Gander, Newfoundland ~ Departure
22nd August (Mitchel Field to Gander) Thursday
The day of the Squadron’s Departure & Farewell to America. The call was at 05.15 hrs and briefing at 06.50 hrs. Several high ranking American Officers came to see them off, including Stratameyer. The 14 Aircraft took off for Gander at 09.00 hrs, TL-A & TL-O having to remain behind with minor snags, which were cleared up and they took off later in the morning. All Aircraft arrived safely at Gander and other small snags were attended to. Work on Aircraft progressed for the Final Flight across the Atlantic, and Billeting & Food arrangements were similar to those on the inward Journey.
Returning to Mitchel Field, Long Island NY on 18th August & Gander on 22nd August with A-Flight leaving Gander for Lagens on 24th August & Arriving St Mawgans on 25th August. On 29th August St Mawgans to Graveley Via Plymouth, Torquay and London (Fly-Pasts) with Fl/Lt Hardy. (Dates from W/C Craig’s Log Book)
The RAF 35 Squadron returned en route to Britain via Gander Airport in the summer of 1946; this Goodwill visit ended with the unfortunate death of 4 Civilians. The well-known Gander historian, Frank Tibbo, compiled an excellent article on the subject in October 2004 for the Gander Beacon. This article was based primarily on reports from people who had in some way been involved in the landing incident at the time.
The Squadron Aircraft departed Mitchel Field on the 22nd August 1946 for Gander where there was further routine Maintenance Work carried out for the long haul home.
Gander Airport Runways originally consisting of 3 Strips, 4,800ft long by 600ft wide, had been extended during the last year of the War to take care of heavier wear Transport Airships then being brought into service. This expansion had proved invaluable to the Transatlantic Airlines of that day. The Main Runway, known as the No.3 Strip, was now 1200ft wide & 6,000 ft long. Light Sports Planes could land very comfortably across its width.
23rd August Gander Friday
The 8 Aircraft of ‘A’ Flight led by Wing Commander Alan John Laird Craig took off for the Azores (Lagens) and arrived there safely. TL-M took off for Moncton, New Brunswick to pick up spares for TL-O & TL-R. Final preparations for ‘B’ Flight’s Departure were proceeded with; minor snags were cleared up and work on TL-O & TL-R started on return of TL-M from Moncton NB.
24th August Saturday
‘A’ Flight at Lagens, Azores held a Bathing Party. Work on ‘B’ Flight Aircraft being finished. The Take-off of “B” Flight was proposed for the night of 25th August, the same day as ‘A’. Flight leave Lagens for St Mawgan and the UK.
25th August Sunday
Eight aircraft of ‘A’ Flight took off from Lagens at 12.15 hrs GMT and arrived at St Mawgan at 18.40 hrs having experienced good flying conditions with a strong following wind.
The 8 Aircraft of ‘B’ Flight took off from Gander at 21.00 hrs on route for Lagens. The Squadron departed at Night (TL-Q PA414 took off at 23.35 hrs).
Note: 8 Aircraft took off and F/O John Robinson was the intended Pilot of TL-R TW870 during the US Tour, he had clearly swapped Aircraft with F/Lt Pete Stockwell at Mitchel Field.
One Aircraft, Lancaster TL-R TW870 returned owing to DR Compass trouble after being Airborne for 20 mins. This trouble had been experienced over a period of several Flights even though the Master Unit & Repeaters had been changed. Instructions had been issued to the Captain to return to Gander if this occurred again. He may also have had a problem with his Landing Lights, which might otherwise have warned of his imminent arrival. On his return Journey, the Pilot, F/L Stockwell, was cleared to land on joining the Circuit; this was 2-hrs after Sunset. The Aircraft was well below the Maximum all-up Landing Weight and made a normal approach at 1st, but mistook 2 omni-Directional Green Lights which marked the Leeward Edge of the Runway for Glide Path Indicators. It was also marked with Red Lights as a Prohibited Area but there were some Civilians standing there. The Aircraft bounced on the raised Road which was Parallel to, and 20-yards from the Leeward Edge of the Runway and his Starboard Wheel hit a number of Civilians, killing 3-men and a woman, and injuring a 4th man. The bounce on the Starboard Wheel, plus the impact with the Civilians fractured the Union of the Brake Pressure Line at the Wheel, causing the Starboard Brake to fail. The Aircraft could only be brought to a standstill with a violent swing at the Windward end of the Runway, this bent both Undercarriage Legs and caused wrinkling of the Mainplane. The Aircraft having to remain at Gander for Disposal instructions. At the subsequent Enquiry F/L Stockwell was exonerated from all blame. This was a very regrettable incident after having almost completed the Tour without any previous mishap. A rear Party of 3-Officers & 10-men had to be left at Gander to dismantle unit Spares from the Aircraft. F/L Warne was left in charge.
26th August (Lagens to St Mawgan) Monday
The remaining 7 Aircraft of ‘B’ Flight left Lagens at midnight for St Mawgan, again flying under ideal conditions with a following wind, arriving safely at 05.45 hrs. After being cleared by the Customs Authorities & Debriefed, Personnel were conveyed to their Quarters for a well-earned rest.
27th August (St Mawgan) Tuesday
Inspections were carried out on the Aircraft by Ground Crew Personnel, assisted by the Flight Engineers. The weather was atrocious, and Personnel not on essential work spent the day resting.
Group Captain R C M Collard left Lagens in the Avro York Aircraft on the 27th for St Mawgans
28th August (St Mawgan) Wednesday
Further maintenance carried out by Ground Crew Personnel. Aircrew Personnel briefed for the lest leg of “Operation Lancaster” and spent the remainder of the day in Newquay and taking advantage of camp facilities.
Group Captain R C M Collard arrived at St Mawgan on the morning of the 28th August. He forwarded details of the proposed Reception for the 35 Squadron at Graveley on the 29th or 30th August subject to Weather conditions. Various VIP’s, Press & Film Representatives had to be assembled and a Luncheon arranged for the Personnel. Commitments for the imminent 35 Squadron – Battle of Britain Commemoration Fly-Past on the 14th September 1946 was also on the Agenda.
29th August (St Mawgan to Graveley) Thursday
15 Aircraft took off for Graveley and after a Flight of 1hr-40mins duration arrived safely to be given a great welcome by friends & relatives of the Squadron Personnel. The squadron was officially received by Air Marshal Sir Norman H Bottomley, Lord Henderson, representing the Air Council, a representative of the American Ambassador who was unfortunately unable to be present, and many other dignitaries. After the reception, a formal Lunch was held in the Officers Mess. Many congratulatory Speeches were delivered and suitably replied to. The whole of the Squadron Personnel proceeded on 7-days Leave. A welcome climax to an exciting, enjoyable and successful tour, which, in the opinion of all concerned had undoubtedly fulfilled its purpose.