From the Appendix 12: Commander R 'Mike' Crosley DSC RN: They Gave me a Seafire

Mike Banyard’s unofficial report after landing aboard USS Essex, 10 August 1945

“Both Ken Newton and myself were getting short of petrol by the time we were given our ‘steer’ from the Tomcat and I was pretty darned glad to see what I thought was Implacable after about five minutes flying. However, when we got there it turned out to be one of the American carrier groups and as I had only eight gallons left and Ken had six, the boss sent us down to land on.”

“Ken went down first and was allowed on after a couple of dirty darts at the deck. It got me worried to see him float into the barrier. It seemed a hell of a long time before they got his cab untangled (it was wrapped round the barrier like a couple of rattlesnakes in the mating season) and were ready to land me on.”

“There was a gi-normous bang when my hook broke and as the Americans’ wires are not self-centreing, I was swung to port, but luckily the starboard oleo gave way with that expensive noise — ‘ge-doink’ — otherwise I would have been slap in the oggin. By the way, I had expected, and got, the ‘cut’, about 20 feet above the round down, so the last bit was ‘solo’. I had hardly stopped moving before there was a bloody great rush for bits of my prop blades. I saw at least six bods grab a large piece each and set about them with pocket knives and other tools to share them out. Meanwhile the thought of our two lovely Seafires — of all aircraft — pranging in smart succession on a famous Yankee carrier of all places, kept me swearing and thumping the sides of the fuselage in rage. Eventually some Joe came along and said: ‘What’s biting yer, bud?’ ”

“After getting out I was taken up to the Island where I had to fill in some bumph about how I was and where I came from. After this Ken and I were taken down to view the wreckage of our cabs, show them how to fold the wings and to answer a whole lot of questions, which went something like this:

Q. What kind of engine is it?
A. It’s a Merlin 55 M.

Q. What horse is it?
A. About 1650 on take-off.

Q. Say, that’s an awful lot for such a cute little aircraft — what speed will she do?
A. About 370 mph at rated altitude.

Q. How much smaller is this than the Spitfire?
A. It isn’t. Its exactly the same size.

Q. Well goddam’. Do you mean to tell me that a cute little ship like this shot down all those flying bombs back in England? etc, etc.”

“Their fighter Ready Room was made our headquarters and we were asked to keep the duty officer informed of our whereabouts. When I say Ready Room, I mean Ready Room — not a poky little hole like ours. To start with it’s air conditioned. Hot coffee, fruit and sandwiches etc, are always available throughout strike days. There is a talk-back radio connected up with all places of importance — such as the Ops Room and Flying Control. There is a teletype machine giving all the latest gen on met reports from pilots still out on a strike, what is happening on various targets, what damage has been done, what targets are left and everything that is necessary for a really comprehensive and efficient briefing. All telephones work on the dial system — and there is one in every cabin as well — so there is no waiting while the operator finishes the page of his book before answering. The Strike Leader doesn’t have to shout to make himself heard at a briefing as he has a microphone and amplifier that will penetrate even the loudest background. The chairs are comfortable and there is a drawer under each for goggles, helmet and other gash stuff.”

“Pilots leave their flying gear hanging up along the walls. I had a look at some of it. It was of superb quality and much more comprehensive. I was glad I was not wearing my ‘issue’ jungle flying suit as it would have been laughed at. Their suits contain everything that one could possibly desire for a really Ritzy picnic with some luscious Pacific Island babe.”

“I stayed in the Ready Room for about an hour talking to some of the pilots just back from strikes, listening to the gramophone and to their briefing. Their arrangements were very flexible and communication between strike and fighter escort was excellent. Spare pilots were provided for all sorties in case anyone went u/ s on deck. Their CO or ‘Skip’, as he was called, came up to us after he had completed his briefing and said: ‘Mighty glad to have you fellows. Just make yourselves at home. If there’s anything you want, why, tell our dooty officer here and he’ll fix it for you.’ ”

“I watched one of their land-ons . . . I got a good view from the batsman’s position right aft on the roundown. They do their circuits at a steady 100 foot altitude and they are much tighter than ours. Their speeds vary between 85 and 100 knots and they are accordingly given their ‘cut’ at an appropriate distance from the roundown compatible with their speed. As soon as the pilot was given the ‘cut’, he chopped his throttle right back and one could definitely see him push the stick right forward to dive for a wire, and then yank it back, hitting the deck on three points in a ‘g’ stall, without bouncing.”

“It looked pretty fraught at first but personally I think it’s better for them for their aircraft were designed to do it that way. There was only one barrier crash and one broken tail-wheel during two days I was watching — about 350 sorties in all.”

“The Flight Deck is about 100 feet longer and 20 or so feet wider than Implacable’s and it has a catwalk all round it and none of those blasted bits of gunnery equipment sticking up all over the place. The flight deck is not armoured. All the ‘merchants’ I came across were very envious of our four inches of armour. When one of those goddam Kamikaze sons of bitches hits us, boy, how we burn . . .”

“As soon as I got into the bunk room people started lashing me up with cigarettes and chewing gum and asked all the gen about Seafires, Spitfires, Typhoons and Tempests.”

“The liaison between the ship’s officers and the air group was excellent and their is precious little red tape between the various branches. The stores people are a complete revelation and offered to supply us with any flying kit if we needed it — so long as we only wanted one of everything. I don’t think I have ever met such sincere hospitality and no-one could do enough for us. Neither was there any of the expected line-shooting and other bulsh. Exactly the opposite. There was no personal trumpet-blowing whatever, in spite of Essex’s history having been one of continuous battle honours since her launch.”

“Ken’s Seafire was ditched on the second day but mine was still on board when we left, under guard in the hangar. I think that they were going to keep it as a souvenir until they got back to a museum in the States. I heard that we were sending them a replacement prop, too. While we were on board the Jap peace proposals started. If peace arrives, they will have a hell of a job getting me airborne again.”