A Life, Well Spent
A short history of the RAF service
Flight Lieutenant Ivan Simmonds
And his time with
149 (East India) Sqn, R.A.F.
Sergeant Ivan Simmonds.
Ivan enlisted as volunteer in the Royal Air Force Voluntary Reserve (RAFVR) at Uxbridge, London in December 1940.
After deferred service due to his reserved occupation he arrived at Initial Training Wing (ITW), RAF Stratford upon Avon in June 1941. ITW is where the recruits complete the requisite number of days and weeks devoted to injections, medical examinations and instilling the basics of service discipline into, what had been shortly before, civilian recruits. At the end of this time, the trainees would be able to march roughly in time and recognise and salute Officers, when they were encountered. This Basic Training was initially carried out by regular RAF discipline instructors with a rank of Corporal or Sergeant. It was a great source of unhappiness to these stalwarts that the recruits they were training would be the same, or higher rank than them in a relatively short time period.
After the basic training was accomplished, the recruits were subjected to a 'streaming' process, where their qualifications and more importantly their aptitudes were measured and considered. Later in the war these streams were divided into Pilot/Bomb Aimer/Navigator (PBN) and 'the rest', who made up the crew's flight engineers, gunners and radio operators.
At any time during their subsequent training, the recruits could be declared unsuitable for the stream they were being trained in and then offered places in a stream where their abilities were of more use.
Pilots were not just the flyers of the aircraft; they were its 'skipper' or 'Captain'. This meant that they were required to demonstrate not just the ability to fly, but the qualities required to be the 'leaders' of their crew and know all the crew position's tasks and functions. So a pilot learned about navigation, bombing, gunnery, radio procedures and the technical skills required to manage the aircraft systems. They were not required to use all these skills in the air, but needed the basic skills to underline the other crew's functions.
The Arnold Scheme was brought into being with the aid of General 'Hap' Arnold in America. In it, a number of trainee pilots were sent by ship to Canada and then by train to training units in the south of America. The weather conditions there were very conducive to amassing a reasonable number of training hours without having to rely on the British weather. It was not an easy option, however, with high dropout rates and more than a few accidents keeping the numbers fined down from the initial intake. This was the route Ivan would take.
After assessment as a potential Pilot, Ivan was posted and left the UK in August 1941 to Class SE- 42D (of the Arnold Scheme) with an initial intake of 651 students on 1st October 1941. This meant him travelling to the USA, probably via Liverpool and Moncton in Canada, as most of these fellows did.
On arrival at Moncton he was posted for Primary Flying Training at the Southern Aviation School, Camden, USA, from October until December 1941, along with 50 others of his intake. Only 27 of these students graduated to the next phase.
A young Ivan with a Stearman Elementary Training Aircraft in 1941.
Camden was equipped with the Stearman P.T. 17 Aircraft and Ivan flew his first instructional flight under the eagle eye of a civilian Instructor, Mr J N Brannon on the 6th of October 1941. He finished this course with over 60 hrs in his logbook, just over 30 of which had been solo.
Boeing P.T. 17 Aircraft
An early War-time view of Camden.
Memories of Camden and Elementary Flying Training.
After successfully completing his Elementary Flying Training time at Camden he was sent, in early December, 1941 to Gunter Field, Montgomery, in Alabama for Basic Flying Training. Gunter Field is now known as the Maxwell Air Force Base, Gunter Annex, which hides its long history as a training airfield in its own right. Ivan’s first flight in a B.T.13 Vultee aircraft was on the 18th December 1941 and it was on this aircraft his training would progress until he had over 130 hours logged in his logbook..
A B.T. 13 Vultee ‘Valiant’ aircraft.
A Gunter Field Postcard Image.
After another successful phase completed, he progressed through to Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama for Advanced Flying Training in the North American A.T.6 aircraft – the one we British call the ‘Harvard’ aircraft.
Austin Hall, Maxwell Field.1940’s
His training on this aircraft progressed well. Completion of these various and varied courses meant that he was now a qualified Pilot and he was posted back to the UK, returning via Canada in April 1942 to continue his training in the UK.
That meant a posting to RAF Little Rissington and No 6 (Pilot) A.F.U. (Advanced Flying Unit). Ivan arrived and was straight away put on to the Airspeed ‘Oxford’ training aircraft, flying his first logged trip in one on the 3rd of July 1942. By August 1942 he had been selected as a potential Instructor and, to this end, he attended at No 14 F.I. (Flying Instructor) course at RAF Little Rissington and RAF Honington. On completion of those courses he had over 267 hours in his logbook and was on his way to being an Instructor.
In October 1942 he attended a further Flying Instructor’s Course at RAF Montrose, in Scotland. Here at No.2 Flying Instructor School he was allocated to ‘D’ flight and continued learning how to be a competent Instructor. He flew Miles ‘Master’ and ‘Magister’ aircraft and on October the 8th, he flew his first flight in a Miles Master. Again, Ivan proved his worth and was sent to his final Training School at RAF Scone, Perth, Scotland and No 5 F.I.S. (Flying Instructor School). On December the 13th 1942 he had a check flight on a DH 82 aircraft – the one we know as the ‘Tiger Moth’. – a staple of the training schools in the UK. By late October of that year he was a qualified Flying Instructor and ready for his first Teaching post.
So Ivan found himself at No 7 Elementary Flying School at RAF Desford in Lincolnshire, ready to take on his new role. After the usual Flight Commander’s test flight on December the 5th 1942, he was declared as fit for Instructing and after a few familiarisation flights, turned loose on the cadets. The first lucky recipient of all this training expertise was an LAC Gesterkamp; an interesting name for the times.
Ivan stayed on Training with No 7 EFTS until nearly Apr 1944, when he was posted to No 3 Advanced Flying Unit (AFU) RAF South Cerney, for Heavy Bomber Training on Oxfords. In July that year he was off to No 84 (OTU) Operational Training Unit, RAF Desborough on Wellingtons, where he ‘crewed up’ with the first four of what was to be a final seven man crew.
The full crew were:
Fg.Off I H Simmonds Pilot (Ivan)
Posted ‘IN’ from 1653 HCU, 20th Feb 1945, The full “Simmonds” crew, 149 Sqn Operational history is as follows:
ORB Entry for F O Simmonds and crew arriving from HCU.
1st Op - Lancaster 1, serial NG407 coded OJ-X
2nd Op - Lancaster 1, serial NG407 coded OJ-X
5th Op - Lancaster 1, serial NG409 coded OJ-Q
Crew Report – Weather – cloudy below. Blue puffs were a bit scattered..
6th Op - Lancaster 1, serial NG356 coded OJ-V
Crew Report – Weather – cloudy below. Cloud covered the target. Green puffs seen well concentrated.
7th Op - Lancaster 1, serial NN760 coded OJ-W
8th Op - Lancaster 1, serial NN756 coded OJ-R
9th Op - Lancaster 1, serial PA166 coded OJ-U
500 Lancasters and 12 Mosquitoes. This was the first time Bomber Command had been in the Berlin Defence Zone since March, 1944 but the approach, across parts of Germany recently captured by Allied troops meant only one Lancaster was lost – shot down by a night fighter.
10th Op - Lancaster 1, serial PA166 coded OJ-U
969 aircraft - 617 Lancasters, 332 Halifaxes and 20 Mosquitoes. Attacked the Naval Base, The Airfield and the town on this small island. The bombing was accurate and the target areas were turned into almost crater-pitted moonscapes. Three Halifaxes were lost .
11th Op - Lancaster 1, serial PD284 coded OJ-N
100 Lancasters of 3 Group bombed the fuel storage depot accurately. One Lancaster lost.
From late April 1945 the Squadron, along with Ivan and his crew, were detailed for two very important types of missions. Operation Manna and Operation Exodus.
Operation Manna took place from 29 April to the end of WW2 Europe on 8 May 1945. This operation by the RAF and RCAF dropped a total of over 11,000 tons of food into the still-unliberated western part of the Netherlands to help feed civilians who were in danger of starvation in the Dutch Famine. The Americans contributed similarly, with Operation Chowhound.
Operation Exodus. After the end of hostilities in Europe, orders were received that repatriated prisoners of war were to be flown home by air. Arrangements were made for their reception at RAF Oakley, Buckinghamshire, and the provision of refreshments laid on in the Social Club. In May 1945, 443 Avro Lancasters, 103 Dakotas, 51 Handley Page Halifaxes, 31 Consolidated B-24 Liberators, 3 Short Stirlings, 3 Lockheed Hudsons, and 2 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses brought over 15,000 personnel home from the war.
So this was Ivan’s war. Starting as a young man, joining the RAFVR, becoming a pilot then an Instructor, doing invaluable work at home, teaching fledgling pilots how to master their aircraft and finally, contributing to the capitulation of the German forces in Europe in bombing raids.
A life, well spent.
Ivan gets married.
Thanks to Mr Mark Tindall, for all the assistance, photographs and information on his Uncle.