Library Reference Number: 028
The Other Enemy - Weather
Despite a flying accident early in his RAF career necessitating his admission to Cosford Hospital on 4th October, 1940, Vivian Thomas bounced back into active aircrew duties where air operations had to be carried out regardless of conditions, Vivian reminds us of 'the other enemy' - weather!
As possibly also happened to others, my most frightening flying experience by far was caused by weather and not by enemy action. Coming home across the Med one night in 1943 in a Halifax 1c of No.462 RAAF Squadron, I wandered off to visit the Elsan and stretch my legs, having put Ernie Page, my Australian observer in the driving seat. I must have been away for about 5 minutes, because when I returned to the front, Ernie, at about 8,000 feet, was unconcernedly entering the biggest and dirtiest bank of cloud I had ever seen.
The instant and massive turbulence made it very difficult to change places, but when I was strapped in, I throttled back to try to lose height and perhaps get below the worst weather. This had little effect due to up-currents. I dismissed the possibility of turning round and flying back out because of the fear of being flipped onto my back in the violent lateral, as well as fore and aft turbulence, if I put on a bit of bank myself. (If I had known how wide the front was, I think I would have tried to do this).
With the nose down and throttled back, the altimeter kept winding up and down, then I would lose 3,000 feet in a bump and the instrument whizzed back to 5,000 feet. There was also a tremendous amount of electricity about, and every 5 minutes or so, it would discharge from the aeroplane into the cloud with a blinding flash, and a crack well audible above the engine noise. To add to the fire-works display, the prop tips would all light up. What with regularly losing half a mile in bumps and frequent electricity discharges with the permanent violent turbulence, I just sat there with our height varying between 8.000 and 5,000 feet, and wondered if we would emerge in one piece.
At last! There was a hole in the cloud and down below was the North African coast. I spiralled down the vertical tunnel and came out at about 1,500 feet. In an hour we landed at base. We possibly got out just in time because, in the 53 minutes in cloud, two-thirds of the main plane rivets had sprung.