A SHAKY DO
After I finished a tour of operation with XV Squadron RAF Mildenhall in 3 Group Bomber Command in July 1944, I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to take the RAF Special Navigation Course at a base near Shrewsbury. The course commenced the first week in August 1944 and continued for eight or nine months.
The 1944-45 course was compromised of seven RAF navigators, two Canadians, one Australian and one New Zealander. One of the requirements for the course was knowledge of mathematics and physics. As I had taken but one year of calculus at Queen’s University summer course and I had my high school physics, this was no match for the competence of the other members on the course. A quick review of some math and physics gave our instructors a good knowledge of our competence.
During August we had an opportunity to navigate Wellingtons and Stirlings on cross-countries in England using drifts, GEE, A.S.V, H2S and Astro navigation. As a finale, the last of August we circumnavigated Eire. There were two navigators on each flight and they alternated as first navigator.
For me, one of the great incentives was a trip to Canada and as a finale an opportunity to locate the magnetic North Pole.
On September 15, 1944 we took off for Canada with our first stay at Reykjavik in the Short Stirling with a pilot, co-pilot, myself as navigator and a wireless operator. How could I be so lucky! A chance to see my girl friend in Canada! Wow! Because of a hurricane over the North Atlantic we were storm-stayed in Reykjavik Iceland for two long days. I say the days were long because it meant valuable time lost, as I was so anxious to get home once again.
At long last we took off on September 17th around noon for Gander Newfoundland with an incomplete weather forecast. I set course with the available winds and I had a “gut” feeling the winds were stronger than was forecast. We climbed to about 19,000 feet which is the limit for a Stirling and still clouds. It was impossible to obtain a sextant shot of the sun to obtain our latitude. Certainly we turned our oxygen on at 10,000 feet as they so realistically taught us at I.T.S. The pilot then descended to about four hundred feet which enabled me to obtain a drift and establish our track.
Stupid me! I did not have a topographical map of Greenland and so was unsure of the altitude of any mountains as we were to be ten miles south of Greenland to maintain our planned track. What was a reasonable safety height? Being cautious I made two alterations of course southward. My pilot appeared to have full confidence in my navigation skills and we pressed on. No such thing as radio bearings from Greenland.
To my great relief we spotted the southern tip of Greenland off our starboard wing about twenty miles away. Off track by ten miles or so—but on the safe side!
In short order, or so it seemed, we landed at Goose Bay in a veritable heat wave for them at that time of year. After a sleepless night in those hot barracks we set course for Dorval, P.Q. We were greeted with awe as none of the ground crew had ever seen a Stirling before. They couldn’t get over how high the nose was from the ground!
All too soon our time in Canada was up and we set course from Dorval to Gander at 1335 hours on September 21, 1944. After refuelling in Gander ten hours later we arrived in Prestwick.
By the end of October it was very evident that the course required much greater expertise than I had. Speaking to the Wing Commander in charge I requested to be taken off the course. I was posted to Bournemouth to teach navigation. I often wondered if my course mates found the location of the magnetic north pole.
Even today when I think about that trip I suffer the same gut feeling I knew that day I discovered my lack of a map from which I would get safe height and cumulonimbus clouds wherever they are found are always unforgiving. As my Aussie course mate would say “A Shaky Do.”