Biography of Reg Miles
Ex Apprentice No 1 S.of T.T., R.A.F., Halton 39th Entry 34 - 67 M.U.s - 27 A/S Bloemspruit South Africa - Lympe Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 242- 246 - 511 Squadrons Transport Command Lyneham, RAF
Ex Apprentice, 34 - 67 M.U.s, R.A.F.
I was posted to 34 Maintenance Unit Shrewsbury in Shropshire 5-10-1940, this unit was housed in sheds on the out-skirts of Shrewsbury and was responsible for the repair on site of crashed aircraft and the recovery of crashed aircraft that could not be flown away, this included both British, German, Italian, and later on American. The Flight Sergeant in charge of the crew of about six airmen was about sixty, was an optician in civvy street, had been a driver in the 1914-18 war so had no knowledge of aircraft, the rest of the gang were ex-garage workers only about one had any experience with spanners so it was finding out the hard way how 'planes came to bits! We also had a driver for our Chevy truck and could call on "Queen Mary" low loaders and Coles cranes to lift things, but many times we were unable to get cranes or trucks to the site and it was sheer legs and muscle that were used.
Photo of a crane of the type we used to salvage aircraft during my time with 34 & 67 MUs in 40-41. On show as a Amazon Crane but all the same as a Coles one, so have altered it's title. It is on show at the Yorkshire Air Museum based at Elvington airfield a WW2 bomber station flying the dear old Halifax of 77 Squadron RAF and two Free French squadrons 346 Guyenne and 347 Tunisie
The only time I tried to drive a Coles Crane I made a complete mess of it and sheared the drive shaft!! The two Polish operators were not well pleased, but as they could not speak English and I not able to understand a single word of their long and arm waving complaint, it was left to our Flight Sergeant to ball me out , and as he was a geriatric ( well must have been all of 50) little notice was taken of it all. The Poles got under neath and removed the bit replaced it and were operational in a few hours, not allowed anywhere near it after!!
The lowloader, Queen Mary, was a specially made semi trailer body, very low platform with wheels exterior, from memory would think the platform about 12 inches from ground, also very long able to take most aircraft fuselages and wings. Extending side rails were fitted that could be locked up so that wings could be stood on their leading edges, one on either side ( on sand bags to prevent damage) and strapped to these side rails, the rails were also covered in felt to prevent damage, this left the centre of the trailer free to fit the fuselage on trestles, with propellor removed but engine still in place, some aircraft with long bodies could extend over the tail board if put on trestles to clear, open body to the trailer so that no height restriction, only height of bridges and power cables, standard 1939-40 prime mover, 6 cylinder Perkins or Ford, nothing like the monsters on todays roads. It was Called "Queen Mary" because they were so long that the only thing to compare them with was the ship of the same name.
Recovering Hawker Tempest Mk. V Wreck
My first job with them was at an aerodrome called Shawbury that was used to train pilots and Navigators, a Spitfire pilot had been shot in a fight with a German fighter and had lost a lot of blood before crash landing beside the main runway and the aircraft had tipped onto it's back as he had not been able to lower the undercarriage. The first job was to make the guns safe and remove any bombs before starting to dismantle the 'plane, the next job was always to remove instruments that were either secret or likely to be stolen, this in a Spitfire was the gunsight, compass and a clock if fitted, as the new boy I got the job of crawling into the upside down cockpit to remove these items while the rest of the gang removed the wing fairings and bolts to waggle the wings off. I had to get on hands a knees to get the items off as they were almost on the ground, felt something wet on my head and back as I worked, found when I crawled out that a large pad of congealed blood had come adrift from the floor and I was a right mess, no water anywhere near as we were miles from any buildings, the crew washed me off with the 100 octane petrol we drained from the 'plane, but as we sat and ate our lunch of sandwiches couldn't help keep looking at the blood still under my finger nails. As we sat and ate we saw a training Miles Master coming in to land with the cockpit hood open and the horn blaring loudly to warn the pilot that his under carriage was not down, we all stood up and waved like mad, the pilot, probably doing his first solo landing, waved back with a big smile on his face and crashed, we now had another 'plane to remove!
I don't know how the trainee pilot got on, we helped him out and he had no damage but whether he was "scrubbed " or not have no idea (scrubbed thrown off the pilot's course through some error).
The Spitfire being monococ construction in aluminium alloys was a very easy aircraft to dismantle and transport, the main wing spar consisted of a series of square tubes fitted inside each other gradually tapering towards the wing tip, the mating tubes for these being very close to the fuselage, with the propeller removed the body fitted easily into a low loader and the wings were slid in either side being supported on sand bags to prevent damage and strapped to the extendable rails fitted to the sides of the low loader, the guns, ammunition, and propeller being stowed in any suitable position.The Miles Master being of wooden construction was an entirely different proposition, the wing roots were attached some one to one and a half metres either side of the fuselage making this "centre section" which was not removable about three and a half to four and a half metres wide, when placed on the side structure of the low loader these projected out each side a considerable amount and because they were very low often jammed on road side obstructions, this was particularly a problem on the windy narrow country roads with many "hump back" bridges, we were caught only once when the centre section rode up onto the walls of a hump back bridge and very nearly caused the injury to one of the crew riding in the back of the low loader, three or four sleepers lashed to the side rails lifted this aircraft high enough to clear any road side obstacles. We never had enough red flags to fix to the overhangs so it was almost a game to ride in the back of the low loader and lean over as we motored along and steal the flags placed in empty paint cans by the road gangs, as we used the same route frequently from training airfields to our depot I guess the road workers got fed up with us and one day as one of the gang grabbed a flag found himself flying through the air to land in the road, the rotters had concreted all the flags in and they were very heavy, no damage done just a few bruises and wounded pride. Coming back from the same airfield one day we were held up by a new gang with a Miles Master stuck on the hump back bridge walls, to add to their problems their Coles crane was in front of the low loader so couldn't get to the plane to lift it up, we managed to get our crane in place and help them out, they hadn't read standing orders! Called to the same airfield with instructions to remove some twenty Avro Ansons from a hanger we thought they were being transferred to another airfield, when we got there found the whole lot burnt out in the hanger, looked like an elephant's grave yard with just the steel tubing frames and melting engines and propellers lined up in two long rows. When we asked what had happened were told that during the night an airman on guard duty saw a low flying airplane crossing the field and identified it as a German one so fired his rifle at it, the plane dropped it's bomb which landed on the concrete outside the hanger, bounced over the bomb proof doors, bounced on the hanger floor and just missed going clean out the other end but hit a girder and went off. The airman had been put on a charge for firing at an unidentified aircraft!
I was going on my first leave after being posted to an RAF squadron as an aero engine fitter, and as only 17 in 1940 felt a big wheel, My folks lived in Dover and my brother of 9 years would need something from my war, grabbed a handful of .303" ammunition from a crashed training Hurricane, pulled out the bullets and emptied out the charge, would put the cases in a fire when I got home to get rid of the caps and put the bullets back, would impress my small brother. Put the cases in a fire out in the yard and got a most awful telling off from Mum, they were having more than their share of bangs. Next day was about to leave the house to look up at the "dogfights" going on above, Mother said you'll get killed by falling shrapnel stay indoors, but out I went, and in I went after a few seconds as redhot bits of metal fell around me, I might be in the RAF but my folks and young brother were seeing more of the war than I was, my few bullets were nothing compared to his collection of shrapnel, from both our guns and those firing 12inch shells from France, he had seen more action than I had !!
We had arrived at a very posh looking house set up on a rise with a well maintained garden with small bushes lining the curving path to the front door and a perfect green lawn. I suppose we did look a sorry bunch with our usual costume of rolled down gum boots, white socks turned over the top and greasy overalls that were well over due for a wash, no hats and most with a few days of beard, long uncombed hair in fact even the 'chiefy' could have passed for the robber leader, we had been out on the road for about a week and were tired and hungry when we got yet another job before returning to base for a rest. Chiefy went up to the front door and was answered by smart looking man who took the Flight Sergeant round the back of the house through a very ornate garden arch way, he soon came back and called us to follow him. The sight that met the eyes was one to make us all laugh, a learner pilot had got into trouble and seeing what looked like a nice open field came into land, too late he found it was a chicken farm with lots of tall wire fences to separate the various chickens, his 'plane had become wrapped up like a parcel as he ploughed through the lot, but to make matters even worse as his 'plane neared the back of the house his engine fell off and landed into a rather nice goldfish pond, this cracked the concrete and all the water ran out stranding the fish. The owner was not a very happy man and refused most emphatically to allow us to clear a wide path way back through the mess so we could get a crane in to lift the whole lot out by a back way, no it all had to go round the side of the house and no damage must be done. What a hope he had the radial engine was levered out of the pond and rolled with great difficulty through the side gate, a few bits came off both as we struggled to hold the engine upright but when we got to the front of the house it just seemed to get a life of it's own and rolled across the lawn leaving giant size foot prints and demolished hedges and flower beds on it's way. The rest of the aircraft was sawn into bits and man handled the same way, miserable sod never even gave us a cup of tea when we had finished, just growled he would report us for damage we had caused, we all hoped his chickens never laid another egg.
As to the Learner who crashed, he was long gone before we got there. This was not always the case as we did come across the odd bits and bobs and even complete bodies at times, not all RAF either.
For about three months we worked all over the north part of England and Wales, even had to close The Mersey Tunnel one time to tow an American light bomber through from Speke don't know why or where we took it. We were then transferred to 67M.U. based in Taunton county seat of Somerset. The depot was in a large garage on the main road south of the city, had it's own sports field out the back which we used for general storage during transit, all the low loaders, lorries, and cranes were parked in various streets which had to have guards circulating during the night, our five rounds of ammunition and World War 1 rifle must not be lost or even used, it was all we had, another job for the technical people, office and stores people never got this job, perhaps because they made out the lists, one time when we were back at base had to spend the day shovelling coal at the railway station to fuel the fires for the office staff, couldn't let them get dirty, wonder if Churchill knew that his trained people were waiting on the lazy sods in the office.
This was early in 1941 with the threat of invasion by the German army still a possibility, the sports field was surrounded with a high spiked railing fence. The fence was six feet high made of steel spikes about 3 quarters of an inch in diameter, spaced about six inches apart fitted through holes at top and bottom of steel plates which were made of 2 inch by 1/4 inch steel. I'm sure you must have some around houses or playing fields where you live. The spikes were held in with swaged nibs pressed into the spikes when the sections of fence were made this held the spikes in place. We were given the job of filing off the nibs that held alternate spikes in place. We had to file these nibs off alternate spikes so the fence did not collapse, but the "doctored" spikes could be removed. Each one of these then had a number painted on it, all airmen were allocated a spike and on the call to arms would rush to get out their spike, if they could, and fend off the invading hordes of Germans with their Tiger tanks, machine guns and other lethal weapons, no doubt we should have had a major victory as the German troops fell about laughing!!
The C.O. held a dummy run which became a real pantomime as men fought for a spike having forgotten their number and short people couldn't reach high enough to pull them out of the top rail. Nobody got stabbed but it was a close run thing. We all treated the whole thing as a joke, it is easy when you have your back firmly against the wall to consider defeat impossible, and so many of the daft ideas did work, FIDO, PLUTO, to name just two. This one was one of those that just was stupid!!
The same wally of a C.O. who gave us the spikes decided to make me up to a Corporal, told him he couldn't because I still didn't know what rank I had passed out from Halton, and in any case being technical trade had to pass a trade board before I could be promoted. Threatened to put me on a charge if I didn't put up my stripes straight away to be officially second in charge of the gang, just ignored him and was called up before him a couple of days later to be told he couldn't promote me for the reasons I had given him, but told me I had passed out from Halton as a Fitter 2 Engine with the rank of Aircraftman First class and my pay would start right away because of the work I was doing, so I did get some thing out of it all. Following on this I was given the job as Station Armourer, responsible for sorting and packing for dispatch all bombs, cannons, machine guns and ammunition brought in from crashes. I was given the relevant Air Ministry orders to tell me what to do because lets face it I was not even 18 and trained as an engine fitter, but perhaps the only real airman on the place, I was given the away team half of the sports changing room, the Station Warrant Officer had the other half, a retread from 14-18 war and responsible for station discipline.
One of the jobs I had to do was strip all guns of any bullets "up the spout" as many had major damage and bent barrels, this was never easy, the breach blocks had to be taken out and packed in separate boxes, with a bullet jammed in, the only way to release the blocks was to fire the gun which sent the bullet up the bent barrel and this released the breach blocks, S.W.O. came in one day when I had a pile of Browning Machine guns on the bench all with bent barrels and was firing them one at a time to get the breach blocks out, nearly wet himself, and then a few days later I was burning all the Very pistol cartridges. These were all different colours and were used to signal and identify aircraft. Usually they just burnt with lots of bright colours but this lot started flying all over the place just as he marched out of his office with his cane under his arm, moved pretty quick for an oldy and got back inside his office, seemed to think I did it on purpose!!
Does seem a bit mad perhaps now to do what I did as an "armourer". But times were a bit desperate you know and everything was in very short supply so if it could be repaired and returned into service we might just survive.
The first 20m/m cannon I dismantled was a problem, had never seen one before had no books on it and had to get the breach block out, barrel was straight and nothing up it, the cannon was about two and a half metres long and the only nut I could see was on the "blunt" end, a large hexagonal nut with a locking tab on it so behind it must be the return spring and hopefully the breach block, with the "blunt" end sticking out the open door I got to work and the nut kept turning and seemed to have lots of thread, with a bang the last turn flew off and what seemed like yards of spring flew out of the door, and guess who was just leaving his office? The other problem with the 20m/m cannon was the round cartridge drum that fitted on the breach, these always arrived to me battered and bent and the only way to get the shells out was to cut a slot in the case and prise or shake the shells out, I was sitting on the bench with an ammunition box on the floor shaking a drum to get the shells out when the door burst open and a strange sergeant charged in, "Call yourself an armourer" he shouted, "Stop that before you kill us both". When I told him who and what I was he said that he had never seen a cannon gun in fact he didn't know much at all as he had spent the last few years at a place called Shaibah in the Gulf and had only worked on Vickers water cooled guns while there, but he did know the coding for the shells I was dropping into a box and some were of a very delicate contact type to explode on contact with the thin aluminium skin of a 'plane! I filled him in with all I knew and what had to be done with each type of weapon and worked with him for a week or so until I managed to get back with my old gang.
Shortly after we were sent on detachment to an airfield in Cornwall, called St. Eval, at which were based Bristol Beaufort Torpedo Bombers, they were sent out after German ships and dock installations and had received very heavy casualties.
Men of 67 MU at Bristol Beaufort Recovery
We were housed in one of the Nissen huts and started work right away as there was a Spitfire sitting on top of a dry stone wall at the edge of the airfield, the pilot had overshot, bounced and come to a halt perfectly balanced on the wall, painted on the side was the pilots name and the legend "Sempre in Excreta" (Latin is not my strong point!) Always in the shit! At the end of the runway was a stone quarry and a Beaufort had crashed into it on take off loaded with torpedoes, these had detonated so there was little to move mainly the two large radial engines, one was in the middle of the quarry and our crane soon lifted that into a lorry, the other was partly buried under stone and against the quarry wall so we had to move it out with brute force to get it into a position that the crane could reach. It was hard hot work and we were having trouble keeping our footing because of all the oil that had spilt out when it had hit the wall, except it wasn't oil but half a man buried under the engine, not a pretty sight but a nurse who just happened to be looking on helped us to put the remains in sacks so that they could be buried properly with the rest of the poor devil. We very rarely had a problem with bodies or parts there of, because the bodies were taken away before we arrived on the scene.
We did have one occasion when we were sent onto the moors to remove a Hawker Hurricane, but it was the wrong number and found the pilot still in it, we reported this and found our one a mile or so away. The Hawker Hurricane was a very different type of construction from the Spitfire, basically a steel tubular frame around which were fitted wooden formers and these were joined together by wooden strips along the length of the fuselage, the wings were very similar and all surfaces were covered with doped fabric, this was very time consuming to make and repair, much like a model aeroplane in appearance.A fitter from Hawker's had almost finished this repair to a Hurricane when German bombers gave us a visit to pay back for what the Beauforts were doing in France, a bomb dropped outside the bomb proof door, blew them in and flattened the poor Hurricane! We got bombed out that night so drove a few miles away to a friendly looking field and slept all in a row under a tarp for a few nights until we were given an empty holiday beach house at Trearnon Bay which became our base for a few weeks, when we were not out on a job. Visited St. Eval in the 1980s and they were only just starting to remove the remains of that hanger blown up in early 1941.
During the next few weeks we were constantly on the move all over Cornwall, from Penzance across to Predanack, which is on the other leg at the base of Cornwall. Working on a Whirlwind, twin engined fighter-bomber, which had nose dived straight into the ground, on a desolate part of the moors, all that showed was the edges of sheets of aluminium in the ground and lying a few feet away, a hand complete with a ring on, we could not salvage the plane and pilot's body without large earth moving gear and instructions were received to pull out what we could and fill the hole in, as we worked we heard the sound of aircraft high up and turned to watch a flight of the same 'planes go by, as we watched one pealed off and dived into the ground a few miles away, heard later that the tail planes of this aircraft were a bit suspect. We always had billets in the nearest place to where we worked, sometimes this was an Army Camp or a pub and in this case we were living in a cafe at Predanack, after a wash we all trooped into the dining room for our first meal and on came a Cornish pastie, about a foot long and looked delicious but didn't think it was a lot for six or seven hungry blokes to share, but then in came the rest and we had one each!
Once we had to go to a Fleet Air Arm station to dismantle an aircraft, it was in a hanger and we were dressed in our usual scruffy outfits, all these Naval types marching about at the double, and the public address system nearly drove us mad, never seemed to stop with lots of whistles and incomprehensible bellowing, asked one of the sailors what it all meant and his answer left us just as ignorant as before. We were in one of the huts and left our truck at the hanger to walk to the mess hall to get some lunch, as we strolled by a hut the window flew open and a loud voice wanted to know what we were doing walking on the Quarter deck and tried to make us run across, not in gum boots we couldn't and didn't try. That night being near a town, after 50 years have no idea which one, we all thought a night on the town would be a good change, so managed to tidy ours selves up and found out when the bus left and got to the guard room at the main gate just as a sailor closed and locked it, outside was the queue for the bus which had yet to arrive. "Open" we all said, can't was the reply because the liberty boat has gone, what a load of rubbish, if you were on a ship you could understand it, if the Navy still do things that way it's about time they changed from the days of Rum, bum and Nelson!! Soon got away from that stupid place probably didn't know there was a war on we certainly did and spent all our days clearing away the rubbish caused by it. Often we had to remove crashed German aircraft that had been shot down, most were just a heap of burnt wreckage with often the remains of the crew inside, not recognisable as such just bits of bone that had not been found for burial, at other times we would have a complete 'plane with little or no damage, these we took to pieces if not able to fly out from where they were, went to a special place to be put together perhaps with parts from other 'planes to make them airworthy, and test flown to find out more about that type. Once we were called to an aerodrome near the coast where, I think it was a J.U.88 had landed the pilot thinking he was over the channel in France, the duty officer seeing the plane land had driven out in a jeep and crashed into the tail to stop it taking off again, we had to get the bits from a depot that was full of German 'planes and replace the damaged parts. Some of the early R.A.F. bombers such as the twin engined Handley Page Hampden were fitted with special balloon cable cutters to the leading edge of the main wings, these in theory would be tripped as the cable slid into it's jaws and an explosive charge would fire a razor sharp chisel cutting the cable allowing the plane to get free, after a number of M.U. airmen had lost fingers while man handling wings during salvage instructions were issued that these had to be tripped before any work was done on the aircraft, I tripped the only one I worked on and it chopped the end from my screwdriver! An American Flying Fortress had crashed somewhere in Devonshire, can't remember where, and what it was doing in England I don't know, thought the Yanks came in much later, anyhow we were told to get it and it must be sent up to Liverpool. The biggest thing we had tackled, got the fuselage, wings and engines away alright but the centre section was very wide and when stood on it's leading edge was exceptionally high.
The local police were always asked for advice on getting past low bridges and electricity wires, spent more than a week travelling a few miles only to find yet another low bridge in our way, chiefy was fed up and so were we camping along the road where ever we got stuck, most aircraft that we worked on had a fire axe stowed on board so we had a good selection of sharp ones we used for all sorts of jobs, we cut foot and hand holes in the centre section and cut off with the axes quite a few feet from the trailing edge which was now the top and were able to get back to the depot next day, thing was only worth scrap anyway. After about 5 months of this work which in most cases was just garbage collection, not what I had been trained at great expense to do, I saw a notice on orders calling for volunteers to go over seas. I put in my application and was accepted, given seven days posting leave and reported to the assembly camp called I think Paddington, hundreds or more like thousands of airmen of all trades were gathered there and we were all issued with both tropical and cold weather equipment, had two large kit bags of the stuff to lug about plus personal kit in a small bag. After about ten days of this which included a medical we were all paraded on the very large parade ground to get our instructions to move to lorries and get aboard a ship, suddenly a voice bellowed out " 575931 Miles R.J. fall out and report to the parade adjutant" "was that me?" yes" said a bloke next to me who had become a friend. So out I marched dragging bags in front of all these assembled airmen, saluted after dropping the bags and reported my name and number, still not 18 I was told I was too young to go where these men were going and told to hand in my kit and report back to my unit, this lot went to Russia I found out later and many did not return, some drowned when their ship was sunk and others just died from the cold!
Click Here to go to Chapter 3, 27 A/S Bloemspruit South Africa
----- Reg Miles
regphyllmiles AT bigpond DOT com
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
Biography of Phyllis Miles (formerly Phyllis Dike), LACW, WAAF
Collected Poetry of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF
Miss Phyllis Miles nee Dike, Photo, LACW, WAAF
Group Photo, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire
420 Squadron Badge, Photo, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe Yorkshire, RCAF
Barrington-Kennett Trophy Winners, 1939/40, Photo, Reg Miles, RAF Halton, RAF
FIDO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Flight Engineer Reg Miles, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 432 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Flight Log 1664 HCU page one, page two, 432 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 420 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1332 H.C.U. Page 1, Certificates of Competency, 242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, 246 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, 511 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF
Halifax, E Easy and Crew, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Mail Plane, RAF Joke, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Missing in Action Telegram, Reg Miles, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire
PLUTO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Queen Mary, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF
Salvaging a Bristol Beaufort, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M.U.s, RAF
Wedding Photo, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Bomber Command/ 511 Transport Command, RAF
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