111 OTU Nassau, Bahamas, West Indies ~ 1942-43
Operational Training Units
Prior to WW2, Aircrew completed their Operational Training on their Squadrons, however, once War had broken out and Operations were begun, it became obvious that this duty could not effectively be carried out by Units and Personnel actively engaged in Operations. The 1st solution to this was to remove some Squadrons from Operations and allocate them the task of preparing new crews for Operations. It was not long before it was decided to formalise this arrangement by redesigning these ‘training‘ squadrons as Operational Training Units. These units were usually larger than a Squadron and were commanded by Officers holding the appointment of Officer Commanding.
USAT (ArmyTransport) RMS Queen Mary, 13th September to 20th September 1942,
Southampton to Nassau
After crossing the Atlantic on the 27 old “Queen Mary“, we trained briefly in Canada before travelling by rail to Miami. From there we crossed over to Nassau on the 640 ton MV Jean Brillant. This craft looked rather small but our group consisted of only 30 passengers. Setting off on a beautiful evening with music playing and coloured fairy lights stretching out to sea, events took a sudden change. Two hours later, we were being flung about like a cork in the midst of a terrifying storm. Arriving in Nassau harbour next morning, several hours past our scheduled time, we came ashore bruised and battered by kit and unsecured iron beds and loose cargo which had been flung from one side of the small vessel to the other all during the night crossing. Medical attention was required to deal with sprains, bruises, and other injuries. We had, therefore, gained early, the 1st-hand experience of the vagaries and wild mood swings of the Caribbean before even starting our flying training but at that point, we had never even heard of the Bermuda Triangle. It would appear that none of the permanent staff of qualified Instructors whose training duties required them to fly regularly over this suspected area had experienced anything unusual.
Everything was meticulously planned with no detail too small to be ignored. Obviously, to allow 15,000 troops (corresponding to an entire army division on every trip) freedom to wander at will about the ship would be to invite chaos, and to obviate this, each ship was divided into Red, White and Blue Zones. Before the troops began to embark each man was issued with a coloured label indicating the zone in which he would be berthed. He was required to wear it throughout the voyage, and for him, any other zones were strictly out of bounds.
The Troops messed in the Ship’s Main Restaurant, 2,000 sitting at each meal. Each man was issued with a coloured card indicating his meal time, which had to be rigorously observed. The preparation of over 30,000 meals a day was a colossal task for the Kitchen Staff who were commonly assisted by Fatigue Parties drawn from among the Service passengers. The Troops themselves provided their own eating utensils and were additionally required to assist the Kitchen Staff by doing their own washing up in specially installed equipment. The time at sea was not spent entirely in lining up for meals. Troop accommodation had to be cleaned for daily inspection, and there were the regulation Boat and other Drills, which all ranks were required to attend, and to which they would be mustered by a PA system that reached into every corner of the Ship. There were eagerly awaited news Bulletins and impromptu entertainments and Film shows arranged to accommodate all who desired to attend, and well-stocked Ship’s canteens allowed the men to purchase anything from Coca-Cola to Shaving Soap.
In the WW2 conversion, the Ship’s hull, superstructure and funnels were painted navy grey. As a result of her new colour, and in combination with her great speed, she became known as the “Grey Ghost.” To protect against magnetic mines, a degaussing coil was fitted around the outside of the hull. Inside, Stateroom furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks (which were later replaced by standee bunks). Six miles of carpet, 220 cases of china, crystal and silver service, tapestries and paintings were removed and stored in warehouses for the duration of the War. The woodwork in the Staterooms, the cabin-class dining room and other public areas were covered with leather. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were the largest and fastest Troopships involved in the war, often carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, and often travelling out of the convoy and without an escort. Their high speed made it difficult for U-boats to catch them.
RAF No.111 ‘C’ OTU Nassau, Bahamas
A J L Craig – Posted: 29th October 1942 to 28th September 1943
Formed at Nassau in the Bahamas on 20 August 1942 to train General Reconnaissance crews on US built types, mainly B52 Mitchells and Consolidated B24 Liberators. Training began in November, initially on Mitchells and at the same time the unit operated anti-submarine patrols over the Western Atlantic
“From the moment they sailed into Nassau Harbour the following morning, they entered a different world. If they were not flying, they were swimming at Wavecrest Beach. They were also given the use of the ‘Bahamian Club,’ on the western outskirts of Nassau all of those facilities they were told, granted by the Duchess of Windsor (Mrs Wallis Simpson-Windsor) whose Autograph they received during her Club visits. Edward the Duke was Governor of Bahamas and Nassau was the base for RAF No.111 Operational Training Unit.
In July 1940, Edward was appointed Governor of the Bahamas. The Duke and Duchess left Lisbon on 1 August aboard the American Export Lines steamship Excalibur, which was specially diverted from its usual direct course to New York City so that they could be dropped off at Bermuda on the 9th. They left Bermuda for Nassau on the Canadian steamship Lady Somers on 15 August, arriving 2 days later. The Duke did not enjoy being Governor and referred to the Islands as “a 3rd-class British Colony“. The British Foreign Office strenuously objected when the Duke and Duchess planned to cruise aboard a yacht belonging to a Swedish magnate, Axel Wenner-Gren, whom British and American intelligence wrongly believed to be a close friend of Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring. The Duke was praised for his efforts to combat poverty on the Islands, although he was as contemptuous of the Bahamians as he was of most non-white peoples of the Empire. He said of Étienne Dupuch, the Editor of the Nassau Daily Tribune: “It must be remembered that Dupuch is more than half Negro, and due to the peculiar mentality of this Race, they seem unable to rise to prominence without losing their equilibrium.“ He was praised, even by Dupuch, for his Resolution of Civil unrest over low wages in Nassau in 1942, even though he blamed the trouble on “mischief makers – Communists” and “men of Central European Jewish descent, who had secured jobs as a pretext for obtaining a deferment of draft“. He resigned from the post on 16 March 1945.
Pilot, Navigator, Instructor – Average, 21st August 1942.
Although Craig was dark haired and blue eyed he had to protect himself from tropical sun as he did not tan readily.
B25 Mitchell Training Wing 111 OTU 22nd August 1942 to 1st November 1943 – Above Average.
Coastal Command Nassau BWI. Formed in August 1942 in the Bahamas to train general reconnaissance crews. Via USA and Canada – The Operational Training Unit also served as a Conversion Unit for not only training newcomers to Flying Duties but moving already qualified Aircrew on from B25 Mitchells to the Consolidated B24 Liberators which were being assembled at 5 different Aircraft Producers. The location also enabled Canadian Air Force Members to Crew-up with their RAF counterparts, whereby many Crews having completed training at Nassau, would join No.45 (Air Transport) Group, to ferry more badly needed Aircraft across the Atlantic ready for active service. Pilots and Crew members sent to Nassau for Liberator training spent about 50 hours flying on the B-25 Mitchell twin-engine Bomber before moving on to the Liberator.
The B-25 had a maximum speed of 290 mph and carried some 4,000 pounds of bombs. Almost 11,000 of the type were built. Of these, 910 were diverted to the RAF under the Lend-Lease program. Many of these Aircraft never crossed the Atlantic, being retained at No.111 Operational Training Unit (OTU) in Nassau or diverted to No. 5 OTU at Boundary Bay, British Columbia. In both Schools, the type was used to introduce Pilots to a tricycle undercarriage before graduating to the heavier Liberator bombers.
A J L Craig – Commendation by Air Officer Commanding No.45 (Air Transport) Group dated 24th May 1943 for rescue work at an Aircraft Crash on 29th April 1943
The 1st Mitchells to reach the RAF were 23 B-25B‘s which were designated Mitchell I by the RAF and assigned the RAF serials FK161 through FK183. They were delivered in August 1941 and were assigned to No 111 Operational Training Unit based in the Bahamas. These planes were used exclusively for Training and familiarisation and never achieved Operational Status. The RAF was allocated 316 B-25J‘s as Mitchell III’s. Deliveries took place between August 1944 and August of 1945. However, only about 240 of these planes actually reached Britain, with some being diverted to No. 111 OTU in the Bahamas, – some crashing during delivery and some being retained in the USA.
Flying Training at No.111 Operational Training Unit, Nassau, Bahamas, seemed too good to be true. With good food, excellent sunny climate, loads of spacious skies to undertake Flying Training well away from interfering Enemy Aircraft; who would have guessed we were about to have our taste of ‘losing’ an Aircraft and Crew in strange, mysterious circumstances in such splendid peaceful conditions.
111 OTU Oakes Field, Windsor Field & Ferry Command Nassau Association
No. 111 Operational Training Unit NASSAU 20th September – 27th December 1944 The journey to Nassau took 2 days by train to Miami, and a further day by boat. Nassau is on New Providence Island, 150 miles from Miami and I can hardly think of a more pleasant site for an RAF Base. We were soon settled into our Billets at Oakes Field, one of the Aerodromes on the Island, close to Nassau, where we would spend 2 months flying North American B52 Mitchells. We were issued with very fine quality US Military summer wear – khaki drill trousers, tunics and shirts and the most comfortable brown shoes I have ever worn. Extra pairs could be bought for £1 a pair. There was a very fine Officer’s Club in Nassau with a Bar and a Swimming Pool. The beer was the most expensive drink. A Rum & Coke cost 3d. We felt we were going to live the life of Riley. The aim of the Course was to Assemble and Train a total of, I think, 12 crews able to fly the Consolidated B24 Liberator on Coastal Command Operations. There were 2 groups of Pilots, 1 composed of ex 2nd Pilots from Squadrons, and in our case 2 ex-Instructors who had put in for Operations. These were expected to become Captains, and they set about choosing Crew members. The 2nd Group, of which I was one, were Pilots straight from Service Flying Trainibg School, who were destined to become 2nd Pilots. Most of the rest of potential Crew members – Navigators, Wireless Operators/Air Gunners and Engineers were from earlier Training Courses, a few had Squadron experience. It was evident from the start that this was a very intensive course. Lectures were a continuation of subjects we had studied at General Reconnaissance (GR) School, with the addition of Bombing. There was a ‘Planetarium’ for taking Astro-shots with a bubble Sextant. This had a clockwork mechanism which ran for 1 minute and averaged out the results – this to take into account any movement of the Sextant, something which was unavoidable when Airborne. A Bombing Simulator had a screen showing a low-level Bombing Run on a Ship. The button had to be pressed at the optimum time for the release of a stick of bombs. The accuracy or otherwise was recorded. I found all this, when combined with flying, a much more powerful and complex Aircraft, quite a strain, and I used to tumble into bed at night and fall asleep instantly. Fortunately, we had a break at weekends and were able to take advantage of the wonderfully relaxing fare available – Officer’s Club, fine Restaurants and especially swimming on Hog and Paradise Islands. These were reached by Hog Island freighters with glass bottoms giving views of the subtropical sea life. The OTU was divided into 3 Squadrons and we spent about a month in each.
No.1 Squadron – Flying began on 2nd October. In this Squadron all Pilots received the same training, which was to learn to fly the Mitchell. This was a quantum leap for me – a tricycle undercarriage and 2 Wright Cyclone Engines of 1850HP with very large propellers which nearly reached the ground as I found out when I taxied too close to a hurricane lamp and destroyed it. It was a delight to fly but very noisy and the effects of this on one’s ears lasted several hours after any flight. The Training took a regular pattern – familiarisation with all the instruments and controls, circuits and bumps, local flying, flying on 1 engine and 2 short Navigation trips. Early on I was corrected for approaching with 1 hand on the throttles – something which had been drummed into me by Sgt Scarlett at North Battleford. The Mitchell could not be handled like an Oxford. Two hands on the Controls were required. All bar 2 of the last 3 flights were done without Crew, and for some reason, flying times were logged as ‘Dual’ if under Instruction and as a ‘2nd Pilot’ if flying with another Trainee, even though no Instructor was aboard. I flew 13 flights under Instruction, 2 of which were at night and 9 with another Trainee as 2nd Pilot, 3 of which were at night. I had gone ‘Solo’ after 7 hours 15 minutes. During this 1st month, one of the Trainees who had been an Instructor pulled out of the course. It had been a long time since he had studied Navigation, Meteorology etc and he found the going too hard. Until I began to write this account, I hadn’t realised that I never flew in the right hand, 2nd Pilot seat throughout the whole course. With the workload at the time I hadn’t queried this but just followed Daily Routine Orders (DRO’s) which gave the day’s Flying Schedule. In retrospect it is odd that no Senior Officer discussed this with me or gave me any explanation
111 OTU B24 Liberators at Windsor Field, Nassau, LO is B.III BZ762 and MA is GR.V BZ810
No.2 Squadron – The month in this Squadron was spent learning the Arts of War – mostly Bombing and Gunnery with additional Navigation and Practice Patrols. All the Flights were done with a Crew. For bombing, there was a target of poles set up in shallow water, roughly in the shape of a Submarine. The attacks were made at a low level, diving down to 50 feet and releasing a stick of 12½ lb Practice Bombs. The approach was made at an angle of about 30° to the line of the ‘submarine’ and I had to judge the moment to release the bombs to straddle it. A smaller number of attacks were practised dropping a single bomb. The results of both methods were recorded by a mirror camera. Air firing was done from the mid-upper turret from 2 x 0.5 in Browning machine guns. We all had a go at this in turn as the Plane banked around a Target. It was thunderously noisy and as I was wearing shorts, I got somewhat burned by the cascade of hot cartridge cases on my knees. It was very satisfying to see the damaging effect of the powerful guns. Early in the month, the remaining ex-Instructor Trainee flew into the sea on a practice bombing run, killing all aboard, including my friend who was his 2nd Pilot. A tragic error of judgement. About the middle of the month, there was a hurricane warning and a standard procedure was put into action to fly all the Aircraft, including the B24 Liberators, to Florida. I was assigned one of the Mitchell’s and had been issued with some $US, when the hurricane changed course and we were disappointingly stood down. I flew 3 Flights under Instruction and 10 on my own with a 2nd Pilot, 3 of which were at night. The last Flight on November 21st was a Crew Test under Instruction and the final part of it was to go through the procedures prior to ditching. One of the responsibilities of the 2nd Pilot was to release the Upper Escape Hatch. He had been warned to point to the handle but not to touch it as it was hair-trigger. He forgot, did touch it and it flew off, leaving a howling gale blowing around the Cockpit. The Instructor removed himself into the calm of the nose position and stayed there until we reached base. I wondered if the seabed was littered with Escape Hatches.
No. 3 Squadron – This Squadron was based at Windsor Field, named after the Duke who was Governor of the Bahamas. It was situated about 10 miles west of Oakes Field and we were moved into accommodation there. It was now time for moving up another dimension, to learn to fly the Consolidated B24 Liberator. This was the 4-engined long-range Bomber which had been used by Coastal Command so effectively to close the gap in the North Atlantic in the War against the U-Boat. Most of the techniques taught in the course were based on this anti-submarine background. The Liberator was powered by 4 Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp engines of 1200 HP and had a range of 2200 miles. Flying began on 27th November and I had a crew of 9. It was now obvious that I had taken over the place of 1 of the ex-Instructors and was headed for a role as Captain. Nothing had been said directly to me, and I just carried on as detailed in Daily Routine Orders. The Flying Schedule was, as usual, intensive. Procedures were more complicated than with the Mitchell and 5 Flights were fitted into the 1st 3 days, a total of 5 hours 55 minutes before I went ‘solo’ and did my 1st circuit without an Instructor. Thereafter we flew mostly twice a day, excepting weekends. It was a mixture of dual and solo with programmes to exercise all the crew, mostly in anti-shipping techniques- turret manipulation, air firing, photography, low flying, bombing, evasive action, radar homing and fighter affiliation. Low-level radar homing over the sea was done keeping a green light lit on a radio altimeter set at 50 feet. Dropping below this lit up a red light, rising above it, a yellow. It was advisable to Trim the Plane so that it required a slight forward pressure on the Control Columns. Any wandering of the mind, though unlikely, meant the plane would climb higher. Navigational fixes were a rarity in Coastal Command and Navigation was almost entirely by Dead Reckoning (DR). Every hour a small smoke float was dropped and sighted by the rear gunner who then read off the drift on a scale on the Turret roof. The plane was then turned 60° and flown in that direction for 3 minutes while the drift was again determined with a 2nd smoke float. It was then turned 120° in the opposite direction and the process repeated before turning back on the original course. This 3 drift wind was used by the Navigator to adjust the Compass Course the Pilot had to fly to maintain the required track. The efficiency of the whole business required the plane to be flown at a steady speed, direction and altitude. I had no part in this new crew selection, but they did form a very good working team and were all very efficient at their jobs. I think they felt the same about me, though I never did ask them how they felt about having a Captain with no Squadron experience. The Final Test was on 20th December when we had to do a dummy Anti-submarine Patrol which lasted 8 hours. We had to fly a dogleg of over 300 miles, drop a large smoke float, circle and attack it with a live depth charge, then circle again to photograph the result. It was almost impossible to be sure we could spot the exact place of the explosion, but we had been warned not to return without a photograph so the Beam Gunners took a guess and the result was accepted. The explosion itself, of course, had been caught by the Mirror Camera. Another dogleg of 400 miles got us safely home, the last few hours in the dark. We had our Last Flight to end the course. This was a Leigh Light Radar homing at night on a small ship. A few Planes had been modified to carry an Army Searchlight under the starboard wing so that submarines could be attacked at night when they were usually surfaced. A clutch of batteries was added to the Plane’s load, necessary to power the arc. The approach was made in complete darkness at 50 feet guided by the Radar Operator. At a range of about a mile, the Arc was struck and a blinding light illuminated the Ship. I had been warned never to be tempted to look up, but to keep flying on instruments and be guided on the run in by the Navigator. It was a nerve-racking experience but we did manage to home in and pass over the Ship without any aggressive action being taken. Total hours flown by No.3 Squadron were: Day 15hr 10mins, dual 18hr 20mins, ‘2nd pilot’ Night 4hr 30mins, dual 6hr 45mins ‘2nd Pilot’. We had a glorious celebration after the Course ended with an excellent meal in Nassau and plenty of booze. We then had to get ready to leave this superb station and travel over Hogmanay to be in Montreal again by 1st January. – R Quirk
The Nacelle type Leigh Light, fitted on Liberators, was a 20-inch Arc-light mounted in a Nacelle 32 inches in diameter slung from the bomb lugs on the Wing. The controls were electric and the maximum Beam Intensity was 90 million candelas without the spreading lens and about 17 million with the lens.
“We finally finished our Oakes Field Training, but when VE Day arrived on 8th May 1945, both Canadians left us to go home. The 3 remaining crew members crossed over to Windsor Field, where we Crewed up with 2nd-Tour Pilots and Navigators where the emphasis seemed to be on low flying in conjunction with Leigh Light Operations. This was the only time I was involved in any accident at Nassau. I was on Radar Watch on a Night Leigh Light Exercise when I noticed a ‘blip’ (the Liberator in front) had disappeared. I, of course, reported this, but privately felt it could simply be a malfunction. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and when we returned, discovered our accompanying Aircraft had not returned. We were never told what happened, but all 8 trainees were lost, and rumour had it, that it was due to the Pilot following the Leigh Light beam into the sea.”
RAF Bahamas Operational Training Unit. It was used by many Allied air forces, in every theatre of World War II, as well as many other air forces after the war ended, and saw service across 4 decades. The B-25 was named in honour of General Billy Mitchell, a Pioneer of U.S. military aviation. By the end of its production, nearly 10,000 B-25‘s in numerous variants had been built. The B-25‘s were operated by the RAF during WW2, among others. The prototype XB-25 first flew on 19 Aug 1940. It was a twin-engined, all-metal, mid-wing cantilever monoplane with characteristic twin vertical stabilizers. Mitchell‘s were produced in many variations including medium bomber, ground attack, trainer (TB-25) and long-range photo reconnaissance versions, the latter being designated the F-10. The USN designation for the Mitchell was PBJ-1. Power by 2 Wright Cyclone R-2600-13 double row radial engines with 2-speed superchargers (1750 HP each). The normal crew was 6 and all crew positions were protected by armour plate. Wingspan was 67′ 7″, length 53′ 5.75″, empty weight 21,100 pounds and loaded weight 33,500 pounds. Maximum speed was 303 mph. and the service ceiling was 24,200′. Maximum internal bomb load was 6,000 pounds (or a single 2,150-pound torpedo) plus up to 2,400 pounds of bombs on external racks. Depth charges could also be carried by aircraft engaged in maritime roles. Defensive armament usually included 1 fixed and 1 trainable .50 calibre machine gun in the glazed nose, a power-operated dorsal turret with 2 x .50 calibre heavy machine guns, waist positions on both sides of the fuselage with a .50 machine gun in each and a tail gun position with 2 x .50 calibre machine guns. That is a total of 8 heavy machine guns, making the B-25J a very heavily defended medium bomber. The B-25C/D versions had a power-operated ventral turret instead of the waist and tail gun positions, but this was dropped when the latter was added.
I was sent to No. 111 O.T.U (operational and then a train to Montreal. The Ford Hotel was our accommodation while there. We were now attached to RAF training unit) in the Bahamas. Christmas day 1943 we spent on a train going through Georgia on the way to Miami, Florida. A small cargo vessel took us over to Nassau. The ocean was rough and I spent most of my time in my bunk on the edge of being seasick. Accommodations at Nassau were in wooden Barrack buildings and we were introduced to the practice of “afternoon tea” at 4 o’clock. Oakes Airfield was on the outskirts of Nassau. On 25th Jan 43 we commenced training on the B25 Mitchell. The B25 was a fine aircraft to fly, visibility from the Pilot’s seat was excellent. However, the Wright Cyclone Radial engines were very noisy. Edward – The Duke of Windsor was Governor and we heard that when night flying was in progress he complained of the noise. The B25 Mitchell was used for most of our flying, as it was more economical than the 4-engined B24 Liberator. Circuits and bumps, night flying and flights over the islands of the Bahamas were what kept us busy. As in RCAF Summerside (Prince Edward Island), all of our Flight Training trips were over the ocean. At this time we were “Crewed-up”, that is we got together and Crews were made up.
Following training on the B25 we moved to Windsor Field, some miles away from Nassau, and carried on Training with the B24 Liberator aircraft. After 27 flights the last one was to fly out to the vicinity of Bermuda and find a certain Ship. At this time I received a promotion to F/O. From the Bahamas, we had the usual rough ride on a small coaster (ship) back to Miami-F Transport Command. At Dorval (Montreal) the total flying time was 4 trips on the radio range and the usual circuits and bumps with the B24. On 26th May 1944 we signed for a brand new B24 Liberator No. EW257 and in the early morning left for Gander, Newfoundland with destination Karachi, India. As well as our Crew we had P/O Woolverton to help Navigate. The trip to Gander was, course 70º, 900 miles and it took 5 hours flying time. After the remaining hours of the afternoon, and refuelling, it was lift-off just as darkness fell. On climbing away the Control Tower called to say that flames were coming from the No.2 Engine. This proved to be the flame from the turbo-supercharger when at take-off power. On reducing power there was no problem. Our destination was Lagens Airport in the Azores, course 120º, 1500 miles. On landing at an Emergency Field on St Anna Island in the Azores flight time was 9 hours, 5 minutes. On this flight, we flew at 9000 ft mainly through the cloud. On the ETA (estimated time of arrival) for Lagens we were still in cloud and could hear on the Radio other Aircraft down below trying to find the Airstrip. Because a mountain is beside the Airstrip we dare not let down in full cloud so it was necessary to divert to St Anna some miles to the S/E. Here the short, grass Airstrip had a Village at one end and a Swamp at the other. We got down OK but tore up some of the sod while braking hard to stay out of the Swamp. Facilities there were one RAF Officer and one building for housing. For breakfast, I had some fat bacon. In the afternoon we headed back to Lagens in low cloud and rain. Found the Airstrip and with bad visibility got lined up and landed on the 3rd Attempt. The Airstrip had a steel mat runway and with the stiff Crosswind, “Wayne “Wacky” Adams” Aircraft slid off the runway and in getting back on damaged one of the tyres.
15th July 1943
The Consolidated B-24 Liberator is an American heavy bomber, designed by Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. It was known within the Company as the Model 32, and some initial models were laid down as export Models designated as various LB-30′s, in the Land Bomber design category. The B-24 was used in WW2 by every branch of the American Armed Forces, as well as by several Allied Air Forces and Navies, attaining a distinguished War Record with its Operations in the Western European, Pacific, Mediterranean, and China-Burma-India Theatres and in Antisubmarine Warfare.
We had left sub-tropical Nassau on the 27th of December and arrived by train in frozen Montreal on New Year’s day. Tropical khaki had been exchanged for temperate blues, with scarves, gloves and greatcoats. Winter in Canada is very different from that in the UK. Temperatures were often well below freezing, but the air was dryer and it often felt, deceptively, not unpleasant. It was possible to get frost nipped ears or nose without being aware of it. The flesh became waxy white, and I was warned of this once by a passer-by and had to go indoors and do a spot of vigorous rubbing. We again had accommodation in a Civilian flat near the centre of Montreal. This was arranged through a Services Club. Many kind Citizens had made unused flats available for Servicemen. A generous transit allowance was added to our pay, and as we were there for nearly 7 weeks, we were able to take advantage of all the facilities of a big City and to have another short trip to the same Hotel in the Laurentian Mountains (Lake Beauport?). I was the only one to have any additional training during this time. On the 6th of February, I did a short flight at Dorval – a dual check in preparation for the flight to the UK. On the 9th of February, I had another check, this time in a Hudson, to practice radio range flying. Although the test was easy, it did not include the radio procedures for contacting the Ground station as you passed over it, an omission which caused some concern when we used the ranges in earnest.
On the 11th of February, we all had to report to Dorval with our kit, to pick up a brand new Consolidated Liberator ready to fly to the UK. We were briefed to fly the southern route across the Atlantic, and we had a staff wireless operator, familiar with the specialised procedures used, as a temporary crew member. It was a very cold morning with complete cloud cover with a base of about 2000ft. Our destination that day was Elizabeth City in North Carolina. We were to fly almost due south, to pick up the coast near New York, and onward to Elizabeth City using a number of radio ranges as we went. Soon after take-off, we were in the cloud, climbing towards our desired altitude of 8000ft. The plane was trimmed and the Automatic Pilot engaged. While a check has to be kept on all the instruments, the most vital are the 3 registering airspeed, direction and altitude, and these are scanned frequently. Less than half an hour into the flight, I noticed the airspeed dropping off rapidly. I immediately disconnected the elevators from the automatic pilot and stuck the nose down. It was quickly apparent that we were gaining a lot of speed but the registered airspeed continued to fall. I levelled the plane out using the artificial horizon and realised we were suffering from icing. Airspeed is measured by the pitot head, an open-ended tube pointing forward. The pressure-induced gives a measure of the speed when compared with the static air pressure, which is measured through slots in an outer tube. The plane had an internal static head and when I switched over to this we got our airspeed back. We were lucky that the icing had only after affected the slits in the static head. I also switched on a pitot head heater and in a few minutes, all was back to normal. We were soon out of the cloud and enjoyed a blue sky flight down the coast. The Navigator kept his navigators log and gave any necessary alterations in course, but in addition, I had to use several radio ranges. This was successful except we failed to contact the Ground stations, but they seemed to put up with our ignorance. The flight took just over 4 hours. As we were taxiing into our stance the Control Tower got us confused with another aircraft which had landed just after us. His instructions to turn right or left at the next intersection caused a few minutes of confusion but eventually, we were berthed successfully. We spent the night there and the Aircraft was serviced and refuelled. Next day we flew to Bermuda in just over 3 hours and after a meal and refuelling took off for Lagens in the Azores. After an hour it was dark so we didn’t see much of mid-Atlantic. The flight took 10½ hours and we saw a magnificent dawn. We had been provided with a huge cardboard box full of US chocolate bars and cartons of fruit juice and we managed to consume about a 3rd. We spent 2 nights there and then took off on 15th February for the final leg to Prestwick. It was a blue sky day and we flew at 10,000 ft looking forward to our 1st sight of Europe. We did not discover immediately that our large cardboard box of chocolate goodies had been nicked by the ground crew and replaced with bread, margarine and jam! It was wonderful to fly up the Clyde Estuary and to find that the landing circuit took us over Arran and all the hills I had climbed in 1940. – Robert Quirk
The mnemonic HTMPFFSGGBC for the vital actions before take-off. If you are interested, it stands for: –
Hydraulics, Trim, Mixture, Pitch, Flaps, Fuel, Switches, Gyro, Gills, Brakes, Controls.
Supermarine Walrus – Technique of handling the Walrus
Firstly when in the air it wallowed through the air and oscillated about 5 degrees either side of the course you were steering – no point in fighting it – just let it trundle along. The next thing was the different type of landings according to the state of the sea.
Normal Sea – a moderate chop – glide in with the engine ticking over at 65/70 mph, level out and it sank down in the water – very pretty.
Rough Sea – up to 7 or 8 feet waves bring it in with plenty of power- nose up- and feel the tail cutting the wave tops – judge your moment – close the throttle and touch down on the face of an incoming wave crest. Very spectacular and for a few seconds looked as though you were playing Submarine. At night or surface of water obscured by mist. Get the nose high, 55 mph, plenty of revs, sinking gently down and wait for the bang as it hit the water.
All the above landings were made into the wind. One other condition was a crosswind and a long lazy swell where it was possible to land and take off along the swell. After touch-down you connected the tail wheel (to act as a water rudder) – drop the wheels – to cut speed through the water and taxi to the dinghy. Meanwhile the Gunner had scrambled to the front hatch, which he opened, and either pulled the Survivor over his shoulder or hooked the dinghy with a boat-hook (with a detachable head) on a predetermined length of rope floated down to the rear hatch which was lower in the water and easier to deal with an injury or more than one body. The Gunner then slashed the dinghy, closed the hatch and settled the Survivor’s amidships and we were then ready for take-off.
Before describing it, I would mention that we carried 4 smoke floats with a burning time of 2 minutes from the time of it hitting the sea – our aim was:-
- to keep sight of the body in the sea
- an accurate wind direction, and touch down as close as feasible. Our aim was to carry out the operation before the smoke float stopped burning and if there were no snags we could do it. A mile off the Enemy coast and 70/100 miles behind the lines was a great incentive (there were usually 2 Gunners on an occasion like this…)
So now we come to the Take off – the sequence is always the same.
Disengage the water rudder, pump up the wheels, make sure you are headed into the wind (if in doubt fire a Verey cartridge into the air) – (A Verey Pistol cartridge propelled a little packet of fused gunpowder some 50 feet into the air, where it went off with a very loud bang and a puff of Smoke) – to give you a final check then open the throttle and do 3 things at once – hold stick (in this case a half wheel) fully back in stomach. Full starboard aileron (to pick up port float) and Full starboard rudder – then after clouds of spray again and speeds picking up centralise everything. You should now be on the step, picking up speed and come off the water at about 60/65/m.p.h. always provided you did not “porpoise“. No pilot that I met really knew why this happened, whether it was wave conditions or swell but we all agreed that it started after you were “on the step“. A gentle bounce maybe 10 feet long and 6 feet high without sufficient flying – the danger was that it doubled up successfully and as you came back on the surface drag cut off your speed until you were chucked in the air and stalled out and nose-dived in. The only remedy was to shut down and start again.
A J L Craig – Above Average Pilot 27th September 1943