toilets to load the water pistol each of us carried and stuff it in the top of our trousers before entering the dining room with a wary eye open for any surprise attack.
The station commander was Group Captain A C Brown
. 112 Squadron CO
was Squadron Leader Ian Bolton
, with A and B flight commanders Robby Robinson
and Dave Blair
. One of the pilots, Flying Officer 'Willie' Williamson
, was later to reach the exalted rank of Marshal of the Royal Air Force - the top man. Most pilots were commissioned officers, but in the early days we had two flight sergeants and one sergeant, and enough Vampires to allow us one each. The squadron had been reformed shortly before I joined, having been disbanded at the end of the war after fighting through North Africa and Italy flying American Warhawks, Kittyhawks, and later Mustangs. A distinctive feature of squadron aircraft was the red, white and black shark's teeth painted under the aircraft's nose. Each pilot painted his own aircraft with the aid of brown paper templates and a spray gun. The squadron badge, which we all wore on our flying suits, depicted a black Egyptian cat with the motto underneath reading: 'Swift in Destruction'. Quite appropriate, since the squadron had a dual role as a fighter/ground attack unit.
The Vampire was equipped with four 20 mm cannon in the nose and racks for four self-propelled rocket projectiles beneath each wing. It was a great time to be in the air force, especially in Germany. Our role involved lots of low flying which I found intensely satisfying, skimming the roof tops and trees en route to the target then at a specific point short of the target pulling up into a wingover and make a diving attack with rockets or guns. The rockets were dummies of course with a concrete head, and where they would go when released was anybody's guess. Firing a salvo of four rockets could result in a wide dispersion. My logbook tells me that on 11 May 1953 for example, of the four rockets I fired with one press of the firing button, one hit the target and the other three missed by 25, 27, and 40 yards. Air to ground firing of the four 20mm. cannon was much more accurate.
Live air-to-air firing was carried out twice a year on detachments to the Armament Practice Camp at Sylt, an almost-an-island connected by a narrow strip of land to the mainland of Schleswig Holstein. It was a well-known resort for the Germans, being noted for its nude bathing beaches.
The firing ranges were two miles out to sea where the target tug Tempest would tow a flag in a north/south direction. In one sortie the Tempest pilot could expect his flag to be fired on by three or four individual Vampires, the number of hits (holes) in the flag being stained by a distinctive dye relating to each aeroplane. The flag would then be dropped on the airfield and the number of holes counted, the results being phoned through to the squadron. Since we still had no two-seat Vampire, it was a case of being told how to do it, then going off and doing one's best. I can't remember the exact size of the flag but it was roughly 4 feet high by 20 feet long, so considerably harder to hit than an aeroplane. It had to be attacked at an angle with the Vampire flown in a curving approach known as a 'Curve of Pursuit'. Each time the firing button was pressed a cine camera
in the nose recorded the action and we would watch the film later. When weather prevented flying we watched German wartime combat cine
films and old black and white movies - several of Hercule Poirot.
Going back to what I said earlier about Flash Elsdon
, I saw one of his cine
films showing him line astern of the Tempest and fluttering flag and still firing - a real nutter!
A Tempest ditched in the sea one day. I can't remember whether it was shot down or suffered an engine failure, but the pilot managed to inflate his dinghy and sit