Sunday, October 14, 2012

G/Capt Maurice Larwood Gaine DSO AFC 1910-2003

Maurice Gaine — “Larry”, as he was known throughout the RA. He was one of the Second World War’s acknowledged torpedo bombing experts. He was awarded the DSO for his resolute precision attacks on Axis shipping in the Mediterranean in 1942 and 1943.
He also has a place in aviation history for participating in the remarkable two-day flight of Vickers Wellesley bombers that in 1938 broke the world long-distance record with a non-stop journey of 7,162 miles from Ismailia in Egypt to Darwin, Australia. This beat by 856 miles the previous record, which had been claimed by three Soviet aviators with a flight from Moscow over the polar route to San Jacinto, California, in July 1937.

The three single-engined Wellesleys that took off from a specially lengthened runway at RAF Ismailia at 03.55 (GMT)on November 5, 1938, were part of the Long Range Development Flight to which Gaine had been posted the previous year. The first aircraft to feature the revolutionary and robust geodetic construction designed by Barnes Wallis, they were effectively standard machines, though modified to carry much extra fuel and lubricating oil to see them through their mammoth task.

From Ismailia they flew across the north of Arabia, the Gulf, India, the Malayan peninsula and Borneo before the No 1 aircraft, of which Gaine was signals officer and relief pilot, touched down at Darwin at 04.00 (GMT) on November 7 after 48 hours and 5 minutes in the air. The No 2 aircraft was compelled to land at Koepang on Timor Island in the Dutch East Indies. For the two successful machines the feat was a tribute to the remarkable Bristol Pegasus engine. For his part in this historic achievement Gaine was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Maurice Larwood Gaine was born in Grimsby in 1910 and educated at Wintringham Grammar School. At 16 he entered the RAF as an apprentice wireless operator, passing out as a leading aircraftman in 1929. For the next six years he served as a wireless operator mechanic before in 1931 being selected for flying training. From 1932 he specialised in torpedo bombing and spent four years from 1933 with a Vickers Vildebeest squadron, No 36, based at Seletar, Singapore. During this time he also flew on operations on the North West Frontier of India.

His nickname “Larry” came about through association with the popular Canadian boxer Larry Gains, who was Commonwealth heavyweight champion from 1931 to 1934. Gaine was himself a keen boxer.

He was commissioned in 1938, and had the rank of pilot officer for the record-breaking Wellesley flight that year. When war came he had two spells as a torpedo bombing instructor before being sent to Malta to command 39 Squadron of Beaufort torpedo bombers in the crucial summer of 1942.

This was his first wartime operational posting after two years of training, and he brought to the squadron a notion of tactics that did not at first recommend itself to many of the squadron’s pilots, who had come through a bad patch in which No39 had had several aircraft lost and many others badly shot up. They had been taught to take violent evasive action before and after dropping their torpedoes. Gaine argued that this made no difference to the likelihood of their being hit by flak, and certainly greatly increased the chance of their missing the target. He went in resolutely straight and level as he would have done in training, and aimed his torpedoes with great accuracy.

Accurate or not, few of his pilots thought him likely to survive for long with these methods. Gaine proved them wrong and soon built a reputation for his success in ship-busting at a time when every supply vessel lost to Rommel was vital in tilting the balance in the North African struggle.

In September 1942 he led his squadron on an attack that destroyed a freighter, flying straight through the flak from its three escorting destroyers. In November he sank a large tanker outside Tobruk. In March the following year he again sank a destroyer-escorted merchantman and at the same time shot down an enemy fighter, which attacked his Beaufort.

In April 1943 he was awarded the DSO for his outstanding skill and leadership. He was then rested from operations and posted to an operational training unit. He remained on training for the rest of the war.

After the war he had a spell in charge of air signals plans at Combined Operations HQ at Westward Ho! in North Devon, before passing through the Staff College, Bracknell. From 1956 to 1959 he was station commander of RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire.

During this time he was instrumental in preserving one of the nine Gloster Meteor prototypes, DG202G, which he saved from destruction after it had been used as an instructional airframe for 12 years. For many years the restored aircraft stood in a position of honour at the station entrance. Yatesbury is now closed as an RAF station, but DG202G lives on as part of the RAF Museum’s collection at Cosford in Shropshire.

Among Gaine’s later appointments were that of UK member of the Nato communication committee, and from 1961 to 1963 he was in another Nato appointment, in Norway, as chief signals officer responsible for air defence, communication and radar stations from Oslo to the North Cape. He retired from the RAF in 1965 in a technical Intelligence post at the Ministry of Defence.