At First Sight
At Second Sight
BEF Al Faw Video '05
At First Sight
Watt I Can Remember - John Watt
particular incident that took place during my service as a navigator on
627 Squadron still remains as a vivid and somewhat shattering memory.
As far as I can recall, this occurrence was equally upsetting to my
pilot, Johnny Whitehead.
In the Mosquito the two crew sit side by side with the navigator’s seat
a few inches to the rear of the pilot’s. Between the two seats and to
the rear of the pilot’s there was a box on which was mounted two fuel
transfer cocks (FTCs)
Normally the two outer petrol tanks were run dry before the engine fuel
supply was switched to the main tanks for the rest of the flight. When
each outer tank was nearly empty a red waming light would come on and
the appropriate FTC had to be operated immediately. Being tucked away
behind his seat, it was not easy for the pilot to move these FTCs so
the job was done by the navigator, who had to grope for the levers in
the dark while hampered by a bulky flying suit, Mae West lifejacket,
parachute hamess and oxygen mask.
I remember that we were pointing east at around twenty thousand feet
somewhere in the region of Lubeck - a very unfriendly area at that time
in l944! – when Johnny informed me that the port outer tank was nearly
dry. When the red waming light came on I fumbled for the lever and
turned it over to the main tank. Shortly afterwards the starboard light
came on and that engine supply was similarly transferred to the main
Unfortunately the starboard light did not go out, but the port waming
light appeared again. Both engines then decided that they could not
operate efficiently without petrol and gave up trying!
After pushing the nose down to gain airspeed to avoid falling out of
the sky, Johnny’s language made me realise that I had switched the
starboard engine back on to the empty outer tank while the port engine
quietly ran out of essential fuel. Having very smartly returned the two
FTCS to the correct setting we were fortunate to have the engines pick
up again without the possible problem of an airlock in the fuel system.
If you will refer to the paragraph on W/Cmdr Guy Gihson you will see
that it was the opinion of all on the Squadron at the time that this is
precisely what happened to Guy Gibson and his navigator, S/L Warwick,
but unfortunately they were not quite so experienced on Mosquitoes,
with fatal results. (Comp.)
Incidentally, it was around this period that I was informed by fellow
Path Finders that I was beginning to lose my hair at the tender age of
Some of our Path Finder operations took us to targets at the extreme
range of the Mosquito’s endurance, so we carried extra fuel in drop
tanks attached to the wings as well as using a forward base - an
airfield closer to the target than Woodhall Spa.
In November 1944 Johnny and I had just such a trip when we flew to
Manston in the afternoon and took off for Munich in the early hours of
The flight to the target passed without incident, the Flare Force
dropped hundred of flares to illuminate the area for us and we dived
down to drop successfully our markers on the aiming point.
We then climed away to the east initially to observe the first part of
the bombing by the Main Force, but we did not have much spare fuel for
I suddenly noticed a bright beam of light shining on us from the rear
and on looking back it appeared to be a searchlight of some kind at
about our level. We had heard vague rumours that some German fighters
had been fitted with a searchlight, so we were not taking any chances.
While I kept Johnny posted of the position of this possible threat, we weaved all over the sky taking avoiding action.
Fortunately for us and the fuel situation, I eventually saw that there
was a long plume of smoke above this light and realised that we had
been chased by one of our flares that was dropping and rotating to give
the impression of an intermittent searchlight beam!
At times when we were not marking targets as Path Finders we were given other interesting jobs to do.
One of these occupations was the laying of delayed magnetic mines in
rivers and canals in Germany, to upset shipping, detonating when,
perhaps, the sixth or seventh vessel passed overhead.
During February 1945 Johnny and I were engaged on a minelaying
operation in the Kiel Canal. This type of operation was codenamed
‘Gardening’ with the mines referred to as ‘vegetable’. To keep these
operations as secret as possible we did not have the usual
illuminations dropped by the Lancasters, but used only moonlight.
I was flat on the floor, looking down through the optical flat in the
nose of the Mosquito, trying to map read along the canal in the
moonlight and pretending that we were not there. Flying at around 200
feet I noticed a faint orange light reflected from the water. Having
checked that we had not accidentally switched on any navigation lights
I noticed that the reflection was not in quite the same place as
On further close examination I discovered that I was looking through
the perspex canopy of another Mosquito flying below and was seeing the
dim orange light that the navigator used to illuminate his log and
On return to Woodhall I never did find out who it was.
Copyright © 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as