Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
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  Bob Vargerson (Telegraphist Air Gunner) 820 Squadron - HMS Indefatigable My Experiences in Canada, Indian and Pacific Oceans during World War Two. At   the   ripe   old   age   of   seventeen   and   a   half   I   volunteered   to   be   a   Telegraphist Air   Gunner   in   the   Fleet Air Arm   and   was   drafted   to H.M.S. St. Vincent in Portsmouth where I was selected to go to Nova Scotia to be trained. The   course   of   ten   months   consisted   of   wireless   procedures;   Morse   code   sending   and   receiving   at   thirty   words   a   minute,   and   air gunnery. These skills where carried out in Swordfish and Avro Anson Aircraft. The   wireless   training   was   quite   straight   forward   in   Anson’s,   flying   about   one   hundred   miles   from   base,   keeping   in   touch   with   the base with the position of the aircraft etc. by means of the Morse-key. The   gunnery   part   of   the   training   has   been   a   talking   part   of   my   life   for   the   past   sixty   years.   This   was   carried   out   in   Swordfish aircraft   with   a   free   mounted   gas   operated   Lewis   gun   in   an   open   cockpit. The   gun   was   mounted   on   what   could   only   be   described   as a   length   of   one   inch   water   pipe   bent   to   half   a   circle   and   bolted   on   to   either   side   of   the   fuselage.   The   gun   was   secured   with   a coupling   around   this   pipe   and   could   be   manoeuvred   from   port   to   starboard,   being   secured   in   any   position   with   a   pin   that   was fitted   in   to   the   appropriate   hole   drilled   around   the   pipe.   The   ammo   pan   of   two   hundred   bullets   had   to   be   fitted   to   the   top   of   the gun.   With   two   trainee   air   gunners   crammed   in   the   rear   cockpit   of   the   aircraft,   the   aim   of   the   exercise   was   that   one   gunner   would clamber   over   the   gun   with   the   pan   of   ammo   making   doubly   sure   his   G   string   was   firmly   fixed   to   the   deck,   and   make   fast   the   pan. He   would   then   pull   the   pin   and   with   one   leg   over   the   outside   of   the   aircraft   man   haul   the   gun   to   the   side   that   the   drogue   could   be seen,   securing   the   pin   in   an   appropriate   hole.   When   the   towing   aircraft   changed   direction,   he   would   reverse   procedures,   -   pin- gun-leg   and   body   to   the   other   side   of   the   aircraft.   This   procedure   caused   great   difficulty   with   two   bodies   in   this   tiny   cockpit   and the slipstream at about one hundred and fifty mph and the temperature below zero. On   many   occasions   I   have   been   rolled   up   on   the   deck   in   fits   of   laughter   at   the   antics   and   positions   that   my   off-sider   would   get into. Loosing the ammo canister was “commander’s report” and the number of hits on the drogue was very few. The   only   way   we   could   get   a   good   score   was   to   buy   the   young   Canadian   pilot   flying   the   towing   aircraft   a   few   beers   in   the   mess   the night   before   the   exercise.   This   training   was   in   preparation   for   young   air-gunners   to   be   sent   out   on   active   service   to   the   Far   East, and as you can see 1 was completely clueless when introduced to the Avenger turret. My   first   raid   was   on   an   oil   refinery   at   Palembang,   Samartra   the   largest   contingent   of   aircraft   ever,   to   carry   out   a   raid   by   the   Fleet Air Arm. Taking   off   from   the   carrier   at   6   am,   we   had   about   one   hundred   miles   to   the   target. The   task   force   from   HMS   Indefatigable was one Squadron of Avengers, two Squadrons of Seafires and one Squadron of Firefly’s. There   were   three   other   large   aircraft   carriers   in   the   fleet   with   the   same   strike   force.   On   approaching   the   coast   at   ten   thousand feet,   we   were   attacked   by   Zekes   and   Zeros   from   all   directions.   Firing   my   guns   from   this   modern   aircraft   after   the   free   mounted Lewis   gun   was   like   driving   a   Rolls   compared   to   a   VW   Beatle!!   On   the   arrival   at   the   target,   which   was   well   on   fire,   we   put   the aircraft   into   a   dive   through   heavy Ack Ack   Guns   and   Barrage   Balloons   pulling   out   at   one   thousand   feet   and   dropping   4   five   hundred pounders on to the refinery then made a hurried retreat back to the ship. We lost nearly a quarter of our aircraft. This   was   just   the   start   and   in   ten   months   in   the   South   Pacific   we   lost   82   men   from   HMS   Indefatigable   mainly   pilots,   observers,   air- gunners and a number of ground crew lost when hit by a Kamikaze suicide bomber. My   tour   of   duty   consisted   of   26   dive-bombing   strikes   on   islands   and   ships   in   the   Pacific   area   with   the   ship   finishing   up   in   Tokyo   Bay for the signing of the Armistice. We returned to Australia with British, Aussies and Yankee POW,s, war brides and the ship’s company.   On   our   arrival   in   Southampton,   on   my   twentieth   birthday   in   November   1945   we   were   greeted   by   a   handful   of   dockers   and were   kept   on   the   ship   for   twenty   four   hours   before   being   allowed   to   go   home,   even   the   POW,s   had   to   do   through   customs. Consequently we are now known as “The Forgotten Fleet”. My flying log book tells me that on 13 September 1945 I made a raid on Tokyo, being the last bomb of the war.   This article was published  at dated: 18 December 2005