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Wings Over Wick Index

Wings Over Wick
1939 - 1945
Torpedo Squadrons

Mr F S Holly, Deganwy, Gwynedd
I served as a navigator on 144 Squadron which flew Beaufighters (crew of 2) and which was stationed at Wick from October 1943 to May 1944. I had joined it at Tain in August 1943, just after my 22nd birthday.

The crews of 144 were trained to drop torpedoes and on early operations from Wick these were carried. Later, we flew in conjunction with 404 (Canadian) Squadron, which was armed with rockets - the aircraft of both squadrons had four 20mm cannons mounted inside the fuselage.

The early sorties usually consisted of 4 aircraft. When we reached the Norwegian coast we turned south and did a patrol. If we met a suitable ship, we would attack it. Otherwise we would fly back to Wick with the torpedoes - they were too expensive to jettison. Sometimes on reaching Norway we would split into two pairs - one patrolling North and the other South. These patrols were called "Rovers". When we went with 404 squadron the formations were bigger. Rockets could be used in places that were inaccessible to torpedoes and some attacks were made against ships in harbour. Sometimes, if we were going further north than usual, we would land at Sumburgh on the way out and take on more fuel. All our flying was at low level and in stormy weather the aircraft often returned to Wick covered with salt.

My most terrifying experience from Wick was on 5th May l944. Aircraft went out one at a time that night armed with torpedoes to look for a convoy, which had been sighted off the Norwegian coast earlier in the day. We were the only crew to find the convoy and we duly attacked it. Flying at 50 to 150 feet above the sea in the dark with anti-aircraft fire from 20 ships concentrated on you, is an unforgettable experience.

To me, the chief advantage of the Wick airfield was that you could walk into the town, which extended right up to the main gate. (Usually airfields were situated miles from anywhere, particularly those in Coastal Command.) The main disadvantage was the complete absence of "Pubs" as in those days Wick was a "dry" town. Most aircrew used to like to escape from the tensions of flying by going to a pub and having a few drinks. This was not possible at Wick but it did mean that there was much more social life and fellowship in the messes.

Some other sergeants and myself became friendly with a family in the town - I only knew them as the "Macs". Whenever we called in, Mrs Mac would make us a cup of tea and give us something to eat in spite of the food being rationed. Mr Mac was the driver of a coal lorry and so they weren't a wealthy family by any means. We used to invite him to the mess on Sunday evenings when visitors were allowed in. The teenage daughter worked in a grocery shop. If we called round on a Saturday evening we used to help her with her weekend task of sorting out all the ration coupons taken in the shop during the week, into the different categories. We used to invite her and her friend to the monthly mess dance.