Celebrating our 25th Anniversary
Gordon Smith arrived at RCAF Station Greenwood in November 1944. Fresh from a Commando Course given by the British at Maitland, Hants County, N.S. Gordon called a cab to transport him from Kingston rail station to the main gate at Greenwood. His orders were to report immediately for flight training so it was surprising that no one was there to sign him in. He happened to bump into F/L Don Wise who gave him a quick tour around the base and took him to the adjutant at HQ where he was officially signed in. F/L Wise then escorted Gordon to the officers mess for dinner and refreshments. This chance meeting was memorable for Gordon as two days later Don Wise’s Mosquito blew up during a high altitude oxygen test.
Gordon’s first assigned pilot was an experienced Hurricane pilot, but surprisingly he failed his test flight on the Mosquito. Gordon never did meet this guy, whom he thought was sent back to England and no doubt back to the Hurricane. A happenstance meeting in the officers mess with F/L Gordon Edwards, from London, Ont. was the beginning of a Mosquito flight crew. It would appear after conversing for a short time the two felt comfortable with each other and F/L Edwards said to F/O Smith, “how about you and I doing a little flying together.” Apparently this was not uncommon for teams to be mated this way and to remain as a team for the duration. The importance of this bond cannot be over estimated. I asked Gordon if he was ever afraid….”not really”, he replied. “I had confidence in my pilot AND I had confidence in myself!”.
A lasting impression for Gordon was a sign over the door of the briefing room at Greenwood. It read, “ Mistakes you make here, you will never make again.” A reminder that flying was a dangerous pursuit where mistakes are deadly, and to a much lesser extent, mistakes can bring about dismissal.
During Gordon’s two month course at Greenwood three Mosquito plane crashes occurred. The previously mentioned explosion of F/L Don Wise’s Mosquito; a close friend, Earl Breund, flew into a mountain during a snowstorm while flying over New Brunswick; and a Norwegian pilot crashed his Mosquito shortly after takeoff from Greenwood. The Mossie was a dangerous aircraft to fly. Shortly after the war’s end the Mosquito was declared unsafe for further training in Canada. At wars end in Europe the Mosquito crews were asked for volunteers to serve in the Far East campaign. Curiously days after this request a declaration came that NO Mosquito aircraft would be sent to the Far East. Upon returning to Canada Mosquito crews were in demand to retrain on the Lancasters. In spite of all this, the Mosquito crews were fiercely proud of their aircraft and their contribution to the war effort.
The cockpit of the Mosquito was very noisy and normal communication was impossible; due to the cockpit being nestled between the two big Rolls Royce Merlin engines and just feet away from the rotating propellers. Both pilot and navigator in the Mosquito always wore the oxygen mask and full helmet during flight. The microphone was located in the mask while the earphones were in the helmet. The oxygen hose was left to dangle as we might have seen in videos of the Mosquito in flight, unless at altitude. External voice communication by radio was over short distances only at this time, used by the pilot in contact with the control tower during take-offs and landings, Morse Code was used by the wireless/navigator for all other communications.
The Mosquito was equipped with Bendex wireless equipment with the control panel behind the pilots seat. The panel was linked with the transmitter located in the tail of the Mosquito by electrical wires and two relay switches. The pilots seat was designed to be a little forward of the navigators seat for access to the control panel, the adjustment wheels and Morse Code key. It was necessary then for the navigator to turn his head to the left in order to turn on the wireless set. During his first night training mission Gordon noticed, out of the corner of his eye within the darkened rear fuselage, two bright sparks when he turned on the electrical connection to the wireless! Taking off his mask he could smell what he thought was a glycol smell. Thereafter Gordon insisted his pilot open the bomb bay doors to air out the rear of the aircraft before turning on the wireless. This concern was passed along to his fellow aircrews and his superiors. Later the cause of the explosions was found to be in the gas control valve and later still a solution found. Gordon related that the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum’s write-up on the Mosquito explosion problems could have been written by himself.
Night flying was designed to be as real as possible to simulate the dangerous night skies over Europe. An antiaircraft search light battery was located on Rock Notch Road just south of Greenwood. An aircraft caught in the intersection of two or three powerful search lights, “coned”, was practically blinded. The pilot had certain evasive manoeuvres when caught in such a situation, part of his training at Greenwood.
Mosquito flight training stressed low level flying, often BELOW 300 feet. It was not uncommon to find the tops of pine trees in the engine nacelles on returning from practice missions!
The Mosquito pilot’s parachute was located in the seat of his harness. To accommodate this feature the pilot’s seat was designed to allow the pilot to sit on his chute making it available in emergencies and to allow the pilot freedom to move his arms. The navigator’s parachute was hooked to the front of his harness so it could be removed during flight. This allowed freedom for the navigator to crawl into the nose of the Mosquito for access to the Sperry bomb sight. Gordon was taught aiming during his navigator’s course at Ancienne-Lorette near Quebec City. An identical Sperry Bomb Sight was installed in the Anson MK V. The Annie also had an Astrodome in the top of the fuselage where a sextant could be hooked and sun shots taken to calculate the position of the aircraft. An amusing game sometimes played between the navigator and pilot during bomb sight training went like this…directions given to pilot, “right-right, left, right, left-left, WHOA, back a bit!”
Evacuation training from a Mosquito was accomplished at Greenwood with a mock-up cockpit in one of the hangars. The escape hatch was at the foot of the navigator with access via a trap door that was pulled up with a folding ring and thrown up into the nose section. The external panel was designed then to be kicked free. The navigator would go first then the pilot after the control stick was strapped in place using special clips. The only problem at this point was that the hatch wasn’t big enough to allow the pilot through with his parachute on! Gordon related that bailing out was never given a thought. Since a lot of flying was done at low level there wouldn’t have been time or altitude to successfully evacuate safely. Since the Mosquito had heaters, normal flying apparel consisted of a regular tunic and pants, a May west inflatable life preserver and the parachute harness.
The Mosquito cockpit was cramped. In fact there was no plotting table or workspace for the navigator. Gordon’s solution was to use the straps on his flying helmet as a place to hold his pencils, dividers, rule etc. These were the days before Velcro! In addition his Dalton “computer” was strapped to his right thigh and the instruction booklet on his left thigh. It was here he had his flight information concerning times and procedures. One important piece of information was written in large red letters, “CHANGE TANKS” indicating when to switch over from the outer petrol tanks to the inner tanks, calculated from time of takeoff. Gordon was a man of short stature and short arms. After being strapped into his seat he found that if he dropped anything on the floor, unless his long armed pilot could reach it, the item was lost for the duration of the flight. Another problem found was the folding and unfolding of maps. As one can appreciate opening a road map in your car during a road trip can be an awkward procedure. All these things going on in the cockpit was often done at 280 mph at 30 feet from the ground! Gordon admitted that you “just got used to it”.
Gordon was death on alcohol when flying. One Monday morning his team was given a surprise flying assignment. Knowing that his pilot Gordon Edwards was in Yarmouth on the weekend and was admittedly drinking Sunday night Gordon refused to fly with his pilot this morning. This was how serious he was about alcohol and flying! The team was reprimanded by being assigned washing airplanes. Officers could not be ordered to do such tasks but the pair went to the wash hanger. They got a bucket and mops and washed a few square feet of fuselage before packing away the wash gear. Doing their penance and their minds satisfied, they returned to training.
Some Mosquitoes were equipped with four cannon guns under the fuselage and four .303 calibre machine guns in the wings. The cannon were located under the navigators seat and when fired the recoil and shock could be felt quite forcibly through the seat of the navigator.
Gordon led his class of navigators while at Greenwood. This was #33 Crew Training Course which included eight navigational training exercises. These included cross country reckoning, low level flying, low level flying in formation, air to ground gunnery (rockets), and air to air gunnery. Gun training was affected by firing at a drogue chute towed behind the Bolingbroke. Mosquito pilots flew a “curve of pursuit” or an “S” pattern behind the Bolingbroke, first from the right side firing on at the drogue, swerving over to the left behind the Boly and firing at the drogue from this direction, and so on. Gordon remembers the bright yellow and the bold black stripes of the Boly. Air to ground practice was accomplished by aiming at a designated barn in the countryside somewhere around Greenwood. Gordon can remember a mere afternoon’s training on their Mosquito guns firing at the drogues. Also during his brief two months training at Greenwood, many days were unfit for flying, surprising as one of the reasons Greenwood was chosen as an airfield site was due to the good weather conditions.
Gordon’s training at Greenwood lasted a mere two months and totalled 105.5 training hours in the Mossie. The first flight listed in his flight log book was November 27,1944 in Mosquito #107. The last entry was on January 22, 1945 aboard Mosquito #372. All flights were with pilot F/L Gordon Edwards, London, Ont.
F/O Gordon Smith…… England , Post Greenwood
After graduation from crew training at RCAF Station Greenwood in January of 1945, this Mosquito crew of pilot F/L Gordon Edwards and wireless/navigator F/O Gordon Smith landed at Torquay on the south coast of England. The team was next transferred to Bournemouth and then to RAF Station Upper Heyford, 12 miles from Oxford. Here Gordon remembers large stone buildings and pictures on the walls of the Prince of Wales, Duke of York from their service during WWI. One large stone three story building was the golf club which, being closed during the war years, was opened to the Canadian officers while stationed here. While waiting for Mosquito Pathfinder course Gordon had his first taste of the game of golf. His first lesson was given by a future Canadian pro Rudy Horvath, from Windsor, Ont. who played on the PGA Tour with Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead. Gordon had the authority to give Rudy passes to play in tournaments on weekends. Rudy won many tourneys during his tour in England.
RAF Station Upper Heyford gave the Pathfinders Course using the Mosquito. Gordon and his navigator cohorts were taught the rudiments of OBOE, a very secret procedure used to pinpoint bombing targets. Using radar beams, a Mosquito was directed to a particular target where it dropped marker flares for the bombers following. This was extremely accurate and Gordon feels was one of the most strategic elements to winning the war.
“Lord Haw-Haw” a German radio figure boasted of German successes and Ally futilities, call it psychological warfare. In one story, Lord Haw-Haw goaded the British for bombing a small cemetery beside a church missing a munitions factory only a mile away . The very next night the munitions factory was totalled by Allied bombers using Mosquito pathfinders and OBOE.
OBOE required a steady flight line. The large Lancaster bombers had a degree of “sway” during flight due to the torque effect from the four large powerful engines, side to side movement which made it impossible to locate the converging radar beams. Instead, the Mosquito was ideal for this. I likened the description of OBOE to zeroing in on a locator beam. The Mosquito had to be at a certain spot, certain height at a certain time to hear the signal and pinpoint the target, then they would drop flares which would mark the target for the bombers following behind.
Canadian officers on leave would carry a Gladstone Bag, a pebble grained leather satchel. Often it would be full of cigarettes, common “currency” in England during the rationing laws at the time. Home folks would send over cartons of 1000 to their men/women at war. One could buy most anything by bartering with cigarettes, as smoking was “fashionable” at this time.