Gannet: History in Photos
Left: As was the way in those days, all initial training was done in the UK. The photo was taken in 1955 at RNAS Eglinton in Northern Ireland, and shows the aircrew advance party for the Gannets, plus one OFT student. From left to right:  Pain  Rowe  Champion  Spurgeon (OFS student)  Norman Lee  Jeffrey Gledhill, a Kiwi, who had earlier been awarded a DSC for his dive-bombing attack on the German battleship Tirpitz in a Barracuda  William Dunlop, who was later to lose his life in a tragic Vampire accident  Peter Goldrick, the only pilot to be wounded by enemy fire in Korea  Murray Douglas, who had the distinction of having the shortest ever instrument rating test in a Gannet, when he tried to raise the gear during the take-off run. The instructor took over and landed, and that was it!  James Van Gelder, killed not long after this photograph was taken. There were two Observers in the advance party who are not pictured: ‘Snow’ O’Connell and Len Anderson. (Image courtesy of Norman Lee).
Below: Two images of Gannets at Culdrose in the UK. Left: Bearing the “B” marking on the tail (for Culdrose), XV326 (432(B)), this image was probably snapped in 1955. The aircraft would undoubtedly have been engaged in training RAN aircrew prior to the embarkation of the air group on the new HMAS Melbourne early in 1956. Note the parachutes on the starboard wing, and the marker marines ready to be loaded into the bomb bay. Right: A winter shot, most probably in January 1956. The ‘B’ markings had been replaced by a ‘Y’, which was Melbourne’s pennant prior to her arrival back in Australia (when it was changed to ‘M’). Side numbers seem to have been used in a somewhat random fashion, but it is believed that 311(Y) was XV326, the same aircraft as in the left hand image here.
Above: Snow at Culdrose (Cornwall, UK) is unusual as its proximity to the west coast usually brings wetter but milder weather. The winter of 1955/56 was an exception, as the images show. From L to R: Two shots of Gannet 311 which is shown above (right) starting up. The black smoke is from the cartridge used to spin up one of the two engines. The second engine was then started by ‘windmilling’ the prop in the wash of the first. Images 3 and 4 depict ground crews amusing themselves in the snow. All pictures via Jeff Chartier. Click on any image to enlarge it.
Below. This photo of 816 Squadron aircrew aboard Melbourne in 1958. We have identified those pictured, as follows: (1) Bob Bloffwitch [O] (2) Toz Dadswell [P] (3) Les Anderson [O] (4) Trevor Wilce (5) John Nestor [P] (6) John Griffen [O][CO] (7) Jerry O’Day [P] (8) Don McLaren [O] (9) Pat Stewart [SOBS] (10) Alastair Davis-Graham [O] (11) Arthur ‘Wacka’ Payne [Senior Pilot]* (12) Keith Stopford [O] (13) LEUT A.M. Johnson RN [O] (14) Graham Stevens [P] (15) Leo Baker (16) Malcolm ‘Blackie’ Barratt [P] (17) Peter Moy [O] (18) John Dudley [O]. [Image via Ron Marsh, and thanks to Gordon Turner and Toz Dadswell for help with the names]. * Ken Barnet was nominal Senior Pilot but was temporarily absent so ‘Wacka’ Payne was standing in.
Below: A great shot of Gannet 433(B) doing an engine start at Culdrose. Barry White remembers the difficulty in installing starter cartridges in the Sea Venom and Gannet. The sea Venom was not too bad as the starter breech was situated just behind the cockpit. The Gannet was a whole different story being up high, just aft of the propellers. He recalled it was bad enough when the breech was cold, but distinctly interesting loading fresh cartridges into a hot breech whilst clinging onto the aircraft via a couple of hand/toe holds. The Gannet was also capable of being air-started, using a ground-based compressor (see page 61 of the Pilots Notes). It was seldom used in the RAN except, perhaps, for the occasional foray to shore airfields to collect stores and personnel.
Below: Two images of the Fairey Aviation Company workshops at Bankstown in 1958, where the overhauling, repairing and assembly of the Gannets for the RAN was done. Previously the factory had been set up in 1948 to service RAN’s Fairey Firefly and Sea Fury aircraft. (Left: Navy News, Right: RAN image via Jeff Chartier).
Below: An RN Gannet launches aboard the newly commissioned HMAS MELBOURNE, probably in late 1955 or early 1956. Note the wire catapult strop about to fall free from the aircraft. Melbourne was later modified to catch these strops to prevent their loss.
Below. A Gannet launches from Melbourne off the south coast of NSW, circa 1960. The number of personnel on the flight deck was typical for fixed wing take-offs, and comprised a team of Handlers to quickly move the aircraft off the catapult if it became unserviceable at the last minute, together with several maintainers of different trades to fix an electrical or radio problems. In this case the Gannet has launched safely and the next aircraft (off frame) is already being marshalled to the catapult in preparation for launching. (Photo Kim Dunstan).Below: Hunter and Prey. HMAS Melbourne with one of her Gannets overflying the USS Catfish (01 May 1962) during an ASW exercise. The submarine was sold to the Argentine Navy nine years later and renamed the ARAA Santa Fe. Ironically, she was sunk during airborne ASW operations in the Falklands War by helicopters from HMS Antrim, Plymouth and Brilliant. See story here. (Imagery Scanned from Navy Historic Archive).
Left. A ‘Beat The Retreat’ ceremony aboard RAN warships was always a treat for visitors. This was particularly true in far-flung parts of the Empire that regarded Britain as ‘home’ and warships of the Dominion as a proud projection of its maritime strength. This photograph was taken aboard HMAS Melbourne in Singapore in 1960 and was probably the concluding event of an evening cocktail party. The Gannets would have provided a spectacular backdrop. (via Kim Dunstan).
Below. This image was sent in by Ron Marsh. It is of interest as the Squadron introduced the practice of painting maintainer names on the side of the aircraft for a time. It was taken at Albatross, probably in the summer of 60/61 or perhaps late in 61. We don’t know who the person on the left is, but the remaining three (L-R) are Lt.(O) Bruce Leslie, S/Lt.(P) Robin Spratt, and L/Cdr. Pat Stewart who was the Squadron’s Senior Observer. You can click on the image to enlarge it. (Navy photo).
Above: With strop tensioned and ground crew clear, this unidentified Gannet prepares to launch. Once the pilot has completed his run-up and final checks he will signal the FDO, the chocks will be lowered and the catapult fired (image via Jeff Chartier).
Above Right: A Gannet folds its wings whilst taxying on the flight deck of Melbourne (image via Jeff Chartier).
Right. Plunging towards its prey, this Sulid (Gannet) demonstrates a wing configuration and an ability to carry large payloads in its belly that probably influenced Fairey Aviation’s choice for the aircraft name.
Above. A slice of history. Melbourne and some of her Gannets salute the Royal Yacht Britannia during her visit to Hobart in 1963 (Image via Jeff Chartier). Left. The effectiveness of the double wing-fold is demonstrated in Melbourne’s hangar deck, where with a folded span of only 19’11” the Gannet takes up considerably less lateral space than the smaller Venom to its left (Image Kim Dunstan).
Above Left: Night operations on Melbourne. This remarkable picture is a time-lapse shot taken in 1961 as two Gannets unfold their wings in preparation for a sortie (picture Ron Marsh). Above Right: 830 hangs suspended by the ship’s crane during an undercarriage retraction test in 1963. The maintainer standing by the hydraulic rig is Bruce Burns (back to the camera). The names of others have been lost in time. (Picture: Ron Marsh). Below: Two images taken by Ray Guest – on the left, a Double-Mamba unit rolled out of an aircraft. On the right: there was a period in 1961 when engine units were in short supply and a large number of aircraft were without them. The exact reason is not clear to us.
Below. The July Slipstream of 1963 featured a poem by Gordon Arthur Turner with a light hearted look at some of the aircraft lost. Beneath the banter it gives a clear indication of the gearbox problems that were causing accidents. Gear trains were eventually strengthened but this may not necessarily have solved the problem as there was at least one ditching in which gearbox casing failure was suspected as the cause. Gordon recently contacted the webmaster and provided the following explanations on some of the more colloquial terms in his work: The factor that caused me to make this attempt at poetry was that I, and Terry Pennington were Winston James’ crew on that cruise and the incident referred to was interesting to say the least. Winston was in fact later awarded the Queens Commendation for Meritorious Conduct in the Air. The mention of “Pass” is because a number of the aircrew used to spend a lot of time playing bridge.“Whacker” was the Squadron C.O. LCDR. Arthur Payne. We did have four Sea Venoms on board but my recollection is that they were “B Flight “ of 816; the first Gannet lost was near Manus Island (Joe Smith, Ian Lawson and Hank Hancox). The second ditched off the catapult (John Rowland, Tony Horton, Dave Findlay) I remember that incident very clearly as we were waiting to land and had a bird’s eye view of the whole event….I remember being pleasantly surprised at the time it took a Gannet to sink! “Wing nut” was Winston James’s nickname.
Below. Fire in the Hold! We thought this was a fire caused by a starter cartridge malfunction, but it was actually more significant than that. LCDR ‘Toz’ Dadswell (P) and LEUT Gordon Turner (O) were tasked with a rocketing display for a families day aboard HMAS Melbourne. On attempting to start the port engine Dadswell suffered a cartridge malfunction, which was not unusual. He got the starboard engine started but was then surprised to see his Observer standing on the deck waving his arms wildly, and a fire crew approaching the aircraft indicating he should shut down the running engine. On doing so, a wall of flame surged over the cockpit, so Dadswell made a quick exit from the aircraft. The fire crew smothered the fire with foam.
It transpired that the Naval Airman who had loaded the starter cartridges had failed to properly secure the cap on the cartridge chamber. When the cartridge was fired it blew the heavy cap into the oil tank on top of the engine. The starboard cartridge then ignited the six litres of oil, but while the engine was running the flames were pushed under the aircraft before curling up over the trailing edge of the mainplane. This attracted LEUT Turner’s attention who decided to make a hasty exit.
Damage to XG796 was extensive and the aircraft was craned ashore for major repairs. Unfortunately, on flying back to Nowra the undercarriage failed to lower, requiring the pilot (LEUT Peter Adams) to land wheels-up – necessitating another period of repair. Some time later the same aircraft made headlines by plunging over the side of the ship to hang suspended. It subsequently fell to a watery grave. (Thanks to Toz Dadswell for details on this incident). See here for XG796’s story. (RAN image).
Below left: A visually pleasing shot of a Gannet doing a touch and go on Melbourne. Below right: An unusual shot of the bomb bay, which could hold two torpedoes, bombs or depth charges. (Images via Jeff Chartier).
Above Left: Oops! A jack collapse during servicing at NAS Nowra caused substantial damage to this Gannet. Above Right. An unusual shot showing the underside of a Gannet in flight. Note the size of the bomb bay and the retractable radar transducer just aft of it. Both images via Jeff Chartier.
Left. A visitor to RAAF Point Cook in late 1965 (possibly XA343 in October), this Gannet attracted the attention of a Midshipman who sits in the centre (Observer’s) cockpit. A SBLT – possibly Peter Coulson – is next to him explaining some of the finer points of the aircraft equipment. The identity of the person in the pilot’s cockpit is not known. Photo via Graeme Baseden, Facebook.
Below Left and Right. A little known fact about the Fairey Gannet T Mk2 trainer is that it was a four-seater. The additional seat was located in the rear cabin, positioned forward of the rear seat. This extra seat was fitted with a normal harness and faced aft – the two small, round windows in the fuselage indicate its position. Between the seats was a netting type cargo holder, with quick release fittings, suitable for non-ordnance items such as mail or other light objects. In the event of an emergency the occupant of the ‘spare seat’ would have had great difficulty extracting themselves, which may explain why no one can remember it being used.
Melbourne’s flight deck was also very small, (see left) particularly in comparison to USN carriers. Barry White recalls the time a team of RAN maintainers were returning from the USS Ticonderoga in a USN COD, much like an S2 Tracker but with with passenger seats. On sighting Melbourne the USN pilot exclaimed “I ain’t going to land on there, man.” Barry asserts there was at least one USN COD aircraft with finger indents in the arm rests. From what he heard later the Melbourne flight deck crew thought there were half a dozen ghosts disembarking the aircraft.
Below: The end of the line. Three Gannet airframes, with their engines ripped out, await their final fate in a corner of the airfield at Nowra (image via Jeff Chartier). Of the 37 Gannets originally purchased, about one third (13) were lost to accidents, one returned to the Royal Navy (later to be repatriated: see here) and a handful (4) saved for museums. The remainder were sold for scrap or burned at the stake in the fireground at NAS.