17th & 18th May 2014: Newark Air Museum
- Operation Too Right 

The following is an account of Operation ‘Too Right’(1955) from one of the participants; David Sykes

Operation: Too Right

Operation Too Right was the code name for the first overseas flight carried out by RAF V Bombers and which featured two Valiant B Mk1 aircraft WP206 and WP207 of 138 Squadron based at Wittering, UK. Valiant aircraft were the first of the V-Bombers to enter service and, at the time of Operation Too Right, it was the only operational V-Bomber because the Victor and Vulcan had not yet been delivered to the RAF. The two Valiant aircraft taking part in Too Right were under the immediate command of Squadron Leader R.G.Wilson DFC, the Captain of WP206 and the operation was under the overall command of Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Bomber Command, Air Marshall Sir George Mills who accompanied the tour with his wife, Lady Mills, flying in their distinctive VIP Hastings. The final destination of Too Right was to be Christchurch, New Zealand and all aircraft, consisting of the 2 Valiants, the VIP Hastings and 4 other Hastings transport aircraft which carried the ground support crews, arrived at Harewood Airport, Christchurch on Monday 19th September 1955.

Each Valiant had a crew of 5 with a 6th seat fitted to accommodate the Crew Chief. The 5 aircrew consisted of 1st and 2nd pilots, Radar Navigator, Navigator/Plotter and Air Electronics Officer. The crew were accommodated in a pressurised cabin at the front of the aircraft, with the pilots being seated in ejector seats and with the rear crew members relying on manual evacuation through the access door. Each Crew Chief was in charge of the replenishment and technical servicing of his particular aircraft and both held the rank of Chief Technician. Although WP206 and WP207 were 138 Squadron aircraft, they had been prepared for the trip at 232 OCU RAF Gaydon and the groundcrew selected for Too Right were also domiciled at Gaydon and were not drawn from 138 Squadron personnel. The reason that Gaydon tradesmen were chosen was possibly due to the fact that there were no operational squadrons at the time the initial planning for Too Right took place and so it would seem logical to use the experienced Gaydon personnel who were available at that time. Gaydon had been operating the Valiant for some months whilst aircrews were being progressively trained to enable the first operational Valiant Squadrons to be formed and it so happened that Operation Too Right took place during the time when 138 Squadron was building up to become the first operational Valiant Squadron. In recognition that Too Right was essentially a 138 Squadron operation; the groundcrew travelled from Gaydon to Wittering by bus on Friday 2nd September and were billeted there for one or two nights. They progressively flew out from Wittering in the 4 Hastings aircraft on a staggered schedule during the night of Saturday 3rd and early Sunday morning of 4th September 1955. After the completion of the tour several ground crew were posted out to 138 Squadron and it could be argued that the remainder, who stayed on at Gaydon, could be considered as being honorary 138 Squadron members after spending several weeks servicing these 138 Squadron Valiants.

Ground crews were positioned along the route by the 4 Hastings aircraft from No 40 Squadron, Transport Command, which were manned by mixed RNZAF and RAF flight crews. These 4 aircraft carried a full range of Valiant spares, tools and servicing plant between them and they also carried their own ground support personnel. Each trade group was headed by a Corporal and work on each individual aircraft was controlled and overseen by the respective Crew Chief. The Crew Chiefs were Chief Tech. R V (Pat) Pattrick of WP206 and G (Johnnie) Greyburn of WP207. We were also accompanied by Master Technician D G (Doug) Livett, who was in overall charge of Valiant servicing, documentation and administration. We also carried an Equipment and Supply Officer on one of the Hastings but he was adversely affected by the climate and was evacuated back to UK in the early stages of the trip. He was not replaced.

As a Corporal at that time, I was fortunate enough to have been chosen to oversee the Instrument Trade which consisted of 2 Junior Technicians as well as myself. It was planned that the Hastings aircraft, complete with servicing crews etc, would be staggered along the route in order to keep pace with the faster Valiants and my part in the plan was to be on the last aircraft in order to be in position at RAF Habbaniya in Iraq, for the first stop of WP206 and WP207. The other 3 Hastings pressed on ahead and one was in position at Maripur near Karachi; the next at Negombo in Sri Lanka and the last at Changi in Singapore where we would all gather to carry out Primary Servicing on the Valiants and where we would take a short break for shopping, sight-seeing and relaxation. After staying in Singapore my particular Hastings flew on to Darwin in Australia, on to RAAFAmberley, near Brisbane, then on to Melbourne and Edinburgh Field near Adelaide. Other Hastings, with their servicing crews, were positioned in Sydney and Perth and one or other of the Valiants were put on Static Display at the main airports. They also did flying displays and flew over each city at a pre arranged time so that excited school children and other groups were able to assemble and enjoy the display. All aircraft then flew from Edinburgh Field to Harewood Airport, Christchurch, with air and ground crews staying at RNZAF Base Wigram. Following on from this, we moved on to Ohakea near Wellington and Whenuapai in Auckland, where programmes similar to those in Australia were completed.

At Habbaniya we were waiting for the Valiants to arrive when suddenly we saw WP206 streaking overhead, at high altitude, in the process of breaking the London to Baghdad record. After both aircraft had landed and parked, we proceeded to place bungs in the various intakes and replenished and serviced them ready for the next stage of the trip. Whilst this was happening, a violent sandstorm blew across this desert airfield but, fortunately, it was just as we had completed our tasks and when the Valiants left for Karachi at about 1 am in the morning, followed closely by we tired individuals in our Hastings, all was remarkably calm. After we had been sitting sleeplessly for some time on our noisy aircraft, our Captain received a signal that both Valiants had aborted. He reported that WP207 was back at Habbaniya with pressurisation failure and WP206 had made an emergency landing at RAF Sharjah, in Trucial Oman, with a disintegrated engine. We then diverted to Sharjah and had breakfast after off-loading the engine fitters and a spare engine. We then flew back to Habbaniya to sort out WP207. When we arrived at Habbaniya we found that the ‘snag’ had already been fixed by the Crew Chief, the fault being due to the ingress of sand in the combined valve unit, most likely caused by the sandstorm. After seeing WP207 off, again at about 1 am, we once more piled on board our Hastings, en-route for Sharjah and with little prospect of sleeping due to the excessively noisy aircraft. We arrived about dawn after 2 days and nights of almost no sleep and were met at the opening door by the Crew Chief of WP206 who barked, “Everyone report to WP206 immediately!” As we stormed past him like brainless zombies, one member of our party had the temerity to reply “F**k off!” but had the presence of mind to add “Chief!” respectfully at the end of his insubordinate outburst. Fortunately, it did the trick and we left a flabbergasted Crew Chief with mouth wide open as we staggered past and onward to the nearby Transit Block, where we crashed onto the nearest beds we could find. After several hours of badly needed sleep, in a beautifully air-conditioned room, we started work on WP206.

For the next few days we were involved in changing No. 3 engine, working through the middle of the hot, steamy day when everyone else had their siesta, played sport or went to the nearby beach. The Valiant was a superb aircraft on which to change an engine as no crane was needed. The engine was lowered on winches, which were mounted on a flat beam on the mainplane. We had the spares and winches but no beam which, we found, was on one of the other aircraft on the way to Singapore. It was decided that it would be quicker for a Canberra to fly a beam out from the UK in its bomb bay and some hours later the Canberra arrived complete with the desperately needed beam. After successfully changing the engine, the aircraft was painfully and repeatedly refuelled by a group of excitable natives from a 3 wheeled bowser, which was similar in size to a ride-on mower. It was then realised that we had no 112V starter set and so, to solve this problem, every available battery was snatched from the small fleet of MT vehicles and any other sources until we had 112 volts to start the engine! We managed, with fingers crossed and after an agonising miss-start, to get the Valiant started on one engine, from which the other 3 engines were serially started. After completing engine test runs, WP206 took off from the Sharjah runway, which was appreciably shorter than that recommended in the Operation Manual.

Whilst working on the engine the Crew Chief told me all about the in-flight emergency and that, suddenly, there was an enormous bang followed by a fire warning in number 3 engine. The Captain gave the order to abandon aircraft and the Crew Chief strapped on his parachute, pulled his emergency oxygen supply and was just about to blow the door when, over the intercom, the Captain then cancelled the order. He declared that the aircraft was handling OK and that he had extinguished the engine fire. The Crew Chief said they were all very relieved because the thought of splashing down in the shark infested Indian Ocean, over which they were flying, was not a happy one!

After rectifying the two mishaps, both aircraft performed perfectly for the rest of the trip. We were feted wherever we went and the Australian and New Zealand newspapers covered the event with multiple articles and photographs but, strangely, it is almost as if this trip never took place as far as historic records in UK are concerned. In strong contrast, much has been written about the trip by the Vulcans the following year, which culminated in a tragic accident at London Airport. There was also a mishap with a later visiting Vulcan which made a heavy landing at Wellington Airport and subsequently made an emergency landing at Ohakea, which was also well recorded. In the book entitled ‘V Bombers’, by Robert Jackson, the well known aviation author, it is written: ‘In June 1956, Valiants went overseas for the first time when two aircraft flew to Idris, in Libya, to take part in exercise Thunderhead’. I wrote to the publisher advising of the error and received a brief and polite reply, but I could be excused for feeling that I detected a subtle “OK, Smart Arse!” sort of tone about the letter! We did have a serious case of misconduct during Too Right by one of the aircrew which compromised air safety. Could it be that this incident was effectively covered up by ensuring that all publicity was kept under wraps and the press kept away to prevent the story from emerging?

The Valiant was the first V Bomber in service and had some unique features and an excellent record but, sadly, the type met a very sudden demise due to structural failure. This aircraft was used as a conventional bomber in the brief Suez campaign and was the only V Bomber to drop nuclear weapons in the trials at Maralinga and Christmas Island. I believe that the Valiants were broken up with indecent haste with the result that only one example (XD818) now survives. David Sykes