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The Following story by "Doc" Goble first appeared in the "TAG" newsletter. My thanks to Øyvind Lamo for forwarding it to me.
This occured during the Norwegian campaign - Click here for fuller details of the Blackburn Skuas part in those events.
by “DOC” GOBLE (10 Course)
The 24th April 1940 started off with a blinding snowstorm as the Ark Royal cruised off the Norwegian coast, but by the time our section of Skuas from 800 Sqdn. took off, the weather was so clear the mountains 50 - 75 miles away could be seen outlined sharply against a blue sky.
Our patrol area was to be over Namsos, occupied by our troops, and having a bad time of it due to the absence of air cover. Orders were to stay over Namsos as long as possible, and, as air time at economic speed was estimated at five hours, three and a half hours was all we could be expected to give. Namsos was, as expected, a shambles of fire and smoke and there appeared to be fighting to the South East. As is well known, VIC formation required quite a lot of throttle work and towards the end of the patrol, during which we had seen no sign of other aircraft, my pilot, Midshipman Treene, must have been getting a bit anxious, as there had been several fuel calls to the leader. Eventually we left the area and made for the Ark, and, as usual, being “Tail end Charlie”, were last into the circuit. During the last turn onto the approach, the engine died and down we went into the drink.
For all her faults the Skua did float, giving us ample time to get the dinghy out; alas, “it came away in me ‘and Sir” was ever the cry as the wire pulled loose, without releasing the dinghy, and so it came to pass that we had to scramble to the tail. A destroyer was seen approaching fast, and it rounded up with such a flourish that poor L3050 was pushed under and we started swimming. However, the boat’s crew were pretty quick and within 10 minutes we were being helped over the side of the destroyer.
The first person I saw was a Chief, who was our P0 when I was a boy on H.M.S, Danae in 1935.The bottle he offered was said to contain neat rum, but I did not taste it nor felt it until after the ‘hot and cold bath treatment’ and being put to bed in the Engineer’s cabin.
Next morning my clothes were dry but not the flying boots, so the Engineer provided me with a pair of slippers, and I went forward to thank the boat’s crew and have a yarn with the CPO Ironsides. One good thing, I felt better than before we took off the previous day, as my head cold had vanished. Coming back aft I was unfortunate enough to be on the outerside, when the ship did an 180 degree turn, and, but for a guard stancheon, around which I was able to wrap myself, would have been for another swim. In the process it was goodbye slippers, my cigarette case bent double, a large bruise on my thigh, and I was soaking wet again. Eventually, we were landed in the Shetlands and taken to Invergordon by Sunderland, where I was kitted out in natty silk underwear etc., and a grey pinstripe suit. Thence to an aerodrome somewhere near Inverness, to pick up another Skua L3O55 and, via Hatston, to the ship on 4th May: Although, I am sure quite untrue, it is rumoured that Commander ‘F’ had to be restrained from throwing me overboard in the belief that I was the Blackburn Representative in civvies.
We were headed once more for Norway, and, on the 5th, we had an afternoon patrol spending four hours chasing shadows. Once again we were in the circuit and once again there was the chance we wouldn’t make it as an oil leak had developed; the engine seized up as we came over the round-down and here I must give praise to the hardworking RAF fitters, as they worked all night to change the engine. There was no flying on the 6th, except for the poor old A/S Swordfish, because of the bad weather.
In the early morning of 7th May, we were lined up once more on the flight deck; take off was for 0600 arnd we were “Tail end Charlie” again, due for patrol over Narvick. Narvick, being the rail head for iron ore from Sweden, was a pretty important place, enemy held, whilst over the mountains to the North was Halsted, Allied H.Q. with plenty of shipping. The job was to try and stop the enemy bombing.
All was quiet for the first hours, as we did circular tours over the area, and then, as we were approaching Narvik, some AA guns opened up on us, without, it appeared, doing any damage. As we passed to the East of Narvik however, the dreaded lurgie struck again; dead engine and the sudden silence does make you quake a bit! So we were on our way down, this time not into the sea, but the snow covered mountains. The crash happened slightly uphill, and this broke the engine away, with us sliding to a stop 100 yards further on. Now, for those who don’t remember, in the Skua rear cockpit you sat on a covered crossbeam with no back to it and to use the gun you stood up and used a thick strap, known as the fighting strap, across your back and pulled the gun up with its arc mounting. This was the position I was in when the crash came, and, in consequence, my back took all the impact while I held on to the gun. This caused severe damage to the muscles so that my head dropped and I couldn’t straighten up. My pilot, Midshipman Treene, appeared to be O.K. but you don’t crash like this without some damage. After getting away from the wreck, the first thing was to burn it. At first we tried burning Very lights at the front, but eventually Mid. Treene had to get into the back cockpit with the axe and open up the tanks. He fired another cartridge into this and got caught, having to roll over into the snow to put the flames out; for some reason this made me laugh - reaction I suppose! With the plane burning merrily, and ammunition going off in all directions, we made a hurried departure.
The remains of "Doc" Gobles Skua L3055 high in the Norwegian Mountains. Image courtesy of Øyvind Lamo.
At this time of the war, other ranks didn’t get the briefing the Officers were given, so, I had only a hazy idea of our whereabouts, except that we were in enemy territory. The pilot believed we were about three miles from the Swedish border, and I expected that we would go that way, but it was decided to make for the coast, and we made our way West. Now this was not my ideal stroll, as flying boots are not made for deep snow, but after about three hours of ‘stop and go’, we reached the top of an ice cliff, Rhombaks Glacier, with no seeming way down. In the distance we could see Narvik, and all the time we expected skiers to swoop on us, as both enemy and Norwegian Ski Troops were believed to be in the area. In the end, it was decided to jump down and, luckily, we landed in the snow, glissading down about 500 feet. Making our way to the bottom, we were confronted by sheet ice with a stream in the middle. Having managed to cross this, we turned more to the South and reached Rhombaks Fjiord, about quarter of a mile from its head, and, keeping in the treeline, made our way further to the West where we came upon a house at the water’s edge.
Another photo of L3055, showing tracks in the snow leading away. The image appeared in a German publication with the legend "The Tommy was quickly finished, the English machine fell burning and exploded on rocks". Image courtesy of Øyvind Lamo.
Careful approach gave us the information that there were children about, and, there being no sign of uniforms, we made ourselves known and were taken inside. Their hospitality was very good and we were given sandwiches and coffee in front of a roaring fire. How is it that you can always get someone in foreign lands who can speak English?
We were told that a British Destroyer patrolled up the Fjiord and when she showed up, with the aid of a cycle lamp, I was able to signal our names, aircrew, Ark Royal. She answered, but would not lower a boat, so one of the Norwegians rowed us out in a dinghy and received 1000 cigarettes for his trouble.
All this time we were expecting fireworks from the South side of the Fjiord, where the railway line ran, but all stayed quiet until late in the evening, when aircraft had a go at the destroyer and she succeeded in knocking down at least one of them.
This destroyer carried an SBA, who was helpful to both of us until we landed in Orkney and went to the Hospital ship. X-rays were taken and my back strapped up with wide sticky tape, wound round and round. They were considering sending us to Glasgow Hospital, but I rather wanted to get home and this is what happened — ‘Home to Mum’.
Who’s the JINX??
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