What was it like to be an aircraft technician during World War 2?

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Mar 25, 2021
I want to know more about what it was like to actually be an airplane technician, like what they did, living conditions, etc. I can't seem to find much information elsewhere, so anything is appreciated!
I'd say, being a modern-day aircraft technician, that it was a pretty hard existence wherever you were based. Despite everything, maintenance schedules had to be maintained, which meant that work was long and hard and, just like today was done in shifts when the aircraft weren't working, which means maintenance was round the clock. This also meant that because times between servicing shortened because of the high number of flying hours and cycles as a result of increased sortie rates meant the engineers worked all the time in all weather conditions to keep the aircraft serviceable.

Conditions for your WW2 technician were quite different compared to today; there was no Health & Safety, there was no Human Factors training, etc. No ear defenders, gloves, eye protection, etc. Conditions in some places, like in the desert airfields in North Africa and the coral islands in the Pacific, were basic, to say the least, and aside from the usual annoyances of being an engineer, you had to contend with dust, mosquitoes, heat, etc and more often than not found yourself out in the open rather than in a nice big concrete-floored hangar.

In the past I worked in a museum and we had an oral history programme and myself and another fella interviewed a number of mechanics from the local airfield. Fascinating stuff. This is a paragraph from an interview done many years ago now, the fella, based at an RAF airfield in Scotland recalled his accommodation:

"I was in a rather well to do wooden hut, I think they called it 'Officer's Two'. They were nice huts, and they had lovely coke fires and electricity, which was marvellous. The only unfortunate thing was, there were honey buckets that didn't have any water; dry latrines. So, to get a wash, you got on your bike and you pedalled down this country lane to the main site, and there you could wash and shave and have a meal."

British airfields were dispersed, with accommodation away from the hangars and often off-site altogether, which meant the humble bicycle became a sought after commodity. Here's a recollection from a meteorologist describing getting to work:

"I lived as sole occupant of an unheated Nissen hut on an abandoned peripheral site. From there I could skive off when off duty. To go on night duty I cycled in total darkness to Flying Control, falling off occasionally on the rutted paths through the woods. Earlier in the day those going on night duty picked up a tin of sardines from our chef de cuisine in the cook house; that was all we ever received."
My Engines instructor in A&P school was an old guy who had been an 8th AF mechanic in Britain in WWII. He worked in a sort of a "catchall" outfit that maintained an oddball fleet of mostly American owned and flown, but British built planes, mostly photorecon. Spitfire, Mosquito, Beaufighter, Lysander, Mustang Mk1 (Allison), a couple photorecon Lightnings, etc.
They had the luxury of at least some paved tarmac space, but nowhere near enough hangar space to cover all the planes that needed work, so a lot of work was done outside in the nearly constant rain and occasional snow. Early on, John was quartered with a very nice English family with two lovely daughters, but soon a barracks structure was completed and all the enlisted guys who had been quartered out were confined to base. They got so busy they were working seven 12-16 hour days a week. Food was kind of sparse and repetitive by modern standards, and they seldom took a break from work to go to the chow hall, sending a parts runner instead to bring back a bucket of stew and bring some to each work site. He said he never was so exhausted in his life as he was by VE day, after 2 1/2 years of that life.
When I started work for the airline in 1984, we had a similar hangar deficit situation, as we were overnighting three Fokker 27s and one Shorts SD30 every night, and could get the SD30 and the front half of one F27 into hangar space and every thing else happened outside. The small hangar's door was too narrow to take an F27's wingspan, and neither was tall enough to take its tail. After nine months of that our new hangar was completed and we moved into the lap of luxury. EVERYTHING INDOORS!! Changing rotating beacon lamps atop the F27's tail is no fun outdoors at night in subzero weather. That got real old real quick. Or changing Goodyear brake assemblies on the F27. Oddly enough, Dunlop brake assemblies were a piece of cake on the F27, but the Goodyears were a bastard. Both types were considered operationally identical and could be mixed on the same aircraft, but pilots hated mixed brake planes and would always write up the Goodyears, claiming they didn't respond like the Dunlops. Led to frequent midnight taxi testing and complaints from the neighbors about the RR Darts "whistlepig". All in a night's work.
Does this give some idea. RAF Mosquitoes, taxi out at Banff, Scotland Winter 1944 | Wwii aircraft, De havilland mosquito, Fighter jets
I had anolder friend many years ago, who was a fantastic engine machinist.
Whenever I needed an engine rebuilt or components repaired, he was my "go-to".
Over time, I learned that he was a Czech and as a teenager, was employed at a Luftwaffe base near his home.
They taught him the basics and he caught on quick, eventually being a mechanic, working on the various engines that came through the base.
He also mentioned the conditions that he had to work in, being on call at any hour of the day or night, rain or shine. Then the shortages and difficulties in the later years of the war and cannibalizing damaged aircraft to keep others flying.

He said the worst part, was the attacks on the airfield and seeing his aircraft damaged that he just finished working on.
He said the worst part, was the attacks on the airfield and seeing his aircraft damaged that he just finished working on.
Or like the plane you just installed a new tire and Goodyear brake assembly on comes back to the hangar with the flight cancelled because the crew locked it up on an ice patch taxiing out and flat spotted the tire. Even at ground idle those Darts want to pull the old gal faster and faster, so the brakes get a workout.
I often wonder what it was like maintaining aircraft out in the open in places like North Africa or the Far East where the aircraft surfaces were literally hot enough to fry an egg.

While not WW2, I crewed/maintained helicopters in the middle east (Iraq). Usually out in the open (the hangars were reserved for heavy maintenance. You wore long sleeves and gloves a lot because the surface was so hot, and a lot of maintenance was performed early in the morning, or late in the evening.

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