Why am I searching and writing so much about a RAF squadron lost in history books?
What happened in the life of Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, on June 30, 1942…?
On June 30, 1942, if the caption Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, wrote in the back is correct, this is what happened…
Me lost in the desert
heck of a sand storm
What happened in history books in North Africa on June 30, 1942? (Wikipedia)
On 30 June, Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa approached the Alamein position. The Axis forces were exhausted and understrength. Rommel had driven them forward ruthlessly, being confident that, provided he struck quickly before Eighth Army had time to settle, his momentum would take him through the Alamein position and he could then advance to the Nile with little further opposition. Supplies remained a problem because the Axis staff had originally expected a pause of six weeks after the capture of Tobruk. Furthermore, German air units were also exhausted and providing little help against the RAF’s all-out attack on the Axis supply lines which with the arrival of USAAF heavy bombers could reach as far as Benghazi. While captured supplies proved useful, water and ammunition were constantly in short supply while a shortage of transport impeded the distribution of the supplies that the Axis forces did have.
More information about the First Battle of El Alamein.
Now about the picture.
Me lost in the desert
heck of a sand storm
I believe Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, was posing for posterity on June 30, 1942, somewhere in the desert, but he was not lost at all… I think Gil Gillis was at Landing Ground No. 92 according to this information…
May-June 1940: Tangmere
June-August 1940: Middle Wallop
August-September 1940: St. Eval
September 1940: Middle Wallop
September 1940-April 1941: Chilbolton
April 1941: Pembrey
April-May 1941: Chilbolton
May-June 1941: HMS Victorious
June 1941: Takali
June-July 1941: LG.07
July-September 1941: LG.92
September-November 1941: LG.12
November 1941: LG.123
November 1941: LG.12
November-December 1941: LG.123
December 1941: Bu Amud
December 1941: Gazala No.1
December 1941: Msus
December 1941-January 1942: Antelat
January-February 1942: El Gubbi
February-May 1942: Gambut
May-June 1942: LG.121
June 1942: Gambut West
June 1942: Gambut 2
June 1942: Sidi Azeiz
June 1942: LG.155
June 1942: LG.76
June 1942: LG.07
June 1942: LG.13
June 1942: LG.15
June 1942: LG.21
June 1942: LG.105
June-September 1942: LG.92
September-October 1942: LG.154
October-November 1942: LG.172
November 1942: LG.20
November 1942: LG.101
November 1942: El Adem
November 1942-January 1943: Martuba
January 1943-January 1944: Gamil
January-February 1944: LG.106
February-April 1944: Mersa Matruh
April-May 1944: Poretta
May-July 1944: Serragia
July-August 1944: St. Catharines
August-September 1944: Cuers/ Pierrefeu
September-October 1944: Le Vallon
October 1944: Naples (Ground echelon)
December 1944-February 1945: Merryfield
February-March 1945: Raipur
March-December 1945: Parafield (1st)
About LG.92 (source here)
The pilots under our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Fenton, had embarked on the Aircraft Carrier Victorious at Scapa Flow which after a skirmish with the German battleship Bismark, the ship arrived in the Mediterranean with a stop at Gibraltar. The Hurricanes took off near Majorca en route for Malta (Ta Kali) to re-fuel, then on to Landing Ground 07 Gerwala before finally arriving at Abu Sueir in Egypt. The squadron at that point had no aircraft of its own and the pilots were attached to 274 Squadron for operations. When the ground crews arrived the whole squadron got together again at L.G. 92 (Amariya) but did not become operational until October with Hurricane IIs flown in from Takaradi by the squadron pilots.
The War in the desert was very fluid which meant that the Squadron was constantly on the move. By September, the Hurricanes were flying patrols from the Sidi Haneish and Marten Bagulsh Landing Grounds. Advancing with the 8th Army, 238 Squadron was at L.G. 123 (Fort Maddelena on the Libyan border, well south in the desert), by November 1941, MSUS (where there was heavy fighting) by December and Antelat by early January 1942. It was then a case of trotting up and down the desert a couple of times as the Axis troops advanced and then the 8th Army pushed them back. Then there was a final retreat from the Tobruck area all the way to El Alamein. The Squadron was re-equipped with the Older Hurricanes owing to lack of spares for the Hurricane IIs. It was very disappointing to have to retreat after all the fighting and gain of ground. Unfortunately as ground was captured the supply line got longer and transporting all supplies over rough desert roads, including fuel and water, was difficult.
By the eve of the El Alamein Push, the squadron moved to a desert-landing ground right behind the front line. The ground crew and all its equipment and supplies were all in place with all the vehicles heavily draped with camouflage netting and well dispersed but the Hurricanes were kept back until first light as it depended on the progress of the battle, whether we would be retreating or staying to become operational at first light.
At 9.40 p.m. on October 23rd, the opening of the battle was marked by the flash and thunder of a barrage fired simultaneously by 456 guns on the main front. This was a most terrific noise and the flashes of the guns lit the sky. We were ordered to bed to sleep as we had to be up before dawn to a long day’s work; somehow we slept in spite of the noise, as we knew from experience, we would soon be told if there was a retreat.
For the Desert Air Force, the battle had begun four days earlier, with a heavy bombing programme against enemy airfields. By this time we had gained air superiority almost before the battle begun. The Bomber Squadron of Bostons, Baltimores and Mitchells operated effectively in daylight with cover from the fighter squadrons against the Axis forces which presented attractive targets as they concentrated to meet the 8th Army’s attacks. The light bombers flew in tight formations of eighteen aircraft. We took pleasure in watching the “Eighteen Impenturnabables” go over and see our fighter squadron joining to escort them. On one occasion (October 28th) they went over seven times in the space of two and a half hours. It was therefore an admirable two-way operation with the Desert Air Force and the Eighth Army in complete partnership. The Western Desert Air Force consisted of almost the whole Allied Air Force in the Middle East.
As the Axis retreated, we advanced from landing ground to landing ground keeping up with the rapid movement of the tanks. These landing grounds were familiar to us as we had used them many times before in our pushes and retreats. They were just cleared airstrips in the desert wastes. Flat areas that had just been cleared of camel thorn and bumps in the ground.
By the time we reached Mersah Matruh, the front of the retreating vehicles had almost reached Antelat and Agedabia — too far for the Fighters’ fuel to take them there and back. Our Wing Commander Darwen had a brilliant plan. He decided that two hurricane squadrons (No. 213 and 238) would operate from far behind the Retreating Axis Army at a landing ground behind the German line. This was about 180 miles east of Agedabia deep in the desert. So on a significant date — Friday, 13th November — essential ground staff and masses of supplies were airlifted by Aircraft Hudsons and Bombays to Landing Ground 125 on the morning of November 13th and thirty six Hurricanes followed. By two o’clock in the afternoon, twenty four hurricanes took off immediately and began operations against the long lines of retreating vehicles of the unsuspecting Axis transport destroying or damaging three hundred vehicles. During the three days 156 sorties had been flown by the two squadrons. On the 16th November a German Recognisance Aircraft came over and spotted us so we had to make a retreat. However, on the final day our Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Marples, led eleven aircraft of 238 Squadron to chafe the coast road by Agheila, during which 42 vehicles were hit. In the whole exercise only three of our aircraft were lost whilst a large number of Axis vehicles and 14 Axis aircraft were destroyed. Four Hurricanes were too badly damaged to return at the end so were destroyed so they could not be taken by enemy hands. By mid-day on the 16th November, the Hudsons had arrived to fly back the ground crews although some did travel back overland. For defence and support, a section of the Long Distance Desert Troops had joined us in the operation.
The Squadron Leaders of 238 and 213 Squadron, Roy Marples, D.F.C. (later the Member of Parliament and Transport Minister), and Peter Oliver, D.F.C., both earned an immediate Bar to their Distinguished Flying Crosses for these operations.
From then on the Squadron moved up with the advance of the Army, passing at all the familiar landing grounds such as Gambut, El Adarn, Gazala, Benina, finishing at Martuba on 28th November 1942.
13th January 1943 saw the Squadron moving back to the Canal Zone, to El Gamil Port Said during which time they were re-equipped with Spitfires, getting the IX Version. Their flying life consisted of convoy patrols and Delta defence scrambles, although in July they did some low level sorties over Crete.
Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, posing for posterity
in front of a Hawker Hurricane Mk IIc, at Gamil, 20 February, 1943