Lets talk about Grandads war - RAF!

Discussion in 'The War In The Air' started by EmpireUmpire, Mar 22, 2023.

  1. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    Hi all,

    If you have a minute I would love to chat about Grandads war.

    By the time war was declared, my Grandfather already had 17 years service in the RAF across a number of roles. His primary trade was Fitter, both Aero and MT but was also trained as a Machine Gunner. He had a great deal of operational experience having spent 1924-1930 in Iraq, Southern Kurdistan and Palestine in Rolls Royce Armoured Cars - fighting tribes, rescuing downed aircrew and mapping vast swathes of the Middle East.

    According to his records, he spent the war as a "Fitter 2 (E)" and was responsible for the "Supervision and servicing of Aero Engines and Aircraft." He served with Balloon Command in London during the Blitz, Bomber Command and Fighter Command before his posting to North West Europe with Second Tactical Air Force. Although not recorded in official records, it is know through family history that he also acted as a reserve Air Gunner when required.

    Below is a copy of his service record which covers his wartime postings:-

    Screen Shot 2023-03-22 at 6.39.17 pm.png

    Here is a transcription:-

    14/07/1939 – 1 Balloon Centre Kidbrooke
    01/01/1940 – Ford Works (a)
    21/01/1940 – 1 Balloon Centre Kidbrooke
    03/02/1941 – 11 Operational Training Unit
    10/05/1942 – Course of Instruction Ford Ltd / Course of instruction Claudel Hobson
    17/05/1942 – 11 Operational Training Unit
    17/06/1942 – 2 School Of Technical Training (a) No1 NCO’s Techincal and Discipline Course
    15/07/1942 – 11 Operational Training Unit
    23/11/1942 – 2 Works Squadron
    NO DATE – 5002 Mechanical and Electrical Squadron
    01/07/1943 – Course of Instruction Bristol Aero Engines
    14/08/1943 – 60 Operational Training Unit
    16/08/1943 – 63 Operational Training Unit
    05/09/1943 – BAC ???????
    25/09/1943 – 63 Operational Training Unit
    01/12/1943 – 2 Recruit Centre Cardington
    29/12/1943 – 63 Operational Training Unit
    04/03/1944 – 4 Tactical Exercise Unit
    21/03/1944 – 3 Tactical Exercise Unit
    03/06/1944 – 6129 Servicing Echelon
    26/06/1944 – FRU (511 Forward Repair Unit?)
    08/11/1944 – 5 Motor Transport Base Depot
    20/02/1945 – 151 Repair Unit
    30/01/1946 – 8 School Of Technical Training
    05/04/1946 – 5 Motor Transport Base Depot

    Now for some questions:-

    1) What was an Aero Engine Fitter doing at 1 Balloon Centre at Kidbrooke?

    2) The eagle eyed amongst you will note he spent a great deal of time and had a large amount of postings as ground crew for OTU's and TEU's - is this due to his extensive experience as a Fitter (older aircraft being flown hard needed experienced ground crew NCO's)?

    3) Can anyone offer information on any of the codes used?

    4) 05/09/1943 - BAC ????? does anyone know what it says?

    5) Any other observations would be very welcome!

    I look forward to hearing back from anyone who cares to reply.

    Kind regards
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2023
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  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Empire Umpire,

    In my own research I have encountered, albeit in WW2 - what you refer to as:
    The 'Air Policing' policy option explains the RAF presence, cheaper than "boots on the ground" and especially when the local Arabs revolt, once wiping out a Manchester Regiment battalion from memory. The air element having the support of many RAF Armoured Car Squadrons, plus Assyrians and Kurds who were recruited into the Levies - mainly to guard bases. The RAF Historical Journal IIRC has good accounts on this.

    Ah, silly me. Check forum content before typing. Covered in this thread: RAF Armoured Car Companies - Iraq, Kurdistan and Palestine which you started and I added to.
  3. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Mist over Dartmoor

    Looks like he was a Balloon expert. He seems to have got around a bit.
    He also did engine courses, an odd combination.

    BAC, one thing comes to mind as parts of my family worked there.
    Bristol Aircraft Company Filton Bristol.
    One of my Swansea relatives was sent there by the Ministry of Works as a toolmaker. A cousin still lives in the area.
    My Bristol relatives worked there, one was killed in the famous "Filton Air Raid". My cousin worked on Concorde.
    Looks like he was involved in their products 1/07/43 or was he concerned with their defence i.e. Balloons

    Also see Cardington Mentioned Cardington Airfield - Wikipedia
    The huge hangars were use for Barrage Balloon training also Weather Balloons
    Now used for storage, they were on telly recently with Stacey Solomon "Sort Your Life Out", laying out peoples "clutter". Didnt really watch it, -honest!

    Ford Works 1 BC,
    Dagenham? 1 Balloon Company? possibly factory defences but he also did an engine course there.

    Kidbrooke - Wikipedia (I honestly thought it was near Rhyl)

    FRU (511 Forward Repair Unit?) alternative Flight Repair Unit

    Was he RAF or Army? Ah, there's a clue in the title!

    Bet he was confused with D Day looming, Shall I fly in support of, or shall I place Barrage balloons everywhere?
    Better check the weather, put a balloon up chaps!

    Interesting guy would have liked to have met him.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2023
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  4. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........


    Given his experience as an MT Fitter pre war - my best guess was that he looked after the serviceability of 1 Balloon Centres vehicles. The only thing that doesn't add up is wartime re-designation as a Fitter Aero Engines. But I think my theory holds weight.

    At this stage he was with 5002 M&E Squadron and done with balloons. His blue discharge book, which I overlooked, states he undertook a course with Bristol Aero Engines 1/07/1943. I suspect he undertook this course in preparation for his next posting to 60 OTU.

    I am certain its 511 Forward Repair Unit as they were closely linked with his subsequent units 5 MTBD and 151 Repair Unit.

    He was RAF - 36 Years.
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  5. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

    "05/09/1943 – BAC ???????" = BAC CoLlev ⓒ and the e has a "shortening line" above it.

    If it is not a place name, then "lev" = "RAF Levies", a term seen when searching at Kew for "balloon centre."

    Or it could be a place in Wales commencing with "Ll."

    The ⓒ suggests there is a further note elsewhere in the record, or it just means "c".

    Good Hunting
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  6. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    Pop up the mustering and special courses sections please.

    A is for attached - this normally coincides with a short period of training for either a special qualification or promotion/advancement of trade.
    Attached duty means he was still on the establishment strength of the previous unit - just that for admin purposes he was listed as non-effective for the duration of attachment and that the unit attached to had a responsibility to include him in messing/accommodation, pay parades etc.

    It is very uncommon for a tradesman to be employed outside his trade group (pay mostly) and in a position outside that for which he was trained (Kings Regulations) so he would either be Fitter MT and doing MT tasks or Fitter II E and doing those tasks and not MT.

    In a similar manner a trained tradesman mustered as Fitter II E would be unlikely to be on strength of a unit that used him as Bricks and Works.

    The short durations in postings suggest that he was not posted to these units to fill establishment - rather a HQ manpower reserve for sickness/leave/training cover.

  7. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    Hi Ross,

    Thanks for the reply.

    Unfortunately, the RAF Records Section decided in their infinite wisdom to redact the Mustering and Special Courses section of his record........

    I do however have his Blue Discharge Book which includes the following which may be of use:-

    Screen Shot 2023-03-23 at 4.57.21 pm.png

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  8. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    Sadly the time for action has passed but if you had asked Disclosures for "an informal review of Mustering for publication" you would probably have had those sections released.

    The MoD SOP is to consider that because this section is adjacent to Character and Skills assessment then GDPR covers and by extension the Mustering identifies an individual.

    When the record is pulled for release then a case officer at Cranwell can, on request (the magic phrase), review this SOP in light proof of death and release unredacted.

    Unfortunately this is not publicised by MoD , hence why I add it to all my suggestions on applying for an RAF record.

    To have it done now would need another £30 delivery fee and not add much to what you have now.

    Ok Return to Service entry around Munich Crisis - been out too long for skills to be current needed retraining.

    Sent to School of Technical Training (Men) at Manston. H is an admin note that he was assigned to the strength of Home Force (F - Field was how the RAF described the world apart from UK. Hangover from the days when the RFC trained in UK then joined the Field Force fighting at the front)

    Passed out as you note Trade Group 2 Fitter Engines however at this time the more modern aero engine had yet to fully appear in service use so the tittle applied to any rotating powerplant eg marine/aero/mt/standby set etc.

    Next posting is to 1 BC noted as HH so Headquarters Holding. This means he not posted to the unit but sent there as part of a manpower reserve. The unit could use him but they could not post him or take him if they were posted to the field.

    At that time the balloon winches were mostly Fordson WOT along with a smattering of other MT types - he would have been employed in trade on these.

    Seems that his prewar skills was a happy fit for No.1 BC and they retained him - attaching to Fords for a specialist course.

    No.11 OTU was equipped with Wellington so here he started to gain the skills of sleeve valve aero engines. Needed a bit mor training on the carb fitted to the Bristol Perseus so an attachment to the manufacturer.

    Back to the unit and earmarked for trade supervisor advancement - he would have been already checking and signing off works by others.

    Attached to No.2 School of Tech Training for this training

    Back to unit now less hands on more section organiser - think foreman.

    End 1942 the RAF Home Force is expanding - new aerodromes, new heavier types entering service, bulk arrival of USAAF. Here his prewar Fitter Trade would allow supervision of standby set installations so I think that his was his duty - supervision/inspection/signing off civilian contractor work on the new builds. This is also marked with H so a change from RAF Home force to Air Ministry Home Force for admin.

    Back to aircraft work - No.60 OTU as transit posting until No.63 OTU was ready for his arrival. These units had a combined gunnery flight as No.63 OTU was being formed from a cadre of No.60 OTU.

    Beauforts and Beaufighters so a more complex Bristol engine. Sent to Bristol Aircraft Corporation for instruction on these powerplants.

    Attachment to Cardington - return to No.63 postponed for a time.

    Next major move to No.3 TEU via a short attachment to No.4 TEU to await establishment position opening up. A bit of admin shuffle here 63 to 3 to 63 to 4 he probably went straight to 4 from 3 but his paperwork postings changed on the same day.

    By this stage his daily role was mostly admin and section running/planning so he could do the same task on any unit without having to have detailed hands on of the powerplants it used.

    I suspect he showed initiative in using assigned resource so was earmarked for the mobile needs of 2 TAF.

    This help paint a picture?
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2023
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  9. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    Hi Ross,

    I honestly can't thank you enough for the time and effort you put into that explanation, you are the spirit of the forum personified.

    Very interesting, not something I had considered:-

    I am preparing to do a write up for my elderly mother of her fathers service and would appreciate it if you could cast your eye over the rest of his records - your observations would be greatly valued.

    If however you don't have the time I would understand.

  10. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    Post away - unless you have strong reservations, that way others can chip in and may aid requests from others to come.

    Love and could soapbox for hours on the RAF use of armoured cars in the interwar period - main thing that kept the RAF in being during the lean times before rearmament.

    ACs, long range bombers and fighters all proactive developments from the RNAS that the RFC did not want to have (until they needed to be reactive!) and used by the fledgling RAF to distance itself from the tactical force that it was on birth to a strategic force role that would allow it to fend off disbandment and reintegration calls.

    I can only imagine your mans pride while in 2 TAF seeing the RAF Regiment all whizzing round in their shiny new versions of his AC, wonder if he had a few "in my day" pontifications.

  11. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    Hi Ross,

    Its great to chat to people who share ones passion for aviation!

    Well you asked for it - postings from 1923-1960 with a short break in service from 1935-38 (Civilian Ambulance Driver at Biggin Hill) :-

    p.s He passed his AIS Course in February 1953, just before he deployed to the Canal Zone.

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  12. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    I have always found this fascinating:-

    He joined the RAF when it was still using First World War biplanes as its primary Fighter aircraft (Sopwith Snipe 121 mph), and he left the year the Lightning F1 entered service - the first British fighter to reach Mach 2 (1522 mph)!

    Incredible really.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2023
  13. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    Great stuff,

    Do this a couple of bites.

    I can see he was classed as a man on entry as opposed to a boy entrant - out of interest what was his age and did he have a civi employment before joining.

    So few units survived the rush to peace after the Armistice - evident in the unit naming of this record.

    Entered at RAF Depot - Uxbridge - no need for a Number - the only one in the UK
    Quite a bit of basic training done here at this time - unlike later 1930s and 40s where it was just intake processing with transfer as soon as possible to training units.
    Once able to move in a service like manner and kitted out posted to RAF Station Manston
    Sad we do not have mustering for this early period but looks like he as ACH/GD eg unskilled general duties - this would match if his civi occupation was unskilled or not a skill the RAF had need of.

    After six months GD at Manston he was posted to similar tasking but on a line squadron. No.32 at this point was expanding the second flight of Snipe and would grow to have three full flights when aircraft became available.

    I think while at No.32 Squadron he showed aptitude and interest in engines. Between the wars most units were encouraged to nurture advancement from staff and were tasked with doing their own training to take qualified pilots from basic entry to operational. In a similar manner any OR that showed aptitude could volunteer for gunnery training and if the squadron flew two seaters could fly operationally as an air gunner on occasion to keep current. A bounty payment was made for this skill so squadrons got crews without a formal air gunner entry scheme being needed (in case you wondered that was why pilots were Commissioned or Sgt and all AGs AC/LAC/Cpl rank pre war and up to June 1940).

    So from No.32 a posting to School of Technical Training (Men) at Manston - see again the lack of schools meant that Boys or Men was sufficient to describe which one.

    Not a very long course at that time to become an engine fitter, engines not very complex and it was expected that extensive continuation training would be give by the senior tradesmen on the unit posted to.

    Back to Uxbridge for embarkation leave and tropical kitting.
    At this point the record tracks his paperwork rather than the man.
    Would have taken about 4 months for trooping as a draft to Iraq so the dates are when the paperwork is transferred rather that when he left UK and arrived Overseas. RAF records likes to have everyone in a place but reality actual movement by the man could be a few or several weeks different.

    RAF Armoured Car Companies had been formed Egypt end 1921 with move to line in mid 1922, main manpower draft from Manston in May 1922 and set sail for Iraq Sept 1922. It was this first draft that was coming to the end of their overseas service obligation and were in need of rotation back to UK by 1925.

    So that was what he had been earmarked for on completion of engine fitter training and why he had a time at RAF Depot cooling his heels.

    This is also the run up to the general strike. Money from the treasury was scarce for the RAF, pinning reliance on the "no major european war for 10 years" the UK RAF was being run down. Only in transjordan area did the RAF manage to create a role that could not be done cheaper by the Army and was impossible for the Navy.

    Policing the supply routes with air presence to deter local trouble,

    Armoured Cars for the triple duty of downed aircraft repair/rescue, ground protection of supply column movements and independence from other service arms for punitive strikes against local mullahs if needed.

    To No.6 ACC on the shuttle protection service for two years. He did well to only have one short hospital non effective period most ACC service records have extensive periods - though I see the odds caught up with him and seem to have caused long term effects that carried into 40s and 50s.

    Stayed with No.6 ACC until it was disbanded and the RAF contracted from the widespread duty. The move to No.2 ACC being another admin transfer as the re-organisation in the Hinaldi Cantonment absorbed 4,5 and 6 ACC into the AC Wing. Same duties just a different parent formation but a reduced establishment of men and equipment.

    He lasted on the strength until the disbandment of AC Wing in 1930 and home posting (HE - Home Establishment)

  14. Pat Atkins

    Pat Atkins Well-Known Member

    Wow - that is an extensive postings list! I'm quite sure Ross knows this and no doubt you do too, in which case apologies, but just in case: re his 1956 posting "Takali" is Taqali, then an RAF airfield on Malta (and currently the site of the national football stadium, and an air museum).
  15. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    Next tranche,

    Shipped back to UK.

    S of P is unusual - it normally means School of Photography but I do not think that abbreviation decode is correct.

    S of P was based at Farnborough and the batch of hospital admissions that surround it are Fens and Lincolnshire as was the attachment to No.2 Flying Training School.

    I would have expected him to be posted to a unit in the area or to Depot and listed as non-effective sick.

    Any family history on this extensive period of treatment - it was not enough to make the RAF think he was unfit for continued duty as he was not invalided out?

    Gets over this treatment and posted to Headquarters Air Defence Great Britain at Uxbridge and settles there until 1934 (one attachment to the coast at RAF Gosport).

    Next for about a year he is stationed at Station Headquarters RAF Biggin Hill.

    Given that he is now 12 years service I'm curious to learn what his rank and trade were - I would expect similar to his 1938 onwards service that he was a senior tradesman in a supervising role.

    I'm also going to revise my thoughts on his return to colours in 1938 - he would still have had a reserve obligation and if in a supervisory role I'm surprised he did not return to that on re-entry.

    Could you look up his name on the index card pdf in AIR78 (free down load). I think it should have a stamp F in a circle to say he was a class F reservist.

  16. RAFCommands

    RAFCommands Senior Member

    I was going to say when with 2 TAF there is no obvious overseas service (usually marked Continent and BLA) but as we move into post war period there is.

    No8 School of Technical Training - wow a real leap of faith here to retrain/muster as Fitter MT as this stage. Wonder if he thought that at his age civi employment with the droves of younger men being demobbed would be a challenge and that his chances were better staying in the service..

    No.5 Mechanical Transport Base Depot was at Zellik in Belgium with a detachment at Langenhorn, Germany

    Another period of hospital treatment and RAF Leeming for a period until a posting to School of Land/Air Warfare when it formed at Old Sarum from School of Air Support.

    In January 1950 he applies for Discharge with Pension and this is granted.

    Family knowledge may suggest why he reups in 1951.

    Next couple of years he is based at Maintenance Unit at RAF Mountbatten and has a series of attachments to local stations before going further afield to another Coastal Command station RAF North Coates and the School of Technical Training there.

    Over to the other side of the country and No.5 Personnel Despatch Centre, Warrington/West Kirkby for overseas trooping and posting to Middle east Air Force.

    Canal Zone at RAF El Firdan and a local MU before return to UK
    Canal Zoners - RAF El Firdan

    Back in the UK it's a couple of months at RAF Sandwich/Ash on the Rotor GCI Station No. 491 Signals Unit before setting down at with the County of Kent RAuxAF and their Meteors.

    Detachment with the unit to Malta for sabre rattling just prior to the Suez Crisis but not deployed in Oct/Nov when it all blew up.

    Stayed with No.500 Squadron to their disbandment, transferred to West Malling for the last few months before discharge.

    Last edited: Mar 23, 2023
  17. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    First of all, thank you for your interest and observations.

    Some points and observations of my own:-

    His age on enlistment was 18 years 1 month. His civilian trade was Motor Driver and had been employed as such from January 1922.

    He enlisted as "Aircrafthand U/T Driver Petrol Group 5".

    07/10/1924 - Undertook Gunnery Course, Armoured Car Crew. No Fitter training yet....

    26/03/1925 - Completed Fitter training at KIRKUK.

    Yes, he took part in the operations against the Akhwan and was awarded the General Service Medal, Southern Desert Iraq clasp.

    What was the shuttle protection service?

    Yes, his last campaign was in Southern Kurdistan for which he was awarded the King Faisal War medal, Southern Kurdistan clasp.

  18. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    If you take a look at this crossed out posting on his Service Records, it appears to say "S of Phot" and "PENC" or "PCNC Fitter" also included below. I wonder if it was a specialist course for the installation of photographic equipment into aircraft?

    Screen Shot 2023-03-24 at 6.50.40 pm.png

    Unfortunately not at this stage.

    His rank was Corporal and I am sure his trade was Fitter.

    His Service Records state that he was "E" Reserve - When he rejoined in 1938 he was posted as an AC2.

  19. EmpireUmpire

    EmpireUmpire .........

    Hi Blue Book states that he was posted to NWE in September 1944 and remained there post war. I have a photo of him in Belgium in February 1945 and a photo taken in Germany post war. His service records also confirm entitlement to the France and Germany Star.

    As per previous post, he didn't retrain but reverted to his previous trade - having been a MT Fitter with the ACC's in the 20's and with other units in the 30's.

    During this time he was a civilian Fitter employed at the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, later known as Porton Down. I do not know why he chose to re-enlist.

    I find his time at 238 Maintenance Unit particularly interesting as they were tasked with the maintenance of all the RAF's marine craft. During his time with 238 MU, he completed the No.6 Ground Combat Course.

    11/02/1953 - Completed No.237 Aeronautical Inspection Service Course. Its my understanding that he spent his time going back and forth from 9 MTBD to 107 MU performing inspection duties. 107 MU were based at RAF Kasfareet. Was 9 MTBD at El Firdan?

    Sabre rattling or 500 Sqn summer camp, I have seen online references to both!

  20. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member

    Part of this ought to be a map(s) plotting where and when. Your grandfather must have really lived out of his kitbag. It really is an extraordinary list. Your write-up will be as much for your grandchildren and beyond.

    I go with
    and suggests to me too, a special (albeit not Special Duties) function; perhaps ordinary, but certainly different. I wondered if he had possibly been as part of a small team? You may be tempted to see if you can find others with similar plots at the same time, but unless you've names in a diary or photos with the same people at different locations, I sense that might be fruitless.

    If your grandfather had a unit shield from every place on a wall and was chatting to another ex-Serviceman/woman about them, they might think his was a tall story. Sometimes it is best to leave a little mystery, again for future generations to wonder.

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