Cyril Hall – Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (Service Number 990275) – was not really a blood relation. In my childhood he was the third husband of my grandmother’s sister. He used to sit in the corner looking all “crusty”, having a cocktail and making a great art out of the smoking that eventually killed him. My grandmother’s sister has recently died and my Uncle was clearing out the house. He came across Cyril’s RAF logbook from the war and had a copy made for me. It was always vaguely thought that Cyril “flew Spitfires” during the war. In fact the logbook shows he did not – but he did fly in the Battle of Britain and was incredibly lucky to survive. He was in the thick of the battle and in far worse circumstances than the immortal “few” fighter pilots. In his case he was a member of a very small subset of the “few”.

The logbook opens with a note that he flew 631¾hours as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and Nav Radio Specialist (cover for Radar Operator) from May 28th 1940 up till April 1944. From the Record of Service in the back of the logbook plus some Internet research:

Cyril Hall flew in the Battle of Britain with 18 Squadron from May to August 1940 in the staggeringly underarmed, unarmoured and underpowered Blenheim IV. He joined the remains of 18 squadron as it evacuated out of France. He flew with the squadron from 26 May-12 June 1940 from Gatwick and 12 June-8 September 1940 from West Raynham. The squadron was tasked with attacking the German buildup for the invasion of the UK in the Channel Ports, France and the Low Countries. Casualty rates on these missions were routinely 50% losses and often approached 100% losses. He was lucky to survive and was truly one of “the few” of the UK bomber force that survived the Battle of Britain period.

From August to November 1940 he attended No 2 Electrical and Wireless School Yatesbury flying Dominies and training as a “Wireless Operator”. As he already was a W/O – this note was probably cover for Airborne Interception – later known as Radar.

November through December 1940 found him at 23 Squadron again in Blenheims in their role as Night Fighters with early Airborne Interception (Radar). The Blenheims tackled the German bombers through the winter of 1940-41. January to June 1941 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron in Wick in Scotland. Primarily equipped with Hurricanes flying as night fighters – Cyril flew in Douglas Havoc twin engine “night fighters” equipped with Turbinlite. The Turbinlite was an immensely powerful searchlight carried in the aircraft nose that was used in an attempt to illuminate German bombers for the Hurricances to shoot down. The Havoc itself was unarmed as it was all it could do to carry the searchlight. It was not a very successful method of finding bombers and was replaced as soon as airborne radar was available in night fighters. At this time he would almost certainly have been part of the defences over Scotland trying to stave off the Blitz on the Clyde shipyards.

June to August 1941 saw him at 25 Squadron in Blenheims equipped with airborne radar – he would have been the operator in the back talking the pilot on to the target in the dark of night – though the RAF record of duty suggests they were engaged on convoy protection duty for much of the time. August to October 1941 he was back with No 3 Reserve squadron. I can’t specifically find their task at that time but probably training or training other operators. He spent two weeks in October 1941 with the Canadian 406 Squadron in Beaufighters in the night fighter role. October and November saw him back at No 3 Reserve.

He spent December 1941 with No 29 Squadron who were flying a mixture of Blenheim and Beaufighter night fighters as they converted over to Beaufighters. Then from Dec 1941 to June 1942 he was with No 3 Reserve Squadron again. Then from June to September 1942 he was with 54 Operational Training Unit in Beaufighters but it is not clear if as an instructor or under training. Given his next deployment – probably under training.

Then a whole year from September 1942 to August 1943 with 141 Squadron in Beaufighters. 141 had been equipped with the disastrous Defiant during the Battle of Britain and had been shot to pieces and when Cyril joined it had just been reformed – flying Beaufighter night fighters in Ayr in the defence of Scotland. He joined just after they were moved south to Tangmere which became its new base in June 1942 and Predannack in February 1943. In April 1943 it moved to Wittering, from where it began night intruder operations over German airfields in support of Bomber Command. A horribly dangerous task. British four engine bomber crews would shoot at anything with two engines – assuming it was a German night fighter. It might just as well be a Beaufighter. It was during this period on the 18th March 1943 that Cyril was promoted from Warrant Officer to Pilot Officer on Probation (emergency) and his service number was changed to 146289 in the “officer” series of numbers. (Promulgated – London Gazette 9th July 1943). He left the squadron a month before it got re-equipped with Mosquitos.

In August 1943 he was “rested” and rotated out to 53 then 54 then 52 Operational Training Units till May 1944. He was promoted Pilot Officer (Flying Officer on Probation) on 18th September 1943 (Promulgated – London Gazette 15th October 1943). He would have been instructing and like most of his contemporaries – they considered it more dangerous than actual missions and deadly boring.

To get out the OTU he volunteered as a pilot and from the 12th May to the 8th June he attended No 7 Elementary Flying School – Desford – for a Grading Course. He flew a total of 10.5 hours in a DeHavilland DH 82A Tiger Moth – mainly with a Sergeant Mortimer. It was two lessons a day sometimes three. Spin recovery was actively practiced on lessons 4, 11 and 13 (it is highlighted and underlined in the logbook). He soloed on his 15th lesson on the 8th day for a whole 10 minutes after 7 hours 45 minutes instruction. He actually had 4 lessons that day – including the solo. He passed the Grading Course on 6th June 1944.

Then on October 4th to a “War Course” at No 28 Elementary Flying Training School. October 6th he was flying again in a Tiger Moth. 19th October he was endorsed as knowing how to swing a propeller and he was also endorsed that he understood the petrol, oil, ignition and cooling systems. He flew through October – sometimes solo and the lessons were building on skills, adding emergencies, forced landings and side slipping. There were also plenty of practice spins – again underlined. He was 20 hour stage checked in November and on passing that – started on aerobatics and LOW FLYING (again underlined). By the end of November he had started work on Navigation away from the airfield. He also spent time in the LINK trainer (a mechanical simulator for instrument flying practice). December included more LOW FLYING, aerobatics and cross country trips. By the end of the year in 1944 he had amassed 43 hours of dual instruction, 24 hours solo time, 4 hours of night instruction and an hour solo at night.

In January 1945 he flew for the first week of the month and on the 8th January 1945 he was awarded his wings. 37.25 hours dual instruction, 32.05 hours solo time, 10.15 hours instrument time. Progress was “Average” and Special Faults to be watched was “Nil”. He was confirmed promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.

It looks like he was awarded two weeks leave because he did not report to Secondary Flying Training School No 17 – Cranwell till the end of January where he was introduced to the twin engined Airspeed Oxford. After just 6 days and 5 hours actual flying in the Oxford he demonstrated his cockpit drills to Warrant Officer Fisher and passed his presolo written exam. Then a few minutes later he soloed the Oxford on February 8th. He then carried on Flying 2 -3 times a day in the Oxford often solo till June 25th. He amassed 75.15 hours instruction and 65.30 hours solo in the Oxford and was passed out at “Proficient” on the 27th June 1945. The War in Europe had been over for 6 weeks. The war with Japan was still raging. He spent July at RAF Spitalgate – reason unknown before heading for No 21 Advanced Flying Unit at Wheaton Aston where he flew Oxfords again from August to September. But the tempo was much reduced. Sometimes a week would pass between flights. Then in October 1945 he spent a month at RAF Perton where he only flew 7 times in the month. These were his last flights with the RAF. He passed out from the Advanced Flying Unit course as a “Proficient” pilot and “Proficient” at making Standard Beam Approaches.

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