R. Emrys Jones

From the Estate of Hugh Furse

 

Now we know who he was.

 

R. Emrys Jones’ story about 238 Squadron was found on the WW2 People’s War Homepage. 47, 000 people told their story about WWII. R. Emrys Jones’ story is about 238 Squadron when it was stationed in the Middle East.

 

Western Desert

Contributed by R. Emrys Jones

I was born 8th May 1920 in Talsarnau, Meirionethshire, North Wales and when war broke out I was doing my apprenticeship as a Pharmacist in Penrhyndeudraeth. I realised in January 1940 that it would be impossible for me to go to college because of the war so I volunteered for air crew in the Royal Air Force but failed the Medical so joined the Royal Air Force Medical Department. I did my training at the Medical School at Halton and experienced the Battle of Britain and then was posted to the RAF Officers’ Hospital which had taken over the fine and famous Palace Hotel at Torquay.

Amongst the patients at the hospital were the most severely injured and maimed casualties of the Battle of Britain including severely burnt aircrew. The famous plastic surgeon Alex MacInode worked wonders to bring back some normality to severely scarred faces and limbs. From Torquay I was posted to join a forward fighter squadron at Chilbolton near Middle Wallop. The squadron had received an overseas posting and was equipped with Hurricanes. There were four of us medics who had been together at Halton and Torquay. We stayed together for another two and a half years in the desert and I couldn’t have wished for a finer bunch of lads to be with.

The main echelon left Middle Wallop at the end of May en route for the Middle East on the troopship “Duchess of Bedford”, a ship of the Canadian Pacific Fleet and because of the shallowness of the St. Lawrence River her keel was shorter than normal ships. Therefore in the “Roaring Forties” round the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, she rolled and we called her “The Rolling Duchess”. We joined the ship at Greenock, near Glasgow, but it was a fortnight before we sailed as the German warship Bismarck was around and being chased. So as soon as she was sunk [27 May, 1941] we sailed. The voyage was almost out westwards towards America to escape the submarines. It was a large convoy with aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers. Some way out they left us for action and we then turned eastwards to Freetown to take water. There were over 4,000 troops on board so as soon as we joined the ship we were recruited for work in the hospital and sick bay and were busy all voyage. We were not allowed off the ship at Freetown and in the three days we were there many of the troops developed Malaria. At Capetown we were allowed on shore and the South African families took many of us into their homes and entertained us.

By the time we were in Mombassa one of the Malaria patients had developed Cerebral Malaria and had a very high temperature and died. We had the job of stitching him in canvas with weights at the feet and he was buried at sea. This was our first experience with death and it was very moving. The Welsh-speaking Padre, the Reverend Emrys Davies, took the funeral service; the ship slowed down for the service and the burial. The RAF Padre gave constant services throughout the voyage. He was very good for morale and organised a Welsh choir so that we could entertain the troops. All kinds of games, boxing etc. were also organised to keep the troops from getting bored and in the evenings Housey, Housey were played all over the ship. Hundreds slept on deck at night as the hammocked areas under sea level were extremely stuffy and smelly. We arrived at Port Tewfik near Port Suez, disembarked and were taken to the transit camp and slept on the sand. Most had Sand-fly Fever in a few days, which is a horrible sickness with very high temperatures and thundering, severe headaches. We were moved to El Firdan where the complete squadron had severe dysentery, over a third of the personnel had to be admitted to hospital at Alexandria. Within a month we were moved to Landing Ground 92 (South West of Alexandria).

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 Torruck 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.

In March 1944 the Squadron left for Corsica and operated over Monte Casino Viterbo, Genoa, Elba, Bolognia, Florence and Sienna. They also did bomber escorts to Leghorn, Pisa, Prato, Savonna and Spezia. The Squadron left Corsica for Southern France on 30th August 1944.

However, much against my wishes, before the Squadron left Egypt, I was posted to the Principal Medical Officer’s office at RAF Headquarters Levant, situated opposite Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and the staff were billeted in the Nunnery Notre Dame de France, a little up the hill just outside the City Wall.

This is another story, an experience I would never have missed.

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More from the Estate of Hugh Furse

A few captions of the “Few”


Ben and Griff
Amongst the flowers of our desert garden



A bombed hangar at Benina airport Benghasi

Air Commodore Harold Fenton at our 50th year anniversary

Viewing the painting ot 238 Squadron in the Battle of Britain

More on Air Commodore Fenton

http://www.bbm.org.uk/airmen/FentonHA.htm

S/Ldr. H A Fenton

Air Commodore (Squadron Leader during the Battle) Harold Fenton, who has died aged 86, was appointed to command 238 Squadron, a Hurricane unit, in June 1940. This when he had only 15 hours operational training to his credit – and that in Spitfires. From 1928 to 1933 “Jim” Fenton held a RAF short service commission but then left to become a civil flying instructor. Immediately before the Second World War he was chief flying instructor at Air Service Training on the Hamble in Hampshire.

In later years it amused him to think of the future RAF aces who received such dismissive reports as ‘This officer would make a perfect NCO’ and ‘The only thing this officer is likely to pass is water’.

In February 1940 Fenton was recalled to the RAF and posted to No 8 Flying Training School at Montrose as a flight commander in the Advanced Training Squadron. By June trained pilots were at a premium and Fenton was appointed to command 238. Fenton led the squadron throughout much of the Battle of Britain. On 8th August shipping in the Channel was subject to intense attacks and 238 was scrambled repeatedly.

In a lunchtime melee over the sea, Fenton’s pilots shot down two Me109’s, damaged a third and destroyed two Me110 twin-engined fighters. The squadron lost two Hurricanes and Fenton was “wave-hopping” for survivors when he spotted a Heinkel 59 seaplane. He attacked it successfully but was hit by return fire and had to ditch in the sea. In the course of his escape from the cockpit, Fenton’s parachute broke free. It floated and he clung to it until he was picked up by the armed convoy escort trawler ‘Bassett’. Fenton shared the skipper’s cabin with a rescued German pilot.

After a spell in hospital Fenton returned to 238. Towards the end of September the squadron was reduced to five serviceable aircraft; Fenton’s impassioned plea produced eight replacement Hurricanes.

By the end of the Battle of Britain he had destroyed a Dornier 17 bomber and a Me110.
In May 1941 238 was sent to the Middle East where fighter reinforcements were desperately needed. The Hurricanes and air crew were embarked in the carrier ‘Victorious’ at Scapa Flow.

‘Victorious’ was diverted to hunt for the battleship ‘Bismarck’ and Fenton and his pilots had to kick their heels while the Fleet Air Arm went into action. After the German battleship had been sent to the bottom ‘Victorious’ proceeded via Gibraltar to Majorca where 238’s 24 Hurricanes made deck takeoffs. They staged at Malta, en route for Egypt.

Fenton distinguished himself with the Desert Air Force and in September 1941 received command of 243 Wing, comprising 238 and three further Hurricane squadrons. He celebrated the move in memorable fashion, flying in chrysanthemums and alcohol from Alexandria; his boss, Air Commodore “King” Cole removed his rank stripes lest anyone should feel inhibited. Under Fenton’s command, the wing was credited with 100 enemy aircraft destroyed and 50 “probables”.

A doctor’s son, Harold Arthur Fenton (always known as “Jim”) was born at Gallegos in Argentina on 9th February 1909. He was brought up in County Sligo and educated at Sandford Park School and Trinity College, Dublin. In 1928 he was accepted for pilot training. The next year he was posted to 4 Squadron at Farnborough, equipped with Bristol and Atlas fighters. Exercises with the Army on Salisbury Plain ended close to a pub called The Pheasant.

In 1930 Fenton sailed for India to join 5 Squadron, an Army Co-Operation Squadron re-equipping from Bristol fighters to Westland Wapitis. Fenton was stationed at Kohat on the North West Frontier and detached to join the Tochi scouts at Miranshah, a small fort south of the Khyber Pass, to quell dissident Afridis and other tribesmen. Fenton took riding lessons and hunted with the 17th Light Cavalry. Back in Britain, he towed targets for novice pilots and air gunners until placed on the Reserve in 1933.

In command of 243 Wing, Fenton gained a reputation for rustling up an unexpected feast. Churchill dropped in for lunch and was astonished to be treated to Red Sea prawns. When the Crusader campaign opened in November 1941, Fenton’s wing fought doggedly in support of the 8th Army. The next July Fenton put up the four stripes of a group captain and took command of 212 Group, comprising 12 squadrons of Hurricanes, which supported the Army’s pursuit of the Afrika Korps.

In 1943, Fenton returned the Britain to take command of the Kenley fighter sector. That summer he moved to the post of Group Captain Operations at 2nd Tactical Air Force, Bracknell. As preparations developed for D-Day, Fenton was successively commander of Nos 84 and 83 Group Control Centres. He was the first senior RAF officer to land in France on D-Day, and was appointed Senior Air Staff Officer, 83 Group.

Fenton found time to maintain his reputation as a supplier of delicacies and claimed to have invented “aerial mushroom hunting” – spotting mushroom rings from an Auster light aircraft. He also raided the Dutch coast and returned to the mess with barrels of oysters.

After refusing a regular commission he was released in late 1945 and the next year was appointed managing director of Deccan Airways. He was later general manager of Airways Training and Operations Manager of BOAC from 1949 to 1952, when he became managing director of Peter Jones.

He retired in 1958 and moved to Jersey where he created a splendid garden at his home at Saint Brelade.

Fenton was awarded the DFC in 1942, the DSO in 1943, and appointed CBE in 1946. He was mentioned in dispatches three times.

He married, in 1935, Helier de Carteret. There were no children of the marriage.

With acknowledgments to the Daily Telegraph

Next time, still more photos from the Estate of Hugh Furse.

Finding Gil Gillis

The original post was published in 2015 after I found a clue to who were these pilots.


Finding Gil Gillis in September 2011 became like an obsessive search for a Spitfire pilot whose picture was in a photo album of another Spitfire pilot.

Both flew with RCAF 403 Squadron late in the war.

Gil Gillis

I am trying very hard to control my compulsive obsession about finding the “Few” since 2011. Finding the “Few” like Tommy Todd and many more. Tommy Todd’s grandson shared all he knew about his grandfather who also flew with RCAF 403 Squadron.

Cathy Swanson shared all about her father which resulted in the creation of this blog to pay homage to Gil Gillis.

Frederick Burdette GillisGil Gillis

Everything is posted here with the kind permission of Cathy.

This however is not.

pic

It was shared on a forum with a message.

Hi Tom

I have a photo album and log book of Sgt. Later Flight Lt. Clement St John Nichols. He flew with 238 from November 1940 until his death in July 1943, there are many small photos.
It was a great shame that he survived as a Fighter pilot for nearly 3 years operationally, to be killed whilst being transported with other squadron pilots in a transport aircraft.

I’m happy to send you a photocopy of his log book and scan the photos if you PM me.

Here are a few photos for the forum.

This is a kind of Rosetta Stone to feed my compulsive obsession with finding the “Few” on this 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

unknown men

Preserving the Past

This is the Belle of Berlin from the photo album of the Estate of Hugh Furse.

This is a page of the album.

On the left corner we see a Hawker Hurricane IIC with an unknown person. In the middle there is an unknown kid. He was nineteen and killed soon after joining the squadron. This caption was written by R. Emrys Jones who gave his album to Hugh Furse. The album is part of the Estate of Hugh Furse and his children don’t know why R. Emrys Jones gave it to their father.

This blog started also with some photos, and the duty to remember…

Remembering Gil Gillis who was a pilot on a motorcycle.

Gil Gillis was just a caption…

Intermission – R. Emrys Jones Is Remembeing 238 Squadron – Update

This is just a part of a photo album shared by a reader who had written this comment…

I have an item which I believe was a gift of some sort from Emrys ‘Taffy’ Jones to my late father, who served with him through WWII. Are there any contact details i.e. from family that can be privately provided?

Thanks

Chris

All photos are courtesy of the Estate of Hugh Furse.

Flight Sergeant Jarman in charge of A Flight

Captured Me 110

John Parry washing clothes outside our Jerry bivouac 1942 (Martuba)

This was the original post.

R. Emrys Jones’ story about 238 Squadron was found on the WW2 People’s War Homepage. 47, 000 people told their story about WWII. R. Emrys Jones’ story is about 238 Squadron when it was stationed in the Middle East.

Collection Gil Gillis (Egypt 1942)

Western Desert

Contributed by R. Emrys Jones

I was born 8th May 1920 in Talsarnau, Meirionethshire, North Wales and when war broke out I was doing my apprenticeship as a Pharmacist in Penrhyndeudraeth. I realised in January 1940 that it would be impossible for me to go to college because of the war so I volunteered for air crew in the Royal Air Force but failed the Medical so joined the Royal Air Force Medical Department. I did my training at the Medical School at Halton and experienced the Battle of Britain and then was posted to the RAF Officers’ Hospital which had taken over the fine and famous Palace Hotel at Torquay.

Amongst the patients at the hospital were the most severely injured and maimed casualties of the Battle of Britain including severely burnt aircrew. The famous plastic surgeon Alex MacInode worked wonders to bring back some normality to severely scarred faces and limbs. From Torquay I was posted to join a forward fighter squadron at Chilbolton near Middle Wallop. The squadron had received an overseas posting and was equipped with Hurricanes. There were four of us medics who had been together at Halton and Torquay. We stayed together for another two and a half years in the desert and I couldn’t have wished for a finer bunch of lads to be with.

The main echelon left Middle Wallop at the end of May en route for the Middle East on the troopship “Duchess of Bedford”, a ship of the Canadian Pacific Fleet and because of the shallowness of the St. Lawrence River her keel was shorter than normal ships. Therefore in the “Roaring Forties” round the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, she rolled and we called her “The Rolling Duchess”. We joined the ship at Greenock, near Glasgow, but it was a fortnight before we sailed as the German warship Bismarck was around and being chased. So as soon as she was sunk [27 May, 1941] we sailed. The voyage was almost out westwards towards America to escape the submarines. It was a large convoy with aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers. Some way out they left us for action and we then turned eastwards to Freetown to take water. There were over 4,000 troops on board so as soon as we joined the ship we were recruited for work in the hospital and sick bay and were busy all voyage. We were not allowed off the ship at Freetown and in the three days we were there many of the troops developed Malaria. At Capetown we were allowed on shore and the South African families took many of us into their homes and entertained us.

By the time we were in Mombassa one of the Malaria patients had developed Cerebral Malaria and had a very high temperature and died. We had the job of stitching him in canvas with weights at the feet and he was buried at sea. This was our first experience with death and it was very moving. The Welsh-speaking Padre, the Reverend Emrys Davies, took the funeral service; the ship slowed down for the service and the burial. The RAF Padre gave constant services throughout the voyage. He was very good for morale and organised a Welsh choir so that we could entertain the troops. All kinds of games, boxing etc. were also organised to keep the troops from getting bored and in the evenings Housey, Housey were played all over the ship. Hundreds slept on deck at night as the hammocked areas under sea level were extremely stuffy and smelly. We arrived at Port Tewfik near Port Suez, disembarked and were taken to the transit camp and slept on the sand. Most had Sand-fly Fever in a few days, which is a horrible sickness with very high temperatures and thundering, severe headaches. We were moved to El Firdan where the complete squadron had severe dysentery, over a third of the personnel had to be admitted to hospital at Alexandria. Within a month we were moved to Landing Ground 92 (South West of Alexandria).

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 Torruck 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.

In March 1944 the Squadron left for Corsica and operated over Monte Casino Viterbo, Genoa, Elba, Bolognia, Florence and Sienna. They also did bomber escorts to Leghorn, Pisa, Prato, Savonna and Spezia. The Squadron left Corsica for Southern France on 30th August 1944.

However, much against my wishes, before the Squadron left Egypt, I was posted to the Principal Medical Officer’s office at RAF Headquarters Levant, situated opposite Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and the staff were billeted in the Nunnery Notre Dame de France, a little up the hill just outside the City Wall.

This is another story, an experience I would never have missed.

The Takoradi Route

On May 17, 1942, Michael Gibson leaves Takoradi for Egypt, a trip lasting until May 25th aboard a C-53 Skytrooper.

2212931.jpg

Source Internet

26 April 1942

Source

http://www.sixtant.net/2011/

The Takoradi Route

TAKORADI

When finally embracing the allied cause, Brazil would then give a decisive contribution to the war effort with the cession of several naval and air bases along its lengthwise coast. This fact had overwhelming importance. The military complex erected in Natal, with the largest airbase ever built outside USA, served as a springboard to launch thousands of airplanes across the South Atlantic bound for Africa, to Egypt through the legendary TAKORADI route, as far as Russia through Middle East and Iran and even to the Pacific theater across the jungle in India and Burma. When Task Force 3 began its operations in South Atlantic waters, on March 24th 1941, the bases for the establishment of US Navy in Brazil had already been set upon.

These well conceived blueprints were taken into effect after mutual agreements signed in 1940 and 1941. Back in November 1940, the US Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, drafted a contract with Pan American Airways, the major and pioneer of American aviation, through its airport corporation branch, to perform the studies aiming to built and enlarge 55 airports in South America, with special focus on those located in Brazilian coastline.

For that urgent task the chosen was the chief of United States Engineering Dept. ADP (Airport Development Program). Brazilian airports extended alongside its extensive 2000 mile coastline, ranging from the dense jungle in northern Amapa, bordering the coast eastward to Belem, Igarape Açu, and São Luis, across the northern deserted coast, to Fortaleza, and turning abruptly southwards at Natal to Recife, Maceio, Salvador, Caravelas, Vitoria and Santa Cruz 20 mile south of Rio de Janeiro.
Takoradi route began actually in US when American aircrafts were ferried across Caribbean, northern South America, South Atlantic narrows and Africa. The longest hop was the lonely and perilous flight across the South Atlantic from Natal in Northeastern Brazil, where USAAF built in 1942 the largest airbase outside US territory. Americans B- 25, B- 24, fighters as well as transports made their way to Takoradi, Gold Coast.

From that tiny point in Western Africa they leaped to the first staging post Lagos, 380 miles away. From Lagos Nigeria to Kano over dense jungle still in Nigeria 520 miles over equatorial forest. Between Kano and El Geneina already in Sudanese barren desert plains some 960 miles with refueling stops at Maiduguri in the heart of Africa, El Fasher, El Obeid, on the long way this time facing typical sandstorms of East Central Africa, until reaching Khartoum the Sudanese capital.

The journey proceeded this time along the majestic sinuous Nile river 520 miles through strategic refueling points at Sueir, and stretching out 560 long miles to Wadi Halfa, Luxor and finally after five days over the perilous jungle and thunderstorms of Equatorial Africa, barrens and desolate landscapes of the semi deserted southern Sudan, then came in sight, the greatness of the pyramids, the historical intriguing city of Cairo, the outpost of Middle East Command.

Takoradi route was one gigantic ferry flight operation in the WWII. More than 5000 aircrafts of several types were ferried across that route from 1940 to 1943. The British RAF, constituted a recovery team, a special skilled group of engineers and technicians to recover crashed aircraft along that route. Tractors and trailers specially designed were precious tools in the hands of those men. Many aircraft crashed in the desert due to running out of fuel or overdue but when they were spotted soon the rescue teams were despatched and soon the crewmembers and plane were saved.

Despite the state of any aircraft they were dismantled and sent back to the RAF maintenance service erected along the route. There the team worked hard to replace damaged parts and put the aircrafts ready to fly again. For those severely damaged, the useful parts were salvaged for re use. The Royal Air Force was in so severe shortage of supply parts that engineers were able to build a new one aircraft from the remains of 2 or 3 others. A truly arise from ashes were in progress.

 

Hurricane_Sudan_1942[1]

A truck loaded with one Hurricane arrives at the base. There the maintenance will rebuild the same and put it back to fly to Egypt.

 

Blenheim_Mk__I_crashed_in_desert[1]

 

A crashed twin engined Blenheim awaits the recovery team. Soon it will be one new aircraft ready to go to the war front.

 

 

TAKORADI HARBOR

 

View of the port of Takoradi. From there hundreds of ships were loaded with vital raw materiel bound for allied ports.

 

RAF 1

 

Several RAF aircrafts seen in one convoy marching to Cairo where they will be assembled and despatched to the combat area. Some of them were involved in accidents and damaged during the long journey. The British teams worked hard to restore them all.

 

RAF

One RAF aircraft is seen being uncrated at Takoradi. Roughly 6,000 airplanes flew across the desert to Cairo their final destination.

 

TAKORADII

Picture shows Takoradi aerodrome where thousands of British planes gathered to undertake the long journey across the Central Africa toward to their bases in Egypt.

A Royal Air Force advanced party of twenty-four officers and men arrived at Takoradi on 14th July 1940. It was led by Group Captain H. K. Thorold, who, after his recent experiences as Maintenance Officer-in-Chief to the British Air Force in France, was unlikely to be dismayed by any difficulties in Africa. Thorold rapidly confirmed the selection of Takoradi, then set his little band to work on organizing such necessary facilities as roads, gantries, hangars, workshops, storehouses, offices and living accommodation. This activity was not confined to the port. Thorold was also charged with turning the primitive landing-grounds into efficient staging posts and perfecting wireless communication along the whole route.

It was certainly a route over which the wireless would come in useful. The first stage, 378 miles of humid heat diversified by sudden squalls, followed the palm-fringed coast to Lagos, with a possible halt at Accra. Next came 525 miles over hill and jungle to an airfield of red dust outside Kano, after which 325 miles of scrub, broken be occasional groups of mud houses, would bring the aircraft to Maiduguri. A stretch of hostile French territory some 650 miles wide, consisting largely of sand, marsh, scrub and rocks, would then beguile the pilot’s interest until he reached El Geneina, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Here, refreshed with the knowledge that he had covered nearly half of his journey, he would contemplate with more equanimity the 200 miles of mountain and burning sky which lay between him and El Fasher.

A brief refuelling halt, with giant cacti providing a pleasing variety in the vegetation, and in another 560 miles the wearied airman might brave the disapproving glances of immaculate figures in khaki and luxuriate for a few hours in the comforts of Khartoum. Thence, with a halt at Wadi Haifa, where orange trees and green gardens contrast strangely with the desert, and a house built by Gordon and used by Kitchener shelters the passing traveller, he had only to fly down the Nile a thousand miles to Abu Sueir. When he got there his airmanship would be doubtless be all the better for the flight. No so, however, his aircraft.

The main Royal Air Force party of some 350 officers and men, including 25 ferry-pilots, joined Group Captain Thorold at Takoradi on 24th August. Small maintenance parties were sent out to the staging posts, B.O.A.C. navigators were enrolled for the initial flights, and B.O.A.C. aircraft were chartered to return the ferry-pilots from Abu Sueir. It was also laid down as a general principle that single-seat fighters should be led by a multi-engine aircraft with a full crew. With these preliminaries arranged, the first consignment of crated aircraft—Six Blenheim IV’s and six Hurricanes—docked at Takoradi on 5th September.

It was followed the next day by thirty Hurricanes on the carrier Argus. These were complete except for their main-planes and long-range tanks. No time was lost. The Port Detachment of Thorold’s unit quickly unloaded the aircraft and transported them to the airfield. There the Aircraft Assembly Unit took over, exercising much ingenuity to make up for the unexpected absence of various items, including the humble but essential split-pin. Last-minute difficulties like the collapse of the main runway on 18th September were rapidly overcome by hard work, and on 19th September the first convoy—one Blenheim and six Hurricanes—stood ready on the tarmac for the flight to Egypt.

By now French Equatorial Africa had joined de Gaulle, and that pilots had the consolation of knowing that they would be flying all the way over territory which was diplomatically well disposed, if unfriendly in other respects. The Blenheim roared down the runway, climbed and circled, to be joined in a few moment by its six charges. Seven days later, on 26th September, one Blenheim and five Hurricanes reached Abu Sueir.