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RAF St. Mawgan

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RAF St. Mawgan by John Cooper

aka Gary Cooper



For photos of 201 Squadron St Mawgan click this link 

For discussing St Mawgan click here




201 Squadron


I served in the RAF on 201 Squadron MR3 Avro Shackleton aircraft from May 1960 to October 1963 which was then based at St. Mawgan, less than a handful of miles from the resort of Newquay and lying on a very picturesque and rugged North Cornish coastline.


The other Squadrons based there at the time were 206 Squadron operating the same Shackletons as 201 Squadron and No. 42 Squadron operating the Mark 2 Shackletons. A detachment of 22 Squadron Westland Whirlwind helicopters from RAF Chivenor were ever present but based on the St. Mawgan village side of the airfield.


My role in life was working (sometimes) on the Rolls Royce Griffon engines, at times in 401 Hangar on Primary Star Servicing or out on 1st line servicing, the latter I much preferred despite the prevailing westerly winds coming in off the cliffs at Watergate Bay or through the valley known as Mawgan Porth.


The advantage of working on the line was that you might see an aircraft off at 0600hrs and you could be stood down at 0800hrs when all the other erks came in, those kites on patrol over the Western Approaches did not arrive back until about 1800hrs. But if you caught the evening shift and rectification had to be done in situ then you stayed until the work was finished.


I particularly used to like doing a Thursday early morning start and a Thursday evening finish, this would give me the Friday and all weekend off. Propeller changes, engine changes, whatever would be conducted on the line as often there was not room for these aircraft to go in the hangar and anyway in those old WWII black corrugated hangars the Shacks had to be towed in sideways on railway lines.


Once when working in the hangar the Sergeant i/c Primary * team had his instructions from the Engineering Officer for us to do an additional two hours work in the evenings to ‘catch up’ on behind scheduled servicing after three days of this, a ‘mutinous’ band got together and ‘snagged’ every minor fault we could find. This meant that the Form 700 and aircraft service record card would be filled up, meaning more delays, it was soon decided that we would finish at our normal time 1700hrs daily and my ‘punishment’ was to be sent back on to the line. If you were that Eng Officer or Sergeant Rigger i/c let’s be hearing from you!


The role of the Shackleton were various, the main aim was to keep the shipping lanes clear of any potential submarine or other naval threat and in those days the threat was perceived to be from the USSR, whether it be a nuclear submarine or a fishing vessel gathering intelligence from listening devices. I recall flying over one said ‘fishing vessel’ when suddenly all sorts of tarpaulins were hauled over sensitive equipment to hide their surreptitious activity, the trawl nets would still be extended though!


Navigational Exercises (NAVEX) would be held frequently and often involved a grid system of coordinates to search a given area in case a vessel was in distress or had disappeared in any given area. The practicing for such events was quite uninteresting but nevertheless had to be performed, often ship recognition was used to relieve such boredom, at times, at very low level.


Practice torpedoes, sonar buoys and depth charges would be carried and dispatched in exercising with both UK and NATO Naval vessels and once a year, the Squadron would be detached to RAF Ballykelly in Northern Ireland to the Joint Anti Submarine School (JASS) for a period of up to three weeks.


On return to St. Mawgan on one such trip on XF710 ‘K’ on 5th December 1961 the USS ‘Essex’ Aircraft Carrier was spotted in the Irish Sea being refueled and resupplied by a mother ship, the Squadron CO brought Kilo down to a very low level at deck height to do a couple of passes over her. The final pass was at a higher altitude and one of the Signallers took a now very famous photograph with a K24 Kodak ‘Long Tom’ camera entitling the pic as ‘AVGAS , will travel’


As ground crew we would travel within the Shackleton wherever these aircraft were detached too, some of these would be conducted on Atomic Alert Exercises, simulating a nuclear attack on Great Britain all operational aircraft would be dispatched to other units, night or day, weekday or weekend or in the case of the Shack they could stay airborne until the alert was over and return to its base if the runways were said to be still intact. For example we were sent up to patrol over the Bay of Biscay and ended up at RAF Valley in North Wales whilst No. 10 Squadron Victors would be scrambled from RAF Cottesmore, Rutland to RAF St. Mawgan, Cornwall for the duration of the exercise. Diversions could always be made at very short notice.

On one of these trips I recall we erks went everywhere with the Shacks, I guess it was my turn to take the tea/coffee around. I was just passing a cup over the right shoulder of the Navigator when the pilot banked hard to port, I lost my balance the coffee flew forward all over his charts. He looked up with a glare and muttered something over the roar of the engines and in an apologetic manner I took out an oily rag, as all good greasies had in their lower denim overall pocket, and mopped up the coffee, the expletives were unrepeatable here. You just can't please some people!



During my time on the Squadron, I flew many times, I always feared it, especially the flying over the water at very low level and whenever coming in to land and we had a few narrow shaves! Previously on my way home to the UK in 1960 I had been travelling in a Handley Page Hastings from Ceylon to the Maldives at night and in a storm when the Hastings crashed into the sea 1.5 miles short of the runway threshold, fortunately we all survived but I still had this unimaginable fear but always kept this to myself. Read the story


The following are a few instances where I feared for my life:


15th April 1963 WR981 ‘P’ en route from Santa Maria, Azores to USN Base at Brunswick, Maine I could hear the Flight Engineer telling the Pilot Wing Commander ‘Paddy’ Rodney Roach over the grey/blue headset there were problems in transferring fuel from one tank to another, we were somewhere off the coast of Nova Scotia at night. Apparently a fuel pump had packed up isolating about 300 gallons of AVGAS aviation fuel, a distress call was put out and the US Navy sent up a P2V-7 Neptune plus the US Coastguard had been alerted. I removed the headset and prayed! We had enough fuel to make one circuit only, we landed OK with 220 gallons of (usuable) fuel remaining on board. An American Naval band welcomed us on to terra firma.


28th April 1963 WR988 ‘K’ en route from USAF Lajes AFB, Azores to St Mawgan the return leg from USN  Base Brunswick, I was on board the first aircraft in, again I had a head set on and St Mawgan was clamped in (local mist that can roll in and out and blanket an airfield in seconds) The Squadron Commander Squadron Leader Chesworth asked for a GCA approach, I could hear the conversion that went pretty much like this:

GCA: You are on the Glide Path

GCA: You are 10’ above the Glide Path

GCA: You are 10’ below the Glide Path

GCA: You are on the Glide Path runway in sight, clear to land.

Suddenly there was a full surge in power from the four mighty Rolls Royce engines and expletives to the GCA Controller from the Captain and up we went again, the controller had brought us in on to the old disused runway at Treblezue abutting St Mawgan airfield. I heard the Captain asking for clearance to the nearest Master Diversion Airfield (MDA) which happened to be RAF Manston on the Kent Coast . I removed my headset never to wear one again! Needless to say we landed at Manston in bright sunshine.


There was another occasion on a trip back from RAF North Front Gibraltar where one of the engines failed and the propellers had to be feathered, but as the Shackleton has been known to fly on one engine (there is a famous photo over Farnborough somewhere) then that one didn’t particularly worry me.


I recall an incident at RAF St. Mawgan in the early 1960’s which resulted in a great piece of airmanship.  I can’t be sure of the pilots name but Flight Lieutenant McBurney (McBurnie?) rings true, he was also one of the very few pilots in the RAF to wear spectacles. 

This event occurred in the early afternoon and within an hour almost the whole of  the station personnel turn out to witness the scene from behind the flight line. The airfield circuit was cleared of all other incoming flights. 

A Mark 3 Shackleton of 201 Squadron had just got airborne, the undercarriage was meant to retract but the nosewheel would not as somehow the nosewheel steering mechanism was angled at 45 degrees, a very low slow approach was made over the control tower in order to survey the problem through binoculars. 

The pilot made three landing approaches on St. Mawgans’ very long runway with emergency support vehicles lining the runway, on each of the first two approaches the pilot landed on his main undercarriage and held off bringing the nose wheel into contact with the hard surface until the last minute to try and straighten said wheel, he took off again and repeated the process twice more until he delicately nudged the nosewheel straight and on the 4th approach was able to make a perfect landing, much to the delight of the station personnel and no doubt his crew. 

I also recall an incident with a 206 Squadron MR3 Shackleton where it had been in exercise with a submarine and had the scanner housing down to the third search (ie Scanner fully extended), the pilot was flying so low that he ripped the second and third stage of the scanner housing off by being in contact with the swell running at the time. I recall going over to that kite and standing upright looking into an empty scanner well with splintered plywood all around! One lucky crew.


At RAF St Mawgan in 1962 we had just seen a Mark 3 Shackleton in from 201 Squadron that had been on one of those long 12 hour maritime patrols and during the flight the reduction gear on number 3 engine to the propeller failed. When the aircrew were discussing this with us on site, the Air Engineer swung one of the contra-rotating props to show how the gear had sheared, the following prop blade came down and cracked the co-pilot on the head. Fortunately no damage was done except to the pilots pride, the rest of us were in stitches!      


Flights I took with 201 Squadron MR3 Avro Shackletons


17th May 1960  7.35 hrs XF710 Atomic Alert Exercise with 3 Torpedoes, 9 Sonarbuoys and 9 Depth Charges


24th June 1960 7.55 hrs XF708 To RAF North Front Gibraltar Navex and Ship Recce down as low as 80’


27th June 1960 12.00 hrs XF708 Return from Gibraltar to RAF St. Mawgan Navex and Ship Recce


22 nd June 1961  10.20 hrs XF707 Navex to RAF North Front, Gibraltar & Ship Recce


26th June 1961 6.40 hrs XF707 return from Gibraltar to St Mawgan


11th October 1961 12.30 hrs XF710 Atomic Alert exercise to Bay of Biscay and land at RAF Valley


12th October 1961 10.25 hrs XF710 Atomic Alert Exercise to Bay of Biscay and return to St Mawgan


26th October 1961 1.25 hrs XF711 Airways to RAF Honington, Suffolk


12th November 1961 2.35 hrs XF709 Airways to RAF Ballykelly JASS exercise


1st December 1961 1.50hrs XF711 Airways from Ballykelly to St Mawgan


3rd December 1961 1.40 hrs XF710 Airways St Mawgan to Ballykelly 


5th December 1961 1.40 hrs XF710 Airways Ballykelly to St Mawgan


13th April 1963 8.30 hrs WR981 RAF St Mawgan to Santa Maria Airport, Azores


15th April 1963 14.40 hrs WR981 Santa Maria, Azores to USN Base Brunswick, Maine USA


27th April 1963 9.50hrs WR988 USN Base Brunswick to USAF AFB Lajes, Azores


28th April 1963 9.20 hrs WR988 USAF AFB Lajes to RAF St Mawgan, diverted to RAF Manston (flying low over South Coast of England)


7th June 1963 1.45 hrs XF705 Airways St Mawgan to RAF Aldergrove, Belfast  JASS exercise then by coach to Ballykelly


21st June 1963 1.50 hrs WR977 Airways from RAF Ballykelly to RAF St Mawgan


8th July 1963 3.00 hrs WR980 of 206 Squadron Airways from St Mawgan to RAF Kinloss, Morayshire


9th July 1963 4.25 hrs WR988 RAF Kinloss to RNAF base Bodo, Norway


15th July 1963 9.10 hrs WR988 RNAF Bodo to RAF Kinloss with F86 Sabre Jet Escort out of Norwegian Air Space, NAVEX back to Kinloss


16th July 1963 2.40 hrs  WR988 Airways from RAF Kinloss to RAF St Mawgan


17th July 1963 1.15 hrs WR977 Airways to RAF Wittering Cambridgeshire.


Total 23 flights and 143 flying hours

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The photo shown here is of 201 Squadron in 1963 (Crown Copyright) 

 Those names * I am in contact with


Back row left to right


SAC Morrisey, Sgt Munn, Cpl Robbie Roberts*, Ch/T (Clutch) Caple, Sgt Ellis, Cpl (Rod) Rumsby*, Cpl (Dinger) Bell, J/T Aitchison, Cpl T Webb, Sgt Morganti, Sgt Thatcher, Sgt Wardley*, F/S Freer, Sgt Roalfe, Sgt Jack Glanville, J/T Pete Wotton, SAC Tregenna, SAC Madden, SAC Walton*, Cpl Butcher, Cpl Reeves, J/T Romeo Browne, SAC Cartwright, SAC Donovan, J/T Phillips, SAC Brian Maidment.


Third Row Left to Right


S/T Dave Chandler*, Sgt ‘Bimbo’ Griffin BEM, Sgt B Mathews, Sgt Young, Sgt Docherty, Sgt Ball, Sgt N Mathews, Sgt Jordan, Sgt Muttitt, F/S Boreham, Sgt Hill, Sgt Williams, Sgt Darby, Ch/T Johnston, F/S browning, Sgt Flood, Sgt Selly, Sgt Meadows, Sgt Heaton, Sgt Amesbury,Sgt Hughes, Sgt Girdler, Sgt Pick, Sgt Morley, Cpl T Dodd, SAC Bailey


Second Row Left to Right


F/S Torrance, J/T Ellis*, Cpl Miller, Sgt Hopkins, M/Sig Wallbank, M/Eng Robert, W.O Johnson, P/O O’Leary, F/O Briggs, F/O Symonds, F/O Jones, F/O Speed, P/O Head, F/O West, F/O Player, F/O Gibbs, F/O Tuson, M/Nav Tait, M/Sig Hooley, M/Sig Smith, M/Eng Smithurst, F/S Hill, Cpl ‘Plum’ Plumbley, Cpl Howes, LAC Terry Dardis, SAC ‘Lil’ Lilliot


Front Row Left to Right


F/O ‘Noddy’ Grimwood, F/Lt Hannigan, F/Lt Young, F/Lt Wrangham, F/Lt Hynson, F/Lt James, F/Lt Foot, F/Lt Emmanuel, F/Lt Clayton, F/Lt Cooke, F/Lt Dark, S/ldr Hatton, W/C Rodney Roache (CO 201 Squadron) S/Ldr George Chesworth (Today Air Vice Marshal & Lord Lieutenant of Glasgow), F/L Ostridge, F/Lt Lawless, F/Lt Gunton, F/Lt Hayward, F/lt Grant, F/Lt Brown, F/Lt Fahy, F/Lt Watkins, F/Lt Hayden, F/Lt Fielding, F/O Blake.


Those not on the photo but known to be on 201 Squadron between 1960-63

J/T Gary Cooper*, Cpl Brian Spowson (later W/Cmdr CO of 201 Squadron and then Group Captain CO RAF Kinloss) Nobby Clarke, Ch/T McDermott, SAC Dave Gibbs, J/T Pete Davenport, SAC Pete Hahn, J Laing, W/O Birtchnell, SAC Terry Whiffen, J/T ‘Maxy’ Maxwell, F/Lt Cheyne (Eng Off), Dickie Daws, Ted Thompson, SAC Ron Balsara, Roy Welton, SAC Ray Ford, Geoff Whapples,Sgt Lobley, Cpl Graham Scopes, SAC Brian Munson*, SAC Brian Hocking, J/T Dick Richardson,  J/T Dave Easterbrook, ’Giddy’ Gardiner, Cpl Jim Colligan (&206 Sqn) cpl/T Ginge Head, Pete Jones, Sgt. Irwin (i/c Primary Star team 401 hangar), Sgt Len Healey, Jock Currie, SAC ‘Will’ Scarlett, Jock Robertson, ‘Charlie’ Chaplin, Joe Owens, SAC Brian Teague, SAC Bob Baker, SAC Stewart Tucker*, Gerry York, Cpl Bill Bailey, Cpl ‘Butch’ Ings (& 206 Sqn),Cpl/T Collyer (aka CTC) J/T Dick Turpin, J/T Johnny Welham (&206 Sqn) Mick Falconar, J/T Phil Trunchion, SAC Bob Shephard, Tim Hocking, Geordie Glaister, SAC Doug Coole (& 42 Sqn),  WRAF “Painter Annie”, J/T ‘Dickie’ Bird, Pete Sneller, George Cowie, SAC Bob Taylor, SAC Paddy Kinlay, , Ginge Cove, Cpl George Rowlands, Geoff Hoyle, SAC Jock Hay, Jock Swann, J/T Pete Conway, Cpl ‘Punchy’ Rose, Bruce Arthur, Group Capt O’Doire  (CO St Mawgan), Paddy Leahy, Dave Bourne, SAC Jim Sumner, Roy Heaton, Roy Egerton*, Bill Merricks, Cpl Pete ‘Staff’ Hondstiff*, Ted Pearsons drowned in a yachting accident off The Headland, Newquay. 

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