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An Aussie in the RAF during WW2.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
In the early 1980s we had the good luck to meet the owner of a Moonee (modern US built light aeroplane) who was in his late 50s to early 60s. With him was a much older gent who had served in the English Air Force (RAF, not the RAAF) as an Australian. I never did get to the bottom of why he was in their Air Force rather than ours.
As you can imagine he was very interesting to talk to.
He was in England just as the war broke out and mentioned Fairy Battles. His opinion of them was that they were junk, hopelessly outclassed. He made some very interesting statements and preceded them with the comment "what I am about to tell you now, you will not read in any history books". He said that quite a few of the officer corp had advanced sexual diseases and in some cases were quite mad. But because of their social connections they could do pretty well what they liked and there were no consequences. This situation did not last all that long as their conduct was so bizare that eventually it caught up with them in the form of physics and ballistics. When I asked how he knew their medical problems, he said you could see it, so advanced were their illnesses with parts of their faces actually eaten away. He then stated that as new people came into the system, your average civil servant, bank employee, tradesman and other professions their was a marked change in attitude and tactics and thus personal survivability. This all occured before the Battle of Britain. At one point he was told by his CO to take a newly posted, but senior officer of the type mentioned above on a check ride. He said he has never been so scared by somebody else's flying before or since. He reported back to his CO and was accused of cowardice. When he refused to sign off on this officer the CO then again accused him of cowardice and took the officer on another check ride. The CO returned as white as a sheet with only the following comment by way of apology "I see what you mean". I asked what was the fate of the officer and he stated "usual thing, transferred", but surely he was grounded? "No, he was a 'somebody' by birth", "he was merely transferred to a non-operational (ie non combat) squadron". So he still had flight status? "Yes".
He saw action in bi-plane fighters in the Middle East and as I recall he said he was flying a Gladiator, but that doesn't seem right for that time of the war?
One particular story sticks out. He was on patrol on the allied side of the lines when his engine started to run rough. He knew what the problem was (to do with the rockers on one cylinder) and that the engine would not get him back to base. His plane did not have a radio so that option was out. He knew that between 50 and 70 miles away was a former Italian air field and that on it were some wrecked but not destroyed Italian fighters that had a licence built copy of the same engine as his plane. So he made for it. Nursing the engine as best he could he sighted the field and landed over the top of some British Army troops who appeared to be some sort of security detail. But they were at the opposite end of the airfield to where the wrecks were so he kept on and taxied to the wrecks, which if I recollect right, he said were CR-42s. He then chose the most likely looking engine and started to dismantle it.
At this point I asked him how? He stated that in those days each plane carried a rudimentary set of spanners as engine failures were still a common occurence and that as he had a tinkering background he wasn't afraid of doing his own mechanicing. Besides, he had no inclination to spend the night freezing in the desert. The work took him several hours and the Italian parts were a perfect fit, so he was quite happy to finish up confident that he would be able to safely take off and get back to base. He said that at no time did the troops even show any interest in him or his problem. So he then had to start the plane by himself and then took off and returned to base.
Later on he was posted to Beaufighters in the torpedo role. He said they were sustaining very high losses and he knew that his chances of survival were not looking good. He said that he decided he had nothing to loose by a change of tactics and changed from attacking from the outside of the German convoys to running up between the 2 lanes of a convoy, very low and turning into the selected ship at the last possible moment. This had several advantages:
1) Because he was low and in close, not all the guns on the German ships could depress low enough to engage him.
2) Also because he was low, those that could, had to cease fire when he was passing their sight line to other ships in the convoy.
3) The targeted ship was not apparent till he commenced his turn in.
His tactic must have had merit, because he survived to talk about it.
He liked the Beaufighter, particularly its forward armament (its rearward armament was a sad joke) and said that although the control column and its steering wheel were a rather odd combination for a "fighter" it was functional and you soon got used to it. When you opened fire, because of the close proximity of the guns and the fact that they were firing just underneath the pilot, the noise was incredible as was the vibration. Both served to render any radio or intercom communication impossible.
He had more to say, particularly about the abuse of rank, but some things are better left unsaid.
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