Thursday, 30 October 1941

Newmarket to Portreath

Jackson, in Whitley Z9158, takes off for Portreath at 10.30, but has to land at RAF Abingdon to change his Whitley’s W/T transmitter which has become unserviceable. Austin, in Z9159, flies to Portreath direct, taking off at 10.50 and landing at 13.05. Jackson arrives at 13.30. Both land on the cliff-top airfield in the teeth of a storm. The runways at Portreath are less than half a mile inland from the Atlantic cliffs; the gusts must have made the landings interesting.

Portreath is home to the recently-formed Overseas Air Dispatch Unit (OADU) which prepares crews and aircraft for the long delivery flights to the Middle East. The OADU informs them that heavy icing is forecast over France, and they will be re-routed via Gibraltar. It examines both aircraft and finds that both fall well short of being serviceable. On both aircraft the D/F (direction-finding) loops need swinging, and they are deficient in much of a normal Whitley’s equipment, such as IFF (Identification Friend or Foe); Z9159’s W/T transmitter, too, fails during the flight to Portreath.

It is interesting to note that neither aircraft is equipped with oxygen equipment — hardly surprising, since there is rarely any reason for SD aircraft to fly above 10,000 feet — nor are they fitted with airscrew de-icing.

Jackson’s intercom fails, and at the last moment Austin’s wireless operator discovers that there is no Syko machine (a fairly basic encoding/decoding device) aboard his aircraft; one is supplied by Portreath. OADU subsequently sends a scathing, detailed memo to 44 Group (and from thence to 3 Group) about the poor preparation of these aircraft. The Stradishall Signals Officer’s reply — Newmarket Heath comes under Stradishall for admin and control purposes — gives a good picture of the problems routinely faced by 138 Squadron, which has been warned of the operation only at lunchtime on the 29th.

Newmarket – Stradishall

F/Lt Jack Oettle has recently returned to Special Duties, having recovered from his injuries sustained in the Operation JOSEPHINE crash at Tangmere on 10 April. He takes off from Newmarket for Stradishall at about 1150 in Whitley Z9223, accompanied by another Whitley. He has two crew aboard, F/Sgt Rochford, DFM, RNZAF, and LAC Lee.

Approaching Stradishall to land shortly before midday, Oettle stalls the Whitley in a similar manner to his previous accident, and it crashes in flames. This time it is fatal; all three on board are killed. At 1630 Hockey reports that ‘dental records of the three are insufficient for identification purposes’. An NCO questioned is certain that only those three were aboard the aircraft. The other aircraft, pilot unrecorded, lands safely.

There has been some confusion over the date of this crash, possibly caused by an incautious date entry in the Stradishall log.


Newmarket – Portreath

TNA AIR14/2527
Source of 44 Group correspondence
Logbooks: P/Os JB Austin and AGW Livingstone

Newmarket – Stradishall

Flights of the Forgotten, p.36
Agents by Moonlight, pp.24 & 303. (Appendix of losses has correct date.)
TNA AIR14/2527