Memoirs From the Personnel of 14 Squadron

Recon Over Rome

Gil Graham, Marauder Tail Gunner, 1943

This is the story of one of the more unusual operations carried out by Dick Maydwell as pilot with myself in the usual place - rear gunner. The policy was that vital military targets in Rome should be bombed by a combined force of RAF bombers and US bombers. The problem was that the Vatican and other most holy places in the city were NOT to be touched. A great deal of planning went into this operation, and as part of that planning it was determined that weather over the entire target area had to be perfect. In order to be absolutely certain of this, it was decided that a Marauder of 14 Squadron would fly to the target area on the morning of the raid, check the weather conditions in the immediate target area and radio the results back to base. Only if the weather was perfect would the raid take place.

So on the 19th July, 1943, Marauder FK 142 ("R" Robert) and named "Dominion Triumph" with Dick Maydwell at the controls and Gil Graham looking after the rear end took off from our base at Protville in Tunisia at 0300 hours (well before dawn) and flying at our operational height of 50 feet headed across the Mediterranean for Rome hoping that we would not be picked up by enemy radar.

The first big surprise came a few minutes after crossing the Italian coast near Anzio when we found ourselves streaking across an enemy field at deck level doing around 260 miles an hour. So surprised were we that I didn't have time to open up on a neat row of Heinkel 111 bombers all neatly lined up alongside the runway. Dick gave me hell when we got back for missing an excellent opportunity to damage or destroy a considerable number of enemy aircraft in one go. However he later apologised because it might have been a fatal mistake if I had opened fire without his permission. Had I done so we may well have alerted the Germans to our presence in the area and would possibly have had half the Luftwaffe fighters looking for us before we had completed the essential part of our mission.

However we got to the target area where the weather was indeed perfect and even though this was around dawn, we were certain that cloud would not develop later in the day. The information was immediately radioed back to base.

We flew over the target area and then continued to fly north and to our delight came to Lake Bracciano where we noticed a number of seaplanes anchored. By now we had completed' essential part of our mission, Dick decided we would try to knock out one or two of the seaplanes. We flew down right alongside them and I opened up on them a saw some strikes on several of them. Reconnaissance the next day showed at least 3 badly damaged and lying on their side in the water.

A few minutes later we came across a goods train so we strafed it as well but couldn't assess our results.

We now turned due west a headed for open sea, but as we crossed the coast I noticed considerable numbers of fighters at a higher altitude, but fortunately we ran into a bank of sea fog before they saw us. This provided -us with excellent cover until we were off the coast of Sardinia when we turned south and headed for home where we arrived at 0810 just in time for breakfast.

This mission on the face of may seem extremely easy, but just consider that alone and unescorted we were in very hostile territory the moment we left the Tunisian Coastline. Consider that we had flown alone and then look the fighter escort needed when the raid took place - all told, something like 169 P38s, and it's interesting to note that 107 B- 26s took part in the raid. I think this was the biggest raid ever carried out in the Mediterranean Theatre and I felt pleased to have played small part in it.

On reflection, life might not have been too pleasant had a dozen or so 109s caught sight of us..

Not Your Average "Joe"

Diary of Alfred "Joe" Tait RCAF, Marauder Navigator - Ghisonaccia, Corsica 1944

May 11 - Eventful Day. Did a 6-hr. 40-minute recco of the French Coast from Nouvelle to Marseilles. We first sighted the 3000 Ton ex-French ship Saumur (German controlled) of Nouvelle. This ship has been sought for a real long time as it is believed to have constantly carried cargo, especially wolfram, from Spain to German-held France. About an hour and a quarter after sending out our message, we got orders to relocate the Saumur: We sighted it approximately in the position where we expected it to be, but unfortunately. It was escorted by 3 ME 109 G 6's (latest type of ME 109) and as we came reasonably near the ship they gave chase to us. Sabe {Lantinga, the pilot] immediately turned our aircraft towards home, used full revs and boost on the aircraft but could only get a top speed of 260 m.p.h. straight and level. When the three enemy aircraft were first sighted by Yours Truly, they were approximately 4 miles away, but they caught us up very easily in about 4 minutes. These 3 aircraft certainly were persistent as they made in the vicinity of 30 attacks and seemed to let go with everything they had. Their first attack was by two of them simultaneously from directly behind closing in to about 200 yards when they fired on us. As they committed themselves to the attack, our rear gunner, Pete, gave them both a burst from his gun which forced them back a bit. Alex, the Wireless Operator, did a marvellous job as fighter controller giving Sabe very good directions, who in turn threw the aircraft superbly about in very violent evasive action, managing to keep their hits on our aircraft down to a minimum. I sent messages out to the effect that we were being attacked by enemy aircraft.

During one of their attacks, one burst put a hole in the main gas tank and until the hole self-sealed due to its construction, we lost a good stream of gas. One hit on the aircraft appeared to Sabe that he has lost one engine,- but it was only a hit on his rudder control. Immediately, he compensated this by three degrees of rudder trim. The three Messerschmidts lost no time in bringing home their attacks because as the two aircraft in the rear broke off from their attacks, the other one came in from either side. At one time this third aircraft third aircraft came over top of us, made an attack from the front, then dove down underneath us. The Wireless Operator thought at first that this aircraft had gone in the water as we ourselves were very low.

Pete, our tail gunner, had about the toughest time of all, as at one stage of the dogfight he had a stoppage of his gun, so he had to let the aircraft come in very freely for attacks. He was always very much pleased to see the bursting shells whistle by either side after Alex gave Sabe instructions to skid either left or right. In the first place these bursts were coming directly for him. When Pete repaired his stoppage, he surprised one of the aircraft when he came in close and gave it a very good burst. This aircraft appeared to be damaged and as the aircraft turned its belly up to turn towards the coast our turret gunner, Ron Eaton, secured hits on the aircraft. As this hit aircraft turned towards home black smoke was streaming from it profusely and losing height gradually the boys saw this until it was out of sight. The other two made one more attack each before turning towards home, either because their ammunition was expended, or to go in aid of their comrade who was m trouble.

The 3 aircraft were firing 20 or 30mm cannons and machine guns. The attack lasted for about 15 minutes. It was quite a day for Ron Eaton, as it was his 20th birthday. At times he didn't know which of the 3 aircraft to shoot at since they were all so close. The boys could see the pilots in each aircraft and the big German crosses on the kites. Pete, to my mind, was a hero as he has a damaged aircraft or a probable to his credit. It is too bad we couldn't have found out but we were in too much danger, other two damaged.

After the attack was over & we settled down to normal cruising speed once more & climbed a bit higher than usual, reports from different crew members were passed on to the pilot. One generator was shot away so we flew back on one generator. The big thing that worried the pilot on the way back was that a good sized hole was made in the nacelle, where the port wheel was, so he feared a burst tyre which would be bad for landing. A damaged flap also gave Sabe much concern.

Soon after we flew over our aerodrome, Sabe selected the undercarriage down so as to inspect the port tyre for holes - it looked okay to all hands. As he selected undercarriage down, there had been a hole in the hydraulic pipeline so we lost the hydraulic fluid through this break and the hydraulic pressure dropped down. There was not enough pressure to put down the nose wheel. We opened the front door and tried to force the front wheel down but to no avail. So Roy, our second pilot, used the hydraulic emergency pump which pumped the nose wheel down & locked it into position. Since there was no more hydraulic pressure left, the pilot knew there would be no flaps or brakes to help out in landing, so he instructed us all to prepare for a crash landing. He brought the aircraft in very low, just skimming over the tops of the trees and he did as he aimed to do - landed the aircraft right on the end of the runway as he came in at a speed of 170 m.p.h. instead of the usual 130. As the aircraft touched down lightly, the port tyre just flattened down so we did a gradual swing to the left, going off the runway over some rough ground. Sabe managed to save the nose wheel leg at one time when going over this rough ground. There was a big bump ahead, so he lifted up the nose wheel to clear the bump, then let it down again. It was really a swell landing and grand airmanship on Sabe's part - none of us were hurt.

Altogether, there were 88 holes in the aircraft, the damage being in these areas: 1 A hole in the main spar and gas tank (thanks to self-sealing tanks); 2. Mainplane skin was buckled at the port root; 3. Severe damage to port flap & flap hinges & jack (if flaps had been selected down, the engineer officer said it would likely have fallen oft); 4. A good-sized hole in the port nacelle which severely damaged & made useless the tyre, airbrakes, generator, forward bulkhead , (also damage to the exhaust manifold); 5. Hole in the rudder; 6. Damage to the trailing edge of the port elevator; 7. Large hole and many smaller ones through the starboard fuselage; 8. One larger hole & several smaller ones through the fuselage tail near the rear gunner's position; 9. Holes through the starboard nacelle and propeller; 10. Several holes through the fuselage belly; 11. Damage to elevator; 12 Main hydraulic line shot up; 13. Leading edge of the port mainplane damaged; 14. Very near miss on port oil tank and several dents in this tank.

Mediterranean Safari

Many thanks to Dick Maydwell DSO DFC (who commanded 14 Squadron during 1942/43) for sending me the following excellent "Boys Own" story in response to my plea in the last newsletter:

Nowadays sportsmen spend a fortune in running a trip to South Africa to shoot lion, kudu and impala. But in 1943, when our Squadron was stationed at Protville in Tunisia, my Marauder crew enjoyed a splendid safari in the Med, with transport, accommodation, guns and ammunition for free - but watch out for Me109s!

Our first trophy was a large three-engined Savoia Marchetti 82 Kangaroo transport. Shortly after that we shot down a four-engined Junkers 90. But one late evening with the setting sun, as we sped low over the sea, we became the hunted. We were attacked by 2 Me109 fighters at sea-level. After a short gun battle, my tail gunner, Gil Graham, managed to hit one of them and severely damage it. It departed in a plume of white smoke from a glycol leak. Now there was only one. Then disaster - the electrical power to the top gun turret fused! We were now virtually defenceless. As the second Me109 pressed home his attack, I kept the Marauder flying into the sun, moving this way and that, never on the same course for more than three seconds. The tail gunner reported on three occasions that the sea was churned up with a "whoosh" of cannon fire, exactly where we had been just a second before. Eventually, the second Me109 ran out of ammunition and left us to make our escape.

A few days later we were happy to be back on our Med safari. We were flying at sea-level close to Cape Corse at the tip of Corsica, when we saw the most enormous aircraft flying towards us. It was a six-engined Me 323. I knew it had two formidable cannons firing aft so I manoeuvred in front of the enemy aircraft and fired back at him. Soon three engines were out of action. The huge aircraft lumbered on towards the Corsican coast, where it crash- landed in a cloud of dust. Luckily for the crew, it didn't catch fire and no-one was injured as the gun crews and tractor drivers had all gone to the rear of the aeroplane. We did not shoot them up on the ground. I have been friends with the pilot of the Me323 for the last 21 years, but that is another story!

Today I am 90 years old, but I remember all those incidents as clear as a bell.

Memoirs of a Sprog Pilot on 14 Squadron 1948-50

Mike Levy

 After an eventful passage through flying training and conversion to the Mosquito, Mike was posted to 14 Squadron at Wahn, near Cologne. We join him having just crossed the North Sea by troopship, in company with eighty sewer workers who were en route to rectify the damage caused by Bomber Command…

I arrived at Wahn by troop train on 2nd July 1948, and on reporting to 14 Squadron was greeted with astonishment. They claimed never to have seen a Plt Off before! Certainly there were one or two Fg Offs, but the rest were either Flt Lts or NCOs. Many were seasoned wartime Mosquito aircrew and quite a few had been regulars before the war, having started on Fairey Battles or Blenheims. I do not wish to imply that I was made unwelcome by these veterans; the comradeship on the Squadron was fine but there was a difference in attitude between the older members and the new boys like myself and other later arrivals. We, having been trained in peacetime, thought it routine to practise single-engined landings, or dive the aircraft to its maximum permissible speed. The older hands took the view that God had not made twin-engined Mosquitoes to be flown on one engine, except in the event of a real engine failure. Likewise, when I practised high speed dives there were dark comments about old wooden aircraft with glued on joints not being meant for that sort of thing. Perhaps they were right after all: the only landing accident during my 2? years on the squadron was when a young NCO pilot (flying my aircraft VP202 or CX-B) approached too low and slow on a practice single-engine landing and wrote the aircraft off. Again the smile was quickly wiped off my face during a high speed dive when the escape hatch on top of the canopy blew off and struck the tail, luckily only knocking a few holes in it!

The aircraft that we flew were Mosquito B35s, which were similar to the B16s I had flown at Coningsby. We shared a hangar with 98 Squadron, who also flew Mosquito B35s - and were therefore deadly rivals. Also on the station were two Mosquito FB6 Squadrons, numbers 4 and 107 (later renumbered 11) and 2 Squadron Spitfire FXIV and PRXIX; the only other station in Germany with operational aircraft was Gütersloh which had four Tempest squadrons and one of Spitfires. The "Clutch" airfields at Laarbruch, Brüggen, Wildenrath and Geilenkirchen were not constructed until several years later. All the other ex-Luftwaffe airfields in the British Zone were crammed with transport aircraft flying the Berlin Airlift.

When I arrived at Wahn, the single concrete runway was under repair and we used a strip of about 1000 yards of pierced steel planking (PSP). The rest of the airfield was a rough uneven surface, which encouraged pilots not to veer off the runway during take-off. The Mosquito was very prone to swinging both on take-off and landing, so it needed watching on an airfield like Wahn. Certainly one could not open up to full power immediately at the start of a take-off run, since the engines would induce a swing and the rudder was totally ineffective until enough forward speed had been gained. The most critical stage on take-off was when the tail rose, causing a strong gyroscopic effect that had to be controlled by rudder. My own technique was to "walk" the throttles up the quadrant, steering by differential engine power. By the time I had applied full power, I had built up enough forward speed to make the rudder effective before the tail rose. Likewise on landing, the aircraft could swing wildly as the tail dropped following a wheeler landing. At this stage the rudder was still effective, but the pilot needed to be alert to control an incipient swing. Taking off, or more particularly landing, on PSP was quite an experience. It could get slippery with rain or ice on it, but the really unnerving thing about it was the noise. When a heavy aircraft travelled over it, the metal plates clanked like mad and you would think that you had landed on a scrap metal heap!

In the air the Mosquito was a lady, although the bomber versions with their spectacle control columns were far heavier on the ailerons than the trainers or fighter-bombers which had fighter-type sticks. At cruising speed the aircraft flew beautifully on 2 engines or one. It was only at circuit speeds on one engine that things became more hairy. Safety speed after take-off was 160 knots or so; the technique was to hold the aircraft low while retracting the gear so as to accelerate as quickly as possible, since below safety speed it was impossible (in theory at least) to maintain control on one engine and climb away. Landing on one engine also needed care and once below 600 feet you were committed to landing. During an overshoot the gear retracted slowly and caused excess drag until the aircraft was clean and it took up 600 feet to do this and accelerate to 160 knots.

The role of 14 Squadron was bombing. We used 25lb smoke bombs for practice, carried in the bomb-bay, which could accommodate a 4000-pounder or several 500- or 1000-pounders in anger. Low-level and shallow-dive bombing were both pilot-aimed with no aids, not even a gun sight! Even so, the accuracy attained by most people was in the order of 20-30 yards. Medium-level bombing involved use of the T1 bomb sight, operated by the navigator lying prone in the nose. It meant accurate flying by the pilot, following heading corrections called out by the navigator. However, medium-level bombing was not too accurate. In spite of calculating the wind velocity at release height before commencing bombing, miss-distances from the target could well be 200 yards or so, even if the 16 bombs typically dropped on one sortie might be quite tightly grouped. Mobile Radar Control Post (MRCP) was a means of bombing through cloud. Typically the aircraft flew at 12,000 feet and often in formation. A ground controller, tracking the aircraft on radar, would aim to bring the aircraft over an in initial point on a predetermined heading. The controller would then count down an elapsed time to bomb release, with only minor heading corrections ordered during the countdown. At the end of the countdown the navigator would release the bombs. Once a year the Squadron would do an MRCP demonstration for the School of Air/Land Warfare on Salisbury Plain. For this, salvoes of live HE bombs were dropped by a formation of 4-6 aircraft. The results were pretty accurate and quite impressive for the audience: all that could be heard would be the drone of aircraft flying high above complete cloud cover, then suddenly 16 HE bombs would explode on the target.

Another role of the Squadron was the morning meteorological climb to about 30,000 feet. This was carried out by one aircraft and the duty rotated between 14 and 98 Squadrons each month. The aircraft was fitted with an aneroid barometer reading in millibars and with wet and dry bulb thermometers. The climb started with levelling out at 500 feet QNH and again 1000 feet, letting the speed settle at each altitude and then noting the thermometer readings. The climb then continued with levelling of every 50 millibars on the aneroid barometer and taking the thermometer readings at each step. This was continued up to 300 millibars which was roughly equivalent to 30,000 feet. The met climb normally took 60-75 minutes to complete thoroughly. With 2 rival squadrons doing the met climb alternately it was a matter of intense squadron pride that the sortie was completed, as failure would draw derision from the other squadron. Hence scant regard was paid to the weather minima for the duty pilot's instrument rating, at least until one of the flight commanders Flt Lt Jock Lewis with Nav2 Bert Fulker were killed flying a met climb in poor weather in 1949. It was believed that they had tried to take the first readings at 500 feet while still in cloud and unfortunately found a cloud with a hard centre, there being quite a few hills in the area just east of Wahn.

The met climb was flown every day of the week throughout the year. Everyone worked on Saturday mornings, but the climb on Sunday was not popular amongst those who wanted to go to Saturday night parties or wanted to go off the Station for the weekend! I was at that time engaged to the girl in England whom I subsequently married and, being a clean living young lad, was not at all interested in staying out on Saturday night. As a result I had nothing against Sunday met climbs and often flew them. Typically the flight would be authorised on the Saturday morning and it was left to the pilot to make his own decision on the Sunday morning. One Sunday my flight commander, who had authorised me, awoke in Düsseldorf, looked out of the window to see thick fog, and was horrified to hear a Mosquito droning overhead! In fact visibility at Wahn was about 20 yards. By taxiing out with the direct vision panel open I could just detect the difference between the grass and the concrete of the taxiway, so I followed it round until I found the runway. I then lined up hard on the left hand side of the runway so that I could again just detect the grass alongside and then ran forward a few yards to make sure I was running parallel. I reset the Direction Indicator and then took off totally on instruments, making absolutely certain that I did not deviate to the left by as much as a fraction of a degree, since I was already on the very edge of the runway. Being still in cloud, we opted to omit the readings at 500 1000 feet, but completed the climb otherwise. We had been told before take-off that there were no diversion airfields in Germany, but that the UK was alright. In fact when we reached 300 millibars, Air Traffic Control reported that Gütersloh could take us, so we carried out a QGH let-down there, breaking cloud below 500 feet. The climb had been completed - but perhaps more by luck than common sense!

Shortly afterwards another crew had a less happy experience, though not as a result of bad weather. By design there should never be any petrol fumes in the Mosquito cockpit, since the tanks and pipes were remote from it, and the tanks were selected by fuel switches in the cockpit which were on the end of long rods connected to the valves. In fact all the Squadron aircraft reeked of petrol in the cockpit, so we thought nothing unusual about it. One Saturday morning while the rest of us were on parade, P3 Cocks and Nav2 Bolton took off on the met climb. Normally both to keep the aircraft in the same column of air and to give practice to the fighter direction post, the aircraft would be given vectors to fly by the FDP. On this occasion the FDP radar went u/s when the aircraft was at about 15,000 feet, and the controller asked the crew to carry on under their own steam. Bolton switched on the Gee radar set and the next second the cockpit was in flames. Ray Cocks said later that the first thing he noticed was Nobby Bolton sitting by the escape hatch in the floor, chest parachute pack already clipped on, hatch jettisoned and awaiting the order to go! Cocks did not hesitate to give it and both of them were quickly out. Cocks landed not far from the autobahn to Düsseldorf, unharmed apart from having all the hair burnt off from the back of his head. He hitched a ride in a passing car back to Wahn. Bolton descended unhurt but landed on a roof, rolled off and broke his back. Regrettably he had to be invalided out of the Service as a result of his injuries. I felt badly about this incident as I had flown the aircraft the night before and had not reported the smell of fuel in the cockpit. However, the Board of Inquiry disclosed that faulty seals had allowed fumes to seep up past the control rods from the valves into the cockpits of all of our and 98 Squadron's aircraft. This fault was quickly cured and I do not remember any recurrence. Nevertheless this accident had happened because fuel fumes were present when a spark occurred as the radar was switched on.

On 27th October 1948 I took off on a met climb, breaking through low cloud into the clear soon after take-off. Looking back, I saw another of our Mosquitoes break through the cloud behind me, and climb away bound for Malta. It was flown by my room-mate, Fg Off Nev Cornwall, flying with my regular navigator Flt Lt Willie Williams. Willie was an ex-Lancaster bomb-aimer, who had retrained as a navigator, and with whom I had been crewed up since the OCU. A couple of days later, I went home on my first leave. Almost immediately I had a telegram ordering my return to Wahn. I did not know why, but within hours I was on a Dakota flying to Buckeburg, where I had the luck to find one of our crews just walking out to their aeroplane. I thus got a ride directly back to Wahn where I found out why I had been recalled. Nev and Willie had crashed into the sea off Gozo on their return from Malta, and I had to separate my kit from Nev's in our room. I don't think that the Board of Inquiry decided on the cause of the crash, although there was some indication of fire in the air. Perhaps it was another case of fumes in the cockpit,

Next time I went on leave, our flight commander Jock Lewis and Bert Fulker were killed on the met climb crash already mentioned. The time after that, a crew from one of the Mosquito fighter-bomber squadrons hit a hill above the Rhine down near Bonn. By this time people were beginning to notice that nasty things tended to happen whenever I went on leave. Hence my applications for leave were not too well received by my fellow aircrew!

The Squadron regularly took part in UK defence exercises, attacking UK targets, frequently airfields, by day and night. Medium-level attacks were not particularly interesting as the Squadron felt that these simply provided interception exercises for the Meteors, Vampires and Spitfires, which tended to have considerable advantage in performance over our Mosquitoes at such heights. We preferred low-level attacks, particularly if these were against the defending fighters' own airfields! In the 1940s there were no AEW aircraft and ground radars did not seem to be able to pick up low-flying attackers in time to vector fighters onto them. The fighters had to mount standing patrols, hoping to intercept by visual sighting by themselves or the Royal Observer Corps.

A typical attack was on 5th September 1948, a Sunday during Exercise Dagger. The target was Horsham St Faith, near Norwich, a Meteor fighter base. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as six 14 Squadron Mosquitoes took off to fly in two vic formations led by the Wahn Station Commander. Flying almost a direct route we were not intercepted before we arrived at Horsham on the deck. The Meteor wing had just landed from an interception as we swept over, bomb doors open, dropping our weapons. Our weapons were Government Property toilet rolls which our groundcrew had painstakingly unrolled, inscribed with rude messages for the fighter groundcrew, re-rolled and suspended from our bomb racks. Many of these weapons were posted back to us with further rude messages written by the Meteor groundcrews!

One Meteor was still airborne in the circuit and this promptly attacked the Mosquito leader. As we crossed the airfield we took low-level rear-view oblique photos of the hangars, fighters being refuelled and their pilots queuing at the NAAFI van. Instead of exiting quickly back across the coast, we routed across the Wash to Skegness before turning out over the North Sea. As we continued over East Anglia, the refuelled Meteors took off in hot pursuit!

We arrived over Skegness still on the deck. I was flying No2 in the second vic. My leader, John Stead, who was my Flight Commander and an ex-wartime pathfinder pilot, hugged the road along the promenade. No3 was weaving between the Butlins helter-skelters and I was over the beach, lifting to clear the lamp-posts on the pier. Meanwhile a dozen or more Meteors were carrying out high quarter attacks on us. The place was packed as it was about 5pm on a warm September Sunday. That was in the days before low-flying complaints!

We cruised back to Wahn well pleased with our day's work when, surprise surprise we ran into thick mist which the met man had not forecast. The poor Station Commander who had been expecting a fair weather trip and was not in regular flying practice made twelve attempts to land at Wahn before diverting to Gutersloh. His No3 made it on the first attempt but No2 only got in on his eighth approach. Meanwhile John Stead had ordered our vic to break formation and hold over a decent landmark until the circuit was clearer. It turned out to be not such a good decision because of course all three of us chose the same excellent landmark, Cologne Cathedral! This became apparent after a couple of near-misses in the mist. Eventually the first vic had either landed or diverted and we were called in. As the Station Commander set course for Gutersloh, he ordered that we were to have not more than one attempt to land, and if we failed we were to be diverted. In fact all three of us landed off our first approaches. We achieved this by finding a factory at Portz on a bend on the Rhine, flying a known heading from there to the airfield and carrying out a timed circuit.

I used a similar technique on a subsequent occasion. John Stead and the Wahn Wing Commander Tech were members of a Court Martial near Gutersloh. Rather than make the tedious land journey back, they asked to be picked up by air. The Mosquito was designed for a crew of two, but at a pinch could take three. I took off solo in heavy rain and low cloud to collect my colleagues. Letting down on dead-reckoning I saw the autobahn south of Gutersloh with some difficulty and found my way into the airfield. I landed to find that my passengers had not arrived, so I hung around the control tower waiting. They didn't appear by the time dusk fell, so I took off alone to return to Wahn. This time I crossed the autobahn three times before I saw it, and having no aids other than the radio, I decided not to try crossing the hills which were in cloud. I therefore let down low over the autobahn and simply followed it back to Cologne, right through the Ruhr area. I learned that day that the autobahn is not as straight as it appears on the ground! Having tracked it in continuous turns between factory chimneys for what seemed hours, I eventually saw the Rhine, found Cologne and the factory at Portz. From there it was back into the old bad-weather approach routine and a successful landing off the first approach.

On 19th September 1949 all four Mosquito squadrons moved from Wahn to Celle, while the Spitfires of 2 Squadron redeployed to Wunsdorf. The Berlin Airlift was coming to an end and the US Air Force, who had been flying from Celle with C119s, moved back to the US Zone of Southern Germany. Within a month of arriving at Celle I started a series of cross-country flights along the corridors to Berlin from both Hamburg and Hanover. I believe that I had the honour of taking the first operational aircraft into Berlin after the airlift. At least the Wing Commander Flying at Gatow personally greeted my navigator and me and entertained us to coffee and sticky cakes in what had been the passenger reception buffet. We were besieged by bored passenger and freight handlers who had been left with nothing to do. We got permission to fly over the city as far as the Brandenberg Gate and were then invited to beat up the airfield before returning to Celle. I landed at Gatow on several occasions and later the Squadron sent two detachments of four aircraft to stay there over separate weekends.

It was interesting to look down on the Russian airfields in or near the air corridors. Many were stuffed full of WW2 fighters and ground attack aircraft parked wingtip to wingtip. I never saw one airborne; in fact the only Russian that I ever encountered in the air was a PO-2, a radial-engined biplane roughly comparable to the British Tiger Moth. It was, however, on return from one of my trips to Berlin that I managed to blow off the canopy escape hatch during a high-speed dive. This caused no end of speculation back at Celle as everyone assumed that I had been shot at by the Russians!

1950 was a year of formation flying and low-level bombing demonstrations. The Wing Commander Flying at Celle was Reggie Cox who was a superb leader and delighted in leading large formations. Typically these were of 17 aircraft: Reggie would fly his aircraft out on his own followed by boxes of four aircraft each from 4, 11, 14 and 98 Squadrons. The first Major even where this balbo appeared was the BAFO Air Display at Gutersloh on 20th June 1950, although for several weeks previously the formation had cruised around Germany, each trip lasting about three hours. Our contribution to the Air Display consisted of flypasts by the whole 17-ship formation followed by attacks against ground targets by each Squadron formation. 4 and 11 Squadrons carried out individual diving cannon attacks, while 14 and 9i8 dropped bombs low-level, still in our formations. As mentioned earlier, practice bombing was normally performed using 25lb smoke bombs, but in 1950 we received some new 60lb bombs for low level bombing demos. However, whoever sent them to us didn't send the instructions and we had no idea how to drop them safely. It seems incredible now, but we decided that the only way to find out was to do our own trials. On 10 June two aircraft took off for Nordhorn range to suck it and see. The leader was Oleof Bergh, a big husky South African who later achieved fame as the only RAF officer in the Korean War to survive being shot down and held in solitary confinement for 18 months. I flew line-astern behind him and we dropped four 60lb bombs each in formation, starting at 250 feet and reducing our height on each run. With instantaneous fuzing, the bombs exploded directly under the aircraft, the blast giving a strong jolt and the bang clearly being heard over the sound of the engines. In fact we returned unscathed, perhaps because of the marshy surface of the range. A few months later during a Demo at West Malling 98 Squadron damaged three out of four aircraft making the drop - perhaps they were a bit low or perhaps it was just a harder surface on the airfield! Incidentally they missed their target just as four of us from 14 Squadron had done just a few moments before! We used the 60lb bombs for the BAFO Air Display carrying four bombs in each of our four aircraft. All 16 bombs were dropped in one salvo and we obliterated the dummy factory which had been built on the Gutersloh airfield. 98 Squadron came in last, and I'm not sure what was left for them to aim at.

Two days after the BAFO Air Display 14 and 98 Squadrons were detached to West Malling which was always our venue for UK detachments. We invariably shared a dispersal with No.29 Squadron who flew Mosquito night-fighters. We came to know West Malling extremely well and that added to the interest when we carried out night intruder attacks on it during UK major exercises. On these we would hang around the target airfield with navigation lights off for about thirty minutes, from time to time making simulated attacks on buildings and on the night-fighters as they took off or landed.

Our detachment to West Malling on this occasion was to take part in the RAF Display at Farnborough. This was, as far as I know, the only post-war resurrection of the RAF Pageants at Hendon which were annual events up to 1939. West Malling was full of aircraft for this event. In addition to the three resident Mosquito night-fighter squadrons, plus 14 and 98, there were also the Linton-on-Ouse and Church Fenton wings of single-seater DH Hornet fighters. The task of 14 and 98 was to re-create the wartime bombing by Mosquitoes of Amiens Prison when the attack had to be extremely precise to knock down parts of the building to allow the escape of French resistance fighters who were due for execution. For this a model of the prison was built on Farnborough Airfield and the attacks were as authentic as possible with interceptions of the attacking Mosquitoes being made by Spitfires in painted in German markings. The RAF Display was repeated on two days, 7 and 8 July 1950. For the sake of authenticity our attacks were made by echelons of three aircraft and this raised a certain problem. We were dropping practice bombs on the target although explosive charges detonated from the ground were fitted in the target.

Naturally we wanted our bombs to hit the target but its small size made this difficult for an attack in echelon. The target was an excellent representation of the original prison but it was scaled down and was only about 100 feet wide. As the wing span of a Mosquito was 54' 2" it will be real1sed that three aircraft could not be fitted into this width. We therefore flew our echelons with the aircraft well stepped back with wing-tips overlapping. Even so, as a No.3, I could not get lined up on the target. I therefore decided to slide across and below the other two as we approached the target. As they were flying at about 50 feet and the target was about 30 feet high this got quite exciting, particularly as I was in the slipstream of the leading two aircraft! I tended to cross the target with rapid control movements to full travel in either direction.

Another little problem that came to light during practices before the Display was that of our bombs skipping. The target was only made of canvas so that our bombs went straight through it, skipped on the hard ground surface and bounced over a line of trees beyond to land in some aircraft dispersals on the airfield perimeter. The RAE civilians working at these dispersals got quite annoyed about it.

In September we were back at West Malling again to take part in the Battle of Britain Flypast over London. Although we completed a couple of rehearsals flying in a formation of 36 Mosquitoes, including the West Malling and other night-fighter squadrons, the weather on the day was, as ever, appalling and the flypast was restricted to just a solitary Spitfire and Hurricane. We stayed on at West Malling for a couple of extra days to take part in the station's own Battle of Britain Display. In the meantime we had sent one aircraft back to Celle to load up with 60 lb IT bombs and bring them to Malling. On the day each of our four aircraft carried one, as did four from 98 Squadron. This was the occasion when both squadrons missed the target and 98 Squadron sustained blast damage to their aircraft.

Incidentally each of the four Celle Mosquito squadrons tended to develop their own formation specialities. Nos. 4 and 11, flying the much lighter and more responsive Mark VIs, tended to do fighter-type upward fan breaks over the airfield. 98 spent hours running backwards and forwards over the airfield with very steep pull-ups and wing-overs at each end. They were led by Flight Lieutenant Roger Topp, who won an AFC for his outstanding number of met climbs at Wahn and Celle, a bar to it for later test-flying solo the Comet I airliner trying to determine why two of the BOAC models had disappeared without trace and a further bar for his work in leading the Hunters of No.l11 Squadron, the Black Arrows, in some of the most outstanding formation aerobatic demonstrations of all time. It was Roger who led the famous formation loop of 22 Hunters at one of the SBAC shows at Farnborough.

We on 14 developed a bomb-burst type of formation break. We would approach the airfield low, then Nos.2 and 3 would break upwards to right and left respectively, the leader would pull hard up straight ahead before banking left at the top to follow No.3 round the circuit, while I in the box went down as sharply as possible, usually disappearing below trees on the edge of the airfield. I would then hold the aircraft down before pulling up to the left to follow the leader. We used to land in the order of 3, 1, 4, 2. It was ideal if there was a depression in the ground beyond the airfield, such as at West Malling, as that allowed me to steepen the dive more. To try to achieve a steep attitude I used to snap the throttles closed closed, push the stick hard forward and almost immediately have to increase to full power on the pullout. It was apparently quite spectacular viewed from the ground and certainly un-nerving for the unfortunate navigator who flew with me!

Having lost my original crewman, I used to fly with a variety of different navigators. However, during 1950 the man with whom I flew most of all was Flight Sergeant Felix Suskiewicz, a really outstanding Polish navigator. Felix had flown something like 80 operational Mosquito sorties during World War 2 in the Second Tactical Air Force. He had started before the 1944 Normandy landings and had operated right across Europe as the Allied armies had advanced. His pilot at that time was the same Flight Lieutenant Atkins who had taken me on my first-ever ride in a Mosquito from Lasham in 1944.

Soon after our return from West Malling in September 1950 we were engaged in Operation Broadside, a joint Army/Air Force exercise in Germany.

An interesting sortie was on the night of 23 September. Six of us were briefed to make a night attack on a wood South-West of Hanover which was reputed to hide a divisional HQ. We were to use parachute flares, a technique that we had not used before. The plan was that we would attack individually at intervals of about two minutes. The leader would identify the target wood visually and drop a flare over it. As the flare lit, I as No.2 would be starting my dive to come in and attack under it. I would then do a 270 degree climbing turn and drop another flare to illuminate the dive attack by No.3 who then illuminated for No.4 and so on until the leader made the final attack under the flare from No.6. At take-off time there was heavy rain and low cloud at Celle but we streamed off at two-minute intervals. About 20 minutes out we broke clear into bright moonlight. The attack was a great success, but we did not leave it at that.

In the canopy of the Mosquito we carried a Very pistol which fired vertically upwards. In addition to the coloured signal cartridges, which we never used, we carried white illuminating cartridges which burned longer and gave off an intense light. Having finished our planned attack we milled about on the deck in the moonlight attacking anything that we saw. I found a line of trucks parked down a road which I was able to report as military as I had seen men alongside with rifles slung over their shoulders! At one stage we flew in a long line in a steep turn round the target wood with our navigators firing illuminating cartridges as fast as they could.

It turned out that the poor pongos, from the general downwards, spent most of the night fighting fires in the wood. They took it in good part though and sent us a signal saying they were glad that we were really all on the same side. Apparently, as the attack had started, the general had been briefing his officers Montgomery-style alongside his caravan when one of our flares crunched into the ground right alongside.

On 1 November 1950, 14 and 98 Squadrons moved to Fassberg, while 4 and 11 stayed at Celle to convert onto Vampire FB.5s. I flew seven more sorties from Fassberg before the runway became unserviceable through snow and ice. My last trip was with Felix Suskiewicz on an air test on 16 November. I never flew a Mosquito again after that.

I left 14 Squadron on 28 December 1950, travelling on my own on various troop trains to Vienna. From there I was flown to RAF Zeltweg, a care-and maintenance airfield in Austria, which I commanded for two months while the regular CO went on leave and courses. There I got involved in catching spies, the court-martial of a previous CO and other unusual events but that is another story. I returned to the UK in March 1951 to attend the Central Flying School and train to be an instructor. From there I went to instruct on Meteors at Driffield where I had completed part of my Mosquito training in 1948.

To finish perhaps a few points about personnel matters would be in order. Arriving on 14 Squadron in 1948 as a Pilot Officer I was paid 16 shillings per day. In 1949 I was promoted to Flying Officer on 18 shillings per day. In July 1950 I became a Flight Lieutenant on 23 shillings per day. Within a month things changed dramatically. As a result of the Korean War the Government had to reverse their run-down of the Services and there was a critical shortage of aircrew recruits. The pay structure was therefore much improved and flying pay was introduced. I therefore had an increase from 23 to 29 shillings per day plus 9 shillings per day "flying pay". I had never known such riches before. Even so only one officer on the Squadron owned a car and most of us moved around on bicycles.

With BAFO being an occupation force in Germany, the only people allowed to live off the station were those in married quarters which were usually requisitioned houses. On the Squadron there were only about three officers and no NCO aircrew living in married quarters, the rest living in their respective messes. As a result there was a marvellous team spirit with much rivalry between squadrons. Adding in the exciting and enjoyable flying meant that people were really sorry to come home.

HALT! Who Goes There?

Sandy Sanderson

It was the autumn of 1954. A very young airman, straight from trade training at St Athan was posted to14 Squadron at RAF Fassberg in Northern Germany, not too far away from the border between the Britsh Zone and the Russian Zone.

The AC plonk was put on a Ground Combat Training course more or less straight away and on completion, after he had proved he could fire a rifle after running 400 yards down the range and firing after each 100 yards, he was issued with a "Small Arms Proficiency Certificate" (2TAF Form 80) to put in his Airman's Service Book (RAF Form 64). This chit indicated he was "proficient in the use of and has fired the under mentioned firearm (which was the said rifle) on the date stated"

Now that the airman had this valuable certificate it meant that he had to do his share of hangar guard duty. At Fassberg this was an all-nighter, patrolling inside the hangar with a Lee-Enfield 303 rifle loaded with a clip of 5 rounds, which had been issued by the Orderly Officer at the start of the duty. (Not like at Sylt where you were only armed with a pickaxe handle!)

All was going well: he had his overnight rations from the cookhouse, the aircrew crew room had the coffee and their armchairs were very comfortable. Then he heard a banging noise coming from the far end of the hangar. This was where the Squadron kept their MT vehicles in a largish room that had access via an outside door. He thought someone was trying to gain an entry via this door.

Cautiously he crept down the side of the hangar wall until he reached the room where the banging noise was coming from. He looked into the room, could see nothing untoward, but the noise continued so he shouted "Halt who goes there?" The noise still continued so he said loudly, "I have a loaded rifle and I'm coming in". With this he put a bullet up the spout rather noisily. He crept in down the side of the room looking for signs of legs or feet between the wheels of the vehicles. No sign, so he went in further. By this time his heart was thumping and he was getting very uptight. At that moment there was a loud bang behind him - instinctively he turned very quickly and fired his rifle. His ears were ringing from the noise in the enclosed space. As the bullet then ricocheted around the room (fortunately missing him) he realised that all the noise had all been caused by an airlock in a radiator on the wall! When he had regained his composure he went back to the aircrew crew room and made himself a very strong mug of coffee.

In the morning the Orderly Officer (who was aircrew luckily, not a Rockape) returned for reports and to collect his clip of 5 bullets. When he was given only 4 live rounds, an empty cartridge and an explanation he just laughed and said no more. The airman went back to the room to try to find the bullet, but was unsuccessful so he kept quiet about it (until now!).

But I'm glad to say, the ringing in my ears had gone, I had regained my composure and I had a clear conscience as I had my chit saying I could fire a rifle! 'Nuff said!!!!

Finding the Rex

By John Robertson

One of the great ships from the Golden Age of passenger liners, the Italian Liner Rex was launched in Genoa in 1931 and first sailed in 1932. Eight hundred and eighty feet long and 51,062 gross registered tonnage, she could maintain a speed of 28 knots on a trans-Atlantic crossing. Rex gained the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing in 1933 and held the record until 1935 when the 80,000 ton French Liner Normandie arrived on the scene. She was a beautiful ship and, of course, the Italians were very proud of her. When Italy became a belligerent in 1940 during WW2, Rex was laid up at Bari on the Adriatic coast and subsequently towed to Pola, never to sail again under her own power.

In September 1944 “A” Flight of 14 Squadron RAF was operating from Grottaglie near Taranto in Southern Italy, carrying out low level anti shipping reconnaissance missions in the Adriatic and southwards along part of the Greek coastline. We used to survey the coast from a distance of five to seven miles at a height of fifty feet. Pola, on the tip of the Istrian Peninsula was a fiercely defended base and we treated it with great respect on our recces.

My recollection of the intelligence briefing at the time was that high level aerial photo reconnaissance showed that Rex had disappeared and the Squadron was tasked to find her again. It was thought that Rex intended to reach Trieste and block the harbour there by scuttling herself across the entrance.

On 6th September, after a few days of searching interrupted by very heavy thunderstorms, Squadron Leader Ron Hadingham sighted the Rex, apparently sailing from the southern Adriatic. The Squadron attempted to shadow the Rex for the remaining hours of daylight, but my recollection is rather of other pilots returning without being able to penetrate the likely operating area, due to the appalling weather. Certainly all contact with the liner had been lost by the following morning. At that time of the year the Northern Adriatic, especially around the Gulf of Venice was subject to violent thunderstorms sweeping down from the Alps and it was not unusual for some operations to be frustrated by the presence of nil visibility, or even water spouts rising from the sea to cloud base. Two days later, when I was tasked to locate the Rex, the weather in the northern Adriatic at sea level was still murky with frequent showers. My logbook entry for 8th September 1944 is as follows:

Aircraft: Marauder F, No HD468 Pilot: Self Crew: W/O Duffell (2nd Pilot), F/Sgt Hanks (Nav), F/Sgt Murray (W/OP), F/O Ingham (Mid-upper AG), P/O Harris (Tail AG)

Duty: Recce - Pola - Gulf of Trieste - Liner 'REX' 51,000 tons, 2 DO, 1 MV 1000, 1 MV 600, sighted in Gulf. Intense v. accurate medium flak from DDs & MVs. Reported to Ancona.

Hours flying - 3h 10min 8 Beaus (fighters) with 9 P51 anti-flak escort sent to attack from Ancona - we followed up 1/2 hour later to Gulf of Trieste to find' REX' stationary in same spot with white smoke pouring out of bridge superstructure. Beaus claim 58 R.P. hits. On way out of gulf sighted 30 ton schooner - strafed same scoring hits. Rex now sunk on side 10/9/44. Hours flying 3hr 35 min

The weather was very murky with visibility less than one mile, and we were lucky to stumble across her, about forty miles from Trieste. Rex was stationary about a few hundred yards off shore when we sighted her as we flew an easterly course towards Trieste. We turned back through 180 degrees to allow the second pilot on my right to take photos of her with the hand held camera from the right hand cockpit window. As briefed, a sighting report in 'clear' (highest priority not coded) was immediately transmitted. As we completed the turn in the murk we found ourselves right in the middle of the box of two Destroyers and two armed merchantmen - they had us covered, and the flak was too close for comfort. I can tell you I wasn't so much interested in taking photographs as with getting myself out of trouble! We escaped back into the murk and went for Ancona without delay. Ancona was a small aerodrome which was suitable for Beaufighters but very small for a Marauder, which needed a long runway. It was a pretty dicey landing.

On landing Tubby Ingham and I were taken immediately to the briefing hut whilst Ivor Duffell refuelled the Marauder. After briefing the aircrew of the strike force, I expected that we would be finished, but instead we were instructed to return to the Rex and photograph the results of the strike. They sent off the squadron of rocket-armed Beaus with an escort of Mustangs. We were to follow the strike force after half an hour - I asked about my 'anti-flak' escort but was told that the strike force would take care of that angle! At any rate the Beaus had top-cover, but our lonesome Marauder didn't have that luxury. As it was, the weather had cleared somewhat, the ships had gone home and the strike force faced no opposition!

Our instructions were to return to Ancona with our photos of the Rex after the attack. We had a somewhat clearer run at the Rex this time with no opposition, and found the liner listing over with white smoke pouring from her. We took it out on the little schooner as we cleared the Gulf. As we approached Ancona again the weather was starting to close in and a tremendous thunderstorm was approaching the airstrip (not a comfortable landing strip for a Marauder in any case). So I made an executive decision and headed for home at Grottaglie after a hard day's work. We had successfully found the Rex and witnessed her demise - unfortunately the photos weren't so hot due to the poor light and weather.

The crew who found the Rex: Back Row: L-R Ingham, Robertson, Duffel, Front Row, L-R Hanks, Harris, Murray

Drama Among the Dunes

R G Dawson

A crashed JU88 - photo RG Dawson

In March 1943 14 Squadron. was operating from a landing-strip just to the east of Bone (since renamed Annaba) giving support to the armies in Tunisia.

This landing-strip was one of several which had been constructed (using pierced-steel planking) on a large fiat area behind the enormous sand dunes which run for miles along this part of the coast. The landing-strips were, in fact; about a mile inland.

These landing-strips were used by both the RAF and the USAAF and were often attacked by German and Italian aircraft from Sicily and Sardinia.

One of the Luftwaffe's favourite tactics was to wait until after dark on moonlit nights, and send in JU88s singly, at about ten minute intervals, to come in from the sea at extremely low level and maximum speed to avoid being observed, before lifting sufficiently to clear the top of the sand dunes (which were something like 50ft to 60ft high at that point and then bomb the airstrips spread out below them.

It became standard practice for almost all personnel not required for duty to take blankets and bed-down in the sand dunes as this was by far the safest place to be, and provided a grand-stand view of the bombing a mile or so inland.

On the night in question the JU88s had been coming in at regular ten minute intervals (German precision? ) but there was a long interval and it was assumed that they had finished for the night I was instructed to climb to the top of the sand dunes and peer over to make sure that no more JU88s were coming in when, to my horror, I found myself looking straight at an incoming JU88 at a range of about 300 yards flying about 10ft above the sea and well below the level of the sand dune.

I threw myself off the top of the dune and toppled to the bottom. The pilot must have misjudged his climb to clear the dunes and although the nose of the aircraft lifted enough to clear, the tail plane did not and struck the dune where I had been a few seconds before. Due to the attitude that the aircraft was in this caused it to do a reverse somersault, with dire results. Fortunately the JU88 crashed short of the landing strips, and although its bomb-load exploded there were no casualties among those on the ground.

Ron Dawson and comrades in front of their luxury desert accommodation, near Sidi Barani 1941. That’s Ron far right.

Photo RG Dawson

Of Ju88s and Motorbikes!

By Jim Hanson

Following neatly on from Ron Dawson’s account of his encounter with a Ju88 above (Issue 7), and just in case you were wondering about the story behind the photo on p157 of Winged Promises...

In November 1941 the Squadron moved to a new L G inland from Sidi Barrani. Our operations at this time were mainly on enemy troops and tanks. We were getting a number of enemy aircraft visiting us at night, obviously trying to locate our L.G and attack it - but they would always arrive above us on consecutive evenings at exactly 8 p.m. Our Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Buchanan decided that this was a bit much, so he contacted a fighter squadron stationed down in the Suez Canal area. Although fighter aircraft were in very short supply indeed in the Desert at that time, the squadron duly sent one Hurricane up to us to arrive at 8 p.m. That night, as expected, the JU 88 arrived above us at exactly at 8 p.m. - and the Hurricane promptly shot it down!

The aircrew had baled out and all but one of them were quickly rounded up. We were given orders to take our rifles, plus 5 rounds each, and go off in pairs in various directions to find the missing crew member. Myself and LAC Gordon Atkinson (Armourer) set off on our designated course, after about 30 minutes we found the missing crew member lying on the Desert. His parachute was still on, and he was stone dead. The point that occurred to me at the time of the event and ever since, is the way the German mind worked. Here was this JU 88 taking off from Crete at the exact time on 3 consecutive nights to the same target. Was it complete arrogance, or just plain stupidity?

Jim and Maurice go exploring!

As you will know 14 Squadron moved up and down the Desert, moving in and out of various locations as the advancing and retreating took place. January 1942 we were at Gambut, an airfield much used by the Luftwaffe and the Italians. In fact, in their haste to leave, the Germans had kindly left some motorbikes behind and a very good friend of mine, LAC Maurice Best (Flight Mechanic E), and myself ‘acquired’ one each. We often spent our off-duty time exploring the area around Gambut on our motorbikes. There is an escarpment running through the area, and on one particular occasion we found a quite well-hidden cave in the escarpment. We entered the cave and found that it had been used by a German Film Unit for working on films, probably propaganda films of German Forces in action on the Desert, and of British and Indian troops captured out in the Desert etc. We had a good rummage around the cave and left with a few bits and pieces. It was 2 or 3 days later that we heard the cave had been discovered by some other people, and the place exploded while they were in there. It was, of course, booby trapped. How lucky can you get?

On the way back we came across a knocked-out German tank, and in its locker we found sliced bread wrapped in foil, perfectly preserved: a luxury indeed. We never ever got bread on the Desert, only rock-hard biscuits. We also found 3 green cubes about 3 inches square - they were concentrated soup cubes. We handed these to the Cookhouse Tent, they made a considerable amount of soup with them. A small footnote here - food on the Desert was normally very grim, to say the least, and not much of it. For example, our menu for Christmas Day 1941 was cold tinned herring for breakfast at 7 a.m., and the last meal of the day was served at 2 p.m. and consisted of Bully Beef and biscuits, and you had to make sure you were at the Cookhouse Tent on time, or you got nothing!


Adventure In The Western Desert, June 1942

R G Dawson 

During June 1942 14 Squadron was operating from a desert landing ground near Sollum in Libya and although under frequent attack from low-flying ME 109's this was not the main concern: the Afrika Korps was just about to break through the 8th Army defensive line adjacent to, and around, Tobruk.  This did in fact, happen soon enough and the whole of the front totally collapsed, leaving all squadrons operating in that area in danger of being quickly overrun and their aircraft destroyed.  In the absence of any specific instructions from HQ, the CO decided that all our aircraft (Blenheims) should take off immediately and fly east until they found a landing-strip that could accommodate them as near as possible to the RAF HQ at Burg-el-Arab.

All remaining personnel were instructed to destroy everything that could be of use to the enemy, load themselves into the squadron's trucks (mainly Bedford 3-tonners) with as much water and rations as could be found, and make their way separately (not in convoy) to Burg-el-Arab. It was advised that the coast road should not be used as this was continually under attack by ME 109's and JU88's, and that a course at least 6 to 8 miles inland would be best.  Also, single vehicles were less likely to be attacked than a group.

This trip eventually took about three days and nights, but as it was impossible to navigate by night we bedded down under the truck and waited for dawn, hoping that we would not be spotted by the enemy

On the second night having found a small depression in the desert in which to bed down, we were awakened by the rumble of tank engines and German voices. On peering carefully over the edge of the depression we found that a whole regiment of Afrika Corps tanks and vehicles, having broken through the defensive positions set up by the 8th Army, was parked about 100 yards away having a stop for food! 

We were expecting to be challenged any moment or to receive an 88mm shell through the truck, but whether our truck was not seen in the small depression or whether the enemy just assumed it was an abandoned vehicle we shall never know. 

In the event after about an hour, the whole tank regiment moved on eastward and in the morning we were able to continue with our journey and were lucky enough to avoid any further contact.  We did, in fact decide to take a chance on the coast road as it would be so much quicker. This proved to be a good decision as we were not attacked at all, and the only happening of note was that near Mersa Matruh we came across a NAAFI Supply Depot that was being abandoned and we were told to help ourselves to anything we wanted, so the truck was quickly loaded-up with cigarettes, Egyptian beer (awful stuff) and toilet paper, which we had not seen for years!

A couple of Ron Dawson’s colleagues take a look at a Panzer IV which had been abandoned by its former owners.