Flt Lt David Leppard

During much of the Radfan operation, 37 Squadron’s complement of four Shackleton Mark 2 aircraft were supplemented by Mark 2s from 224 Squadron, based at Gibraltar. David Leppard was deployed to Khormaksar for three months as a captain/pilot of one of three 224 Squadron aircraft. 

“During my time in Aden I dropped a total of 28 x 1,000 lb bombs, some 180 x 4.5 inch flares and a large number of 25 lb bombs, nearly all at night in support of the troops on the ground. We also dropped a mountain of paper in the form of warnings to the locals (Operation/Area Carthorse I seem to remember). 224 Squadron actually dropped more ordnance than 37 Squadron, much to the chagrin of the latter, but mainly because we got all the night sorties as we were on detachment!

On one occasion we were hit by small arms fire while flying at about 2,000 ft agl. No real problem except it was a direct hit on the elsan (our chemical toilet; rather full) and we had been airborne for about eight hours - enough said.

View from the Shackleton's cockpit while flying an up country mission (David Leppard)

With the growl of four Griffons echoing from the rugged mountains, Dave keeps the Shack at a safe distance (David Leppard)

The village of Shibam slips by the contra-rotating props (David Leppard)

On another sortie we were ordered to standby with a full bomb load. (14 x 1,000 lb bombs plus 4 x 25 lb bombs. We used the time of fall of the 25 lb bombs to establish the height of the ground as the maps were not too accurate. We were also fuelled to the gunnels (3,226 gallons). With this fuel and bomb load we were at about 4,000 lb above our max permitted All Up Weight of 96,000 lbs. However, we had a ‘war time’ dispensation to take off in the overweight condition. Our first problem came when we went into the Operating Data Manual (ODM): at that weight and the prevailing conditions (+30º C and the wind 90 degrees to the runway - it was about 13:00 hrs), the manual indicated that we did not have enough runway, but being bright, young, and ignorant I concluded that we would accelerate faster if we left the flaps up to reduce drag until just before rotate. Using graph paper, we extrapolated off the edge of the ODM graph and calculated/guessed a rotate speed. Using water methanol boosted power, all went well until the appropriate speed appeared on the clock, with about 200 yds to the end of the runway. Upon selecting flap to take-off the old girl jumped about three feet into the air and then fell heavily back on the runway. We continued on the ground until the concrete ran out - there was about a ten foot drop to the sea off the end of the runway. We may not have descended the full ten feet, but it felt like it! We flew some 21 miles in a straight line to gain 1,000ft. I learned about flying from that!

However, that was not the end of the story. Not long after take-off we were informed that authority to drop our bombs had been cancelled and we had to jettison all 14 x 1,000 lb safe at sea. These bombs were manufactured by the Austin motor works, Birmingham in 1944 and not in the best of condition (weeping in the heat of the day). I decided we should try and get a nice picture of a stick of 14 x 1,000 lb falling from the aircraft in true WWII fashion. The safety height I seem to recall was 3,500ft and we dropped our stick from 8,000ft. All went well until the first ‘safe’ bomb struck the water - it exploded and set off a chain reaction all the way up the stick. Although I could not see the explosions I could certainly feel them and the man in the tail was giving a running commentary! The last bomb exploded close enough to the aircraft to put shrapnel in one of the tail fins.

I also recall taking a Hunter pilot on a trip in the right hand seat up the Hadhramaut. We were at about 200ft in the wide valley when an almighty bang came from No. 3 engine (inboard starboard side). The engineer and I nearly wet ourselves, for whilst we feathered the props and shut down the engine the Hunter guy was busy trying to grab a non-existent ejection seat handle from above his head.