Back in Harness - 1952

I en-planed from R.A.F. Lyneham at 0655 hrs in Hastings WD498 on April 19th 1952 joining the cockpit crew for the return flight, with over night stops at Castel Benito (Tripoli), El Adem (Egypt), Habbaniya (Iraq), Mauripur (Pakistan), Negombo (Ceylon) and finally R.A.F. Changi on Wednesday 23rd April. Total flying time 38 hrs 10 minutes – A bit slower than today’s journey.


I Travelled back to Tengah during the late afternoon of Thursday 24th April and reported back to my Squadron the following morning and picked up my ‘back pay’.
Saturday and Sunday we were on ‘stand-down’ in readiness on Monday to take part in an operation code named ‘Biterbit' laid on in preparation for increased terrorist activity on May Day. This entailed two Brigands armed with rocket projectiles and cannons maintaining a patrol over Kuala Lumpur with R/T from dusk to dawn. A further two aircraft were kept at immediate readiness with the remainder of the Squadron on ‘standby’. An increase in terrorism did not however occur.


On 29th I flew up to Kuala Lumpur with our acting C.O. in Brigand RH755 with our return to Tengah later that day in RH851 (Leaving RH755 at Kuala Lumpur). On the same day at 18.45 hrs I flew on a short Air-test in RH823 and at 2000hrs flew again in RH823 with the C.O. on a ‘Flare Dropping’   operation over Malaya which consisted of having 15 parachute flares lying loose in the back of the fuselage. We flew along the railway line in Johore State and I placed one flare in our flare chute hooking the firing link onto a hook on the chute every few minutes and releasing the flare out whereupon the parachute would open and the flare blaze as it floated down to the jungle.


On Wednesday April 30th I flew again with the C.O. up to Kuala Lumpur in RH776 at 1600 hrs. staying there overnight.
The next morning at 0700 hrs I flew on an air-strike (my 180th)   in the Labis area followed by a ‘stint’ of the ‘Air Alert Mission’ lasting a total of 3hrs 30 mins. (in Rh823).   At 1700 hrs on the same day, May 1st I again flew on yet another AA mission, this time for one hour in Brigand RH755.

On May 2nd at 0940 hrs I flew with Pilot Officer Basil Cochrane – a young, tall, good-natured chap and a careful pilot, on an air-strike, again in the Kuala Lumpur region. The Brigand was RH755 and we landed back at Tengah. Total flying time 1hr 10 mins. This was to be Basil’s penultimate air-strike together with the loss of RH755.   At 2050hrs the same day I again took off on a flare dropping mission from Tengah, this time on RH776 .(20 flares). I went on this mission with a different pilot mainly because of my previous experience at flare-dropping. Had I not, then the chances of me returning to Kuala Lumpur that afternoon and carrying out an air-strike with Basil the next morning were very high.

So the tragic morning of May 3rd 1952 dawned Basil took off in RH755 to take part in an anti-insurgent strike of 4 aircraft led by Flying Officer Fraser. P.O. Basil Cochrane was detailed to fly as No3. his target was a rectangle of 4000 x 2000 yds running east to west, 3000yds to the west of the Lenggong Rd. The aircraft arrived over the target at approx 0930 hrs and the attack commenced at 0935. The first two aircraft attacked from East to West rippling their 16 rockets in fours. Pilot Cochrane’s aircraft was seen to go into its initial rocket dive and at the precise moment when his rockets were seen to be fired, the starboard wing of the aircraft broke off. The aircraft then rolled over on its back and crashed almost vertically onto the jungle No parachutes were seen to leave the aircraft and on impact it blew up and continued to burn for some hours.

An army patrol from 1/6 Gurkha rifles reached the crash site the following day and found no survivors. The Court of Enquiry reached the crash site on 10th May but were unable to positively identify any bodies, accordingly they put up three small crosses in memory of the crew, these crosses were dug out in the side of the hill approximately 20 yds from the scene of the crash. The remains of the bodies were recovered in 1958 and buried in Service Graves in the Cheras Rd Christian Cemetary, Kuala Lumpur.

The Courts findings were inconclusive. But it was thought probable that the wing failure was due to a rocket head exploding as the result of the failure of the rocket motor and tube. This tragic loss was made worse by the fact that a member of 84 Sqdn’s ground staff was aboard the aircraft on a flight to gain air experience.


At 1610 hrs on the same day, May 3rd. I flew up to Kuala Lumpur with the Flight Commander in RH776 returning at 1745 hrs with our acting C.O. in the same aircraft.
The following day Sunday 4th May I again flew in RH776 with our acting C.O. at 1955 hrs on our final flare-dropping mission, this time with 40 flares lying loosely in a heap on the floor of the Brigand. Flight time 1hr 55 mins.

I flew on a further 16 missions during May including 6 – airstrikes.
On May  2nd the Annual Squadron Photograph was taken at Kuala Lumpur.
On the 9th of May a memorial church service was held in the church at Tengah to honour the memory of the crew of Brigand RH755.
On May 25th one of our pilots on a training flight experienced severe vibration in the starboard engine and immediately feathered the propeller. He carried out a normal single engine landing but after touching down the aircraft swerved violently towards parked aircraft which the pilot tried to avoid and the strained undercarriage collapsed (RH798 bit the dust).
On May 15th I again flew up to Kuala Lumpur with our acting C.O. and returned to Tengah on the 9th June. By then the new C.O. arrived at Tengah. Squadron Leader L.L. Johnstone. I accompanied him on his first flight with 84 Sqdn. at 14.55hrs to carry out local flying including a few circuits and landings, which he did quite smoothly.
On 21st June I again took part in an air escort run in the Cameron Highlands with loaded cannons only (RH851) nothing untowards occurred in our 3.3/4 hrs airborne.
The rest of the month of June was spent carrying out cross-country exercises – day and night – and short routine flights to Changi and Kuala Lumpur.


JULY began with local and formation flying exercises , four trips up to R,A.F. Butterworth and returns to Tengah. On the 11th I flew up north on an attachment to Butterworth to engage on a concentrated armament practice on 27 A.P.C. in Northern Malaya. All these flights being in Brigand RH851 with all the bombing carried out at between 30 and 45 degree dives pulling a maximum of ‘3G’ each time – Now there is a wing tester! Our cannon attacks were limited to 100 rounds of ammunition for each cannon – all ball ammo.

By the 21st we were all rather fed up with this and so we 'progressed' to carrying out an ‘Operation Shoot’ air to ground with cannons and 4 rocket projectiles per ‘shoot’, discharging 1 Rocket Projectile per dive. In the two days we played this game I carried out 6 sorties and if this was not enough of a ‘dice with death’ on the 23rd to the 24th we carried out similar exercises on a moving sea target.


I felt rather good to get the poor Brigand back to Tengah on July 25th, and carrying out local flying on the 29th, formation flying on the 30th and my 197th air-strike up in the Cameron Highlands on the 31st in RH851.


From August 1st all Brigands were grounded when a signal from H.Q. F.E.A.F. issued an order for all Brigands to be checked for possible shearing of rivets holding angle attachments and web of the front main spar. A few days later checks were also made on No:1 fuel tank bays.
During the rest of the month I carried out local continuation training, formation flying, cross country flights and a couple of trips to Kuala Lumpur and back to Tengah.
On August 28th we had a strike target near Seremban but due to heavy cloud and rain we dropped our bombs at our alternative target at Rawang.

There isn’t really much to say about Sept. 1952. I flew on 22 separate sorties which consisted of local flying, aerial photography, continuation training, one road convoy escort in the Ipoh, Cameron Highlands area, seven flights up to Kuala Lumpur and return and 9 air-strikes.
By now 84 Sqdn. was beginning to suffer from the lack of experienced ground crew due to ‘tour expiry’ for those that joined the Sqdn. in Iraq, serviceability therefore became a problem.


In late October and early November we flew on exercises with the cruiser ‘Ceylon’, destroyer ‘Cockade’ and frigate ‘Possum’.
I flew on two air-strikes only, both of which were ‘local’ - Johore State, just across the ‘causeway’ joining it to Singapore Island.
I noted that on October 16th the Dehavilland Comet started on its airline service between London and Singapore a 22hr flight.
On bonfire Day November 5th I once more leapt skywards flying on a strike in the Johore area, then proceeded on attachment to Kuala Lumpur in Brigand VS868, from where I did a road convoy escort in the Labis area followed by three air-strikes in VS868 all on November 13th, being joined by Lincolns, Hornets, and Vampire Jets. One Officer of the Cameroons was killed on 13th by C.T.’s in the same area as our targets.


On Saturday morning, November 15th we attended a C.O.’s parade complete with rifles, being a dress rehearsal for the Air Officer Commanding’s visit on the following Tuesday morning. A load of so-called ‘bull’ whilst we are trying to fight a war and stay alive.   I then went on an air-strike at 15.20hrs hitting a target in the mountainous Bentong range in Brigand VS861. A further air-strike was made on Monday November 17th near to   Gajah and on Friday Nov.21st I flew back to Tengah in Buckmaster RP 235. I ended Nov.52 with a 3hr 50 minute cross country on 28th followed by an air-strike over South Johore on 29th in Brigand VS854.   Flying time 45 minutes.


I was still surviving my 2.1/2 year tour when December dawned and on the 1st I carried out an air-strike in the Kuhai area of Johore in brigand VS812 lasting 1 hr 25 minutes.


At 16.15hrs that day I had a ‘phone call from Tengah H.Q. informing me that I could come and collect my ‘clearance forms’ after 10.00hrs the following day December 2nd.
Guess what? I was detailed to fly on my final air-strike at 0750 hrs in Brigand RH854 to the same area as on the previous day.  I gave the inside and outside of the aircraft a very close inspection prior to take-off and kept my eyes on the wings and engines throughout the mission.


When I had returned from home leave in the April and was informed they were going to ‘fly the backside off me’ they kept their promise. In truth I think that we became so short of aircrew on the Sqdn. that because I had acquired so much experience I was often called up to be ‘Strike Leader’ on the air-strikes. Over the dense jungle I could read the map like a book and never failed to identify our target as we approached the area. I therefore survived my last strike, number 218.

On Thursday evening December 4th (it was my final Far East payday) the C.O. Sqdn. Leader L.L. Johnston and the rest of the flying personnel of 84 Squadron came down to our aircrew mess having laid on a party for me and thanked me for my service to the Sqdn. It proved to be quite a party and broke up at 3am.


I completed my final packing on Friday 5th together with a solid hangover and on Saturday morning after saying my final farewell to the ‘boys’ I left R.A.F. Tengah for the final time. This time by road at 12.15 hrs., spending a restful weekend at Changi before leaving for ‘Blighty’ at 7.30hrs on Monday December 8th 1952 aboard Hastings a/c MK11. TG559.


On the way to Negombo. Ceylon. (Sri Lanka) I did a stint of map reading and took a number of sun shots on the sextant. Total flying 8hrs.
I well remember that at the start of our flight as we flew over the green lush jungles of Malaya how relieved I was at getting away from it safely, remembering the ‘boys’ who would not be going home – in those days their remains were not flown home and we only carried their coffins to the graveside, never seeing the headstones which were only put in place much later.


The Captain and pilot on our flight was a Flt. Lt. Badley and I was made welcome on the flight deck throughout the trip and navigated one leg of the trip from El Adam to Idris.   We landed at R.A.F. Lyneham at 1500 hrs on Monday December 15th. Arriving back home on the exact date that my ‘tour’ was due to end, Tuesday 16th December 1952.

So my time with the Bristol Brigand came to an end and looking through the official files of each aircraft it seems amazing how many were written off during non-operational activities both at home and over-seas. Those that did survive were dismantled at the scrap yards by 1958.


During the few days after I left R.A.F. Tengah, more air-strikes were carried out by 84 Sqdn. and the end of the Brigand era came on December 20th 1952.  It was only 12 days since I had said my goodbyes, when Brigand RH832 crewed by a couple of extremely nice guys, Pilot B. Massey and Sgt Nav. Cliff Powell was just pulling out of a shallow dive when the starboard wing was seen to break away. The aircraft crashed and burst into flames with of course no survivors. This was the prelude to No.84 Squadron ceasing activities in the Far East.


On January 16th a parade was held at Tengah and for a time 84 Sqdn. was disbanded only to re-emerge at Fayid in the Canal Zone,  Egypt.  Instead of Brigands they flew Valletta transport aircraft taking over 204 Sqdn’s number plate and aircraft.


The only remaining parts of a Brigand, RH746, mainly fuselage, is at present being renovated by the R.A.F. Museum teams at R.A.F. Cosford and is not yet viewable by the public.

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This is my saga of the aircraft that, right from the beginning to the end, was able to shoot itself down and fold up its wings.