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From an Aircraft Mechanic’s Diary

by Frank Tibbo

Gander’s history is contained in various documents, and every once in a while I am lucky enough to obtain one of these precious documents. A considerable amount of information is contained in the official diaries kept by the various military units that served here; however, many details are omitted. Therefore, it is fortunate indeed to be able to read a private diary kept by a member of the armed forces during the war.

Howard Sleightholm was an aircraft mechanic in the RCAF with the rank of corporal. He recorded the following excerpts from May to December 1943 while he was stationed at Gander. Corporal Sleightholm was one of the mechanics responsible for the mechanical welfare of a squadron of Liberator bombers. The number of accidents recorded is indicative of the frenzy of activity during wartime.

May 9 - American Liberator folded a nose wheel and crashed on number 3 runway.

May 21 - Aircraft 735 damaged tail-skid bellows and housing.

May 25 - Aircraft 756, hit port wing on the door of number 5 hangar when it was being towed out. Tommy Metcalfe watching wing and gave the ‘all clear’ but it rolled off door stopper and rolled into door. Changed wing tip.

May 26 - Canso crashed three weeks ago and bombs went off. Out of crew of six Dube was the only survivor. Badly smashed up though. He was blown 150 ft. from aircraft.

June 1 - Aircraft 734 tail-skid twisted when she rolled back. Caught hell from F/L Lunn. Told him and Flight Sergeant Coleman that I wouldn’t tow another aircraft for them.

June 15 - American Liberator crashed off end of runway in front of hangar.

June 24 - Aircraft ‘L’ blew port tire on landing, buckled port oleo leg and put a hole in flap.

June 28 - Tiger Moth nosed over today. Propeller and wing tip smashed.

June 30 - Harvard undercarriage gave way on landing and mashed the undercarriage and wing tip.

July 22 - Aircraft ‘F’ crashed tonight and tore off the nose. Nose wheel collapsed.

Aug. 9 - Lancaster bomber cracked up on far end of our runway. Fogged in. Poor landing. Buckled undercarriage and flattened the works. Nobody hurt.

Aug. 18 - (Our squadron) Digby aircraft 750 crashed at Dartmouth, N.S. two weeks ago. Complete washout. Quite a few hurt. Pilot killed.

Aug. 20 - American Liberator picked up wire fence on take-off. Damaged nose wheel and made a crash landing.

Sept. 15 - Aircraft ‘D’ cracked up in Gander Lake killing six men.

Oct. 6 - Dented leading edge and de-icer boot while towing aircraft ‘Y’ into number 5 hangar.

Oct. 21 - (Our squadron) Aircraft ‘H’ for Harry crashed in the St. Lawrence at the mouth of the Saguenay River. All hands lost. (Iced up.)

Oct. 27 - Hurricane and Boston collided in mid-air tonight. Hurricane pilot hit the ‘chute’. Three men killed. (Clipped wings)

Oct. 26 - Nicked trailing edge of starboard aileron on aircraft ‘Freddie’.

Oct. 27 - Dump truck crashed into starboard wing of aircraft ‘Peter’ and tore de-icer boot and leading edge badly!

Dec. 8 - 116 Squadron Canso ‘A’ crashed on take-off and went into ditch by number 4 hangar, ploughed into sandbag gun emplacement and crushed its nose. Pilot killed, co-pilot had his leg torn off. Quite a bloody mess in cockpit!

Dec. 16 126 - Squadron Hurricane nosed over at end of number 1 runway. Another ‘Hurricane’ made a belly landing on the Botwood road. Undercarriage trouble.

Dec.26 - R.A.F. Liberator crashed on take-off. Badly smashed up. Two ambulance loads of men taken to the hospital.

Dec. 29 - Yank Fortress crashed on landing and burnt. All ten men killed.

May 2-8- Extra guards out. Submarine beached and crew escaped into the bush. Looking for them now.

June 3 - Capt. Lothien T.C.A. training pilot made mistake in transferring fuel and had to come in with only three engines.

June 17 - Saw first opening show at our Rec. Hall with the new projector – Price 20 cents.

June 25 - American Liberator reported missing. Three of our aircraft out on search. No sign of American Liberator.

July 3 - Liberator ‘B’ caught enemy sub on surface, used up all ammunition, then sank it with depth charges. P/O Stevenson and crew. Sub. Gave quite a fight!

July 5 - Subs are moving South. Hope we follow them.

July 10 - One of patrol aircraft came back, after dropping all D/C, (depth charges) with gas caps on wrong. Hell to pay. Will have to find out who slipped!

July 29 - Eight patrols out. Sub pack of 19.

Aug. 11 - American Liberator and American Canso shot down off coast by U-Boats, which now are equipped with 75 mm. Anti-aircraft guns (6). A/C from Argentia, Nfld.

Sept. 19 - Aircraft ‘A’ coming in all shot to Hell, but she got the Sub an hour and a half off Iceland.

Sept. 21 - Clean up all day around the hangars for the Inspector General. He’s a damn nuisance. 9th time I’ve been on a station when he’s inspected it.

Sept. 22 - Aircraft ‘L’ returned shot to hell. About 20 bullet holes in it. Navigator with head graze and bullet in leg. Number 2 engine out. Shot out gas tank. Wings, de-icer boots damaged. Also instrument panel, nose wheel well and main well port. Aircraft sank a sub and shot up another.

Sept. 24 - Aircraft ‘B’ got in OK. Made two attacks. This is the tenth attack in two days.

Oct. 20 - Aircraft ‘Harry’ with about 25 aboard missing. (10 hrs. overdue and out of gas)

Oct. 21 - "H” for Harry crashed in the St. Lawrence at the mouth of the Saguenay R. All hands lost. (Iced up.) ‘Doc’ Poirier & Fisher (Pilots), Frank Elliot, (stores), ‘Jinks’ Jenkins (WAG), Jake Silverstein (WAG), ‘Sandy’ Sanderson (MK1)

Oct. 25 - Started a major check on Aircraft ‘Q’. What a headache! It has been robbed for weeks. All kinds of parts missing!

Oct. 14 - Went to show at night. Fired at by Sten guns for cutting corner of runway. 20 shots fired.

Dec. 3 - What a day! Turned back from Yank Show because I had a sweater on – no shirt.

Dec. 25 - Sent fighter pilots to Canada in aircraft ‘K’.

Dec. 26 - Crew short 4 men. F/S Christle allowed aircraft to go on patrol with a dead cylinder. Against my wishes. The fool!

Corporal Howard Sleightholm was transferred to Toronto on June 6, 1945, and on July 2, 1945, earned his wing as a Flight Engineer and was promoted to Flight Sergeant.


With thanks to Terry Sleightholm, son of Howard Sleightholm.

 

Submitted by F. Tibbo

 

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