The following is part of an article writen by Mic Comber originally printed in the FAA "Jabberwok" Spring 1999 and reproduced with his permission
I was not sorry when my first 'tour' came to an end but delighted to know my eagerness to move to night fighters was to be rewarded, so packed up the car and drove to join 766 Squadron at Yeovilton and training on the Sea Venom 21 with its cockpit so intimate one check was to make sure the you had not cross strapped yourself into the other guy's seat. We spent months using air intercept radar directing the pilot onto a target, having to cope with varying approaches, practicing each by day before trying the same thing at night with navigation lights out. I confess I did not find the air intercept world easy and scraped a pass. So to 894 Squadron, embarked in H.M.S. ALBION, with Peter Hoar, my pilot, who at 19 was younger than me and in those days that meant I was allegedly the captain of the aircraft so got bo d off for any duff deck landing he made.
The ship was in the Far East so we had a 27 hour flight in a Britannia, with stops At Istanbul and Bombay. Good planning meant we arrived a week before Albion so enjoyed a most pleasant stay in Hong Kong at the shore base of H.M.S. Tamar where I had a fight with an enormous moth in my cabin one night. It really was attacking me and I had not yet been to the bar. After VICTORIOUS and air conditioning, ALBION took us back to real life and a four-berth cabin under the baking flight deck. For the next six months we did fighter interceptions, day and night, in the Hong Kong, Philippines and Singapore areas, as well as day fighter dogfighting, even some air to air gun firing on a towed target and gun and rocket firing onto the 'splash' target towed behind the ship. All most uncomfortable for the poor old observer. I learnt the hard way not to get too much sunburn. Bright red legs beneath long tropical white socks do not go together when you have high 'G' sorties. I could feel those socks pulling the skin off my legs at each tight turn and pull up. We disembarked a short while to R.A.F. Seletar on the north coast of Singapore, where the golf course straddled the runway and a small white ball would often jump across the runway ahead of you as you landed. The Officers' Mess was superb. Of the two regular local barmen, one seemed rather dozy until you found out he was guaranteed employment for his work in creeping up behind Japanese guards in the war and quietly 'dispatching' them.
There was a another short disembarkation this time to R.A.F. Kai Tak in Hong Kong and later, for two weeks to R.A.A.F. Butterworth, on the east coast of the Malay Peninsular, opposite Penang Island. To get to Butterworth from ALBION we had to stage through Seletar to refuel. All went well. For the others. The Venom's engine, in common with others of the era, had a cartridge starter. Extremely reliable. Not this time. Both our safety discs blew. We had no ground crew to assist; it was up to muggins. Canopy open, unstrap, safety pin in the seat, climb out onto wing. Open locker, find new safety discs and tools, remove old and insert new. Engine still hot of course. And its 35 degrees heat anyway Fiddle way back into cockpit, pin out. strap in, close canopy. Thank goodness it started this time. So we were a bit late but at least had a trip up Malaya (not Malaysia then) on our own. We had joined ALBION on the last leg of its fixed wing career and returned to England via Trincomolee in (then) Ceylon, Mombassa and a most pleasant few days up country in Kenya as guests of ex R.N. people in Nairobi. I was to visit Mombassa several times over the years, one time taking my leave there in preference to returning home. This leave, incidentally, was additional, I remember, to alleviate the strain on aircrew that were going from one front line tour straight to another. Some recognition of the twitch factor. So up through the Suez Canal and home for Christmas. I was delighted to see the last of the A.I. radar in the Venom and move on to something more sophisticated in the Sea Vixen, little knowing how many of my friends were to be killed in this quite dreadful aircraft over the next few years.
On the 24 August 1959 my observer for the flight, Bob Wise, and I climbed into WW186 for a test flight at RNAS Yeovilton. Strapped in and hot to trot I pressed the Coffman starter cartridge button. Nothing happened. I pressed the button again, nothing happened [as far as I could see]. Shortly afterwards Bob got out of the cockpit, which surprised me ,to say the least. I then noticed that he was joined by various ground staff who were staring at the aircraft. I turned round as far as I could, being still strapped in, and saw that there was a fire burning merrily on the top of the fuselage behind the cockpit. I naturally hopped out quick smart and suggested to Bob that he could have said something to me. The fire was quickly brought under control by ground crew with hand held fire extinguishers. While we were staring at the slightly charred aircraft there was a great clanging of bells and roar of engines and the fire brigade arrived. They started unwinding hoses and clumping around in large boots and fearnought suits and the assembled spectators attempted to bring their attention to the fact that the fire was out--to no avail. The pumps started and the Venom was engulfed in a pyramid of foam. Eventually the message got through and the foam stopped. After some discussion between interested parties it was agreed that the fire crew would clean up the mess. Various taps and levers were turned and a young lad took hold of the nozzle and ordered the water to be turned on. With full pressure arriving at the nozzle the lad promptly lost control and the nozzle swung in a slow arc, which was an effective method of clearing the whole area. Unfortunately the Fishead Commander came round the corner of the hangar, on his bicycle,to see what was going on, and copped the full blast which removed his brass hat and him from the bike. It was later agreed by all the spectators that a good time was had by all.
When I was Senior Pilot, 894 squadron one of our pilots, “Tubby” Spendlove was a great sleeper. His steward had a lot of trouble waking him in the morning. One day he’d had enough and when Tubby finally awoke said “ you don’t want a steward, Sir, you want an undertaker”
At anchor in Grand Harbour, Malta we had had a good party in Wardroom Two, and were seeing some guests [and officers] to their dhaisas. One pair got to the bottom of the gangway and the officer slipped and knocked his girlfriend into the drink. She was dragged out and taken to that officers cabin who showed her where the clothes were stowed. After she had dried and kitted herself out she went ashore. When the chap turned in that night he found a lot of her “smalls” hung around the cabin to dry. Next morning the steward walked in with his cup of tea and without blinking said “ one cup of tea or two, Sir?’
1958. Senior Pilot 894. We flew all our Sea Venoms ashore to RNAS Hal Far, Malta for 14 days of weapons training- Front Line Armament Practices [FLAPS] One day two of us were doing live 20mm cannon firing on a sleeve target towed by a Target Tug aircraft. One of us would have plain ammo and the other daubed with coloured paint. This enabled our hits [if any] to be counted. The sleeve was kept upright by a piece of heavy galvanised pipe, about four feet long, and a large lead weight at its lower end. We started our attacks and after two or three passes I could see a nice lot of hits. The next thing—the sleeve disappeared. I called on the R/T “ you bastard, you’ve shot it down” [ this could happen if a round hit the towing wire.] Bill Newton replied “ no I haven’t, I’ve got in my wing”!!!! He landed with the pipe embedded half way along the wing right back to the main spar. Drinks for all in the Mess.
894, HMS Eagle. We finished the briefing, manned our Sea Venoms and, after a night catapult launch, formed up and I lead off to carry out a night Glowworm and rocket attack on a “splash” target towed by one of our destroyers about 150 miles away. We flew low level all the way and on locating the target, on radar, I pulled up and started a gentle turn, during which I fired Glowworm rocket flares at intervals. These then burst in a line behind the target and the parachute flares silhouetted the target for the rest, who pulled up, winged over in turn, and, diving down, fired 8 rockets each at the splash. A very satisfactory exercise and some pretty good shooting. We all landed back on the ship and gathered in the Briefing Room. Commander [Air], known as “Wings’ burst into the room and said that he wanted a full debriefing on our sortie, as the US Navy was having conniptions. It turned out that one of their destroyers was having its Sunday evening film show for the crew, with a screen rigged on the “ fantail”, when World War 3 started, or so they thought, as the sky lit up and rockets started crashing into the water just astern of them. Some of the crew had gone to action stations. We went to the Wardroom and had a good laugh.