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Rescuers Rescued

Written by: Alan Rowe

The dinghy of RML 515 taking off survivors prior to towing the walrus back to base. Picture taken by Matthew Schofieid off Great Yarmouth

I don’t want to engage in a line-shooting competition, but my old oppo Stanley Sheppard‘s article in the March Newsletter begs a question, which demands an answer.

Don’t you remember, ‘Shep', what your companion ships in the 59th R.M.L. Flotilla were also doing when we were based in Felixstowe in July, 1944; RML 547 rescued nine airmen from a Liberator and then was directed by a Walrus to a companion aircraft, which had landed to pick up the sole survivor of another Liberator. They were unable to take off again, owing to the worsening weather: a stiff North-westerly wind was whipping the sea into the short, choppy waves so characteristic of the southern part of the North sea.

Learning that the American was severely injured, ‘Andy’ Andrews, the S.O. of the Flotilla ordered our S.B.A. ‘Doc’ Bowler, to prepare a Neal Robertson stretcher and then skilfully manoeuvred the boat so as to lay the stern alongside the fuselage of the aircraft. ‘Doc’ jumped down into the cockpit, took the stretcher and strapped the injured man into it. We then carefully lifted him inboard, an operation made difficult by the considerable rise and fall of the waves. When he was safely installed in the sick bay, the Walrus crew took a line from us and made it fast to the towing bolt on the aircraft‘s bow before accepting our hospitality. HSL 2578 carried on searching for bodies whilst we headed back towards Felixstowe. Inside the Galloper shoal, in calmer water, we handed our tow over to HSL 2572 and took our twelve survivors back to harbour at full speed. Next morning our Walrus was on display on the apron in front of the RAF section of the base.

A fortnight later, it was the turn of R.M.L. 520 and her skipper Eddie Smith. They were directed to a Walrus, which had picked up the entire crew of a Flying Fortress. Where they had stowed them all defies imagination! As the sea was quite choppy and with all that extra weight, it was obviously impossible to take off, so the Walrus was heading back westward on the surface. Dermot Barton, the No.1, worked out an interception course and they took all eleven airmen on board. They then towed the Walrus back to Felixstowe. So two of your own mates brought back Walruses, too, ‘shep', some weeks before you opened your account.

Incidentally the photo of the floating Lancaster (See March Newsletter) relates to a joint rescue by 547 and 550, when we were based at Immingham. In fine weather, Lancs and Halifaxes could sometimes stay afloat for many hours. Before we left the scene we pumped oerlikon shells and point five machine-gun bullets into the plane, and 550 even tried a depth charge attack, but all our efforts to sink the aircraft failed. That night we were hit by a really vicious gale, which must have finally finished off the Lanc.

There was a very sad postscript to this rescue. I have only recently discovered that the five survivors of this ordeal returned to operations, only to be shot down and killed a few weeks later. Our discomforts were nothing compared with what they had to go through.

CFVA News: Edition: September 1992 Volume: 71 Page: 26