A fun day out at Nordhorn Range in 1968 for Rod Jones
In the summer of 1968 the Squadron was slated for some range practice up at RAF Nordhorn. This was to give our flying types some hands on live fire practice and, hopefully, to damage severely some stuff on the ground – which apparently did not include any buildings with people in, or under.
We, as ground crew “selected volunteers”, were directed to assist with the marking of the targets.
Thus allowing us to better understand:
? what it was like to be under fire ? to give credit where credit was due ? have the opportunity to pick up spent 50mm ball rounds for souvenirs, if you were quick
The marking of targets was achieved via the use of a long pole with a rag draped around the end and dipped in coloured paint. Following a “firing pass” we, the volunteers, would leap from the butts (cleverly positioned right behind the targets) grab the paint pot assigned to the current pilot and search the target for holes, the target being a 20′ square frame made of 2″ scaffolding tube covered with hessian fabric and painted with whitewash. It was propped up at 45 degrees, presumably to give the pilot a fighting chance of whacking the thing.
Now, as in all of life, there was this little problem!
If, the pilot was really on and nailed the thing, chances are the tube frame has been shot to hell. The hits became ruddy great holes, assuming there was fabric left to observe and the time to the next incoming flight was short. Wood and duck tape could be very useful in salvaging a target. Then, using the pole to outline the holes with coloured paint to confirm and eliminate the hits, we would estimate the number of striking rounds and give credit to the pilot concerned. It is worth noting at this time that, as the senior NCO in charge of the detail was still in the bunker, to remain in radio contact, of course. Any jet noise heard in the immediate vicinity would cause the bowels to become somewhat loose. I think in today’s terminology we would call this a “character-building” situation.
Sometimes, there were no holes at all and we just assumed the pilot had a jam or was firing at the wrong target, which is another reason why they were propped up. If another target was lying down, it was easy to see he had just shot the wrong one. You will notice that we never considered that the pilot had missed. This was IV Squadron, after all
The other end of this really good game was up in the range tower. On the day I was there the Range Boss was a large Warrant Officer whose name I have long forgotten. He sat in a high chair with a mug of tea and observed the firing runs through the plate glass window which looked out across the range. On the glass was drawn a black chinagraph line. This, he informed us, was the “safety height line” (technology is a wonderful thing). Anyone flying below this line would be sent home. Something about “Target Fixation” and “Gung-ho Cowboys” .
The point of the height limit became very poignant when Flt Lt Bill Shepard did his thing. He didn’t go below the safety height line but was seen to leave the target area with smoke trailing from the port side. He did a fly-by the tower that confirmed he was smoking and he made his way home to Gutersloh. The rest of the team had a really good day and broke lots of stuff. I thing everybody have a good time. I sure as hell did. If the T7 fired as well, we could get the collected shell casings later, as it did not discharge them like the FR10s and you could assemble a really nice 50mm ball round complete for a keepsake – the whole point of going there, I think.
When we arrived home at Gutersloh. It seemed “Shep” had not been smoking but losing fuel. A ball round had bounced up from the ground and had gone straight down the port intake. It had broken through the intake skin and lodged in a fuel line coming from the wing tank. I kid you not; the pipe and the round were almost the same size, the pipe being just a little bigger. It had struck the fuel pipe in an elbow piece and was lodged almost perfectly dead centre. Just a “_” of the pipe each side held the round firmly in the line. An airframe fitter, even one of ours, would have had the devil’s own game getting this round to lodge in the pipe as neatly as it had.
The elbow piece and round were mounted on a block of wood and presented to Flt Lt Shepard at the Squadron Party later in the year. Some said he had been very lucky, but for those of us who knew him, we considered it “just skill”.