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Complete Story taken from The Wizard issue 1722 February 14th 1959.

I reckon I’m the only pilot who has actually seen a Gremlin. It shook me at the time, I can tell you. You’ve heard of Gremlins, naturally. During the war they were blamed for everything that went wrong in the Royal Air Force. If your aircraft acted up for some unknown reason, or your guns refused to fire when they were needed, then that was the fault of the Gremlins. They were supposed to be invisible, little men who hitched rides in aircraft just to plague the pilots. It was all a joke, of course, but I didn’t laugh on the day I saw a Gremlin with my own eyes. This is how it happened. My name’s Bill Drew, and towards the end of the war I was a sergeant-pilot in a Typhoon squadron. Typhoons were fighters with plenty of power and punch. They were developed from the famous Hurricane of battle-of-Britain fame, and they were armed with rockets. Really first-class machines they were. When the Allies – Britain and America – invaded Europe, the Typhoons were kept busy shooting up trains, bridges, airfields and any other target whose destruction would hamper the enemy. As out troops advanced towards Germany, the Typhoons moved with them. It wasn’t all a piece of cake by any means. The opposition was strong, and on one sortie my plane got badly shot up. I managed to walk away from the wreck, and soon I was taking over a new Typhoon that had been sent as a replacement. That’s when my troubles started. Believe it or not, aircraft have personalities of their own. My new plane looked the same as any other Tiffy, but in the air it was as awkward as a mule. Little things were always going wrong, and always unexpectedly. Once I had to return to base because the oil pressure dropped to zero on one occasion. Another time the throttle jammed open and the engine nearly shook itself loose. Now don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said, the Typhoon was a wonderful plane. It was just this one of mine that was awkward. It was wing heavy, and I had to fight to keep control all the time. The aircraft was in the hands of the ground crews more often than not. The riggers and fitters did their best, but the Tiffy baffled them. They found it hard to account for the things that went wrong. For instance, my guns jammed once, in the middle of a scrap. But when I got back to base the guns fired perfectly and there was no sign of a stoppage. “That kite of yours must have a whole colony of Gremlins roosting all over it,” said the flight-sergeant in charge of the ground crew. I was inclined to agree with him. But aircraft were scarce, and I had to go on flying mine. An urgent job had come our way and every plane was needed. The German rockets – V2’s as they were known – were starting to drop on London. They were monster rockets packed with high-explosives, and they were being launched from enemy-occupied territory. The squadron to which I belonged got the job of helping to attack Wilbaden. This had been an airfield, but reports were reaching us that the Germans were now using it as a research station for rocket experiments. We had to stop them from developing the deadly V2 any further. The first step was a night attack by waves of our heavy bombers. Soon after dawn we took off to complete what the heavies had started. My Typhoon was acting awkward, as usual. I had to haul it into the air, and the wing-heaviness seemed worse than usual. All the time I was countering the tendency for the starboard wing to dip. I managed to keep formation, and we streaked in over Wilbaden. The night’s bomber raid had made a mess. Most of the buildings were in ruins. We peeled off, and went diving down. I fired my wing rockets, and saw them whooshing down towards the buildings below. I needed all my strength to heave the Typhoon up again. I climbed to rejoin – and there was a gaggle of German fighters jumping on us! A Messerschmitt weaved round me in a tight turn. I yanked my aircraft to meet him, trying to stop him getting inside me. I let go a burst from my guns and missed by yards. In turn I saw the enemy’s guns flame and juddered away. The German came after me again, and I tried to boost the Tiffy over him. The enemy pilot let fly another burst. I dived away, and kept diving. I couldn’t haul my aircraft up again. We didn’t seem to have been hit, but that heavy starboard wing flung me into a spin. The controls were soggy and sluggish. I didn’t know if the German was following me down. There was no time to find out. I was fighting to get out of that vicious spin. The earth was rushing up to meet me in a whirling blur. In a few seconds I would be going straight into the ground at five hundred knots. I made a last desperate effort to get control. The nose came up. I was pressed into my seat by the force of gravity. For a second I blacked out. When I came to again I could see sky instead of the spinning earth. The controls were heavy under my hands. For a second I wondered if the strain of pulling out of that dive had torn a wing off. Then I realised that the plane was flying more or less level, but with the starboard wing low. I was only a few hundred feet up. I twisted my head round, and saw the fight moving away, thousands of feet above me. I was all by myself. It took all my strength to bring the starboard wing up. I was limp after the strains of the last few minutes. I knew I couldn’t hold the aircraft in the sky all the way back to base. And I was a sitting duck if an enemy fighter jumped me. Below me was the German rocket base at Wilbaden. The wrecked buildings surrounded a runway pockmarked with bomb craters. The place looked deserted. I decided to put down there. I still shudder when I think of that landing. The starboard wing wanted to dig itself into the ground. I fought to keep the aircraft straight and level. We skimmed in over a bomb crater, and crunched down the other side of it. The plane bounced and shuddered. I hit my head a crack on the instrument panel, and that was curtains for me.

I couldn’t have been unconscious for long, and when I opened my eyes I was sitting in the cockpit still in one piece. The aircraft had rolled to a halt at the end of the runway. I tried to forget about my aching head, and began to think over the next move. My best plan seemed to try to get past the enemy positions and meet our advancing troops. But first I would have to set fire to my plane to prevent it falling into enemy hands. “And that should finally take care of the Gremlins!” I told myself. That was when I caught sight of the Gremlin. I mentioned at the start of this story of mine. I glanced along the starboard wing and my eyes popped. There, sitting on the wing, was a strange little creature. It was about three feet tall, with a furry face. It was dressed in an outfit something like a flyer’s – helmet and overalls. I blinked, wondering if the clout on the head had knocked me queer. The little creature looked back at me. Then it began to dance up and down on the wing. I knew then that I wasn’t seeing things. I could feel the vibrations. What with everything that had happened recently, ending with that bang on the head. I didn’t feel equal to this final episode. I just goggled out through my cockpit canopy at the Gremlin. Then I heard a shot. Voices yelled. A machine-gun stuttered. I swung round, and saw soldiers in field-grey running towards me. The Germans had seen me come down, and now they were after me. They fired as they raced across the runway. There weren’t interested in taking me prisoner. I had to take my chance in the air again. It was a slim one, but better than waiting to be shot. I glanced along the wing, and saw that the Gremlin had disappeared. I opened the throttle and turned the aircraft. I could feel a difference as soon as I handled the controls. The Typhoon was answering readily now. I boosted the aircraft along the runway. There was no longer any wing-heaviness. A thought flashed through my mind. The Gremlin had gone – and taken the wing trouble with him. I lifted the aircraft over a bomb crater. Shots followed us as the Typhoon carried me out of danger. I climbed rapidly, and set a course for home. There was no starboard wing drag now. The aircraft flew like a bird. It was a joy-ride all the way back to base. The other fellows wouldn’t believe me when I told them about my Gremlin. They said the bang on my head had knocked me even stupid than usual. I had to admit that I had been a bit woozy, but I knew I hadn’t imagined that little creature in flying-kit bouncing up and down on my wing. And the fellows had to agree that something had happened to my Tiffy. The wing trouble was cured. We captured Wilbaden not long afterwards. Running wild among the ruins we found my Gremlin. It was a little monkey. We discovered that as part of their experiments, the Germans had been planning to send monkeys in their rockets. My Gremlin had escaped during the raids on Wilbaden. The Germans had withdrawn from the research station, leaving the monkey behind. I suppose the little fellow had been frightened and lonely, and he had made for my plane when I landed, looking for a friendly face. He had been bouncing up and down on the wing to attract my attention. It must have been his capers that had corrected the mysterious wing trouble. Perhaps the flaps were sticking, or something like that. They say that when skill fails, a good kick often works wonders! And, strangely enough, it’s the case, isn’t it? Anyway, that monkey did the trick for me. He became our squadron mascot. I still prefer to think of him as a Gremlin, however – a helpful one, for a change.


© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2003