Tag Archives: Yugoslavia

Tuesday, 28 October 1941

Newmarket: warning order for operations to the Middle East

F/Lt Jackson and P/O Austin are given orders to fly to Portreath. How much they are initially told one has no way of knowing, but they are to fly from Portreath to Malta across France, for operations into Yugoslavia. It is not clear why they are being routed to Portreath, as the distance to Malta is no shorter, and the Stradishall log shows that Wellingtons are regularly transported to the Middle East from Stradishall via Malta; also, the Whitleys carrying the paratroops for Operation COLOSSUS back in February had flown direct to Malta from Mildenhall.

Correspondence in November from Portreath and Stradishall shows that the warning order is signalled to Newmarket at about midday on the 29th, but the Stradishall log (which is entirely contemporary) shows that its Ops office is informed by Newmarket at 19.15 on the 28th, so the warning order must have been received at Newmarket on the 28th.

Both aircraft have to be quickly equipped with a complete set of six auxiliary 66-gallon/300 litre fuel tanks, two in the bomb-bay, four in the rear fuselage. The aircraft are in the workshops for the conversion, which makes it impossible for the crew to do the necessary equipment checks on other equipment; this has consequences at Portreath. Initially operating on an ‘enhanced Flight’ basis, 138 Squadron is still well below nominal strength in all aspects, including engineering staff. Two ground staff are to accompany the expedition.

Wednesday, 29 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 ‘D’, flies to Portreath direct, taking off at 10.50 and landing at 13.05. Jackson arrives at 13.30. Both aircraft 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 rudimentary 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 had been warned of the operation only at lunchtime on the 29th.

Sources

TNA AIR14/2527

Logbooks: P/Os JB Austin and AGW Livingstone

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.

Sources

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

Saturday, 1 November 1941

Operation CHILBLAIN

This operation appears to have been planned for the night of 31 October in Whitley ‘F’, but this aircraft went U/S at 1935, and so the operation had to be postponed. On 1 November Reimer takes Whitley ‘B’, the aircraft Murphy used the night before to deliver SIS operations LOUIS/BEAVER and EMILE. Unfortunately no-one recorded which Whitley a/c ‘B’ was. The Stradishall logbook confirms that this operation takes place on the night of 1 November, not 31 October as recorded in the ops summary that accompanied the pilots’ operations reports for the October/November period.

Sgt Reimer’s report is characteristically brief, but marginally inaccurate in that he appears to have crossed the coast half an hour before he took off. The Stradishall log confirms that take-off was at 18.57, and Reimer therefore crosses the east coast at 19.35. Course is set for a point north of Esjberg, an unhealthy pinpoint due to heavy AA defences, and they climb through freezing cloud to 9,000 feet. The wings and airscrews start icing up, but stops once they are above it. On ETA for Esjberg there is still no break in the cloud sheet below, and they start descending through the cloud. The aircraft starts icing up again, and they have to abandon. They set course for Esjberg, then England. Over the sea they break could, and land back at base at 03.00.

Operation BULLSEYE: Portreath to Gibraltar

The weather over France is still poor. Jackson has obtained permission to proceed to Malta via Gibraltar. This will allow him to fly by daylight over the Atlantic, passing the Bay of Biscay and skirting the west coast of Spain and Portugal.

We have Austin’s detailed report of the outward journey but Jackson’s report, which covers the whole expedition but not his own flight, says little about his own trip. I discussed this operation with Austin several times, and once with my father. They appear to have flown to Gibraltar at about the same time as Jackson, but perhaps not together.

Austin takes off at 08.15, Jackson at 08.30. Austin, in Z9159, flies to the Scilly Isles to get a navigation fix from as far west as possible, then sets course for ‘Point ‘A’ (48° 18’N; 5° 35’W), some 25 miles off Ushant; later turning points are near Cape Finisterre and Cape St Vincent. Austin flies some ten miles off the Portugese and Spanish coastline, keeping it in sight in the now-clear weather. Turning towards the Straits, past Cape Trafalgar, Austin passes the Rock to seaward and lines up to land. After some eight hours in the air the Whitley’s fuel-load has lightened: the centre of gravity is more susceptible to the weight of the additional crew and cargo in the rear fuselage, and has shifted aft.

Gibraltar’s runway is rather short for a bomber aircraft. The runway is currently being lengthened to provide a concrete surface of 1550 yards, but this is still under construction, using rubble from the caves being tunnelled inside the Rock for defence. The winds around the rock are notoriously variable both in strength and direction, entirely without warning. On this occasion the air traffic controller changes the landing direction (either 090 or 270) at least four times, once when Austin is in the final stages of landing, when a Whitley is vulnerable to stall even when normally loaded.

Austin’s aircraft is now very low on fuel. It is loaded with containers intended for Mihailovic’s Cetnicks. With two additional crew aboard, totalling eight, the Whitley’s CofG is dangerously far aft, making a stall and crash a distinct probability. Austin jettisons the containers in the harbour, and summons the crew to move as far forward into the Whitley’s nose as they can. Everyone bar the pilot crams themselves into the front turret, the well beside the pilot, and the bomb-aimer’s compartment. Austin gets a red flare signalling him to go around due to the varying wind velocities; Austin, perhaps uninformed of the Rock’s local turbulence, believes the controller to be drunk. Austin has no choice but to plonk the Whitley down, disregarding yet another red flare. Later the harbourmaster tries to get a new suit out of Austin, claiming that he had to jump into the harbour to avoid Austin’s Whitley. It’s not clear whether Austin’s containers are recovered. From later events I assume not; at least not before the Whitleys leave for Malta.

Sources

CHILBLAIN

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encl. 96A
Stradishall Ops Officers’ log.

Portreath – Gibraltar

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encls 99A (Austin’s report) and 101A (Jackson’s report)
Conversations with S/Ldrs Austin & Livingstone.

Sunday, 2 November 1941

Operation BULLSEYE: Gibraltar to Malta

F/Lt Jackson and P/O Austin continue their expedition the following night. Austin takes off from Gibraltar at 21.15, still with his crew of six plus two ground crew to service the aircraft. Jackson takes off at 21.00.

Austin sets course ENE-ish from Europa Point, the southern tip of Gibraltar, for a position about eight miles off Cabo de Gata (Cape of the Cat, now a National Park), the most south-easterly point of Spain and their last pinpoint before reaching the North African coast. They continue eastwards to a pinpoint off Algiers, but alter course slightly southwards to avoid a thunderstorm, and back again to resume their original course. At 00.36 they reach position off Algiers by ETA, and set course for a position further east. Astro sights taken through the intermittent higher cloud layer indicate they are too far north. With no D/F or radio stations to triangulate on, they set course to 146 degrees to intercept the coast. At 02.55, off to port they spot the light of the lighthouse at Cape Bon. Flying to the light, which they reach at 03.22, course is set for a point off the Tunisian town of Monastir. From there they set course for Malta; at 04.34 they fly on track over the small Italian island of Linosa (which provides a convenient checkpoint) and Gozo is seen ahead at 05.03. Austin orbits Filfla Island, a tiny islet to the south of Malta, at 05.07, and half an hour later circle the airfield at Luqa. Receiving no acknowledgement, they head back to their position off the south coast to keep out of the way of the air raid that is occupying the airfield’s attention, and they eventually land at 06.05.

Jackson’s report says that the towns on the north African coast were well lit up, and made navigation easy.

Sources

TNA AIR 20/8334, Encls. 100A, 103A