The Royal Air Force as seen by John Cooper

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The Goldfish Club

If you have not registered with the Goldfish Club or have lost your contact details you will  find this website useful 

This is an unofficial site, if you require details of membership of The Goldfish Club, please ask as I can forward on the address of the secretary.
Just to clarify the difference of The Goldfish Club, The Caterpillar Club, and The Flying (Winged) Boot Club.
The Goldfish Club: One had to be rescued/survived an aircraft ditching from the sea where their life preserving equipment saved their life.
The Caterpillar Club: One had to parachute (bale out) from his stricken aircraft and survive, if that person landed 'in the drink' he then also qualified for membership of The Goldfish Club.
The Flying (Winged) Boot Club: One had to come down behind enemy lines from their aircraft and return to their unit, usually on foot! They could also become members of the above two clubs if the criteria aforementioned applied.      
This page is under construction, if anyone can help with any stories please contact me on the header bar above.
Briefly The Goldfish Club was established in 1942 for fliers that for one reason or other ended up in the sea/river/lake/canal after their aircraft was shot down or forced to ditch and were saved by their survival gear ie Dinghy or Mae West (Life preserver). At the cessation of hostilities in 1945 there were some 7000 members of the Goldfish Club, in 2003 there are about 600 members worldwide
I myself belong to this club so I can share my first hand experiences with you, so you, your families or friends that want to tell me your story
for printing on this page I would love to hear from you.
John Cooper 

Added 21st March 2004
On October 4th 1943 Staff Sergeant Paul Spodar was returning to England after a bombing mission over Munster, Germany, Paul was a waist gunner on a B-17. His aircraft was forced to ditch off Dover, England into the English Channel after his aircraft was running short of fuel.
10 days  later Paul was on another bombing mission over Germany when two engines of his B-17 were knocked out, he baled out of his stricken plane from 25000', was duly captured and spent the rest of the war at Stalag 17b.
Paul became a Goldfish and Caterpillar club member in the space of 10 days, read his story here:-

Added 20th March 2004
Lt. Winthrope A. Jackson Co-pilot of the 384th Bomb Group ditched his B-17 on December 30th 1943, for the photos and details
Added 23rd March 2004


Mark was in the RAF during the 1939-45 war and became a Wireless Operator Airgunner.

Mark had an exciting career and a pretty lucky one, having ditched in the North Sea in a Whitley P4966 on the night of 15/09/1940 and a few weeks later, baling safely out of a Whitley P4952 over the Northumberland  Moors on the Night of 14/10/40 after a raid on Stattin, Poland. So Mark became a 'Goldfish' and a 'Caterpillar' within a month!
Mark was then posted to an aircraft delivery unit and his first assignment was to deliver a Bombay L5837 to Cairo. Unfortunately the aircraft ran out of fuel and ditched about 20 miles off Gibraltar.
Mark became a  member of the Caterpillar Club and a double member of the Goldfish Club.
An amazing story.




Added 15th January 2004
Bill Grice has asked me to post this, if you can help please contact me and I will pass the info on, John Cooper
I'm trying to obtain information on an old friend who served in the Fleet Air Arm  throughout the war. He was a TAG, and a member of the Goldfish Club, having ditched three times during his service. His name was James Jukes, and left the service as a CPO.
I would be most grateful if you can provide any info at all about Jim, who sadly died of a heart attack many years ago.
Yours Aye,
Bill Grice

The youngest person to belong to The Goldfish Club is Andy Duff from Aberdeenshire who was a passenger as an Air Training Corps Cadet in a Fairey Barracuda that had an engine failure. The accident happened on January 15th 1944 off the coast of Fife, remarkably Andy was a mere 15 years and 3 months old at the time!

Lord Tedder ditched in the English Channel, (Sir) Winston Churchill ditched in the North Sea off Clacton and (Sir) Richard Branson ditched his balloon twixt Scotland and N Ireland, the latter I believe, belonging to The Goldfish Club.

A story in from Bob Fulkerson, imagine surviving a ditching and then a few days later ending up a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III:
I first learned about the Goldfish Club while I was a POW in the North Compound at Stalag Luft III in
Germany during WW II. The North Compound was predominately British POWs along with a few
hundred Americans. After contacting the Goldfish Club, C.A. Robertson, Hon. Secretary, mailed a
membership card dated July 29, 1944, along with a black dress suit fabric Goldfish badge to my parents in Denver, Colorado, USA.

July 29, 1944, our B-17 crew from the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, 8th AF, at Thorpes Abbott ditched our aircraft in the North Sea. Our aircraft had sustained heavy damage at the target, Merseberg, Germany, and additional damage from flak in our attempt to leave Germany. Eight of the crew survived the ditching with one severely injuried gunner going down with the aircraft. We were at sea for four days before landing at Ameland, Frisian Islands, where we were taken prisoners by the Germans who met us at the beach.

Sincerely with best wishes,

Bob Fulkerson (Robert D. Fulkerson)
This is his story:

JULY 29th 1944

A Day to Remember


July 29th 1944, the 100th Bomb Groups target for the day was the Leuna oil refinery at Merseberg in Germany. This mission was the second day in a row that the 100th bombed Merseberg. As a navigator with the 351st Squadron, 100th Bomb Group, this was my fourth mission having recently been assigned to the 100th on July 17th, 1944. Our crew was flying the B-17 'She-hasta'. Bill Greiner was flying as replacement pilot on his last mission and Jim Coccia, our regular pilot, was flying as co-pilot.

Once in Germany and arriving at the IP, we flew to the target at the altitude of 26000 feet. As we approached the target, we encountered a very dense, black carpet of flak. The flak was so thick that one would think that one could walk on it! We lost one engine as we dropped our bombs and encountered other damage forcing us to leave our formation. the entire low squadron of the 100ths A-group failed to return home along with two of the B-group of which we were one, accounting for eight B-17s lost.

Flak had knocked out the oxygen in the nose of the aircraft forcing the bombardier and me to retreat to the radio room. I had given the one walk-around bottle of oxygen to the bombardier and told him to go on to the radio room and that I would follow him. Upon entering the entrance to the to the bomb bay my parachute harness caught on to something and became entangled. Still being at altitude and without oxygen I soon passed out. Fortunately for me, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, who was in the top turret, saw me and plugged in my oxygen mask. Upon recovering, I noticed that the bomb bay doors had not completely closed and upon passing out I had dropped most of my navigational aids out of the bomb bay doors. With a map or two I proceeded to the radio room. By this time we had lost a lot of altitude and while limping along, encountered more flak at about 10000 feet. Another engine was lost and Bernie Baumgarten , one of our waist gunners, was severely wounded in his abdominal area and upper left leg. Shortly after this, near Weserbunds, Germany, a squadron of P-38s (Lockheed Lightnings) appeared on the scene. Apparently they had spotted a Me 163 KOMET rocket fighter on our tail. The German pilot on seeing the squadron leaders P-38 turned in his direction until he saw the squadron leaders wingman and decided to turn away. The P-38s pursued the ME 163 and the squadron leader made direct hits and the ME 163 went down.

We continued on our way still losing altitude and soon spotted water and decided to ditch our aircraft. Hopefully it was the English Channel but it turned out we were further north and the water was the North Sea. We ditched the B-17 around noon on July 29th 1944. After surviving the ditching, John Vuchetich, our flight engineer, and I were the last two of the crew to leave the aircraft. We had remained in the radio room in hopes of saving the wounded gunner. Since the nose hatch had been opened earlier and the ball turret repositioned for ditching, water was rushing in fast and furiously. I soon realised the situation was hopeless and told John to exit the top hatch. As I climbed out the top hatch, Bernie, half covered with water, called out my name. What a feeling! From the top hatch I could see that the B-17 was at about a forty-five angle to the sea and the wings were half covered with water. As I dived into the sea and started swimming towards the two dinghies, something touched my feet. Looking back I saw it had been the tip of the B-17s rudder that had touched my feet and the aircraft disappeared from sight. Eight of us survived the ditching and Bernie sadly went down with the B-17.

We spent four days at sea. On the second day, a sailing vessel appeared on the horizon and seemingly heading in our direction, as it became closer, we fired flares and pistols into the air in hopes of attracting their attention. The ship became close enough that we could see a flag painted on the hull and took it to be Danish. What seemed like eternity, the ship proceeded on its way, choosing to ignore us and left us floundering in our frustrations. The two dinghies had been tied together to prevent our being separated. During the second night, I was awakened by the angry sea and found our dinghies starting to break apart. At about the same time, John, who was in the second dinghy, awakened. He and I sat the rest of the night with our arms interlocked together. Finally daylight arrived. We had won our battle. That night has to be one of the worst nights of my life.

During the four days at sea we could hear aircraft flying over but the overcast prevented us from seeing them and in turn they seeing us. Late afternoon on the fourth day at sea, land was sighted. Separating the two dinghies, we raced, paddling to shore, firing flares into the air only to be met by German soldiers who took us prisoners. We were told, "For you the war is over!" Actually it was only the beginning. We had landed on Ameland, one of the Frisian Islands, north of Holland.

We had no food while at sea and when the Germans finally gave us some food the following day, it had been over five days since we had eaten! The Germans gave us cold potatoes and cold gravy served in two mess kits from which the eight of us took turns in eating. After a few days in Holland, of all places in solitary confinement in a convent, nine months in Germany as POWs, which included two forced marches, General Patton and his forces liberated us at Moosburg, Germany April 29th 1945.

<The 100th Bomb Group was located at Station 139, Thorpe Abbotts, near Diss, some twenty miles south of Norwich, in Norfolk.

A few days after being liberated at Stalag VIIA, Moosberg, Germany, by General Patton and his forces, we were sent to "Lucky Strike," a transitional camp in Normandy where we were examined, de-briefed, and made ready for our departure to the U.S.. We arrived in New York May 29, 1945.>


Bob Fulkerson



From John Cooper: Bob has also informed me that the KOMET ME 163 only became operational the day before they were shot down and the two P-38 Lightning pilots which chased the 163 off have recently been reunited by telephone and all are due to be reunited in Denver in Autumn (Fall) 2004 at the main 479th Fighter Group reunion. So making a brilliant ending!

Added May 19th 2004


By Tom Theiss

 My father was a B-17 bombardier, Eight Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group 407th Squdron. He never ditched, although his plane was shot down by German Fighters, 17 miles NE of Paris on September 3,1943. He flew from Alcombery, England. He told me that 22 B-17's ditched in the English Channel on September 6th, 1943 after a raid on Stuttgart, Germany. Stuttgart had cloud cover over it. The lead commander took the formation around the target in hopes that the cloud cover would
disperse. This stupid action on his part caused the B-17's to use up a lot of fuel. If the primary target was covered with cloud you were supposed to go to the secondary target which he did not do. As a result many B-17's went into the drink. The leader of this mission was relieved of his command. My father said it was the largest air sea rescue of the war. All ditched crews survived. In the book"The Mighty Eight" by Freeman, Freeman states that 12 B-17's ditched. My fathers swears that is bull.



31st October 2004

John Anderson from Canada writes:

July 10th 1941.

I was flying a Spitfire 2b with 610 Squadron escorting a small group of bombers into France, we were at the back of the pack and were jumped on the way out by Me109's I was hit by a cannon shell in the belly of the aircraft sustaining an injury to my right leg. The engine was still running smoothly so I dived for the deck and headed for home, the engine cut as I crossed the French coast at about 1500ft, while gliding towards a cloud bank I tried to restart the engine to no avail I unstrapped to bail out but realized I was now far too low and had to ditch.


By this time I was in cloud with no forward visibility but could see straight down to the water, I continued to glide until I hit the water, as I was not strapped in I expected to be thrown out when the engine nosed in but to my surprise the aircraft remained horizontal and floated for 3 or 4 seconds, long enough for me to get out. I was able to inflate my dinghy and climb aboard and I was eventually picked by a German patrol boat which came out of the fog some 4 hours after ditching. They took me to a harbour which I believe was Calais where an ambulance was waiting, they took me to a hospital at St.Omerand, operated on my right leg and eventually I was transported to Germany and two hospitals. I later went to several prison camps in Germany, Poland, and Lithuania, but that is another story.



Three times a survivor!


Second Lieutenant Ray Veitch DFC was attached to 260 Squadron RAF from the South African Air Force in April 1945 and was serving in Italy. Three times Ray was shot down by ground fire, three times he bailed out of his stricken Mustang, three times he landed in the sea, and three times his life was saved by an Airborne Lifeboat drop.


This was all in one month April 1945, on his first splash, he was rescued by a Lifeboat dropped by a RAF Warwick aircraft but to make matters worse he was in a minefield! Three days later he took another splash and another lifeboat was dropped and he was eventually picked up by a Catalina. Followed by two weeks later where he took his third splash, again an Airborne Liferaft was dropped, this time by a B17, Ray again was later picked up by a RAF ASR craft. 


A very lucky chap!






My own survival can be found on

Briefly I was flying as a passenger in a RAF Handley Page Hastings from Ceylon to the Maldives returning home to the UK after my tour of duty in the Far East had finished on 1st March 1960. In true tradition we had just crossed the Equator by 41 miles when our pilot plonked us in the oggin 2 miles short of the runway in a tropical storm, the undercarriage was extended this, together with three of the four engines were ripped off on initial impact.


All 14 passengers and six crew vacated the aircraft within 45 seconds and were aboard life rafts except two. A rescue aircraft and marine craft executed a search and rescue and we were again on dry land within two hours of the initial impact with only minor injuries.


There by the Grace of God go I……………………



A new link to a Handley Page Halifax ditching

.....and another

Received on 23rd October 2004 from Steve Ananian
Steve Ananian undertook his first mission in a P51 from Fowlmere, England, escorting USAAF bombers to their target area. Steve was hit by enemy flak and managed to steer his stricken aircraft back towards the English Coast, Steve very nearly didn't make it, read his rescue from another unsung hero here:
My story is called Ramrod to Munster at Little Friends


Copyright  John Cooper

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