Maritime Operational Training Unit, RAF Kinloss - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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Maritime Operational Training Unit, RAF Kinloss

RAF Kinloss was home to RAF Coastal Command's Maritime Operational Training Unit (MOTU). The signallers who had graduated with me six months earlier from course AS39 at Swanton Morley congregated at Kinloss from stations all over the UK, so we had plenty to talk about. Sadly, the youngest of our former-course members at Swanton Morley, Roger Turner, had been killed while he was on temporary duty at No 2 Air Navigation School, RAF Thorney Island, when Varsity WL640 he was flying in crashed on 20 September 1957.

Kinloss was a sad place again just five weeks after our arrival because two pilots on our course were killed when their Shackleton flew into high ground south of the airfield just before midnight on Friday 10 January 1958. Early next morning I went with a fellow signaller up to the crash site to view the scene. We walked the last mile or so through deep snow in the forest. We had an unmistakable pointer to the crash site - the sight of the wide gash carved through the forest. It seemed obvious that had the aircraft been flying just a few feet higher it would have missed the trees altogether. We struggled on down the slope through the dense undergrowth and found what was left of the aircraft, Shackleton T4 VP259.

Amazingly, the crash site was completely unguarded. Parts of the aircraft fuselage were still smouldering; the port wing and everything forward had been completely destroyed. The smell of aviation fuel still permeated the atmosphere and neither of us approached closer to the wreckage than what we considered a respectful distance. There was an eerie silence; even the birds were silent. My fellow signaller and I were the only people around, so I took a couple of shots on my Pentax 35mm camera which was loaded with Agfacolor transparency film. However, when the processed transparencies came back from Agfa about 14 days later, I felt guilty about having taken the photographs; somehow it seemed to me as though I had intruded. I showed the transparencies to no-one - not even the signaller who had been with me - he didn't ask about them so perhaps he'd already forgotten that I'd taken them. I filed the transparencies away in a box with some of my other trannies. That particular box remained unopened in my belongings for almost 50 years. I then offered my original transparencies to the RAF, but I had a reply which stated that the official files on the crash were closed and there was, therefore, no requirement for them. (After seeing this page a few years ago, a relative of one of the deceased aircrew on that flight emailed me to ask me for copies of those two images for her family archives. She told me that the RAF had been unable to supply her with any pictures of the crash.)

In January 1958 our complete ten-man student crew flew ourselves from Kinloss to RAF Ballykelly, near Londonderry in Northern Ireland, to attend practical anti-submarine training at JASS - the Joint Anti-Submarine School. The school was located at a Royal Navy shore establishment called HMS Sea Eagle at Limavady. JASS was very boring for the air signallers. The classroom exercises took place in a rudimentary simulator called HMS Rocker - so called because it was mounted on hydraulic jacks which enabled the entire machine to be rocked up and down, round and about, with varying degrees of violence. This seemed to amuse the Navy 'fish-heads' who thought it would make us 'land crabs' sea sick.

The Royal Navy instructors were the exercise controlling staff; the Shackleton crew acted out the roles of an anti-submarine frigate. We, the Shackleton crew had to practice tactics - the RN insisted on pronouncing it 'tattics' which we always found highly amusing. When I was 13 years old I had a bedroom in 't'attic on the top floor of our house in Leeds. (Sorry, Yorkshire joke.)

A basic fault of the simulator was that there was enough for the captain, flight engineer and one of the two navigators to do but very little to keep the co-pilot and five air signallers occupied. I, for example, spent about 4 hours on one exercise sitting in a dark corner in front of a small handle labelled Unifoxer. When our Shackleton captain acting as an anti-submarine destroyer captain ordered "Stream Unifoxer", I had to wind a handle furiously until a light came on, then report: "Unifoxer deployed, sir". No-one bothered to explain to me what Unifoxer was - I found out decades later, thanks to the Internet, but by then it was history. I was not required to wind it back in again because HMS Rocker on that occasion was simulated 'sunk' by a RN-manned submarine. The Navy always had to beat the RAF at JASS.

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