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TITLE
Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (3 of 10)
EXTERNAL ID
GB232_MFR_JOHN_NIVEN_03
DATE OF RECORDING
1986
PERIOD
1980s
CREATOR
John Niven
SOURCE
Moray Firth Radio
ASSET ID
41166
KEYWORDS
pilots
aircraft
fighter pilots
World War 2
World War II
Second World War
WW2

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In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.

'Interviewer: Some of these operational sorties had names hadn't they? For each type of thing there was a name.

The, there were, 'Ramrod', for instance was, it was a bomber sortie an escorted bomber sortie. There would be a 'Rodeo', which was a fighter, purely a fighter sweep, to send them across, fly over them, and make them come up, annoy them enough to come up and have a shot. A 'Rhubarb' was an individual sortie, done at low level, again with the about the same effect on the tummy as the ordinary rhubarb. The Roadstead was an attack on shipping, low level shipping attacks, which was a, wasn't a very clever pastime at all. And 'Intruders', although we didn't, mercifully we didn't do 'Intruder' work, that was a night operation, and, of course, the spitfire wasn't any use at night at all.

Interviewer: It was this time that, of course, a lot of the tactical air warfare was being thought out; the way the fighters actually flew into battle, or flew anywhere at all, was changed wasn't it?

Yes.

Interviewer: The 'Finger Four' and the 'Vic Three' and all this sort of thing?

Yes, the residue of the Battle of Britain was a formation of twelve aircraft in four triangles of three, four Vics of three flying behind each other, but the two outside chaps on the last element there, spread out a bit and they weaved back and forward, keeping a lookout behind the squadron. And that was all very well; the squadron were well protected but the two chaps who were doing the weaving were...

Interviewer: were in trouble.

...were almost expendable.

Interviewer: Horrifying.

And the main part of the flying was really supporting each other. It was a team job all the time, and the basic unit was the two aircraft, and the number two in each pair, his only job was really to look after the number one and let him do the fighting. And, so that with a squadron of twelve the next type of formation that became popular was three fours in line astern, that's behind each other, red section in the middle, yellow on the right, and blue on the left, and again operating as two pairs in each. And the whole shooting match weaved about so that every man could look behind him, look right behind him, and see behind his tail. This covered, it covered attack from almost any angle at all, and it was a very effective, very effective way of flying.

And they weren't flying close together. I mean, there'd be two or three hundred yards between these elements of four aircraft. And as they, as the sweeps proceeded, there was another type of formation was tried out and that was called, it became, it became known as 'Finger Fours'. And, in effect, it was three sections where the aircraft flew really in the shape of one's fingertips. If you tuck your thumb in and look at your fingertips, then the middle finger is the leader, the first finger is his number two, and the other two fingers are thee and four. And you had these three sections of four flying abreast of each other, and a long way apart, three, four, five hundred yards apart. So that a squadron would cover a lot of sky, quite a lot of sky. And a wing would naturally cover three times as much sky because they were spread out as well, three squadrons to a wing. And then a number of wings, of course, you were covering an awful lot of sky. It created a number of problems. It gave very good cross cover. Everybody could, everybody knew that somebody was looking after them, there was a cross view there, but if one had to turn the operation ninety degrees, say, to the left then it required everybody to swing under everybody else and come out in the right place.

Interviewer: Reverse positions?

Reverse positions, yes, and it also meant that the 'Finger Four' had to reverse positions at the same time, and it took a bit of practice but it worked out alright.'


John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.

During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)

After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board).

John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.

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Memories of a Spitfire Pilot (3 of 10)

1980s

pilots; aircraft; fighter pilots; World War 2; World War II; Second World War; WW2;

Moray Firth Radio

MFR: Memories of a Spitfire Pilot

In this audio extract from the Moray Firth Radio programme 'Marshall Meets', Sam Marshall talks to ex spitfire pilot, John Niven.<br /> <br /> 'Interviewer: Some of these operational sorties had names hadn't they? For each type of thing there was a name.<br /> <br /> The, there were, 'Ramrod', for instance was, it was a bomber sortie an escorted bomber sortie. There would be a 'Rodeo', which was a fighter, purely a fighter sweep, to send them across, fly over them, and make them come up, annoy them enough to come up and have a shot. A 'Rhubarb' was an individual sortie, done at low level, again with the about the same effect on the tummy as the ordinary rhubarb. The Roadstead was an attack on shipping, low level shipping attacks, which was a, wasn't a very clever pastime at all. And 'Intruders', although we didn't, mercifully we didn't do 'Intruder' work, that was a night operation, and, of course, the spitfire wasn't any use at night at all.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: It was this time that, of course, a lot of the tactical air warfare was being thought out; the way the fighters actually flew into battle, or flew anywhere at all, was changed wasn't it?<br /> <br /> Yes.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: The 'Finger Four' and the 'Vic Three' and all this sort of thing?<br /> <br /> Yes, the residue of the Battle of Britain was a formation of twelve aircraft in four triangles of three, four Vics of three flying behind each other, but the two outside chaps on the last element there, spread out a bit and they weaved back and forward, keeping a lookout behind the squadron. And that was all very well; the squadron were well protected but the two chaps who were doing the weaving were...<br /> <br /> Interviewer: were in trouble.<br /> <br /> ...were almost expendable.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Horrifying.<br /> <br /> And the main part of the flying was really supporting each other. It was a team job all the time, and the basic unit was the two aircraft, and the number two in each pair, his only job was really to look after the number one and let him do the fighting. And, so that with a squadron of twelve the next type of formation that became popular was three fours in line astern, that's behind each other, red section in the middle, yellow on the right, and blue on the left, and again operating as two pairs in each. And the whole shooting match weaved about so that every man could look behind him, look right behind him, and see behind his tail. This covered, it covered attack from almost any angle at all, and it was a very effective, very effective way of flying. <br /> <br /> And they weren't flying close together. I mean, there'd be two or three hundred yards between these elements of four aircraft. And as they, as the sweeps proceeded, there was another type of formation was tried out and that was called, it became, it became known as 'Finger Fours'. And, in effect, it was three sections where the aircraft flew really in the shape of one's fingertips. If you tuck your thumb in and look at your fingertips, then the middle finger is the leader, the first finger is his number two, and the other two fingers are thee and four. And you had these three sections of four flying abreast of each other, and a long way apart, three, four, five hundred yards apart. So that a squadron would cover a lot of sky, quite a lot of sky. And a wing would naturally cover three times as much sky because they were spread out as well, three squadrons to a wing. And then a number of wings, of course, you were covering an awful lot of sky. It created a number of problems. It gave very good cross cover. Everybody could, everybody knew that somebody was looking after them, there was a cross view there, but if one had to turn the operation ninety degrees, say, to the left then it required everybody to swing under everybody else and come out in the right place.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Reverse positions?<br /> <br /> Reverse positions, yes, and it also meant that the 'Finger Four' had to reverse positions at the same time, and it took a bit of practice but it worked out alright.'<br /> <br /> <br /> John Brown Niven was born and brought up in Edinburgh. After an education at George Heriot's school he joined the family roofing business, John Low Slaters. However, his passion, since a schoolboy, had been flying, and he successfully applied to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve in June 1939 at the age of nineteen. He applied to study flying at RAF Cranwell College and was accepted, but before taking up his place, he was called up for war in September.<br /> <br /> During the war years he had distinguished service in the RAF, flying spitfires in the UK, Indian and Japan. He was Squadron Leader in the 602 City of Glasgow Squadron and 485 New Zealand Squadron. He also flew with 322 Dutch Squadron. For his courageous efforts he was awarded the DFC (Distinguished Flying Cross) and bar. (A bar is added to the DFC ribbon for holders who receive a second award.)<br /> <br /> After the war John rejoined the family roofing firm, married Dorothy Hood and had three children. He moved to Thurso to work in personnel for the UKAEA (United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority) at Dounreay, before finally settling in Inverness as an employee of HIDB (Highlands & Islands Development Board). <br /> <br /> John was a keen golfer (he played off a handicap of 2) and in the 1960s was instrumental in renovating and extending the course at Reay, near Thurso. He retired in 1985 and died in October 1986. His wife, son and two daughters still live in Inverness and Nairn.