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Lucky Escape – Low Flying again!

It was Armament Practice Camp (APC) time and time for our annual winter detachment up to Sylt. We, the ‘resident’ squadrons always got the winter weather; the visitors from the U.K. got the summer so they could enjoy the sunbathing ‘au naturelle’ on the Westerland beaches…

The weather up there in the winter could be dodgy to say the least, with North Sea fog drifting in very rapidly when it had a mind to – which it frequently did! This particular day in late 1949 was scheduled for Air-to-Air firing with the tow-line parallel to the west coast, south of the main (and only) town of Westerland. It was dull with a cloud base of about 1000 ft, the drogue-towing Martinet was running his line and the previous shooter was about to finish his sortie, as Eric, my navigator, and I lifted our old Mosquito FB VI off the runway. We had barely left the runway when we could see the fog rolling in as the Tower broadcast a ‘General Recall’. Oh well, we were full of gas so let’s see what happens.

The Martinet, having been up the longest and being on a northerly heading anyway, made a dart for the airfield. ‘Ha, ha’ he chuckled, ‘missed the dropping zone that time – I’ll go around again and have another shot’. Cloud base now down to 100 ft and visibility around a mile. He eventually got down as the other Joe and I flew north-south along the coastline in opposite directions with just sufficient visibility to avoid a head-on collision. The other Joe, having been airborne the longest, went in next with just enough clearance to make a more-or-less normal low-level circuit. Then it was our turn.

By now the cloud was down to some 50 ft and the visibility had dropped to just a few hundred yards – no GCA of course. I could make out the town, just, and decided any attempt to land on the north-south runway was out of the question by now but there was a chance to get down on the seldom-used east-west runway, but…’Tower, er, which side of the church tower does the runway start? North or South?’ The stumpy tower was about the tallest building in the town – and the top was now in cloud. ’56, try the north,’ came the reply. So with the wing-tip scraping over the beach huts, wheels dodging chimney pots, we lined up with the church tower to starboard, chopping the throttles, saw the Guardroom slide under the port wing and hauled back on the pole. My goodness, the runway was underneath the wheels! SUCCESS!

Having rolled to a stop – with a lot of braking to avoid running out of tarmac – we looked out of the office and could not see a THING. That fog was THICK. We had no option but to switch off the engines, swing down out of the cockpit and WALK back (on compass) to sign the F700.

I think I’ll stick to knitting…