- Zammitt, Alan
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney III
- October 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
ON 21ST OCTOBER, six Sea Furies attacked the suspected invasion junks, sinking 7 and damaging 15.
Two Sea Furies were detailed to assist HMAS Murchison negotiate shallow water hazards which threatened her safety on 24th October. The aircraft carried out a mine search ahead of the frigate. On the 23rd October Sydney’s aircraft had taken part in the search for a ditched B29 bomber’s crew in the sea well north of Chinnampo. ‘Dumbo’, a specially equipped air-sea rescue flying boat, picked up 4 of the bomber’s crew while being covered by Sydney’s aircraft. Later, Sydney’s aircraft sighted a survivor flashing his signal mirror from a small dinghy. Murchison’s seaboat rescued the USAAF pilot, after he had transferred to a larger dinghy dropped within 90 feet of the downed airman by one of Sydney’s Fireflies. While searching for the bomber’s crew, a suspected mine was strafed by one of our aircraft.
By June 1951, the Communist Chinese had over 300 MIG-15s concentrated on the airfields north of the Yalu – a formidable force against which the Americans had only 44 F86A Sabres. It was a considerable source of annoyance and frustration to the United Nations pilots that they were not allowed to cross the river to strike at the enemy bases. Nevertheless, despite the fact that they were outnumbered, the Sabres managed to hold their own. It was touch and go in October 1951, when the MIGs succeeded for the first time in seriously interfering with the bombing raids on North Korean targets, and the situation only eased in January 1952 with the arrival of the second Sabre Wing – the 51st.
On 25th October, Lieutenant Colin Wheatly, a Sea Fury pilot from 808 Squadron, had his plane damaged by flak off Chinnampo, and ditched on his way back to the carrier. He was unhurt, and after inflating his dinghy, was rescued by a patrolling ‘Dumbo’.
Off Korea, the American air-sea rescue service of helicopters, seaplanes and rescue boats, was very efficient. Any of the aircrew who ditched into the sea had an extremely good chance of being rescued in the warmer months, provided they had a dinghy. However, in the freezing winter months a ditched flier could meet his end in about three minutes. The CO of 808 Squadron, Lieutenant Commander J. Appleby, RN, was damaged by flak on the 25th but landed at Kimpo. The next day, 26th, Sub-Lieutenant Noel Knappstein’s Sea Fury was damaged by flak and came down on a mud flat in the Han River, the aircraft breaking in two. He was rescued by a boat from HMS Amethyst. During the same day, Sub-Lieutenant Neil MacMillan and Observer Philip Hancox, in a Firefly engaged on bombing a rail tunnel, were hit and crash landed near Sasiwan, in North Korea, north of the Han River, 60 miles behind the enemy lines. The US navy helicopter UP28, embarked in Sydney and flown by CPO Dick Babbit and his crewman, Airman Callis Gooding, volunteered to go to the rescue of the Firefly’s crew. UP28 left Sydney at 1622. An American shore-based helicopter was closer to the crashed aircraft, so UP28 was recalled to the ship. CPO Babbit ignored the order and passed the shore-based ‘chopper’ which was returning to base as ordered. Babbit reached the Firefly at about 1730. Airman Gooding shot dead a North Korean soldier while the Firefly’s crew boarded the helicopter, which then headed for Kimpo Air Base, arriving at 1830, where a line of jeeps used their headlights to mark the landing strip. The ‘chopper’ was escorted by Sea Fury aircraft led by Lieutenant Commander Michael Fell, DSO, DFC, RN, whose Sea Fury controls had been damaged by flak during the rescue operations. Lieutenant Commander Fell later became Admiral Sir Michael Fell.
The helicopter pilot, CPO Dick Babbit, was awarded the British DSM and the US Navy’s Navy Cross.
Aviation Mechanic’s Mate Callis Gooding was a real ‘dare devil’. As soon as the helicopter left Sydney’s flight deck, weather permitting, he would sit at the helicopter’s opened sliding hatch entrance with his legs dangling in space, smoking a cigarette (and wearing non-service socks). Anyone caught smoking on the flight deck would be in real trouble, but once the chopper had left the deck Gooding did as he pleased. Airman Gooding received the Commendation Ribbon With Distinguished Service, indicating that it was earned in combat. The award earned by Gooding seemed to me a fairly minor one, and looking back I cannot understand why he did not receive the DSM. However, medals are not everything, and the American helicopter crew became very popular men from that evening, when it was announced over the ship’s broadcasting system of their successful rescue.