By Cpl Don Collings
Transcribed from “BAD NEWS – Journal of the BAD 2 Association, Vol. 7, No. 3, July 1984
© 1984 BAD 2 Association
Now that the last engine has been power checked, and the roar of the might Merlin will echo and re-echo no more up and down the Ribble Valley, it becomes evident that something tangible should be retained – something should be written and preserved concerning that collection of men and materials known during the long months of the Second World War as Test Blocks, BAD #2.
Before we proceed with the more prosaic facts and figures, let us glance for a moment at that journal of blood, sweat and tears, the Foreman’s shift report. Contained in this big blue book is the record of all the many and varied things that have happened during many long months of seeking for perfection in the V-1650.
If all the coolant leaks recorded in this book were laid end to end, we could sail home on a sea of Ethylene Glycol. If all the hot intake plugs changed during these operations were piled together, well – it would be a champion do! If all the petrol represented by rich carburettors in that book, could be splashed together, every Ford in Texas could run from Dallas to Corpus Christi every Sunday for a year.
In short, the blue book contains enough trouble to give the Sphinx a headache, so just think what it did to the poor harassed Foreman whose painful duty it was to record it. Many of them attempted escape from cantankerous reality by adding a few words of witticism at the end of their reports under the heading of “Remarks”.
Several of these gems have been ferreted out by your reporter as examples of how the mind may turn classical under such circumstances.
“The night was filled with rain and lots of engine troubles. Let’s get this over and go home. Buy bonds. At least pray.” And “Lights went out 1 ¼ hours, caused cells to shut down and hampered production. Gee, it was dark!” and at a period when production was low for various reasons: “Morale keeping up with the rate of engine production.”
“Speaking of testing, ‘am very anxious to test a sack.” “We think Ratzburg’s remarks are strictly from corn.” Later by R. : “The Allison slings are as old and dangerous as buzz-bombs. There isn’t anything new around here. Even these nose jobs are old stuff. If that be corn, for heaven’s sake make bourbon out of it.” A particularly classic remark was Sgt. Roy’s notation on the night of August 13, ’44: “Petrol supply exhausted at 2 o’clock. The only thing left running after that was the men, going back to the barracks.”
The first radial engine to be tested at the blocks was “sold” October 6, ’43 and the last Dec’ 7, a total of 126 in all. After the change over to in-lines, and the production of Rolls-Royce began, the first of these to be tested was on January 16, ’44. Allisons were discontinued in Oct ’44 after the production of 2321.
Rolls-Royce continued until June 20, ’45, with a total 3581, making a grand total of 6028.
Lt. Watters was Officer in Charge here at the beginning, and continued in this capacity until September ’43, when he was succeeded by Capt. Eckhardt. Capt. Eckhardt left in Jan ’44.
In Jan, 1st Lt. Robert J. Boehm became Officer in Charge. He was promoted to Captain in June ’44. During his time at Engine Test he has brought about many improvements in system and equipment. Other Officers on duty here at the time production ceased were: 1st Lt. W.L. Micheal and WO (JG) L.E. Wolz. Shift Foremen were M/Sgts Kouns, Ratzburg and Peterson.
The vast majority of improvements in the cells came about after Capt. Boehm took charge. When this writer first started to work at the blocks, things were in a pretty primitive stage. Life was rugged and filling the system with coolant was procedure which only a hardy 1-A soldier could live through. I pushed coolant and oil carts for Cell 11 for many months, being third in command of a crew of three, and have often pondered upon the virility of ancestors who could have produced so indestructible a man as I.
Starting an engine, in the days of the portable energizer, was a feat requiring ingenuity, courage, infinite patience and at least three men. Persuading one of the little contraption to run required the strength of a Dempsy, the tactical ability of Ike and the diplomacy of Anthony Eden. Many’s the time we’ve had four dead energizers we’d been trying to revive, lined up in Cell 11 and “Gen” Fischer has turned to me and said hopelessly, “Collings, go see if you can find another one.” When an energizer was finally made to run, it was gently nursed and pushed from cell to cell, protected like a sacred flame.
Starting the engine required one man at the controls, on man on the stand to contact the starter and one man on the floor behind the engine to hold the contact and keep the energizer running. After times, this middle man, always me in Cell 11, had to steady the connection with his feet and mother the energizer with his hands, which operation stretched him prone upon the floor in the manner of a baseball player sliding for home. The sparks produced by this action were comparable to those produced at the local park back home on the 4th of July and were as safe as a bonfire in a B-17. The less said and thought about those sparks the better.