WW II pilot
This is the story of a pilot, Frank Doolittle, a veteran pilot of WWII and also a former Lazair pilot. I met him in Elliot Lake when he sold me a set of floats for my ultralight aircraft. He gave me permission to re-publish the story he wrote for the Pathfinder, a magazine of Canadian Aviation History. I included his story on this website because as a pilot you might be interested in the story of another pilot. Nothing has been changed from his handwriting and the few illegible scribbles were replaced by question marks. So, here you go....
FRANK DOOLITTLE WARTIME FLYING EXPERIENCES
My name is Frank Doolittle I'm also an ???? member of CH2A just because I've been paying my dues and not much more. I live in Elliot Lake and don't get to Windsor so often anymore but look forward to the Pathfinder every quarter. My physical endurance is waning but maybe I can stretch my deteriorating mental endurance and do a little writing, at Ron's suggestion, before I become history.
I got flying in my blood during the second world war. Or was it the first? Well, I'm still flying but not very much. When I was 16 or 17, I wanted to be a pilot; doesn't every red blood Canadian boy? I was working 12 hrs/day, 7 days/week as a machinist apprentice in Noranda, Quebec on war works so when I turned 18 I visited the recruiting office in North Bay. But, they said, you don't have much education; but I got an encouraging letter from my high school principal ("Frank is of a very good family. He's had 3 years of high school; 2 in the first form, one in the second"). At least, they didn't say I failed the second year too. Well they sent me to Ottawa with $10. per week for a pre-enlistment course which I passed and qualified for air crew. I guess they were pretty hard up for healthy young men. They even thought I might get to be a pilot. After basic training in Lachine and further instruction at the Eglington ???? ???? in Toronto they sent me to # 7 EFTS WIndsor.
Got to # 7 EFTS where my family had just moved back into the house where I was born in 1923 but Windsor was strange to me as we had left in 1929 to where Dad could find work in Northern Quebec.
Well I got to fly but only with an instructor. I guess I wasn't a natural. After a couple of weeks, they suggested I go for Air Bomber Spl. and after a short posting to Toronto, again, I was posted to Jarvis Bombing + Gunnery School where I learned a lot about bombs and how to get them on the target, practicing from Avro Ansons dropping smoke bombs in daytime and flash bombs at night. At least I was flying and thought I might have got to use some of my parachuting instruction when we lost power on a practice bombing mission. When I suggested it, the pilot instructed me in no uncertain terms to secure myself for a crash landing and he put that Anson down in a small field clearing the trees by what seemed to me to be inches. All survived and they flew it out the next day.
Gunnery was fun, too, shooting at drogues towed by Lysanders, with .303 Browning machine guns from Bristol Bolingbrokes. I guess I was leading too much as I shot the drogue off once. I can understand why they had such a long cable between the Lysander and the drogue. Instruction from Billy Bishop didn't help much but I got acceptable marks and moved on to navigation, etc, etc,
As Air Bomber spl. I had to cover other aircrew duties, as I did more studying of navigation, aerial photography, wireless morse code using key and aldis lamp and did get into a link trainer now and again. (I never heard of a Lanc trainer but got considerable time on a link trainer, the standard simulator for many years. I graduated at # 4 A.O.S. (Air Observer School) Crumlin (London) and Billy Bishop presented me with my wing in Aug. '43. I think that made me a Flight Sergeant; really getting up there.
After two week, embarkation leave in Windsor, which really clinched me with my sweetie, I went to Halifax and was posted to Bournemouth, England (a Canadian reception base). Bournemouth was a peacetime tourist + vacation city and we occupied some of the luxurious hotels but no luxuries like elevators. I learned that loaded kit bags don't bounce as the terminal velocity from my third floor balcony was enough to split my kit bag wide open scattering the contents apart. The easiest way is not always the best. I don't remember how I kept my kit together to get to my first RAF station of # 1 (0) AFU Wigtown Scotland where I trained again, in Ansons racking up another 36 hrs dropping practice bombs, infrared bombing, etc. I was RAF from then on. I don't think I stopped shivering the whole 6 or 7 weeks in Wigtown; very damp and close to freezing most of the time. You might as well say we showered outdoors as the showers had big windows but no glass in them. It was the worst christmas that I can remember. It seemed like the Scots didn't celebrate Christmas and I spent christmas eve huddled in an empty boxcar because I couldn't get transportation back to base. It was a long night.
I was glad to get posted south to Husbands Bosworth and Market Harbor # 14 O.T.V. where we partially crewed up and flew Wellingtons "Wimpy's" for 110 hrs; doing circuits, air firing, high level bombing, map reading, navigation, night flying training and a lot of ground school work.
Now, we'll be getting into the big stuff as we get posted to 1661 conversion unit near Scampton to fly Sterling bombers that I call flying boxcars, where we logged another 50 hrs; 30% of it night flying. I recall our first cross country and high level bombing exercise, a little exciting for a moment, as Jock (our Scotch engineer) miscalculated the way those 4 big radial engines ate up the fuel; at 20,000 ft. the port outer quit so Nisbet (our Australian skipper) ordered "feather the port outer", then the port inner, stbd inner and stbd outer all quit; then came the order "bail out ! bail out ! bail out ! " We were losing altitude like you wouldn't believe. I managed to get my pack hooked on and was struggling to open my escape hatch when the engineer bellowed " hold it ! I got it ! " as he switched fuel tanks. The three windmilling props came to life + we pulled out at about 3,000'. After losing all 4 engines on a Stirling bomber, the 3 windmilling engines had to come alive before 3,000 feet or we would probably have been into the ground. We really leveled out about 3,000 feet.
I'm sure glad that I wasn't at the controls. My logbook shows just a routine exercise.
Well, we graduated from Stirling bombers after a few harrowing experiences that never got logged, and we were posted to #. 5 LFS near Syerston where we were introduced to the Lancaster bomber. We were only at Syerston about 10 days getting checked out in the Lanc (exercises 1,2,3,4,5,6,7), a total of 13 hrs (4 of which were night work). I was posted to 50 Squadron (RAF, of course) at Shellingthorpe, near Lincoln, in Lincolnshire, where we flew Lancasters 1's. We did 3 cross-country flights practice bombing, navigation + fighter affiliation and we were off on ops the next day. After proving ourselves on 5 of the hottest targets (2 day flights and 3 night flights) and a diversion to fog-free Scotland, the skipper got promoted from flight sergeant to pilot officer and, I guess that's when I got promoted to Warrant Officer but we didn't have much time to celebrate as the weather cleared enough to get airborne on another night raid on Konigsberg. I think that was the time the searchlights nearly caught us. The skipper put the plane in such a violent "corkscrew" that they couldn't find us again. I know it was violent because my leather helmet wasn't enough to stop me from getting a big goose egg on my head when I flew up into the turret and hit my head on the controls. The "corkscrew" is initiated with an immediate dive to the left or right. If one searchlight gets on to you your'e down because, immediately, there will be 3 of 4 more on to you and if you were lucky enough to get out of the range of the first searchlights more would pick you up on the way until they get you down so I never complained of my bump on the head. That was the first time I pissed my pants but not the last.
It didn't seem like we had much time for recreation but I remember one incidence when Jock (our Scotch engineer) and I were out on the town; as we got back to base we spotted a lory (truck) with 4 new Merlin engines on it. Jock just had to suggest we give the Merlins a ride as they were giving us a ride so often; with him at the wheel + I at the gear shift (or maybe the other way around), we drove that thing all around the base until the SP's (service police) got on our trail when we decided to park it amongst the barracks where we skillfully got lost to the SP's.
A lot of these things come back to mind when we start writing so I'll fill you in some more next issue.
I have to tell you how I learned that the skipper was hiding a medical handicap. One beautiful day, we were doing a daylight operation when I experienced a spray coming down into my compartment in the nose of the aircraft, so I inquired "hey skipper, how come it's raining down here and it ain't raining outside?" I never did get an answer to my inquiry but I got a lot more time at the controls.
One night on a longer run over France and down into Italy, because sometimes we would try to surprise the enemy by coming in through the mountains in the south, the skipper was on the "can" in the tail, and I was getting tired of practicing "straight and level flight" so I decided to put George (the autopilot) in. I leveled the a/c laterally and engaged it satisfactorily and then I engaged the fore & aft control; it pitched forward, a little, as it should have and I waited for it to take over and come back to altitude when the skipper hollered in the intercom "DOOLITTLE! what's going on up there?", "just putting George in, skipper"; "no! no! take it out, it don't work". I guess I did lose 500 ft. but after that he clewed me in a little more. Even new airplanes can have glitches.
Another instance sticks in my memory when the navigator screamed at the top of his voice "LET'S GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE ! " I think it was a night raid at Dusseldorf and quite a bit of activity and the skipper was having trouble getting us over the target and I had to call "Dummy Run". On the second attempt just as I was about to let the cookie go, the skipper had to alter course for some reason; "Dummy Run"; that's when the navigator screamed. The third attempt was good. I think I even got the incendiaries on the target that time which is harder than getting the big stuff on because, at 20,000 ', you have to delay their release 20 seconds as they, more or less, flutter down; count one thousand one, one thousand two, twenty times and that's a long time to maintain straight + level when there's a lot of activity in the sky. The idea was to get the incendiaries where your cookie blew things apart. I can understand the navigator's concern; it's not the same when you can't see what's going on or haven't got control.
We never really encountered any enemy fighter attacks. The Spitfires & Hurricanes usually escorted when massive raids were being carried out and we kept a very good watch at all times. As soon as an enemy fighter was sighted we let go a few rounds at him and when he seen the tracers going by he would go look for someone else. We never even dreamed of shooting him down unless he continued his attack. Shrapnel thru the rear turret. Consecutive day & night raids.
I'm running out of memories (or memory). The less exciting ones fade much faster but maybe I can bring to memory some of the more enjoyable events like meeting Bob Little, who I befriended at AOTS (Air Observer Training School, Crumlin, now London) while training with him there. I was on a much appreciated 48th leave. I, being sort of a loner, and still am, I guess, I took off to London. I don't know what I expected to find in the pitch blackness because London was always blacked out completely assisted by a heavy overcast. I was just standing in a closed shop doorway because you didn't stand out on the sidewalk or someone would bump in to you in the blackness, enjoying the serenity when I heard some people talking in the next shop doorway. "Bob little" I said. "Frank ! well I'll be... !" The two beautiful girls he was talking to didn't get much attention for a while. We hadn't got together since our AOTS acquaintance, in Canada. I didn't find out how beautiful the girls were until later but I guess they didn't have to be beautiful, to be beautiful in our eyes. I better not go into any more details on that. I don't consider that a coincidence; the man upstairs might have thought he owed it to us but I cried when I heard that Bob's crew didn't return after a night raid.
I don't remember if it was the same weekend but I was alone in a nice room at the "Dutchy Hotel" in London, after a hot bath in 1'' (inch) of water, as you weren't expected to go above to level marked on the tub, I slept like I hadn't slept for ages. I don't remember what prompted such a sound sleep but I was awakened by the manager struggling to get my door open. I was on the floor with all the covers piled on top of me. Apparently, a buzz bomb had found it's target close by and with my windows open from floor to ceiling, the blast just blew me out of bed and jammed the door.
Another incident comes to mind when I think blackouts. I had a nice 500cc Ariel motorcycle that our ground crew kept topped up with fuel for me. I took a movie in town, one night, and found, on returning to my bike, that someone had relieved it of it's headlight, which gave you a little slit of light, and the tail light and the generator. It was a dark night but I knew the road pretty good so off I go but very carefully. When I hit the gravel on the side of the pavement I'd turn in 'till I hit the gravel on the other side but I forgot about a little picket fence that came right up to the pavement; you know the rest. I just dusted myself off and got back to base, now limited to daylight traveling for the rest of my tour of duty, but there was buses.
Another dark night, a not so pleasant experience; I witnessed two pathfinder Mosquitos collide over Lincoln. That sight I can never erase from my mind. The first of July fireworks had nothing on that with one Mosquito spiraling down in the middle of it minus a wing. They don't advertise those things but they did happen.
Occasionally we flew over Norway and Sweden to approach from a different direction. The skipper wasn't concerned at all about the flack they sent up but I'm sure that if a German aircraft flew over, their accuracy would improve greatly.
Digging back into my logbook, I 'll list some of our targets: Stettin, Darmstadt, Konigsberg, Le Havre, Boulogne, Bremerhaven, Rheydt, Munster, Dortmund, Ems Canal, Karlsruhe, Kaiserslautern, Wilhelmshafen, Bremen, Flushing, Brunswick, Bergen, Homburg, Dusseldorf, Mitterland canal, Harburg, Munich, Heilbronn, Geissen.
I've about run out of wartime experience but, maybe, I can bore you with some of my harrowing......
Since writing my wartime flying experiences (of interest to aviation people) and I've kept flying ever since, not much but paid my dues to the Windsor Flying Club since 1947, I was asked to keep writing and some of my civilian flying could be called history so here goes.
Looking back to 1947 my logbook shows a lot of flights of 15 to 20 minutes and even some 10 minutes flights because it would take me at least a week to save up to $2. for a 15 min flight, on my apprenticeship wages; to find $8. for an hour was out of the question but I had flying in my blood and like other addicts you could not live with me if I didn't get up at least once in two weeks.
One of those early days flying Tiger Moths I remember being tormented with a thunder storm. I was trying to get some circuits in before it arrived; made a couple of nice touch and goes in the grass. The third was an overshoot; landing too long or just too fast. I had to get it down next time or the storm would be here; I touched down as short as possible and skidded within 20 feet of the fence. Most of you would know why; the wind had changed 180 degrees. Mac Brian was CFI and I guess I shortened his life 5 or 6 years. He was so hopping mad, when I came into the office he got pretty close to hitting the ceiling "I don't care if you want to kill yourself but we have to keep these airplanes flying!!! You're grounded for 30 days!"
When I could only fly for 10 or 15 minutes at a time I got a lot of entries in my logbook and a lot of different instructors and aircraft. I got Gerry Billing a lot, Mac Brian, Norman, Golding, W. Gadzos, then a little later it was B. Francis, Rod Evans, R. Burt, R. Murray, Tony Jacobs, G. Brown, C. Hood, K. Barlow, M. Holland, C. Ellsworth, E. Williams; A. Torrance gave me my commercial flight test which I would never be able to pass today.
My logbook jumps from '48 to '64 but I kept flying while I was serving in the Navy from '51 to '56 and had some memorable flying experiences since we were associated with the Royal Canadian Flying Clubs Association and wherever I went I just showed them my pass book and I was in; the Halifax Flying Club on floats, flew my first Beech Musketeer (a brand new one that had just arrived) at the Victoria Flying Club. The Fraser Valley was beautiful and I got a little mountain flying experience there. Got a lot of instrument work at the Shearwater Club as their little 150's were very well equipped. Greenwood, Nova Scotia had a club, too.
Looking through my logbook I see quite a few away from home entries from '65 on when I traveled with the Naval Reserves. One such entry reminds me how I got checked out on a C185 on floats; I happened to be at the Halifax Club's seaplane base when Ron Jenkins, in FMXI was forced to land there due to bad weather at his Lake Deception home and he wanted a ride into Halifax so I obliged and he said if I ever got to Lake Deception look him up. I "just happened" to be out there the next weekend and we went flying with me in the left seat. On top of that he cooked up a beautiful bear steak supper. I loved Nova Scotia for other reasons too that should only relate to in person with no witnesses. No, I don't have any secrets and my wife + I are still happily married; just tell the truth.
I'm sure that I can come up with another "tid bit" or two, for the next quarterly Pathfinder. Keep in touch.