A long overdue update – including a completed model. 1/144 Wessex HU.5 Rescue vignette.

Over the last few months I’ve taken stuff from the shelf of shame and finished them off. My only new project has been the Mark 1 Models 1/144 Wessex HU.5. I’ve had a vignette / diorama of this story in the back of my mind for a long time, trying to work out how I could support the model just by the winch wire, but had to admit to myself it wasn’t going to work (especially in 1/48 scale!) I decided to go down a different route with a 1/144 kit, and I think it’s worked out really well.

The model shows the rescue of two sailors overboard from HMS Ardent after the attacks of 21st May 1982, by Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly and the crew of Wessex XT449. Seeing men in trouble they hastily improvised a rescue, saving two men who would have drowned wihout their intervention.

Jolly has been a personal hero of mine since I read his book “Doctor to Friend and Foe” (also published as “The Red and Green Life Machine”.) Do read it, I highly recommend it. Jolly was a remarkable man, genuinely humane, and his efforts in the field hospital he established at Ajax Bay meant that every British soldier who made it there alive survived the war. He was the only man to be decorated by both sides, and after the war continued to promote reconciliation and peace between the UK and Argentina. He died several years and I wish I had had a chance to meet him. Below is an account of the rescue in his own words, taken from the book mentioned above.

The man was drowning. The downwash from the helicopter’s rotor blades was whipping the surface of the sea into a thick spray, through which I could see his agonised expression as he floundered helplessly. The lifting strop that was dangling just in front of his face was also jumping around; he just could not grasp the thing, let alone slip it over his shoulders.

In a flash, I knew that I had to do something and quickly. I had some experience of winching during my time at Culdrose, and this part of the problem was down to me to solve. Replacing the camera in my pocket, and still smarting from the moral dis-grace of my behaviour at Fanning Head, I volunteered to go down and get this drowning young man. Corporal Gleeson looked. at me strangely, then started talking on the intercom to Mike. I was told later that he was expressing his doubts as to whether I’d be able to do anything useful, but Mike knew my Fleet Air Arm background and gave his command approval for me to try. The aircrewman shrugged, winched the strop back up, grabbed it and placed it around my shoulders and beneath my arms. The world suddenly went strangely quiet as I made ready, sensing that I was about to face a serious physical challenge. Seconds later, I was descending towards the surface of the sea. A lot of memories came back at the rush. Winchmen were usually properly dressed in immersion clothing and were always earthed via a braided copper discharge wire before they made contact with the ground or sea, to disperse the likely build-up of static voltage. There was no time for this nicety here. The discharging electrostatic shock was most unpleasant, and only just preceded the even worse shock of immersion. They told me later that the water temperature was 3 degrees Celsius. All I knew was that a sudden and numbing cold had enveloped my whole body as I gasped for breath. I could also feel my heart slowing, and my peripheral vision began to dim as the heart’s output dropped and my retinas became less perfused.

All the while Mike, with marvellous precision flying, was towing me across the swell towards the survivor. The desperate look on the man’s face, his frantic thrashings and punctured life Jacket said it all. A fresh adrenaline surge kicked in, and I forgot my own discomfort. Our outstretched hands touched, grasped – and then I managed to spin him around in the water, and got him gripped in a fierce bear hug. My fingers locked tightly together in front of his chest, and I waited, unable to look up to the helicopter above us. There would be no other way to lift him. Very gently, Mike lifted the Wessex up about ten feet and the strain came on my arms as we left the buoyant support of the sea. It hurt and I felt something tear suddenly in my left shoulder blade area, but I also realised at the same time that if I could no longer hold on to this survivor, he would drop straight back into the sea, and we would never see him again. I begged my shoulder muscles not to weaken in this moment of crisis. It seemed an agonisingly slow process, but Kevin Gleeson was winching us up very gently. He knew what I was going through. The aircrewman then displayed genuine skill and real strength in getting us both back into the cabin He had to raise us almost up into the winch motor housing above the door, making small, precise control movements with his left hand, and then pull hard on my clothing with his right hand as he reversed the winch control and began paying out the wire so he could draw us back in to safety. The blood now flowed back into my arms and shoulders as I collapsed beside the survivor on the cabin floor. We’d done it!

I compressed the casualty’s chest hard, looking for some confirmation of life and was rewarded with a vomited gout of sea water. The young lad then opened his eyes and was violently sick again. I picked myself up off the floor, sat on the canvas seating and breathed a huge sigh of pride and relief, realising that I had now done at least one genuinely useful thing in my life. As a team and against the odds, we had saved another human being from death! I felt really pleased with myself, and especially so that I’d shown my new chum Kevin Gleeson, a Royal Marines Corporal, that although I’d behaved like a tosser up on Fanning Head I was, in reality, made of much sterner stuff. Or was I?

I looked across at Kevin and smiled, receiving a warm grin back. He then made a hand signal with his thumb up and a querying expression on his face. I nodded, putting my own thumb up confirming that I was OK whereupon he turned his hand into a fist, with the forefinger pointing downwards. Then I remembered. There was someone else down there. In a cruel mockery of the poet John Masefield’s famous line-I had to ‘go down to the sea again’…

The aircrewman looked at me anxiously as I donned the winch strop once more, then gave me an encouraging pat on the back as he swung me out of the Wessex for the second time. During this descent a twist that had developed in the winch wire caused me to spiral slowly as the wire paid out. A mad Cinerama projection unfolded before my eyes The
burning outline of Ardent with her crew watching was followed by the profile of HMS Yarmouth then HMS Broadsword now close to us for anti-aircraft protection. After that came Grantham Sound the Falklands shore and then Ardent again. I watched, somewhat stunned and rather chilled, until I was just above the surface, when a new sight appeared on the merry-go-round. Lying there quietly in the swell, arms outstretched and blood streaming down sea from amputated fingers and a huge cut on his scalp, the second survivor watched me with uncomprehending
eyes. He later told me that because he could not see the winch wire I was suspended from, he thought I was the Archangel Gabriel coming to collect him!

Bang! The horrid static voltage discharged through my body again, and then I was in the water alongside him. I knew that I was now too weak to lift him out manually, and thought instead about slipping the single strop and placing it around his shoulders I would have to take my chances in the interim, including the possibility that my helicopter might be driven off if another air attack came in. Such a prospect was not an attractive one.

Instinct saved the day. At the top of each swell, the taut winch wire went slack, flexing sufficiently to allow me to reach up and get the winch hook into a small nylon becket on the front of his life jacket. In reality, it shouldn’t have worked, but it did, and together we were lifted up to the safety of the helicopter’s cabin. My jaw was now rattling with cold, so Mike Crabtree ordered the door closed, and put the cabin heaters on full blast. Agonisingly, slowly, sensation returned. I could now feel things with my fingers again, and they touched the little Olympus camera still in my combat jacket pocket. It was ruined. ..

The model is Mark 1 Models HU.5 ‘Junglie’ Wessex. I’ve used Prop Blur products that were happily exactly the right size to represent the turning main and anti-torque rotors. There are various 1/114 figures that I’ve had a bash at modifying to a more suitable pose. (Not easy at the best of times, in 1/144 it’s even more tricky!) I made my own decals for the ‘C’ and the serials under the Royal Navy titles. I also had to cut the closed main door out, and scratch build a replacement. The only thing I slightly miscalculated was the centre of the rotor head not quite matching the centre of the downwash, but never mind, I think the whole thing really works, and is one of my best completions. (It’s real bugger to photograph, moving in the slightest draught, and messing up the long exposures I need to use a sufficient aperture. Apologies for any blurriness.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s