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Library Reference Number: 192

The Legacy

Sqd Ldr Bill Campbell, AFC, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

Our ever-resourceful web-site co-ordinator Jack Burgess has been endlessly encouraging us Cold-War warriors to bring something different to our readers; well, our experiences do differ from those of our WW2 veterans in one significant way. We were ready to fight the Soviets with the Germans and the Americans as our allies, while my father’s and his father’s generation fought the Germans with the Russians/Soviets and the Americans as allies. In another variation, 200 years ago my great-great-great-grandfather was a Royal Artillery gunner who fought with the Germans against Napoleon in the Peninsular War and then went on to duff up the Americans at Washington (and got duffed up by them at Baltimore) in the War of 1812.

The Germans of our generation seemed a touch sensitive to having come second in Two World Wars and would take any opportunity to give us a friendly ‘poke in the eye’ in the one-upmanship stakes.

In 1974, I was on a tour in Hong Kong with 28(AC) Squadron flying Wessex helicopters. Part of the squadron remit was night air-ambulance standby and which we shared with the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. We had a good relationship with the Auxiliaries, some of whom were ex-RAF and indeed an RAF pilot and crewman were posted to them for instructional duties.

One evening a gaggle of us aircrew were on our way in full mess kit to a dinner night in the town headquarters of the Auxiliaries which was located in a skyscraper on Victoria Island. We were dropped off by coach and made our way to the imposing glass entrance. As we arrived at the door it swung open; holding the door was a dapper silver-haired gentleman in blazer and flannels, collar and tie, just like an ACA member out for lunch. After we had passed through and thanked him for his courtesy he launched into a speech. “Gentlemen of the Royal Air Force, how nice to see you. The last time I came in contact with you fellows in any numbers I was shooting you down. I was a Messerschmitt 109 pilot in the Luftwaffe. Those were good days. Only one thing wrong, we lost the f*****g war!” With that he drew himself up to his full height, clicked his heels, wished us a pleasant evening and, with a laugh, strode off into the night.

The Search and Rescue forces from NATO countries bordering the Norwegian and North Seas in my day held a series of annual exercises. There were 4 exercise areas, and for each area one nation would plan an exercise, another would be the lead co-ordinator on the day and a third would host the debrief. At the close of the debrief there was invariably a social evening, and although some serious partying went on, it was at these events that much useful information was exchanged between aviators, sailors and rescue co-ordinators. It was at one of these events that we met the men of the Deutsche Gesellschaft zur Rettung Schiffbrüchiger of Bremen, fortunately abbreviated even by their own to DGzRS. They were like our Coastguard but also had their own rescue vessels. In November 1988 we were invited take our 22 Squadron Wessex from Leuchars to visit them in Bremen and agreed the dates and an arrival time of 1400 hours at Lemwerder, a factory airfield north of the city. We put as much effort into arriving on time as if it was a rescue mission and I put some timing legs into my route to gain/lose time if necessary. We did in fact have to lose some time but as we approached Lemwerder it looked as if we would be a few seconds late so I got the pilot to haul the helicopter round and make a dirty dive towards the runway threshold. He held the aircraft just off the ground, I counted out the time and he plonked the aircraft on the runway bang on the stroke of 1400 hours. We wondered if anyone had noticed! After wrapping up the aircraft we walked across to Airfield Reception, not like your average operations room but a very posh area with a glamorous lady seated at an imposing teak desk. Recognising the RAF flying suit badges she welcomed us most politely, “Good afternoon, you must be the Wessex crew; please wait a moment, the Airfield Manager would like a word with you”. She buzzed through and a rather elderly gentleman appeared. Peering at us over his half-moon glasses he said “Welcome to Lemwerder, Gentlemen. The Royal Air Force always was very punctual when it came to Bremen”! We later discovered that Lemwerder had been an assembly plant for the Focke-Wolf 190 and like most of Bremen had taken a pasting from Bomber Command. Aside from the little dig, the Airfield Manager and his staff couldn’t have been more helpful. The DGzRS men gave us a memorable few days, proudly showing us their rebuilt city centre, taking us to sea in their impressive rescue boats and fixing flying with the German Navy Sea Kings off Cuxhaven.

Earlier the same year we were one of a pair of 22 Squadron Wessex that went to the German Army base at Landsberg in Bavaria. We were taken on a 2-hour sortie into the Bavarian Alps on one of their Huey helicopters with around 8 people on board. We flew effortlessly up to 8000 feet whereupon the pilot looked for a landing spot to let us out for a stroll. I noticed he kept his eyes outside the cockpit throughout a spell doing spot turns, flying backwards, forwards and sideways, with no prospect of checking his instruments. We with our Wessex would have been doing wind and power checks continually with the pilot alternately scanning instruments and looking outside. So I (foolishly in retrospect) asked the German pilot later about this and, looking down in disdain he said “This aircraft has plenty of power, and we have flown them since 1967. Since then we have had one engine failure – we do not worry about engine failures!” The following afternoon we were given a map of the area and went off in our Wessex to attempt the same sortie profile. We left the dispersal, crossed the runway and were clearing the airfield to the south when the pilot closed his cockpit window and in doing so pressed inadvertently on the rudder pedals. A draught blew in the port window, whistled down into the cabin and whipped the map off my seat as I was in the process of moving to close the port window. We watched the map flutter down into the trees, hoping that it wouldn’t be spotted by the Air Traffic Controllers. We had a very brief discussion and decided that, no! we wouldn’t be going back to ask the Germans for another map. To avoid the dreaded loss of face we had to press on and fly the 2-hour sortie from memory. Poor old Walter Wessex ran out of puff well before the height we’d reached in the Huey so we had plenty time in hand to sneak back to Landsberg at tree-top level in a valley just in case the hosts spotted us on radar wandering around looking for the place. I think we just got away with that one.

My final trip to Germany before I retired was in October 1992 to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the formation of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre at German Fleet Headquarters Glücksburg on the Baltic coast near the border with Denmark. I flew over as a passenger in a Sea King from RAF Boulmer which landed on the Glücksburg parade square amongst an impressive collection of SAR helicopters from NATO and Poland. Everything had been prepared with Germanic thoroughness; a Beer Call had been arranged for that Friday night, on Saturday morning we had a guided tour of the underground bunker and in the afternoon watched a SAR demo by a German Navy Sea King and a DGzRS lifeboat at Glücksburg beach. On Saturday night there was a Dinner/Dance, which for the helicopter crews was a Dinner/Booze-up since we had no wives with us, unlike those guests from all over the NATO SAR world who had travelled privately. Dressed in full mess kit we were bussed from our town hotels to the parade square and directed along a path between barrack blocks towards the Officers’ Club. The light from the parade square soon started to fade and we carefully made our way towards a glow emanating from behind a head-high hedge at the end of the path. As we turned the corner we found ourselves at the top of a shallow series of steps running down to the Club and what we saw made our hair stand on end. Standing either side of each step was a German sailor dressed from head to toe in black - black boots, calf-length black greatcoat, black tasselled hat with Gothic script and red pom-pom - each one holding a flaming torch. I remember looking at one of my companions who was looking at me, eyebrows raised as I expect mine were. One of us said “Remind you of anything?” The evening began with a very pleasant half-hour cocktail reception but the old one-upmanship again appeared when, in the nicest possible way, the event co-ordinator, a young Commander, after listening to our pigeon-German, suggested that it might be best if the language of the evening were English. He was quite right, of course, but there was soon an unexpected turn of events, when the host for the celebration, the Deputy C-in-C German Fleet, stepped to the microphone and gave a welcome speech – in German. This surprised us as English was the official language of NATO and all of the guests (other than the Swedes) were NATO, or so we thought until we looked around and saw that the Rear Admiral was hosting senior officers from Poland. So, a nice diplomatic touch, almost lost on us rough aircrew types who had momentarily thought that this was the recently re-unified Germany asserting itself. Anyway, the Commander repeated the welcome speech in English. The evening proceeded at pace, with good food and wine and rousing dance music. I had always followed the advice that good Scottish liquor was appreciated in Germany and among other things I had brought a couple of bottles of Glayva, and donated one of them to the top-table. Later in the evening I was returning from the bar with a tray of beer when a hand clasped me on the shoulder, it was the Admiral. Without a word of introduction he launched into a flawless rendition of Rabbie Burns’ ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands’. He saw my jaw drop, laughed and said “I spent two years on an exchange tour in Scotland as Staff Officer to the Admiral at Rosyth. I love Scotland and everything about it.” He smiled and turned away towards his table of, by now, very merry ladies, but hesitated, turned round and said to me, “Good idea the Glayva!”

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