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T.J.Mitchell and the early days of W.S.T.G.

 

My MOD career started at Trincomalee Dockyard, Ceylon on the bright sunny morning of the 7th February 1953 at the tender age of 15 when I was taken on as a "Locally Entered Boy Labourer" at a princely wage of Rupees 11/52 , translating to 15 Shillings or 75pence, per week in today’s currency. Coincidentally, my chargeman was a Mr B.A.R. (Bob) Wade who I was to meet up with again when he also joined W.S.T.G.

The reason for starting in Ceylon was that my father, who was employed by MOD, had been posted there in 1952 and thought that it would be beneficial for the family to see a different part of the world, and so, on an early January morning in 1952 my mother, sister and myself sailed from Southampton on the maiden voyage of the RMS Himalaya arriving in Ceylon about 3 weeks later.

Although for a period I continued my education, cut short from Gosport County Grammar School, at one of Ceylon's Public Schools, St Thomas's College Guretalawa, one became somewhat jaundiced to discover that all qualifications could be bought at a price. My recollection is that an external London BSc degree, fully registered but without the bother of an exam or even a course was £150.00. A reasonable sum in those days but hardly an incentive to continue with the local education system!

Rapid promotion followed and on the 18th May 1953 I started as an Apprentice Electrical Fitter in Trincomalee Dockyard before transferring to Portsmouth Dockyard, at the end of my father's tour of duty, on the 12th April 1954. My apprenticeship completed on 20th September 1958, which gave me sufficient time to complete the last proper 4th Year in the Dockyard Upper School. East of Suez time counted as time and a half unless you were an apprentice in which case it counted as half time!! hence the five and a half year apprenticeship. A small compensation was the 16 day cruise home from Ceylon on the RMS Oronsay, although it was counted as unpaid leave!!!

Having spent a year or so in No 2 Electrical Workshop, largely testing Flyplane 5 Gunnery equipment with Don Elwell as my Inspector, who also much later joined W.S.T.G., I discovered that the minimum age of a Diagnostician in the Dockyard was 26 years and hence I started looking at the vacancy notices that appeared and applied for two of them, one in Mauritus and one for W.S.T.G. which resulted in an interview at Ensleigh with Cdr Geoffrey St Muir Mills. Subsequently on the 9th May 1960 I reported for duty as an Acting Diagnostician (T.G.111) at the W.S.T.G. Office at Fraser Gunnery Range, Eastney, where I was introduced to the oic namely Jack Wilden and his stalwart assistant Freddie Elwell, Don's father.

Social history note: at the age of 22 a T.G. 111 received £746 per annum.

The office was in fact just half of a Nissen hut with a pot bellied stove for heating, a few desks and a couple of telephones. We all knew when Jack was talking to the Captain on the telephone by the way he stood to attention at his desk with the telephone to his ear. However this was the first formal W.S.T.G. office in Portsmouth. Until this time everybody worked from home, the Grade "B" team leader called up the team that he required, made out their railway warrants, and off they went to the shipyard. Prior to this in the days of Jack Wedge (who ran "Wedge's Circus") the Portsmouth Office was the Bass House in Surrey Street just outside the Town Station.

Although this was the first Portsmouth office there were several small cells around the country, the Radar and the Communications Groups with people like Ken Rust and Cyril Butler were at ASWE Portsdown. The main Sonar, or in those day still the Asdic Group with people like Norman Gouch and Mickey Lawson were at AUWE Portland. Most shipyard areas had a small office attached to the Naval Overseers section. Glasgow, which had six shipyards without including Greenock and Aberdeen, was based at Crown Hill and run by Cecil Merrett. It had such stalwarts as Adam Harris, John Dunbar, Ray Cundy and Ray Williamson. Barrow which included the shipyards at Birkenhead and Belfast was run by John Donnelly and employed John Bowles, Ray Walton and Les Thomas. Newcastle, which had three shipyards was run by Bill Goddard, and included Ray Rawlinson. Southampton and Woolston which also looked after Cowes, was run by George Leeson. The main part of this office was in The Southwestern Hotel - the pre-war Cunard Hotel. Devonport, because it was the second southern Dockyard, where ships completed their trials, was manned by Ivor Taylor, Eric Tarpley, Bill Searle, Don Warren and Bert Henry who was a gunnery radar chap whose main claims to fame was that he came from New Zealand and was inclined to travel to the various shipyards in his own private aeroplane!

Having spent my first couple of days at Fraser I was sent to meet Phil Pollard at King’s Stairs. "You can't miss him he has ginger hair and wears a trilby hat". We were to catch the 0730 PAS Boat to join HMS Lincoln at sea. She was last of the Type 12's to enter service and, for a few days, we had to look after the GDS 2*system at sea. This was the start of my W.S.T.G. career in the Gunnery and Surface Weapons section.

During these early years of W.S.T.G., beside the Captain and Commander at the Bath headquarters we also had several EA's with Lt Bert Luck as their leader. It was never quite clear, to me, whether they were there to assist or for training. Names that spring to mind are Ted Fisher, Gerry Ralph, and Sam Gray, although there were a few others.

My next move, two or three weeks later was to GDS 5. Percy Turner who had completed the introduction into service courses suddenly decided to resign leaving Eric Tarpley as the only other person in the Group who had actually seen the equipment! Work away included fits on the Tribal Class frigates Ashanti, Eskimo, Zulu, Mohawk and Tarter, the first of the Leander frigates, the first batch of the County Class Destroyers Devonshire, Hampshire, London and Kent, all for the RN and a selection of other ships for India (Trica, Talwar and Betwa)

an ex UK aircraft carrier and renamed "Vikarent" for Pakistan, President's Steyn, Kruger and Pretoria, for South Africa, and for the New Zealand Navy: Wikato, Otargo and Taranaki followed later by Canterbury, and I think some ships for Australia.

The Flyplane 5 (Fly5 as it was called) Gunnery System consisted of a Director made by Vickers Crayford, a Gyro Rate Unit "GRU" made by either Vickers Crayford or S.G.Brown, a Surface Mode electromechanical calculator "Box 10" made by Laurance Scott, the AA predictor/tracker made by Ferranti and the Gun mounting made by Vickers Barrow or Vickers Armstrong. The first time that the equipment came together as a system was when it was fitted on a ship and quite clearly all sorts of problems arose with all of the contractors involved. With the advent of MRS 3 the decision was made to integrate the systems on a shore test site - a novel idea in those days.

During this period GWS20/Seacat arrived on the scene, further widening of horizons. Seacat was fitted in the two Assault Ships, Fearless and Intrepid, and even more interesting in four of the old Battle Class Destroyers, Aisne, Agincourt, Barossa and Conma, in each of UK Dockyards. W.S.T.G. was responsible for these fits because its remit was setting to work the first of each system in a Dockyard. These ships were fitted with GWS21, which included the old CRBF Directors complete with Type 262 tracker radars.

Yet further widening of my horizons came when I was loaned out to the Submarine Group for Tcss 9 as fitted on Oportune at Birkenhead, and a marvellous feat of electro mechanical engineering called a Submarine Attack Teacher fitted in HMS Maidstone.

Eventually W.S.T.G. became more formal and, in late 1960, the office moved to No 4 The Parade in the Dockyard where for the first time a small administration section was formed. Walter Crispen was transferred from Bath for this purpose. Time sheets were introduced, but time in lieu was given for any overtime worked as payment was not known at this time.

I well remember poring over Mod Man 4 to find out what furniture and carpets the office was entitled to purely by Grade: TG111's were entitled to a desk and a mat but no office space!! The Parade office consisted of two rooms and a small kitchen on the ground floor of QHM's Residence. One room was used by Jack Wilden, Freddie Elwall, Charlie Myles and the admin section and the other one on the other side of the passage way for everybody else. Desks were shared! However with the explosion in the Shipbuilding Programme in the 60s the size of the group increased and our next move was to The Staff Officers Mess just inside the Dockyard Main Gate.

In the days of Fraser and the early time in the Parade, names of people were bandied about, but they were rarely seen; quite a few of them, Roy Pook, Ernie Brimecombe, Alf Hounslow, a serving Lt Ordnance Officer who subsequently joined W.S.T.G. as a civilian, and Louis Peretz were working on HMS Tiger the last of the last Cruisers in the RN, the other two being Lion and Blake. By the stories told around the office the major problem on these ships was the automatic loading system for the guns, an electro-mechanica1 system that relied heavily on microswitches. In theory it was possible to empty the complete magazines in one seven minute burst of firing, but tales of twenty four hours work per round fired were quite common!

W.S.T.G. had a reputation for accelerated promotions and in 1964 I became an Inspector of Electrical

Fitters by qualifying at the 1964 Inspectors Examination and after being successful at the 1966 exam I was promoted to Foreman of Electrical Branch TG 1.

Just after the move to The Parade Jack Wilden retired and his place was taken by Charlie Myles who was replaced on his retirement by a RN Commander. At about this time a move was made to The Staff Officers Mess where successive Commanders appeared, each with their own idea of how the department should operate. One example that I remember was from a Cdr Peter Martin who held very strong views that being specialists, as we all were, was a not a very good or productive idea and we should all become capable of doing any system on the ship! Several interesting months followed with Norman Hickey, Jack Banfield and Freddie Parkman, the Mortar Mk 10 team wrestling with Gunnery systems and John Mills and his Sonar team doing Radar. The Chinese curse: "may you live in interesting times", was so appropriate. Needless to say that idea was quite short lived. Another one had ideas about network scheduling, which initially caused considerable consternation and also the start of the "C" or Coordination Group within W.S.T.G..

The mid 60s produced rapid changes in all aspects of weapon systems, the transistor largely replaced the thermionic valve and the electro-mechanical analogue fire control computers were replaced by digital computers. The net result was a lengthy period of retraining. I was dispatched to HMS Collingwood for a 9 months course on the DAB System that was being fitted to the 2nd batch of the County Class Destroyers, Fife, Glamorgan, Antrim and Norfolk. The DLG batch 2 programme, although only 4 Ships seemed to continue for 6 or 7 years what with modifications and refits. Ferranti who made the DAB systems at Cairo Mill Oldham "borrowed" W.S.T.G.'s expertise to do the Factory Testing of their final system which meant most of the team spent a lot of time in Oldham during the 1972 "winter of discontent" with the three day week, unfortunately for us Ferranti worked Monday Wednesday and Friday! That was a long time to be away from the main office and during that time the office moved to Milldam Barracks and then into Milldam House. The DAB cell was, however, housed, after the course, in Portacabins at Block 3, and finally Block 5 at ASWE Portsdown. We were largely separated from the main part of W.S.T.G..

Before the end of the DLG's the Type 42 and Type 21 started which meant more long training courses, in my case for DAC systems on the Type 42s. The computer course was at the Ferranti Factory at Bracknell whilst the Display Course was at the Plessey Factory at Addlestone and to several W.S.T.G. members the Meon valley road became very familiar. During the time that I worked on HMS Sheffield, the first of the type 42s and the Type 42 Trainer fitted at HMS Collingwood Eric Tarpley who was running the Weapon Systems on the Type 21s suffered a brain tumour and I had a pier-head jump to replace Eric on HMS Antelope and a return to the Portsmouth Office. The Type 21s had Ferranti computers and Italian gunnery radar systems accompanied by an excitable Italian Count as a commissioning engineer. At some stage he had managed to marry an English girl from Paulsgrove. A Vickers 4.5 gun was mounted forward which could be controlled by either the forward or aft Italian trackers. This arrangement made it very difficult to find any berths where the visual alignments could be done. The only place that was deemed suitable was Gibraltar; hence part of each ship programme meant lengthy periods spent in Gibraltar. Surprisingly, although the border was at this time closed no diplomatic incidents resulted from using Spanish landmarks as distant objects to train the gun on to! Part way through this period the Spanish border was opened to Gibraltar residents but not to visitors, so in true W.S.T.G. fashion, I managed to acquire a resident's permit which made me a Resident of Gibraltar (Not for Tax Purposes) and the border into Spain was open to me.

At the end of HMS Ambuscade and part the way through HMS Arrow’s programme the next change occurred with the start of the Type 22 Frigates. These ships were the first not to have a gun and a totally integrated Ship Weapon System.

The Seawolf Missle System fitted on the Type 22's, as the Marconi publicity said: "was designed to hit a chrome plated seagull doing Mach 3" and this resulted in courses at the Marconi College at Chelmsford. The ASWE project team with Jimmy Erskine as the ship leader started the Type 22 programme with HMS Broadsword. W.S.T.G. went along with the idea of a ship leader but fortunately bulked at the idea of one person being sent to the ship for the whole of the ship programme and opted to split the role between two people, namely Orion Young and myself, What a small world; once again Orion knew my father from their Bermuda Dockyard days. The first W.S.T.G. Type 22 was HMS Battleaxe which in the usual way started before Broadsword had completed and caused Orion and myself to spend an awful lot of time between Yarrows in Glasgow, ASWE and wherever Broadsword happened to be. Towards the end of Battleaxe’s Part 4 programme she went for some tropical trials during part of the setting to work time and resulted in me plus a Marconi team joining the ship in Devonport and sailing with it. The first port of call was Fort Lauderdale followed by time at AUTEC, Nassua, Charlestown then the long leg via Rockall to Stavanger in Norway and finally back to Devonport, a total of seven weeks away. Two weeks later I was off again, this time for SAT's at Gibraltar for a few more weeks.

With the completion of Battleaxe the Type 22 programme slowed down and W.S.T.G. looked for additional tasks to take on. At this time AUWE at Portland were responsible for Self Noise Trials but by coincidence a Staff Audit decreed, that as Freddie Fox the incumbent had just retired, the task was not part of the scientific remit and for a few months the trials totally lapsed. At this point W.S.T.G. became interested in the task and it was suggested to me that I might look into these Trials to see if it was a suitable task for the Department to take on with me actually doing the trials if it was. I had a vague idea what "noise" was. Self Noise was totally unfamiliar and I was most surprised to discover that it was the noise generated by a ship that interfered with the sonar signals received by the ship. Having spent quite a long period at AUWE Portland with an SSO by the name of Dave Duffey, who was the Self Noise expert, between us we decided that SN Trials were a good thing for W.S.T.G.*. So started a another completely new role; for a variety of reasons, with the main one being that the noise generated by the ship was not influenced by this noise bouncing back from the sea bed, these trials had to be conducted in deep water. A minimum of 750 Metres of it was required and so I started doing passage trials on ships which were always going to or returning from foreign visits. Unusual situations occurred with these trials, one, as a result of everything about the trials being classified as Confidential was that the only way that I could bring the trial results back to the office from some places where the Embassy diplomatic bag was very slow was to become a Queen's Messenger. This involved a full briefing at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in Whitehall and the issue of a Courier's Passport and a very interesting insight into the way that Embassy security operated.

My first trial on my own, HMS Bulwark, highlighted various little problems to me. Having arranged all the trial details with the ship prior to it leaving the UK the instruction to me was to join the ship in Lisbon, on the return leg of its voyage, a few weeks after it had sailed from the UK. With my hotel booked and flight ticket in hand off I set for the airport and I'm actually sitting on the plane bound for Lisbon when the thought first struck me, where exactly in Lisbon would the ship be and for that matter how large was Lisbon. In the past if one was to join a ship it was always in a Naval Base; however joining a ship on a foreign visit could be totally different. Fortunately for me the plane went South of Lisbon before turning North to land which enabled me to spot the aircraft carrier moored in the middle of the river, fortunately near to a recognisable landmark on the riverbank. Having checked into my hotel I decided that as the ship was in mid stream there had to be a boat routine so, in true W.S.T.G. fashion, I found a convenient bar on the riverbank and waited to see where the liberty boats were running to. After a couple of beers and not seeing any liberty boats the thought crossed my mind that I might be sitting on the wrong bank of the river. Eventually a boat did come ashore from Bulwark and the problem was resolved. This type of situation became quite common as ships do not know their berthing position until 24 hours or so before arriving in port and usually I was travelling to the port before the ship was notified of its mooring.

After a couple of years more at Milldam House W.S.T.G. re-organised again and added the Sea Ranges Section to the Surface and the Underwater & Radio Divisions. In August 1983 the Noise section was moved to Fort Rowner at HMS Sultan Gosport to join up with the Degaussing Group. This one move effectively broke the links between the W.S.T.G. Setting to Work team elements and the rest employed by W.S.T.G.. Even when the sections amalgamated again in COB2 in Portsmouth Dockyard during August 1985 with the addition of the AUTEC Group joining W.S.T.G. and the Sea Ranges Group the cohesion was never regained.

I continued my world travels with Self Noise Trials, including un-programmed visits to Ascension Island during the Falkland War, covering several ports on the East coast of America from Rio to Newfoundland via several of the West Indian Islands, the West coast of Africa down to the Cameroun and most of the Atlantic Islands. The Mediterranean and various ports in Portugal completed the itinary. Sometime in 1987, I remember the place but not the exact date, whilst clambering down a rope ladder from the heaving deck of an RF A to a waiting Searider which kept passing me vertically as we bobbed up and down in a 20 foot swell, I decided that transfers at sea to do Self Noise Trials was no longer what I wanted to do. Laying in inches of water, in my only suit, at the bottom of the searider the thought was what is the best way out? Promotion seemed the easiest way, because for some reason SN Trials did not have a list of people clamouring to see the world, courtesy of the "Grey Funnel Line".

In 1988 I was successful and became an SPTO and took over the post of procuring equipment for the DG world. By the middle of 1992 the organisation became Directorate of Sea Systems and the three areas, W.S.T.G., AUTEC and Ranges, became separate entities of the Directorate and my last tenuous link with W.S.T.G. became severed.

*Full story of SN Trials, Naval Electrcal Review Volume 39 Number 2 Dated October 1985.

 

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