410 Squadron, RCAF
On 1 April 1943 I joined 410 Squadron, an RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force) squadron at Coleby Grange, a wartime airfield with grass runways a few miles south of Lincoln. I now had 247 flying hours, 68 of them at night.
The squadron was flying Mosquito II aircraft equipped with AI Mark V. I was one of several RAF navigators on the squadron, the RCAF presumably not at that time having sufficient navigators trained and experienced in the use of AI. I was crewed with P/O C F Green (always called Bud) (1) and flew with him until I left the squadron on 28 December 1943 to go on rest as an instructor at an OTU.
Like other navigators I found AI Mark V frustrating and unsatisfactory. It suffered from the same height and range limitations as AI Mark IV with the added disadvantage that the pilot, to make an interception, had to watch a far-from-clear display on a small CRT. The navigator did little more than keep a strobe on a blip. Theoretically the idea was a good one but in practice it did not work well. Eventually the equipment was withdrawn and replaced by AI Mark IV as it was realised that a navigator giving a running commentary and instructions to his pilot was a better way of handling interceptions.
On most nights the squadron maintained standing patrols with one or two aircraft under the control of either Orby or Staythorpe GCI. The patrols, lasting about three hours, were mostly over the North Sea. They were enlivened by practice interceptions and the last patrol finished an hour or so before dawn. Sometimes weather conditions were so bad that only nightfighters were airborne and we also had to stand by in daytime if the conditions precluded single engined fighters flying.
The squadron had come to Coleby Grange from Acklington, north of Newcastle, and when I joined had only recently converted to the Mosquito II from the Beaufighter II (a much disliked aircraft with a reputation for being dangerous). The Mosquito was at that time still on the secret list and was not available in large numbers.
The log book entries for the period I was in the squadron relate in the main to NFTs; night flights under GCI control, usually involving practice interceptions, a few short trips into Europe; and four patrols over the Bay of Biscay at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic.
I came to the squadron as a Sergeant and was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 May. The Canadians had, I believe, a policy that all their pilots and navigators on operational squadrons should be commissioned. When I was asked by the CO if I would like to be an officer it was not a matter of much importance to me, but I remembered my father's advice "If taken prisoner you'll get better treatment as an officer and if you're sent to India life will be miserable if you're not one."
So a few days later I and two others went to 12 Group HQ where we were interviewed by the Air Vice Marshal. The next day I was told I had been commissioned and was given a 48 hours pass and some clothing coupons. Off I went to London, met my father and went with him to Moss Bros. where I was fitted out in about half an hour.
On returning to Coleby Grange I did not notice any difference in my life except that the coffee cups in the Officer's Mess were smaller than those the sergeants used! I did the same job, lived in the same sort of hut and sent most of my time as I always had, flying, hanging about or sleeping. Being commissioned obviously did not strike me at the time as a matter of any significance as I made no record in my log book of the date, 17 July 1943, on which I became a Pilot Officer.
(1) C F Green AFC retired as a Wing Commander and was killed in a car crash in 1987.