Off to Scapa
“We sailed shortly after noon on Thursday, 4th May in company with HMS ROYALIST, STALKER and HUNTER, turning north through the Minches overnight, with a gale blowing and changing course frequently, arriving at Scapa Flow in the evening of 5th May. ( My log book records 1.05 hr flight on the 4th May and notes 'ran into aircraft ranged forward'. ) There is no mention in the Diary of the fact that throughout that uncomfortable night armourers were belting up ammunition in the 'rooms' welded on beneath the after end of the flight deck where every vibration of the ship was magnified! No mention either of the reason for this trip which was that it was thought that the German Battle cruisers, SCHARNHORST, GNEISENAU and PRINZ EUGEN might make a bid to get out of the Norwegian fjords into the North Atlantic, and we might be needed! On Sunday, 7 May we were ordered back to Bangor Bay!”
The aftermath of the crash on deck which damaged 5 parked aircraft and seriously injured Sub. Lt Gowan
“By 24 August we had finished our job and again withdrew to Maddalena. We had flown 226 sorties of which 120 had been bombing missions. Gowan was taken off the danger list on 28 August and having taken on more stores and some more aircraft we sailed for Alexandria on 29 August, sending the aircraft off to RNAS Dekheila on 2 September (My logbook 2 Sept 'Ship to Dekheila'). The Diary says each watch had a 48 hour leave early in September; I do not remember that. We rejoined the ship on 14 September and with ROYALIST, PURSUER, KHEDIVE, EMPEROR and BLACK PRINCE sailed for the Aegean Sea, where our main task was to prevent German withdrawal from the Greek islands and a subsidiary task was to refuel our escorting destroyers.”
“The Diary for 19 September records that 'Easy's bomb would not drop; he landed successfully with permission. No-one was to be seen on the deck at the time'. I remember this well. The rule was that if a bomb would not drop, after shaking the aircraft about to try to be rid of it, one then released the bomb carrier complete with bomb. If it still would not drop, one would not risk the ship by landing on, but either ditch in the sea or bale out over land. However Commander Flying gave permission for Easy to land on, and the ship's Company was made aware of the situation. It was fraught with danger. I was with my part of watch of armourers in the catwalk at port forward of the flight deck, all of us watching with great interest to see what happened. When Easy's plane touched down, the force of landing dislodged the bomb. While the plane caught an arrester wire and was safely stopped, the bomb sped ahead going straight for the Island superstructure. However it glanced off one of the barrier fittings which was about 2" above deck level, and was deflected directly towards my group at their action station. I have never seen half a dozen people disappear so quickly as they dived down a few steps and through to the gangway that crossed the ship under the flight deck. My thoughts were that if the bomb went off now none of us would be safe so I watched as it came to rest about 4 feet from the edge of the flight deck. The sequel to this was that the Ship's Armaments Officer came to defuse the bomb, but was trembling so much as he faced his task that he was brushed unceremoniously aside by one of 879's POs who did the job calmly and quickly.”
Flying Log entries for September 1944 and rough drat of the A25 accident report for the barrier crash on he 19th. Click to see larger versions
(My logbook 19th Sept Force Cover, Barrier prang on Landing A.25). Here is what I wrote in a pencil draft of the A25 report "On 19/9/44 whilst approaching HMS ATTACKER in Seafire L2C LR704 I received the 'come as you are' signal, on the final phase of the approach I received indication to go down. I obeyed this and again received the 'come as you are' signal. Over the round down I received the down signal. I closed the throttle gently at first but realising I was higher than usual I throttled right back, the a/c touched the deck three points, the arrester hook hit deck between two arrester wires and bounced up. The a/c rose from the deck about 4ft and the tail wheel fell off. Realising that it was too late to pick up an arrester wire I eased the control column forward heading the nose of the a/c for the first barrier. The barrier stopped the a/c which came to rest on the forward lift facing aft."
Whether it was referring to this crash or another, after WAC died, Basil Watson the ships padre remembered "I also see him getting out of his cockpit after that awful pancake landing forward of the barrier. I was told by the Captain that my place was at the side of the bar until I was sure that he was fit enough to go to bed. What an experience for him at 18.")
We sailed for Alex next day and after a week spent servicing the aircraft say our CO. Lt Cmdr Carlisle replaced by Bailey, and returned to the Aegean to continue our harassment of' the German withdrawal, which incidentally went under the name of Operation OUTING. We spent another week at Dekheila in early October with some practice strafing in the desert, and popped back to Alex in mid-October, but meantime carried out bombing and strafing missions in the islands and on the Greek mainland.
(My log book Oct 3 1944 TacR over Rhodes) "...we took off from H. M. S. ATTACKER at about 0400 hours in almost total darkness. The ship was positioned due west of Rhodes so we were heading due east and flying between two and five thousand feet, as we reached the island dawn was breaking and it was just light enough for us to search the harbour and coastline for any shipping movements...we had just circled Rhodes once when all hell was let loose from the Ack Ack guns, it took them ten or so minutes to wake up. No sooner had the bursts started when there was an ominous thud behind the cockpit of 293 followed by clouds of smoke and a foul smell of cordite. I thought I had been hit but later on landing it was discovered to be the detonator in my IFF set...." (My log book 4th October TacR over Melos - approached at 0 feet, severe accurate A/A)
We visited the islands of Khos and Mitylene, which had been liberated and the padre reminded us at Divisions on Sunday 29 October that St Paul had visited these islands, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
There was unrest on Mitylene where the people had been starving so we put a demonstration flight of' 8 aircraft over on 26 October. Lloyd, the last to land on caught the barrier and landed on top of 7 aircraft parked forward. Four were written off and the other three damaged. Two days earlier we had recorded our first prang in 190 deck landings! The people of Mitylene were not impressed with our show of strength so 4 aircraft were sent to bomb the town next day! At Khios we had seen at first hand what hunger really means. Boats from the island were hanging about the ship and when we ditched gash, including the remains of food which had lain in a large bin on the part after sponson all day, men and boys from the boats were diving into the sea to pick up scraps from our waste. Several of the ship's company were to be seen lowering chocolate and other things in buckets to the sailing boats. On one afternoon when we were allowed a short run ashore, the only currency we could use was cigarettes. Some of us collected a few large denomination notes - 100,000 drachmas and so on with which the Germans had flooded the occupied territories; they had no value of course except as curios.
We left Khios for Alex on 29 October, arriving at 1500 next day to hear that we were going home. We had flown 240 sorties between 16 September and 29 October and now no time was to be lost in getting home. In Malta on 3 November we book on 150 ratings for passage to the UK. We stayed only 4 hours in Gibraltar on 6 November and next day the skipper broadcast that we were to have 14 days leave on arrival at Devonport. There was a long swell as we crossed the Bay of' Biscay. We reached Devonport on the 10th November and went on leave that afternoon. It was recorded that 15 of our pilots were leaving us. This included me.
Perhaps as a result of a less than exemplary record in deck landings, I was posted to the Isle of Man where I flew missions for training radar operators. At first this flying was in the Chance Vought Corsairs which was pretty exciting but the pilots were all rather disappointed to be transferred to Grumman Wildcats (called Martlets by the RN). Here is an account of another crash: "You recalled in your letter to a friend our incident with the Martinet when a wheel fell off, that incident is burned in my mind and I've now looked up the log book and find that I had been using that aircraft several days before ferrying various bods to the mainland on leave. Vie actually took off together on that fateful morning of May the l0th 1945 at about 11.15 and as we neared take off on the north facing runway I felt a bit of a jerk underneath and only when we got air-born did I get a call from Andreas tower to say that my tail wheel had fallen off and I was to fly on to Ayr where a spare would await me. Aircraft was Number 655.
On entering the circuit 50 minutes
later at Ayr and attempting to land a whole series of Red Verey
lights were fired off and we were sent round again. We were then
instructed to fly low over the control tower with wheels down. A
frightened voice then came over the air informing us that it was not
our tail wheel that had fallen off, it was our Port main wheel, and
what were we going to do about it.
Tentatively I suggested I would do a wheels up on the grass, when the same frightened voice stated that he was Lt Cdr Mortimer and that I should bloody well know that in no circumstances should a radial engined aircraft be belly landed on grass as it would dig in and turn over, a fact I much doubted since the grass was very firm at this time.
I was then instructed to orbit until fuel was reduced and take my time doing a wheels up on Runway No 2. ( I think) . By this time literally hundreds of people appeared running across the aerodrome cars, bicycles, on foot, ambulances, fire wagons, crane etc and after circling for ten minutes or so I decided to do a long low dummy deck landing approach getting the speed down to the lowest possible, we slipped in very low over the hedge, the tail wheel touching the very near end of the runway, my aim was for the crane as a stopping point, strangely the aircraft without an undercarriage floated gently along dropping to about 50KPH indicated air speed and once the exhaust had touched the ground the craft only slid about ten or twelve feet before coming to rest, oil from the cooler which had bust went all over the hot exhausts and created a cloud of blue smoke but nothing worse. The crane literally had only to reverse a few feet and was able to lift the aircraft so that a new wheel could be fitted to the undercarriage and the aircraft towed away.
I had been most concerned about you Yong with a great big winch in the back and its l~ arm sticking down for the drogue wire which I thought would strike the ground and tear the rear half of the aeroplane off with you in it. My only suggestion to you at the time was to place your back against the bulkhead and face aft, or perhaps you do not remember.
When we had stopped and you had got out, that idiot Mortimer got up onto the port wing and leaned into the front cockpit shouting did you turn the fuel off before landing - as a matter of fact I had not in case I needed to go round again. He shouted at me you Bloody fool, don't you know you always have to turn the fuel off before crashing an aircraft turn it off now. Now get out and get in my car -- both of you...
We both got in his car and he drove us like a maniac to the control tower where we were debriefed made ~port and then were told to report to the medical officer for a check up. We were kept hanging around the control tower and by the time we got to the mess the bar was shut and lunch was off.
Flying Log entries for May 1945 showing the May 10th incident where the wheel fell of a Marine necessitating a belly landing.
Mortimer then sent for me and said I was not to leave the aerodrome
until the engineers report was completed and my A. 25 crash report,
he was off on leave and I was to report to Commander Flying and get
him to clear me. This of course meant staying overnight at Ayr for
which purposes I had no gear, no pyjamas, no washing gear, nothing
The following day I went to see the A E 0 and he said the aircraft would not be back in order for months and he was going to sign nothing until he had time to take 655 apart. The engine was probably a write off anyway since with a steel propeller the shaft would be distorted on striking the ground as would all the engine bearings.
I explained all this to Commander Flying who was a decent chap and signed me out the following day, and as there was a spare to take back to Andreas Lt Gunn the then Andreas C.O. who told me to fly it back.
Months later I was called in to see Lt Gunn who informed me that Mortimer had reported me for failing to get a clearance certificate of airworthiness for 655 before leaving Ayr and that I had thus 'Incurred their Lordships displeasure'.
A very unsatisfactory ending to what I pride myself as being one of
the best bits of 'recovery from unusual positions' I have ever
achieved in a lifetime or in my flying career and I am now grateful
for the contents of your letter to your friend."
William Anthony Clarke
14 March 1924 to 08 April 2001
Nobby Clarke photographe4d at the last squadron reunion in 1992.
He is proudly wearing an 'Iron Cross' -
“my mates presented me with this saying that it had come from General Galland of the Luftwaffe to congratulate me for writing off 6 Seafires deck landing which was more British Aircraft destroyed in the Med in 1944 than had been destroyed by the Luftwaffe”
† Privately published unofficial history 'The life and times of 879 Royal Naval Air Squadron' compiled by Eric Heald, this document has been used as a framework for passages relating to this squadron
Copyright © George Clarke 2014 & The Royal Navy Research Archive 2015