Life on the squadron (1957 to 1958)

I served at RAF Upwood from April 1957 to December 1958.

I was posted to No. 35 Squadron equipped with Canberra B2 aircraft operating in the high level light bomber role as part of Bomber Command.

The Canberrra had entered RAF service in 1951 and when the build up was completed there were 28 squadrons in the Command. The unit was an enlarged squadron formed from the amalgamation of No. 18 and No. 35 Squadons. Other units operating at Upwood at the time were No. 50 and No. 61 Squadrons. Each squadron was commanded by a Wing Commander and divided into 2 flights, commanded by a Squadron Leader.

A Canberra B2 carried a crew of 3; pilot, navigator/plotter and navigator/radar (observer). Apart from the 3 senior officers, crews were made up of junior officers. By this stage there were very few SNCO aircrew in the Canberra force.

The life of a squadron Canberra crew was governed by two regimes: basic training requirements and the Bomber Command Aircrew Classification scheme. The former was designed to ensure that each crew member completed the minimum requirements needed to maintain the necessary level of competence during a given period. With regard to the latter, a new crew was initially categorised Unclassified, which meant that they were unqualified to fly on operations. Flying hours were therefore allocated to a crew to achieve Combat status as quickly as possible, which meant meeting minimum competence in the role i.e. achieving the necessary standards as a crew in navigation and bombing. As a crew became more experienced it progressed through the classification system to Select status.

A crew would fly approx. 300 hours a year. A sortie lasted about 2hrs 50 mins and was largely carried out at heights between 35000 – 45000 feet while cruising at about 460mph. On a typical training flight the aircraft would be loaded with up to 8 x 25lb practice bombs which would be released at one of several bombing ranges around the UK, mainly in the Wash area. Bombing was carried out using a radar system called GH or visually using the Mk XIV bombsight. There were also regular Station or Command exercises, involving all the squadrons, that were used to test fighter and ground radar defences as well as crews’ individual navigation and bombing skills.

High level visual bombing practice up to 45000ft was carried out abroad. A squadron would fly off on detachment to Malta and conduct bombing exercises against a sea target at Filfla off Malta or practice ranges in Libya.

A crew could also be detailed to fly abroad on a Lone Ranger exercise to an RAF station in the Mediterranean or Middle East. This exercise tested a crew’s ability to operate away from base; crew members carried out their own basic servicing for which they had to pass a Bomber Command Basic Efficiency Examination. A crew would be allocated a Lone Ranger about once a year and was a very popular break from the normal routine.

When not flying, crews had to complete a programme of ground training. Requirements varied widely and included: dinghy and parachute drills; aircraft recognition; survival lectures; regular 12-mile walks to build up stamina; and escape and evasion exercises. Aircrews were also encouraged to participate in sport to maintain fitness.

I left Upwood on posting to RAF Shawbury but the Canberra squadron operated there for some time afterwards.

Both 35 and 50 Squadron were eventually re-equipped with the Vulcan.

[Courtesy of John Kirk, 35 Squadron Upwood]