627 Squadron in retirement

 

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At First Sight
Caps Off? Andy Denholm 

All credit must be given to the high standard of maintenance on our squadron aircraft by ground staff personnel, but none of us is perfect!

To look back on one particular experience seems almost hilarious, but it wasn’t seen like that as events unfolded. To be exact it was 2nd December 1943 on board DZ426 around 2100hrs over Berlin. Peter Denny was my pilot and after some harassment by searchlights and flak we found the starboard engine overheating rapidly and had to close it down and feather the prop.

Our height was around 30,000ft but on one engine we began to lose altitude and as we approached the Hanover area the port engine began to splutter and die! Pete felt that baling out time was approaching rapidly so I opened the inner door at my feet, stuffed emergency rations and escape kit into his and my battle dresses, and clipped on my chute. On the last putting strokes of the engine it suddenly roared into life again! We tried to regain some of the lost height but before long it died as before and down we went again. We must have yo-yoed up and down through the main force three or four times hoping that some trigger happy rear gunner did not mistake us as being unfriendly, when, with my hand on the handle of the outer door, about to jettison it, the port engine roared into life once more.

It was at that moment Pete had a flash of inspiration (or something dawned on him) - the cause of the problem was a barometric switch controlling the supercharger, and we had been oscillating through its set height level. Switching off this unit cured our “stop start’ progress and it was all go for home on one engine. Without the starboard engine we had no generator so it was necessary to conserve electricity, only switching on the navigation board light for a few seconds at a time and keeping the “Gee” set off until we were near the English coast. Even then it was only switched on long enough to heat up to get a fix and then switched off again.

A quick call on VHF to warn Oakington of our circumstances pretty well flattened our battery and by the time we were over the airfield a further call asking priority to land finished it altogether. We couldn’t even make out their reply! We had arrived back in the circuit, no navigation lights to put on, Lancasters all around us, and watching in vain for a signal from the control van at the end of the runway to give us permission to land. An instant decision was made by Pete after a Lancaster crossed directly in front of us (we almost recognised the tail gunner!) - “We’re going down now - watch out for any other aircraft near us and fire the Very pistol!” I’d already fired all the correct colours to suit the circumstances, so for the next few minutes it must have looked like a fireworks display to those on the ground. Every time I saw a Lanc - bang went another one!

After a successful landing we had to roll off the runway to avoid blocking it, and then be picked up by the flying control wagon.

What had caused all the excitement? A plug on the engine coolant system had not been securely locked, and had worked loose. “Whodunnit” as they say, I never found out, or should it have been “Whodidn’tdunnit?”


Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited