Tony Marks buzzing the airfield

Operational record 004 modified

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(Courtesy John Proctor)


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    Library Reference Number: 119
    The Arnold (Flying Training) Scheme

    Jack Firth, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA.

    The problem of being such a small country in size, had never been felt so much as it did in 1939, when Britain finally woke up to the Nazi threat, and suddenly realised they would urgently require massive areas of air space in which to train very large numbers of aircrew. Less than twenty years after the end of WW1, Germany had amassed a large Air Force equipped with much faster, modern aircraft which made things decidedly difficult for any large, comprehensive flying training scheme to take place in Britain, being in such close proximity to Germany with their faster aircraft always ready to shoot down inexperienced trainee pilots. Numbers of aircrew were of course being trained in Britain, and even in some cases aircrew under training actually took part in operational flying over Europe, while still in the process of training for such duties at Operational Training Units.

    In June 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and in October of the same year, he took Germany out of the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations, Germany was rearming in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles. The die was cast, but apparently unheeded by many other countries, for Britain’s night bomber for example, included the Vickers ‘Virginia’ which still appeared in the Hendon Airshow in 1937. Reality eventually took over however, and the RAF began the process of replacing obsolete aircraft of the early 1930s, with high performance, all-metal monoplanes, and the design of multi-engine bomber aircraft all now regarded as a matter of extreme urgency. Suddenly, placing the country’s design and production lines on a war-footing was one thing, but the human requirement of fully-trained aircrew to fly those new machines was something else.

    Obviously, something had to be organized rather quickly if Britain was not to be over-run, as already, several other European countries had recently been occupied. Commonwealth ties suggested this could be a possibility for flying training to take place, thousands of miles away, without interference from Luftwaffe aircraft. Although USA was still a neutral country at this point, negotiations were set up to discuss training facilities, as no doubt America realized the threat and serious international implications of Nazi aggression being left unchallenged.

    Negotiations with USA were successful, with the ‘Arnold Scheme’ being set up in 1941. The scheme taking its name from its instigator General ‘Hap’ Arnold. Operated by USAAC (United States Army Air Corps) the scheme was based in the SEACTC area (Southeast Air Corps Training Centre). The scheme’s aim was to train 4,000 British pilots along with USAAC cadets. Plans were made to send over the first group of RAF cadets in time to join the June 1941 intake, with subsequent groups arriving every five weeks until ending in March 1943.

    Little did I realize when I volunteered to train as an RAF Pilot in 1941, that my service would take me over to USA and become a cadet alongside members of the US Army Air Corps. First of all, I completed seven hours flying in a Tiger Moth aircraft at No.22 Elementary Flying Training School, Cambridge, thus confirming I had the potential ability to proceed to further advanced flying training. Having successfully completed the first hurdle, I was then sent to Heaton Park to await embarkation. This occurred in early 1942, when I sailed in the ‘Chateaux Thierry’ an American troopship which took me to Halifax. I later discovered that the ‘Chateau Thierry’ spent a very active life during WW2, among other duties, taking part in the Sicily landings, and later as a hospital ship. From Halifax, Nova Scotia, I travelled by train to Albany, where I was introduced to the American Flying Cadet System.

    I discovered that the Arnold Scheme was a 3-phase flying training programme. Training took place in three separate flying stages Primary, Basic and Advanced, all within the huge area of SEACTC. The Southeast area stretching across the large US States of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Primary flying courses were undertaken over nine to ten weeks (60 hours) at civilian contract schools. Instructors were experienced American pilots equipped with Boeing ‘Stearman’ PT-17 biplanes. Primary flying courses were located at Camden in South Carolina; Albany & Americus in Georgia; Arcadia & Lakeland in Florida; and Tuscaloosa in Alabama. In May 1942, I joined Class 42J at the Americus Flying School in Georgia, flying the Stearman aircraft on which I ‘ground looped’ when flying solo. Being moved to an upper class I was given rank of cadet corporal.

    As one can imagine when young men are taught to fly a plane, and go on to fly solo, sometimes irregular things happen. In my case, it was ‘low flying’ for which offence I was awarded 40 hours walking around the square when off duty. However, being corporal rank, I was allowed to spend the necessary 40 hours sitting in my room. I believe the corporal rank also saved me from being ‘washed out’ from the course. In retrospect, I consider myself fortunate, as discipline and attainment levels were strongly enforced. On completion of the Arnold Scheme in 1943, statistics showed that almost 50% of British cadets did not complete flying training successfully. This surprisingly large number being eliminated (washed out) for various reasons, usually with no right of appeal. It must have been truly devastating to have come all this way, only to be ‘washed out’ for one reason or another. In fact, 2,687 were eliminated at ‘Primary’ stage; this figure dropped to 526 eliminations at the ‘Basic’ stage which was my next move in progressing through the Arnold Scheme. For this reason, in July 1942 I was sent to Cochrane Field in Macon, Georgia. This move was eagerly awaited, as I was now to fly the Vultee BT-13 aircraft.

    The Vultee BT-13 was a low-wing monoplane, and as well as USAAC staff, we now had RAF Flying Instructors as well. Flying with increased self-confidence and developing new skills, good flying was really enjoyable. The sheer freedom in the air, away from the threat of interference from enemy aircraft really made all the objectives of the Arnold Scheme come alive. Added to that, the social life at Cochrane Field was very good.

    One of my classmates was Cyril Barton, later to be awarded a posthumous VC. Cyril Joe Barton (168669) had initially been a member of Class 42G; he was one of the very few cadets who had been allowed to complete the training because of accident or illness. When he did return to training after a short break, he joined my own Class which was 42J. Some time later, on the night of 30th March 1944, Pilot Officer Barton (now captain of a Halifax aircraft of 578 Squadron) was detailed to attack Nuremberg. Just short of the target he was attacked by a Junkers 88, then by an ME210. Both enemy aircraft inflicted serious damage, then due to a misread signal, three members of his crew bailed out, leaving Cyril Barton to press on and release the bombs himself. Managing to struggle to within an emergency landing in England on one remaining engine, he lost his life in remaining in the aircraft trying to avoid crashing into houses. The remaining three members of his crew survived. I became very friendly with Cyril Barton’s three sisters, and in the post war period, they attended all our re-unions.

    Eventually, after being upgraded to the upper class of the ‘Basic’ course at Cochrane Field, I recall that one of the cadets still in the lower class was Michael Beetham – later to become Marshal of the RAF, Sir Michael Beetham. On successfully completing my ‘Basic’ training requirements at Cochrane Field, it was now time to proceed to the highest point in the Arnold Scheme – the ‘Advanced’ stage. This was spread over three months, September, October and November 1942. It also involved stays at Napier Field, Dothan, Alabama, and Eglin Field in Florida. Advanced flying training at Napier Field took place in Harvard aircraft. The social life was not quite as good as we had enjoyed at Cochrane Field, but Boy! What a great flying experience!

    During this final three month period of the Arnold Scheme, I also attended Gunnery School at Eglin Field in Florida. At last, the great day arrived when I completed all flying training successfully, and it was now time to receive our awards. Class 42J was sent back from Eglin to Napier Field to receive our ‘Wings’ at the Graduation Ceremony. Presented with American Wings, we later had the RAF version ‘Wings’ issued from RAF Stores.

    Training mission accomplished, we were then sent back up to Monkton in Canada. From there we travelled to New York to embark on the Queen Elizabeth bound for Gourock. On returning to UK, it was such a notable change from the vast expanse of wide-open, peaceful space of the South-eastern States of America, back to the aircraft laden skies of Britain and the European theatre of war. One of the stated aims of the Arnold Scheme had been to provide a greater number of flying instructors which had been urgently required in UK. This role I carried out for some time at EFTS Carlisle. I was also Staff Pilot at 1 G.S. Pembrey. On another occasion while based at CNS and EANS Shawbury, I was sole survivor of a hill crash while on a night navigational exercise in North Wales. Rendered unconscious, I have no recollection of being rescued, but on recovery resumed flying. An account of this flying accident is given in the story “Air Crash in the Welsh Mountains.”

    Mention of ‘The Arnold Scheme’ will convey an instant picture of this training programme to anyone who participated and shared this experience, even if it occupied a relatively short life between the years 1941 – 1943. Although it was an unforgettable experience with good flying conditions, undertaken in a comparatively peaceful environment during wartime, official statistics show that it was by no means an ‘easy option.’ Of the 7,885 British cadets who entered the Scheme, only 4,493 made it to the graduation ceremony. Sadly, 81 cadets were killed, and in Albany (Georgia) there is a group of ex-Arnoldians and supporters who tend the graves of those who were killed while training on the Arnold Scheme.

    Personally, I regarded the Scheme as a positive success story, for looking back it would have been extremely difficult for Britain to have carried out such an extensive flying training programme while the country was under constant threat of German bombardment. As already mentioned, it was not an ideal situation for aircrew still under training, to be carrying out hazardous operational flying over Europe. Most of our Arnold Scheme colleagues returned to UK as Sergeant Pilots, having at least gained adequate flying experience before being thrown into the turbulent life of RAF Bomber Command. However, 577 of the graduates were retained by the Scheme for a one year period as Instructors, to pass on their skills and knowledge to new entrants.

    In recording my personal memories, great credit should be given to the late F. Norman Bate, MBE, who started to collect information during early 1980s regarding contact with his wartime classmates. This exercise developed into a full-time hobby during his retirement years, resulting in the award of the MBE in 1993 for his services to veterans and Anglo-American relations. Along with countless other survivors, I must share my gratitude for all the work undertaken by Norman Bate in becoming founder and registrar of ‘Arnold Scheme (1941-1943) Register.

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