Issue 4, Summer 2004


Newsletter of the 14 Squadron Association

Mike Napier

The Continued Adventures of a Sprog Mosquito Pilot...

Mike Levy

The Squadron regularly took part in UK defence exercises, attacking UK targets, frequently airfields, by day and night. Medium-level attacks were not particularly interesting as the Squadron felt that these simply provided interception exercises for the Meteors, Vampires and Spitfires, which tended to have considerable advantage in performance over our Mosquitoes at such heights. We preferred low-level attacks, particularly if these were against the defending fighters' own airfields! In the 1940s there were no AEW aircraft and ground radars did not seem to be able to pick up low-flying attackers in time to vector fighters onto them. The fighters had to mount standing patrols, hoping to intercept by visual sighting by themselves or the Royal Observer Corps.

A typical attack was on 5th September 1948, a Sunday during Exercise Dagger. The target was Horsham St Faith, near Norwich, a Meteor fighter base. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as six 14 Squadron Mosquitoes took off to fly in two vic formations led by the Wahn Station Commander. Flying almost a direct route we were not intercepted before we arrived at Horsham on the deck. The Meteor wing had just landed from an interception as we swept over, bomb doors open, dropping our weapons. Our weapons were Government Property toilet rolls which our groundcrew had painstakingly unrolled, inscribed with rude messages for the fighter groundcrew, re-rolled and suspended from our bomb racks. Many of these weapons were posted back to us with further rude messages written by the Meteor groundcrews!

One Meteor was still airborne in the circuit and this promptly attacked the Mosquito leader. As we crossed the airfield we took low-level rear-view oblique photos of the hangars, fighters being refuelled and their pilots queuing at the NAAFI van. Instead of exiting quickly back across the coast, we routed across the Wash to Skegness before turning out over the North Sea. As we continued over East Anglia, the refuelled Meteors took off in hot pursuit!

We arrived over Skegness still on the deck. I was flying No2 in the second vic. My leader, John Stead, who was my Flight Commander and an ex-wartime pathfinder pilot, hugged the road along the promenade. No3 was weaving between the Butlins helter-skelters and I was over the beach, lifting to clear the lamp-posts on the pier. Meanwhile a dozen or more Meteors were carrying out high quarter attacks on us. The place was packed as it was about 5pm on a warm September Sunday. That was in the days before low-flying complaints!

We cruised back to Wahn well pleased with our day's work when, surprise surprise we ran into thick mist which the met man had not forecast. The poor Station Commander who had been expecting a fair weather trip and was not in regular flying practice made twelve attempts to land at Wahn before diverting to Gutersloh. His No3 made it on the first attempt but No2 only got in on his eighth approach. Meanwhile John Stead had ordered our vic to break formation and hold over a decent landmark until the circuit was clearer. It turned out to be not such a good decision because of course all three of us chose the same excellent landmark, Cologne Cathedral! This became apparent after a couple of near-misses in the mist. Eventually the first vic had either landed or diverted and we were called in. As the Station Commander set course for Gutersloh, he ordered that we were to have not more than one attempt to land, and if we failed we were to be diverted. In fact all three of us landed off our first approaches. We achieved this by finding a factory at Portz on a bend on the Rhine, flying a known heading from there to the airfield and carrying out a timed circuit.

I used a similar technique on a subsequent occasion. John Stead and the Wahn Wing Commander Tech were members of a Court Martial near Gutersloh. Rather than make the tedious land journey back, they asked to be picked up by air. The Mosquito was designed for a crew of two, but at a pinch could take three. I took off solo in heavy rain and low cloud to collect my colleagues. Letting down on dead-reckoning I saw the autobahn south of Gutersloh with some difficulty and found my way into the airfield. I landed to find that my passengers had not arrived, so I hung around the control tower waiting. They didn't appear by the time dusk fell, so I took off alone to return to Wahn. This time I crossed the autobahn three times before I saw it, and having no aids other than the radio, I decided not to try crossing the hills which were in cloud. I therefore let down low over the autobahn and simply followed it back to Cologne, right through the Ruhr area. I learned that day that the autobahn is not as straight as it appears on the ground! Having tracked it in continuous turns between factory chimneys for what seemed hours, I eventually saw the Rhine, found Cologne and the factory at Portz. From there it was back into the old bad-weather approach routine and a successful landing off the first approach.

On 19th September 1949 all four Mosquito squadrons moved from Wahn to Celle, while the Spitfires of 2 Squadron redeployed to Wunsdorf. The Berlin Airlift was coming to an end and the US Air Force, who had been flying from Celle with C119s, moved back to the US Zone of Southern Germany. Within a month of arriving at Celle I started a series of cross-country flights along the corridors to Berlin from both Hamburg and Hanover. I believe that I had the honour of taking the first operational aircraft into Berlin after the airlift. At least the Wing Commander Flying at Gatow personally greeted my navigator and me and entertained us to coffee and sticky cakes in what had been the passenger reception buffet. We were besieged by bored passenger and freight handlers who had been left with nothing to do. We got permission to fly over the city as far as the Brandenberg Gate and were then invited to beat up the airfield before returning to Celle. I landed at Gatow on several occasions and later the Squadron sent two detachments of four aircraft to stay there over separate weekends.

It was interesting to look down on the Russian airfields in or near the air corridors. Many were stuffed full of WW2 fighters and ground attack aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip. I never saw one airborne; in fact the only Russian that I ever encountered in the air was a PO-2, a radial-engined biplane roughly comparable to the British Tiger Moth. It was, however, on return from one of my trips to Berlin that I managed to blow off the canopy escape hatch during a high-speed dive. This caused no end of speculation back at Celle as everyone assumed that I had been shot at by the Russians!

1950 was a year of formation flying and low-level bombing demonstrations. The Wing Commander Flying at Celle was Reggie Cox who was a superb leader and delighted in leading large formations. Typically these were of 17 aircraft: Reggie would fly his aircraft out on his own followed by boxes of four aircraft each from 4, 11, 14 and 98 Squadrons. The first Major even where this balbo appeared was the BAFO Air Display at Gutersloh on 20th June 1950, although for several weeks previously the formation had cruised around Germany, each trip lasting about three hours. Our contribution to the Air Display consisted of flypasts by the whole 17-ship formation followed by attacks against ground targets by each Squadron formation. 4 and 11 Squadrons carried out individual diving cannon attacks, while 14 and 9i8 dropped bombs low-level, still in our formations. As mentioned earlier, practice bombing was normally performed using 25lb smoke bombs, but in 1950 we received some new 60lb bombs for low level bombing demos. However, whoever sent them to us didn't send the instructions and we had no idea how to drop them safely. It seems incredible now, but we decided that the only way to find out was to do our own trials. On 10 June two aircraft took off for Nordhorn range to suck it and see. The leader was Oleof Bergh, a big husky South African who later achieved fame as the only RAF officer in the Korean War to survive being shot down and held in solitary confinement for 18 months. I flew line-astern behind him and we dropped four 60lb bombs each in formation, starting at 250 feet and reducing our height on each run. With instantaneous fuzing, the bombs exploded directly under the aircraft, the blast giving a strong jolt and the bang clearly being heard over the sound of the engines. In fact we returned unscathed, perhaps because of the marshy surface of the range. A few months later during a Demo at West Malling 98 Squadron damaged three out of four aircraft making the drop - perhaps they were a bit low or perhaps it was just a harder surface on the airfield! Incidentally they missed their target just as four of us from 14 Squadron had done just a few moments before! We used the 60lb bombs for the BAFO Air Display carrying four bombs in each of our four aircraft. All 16 bombs were dropped in one salvo and we obliterated the dummy factory which had been built on the Gutersloh airfield. 98 Squadron came in last, and I'm not sure what was left for them to aim at.



Information Wanted!

I get a surprisingly large number of requests for information about the squadron's history or former members of the unit. Some I can deal with on my own, thanks to the archives which Joe Lowder forwarded to me, and I am in regular contact with Joe for his help with others. This is one of the reasons why I am always happy to receive recollections/stories/photographs from your time with 14 Squadron. Here are another couple of requests for which I would appreciate help from members:

Anyone remember Carl Truman RAAF, who was killed flying a 14 Squadron Marauder on 15 Feb 1944? I believe he had previously flown Blenheims with the Squadron. His grandson is seeking information about him.

I've had a request from a Justin Lindquist for any photograph of F/O John McEntegart, who was killed flying a 14 Squadron Venom at Munsterlager in 1955 - can anyone help?


Some Words from the Secretary…

Many thanks to all who have written to or phoned me over the last few months since the last issue.

Peter Henry dropped me a line to tell me he was "downsizing" to a smaller house, but remaining in the Dartmouth area. He recalled fixing a bomb bay fuel tank problem by stuffing a verey light cartridge in the pipe (!) and has also sent me some fascinating photographs. Also kind enough to send me some superb photographs of Marauders was John Robertson. John has also sent me extracts from the recently published diary and letters of "Joe" Tait, who was navigator on Lantinga's crew; the extracts make interesting reading and I hope to include some in future issues of the Old Crusader. John reports that his days of overseas travel are pretty much over, largely because of the difficulty of getting insurance, but he and his wife are booked on an a 21 day aerial circumnavigation of Australia in September. Fellow Australian Colin Campbell has been in touch by e-mail, with some more background to the photographs which I published in the last issue. I am indebted to Bill Yates for chasing up former 14 Squadron Canberra B(I)8 personnel and for providing the excerpt from Air Clues about the 1967 AFCENT Tactical Weapons Meet. Thanks, too, to Jim Sewell for some fantastic photos of Canberras, including the one below.



Finally, I am sorry to report the passing of Norman Winfield, who died in 2002.


Mike Napier