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ⰰ7-2013 The Spitfire Society and respective copyright holders.
Reg. Charity No: 299033

 

The Spitfire Society Interview

 

FLYING THE MK XXIV SPITFIRE

 RAF SERVICE FROM MAY 1947 - MAY 1952

 

SGT. KEN COOP


 

Ken Coop wrote this article for our Newsletter some years ago; these are a few of his memories of his post-war career with the RAF, flying such formidable aircraft as the Spitfire Mk.24 and the mighty Tempest V.

Interestingly, our Chairman David Williams tells me that both he and Ken attended the same training units; No.25 EFTS (Belvedere) and 20 SFTS (Cranborne) with the Rhodesian Air Training Group in Salisbury, and that after leaving the RAF, with flying still very much in his blood, Ken flew civilian aircraft with East African Airways under their Senior Captain, one of the most respected civil pilots of the day, the late (John) Peter Cunningham, himself a former Spitfire pilot with 43 Squadron, and also a great friend to this region of the Spitfire Society.

Ken Coop was a wonderful gentleman, with a ready smile and an easy-going nature that put one at ease in his company. Kind and generous, he had long been a keen supporter of the Eastern Wing, until recently to be found most summers at air shows helping raise funds by working on our sales stand and attending regional events and activities.

We understand that things may not have been as well for Ken lately as one might wish them to be, and it is with that thought in mind we dedicate this first online presentation of the article below to Ken, with our very best wishes.

P.W.

 

After being released from the RAF, I was invited to sign on for a further three years engagements and had previously served with 253 Squadron in Italy and Austria, on the Spitfire Mk VIII and IX.

I was posted to the Photo Reconnaissance Operational Conversion Unit at Benson for a P.R. course on the Spitfire XIX. These were 'Griffin' powered with no armament, but much increased fuel for greater range. After completing training, two of us were sent to 2nd TAP in Germany; we thought, to join the P.R. Squadron at Wunstorf. However the Wing Commander there said we would not be required on P.R. work. There were several Tempest Squadrons there, so we decided to toss a coin to choose which one to join! I got 80 Squadron flying Tempest Vhis was a much heavier aircraft than the Spitfire, with a more powerful engine (the Napier Sabre). This carried 4x20mm cannons and 6 Rocket Projectiles for air to ground attacks. I didn't fly a lot in them as serviceability was rather poor (probably a shortage of spares).

In January 1948 we started to re-equip with the Spitfire XXIV. I was with the first four to change over to this Mark, with the C.O. Squadron Leader Newberry leading. We first flew the Tempests to Mansion in Kent and had a pleasant few days there before delivering them to Brize-Norton. From there we were driven to Lyneham to pick up the Spitfires, as we had been given the pilots notes before leaving. The Spitfire XXIVs were much lighter to handle than the Tempest, but had similar armament, with an extra fuel tank behind the cockpit, but these could only be used for ferrying.

This time we routed back via Mansion and then Eindhoven in Holland, but had to return to Mansion due to bad weather. When we finally got back to Wunstorf, the round trip had taken two weeks. I subsequently ferried two more back, but this only took a few days each.

The Squadron soon settled in with the new aircraft, with plenty of training! In April 1948 we went to Lubeck for the Armament practice camp using Cannon, RPs, together with bombing. Some air to air was done with our Harvard towing a drone. About this time the C.O. (Sqn Ldr Newberry) was killed while leading a battle formation. He was struck from below by another aircraft and although he bailed out, he unfortunately died by hitting trees on landing. This was a real blow to the Squadron, as the 'Boss' was well liked and respected by everyone. The C.O. was replaced by Squadron Leader Tremlett and shortly after, some of us flew to Thorney Island, for a few days. This was for a demonstration over Netheravon.

In June 1948 we were sent to Berlin, flying a mile apart down the corridor. This was due to the tension with Russia over the access by road from West Germany. We were there for nearly three weeks and did not fly until we finally left. This time to G岳loh, as Wunstorf had been taken over for the Berlin Airlift. There was already several Squadrons of fighters there. After a few days we went to Lubeck for some armament training.

The Tempest Squadrons were converting to the D.H. Vampire jet fighter and we would have been the last ones to convert. Then out of the blue came the news that the Squadron was being sent to Hong Kong with 33 Squadron to Singapore for Malaysia

In July we flew to Renfrew for embarkation on the Aircraft Carrier 'Ocean', first calling at Singapore to disembark 33 Squadron. I did not like the trip on the 'Ocean' as it was pretty boring. The only bright spot was at lunch, when we had our 'rum rations'. But unfortunately nothing of the same in the evening. We did however have the occasional film and tombola. At Singapore we had a few days to sample the local brew (Tiger). As we approached Hong Kong we were met by Spitfire XVIIIs (28 Squadron). They were equipped with cameras for Tactical Reconnaissance work. We lost no time in Hong Kong whilst they unloaded the Spitfires and stores, to walk to the Sergeants Mess and try the local brew.

We did a lot of flying from Kai Tak airfield. This could be tricky, especially in bad weather, with no direct approach to the runway. In December three of us went to Singapore to collect three more Spitfires. We flew down by Transport Command Dakota. We did a local airtest at Seletar and then onto Butterworth (Malaya), where we night-stopped, meeting up with some of the Tempest crews we knew. They were operating against the rebels and doing a good job.

The next day we flew across to Saigon in Indo China (as it was then), from there to Tourain, where we stayed the night. The leg to Hong Kong was the most critical and we were led by a D.H. Mosquito. This was Christmas Eve and we were anxious to get back in time for the next day. We arrived in good shape and were met by the ground crew with a nice mug of their own brew while we were still in the cockpit. Boy it really went down well.

At the beginning of March 1950 we started flying from Sek-Kong, not far from the Chinese border. It had just been an earth runway.

The idea was the pierced steel plank runway would be laid, but had yet to arrive. Rolls of bitumen were laid, but this became un-stuck on take offs with the Spitfires. We were the first to use it, but afterwards rotated with 28 Squadron, with about two weeks at each base. As a matter of interest I believe Group Captain Green (Spitfire Society Founder) was with this squadron at this time. Conditions were a bit primitive, living under canvas but we were allowed to use the Army Sergeants Mess, which was not far away.

The war in Korea had started that year and we hoped we would be sent, but it was not to be. As with the Army co-operation, we also did exercises with the Navy, when they were working up before going to Korea. I volunteered to go on training exercise with HMS Triumph, from Hong Kong for three days. In the event I found myself in the back seat of a Firefly, from Kai Tak, to join the carrier at sea. This was an interesting experience.

I was interested in watching the Seafire 47, which in similar to the Spitfire XXIV, but with contra rotating propellers. This enabled it to use full power on take off, unlike the Spitfire.

I left Hong Kong in October 1950 and I believe that 80 Squadron re-equipped with D.H. Hornets in 1952. The Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force took on six Mk XXIV Spitfires. They converted from Austers and a Harvard at Sek-Kong. This seemed to be expecting a lot from the pilots who were part time. One of the Spitfires (VN485) is in the Imperial War Museum Duxford.

Original photograph by Joop de Groot

I spent the last year in the RAF flying the Mk XVI Spitfire at home, on co-operative duty. I thought this Mark much easier to handle but they were not armed.

I understand that all  MK XXIVs went to 80 Squadron.

K.C.

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