Saturday, 15 November 1941

Malta to England

F/Lt Jackson, P/O Austin and their crews return to the UK, flying the direct route over France rather than via Gibraltar. We have Austin’s detailed report on his flight. He takes off at 17.25 and sets course for Point Teulada, at the south-west corner of Sardinia. Almost immediately he runs into heavy thunderstorms, which clear just after 8 p.m.. A flashing light is spotted and identified as a Sardinian lighthouse, and a course is set for the shallow lakes on the French coast south of Narbonne. The navigator takes several star-sights, an unusual practice for Special Duties crews, and obtained several fixes. At 22.40 they see lights and a coastline on the port beam, but cannot obtain a firm pinpoint. An hour later they set course for Tours. On ETA Tours they still can not see through the 10/10ths cloud beneath, and set course for Caen. They rely on the Pole Star to check their latitude. Just after ETA the French coast the wireless operator is asked to get a D/F fix from Southampton, but because the signals officer in Malta has given him the incorrect verification charts, Southampton does not issue the fix until Austin’s Whitley is circling West Malling, about to land. They land at West Malling at 03.15

It’s not entirely clear whether the code is issued even then, or even how Austin’s crew have found their way to West Malling. They had flown on ETA in or above cloud since the pinpointing at the south-western tip of Sardinia, so they are fortunate to make it back. The refusal to issue D/F instructions could easily have led to the Whitley running out of fuel.

On the face of it Jackson appears to have had an easier time: his report states that the weather cleared when he reached the French coast; after which, he wrote, ‘conditions became most favourable’. I suspect some difference over the use of time-zones, for Jackson appears to have taken off half an hour before Austin, yet landed an hour after; he reported landing at Newmarket at 04.30.