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Wings Over Wick
Harry F Brant,
Actually, our squadron, 162 Bomber Reconnaissance (B.R.) Squadron, was based in Reykjavik, Iceland during 1944 but we were assigned to Temporary Duty (T.D.) at Wick as soon as the invasion of Europe began in June 1944.
We would fly from Iceland to Wick, then do three sorties out of Wick, usually off the coast of Norway in front of Kristiansund harbour near Trondheim then we would return to Iceland for engine and airframe maintenance. After a brief rest we would fly back to Wick and repeat the process again.
Our primary job was to hunt and destroy enemy submarines (U-boats) which were sinking many of our ships, which were carrying war supplies to the UK from Canada and the USA. Kristiansund harbour was used as a refuelling and refitting base by the German U-boat fleet and we were there to attack the U-boats as they surfaced outside the harbour, to complete their entrance into the harbour, on the surface.
Our squadron was equipped with long range, 2 engined, PBY-5A "Canso" amphibian flying boats which were built in Canada, which could remain aloft for up to 14 hours during our patrols. Each plane carried a crew of 8 men - 2 pilots, 1 navigator, 3 wireless operator/air gunners and 2 flight engineers. Being amphibious, we could fly off runways or land and take off from water, which made this plane very suitable for this type of work. A few of these planes are still being used in Canada as water-bombers for putting out forest fires which are quite numerous here in Canada in the summer.
On our patrols we usually carried two - 250lb depth charges under each wing (4 total), which were dropped from a height of 50 feet, as close to the submarine as possible. The depth charges would sink to a depth of 25 feet then explode causing the seams of the U-boat to buckle and the U-boat to sink.
When our crew went to Wick, we were outfitted with a secret weapon (at that time) known as a Sonic Torpedo which weighed 1,000 lbs. and was carried under the wing. When dropped near a submarine, the torpedo would pick up the noise made by the U-boat propellers and follow the U-boat wherever it went, until it made contact with the U-boat and usually disabled or sank the U-boat. Since it was such an important device, we were always on standby for immediate take off and were not allowed to leave the airport, unless it was for a very short period of time and then we had to leave a phone number where we could be reached. As a result I did not see much of Wick or get to meet the town folks.
Our crew first landed in Wick on 25th June 1944 and our last flight out was on 4th August 1944. During that time we flew 12 patrols out of Wick and assisted in sinking one U-boat. However, in the brief period the squadron was stationed in Wick, I understand, it attacked and sank more U-boats than any other Coastal Command squadron in the UK.
Our first flight out of Wick almost became our last one. We took off late in the evening so we could arrive at our search area by first light (dawn) near Kristiansund harbour. On the way we passed over Scapa Flow where the British fleet was stationed. The area around Scapa Flow was protected by balloon barrages, which trailed long metal cables to the ground to prevent enemy planes from flying into the area to drop bombs on the ships. Apparently our navigator forgot about this being a restricted area and we flew right into the balloon barrage area. I could hear loud "squeaker' noises on my radio and I asked the pilot what might these strange noises be caused by. After a quick consultation with the navigator, who remembered being warned about staying away from that area, we did a quick U-turn and got out of there as soon as possible without being shot at by the ground forces.
You Scots have certainly added much to our Canadian history, short as it is, so I am pleased to be able to add a little Canadiana to your history of Wick.