Flying training in preparation for 460 squadron’s Lancaster bomber in WW2
The Empire Air Training Scheme (EATS) was founded by then British Empire to train air crew to assist Britain in the air war against Nazi Germany in the period 1942 -1946. Each of the dominions agreed to send each month a certail number of trained pilots, navagitors and wireless-operators.
Introduction 460 Squadron – Flying Training
Left is the RAAF 460 SQN badge. Next to this is a photolithograph that was created by an unknown artist in c1940 and used to encourage people to sign up for RAAF training. (Photo Source Australian Government)
My Story – Alan (Henry) Baskerville – Chapter 2
Me at 19yrs – Trainee pilot – c1943
The township of Uranquinty lies just 14 kilometers to the South-West of Wagga Wagga. Although Wagga Wagga with a population in excess of 60,000 claims to be the largest provincial centre in New South Wales, there is no claim to fame that Uranquinty can advance except, perhaps, that, in the 40’s there was there a large Air Force Station known by the R.A.A.F. as No. 5 Service Flying Training School.
In those days the township itself boasted a railway station and a hotel. Both of these serviced the surrounding farming district, the railhead providing for the dispatch of wheat and wool and the import of rural commodities, the hotel for the assuaging of thirsty and dry throats. In the early to mid forties it was the airmen who constituted the main patronage of both as they journeyed to and from Wagga on week ends and further afield on longer leaves.
The intake of “29 Course” trainees arrived just before Christmas of 1942. The twenty-six of us who came from Narrandera travelled in air force tenders, a journey of 100 kilometres. In the course of the week we were joined by other trainees from Narromine, Temora and Benalla.
There was, however, the question of Christmas leave. Our training at Narrandera had formally finished on the 17th December and expectations were high that we would be able to go home for Christmas before resuming at our new station in the new year. In fact, intimations to this effect were widely believed to have been given by the C.O. at Narrandera.
As was usual on leaving a station, there was to be a final hut inspection. To our chagrin this was declared to be unsatisfactory and we were told to smarten up in preparation for another inspection some days later. The suspicion started to arise that somebody was not being open with us – that there might be a secret agenda.
However, we busied ourselves with making the hut spic and span, washing down all the floors, laying out our rolled blankets at the foot of each bed, standing our two kit bags upright just where they should be with the appropriate number of turns of the lanyard around the necks of each, the loose ends hanging just where they should hang and evenly matched.
Ike Cohen who was one of us, an older man and appointed as hut orderly (the equivalent of a Senior Prefect in schooldays), made a personal inspection and was satisfied that nothing was lacking in our presentation. But, when the next inspection came, carried out by S/L Menzies the Chief Ground Instructor (popularly known as “Foo”), we were told that it was still not satisfactory: the interior of the hut might be in order but the external surrounds lacked the appropriate neatness and tidiness. There would be another inspection in two more days.
Now we knew that someone was not a straight shooter and, though “Foo” was the front man, we suspected that he was only shooting the bullets which the C.O., a Wing Commander Ranger was giving him to fire. Obviously they were not going to give us leave for Christmas but didn’t have the guts to come straight out and tell us. But we decided to play the game their way and over the next two days we constructed instant gardens around the hut, digging and raking the beds and planting all manner of bushes and wildflowers that could be found in the surrounding paddocks. All to no avail: the following inspection was also declared to be unsatisfactory.
I think Johnny Oram was the originator: at least it was he who came up to me in the morning tea tent next day and asked me to memorise a little ditty which we were all going to sing on our departure from Narrandera.
On the 19th, as the tenders loaded with all our kit and ourselves began to roll from the side of the orderly room, someone gave the note and, at the top of our voices we sang to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” an extremely bawdy ditty in which we told the C.O. and the Chief Flying Instructor, Squadron Leader Howard, and Chief Ground Instructor, Squadron Leader Menzies, just what they could do with the leave we didn’t get.
And so we said goodbye to 8 E.F.T.S.
Some hours later we rolled into Uranquinty to find that the Station was to close down for seven days
Christmas leave from Monday the 21st. Our course was to stay behind and be assigned to various duty crews who would look after the place during this period. I was assigned to a fire crew whose duty was to put out any fires which might result from aircraft crashes. This was somewhat superfluous since there was to be no flying over the period.
Someone must have made representations to the C.O. and told him of the rough deal we had had from Narrandera because the word came on Sunday that we would be granted four days leave from the 24th enabling some at least to get home for Christmas. The only way I could get home and back in time was to fly and I managed to book a flight with Qantas on a Sunderland flying boat
leaving Rose Bay, Sydney on Saturday the 26th.
I spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day with Jim Tudberry and his mother at Willoughby and bright and early on the Saturday caught a Qantas coach from their terminal in York Street, near the Windsor Hotel, to Rose Bay. The flying boat was at anchor in the bay and we went out to it by launch.
There were not many passengers: a handful of civilians and two airforce Sergeant Pilots on transfer to Darwin to join a Vultee Vengeance dive bombing
squadron. This would have been No. 12 Squadron which was based at Batchelor near Darwin and was in process of converting from Wirraways to Vengeances. They were a quiet and unassuming pair and, compared with the seemingly irrelevant chatter of the civilians, appeared to be living in a different world – as, no doubt, they were: wondering just what lay ahead of them.
The seating was on padded benches along the walls and across the belly of the boat. On a higher level we could see the crew at their stations. How professional and expert they appeared, commanding as they were the biggest aircraft that was then flying. Qantas flew the Sydney/Singapore leg of the air route to Britain. Imperial Airways
, flying similar aircraft then flew the Singapore/London leg. The whole journey took four days.
The boat picked up speed very slowly because of the drag of the water on the hull but, eventually, it began to lift and, once free of the water, rose gracefully into the air like a big pelican. The trip must have taken something over four hours as it was early afternoon when it touched down on the Hamilton reach of the Brisbane River. This was my first ‘commercial’ flight. My only other flight prior to this in a ‘passenger’ plane had been in 1934 when I had a 30 minute flight around Townsville in Smithy’s “Southern Cross
” with the great man himself at the controls.
It was good to be home with the family, if only for the week end. I was back on the train on the Monday, leaving from the old interstate station in Melbourne Street
, and back at Uranquinty by Wednesday ready to commence my course on the following day.
How to make your bed – Airforce Style – c1940’s
An early impression of the station was its size. Bigger than Narrandera it comprised two schools with at least three courses in various stages of training at the one time. This meant about 180 trainees. Add to these the 50 or so instructors, the technicians, administrative staff, general duties personnel and the WAAFs and there must have been something of the order of five to six hundred people on the station.
The discipline was impressive. Except when off duty, everyone moved around the station at the double. We doubled from our huts to lectures; we doubled from one lecture to the next; we doubled back to the huts. Then we stood down.
The chief disciplinarian for us was a Sergeant Bull. He was only a little man but he had a big voice. His role would naturally have tended to make him unpopular but, such is the good common sense of the citizen soldier from a free society which teaches him instinctively that discipline is an essential ingredient in any fighting corps, we respected him and co-operated with him, even when he made our life a misery during the daily Physical Training (PT) periods.
He taught us unarmed defence and we tossed one another to the floor with gay abandon, not being too viscious because the roles alternated between attacker and defender and we could count on getting it back in the same measure in which we dished it out.
Sergeant Bull picked on ‘Shorty’ Fleming to demonstrate a particular ‘throw’. Shorty, as the name implies, was the tallest man on the course. He told Shorty to approach him from behind and put a headlock on him. Shorty demurred, not wanting to be thrown over the Sergeant’s shoulder, but the Sergeant was insistant and would brook no defiance of his order. So Shorty complied. But his instinct of self-preservation was strong and, approaching from behind as he was told, he looped his right arm around the Sergeant’s neck and, before the Sergeant could react to demonstrate his defence, he pulled back and up lifting the Sergeant’s legs a good six inches off the floor.
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We, the spectators, roared with laughter. A lesser man would have reacted violently to such an embarrassment but the Sergeant took it in good heart and, after being graciously lowered to the floor, made some comment about the need to react instinctively and speedily in each and every situation, and dismissed the class.
In the middle of the complex was the parade ground. Fortunately, we were past our square bashing days and we assembled only for special parades, the great one being the ‘Wings’ parade at the end of the course. But the parade ground was holy ground. No one walked across it -you walked around it to get to the canteen or the Post Office or the main gate.
Morning and evening the flag was hoisted and lowered. Anyone within sight of the pole stood to attention whilst the ceremony lasted. All this helped to build ‘esprit de corps’ and, despite the Australian’s natural dislike of pomp and ceremony, no one resisted these demands.
Off duty, the canteen was the popular meeting place for trainees and other ranks. The officers and non-coms had their respective messes and we saw nothing of them during these hours. The WAAFs had their own canteen and we saw them from a distance. That there was some fraternisation of an evening of which we had ample evidence but, for the most part, we younger men, at least, admired them from a distance.
In the initial part of our training, one half of the day, morning or afternoon depending on which flight we belonged to, was spent in flying. The other half was devoted to ground lectures; and there was compulsory study every night. After two months when we passed from initial to advanced training the programme, day and night, became more relaxed.
|Wirraways in formation – No.5 SFTS Uranquinty – Source #1
My flying started on 31 st December and my initial instructor was Sergeant Henville. It was a new experience sitting in an enclosed cabin after the open cockpit of the Tiger Moth. The pupil took the forward seat and the instructor sat behind him with another set of controls.
After the simplicity of the Tiger Moth cockpit, that of the Wirraway was impressive. It was here that we first learnt the acrostics that were to become a part of cockpit drill henceforth. Before take-off: TMPFF (trim,mixture, pitch, fuel, flaps) and, on the downwind leg of the circuit when landing: UMPFF (undercarriage, mixture, pitch, fuel, flaps). Except for fuel, where the check was to see that there was sufficient for the planned flight, proper settings had to be made for each of the others. The air-speed indicator was calibrated up to 300 m.p.h. which, in itself, created the impression that here was a war-bird indeed. Moreover the simple ‘stick’ of the Tiger was here replaced by a control column with a ring-grip and gun firing buttons such as we were led to believe was standard equipment in the famous Hurrican and Spitfire fighters
The Pratt and Whitney Wasp motor roared in comparison to the Tiger and, relatively, the plane leaped across the ground. I say relatively because the Wirraway was only a modest aircraft which had been sadly eclipsed in combat twelve months earlier by the Japanese Zero
and, with the advent of the American Kittyhawks
, was now being relegated to a training role only. But for us it was a stepping stone to the Spitfire which we knew we would one day be flying and imagination gave it a higher status than it rightly deserved.
After six hours I went solo and then alternated each day with one hour’s dual followed by an hour’s solo until my first progress test with Flight Lieutenant McSparren at the seventeen hour mark. By this time I could handle stalls and spins and steep turns and aerobatics (modestly) and forced landings and flying under the hood and was ready for more adventurous pursuits.
These took the forms of cross countries, dual and solo, including one at low level when I had to stay under 500 feet for two and a half hours, take-offs under the hood, night flying and formation flying.
F/L Mc Sparren was a somewhat testy Irishman who was quick to jump on any misdemeanour. He jumped on me when my height crept above the 500 feet on the low level cross country so I used that as an excuse to thereafter keep ‘well’ down. Moment by moment I expected further critical comment but it didn’t come.
He picked me up for coming out of my loops too flat -skidding as it were out of the bottom. I tried to correct this by leaving the stick loose as I came over the top and down but, on one occasion, I left it too loose with the result that we came down virtually in an inverted dive picking up quite a pace as we came near the bottom. He called,”I’ve got it,” and pulled it up into an upward loop with a roll off the top. I was expecting a blast but it didn’t come. I think he was probably just cheesed off at being relegated to instructing when he would rather have been on ‘ops’.
Sgt. Bull centre with ’29 Course’ trainees – No 5 SFTS Uranquinty
After 50 hours with ground subjects finished and the Wings Test out of the way we were posted to the Advanced Flying School to learn something of combat flying. This was a much more relaxed stage of the course and much more exciting. We flew very little dual and then only with Staff pilots who taught us the rudiments of high and low level bombing and of air to air and air to ground gunnery. We continued to practice night flying, formation flying and to go on cross country exercises including one at 10,000 feet and one at night.
Later on in my career I was to see many searchlights but my first experience with them was on returning from the night cross country. Flying my allotted course I was coned by five of them, probably over Wagga for several minutes. It was distracting to say the least and all I could do was to keep my head down and concentrate on my instruments until they went out.
In ‘bombing’ I was classified as ‘poor’. They had a big white sheet spread out in a paddock somewhere around Uranquinty. We climbed to 6,000 feet and then put the nose down at about 70 degrees and dived towards the sheet. At 3,000 feet we eased out of the dive and, as the nose of the aircraft crossed the nearside fence of the paddock we released a 25 pound practice bomb. In theory it should have hit the sheet and exploded with a white puff. In my case, though I dropped six bombs, I didn’t see one of them ‘puff’ not even in the paddock. Most disconcerting! There was, of course, the possibility that each one had hit the sheet and that therefore the puff was indistinguishable; but this was ruled out by the markers on the ground. Maybe, too, the bombs were duds! But I just had to live with the sad realisation that I was not a good dive-bomber. Who wanted to end up on dive-bombers anyhow! In their wisdom, the powers that be, in later life, gave me a bomb-aimer who was able, I know, to put them down where they were meant to be.
The air to ground gunnery was probably the most exciting of all. This involved sweeping low over another paddock and firing live bullets from the Wirraway’s two machine guns, which were synchronised to fire through the prop, at a ground sand pit. Joe Bridgett and I were on one of these exercises late in the course and there was some degree of urgency to get it finished. I led and he followed. Round and round we went, steep turning around the paddock, straightening up and zooming over the sand pit with guns blazing. Joe had not only to concentrate on his firing but had to keep me in position in the circuits and make sure I was well out of the way before he opened up.
Sometimes a gun ran away ( got out of synchronisation) and might easily have shot the prop away if it were not quickly pulled out of action by hauling on a handle and roping the handle to a strut in the cockpit. Even so, planes came back with the odd hole through the metal propellor. In gunnery I finished with an average rating.
Me dressed for flying – No.5 SFTS c 1943
One of the last exercises of all was a low level cross country in which we had to make a simulated bombing attack on a bridge. There were some ground staff men at the bridge purporting to man an anti-aircraft gun (which wasn’t there) on the bridge. They had a shelter some distance from the bridge at the foot of a small hillock and the rule of the game was that they were not allowed to leave the shelter and run for the gun (which wasn’t there) until they actually sighted an aircraft.
For our part then, the trick was to keep out of sight till the last possible minute and this meant flying as low as possible on the approach leg.
We had all had opportunity to do a reconnaissance of the route some days previously and each pilot was allowed to work out his own tactics. ‘Nelson’ Eddy was adjudged the winner. He approached from behind the small hillock, on the bridge side of which the ground staff shelter was located. He zoomed over the top of the hill and down on to the bridge before the ‘gunners’ could even get to their feet.
Phil Thomas and I worked out another tactic which was to fly down the river or creek towards the bridge on the opposite side to that on which the gunners were waiting, keeping amongst or just over the tops of the trees. Then, once level with the bridge, to pull the nose up, stall turn to the left, dive on to the bridge and escape over the back of the hill.
Needless to say the whole trip was exciting enough. Low flying was always exciting so much so that the authorities had to issue an edict against unauthorised low flying and threaten immediate scrubbing off course to anyone who was found guilty of such. But this was authorised! And, so, we made the most of it.
Pilot error contributes to most aircraft crashes even these days and I have had my share of near misses caused by my own incompetence. This was one of them! Although the plan worked and I got to the bridge and away whilst the gunners were still running for their gun, I nearly crashed into the bridge.
One always needs a degree of height to recover from a stall turn because the plane has to pick up flying speed after the stall. I found myself squashing down towards the bridge, wondering if I was going to be able to pull out of the dive before hitting it and fearing that I wasn’t. The fellows on the ground showed a hesitation in their running which indicated that they too had their doubts. But, thankfully, I had control of the aircraft in time and managed to get away over the hill. But it was a low level attack and any bomb that was dropped would certainly have blown me up along with the bridge.
Me 3rd from left, front row – Ike Cohen with kitten – ‘Shortie’ 3rd left, top row – 1943
Formation flying was also a change from the routine and during the last weeks of the course we were sent up to practice this with a partner. First one would take the lead and the other would formate on him. Then the roles would change. The tighter the formation the more exciting the exercise and the greater the stress on the lead airman. He just flew his plane; the other had to make such adjustments as were needed to keep in position.
One learnt the skill of anticipation for there was always a brief time lag between making a throttle adjustment and seeing the results of it in relation to the relative positions of the aircraft. Put the throttle on to go forward and not take it off in time and you would overshoot him. Pull the throttle back to let him catch up and, again, not open it at the right time and he had gone too far ahead. Once the skill was mastered, the throttle was always being moved minutely and almost unconsciously. The locking screw was turned right back to facilitate its movement.
Some of the larrikins on course took advantage of these exercises to indulge in a little horse play. One aircraft would so position himself that his wing tip was immediately below the opposite wing tip of the lead aircraft. He would then put the stick right over to lift his wing suddenly. He would hit the wing tip of the other aircraft and flip him over on to his back, from which position the other would recover by diving or rolling out.
Of course the ground staff in due course reported dints in the metal tips of the wings and this prank was also vetoed.
I didn’t do it. The worse thing that could ever have happened to me was to be scrubbed off course. There was so much opportunity for adventure ahead that it was just plain silly to jeopardise that for the sake of some foolish high jinks now.
One man, however, who did put this manoeuvre to good use later in the war was an Australian Spitfire pilot named Ken Collier
(somewhere I had met up with him but I cannot now recall where or how). He was chasing a buzz-bomb
on the 23rd June 1944 and, failing to shoot it down with his guns, he did just what I have been talking about: tipped it over, upset its gyroscopes and caused it to crash into a field near East Grinstead.(See ‘Air Power over Europe’ – Hetherington p.174
“You guys are off to England”
’29 Course’ trainee pilots at No.5 SFTS Uranquinty c 1943
Eventually on the 8th April 1943 the big day came to receive our wings and to learn of our next posting. We formed up in two flights on the parade ground, shorts and shirt neatly pressed, shoes polished, brevet sitting just right on our heads and, when our name was called, marching smartly out to the Group Captain, coming to attention before him and subconsciously poking out the left breast to enable him to pin on the wings as he spoke a word of congratulation.
This was the culmination of nearly twelve months training and was not an insignificant achievement. Many would have liked to have been there, whose dreams were not fulfilled. But ours were. All that remained now was to fulfil the next cherished hope: that of going to England.
The formal part of the parade being over, the order was given to assemble in different parts of the parade ground as our names were called. Of the 58 men who had commenced the course, fourteen of us found ourselves standing in a group. I noted with joy that Tudberry and Thomas were in the group but I had some apprehension when I saw that some of the better trainees (without anything being said, one gets to recognise that some do excel) were not amongst us.
Then the sergeant who was standing with us dropped the word:”You guys are off to England,” and our cup was full and running over.
To be continued ….
People Identified in the Picasa Slideshow
“29-Course” Training #1 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943 – in front of the Wirraway Engine:
On top of the engine from the top down and from left to right: S.J.Murphy, J.R. (Jimmy) Preston G.L. (Dinghy) Heath L.N.Pryor, P.R. (Phil) Thomas
Standing on the wing to left of engine: B.A (Bruce) Woods
Standing on wing to right of engine: G.N.Ninness, C.J.(Cyril) Covill, L.C.(Lloyd) Taylor, P.J. Lambert
Sitting on wing beneath the above group: (unknown), G.B.McCosker
Standing in front of the engine left to right: R.C Turvey and Flight/Sergeant Bull in the centre is the only one I can be sure of.
Sitting down in the front: E.K.Ferguson, W.F. (Billy) Rattle, D.D Adams
“29-Course” Training #2 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
back row: A.J. (Shorty) Fleming is third from the left in ; G.L.(Dinghy) Heath is right on back row. These are the only two I am sure of.
Centre row: R.E.(Ike) Cohen is on the left. 4th from left is K.K.Groves and next to him A.L Jessup.
Front row left to right: W.R Mason, D.D.Adams, A.H. Baskerville, and E.K.(Fergy) Ferguson is on extreme right.
“29-Course” Training #3 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
Back row from left to right: J.H (Joe) Bridgett, L. (Laurie) Heath, A.D. Rose, B.W. (Bruce) Maskey
Centre Row: L.G. (Nelson) Eddy
Front row from left to right: R.J. Lambert, H.C. Bentley, G.B. Armstrong.
“29-Course” Training #4 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
Back row of photo from left to right: J.H. Bridgett, A.L. Jessup, W.R. Mason, J. Tudberry
Front row from left to right: A.H. Baskerville, A.W. Liggins, L.G. Eddy
“29-Course” Training #5 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
On the wing: G.B. Armstrong, R.J. Chivers
“29-Course” Training #6 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
Top: Third from left J.L. Williams and next to him S.S.Ward
Bottom: 2nd from left A.J. Flemming, L. Heath, A.D. Rose
“29-Course” Training #7 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
Back row: R.R. (Price) Thomas, D.T. (Doc) Simpson
Centre row: Far right J. (Jim) Tudberry
Front Row: S.S. Ward and J.R. (Jimmy) Preston 2nd in from right
“29-Course” Training #8 – RAAF No.5 SFTS Uranquinty 1943
Back row: 2nd from left L.G. (Lloyd) Taylor
Centre row: B.A. (Bruce) Woods, G.B. McCosker, with J.L. (Bluey) Williams, and S.J. (Murph) Murphy on far right.
Front row: Third in from the right L.N. Pryor and next to his left W.F. (Bill) Rattle.
Note: If a reader has further information about the identity of people in this photo, kindly leave a comment at the end of this Knol.