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Authors: Gill Griffin

A Very Unusual Air War (31 page)

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5 May
: When the Typhoon first went into Squadron service it suffered from engine trouble due, I believe, to air locks in the fuel system. On the first flight, when the engine coughed after take-off, I decided that a quick emergency landing was called for. We deliberately flew the Typhoon under varying conditions, in an attempt to reproduce the engine cutting that was worrying the squadron pilots. Needless to say, on these flights we stayed close to the airfield so that if one of us succeeded in producing an engine cut, a ‘dead stick' landing could be made. It did not happen to me but one of the other pilots managed to get an engine cut at 6,000 feet over the airfield and successfully made a forced landing.

7 May
: Spitfire Vb. This was the start of our experiments to develop methods of using fighters as bombers.

14 May
: In these early days of using fighters for bombing, we were trying to develop techniques for accuracy as well as the best method. The safety of the pilot had to be considered, bearing in mind the murderous accuracy of German low-level flak.

15 May
: At first bombing was a novelty but after a time I came to hate it; but our work was necessary. We first had to ascertain exactly what the Spitfire could carry, starting off with a single 250 lb. bomb, then one under each wing. Getting more ambitious, a single 500 lb. bomb was successfully carried under the centre section and finally the 500 pounder, plus a 250 lb. under each wing.

After November 1942, when General Montgomery, leading the 8th Army, drove the Germans out of North Africa following the battle of El Alamein, enemy fighter opposition was almost eliminated. From then on almost all Allied fighters were used more and more for ground attack.

This operational scramble was meant to be an attempt to intercept one of the high-flying JU 86s. These aircraft had been developed by the Germans for PRU operations; they had pressure cabins and although somewhat slow, could accelerate quickly in a dive, so were very difficult to catch. Shortly after take-off, I discovered that I had lost my radio and could not receive instructions from control. I had no alternative but to return to base and land. It was found that the radio connection had not been fully tightened and vibration caused it to fall off. It was one of two occasions when I had to put a ground staff member on a charge. In this instance the fitter (radio) was charged with carelessness and severely admonished, which went on his records. I was particularly upset as I had been scrambled early and stood a real chance of achieving an interception and adding to my score.

18 May
: On 16th May I was given four days leave to take Estelle back to her family home in Redditch as our baby was due any day. On the morning of the 18th she was given a routine examination by her midwife, Mrs Gwen Jefferies, who switched to panic stations saying, ‘No way can she have this baby; she is too small!' She called in the doctor, who agreed. Estelle was given an emergency admission to the Smallwood Hospital in Redditch, seen by Sir Beckwith Whitehouse, an eminent surgeon and immediately prepared for a caesarean section operation. The operation was successfully performed that evening, so Gill was born and, as is recorded in my logbook, I became a ‘father of one'.

At that time caesarean operations were still fairly rare and very much an emergency situation. Things did not go well for Estelle. There were no antibiotics and penicillin was not readily available for civilians. She remained in Smallwood Hospital, seriously ill, for three weeks, followed by a further week in bed at her mother's home in Redditch, which was not a good place to be as the house was cold and inclined to be damp. Despite protests from her mother, I took Estelle and baby Gill to Poletrees Farm where, for the next two weeks, they were cared for by my sister Gwen and my mother. The baby had to be bottle-fed and I often
wondered whether the same bottle was used to feed the motherless lambs! It was nearly two months before Estelle came back to me at Easton.

Meanwhile, bearing in mind the Walkers' doubts about a new baby in the house, I had been scouring the neighbourhood for alternative accommodation. I had eventually found rooms some eight or ten miles from the airfield and informed Mr and Mrs Walker accordingly. They were taken aback and explained that their comments were only a passing concern; they really liked having Estelle and me and were sure there would be no baby problems. Good! So we stayed on at Chain Cottage. The new cot was installed on Estelle's side of the bed. Baby Gill was always as good as gold; she and the Walkers took to one another on sight.

21 May
: To Worthy Down. This was a well-earned promotion to Wing Commander for Squadron Leader Smith, though we said a sad farewell to Wing Commander Campbell-Orde.

25 May
: F/Lt (later Squadron Leader) Joce was the Unit Armaments Officer, having taken over from Squadron Leader John Hobhouse (the Hon. John Hobhouse). Squadron Leader Joce was a short, thickset man, usually known as ‘Sawn off'.

These bombing tests were from straight and level flight; although very inaccurate, it was wrongly believed to be safer for the pilot. In a later flight, S/Ldr Tom Wade and I proved that there was no danger in releasing a bomb in a steep dive. There was more satisfaction in dropping live bombs and seeing the explosion on impact. Nine flights today. Is this a record? I believe it was for me, but we shall see!

28 May
: It is obvious that we were still spending a lot of time at Duxford. The AFDU maintenance section continued to function for some time in No. 2 hangar, which also housed some of the offices. The boffins technical section, which was shared by NAFDU, were still there. Many years later in the making of the film
The Battle of Britain
, No. 2 hangar was made the main target of the Luftwaffe bombing and was completely destroyed; only the outline foundations can still be seen.

29 May
: Dive bombing in a Tiffie was not, in my opinion, very much fun; the aircraft picked up speed quickly in a dive and there were a number of fatal accidents in training and on operations through leaving the pull-out too late.

30 May
: During the next few weeks, while Estelle was in hospital back in Redditch, I moved back into the Duxford Officers' Mess and spent a lot of time with ‘Susie'. He was good company, played a good game of snooker and usually beat me. His stock of service songs and stories was unbelievable. He had a number of female friends in the locality and on one occasion attempted to lead me into temptation. I rashly agreed to make up a foursome when we were invited for the evening at one lady's house, somewhere over towards Peterborough. I spent the evening in the lounge writing a letter to Estelle.

The unit maintenance staff had learned about our expected happy event, so one
day the Flight Sergeant Fitter (A), the A stands for ‘Airframes', who was a skilled carpenter, invited me into his section for a chat. He asked whether we had a cot for the expected new baby. I said no, we were intending to buy a ‘utility'. He said he would make one for us and the maintenance staff would like to give it as a present. Of course I jumped at the offer, as utility furniture was pretty poor stuff. The new handcrafted cot was magnificent and was duly installed at Chain Cottage. It was beautifully made; even the metal fittings were hand-made in the station workshops. When, in 1945, the unit moved to Tangmere and we took up residence in the seaside village of Bracklesham Bay, it moved with us. When Gill had outgrown it, the cot went into storage to be brought out when Penny arrived in 1948. We eventually gave it to one of the office girls at Black and Luff, the Birmingham company of which I was a Director, in 1957 or '58. I like to think that somewhere in her family it is still in use. In a letter I found among Estelle's memorabilia and dated June 1st 1943 I had written: ‘F/Sergeant Bennett is getting on nicely with the new cot for the baby; he is a damn good chap and is making a splendid job of it.'

Summary for:- May 1943
1 Spitfire II & Vb
13–15
Unit:- AFDU Duxford
2 Spitfire IX
6–20
Date:- 2/6/43
3 Spitfire XII
5–35
Signature:- H.L. Thorne
4 Typhoon
2–45
 
5 Mustang X
2–20
 
6 Tiger Moth
−55
 
7 Heston Phoenix
6–35
 
8 Boston
−30

Total for the month: 37 hours 45 minutes

Signed
J.L. Hallowe

O/C Flying AFDU

YEAR
1943
AIRCRAFT
Pilot or 1st Pilot
2nd Pilot, Pupil or Pass.
DUTY (Including Results and Remarks)
Flying Time
Passenger
MONTH
DATE
Type
No.
Dual
Solo
June
1st
Phoenix
?
Self
F/Lt Joce
To Manby
 
−35
 
 
 
Spitfire XII
EN223
Self
 
Bombing
 
−35
 
 
 
Spitfire IX
AF10
Self
 
Bombing
 
−45
 
 
 
Spitfire IX
AF10
Self
 
Bombing
 
−40
 
 
 
Phoenix
?
Self
F/Sgt Rudman, F/Lt Joce
To base
 
−50
 
 
2nd
Typhoon
DN622
Self
 
Low-level bombing
 
−35
 
4th
Typhoon
DN622
Self
 
Low-level bombing
 
−30
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AUJ
Self
 
Test curved windscreen
 
−40
 
 
 
Spitfire XII
EN222
Self
 
Aileron test
 
−15
 
 
 
Spitfire XII
EN223
Self
 
Engine cutting test
 
−30
 
 
 
Tiger Moth
AF1
Self
 
To Westcott
 
1–00
 
 
5th
Tiger Moth
AF1
Self
 
Westcott to Hockley Heath
 
1–15
 
 
7th
Tiger Moth
AF1
Self
 
To base
 
−50
 
 
 
Mustang 1A
FD442
Self
 
Camouflage test
 
−50
 
 
10th
Spitfire XII
EN223
Self
 
Engine cutting at Positive G
 
−25
 
 
11th
Spitfire XII
EN223
Self
 
Air test
 
−15
 
 
12th
Spitfire Vb
AU-J
Self
 
Air firing
 
−55
 
 
 
Typhoon
DN290
Self
 
To Manby
 
−35
 
 
 
Typhoon
DN290
Self
 
Bombing
 
−50
 
 
 
Typhoon
DN622
Self
 
Bombing
 
−45
 
 
 
Typhoon
DN622
Self
 
To base
 
−40
 
 
15th
Hurricane IV
KX581
Self
 
Low flying VP attacks
 
−55
 
 
16th
Hurricane IV
KX581
Self
 
Low flying VP attacks
 
−50
 
 
 
Hurricane IV
KX581
Self
 
Low flying live VP practice
 
−45
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF6
Self
 
Night flying test
 
−15
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF6
Self
 
Local
 
−10
 
 
17th
Mustang
AM107
Self
 
Speed runs
 
−40
 
 
19th
Spitfire Vb
AU-J
Self
 
Air test
 
−10
 
 
 
Spitfire XII
EN222
Self
 
Low flying attacks on a Mosquito
 
−35
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF6
Self
 
Night flying test
 
−35
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF6
Self
 
Local flying
 
−40
 
 
20th
Spitfire Vb
AF9
Self
 
Air test
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF8
Self
 
To Lichfield
 
−25
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF8
Self
 
To Castle Bromwich
 
−10
 
 
22nd
Spitfire Vb
AF8
Self
 
To base
 
−25
 
 
Typhoon
EK290
Self
 
High speed dive bombing
 
−55
 
 
 
Spitfire IX
AF10
Self
 
Engine test
 
−25
 
 
23rd
Typhoon
EK290
Self
 
High speed dive bombing
 
−40
 
 
24th
Spitfire IX
AF10
Self
 
Army co-operation
 
1–40
 
 
25th
Spitfire Vb
AF8
Self
 
Cine gun
 
−30
 
 
 
Spitfire Vb
AF8
Self
 
Target
 
−30
 
 
26th
Spitfire XII
EN222
Self
 
Acting as target
 
−20
 
 
27th
Heston Phoenix
2891
Self
 
To Church Fenton
 
1–05
 
 
 
Phoenix
2891
Self
 
To base
 
1–05
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
GRAND TOTAL TO DATE 798 hours 15 minutes
3–30
9–15
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
60–00
725–30
12–45

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