Fred Adams - War Memories
As a child I lived at Corby Glen and although I was christened Alfred William I have always been known as Fred. After attending the local village school, I went to the King`s School in Grantham where I matriculated in my School Certificate exams. This enabled me to claim direct entry into the Royal Air Force as an Aircraft Apprentice.
From 1936-1938 I was in training at the No.2 Electrical and Wireless School at Cranwell College, Lincs, to become a Wireless Operator Mechanic, retitled in 1939 a Wireless and Electrical Mechanic, and then a Wireless Fitter.
In December 1938, having completed my training and becoming Aircraftsman First Class, I worked for a few weeks on the aircraft belonging to Cranwell until March 1939 when, together with half the apprentice entry, I was posted to RAF Middle East. We sailed on the troopship HMV Dilwara out of Southampton and arrived at Alexandria to work in Aircraft Depot Middle East, later retitled No. 103 Maintenance Unit. I was stationed at Aboukir in Egypt, and here we did radio and electrical repairs, the assembly of aircraft from packing crates, and the installation of radios and their electrical generators.
It was during this time, mid-1939, we had a strange visitor to the airfield. It was a large metal aeroplane with black crosses on it. We were told it contained Von Ribbontrap and other high German officials on their way to visit the Italian colonies. They demanded refuelling but we refused and they were eventually persuaded to leave.
I then moved on for a period in `Test and Issues` Flight as test aircrew Wireless Operator c (Rear Air Gunner) We tested aircraft assembled at Aboukir and from Fleet Air Arm carriers docked in Alexandria. We carried out the first flying calibration of the new Radar Experimental Station. During this time, I was promoted to Leading Aircraftsman and then Corporal
I moved to the aerodrome side to the Test and Issues hanger with `Bunny ` Brown (WOM) and `Chalky`, White (electrician). Our jobs were to do ground checks radio and electrical on locally-built aircraft and war-damaged aircraft that had been repaired. These ground tests were followed by flying tests with me in the rear gunner`s position. We went up in Blenheims mostly, but also some Wellesleys, Bombays and Lysanders. After memorising `cloak and dagger` orders from the Trials Radar Detection station, we would take off and carry out the tests, both navigation and maximum height. We did have three minor accidents one of which was a bit frightening. As follows
At about 28,000 feet, the wings iced over and the radio aerial wire iced to a thickness of one inch. This caused it to contract and to break off the mast. From near the front cockpit, it hurtled down the fuselage and came through the roof of the rear gun turret close to my ear. Showered with ice and broken perspex, I managed to drag the mast and all the loose wire off the tail plane and into the turret where I wrapped it around the turret handles. Naturally, it meant we lost the log books, message pads and pencils. I decided I had better advise the pilot, Pilot-Officer Schwab. Finding an old red crayon and a brown label in my pocket, I scribbled a message of what had happened and crawled through the bomb bay up to the front. I tapped the pilot on the shoulder and I think he nearly died of fright! He quickly flew the aircraft down to warmer climes and landed safely.
Flying in a Lysander one day, the engine `coughed` and the electrical charging cut out stuck in, and the wiring started to burn. I pulled out all the loose wires I could which stopped the fire. This was a great relief as the nearly full petrol tank was situated between the pilot and the rear gunner`s cockpit. Again, we successfully returned to base.
In 1939/40 I belonged to the RAF Aboukir Boat Club and bought a half-share in a gaff-rigged (eighteen foot) yacht named the `Viking`. We enjoyed many hours of our off-duty time racing against other handicap class boats. One race won by the `Viking` was the annual race from Aboukir to Alexandria Royal Yacht Club. To improve the yacht`s manoeuvrability we decided to modify the keel which was a heavy lead block encased in timber. We were helped in this work by the club carpenter, a very dark 6ft 6ins Nubian of massive build. He was an excellent carpenter with a wonderful kind nature. We became great friends and he invited me to go to his home which was in Rosetta. Although it was officially out of bounds to servicemen, I took the risk and travelled on a local native bus. We were met by the Town Mayor and his staff and were taken on a tour of all the local industry mostly cottage weaving looms. After a pleasant meal, I was sent on my way back to Aboukir loaded with gifts of cloth blankets and a hot roast chicken for my supper.
A few weeks later, sailing round Aboukir Bay and training three new crewmen, we encountered rough water and while `tacking` the new lads all fell to the wrong side of the boat which then capsized. As we had flotation tanks under the deck the boat could not sink. I managed to get the crew to hang on to the top side and I dived under the boat to retrieve the cork lifebelts, one each. The local fishermen from Rosetta put out their big boat and rescued us! We found the `Viking` next morning stranded on the beach about a mile from the club. It was a fairly easy job to get her cleaned up and back in the water to sail back to the club.
We used to sail out of the bay to Nelson Island, a rock and sand small island with a long, underground smugglers` tunnel. We used the island for holidays no radio, no newspapers isolated from the outside world. We had large `hayboxes` for butter, eggs and meat, a Marquee tent with camp beds, and beer barrels half-buried in the surf. The first week-end in September 1939, we were isolated by a Mediterranean storm with twenty- foot waves! Looking back across the bay, I saw some `idiots` out in the club whaler! About an hour later, six managed to tie the whaler to the small jetty to be greeted by shouted orders, `You have to come back, there`s a war on!` We were disgusted but we loaded up the whaler with the camp gear, drank up what beer we could and it set off back to the club house. I kept two crewmen to help sail the `Viking` . Every wave trough flooded over the stern so we were bailing continuously. Eventually, well-nigh exhausted, we tied up safely at the club house.
After some hurried tea, I was given a rifle, five rounds of >303 ammunition, a tin hat and a gas mask and put on a 24-hour guard duty round the hangars to protect the planes from being sabotaged by the Italian workers who, up to then, had been working with us. Just after dark, a large body jumped out of a palm tree. As I loaded to fire my rifle I realised it was a wild alsation dog! On different occasions we did guard duty at the bomb stores, a nelson stone fort half underground on Point Tewfik and still littered with ships1 cannons.
As well as the Boat Club, we shared beach cabins on Western Bay and enjoyed swimming and diving. One of my duties was cinema projectionist at the camp cinema and so we could borrow gramophone records to play in our cabin. We also played soccer, rugby, hockey etc mainly against the Fleet Air Arm teams moored in Alexandria.
In 1940, I was put in charge of the machine gun pits for anti-aircraft defence. One bombing raid by Italian SM71s resulted in a direct hit on the airscrew factory and one of the slower members diving for cover received a shrapnel wound in his backside.
Shortly after this, I was collected by Corporal Gardner in a shot up vehicle and, after an hour feverishly packing my kit, was rushed up the desert road to Fuka and later Mersa Matruh airfield. This was following the first retreat of the Desert Army and Air Force when the retreat stopped at Sollum and Tobruk. I was posted to the Western Desert to the newly-formed No.204 Desert Group RAF HQ. By this time, 1941, I was a sergeant and my task was to make the Signals Section and Direction Finding Station fully operational. These were essential for aircraft safety as they were the only such stations between Gloucester and India! The Direction Finding station saved many Wellingtons and other bombers by providing landing directions to base airfields. On one occasion three Wellingtons landed on Mersa Matruh airfield , all somewhat damaged. Two made it down safely but the third came in the wrong way and struck the hill across the desert road. The rear turret was broken off and the rear gunner ( when we got him out of the minefield) complained of a bad back! All these crews survived to fly another day. ( Later in 1942 after an exciting period, I was relieved by one sergeant and four radio mechanics which was a great relief for me after working for twenty hours a day. I collected a party of ground gunners from the base at Cairo and delivered them to various RAF units in the war zone. I was posted myself to No. 239 Fighter Bomber Wing Headquarters at Gazala as NCO in charge of Headquarters` Signals Equipment).
It was in 1941 that the South African Brigade arrived to man the Mersa Matruh perimeter defences. Because our standby transmitter station and canteen had taken over one of the gun sites, they tried to kick me out. However, after giving the South African Irish a few beers in the canteen, they decided to make a new gunpit for themselves.
Shortly after they arrived, the South African government decided that they would review the brigade on Mersa airfield. The previous night`s bombing raid had left six craters near the signals vehicles which had been dug in fortunately but only five explosions had been reported. During my usual 6 a.m. check of the remote control cables across the desert road, I found a crater some 3-4 feet deep. Knowing about the planned troop review, I carefully filled it in; big stones first and then sand on the top. About mid-morning, a convoy of thirteen staff cars drove down the road and on to the airfield. General Smuts and his entourage were accompanied by many of the Eighth Army top brass. After the review, the staff cars drove back to Mersa village and Cairo. About half an hour later a very young subaltern and four pioneers arrived to look for a reported unexploded bomb. I showed him the six craters and he decided that the one in the middle of the road was the most likely. After removing all the sand and stones that I had put in the hole, they were confronted by the tail fins of a 250 kg German bomb. All the signals staff were immediately evacuated, including me, from the area. Eventually, the bomb was defused and removed. I did wonder what the news headlines would have been if the bomb had gone off under the staff cars. `RAF sergeant blows up the South African cabinet!`
It was not only the South Africans who appreciated the canteen whose walls were covered with Australian bottled beer labels. Many troops in transit up and down the desert road dropped in for a drink, and all were treated equally, both officers and men. We used to go up to Alexandria regularly for supplies. I made such profits that I was able to provide a slap-up Christmas dinner to the unit, Christmas pudding, turkey and all the trimmings and plenty to drink. Afterwards I sat by the side of the desert road handing our bottles of beer to passing drivers. I built myself a cosy bunker lined with planks of wood for walls. Behind these planks I hid bottles of beer as emergency supplies mine. Unfortunately, after further attacks by the Africa Corps which resulted in the fall of Tobruk, we retreated back to Amrya in the Egypt Canal Zone. I did hear later that a German Luftwaffe Commander had commandeered my bunker, but he never found the beer! We did though when we came through on the way back and we consumed 6 crates of beer in two days!
Following serious attacks by the Africa Corps, we retreated back to Mersa Matruh and after the fall of Tobruk back to Amrya in Egypt. During this retreat, we had tyre trouble and our truck had to stop. The sergeant said, `Don`t worry. I`ll go Mersa and get a fresh tyre and bring it back to you`. So there we were on the desert road with our army rushing past and we were stuck. There was nothing to do but to wait and hope. We armed ourselves with 303 rifles, climbed on to the roof of the truck and prepared to stop the advance of the Africa Corps. Luckily the sergeant returned with the required tyre before the Africa Corps came in sight, although we could see their dust in the distance!
In 1942, I was sent to Palestine to a High Speed Signals Unit near Ramleh, No.6 Heavy Mobile Signals Unit. This had been built into converted Blackpool buses and transported via South Africa. The low chassis caused us problems particularly the very heavy Scwab transmitter bus. After final testing and training, the whole convoy moved to near Cairo to wait. I told the troop that we would be moving forward after the big battle which would be in October. I was only guessing but I was right. The battle of Alamein took place in October. By now I had been promoted to Flight Sergeant, and the unit was employed as a communications unit for Advanced Air Headquarters and with the Eighth Army Headquarters, transmittimg signals to the United Kingdom, Leyton Buzzard,the Air Ministry and the War office in London etc.
After the successful outcome of the Battle of Alamein, we followed the advance to Benina, near Benghazi. Here we rebuilt the bombed power station and fitted the medium power transmitters as a permanent station. The High Speed receiver and transmitter vehicles and the rest of the unit proceeded on to Bizerta in Tunisia following the surrender of the Africa Corps at Cape Bon in May/June 1943.The unit was prepared for the invasion of Sicily and Italy but I was ordered to return to England. I had to make my own way back to Cairo to gain clearance from the Middle East Headquarters. My MT driver drove me to Castel Benito, Tunis airfield, where my first acquaintance turned out to be a Flight Sergeant in charge of air trooping. This secured me a seat on a Dakota back to Cairo West aerodrome. This was a real stroke of luck. At the transit camp whilst waiting for a troopship to take me back to England, I heard men talking about a big RAF funeral at RAF Khartoumn. I recognised the voices of my earlier D/F operators from Mersa Matruh. Joining them, I learned of the crashes involving my twin brother Charles near Khartoumn.
I sailed on the Belgian troopship `Leopoldville` through the Mediterranean to Gibraltar and after a five day stop, we journeyed through the Atlantic and arrived at Gourock, Scotland. I had served overseas for four and a half years. I travelled by train via Wilmslow camp and was posted to RAF Desborough, Northants, No.84 Operational Training Unit where aircrew were trained for Wellingtons. I was Senior NCO in charge of Station Signals equipment and Harwell Box aircraft simulators.
For the D-Day invasion we had fitted the Harwell Boxes (Aircraft Simulators) with aerials and were employed sending `spoof ` messages for the Germans to intercept. This helped to convince them that the invasion would be from the East Coast to the Calais area. It was at this time that I was eventually persuaded to accept nomination for a commission and in February, 1944, I married my faithful sweetheart Olive Rastall at Sedgebrook, Lincs.
In 1946 I proceeded to Officer Cadet training at Cranwell and at Cosford. I was commissioned as Pilot Officer 58570 (Technical Signals Branch). Then to RAF Watton in Norfolk to Ground Radio Countermeasures Section (Radio and Radar Jammers etc) We maintained RAF and American heavy transmitters and large diesel generators and some captured German radar vehicles. In the great snow blizzard of 1947, I coupled up three of the large caterpillar diesels to provide emergency power for camp essentials and local hospitals etc as all road and rail transport was shut down and all power lost. In 1948 I passed the examination to Flight Lieutenant and took charge of Aerodrome Aircraft Navigational Aids Servicing Section which did major servicing for radio aids for all the UK airfields and some airfields overseas included those connected to the Berlin Airlift.
I was posted yet again in 1950, this time to RAF Henlow, Beds, to plan and staff four new Ground Radio Servicing Squadrons to be spread around England and Scotland. 1951 went to RAF Chigwell, Essex, as temporary Technical Adjutant No. 4 Ground Radio Servicing Squadron and then was controller for a touring servicing party for Type 1 Radar (C.H.) stations East Anglia and the South Coast. I managed to reduce the time spent on servicing at each of these stations from 30 days to 14 by proper planning.
February of 1953 brought the terrible high Spring Tides and floods to Eastern England. The sea defences of Canvey Island were overwhelmed. As RAF Chigwell was nearby, I was detailed to take two Pilot Officers and a hundred airmen to the aid of the residents of Canvey. The island was flooded up to the roofs of the bungalows and the sea defences had to be repaired with thousands of sandbags. The Chigwell party had to do the night shifts! Checking the bank repairs and the various sentries meant patrolling the top of the sea wall which was about three feet wide and covered with ice with sea water up to ten feet deep on either side. All minor breaches had to be plugged immediately. After persuading the army staff to find and set up large searchlights on the mainland, the work was made much easier. After several nights the contingent was relieved and we returned to Chigwell.
I formed the Radio Servicing Wing Headquarters at Chigwell in 1954 and was made Technical Adjutant controlling the Radio Servicing of over 300 stations. In 1956 I was posted to Headquarters No. 90 Group, later Headquarters Signals Command RAF Medenham, Marlow Bucks, as Chief Editor of Radar and Related Mechanical Maintenance Schedules. At this time working with Squadron Leader Royce, we investigated a new Swiss lubricant based on Molybdenum disulphide and found it to be very effective for the heavy radar turning gears. We introduced it into general RAF use. Everyone now knows it as WD 40!
My work on radar took a step further when in 1959 I was selected for training on the Bloodhound Mark 1 Anti-Aircraft Missiles. This was at the Ferranti and Bristol Aircraft factories when I was employed in a new department called the Surface to Air Missile Co-ordination Section at Medenham. I was the Liason Engineer with the Air Ministry Works Department Drawing Office in London and the Radar Research Establishment at Malvern, Worcs. I also worked on experimental heavy radar transmitters in Norfolk and RAF Northcotes, North Lincs. In addition I supervised the Works Services build of heavy radar at North Luffenham , South Lincs, and at Missile Squadron sites at Woolfox Lodge near Stamford, and in Northamptonshire and Norfolk.
During 1960-61, I retrained on static and mobile radars, types 86 and 87 and on mark 2 Bloodhound Missiles and launch systems. I was Co-ordination Officer in Guided Weapons Installation co-ordination section. I liased with the Air Ministry Works North East region and Ferranti and Bristol installation teams. I also had supervision of the construction of new area Radar Type 82 at Lindholme and associated area control block. Missile Squadrons were installed at Northcotes( Lincs), Breighton and Carnaby ( Yorks) and Misson ( Doncaster). Mobile sections were set up at Northcotes and West Raynham (Norfolk) and Missile Wing Workshops established at RAF Church Fenton ( Yorks).When squadrons became operational, the co-ordination section moved to RAF Swanton Morley in Norfolk to join the Central Servicing Development Establishment. The mobile section of the Northcotes missile squadron was transported to a new site we built at Paramali, Cyprus, and worked in conjunction with the main Radar at Mount Troodos. When this site was operational, some of us took a week`s leave and toured Northern Cyprus in a hired Mini. We toured several archaeological sites ( Greek and Roman) and visited various mosques and monasteries. At that time the island was divided between Turks and Greeks but the Turks allowed us to go almost anywhere. The local commander at Mount Heraklion showed us his headquarters but would not let us talk to the Greek prisoners! On the return journey, we met the first camel train outside Africa! We enjoyed sea bathing below Paramali and on one occasion I was almost knocked off the cliff by a hawk diving at about 70 miles an hour mistaking my head for a bird! We returned to the U.K. by air to North Cotes shortly afterwards.
In 1963 I moved to Seletar in Singapore to supervise the building of a missile site there. I was promoted to Squadron Leader and my wife and family came out to join me in 1964. I was posted to the Squadron ( No. 65 ) as Officer Commanding Support Flight. The Squadron had half static and half mobile equipment. We carried out trials using local squadron aircraft. These trials were delayed rather, until I insisted that we worked at the week-ends when there was nothing else on. The trials proceeded satisfactorily. It was in 1965 that the mobile section was transported by ships from Singapore to RAF Kuching, in Sarawak, now Indonesia. The main transport was later destroyed in the Falklands War. The launcher site had to be built on cleared jungle and a deep ravine at the end of the aerodrome runway. Eventually, all the equipment worked satisfactorily but to the disappointment of us all and the C-in-C Far East the Indonesian Air Force refused to fly again. So the `Confrontation War ` came to an end. A further missile squadron was built at RAF Butterworth in Malaysia near Penang Island.
The overseas tour of duty came to an end in July 1966 and my family and I returned to England. Once more I found myself at North Cotes, this time as Senior Technical officer. My duties covered the work of No.25 Missile Squadron and trials run by No. 17 Joint Services Trials Unit as well as normal camp technical duties such as motor transport etc. I was detached to West Raynham in 1969 to plan a central missile overhaul system in a hangar. I used an office previously occupied by HRH Prince Charles, but they took away the red phone!
Moving yet again, I was posted to radio Engineering Unit RAF Henlow in Buckinghamshire as Officer Commanding the Electrical Engineering Squadron. I was responsible for designing and making special equipment for Nimrod aircraft, allocation of radio staff for Battle of Britain films, and for the installation of radio communication equipment and airfield control equipment at RAF Gan, on the Maldive Islands. I was also in charge of three hangars of aircraft dating from 1917 to 1969, German and English, which became the basis of the RAF Museum at Hendon.
At this time, I had found temporary accommodation in Saham Toney village as there were no Watton married quarters available for junior officers. My wife arrived at Walton station with son Denis and fortunately a stout perambulator. The snow was level with the hedge-tops so we pushed the pram along the top from Watton to Saham. After the thaw and the subsequent floods, Olive used to take Denis shopping in a cycle with side-car which I had bought earlier in Grantham. The local Norfolk ladies seemed quite amazed at the sight!
In 1948, I bought a Penarth caravan and put it near a dis-used Nissen hut. The local farmer planted a lot of potatoes and peas for our free consumption and the hut became the laundry! I made an allotment and sank barrels in the ground to collect rainwater off the runway. Having a shot gun, I was able to shoot partridges etc from behind the Nissen hut doors. The caravan was sited near to Griston village and we attended various village churches. At a garden fete we won a very large armchair for 6d but how to get it home was the problem. I managed by lifting it onto my bicycle seat against a gate, climbing onto the chair and riding it home! It was much too big for the caravan but was useful in the hut. To overcome the severe winters I put a second floor under the caravan, fitted all windows with plywood liners and used a `Pither` anthracite stove for heating and for airing clothes. We always kept warm even when the whole van was covered in ice.
In the 1950`s whilst at Chigwell, we ordered an empty 22-foot caravan, complete with a fold-away double bed, from a firm at Billericay, Essex. After the eventual delivery, I spent some time building a three-room complex kitchen with full-size cooker, sink etc, bathroom with bath, and a large lounge/bedroom. We made armchairs with tall backs out of beer barrels, and various cupboard seats. I used to cycle to Buckhurst Hill for my supplies of hardboard etc. On windy days it was a bit tricky carrying hardboard 8 foot by 4 foot!
One of our jobs was doing regular inspections of dis-used airfields. This enabled my fellow caravanners to obtain poles, power cables, pipes etc. We laid on mains power and water supply from the main camp to our site of 8 to 10 caravans. I used to take the boys to Chigwell village school in our first car, a Triumph Vanguard van which I converted into a three-row seater and often had as many as sixteen children in it. The local copper disapproved but he walked away each morning. The vehicle was useful for our local Boy Scouts, football teams etc. Our longest breakdown was ten minutes. My engineer Flight Sergeant and I stripped the engine and put new bearings in from time to time but eventually the floor rusted away and it had to go!
My last posting was to North Luffenham, Rutland, to fill the post of Officer Commanding Management Squadron of the Ground Radio Servicing Centre. Our first Sunday at North Luffenham was used up in joining a Field Walking team to search the fields of the planned reservoir ( now Rutland Water). Olive and I were founder members of the Rutland Archaeological and History Research Group based on Rutland Museum. After two successful excavations at Nether Hambleton and Whitwell and a spell of twenty years as Group Chairman, I was able to hand over to younger members. In preparation for retirement, I completed a resettlement course on building, carpentry, decorating etc. I joined RAF Cranwell Apprentices Association and the Far East Veterans Association. We purchased a house at Colsterworth, Lincolnshire, and in 1980 I became church warden and I stayed in the post for 25 years.So I completed 39 plus years of RAF service in 1974 and if I were to be asked if , knowing what I know now, I would do it all again, the answer is yes.