Tag Archives: Yugoslavia

Tuesday, 23 December 1941

Malta to Kabrit

Bad weather has prevented any attempt at operations since the 11th. (In his report Austin says nothing about the need to replace his NCO aircrew.) The Halifax has already left for England on the 22nd.

Four days after the first Luftwaffe raids on the island, and after a brief NFT flight (Night Flying Training) on the 22nd, Austin flies Whitley Z9159 from Malta to RAF Kabrit, Egypt, with a scratch crew of four, plus five passengers. Three of the passengers are Yugoslavs to be given parachute training. Everyone is glad to be off the island; German attacks are intense. Austin takes off from Luqa at 23.50 and the trip takes 7 hour 50 minutes. Austin may have been uncomfortable about so many passengers in the rear, for later he refuses to return to Malta with so many passengers.


TNA AIR 20/8504: 138 Squadron, Operations from Malta and North Africa. JBA report 16/2/42.
Logbooks, S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone

Thursday, 11 December 1941

Yugoslavia – Operation EPSOM

Six days (or nights) after landing at Luqa, Austin makes the first attempt to drop the two agents plus a pair of containers. The containers are loaded on to Austin’s Whitley immediately he lands in Malta, and on the 8th he is told by the AOC (Air Officer Commanding) Malta that his orders are to come directly from the AOC. A Halifax also arrives to be tasked with the same operation, though which aircraft it was, where it had come from, and who was flying it, remains unknown.

Austin takes off from Luqa at 20.10 in fine weather. He flies a course similar to his November sortie, pinpointing on Saseno Island (now called Sazan Island) and Durazzo (now Durres) on the Albanian coast, where he heads inland for Mitrovicë. The target is close to Cacak, in Serbia, not the Cetnik citadel at Ravna Gora.

Shortly after midnight Austin and his crew arrive over the target, which they positively identify. They circle for 35 minutes, flashing the recognition signal ‘R’, but they see no lights that might be interpreted as a signal. However, they do see the Halifax over the target area, a good indication that they’re in the right place. Like Austin’s Whitley the Halifax is flashing Morse letter ‘R’ with its downward-facing signal-lamp, but a like response is not forthcoming from the ground. In Austin’s Whitley the Second Pilot claims to see a red light on the ground in the target area, but it isn’t confirmed by anyone else in the crew. The Whitley leaves the target area with both containers and the two agents still aboard. Course is set for Malta, where they land at 07:00.

The reception-committee no-show might be explained by the state of Partisan-Chetnik-German relations in early November 1941. The Partisans and Chetniks are hidden in the mountains with their respective headquarters less than twenty miles apart. They have cooperated on attacks against the Germans in September and October. The Partisans are more active in attacking the Germans and Croat militias, but German reprisals are brutal in the extreme. A Führer-order has demanded 100 hostages to be executed for each German soldier killed, and 50 for each one wounded: in October more than five thousand hostages have been murdered, from just two towns. The Partisans appear to treat this as the price that has to be paid, but the scale of German atrocity persuades Mihailovic, who relies more on local support, to seek some sort of accommodation with the occupiers while saving his powder and energies for action against the Partisans, the Royalists’ real enemy. Once the Russians and British have defeated the Germans the Partisans will have to be dealt with. So why wait?

Mihailovic and Tito have met on October 27, but they agreed only on minor matters. Mihailovic strikes at Partisan troops on November 1. Two days later he postpones a planned meeting with the Germans, but meets them at Divci on December 11th, offering cooperation and making clear that the Communists were his main enemy. The Halifax and Whitley arrive over the mountains that very night, just when the Chetniks might have their hands full.

Friday, 5 December 1941

Gibraltar to Malta

After several days’ delay due to bad weather in the Mediterranean, F/Lt Austin once again takes off in Z9159 for Malta. They take off at 22.35 to arrive on the morning of the 6th. The flight takes 9 hours 40 minutes, making their arrival time shortly after 8 a.m. (probably 9 o’clock local time).

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.

Monday, 10 November 1941

RAF Luqa, Malta

F/Lt Jackson and P/O Austin receive orders to return to the UK. One Whitley is undergoing a 40-hour inspection, and poor weather over the UK prevents the other from leaving; on a direct route from Malta the two Whitleys will be near the limit of their endurance, with little margin for error given the navigation problems of flying across the Mediterranean before crossing a hostile France.


TNA AIR 20/8334. Encl. 103A