Wessex

Harrier Diary 3

The No 1 (Fighter) Squadron Operation Corporate Diary

Reproduced by kind permission of Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, Chief of the Air Staff

Sunday 9 May

Bagging of aircraft continues and Colin Drew has limited success with the FINRAE. His team find a wiring fault in one of the looms. This information is relayed to MOD so that future aircraft can be checked.

I fly in a Wessex of 848NAS to look at deck operations with various wind conditions and to assess the best direction to the vertical take-off which we will have to carry out in the transfer to the CVS. It concerns me that no-one will have flown for 2 weeks prior to this important and possibly tricky sortie.

There is a church parade at 1600 hours conducted by Capt Leyand who uses my book of RAF prayers and passages from the Bible. This small book is to be of considerable comfort during the weeks ahead. George Bradshaw gave it to me at Wittering and I have retained it.

Monday 10 May

More ground training on a joint basis with 809 Squadron. We discuss deck operations, standard operating procedures, conduct after capture etc.

An 809 Sqn SHAR is brought to RS5 for possible interception of the shadowing Boeing 707. If launched the aircraft will perform a vertical take-off, join a tanker which is close by and attempt to close with the 707. Fuel and performance margins are very slim and, if launched, it will be a very "bold" sortie.

It is Chf Tech Welsh's birthday and the ship's crew have made a birthday cake 18"x14"x7" covered with icing. It turns out to be a highly decorated case of Carlsberg - a speciality of the galley.

We are only ΒΌ of the way there and there is a strong feeling that the Haig shuttle diplomacy will succeed and that it will all be over before we arrive in the TEZ.

Tuesday 11 May

The day starts with a cal to liferaft stations at 0600. This is only a practice but later in the day a real alert is sounded in response to a possible 'scout' sighting.

So far the weather since we left ASI has been perfect but the forecast is that this will quickly change in the next few days; at least it has given everyone a chance to find their sea legs.

I visit Fearless for a further intelligence update plus assessments of the Argentine capability. It is very obvious that we are getting very timely information. While on board I meet Mark Gosling (Royal Marines) - ex Tengah - and Ed Featherstone who was the Lynx pilot from Cleopatra/Amazon.

That afternoon the SHAR at RS5 is scrambled but the launch is subsequently cancelled. It is possible that either the accompanying tanker or Soviet Bear is mistaken for the 707.

We also hear the very sad news of John Eyton-Jones and Curtis' deaths in some sort of flying accident. John had been extremely popular on the squadron.

Wednesday 12 May

Another morning of ground briefings whilst the ship carries out a RAS with Tidepool.

The continual cross-decking of stores between ships produces bottle of port promised to me by the captain of Intrepid (Capt Bryan Telfer). I asked for it in order to celebrate the Squadron's 70th birthday on the 13th.

Thursday 13 May

All the pilots from Norland come across, mainly for a change of scenery; also the Navy are putting on an RPC at lunchtime, after which the 1(F) Sqn team assemble on deck for photographs.

That evening we give a RPC to celebrate the 70th birthday of both No 1(F) and 3(F) - represented by John Leeming and Steve Brown who are on loan to 809NAS. We present the ship with a sqn plaque and receive in return a Cunard flag. This is now on display in the sqn hangar at Wittering.

Friday 14 May

Software modification details arrive by SATCOM and Colin Drew and his team set to work immediately to fix the "Tardis". All the aircraft are bagged and we will not be able to prove the system until we are ready to cross-deck to the CVs.

In this respect it is possible that 2 aircraft may fly off on Sunday or Monday. In the meantime the ship's routine is retarded by 2 hours to match the hours of daylight. It also saves overtime payments to the merchant seamen.

The weather is becoming appreciably worse.

Saturday 15 May

A quiet day is spent doing more ground training. It is now planned that all 6 GR3s should cross-deck to Hermes on 18th/19th. This will be much better than the possible spilt between Hermes and Invincible. Of the Sea Harriers, however, 4 will go to each.

The weather today is atrocious and the Wessex returning the pilots to Norland that afternoon is unable to land on, even on the forward spot. The pilots are winched up in what looks to be a decidedly risky operation. Understandably there is some reluctance to leave in this manner and in the end Peter Harris and Sid Morris are left behind. That evening we have an excellent game of dice and the "Chain" wins me at it.

In the UK, the trial on the active I-Band jammer (to counter Fledermaus radar) starts and the ALE-40 modification programme begins. The equipment has been provided by our European allies with the parts from USA.

Diplomatic solution of the problem now looks unlikely, while back on board the ship is riding out the most tremendous storm. With half the stabilisation system out of order the ship rolls and bangs in an alarming fashion.


Sunday 16 May

Again a quiet day with a short church service and the afternoon is spent writing letters home.

We join the LSL Group which had left ASI some days before us. Including the grey warships, which include the two LPDs, 2 Type 42s and 2 Type 21s, we are now a force of 21 ships. This looks an impressive sight. Our passage is still silent and the following morning Norland will be well out of position. North Sea ferries are not used to this sort of evolution.

We watch a dreadful film - all blood and guts - not the best choice just 24 before possibly going in to action.

Monday 17 May

The weather has improved again and the aircraft are unbagged in preparation for the cross-decking. Initial FINRAE trials look hopeful.

Tuesday 18 May

We are awoken to a practice emergency at 0800 (still very dark) with a call to life raft stations. There are further false alarms - including a 'blue-on-blue' - at 0900 and 1100. So far, that is three changes into immersion suits which is quite tiring but thankfully the weather is near perfect for the fly-off that afternoon.

Hermes and Invincible close with the amphibious group in order to effect the transfer well out of range the enemy. In the end only four GR3s make it as two are unserviceable; Self, Pook, Harris and Rochfort. The VTO is straight forward - although Steve Brown in a SHAR does a 40-degree VTO and almost crashes - as is the landing on. Harper remains on Atlantic Conveyor and Rochfort returns to bring the remaining 2 aircraft when serviceable. The long process of cross-decking of troops, remaining pilots and sqn stores will take hours.

On arrival on Hermes, I am introduced to Cdr Air (Robin Shercliffe) and the Captain (Lin Middleton). This is followed by briefings on deck procedures after which the captain orders three aircraft to get airborne. It is now 1800 and it will be dark in 2 hours and I am the only one to have received all the briefings - Bob Iveson and Jerry Pook have joined in halfway through. I persuade Cdr Air that it would be unwise but he is subsequently overruled and at about 1900 we are told to man up. We brief to do a 2v1 combat but although ready to start by 1915 we are held from doing so. The FINRAE is not available and so our only reliable instruments will be head down. At 1945 I change the brief to singleton CCAs to land and at 2015 we are stood down. It has not been a pointless exercise for I have been able to mentally adjust from a peacetime to operational environment.

That evening the ship's commander (John Locke) invites me to his cabin for a drink. There he tells me in confidence of the captain's aversion to the RAF. He warns me of the difficulties which may lie ahead.

I have been allocated a small cabin well aft but my pilots are sharing cabins (i.e. using the floor) or pitching camp on the wardroom floor. The troops are in the passageways. The ship seems very overcrowded because the captain has banned the use of any cabins below deck 4 (the waterline).


The first day of operations consisted of Air Combat Training and familiarisation with deck procedures

Wednesday 19 May

The day is set aside for operational training and we achieve 15 sorties of ACT. Although we practice combat, it is decided that the GR3s will be used for attack missions. Following the Sea Harrier sorties on 1/2 May, CTG 317.8 (Adm Woodward) told by CTF 317 (Adm Fieldhouse) to conserve SHARs.

Jeff Glover and I fly the first ACT mission and, shortly after getting airborne, are vectored to the NE in an attempt to intercept the Boeing 707. We are armed with AIM-9s but the ROE are only to intercept and shadow. At 180nm from the carrier we are outside radar and RT contact. We find nothing and return to the ship.

The FINRAE along with many other sqn stores have yet to arrive. The aircraft are therefore being flown in pre-align and without nav aids. The position of the sun - both southern hemisphere and time zone - is also confusing.

Tony Harper arrives with the 5th aircraft from Atlantic Conveyor having refuelled on Invincible en-route. He, Harris and Glover carry out night landings at the end of the day.

We share the Ready Room with 800 Sqn. The air is very stale and we have no planning facilities. We therefore take over a cabin next door where we can store maps and put up limited wall displays. The lack of a GLO is going to be a severe limitation.

The other great advantage of our "planning room" is that it allows us to hold "shareholders" meetings in private where we can speak freely. Much of the first "O" Group is spent talking of the wartime approach to the job - the acceptance of unserviceable aircraft, the parameters to which we fly. I brief everyone that I will authorise all sorties, if necessary, at the end of the day and that authorisation will not specify any minimum height. I do direct, however, that someone keeps and eye on the ops desk in order that people go off well briefed. Above all we must be professional.

The main pre-occupation in the Ready Room is the Rubic Cube. There are a number of schools with different methods, one of which is available on an OHP slide.

The captain calls me to his cabin/ops room to brief me on the squadron's first op mission - an attack on the POL storage area at Fox Bay - the next day.

ABBREVIATIONS
ACT : Air Combat Training.
ALE-40 : Chaff and flare dispenser. Defensive aids to counter missile and radar threats.
CCA : Carrier Controlled Approach (for landing on).
Cdr Air : Commander Air. Royal Navy commander of air forces.
CTF 317 : Commander Task Force 317.
CTG 317.8 : Commander Task Group 317.8. The Royal Navy commander of Task Group 8 within Task Force 317.
I-Band : Radio transmitter/receiver frequency.
LPD : Landing Platform, Dock.
LSL : Landing Ship, Logistic.
NAS : Naval Air Squadron.
OHP : Overhead Projector. (Pre-Microsoft Powerpoint days!!)
POL : Petrol, Oil, Lubricants
RAS : Replenishment at Sea. Ship-to-ship transfer of supplies. Can be wet (fuel) or dry (food etc)
ROE : Rules of Engagement.
RPC : Request the pleasure of your company. (i.e. The Captain requests the pleasure of your company for supper at 2000hrs)
RS5 : Readiness State 5.
SATCOM : Satellite Communications.
TEZ : Total Exclusion Zone. A 200-mile area around the Falkland Islands imposed by the UK.
VTO : Vertical Take-Off.

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