849 SQUADRON, D FLIGHT has an establishment of four [AEW.1] Skyraiders. We are one part of the 849th Empire based at R.N.A.S., Culdrose. At Culdrose, the Headquarters Flight is responsible for the training of new observers and pilots, general policy and tactics, and administration of the front-line flights. Four flights, "A," "B," "C" and "D," are attached to operational carriers and divide their time between Culdrose and their respective ships.
We, in Bulwark, have five crews of a pilot and two observers each, and a maintenance team of thirty-seven ratings led by C.A.A. Yeatman. Our maintenance ratings are fairly equally divided between A and E and L and R, our numbers being completed by four officers' stewards, three aircraft handlers, one cook and one safety equipment rating. It will be noted that we carry no technical officers, and therefore an added responsibility falls on the shoulders of the senior ratings of the flight.
When our Skyraiders are operating, we are in effect a radar station in the air. The need for such a plane arose in the Pacific campaign against the Japanese. The detection range of the ship's radar against very low-flying Kamikaze aircraft did not give enough warning for effective defence, and the need for an airborne radar set looking downwards was realised. These sets have been fitted in several types of aircraft, but it was in the Skyraider version that the equipment was given to the Royal Navy under the American Mutual Defense Aid programme.
The roles of the Skyraider in Bulwark are many and varied. Our primary function is guarding against low-flying attackers and shadowers, and in this role we either report contacts to base or control a friendly fighter to deal with the threat ourselves. However, a good piece of equipment will be found to perform many tasks, and the Skyraider is no exception to this rule. We can hunt for submarines, direct strikes, search wide expanses of ocean for enemy shipping in a very short time; and if mail is to be carried, compassionate cases to be flown ashore, liaison officers to be transferred, F.O.A.Cs. delivered, ninety-nine times in a hundred we get the job. In the view of many people in the ship our really important task is the dispatch and collection of mail from shore side air fields. Do not think we mind getting the mail in the least-we get our own as well. Sometimes, however, there is a slip in the drill and a deserving pilot's mate who has worked late to get his aircraft ashore gets nothing in return.
It must be admitted that the "Wells Fargo and Anyface Airline" activities have often meant our getting into a port on the visiting list a little ahead of the ship. The extra run ashore makes a splendid break for the crews. One most notable piece of Skyraider "perks" occurred when we landed two aircraft at Grand Turk Island, to the north-east of Trinidad. The party had a splendid reception from the Administrator, a tour of the island, a swim and a glorious lobster lunch. We also bought several sets of new issue stamps from the islands. These were soon snapped up by the philatelists on our return to the ship.
During the cruise we have taken part in many fly pasts. The jets scream past, the choppers chop past and we bumble past as best we can. At the more remote places the fly past is a major event for the locals. They will clear lower deck for the show. However, the more up-to-date the community, the less they are interested in noisy planes, and would rather we allowed baby to sleep and did not frighten grandma.
While we were in the West Indies a flight ban yan team landed for an overnight stay on Bequia. We set up camp on a beach of our choice and, after ensuring we were clear of the dreaded manchineel trees, settled in. Fire lighting and cooking arrangements were in the hands of Petty Officer Willmott, who made an ace job of it. The day was spent swimming, sleeping and eating; there were also some wild almonds growing on the beach for the more adventurous stomachs.
At night we settled down on the sand, on Lilos or on camp beds, depending on taste, and slept, lulled by the waves and the stirring of the trees. However, we didn't sleep for long. At about 0200 there was a minor disaster. The tide crept in and a large roller suddenly swamped us all, extinguishing the fire and scattering our possessions all over the beach. Luckily the night was warm and we soon lit another fire, dried ourselves out, and went back to sleep.
Next morning saw us setting out on a route march over the hills back to the landing jetty. We envied the chopper squadron their free lifts. On arrival at the little village, a couple of chaps who had bought bunches of bananas the previous evening were told that they were stolen property and, in the interest of good public relations, we let them go at a complete loss.
In Gibraltar those of us who could get across the border renewed acquaintance with "Dick" in La Linea, and checked out at one or other of the bullfights on Easter Sunday afternoon.
Off Singapore we were embroiled in a SEATO exercise, during which we did a little cross operating in U.S.S. Philippine Sea. We were disappointed to find that she had no Skyraiders on board as we admit the possibility of scrounging stores had crossed our minds. Philippine Sea is an old-fashioned carrier with a straight deck, barriers and batsmen. As two of the four pilots who landed on her had not seen a batsman in action before we decided to use our usual technique and have the batsman available to "wave off" anything that looked "hairy." We flew around for a good look at her, then landed on, making three touch and goes and one arrested landing. After being arrested we taxied forward out of the wires and took off with plenty of room to spare. Of course, the barriers were down and the deck was clear.
While we were on the Philippine Sea, their S2Fs were making passes at Bulwark and doing some catapult shots. They took longer to finish than we did, partly due to an S2F which was catapulted a little too enthusiastically, trying to get Bulwark airborne on the end of the catapult strop. The shuttle pulled out, proving conclusively that ships, like pigs, were not intended to fly.
In the same exercise, one Skyraider, piloted by Sub-Lieut. Hack, R.N., landed on H.M.A.S. Melbourne quite intentionally at the end of a sortie. When the aircraft arrived back in Bulwark she had "R.A.N. Mod. Skyraider One" carried out. A yellow kangaroo was stencilled neatly in the centre of each fuselage roundel. They looked so splendid we left them there. Alterations and additions were made to the kangaroos on an Australian helicopter that landed on us for a day, so honours could be considered even.
The hospitality we received in our cruise has been wonderful. The West Indian was great. Apart from other highlights, our senior rates seemed to get well dug in at the Army base of Up Park Camp in Kingston, Jamaica, largely as a result of Petty Officer Hobbs going ashore in the advance Skyraiders.
After getting our knees brown in the West Indies and getting rained on in Bermuda, we made a quick dash north to see our Canadian cousins at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The warmth of our welcome from Bonaventure and Shearwater more than balanced the semi-blizzard conditions we met there.
At Hong Kong and Singapore the chaps really got down to the rabbit-buying business. Teak chests and tea-sets galore have made their way over the side and disappeared below. I am sure we will have to carry less fuel on our way home or we will sink. I hear that several people who have not been out East before have been having treatment in the Sick Bay for bulging eyeballs after ogling the Chinese dress styles on the Star Ferry.
The Flight has played its full part in the ship's sporting life. Deck hockey and volley ball games are in great demand at sea. We have been unlucky with our shore side sporting fixtures. All too often at Gibraltar and other places the grounds have been declared unfit. We had one soccer game at Bermuda and a trial game at Hong Kong which showed some hidden talent in the Flight. We hope for better luck later on.
One aircraft during the Hong Kong visit was put ashore at Kai Tak, and resided in the hangar of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. These chaps must have heard about our kangaroo, because this aircraft came back with the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force red dragon painted in the "D" on the engine cowling. The dragon has now been officially adopted as the Flight badge and is being reproduced on all aircraft.
The working side of life has been going very well. We are operating the same four aircraft with which we joined the ship, and piously hope to take the same four back to Culdrose at the end of our cruise. We have avoided having any accidents so far and when serviceability troubles cut down our flying it was unserviceable pilots to be blamed. Around our time at Manila, Flight Lieut. Oliver had a fever, Lieut. Lucas had severe ear trouble, and the C.O. had a poisoned foot. Whilst on the subject of illness, we must commiserate with our senior observer, Lieut. Purchase, who was sent ashore at Singapore with appendicitis and missed the run to Manila and Hong Kong.
When we left Hong Kong, it could be said that we were on our way home, but what a galaxy of places we still had to visit: Singapore, Trincomalee, Mombasa, Diego Suarez, Durban, Capetown, Accra, Freetown and Gibraltar. Who knows where we will say was the best run ashore when we get back to U.K. Of course, if you listened to the buzzes, the above list was by no means the final answer. Who is to say what the future holds? But that is half the fun of life if it doesn't get you down.