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.

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 my Dad continues to describe life at sea including the drinks on offer, the sleeping arrangements and the operation of the anchor.

There was no fresh water on board.  All water aboard a ship as large as ours was extracted from sea water by a salination point on board.  There was a constant exhortation from the ship’s engineer to cut down the use of water as demand could otherwise exceed the capacity of the plant.

The water did not have a palatable taste.  Tea was the normal ship’s beverage but each mess tended to have a little stock of coffee grounds (instant coffee was unheard of) and coffee disguised the taste of the water.  We had no percolater and boiling water was poured on to the coffee and the grounds and the resultant coffee filtered through a silk (or nylon) stocking.

The only other source of drinks was when a small kiosk was manned by a supply rating open only in the early evening for about an hour when for a few pence you could buy a jug full of lime juice or orange juice.  Lime juice especially was recommended to combat the sweat you suffered from below decks in the heat and humidity of an enclosed mess desk.  Hence the US nickname for the English as Limies.

During the day you were required to wear normal Navy uniform or working dress at all times.  After 6pm unless you were on duty you could relax from this rule as a result o f which almost all lower deck men stripped to just a pair of shorts with maybe a cloth or a towel round the neck to soak up the sweat.

At 10pm over the Tannoy would come the order to “pipe down” which would be followed by “lights out” at 10.30pm.  This meant that you could not sling your hammock until 10pm and theoretically at least you had to be in it by 10.30pm.

hammocks

Hammocks were slung between metal rails.  Each man’s hammock was only about a foot from the next.  The hammock had a wood lathe at the head and foot the width of a man’s shoulders; in the hammock was placed a mattress and there was a blanket to cover you (all part of your kit) There was no pillow and no sheets (those were for the softies in the RAF).

To get in the hammock required an agile leap by holding onto the rail and swinging your body up and sideways into the hammock.  Once in the hammock, it was quite comfortable.  There you stayed until reveille the next morning.

It was a regulation again that mean must sleep wearing vest and underpants in case of fire but this was mainly ignored.

Lights out at 10.30pm meant that the main lights went out but there were pilot lights dotted around as of course men would be passing through the ship as part of their night duties and in harbour would be returning from evening leave.

The hammock provided a counter against the rolling motion of the ship when at sea in that the hammock retained its centre of gravity whilst the ship was leaning first to the left and then to the right.  The hammock was no counter to the pitch and toss of the ship i.e. when it first buried its bows into a wave and then lifted up to the next wave.  Being quartered up in the bows on the ship this movement was felt at its greatest.  The ship’s bow would rise to whatever the height of the approaching wave (sometimes as much as 15-20 feet) but then would descend on the other side as if the ship’s bow was coming down giant staircases with a huge shudder down every step.  All loose items would rattle in unison.

Another of the ship’s functions were apparent to us members of the 805 squadron mess deck were the raising and lowering of the anchor.  The ship’s anchor chains (there were two anchors in the bows) consisted of links maybe 18 inches x 12 inches and as thick as a man’s arm.  When the anchor was raised into its normal located position, the anchor chain was retained in the bowels of the ship.  Bear in mind that the anchor chain or cable to give it its proper title was several hundred feet in length.  When the ship dropped anchor the anchor cable paid out from below at a fast speed.  As it passed through our mess deck it was encased in a chamber on the bulkhead only a few feet from where we slept.  The noise was thunderous as the chain rocketed upwards.  Entry to this chamber was forbidden as the chain plunged from side to side as it paid out.

The reverse process was only marginally quieter.  When this took place three seamen entered the chamber with long leather straps.  They stood round the aperture through which the descending chain links would go albeit that the capstan above raised the heavy weight of the paid out chain and anchor at a slower pace, and alternately by use of the straps guided the chain through the hole in the chamber.  This was a dangerous process as each link (shackle) weighed over a hundredweight.  At the same time the mean were being sprayed with water as the cable paid in.  Up on the cable deck other men would be washing the paying in chain to remove seaweed and other debris.