Heritage: Sea Fury Anecdotes

If you have any stories or memories of the Sea Fury – perhaps something about what it was like to work on, or particular incidents when things went wrong (or right!) – please share them with us.  Simply use the ‘Contact Us’ form below. 

Runaway Auster

On 30 August 1955 excitement was caused by a runaway civilian Auster Archer J-4, which had taken off from Bankstown airport, without anyone at the controls. Apparently the pilot had dismounted to restart the engine by hand. One flick of the propeller – and away went the aircraft down the runway and into the sky.

Needless to say the situation was causing the authorities some concern. But a nearby RAN Auster from Nowra was making its way to nearby Schofields aerodrome and the pilot, (Commander J. Groves, RN) offered to trail the runaway Auster, which was heading across town towards Sydney CBD. After watching the errant aircraft for over an hour, the RAN Auster had to break-off from the chase as it had been airborne for more than three hours.

The runaway aircraft was watched carefully as it headed towards the Sydney CBD, with Sydney radio stations broadcasting minute-by-minute reports on its progress.  Fearing an uncontrolled crash into a populated area, the authorities called in the RAAF who scrambled a Wirraway from Richmond airbase to shoot down the delinquent Auster using a hand-held Bren Gun.

By now the pilotless aircraft had managed to fly across the city to Manly where it turned north towards Palm Beach. Flying into a steady breeze it gained altitude – to around 9,000 ft. Here the air tends to be cold and as the gunner in the rear of the Wirraway was to find out, it was very cold. In fact so cold he was unable to change magazines on his Bren gun after his initial shots failed to stop the Auster.

With the Wirraway retiring from the scene, the RAAF sent two Meteor jet-fighters from Williamtown to intercept the Auster. They soon caught up with it, but because the Auster was only doing about 60 knots, the pilots found it difficult to position for a shot. Adding to the frustration the first Meteor’s guns jammed – having fired only a few rounds, and the second didn’t shoot at all.

LEUT McNay returning from his mission.

Meanwhile, at the RAN air station at Nowra,  two 805 Squadron Sea Fury aircraft had returned to base after firing rockets at Beecroft Range. The Furies were piloted by Lieutenants Peter McNay and John Bluett. Both aircraft were quickly loaded with 20mm ammunition and the pilots were briefed to fly to Sydney.

Flying north the two RAN Sea Furies arrived on the scene shortly after the RAAF Meteors broke-off their engagement. As a precaution, to ensure the Auster Archer was empty, McNay lowered his flaps and undercarriage to check the cabin, as a report suggested a schoolboy may be onboard.

After ensuring it was empty McNay repositioned his Sea Fury behind the Auster, now flying at about 10,000 ft and some distance out to sea. He fired a short burst from his 20mm cannons, knocking it out of a turn. Bluett, in the other Sea Fury, then fired from a beam-on position, causing the Auster’s cockpit to burst into flames. Badly damaged, the Auster nosed-down in a slow spiral. McNay followed with another burst from his cannons, sending it crashing into the sea.

Fatal Collision

On 17 May 1953, LCDR Reg Wild DFC was killed when his Sea Fury collided with a Tiger Moth flying over Forest Hill aerodrome near Wagga. The Tiger Moth crashed, but its pilot escaped with a dislocated shoulder and bruises.

LCDR Wild was leading a flight of Sea Furies back to Nowra and had taken off from the aerodrome at about 10.30 am. After a circuit over Wagga and Uranquinty Air Base they returned to buzz Forest Hill. The Sea Furies were flying low in formation when the Tiger Moth took off from the aerodrome. According to witnesses the Sea Fury propeller hit the Tiger Moth’s fuselage ripping it into small pieces, except for the cockpit which fell to the ground with the pilot. Meanwhile, the damaged Sea Fury continued for about two miles, gradually losing height, until hitting trees and crashing. When the RAAF fire tender arrived LCDR Wild was found dead.

The control tower cleared the Tiger Moth for take-off as it was unaware that the Sea Furies were returning – as they filed a plan to fly direct to Nowra.   

What Stupid Bastard?

This story is from an internet site titled ‘Seafires & Sea Furies’:

“I recall the Australian naval aviator who, in the final stages of a batsman controlled approach in a Sea Fury, received a red Very cartridge signal from the flying control position in the carrier’s island and for no apparent reason. This was a mandatory go-around instruction over-ruling the batsman. After aborting the approach, and a subsequent quiet circuit and landing, the pilot was still obviously suffering from the stress of the go-around for as soon as he got out of the aircraft, he stormed up to the flying control position in the island which, apart from its normal complement of brass, also housed some very senior officers visiting the ship. Our friend’s first, and only, words were “What stupid bastard fired that red?”.

Later that evening, after suffering the consequent chastisement, Commander (Air) approached and bought him a large gin, noting “Of course it would have been a lot worse for you if you’d said, “which stupid bastard!”.

Friendly Fire!

In February 1951, HMAS Sydney was exercising with the cruiser HMNZS Bellona which was towing a splash target while 805 Squadron Sea Furies engaged in some rocket practice. On board the Bellona the crew had painstakingly prepared their prize whaler for a pulling regatta following the exercises.
According to reports one of the Sea Fury rockets accidentally fired hitting Bellona’s Quarter Deck, luckily nobody was injured, and the 60 lb concrete practice head just shattered, severely damaging the timber decking – and the prize whaler. Not surprisingly, suspicious New Zealanders saw this as an attempt by the Australians to eliminate them from the regatta. The pilot of the offending Sea Fury, Lt. Peter Seed, protested saying he didn’t fire the rocket “it fired by itself’’. It later emerged during Sydney’s Korean War deployment that the ship’s radio transmitters caused the Sea Fury rocket test lamps to flicker. After that it was deemed prudent to avoid radio transmission when rockets were loaded on aircraft.

Chockman The Brave (from ‘Slipstream’ April 1995.)

It was late 1951 aboard HMAS Sydney off the north coast of Korea, the sea was very rough and the weather very cold. During a break in flying operations, the Flight Deck Chief called me out, “Tom Henry, slip down the after lift, there is another chockman required for a Fury coming up from ‘C’ hangar for a power run”.

As I made my way down to the after lift, I thought to myself how unlucky I was. This aircraft had most probably had an engine change and I was likely to get stuck on the chocks for up to half an hour. The Fury was eventually parked on the Port quarter with the after fuselage aligned over one of the flight deck ring bolts. The mechanics soon had lashing around the after fuselage and secured to the ring bolt.

Prior to that the young pilot had manned the cockpit, I checked the lashings on my chocks, then got into position on the deck with my feet around the after and my arms and body wrapped around the wheel and front of the chock. Needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable position and I was grateful for the special issue fur lined helmet and gloves that gave some protection from the frigid weather conditions we were unaccustomed to.

As the powerful Bristol Centaurus engine burst into life, I noticed that the yellow coated Director and the Fireman had moved away, probably to get out of the cold. The pilot ran the engine at medium power for some time. I remember thinking that under these conditions lying on a hard deck was a stupid place to be, the noise and the huge five-bladed prop blowing bitterly cold air over me added to the discomfort. My thoughts drifted to my home town in northern New South Wales where it would be warm and everyone thinking about Christmas and the holidays.

My dreaming came to a sudden halt as I realised that the pilot was increasing the power considerably!  At the same time, I noticed that the deck movement was becoming more pronounced, maybe getting rougher or the ship was changing course. The aircraft was approaching full power when my fellow chockman caught my eye by frantically pointing to the rear of the aircraft. I checked to see what was grabbing his attention – the fuselage lashing was starting to FRAY!

From my cramped position I anxiously looked around for someone to get the attention of the pilot – there was no one in sight! My mind started working overtime. What will happen if the lashing parts? Will the aircraft ground loop and go over the side? Or what if…. the possibilities were endless, or so it seemed. It was now freezing cold, the Fury was really roaring, the deck was now heaving from the rough seas and I could sense that something was about to happen. I buried my face between my arm and the aircraft tyre. There was a deafening noise and I was suddenly sprayed with debris, then… all was quiet. I looked up to see the Fury precariously balanced on its nose atop a badly bent propeller.

The Flight Deck Officer and others were soon on the scene and the Fury was restored to its original position. “Good lad Henry, sticking with your chocks! You may have helped save the aircraft,” said the FDO. At this point one of my Aircraft Handler mates tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “You silly bastard. You should have shot through, you could have been killed!” Little did they know, that because of the severe cold and ‘Fury Fear,’ I was more or less frozen to the spot with fright.

I was thankfully noting that the debris which had struck me was only several layers of deck paint, when the FDO said, “You can go below for a stand easy, Henry.” Then added with a grin, “You may need to change your underpants!”.

Sea Fury UFO story 

In December 1954, Australian newspapers reported a UPO sighting by a Navy pilot, who had been on a cross-country flight from RANAS Nowra on 31 August 1954. The pilot who was in a Sea Fury at 13,000 feet above Goulburn and flying at 220 knots at the time, saw lights pass ahead of him at very fast speed. He immediately contacted Nowra and advised them, and they confirmed his sighting on their radar screens. Notice of this incident was passed by Naval Intelligence to R.A.A.F Intelligence, who handled reports of this nature. The subject remains a mystery, but is cited as proof by UPO enthusiasts. A YouTube video details the story: title ’The Extraordinary E07’.

Landing at anchor

808 Squadron also made history on 14 October 1952 by landing four Sea Furies aboard HMAS Sydney while the ship was at anchor. LCDR Julian Cavanagh, LT Fred Lane, SBLT Peter Wyatt and Andrew Powell had flown across Australia from Nowra in battle formation, planning to land on Sydney before she entered Fremantle. But poor weather prevented this so the aircraft were diverted to RAAF Base Pearce. However, Sydney found favourable conditions in the lee of Rottnest Island near Fremantle, so the four Sea Furies quickly scrambled and flew out to land on Sydney where she remained at anchor. This was a first for post-WW2 aircraft and would not be repeated by fixed-wing aircraft anywhere in the world until the Vertical Short Take-Off (VSTOL) Hawker Siddeley Harrier came into service.  You can read Andrew Powell’s account in his ‘Flying the Sea Fury’ page here.

Ditching a Sea Fury

On 19 September 1951, as HMAS Sydney was on passage to Korea, a Sea Fury from 805 Squadron was having engine trouble and called for an emergency landing, but it crashed on the sea about 1000 metres from Sydney. The Pilot SBLT Ian Webster RN made a successful ditching in his Sea Fury – believed to be a world first. Until then, there were fears about the heavy engine nosing-down and flipping as the aircraft hit the water. Therefore, the advice to pilots was, where possible, to bale-out and avoid ditching. As SBLT Webster was returning to the ship for an emergency landing, there was no opportunity to bail-out as suddenly the engine stopped, and with wheels and flaps down his Sea Fury dropped like a brick, hitting the water with a huge splash. The Sea Fury did nose down, and although the cockpit went under and filled with water the aircraft sank slowly, enabling Webster to get clear and inflate his dinghy. This demonstrated that a Sea Fury could ditch successfully, even with wheels down, becoming the forerunner of several other successful RAN and RN Sea Fury ditchings during the Korean War.