Celtic Illumination, part 173, Dancing the night away.
I would hope that by now you would all be feeling very sorry for us. It was quite an endurance test having to live tax free in Germany, just so most of you could sleep safely in your beds, but to have to endure further hardships such as up to six weeks every summer in Cyprus was asking a bit much of us. Unfortunately the Ministry of Defence had faith in us and our capabilities so would send us to Sardinia for a couple of weeks, again, during the summer as we needed good weather to make the most of our time there. And that is something I can assure you that we did.
Decimomannu was a huge NATO(ish) base on the beautiful island of Sardinia. We referred to it as ‘Decci’ and went there for ACMI (Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation). Basically fighter pilots had to engage in dog fights to improve their skills. Debriefing was often viewed as slightly unfair as the stronger argument may win the dogfight, rather than what actually happened in the air. The phantom aircraft was equipped with a camera so that when the weapons trigger was pressed the camera was engaged and the manoeuvre could be more accurately dissected during the de-brief. However some crews were still not happy with this method as the stronger argument, or higher rank, could often win the dog fight.
Decci put an end to all this. A computer pod would be attached to the aircraft, on one of the missile slots, and this would feed back all relevant information to a ground control unit. The information was fed into a huge computer, housed in what looked like four huge metal containers you would see on the back of a lorry. The result was displayed on an enormous screen and as every parameter that could affect the engagement would be taken into consideration; there was no arguing with a computer. I remember watching my first engagements on the huge screen and if you were killed, or the computer determined you were not the winner, a small coffin flashed around the aircraft, which you then had to request leave the area for a short period of time before coming back in and re-engaging.
The flight line at Decci was about two miles long and for anyone interested in military aircraft it would have been heaven. If you can imagine first thing in the morning climbing up the air traffic control tower and looking down along a two mile long line of military aircraft. There would be French squadrons, Italian, German, Turkish, Spanish, even Israeli, American and of course 92 Squadron. It was a lovely sight, even for someone like me, and yes some of the aircraft weren’t there, so cameras were restricted. As you can imagine on your arrival briefing an Italian officer would be informing us that there was a ‘No cameras pleeze,’ security policy, which would be interpreted by us as challenge number one. We would then be advised not to go near the mountains of Sardinia as bandits still operated there, capturing and robbing tourists. Thankfully we never got drunk enough to follow up the suggestion, often made after a few scoops, that we go up into the mountains and capture a couple of bandits for ourselves.
The first thing I saw when I entered operations at Decci was a statement on the ops room wall saying, ‘Decimomannu, not quite the end of the world, but you can see it from here.’ My first duty was to load up with cartons of two hundred Benson and Hedges cigarettes and go visit the fuel bowser drivers. They had to be bribed, on a regular basis, to perform their duty and refuel our aircraft. To ensure that we were always ready to fly this was quite an important task to stay on top of. We couldn’t afford to hang around as we never knew when they would open or close the range. All we could do was wander about shouting, in the most comical Italian accent we could muster, “The range, she’s a close-ed.” Next most important duty was to make sure that there was plenty of, clean and hygienic, fluid for the guys to drink. This wasn’t because of the heat but because of the social life which I can assure you was hectic.
Each nation had its own club or mess at Decci and I can assure you the NAAFI was normally empty as it was your basic warm beer, metal ash trays and formica tables. We felt more at home in the German club or the Italian mess. Decci was the sort of place where you made a lot of friends who couldn’t speak your language. It was quite common to sit down for breakfast with four or five buddies and not be able to effectively communicate with them as they would be French or German, Spanish, Turkish or even Israeli. The other nations had their own version of squadron songs which they would launch into but Decci is where I learned the squadron dance. Now with legs like mine, and my penchant for jiving, you would think I would be in good standing for the squadron dance, but no. It had undertones of the rugby club and was in two parts.
The first part was known as The Dance of The Zulu Warrior. One person would volunteer or be nominated by the squadron and would then have no choice but to perform the ritual. You might be sitting there enjoying a beer, or flaming Sambuca, when thirty guys point at you and start chanting, I shall not say ‘sing’ in case I offend anyone with vocal ability, they would start chanting. ‘Aye igga zumba zumba zumba, aye igga zumba zumba eh’ This would be repeated once or twice, it all depended on who was master of ceremonies, and then the line, ‘Get em down, you Zulu warrior, get em down you Zulu chief, chief, chief.’ would be added. The squadron members would now continue repeating the first line a couple of times and then punch in with the chorus again. Not exactly Mendelssohn. As this was going on you were expected to stand on the table, minding the bottles and glasses, or clearing the lot with a sweep of your feet, and strip off all your clothes.
Some would simply strip off in order to get the ordeal over and done with as quickly as possible whereas some, and I think the differentiation hovered on the amount of drink that had been taken, some would try to give the event a certain level of entertainment value. Once naked, although socks would be permitted to remain, the Zulu Warrior would now move on to the more dangerous and final part of the squadron dance which was The Dance of The Flaming Arseholes. This is where the now naked Zulu Warrior would clamp a rolled up newspaper between the cheeks of his arse and the newspaper would be set alight.
Sometimes the chaps would have laced the newspaper with Sambuca which would produce a more vibrant although entertaining flame. This now became a test of bravery as the Zulu Warrior had to continue prancing about while the squadron would continue to chant. When the guys decided that the flame had drawn close enough to the skin, to indicate a certain level of braveness, the flame would be extinguished, in much the same way as the flaming engine during the Shackleton song, with the guys hoofing their beer over the Zulu Warrior and his blistering derriere. I wouldn’t advise any of you to try this, as even after all those years I still have flashbacks of that very long table and that newspaper being prepared.