More RAF Tales

Having seen the report about Bryan Jenkins’ RAF career, Probus member, Geoff Twine reminisces about seeing the photograph of the Avro Lancaster at the main gate to RAF Scampton.

Many years before Bryan was involved in having the Lancaster re-positioned back into its place, there had been quite a panic, when, in 1958, Lincolnshire County Council needed to change the road layout around the east side of the airfield. It was due to the RAF station needing to lengthen the runway to accommodate the soon to be arriving Avro Vulcan bombers. This meant it was necessary to move from the gate, not only the war time plane used by 617 Squadron, who were still based at RAF Scampton, but also its neighbouring war time relic. This was none other than a Grand Slam bomb, the largest non-nuclear bomb used towards the end of WW2.

Known affectionately as Ten Ton Tess it also had the semi-official name of the Earthquake bomb and also the bomb designed to miss its target. It weighed 22,000 lbs (10 tons) and was designed by Barnes Wallis the man who created the bouncing bomb used by 617 Squadron on the Dam Buster raids.  With a tail fin to create spin the 25 feet bomb would be travelling at over 700 mph when it hit the earth. Having a pointed solid nose, it would penetrate deep into the ground and seconds later would detonate creating a similar effect to an earthquake which had greater damaging impact on buildings and adjacent constructions than any direct hit.     


A Grand Slam Bomb weighing 10 tons with a length of 25 ft

As a RAF armourer, Geoff still has his hand written records of his training on the Grand Slam bomb in the period 1949 – 1952 and clearly recalls what happened to this monster when it had to be moved for the road positioning scheme years later and what caused a major panic.

An 8 ton Coles Crane from RAF Scampton MT Section failed to lift what had been expected to be just a casing. Perhaps it had been filled by concrete which had been part of the training of ground crew responsible for loading the Grand Slam under a specially modified Avro Lancaster. Eventually it was proved to be still filled with high explosive although no records could be found as to why such a monster would have been exposed to the public for so long.

Some safety calculations were done to estimate the damage a Grand Slam detonated at ground level in the open would cause. Apart from the entire RAF station, most of the northern part of the city of Lincoln, including Lincoln Cathedral, which dates back to 1250, would have been flattened.

Using a much heavier civilian crane the Grand Slam was carefully placed on one of the RAF’s Queen Mary low loaders and taken under a police escort to Shoeburyness in Essex where it was detonated proving that the filling was very much alive.

My First Job – The Royal Air Force by Bryan Jenkins

From the age of 10 I had a passion for building scale model aircraft from kits. They were actually quite sturdy and realistic with propellers driven by wound up rubber bands. Later on, small jetex engines became available that provided the propulsion for scale model jet aircraft such as the F86 Sabre and Mig 15. These jetex engines ejected a plume of hot smoky gas, but did not provide much thrust, a bit disappointing, but fun, nevertheless. I hung these models from my bedroom ceiling and must have had at least a dozen at any one time.

My interest in aviation led naturally to me joining the air force section of our school Combined Cadet Force. I applied for a Flying Scholarship and after 30 hours on Tiger Moths I obtained my PPL when 17. The CCF brought me into much closer contact with the RAF at summer camps held at RAF Stations. I remember RAF Topcliffe (in Yorkshire) where I was thrilled when the pilot flew VERY low over the Yorkshire Dales in a Chipmunk. Who wouldn’t want to join the RAF after that? RAF Thorney Island (next to Hayling Island on the South coast) was another winner where we were rescued and winched by helicopter.

A Chipmunk similar to the one schoolboy Bryan Jenkins had a great thrill sitting in the front seat with the pilot instructor behind. While at Liverpool University he flew this model in inter-University flying competitions.

My father noticed an advert in the paper for scholarships into the Engineering Branch of the RAF. The conditions of the scholarship provided for some candidates to study engineering at university instead of spending the 3 years at The RAF Technical College at RAF Henlow. Furthermore, flying training was available to those who qualified, my aim was to do both of these as I already had a PPL. However, to be successful I had to endure 5 days of evaluation. This included thorough aircrew medicals and aptitude tests at the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre at RAF Hornchuch followed by 3 days at RAF Cranwell. I was passed suitable for officer aircrew, but the interviewers (all RAF pilots) could not understand why I wanted to be an engineering officer, they tried to change my mind (but failed). I always wanted to go to university, and I made this known at interviews – it worked.

Soon after, a letter arrived for my dad saying that the Air Force Board had approved my scholarship application subject to me obtaining four good “A” levels. This I achieved and I reported as ordered to RAF Henlow on 10th October 1958, my first day in the RAF.  While at Henlow, those fit and able to fly were progressed on Chipmunks through aerobatics, instrument flying, night flying and formation flying.

The college staff selected Liverpool university for me starting in October 1959. Being a Pilot Officer in the RAF, I was administered by the University Air Squadron (UAS). The best part of being in the Air Squadron was flying from the airfield at RAF Woodvale just south of Southport. We could fly as often as we liked (although not at the expense of our academic studies). The staff were RAF Flying Instructors and the aircraft were Chipmunks just like the aircraft at Henlow. I was able to represent our squadron each year in the annual inter-UAS competitions in spot landing, formation flying and finally aerobatics.

After the happy days at Liverpool I was recalled to Henlow for 2 terms to prepare me for my first posting to RAF Waddington just south of Lincoln. This was very much into the deep end because it was the time of the Cold War and the RAF provided our nuclear deterrent. There were 3 squadrons of white Vulcan bombers on the station, 27 in all, and 3 aircraft, the QRA – (Quick Reaction Alert) – were always on 15 mins standby, they were fully armed with (nuclear) weapons and guarded by RAF Police with dogs.

Avro Vulcan B Mk1A for use at high level attack as flown from RAF Waddington in 1958

Bomber Command would test the readiness of the station by ordering all aircraft on the station to 15 mins readiness; this was exercised periodically (called Exercise Micky Fin) usually at 2 am. My job was in the Hangar Squadron whose task was to carry out the deeper servicings and rectifications that could not be done outside on the line. I had 100 radio, radar and electrical tradesmen in my flight, so it was a great initiation into both engineering and man-management in a real operational environment that set me up for the rest of my career.

Despite the seriousness of the situation I recall some amusing events. One freezing January during a QRA alert, the captain could not insert the cabin door key into the frozen lock and so the crew could not enter. Meanwhile the crew chief had started the engines, so we had a nuclear weaponed aircraft with engines running, but the crew locked out. Luckily, a cigarette lighter saved the day. I once had a phone call from the Station Commander’s wife inviting me for afternoon tea at the CO’s quarter to get to know me. I was rather apprehensive, particularly when she answered the door and said that she had not invited me. It was down to a mischievous young WAAF officer who had pretended to be the CO’s wife. However, when we realised what must have happened, I was invited in anyway for a cup of tea and a very pleasant chat.

Nothing after Waddington could really compare, from a very intensive Cold War operational environment I was posted to Aden (in South Yemen) as the CO of a strategic HF receiving station. My unit was located on former salt pans with large, rhombic HF antenna arrays and with about 100 technicians living on site. Then I was posted to RAE Farnborough where I worked with RAE scientists to define, test and prepare for the introduction to service of new antisubmarine sonobuoys, then a post in MOD writing the reliability and maintainability requirements for new aircraft and major equipment and back to Vulcans in charge of the Electronics Centre at RAF Scampton.

RAF Scampton 1975 the Lancaster Gate Guardian “Just Jane”. Now at the Lincolnshire Aviation Centre at East Kirkby where you can, at a price, experience a taxi ride in the aircraft. RAF Scampton is now the home of the Red Arrows display team.

Then followed an unexpected thrill, a three year posting to the United Sates working in their Logistics Command HQ at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Badge of RAF Strike Command

When I returned to the UK, it was to a post in MOD’s Procurement Executive, then11 months at the RAF Staff College and finally my last posting at HQ Strike Command at High Wycombe responsible for the engineering aspects of the electrical, avionic, armament and software of all the equipment in the Nimrod Fleet. I took early retirement in the rank of Wing Commander in 1986 and continued my career in industry.

Publicity During the Covid Lockdown – part 7

A particularly good month for the publicity efforts published in October. As well as good coverage in the local magazines the Basingstoke Gazette gave us two mentions in consecutive weeks and their web site had a more extensive offering than appeared in print.
The Basinga held firm on their promise made last month and for October, not only did we appear in their printed version, but gave us a complete page carrying two of our reports. You will see that apart from the Winklebury Way which ran late with their quarterly publication and therefore carried a previous story about banknotes, that the remainder carried the report about the reasons behind Nick Waring’s decision to enter medicine.

Information was also sent (in late August) to two CommunityAd magazines for Bramley & Sherfield and Overton & Oakley but nothing appeared from what I can see. These magazines are printed by a Kent based publisher that has an impressive stable of magazines – not only for locals (including one for Old Basing & Lychpit) but for many general and specific interests. Like many such publications they exist by selling local advertising space.

Just to ensure that you are aware that I have not succumbed to any pressure to give undeserved publicity to a young looking Bryan Jenkins when a Squadron Leader, it is just the way the programme assembles the pictures when there is a number like the ten we have this time. Had the two CommunityAd magazines come good then there would have been a final row of three pictures. If you view this page on your smart phone it assembles the pictures in five rows of two so Bryan Jenkins appears the same size as the others.

Probus hears about an unusual hobby by David Rawden

Probus Club of Basingstoke member David Rawden is a retired chemistry teacher who also had an interest in geography. He set a mini quiz before embarking on his story.

Firstly, to test your knowledge of British geography based upon his exploration of Great Britain that has taken him to the four “corners” of the country.
Can you name the most northerly, easterly, westerly and southerly points of mainland Britain?

Answers can be found at the end of this report.

Some people collect items as a hobby: stamps, books, antiques and so forth. David collected hills. They don’t take up room in the house and they don’t need dusting. After ascending all the Wainwright listed Lake District Fells he turned his attention to the Pennines and county tops. He visited the highest point of all the English counties which gave him the Heineken experience – he reached those parts of the country that people would not normally reach.

Dunkery Top, highest point of Somerset. Presented to the National Trust in 1935

The highest top is Scarfell Pike at 3209 feet situated in the Cumbrian mountains; the lowest is in Norfolk, Beacon Hill at 345 feet found just west of Cromer. Most tops are surmounted by a trig point or cairn so that you know you have succeeded. However, this does not happen in most eastern counties or those near to London. On one occasion he wandered through Pavis Wood near Tring trying to decide which hump was the highest point of Hertfordshire.

Summit of Snaefell, the highest point (2063 feet) of the Isle of Man

There is limited access to two tops in military training areas: Mickle Fell in County Durham and High Wilhays in Devon and its near neighbour Yes Tor. Both are on Dartmoor and are the only mountains (hills above 2000 feet) in England south of the Peak District.

Proper walking gear is essential to reach the majority of tops. However, there are a number of tops fairly near Hampshire which can be accessed by a simple walk from a car park. One of these is Leith Hill not far from Dorking in Surrey and another is Whitehorse Hill which can be found west of Wantage in Oxfordshire. Easiest of all is Ditchling Beacon, not far from Lewes in East Sussex. If you can find it amongst a myriad of unsignposted roads, there is a large pleasant summit area at Black Down, in West Sussex, south of Haslemere (Surrey). Walbury Hill in Berkshire, near Combe to the south west of Newbury, can easily be reached from the cark park at Inkpen Beacon. Continuing east along the Wayfarer’s Walk brings you to Pilot Hill, the highest point of Hampshire, situated just west of Highclere.

Further afield and needing more walking effort are the tops of Dorset, Lewesdown Hill near Beaminster, and in Wiltshire, Milk Hill near Alton Barnes and west of Pewsey.

Perhaps when we come out of lockdown some of the more active readers might like to visit a few of the local tops. They will be rewarded with a splendid view.

Answers to the quiz:

Most northerly: Dunnet Head. NOT John O’Groats, which is about 10 miles to the east.

Most easterly: Lowestoft Ness, Suffolk. A splendid ground marker (geoscope) denotes the spot. Distances marked show that, for a crow, Amsterdam is lot closer than Cardiff or Newcastle.

Most westerly: Point of Ardnamurchan. It can be reached by crossing Loch Linnhe by the Corran Ferry (SW of Fort William in the Western Highlands) then heading west with a short stop in Strontian – the only place in Britain with an element (strontium) named after it.

Most southerly: Lizard Point, Cornwall. NOT Land’s End which is the most westerly point of mainland England.

If you correctly answer this quiz it proves that your GCE “O” level in Geography has not been wasted.