The Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm

HMS Bulwark 1958

NAM 1 A/E Jim Cowell

849 Squadron, 'D' Flight

AEW.1 (AD-4W)

The arrestor wires can be seen across the deck. Counting from aft, the aim is to hook onto number 3. This Guppy looks as if it will catch number 2. Once down it must quickly be unhooked, the hook stowed ( a manual operation on these) and the 'plane taxied to the parking area. There's another in the circuit which can be seen coming in the distance. The round painted area just in front of the Skyraider is the aft lift (elevator) used to move aircraft between the flight deck and the hangar deck.

Down safely and free of the wire. The mechanics have stowed the hook and checked the tail wheel locking pin is now disengaged. Meanwhile the pilot waits to receive clearance to taxi or, if he is last one down, to leave it there and let the ground crew park it with a tractor. The letter "B" on the vertical tail signifies that this Skyraider is assigned to HMS Bulwark.

The jets have been catapulted and gone leaving the humble Guppies to make a free take off along the deck. A catapult launch of a Skyraider was rare and then only done to give an aircrew the 'feel'. The forward lift is visible as is the beginning of the Angle Deck.

 Skyraider with your pregnant look,
I read you like an open book.
One day, when letters you have brought
And on the deck you are safely caught,
You will collapse with labour pain,
Producing infant aeroplane.


An idle moment between flying operations and taken advantage of by the maintenance crew to get their overalls and headgear off to cool down a little. The Guppies were always parked at the aft end of the flight deck ready for 'instant' launch.

It's almost the end of the voyage and the ship is in the English Channel on it's way to Portsmouth. On the way past Lands End, the aircraft will leave the ship for the very last time to return to their Headquarters and home base in Cornwall. The maintenance crews will follow after the ship docks about two days later. The comments on the radome are just a bit of humour to be read by the HQ receiving crew when the Guppies arrive. 'Oggieland' is a term of endearment applied by RN sailors to The West Country of England; especially Cornwall and Devon. The term is derived from 'oggie' which is a colloquial name for a Cornish pasty.

In addition to their prime role of 'flying radar stations', the Guppies undertook numerous other 'fetch and carry' tasks. Foremost among these was the delivery and collection of mail. The comic comment chalked on the radome was to advise all and sundry of the ship's crew that this was to be the very last flight ashore with mail.It wasn't known then but it was also to be the very last fixed wing flight from Bulwark's deck. After arriving at Portsmouth she went into refit and was converted to become the world's first Commando Carrier and from then on flew only helicopters.

Always a precarious undertaking requiring extreme flying skills and nerves of steel. I watched a young pilot do his first 'real' approaches to land in a Guppy on deck and after six wave offs he was told to forget it and go back to HQ. He was determined. With his final opportunity he cut his engine as he crossed the stern and dropped the Guppy on the deck from at least 15 feet high. It survived, so did he and he went on to hone his skills sufficiently to skim in, day or night, like a stone kissing water.

The officers and men of 849 Squadron, D Flight on HMS Bulwark, 1958

This poem says it all. Some things never change!

(This poem was penned by 'The Boss', Lieut. Cdr. P.G.W. Morris.)


The reference to the ship getting a clout is significant. On our outward bound voyage down through the Red Sea, an Arab dhow, showing no lights and loaded with pilgrims on their way to Mecca, collided with us in the middle of the night. Fortunately, little damage was done to either vessel.

849 Sqd, 'D' Flight's entry in the HMS Bulwark Cruise Book

Additional Guppy/HMS Bulwark Notes

HMS Bulwark's 1958 Cruise Map (269k)

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