Excerpts

Find out what the book is all about with these selected excerpts from some of the Canberra operators and contributors included in the book:

The Canberra Experience

Pat Lowe (L) and Peter de Salis stand by WT207 prior to the catastrophic events of the 9th April, 1958. Visible to the left of Pat is the Double Scorpion rocket installation protruding from the rear of the bomb bay. (Paul de Salis)

Flt Lt Peter de Salis (Royal Air Force)
On detachment to 76 Sqn, RAF Helmswell, April, 1958

“As the aircraft broke in two, the forward half nosed down in a bunt and I was pushed up into my straps. The control column moved aimlessly fore and aft — it didn’t seem to belong. My feet flew up, and with the negative g of the inverted loop we were making, I had difficulty forcing them down onto the foot rests. I shouted “jump, jump!” and the cockpit filled with high-level explosive decompression mist. I grabbed the ejection face blindhandle and went out through the canopy without injury, but temporarily lost consciousness. When I came around, my arms were outstretched and I felt as if I were on a rack. I tried to relax, but could not get my arms down. I then realised my left glove had disappeared, but the fear of frostbite was completely overshadowed by the pain in my head. All the blood in my body rushed to my head and I thought I had gone blind — I could hardly see as the blood vessels in my eyes burst and I was vomiting into my oxygen mask. In front of me I could see a white haze — it must have been frost on the window of my pressure helmet — and spots of blood.

I must have spun very fast for about four minutes as I fell about nine miles, and all the way down oxygen was fed into my helmet from a bottle in my parachute pack. Then, at 10,000 ft, my parachute automatically opened. I was very glad that it worked, because if it hadn’t, I think I would have been too muzzy to have done it myself. After it opened and I stopped spinning, I took off my helmet. My eyes and face were swollen, but I could just see a little over my cheeks downwards. Coming up were some black fields — Derbyshire as I learned afterwards. I made a nice landing in a field, and two labourers helped me to a farmhouse.”

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The Canberra Experience

Damage to Lt Col Larry Mason’s B-57B taken on a mission during the Vietnam War, 1966 (via Ed Rider)

Lt Col Larry Mason (United States Air Force)
8th Tactical Bombardment Squadron, Da Nang AFB, Vietnam October, 1965-July, 1966

“We were about 1,500 ft above the terrain in a right bank of about 45°. Suddenly, Jere yelled, “Pull up Larry, they’re firing at us — they’re hitting us!” I glanced over my shoulder and started to pull up. About this time a shell entered the cockpit and exploded. The cockpit was immediately filled with smoke, fumes, debris and shrapnel. All of my electrical flight instruments were knocked out. Our right engine caught fire and we had a large hole in our right wing, just outboard of the engine. The right flap was shot away and there was another hole inboard of the engine that you could stick a basketball through. The left engine was vibrating as flak had been ingested into the engine and damaged it…

I looked into the rear view mirror and saw that Jere was hit. He had blood all over his face and he was pale. So help me, the guy actually grinned at me and gave me a ‘thumbs up’ signal. He passed me a blood smeared note written on the back of his target photo — it read “HIT BADLY ARM + LEG LOSING BLOOD…”

The Canberra Experience

An RAAF navigator checks out the internal bomb load in his Canberra B.20 during the Vietnam War. (via John DeCillo)

Fg Off Wally Walters (Royal Australian Air Force)
2 Sqn and 6 Sqn, RAAF Amberley, Australia, RAAF Butterworth, Malaya, and Phan Rang AFB, Vietnam,
1963-1971

“All was uneventful until bomb release. One bomb was obstinate and refused to budge! We had a ‘hang up’! No problem; we closed the bay doors and set about to return via the jettison area at Cam Ranh Bay. At approximately 17,000 ft during the descent, we experienced some medium turbulence which jolted the bomb loose. There was a loud ‘thump’ as the bomb fell off the rack and rolled forward, to settle against the forward bulkhead. There was deadly silence in the cabin. We didn’t want to believe the noises nor any possible consequences. This was followed by some colourful expletives from Lance before he settled down to advise the world of our predicament. The whites of the eyes of our alarmed passenger lit up the night sky, as we set about trying to reassure him that the bomb was still safe. There was a propeller on the nose of the bomb that had to be unwound by airflow before the bomb was armed, so all was safe while the bomb was still in the closed bomb bay.

We waited silently, but impatiently, until over the jettison area where we opened the bay doors and the bomb fell free. There was a nervous chuckle as we began to relax; however, this was interrupted by a startled “wow!” from our passenger as he observed the bomb explode on impact. We returned to Phan Rang without further incident. Our USAF friend made good his farewell and departed with a determination never to fly with ‘Magpie Airlines’ again!”

Sqn Ldr Peter Knobel (Rhodesian Air Force)
5 Sqn, New Sarum AFS, Rhodesia, mid-1960s to early 1970s

The Canberra Experience

A pair of Canberra B.2s of the RhAF seen in the 1970s during the Rhodesian Bush War. (Rhodesian Airforce Archive UK)

“At 15,000 ft we suddenly found ourselves in embedded cumulus nimbus and severe turbulence. Within seconds, the Perspex nose cone of my aircraft disintegrated with a loud bang. My navigator, Roger Blowers, was in the nose at the time. I was aware of Roger passing me in a blur, en route to strap into the navigator’s seat behind me. Within twelve seconds, he called me to tell me he was ready to eject! With the nose cone gone the hail came pouring through the nose and was beating me rather severely about my shins. This caused me to raise my seat to its highest level to get my feet out of the way. I then thought that if the main canopy was to go due to the hail, this would effectively remove my head and I was then in a quandary as to whether to lower the seat to preserve my head and lose my masculine equipment or leave the seat up and lose my head with the canopy. In support of my macho image, I must report that I elected to leave the seat in the up position.”

The Canberra Experience

Navigator Kassahun Bekele stands proudly by one of the four B.52s in this undated photo. (Kassahun Bekele)

Col Kassahun Bekele (Ethiopian Air Force)
44th (Strike) Sqn, Harar Meda AFB, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia, 1969-1983

“The Canberra was both a graceful and reliable aircraft to fly, and I was proud to be a navigator in our country’s only bomber. She could take a lot of damage and bring you home. On one occasion before the war, Col Assefa Mekbib and myself were returning from a navigation exercise when we suffered a bird strike in our left engine. It seized up, but we flew home over 300 miles and landed comfortably. Later, during the war, we were hit by ground fire right after releasing our first bomb. There was a big blow, and Assefa called that we were aborting the mission. On the way back to base, we tried to check if we could lower the landing gear. It worked, but after ten minutes our hydraulic pressure reading was low, so we left the gear down and flew home some 370 miles that way and landed safely — again, a reliable machine.
One of my proudest moments as a navigator was during the war when we bombed a Somali tank column. I got it right on target amongst the tanks, although the Somalis later claimed we only hit a load of goats and their herders.”

The Canberra Experience

Argentine Canberra crews during the Falklands War, 1982. (Daniel Gonzalez)

Comodoro (Gp Capt) Eduardo Garcia Puebla (Argentine Air Force)
Grupo 2 de Bombardeo, Trelew, Argentina, May, 1982

“All our Canberras were armed with low-level fuzed bombs and I kept thinking about the separation needed to avoid our own shrapnel. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I looked to my right, forcing myself from my natural seated position. I really don’t know what warned me, but I looked out, and from the belly of a cloud a small white streak appeared with astonishing speed. It ran parallel to my direction, toward the No.1 Canberra — the image remains recorded in my retina. I shouted with all my might “Pajaro — look out, a missile — BREAK!” Simultaneously, I slammed the throttles violently through the gate, yanked the wheel hard left and pulled back. Jorge launched flares and chaff every fifteen seconds. I practically touched the water with my left wing, but never took my eyes off the missile. The No.1 ship quickly banked to the right, however the Sidewinder was more attracted to the wake of the No.2 ship, who had remained in level flight. In desperation I cried “Watch out No.2 — dammit, break!” It was too late though, and he did not have time to avoid it. I saw the missile hit their right engine but there was no violent explosion, only a progressive loss of power…”

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Clive Bagshaw,
Schoolboy, Hucknall, Nottingham, UK, June, 1951
(Audio extract of Clive’s memories read by the author)