe a souvenir but if you could not carry it up the Jacob’s ladder you lost it to the motor boat’s crew.

    Drastically, if you were too drunk to climb the Jacob’s ladder (there were always two or three) you remained in the motor boat until all others had climbed and then the ship’s crew would be called into play and would lower a wire net into which the incapable seaman would be bundled, raised to the flight deck and conveyed straight to cells.

    Officers came aboard by the much more genteel fashion of climbing a gangway to the quarterdeck (at the rear of the ship).  There was a strict separation between officers and men.  Officers were quartered at the rear of the ship.  The lower deck was forward.  There was no access by a lower deck man to the quarterdeck.