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Wings Over Wick
|Andrew Hendrie, Storrington
I was posted from RAF Tiree with a number of other aircrew in May 1942 to Wick, Scotland. "It even had a Woolworth's", I was told. After Tiree it was civilisation. Not only a Woolworth's but a library, a hospital and a cinema. Most of all for me there was a railway station and a harbour, with the latter, walking distance from the airfield.
My first trip was a patrol - Bergen to Haugesund off the Norwegian coast in June but the flight I best remember was on 10th June in Hudson T9428 with F/0 Beck as captain and an Australian navigator - Murray Kidman. It was considered important enough for the Station Commander - Gp Cpt Hopps, to attend the briefing. We were to fly down Trondheim fjord looking for the battleship 'Tirpitz' and the heavy cruiser 'Hipper'. If we found them we were to transmit homing signals to bring in a squadron of torpedo bombers. To take us so far the Hudson had additional petrol tanks from which we could pump additional fuel by hand. At the entrance to Trondheim fjord we were challenged by a guard ship which must have alerted the Luftwaffe as on returning to the operations room I was asked if I'd seen any enemy aircraft. I had not, but was told, "Three were looking for you".
Fortunately we didn't sight the warships, as it is most unlikely that we would have escaped, there was no cloud and cloud was intended as our 'defence'.
Most of our trips were to the Norwegian Coast but sometimes we headed for the Faeroes and Iceland refuelling at Sumburgh if necessary. On 13 June while on one of those northerly trips the pilot sighted the periscope of a U-boat. We transmitted a series of radio reports and heard later that the U-boat had been sunk by a destroyer.
Our time in Wick coincided with two national events - a '1000 bomber raid' in June and the crash of the aircraft carrying HRH The Duke of Kent to Iceland. On the airfield I recall seeing a Lancaster bomber in addition to other aircraft in black camouflage. After the wafer thin construction of the Hudson, the Lancaster appeared like a tank.
Aircrew of 48 squadron included many from Canada, Australia and some from New Zealand and South Africa. When not flying, aircrews were expected to train and study, for example reading up intelligence reports in the operations room and for aircrew in addition to pilots, to exercise in the link trainer. All aircrew were expected to have some knowledge of all the tasks in the aircraft, whether at the controls, the radio or guns. By Coastal Command standards RAF Wick was a good station, reasonable accommodation and no wide dispersal. Aircraft could be walking distance away from operations rooms and the Flight Office.