The Golden Age
WIWOLs Check In
Since the Lightning Mk 2 had been introduced into service with the Squadron five and a half years previously, several new marks of Lightning had been built. The first was the F3, which transformed the operational lethality in the only role so far allowed in having an improved radar and collision course Red Top missiles, as well as much more powerful Avon 301 engines and many other changes including a larger square topped fin. The T4 was a dual control side by side Mk 1A, which was used by the Operational Conversion Unit to train new pilots. One T4 was given to each Squadron for Instrument Rating and Standardisation use; as there was no dual control Mk 2, 92 Squadron had a T4. The T5 was a dual control Mk 3; and the Mk 6 was, as the makers put it, “the result of common sense finally creeping into the minds of the Air Staff”. With the Mk 6 BAC, as the company had become in 1960, were allowed to fit a proper fuel system, with roughly double the capacity of the earlier versions. One visible manifestation of this was the area ruled ventral bulge, housing six hundred gallons, which could also carry twin Aden guns or other stores and over wing pylons for twin two hundred and sixty gallon ferry tanks or force ejected retard bombs. The Mk 6 also, at last, got the improved wing that had been fitted to the second P1 in 1955. This wing had a kinked leading edge and broad tips with inset ailerons that gave better low speed lift and longer range, as well as opening out the high altitude buffet boundary.
While the Mk 3s were expensively modified to Mk 6 standard, BAC were also at last, in 1964, able to offer an exportable product (with additional racks for a four thousand pound load under the wing), and picked up the Nation’s biggest single export sale at the time of F53 and T55 Lightnings to Saudi Arabia (which led to a further mighty BAC assistance deal in 1972 – 73). Kuwait bought a smaller number and a South American country put in a massive order but a change of government in Great Britain brought about a new policy, which stopped all future development and export of the Lightning. The South American country and several smaller countries in South America took their orders to France and bought two hundred Dassault Breguet Mirages instead.
The Government also stopped any further conversion of Mk 3s into Mk 6s and at one stage work on this conversion was still continuing at one end of the hangar, while at the other end the Mk 6s were being converted back into Mk 3s. While the country was burning money on this lucrative project the Squadrons in England were doing quite well at burning the Mk 3s, 5s and 6s in the air. The hydraulic and fueldraulic systems produced a worse accident rate than the German Air Force achieved with the Starfighter and the Dogger Bank became known as the standard Lightning Crash Diversion. In comparison the Mk 2 was a miracle, not one was ever lost. However, they were becoming old and extensive modification was necessary if they were to remain in service. Plans were available to convert them into the Mk 7, which would have had a modern Doppler radar, more powerful and more economic engines and more missiles than the Mk 6, which was still only fitted with two. Of course, this was never approved and the RAF had to settle for a compromise which, for political reasons, could not be called the Mk 7 and so was simply called the Mk 2A because the original Mk 2 airframes were utilised.
The Mk 2A was given the large ventral tank similar to the Mk 6 but had no provision for any guns in the forward section of the tank. It was given the improved wing but no overwing pylons for ferry tanks or other stores. It was given the Avon 211 engines which were more powerful than the Mk 2 engines but not as powerful as the Avon 300 series. It had to make do with the original AI 23 radar, Firestreak missiles and the original Pilot Attack Sight all of which were obsolete years before and although the Auto pilot control panel from the Mk 6 found its way into the Mk 2A cockpit the Auto pilot functions were not all connected up and never were. The original Mk 2s had suffered from fuel leaks just like all the other marks and the makers had come out with a plan to seal the fuel where it was leaking into the wings and the main backbone of the aircraft, with a compound known as PRC.
The enormous wiring looms, six inches thick, which passed through this sealed fuel filled compartment could not be replaced without great difficulty. There was no money to pay for a new wiring system so the old wires had to remain and those that had not rotted away had to be used. But one or two merits of the old Mk 2s were retained in the new aircraft; notably the absence of hydraulic failure and fire in the air which meant that a Mk 2A was never been lost through technical failure. This meant that the two squadrons flying Mk 2As from Gütersloh (19 and 92) always had as many aircraft as SACEUR’s rules said we should and due to the aircraft’s outstanding performance and reaction time the short comings of the weapons system did not prevent the Lightning from remaining the best aircraft at the job right up to the end of its life.
The Mk 2s were displayed to the public one last time by Jerry Bowler’s final aerobatics display at Werdohl and Chris Bruce’s performance demonstration at Mosenberg. The tourex pilots, Jerry Bowler and John Rooum and the engineering officer Chris Greaves left and several new faces appeared. The first two arrivals were Jack Glass and Dave Matthewson. The party season started again in mid December and the Squadron were excellently entertained at the homes of Rick Rhodes, Pete Chapman, John Spencer and John Wolff.
The squadron moved to RAF Gütersloh on 1 January 1968 and more new pilots were posted in. Rick Peacock-Edwards arrived at the beginning of Feb 68 followed by Paddy Pyper and Jim Watson, then Euan Black and Derek Lloyd, followed by Dave Moss and Mike Johnson then Flight Lieutenants John Spencer and Derek Harvey.
The Mk 2As proved to be so much more successful on Battle Flight scrambles due to their increased range and endurance. There were on average three Battle Flight operational scrambles per month, the details of which were still secret when this history was written, and many training scrambles, usually two per day. The training scrambles were usually for a border patrol, often at high level, to keep ‘Ivan’ company, as he was doing the same thing a few miles to the East. The advent of the 2A also meant that low-level border patrols could be flown and the pilot could still log an hour in his logbook. The task, known as the SD98, of 324 hours was achieved in January 1968 for the first time since the Squadron came to Germany, which gave a good excuse for a ‘Beer Call’ with the Airmen.
The next few weeks held a continuous tale of disaster for the pilots who were selected to do the Winter Survival Course at Bad Kohlgrub in Bavaria. The Winter Survival School offered one place to each Squadron in Germany on five courses throughout the winter and is an excellent opportunity to learn to ski. Pilots were sent on the course during their first winter in Germany and by the end of their tour most ended up lashing out money on expensive equipment and skiing holidays. In 1969 out of the five people chosen to attend the course one lasted the full time, two retired hurt and two failed to start.
A Squadron Dinner was held at the end of February to welcome new Squadron members including Euan and Jill Black and Derek (later nick-named Furry) and Janie Lloyd. The guests that evening included Flight Lieutenant and Mrs Mike Lawrance. Mike was to return to the Squadron six years later as a Flight Commander. Drinking and stamping continued until the early hours when Jack Glass was heard to say that he had consumed eight Carlsbergs, five glasses of wine and thirty seven Bacardi and Cokes (someone found him two days later still asleep on the patio).
It was with great regret, the following week, that the Squadron heard of Jerry Bowler’s tragic death in an aircraft accident with the ‘Red Arrows’. He had only just finished the CFS Flying Instructor’s Course prior to joining the Aerobatic Team. Jack Glass and Rick Peacock-Edwards represented the Squadron at his funeral.
On a lighter note Graham Prichard, Paddy Pyper and Jim Watson set out on an expedition to Copenhagen. After six hours driving in Graham’s new Lancia Fulvia they arrived at the Danish border and presented their identity cards but the guard was not satisfied. He asked for their NATO Travel Orders which unfortunately only two of the party had. After an hour’s arguing and still no nearer Copenhagen they left to try the next border post where they were initially welcomed with open arms. However, the news had been passed on and after another hour they still weren’t through. In desperation and still in Germany, they left for another small border post ten miles west and put Jim into the boot, covering him with cases and clothes. At the border all seemed to be in order and they thought they were through until the Danish guard said that no military personnel were allowed through that point. The Lancia boot was rather small and the guards kept them there for about an hour, wandering round and round the car while their boss was making enquiries. Graham was terrified that poor Jim had suffocated in the boot so, discretion being the better part of valour, they set off back towards Hamburg for the night. All would have been alright but the only room they could find was a double.
The next event in the calendar was the 1969 Air Defence Competition in March, once again held at Beauvechain. All the attacks went well and the radar sets all worked perfectly. It was just before the end of the competition that Flying Officer Derek Harvey the Engineering Officer was killed in a road accident, without him the task would have been impossible. The result showed an overall score of 89%. Out of the three European Sectors, the French, Danish and UK Sectors; 92 Squadron and 349 Squadron of the Belgium Air Force representing Sector Two won the Guynemer Trophy (for the winning Sector) and the Hudleston Trophy (for the winning pilots). The Squadron said farewell to Beauvechain by doing four runs over the airfield in a diamond nine and arrowhead formation, before returning to Gütersloh.
The increased range of the MK 2A made it possible for an aircraft to be scrambled from Battle Flight and vectored to the Bay of Cardigan, fire a missile in the Aberporth Range and land at nearby RAF Valley. This provided the 2nd ATAF Taceval team with the opportunity to assess the Squadron on live missile firings using standard fully armed aircraft from “the shed”. In May, Paddy Pyper and Graham Prichard flew to the range and Paddy made history by becoming the first pilot to “poop off” a missile from Gütersloh. ‘Prich’ was not so lucky; his chance of firing was snatched from him owing to shipping in the range. The rest of the Squadron were back there in June and combined with 19 Squadron to successfully fire the rest of that year’s entitlement of missiles.
Back at Gütersloh Dave Matthewson was given the project of organising a Squadron Open Day. This included Diamond Blue formation led by Squadron Leader Ian Thomson, with John Wolff, Rich Rhodes, and John Spencer. The team of four were also given the task of flying in a Flypast at the RAF Germany Headquarters at Rheindahlen in honour of the Queen’s Birthday; then came RAF Wildenrath’s Air Show and 92 were honoured to be the only formation team to compete in their show; then at RAF Brüggen where they stood in for the Red Arrows.
With the displays over it was back to normal flying both at subsonic and supersonic practice interceptions.
In July the engineers were not only doing their best to keep the aircraft serviceable but they were also busy fitting probes to the 2As in preparation for Air to Air refuelling. The two flight commanders had mastered this art on previous tours so they took the early sorties and having got back in the groove they assisted the new prodders in learning the art of prodding.
Before the end of the year Sandy Davis had left and was replaced by John Bryant; Paddy Pyper and Graham Prichard had both got engaged; and John Spencer had returned from the Interceptor Weapons Instructors Course at Coltishall. In November the Boss, Wing Commander Robinson AFC, handed over the Squadron to Wing Commander Ron Stuart-Paul MBE. On the new Boss’s very first day as OC 92, the Taceval Team arrived dropping him right in at the deep end. Mercifully the snow arrived soon afterwards which eased things a little and also took the bite out of the trappers visit in the following week.
The appalling German winter gave up one sunny day on January 20th, 1970, for 92 Squadron to make Lightning history by putting up a formation of fourteen out of a total of fifteen aircraft on the Squadron. The Boss led the Squadron over the airfield a couple of times and plenty of photographs were taken and then sent to such magazines as Flight and Air Clues.
The New Year also found the Squadron in the RAF News as they were the first Lightning squadron to have four pilots each with over one thousand hours on Lightnings. Flying Officer Graham Prichard was the only pilot of his rank with this impressive total and he joined Squadron Leader Ian Thomson, Squadron Leader Roger Chick and Flight Lieutenant Rich Rhodes who had already reached that target.
The Squadron’s next turn on Battle Flight commenced on February 23rd and turned out to be quite a stint. With three new operational pilots, Norman Barker, John Bryant and Pete Hitchcock, the programme looked quite simple but there were twenty three operational scrambles and twenty six practice ones within the next month. The pilots in the shed on one day had fourteen operational scrambles to keep them on their toes. At the beginning of April the bell rang three times, each for a missile firing and Squadron Leader Roger Palin, Rich Rhodes and Graham Prichard were the lucky pilots to fire. Graham felt all the more lucky as it was his first successful missile firing, at the end of his third Lightning Tour.
The runway at Gütersloh was always notorious for its bumps and holes, so in June 1970 the Squadron was detached to RAF Brüggen, on the Dutch border, so that the runway could be resurfaced. If anyone at Brüggen hadn’t heard of the 92nd before, they certainly knew who they were before the Squadron returned home. So did the local population who were so incensed with the noise made by the Lightnings that three couples took legal advice to see if they could sue the RAF. The charge “Damage to sexual urge”. The frustrated couples lived in the small town of Elmpt and one man claimed that it was eight long weeks since he felt any attraction towards his wife. Two other couples complained to the Town Clerk’s office that their moments of night time passion were ruined by the ear splitting screams of RAF fighters passing low over their bedrooms. The town’s legal adviser called in Professor Wolfgang Hochheimer a psychiatrist who confirmed everyone’s worst fears. He gave an opinion that “anxieties caused by excessive noise could lead to complexes that might involve into long term impotence”. There were plenty of lads on the Squadron willing to help the females of Elmpt sort out their sex problems.
After three months the contractors had finished their work on the runway, so the Squadron prepared for their return. Wing Commander Stuart-Paul led a ‘diamond nine’ over the airfield several times in front of the whole station who was watching their arrival. After the fly-past they came in and ‘broke’ from line astern ran across the full length of the aircraft dispersal area at a low height before rotating to the vertical in front of the Squadron’s line hut and coming round for another break and landing. After six of the aircraft had landed Rick Peacock-Edwards burst a tyre so the others were diverted to Hopsten. On examination of the other tyres it became apparent that all was not well with the runway, it was so soft in places that one could poke a stick deep into it. Clearly something had to be done so a few days later after the runway had been given time to set; the nine ship was launched again. This time the plan of action was to run over the airfield then Hopsten and Hannover followed by a repeat performance of the arrival demonstration. They got to Hannover alright only to hear that one of the aircraft had shed a tyre on takeoff so the return journey was spent finding out who the lucky chap was. It turned out to be John Spencer, who landed safely after the rest of the formation, then they heard that they were to detach to RAF Wildenrath while the runway was fixed. Once again the nine ship (putting in a strong bid to take over from the Red Arrows) paid their respects to Hopsten and Brüggen before arriving at Wildenrath in fine fashion and once again putting on their own little flying display, before landing and being met by No. 4 Squadron and a crate of Carlsberg.
For the next three weeks, when the pilots were not sitting in the front row of the Ric Bar in Elmpt, they were either “Defending the Western World” or practicing for the next Royal Fly-past. The Battle Flight took the form of a couple of caravans and a very dignified tent around which Vic Lockwood was seen doing much valuable work directing the setting up of the Elsan equipment. The Royal Fly-past was to mark the occasion of Her Royal Highness Princess Anne’s visit to RAF Germany and the Formation flew in the shape of the letter ‘A’. After the fly-past the aircraft landed back at Gütersloh but for Rick Peacock-Edwards the big day was just beginning as he had been selected to escort Her Royal Highness at the Royal Ball at the RAF Germany Headquarters at Rheindahlen.
Back at Gütersloh the Squadron soon started having tyre problems again but this time it was due to the visiting Phantoms who had been burning up the lovely new runway. An enquiry into the runway saga soon brought to light the fact that the contractor had saved himself a few Deutsche Mark here and there. Not only was the runway surface below specification, whenever it rained the water immediately flowed to the middle of the runway making braking impossible, and finally the runway was one foot too narrow. In all, the contractor had saved about £50,000 on the deal and had absconded with the money to South America. It was some time before he was extradited to Western Germany where he remained. In prison.
On the 28th January 1971, Pete Hitchcock and Jim Watson briefed for a 2 v 1 combat against Rich Rhodes. The airman who strapped Pete into aircraft “November” (XN 772) told the pilot that it was his twenty-first birthday. Pete replied that they would “sort out something” when he returned. When Chris Tuckley had finished strapping Pete in he started to descend the ladder then remembered that he had not removed the safety pin from the ejection seat face blind firing handle. Forty five minutes later Pete and his aircraft got into a spin, not a recommended manoeuvre in a swept wing aircraft. Pete recovered by using his Martin-Baker ejection seat but his aircraft, after recovering from the spin, flew into the ground to cause a little disturbance just to the North East of a lake called the Dummer See, near a town appropriately known as “Diepholtz”.
Pete was quickly taken to hospital after landing in a thorny hedge but was soon out and about. The German Water Authorities were onto the Squadron even quicker as they claimed the aircraft was spilling oil and kerosene in a Wasserschutzgebiet (Water protection area) and had to be removed immediately.
Rich Rhodes claimed, but was not granted, five points for the first ‘confirmed’ combat kill.
Pete Hitchcock was kept grounded by the ‘Docs’ for a few months until his “Martin Baker Back” had cured but soon he had some company as Vic Lockwood broke his leg on the Winter Survival course.
Up until this time the Lightnings had always had bright blue fins as a remainder of the blue Diamond’s days. These together with the red and yellow chequers on the front of the fuselage stood out very well against the silver metal skins. Although this looked extremely handsome it was also conspicuous and therefore not too tactical, so the Squadron were ordered to remove the blue paint from the fins. A move which most people deeply regretted. The last aircraft to have a blue fin was 'Delta' XN 791. 92 Squadron had just handed over Battle Flight to 19 Squadron and the two 92 Squadron aircraft were flown off from Battle Flight with their live missiles. Delta was flown by Furry Lloyd and the other aircraft by Terry Kingsley. Euan Black happened to be in the area at the time with a camera and recorded the event and his photo appears in the Photos section.
The Lightnings in their new livery were then shown to the residents of Anglesey on the annual MPC then back at Gütersloh for a Families Open Day in June. The hangar was marked out for a static display and the Pilot’s Crewroom was redecorated so it could be used for an afternoon tea party. On the flying side the Boss led the diamond nine with the now standard ‘beat-up’ to finish.
As a prelude to Pete Hitchcock’s spinning trials in the Lightning, four jet Provost Instructors from Manby arrived later in the month. They had come to let the pilots fly their ‘toy’ aeroplanes and re-accustom to hurling themselves at the ground completely out of control. The ‘Spinners’ became regular annual visitors to the Squadron, as well as to all the other Front Line Squadrons whose aircraft were not designed to recover from spins.
The departing Boss celebrated his departure by taking his aircraft through the barrier due to a set of unfortunate circumstances, in August 1971. The new Boss, Wing Commander John Mitchell came from Coltishall where he had been ‘refreshing’ at the Conversion Unit. Before that he had been at Rheindahlen with the TACEVAL team so he had seen the Squadron at work before. His tour was full of incidents at the very start for in the first week the Trappers came and one of the 2As blew up when Rick Groombridge, one of the Trappers, tried to start it. Then, while practising for the Station Open Day in which the Squadron were fielding the Diamond Nine, John Bryant and Terry Kingsley collided overhead the airfield. Terry Kingsley in his book “In the Red” takes up the story.
“ The boss had much formation display experience, but to put nine squadron pilots up was asking a lot. All were perfectly capable of basic formation work, a fighter pilot’s bread and butter. A large formation was not the same. We began working up over the airfield in a Diamond. The first manoeuvres were slack as the boss tried to make it easy for us all. He asked for my comments, for in the No 6 slot again, I could see what was going on. he tightened the next wing over and I felt someone pushing me. I knew that an aircraft was interfering with the airflow over my aircraft. I tapped the throttles to make sure that I was clear of the boss ahead of me. The load increased and I was forced to use both hands to steady the Lightning. I could not transmit in this position and the blow when it came was severe. We were in a steeply banked turn when I was hit, ejecting me through the top of the formation. I stopped upside down, having lost sight of the rest of the formation. I transmitted that I was hit and tried to roll the Lightning upright. A quick look in the rear-view mirror showed the damage. I tightened the straps in preparation for ejection and set about assessing the situation. The aircraft was in a continuous left turn with the stick fully forward and half aileron applied. We were over the airfield, but the city of Gütersloh was in my orbit. If I was going to eject, I had better plan for open spaces. The immediate danger passed as the Lightning was obviously not going to fall out of the sky right away. John B, who had hit me, was damaged but O.K. and so the boss appeared on my wing.
“My right wing was folded over jamming the aileron, the fin was bent over at the top restricting rudder movement and worst of all, the tailplane was bent down about 20 degrees on the right with a large piece of it missing. The force to roll the aircraft upright had sawed a hole in the fuselage which was flapping in concert with a piece of metal high up on the upper fuselage. this vibration was getting all my attention as I tried to convince myself that what I could see was all the damage that I had to contend with.
“A slow speed check was performed down to 180 knots, but each knot that I lost caused the nose to come up and with the stick fully forward, I doubted that I could continue to control it. The next problem was to work the aircraft around so that I might be able to land. I could not turn right and even straight ahead was only marginally possible.
“By slackening the orbit or tightening it, I could walk the orbit towards the landing end of the field. Fuel was not a problem, for I needed to be as light as possible if I was to try and land. The boss had a good look over the aircraft and said what he could see. The high landing speed was a slight problem, but the loss of forward stick was my major concern, as was my ability to be able to keep it straight for landing. I decided not to try and trim the out-of-balance forces, for at least I knew what I had to contend with.
“We discussed the landing as I circled the town and with the Lightning flying very sideways, started the approach. At 200 kts the vibration became worse, so much so that I had to keep the speed at 190 kts. I could see the fuselage skin flapping in the breeze, and with some rudder pressure and the stick hard in the top right corner, I wobbled down the approach. The landing was uneventful.
“When I surveyed the damage, many things came to mind. He had inserted his wing under mine, until it overlapped my tailplane. When control was finally lost, he rolled over the top of me, canopy to canopy, banging down hard on the tail, folding up the wingtip and also the top of the fin. We must have been very very close in the canopy moment, and I guess my hanging on until the last second saved us from making one aircraft out of two.
“ I felt O K, but a look at the ‘g’ meter showed it jammed at 14+ ‘g’. The following day, my legs were stiff and my back ached. It was to reveal that the bottom three vertebrae were crushed, and it leaves a legacy that I have to this day. The blow to the top of the fin had levered the fuselage under me to pass a vertical shock that crushed my spine.”
Terry received a Green Endorsement for his recovery of the aircraft but lost one and a half inches in height.
A week later Norman Barker had an undercarriage malfunction on take off which caused the port main leg to rotate through ninety degrees. The wheel was eventually lowered but wasn’t pointing in the right direction and the undercarriage leg broke off when he landed. Norman took the hook wire on landing and was all right although the aircraft was not fit for some time. The Squadron received a superb set of photographs of the landing all taken by Eric, the local Spy, who patiently sat just outside the fence photographing every aircraft take off and landing.
This final breakage put paid to the Squadron’s planned detachment to Istrana in Italy, but as more than a few people had been there already for their summer holidays they did not mind too much.
The Annual Ball at the end of October followed a Medieval theme and the Squadron’s task was to decorate the entrance hall, as a drawbridge and portcullis. The actual Ball went very well and the time passed very quickly. It obviously went too quickly for Dave Moss who had a quick flashback in time to his bachelor days at about 3am. He left the Mess and went to his old bed, leaving his wife Viv and the search party, which subsequently formed, to themselves. In fact, he was never found until the next morning. Viv stayed with Wendy and the Boss that night. No one was sure what she said to him when he was repatriated, but he was not allowed out for a day or two.
The Ball was followed by a Dining-Out Night for ‘Furry’ and Janie Lloyd which included, what was by now the standard, song by the rest of the pilots to recall Furry’s exploits. Before he left, the Squadron threw a Crewroom Party for the rest of the Station at the end of which Furry managed to blow up the Mess’s Disco amplifier. He caused even more headaches the next day by inviting everyone round to his house to his ‘Dregs’ party to consume the last of his tax free booze.
As Furry left, the Squadron welcomed the arrival of Geraint Oswyn Harries, better known as ‘Taff’. Taff’s arrival on the Squadron was far from uneventful. Called ‘Exercise Cat and Mouse’ it involved collecting Taff as he stepped off the aircraft and bringing him down to the Squadron to meet everyone. Unknown to him, however, much swapping of uniforms and names had been going on back at the Ops Room. Such was the skill with which the Exercise was carried out that Taff, in the space of a few hours had gone through the agony of being interviewed by a horse mad, polo playing Boss (in reality the engineer, Squadron Leader Bedford who knew nothing about horses or polo) to actually being scrambled at night, in fog and rain, using a torch to find the gauges. The igniter plugs had been removed so Taff never got started but was taken ‘off state’ and into the bar where he was introduced to the real people which added to his confusion.
The New Year, 1972, started with a bang as Mike Johnson did a reheat low pass over the Mess Fancy Dress Ball, at four minutes past 1971. Pete Hitchcock had a more operational Battle Flight Scramble a month later. After investigating a possible border violation he noticed that he was being controlled by a different GCI Controller. His suspicions were confirmed when he was asked to take up a heading which would have taken him over the border. This was confirmed to be genuine ‘spoofing’ later on the ground. Shortly after this Phil Roser was scrambled to rescue a German Air Force F104 stranded above cloud without a radio. With Phil’s help the 104 landed safely at Wittmund. Not content to be left out of the limelight Taff Harries lost a wheel on touchdown. By skillful handling he managed to keep the aircraft on the runway.
Half the Squadron left in March for an Armament Practice Camp at Decimomannu in Sardinia. This particular area of the Mediterranean being clear of other air traffic makes it a superb place for air to air gun firing. This was the first such detachment by the Lightnings and it soon became obvious that the gun sight system was far from ideal. Indeed it was some years before we actually managed to work out where the bullets were going. The next detachment was to Leeuwarden where the Squadron exchanged with six Starfighters of 323 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Socially the Dutch were tremendous and the Squadron was never at a loose end. They even went to the trouble of laying on transport and accommodation for the whole detachment in Amsterdam.
On Boxing Day there was a mass gathering at the Mess for the ancient game of hockey with a football, in fancy dress. As the game started, Terry Kingsley and others flew over in a Rapide, towing a banner with Merry Xmas on it and dropping flour bombs and toilet rolls. One ‘bomb’ scored a direct hit on the Station Commander’s parking slot while the Mess itself was decorated with yellow tissue paper. When the Squadron was ordered to clear up the mess, 18 Squadron came to the rescue with their Wessex helicopter and suspended Ali McKay who was able to pick all the paper from the Mess roof and surrounding tree tops.
During 1973 the Lightnings, in keeping with the RAF Germany policy were ‘toned down’ along with every other piece of equipment on the Station from the Boss’s Mini to the Padre’s bicycle. The Lightnings started to emerge from the paint shop in their new dull green livery which earned them the nickname “Green Beans.” The silver Lightnings were never very easy to see against a background of clear sky or cloud but stood out well low level. Now that the main role of the Squadron was almost entirely devoted to low flying, the toned-down effect helped to camouflage the aircraft in the low level search patterns as well as when parked on the toned-down tarmac.
The first event of 1973 was Taceval at the end of January, which was quite gentle as the bad weather limited the amount of flying.
On the morning of 29 January Rod Sargeant, newly arrived on the squadron, flew his “Pre-op Check” sortie with Ali Mackay. However, as Tac-Eval was called that lunch time, the check was then re-named an “Op-Check” and was Rod promptly declared operational so that he could fly in the Tac-Eval. After much haggling over films and claims the station was awarded a grade of ‘One’. During all this, Geoff Evans arrived on the Squadron to be promptly handed the duties of the Coffee Bar. Geoff had had a fire in the T4 at the Conversion Unit at Coltishall with John Spencer and they were both forced to eject. Unfortunately Geoff sustained minor back injuries and was off flying for his first few months which meant he got plenty of practice at running the Ops desk.
As is customary, April started on the First and 92’s offering for All Fools Day (and the RAF’s Birthday) was on the front cover of Zeitung 47, the Station Magazine. The photograph was of two Lightnings, one flying inverted, in ‘Mirror’ formation, a manoeuvre which is not possible in the Lightning. The caption read “‘Cobra Gemini’. This unusual Lightning formation manoeuvre was inspired by the famous Gemini Jet Provost team. Wing Commander John Mitchell is flying the inverted Lightning and the lower one is being flown by Flight Lieutenant Rod Sargeant – a former member of the Gemini aerobatic team”. The photo was, of course, a fake, concocted by theArthur Gibson the Command photographe. At least one senior officer at the Headquarters was taken in and he started to take action; Nineteen Squadron were heard muttering and even threatening to have a go at doing it themselves, before the hoax was admitted.
At the May Fair in the following month, each Squadron was asked to run a stall, so 92 decided to do the ‘Sink the Wingco’. A dinghy full of water, a wardrobe door, a bomb-release mechanism, lots of wiring and a large supporting structure produced a device which immersed a victim whenever a ball was thrown through a hole in a target. The fair was a great success and all the Wing Commanders were dunked before the Station Commander put in an appearance in a starring role. After that there was no shortage of volunteers.
That summer Rod Sargeant became the display pilot for the Lightning in RAF Germany. Forty years later he recalled: “In May ’73 after less than 8 months on the Squadron and only 178 hours total on Lightnings, I started to practice a Performance Demonstration and then flew shows around Germany that year. The ‘Reheat Rotation’ - banned after several accidents - was not familiar so I had to ‘learn’ the trick - on one practice I rolled out of a tight reheat turn and rotated. The aircraft did 3 auto-rotations, fortunately going upwards, the burners stayed alight and with a bit of gentle rudder and aileron I got the nose down and carried on with the ‘show’. The Boss (John Mitchell) phlegmatic as usual just said “That was a bit sporty Rod, we’d better determine what went on”. We presumed I must have had a bit of residual roll on when I snatched the 5g at 250 Knots, to get the rotation going. The moral is that if we allow experience to die, people have to relearn lessons later - possibly with tragic outcomes.”
Soon after this Tim Miller arrived. He may have expected the Squadron to play a little trick on him as the other stories had got back to Coltishall. However, he did not expect that the trick would be played before he reached 92.
The camp policeman told his men to detain Tim and his car when he arrived, but did not inform them that it was a joke. The unsuspecting officer was grilled as a drug-running suspect. The plot was only revealed by the Boss when the bar opened. With a very obvious look of relief on his face Tim met the Squadron and had a beer.
In August 1973 the Squadron ‘dined-out’ Wing Commander Mitchell and welcomed the new Boss, Wing Commander Chris Bruce. Mitch’s dining was quite an occasion as he had indeed been a very popular Boss. During the day, Lightnings appeared from the UK bearing ex-Squadron members Norman Barker, John Bryant, Furry Lloyd, Vic Lockwood, Tex Jones and Mike Johnson. Nineteen Squadron spirited the visiting aircraft away and hid them so the whole plan was kept secret from the Boss.
When the Boss and Wendy arrived at the Mess they were ushered down to the Keller Bar and entertained to the strains of “We’ll Meet Again”, the Boss’ favourite of all Vera Lynn’s songs. Then Ali McKay proceeded with his Eamonn Andrews “This is your life” imitation and presented “This is your Tour”. He had produced a magnificent commemorative book which told the story, and had set up a slide projector to help with the production. Then of course, there were the “Voices from the Past” which revealed the UK visitors (or 92 Squadron East Anglian Reserve) one by one.
The Squadron exchange also came in August and eight pilots went down to join the 526 Tactical Fighter Squadron USAF at Ramstein. It was an unusual exchange as the Americans couldn’t make it to Gütersloh until three months later. It took some time to get used to the American way of operating such as requiring instrument clearance to take off or land on a perfectly clear blue day. The Mess, or Officers’ Club, had ‘bouncers’ who threw people out when the bar closed and the management were most upset when the pilots mixed the traditional “Black Velvet” for the Squadron Party. But the waitresses, who normally wanted cash for food, soon accepted the idea that “The Queen will pay”.
The following week it was learned that the base was having a big smartening up campaign. All because a Senior American Staff Officer had seen our own Russ Morley getting out of a Phantom after a sortie and had complained about aircrew with long hair, “whiskers” and wearing “moccasins”.
The new Boss, Chris Bruce, returned to his old Squadron, this time as “King Cobra”, at the end of August 1973. The Boss’ arrival coincided with the discovery of a fatigue problem with the aircraft and we were told to take it easy for the rest of the year. This meant that, for the new pilots, of whom I was one, no combat or low level training could take place and for four months we had to be content with sub sonic practice interceptions, at high level, with the target flying straight and level.
One of the first training tasks for a new pilot on the Squadron was air to air refuelling and it was in this field that I unfortunately made the news. I had just missed the basket on my first attempt and was backing off for another try, when the basket whipped over my cockpit and wrapped the refuelling hose around my pitot tube which stuck out in front of the aircraft. The basket started to rattle about underneath my seat, bashing the missiles on either side and generally making a bit of a mess. The next thing I felt was being hurled through the air and I ended up a quarter of a mile from the tanker, upside down. I turned the aircraft up the right way and noticed that the air speed read zero, obviously the pitot tube had been bent backwards.
Mike Smith, who was with me in another 2A, led me back to base for a formation landing but the duty spy must have been listening to our frequency. The next day on the front page of the local paper was a picture of my landing and a story of how a “brave pilot recovered with serious instrument failure”.
Later in October the Americans arrived from Ramstein for their half of the Squadron exchange. Most of them flew in our T4 and quite a few of us got a ride in the back of their F4 Phantoms. The social programme organised by John Luke left scarcely a moment for which something had not been arranged. Apart from the many parties, we played them at bowling, soccer, hockey, and had an extraordinary golf match with “Schnapps” handicaps which nearly resulted in the destruction of the Club house.
After the Americans’ farewell party where they introduced the Squadron to “Harvey Wallbanger” by the gallon, we had a “Beer Call” with our German GCI controllers from Auenhausen. Then came the dreaded “Trappers” visit in mid-November which included a previous Squadron Commander, then Group Captain Gilbert, and a previous Squadron Weapons Instructor, John Bryant. By the time they left, the skiing season arrived and in their spare time people drove for an hour and a half south to the Sauerland ski resorts of Winterberg and Willingen. The last day of November was the coldest on record with the temperature not rising above minus thirteen degrees.
The world fuel shortage had a marked effect on us in Germany. On the flying side our task was severely reduced to the point where some pilots were only just getting enough hours to remain current at the job. On Sundays one was not allowed to drive private cars so Mike Smith and Taff Harries would organise a coach to take the whole Squadron skiing.
December was a month of exercises with the Station Commander calling a Minival, followed two days later by SACEUR causing the hooter to sound before dawn for his own test of our reactions.
Outside our strange hours of duty the festivities started in earnest on the 20th with the Mess Christmas Draw. On Christmas Eve, Ali and Coreen McKay held a party. At this, the ‘A’ Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Dave Liggitt, who had previously been seen indulging in strange eating habits, led two or three of us in a raid on Coreen’s rubber plant. Taking a bite out of it was not such a good idea since Dave was allergic to rubber and he spent a most uncomfortable Christmas in hospital.
Tim Miller and I had just been declared operational in time to hold Battle Flight on Christmas Day. Being stuck in the shed was like being in hospital with visitors arriving every few minutes to wish us the season’s greetings. Before long we had to hide our vast store of mince pies and sausage rolls to save future visitors any embarrassment. The New Year’s Eve Party in the Mess was a fancy dress affair and after pre drinks 92 arrived dressed as Greyfriars and St Trinians. We won the booby prize – a bottle of Angostura Bitters.
The New Year started off with the welcome news that the aircraft fatigue limitations had been eased enough to allow the combat training programme to be reintroduced. Because the Squadron task was measured in hours and not in sorties flown or “kills” achieved, combat and low level fighter patrols were always flown to the detriment of the task. Although there could be no finer training for a fighter pilot than combat or low level guns and missile attacks, these sorties sometimes only lasted thirty five minutes. In order that the task ( measured in hours) could still be reached a balance of high level sub sonic sorties had to be flown. These sorties, although only half the training value, lasted twice as long. In this way we achieved as many hours as we could from the pitiful supply of fuel available, yet still kept the pilots “combat ready”.
If there was any aggression left in anyone, it was consumed along with the Mess piano with Mike Smith’s Station Dining Out night, at the end of the month. The piano was set on fire, with the help of a can of petrol, on the Mess President’s parking slot. This age old pastime cost us the price of a new piano on the next month’s Mess Bill, which no one minded; but the bill for resurfacing the road was somewhat harder to bear.
Our association with the nearest German Air Force base at Hopsten was extremely strong at the time and in February we were invited to their home for a skeet shooting competition. When the skeet launching machine broke there were teams of volunteers to throw the skeets; even running out of the actual clays didn’t stop the competition, we improvised, using beer bottles for targets. As the effects of the alcohol became more noticeable less hits were recorded and Gareth Cunningham our Junior Engineer, nearly succeeded in blasting his foot off. So with no one quite sure of the result we adjourned to their Keller for some serious drinking, bowling and air rifle competitions. At the end of the evening they arranged a round of “afterburners”, or burning Schnapps.
Those who witnessed it will never forget the semi final of the RAF Germany Inter Squadron Aircrew Football Competition, which we reached without kicking a ball. Our opponents, 16 Squadron who took their football very seriously, caught us in a very sorry state, with hardly a man having had more than three hours sleep.
The first quarter of an hour went by with neither side seeming to dominate, then disaster, they managed to score; the effect was shattering, Rod Sargeant left the pitch and was violently ill. About half way through the match, our captain and only footballer, Roger Malcolm, decided that we were not scoring enough goals and decided to show us how it was done. There is no doubt, it was a superb shot, the ball soared through the air, past the surprised figure of a goal keeper, Jim Wild, and into our own goal. Luckily the B Flight Commander Chris Rowe, scored a goal for us in the second half which raised our morale. The final score? Well, after a very hard fought match we were very narrowly defeated – Seven, One! The bonus was that we did not have to go to the final.
In May six of us launched to RAF Valley in Anglesey for a successful and enjoyable four days at the Missile Practice Camp. At the end of the detachment we treated the Mess to a ‘Harvey Wallbanger’ party which had by this time replaced ‘Black Velvet’, for which the Squadron were renowned.
‘Dim’ Jones returned via Warton where he collected our new F2A, N-‘November’ (to replace XN 772) the last silver Lightning F2A in existence. This aircraft was previously on 19 Squadron but had suffered a lightning strike two years earlier so had far more fatigue life remaining than any of our other aircraft.
Back at Gütersloh the hooter went for our long expected Taceval. The next two days were hard work, gas masks, and NBC (Nuclear Biological and Chemical) kit but at the end of it we were awarded the highest possible assessment.
That summer Rod Sargeant became the display pilot for the Lightning in RAF Germany. Forty years later he recalled: “In May ’74 after less than 8 months on the Squadron and only 178 hours total on Lightnings, I started to practice a Performance Demonstration and then flew shows around Germany that year. The ‘Reheat Rotation’ - banned after several accidents - was not familiar so I had to ‘learn’ the trick - on one practice I rolled out of a tight reheat turn and rotated. The aircraft did 3 auto-rotations, fortunately going upwards, the burners stayed alight and with a bit of gentle rudder and aileron I got the nose down and carried on with the ‘show’. The Boss (John Mitchell) phlegmatic as usual just said “That was a bit sporty Rod, we’d better determine what when on”. We presumed I must have had a bit of residual roll on when I snatched the 5g at 250 Knots, to get the rotation going. The moral is that if we allow experience to die, people have to relearn lessons later - possibly with tragic outcomes.”
We departed for the 1974 Armament Practice Camp at Decimomannu in Sardinia in mid August. The flight was meant to be in a Britannia aircraft but because of renewed fighting in Cyprus this aircraft was needed and we found ourselves spending an ear shattering, bone jarring three and three quarter hours in the back end of a Hercules. On arrival we found that the Italians had a few public holidays arranged for the forthcoming fortnight and as we could not fly on those days there was plenty of time to visit the wonderful beaches around the Island. The sight of ginger haired George Ellis, whose fair skin was hidden from the fierce sun by striped trousers and an umbrella, soon convinced the Italians that the British had arrived.
In the second week the gun firing scores on the flag started to improve but there were definitely still some problems with our sights. While the Squadron Weapons Instructor brought back good film he got the least hits and the newer pilots got some quite remarkable scores.
Back at Gütersloh in September the Squadron was involved in Exercise Red Rat which gave some very interesting low level flying against the Harriers from Wildenrath. On the social side there was the Oktoberfest, which the Germans in fact celebrate in September; then at the end of the year there were a couple of weddings. The first was at Great Yarmouth, where John Luke married Sue, the second was mine when I married Georgina in the Station Church at Gütersloh.
No history of 92 Squadron would be complete without mentioning “Fensterln”, which translated literally means “windowing”. It is a quaint and ancient custom of the lonely villagers of the Alps, or it was until January 1975.
The inaugural match took place on the occasion of the Backwash fighter controller’s visit when, after a few beers we decided to throw 19 squadron out of the window. The following day we had a replay which ended with the Commander of the Administrative Wing being “windowed”. That did not go down too well and while Pam our typist, typed a dozen apology letters, one of the Flight Commanders was banned from the bar for a month.
February, although the shortest month, was not lacking in excitement on the flying side, some affiliation exercises with the Harriers from Wildenrath provided good sport. The month was also outstanding for the Carnival parties; the first given by John Luke which also turned out to be his farewell party as he was leaving the Air Force. The second party was given by Nigel and Irene Wood, which ensured that 92 Squadron paid adequate service to this most drunken of German festivals. The following month was not much quieter as we assembled at the Kaiser Hof hotel in Gütersloh to bid farewell to Squadron Leader Chris Rowe, ‘B’ Flight Commander and welcome his replacement Squadron Leader Mike Lawrance. Following that we put on a Harvey Wallbanger party for the rest of the Station, an evil affair masterminded by Mark Michaelef-Eynaud our Maltese Entertainments Officer.
With the fairer weather of the summer months the pilots looked forward to more low level affiliation against the fighter bomber stations of the ‘Clutch’, west of Ruhr. After a lot of letter writing and arguing, Ali McKay managed to get the rules rewritten and the “Dial a Lightning” service was born. For this achievement and for his work as the Squadron IWI associated with the introduction and training aspects of a whole new range of RAFG SOPs which included initiatives such as Dial a Lightning, Ali was later awarded the Queen’s Commendation. The new rules allowed us to attack the Harriers and Phantoms en-route to their targets, without a face to face brief beforehand. All the fighter bombers had to do, if they wanted a “bounce” somewhere along their track; was to phone our operations desk, give their route and approximate time of arrival in our area. We would then set up low level caps in an endeavour to “shoot them down” or at least run them out of fuel before they could “hack” their targets.
From this time onwards the Squadron’s role shifted more and more towards low flying, at five hundred feet above ground level, carrying out visual interceptions and practice missile and guns attacks. The area around our base soon became renowned as ‘Cowboy Country’ and no military aircraft flying at low level could be sure of getting past without finding a Lightning on his tail.
While the Squadron were claiming their simulated kills over the North German Plain, a detachment crossed to Valley to fire a few live missiles at the renamed Strike Command Air to Air Missile Establishment, or STC AAME as MPC became known. The majority of the Squadron went to the UK again the following month for a wedding at Redhill where Geoff and Sue Evans were married.
Back at Gütersloh in July 1975, the whole station were busy preparing for the ‘Grosse Flugtag’ or Open Day. Together with the Red Arrows and several other formation teams, 92 Squadron featured a team of five Lightnings unofficially named the “Green Marrows”. This team led by Wing Commander Chris Bruce also performed at RAF Wildenrath who were holding an Open Day at the same time.
On the Sports and Social scene we won the Station Swimming Sports and held a barbecue on the Ederzee together with our German fighter controllers from Auenhausen.
In August the “Green Marrows” featured once again, this time in Denmark. The Squadron was on exchange with 723 Squadron at Aalborg. Somehow in the middle of two weeks of self inflicted Carlsberg poisoning, five pilots managed to shrug off these effects, together with the raw egg and herring symptoms, and show off Germany’s premier formation team. Sometime later a new pilot, who nurtured a healthy disrespect for QFI’s (Qualified Flying Instructors), one Flying Officer Pete Stone, became quite enamoured with the “Green Marrows” dream and decided to go into print. With the aid of his charming German girlfriend, who worked for a printing firm, they produced thousands of small stickers. The stickers which started to appear on every available space were of two varieties. One bore the subtle message “SOME QFI’S PISS ME OFF” and the other promoted “THE GREEN MARROWS GERMANY’S PREMIER AEROBATIC TEAM”. The first message met the disapproval of several QFI’s at RAF Valley during the next visit to the Missile Establishment, while the second met the disapproval of the members of another RAF aerobatic team with a similar sounding name.
Before the end of 1975 the Squadron made a final visit to Decimomannu for an Armament Practice Camp. The beaches weren’t as crowded as they had been the previous year so we had to make do with Pizzas and the local “arguing” wine instead of admiring the local scenery as we had the previous year, but, to sum it all up one could say that in the eleventh hour of the Lighting’s life, we got it right. The guns were realigned using a different datum, we found out where the bullets were going and we started to achieve some rewarding scores. As usual time and money ran out just as we were getting it all together and we had to leave. It was, however, the most successful APC flown by a Mk 2A Squadron.
The year ended with the departure of the Squadron IWI (Interceptor Weapons Instructor), Lloyd Doble, and Chris Bruce who had proved to be a well respected and effective commanding officer. Wing Commander Ed Durham led the Squadron into 1976 which turned out to be probably the best year of flying in the history of the Mk 2A Lightning.
The first three months of the year were filled with as much low flying affiliation and fighter v fighter combat as any pilot could hope for. The standard of Pilot Attack Sight Recorder film rose steadily as our ranging and tracking improved. The fighter pilots task, after combating into a position five hundred yards behind his target, is to track the back of the cockpit of the target aircraft while setting the size of six diamonds to span the target’s wing tips.
The diamonds were controlled by the movement of a twist grip on the No 2 engine throttle which gives the correct range information to the gyro gun sight. The pilot had to know the wing span of any likely targets which he dialled up on the gun sight then the gyro scope would give the correct place to aim to ensure that the cannon shells hit their mark. When the trigger on the control column was pressed the Pilot Attack Sight Recorder camera and another camera in the engine intake, both ran. The film from these cameras was projected in the cine room and the size of the target was measured to assess the range at which the pilot opened and ceased firing. His tracking was also assessed, then he was awarded a “kill”, or not, depending on his accuracy.
In April we switched back briefly to the radar exercises which included attacking high flying targets and a Live ECM trial (Electronic Counter Measures) against a variety of NATO Aircraft which were doing their utmost to confuse our Radar sets. This exercise was made all the more interesting because it took place in the middle of the night so we could not cheat by looking out of the cockpit to find the target. The Squadron had to man a twenty four hour shift which involved the night flyers starting work at TWO o’clock in the morning.
Coinciding with this exercise we were honoured with a visit by an all party delegation of MP’s and Peers, who came to see how we intended to fight the next war. The day flyers were already in the bar when the visitors arrived at the Officers’ Mess and were greeted as they stepped off the RAF coach with alternate shouts of “LEFT”, “RIGHT”, “LEFT”, “RIGHT”. When the night flyers arrived for their breakfast prior to commencing their shift, those visitors who had managed to keep pace with the day shift were obviously impressed by our twenty four hour readiness. Unfortunately the only people left standing at that hour, sorting out the Country’s problems were the Tory Peers, and the day shift.
The night shift would fly three sorties, witnessing some wonderful sunrises over East Germany, then retire for a second breakfast in the Mess at Nine in the morning. These breakfasts usually included a few bottles of champagne and lasted until lunch time.
At about this time the Squadron was blessed with the posting-in of a new J.P. (Junior Pilot) Flying Officer Pete Stone. Pete was met at the air terminal by our personal Air Traffic Controller, Flying Officer Sue Buckland, cleverly disguised as a WRAF MT Driver. Pete was of course unaware of this elaborate “Spoof” and climbed into the mini alongside his driver. On the way to the Mess his ‘driver’ made a few compromising advances which (according to Pete) met with little response. At the Mess Pete found himself facing a very stroppy corporal receptionist acted by Flight Lieutenant Kevin Mason, who proceeded to completely crush the ego of our new Pilot in no uncertain terms. Meanwhile the driver of the mini had dumped the suitcases out of the car and left them in the middle of the road.
The remainder of the Squadron continued with this jape until much later in the bar when Pete was overheard telling someone “I really put that Corporal Mason in his place”.
May began with a Squadron visit to the ‘Astra’, as all RAF camp cinemas were known. There we saw the newly released film ‘Jaws’, a story about a Great White Shark which went around eating people. One of the wives, whose husband was away, on detachment, thought that the film was a musical comedy and therefore had somewhat of a shock at quite an early stage. After the film was over, the effect was so strong that she was unable to drive to her own home and had to stay with friends.
(P.S. It is not true that the Royal Air Force’s motto ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’ means ‘It’s a long way to the Station Cinema’.)
The next month was busy with exercises Minival and Maxival which gave us plenty of flying. We had a tripartite exercise with the American and French Air Forces, a tremendous party and for those of us Night Flying; we practiced Night Close formation recoveries often with the leader having his navigation lights switched off. All very exciting.
These exercises led us into the Annual Taceval in July, at which we achieved once again, the highest possible award. Also in this month we proved that our success in the Swimming Sports was no fluke, by winning them for the second year running.
The major Squadron function during the month of August occurred one weekend when a detachment from No 23 (Phantom) Squadron arrived in force. Amongst the visitors was Squadron Leader Ali McKay who had not long left 92. We found it difficult to mock Ali and his navigator for flying in their two seat American bomber when we already knew that in seven months time our own Squadron was to be re-equipped with this unlikely fighter.
Towards the end of August the Squadron was detached to Valley for its Annual Missile Firing. We threw two beach parties at which we must have burnt most of the driftwood in Anglesey and we held a German party for the Valley Mess, which was based largely on Apfel Korn.
For the Summer Ball in September, 92 Squadron had the task of decorating the Mess Entrance and reception area. The theme for the Ball was the History of Flight. The entrance hall was planned to resemble the flight of Icarus. In reality it looked more like the hanging of a fallen angel.
The large reception room was decorated to resemble the interior of a large airliner. Squadron Leader Bullocke produced some fine life sized paintings of the cockpit and the whole Squadron, including wives, put an enormous amount of effort to create a life like decoration.
Unfortunately one of the ‘cabin walls’ fell down at the height of the Ball, covering the barmen operating the taps with square yards of brown paper.
A more serious effect of the Summer Ball was to create an epidemic of Salmonella food poisoning. This very painful illness affected most pilots on the Squadron and over a hundred of the support personnel. The Squadron managed to continue with a limited flying programme, but Gütersloh could not really declare itself an operational base for more than a week after the Ball. We also inflicted Leutnant “Timo” Schuster, a visitor from ‘Backwash’, thereby losing Germany’s best GCI controller for a while.
When we had all fully recovered we launched ourselves with renewed vigour into a new comprehensive combat programme, arranged by the new Weapons Instructor, Mike Champion. His idea was that each pilot should fight every other pilot in 1 v 1 combat; the outcome of each sortie was recorded on a graph by an elaborate system of coloured squares. Overall the results proved that most pilots achieve about the same number of kills, but the more inexperienced and those out of practice were shot down more often.
Lightning pilots of the past would turn green with envy if they knew that from this point onwards we concentrated almost entirely on medium level combat and low level affiliation. However, we had one more arduous duty which interrupted our flying programme; our runway had to be repaired and they sent us to Aalborg for a week.
The weather in Denmark was absolutely terrible as were the Herrings and Aquavit. There was no chance of us flying with the cloud base and visibility far too low and no suitable diversion airfields, but somehow the Danes in their F 104s flew every day. After three days of having his leg pulled by their Squadron Commander, our Boss decided that we would fly. Their Commander, Major Kristienien, was as brave a man as our Boss for he flew with me in our T4. We taxied out in pouring rain, took off and climbed through thirty seven thousand feet of solid cloud, before bursting out and seeing the incredibly bright sun for the first time in ages. With our fuel state already near to recovery and the only diversion airfield being Stavanger in Norway, we managed to make a quick attack on a pair of our own F2As. The F104 pilot was amazed at how the Lightning could accelerate to supersonic speeds, whilst still climbing and turning, a feat of which the Starfighter was not capable. A quick “Splash” (Missile kill) and we made a cruise descent to land, with some relief, back at Aalborg.
Back at Gütersloh we enjoyed plenty of good weather and combat which led up to the last annual reunion, held in November. Fifteen out of the eighteen pilots on the Squadron managed to get to RAF Binbrook, after Gütersloh the sole surviving home of the Lightning and the last fighter base in the RAF.
Binbrook was in ideal venue for such a reunion as the Station Commander, both Squadron Commanders and several pilots on Nos. 5 and 11 Squadron were ex ninety-two. Unfortunately no Wartime members could manage the distance but several ex members including Wing Commander Don Oakden kept us entertained with some hair raising stories of the Blue Diamond days.
The reunion signaled the start of the annual party season which consumed the remainder of the year, and then it was our turn to try a large formation. December 30th 1976 was chosen as the day for the 12 aircraft formation flypast to say farewell to Nineteen Lightning who were disbanding on the following day. The Boss’ s aircraft wouldn’t start so he had to jump into another F2A; then Eleven single seaters and the two T4s taxied out through the snow. We took off and formed up in formation with one of the T4s being used to photograph the event. When the photographer had finished we made several low passes over the airfield before coming in for a break and landing. Ed Durham, the Boss, was naturally very proud that he had got all but one of his aircraft airborne at once but some people credited this feat to 19 Squadron, whose disbandment it was. When Ed was asked if he was going to put up a large formation when his squadron disbanded, like 19 had done, he nearly took off vertically.
In January 1977 five of us represented the station in the RAF Germany downhill skiing championships at Ischgl in Austria. This final opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of the Tyrol for some time was most welcome and Roger Malcolm justified our expedition by winning the trophy for the best Individual in the command. Back at base the emphasis was switched to low flying and mixed combat. We had enough fuel to see out the squadron’s service without having to conserve any fuel by flying at high level.
However, the low flying had to be undertaken with some caution. Although any uncontrolled airspace was cleared for low flying, we were not allowed below 500 feet above ground level. The Germans began to use a mobile radar trap known as ‘FLEDERMAUS’ to record our height to the nearest foot. The word got round that a Fledermaus was sited on the Möhne dam, our favourite and historic rendezvous. Two months later this aviation equivalent of a police radar trap was superseded by GROSSE FLEDERMAUS (BIG BAT). Although it caught a pair of Jaguars very early in its service, the recorded heights of forty seven and sixty two feet above ground level were so unbelievable that they actually discredited the radar system itself.
While the Jaguars continued to evade fighter interception by flying low and straight, the Harriers were always prepared to “mix-it” when bounced by a pair of Lightnings. By this time No 4 Harrier Squadron was based at Gütersloh which made mixed combat and low level affiliation more worthwhile. There were several opportunities to fly in the two seat Harrier and we offered many trips to them in our own T4.
On one of these trips Squadron Leader Mike Lawrance took a flight commander from 4 Squadron for an ill fated forty minutes in XM 968 (Quebec).
At the end of the trip, while breaking into the circuit to land, the aircraft suffered a services hydraulic failure and the undercarriage would not lower. This was shortly followed by a failure of one of the flying controls hydraulic systems, so the undercarriage emergency lowering system was also lost. The aircraft was already doomed and running very low on fuel when Mike shut down the No 2 engine to save the little fuel that remained. There was just enough pressure in the hydraulic system to power the controls while the pilot pulled out of a dive about three miles short of the runway. Then the controls seized and the two occupants ejected.
The aircraft continued to pitch nose up until it was pointing vertically upwards then described an aerobatic manoeuvre known as a stall turn. The manoeuvre, not thought to be possible in a Lightning, worked perfectly on this occasion and the aircraft accelerated vertically downwards. As the speed increased the pilotless aircraft started to pull out of the dive, pointing straight at the married quarters. Had the aircraft started its final climb at a slightly greater height or if the controls had seized at a different angle, the aircraft might have pulled out of the dive and flown right into the houses. Instead it crashed at a shallow angle in a field and its wreckage was scattered over a wide area and no one was hurt.
The aircraft crash was witnessed by many observers on the ground including the pilot’s wife Jan who, knowing that her husband was flying the two seater that day, fainted.
The pilots both suffered the normal back injuries and spent a few weeks in hospital. By the time Mike Lawrance came back the Squadron had entered its final month of parties and celebrations.
We were dined out at our own function by the Air Officers at command, we were dined out by the Station and private parties filled every moment of spare time. It was hard to see why everyone was so jolly. No one wanted it all to end. But the end grew nearer and nearer. The day was fast approaching when the Lightning Mk 2A would never fly again and the famous single seat Fighter Squadron would fly a two seat converted bomber and the crew room would contain ex “mud-movers” (ground attack pilots) and worst of all, navigators.
There was still one more large formation to be flown. This time fourteen Lightnings were airborne at once and twelve made a round trip of the RAF Stations and the headquarters. The flight was very carefully planned and briefed to ensure that this unwieldy number of aircraft would arrive overhead the AOC’s balcony at exactly the right time. Typically after we had been briefed, the Boss received a phone call ordering him to fly his Squadron in from a different direction and at an earlier time. It was too late to rebrief, so throwing away his obsolete map he led us “off the cuff”. Being a seasoned fighter pilot this was the method of navigations with which he was more familiar and he got us there, from the right direction, within ten seconds of the requested time.
Ed Durham had one final scheme before we handed over the Squadron Standard; that was to fly a pair of Lightnings at midnight on the final day of the Squadron’s operational service, March 31st. I arrived at the Squadron at eleven o’clock that night to fly as his No 2. He briefed me in the silent, gloomy hangar and up to the minute before we walked to our aircraft the plan was to say Auf Wiedersehen to all our radar GCI sites then to plant a sonic boom on our base exactly on the stroke of midnight. It would have made a fine ending to the Lightning Squadron’s service, but at the last moment, following a short phone call, the Boss was ordered not to drop a Boom.
We took off, climbed to height and did the last two nostalgic radar interceptions then said goodbye to the controlling agencies all over Germany, Holland and Belgium. That was the last operational mission and we flew back to Gütersloh for a rather uneventful rejoin and landing. An instant crowd of hundreds of squadron members, past, present and of the future 92 Phantom Squadron were there to greet us. Having expected a noisy return they were of course disappointed but the sentimentality of the occasion soon won their enthusiasm and we were carried shoulder high, mid smoke flares and thunder flashes to a reception in the hangar.
When the Ed entered the hangar to a trumpet fanfare and then a chorus of “He’s a Jolly good fellow”, I saw tears in his eyes. It was the end of the Squadron’s single seat history, the end of his command and the end of a wonderful era.
S P MORRIS
27 Dec 1977
The details of this chapter have been drawn from the squadron diaries and from personal recollections. The squadron diarists for much of this time were Flight Lieutenant Geoff Evans then Flight Lieutenant Nigel Wood.