Today Dad describes the history of 805 Squadron which he joined in 1947.


805 Squadron consisted of 12 Seafire 17 fighters.  The Commanding Officer was a Lieutenant Commander (Peter Hutton) under whose command were twelve pilots, all Lieutenants or Sub-Lieutenants and one Sub-Lieutenant Air Engineer Officer.

Some half dozen Petty Officers were in charge of ratings who were trained in the various trades necessary for maintenance of the aircraft.  Airframe Fitters, Engine Fitters, Armourers, Electricians and Radio Mechanics.  These totalled about 40 men.

There was also a miscellaneous group of which I was one who were responsible for a variety of duties apart from the above trades.  A writer, two storemen, a petrol tanker driver, two safety equipment men (myself and Derek (Sam) Turner and various other odd bodies.  Altogether the Squadron was a self-supporting composite unit of about 75 officers and men.

The other squadron No. 816 was a similar self contained group with slightly more personnel because their aircraft were Fairy Firefly reconnaissance that carried a crew of two.

I can’t say that there was a great deal of any fraternisation between the two Squadrons certainly among ratings because each squadron has a different role.  816 had a reconnaissance role which meant it extended some distance from ship or base whilst 805 in it’s fighter role was concerned mainly with ship defence.  At Hal Far the two squadrons were operating from different dispersals and there was no daily contact.

On board ship the ratings of the two Squadrons were berthed adjacent to each other the separate.

No doubt the Officers of the two Squadrons mingled socially and of course they had to liaise closely with each other in their operational roles,

There was no animosity here.  I am simply pointing out that each Squadron was a self-contained, cohesive, efficient unit trained and capable of maintaining itself and operating effectively not only from the ship, it’s real home, but also at some isolated airfield anywhere in the Mediterranean.

Indeed at one stage in 1947, 816 Squadron spent two weeks flying from an airfield in Palestine whilst the ship operated at sea using only our fighter squadrons.

We didn’t know much about the history of 805 Squadron at that time save that it was known as a desert Squadron (because at some stage during the war it had worked from desert airstrips in support of the African campaign) and also because of the Squadron crest which strangely for a Navy unit was two crossed palm trees.

Since then I have researched the Squadron history.  805 was raised at Takoradi in the Gold Coast, West Africa in late 1940 flying Fairly Fulmers which had only just come into production as a naval fighter aircraft.  The new squadron then flew the full breadth of Africa to Mombasa on the Red Sea then moved up to Egypt.  From there the squadron transferred to HMS Eagle operating from her in the protection of two Malta convoys.  When the Eagle left the Mediterranean for a time, 805 squadron transferred to the airfield at Maleme in Crete and from there gave protection to convoys taking troops to (and subsequently from) beleaguered Greece.  This was in March 1941.

Shortly after this, when Greece fell, Crete became the next target for the Germans who commenced with a bombing blitz.  805 squadron lost all their flights in this blitz and in a step back in aircraft generation were provided with one ancient Brewster Buffalo and three Gloster Gladiators dual winged aircraft.  These were no match at all against the modern German aircraft and were quickly lost.

At that time there was a Maleme an RAF 33 Squadron of Hurricane fighters having arrived there from Greece.  After one sortie against the Germans the RAF pilots abandoned their machines which the 805 squadron pilots then took over and continued the fight against the Luftwaffe but with the odds against them 805 was soon again decimated.

When German paratroopers landed in Crete, the remaining personnel of 805 were evacuated to Egypt.  At that time only two 805 squadron pilots had survived.  The squadron reformed in the Canal Zone in Egypt once again with the antiquated Brewster Buffalo shortly to be replaced with the American Grummman Martlet a much more effective modern day fighter.  This was about June 1941 before the US had been brought into the war.  From then until the battle of El Alamein in November 1942 805 squadron operated as a desert squadron a period of nearly 18 months.

The squadron then moved to Nairobi in Kenya and subsequently disbanded.

In the absence of any further information (and all records of the squadron went with it when the squadron was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy after operating from the Australian carrier HMAS Sydney off Korea in February 1952. The squadron was then disbanded finally in 1960) I can only assume that after disbandment in early 1943 the squadron was re-activated in 1946.

At that time July 1946 805 with 816 embarked in HMS Ocean to sail for the Mediterranean in July 1946.  When HMS Ocean left England 805 squadron were flying Seafire 15s (XV) but these proved unsuitable for carrier work and were replaced by Fairy Fireflies which were not fighters at all but were the same type of aircraft flown by 816 Sqdn, which were two seater fighter/reconnaissance aircraft.

Again in early 1947, 805 fireflies were replaced with Seafire 17s (XV11).  This was the aircraft in use when I joined the Squadron  The Squadron had the same role ashore as it did afloat i.e. as a fighter defence provision.

Today my Dad remembers life at Kalafrana and how he wanted to join HMS Ocean.

oceanrp_IMG_1483-e1404054219292-225x300.jpgLife went on at Kalafrana.  We repaired and packed a few parachutes and dinghies, we swam and we sailed.  By now we had coaxed Bill Cant to let us take out a Navy whaler a rowing/cum sailing boat that we could on a free afternoon take sailing miles off Malta.

We had some chores to do but even these did not prove irksome.  We seaman of the SE branch had done a fire fighting course at Portsmouth.  I did mine in 1945.   Eight of us were required to exercise once a week with the only piece of fire fighting equipment Kalafrana had, a two wheeled trailer onto the square and practised fighting an imaginary fire in various buildings.

Another duty allocated to us seamen was a nightly guard duty along the slipway and the jetties.  Two of us would be joined by two Maltese sailors for the night on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.  At that time there was a bit of a Nationalist movement in Malta and there was just the cautionary thought that they might vandalise the Kalafrana base.  I don’t think we in Kalafrana took it too seriously but we had to do the guard bit.

We also did a 4 hour guard during the day time on the only gate leading out of Kalafrana which meant donning white belt and gaiters and presenting arms with rifle and bayonet when any officer passed which was rare because hardly any officer bothered visiting us.

Evenings were left to our own devices.  Perhaps a game of cards or Ping-Pong in the NAAFI.  Even a pint or two if cash resources ran to it.  Otherwise time would be spent smoking, yarning or reading in the dormitory.  Lights out was at 10pm when you got into your bed under the compulsory mosquito net.

Reveille next morning over the tannoy would be at 7am.  The first thing I did then was turn my boots upside down because it was not unknown for scorpions to get into them.  Scorpions (and lizards) were quite prevalent.  Because of the heat we left the dormitory door open at night and from time to time the odd scorpion came in. I could put up with most livestock but I hated scorpions.

During this period at Hal Far I was issued with further items of kit.  Coming out from England I was already formally issued:- one working blue serge suit with red badges, two pairs of white shorts and white shirts , one Duck suit with blue badges and one non-issue Duck suit in white cotton.  Whilst up to now a blue serge suit with red badges had been a sailors everyday working rig it had now been decided that whilst this suit would be retained we would use a more practical outfit for work wear and so we were now issued with two pair of a navy blue gabardine trousers and two lighter blue cotton shirts with open neck collars.

A few weeks later probably with the thought in mind of the forthcoming very hot weather of the Summer we were issued with two pairs of khaki shorts and two khaki shirts.

I now had a variety of 10 different suits; I will not say at my disposal because I could not dispose of any of them (apart from the non-issue Duck suit) because the dress to be worn for the day was announced over the tannoy at Reveille and that was the outfit to be worn.

Thus wherever you went in the Navy, shore establishment or ship reveille would be followed by the announcement “Dress of the Day No ….”  Each suit would have a number and you wore the suit applicable to that number when instructed.

One day in March I was working in the section building packing a parachute.  The window was open and the shutters back for coolness and looking out of the window I saw anchored in the middle of the bay the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean.  How I wished that I was on that ship instead of where I was. Little did I know my wish was to be fulfilled.

Today, Dad talks about sailing to Gibraltar and describes buying watches from the Spanish in exchange for cigarettes.

It was called the S S Mataroa which conjures up a picture of idyllic cruising in the South Seas. In actual fact it was a cargo ship with limited passenger accommodation which had been captured from the Japanese towards the end of the war. The holds had been cleared out and fitted out with bunks other ranks of all three services Navy, Army and RAF occupied. There were two of these holds forward and each hold must have held several hundred men all in close proximity. There were no toilets fitted and therefore there had been built platforms across the bows into which has been fitted washbasins in one row and opposite them a row of toilet bowls. Thus several hundred men were washing, urinating and defecating over the sea. Where the waste went can only be assumed – it went into the sea.

Exercise for the men could be taken on the forward deck above the holds. There was a smoking saloon cum games room just aft of the forward deck but beyond this were marine sentries who barred passage further aft. Beyond these sentries out of bounds to the rank and file the remainder of the ship was devoted to officers and to women personnel to whom the officers were no doubt devoted or so the lads in the holds thought.

Meals for the rank and file were taken in a large saloon served American style. That is you were given a tray with several indentations in it together with a soup bowl and a mug. You passed down the line when you were given a ladle of soup, a pint of tea of coffee in the mug and then each identation in the tray received a portion of meat, a portion of vegetables, a portion of potatoes, gravy if you wanted it and a portion of pudding and custard. Inevitably one portion flowed into the other particularly when going through the Bay of Biscay.

The Navy were issued with their tobacco ration in this case four tins each containing 50 Phiiip Morris cigarettes. In many cases, these were stakes in card games of brag or poker on the three day journey to Gibralter. There we anchored in the bay where a few troops were disembarked.

Here at Gibraltar we had our first experience of bun boats. These were locals (Spaniards) who rowed out to the ship to trade their wares in exchange for cigarettes. The rais were crowded with men as this was a new experience to most. Some of the men entered into the barter system which went like this. There were a dozen or so bunboats and at sea level they were some 20-30 feet below the ships rails. An occupant would hold up a watch (watches were a popular buy). He did not want cash; we only had English money not pesetas but in any case tobacco was the better currency. An interested party at the ship’s rail would ask how much and the vendor would say 200 cigarettes. A few calls of “bollocks” or similar expletive would end up with the vendor agreeing to accept 50 cigarettes. (They were wise to the fact that our cigarettes were in tins of 50)

A sale was agreed and then came the testing point. Did the vendor get the cigs before parting with the watch or vice versa. Again a haggle but the British sailor felt that Philip Morris cigs were rubbish and so he agreed to hand over cigs first. The bun boatmen expertly cast a string up to the rails and tied an empty tin can on the end. The buyer hauled up the can and put his 50 Philip Morris in it and lowered it back. At this stage the vendor should have sent up the watch but when he saw the tin of Philip Morris he gave a howl “No Philip Morris, only Camel or Lucky Strike which we didn’t have. Philip Morris lowered their currency value amongst the boatmean. Instead of 50 cigs, if they were Philip Morris they wanted 100 cigs. Some transactions were agreed and some of the lads got reasonably good watches for their cigs.The ship was about to raise anchor in the afternoon and orders came to get rid of the bun boats. However, the boatmen were not to be got rid of that easy and the ship’s crew on the Captain’s orders turned the hosepipes on the bun boats to disperse them. There was no love lost between the British and and the Spaniards at that time.

Tropical uniform and setting off to Malta

Today Dad remembers getting kitted out with tropical uniform ready to set sail for HMS Falcon in Malta.

I passed out if HMS Raven as an SEII. This was the highest grade in this particular trade that could be achieved. Because the first (and lowest) grade was an SEIII and the next grade an SE11 it would be logical that there was a further grade an SE1 i.e. a Safety Equipmnt Assistant Class 1 to give a full title but not so. I never heard of anyone in Safety Equipment Branch being an SE1. In fact the instructors at HMS Raven were SE11s. Likewise it was not a branch where there was scope for promotion. If an instructor reached Leading Seaman, that was as far as it went. Once again, this was a branch that was in the early stages of development. Until nearly the end of the war in 1945 all parachute and dinghy maintenance was carried out by RAF personnel even aboard carriers. Thus there was no structure for promotion for Navy men doing this work.

Thus after leave at Christmas 1946 I left Raven and back to Daedalus on 10th January 1947 and just as quickly to the Drafting Officer. My luck was in. Within a few days, I was told I was to go to HMS Falcon which I knew was the Navel Air Station at Malta. I was sent off on 14 days embarkation leave and then back to Daedalus for vaccinations, innoculations and a medical examination before being kitted out with tropical uniforms. These consisted of white shorts, extra white shirts and blue knee length stockings. In addition I was issued with one pair of white (or should I say off-white) trousers, bell bottomed and a matching jumper as we called it but better described as an over-the-head tunic. To go with this full dress uniform (called a Duck Suit or White Ducks) which would be required to be worn on certain ceremonial occasions was a white hat and a air of white calf skin shoes.
The white shorts were of good quality cotton, easily washed and comfortable to wear. However, the long trousered dress uniform was of a kind of stiff twill being most uncomfortable to wear and not easy to wash. Bear in mind that laundry facilities in the Navy were non-existent. All you had was a bar of hard soap, the loan of a bucket and hot water if you were lucky. In the few days I had left in Daedalus I was able to buy for a few shillings from a rating who had just returned from abroad a full dress suit in pure white cotton which looked more professional, felt comfortable and washed and ironed well. Thus armed, I was ready for the off. Along with motley squad from Daedalus we were were lorried across to Portsmouth and held in the Barracks there for two days. These barracks would have come way behind Dartmoor in any prize-giving for comfort. They were old, cold, damp and dark and certainly discouraged any sailor from staying there. Fortunately, we were moved out in a couple of days by which time there must have been several hundred sailors all of whom were entrained at Portmouth and transported to Tidbury on the Thames. We immediately embarked on a ship.

Today my Dad talks about carrying out a scam as a sailor to get leave from the Navy, hitch-hiking and flying home on leave.

The RAF was more generous in allowing weekend leave than was the Navy and in any case we had a “scam” going on which gave us extra weekends. With the RAF, to leave camp one had to have signed by one’s section Officer a leave card which indicated the time of leaving camp and the time of return. If you wanted an extra weekend one of the RAF men in our section a London Jew named Greenbaum (his rank was a lowly aircraftsman) would expertly sign my leave card with a fictitious name followed by Flight Lieutenant. This got you out of the camp.

It was a tedious journey in those days to get from Bassingbourn to Yorkshire. All unofficial leave had to be at one’s own expense and I was always short of money. Hitchhiking was the only way but road traffic was very thin on the ground. I had to find my way to the Great North Road (the A1) about 30 miles away by thumbing and then thumb my way 150-160 miles to home. The A1 only was wide enough for two lanes of traffic, one in each direction and having to keep changing cars, it was usually an eight hour journey home and the same back.

I realized that if I could get to London to where in Edgeware Road the Great North Road started (actually at Marble Arch) I could more easily get a Northbound lorry that with luck would take me as far as Wakefield in one hop about 4 and a half to five hours away.

The next thing was getting to London but this could be done by cadging a lift on a King’s Flight plane. The various planes left frequently to pick up their VIP passengers at Northolt in West London and so on various occasions I flew as the sole passenger in magnificently furnished aircraft to Northolt, flashed my false pass to the guard on the main gate to Northolt and was easily able to hitch a passing life to Hyde Park onto the Edgeware Road and home.

Unfortunately the return journey was a more mundane hitch-hike as I could never rely on there being a flight available at Northolt. In any case as VIPs were constantly in and out of Northolt security for entry was quite strict and my false pass may not have stood up to scrutiny.