Personal Stories from Ringtail

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Part of a letter sent to me by John Cotton - Air Mechanic (Engines) 735 Squadron, HMS Ringtail, 1946.

"We (735 Squadron) were in the Station Football Cup and 735 Squadron won it. At the same time we were granted out a share of the welfare fund. So we had two things to celebrate, winning the cup and spending the money. We had a big party at one of the local pubs, I think it was called the Red Lion. Suffice to say, our C.O. was in good form that night playing the piano (he was an accomplished pianist) and drinking beer from a full football cup. I believe it held four pints and he drank the lot then spewed it all back up!"



George Rose – Air Mechanic, at the HMS Ringtail Monument for The Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary, 25th May 2013.

“I was posted to HMS Ringtail 1948-1952 as a skilled air mechanic working on engines in camp I. I was billeted in camp 2 (across the road from the Bull and Dog pub). There was also testing facilities for rockets and torpedoes in the workshop known as the sailmakers workshop (A.R.S. Hangar). Other duties included security of the station, patrols around the perimeter etc.

On one particular night we were on night patrol around the perimeter when we spotted a civilian walking down the runway. We rushed on to the runway after informing the tower and apprehended the man. We threw him into the back of the van and took him back to the guard house. On reaching the guard house we informed the officer what had happened, who then proceeded to laugh out loud with the ‘civilian’. It appeared that the civilian was our new C/O, Commander A.C. Miers V.C. D.S.O. and BAR who had just arrived on the station. To his credit the C/O apologised for not showing his pass and thanked us for being so efficient. From that day on we became the best of friends, he was a man admired by his peers."

(George passed away December 2013).


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Part of a letter from Joan Simonsson, once Wren Joan Hanson, Flying Control, HMS Ringtail, 1944.

"How well I remember cycling past that row of little houses (Lordsgate Lane) which led down to the main gate and one cheeky sailor who was usually on guard duty. I remember the muddy camp with all its Nissen huts bringing back thoughts of black coal stoves. Such devils to light and so easily going out. I remember bunk beds and trips outside to the ablution blocks (washing facilities and toilets) in all weathers, but I also remember companionship, laughter among friends, camp entertainment and cycling to a nearby golf club (Ormskirk) for cups of coffee."


Ian Darby (left) and Burn O'Neill 1772 squad 1944 at Ringtail - Copy

S/Lt. (A) Ian Darby RNZNVR (Observer) on the left and S/Lt. (A) Burn O'Neill RNZNVR (Pilot) stood in front of a Fairey Firefly of 1772 Squadron at HMS Ringtail, 1944.

Part of a 2003 letter from S/Lt. (A) RNZNVR Ian Darby – 1772 Squadron.

“I was an observer in 1772 squadron which was formed up at HMS Ringtail on 1st May 1944, the aircraft being Fairey Fireflies, a tandem seat fighter bomber with four 20mm cannons and capable of carry rockets. It was ideal for low level fighter sweeps and operationally that was our prime purpose when we were sent to the British Pacific Fleet to attack many targets on mainland Japan in July / August 1945. Each aircraft had a pilot and observer and our squadron aircrew numbered 30. The squadron was led by Lt/Cmdr. A.H.D. Gough R.N. he lasted until October 1944 regrettably the squadron didn’t flourish under his leadership although the togetherness of the aircrew was outstanding. (The squadron were still in contact with one another almost 60 years later).

It wasn’t until Lt/Cmdr. Les C. Wort was appointed that the squadron ‘found’ itself, we started to have pride in ourselves. I found Burscough to be an average R.N. airfield we had a few disasters there, but being young and high spirited they were soon forgotten, good training for later. I was fortunate in having as my pilot a fellow New Zealander named Burn O’Neill who was just the best, never did he prang the aircraft his flying was perfection. At times I found the airfield to be a bit drab, the weather wasn’t the best and we stayed there from 1st May 1944 until mid January 1945, almost 9 months. Our squadron was situated on the left as you go through the main gate into the airfield. (The main gate was at the bottom of Lordsgate Lane, and the squadron were situated on what is now Thomas Guys Industrial Estate). We were billeted in camp II opposite the Bull and Dog pub. Opposite the gate to camp II was a quarry we used to practice .303 firing using Lee Enfield Rifles. (Now the fishing pit off Abbey Lane). Our squadron had a reputation as aircraft prangers, which in my day was described as fighter trouble. Subsequently it had been reported that there was an inherent fault with the undercarriage lights of the Firefly causing a malfunction. We were a rowdy lot of youngsters, we liked our beer at the Bull and Dog and the Red Lion at Burscough. We also went Southport frequently and had a meal and a beer at the Scarisbrick Hotel. We did our fair share of flying mainly navigation exercises (navexes) and fighter tactics and lots of low level navigation exercises over the Irish Sea and a few overland.

The weather wasn’t kind to us, rain and mist for ‘pair cloud’ flying and dead reckoning navexes. We had many close shaves, some fatal. On 29th July 1944 Lt. Wright (Senior Pilot known as Shiner) and Lt/Cmdr. Gough’s aircraft collided in mid air, evidence was the leader radioed ’90 degrees port, 90 degrees port, go go’ and he turned to starboard. We weren’t flying that day so I can’t comment. Both observers were killed (Lt. Jimmy Sloan RN and Lt. Monty Baker RNVR), the pilots both bailed out safely. Of course it should never have happened."


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Accident at HMS Ringtail, RNAS Burscough, 1944. (Told by Edward 'Teddy' Key).

"1772 Naval Air Squadron, known as 'The Friendly Squadron' suffered a gem of a taxiing accident on 25th October 1944, when all three Fairey Firefly aircraft were on the ground at the time of impact!

The exercise was organized to fill in a bad day, when visibility was down to 200 yards. Lt Cdr Gough planned a carrier deck-ranging exercise in which aircraft tucked themselves in closely at the end of the runway, as is usual on the more restricted area of an aircraft carrier flight deck. In fact a dummy flight deck was marked on the runway. The idea was that, on a signal, each aircraft would move into position on the 'centre line', open up, roar off at take-off revs and then throttle back. Subsequent planes would follow on in the same manner. The long nose of the Firefly is not as inhibiting to vision as with a Seafire, but nevertheless, the nose is long, and in a tail down position, the vision was not good. Thus the scene was set for what was called 'a Monumental cockup'.

Firefly 4Z failed to throttle back, overtook 4M, hitting it with the port wing tip. 4M ground looped. The process was repeated on 4J. They all ground looped and they all lost their undercarriages. The exercise was abandoned and fortunately no one was hurt, just very embarrassed."

The new CO, Lt Cdr Les C Wort, arrived on 1st November 1944!!


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John Fenwick at the controls of his Curtiss SB2C Mk I Helldiver of 1820 Squadron at HMS Ringtail 1944.

Part of letter from Euan P. Jones, S/Lt (A) RNZNVR of 1820 Squadron.

"I recall one gloomy Burscough day with flying remaining undecided and the aircrew were huddled around a pot belly stove in the crew room. Fenwick had found some very light cartridges somewhere and said to me ‘those jokers need waking up’, whereupon we went outside where, by climbing up and over a water tank and stray planks we got on to the roof. The quick drop of a cartridge down the chimney was, after an agonising wait, followed by a mass of smoke, sounds of doors being flung open, the stampede of people milling around and coughing and waving their arms. The panic quickly died down however and everyone returned inside guessing that something had got into the coke (fuel). Fenwick decided no one was sufficiently on the ball, ‘that wasn’t much of a go, I have a couple more coloured ones. That should do the trick’ he said and then dropped both down the chimney and we huddled flat on the roof. The bang was enormous, the cloud of smoke wonderfully yellow and red, the crash of chairs being spilled and the pounding of fear stricken feet impressive. We were so excited we had to stand up, the better to see and appreciate the mayhem, ‘there they are!’ and fingers pointing shot us down. Thankfully the C.O. was away somewhere or just looking another way and musing on the course habits of the colonists (New Zealanders).”

(RNZNVR = Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve)

(Photo - Euan Jones).



Part of a 1994 letter from Sue Tupper – Wren Officer.

“It was in March 1944 that I arrived for the first time at Burscough Bridge Station. In the pitch dark of those blackout days I found a nearby telephone box and rang HMS Ringtail, the Royal Naval Air Station to which I had been posted, to ask for transport. A three ton lorry turned up and I boarded it to be taken my home for the next 17 months. I discovered that this was to be Camp 2 (opposite the Bull and Dog pub), and that it was made entirely of Nissan huts in all shapes and sizes, used as sleeping quarters for station and squadron personnel, messes for Naval and Wren ratings, a Wardroom for the Officers, both Naval and Wren and a Regulating Office at the entrance. The WRNS Officers, of which I was the newest and greenest, had their own sitting room as well as being welcome in the Wardroom. Nissan huts were rather a come down for me, as I had formally been housed in the Grand Metropole Hotel in Padstow, Cornwall, which had been taken over for Wren quarters from the R.N. Air Station at St. Merryn.

However I was excited at the prospect of my new job as a Squadron Staff Officer and having dumped my luggage off in my new ‘cabin’ I was escorted to the Wardroom for some dinner. I sat in solitary as I had arrived past dinner time, but before long the Commanding Officer of 735 Squadron, for whom I would work , came to introduce himself and see what sort of fish he had landed. He was tall, slim and good looking, welcomed me but only stayed for a few minutes.

I later learned that he had asked for a middle aged woman with a face like a horse and I didn’t match up in either respect! He towered over my five foot four and a half inches and I don’t know which one of us was more the frightened. I escaped to unpack and go to bed in this strange little environment, wondering what tomorrow would bring. With the benefit of hindsight I look upon that encounter with affection as we would become great friends and continue that friendship after the war with our respective spouses."


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Part of a letter from Lt. (A) RNVR Jack Harris. (Pictured here at RNAS Inskip, HMS Nightjar, 1943).

"It was while I was at Burscough that I acquired my first radar altimeter. I thought it was a delightful toy. Coming in from the Irish Sea one day, I could see acres of firm sand where the sea had retreated at high tide in the Ribble estuary. It was ideal to check on the performance of the new altimeter. I went down until the (fixed) undercarriage of the Swordfish was almost touching the sand and I had my head inside the cockpit to see the instrument. When I looked up I saw with dismay that there was a horse and cart plodding along the same track as me. I pulled back on the stick to go over them, but the horse had bolted. My last sight of them was the man running after his horse and cart and vigorously shaking his fist at me. What a ‘heel’ I felt, and still do, whenever I think about it. Who knows, if he is still alive, perhaps he will read this, in which case I apologise most humbly.”


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Left - right: Dennis Barnes assistant in Victualling (food, clothing and RUM!), Jim Williams leading air fitter armourer and unknown officer, HMS Ringtail - Camp II, c1945.

Part of a letter from Jim Williams – Leading Air Fitter.

“In 1944 I was transferred to HMS Ringtail as a Leading Air Fitter with the stations armourers. My position entailed training ground crews in maintenance and workings of all ordnance they would come into contact with, in pursuit of winning the war. One of my jobs entailed flying to Ronaldsway Airport in the Isle of Man to test fire rockets on the firing range. We flew in a Swordfish. The purpose of the exercise was to calculate the margins that were needed to make the rocket the most effective when fired. A graph was designed with distance, height, speed and time taken into consideration to enable the aviators to fire the rockets with very little effort. We did a lot of modifications on the Firefly cannons. With just one or two modifications on the barrels we could make them at least 50% more efficient. When 825 Squadron were at HMS Ringtail they were flying Firefly FR1’s, sixteen planes with four cannons on each plane. Sixty four separate cannons in total. Not a lot of time off during this period.

In camp 1 we had a test butt for test firing the cannons when modifications had been made on the planes. The procedure was to anchor the wings and tail sections of the planes. The engine would then be started to lift the plane into a flying elevation. The cannons could then be fired and any adjustments could then be made to make the guns accurate. On this particular day the Chief Armourer set up a Mosquito in the test butt and test fired the cannons. We were having a cup of tea a short distance away and all hell broke loose. The roof of the test butt took the full force of the shells, it was destroyed. The Chief Armourer had made several enemies in his time stationed on the base. He seemed to have an attitude problem with the lower ranks. Nobody knows to this day who made an ‘adjustment’ to the tail anchor. An enquiry was set up and two weeks later the Chief Armourer was transferred to another station."