FLEET AIR ARM VETERAN HAS SPECIAL DAY AT CULDROSE
Fleet Air Arm celebrations of the Palembang Raids at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose were made extra special with a very extraordinary guest of honour, Lieutenant Observer Fane Vernon rtd.
Fane Vernon (93) had joined the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm in 1942 and his first familisation flight was with a certain pilot named Lawrence Olivier! “He was a fairly decent pilot at times, but had a few accidents along the way, when we were at Worthy Down near Winchester,” said Fane. “Very soon after that, he went back to making films.”
He joined 820 Naval Air Squadron in 1943,and initially flew Albacores before progressing on to the Barracuda where he began flying with ‘his’ pilot Dave Hoggard – who he flew with virtually on every flight in Barracudas and Avengers, alongside Telegraphist Air Gunner (TAG) Robbie Robertson up until June 1945.
Fane saw action before the Palembang Raids when embarked on the Aircraft Carrier HMS Indefatigable. From their carrier 820 squadron launched to conduct dive bombing attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz in July and August 1944, when she was hiding in a Norwegian Fjord - his flying log book modestly records ‘light flak, bags of twitch’.
During the crucial Palembang Raids in January 1945 he flew the Avenger 1 TBF (Torpedo Bomber Fighter) along with 849, 854 and 857 squadrons - each with 21 Avengers - carrying four 500 lb bombs. A subsidiary attack to the main force, consisting of Corsairs, Fireflies and Hellcats attacked secondary targets and offensive missions against the Japanese airfields surrounding the Palembang Oil Refineries. In all over 244 Fleet Air Arm aircraft took part in the Palembang Raids.
Once again Fane flying logbook entry for the mission is completely understated: ‘Target in South Sumatra set on fire and destroyed. Aircraft returned with fuselage twisted, Flak not dangerous, En(emy) fighters not seen. Balloon cables dicey. 99 fighters destroyed’.
Before attending the Commemorative Dinner Fane met some of today’s Palembang Flight of 849 NAS, and cast an eye over their Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control helicopters.
“It’s always great to come back to the Squadrons and see the young people in the FAA today”, said Fane, “and so jolly wonderful that they are remembering what we did back then.”