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
242- 246 - 511 Squadrons, Transport Command, Lyneham, RAF
I started flying at 242 Sqdn on the 16th May again all training in passenger flying techniques, rather different from press on bombing! We did a few cross countries and many three engined landings and the use of radio range flying. One exercise in the log book was Over Shootsd and Landings. Overshoots and landings are practice in taking off again before you actually get the wheels on the ground, some clever dickies even run the wheels along the runway and open the throttles and take off again, alright for intrepid birdmen like fighter pilots but not recommended for serious passenger flying types. There are the odd occasions when the runway suddenly does not become clear for landing , animals , cars , fire engines, even other aircraft, so practice for these times ( which may never happen) is necessary, these days a no risk practise can be made in the Flight Simulator, we had to do it the hard way with an instructor beside us and no knowledge of what we would be asked to do, he could shut down one engine and then another, drop the undercarriage, put on full flap , what ever his distorted mind felt like that day!! The pilots I flew with on Transport Command had all done at least one tour on bombers, some quite a number and were used to the enemy doing much the same to the aircraft, so no panic just the correct procedure and "What would you like next" often asked , with a wry grin. So the order to "overshoot" became automatic, with me acting on my pilot's instructions about throttle, flaps and under gear, but I was always aware of what he wanted and would be "hands on" waiting, would have been a rather poor F/E if not ready when wanted!!
My crew went on leave after this training, so I was made a temporary Flight Engineer to the Squadron Leader, who took me on a test flight of my abilities to Cairo and back, left Stoney Cross on the 4th flew to Luqa in Malta.
Malta was still on a war footing. Luqa, on Malta, a dry and stony place , all the airport buildings painted white but very small and certainly not like any airport you may have seen, a concrete slab to park on for refuelling, all of which had to be done through massive filters , with chamois leather inserts to catch any water and of course the ever present dust and sand. All the ground crew well tanned and going about their jobs with efficiency , being bombed continually taught them not to delay getting the fighters airborne, we were lucky that the fighters had gone before we started to use Luqa, the enemy ones !!
Malta is an island with a long history of invaders, us being the last, independence was granted some time after the war and I am sure the locals were glad to see all the foreign military go, wonderful harbour, well used by the Royal Navy during WW2, a street (very narrow and steep) in Valletta was lined with open fronted drinking bars, just really the front room of a house with easy entry for the soldiers and sailors to get drunk, think from memory it was called by the Navy "The Gut" , but could be thinking of somewhere else, for us, just a place to "slip" crews , water always very scarce, milk , butter and cheese from goats , think I have mentioned that before, as I have about collecting all the papers and books from the mess before leaving UK to leave both with the RAF and also some Navy types who crewed a fast MTB ( motor torpedo boat) made a change for both crews to chat with some one other than their working mates.
The runway ended at a quarry, no sight for the faint hearted, as it was well stocked with aircraft that had not made it, guess the passengers just thought it was some where the RAF stored unwanted 'planes. My first trip there was with a senior pilot to check me out so a quick run to Cairo and back , all 7,800 Km of it! My years in South Africa had made me used to hot weather , shorts and open neck shirts so it was easy for me to climatise to the changed weather conditions. I now live in Mackay, Queensland and there is a thriving community of Maltese people, many sugar cane farmers or the descendants of cane farmers, and NO they are not called Maltesers!!!
On the 5th Malta to Cairo. Cairo, a large bustling over crowded city, full to bursting point with every shape, colour and size of humanity, and I am talking about 1945!! We had little to do with Cairo itself, as we either landed at Cairo West or at Almaza in Heliopolis, a suburb of Cairo, where we were put up in the largest hotel I have ever seen, not that I am into hotels as such, but as a young very green officer the Heliopolis Palace Hotel was mind blowing ,acres of everything , not outside but inside , entry large enough to hold a soccer match, dining rooms that vanished into the blue and rooms so large that if they had been properly furnished a guide would have been required to see us to the door. Each crew had a room on arrival with a number of beds scattered about and a couple of tables and chairs etc, guess the hotel had not been completed prior to WW2 and had been taken over by the British Forces, lots of "red tab" types swanning about, had a very hard war from the looks of things!! Food was good and served properly all same mess in UK, so no complaints there. About flying times etc you must remember that as we flew East the time got later and daylight ended sooner, ie Cairo -UK 2 hour difference, same as New Zealand - Australia.
We all took a trip to Giza and along the road to the Sphinx and the Pyramids , don't know who built that lot but bet he over ran the budget, The one thing that still sticks in my mind is the overpowering smell of diesel oil on that road, not so much burnt oil but the same smell you get on a production oil field, the brown desert stretched to the horizon on either side of the road which was very black and shiny, perhaps that's where the smell came from not bitumen but oiled sand!!! Now I'll never know!!! Natural History Museum in Cairo a must if you visit , remember as a highlight of my various times there and after these many years must be a wonder to visit now, don't go to the medical section if just before or after lunch, in fact might be a good idea to give that bit a miss!!
I wanted to buy Phyllis something special and found a market that specialised in perfumes. Channel number 5 or was it 7 ? was all the go, entered this so dark and gloomy looking shop, about the size of your average toilet, greeted with lots of bowing, and what sounded like praises for my everything, down some steep stairs to end up in yet another room the same size where there was a small table and two or three chairs, 'would the effendi like some coffee'? ( no idea how you spell effendi)' well really wanted to buy some perfume' lot more praise heaped on me but coffee came regardless, the cups must have been part of a doll house at some time and the coffee bitter and black, Now I had to sniff every smell known to man, 'is this for your lovely wife'? what colour are her eyes etc and so on 'does my lord have a mistress'?
By this time I was all sniffed out , couldn't tell one heap of horse crap from another of cows, throat dry as dust from the coffee, and still I was given the full treatment until I made a purchase and bolted , can't remember what scent I did buy but it was a big bottle!!!!
On the 6th Cairo to Malta, and on the 7th , Malta to Base. My flight log records of my time in 242 Squadron are presented here, 242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3.
Two quick training flights with my real crew and then I was lent to F/o Good to go as F/E on a Short Stirling (never seen one close up before) that was to deliver supplies all over the world, why me Ill never know, a very quick lesson on where everything was, happily the engines were Hercules with which I had done all my operations, perhaps thats why I was picked, only one on the squadron with that engine experience.
The Short Stirling was just a bomber, not converted to anything, the fuselage was used to carry freight and we carted an exhibition of bombs etc all over the place, we also picked up and dropped off odds and sods as required, much like a "tramp steamer" at everyones beck and call!! The Stirling was the first of the four engined bombers for the RAF and suffered because of that, a bad spec. by the chairbound in the Ministry ended up with a well made but poor WWW2 bomber, they did get used some for bombing, others as tugs and for training purposes, remember one at Nutts Corner left the end of the run way and landed in the mud, tipped up on it's nose, the Station doctor rushed to the crews aid( they had all left some time ago) climbed up on the wing slipped and fell off and broke his ankle, mustn't laugh!!!
The Stirling was slow had no great ceiling, noisy, draughty and I was a long way from home, my crew and a lovely Avro York , what else do you need to think a 'plane was terrible?
So off we went in a lumbering noisy old Sterling, 15th June England to Castel Benito in North Africa 7hours 20 of misery. Castel Benito was obviously a place named for the Italian Dictator, My only recollection of this place is sand more sand and then some more sand, the tents we slept in were filled with sand and the food was full of sand and even the ever present flies were full of sand , how the troops managed to service 'planes and keep them flying is a wonder. I don't remember if there was a concrete runway but if there was bet it was covered in sand, it blew everywhere, filled every orifice, eyes got sore even just during one night there , no thank you don't want to remember that place!!
16th June Castel Benito to Lydda the airport for Tel Aviv in (Palestine) Israel 6hours 45. Lydda , was Palestine. now Israel , was the main airport of Tel Aviv, guess the name has been changed so people like me have no idea where it is now, but was a decent airport so probably just extended and has a new name. While at Lydda took the opportunity to visit Jerusalem, The Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sacrement, built on the site of the cross and Bethlehem. I don't even recognise these places when shown on TV now, Wailing Wall about the same but more open when I was there, Bethlehem completely unspoilt , a crude stable as it always had been, no frills or religious artifacts, The Church of the Holy Sacrament surrounded by squalor, beggars, the maimed, and only reached by a walk through narrow alleys, seen on TV , must have had a bit of a clear out, but the Church full of the usual con men selling bees wax candles to see the sights, all they did is coat the hand with evil smelling grease no bee had ever seen, and the opulence inside made a mockery of "love thy neighbour" when related to the poverty outside. HOPE THIS DOES NOT UPSET YOU but just report as I saw many years ago!!! Guess I was full of brotherly love after a tour on bombers!!!
18th June a night flight to Shaibah in Iraq 3 hours 45. Shaibah , now there is a place to bring back memories not for me but for the thousands of RAF blokes who served there, when I was an RAF Apprentice I heard more dirty poems about Shaibah and its population than anywhere else, some went on for pages and although not a collector of such memorabilia, remember one that had as it's main item a wheel of very large proportions that continued to revolve against all odds. Another place of sand , from the air very little could be seen as most accommodation was built under ground or should I say the roof of concrete was just above ground level, ventilation was by open slots at ground level, bit like sleeping in a WW2 air raid shelter, situated in Iran at Lat 30-2349N Long 47-3628 E at 2224ft, has taken me many years to find out just where it was / is, managed it by locating a web site all about the Gulf War , nothing more to say about another sand castle .
19th June Shaibah to Karachi in what is now Pakinstan 6 hours 15. After taking off from Shaibah we flew directly to the waters of the Gulf and flew all the way to Karachi as near as possible in the centre of the Gulf, many bad friends either side so instructions were to avoid problems, even did a bit of a "dog leg" at the Straits of Hormuz to stay away from any one's territory. Was quite a peaceful looking scene in those days, lots of small ships ploughing their way along and across, probably smugglers and all manner of evil goings on if we did but know it!!
And so to Karachi itself, part of India then, but now Pakistan, thriving city of many thousands or millions, place that I bought many carpets to bring back to England to help cheer up a rather dark old house Phyll and I were renting.
There were very many carpet makers in the various streets working on looms made from everything imaginable, some used by young children making wonderful patterns with the dyed wool, both hands and feet being used at a rapid pace to insert the wool and move the shuttle. I would shop about for one we wanted to do a room, passage or a hallway, and athough most colours were somewhat bright and did clash with others we had, we were glad to be able to cover the floors with some thing soft and warm. Many of the carpets had long wool which made them bulky to carry especially some long ones for the stairs, but the carpet makers were only too pleased to wrap them in sacking for me. Most times the Customs at Lyneham let me through without any payment but on occasion I would be charged some small amount to keep them happy!! The chewing of beetle nut and the continual spitting out of it's bright red juice made the pavement look as if a gang battle had taken place, many were the street side workshops, silver coins hammered thin , cut into strips and soldered into intricate shapes to make the lovely fret work for jewelry, and delightful decorative items. In fact all streets in every Indian city or town I visited had it's crafts men , women and children, some carved ivory to make the famous balls within balls, time seemed to have no meaning to the carvers who I was told spent years on a single item, how they lived was a mystery. Apart from the clever ones there was also the cunning ones, just a few of the things they made were, cigarettes in a perfect copy of all English packets and tins which when lit popped and crackled as the dead bugs burst, Phyll was pregnant with our first son and suffered as so many woman do with terrible morning sickness, was told that Philips Milk of Magnesia would help, but none obtainable in England that we could find, bought the largest bottle I could find in India at the Officer's Mess, Dark blue bottle and all the correct labels etc, Phyll took one dose and heaved it straight up, might have been the right bottle but the contents were foul and unknown, apparently it was quite a common practise to bore a hole in the bottom of bottles of all descriptions, whisky, gin , brandy etc the favourites, pour the contents out and fill with anything that looked right and seal the hole in the bottom, I was told that at that time pattent laws in India were negiable. A shoe maker told me he could copy any size , style, colour, so with a pattern of Phyll's shoe size ordered a pair of suede shoes as a surprise, was a surprise to us both, Minnie Mouse would have been proud to have worn them , not Phyll, yet without soup they could remove grease and stains from the dirtist of shorts and shirts , return them the next day looking like new , a large country with a great deal of tallent in the common man!!!
20th June Karachi to Dum-Dum Calcutta in India 7 hours 05. I have been asked what this was like, flying out of a war zone and to these peaceful areas. But it was not like that at all. Most places we went were on a war footing. Also I don't think that the local population welcomed us, our money yes, but us no thank you. India was in the throes of becoming independent after many years under the yoke of Britian, Pakistan and Ceylon were also stirring as was Egypt. We landed in Dum Dum ( Calcuta) one time to be told that we could not go into town as some workers had had an argument with their foreman and had tossed him into the furnace and shut the door. Another time we received an invite to visit a local Big wig's Palace, nearly got there when a crowd on a rampage filled the streets and our taxi did a U turn and took us back to camp, war in England was never like that!! Instead of landing back at home, each day we landed in enemy territory most days!!
22nd June Dum Dum to Palam in India 4 hours 25. The old city of Delhi, like so many cities in India, narrow streets, too many people and cows, but New Delhi a much cleaner place guess the name tells it all, many administrative departments built I would guess to house the government in a cleaner environment, may be just as crowded now as the old one was years ago, we used both names New Delhi and Palam as our stop off point for this place, not a major junction at that time and not on our normal route. Calcutta in the East of India was a large city, the RAF base of Dum Dum well known throughout the service, the dum dum bullet came from there, and from the tales I was told much more that was strange and a mystery to western eyes, saw the Indian rope trick once, yes the boy did vanish but always thought there was something a bit iffy about it, if you don't believe it can't happen I suppose. Again the streets red with beetle juice and lined with small workshops in some areas, wonderful brass work made by hand, beaten out of sheets of brass, bought a beautiful rose bowl there on one trip, stolen long after by a staff member of the roadhouse we had, really heavy brass with roses carved around the circumference, these were filled with glass and fired so the glass melted into the cuts and then ground until smooth, coated with silver and fitted with a silver mesh to hold the stems, bought a few different types but all long gone now , probably found a new home years ago with the carved wooden tray, crystal glasses, and they even stole the fez I brought back from Egypt!!!
23rd June Palam to Ratamalana in Ceylon, now Shri Lanka, 8hours. Ceylon , Sri Lanka, was a nice place, called at a number of dromes there, Ratmalana, Negombo, a couple of them, our sleeping quarters were straw huts in amongst the coconut plantations, spoilt for me on one trip when I left my case on the bed and went for a shower, found when I returned that it had been stolen so no change of clothes until I could buy some more, found out when I asked the station police that it was quite normal for things to vanish, very light fingered some of them .
Great surf beaches there which we all found very welcome to cool off in the water no hope of swimming as one minute the sand is dry and the next 10 feet of water, terrific undertow we were very luck we did not get swept out to sea, Africa the next stop!!
A rather nice hotel built on a promontory or maybe it was a linked island, anyhow went there one night and had a game of snooker with the attendant , played quite well but was given a lesson on how to play the game , found out later that the attendant had been the " marker" for Horace Lyndrum , one time world Champion.
24th June Ratamalana to Karachi 8 hours, 25th June Karachi to Shaibah 6hours 40, 25th June (YES THE SAME DAY). One of the things I did notice about India as we flew the length of it to Ceylon ( Sri Lanka) from Karachi. That it was covered in trees and where the vaste population lived I often wondered, certainly the streets of towns and cities were full , covered in the red stains of beetle juice and cows.
Shaibah to Lydda a night flight of 4hours 20. 26th June we had trouble with the electrics of the flaps and undercarriage so missed a day!!27th June Lydda to Castel Benito 6hours 40. 28th June Castel Benito to Holmsley South 8hours , and finally on the same day Holmsley South to base at Stoney Cross 15 minutes, all in an aircraft that I had had about ten minutes of this is this and that is that !!
We were now transferred as a crew to Holmsely South, with 246 Squadron, and I started flying again with a F/O Lunn on the 10th July doing 3 engined landings, another gap which could have been ground instruction or being a "dogs body " to my F/E Leader, or even a spot of leave and started flying with F/Lt Poore again on Yorks on the 22nd and again on the 28th doing various training flights, then it was off again on the 29th of July from Holmsley South to Malta , Cairo West, Shaibah , Mauripur (India) Dum Dum and so on back to UK on the 11th of August having flown on 29th and 30th July 1st 2nd 3rd 7th 8th 9th and twice on the 11th August. The reason was that there were so few trained crews and very few York aircraft, so we all had to do a great deal in fact far too much. The logbook of my time with 246 Squadron is presented here 246 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2.
A York overseas flight was very different from Bomber operations, on bombers our cargo had no opinions or physical wants, just sat and waited to be jetisoned.
We carried mail as well , but our passengers were important, not in rank but in the interest of the service they were . So a completely different style of flying had to be undertaken, "press on regardless" the bomber style was no good for people. Safe and on time was the motto, no risks with bad weather, fly round it, we could not go over because there was no oxygen installed on the 'plane.
From my point of view it was all very strange to start with, clothes for a couple of weeks was required but tropical ones were worn most of the time , so we got into a routine of flying out from UK in our normal uniforms, changed at Malta and left our "blues " there to be cleaned etc and changed back into them on our way home, leaving our tropical shorts shirts etc to be washed, ironed and ready for us next time out. Food was another problem, Malta for example was still on very tight rations and my first taste of goat milk, butter and cheese still a rank memory!! The warning to be very careful what we ate, the sudden change in temperature and humidity took their toll of us all and from memory we ate nothing at all out of our RAF Messes and very frugal in them. We were not able to drink much hard booze, mainly soft drinks and the occasional beer, the fruit was very welcome however and provided it was either skinned or peeled we could eat them, most of us took back to England some fruit each trip for our families, often when we landed back in UK , calls were out for certain fruit mainly bananas for sick children in London hospitals, something in bananas which helped cure some illnesses, needless to say no one minded giving up whatever we had.
When you and I fly these days we board the 'plane and are quite confident we will arrive where we should, flying on operations we went and came back ( hopefully) now we went and went and went and then turned round and came back but it was us doing the wenting and to places that we had never been before and had to land discharge our passengers , sort out the plane , refuel etc , find a bed and food and be ready for the next one in the following day, the first few times were difficult, strange places and people and equipment, and even a brand new crew , all who had done at least one tour but some had done a number, our navigator I remember wore " brothel creeper" suede boots in the tropics, was to my eyes ancient and seemed to dissapear between flights into his room, never really got to know him!!!
I had to get out to the aircraft at least an hour before take off to check out things and run up the engines , you will note many 02, 03 04, 2359, times given as take off time so you can see I for one lost a lot of sleep, the rest of the crew were not in bed but sorting out all the charts, weather, flight plans etc , and we often flew twice in a day if needed so apart from the constant changes in climate as we flew hither and thither we were kept busy.
After take off and once we had reached about 8,000ft we could settle down to some hours of straight and level flight, passengers had to be checked, even in those days there were the terrified ones who could not look out of the window,
After a number of trips the whole thing became a boring job with very little excitement, great discomfort because of the climate, lack of food and the desire to get home to my growing family, I really loved the RAF but loved my wife more .
Among the sites seen during this flying over North Africa, ones that are stuck in the memory are the rusting tanks and other vehicles that littered the North African Desert as we flew in and out of Cairo, lots of miles of nothing then a heap of rust etc, all seen as we flew over at 8,000ft.
We as a crew were transferred yet again to the top Transport Command Squadron, 511 at Lyneham who still operate from there to this day. (August 1998). The logbook of my time with 511 Squadron is presented here 511 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8.
The only highlight during October was the flight the skipper and I did on our own in Lancaster Bomber P 780 (it was used as the squadron spare parts transport) was to fly by my map reading to Prestwick near Liverpool to pick up a parcel and return, clocked up 3hours 30 in a Lancaster. The York was a nice plane to fly couldnt go above 8000ft because we had no oxygen for the passengers and it was not pressurised, really a Lancaster with a different body to take freight or passengers, we even had a very good galley on board but until we were given an ex airgunner to act as steward was little used, dont know what training our chap was given but on the first flight was told on the ground what and when we as the crew would like for our meal. He waited until we were well on our way before puncturing the tins and most of the contents ended in his face or on the ceiling, didnt seem to know about changes of air pressure , but he soon learned!!
There is one trip to Langar mentioned in my log book where we picked up a York for a VIP Flight. We were in York MW100, which had been the first operational York delivered to the RAF. I have read that Langar was an AVRO refurbishment factory, where repairs etc were carried out, so it looks as though MW 100 was "tarted" up there for 24 Squadron VIP flight.
One of the more pleasant jobs we had, even if a bit sad really, was to fly back to England those British troops that had survived the death camps of the Japanese in Burma and else where. We used Freighter Yorks for this with mattresses spread on the floor and female nurses in attendance, the looks of thanks we all got from these sad men was soul touching, all crews involved would have happily got our old bombers out and bombed the bastards to kingdom come, I for one will never forgive them for their cruelty. Returning from one of the later trips we were met by the Squadron C.O. and told to move all our gear into the Waafs quarters ( they had been moved out) get a decent room and then report to the main gate where transport had been laid on, the useless mob of non flying officers had crawled out from under the stones they had been hiding under, while we all risked life and limb, and were now insisting that we as crews were not allowed in the mess in flying kit, even though we had to breakfast at between 4-5am and then go straight out to fly, when we returned late at night no food would be available after 6pm . Our C.O. wouldnt stand for that, he had done at least 90 ops some with the Dam Busters, so we moved all the Squadron items from the mess to our new accomodation, which meant all the silver, billard tables most of the decent armchairs( we could never sit in one because these idle sods were always in them ), all the liquor from the bar plus all the glasses and bits and bobs.We had all been paying mess bills but very rarely had been in England, so an even bigger shock was in store for them when they found that their mess bills had sky rocketed.
The day after day of flying from cold damp England to steaming hot and humid India was very wearying and when at the end of February 1946 I was offered the chance to leave the RAF I took it, our son Tony had been born in April shortly before I left, I could have stayed on in The RAF, but long hours of flying and a new wife and baby were not the way to go if life was going to be at all normal , what I should do for a job I didnt know , but time at home was what I really wanted, it had been a long hard war and I wanted a rest.!! I have been thinking about this part of my time with The Royal Air Force and it seems as if I should explain where possible the duties of the various aircrew members. Starting with the bomber crews, the pilot is the boss whatever his rank,some crews were formed with quite senior ranking officers as non pilot members , this was often caused by the need for senior officers to really find out what happened on operations, often this was of a temporary nature, but it was known for a senior officer to complete a tour with a N.C.O pilot. The pilot made all the decisions in the air and usually on the ground as well, he had to have the respect of his crew and a happy crew always had a father figure for their pilot even though he might not be the oldest member of the crew, fighter pilots could and possibly should be of a less serious nature, most times they only had to look after themselves.
The pilot must have some understanding of all the jobs that the crew carried out, not to any great detail but sufficient to understand when things went wrong, and in an emergency could make the correct decisions if that crew member was unable to do so, his training would take much longer and would start as a pupil pilot on small aircraft , when he got his wings and started his training on twin engine planes he would be joined by his navigator and in some cases by the wireless operator, these two crew members would have been carrying out their training else where, and once passed as proficient would have been posted to the conversion unit to await joining a crew, it is possible at this stage that these three crew members could after completing their conversion course, be posted to a squadron flying twin engine aircraft, DC3s. or twin engine light bombers or fighters such as Mosquitos, Beaufighters, Blenheims there were many different RAF and USAF twin engined aircraft in service all over the world that this crew could have ended up flying, navigation and wireless equipment was all basically the same in the RAF and no doubt the same applied in the USAF.Assuming that this crew now carries on to four engine conversion, all of the previous training could have been carried out in Canada or South Africa some I understand also completed twin engine training in the USA.Crews formed of Canadian, South African and Australian nationals naturally liked to be all from the same country, I am not sure what happened in other countries but I joined a Canadian crew when they arrived in England because they had no Flight Engineers,I do know that other countries also had the same problem but just who and how much of a problem it was I do not know. So now we have the crew at a 4 engine conversion course some where in England, here the pilot must learn the tricks of flying and landing a large and most likely difficult bomber, having done some initial training with instructors he will now get his crew together and they will complete their training together, While he has been receiving instruction and doing take offs and landings with an all instructor crew, usually only a pilot and F/E, if going on a cross country he would have both a navigator and wireless operator also from the instruction staff ( all would be air crew who had completed at least one tour and told me that it was more scary instructing than doing ops!) the rest of the crew have been likewise receiving instruction. Navigators ,wireless operators and flight engineers would be all flying both day and night being taught and checked for competence in their various jobs, and subject to being passed as suitable would then continue their training as a crew, any member that didnt do their job properly was soon found out and a replacement soon found, our navigator had been passed as ok but on a cross country during our training got us hoplessly lost in the Welsh mountains and the pilot and I, map and beacon read our way home, needless to say he went! The pilot now has his crew and after arriving at a bomber squadron he and his crew are checked out again by the various section leaders, he will now go on two "second dickie " bombing trips to see just what it is all about, standing next to the pilot he will watch what happens all the way out and back, and have that little extra bit of knowledge that his crew hasnt got.
So to complete this long story about the pilot he stands at the front of his crew and leads and guides them in the tasks ahead. He never shows fear nor does his voice ever tremble when in difficult situations, he may be trembling inside but no one would ever guess, a good bomber pilot was a hero unsung, I was lucky I flew with two on operations. The navigator must have an ability with numbers and calculations often carried out under very difficult conditions, many were remustered from pilot training having failed to reach the flying standard required, they made very good navigators because they understood the problems a pilot could have, and could be very quickly given what additional training was required for a navigator. His job simply described would be to get you there and back again, on time and on target, never as simple as that because the bombing routes were always being changed to dodge known hot spots of "flack" and lead the enemy into thinking you were going to one town and then suddenly turn and bomb some where else. His view of the target or for that matter anywhere we went was limited by his position below the pilot facing a blank wall, his instruments consisted of the usual pencils rulers etc. but also fitted were a repeater compass from the gyro-compass unit in the tail, a Gee unit which had a screen and fixed radio stations in England broadcast signals that were projected as curved lines which could give him a fixed position, the gee signal did not reach far into the continent so was of limited use but did help the beginner out and home, H2S was also fitted in a belly blister underneath this was a very primitive form of radar and gave a misty picture of the earth below helpfull if bombing blind and could aid in locating a town and the trusty old sextant, much improved from the sailors version with a two minute clockwork motor that averaged out the readings over that period so was a bit more accurate, wouldnt do on a yacht would rust up solid in no time, piles of maps ,charts for everything. Not only did he have to keep up a proper running diary of events, such as aircraft seen to crash or explode any unusal sightings, we saw some of the early German rocket tests on one operation, we didnt know what it was and said so and we werent told either, changes to targets would be passed to him by the w/op, wind drift had to be regularly checked and whether we had a tail or head wind could effect the time we got to the target, and when we got back home he had to hand in his charts for them to be checked just in case we hadnt been where we were supposed to have been, a very busy member of the crew, perhaps managed to look out the nose on odd occasions but always working and figureing out the next course change. The wireless operator was probable a very frustrated man , he had all this high powered gear and could only use it to receive, except in an emergency which none of us wanted anyhow. Signals were being passed from group headquarters to the squadron in code and where they effected us were passed to those concerned, almost alway to the navigator, these could be very sudden and high changes of wind direction as monitored by aircraft ahead of us, changes of routes to avoid a new "flack" post, recalls due to bad conditions over the target or fog closing in on our own dromes.
Which meant we might not be able to land properly anywhere in England, 500 to 1000 bombers spread out all over England many crashed with crews killed was not a happy thought!So the w/op spent most of his time listening in , when we started using Master Bombers, (they flew round and round the target during the raid giving instructions to various crews where to bomb and telling those off who ignored him) the w/op got some extra work changing channels as briefed so that the German radio could not block transmissions.Our transmitted signals out were always brief until over friendly land and even then too much chatter from one plane could cause trouble for those in real peril, planes with injured on board or planes so badly damaged that the sooner they could land the better got priority and all crews listened to see if one of their mates was in trouble often a few words of comfort from a friend helped no end, once we started doing daylight operations and could see many miles we could also warn others of enemy action such as flack and fighters, and when we were given the job as "dive bombers" on a couple of raids warn others of bomb bursts and local guns that could be a danger. The Bomb Aimers ( or as the USAF called him The Bombardier) job was to drop the bombs we had carted about the sky and drop them where they would do the most damage, his bomb sight on RAF planes was quite good, needed to be set accurately with wind speed and direction, had a set of switches that could be set so that various bomb bays on the plane emptied first once all the settings were put in which also included things like height and temperature, could be others but it is a long time ago , then he directed the pilot to change course a degree or two either way until his sight was on the target and then he pressed the button and a sudden jolt told us we were a great deal lighter and could set course for home. The Master Bomber made a big difference because he would tell us which coloured markers to bomb on and give us lots of warning as we came in towards the target. Pathfinder Force had arrived at the target with the Master Bomber before we got there, he told them where to drop their markers and which colour to use, they didnt land on the ground but floated on parachutes so the Germans couldnt put them out but they did light "spoof" ones which confused us until the Master Bomber started and then most bombs fell on the target.Some RAF and USAF bombers had a light machine gun in the front nose which the bomb aimer could use , dont think is was much use, we never had one. the only other job that the bomb aimer could do was help the navigator with map reading in daylight and he always called out when we crossed the coast both in and out of Europe and England, at night this showed up as a slightly different colour of grey.The USAF made a big fuss about how their Norden bomb sight was so good, reports I have read since the war seem to discount its accuracy, like most things, a good operator is good whatever rubbish he is given to use!!
Lets face it the Dam Busters used a sight made from a few sticks of wood and we know what they did. We now come to the Air Gunners we had two one as "tail end charlie" in the rear turret, and another as the mid upper gunner, the rear gunner was considered the top man and he really had the worst position both for comfort and danger, both turrets were fitted with four Browning .303" aircooled machine guns, the turrets were power operated, and the rear gunner usually saw the fighters first particularly at night as they climbed up to get into position the Browning was no match for the fighters cannons so they could keep out of range and bang away until both gun positions were destroyed, then we were sitting ducks. We had two good gunners and just a couple of rounds fired at a distant fighter was enough for him to go else where and find a crew half asleep, we saw this a few times when on daylight raids and cursed them for not attending to their job of survival for the whole crew, some squadrons had much larger losses than others , we reckoned it was not luck but bad training and stupid people who once their bombs had gone thought they were home and dry. Another problem the gunners had and this also effected the bomb aimer was cold they all had electrically heated suits but it could get very cold at night and it made it just that much harder for the gunners to stay awake. On one trip they took our H2S blister out and fitted a mid-under turret, not like the USAF ball turret but more like a small bath tub with a gun mounting, didnt look very comfortable and gave us a gunner we had never met. What a dissaster he never stopped seeing fighters from the time we left the ground until we got back, poor chap was probably "flack Happy" That bit of useless gear came out and never went back what they did with the poor gunner I dont know . but he should not have been given a mid-under job a midupper would have kept him in contact with the rest of the crew and perhaps settled him down, who knows what terrible tales he had to tell, but we didnt want him!! The Flight Engineer usually came from the ground staff, had worked on engines , prefferably those fitted in aircraft, many were recruited like I was having been trained by The RAF at Halton Number 1 School of Technical Training, after passing out I had served two or three years on the flight line servicing a large number of different aero-engines so my F/E training could be specific to the engines fitted in the aircraft I should fly in, the course at St Athan in Wales was quite short , and like all the ex-brats found it no problem, my duties were to control the engines at the required speed the pilot decided and adjust boost and RPM so that they were all syncronised and did not"hunt", raising and lowering undercarriage, flaps and bomb doors also were my job, on take off I had to help the pilot hold the throttles open and assist in correcting any swing which could happen with a cross wind and a full bomb load . Every other crew member was strapped in but the F/E had to stand beside the pilot to carry out his job, once off the ground U/G up and flaps retracted, climbing boost and revs set ,temperatures checked and on radial engines gills opened or closed to keep the engines at the right temperature.
On water cooled the radiator flaps had to be adjusted for the same reason, a log had to be kept from the moment the engines were started so that a running total of fuel used could be calculated, every change of boost , revs ,height and which gear the super charger was in affected fuel consumption . These readings were very important also which fuel tanks were in use so that all tanks could end up over the target holding the same amount of fuel, a full tank with a hole could mean no return to base. As an F/E I never really had enough time for all the jobs, the navigator called on me at times to do star shots with the sextant which I could hang on a hook in the astro-dome above my bank of engine and fuel instruments, there was always some thing that needed a tweek or a piece of wire to keep it going, and over the target apart from all my usual jobs I had to feed the "window" out of the special chute, some times there were large bundles of leaflets to send down, to let the Germans they had no chance or the invaded ones that things would get better.Before and after a trip I had to check things , although the ground staff never missed a thing perhaps we survived because they were as fussy as we were. My log had to be handed in and any odd things explained so that they could be fixed before we went out again. When ever I had time or if fighter activity was great I would stand in the astro-dome and do my own bit of searching, one night to my amazement within almost arms -reach was a F/W 190 night fighter, I pointed this out to all of the crew and the skipper slowly dropped us a few feet until he was out of sight, the gunners wanted to have a go at him, but the skipper said you cant be sure you will win and we are here to drop bombs!!! The different in the training for the carrying of passengers by those members of the flying crew that transfered from bombers to transport was not so very different except that the "press on spirit" of bombers was now changed to safety and arrival at the destination on time. Pilots were trained to fly with the comfort of the passengers as of major concern, Navigators now had some visual land marks to help on long flights and with the help of the wireless operator many "fixes" obtained by cross bearings from two or more radio beacons. The war in Europe and with Japan was still on so many of the peace time facilities were still not available but most of southern Europe was conflict free so that flights were in themselves safe from enemy fire. The flight engineers duties still contained those elements of engine, fuel, and general aircraft overseeing that were needed in bombers, in the early days he was the only member of the crew free to move about during flight no cabin crew were employed, so he was the only contact that the passengers had with the flight crew, and many times his duties required him to reassure passengers who had not flown before , although he also acted as a second pilot, on long flights, ground prepared sandwiches and thermos filled with hot or cold drinks were given to the passengers by the F/E. On freighter aircraft another new duty the F/E had to perform was the checking of the centre of gravity of the load this had to be within very strict limits, because of safety considerations, each item of the load had to have its centre of gravity worked out and then its position in the aircraft designated to ensure that the centre of lift and centre of gravity were within limits.
All RAF Yorks of Transport Command were also Royal Mail carriers so that large bags of mail on both freighter and passenger planes were carried, there was also a small compartment that could only be entered from the outside situated on the port side near the tail, this was for high security items and was usually filled and emptied by a person from the Consulate, who would also lock it.
Without checking with Phyll, or for that matter anyone else, I applied for release from the Royal Air Force, because I had been commissioned I was able to leave the RAF even though I had signed on as an apprentice for 18 years after the age of 18. Phyll was shocked when I turned up at the home she had started to make for us and told her what I had done, what was I going to do for a job?, how would I earn a living,? none of these things had really mattered to me , I just wanted to be with her and our new baby Tony. My Commanding Officer wanted me to stay in and said I could return at any time before my demobilisation leave ended, on the 27th of April 1946 (the day before our first wedding anniversary) I was given a demob suit, some food and clothing coupons and cleared from the RAF, my leave would finish on the 9th of July 1946 so I had a couple of months to decide what to do with my life and that of my family. Phyllis and I were married on the 28th April 1945, she was released from the WAAFs in November of 1945 and managed after a lot of form filling and chasing up the local council to get a requisitioned house, which she moved into in the early part of 1946. These houses had been empty for many years were of low standard compared to todays , but ours was a solidly built three bedroom, two rooms and a kitchen down stairs but had only one cold tap in the house, gas lighting and an outside flushing toilet of the design known by young and old as the Thunderbox . I was still flying to India and Ceylon and only managed to get home for the odd night very seldom, so Phyll all on her own with no help from anyone sought out second hand furniture and managed to provide the basic things needed to make a home, Tony arrived on the 13th of April while I was on leave but I had to return to 511 Squadron as soon as all was well with Phyll and Tony, but was home again on the 27th of April for good.
Click Here to go to Chapter 6, Post War
----- Reg Miles
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 Sqadron 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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