RAS and a visit by a Soviet Bear Delta long-range recce aírcraft - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

A Yorkshire Aviator's Autobiography
Tony Cunnane
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RAS and a visit by a Soviet Bear Delta long-range recce aírcraft

Later that same day I went to what I thought was the Captain's Bridge, having been invited the evening before by the Captain himself to go there to watch some replenishment at sea (RAS). Somehow I found myself on the wrong deck entirely. I knew I was in the wrong place when I was confronted by a very large, armed Marine. I looked beyond him and saw the Admiral grinning at me. "I guess you're lost, Tony," the Admiral said. "Come right in and welcome to my Bridge." The Marine stood aside, a little reluctantly I thought, and let me pass.

There was no-one else on the bridge. It had never occurred to me that the Admiral would have his own bridge. It must have been a lonely existence. The two of us chatted away very amiably for quite a long time, with me sitting in a large leather swivel seat alongside the Admiral. One of the fleet's cruisers came alongside on the starboard side ready for the RAS. The Admiral called me over to the starboard side of his bridge and said, "Let's have a talk with the Captain." He told a signalman to get the captain of the cruiser on the ship-to-ship telephone. "Won't that be a little distracting for him?" I asked. "Sure." said the Admiral cheerfully. "I should think he'll be very worried when they tell him the admiral wants to talk to him."

The cruiser captain quickly came out onto the cruiser's deck holding his 'talking brick' to his ear. He waved at the admiral with his other hand and asked if there was a problem. The Admiral told him that he had a visiting RAF officer with him watching to see how it was done. I am sure the last thing the cruiser captain wanted right then was a cheerful chat with his admiral and with a Brit watching on. We waved to each other and I took some photographs.

Shortly after the RAS was complete, 'Intelligence' reported on the ship's public address system that a Soviet aircraft was approaching from the north. Within a couple of minutes, a pair of fully armed F4s were launched to intercept it. The Admiral asked me, actually he told me, not to take close up photographs of the armed F4s and, of course, I obeyed. A message came over the carrier's public address system: "This is the Captain. We will shortly have a Soviet Bear Delta long-range reconnaissance aircraft flying down our port side. All ranks who can be spared can go on deck to see it - but don't all go at once otherwise you'll over-balance the ship."

Clearly, he had a sense of humour. I was amazed at how many hundreds of sailors came on deck to watch the Soviet aircraft with its USN F4 escorts pass down our port beam at about 500 feet above the sea. I never got that close to a Soviet Bear on any of my Operation Dragonfly flights.

All too soon my cruise was over. We passed through the English Channel, leaving Dover off to port, just as dawn broke. It was a beautiful day. Later that morning I was flown off the carrier to the US base at Mildenhall where a car took me the few miles back to Marham.

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