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RAF BOMBER COMMAND ARMAMENT EXPERIMENTAL SECTION
At RAF Station Feltwell, Nr Thetford, Norfolk, 1945.
By: Paul J. Brunelle, 2005
I joined the Permanent Royal Canadian Air Force in May 1939. As a 19-year-old trained machinist assistant to two superb machine designers during the Great 1930s Depression, I had thought war was imminent and early enrolment wise. During my Air Armament training war was declared on September 10 1939 and I eventually achieved a reputation as an "innovator" Fitter Armourer on Canada’s East Coast with #5BR and #117BR Anti-submarine squadrons of Stranraer and Canso boat—seaplane aircraft.
I was posted overseas in October 1942, as a Sergeant Fitter Armourer, joining #425 (Alouette) Squadron of Wellingtons at Dishforth, Yorks, moving later to #432 (Leaside) Squadron at Skipton-on-Swale with Lancasters and at Eastmoor, Yorks with Halifax aircraft. All this while I built happily on my "innovator" reputation and I was cited here for the eventual award of the British Empire Medal. (See http://www.airforce.ca/wwii/ALPHA-BR.4.html)
On 8 January 1945 I was seconded on loan to RAF Bomber Command to form an "Armament Experimental Section" (AES) attached informally to the RAF Bombing Development Unit (BDU) at Newmarket, Suffolk, racetrack but BDU soon moved to RAF pre-war station at Feltwell, Norfolk.
This AES group of Air Armourers was collected to apply an idea by the Bomber Command Air Armament Officer, Air Commodore Bilney, to muster and to access more efficiently the experience, skill and enthusiasms of personnel who had suggested valuable improvements. We were a Flight Sergeant, two Sergeants, two Corporals and 5 others, all of whom had reported to our OIC, Flight Lieutenant Badcock, RAF, by early January 1945.
Much of what follows has become blurred in my memory, for we started with a long list of high priority problems to solve, and we worked at very high intensity from the start.
Somehow I became the NCO-In-Charge and the burst of pride I saw developing, as we realized what we were expected to achieve, I feel yet, 60 years on. F/L Badcock, our Officer-In-Charge for administration, discipline and authority, wasn’t much concerned with the technical aspects. I set up the daily routine as NCO-In-Charge and distributed the projects to individuals or teams. We gathered almost daily for general discussions and mutual help and I was informed daily of each ones progress and needs.
This system served very well until VE Day, 8 May 1945, closed our story. Four months was too short a time for our section to really prove itself but we did accomplish a large number of fine projects. These were necessarily rough, but as safe as we could make them, produced within hours or days to solve immediate problems. Engineering and refinement came later and some may still exist.
Examples of some of our projects include: Design and making of a blank firing modification of the .50" calibre Browning machine gun and its blank ammunition. This was for realistic gunner training in close quarters. I modified the barrel casing with an adjustable propulsion gas reflector on the principle of the older Vickers .303" cal. Mk V machine gun’s muzzle recoil attachment. This compensated for the reduced pressure from the blank ammunition that Dave Williams had produced. He had removed the projectiles, replaced the Ballistite charges with faster burning Flake Cordite, and crimped the necks of the rounds with a special tool he designed and made.
Another project, done in a great hurry was to modify the bomb bay of a Mosquito Mk XVI aircraft’s bomb bay to accept a target marking bomb too large for it. We were not told why. Basically, I tuned the bomb carrier sideways, but remounting that securely was very tricky.
Bombs in a salvo jostled each other and sometimes exploded in harmony close below the bomber. The tail pistol design and its very quick arming were blamed. The eventual correction, by some other source, was an elegant modification of the existing stock of pistols by substitution of a screw type of Arming Fork for the nut type. We had been given this as a project and we tried several different ideas within a few days but all of them failed or were too complicated. However, by the time the new pistol showed up we had learned quite a lot.
Our last big project was to find a way to allow tail gunners to escape from a jammed tail turret in a disabled aircraft. We weren’t told so at the time, but I’m sure now that it was based on the incident in June 1944 when Sergeant Andrew Mynarski earned the Victoria Cross while trying, despite his burning clothing, to help his rear gunner to escape his jammed turret. As a team, five or six of us worked frantically on several ways to jettison the turret canopy top so that the gunner could jump upward and out. My part of this was to hinge the canopy so that, when broken away, it would leave under control, not turning inward to seriously injure the gunner.
This was our last project and it was delivered to Bomber Command so close to VE Day that I already had received my orders to return to the RCAF for a quick trip back to Canada. There, I was to start up an Armament Experimental Section for the RCAF at Scoudouc, New Brunswick. Arriving there on 10 August 1945, I reported to the Commanding Officer who asked me for a list of what I needed to start, then to go off on thirty days of disembarkation leave. Within a couple of days of my arrival at home, VJ Day, 15 August 1945 happened, and the RCAF AES died a-borning. Sic transit gloria.
Eventually I left the RCAF and returned to my former employment as a machinist, but in about 3 years I joined the newly formed Air Branch of the Royal Canadian Navy in which I eventually won a commission and served for about 22 years in addition to my over 6 years service in the RCAF.
Mr P J Brunelle, Dartmouth, NS