We were all at about the same skill level but if an 88 millimetre anti-aircraft shot went off, it was bad luck if they hit you and sheer good luck if it missed you.
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The 164 Squadron was unique in that it was called the Argentine-British [RAF]Squadron. And all squadrons had cities or counties or countries that supported them and from those areas, they’d send gifts and supplies and that sort of thing. When I was posted to this squadron, I thought it was a little strange because at the time, I felt that the Argentineans were almost supporting the Nazis and I was a little confused over that issue. But it turned out that I was the only Canadian in the squadron for a year and this was in the RAF, not the RCAF. And the squadron was composed of just about every Allied nationality. The nucleus would be fellows from the UK. We had Belgian, Frenchmen, Poles, South Africans, Rhodesians, myself a Canadian, an American. So it was a unique squadron and we all got along pretty well together.
All the previous aircraft that I had flown, you opened the throttle quite gradually and everything went very smoothly, but with the Typhoon, with this massive 2,400 horsepower motor and it had a 14 foot propeller and a thing called torque developed and the aircraft swung badly to left and right on take-off, you had to learn how to handle that. All in all, it was a handful but it was a fantastic aircraft for the job that it had. On a number of shows, I had many holes in my aircraft from flak and not in vital spots and I was so pleased with it. A lot of fellows didn’t like the aircraft at all and asked to be posted off it but I never felt that way.
It had tremendous armament, it had eight 60 pound rocket projectiles. These could be fired in pairs or fired as one salvo. It had four, 20 millimetre cannon in addition to the rockets. And when you fired everything at once, it has been described as the equivalent to a salvo from a light cruiser. We had a problem with carbon monoxide in the cockpit and we always had to be on oxygen, which we didn’t have in either the Spitfire or the Hurricane, they never had that problem. But that wasn’t a completely negative situation because we had a tendency to, in the mess at nights, sometimes over-imbibe a little and if you got in your aircraft and turned the oxygen up to “Emergency”, it helped clear headaches and that sort of thing. So for every bad thing, there’s a good thing.
Group Captain, Desmond Scott, a famous New Zealander, told me that I needed a rest and I thought he’d send me back to England or to, even to Canada. It turned out he sent me up as a forward control officer with the 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade and so I had an experience for about, I think it was around six weeks, of working right with the Army and I think I got the daylight scared out of me more there than I did in my airplane.
We would all ride around in tanks and the Air Force tank, which was usually the third or fourth one in line, would not have a real gun, it had a stovepipe, [a] simulated gun, and the Army would give me a target and I would convert it to an Air Force map and then radio my buddies in the Typhoon, some from my own squadron, and they would attack within maybe 100 yards of where we had given them the target.
I, along with another Canadian intelligence officer, I think he was a major, took my jeep and we went up to the docks in Wilhelmshaven, [Germany] and I had the most unusual experience in that the Captain of this [German] battleship, the Nürnberg, came down and asked us to come onboard and accept surrender of his ship. Well, there were only two of us and we went onboard, I’ve got his name written down someplace, Lundorf, I think was his name, and there were 700 plus German sailors on the ship, all lined up, all with armament and that. And this captain asked us if he could surrender his ship to us and the Germans were really afraid of falling onto the hands of the Russians. So we said that we would accept his surrender. And I thought, nobody in my squadron when I get back is going to believe this story, so I asked him if I could have the flag off the back of his battleship and his Mauser 7.65 automatic handgun and several other items as proof that we had done this. He gave them to me and after, this took maybe a half an hour or so, eventually the Canadian Army rolled up en masse and we turned what we had over to them and they actually also took surrender of the ship.
There were 700 plus lined up on the deck and they all had their side arms on and if there had been one fanatic in the group, he could have bumped the two of us off without any trouble at all. But that didn’t happen, of course.
One of the things I’ve asked myself maybe 100 times or more, and I’ll never have the answer, is how come I survived when so many of my buddies didn’t. And I can never answer that question because as I say, it was just sheer luck. We were all at about the same skill level but if an 88 millimetre anti-aircraft shot went off, it was bad luck if they hit you and sheer good luck if it missed you. But the Germans were tremendous fighters and we had an awful lot of respect for them and did everything we could to make sure we survived.