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405 Squadron

Heroes Remember

Interviewer: Tell me how was 405 squadron equipped, what type of aircraft did it have? When I first went there we had Wellington bombers. They started with Wellingtons, and they were a special Wellington because they had the Rolls Royce Merlin engines, as opposed to radial engine. I don't know how many squadrons were equipped that way but what had happened apparently, they had, the factory had been bombed that made the engines, so they adapted the aircraft to take the Rolls Royce Merlins, so we had wimpys with Merlin engines. And we, it was at the height of, or the beginning of you'd say, of the bombing, the casualties were fairly high at that time. Interviewer: Tell me Mr.Snell, the conversion from single engine aircraft to four engine bombers, what impact did that have on your trade? Well it increased responsibility considerably, actually the conversion just from fighters to a bomber, the bomber had much more, had more sophisticated equipment. But when, when we went on to the four engine, my staff became much bigger, I was at senior NCO, so I didn't actually get out and work on the airplanes but I was responsible for the staff, because we had four times as many instruments to look after and it had quite an impact on their strength. I had about forty people I guess, I was a twenty-one year old by this time, in my control. Interviewer: How long did you stay with 405 squadron? I was with them for over three years. And it was quite an interesting stay because we started with Wellingtons, and then converted to Halifaxs, which was a big conversion for the pilots particularly, although some of them found it very easy. And it was, I wouldn't say it was a bigger conversion for most my crew, it was just more airplane to look after, instead of two engines you had four engines, and you had an appropriate number of aero engine mechanics to do it. The systems were a bit more complicated, the hydraulic systems, they had to go in turrets, which in order, they had to be maintained. The armament system was bigger, all loads were bigger and so the whole squadron was, became bigger in that sense, that they required more people to look after all these added functions. In our own trade, the instrument trade at that time, there was beginning to get more sophisticated navigation equipment,compasses, the aircraft were equipped with an automatic pilot, that had to be serviced, which gave us quite a lot of concern. And one of the big jobs, it may sound simple, but was the oxygen systems. The airplanes, there was no such thing as liquid oxygen, they were all gaseous. There were fifteen or sixteen bottles in these airplanes, they had to be changed every, for every flight. And, or I shouldn't say changed, they had to be charged. So we had a big charging, go around and charge them. But that was a big concern, it was a concern to the safety of the aircrew, because of the oxygen supply particularly to the rear gunner. With condensation getting in the lines we did have one tail gunner come back dead, because his oxygen supply had been cut off with a frozen line. There were concerns like that. The masks and their fittings, and the regulators for dispensing the oxygen, were a big item. But a big thing too was the navigation equipment. The biggest job I think for the instrument mechanic to, in addition to those, was changing a simple thing like a temperature gauge. They had what they called the Borden tube, there was the instrument and then there was this long tube went out to a bulb on the end. And it was filled, the whole system was filled with the fluid, and as the temperature increased, the fluid expanded and the needle gave the reading. Now it couldn't be disconnected, it was one unit, and these things were prone to failing, so that the instrument mechanic and the airframe people, when one of these failed, particularly on the outboard engines, they had to pull all the leading edge off, unbutton all this Borden tube, all the way through back to the instrument. Drag out that thirty, twenty, or thirty foot Borden tube, thread the next one through and back to the engine. It was a big job, it was, whenever the technicians heard, you know, a temperature gauge or a pressure gauge failing, it was a big job. But it required a lot of work, on the part of the airframe mechanic to, to get the leading edge off and it was, it was one of the toughest assignments, particularly in the weather. You had talked to me earlier about the weather, you know these, there were no hangars, they weren't doing this in sheltered areas, they were doing this out in the open, and it could be wind, or rain, or cold, or if you're lucky sun. Maybe it was too hot sometimes. But all hours and all, all climatic conditions came into play here. But the work was done in the, in the open.

Mr. Snell describes basic duties of the ground crew, and the responsibility he had becoming a Sergeant at the age of 21.

John “Jock” Snell

John Snell was born in Calgary, in April 1920. He was the middle child of three, having an older sister and a younger brother. Mr. Snell's family lived through the depression where they survived on $85.00 a month, which had to support their family of five. After struggling as a farmer Snell's father took a job as a milkman. Mr. Snell remembers helping his father on the milk route on Saturday's so his father could join his friends in a game of cricket. Mr. Snell dropped out of school only months before finishing and pursued a career as a radio repair technician, which little to his knowledge would pave the way for his career as an instrument mechanic in the air force. He quickly rose through the ranks of the air force and at the age of twenty he became a commanding officer in charge of over thirty five men. Mr. Snell retired from the air force in December 1969, with just over 30 years of service.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
John “Jock” Snell
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Air Force
405 Squadron
Flight Sergeant
Instrument Mechanic

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