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.
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.