Monday, 11 June 2012

Air Marshal Sir John Curtiss KCB KBE 1924-2013

He had flown as a navigator with Bomber Command in the Second World War, flew with the air transport force and later specialised as a night-fighter navigator. He served on a strategic nuclear V-bomber base and later commanded a large RAF air base in Germany at the height of the Cold War. After serving in a senior appointment at No 11 (Fighter) Group, he was appointed as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) No 18 Group where he commanded the RAF’s maritime air assets.
Curtiss had his headquarters at Northwood, west of London, co-located with C-in-C Fleet, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. The two men struck up a strong rapport and friendship, and both knew how to mix humour with determination and attention to detail. As soon as Margaret Thatcher’s government authorised the formation of a naval Task Force to reclaim the Falklands following the Argentine invasion in April 1982, Fieldhouse was appointed Commander Task Force 317 and Curtiss was made his Air Commander.
He commanded a large range of operational aircraft but much of the RAF’s activity was covert. Nimrods carried out maritime surveillance sorties and patrols in support of the Fleet as it sailed south and Hercules transport aircraft began carrying supplies to Ascension Island, the only staging airfield, lying almost exactly halfway along the 8,000 miles that separated Britain from the Falklands. Without the island’s single long runway, the RAF’s capability to support the Task Force would have been minimal.
With such prodigious distances involved, the need for in-flight refuelling became paramount. Nimrods, Hercules and Vulcan bombers, and their crews, were hastily converted to the role, and the large force of Victor tankers at Ascension became pivotal in support of all air operations. This capability allowed Nimrods, and the Victors, to carry out reconnaissance sorties deep into the vast regions of the South Atlantic and Hercules were able to support the Task Force as it approached the area of operations.
Crucially, it allowed Vulcan bombers to attack Port Stanley airfield and its defences. As operations increased, RAF Harrier ground-attack aircraft flew direct from Ascension to reinforce the naval squadrons on the aircraft carriers in the combat area.
The limitations at Ascension made the need to identify priorities essential, and Fieldhouse and Curtiss decided these in consultation with the Task Force Commander. Once the conflict started, it was Curtiss’s task to keep Ascension resupplied, in addition to mounting the long-range missions to support the Task Force in the operational area. He also recognised the possibility of an attack against the island base and deployed Phantoms and Harriers to provide an air defence capability and RAF Regiment squadrons for ground defence.
Once the conflict was over, much remained to be done. Ascension had to be maintained and, within two weeks of the surrender, Curtiss flew to the Falklands, where the runway at Stanley had to be repaired and equipped with landing aids to allow RAF Phantoms to deploy to provide air defence cover. He also identified sites for permanent radar and air defence missile units.
Curtiss recognised that the RAF’s role was largely kept hidden from public gaze because of the need to keep Ascension Island secure, but he considered the campaign to be a fine example of close inter-service cooperation at all levels. He was loud in his praise of the remarkable efforts of the engineers and support staff in the military and in industry. In particular, he singled out the vital importance of in-flight refuelling and commented that “without it, the RAF was impotent at long range”. For his services as Air Commander he was appointed KBE.
John Bagot Curtiss was born on December 6 1924. He was educated at Radley College and Wanganui Collegiate School in New Zealand before attending Worcester College, Oxford. He joined the RAF in 1942 and trained as a navigator.

He flew bombing operations over Germany with Nos 578 and 158 Squadrons, flying the Halifax. He joined the air transport force and in 1949 was promoted to be a flight commander on a York squadron, completing 263 return trips flying supplies into Berlin during the Soviet blockade of the city.

In 1953 Curtiss converted to a night-fighter role and flew in Meteor and Javelin aircraft with Nos 29 and 5 Squadrons, the latter providing a quick reaction alert force in Germany. After commanding the operations wing at RAF Wittering, the home of Victor bomber squadrons equipped with the Blue Steel nuclear missile, he returned to Germany as the station commander at Bruggen, the RAF’s largest operational base. Curtiss managed the introduction of four Phantom strike/attack squadrons to the base where he flew with the units, often electing to fly with a junior pilot. He and his wife were popular with all ranks and, as a “people person”, he was recognised as an excellent station commander who ran a happy and efficient base.

In 1974 he was appointed Senior Air Staff Officer at HQ 11 (Fighter) Group at a time when Britain’s air defence organisation was undergoing a major upgrade. In 1977 he became Commandant of the RAF Staff College at Bracknell, where the RAF’s high-grade junior officers, joined by international air force officers, were trained to fill higher command and staff appointments.

Three years later, in 1980, he was promoted to air marshal and appointed AOC No 18 Group and Nato Commander Maritime Air Forces, Eastern Atlantic and the Channel, not expecting to find himself commanding air operations “out of area” during his final appointment in the RAF. He retired in 1983.

Curtiss’s career was a great inspiration to the navigators of the RAF. During his time, command appointments were dominated by pilots, but the abilities and experience of Curtiss (and one other) could not be ignored and they paved the way for a later generation of navigators to assume higher command.

On leaving the RAF, he was appointed chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies. His services were in great demand by charities and associations, with Curtiss, no mere figurehead, taking a lively and direct interest in their aims and work. For 11 years he was a member of the executive committee of the Air League and was President of the Aircrew Association and of the Berlin Airlift Association. He had a great affection for New Zealand where some of his family lived.

Admiral of the Fleet John David Elliott Fieldhouse GCB, GBE 1928-1992

Admiral Fieldhouse was C-in-C and in overall command of the Falklands confict. The Conflict ensured a place for John Fieldhouse in the annals of British military history - since World War II, he as been the only C-in-C to have directed British forces to a unilateral victory against a well-equipped enemy.

John David Elliott Fieldhouse was born on Feb 12 1928, son of Sir Harold Fieldhouse, secretary of the National Assistance Board. He joined the Navy in 1941, going to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and later at Eaton Hall in Cheshire.
In 1948 he joined the Submarine Service. As first lieutenant of Totem, he was nicknamed 'Snorkers' owing to his fondness for sausages - like the Australian first lieutenant in The Cruel Sea. He passed the CO's Qualifiying Course (the 'Perisher') in 1955; his first submarine command was Acheron.
Fieldhouse subsequently commanded the submarines Tiptoe and Walrus; and, in 1964, the Royal Navy's first nuclear submarine, Dreadnought. He served almost exclusively in the Submarine Service until 1966 , when he took the Joint Services Staff College Course at Latimer and then joined the aircraft carrier Hermes in 1967 as second-in-command.
Hermes, then the first 'all-missile' ship in the fleet, had a busy and successful commission east and west of Suez which included the preparations for the withdrawal from Aden. Hermes's Sea Vixen and Buccaneer aircraft provided a show of strength in the air.
Her Wessex helicopters carried out sorties against 'dissidents' in Aden and in August the same year, against Communist agitators in Hong Kong.
Fieldhouse took over command of the ship for some weeks when the captain fell ill at the end of the year.
After his own promotion to captain at the end of 1967, Fieldhouse's career began to follow the perfect 'critical path' to the highest ranks. From Hermes he went in 1968 to Faslane in Scotland as captain of the newly-formed 10th Submarine Squadron of Polaris submarines. In 1970 he commanded the frigate Diomede as captain of the 3rd Frigate Squadron; and in 1972 he led Nato's Naval Standing Force Atlantic in the rank of commodore.
In 1973 he went to the Ministry of Defence, first as deputy and then as director of Naval Warfare. Promoted Rear-Admiral, he became Flag Officer 2nd Flotilla in 1975 and then, the next year, Flag Officer Submarines and Nato Commander Submarines Eastern Atlantic - in effect the first 'postwar' officer to hold this post, and the first to have had a nuclear command.

He showed his political skills early on by adroitly handling a move from the traditional home at Fort Blockhouse, Gosport, to Northwood. Promoted Vice-Admiral in 1979, he became Controller of the Navy, responsible for the Navy's ships, stores and equipment.
In the time-honoured way of sea-going officers, Fieldhouse always said he disliked Ministry of Defence jobs. 'I joined the Navy to go to sea,' he would say, 'not to drive a desk at the MoD.' In fact, he was an excellent Whitehall warrior, but the most he would admit was that, having had good times at sea, he now had to pay something back.
In 1981 he was made C-in-C Fleet, Nato C-in-C- Eastern Atlantic Area and Allied C-in-C Channel. It was a time when an aggrieved and resentful Navy was trying to recover something from what was left after the swingeing cuts imposed by the then Secretary of State for Defence, Mr John Nott.
It was a measure of how well Fieldhouse restored both the Navy's materiel and its morale that it was able to undertake Operation Corporate so successfully less than a year later.
In December 1982 Fieldhouse became First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff - only the second submarine officer ever to do so. As First Sea Lord he fought the Navy's corner with great skill and guile, eventually restoring much of the position and proving more than a match for the slyest civil servant.
He defended the choice of Trident to replace Polaris as Britain's independent deterrent, arguing that it was still by far the most cost-effective option. He accused the European nations, including Britain, of what he called 'sea blindness', and urged a much greater political appreciation of the virtues of world wide sea-power, especially for Britain, which was still an island.
In spite of his face and figure (he enjoyed good food and wine) and the benign, avuncular, almost Dickensian aspect of himself which he liked to show to the world in his conversation and his jokes, other naval officers sometimes found John Fieldhouse a difficult personality to read.
There was a story of an officer who had gone to see Fieldhouse about some difficulty and come away convinced he had an ally - 'but it's only when you look round and your head falls off that you realise your throat's just been cut'.
Fieldhouse was promoted Admiral of the Fleet in August 1985 (the first submarine officer to reach that rank) and in November that year he took over as Chief of the Defence Staff and chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Lt Martin Hale RN 800Sqn

Martin Hale with Pucara wreckage.

Dagger A of FAA Grupo 6 was shot down over Pebble Island by Lt Martin Hale RN in No.800 Sqn Sea Harrier using Sidewinder. Lt Volponi killed.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

S/Ldr Bob Tuxford AFC

S/Ldr Bob Tuxford AFC

Bob Tuxford’s flying career began as a flight cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell in 1967. After graduating with his ‘wings’ in 1970, he completed his advanced flying training at RAF Oakington on the Varsity, and was posted onto Mk 1 Victors employed in the Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR) role at RAF Marham. After 2 years as a co-pilot, Bob was retoured as a captain on No 214 Sqn where he eventually became an Instrument Ratings Examiner. Following a hugely enjoyable  tour in the RAF’s Tanker Force, Bob was rewarded with an accompanied overseas exchange tour flying with the USAF at Mather AFB in California. Flying KC135A Stratotankers, Bob was able to balance his RAF Probe and Drogue AAR experience with that of Strategic Air Command’s Boom Refuelling system. Acting as the Sqn Operations Officer, Bob further enhanced his position by upgrading as an Instructor Pilot midway through his tour.
On return to the UK in late 1979, Bob applied to CFS at RAF Leeming to become a QFI on the Jet Provost and spent the next 18 months instructing at No 2 Sqn, RAF Church Fenton. He was recalled to the Tanker Force in 1980 to fill the Pilot Leader’s position on No 57 Sqn – back at RAF Marham. Flying the upgraded Victor K2, he was transferred on 1st April 1982 to Marham’s other Tanker Sqn, No 55, as a Flight Commander.  Within less than 3 weeks, after a period of intensive flying that included an introduction to low level and photo and maritime reconnaissance (MRR) training flights, Bob deployed in the first wave of Victor K2s to the South Atlantic.  During the Falklands Campaign, Bob was involved with many of the acclaimed long- range refuelling missions flown from Ascension Island, which included the early MRR and subsequent bombing raids in particular.  For his participation in Black Buck 1 – the first bombing mission by the Vulcan against the runway at Port Stanley – Bob was awarded the Air Force Cross and his crew Queen’s Commendations for Valuable Services in the Air.  Following the Argentine surrender, Bob was to return to Ascension during the following months where the Tanker Force was pivotal in maintaining the Air Bridge to the Falkland Islands.  Recommended for test pilot training at the end of the year, Bob graduated from the Empire Test Pilots’ School at Boscombe Down in December 1983.  In the aftermath of the Falklands War, with the impending introduction of the RAF’s first wide body tanker, Bob’s considerable AAR expertise would be employed extensively over the next 3 years, as refuelling trials on Tristar, Nimrod, Hercules and VC10 in particular became paramount.  The varied nature of trials flying gave Bob the opportunity to fly many other types during his tenure on the Heavy Aircraft Test Squadron:  the Hawk, Hunter, Canberra, and the world’s last airworthy Comet 4c.  Piston types regularly flown included the Harvard, Basset and Chieftain, not to mention an historic Sea Fury.  Finishing as B Sqn’s Senior Test Pilot, rather than face his first ground tour since graduating as a pilot, Bob exercised his option to leave the RAF at the end of his tp tour.

For the next 23 years, Bob was employed by Monarch Airlines Limited and flew mainly out of London Gatwick Airport.  Initially involved in charter flying on the Boeing 737-300 operating throughout Europe and North Africa, a command course on the longer range B757 resulted in long haul flights to the USA, Africa, the Middle East and Far East.  After conversions to the newly introduced fly-by-wire Airbus A320, A321 and later the A330, much of Bob’s latter years were employed flying the worldwide long haul charter routes.  As a Senior Captain, Bob took a voluntary redundancy scheme on offer in January 2010, and retired with over 19000 hours and some 50 types in his logbook.  In his spare time when not playing golf, he re-acquainted himself with XM715, and became one of the operating taxy pilots of Bruntingthorpe’s Cold War Jets.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Vulcan Black Buck Mission Crews

Cover signed by all three Captain's from the Vulcan Black Buck Missons 1-7.Sqn Ldr Neil McDougall, Sqn Ldr John Reeve and Flt Lt Martin Withers.

Three 22-year old Avro Vulcans B2s were deployed to Wideawake airfield on Ascension Island, which were drawn from No. 44, 50 and No. 101 Squadron RAF. The Vulcans were captained by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall, Squadron Leader John Reeve and Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers.

Black Buck 1 (30 April/1 May 1982)
The first 'Black Buck' mission was flown against the runway at Port Stanley airfield, the intention being to deny its use to the Argentinean high performance fighters using high explosive bombs. A stream of eleven Victors and two Vulcans took off just before midnight, with Vulcan XM598 (Squadron Leader John Reeve and crew) designated as the primary strike aircraft and XM607 (Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers and crew) in reserve. However, soon after take-off John Reeve had problems pressurising XM598's cabin and was forced to return to Ascension, leaving Martin Withers and XM607 to complete the sortie.
The Victors split into three waves flying at their economic cruise height of 27,000 feet. As the force headed south, some Victors tanked other Victors, whilst others topped-up the Vulcan. At each refuelling, the crews had to ensure each aircraft had enough fuel to return to Ascension or to reach the return leg rendezvous. The Vulcan flew at 33,000 feet, below its economic cruise height, but where it could keep in visual contact with the Victors below. It descended to meet the Victors at each refuelling bracket, climbing back to height afterwards.
As the formation got nearer to the Falklands, it decreased in size until only two Victors and the Vulcan were left. Trouble then struck. As one Victor was transferring fuel to the other, the pair encountered strong turbulence, which caused the probe on the receiving aircraft to break. This meant the Victor had to recover direct to Ascension as it could not take on any more fuel. With the success of the mission hanging in the balance, the second Victor XL189, flown by Squadron Leader Bob Tuxford and crew, took back the fuel it had just transferred and headed on alone with XM607.
All was not well aboard the Vulcan either. Its high operating weights had meant it had used up more fuel than anticipated and at the last outward 'prod' north of the Falklands, Bob Tuxford and crew gave over more fuel than planned to make sure XM607 could complete the mission. This left the Victor short of fuel, so much so that unless it could get tanked-up on the return leg, it would ditch approximately 400nm short of Ascension. However, until the code-word was broadcast indicating the Vulcan had hit its target, Bob Tuxford could not break the radio silence to request tanker support. For giving the Vulcan the chance to complete the mission successfully, Bob Tuxford was awarded the Air Force Cross.
Back on the Vulcan, Martin Withers took XM607 down to 300 feet as he approached the Falklands to avoid detection by Argentinean radar. 40nm from its target, XM607 climbed to 10,000 feet for a straight-in bombing run on Port Stanley airfield. The 21 one thousand pound HE bombs were dropped diagonally across the airfield, a single bomb cratering the runway halfway down its length and the remainder causing havoc amongst the parked aircraft and stores. The code-word 'Superfuse' was then broadcast and XM607 climbed away, landing back at Ascension 15¾ hours after take off. For this important flight, fraught with potential hazards beyond enemy action, Martin Withers was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Black Buck 2 (3-4 May 1982)
John Reeve and crew flew XM607 armed with 21 one thousand pound HE bombs on a similar mission to 'Black Buck' 1. The lessons learned from the first mission regarding fuel consumption were put to good use and, although no further hits were scored on the Port Stanley runway, peripheral areas, parked aircraft and stores all suffered damage.
Black Buck 3 and 4 (28-29 May 1982)
The third 'Black Buck' was cancelled due to poor weather. 'Black Buck' 4, on the night of 28-29 May, saw the RAF move away from HE bomb attacks to using the AGM-45A Shrike anti-radiation missiles against the Argentinean radar sites around Port Stanley. Vulcan XM597, flown by Squadron Leader Neil McDougall and crew, was the strike aircraft for the mission but was forced to return to Ascension five hours after take-off when the lead Victor's refuelling drogue failed.
Black Buck 5 (30-31 May 1982)
For 'Black Buck' 5, Neil McDougall and crew set out again to attack Argentinean radars, this time in a mission coordinated with Harrier strike on the islands. The Shrike missiles were carried externally on pylons. This freed up the Vulcan's bomb bay to hold two additional fuel tanks, reducing the amount of Victor tanker support required. As the Harriers attacked Port Stanley airfield, Neil McDougall and crew loitered at a safe distance waiting for the radar sites to transmit. It was a game of 'cat and mouse', the Shrikes were eventually launched causing limited damage to one radar site.
Black Buck 6 (2-3 June 1982)
Neil McDougall and crew again took a Shrike-armed XM597 to attack Argentinean radars. The Vulcan ran in at 300 feet before pulling up to height 25nm from the islands. As it did so, the Argentinean's switched off their main air defence radar. XM597 was forced to prowl around, hoping the radar would be switched on again long enough for the Shrikes to be locked-on and launched. After some 40 minutes, a lock-on was achieved and two Shrikes sent on their way, destroying a radar that had been acting as fire control for a number of anti-aircraft batteries.
Trouble ensued on the return leg at the final refuelling 'prod'. As the Vulcan moved its probe into the Victor drogue, for no apparent reason it broke, spraying fuel all over the Vulcan's windscreen. With no hope of taking on more fuel, or making it back to Ascension, Neil McDougall set course for the only possible diversion - Rio de Janeiro. The crew jettisoned classified material over the South Atlantic and, with their fuel situation critical, made contact with Rio air traffic control on the distress frequency. The Vulcan was kept high for fuel economy and made a steep, straight-in approach into Rio's Galeao Airport, landing in the wrong direction on the inactive runway.
After seven days, the Vulcan and its crew were allowed to leave, on the proviso that XM597 played no further part in the conflict. For his pioneering missile attacks, Neil McDougall was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Black Buck 7 (12 June 1982)
The final 'Black Buck' mission saw a return to direct attacks on Port Stanley airfield. With no further strikes required on the runway, XM607 with Martin Withers and crew attacked equipment on the airfield with a mix of 'iron' and anti-personnel bombs. A number of hits were scored and XM607 returned safely to Ascension.

Monday, 11 June 2007

David H.S. Morgan DSC 1947-

Flight Lieutenant David Morgan was just a third of the way through his training when he was called up for the Falklands War.
But his inexperience with the Sea Harrier jet didn't stand in his way - for he became the most successful pilot of the war and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross medal for his bravery as he shot down four enemy aircraft.