"And he nailed us. He blew a hole in the – he had a gun ready for us, but we got our shot in first. We killed him."
Well, everybody had to pretty well enlist. That was the thing to do, the country. You couldn't really – you know, just had to do that. And, I certainly – as I just mentioned, I wouldn't want to be in the army and having to be pounding around the trenches.
I did apply to the navy for a commission, I had an uncle who has a prominent position in the navy, but I’d grown up in Wolfville [Nova Scotia] and we didn't have senior matric[ulation]. I just had Grade 11, because I had gone to war after leaving school. So I didn't make it into the navy and the air force was quite glad to welcome me under their ranks, apparently.
And they were all - already quite active and doing operational training, and it was new real navigation then. One navigator, three wireless operators, two pilots and two [flight] engineers. So, the navigator was pretty well on his own, which was me. And, we had long flights, up to 20 hours sometimes.
Much the same as you're hearing from the people who are flying out of [Canadian Forces Base] Greenwood [Nova Scotia] now. Eight or 10 hours was the average flight. Out over the ocean. And we didn't have GPS. We didn't have LORAN [LOng RAnge Navigation (system)]. We had a sextant, and we navigated by dead reckoning, you know what I mean?
Well, it was good. I'd be scared to death now if somebody asked me to do it, but we – you know, we were 20, 21 years of age most of us, and that was the thing to do. You were up at 4, 3 or 4 o'clock, and fly out at first light and back at last light at night, sometimes. And the – our targets were – the people we went with were sometimes single, single vessels, traveling by themselves – the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, and others, big vessels – Empress of Scotland and so forth, going like blazes up around – touching off Greenland and in. It was quite a, you know, if I have to say so myself, it was quite a stunt to just fly out of there and catch one of – find one of those things, see. You knew its relevant position by, when you took off, where it was supposed to be, but we always found her.
Particularly right after D-Day, there was submarines, were getting out, having to get out of Brest [France] and getting up to Norway and, that's where our squadron led all of [Royal Air Force] Coastal Command for the month of June, at the time of D-Day. We lost half a dozen crews, half a dozen airplanes. We only had 16.
And, I don't know – the first day or the third day – one of the days, anyway, we went out early. First light we were over Scapa Flow [Orkney Islands, Scotland], going on. And, full load of ass, gas, and fuel. I figured we'd be out for 18 hours. And about – oh, gee, it was daylight, anyway, we perceived something's on the water. Mac,* the co-pilot, a former captain, saw this thing moving in the water. And down we went and it was a snorkel and we went right in and on and dropped our bombs and away, and came back again to look at it. And he nailed us. He blew a hole in the – he had a gun ready for us, but we got our shot in first. We killed him. He went down, subsequently. But before he did, he knocked us out, and he knocked out the port engine and all the oil and everything from that fell across the side of the airplane and there was a good-sized hole in the hull. And we – as I say – we were heavily loaded. So trying to get – limp our way back to base on one engine. Well, we got, eight or 10 miles and we came down in the water.
We had two dinghies. For inflation, you pull the cord. I put one over the side and I pulled the cord on one side and Frank Reid, the big wireless guy, pulled one on the starboard, starboard side. And they started to inflate. And I loaded the camera with the evidence of this damn sub on it and everything else into that until, pshh, it blew up, because it had – the CO load was too heavy for that thing, I don't know how that happened, but it blew up and we lost everything. I went down. And I tried to climb on the side of the aircraft, it was covered with oil. But Frank Reid, he was about 6’3”, and he reached over and he hauled me up into the cockpit and saved my life.
The other dinghy on the other side inflated, but there had been some shell fragments hat hit the side of the aircraft and left a jagged place and it pierced that second dinghy. So the air started to escape from that, which avoided its being blown up. Saved our lives again with this damn little hole. So, what we did, we kept - we all got in that other dinghy, and we kept, somebody kept a hand over that hole. We alternated.
After a while, I don't know how long, about four or five hours, anyway, I think, a Liberator – an aircraft came over. I don't remember this, but it's in the account. And then subsequently, a “Wimpy” [Vickers Wellington bomber] came over with a airborne lifeboat in it. The first time I had ever seen one of those and he flew around over us and he dropped this thing. And it fell downwind, but it was a couple hundred yards or so. And, I took off after it. I just had a sweater and a pair of shorts. I wasn't not uncovered. So I swam after the damn thing and when I got there it was full of water, but on each end there were Sponsons, floatation devices. So it stayed above the water, and there was a beautiful engine – I looked down in the water and there was two beautiful engines sitting there covered over, but there was a big oar, and I was able to row the damn thing back to where the guys were.
By that time, one of them had disappeared entirely. I never – the other boys never told me what happened. He just wasn't there. And, the two – the rest of them were – I was – notwithstanding my swim and rowing time, I was in good shape, if not better than the others were, because, as I said, I knew what to do.
And, we plowed into what was – the remains of fluid of this sea, this airborne lifeboat. And, after eight or nine, 10 hours, the rescue vessel appeared, picked us up. By that time, the other two of the boys, Frank Reid and Jerry Staples , had passed away. We didn't know that they were gone, but it was – they were. They worked like hell on them trying to revive them, but there wasn't anything.
*Flight Lieutenant Robert MacBride