We so often hear of complaints from the public about the R.A.F flying too low and frightening the horses, pregnant cattle, rattling windows, ruining Sunday sermons; you name it.
Low flying is one of the most important skills that an operational pilot can have and it takes constant training to get the required split second timing. This does not apply to any other low flying other than stunts which are strictly forbidden. However, it is most exhilarating. It is not much fun sitting at the controls and flying straight and level but close to the ground all speed is exaggerated. Forbidden fruits are sweet and all that. The first question at a fatal accident is usually had he a girl friend anywhere near?
We all had friends who had had ended like that but 'it could not happen to us'! Could it? Operational flying was another matter. The lower the better. It all started with takeoff. We were very proud of our flying and takeoff was (for us) achieved by belting along until one could feel that the wheels were just coming unstuck - - holding the stick forward to keep the wheels on the runway ---then---'up with the wheels' It was very spectacular. A spectator would see the aircraft's wheels come up with no change in the distance of the fuselage from the ground until the perimeter was reached and then a lovely soaring turn and away. The extra speed made a glorious, soaring climbing turn. Many of us did it.
I was sitting in a 15 cwt truck, idly watching my good friend Jaspal Singh take off on a 'job'. Lovely---up came the wheels---but the prop started flying in all directions and the aircraft (Hurricane IIc) sank back onto the perforated steel runway with a shower of sparks streaming out from the bombs. He was skidding on two 500lb bombs. I let out the clutch and raced after him. He actually climbed out and sat on the trailing edge of the wing!!!! Before I got there he had realised and started running. Yes. He had miscalculated; one of our best pilots too. There was really not much to worry about. Between the tail fins on each bomb was a small propeller that span off as it fell through the air which armed the explosive. It was held in place by a pin until released. Until the detonator was armed the explosives in the bomb were relatively harmless. Nevertheless poor old Jas was put on a fizzer (charge). I don't remember any one of us trying that trick again and I don't remember him having his leg pulled about it.
On 16th Feb '45 we were called in to cover the (East?) Lancs' landing at Ru-ywa. The 14th Army found that the easiest way of rolling up the Japs was to carry out a series of seaborn "invasions". This meant that the Japs were cut up into bite sized portions but it also meant that there was no front as such but a fluid system to which we were well used. As mentioned elsewhere for some time we had removed our badges of rank from the shoulder flaps, this was to deprive the enemy of targets in the case of guerrilla infiltration. But I digress.
The enemy was now in retreat & fighting fanatically. If a live prisoner was taken it was great news and published in the news bulletins and usually meant that he must have been unconscious at the time of capture. He wasted no effort in camouflage and used the terrain brilliantly. There are a series of knife edged ridges running North/South along the Arakan and it was not unusual for him to cut right through a mountain ridge creating a gun emplacement and leaving nothing to fire at but the firing slit.
The ground troops were to
attack across open ground at a well protected enemy and our job was
to keep him busy. A Hurrybird with four 20mm could be pretty
formidable and a squadron of twelve must have been a nasty surprise.
The whole job was to be at zero feet and we were aware that we should be rather vulnerable on breakaway so violent evasive action was the order of the day. This, as usual, involved sharp jinking, skidding & anything that would put a chap off his aim. It was a good idea to make sure that the straps were tight as one was thrown all over the cockpit.
We had been very well briefed and I still have the target photo [See below, or click here for a larger version]. The target area is outlined in ink and the Lancs: had to attack across the paddy fields at the bottom left of the photograph.
The Target Area was roughly within the area outlined.
A shallow dive put us on the deck at a fair speed but we were in for a surprise. Great spouts of earth were going into the air all around us. I mentioned earlier that the Nip had the nasty habit of burying oil drums in the ground full of explosive and rocks fired by remote control but this was ridiculous. There were so many of them and they were smaller. There was nothing to do but carry on and keep heads down. We planned it so that we would attack a subsection at a time (six times two). This would keep the Japs busy and help the advancing infantry.
P/o Jarman, my No 2 was on my Starb'd wingtip and out of the corner of my eye I saw him go into a slipping turn, immediately recover and he was ready for the next run after breaking away.
We finally sussed that His Majesty's Navy was covering the landing as well! There they were out in the chaung (river) lobbing all they had. We were bang on time. Someone had blundered, perhaps they had forgotten to change their watches. On regrouping to return to base Jammy came up alongside and waggled his wings, signing that his temperature was going off the clock. We dropped out & continued in coarse pitch at minimum revs. On landing we found several dents and his radiator was half full of mud. He was a lovely chap. Quiet. Non conformist of some sort.
Never talked about it but I never heard the mildest dirty/swearword from him. Lovely young girl's photo followed his bedside thro' thick and thin. I heard that he always slept in a brothel when on leave in Calcutta because the hotels were not only clipjoints but rather grim. There was never the suggestion that he ever used the merchandise and I am sure that he would never dream of it. He married that little girl at the end of hostilities. He emigrated to Canada where I visited him when I was living there. He had changed little.
I was, at that time, an F/O and not long afterwards was gazetted (in Dear Old Blighty) as F/Lt (Flight Lieutenant) This was puzzling. It seemed that there were two parallel lives. In R.A.F. records there was an F/Lt Sparkes E.D.S.N No 132155 but there was a chap in an Indian squadron squadron, P/O Sparkes E.D.S.N No 132135 festering away with clapped out aircraft fighting not only leeches, malaria, infected prickly heat, impetigo, dysentery, flies, snakes, food problems and a fanatical enemy but feeling, with his compatriots, that the XIV Army had indeed been forgotten.
To be fair they did put things right but some ****** penguin sitting on his fat arse in a nice office in England, by pressing the wrong key had made for the sort of added inconvenience that I did not need.
Next: - Calcutta
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Edward Sparkes ©2000