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Saturday, June 1, 2013
(NZ.414667) Albert James 'Jimmy' Osborne - Course 44
I was seventeen in 1939. Suddenly what happens. The Russians invaded Finland and then the Germans walked into Sudetanland, I think that was the sequence. And Britain dithered a little bit under Anthony Eden and then the Germans tried another move and Britain declared war on them. And as I had always been a very keen reader of aircraft magazines especially and American book called Flying Aces and I wanted to be a fighter pilot and here was a war turned on for me.
I spoke to Mum and Dad. My mother immediately said “No”. Pop didn’t offer an opinion. But however I applied for the Air Force at seventeen. I had the necessary education to apply but anybody applying for aircraft flying whatever the qualifications were required to do what they called twenty-one assignments. Living close to Auckland I was required to go into Auckland Grammar three nights a week Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Well I finished my night school for the Air Force around May 1941. Then my birthday was in June 1941 and then in August 1941 I received notice from Air Force Headquarters to report to Levin. The Initial Training Wing for would be air crew, pilots, gunners, observers.
On September the 29th 1941 I experienced my first flight. My instructor was Pilot Officer Clarke and he was about six foot three. The rest of the guys used to get a fair bit of amusement seeing myself and Pilot Officer Clarke walking out to the aircraft because I was five foot four and he was walking normally along side with me trotting along with my parachute on my back. He was a lovely guy and one of his tricks for trying to scare pupil pilots especially with the few hours we did at night was to do aerobatics, loops and rolls, but it was all part of getting to know the aircraft.
Our flying at Whenuapai was for six weeks and in the course of those six weeks we did a solo cross-country flight up to Onerahi. We landed there had lunch and then flew back again. Our training there finished on the 7th of November. While we were at Whenuapai they had picked out about twenty of the course to go to Canada for training. One of the guys Keith Farquhar from Whakatane was picked. The names were picked out of a hat, I think, at random, anyhow Keith was speaking to me and said he didn’t want to leave straight away as his father was desperately ill. I wanted to get to the war as quickly as I could, so we went to the Commanding Officer at Whenuapai John Seabrook and asked if there could be a swap and he just said no trouble so I was on the way to Canada.
We arrived at Dunnville after a five day trip across Canada stopping at Calgary and Winnipeg. By this time the winter had really set in. We left the train at Toronto and travelled by bus to Dunnville, arriving fairly early in the morning and were marched into a big hangar there to await some sort of reception committee. We were cold. Our New Zealand gear was totally unsuitable for the Canadian winter conditions. Our leather-soled boots were dangerous because in the snow we may as well have been of skates. We were slipping and sliding, a lot of fun at first but after we had a few bruises the fun soon went out of it.
The station commander at Dunnville was a Group Captain Hull who made it quite plain that he didn’t think much of New Zealanders in the First World War and didn’t think he was going to like them any better in this war. But we didn’t see much of him for the time we were there so that was okay. The feeling was mutual.
At Dunnville starting December 9 1941 I had my first flight in a Harvard with an instructor of course, Sergeant Minnear. A nice guy with spectacles with lenses a quarter of an inch thick. He didn’t teach me much except take offs and landings and after a about eight or ten hours instruction on Harvards I was let loose in one to go solo. The first trip lasted and hour the second trip an hour ten. Didn’t bend anything so that was that.
We worked fairly hard at Dunnville we had to do more serious navigation, meteorology came into it, air tactics, and we had to work fairly hard. It was even harder for us New Zealanders because all the classrooms had central heating and we were not used to that. With the lecturer carrying on lecturing, his droning voice was like a signal and in the finish half of us would be asleep on the desk.
We were there over the Christmas and a lot of Canadian families had offered us homestays. I went and stayed with some people from St Catharines, which was about halfway between Dunnville and Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls was about forty miles from Dunnville. Lovely couple. Florence and Jim Smith and I actually spent two leaves there.
(Photo: Mr & Mrs Smith, Bill and I in Canada on a 48hr leave)
We were always told at Dunnville if we were any distance from the airfield and were caught in a snowstorm we were to head for the nearest airfield not necessarily our home station. I happened to be fairly close to St Catharines when this terrific snow storm suddenly came over the horizon so I landed at St Catharines and Jim Smith came out and picked me up. I was there for a couple of days at their house while the storm passed.
There was not a lot of excitement at Dunnville. Only work, work and more work. Then came our final test. March 21, 1942 did my last trip in a Harvard and we got our wings. The Canadians used to put on a big show of the Wings Parade. They had the whole station there all lined up like a pack of ninnys and our name was called out. Out of the sixty odd New Zealanders about five of them were commissioned straight away and the rest were became Sergeant Pilots. We were given ten days leave, we could go where we liked but we had to report to Halifax Nova Scotia on the western coast of Canada. So a lot of us decided we wanted to go down to New York. America was in the war by this time and it was quite simple to cross the border. So we had a big party in the General Brock Hotel Niagara and crossed over the border, the Rainbow Bridge in Canada to the USA.
A lot of the guys decided to hitchhike. Dave Simpson and I, he was about my size and looked about as young as me, were to hike to Buffalo where we were going to catch the Greyhound Bus to New York. An American picked us up and he said he could take us to Buffalo no trouble. He questioned us and we talked and talked, very proud of our new wings and stripes, finally he took us right to the Greyhound Bus Depot and said "So what are you guys in any case". We knew by this time that most Americans didn’t know where New Zealand was, so we said well we are pilots in the RAF and his reply was, “I’ll be goddamned, I thought you were Boys Scouts”. That knocked our ends in a little.
I had my first flying lesson September 29, 1941 at Whenuapai Air Base New Zealand. In October 1942 I led off my first operational trip. 165 Squadron, Gravesend. I was nineteen years old.
We covered the medium bombers Bostons Marauders, doing mostly medium height bombing. Sometimes we might be classed as a diversionary sweep, operating some 15-20 miles from where the actual operation was taking place to draw the enemy fighters away from the actual bombers and we were doing standing patrols off the coast. This was all low level, mainly to counteract the sneak raiders in the form of a pair of Focke Wulf 190's which would come in low level, drop a bomb each, shoot up anything in sight and then sneak out again. We got a lot of scrambles from there after raids by enemy aircraft. Also, we had a lot of alerts while we were in the air because it must be remembered that we were really only ten minutes flying from the German airfields in occupied France, possibly a bit less than ten minutes, so just about every time we went in the air you could be involved in a mix up with enemy aircraft.
Our Squadron for some reason or other and another Spitfire Squadron, were delegated to act as night fighters. Now the Spitfire wasn't a very good aircraft for night fighting because the exhaust ports were right level with your eyes, and even cruising they'd be glowing red at night and when you opened up in pursuit of anything they glowed white hot and white hot sparks would be coming out of these exhaust ports and consequently the night vision was pretty well ruined.
We were fairly busy. If a flight wasn't on night operations then we were expected to do day operations and vice versa. Life at Tangmere was pretty good, we seemed to have plenty of time to relax and being on active operations, we got seven days leave plus a 48 hours every six weeks. But, it worked out a bit more than that. Sometimes it came out every five weeks.
In early March 1943, the whole squadron was sent up to an airfield called Martlesham Heath.
We went back to Tangmere at the end of March and hadn't been there very long when the whole squadron was required to transfer to Peterhead in Scotland which was just a bit further north, about 40 miles north of Aberdeen.
(Photo: Readiness room Tangmere)
However, it was some weeks later there was some postings came up from Malta. A couple of the English boys were told that they were going to Malta. They didn't really want to go and Dave Stewart and I, we realised that we were due to go on a rest somewhere and we didn't want to do that, so we spoke to the Belgian CO and suggested we change places with the two English boys. I think he was only too happy to get rid of the "bloody colonials" as he classed us.
While we were at Malta we were having a bit of trouble with the landings up in Italy and the transport aircraft were flying from Tunisia, cutting across the northern tip of Sicily and supplying the Allied fronts in the landing areas. But German aircraft were mixing in the transport lanes so half our squadron was sent up from Malta to Palermo in Sicily where we did about six patrols. Two aircraft patrols. We would do one before dawn for an hour and then another two aircraft would take over for an hour and then a third pair take over for an hour. And then we'd do those same three patrols in the evening, finishing off at dusk.
(Photo: Dave Stewart and I - 185 Squadron Malta 1943)
Early in July 1944 we moved up into Italy, we got our mobile transport and we were in business. Just about every day sometimes twice a day we were doing dive bombing, straffing, bridges, big gun emplacements, tiger tanks and then on the evening of the 24th August there was a phone call for me and I was asked by operations to pick my five best pilots and report over to the other side of Italy, to Sienna. We had to be there by eight in the morning. That meant we were up before dawn had an early breakfast and I was told I would receive my orders when we got to Sienna. When we landed at Sienna the Liaison Officer came out in a jeep and he said, "Of course you know what your job is". I said, "No I don’t". He said, "well the transport aircraft over there is the Prime Minister's, Mr Churchills and you will be escorting him from here to Loretto. Do you know Loretto". I said "Yes I know the Loretto airfield I've been there. So I turned to my guys. I didn’t realise at the time just what an honour I had been given but I said to my guys, okay you fellas you all know what the job is now and if anything happens to the old boy we will all end up in the Tower of London. Shot at dawn. Anyhow we escorted the aircraft okay.He thanked me very much for the escort and we headed back to Farno.
Well from there on it was all go. Day after day we dive bombed bridges, tiger tanks field guns. We did armed reconnaissance. We did what they called allotted cab rank missions. The idea was we flew over the front lines usually at ten thousand feet and contacted an observer on the ground who had a code name. Sometimes Rover Paddy sometimes Rover David and whoever it was , we would call him and report Bullet Red section have you got anything for us. He would say, Yes there are some Nebelwurfers they are multi barrelled mortars, situated over in that grove of trees over by the bend in the river or by the curve in the road. Can you see it? "Yes Rover Paddy" and then we would go and drop our bombs and shoot it up and come back and it was all good fun. Plenty of action. So it went on day after day September, October.
Then it came December. The same thing scrambles, dive bombing and straffing. Dive bombing bridges, brief to escort C47s. That was dropping supplies to the Italian partisans inland a bit. Oh cold as the very devil and we struck a bit of flak and it must have been a fairly light calibre anti aircraft thing, struck my constant speed unit. The aircraft started to surge when I was doing about three thousand revs and then I was doing eighteen hundred so I called my Flight up and said well I've been hit, I'm heading to get a bit of height under me but you fellows finish the job. I got plenty of height and had no problem at all, headed back to Florence and that was that.
December 31st. Bombing Guns near Bologna. This turned out to be my last operation or trip. I had officially listed a hundred and fifty four. But unofficially, probably double that and the Powers that be were not as silly as they made out to be because I was called into the Colonel's Office which was a caravan, a South African, Colonel Du Toit. A big fellow. He and I were great friends. But he called Dave Stewart and I into his office and we had to pick up our Log Books. So he went through my log book and he said. "You have nearly two and a half to three years of operation Ozzie, a hundred and fifty four? Have you been cooking the books Ozzie"? "Oh no Sir". But he wasn’t silly. Well he said, "Sorry but that’s it, I have been given orders from Air Headquarters in London that you fellows have over stayed your time. You have finished".
So I came home in the S S Mooltan which was a darn slow old boat, we could have swam just as fast. Anyhow Dave Stewart and Mick Buchannan were on the S S Mooltan too which was rather odd that the three of us had left New Zealand together in 1941, trained together and did a good half of our operational flying together and then all coming home together.
Anyhow we eventually got back to New Zealand the day before Xmas 1945. I went up by train to Papakura and my mother and father and one of the greatest friends I suppose I ever had, Cliff Wellm were waiting at the station. It was six o'clock in the morning. A lot of talk. Mum was still upset at me going in the first place because she wouldn’t sign my papers and Dad had to. Mum never ever wanted to know about anything I had done in those four and a half years so I didn’t tell her.