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On the Deck or in the Drink (Paperback)

A Naval Aviator's Story

Aviation > Aviation Biography & Memoirs

By Brian R Allen
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 192
Illustrations: 30 B&W Photos - Plate section
ISBN: 9781399014472
Published: 18th October 2021



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Brian Allen first went to sea as a naval aviation officer cadet aboard HMS Indefatigable in 1952 , bound for Gibraltar. In 1954 he was appointed to Lossiemouth for fighter training and flew the Vampire T22. In December 1955 Brian joined 737 Squadron where he was attached to the Anti-Submarine Training Course flying the Fairey Barracuda. On completion he was destined to fly the then new Fairey Gannet twin turbo prop anti-submarine aircraft. July 1955, and now with 825 Squadron, saw his introduction of the new aircraft, a very different machine to the Barracuda.

The Squadron joined HMS Albion on 10 January 1956, as she preceded down Channel in the company of her sister ship HMS Centaur, outwards bound for the Far East. After this tour was completed 825 Squadron was disbanded and Brian was transferred to 751 Squadron aboard HMS Warrior, an old WWII carrier with none of the latest facilities of his previous ship and on its final commission. However, his greatest shock was to discover that he would not be flying a Gannet, but the rather elderly Grumman Avenger, a very different aeroplane with a tail wheel and a piston engine. This would require a great change in take-off and landing technique.

In February 1957 Warrior sailed west for the Panama Canal and thence into the Pacific where she and her aircraft would assist in Operation Grapple, the tests of Britain's first atomic bombs. During this operation Brian's adventures included dislodging the padre's kidney stone upon a catapult launch, denting the flight deck by a heavy landing and ditching close to the beach after an engine failure. Having converted to helicopters Brian was posted to 815 Squadron aboard HMS Albion in 1960 flying the Whirlwind Mk 7. During this posting he survived another ditching when his helicopter lost power and sunk. Having returned from a long Far Eastern voyage, Brian was now posted into The Helicopter Trials and Development Unit and it was whilst experimenting in a prototype Wasp that an accident, in which his crewman perished, was to injure him so severely that he was unable to fly again. He completed his commission as an Air Traffic Control Officer.

Brian is now retired and lives in Cornwall.

There are plenty of stories, humorous, serious and tragic, within the chapters of this book which covers many and varied situations including engine failures, ditching and anxious moments.

Highly recommended.

Richard K Parkhurst, IPMS Portsmouth

A well written and entertaining account in the last period of Britain's large aircraft carriers.

Maritime Advisor

This is the biography of a Fleet Air Arm pilot. Allen first flew operationally in the Fairey Firefly in 1952, moving on to the Grumman Avenger and the Fairey Gannet, before converting to helicopters, all in the heyday of British carrier aviation. It all forms a well-written and highly entertaining grass roots account of naval aviation.

Warships International Fleet Review

I probably didn't let you know how much I enjoyed `On the Deck or in the Drink`. Brian Allen's a natural story-teller and, if you did persuade him to write it down, you did him and his readers a good turn. I hope it is read by a wide audience because it really gives an insight to the Atom Bomb tests. We were particularly amused by his experiences in Raratonga.


This wide range of experience means that Allen's book is full of incident, both on the air, and as the title implies, in the sea. This combines with an entertaining travelogue (especially during his visit to Hong Kong) to produce a very entertaining read, and one that gives us a view of a largely vanished world.


I was a Wasp and Lynx Fleet Air Arm pilot from 1983 until I left the service in 2000 and can totally relate to the stories of the author. Flying for the RN requires a special kind of determination. The flying is hard enough, but the often dreadful weather and the requirement to land back onto a pitching, rolling and heaving flight deck mark us apart from pilots of other services. This book captures the spirit of such operational flying extremely well. Anyone interested in the Fleet Air Arm or aviation in the 50s/60s should buy this book.

Christopher Taylor

I found the book an excellent read, written with a good sense of humour. It is an intriguing account of his service similar to that of many young men at that time and includes some quite hilarious incidents with which many ex servicemen will readily identify.

A recommended, informative, and relaxing read.

Anthony Wilson
 Brian R Allen

About Brian R Allen

Now retired and lives in Cornwall.

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