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Weapons Systems Tuning Group Reunion

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Derrick Middleton bem

A career in the Royal Navy and the Weapon Systems Tuning Group: 1940-1985

This pen picture of Derrick’s time in the Navy and WSTG has been compiled as a result of an interview with Ken Wingate and Ivan Winter on the 21st of July 2004.

The story starts in 1940 when Derrick was studying at the Battersea Polytechnic; he had just witnessed the Battle of Britain and the start of the blitz on London.

Having partially completed his studies he worked for several firms all in the London area. He worked for Ross the optics firm, a firm making taximeters and Multitone. His Mum heard that the Navy badly needed people with instrument knowledge, so having studied electrics, including instrumentation he decided to do his bit for his country and volunteered for the Royal Navy.

However he was turned down because his eyesight was not good enough.

Not to be thwarted he then tried for the Army. He told us that fate and Hitler took a hand because as he was leaving to attend his Army interview a letter arrived saying that after all he could join the navy. As he said if he had left home slightly earlier he would almost certainly have joined the Army and had a different life.

So he mustered at Devonport, HMS Defiance, to join as an Electrical Artificer on the 24th Nov 1940. After the usual introduction and courses he started his navy life on motor gunboats at Ramsgate on the Kent coast.

His duties the maintenance of the electrics on these powerful small boats.

The mess for the electrical artificers was in the fairground at Ramsgate.

The Gunboats were built at two British boat builders Vospers at Woolston/ Southampton and British Power boats at Lowestoft.

Armed with two or four torpedo tubes and 20mm guns for anti aircraft defence they were powered by either three Rolls Royce Merlins or the American Packard equivalent.

Derrick said the noise of these engines was so bad that communication was by hand written notes.

In the photos examples are shown of both the Vosper and British Power boat motor torpedo boats. Post war Motor gunboats were redesignated motor torpedo boats, which explains the MTB designation in the photos.

Derrick did point out that unlike the German E boats, which were diesel powered the British boats required high-octane petrol fuel and as he put it were "quite lethal".

After this spell of duty on the English channel, which during the war saw a great deal of action with both sides probing the defences of each other from 1940 to 1944, Derrick was drafted to HMS Roebuck.

This was a Rotherham class destroyer built at Scott’s in Greenock launched Dec 10th 1942 and completed on the 10th June 1943 at John Browns after Scotts had been bombed.

She joined the 11th destroyer Flotilla in the East Indies where she was based at Trincomalee in Ceylon.

As Britain had lost her other two bases in the Far East, Singapore and Hong Kong, Derrick said that this most natural of harbours was full of warships at this stage in the war.

As he put it rows and rows of warships stretched across this huge harbour.

These Rotherham class wartime destroyers were armed with 4 in number 4.7 inch guns, 8 torpedo tubes, pom poms and 8 in number 20mm oerlikons.

Again as an Electrical Artificer Derrick spent two years maintaining the electrics and weapons on this ship. Throughout his career he always seemed to be involved in torpedoes and in spite of all his efforts to move on to a ship with AC supply machinery all of his ships throughout his 30 years in the navy were DC.

Derrick gave us some insight into his wartime career when he said that after firing a full load of torpedoes and missing they sunk a German supply ship by gunfire from their 4.7-inch guns. On his return to Britain he was like so many others demobbed back to civilian life.

Above extract from his service record shows the medals received by Derrick.

1939-1945 Star, Burma star, War Medal and later the United Nations Service Medal and BEM.

His wartime ship Roebuck after a time at Plymouth in care and maintenance was converted into a Type 15 destroyer at Devonport, emerging in 1953 a very different ship with enclosed bridge, new radar and weaponry.

The mundane life of a civilian did not appeal to Derrick and as the Royal Navy was still keen to recruit people with his undoubted expertise after one month outside he rejoined the Navy. With one month demob leave he spent one day in Civvy Street.

This second period in the Navy was to last from 1945 to 1970.

He told us that on rejoining he was sent on a maintainer’s course for the Enigma coding machine, which he said, was fitted on some RN ships.

This of course is the machine which figures in films and history books as the German coding device that was successfully cracked at Bletchley with a great deal of help from the Poles who had acquired an early machine.

[I personally have never heard that we used this machine operationally but I can see no reason why not apart of course that both the Americans and Russians would have got the secrets during or after the war].

Derrick was fairly knowledgeable on the history of this device.

His next job as an Electrical Artificer 3 was more straightforward. Standing by HMS Barrosa in build at John Browns on the Clyde in Glasgow.

She had been launched on the 17th January 1945 and was completed on the 14th February 1947.

The term "standing by" means that key ratings such as Derrick were posted to a ship in build so that they could be fully aware of their part of the ship. He would have seen the weapons and electrics being fitted and set to work throughout 1946/7

The battle class 2nd group were fitted with the American Type 37 gun director with 275 radar, 293 medium range and 274 navigation radars.

Gunnery included 5 in number 4.5 guns in two double turrets forward and a single in Q position amidships. 10 torpedo tubes in two quintupled mountings and LIMBO or mortar MK 10 completed the main armament.

As you can see from this list and can imagine the rest of the electrical fit out of sight within the ship Derrick had a major work package.

The ship’s destination after completion was the 8th Destroyer Flotilla and 8th Destroyer Squadron and Derrick spent 30 months on this ship.

By now Derrick had fulfilled the requirements for promotion to Chief Electrical Artificer and was posted to HMS Collingwood to take the CEA course.

He admitted to us that he failed this course on the subject of analogue computation; this involved servo operated gear trains driving potentiometers wound to provide various functions and other components and circuitry performing mathematical procedures and scaling. It was very different to modern digital computation but often very complex.

At this set back Derrick decided to volunteer for a modern AC electrically powered ship, one of the new Daring class but he was selected to remain at Collingwood in Fareham in the apprentice training section.

He then repeated and passed the CEA course and was drafted to HMS Royalist as Chief E A. This was a marine training ship bases at Portsmouth or as Derrick put it a home based ship for him.

As you can see from the photo this was a big ship, a Dido class cruiser with big guns and lots of electrics for the Chief E A and his team.

He then moved on to another Cruiser HMS Newfoundland, which was in refit at Devonport, again as a key rating. Derrick was to spend 3 years on this ship, which obviously has good memories because he is an active member of the Newfoundland Association.

This was 1952 and on completion of her refit and after work up she was deployed to the East Indies 1953-1954.It was not the first time Derrick had been east as Roebuck had first taken him in this direction in the war years.

From the website the following has been extracted. HMS Newfoundland was a modified FIJI [Colony] class design and after an extensive modernisation at Devonport in November 1952 she re-commissioned for service in the Far East Station.

In April 1954, at the Cocos Islands, Newfoundland took over the escort of HM the Queen who was sailing on board the SS Gothic returning from a tour of Australia.

By June 1954 the ship was back in the Far East bombarding the Malayan terrorists north of Penang.

The ship arrived back at Portsmouth in February 1955 having steamed 65,000 miles in two years.

This was when Derrick left this ship after a long time away from home.

Photo taken when Queen joined HMS Newfoundland at Colombo.

He now had a home posting standing by HMS Victorious as a key rating whilst she was in extended refit at Portsmouth Dockyard. This refit took from March 1950 until 1958 due to the many changes made in the design during this period.

Again this was a DC supplied ship with some complex electronic equipment, including the 984 3D radar. D M J White who Derrick was to meet again in WSTG maintained this massive Radar.

Derrick said that the electrics was divided into 3 sections, presumably each with its charge chief,

This worked well apart from the fact that there was only one main switchboard, Derrick’s, for the whole ship. He told us that at commissioning all the lights went out. Not only embarrassing but also frightening for those without a torch inside the darkened ship. He said that from that time he always carried a torch, he added that he still does.

After 3 years on the "Vic" he was posted to HMS Dolphin for something completely different.

This next posting, which was for 18 months, was at the submarine base in Gosport.

Where he was in charge of electrical maintenance on boats [submarines] undergoing repair work and for defects occurring on running submarines.

This was at a time when the Royal Navy had a considerable fleet of submarines including A class, T class, the post war Porpoise class and the latest generation of Oberon class.

His equipment included Torpedoes, Torpedo control system 9 [TCS 9] and the massive job of Battery changes.

The Porpoise class for instance had sufficient batteries to give 880 volts for short periods. These boats also carried 30 Mk 8 and Mk 20 torpedoes being carried for 8 tubes, 6 forward and 2 aft.

His Submarine experience was put to good use, as his last ship in the Navy was HMS Tyne a submarine depot ship.

Unusually for this class, i.e. not too grand, she was also Flagship to C in C Home. Fleet and this entailed a bit of ceremony for Derrick.

He explained that when in harbour he sometimes had the task of "officer of the day" which entailed carrying a telescope.

Originally built in 1940 as a Destroyer depot ship she later became a submarine depot ship. After another 18 months on this ship it was back to HMS Dolphin in charge of the periscope workshop.

Submarines carry a variety of periscopes to deal with different problems, radar and the visual.

Derrick mentioned the ALE radar mast that he worked on in the periscope workshops.

At this point it should be mentioned that Derrick was given the BEM for a service record that included many VG Superior markings. Not lightly given although in typical style Derrick brushed it aside. He received this award while at HMS Vernon.

In 1964/5 Derrick continued in the Navy as a Non Continuous Service rating. This meant that he had not signed up for a fixed period but was kept on as required.

He stayed on at the same rank but with a cut in pay, as he was not available for drafting.

He stayed in the service for a further 5 years at HMS Vernon working on again torpedo systems including STWS [ship’s torpedo weapon system] and the anti submarine system MCS 10.

It was whilst in Vernon that Derrick became acquainted with the Weapon System Tuning Group that was to figure in his career post Naval service.

This came about because he was involved in the trials of equipments after WSTG had set them to work.

He met many of the team he was later to work with including Freddie Parkman, Jack Banfield, Bill Searle and Norman Hickey.

After 30 years Derrick left the Navy and headed for Civvy Street.

His first interview was with the Xerox Company but having seen WSTG in action he decided to try and join the organisation, which at that time was recruiting for the Leanders in build.

He obviously had the skills having worked on MCS10 and STWS but now had to run the interview gauntlet.

WSTG had traditionally recruited from the Dockyards including the apprentice stream and also from ex Navy people.

His first interview was at ASWE at Portsdown for entry as an assistant APO production officer but he was given good advice there to go for yet another interview in London, Regents street, and he passed this interview, joining WSTG in Sept 1970 as a PTO IV.

The WSTG headquarters at that time was Milldam House in Burnaby road Portsmouth and it was here that he met his new boss Dave Burnett [another ex Navy man] who was head of the sonar section.

Derrick almost picked up where he had left off in the Navy for his work in the Sonar section included working on the Mortar Mk 10, also called LIMBO, and Sonars 170 and 177.

The LIMBO was a device that threw several depth charges over the bow of the ship to destroy enemy submarines, a hazardous method made necessary due to the limitationsof Sonar detection.

The device eventually included self loading and this made it even more dangerous as it could accidentally load two charges in one tube, this limited the throw with obvious consequences if not spotted in time.

Derrick worked on the many Leander class, their conversions and of course HMS Bristol which had most weapons systems fitted.

He said that with his time at Vernon and WSTG he worked on every Tribal and Leander built and also on many refits, some having the older Squid system fitted.

He then moved on to the Type 42s and 21s, which had the new torpedo launching system STWS1.

During his time in the Sonar section he had several heads of section including Sid Porter and Norman Gooch with Sid Strange, Bert Norris and John Mills his TG2s.

As was usual with most people in WSTG he came into contact with and worked with engineers from the manufacturers and MOD Projects.

He mentioned Plesseys who made STWS and going to Southwell at Portland where the Project staff who managed STWS were based.

STWS was a British development of the American Navy’s Mk 32 torpedo launcher.

It had a triple launcher one either side of the ship and was fitted on the Type 21s and the Type 42s.

The tubes were designed to take a lightweight torpedo and is quite a small mounting.

Not easy to see in the photo of a Type 42 above.

The final years in WSTG were spent as the C group co-ordinator at Milldam where his boss came down from Bath weekly. His task included managing contractors paperwork and then he moved to Woolston, taking over from Harry Bednall who retired. This was at the Vosper Thornycroft ship building yard. At that time they were building the Hunt class minesweepers.

Derrick’s SPTO at Thornycrofts was Gerry Green and his task was co-ordination between his base at Woolston and the Main WSTG office and also liaison between WSTG and the shipyard.

Apart from the duties above he also looked after the domestics of visiting WSTG staff and contractors, accommodation, passes, handbooks, test equipment and ensuring that the setting to work programme was planned into the overall ships programme.

He also had to ensure that the local airfields were aware when high power radar sets were transmitting and that no divers were in the water when Sonar 184 was transmitting.

Vospers was not the easiest yard to work in. The work force were very conscious of lines of demarcation and any WSTG man who took a fuse out or changed a wire brought their wrath down on him. Derrick had to mediate in these circumstances to keep the work flowing.

Much of his work was carried out through the overseeing staff, not all of whom looked on WSTG with favour. Their boss, NWLO, was Dave Metherell who was later to become head of WSTG.

WSTG liaison was not an easy task by any means.

Finally the day came for retirement, 11th July 1985 after serving the Navy in one way or another for 45 years.

Retirement presented Derrick with a few problems and it was not always a happy time.

But at 85 he still has the energy and motivation of a younger man.

Recent journeys to the Panama Canal and Prague, which he visited by rail using several connecting trains followed by a holiday in Turkey, prove that he still has a zest for life.