On August 9th 1943 we became an
aircraft carrier indeed. Squadron 816, Swordfish &
Seafires- some of the men having served with the Squadron in the Ark Royal and the ill
fated Dasher flew on in great style. There followed a month of strenuous exercising in the
Firth of Clyde. The lovely scenery and when the sun does shine in Scotland, it
compensates for rarity by surpassing beauty-and the sea sounding names of
Machrihanish, Lamlash, Rothesay, and Largs became familiar to us as the gallant
"Stringbags" went through their long programme, and the Seafires spiralled and
swooped. Altogether, from Tail o' the Bank to Banger Bay, with infinite variations and
repetitions, we steamed 6,293 miles, four times the distances covered in exercising the
later Avenger Squadrons. However, both on exercises and on "Ops", we grew fond of the
Squadrons-the stick to gether and up and again tomorrow boys.
The exercises were marred by two
accidents. One occurred during night flying, when a
swordfish went over the side and the observer and air gunner lost their lives. They were
S/lt. A.Roland Bokes R.N.V.R. and leading Airman Graham Neatby Jenkins. In an
assisted Acceleration exercise Captain Dickens himself was severely injured whilst
inspecting the catapult machinery. To our sorrow, he was immediately transferred to
hospital. He was relieved by Captain Donald Scott McGarath, R.N. (Retd). The dashing
airman Dickens, who commanded the first swordfish raid on the Italian mainland, was
succeeded by no less a dashing Destroyer Skipper. Serving in the Harwich Force, he
had survived the torpedoing of his ship in an Artic convoy, and had commanded an
assault ship in the Dieppe raid.
Captain McGrath's sea dog demeanour- the glint of very cold blue eyes freezing one
above a black Van Dyke beard- and his habit of entering harbour at full speed, earned
him the picturesque, if disrespectful nick nameof "Dangerous Dan".
H.M.S. Tracker carried out ten
operations in 1943-44 and , although she was not always
in the headlines, hers was certainly a steady and useful part of the Battle of the Gap.the
tussle between U-Boats and the air support Groups in the middle waters of the Atlantic
outside the range of coastal command Sunderlands, Catalinas, and Liberators.
Our three successive Squadrons fought an even more perilous fight, the battle of the roll.
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