In mid June 1952, I was posted to my first operational squadron, number 112(F)
, equipped with Vampire Mk V's and based at Jever near Wilhelmshaven in northern Germany. With me went three other 'sprog' pilots, Pilot Officers Snowy Le Breton
, Ray Hancock
and 'Flash' Elsdon
. We had been together all through pilot training in Southern Rhodesia, the weather acclimatisation course at Ternhill in Shropshire and jet conversion at 202 Advanced Flying School at Valley on Anglesey. Each of us had approximately 280 flying hours to our credit, 40 on Tiger Moths, over 200 on the Harvard and the rest on the Meteor Mk 7 and Vampire 1 and 5 at Valley.
Fighters had not been my first choice of posting. I had volunteered for twin-engined Bristol Brigands operating in Malaya hoping to see some real action (silly me!), but it was not to be. The powers that be deemed I was more suited to the role of a fighter pilot. The conversion to jets at Valley had gone well and I had no regrets when the posting to 112 squadron
came through. After all, to be a fighter pilot was many a young man's ambition at the time and probably still is today.
Our journey from the UK had commenced at Harwich via the night ferry to Hook of Holland, then by train to Wilhelmshaven. There, we were met by an RAF corporal with a Landrover to take us to Jever. He suggested some liquid refreshment in the station buffet before continuing our journey and soon demonstrated his command of the German language. 'Don't worry, sirs', he said. 'I speak the lingo.' Then, sticking up an arm to attract the attention of a waiter, he shouted out his order: 'Funf beers, Jack!' We were most impressed.
Jever was an ex-Luftwaffe airfield with one east/west runway, extensive concrete aprons and dispersal pans at each end of the runway. The latter had been laid down since the war to disperse the aircraft in case of attack and to enable them to get airborne within two minutes of an alert. The main purpose of the RAF in Germany at that time (2nd Tactical Air Force) was to combat any threat from the Eastern Block powers. Consequently, each station maintained a 'Battle-Flight
' - four aircraft with their 20 millimetre cannons armed and pilots in their cockpits ready to take off to intercept any Russian or East German aircraft crossing the Iron curtain.
Since we had been sent directly to the squadron
to complete our armament training, rather than the usual system of three months at an OCU
(Operational Conversion Unit), it was to be some time before we new pilots were qualified to take part in the exciting scrambles of the Battle Flight
. Indeed our first task on arrival at the squadron
hangar was to read through the Station and Group Standing Orders, then wade through a foot-thick pile of Eagle comics (Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future) and sign as having 'read and understood!'
The officers' mess and barrack blocks were also ex-Luftwaffe, and, as I was to find out on subsequent visits to other stations, were built to a standard specification, even down to the honking bowls with chrome-plated grab handles in the officers' mess toilets. It seemed the Germans also had some rather heavy drinking sessions when off duty. I never had to avail myself of that facility, hardly touching alcohol at all during that period. The liking for a drop of the hard stuff didn't come till much later in life.
There were three fighter squadrons at Jever, 112
, which led to inevitable rivalry. When flying, each would take great delight in 'bouncing' the other squadron's aircraft and bringing back some cine
film of the event. The rivalry even spread to meal times in the officers' mess. At lunchtime, the first thing we did was to visit the