John R Gard'ner recalls emergency landing after taking heavy fire

Filename: John_R_Gardner_-_Fog_landing.mp3 ( download )

Size: 2.1 MB

Recording type: audio/mpeg

10 minutes 38 seconds long (click "audio mp3" above to listen)

In 2006 Jim Walsh interviewed Group Captain John Rushton Gard'ner. An article about his life and links to audio snippets from that interview can be found by clicking here.

In this audio excert you can hear Gard'ner describe how, while in pursuit of a target over Europe his aircraft took heavy fire and required an emergency landing...in thick fog.

 

The following transcript of this portion of the interview is kindly provided by Kim Megson.

TRANSCRIPT

File ID:                        John_R_Gardner_-_Fog_landing

Interviewer:               Jim Walsh (JW)                       

Interviewee:             John Gard’ner (JG)

Date Recorded:       31 January 2006   

Duration:                   5min 19sec

Date Typed:              05 September 2012  

JG:        On New Year’s Eve of 1944, Britain was fog-bound.  They didn’t send any aircraft out of Britain.  We went into France three weeks after D-Day because they had to go and repair some airfields.  We went over there as night fighters.  In the early days of the invasion, we operated over the beachhead areas at night and just into France with the idea of stopping the bombers coming over to Britain, and the first place we went to was Amiens-Glisy.  Anyway,  I was operating out of there on the night of December 31st of ’44.  We were stationed at Amiens-Glisy, by which time I’d got into 488 Squadron,New Zealand Squadron.  We operated over the beachhead areas at night.  The whole of Europe was fog-bound, and we were the only squadron, the only Air Force squadron, apparently, that took to the air at all. 

Anyway, when we were up there, we took off and I was somewhere, I reckoned, over in theRhine area when I found ... one of the few times when I had a target in front of me and we were chugging along.  I hadn’t got up to visual looking at it yet, but we’d been chasing something and my navigator said, “Well, it’s four or five hundred yards.”  And so we were closing on the thing, and suddenly heavy flak opened up.  There were shell bursts all around the place and one burst right under the nose of my aircraft, and there was a hell of a great woooof, and what I recall about it, my aeroplane was upside down.  I struggled to get it up the right way again, and which I eventually did and, of course, we were cursing like mad because here was a target.  Of course, I was one of the chaps that flew hundreds of sorties but never saw a damn thing, and here we had a chance of something.  Well, we never got that chance.  But while ... and I got the thing back up in the right side up again.  My navigator said to me, “God, this is something ...” and he reached down and he picked these ... he had a piece of shrapnel, hot shrapnel in his hand, and it had come through the side of the aeroplane.  And then we noticed that the right ... the starboard engine was suddenly running a bit rough, and the gauges showed it was overheating.  So I thought, Christ, that’s been hit.  Closed the engine down straight away.  So I had to call ... I called in and said, “Returning to base”, and they said, “Well, you can’t come back to Amiens-Glisy, you’ll have to go to Brussels Melsbroek. 

 I was given the right course to steer and backed it towards Brussels Melsbroek and, from the altitude I was at, I could roughly see the ground.  I could see more or less where we were, and we got in towards Brussels Melsbroek Airfield and I was given permission to land.  So on one engine, of course ... I was slowly losing height to get down to this airfield, but they told me that the visibility was virtually nil on the airfield, but I was committed.  And so I circled the airfield, losing height, and finally ... I knew exactly what direction of the air- ... of the runway, and my last recollection was turning round towards that runway when we went into fog and I lost all sight of it.  I had lowered the wheels and flaps and, having done so, I knew I was committed to land, because there was no way I could put on power with this particular type of Mosquito.  With its wheels and flaps down, there was no way I could gain height to go round again if I missed the runway.  Anyway, as we got down, my navigator was telling me, “Four hundred feet, three hundred feet, two hundred feet, a hundred and fifty feet” etc, “A hundred feet”, and when he got down to ... when he said a hundred feet, I suddenly saw a light in front of me and I realised that I was actually coming down the centre of that ... of the runway, and so I couldn’t see more than about two or three lights ahead, so I immediately cut the engine ... I cut the good engine and prepared for a landing. 

I had no idea how far up the runway we were, but I managed to get the aircraft down onto the ground, was able to put the brakes on, and I got towards the end of it and I suddenly saw the ... what was left of the airfield, there wasn’t any, so I made a quick turn to the right and sort of skidded sideways.  Why I didn’t lose the undercarriage, I don’t know, but it turned sideways onto the taxi track and came to a dead stop, and a sigh of relief.

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