Story of the escort carrier HMS Tracker 1943-1945

CHAPTER 8                      THE NEW SQUADRON 846

       The new Squadron, 846, Avengers & Wildcats, flew aboard at 1300 hrs on Jan 4th. They
       landed on with precision, bowled merrily forward, and completed the whole process in
       very short time. They also swept though their exercises- we steamed a mere 1,500 miles
       to complete their programme and they even enjoyed the "Tracker" when she went out to
       look for lively weather.
       Swordfish had a tendency to bounce, but these seven ton avengers solemnly settled,
       folded their wings, and strutted forward. there was one tragedy, a total loss during dive
       bombing exercises, which cost the lives of S/Lt Geo Houghton R.N.V.R.,  S/Lt
       E.B.Dixon, R.N.V.R., L/airman Robin Fredk. Gates, and O/Sig. Geo, Smith. After the
       exercises, we were rewarded by a weeks leave- a welcome refuge from the floating  deck
       in the Gareloch.

       Basking in Biscay
       Trip number four began on the 13 Feb, Shrove Tuesday, but our only pancakes were
       aeronautical ones. With H.M.S. "Biter", we escorted a convoy to Gibraltar. On the third
       morning out, we saw a JU 290 descending in flames, shot down by fighters from "Biter"
       who was duty carrier. Later our own Wildcats were directed to a JU 290 , and burst
       through the clouds in time to see him fall to a Beaufighter of Coastal Command.
       February 20th saw us becalmed in the bay of Biscay of all places. The T.B.R's were
       grounded but the Wildcats could still be catapulted with ease. One of our Avengers went
       over the side in attempting a take off, and her crew were smartly picked up by H.M.S.
       "Clover". When the weather improved, Avengers carried out sweeps 200 miles deep, but
       without incident, and we steamed peacefully into Gib on Feb 25th.

       Our weeks stay was marked by a violent 70 Knot gale, with lashing rain and hail. Sea
       and wind drove at ship and jetty. five wires parted, the Quarter Deck bollards pulled out-
       ye shades of Clydeside riveters- the motor boat went away and was picked up by a
       merchant packet, and the forward sleeping spaces were evacuated under the threat [so it
       was said] of our being run down by the "Biter", who was also lunging fretfully further
       down the jetty. We survived it all and enjoyed another ship's concert in harbour. This was
       given by our own "Chockairs" who also gave a rousing show to the Sergeant' mess of the
       Garrison ashore.

       Leaving Gibraltar on the 2nd March we were still troubled by the lack of wind, this was an
       asset on the night of March 5th., when the ships Doctors Surg Lt. Cmdr George Foss of
       Bristol. and Surg. Lt King of South Africa went over by sea boat to H.M.S. Biter to assist
       with a delicate surgical operation. there was a false alarm the following day, when we
       scrambled our fighters to intercept a U.S. Boeing Clipper, bound for Lisbon. On this quite
       trip we had on the 8th, the worst shock of all, the torpedoing of one of the escorts, the
       frigate H.M.S."Asphodel",. Four of our Avengers searched for hours, but with no sign of
       the victims or of their assailant. This was a painful contrast to the rest of the voyage,
       when all the fun of the fair sparkled on the flight deck during the sunny dog watches- with
       Rifle Shooting Contests, Music featuring as the Commander picked up his rifle to fire for
       the ward room team, "Lay that pistol down, Mama!", Physical Exercises, and even the
       Scran Bag Sales, under the genial eye of Master of Arms John T.Clement of Higham,

       Escorted by H.M.S." Whitehall" and H.M.S. "Wrestler", we steamed up the Clyde on
       March 12th. At 2300 Hrs on the 14th a tidal wave of excitement hit the ship. Skippers
       sending one watch on a weeks leave. Heads of departments rolled out their bunks at
       midnight and prepared lists. the regulating office toiled all through the night, and one
       watch, delighted at the unexpected good fortune went on leave. This was the goods. A
       job and a spot of leave- if this was to be the sequence of things, then Tracker was the
       ship to be drafted to. Enthusiasm kindled. The watch aboard worked with will. Second
       leave is best.

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