Today, my Dad remembers a visit to Tripoli in Libya.

libya

When I first joined Ocean we set sail and had about 10 days continuous flying and then the ship’s tannoy announced that we were to visit Tripoli in Libya.  So that the ship remained manned we were allowed ashore in two watches.  Our watch would go on the first day and the other on the second day.

Libyan currency would be exchanged for sterling before we reached port.  Libyan currency was actually British Military currency as Libya was under British Military rule.

As we approached the African coast to enter the long channel that led up to the harbour it was amazing to see and to negotiate between the scores of sunken German and Italian ships sunk on each side of the channel relics of the North African desert war.

Tripoli was nothing to write home about.  The people were poor.  There were lots of beggars on the streets.  Buildings had been bombed and fought over and were derelict.

The only things that seemed to be for sale were handmade camel leather purses.

Muslim country – no alcohol.

We had been warned before we left that ship not to wander into the native quarter and to keep a keen eye out for pick-pockets.  Sailors wore a belt that had a small pouch to hold your money.

Before ever we had reached Tripoli we had been vaccinated for smallpox on board ship as Tripoli was rife with it.

Ashore we were inundated with flies as big as bluebottles and pestered by the locals to buy leather goods, dates, fruit etc.

Even now I can remember the ordinary Libyans who approached us for money/cigarettes, dressed in rags with clusters of flies crawling around eyes, ears, mose and mouths.  I thought no wonder there is smallpox and what other unhygienic diseases must there be?  It was good to get back to the ship.

Tripoli was my first port to be visited after Malta.  Fortunately future visits to other ports were a pleasanter experience.

The ship sailed and the daily flying routine continued.

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.

My Dad’s first flight was a King’s Flight.

Today Dad recalls his first flight in a plane which took place when he was a teenage sailor and it was the King’s plane!

All the aircraft received a lot of attention and maintenance as they had to be constantly available and in spic and span condition. I recall one occasion when the King was to use his personal Dakota one weekend. We, that is our Safety Section, were detailed to polish the aircraft. The Dakota was an unpainted version meaning that the outside consisted of bare aluminium panels. It was our duty to metal polish the entire outside of the aircraft top to bottom, front to back, wings and all so that it looked like a mirror.

Several of us were hoping to go on weekend leave on the Saturday but couldn’t go until the job was finished. So we started on Friday and continued working all through the night until we finished on Saturday morning to go on leave. The reflection of the early morning Sun on the aluminium panels was blinding. One wondered if the King even noticed.It was in one of these King’s Flight planes, a Dakota, allocated to the United Nations that was the first time I ever flew. We in the Safety Equipment Section learned that one of the Dakotas was to be be test flown after a major service crewed by a pilot and a flight engineer. Three of us Navy men persuaded the pilot to let us go up as passengers and then persuaded the Section Sergeant to turn a blind eye to our absence for a hour or so. In those post-war days there was a lot of breaching of regulations and things happened with a wink and a nod.

And so we joined the crew of the Dakota which was fitted with about 30 seats. The pilot and engineer were in the flight cabin but left the door to the saloon part open so that we could peer over their shoulder. We were excited as the planes took off and were scrambling to look through the windows on either side to see the homes and fields diminishing as the planed gained height.

As we flew the pilot or engineer called out various features that could be seen below. The cities of Cambridge, Ely, Ipswich, Norwich. The rivers, roads etc. Suddenly we passengers panicked because as we looked out along starboard wing we saw that the propeller of that engine was stopped. We imagined crashing to earth 10 000 feet below and although we were parachute packers there were no parachutes in the plane. However, the pilot told us not to worry as feathering the propellers one at a time was, of course, part of the test procedure (A Dakota could fly on one engine). After a circular tour of the Fen country we returned safely to ground.

We were subsequently offered the chance to go with a Lancaster or Liberator to Singapore as a cabin crew member but this would mean a 12 day round trip and leave would have to be taken to do it. I was not prepared to forfeit a two week leave to go.

What were the World War 2 Aircraft kept at RAF Bassingbourn?

Today, my Dad’s memoirs talk about the planes he maintained including the King’s Flight.

At Bassingbourn were stationed two Bomber Squadrons and King’s Flight. The Bomber Squadrons were one of Lancasters and one of the American Lieberator bombers. These aircraft has been converted into troop carriers and most uncomfortable passenger carriers they were.

We were responsible for the maintenance of the aircraft’s emergency dinghies located in the wings and also for the parachutes carried by the reduced crew. The war being over there was no need to carry the three air gunners and the bomb aimer who were paret of the crew. They thus carried pilot, co-pilot, navigator, engineer and wireless operator. In addition, they carried one or two aircraftmen unskilled who is this day and age would be called cabin crew.The interior of the aircraft had had all wartime fittings removed and had had canvas seats fitted along the fusilage. This enabled about 30 soldiers to be carried in most uncomfortable circumstances. The purpose to bring back to England quickly those troops who had been involved in the war against the Japanese in Burma and involved a flight to Singapore and back. The planes left England empty and flew the following route with refuelling and overnight stops at Rome, Cairo, Bahrain, Karachi, Calcutta and Singapore, a total of 6 days flying. The return journey would have the same touchdowns. Hence the round journey took about a fortnight when the plane was serviced and then repeated the trip.

King’s Flight consisted of a number of aircraft not as the name implies solely for use of the king (King George VI) but also for a variety of VIPs. The aircraft for use of the Royal Family were the aviation version of the American C47 (Dakota) a twin engined propeller driven plane. There was one for the King, one of his Queen and one for the two Princesses. The Royals did not fly in the same plane. In addition to these three Royal planes there were other planes, a mixture of Dakotas, Avro Yorks and Auro Lancastrians and a sprinkling of other types which were used by dignateries e.g. Winton Churchill, Clement Atlee (PM) Ernest Bevin (Foreign Sec) other Ministers and then the leading military people. President Jan Smalls of South Africe, Field Marshall Montogomery and others.

In addition, there were about ten Dakotas for the use of the United Nations Heads of State.