The latst contribution to our new series "When I was on XI" comes from
Nick Lee. Nick served on XI at Wunstorf as a Venom pilot.
Who sir? Me sir? No sir!
To the highly controlled aviators of today who almost have to ask permission of the air traffic authority to adjust their elevator trims, the carefree aircrew of the 1950s in Germany would be looked upon as a species of Time Bandit. It wasn't that we were totally anarchic. It was just that after World War 2, the skies of Germany were regarded as our own personal property, so we made the most of it while it lasted. The CinC of 2nd, ATAF at that time was Sir Harry Broadhurst, who happened to be a keen sailor who made frequent excursions to Kiel to sail his yacht in the Baltic. His itinerary took him from the Rhineland up to Schleswig-Holstein, which is the bit of Germany butting onto the Danish peninsula of Jylland, (Jutland) and which also housed Low Flying Area Number 6, which was just the other side of the Kiel Canal, and thereby hangs a tale....
It was a pleasant day as Sir Harry's staff car trundled across the bridge over the Kiel Canal and passed a little pub on the other side, outside which a board displayed a message to passing motorists. It said (in German of course) "Stop a while. Relax. Drink your beer, and watch the crazy English pilots fly under the bridge". It took a moment or two for the translation to work its way through Sir Harry's bonce, following which there was a squeal of tyres as the vehicle did a quick 180 back to the pub, where Sir Harry told the proprietor that it was all lies, his pilots were far too disciplined to do such things, and would he take his board down NOW! Unfortunately his argument was weakened by a thunderous roar as a pair of PR Meteors shot under the bridge to the happy applause of the dedicated topers sitting outside the pub.
After that, not only was the Watch on the Rhine maintained, but the Watch on the Kiel Canal was initiated forthwith. Patience was rewarded one day when a pair of Venoms (no – not XI Squadron) hurtled under the bridge, and the pair of bored SPs who had been cooling their heels there for weeks aroused themselves quickly enough to get the numbers.
At the subsequent enquiry, the leader of the formation put forward his defence, which went something like this: "I was on an authorised low-flying exercise (which he was) in Low Flying Area number 6 (where it was), the southern border of which is marked by the Kiel Canal (which it was). Part of the exercise was to lead my number two to demonstrate the technique for attacking targets of opportunity (which it was) and I therefore decided to approach the target at low level, only pulling up at the pull-up point, which was close to the bridge (which it was). On checking the position of my relatively inexperienced number two (which he was) I felt that it would be hazardous to pull up ahead of the bridge (which it probably would have been). I therefore decided to stay low, and called my number two in closer (which he did) so that he could fly safely under the bridge before we launched our simulated attack".
This ingenious defence, which was much admired when it became widely known was duly debated by their airships, and it was eventually decided that a court martial would not be proceeded with. The word also went out in no uncertain terms that it would be decidedly unwise for anyone else to try and pull the same trick again. So we didn't.....