LINDHOLME

By Kevin HutchinsonArmourer


In May 1968 I was posted from Gütersloh to Lindholme. It was a very useful posting as I found myself in charge of the Station Armoury. The FS who was really in charge was demob-happy and spent almost all the time in the Sgts' Mess where he was the Treasurer. Lindholme was the home of Strike Command Bombing School, with half a dozen Handley-Page Hastings Mks 1 and 5 and a similar number of Vickers Varsities. The Hastings were fitted with H2S radars of the latest mark and were used as flying classrooms. The Varsities were used as bombers, carrying up to twenty-four 25lb practice bombs. The armoury people, as well as doing normal armoury business, serviced the armament gear for both types of aircraft and provided fuzed practice bombs for the Varsities.

A few weeks before I arrived, the RAF News magazine carried on the front page the news that all Hastings aircraft had been taken out of service after a particularly horrid accident. So I was surprised to see the resident aircraft still doing a good job of work. It was pointed out to me that the ones we had were of the Mk 1 chassis - the Mk 5s were modifications of the Mk 1 - whereas others elsewhere, the ones that had been scrapped, were Mk 2s. Moreover, our Mk 1s and 5s had recently been given a thorough overhaul by Handley-Page. One nice by-product of all this is that the Hastings that are now to be seen in museums are, with one exception, ex-Lindholme aircraft, and my fingerprints will be on all of these. I like that!

Another memory that I treasure is one notable item that I'd signed for in the armoury inventory: A "Bomb, HE MC 22,000lb", or a "Grand Slam"! This particular beauty was mounted on two concrete cradles outside the Bombing School main building. I checked that it was empty.

A Sqn Ldr was nominally in charge of the electrical engineering squadron but effectively it was run by a WO - with the Sqn Ldr doing the WO's bidding. The WO took over one of the barrack blocks, and installed a collection of test equipment any maintenance unit would have been proud to own. Tall, heavily-built, with a menacing expression nicely set off by an eye-patch, this WO would brook no argument from anybody - and I do mean anybody!

One day, he was walking across the Hastings hangar floor when he spied a couple of electricians working on the wing of one of the aircraft. After asking them what they were doing, and finding out that they were checking that the crash switch was capable of operating the twelve engine fire-bottle cartridges, he called them down. He said that they were doing it all wrong; they needed to check all twelve outputs at the same time, and not one at a time. Actually, "The Book" said that one at a time was the way to do it, but that was not good enough for the WO. When he was told that there weren't enough AVOs - multimeter test units - on the station to test all twelve simultaneously, he ordered the airmen to borrow some from RAF Finningley, about eight miles down the road.

Wow! The lads found that with all twelve units in the circuit, there was not enough power to operate any of the cartridges. The WO was right! He telephoned me to find out the minimum voltage and current needed to fire a cartridge. I consulted the appropriate Air Publication, but that was no help.

'Well, find out!' was his reaction.

Within an hour or so I got the figures from HQ Strike Command, after they got them from the manufacturer. The result was that the WO ordered his staff not to sign for any before-flight servicing on the Hastings aircraft, effectively grounding the fleet!

The next thing I knew was a Wg Cdr MacBean, from MOD, ringing me up asking what fire bottle cartridges were in use on the station. By this time I had it off pat:

'On the Varsity we have 12K 1248s and on the Hastings we have 12K 1306s,' I said.

'But you don't have any Hastings,' he replied, 'they have all been scrapped.'

For about two minutes we argued, until I told the Wg Cdr that I had a distinct memory of carrying before-flights on three Hastings that very morning.

The result was that from then on the Hastings had to use 12K 1248 cartridges and to limit its maximum height to 20,000 feet. Exit one WO with an even bigger ego.

On the evening of 5 February 1969, as I got changed ready to go out on the town, I heard a jet aircraft flying overhead. This was not unusual as Lindholme was under the glide path for Finningley. However, on this occasion a couple of explosions very close by prompted me to forget about going out. I opened the curtains and looked up into the black sky. I saw nothing there but, as I lowered my gaze, I noticed a flash and flame on the ground about four miles away. I immediately rang the station telephone exchange - PBX - and asked if anything had been reported. The girl told me that she had heard nothing so I advised her to get ready for a busy time as I believed that an aircraft had crashed.

I was right. Two USAF Phantoms of the 81st - yes, the 81st - TFW, aircraft Nos 64-0873 and 64-0874, had collided in the vicinity of Selby. One of them crashed immediately but both crew members had ejected safely. The other aircraft had tried to reach Finningley - why they didn't try to land at Lindholme I never found out - but, when actually overhead Lindholme, both its crew members had also ejected safely. The aircraft then flew the few miles to finally crash in a farmyard at Wroot. A little later our fire crew contacted me and asked me to look at an ejection seat which had landed on our active runway - which was in use that evening. It was a Martin Baker seat, basically a Mk 4 but with an addition that I had never seen before. It was a firing handle and cartridge breech on the right hand side of the seat pan. It was unfired and the safety pin was not fitted. I substituted a pin, and then we lifted the seat to the side of the runway and covered it with a tarpaulin to protect it until the inquiry folk turned up.

The Varsity people had evacuated their hangar and shut operations down for the night after there was a tremendous thump on the roof and a quantity of debris rained down. The following morning it was found that the other seat had landed there. Both crew members had parachuted successfully on the airfield.

It was reported that, up near Selby, a farmer had discovered that one of the seats from the other aircraft was lying on a farm track. It was in his way so he moved it using a "handle which was conveniently placed"; the resulting "bang" changed his plans for the day.

This additional firing handle/breech was a modification to give "manual reversion" if the mechanism to give automatic release of the pilot from the seat failed to work. Seats without this modification still had manual reversion, but the sequence of actions needed to achieve it was more difficult to remember.

Whereas the Officers' mess was rumoured to be haunted, there could be no doubt that the station armoury was the harbour of genius. First of all an armament officer in the 1940s had invented the Lindholme Gear, a system of buoyant containers and linking cordage that could be dropped from an aircraft to help rescue people in difficulty at sea. The containers were redundant bomb-tail containers, so economy was a major feature. This idea was so good that it is still in use.

Another armament officer, Flt Lt Waclaw Zajaczkowski, this time in the late 1950s, or early 1960s, had been responsible for the design and manufacture - he built the toolset to enable him to do it - of a complex spring to improve the effectiveness of brake chute release units on V bombers. He also designed a device - known as the "Zak Box" - to enable V bombers to start their engines simultaneously; he received the MBE for his enterprise. His tools and equipment, plus a host of precision measuring instruments, were still in the armoury when I was there.

Returning from a darts match at Finningley one evening with a Sgt "chippie", we were stopped at the guardroom by the police and invited to show our F1250s; my companion confessed that he had left his in his room:

'But never mind,' he said to the policeman, pulling the front of his shirt collar down to show the scar on his neck made by his front collar stud, 'will this do?'.

'That'll do nicely.' said the policeman, and he let us both in.

On 12th May 1969 I was posted to Leconfield - again - this time on my promotion to Chf Tech.

As is the way of things, Lindholme has now morphed into HM Prison Moorland; obviously there had to be a lot of improvements made to the living quarters.