As a lad I always wanted to join the RAF. I tried to join in 1940 but was told I was too young. I was already a member of the ATC (with the rank of corporal) at Kelly College in Tavistock, which was where I lived. In 1941 I applied again, was given my RAF number (1314681), tested and then sent home to await my orders. The RAF paid for me to attend classes four days a week at Kelly College so that I could improve my education in order to be considered as a pilot. I got fed up waiting and applied to the Fleet Air Arm. They were happy for me to join, I reported to the recruitment centre at Plymouth. I went to the Royal Navy section of the centre and started filling in the relevant forms. The Flight Lieutenant, who enlisted me originally in the RAF, came out of the RAF section, recognised me and asked what was going on. The Royal Navy could not take me as I already belonged to the RAF. Nine months later I got called up by the RAF but unfortunately my education standard was not sufficient to be considered for pilot training and I was allocated to wireless operator/air gunner training.
My initial training flights were in Blenheims and then we moved on to Wellingtons. I met up with Geoff (Harrison), my future skipper, at 15 OTU which was stationed at Harwell. We picked each other out in a crowd, it was liking finding a partner at a dance.
The old Wimpy's (Wellingtons) we used at Harwell and Hampstead Norris were clapped out. They had completed a full operational tour before they were sent to Harwell and Hampstead Norris. One night we were sent on a leaflet raid to Cherbourg. It was pitch black and there was a lot of ack ack coming up as we neared the target. Suddenly we got picked up by a searchlight and almost instantly another searchlight caught us in its beam. Everything inside the aircraft lit up, you could have read a newspaper. Geoff dived and turned and got us away from the beams but as he did so a Ju 88 came up at us. I was in the front turret and opened fire, at least I pressed the firing mechanism but nothing happened, there was a blockage. I shouted to the rear gunner that the Ju 88 was passing him at six o'clock on the port side. When he opened up there was again nothing. Somehow we got away. Coming back out radio went out, we could not give out IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) with the result that we were fired on by our own guns as we came back over the coast.
This particular flight was the only time Geoff and I fell out. In the front turret of a Wellington you have the turret doors behind you which you close. Behind these doors is a bulkhead door which is closed by another member of the crew. To get out of the front turret you need another member of the crew to come forward and open the bulkhead door. You could rotate the turret starboard or port and then open the doors but whilst airborne if you did this and attempted to leave the aircraft you would go straight into the propellers. When the flak was coming up I reminded Geoff that I was in the front turret. Afterwards he tore me off a strip and pointed out that I could have set up a bit of panic within the crew, I felt my voice was normal.
Whilst at Harwell, I was involved in a serious accident, it occurred on the 30th July 1943. We were in a Wellington with a Sgt Hart at the flying controls. Just as we became airborne the starboard engine burst into flames. In a multi-engined aircraft if you have an engine fail on take-off you never turn on the dead engine because you will just dive into the ground. At the end, and to the left of the runway at Harwell was a big house full of evacuated children.
It always seemed a bit daft to us to bring children away from London and then to locate them on the end of a runway being used by aircraft being flown by crews training to become operational. Sgt Hart knew about the house full of children and knew that if we turned to port, on the good engine, we would hit the house. He elected to turn to starboard. We fell out of the sky and hit the edge of a wood. There were five of us on board, the pilot the four gunners. Three of us were at mid-ship with the rear gunner in his turret. This was standard procedure when taking off in a Wellington.
On the Wellington once the rear gunner was in his turret, but before take-off, he would turn the turret to beam (parallel with the wing), put his safety strap on and have his turret doors open so that in the event of a crash he could get out. As we hit the woods, the wing came off. One of the gunners stationed at mid-ship became completely mangled up in the wreckage, we tried to get his out of the aircraft, which by now was well ablaze. A plastic ring, made out of the material from an old turret, that was on my finger, started to melt and then the ammunition started to go off. We left the trapped gunner and went round to the front of the aircraft. The cockpit was completely smashed in and the skipper was leaning out of the front of the cockpit. He had braced his legs against the rudder bar, on impact the rudder bar had forced his feet back to the extent that the fibula and tibia on both legs had come out, his feet were just below his knee caps. We pulled him away from the aircraft. We then went round to the back of the aircraft.
The rear gunner had turned the turret to beam but had not locked the turret nor had he put his safety strap on. As the Wellington had ploughed through the wood, the branches of the trees had turned the turret back. On the initial impact the gunner's head had been driven up against a double ridge of metal (part of the geodetic structure of the Wellington) which ran over the top of the turret. His head was split wide open. The two of us, with the aid of an axe that was always carried on board the aircraft, man-handled the turret away from the fuselage and got the rear gunner out, unfortunately he died on the way to the hospital. The gunner trapped inside the fuselage got burnt to death. It took eighteen months for Sgt Hart's legs to repair but they were good enough for him to end up flying Sunderlands.
My last training flight from Harwell was on the 27th August 1943. After completing training we were shipped out to India. We sailed from Liverpool, round Northern Ireland, across the Atlantic, down the Canadian coast line, across to Africa, up the African coast, through the straits of Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean to the Suez Canal. There we disembarked and after a stay of about a week we boarded a Polish ship to Bombay. At Bombay we stayed at a transit camp and then went to a jungle training school north of Poona where we had four weeks survival training. We then travelled by train to Salbani.
When we got to Salbani all that was there was a few bamboo huts and a concrete base with supports that was to become a station cinema. My first impression of the Liberator was that it seemed massive. As time progressed I thought it was very robust and could take a lot of punishment. You always felt secure and safe when flying in a B-24. I became the mid-upper gunner with Geoff's B-24 crew. I got on well with Geoff, I would have flown anywhere with him, a fine and able pilot. We were the only two, of Geoff's B-24 crew, who had been together at 15 OTU. On rare occasions, if one of the other mid-upper gunners on another crew went sick, I would fly with other crews. The Consolidated or Martin top turret fitted to the B-24 was easy to operate, they were first class. From a gunner's perspective both types of turret were the same.
The rest of our crew came to Geoff on an individual basis and asked to join us. Besides Geoff, Ted Grew (first wireless operator) and myself there was Tony Donell our second pilot, Joe Bell who was originally ball gunner but then as the need for a ball turret gunner diminished became front gunner. F/O Parish was our bomb aimer. Leonard Holbird, who we use to call Dickie Bird, was our navigator. A chap called Sid Lake became our second wireless operator. Reggie Winchester was our flight engineer and an Australian called Lancaster, who we always called Burt, became our rear gunner.
Burt had joined the Merchant Navy when war was declared, then went to Canada where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was then sent by the RCAF to India to fly with the RAF. Burt was colour blind. On one operational trip we were flying up one of the many rivers in Burma, on our way to a designated target, when Burt picked out a gun-boat that was camouflaged, nobody else saw it. We reported it. When we got back to Salbani they wanted to know why nobody else had seen the gun-boat. Burt admitted he was colour blind, it all made sense to the medical officer.
I felt being top turret gunner was brilliant, it really was something else. The movement of the turret was so smooth. There was the possibility that you could shoot off your own twin fins and rudders but if you set your gun sights properly this could never happen.
You had a control contour, that was the shape of the fuselage, which would run on drums. When you synchronised your guns, on the ground, with the synchronization board, you would set up your guns correctly so that when the turret came around to the rear the cam and rollers would elevate your guns automatically so that the line of fire would be above the fins.
The beam gunners could shoot off the fins of their own aircraft, especially if they had an enemy aircraft in their sight. They would concentrate so much as they transversed from ten (o'clock) to nine to eight to seven, all the time firing at the enemy aircraft. Before they knew it they would be taking pieces out of their own fin.
There were some problems with the top turret, especially out in the Far East. When we did a daylight trip the extreme heat would get to you, your head was up there with no shade. The breeches (the part of the gun which opens for loading) were by the side of your ears, your head was literally between the two gun breeches.
When you fired the noise and kick was overwhelming. Smoke and the smell of cordite tended to stay in the top of the turret. We had canvas bags to catch the spent shells that were ejected out of the breech. If the bags were not positioned correctly the red hot shells could fall down the neck of the poor old wireless operator. When you returned from a trip the ground crew would empty the canvas bags, they appreciated that by the time you got back you were pretty tired. When you rotated the turret if the wireless operator did not duck he would get a mouthful of boot. Mid-uppers were picked because they had small feet!
In the top turret there were two straps with which you hauled yourself up into the turret. Once you were up you would put your bottom on the seat and rest your feet on a bar. The seat could be pulled using a wire release that hung underneath. It was always a worry that when the wireless operator went by, his parachute hook would catch the wire release and send you tumbling out of the turret. Below the top turret was the rear edge of the flight deck and the bomb bay. If the bomb doors were open and you lost your seat you would be out of the aircraft.
On one occasion I started to climb up into the turret, it was just after take-off. The safety switch controlling the operation of the turret, which also prevented the turret from rotating, the guns from being elevated and the firing mechanism from operating, had been left on. It may have been my fault, for the last thing a gunner did when he left the turret was to put the safety switches on.
As I climbed up my hand missed one of the straps and came down on the control column, the guns depressed and one of the breeches clobbered me. I was stunned but climbed up, sat down and waited for my head to clear. A few minutes later Ted, who was below me, asked me if I was all right, blood from a cut in my head was dripping down on to him.
The controls in the top turret were all on one column that looked a bit like a set of bike handle-bars. Operating little levers on the end of the column would alter the angle of elevation of the guns, twisting the whole column would rotate the complete turret. The firing buttons were set into the column close to the end levers. The gun-sight was illuminated with a circle and centre spot. If the wing of the attacking aircraft filled the whole circle the aircraft was at close range, if between the outer circle and centre spot it was twice the distance away. If you knew the wing span of the aircraft that was Iying within the circle, then the amount of the wing span that occupied the circle would tell you the distance the aircraft was from you.
Your head was quite low in the turret so you did not have much of a view below the horizontal and parts of the turret mechanism blocked your view at that level on both sides. Apart from that there was excellent visibility as the plexiglass was often frameless. We kept the perspex of the turret spotlessly clean because a small fly or dirt speck caught out of the corner of your eye could give you the appearance of an aircraft away in the distance.
All the gunners tried the ball turret, I initially tried it when the aircraft was on the ground but only had one go when we were in the air. I did not like it. Joe Bell did about six trips on exercises and six operational trips in the ball turret before becoming the front gunner.
The ball turret could be quite dicey. If the safety mechanism was not in operation, which meant the turret was not locked in its position, as you stepped into the ball turret your weight would rotate the turret upwards and it could cut your legs off. The ball turret was very claustrophobic, the top turret was a bit like that because you could see nothing below you. The rear and front turrets, by comparison, were very spacious. In the top turret when you went in for a low level attack you were not able to do any straffing unless the skipper really banked the aircraft.
On take-off and landing in the B-24 I would normally stand behind Geoff on the flight deck, the wireless operator would be sitting in his compartment, the front gunner and navigator would also be on the flight deck, it was cramped. The second wireless operator would be with the other gunners at the beam whilst the flight engineer would be below the flight deck by the APU.
When we returned from a formation trip and consequently all arrived at Salbani at once it was sometimes a real problem for the pilots to try and find a slot to get down in. We were all tired, the aircraft was invariably low on fuel and the tension was high. I have seen Geoff sometimes with the sweat pouring off him as we tried to get in to a landing slot, it was not just heat but tiredness and exhaustion.
As the training progressed Geoff insisted that some members of the crew knew how to carry out fuel transfer whilst the aircraft was airborne. Geoff also encouraged some of the crew members, when we were on long cross-country training flights, to take over the controls so that in the event of he and Tony becoming incapacitated someone aboard would have some idea how to fly the aircraft. Some had a go, especially the flight engineer.
Often when we did an air test we would take some of the ground crew with us. We would sit them on the seat located by the beam gun. When they saw the main wheels come up in to the wing after take-off and heard them go into the wing with a real clunk they were often perturbed. I was always surprised how long the front wheel would continue to spin after it had been fully retracted in to the nose compartment. I can remember sometimes checking, from the beam position, that the yellow indicator on the oleo leg knuckle was visible when the main wheels came down and locked. If we made a night landing we could check the yellow indicators using the aldis lamp.
We mixed with the ground crew a lot, the gunners especially with the armourers. We would help them load the belts up. They would invariably bring the boxes out to the aircraft by truck and then either they or we would put the ammunition in the aircraft. Once the boxes were inside the aircraft, two of them would be placed underneath the top turret on both sides. The mid-upper's ammunition was limited, I doubt if I ever had more than 500 rounds in the top turret. There would be spare boxes if the need arose. Once the boxes were in place I would feed the belt with its shells into the breech.
There was a lot of theory about using an incendiary shell to get your point of aim, we felt that the incendiary often went below or above the actual point the other shells were striking. We went to an air gunnery school with the Americans. When you fired from the rear turret at an aircraft coming down towards your aircraft you fired below the attacking fighter so that he and the bullets would arrive at the same place at the same time. We were told that enemy aircraft tended to not approach from the rear, if they did they would drop below the aircraft. When you fired from the front turret the procedure was the opposite to that employed in the rear turret. The mid-upper turret gunner had to remember both procedures since he had to deal with aircraft approaching from the front and the rear. The Sperry gun-sight in the ball turret was different to the gun-sights in all the other turrets. On the Sperry you would set the sight to the type of aircraft that was attacking you and it would compute the range. The ball turret never stayed down long: The ball gunner would get in as we approached the target and once we were clear of all troubles he would get out.
Towards the end of our training some of the formation flying carried out by 356 Squadron was first class. You had to admire the way the aircraft tucked in close to each other. I can remember on some occasions where the wing tips of the outside of the aircraft were almost coming in to the beams hatches of the middle aircraft. What I found really amazing was that the pilots were able to maintain a close formation whilst we were flying through awful weather. I've seen some photographs of 355 Squadron in formation, they were good, but I think 356 Squadron were just a little better. When we went down to the village of Salbani we would meet and mix with the ground and air crews of 355 Squadron. Although we were the other side of the runway to 355 we were never in competition.
I can recall two small anecdotes relating to Salbani. One involved a pilot that taxied so fast that he was accused of low flying! The other relates to the sausages we use to eat, they were soya based and inedible. One day one of the air crew was walking back, having eaten his meal, with the intention of putting the untouched sausages in the waste bin. As he neared the bin a 'shithawk' flew down and took one of the sausages of his plate, the hawk rose in the air, took a bite out of the sausage and promptly returned the sausage to the plate he had stolen it from.
Flying in India:
My first operational flight was on the 25th January 1944 whilst we were with 1584 Heavy Conversion Unit at Salbani. I flew as a beam gunner with a Sgt Greetham in BZ853 to Bangkok.
We took off with a full bomb load and flew to an advanced landing ground which was 1 hour 50 minutes flight time from Salbani. There we took on more fuel before we set off for Bangkok. The flight to Bangkok was an all night affair that took 12 hours 50 minutes.
On the 6th February we flew in BZ951 with Geoff as pilot for the first time. I stayed with Geoff from then on with various individuals acting as first pilot. On the 26th February, whilst still with 1584 HCU, I flew with a Sgt Clift as the captain in BZ950 on an air sea rescue. To my amazement this was considered an operational flight. On the 17th March in BZ950 we flew with Geoff as first pilot for the first time, Tony became our second pilot.
In April the 1584 HCU left Salbani and 356 Squadron took over Salbani. The 1584 HCU was integrated with the 1673 HCU at Kolar. My first flight with 356 Squadron was on the 28th April with Lew Toovey, we did some formation flying. The next day (29th April) I again flew with Lew. Lew was a first class chap, it did not matter what situation you were in he remained dead calm, you always had a wonderful feeling of well-being. I have been up with some chaps whose voice over the intercom was at times quite disturbing, there was a sense of anxiety which made you feel scared. My next five flights were with Geoff, we continued to do formation flying and circuits and bumps. We also did a lot of fighter affiliation with Hurricanes and other aircraft.
On the 5th/6th June I flew my first operational flight with 356 Squadron in EV865. The captain was Flt/Sgt 'Digger' Tucker, I went as beam gunner. This was another met' search.
On the 29th July I flew on my first operational flight with Geoff in EW153. From this point on, all but the last six of my thirty five operational flights were with Geoff. Geoff was really good at flying a B-24 all over the sky when we were doing fighter affiliation work. The Liberator was a mighty big aircraft to throw around the sky. Sometimes, whilst trying to get a bead on a Hurricane that was making an 'attack' (fighter affiliation), the gunners would make enormous demands on their pilots. To expect any pilot to dive to port and then suddenly to climb to starboard was too much!
Our next operational flight was on the 4th in EW120 to Ye-U, then on the 8th we flew operationally in EW177 to Indaw. Our next operational flight was on the 15th in EW120 to Ywataung. Two days later we set out on another operational flight in EV865 but number one engine failed and we had to return to base. Our final operational flight in August was on the 30th in EV865. We landed back at Chittagong.
The following day we took off to return to Salbani but due to bad weather had to return to Chittagong. We flew back to Salbani on the 2nd September.
Our first operational flight in September was on the 16th in EW120 but we did not reach the target because of engine failure, by the time we returned to Salbani we had been airborne for 5 hours 40 minutes. On this particular flight some of our squadron was in formation with other Liberators from 355 Squadron when they suddenly hit a cloud. Everybody spread out but as they broke out of the cloud there was a collision between one of our aircraft and one of 355's B-24, they both went in (crashed).
(Note: See 356 Squadron file for details from operational records)
We had another abortive operational flight on the 26th when we had to return to base due to bad weather, on this occasion we were in EW120. Our next operational flight was on the 28th October when we took off in 'Thunderbird' (EW117). It was a long flight, which took 12 hours 35 minutes, we were way down in Burma. On this particular flight we did not find our primary target and Geoff and Tony had to fly all the way without 'George'.
(Note: See Tony Donell's diary for further details)
On the 2nd we flew in EW120 to Makasan near Bangkok to bomb an engine (steam train) repair shop. By this date Geoff had been made up to Flight Sergeant. When we got to Makasan there were large fires to be seen. It was a long flight (13 hours 30 minutes) most of it at night, infact we had taken off in darkness. Our next operational flight was on the 8th again in EW120. This was another long trip lasting 6 hours 40 minutes of day flight time and 5 hours 35 minutes night flight time. This trip was to Ye. There were two places that we use to get mixed up geographically, one was Ye and the other was Ye-U. Ye-U was in north Burma whilst Ye was down close to Bangkok. On this trip we were seeking out a Japanese convoy but we were unable to locate it so we ended up bombing part of the Burma-Siam railway. We flew operationally again on the 16th in KG217 to Pat-Nam-Po to again attack some engine sheds. Again we did not make the primary target but this time it was because of adverse weather conditions and we ended up attacking part of the Burma-Siam railway at Thyarazhat. This was an 8 hour day, 3 hour night trip.
Our next trip was on the l9th when we flew in EW116 (squadron name 'Just Jake') to a railway junction at Mokpalin but on our return we had to land at Chittagong because we were losing fuel due to flak damage. On landing we discovered one of the tyres had been damaged. We ran off the runway into the red dirt beside the runway. Unknown to us the people at Chittagong were expecting another Liberator with a famous personality on board. As we clambered out of EW116 we were surrounded by a mass of American and British photographers. When they saw that the only people aboard were a bunch of dishelved airmen they all quickly did an about turn and walked away. One photographer stayed and said "seeing you are here lads, I'll take your photograph". He did and later sent us a copy, I have to this day.
(Note: The photograph shows, top row left to right, Joe Bell/front gunner, Tony Donell/second pilot, 'Burt' Lancaster/rear gunner, Leonard Holbird/navigator, Lake/second WOP, Parishlbomb aimer, GeoffHarrison/captain and Tug. Bottom row left to right, Reg Lancaster/flight engineer and Ted Grew/first WOP.)
There was no jacking equipment at Chittagong so we had to wait for a jack to be delivered from Salbani before we could change the damaged wheel. We did not get back to Salbani until the 23rd. On the 26th we were up in KH111 doing daylight formation flying, we were airborne for 3 hours 25 minutes.
We did circuits and landings on the 1st and some formation flying on the 6th. On the 7th they got most of us up on an all night cross-country. We flew in KH111. We came in to make a perfect night landing after being airborne for 8 hours 15 minutes. Geoff was always a good pilot and made our normal soft touch down. Soon after we made contact with the runway we (Joe and I) looked out of the port side from the flight deck where we were standing and we both heard a crack above the noise of the engines.
Instantly the port oleo leg snapped clean off and came back hitting the side of the fuselage and then bounced back and took the tailplane off. At this point we were still at almost maximum landing speed. I remember Geoff applying maximum brake to the starboard wheel and doing his utmost to bring the port wing back up whilst Tony worked frantically to shut everything down. All went well until we lost momentum and then we went crashing down. The port wing dug into the ground, we slid along, turned and came to a halt. In the process we created a dust storm in the red dirt. I can remember the navigator coming forward with his torch and the beam cutting through the red dust gave the effect of a gigantic fire. No one was hurt and there was no fire.
On landing I would always stand behind Geoff, I had a habit of holding the top escape hatch open so that in the event of a crash it would not buckle and stay shut and thus prevent us from escaping. This habit stemmed from the Wellington crash.
On the 18th we did another long cross-country practice. This flight was longer than the previous one taking 10 hours during the day and 3 hours 20 minutes at night. This flight was in EW153 and we again ran into trouble. We had to make an emergency landing at Nagpur because we were getting very low on fuel and the weather was closing in, it got to the point where we were seriously thinking of having to bale out. The following day we flew back from Nagpur to Salbani. Nagpur was 3 hours 15 minutes flying time from Salbani.
Our first operational flight of 1945 was on the 18th January. We flew in EW120 to Kagaung airfield, it was a day trip of 7 hours 40 minutes duration. We flew again operationally on the 28th in KH270 and were ordered to attack Japanese gun troop positions at Maybon Peninsula. The flight took 6 hours 30 minutes. This was the very first time that we gunners had deliberately shot at Japanese troop positions. On the 31st we again flew operationally in KH270 against a Japanese HQ located at Mandalay. On this flight we had a new second pilot, Ron Unsworth, who stayed with us until the end of our tour. You could not fail to recognise Ron, he had a magnificent handlebar moustache.
On the 5th we flew in KH270 to attack dumps at Mandalay, then on the 8th we flew in KH354 to Singu on the Irrawaddy river. On the 11th we attacked dumps at Rangoon in KH270. We were escorted by Thunderbolts and Lightnings, there were more P-38's than P-47's. Over the target we met heavy flak and enemy fighters. This was the first time we had met enemy fighters. As they came up to met us some of our fighters jettisoned their drop tanks and set to. One of the drop tanks nearly hit us. I knew that if the enemy fighters attacked they would not do a rear but a frontal so I rotated the turret so that the guns were pointed forward. We were told that the enemy favoured a frontal attack because the closing speed meant that they were not in our sights for very long and if they could take the pilots out (kill them) we would be at their mercy. I rotated the turret from twelve to three to nine. I saw, what turned out to be an enemy fighter pilot coming down on a parachute. It looked at one stage as if he was going to be chewed up by one of the propellers of one of the B-24's that were bombing with us.
At gunnery school we were taught that when the Japanese fighters attacked they would come at you, turn and for a split second expose their belly as they climbed up and away from you. For a moment it would seem as if they hung there and then they would fall away. During practice it appeared you had time when a fighter came in, in reality everything happened so quickly, so very quickly.
On the 15th we flew in EW116 to Uyingyi which was south of Mandalay, it was a day trip that took 7 hours 25 minutes. On the 20th we again attacked the Japanese HQ at Singaingmyo, this flight took 7 hours 15 minutes, we flew in KG831. On the 22nd we flew in KH121 to a Japanese strong-point at Kaunghmudan and two days later (24th) we again flew in KH121 to dumps at Myingyan. On the 28th we lost formation in cloud and ended up attacking railway sidings at Pyinmana, this was a fairly long flight of seven hours during the day and four hours and fifteen minutes during the night. We had terrible weather that day and we lost formation.
On the 2nd we flew to Bangkok in EW120. It was an all night trip that took 13 hours 45 minutes. On the 7th we flew in KH120 to bomb some jetties at Martaban, this was a 10 hour day trip. Two days later (9th) we bombed some dumps at Rangoon, we flew in KH270, the flight took 9 hours 5 minutes, all in daylight. This was our last operational flight with Geoff who went sick with a disease that made him lose weight and his strength, he was taken off flying but was later declared fit. Our new captain was W/O Sykes, my remaining six operational flights were with this officer. On the 24th we flew in KH270 to Pa-Pak where we attacked a railway siding, the flight took 9 hours 55 minutes. On the 29th, again in KH270, we flew to Bridge 147. On this trip we got hit by flak, when we returned KH270 had been hit in 27 different places. The flight took 7 hours of day flying and 3 hours and 55 minutes of night flying. We came back with debris in the air intakes, we really had gone very, very low as we came over the bridge.
Before he took over from Geoff, W/O Sykes had been experimenting with losing control of the CSU on an engine on take-off. He had flown with Frank Dismore, the officer in command of 'A' Flight, who had perfected a technique using the feathering mechanism to bring the engine speed under control should the CSU fail. This procedure would prevent the occurrence of the accident that befell EW155 on the 28th October 1944. W/O Sykes was one hell of a pilot. Many times when we were training and doing circuits and bumps we would shut down one engine, maybe two. One day I was sitting in the top turret as we were flying along on a training flight with Bill (W/O Sykes), whether this was his real name or a nickname, because of the character in Oliver Twist, I do not know. I heard Bill say to the engineer or second pilot to cut down on number one and thought that's no problem. Then [ heard him say I think we will try number two and as I looked along the port wing I saw the propeller on number two feather to a stop. Now we had no engines operating on the port wing. I was not really happy about this, I did not mind losing one engine on each side but not two on one side. Then the next thing I heard Bill say was to cut down on number three.
We were now flying on one engine and we stayed airborne gently losing height and air speed. My only thought was can he get the other three engines to start again, which of course he did after a couple of minutes of running on just the one engine.
Our first operational flight in April was on the 8th when we flew in KH270 to bridge H125, a railway bridge located between Pegu and Martaban. The flight took 11 hours 10 minutes, all in daylight. On the 18th, our flight engineer, went on an operational flight with another crew in KH272. The aircraft crashed while over the target, none of the crew survived.
On the 25th the rest of the crew flew an operational flight to stores and dumps at Rangoon, with W/O Sykes and W/Cdr Nicholson (VC). They took off at 19.45 in EW185, the flight took 8 hours 50 minutes.
(Note: The rest of the Harrison crew say that Tug was with them but Tug has no entry on his log book)
On the 27th we flew in KH270 to dumps at Rangoon, the flight took 3 hours day and 6 hours 20 minutes night. On the 1st May we flew in KH270 and attacked the shore gun positions on the river mouth at Rangoon. This was my last operational flight. I had completed 35 operational trips lasting in all 310 hours 10 minutes, 26 of the operational flights had been with Geoff.
Despite all the apprehension getting to the target and whilst at the target I still remember, often, the sun setting on some wonderful scenery as we made our way back to Salbani. As we flew over the Bay of Bengal, and the day was coming to a close, the sun would look as if it was Iying on the water. The colours were fantastic, there was a red that I have never seen anywhere else. At night it often appeared as if the moon was floating on the water below us.
The weather was atrocious, it really was something else. We occasionally had to turn back because we were using so much fuel attempting to make head-way that we knew that if we continued we would not have sufficient fuel to get back across the Bay of Bengal. On other occasions you would see a cloud formation that you could not get above or around and as you watched, it continued to build up. You knew that you could not go through it for when you were flying on the periphery of it the aircraft was being buffeted about badly. There were times when in the mid turret, with the seat belt secure, my head would be thrown up and come into violent contact with the top of the perspex dome.
(Note: Tug had a copy of an article, sent by Geoff, dated 28th July 1945, taken from 'The Sphere'. The text stated: "The monsoon is now at its height in Burma, but flying goes on and will go on throughout the season as in the past. According to the recent despatch from Mr Edward Townsend in Calcutta, experienced pilots in Burma are anxious that air crews switching from the European front should understand the hazards of monsoon flying. Daylight squalls are seen as formidable black cloud barriers 25 to 125 miles wide, but at night pilots often know only by the sudden violent bumping that they are heading for trouble. Detailed advice on flying in the monsoon season is set out in meteorological notes for air crews at operational stations. Airmen are urged to make a study of tropic meteorology. They are told that there are three types of monsoon squall - the white, which cannot be flown through except at 12000 feet to 16000 feet; the black, which may be flown through at 100 feet to 300 feet, and the brown, the worst of all. It is suicide to fly into a brown squall. Pilots are warned not to land in a squall, but keep clear until the short period of intensity is past. Faced with the deadly cumulo-nimbus, pilots must fly round it, turn back, or go underneath it at 100 feet to 300 feet. Even this is not possible when the cloud comes down to ground level. Once a pilot has had personal experience of the monsoon he never flies into a squall unless he is forced to do so. "I went into a monsoon squall the first time to see what it was like", said an Australian Squadron Leader, "The second time I had to do it, that first time was the worst quarter of an hour of my life. I was flying a Liberator at 16000 feet over the Chin Hills when I meet dense, black cloud towering 40000 feet. I would have to go 30 miles round. I went in. The aircraft was thrown about violently. All the instruments were hay wire. By the airspeed indicator we were doing more than 200 miles per hour but by the inclinometer we were going up 3000 feet a minute. Water streamed into the cockpit through the perspex joints like a forced-feed spray. It was like hitting a wall of water. Lightning flashed along the wings and round the airscrew, I thought we would never escape alive.")
After out operational tour had finished we were all split up. Ted carried on flying with another crew. Joe went on to 31 Squadron, in fact Joe got in as many hours flying Dakotas with 31 Squadron as he did flying Liberators with 356 Squadron. Leonard flew with another B-24 squadron picking up engine spares. I was posted to a photographic unit based in Calcutta where I spent my time looking at reconnaissance photographs taken by Spitfires and Mosquitos. Then I went down to Rangoon where I did the same sort of thing. I would look at a series of photographs that would give one continuous picture and if I saw anything that I thought was unusual I would call over an intelligence Officer to have a detailed look. After the Japanese surrender I was moved to Singapore where I was put on aircraft movements. This involved supervising the emptying and loading of Dakotas. If passengers were the cargo we would explain the emergency drill and help them with things like their fountain pens (the outside pressure would deflate the rubber and all the ink would come out). I would sometimes 'bum' a flight on a Dakota that was going to Hong Kong. Whilst at Singapore I applied to stay in the RAF. I returned home on the 'Dominion Monarch' and once back in England applied again to stay in the RAF. I was encouraged by the RAF to get back to civilian life and was told that I would be recalled. They contacted me in the winter of 1946/47. The weather was terrible, it was a really severe winter and my interview was cancelled because of the weather being so bad. A few months later I got a letter saying the RAF was being depleted but that I was welcome to come back as an AC2. I said thank you very much but no thank you. Four years later I got a letter asking me if I would like to take up a short term commission.
I returned to the RAF in 1954 initially on air movements dealing with Hastings and Beverleys. I had various postings abroad, one of them was to Canada. There we did some cold weather experiments with helicopters to see the effect of icing-up on the rotor blades. The weight of the ice on the blades would eventually result in the blades contacting the aircraft. On one occasion we returned from a flight to Fort Churchill in a twin engined twin boom aircraft. We touched down, applied reverse propeller, to give reverse thrust and hence slow down the aircraft. The aircraft started to slow up and then it all went wrong as she went over and turned upside down. We all got out safely.
I left the RAF in 1973 due to a back injury. The medical officer who examined me said that I had crushed three vertebrae in the Wellington crash back in July 1943, he was amazed that I could walk as straight as I do.
I enjoyed my time in the RAF but the time after the war was completely different from the time during the war. There was a comradeship and a sense of going through something together that made the wars years unique. There was a real feeling that we had to pull together and sort this thing (the war) out. At the time I never questioned what we were doing or how to did it, I felt we had a job to do. Many years later I gave a lot of thought to some of the things we may have had to do but I do not feel ill at ease with what we did.
Fifty years on I am still in contact with Joe, who I meet each year at the Blackpool reunion. At past reunions I have met Ted and Leonard. I bumped into Tony after the war on a bus coming back from Plymouth, we have stayed in touch through letters and phone calls. I keep in touch with Geoff over the phone.