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RAF 221 Squadron

This is the home page for 221 Squadron, or more to the point it is a brief account of one air crew. 221 Squadron was involved in flying Vickers Wellington Aircraft in the Second World War.

These pages are dedicated to my father Peter Ayers-Hunt who died at 6:50 P.M. on January 2nd 1998 due to lung cancer.

My father answered numerous queries from people visiting this site, however as he has now been transferred to a higher squadron with a new set of wings any queries will now be hard to answer.

The Squadron was reformed in November 1940 at Bircham Newton equipped with Wellingtons fitted with A.S.V. detection apparatus and then for the ensuing five years armed with conventional bombs, naval torpedoes or depth charges. 221 performed:
Anti-U-boat duties
General reconnaissance duties
Shipping escort duties
These duties were from bases successively in Limavady, Reykjavic, Western Desert, Suez Canal, Cyrenaica, Luqa, Grottaglie, Foggia and Kalamaki. Uniquely a nucleus of some 30 ground staff served from formation to disbandment at Idku in August 1945.

The Wellington Air Crew

Bash, Roy, Warrant Officer Peter Ayers-Hunt (Pilot),
Flying Officer Neil Ogilvy (1st Pilot), Bob and Des



During training the pilots would fly a mix of trainers including catalinas. Wellington's were adapted for a range of uses. One of these was reconnaissance which can be seen in the photos. It was nicknamed a stickleback due to the antennae on the top of the fuselage.



During training the new recruits were issued with a service and record book (see photos). Some were dispatched to places such as Pensecola (Pensy) in Florida, U.S.A. to undergo flight training. All this training, along with their missions were entered into their flight logs.

Peter Ayers-Hunt flew a Harvard aircraft into a ditch which was dug by somebody after he had taken off. Subsequently when he came into land he did not realise the ditch was there. The sign around his neck in the photographs was an award given by the U.S. Navy at Pensicola, Florida. This was given to any pilot who had "troubles".


Desert duties

During their time in the service, some aircrew spent time in the desert in or around Alexandria in Egypt.

When they first arrived, they were ordered to stand out in the sun for fifteen minutes each day in order to get a tan. This was in order to protect them from the harsh sun.
They could eat as many oranges as they wished, but pretty soon got sick of them. After the war ended, Peter would never eat an orange again.

In a more horrific episode, Peter recounted that along with a few other airmen, he was chased by a large group of insurgents into an aircraft hangar. Unfortunately some airmen were outside and the mob ripped them apart and killed them.
Due to the resourcefulness of the airmen inside the hangar, they tipped some fuel into a gulley which led under the hangar doors and into the mob. One lighter later and they were gone.

On more pleasant moments they used to climb the pyramids in Egypt.


Coastal command

Aircrew in front of a Wellington Aircraft. Notice the colouration (yes I know it's a black and white photo... ) that is light which was used by coastal command. Also notice the antennae at the front of the aircraft where the crew have hung their helmets....

A typical mission for the aircrew

dropping leaflets over Greece

Missions were summarised in the flight log book which the aircrew completed after each flight. For example in this log book it shows that the crew dropped leaflets over Greece.
One mission involved dropping leaflets (see below for what was dropped, and the logbook entry above for when they were dropped) over Greece. These leaflets were in bales and then dropped out of the bomb bays at the base of the aircraft.
Another involved dropping leaflets in and around Greece to warn Greek villagers and townsfolk to expect bales of clothing to be dropped from aircraft the next day. It warned them to stand clear of the target area. 

Below is the original leaflet dropped into Grecian areas. 
Below is the version which has been kindly translated into English, by a Greek academic.
The original leaflet and it's English translation can be viewed below, along with a photo taken at the time showing leaflets being dropped. Along the way the aircraft took photos of houses and a "pranged Spit".

Articles from newspapers of the period regarding missions flown

For their work in flying hundreds of bundles of clothing to distressed area during troubles in Greece a Wellington Squadron, now with Eastern Mediterranean Command has received a personal message of thanks from the American Red Cross Organisation. The message commends the difficult flying involved in pin-pointing "targets" amid the hills and mountains of Greece, and of the accuracy with which supplies of food were dropped to British troops held prisoners or cut off by E.L.A.S. Ex-prisoners of war, now returned to friendly territory, wrote individual messages of thanks to the R.A.F., which identified the squadron and passed on the messages.

Thanks from the Yanks

Approximately 37000 brand new garments for men, women and children, provided by the American Red Cross, have been dropped by the RAF in the Karpenision area. Leaflets dropped by a reconnaissance plane the preceding day notified villagers of the impending delivery and warned them to stand clear of the target area as sacks of clothing were jetisoned from the aircraft.  

Relief by air

Links to other sites

Guest book for 221 Squadron

Guest book for 221 Squadron

RAF Air Historical Branch, (Rough date and location of aircraft required in order to find out about the history of it). Tel. No. 0171 218 5459 / 0171 218 5460

(Service records of RAF personnel - close relatives only) PMA (CS) 2a (2) (RAF), Building 248a, Personnel Management Agency, RAF Innsworth, Gloucester. GL3 1EZ. United Kingdom. (01452) 712612 ext. 7622/7906 (a charge is made for any enquires).

(Medal enquires / claims only) PMA (CS) 2a (3) (RAF), Building 248a, HQ RAF Personnel & Training Command, RAF Innsworth, Gloucester. GL3 1EZ. United Kingdom.

(For records of awards/citations of medals/decorations) AMP Sec 1c, Room F93, Building 255, HQ RAF Personnel & Training Command, RAF Innsworth, Gloucester. GL3 1EZ. United Kingdom.

The Public Records Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU, United Kingdom. Telephone: 0181 876 3444

(the public records office holds service details for officers of the RAF discharged before 1920. All other surviving service records are in the custody of the Ministry of Defence.)

Finding lost aircrew
If you are aiming to get in touch with former aircrew you may choose to place an advert in one of the following magazines:

The Editor, Airmail, Royal Air Force Association, 43 Grove Park Road, London. W4 3RX.
The Editor, Intercom, Aircrew Association, 51 Townside, Hadden, Bucks. HP17 8AW.
Aeroplane Monthly, King's Reach Tower, Stanford Street, London. SE1 9LS.
Reunite, Mike Crowe, 7 Heath Road, Lake Sandown, Isle of Wight. PO36 8PG
Link Up, Barry Fitzgerald, 49 Bennetts Castle Lane, Dagenham, Essex. RM8 3YA



Contained in the letters I received from fellows joining the Old Comrades' Association were severa1 enquiries concerning the history of the Squadron. At present there is no complete document recording this history, and the information contained in the Operational Records at Air Ministry is extremely sketchy.
Our Editor has conceived the idea that this history could be written up and published in the Magazine in serial form. I consider this a fine idea and am prepared to make the first contribution telling you about the early days of the Squadron during my period in command. I will also try and edit further sections of this history if some of you will write and tell me what happened during the ensuing years. If we can mate a success of it, we could, perhaps, reproduce the whole history in booklet form later on.
Now, I shall want as many details as possible from all angles and this must be an all ranks effort. Please co-operate and send your stories to the Editor as soon as possible. Remember to include dates, even if' only approximate, of events you know about and we will see if we can make this history a really interesting and worthwhile record of our past endeavours.
December, 1940-March, 1941
TOWARDS the end of 1940, we faced a very serious crisis because German U-Boats and Long Range Focke-Wulf Aircraft were putting our shipping out of action faster than we were able to build replacements. Drastic action was necessary to avoid defeat. Coastal Command was, at that time, desperately short of aircraft, even to provide Convoy escorts let alone to undertake offensive operations. It was decided, therefore, that they should be reinforced with some newly formed squadrons at the expense of the other Royal Air Force Commands, and very high priority was given to all matters connected with this project. One of these squadrons was to be given Long Range Wellington Bomber aircraft, adapted for anti-submarine operations. This was allotted the number 221, which had been held by a R.N.A.S.-R.A.F. Squadron that had been engaged on General Recon¬naissance duties in the Aegean and Caspian Seas during the later part of the First World War.
No.221 Squadron officially came into being on 21st November, 1940, at Bircham Newton, where it was to form and train. Coastal Command was as short of aerodromes as it was of aero¬planes in those days, so accommodation was hard to find. However, this was a pre-war station able to assist us considerably from the administrative aspect and a satellite airfield at Langham had just been opened up and was available for circuits and bumps. S/ldr. Tim Vickers, then on the Signals Staff at Coastal Command Headquarters, who had previously been in No. 3 Bomber Group and had a little experience of Wellingtons, was posted in as Squadron Leader Flying, and shortly afterwards was promoted to Wing Commander and appointed as the first C.O. P/O. Parr, also from Coastal Command H.Q., came along as Squadron Adjutant, and the next to arrive was F/O. Stocker as Engineer Officer. The Records Office were instructed to man the Squadron completely by the end of the year and posted us in a number of airmen from Wellington Bomber Squadrons. The C.O. paid them a personal visit to arrange for some good N.C.O.s. This produced F/ Sgts. Williams, from an I.T.W. for disciplinarian duties, and Barrett, Abrahams, Wrench, Kitchen, Booth, Mill-ward, Page and other stalwarts who very soon began to get their sections properly organised There was plenty of work for every¬body and no time to bind. It was quite clear from the start that we would be a happy unit and would do our job as well as anybody could.
On the aircrew side, Nos. 500 and 608 Squadrons were instructed to send us 10 Pilots and 10 W/Ops. each. They sent us a number of auxiliary fellows who had got fed up with stooging round the East Coast Convoys in Ansons and welcomed a change to something more interesting. Now began an intensive drive to round up all the experienced and keen types who could be won from the jobs they were engaged upon. S/Ldr. Monty Smith, who had served in the same Bomber Squadron with the C.O. before the war, arrived to take over command of “A” Flight, and S/Ldr. Ian Brolly, a flying boat pilot just home from Singapore, took "B" Flight. Eric Starling, Bliss, Tony Spooner, Sanderson, and later Ramsey and Lazell, were all ex-civvy pilots with considerable experience whom we were able to
get hold of. F/Lts. Pat Green and Cakebread were two other experienced pilots obtained. P/O. Bannerman, who had been Gunnery Instructor in No. 10 (R.A.A.F.) Squadron during its early days, arrived as our Squadron Gunnery Leader. Only a small percentage of our 70 odd W/Op. /A.Gs. had any previous operational experience, so Bannerman and W/O. Page, on the Signals side, had a big job to organise and train them.
Some of our Navigators came from Blenheim Bomber Squadrons, with a good deal of flying experience, but none had any Long Range overseas navigation training behind them. We were fortunate in obtaining F.Lt. Clive Hullock, a navigation specialist, to take them in hand. Hardly any of our pilots were trained in General Reconnaissance work so all had a tremendous amount to learn apart from the actual conversion to a new type of aircraft. Among the Junior Pilots posted in were five on loan from the fleet Air Arm, three of whom had never flown twins. An Anson was procured on which to start these off. We were eventually to receive new aircraft straight from the factory fitted with an entirely new device for detecting U-Boats, namely A.S.V. In the meantime, we received a few Wellingtons from Bomber Training Units which were in very poor condition and later were supplied with a full quota of Bomber Type Mark I " C "Aircraft. Some of these were new and all required a great deal of work on them to make them operational.
During December, January, February, the winter weather and shortage of aircraft prevented much flying, but a great deal of ground training, was completed and the aircrews began to emerge in their final composition. While at Bircham Newton, our N.C.Os. and airmen were accommodated at Heacham Hall, a large derelict country mansion, situated 10 miles away from the aerodrome. They were conveyed to and from work in very unreliable buses provided by a civilian contractor. It was not unusual for the entire Squadron to have to push these ancient vehicles a considerable distance on the cold winter mornings. Heacham Hall consisted of a large number of small rooms 'with no central heating and totally unguarded fireplaces. Twice we set the place on fire, and each time, by the Grace of God, the fire was put out without serious consequences. The only damage was to the Station Commander's dignity, and in this connection, we really had our own back because when we left, Station Headquarters personnel moved in, and within three weeks the place was burnt to the ground. The Station Commander, G/Capt. Primrose, and his staff were extremely, helpful to us during the days of our early teething troubles, and we owe them a considerable debt in getting us organised as an independent unit in double quick time.
Our plan was for the individual aircrew members to train in "A" Flight and then go across into "B" Flight as complete crews, for advanced training which included simple Operational
Flights. We relieved the Anson and Hudson Squadrons of escorting the East Coast 'Convoys, and on moonlight and anti-shipping patrols round the Dutch Coast. Our night flying training was carried out at Langliam, where we had some bother with intruders. This airfield was right on the coast, easy to find and was the nearest one to Germany. Several aircraft were shot up in the circuit ~r 'a-hen coming in to land, and we had the bad luck to lose one shot down in flames, in which two pilots and an A /G were killed. One important event during February was a visit to the Station by the Royal Family. The King personally inspected the Squadron, and showed great interest in our work.
Another highlight during this period was in answer to a panic call from H.Q. Coastal Command, when the Scharnhorst and “Gneisenau” had broken out into the Atlantic and were expected to play merry hell with our shipping. Every available aircraft was wanted to look for them and we were asked at 10.30 on the morning of March 21st to get anything we could down to St. Veal. By mid-day our three most serviceable aircraft, with three scratch crews and some ground personnel, were on their way led by the C.O. On arrival, we found St. Eval in a chaotic state, as aircraft were arriving from all over the country. Some¬how we managed to procure petrol and vast quantities of oil (those training aircraft swallowed oil almost as fast as petrol) which was stowed in spare drums inside the fuselage, and got ourselves bombed up with 250 lb. S.A.P. bombs! By four o'clock in the afternoon, we reported to the Operations Room ready for briefing. We were not sent out that evening owing to the onset of bad weather, and the German ships were sighted by a Hudson at last light as they were making for Brest. The next day, the panic was over as far as we were concerned and the party returned to Bircham Newton.
In March our new operational aircraft started to arrive from the Vickers factory at Weybridge, with whom we were in close liaison. A.S.V. training was now possible and became first priority. F/O. Anderson. a Canadian, had arrived as Squadron Radar Officer and soon made his enthusiasm felt. He was to become known to all and sundry as "Blip". Our Radar Mechanics had been sent on special maintenance courses at Messrs. E. K. Cole's and great results were hoped for with the new weapon. Our training programme was completed just in time to prov4e crews to take over the new aircraft as they arrived from Weybridge and were prepared for operations by the Squadron. Some embarrassment was caused through the failure to allot away the aircraft we had used for training purposes and possibly an all time record for any one squadron was created in one daily " Mayfly which reported us as holding a total of 42 Wellingtons and 1 Anson! In April we received orders to move to Lirnavady, Northern Ireland, to commence operations in earnest and "F" flight officially moved across in the middle of the month. The remainder of the Squadron stayed on at Bircham Newton for a little longer to complete individual crew training and get rid of the surplus aircraft. A " Flight and Squadron Headquarters eventually moved to Limavady on May 2nd In addition to our 24 new aircraft, we took with us three of our old aircraft to use for training purposes, as 110 other Wellington training unit had been organised as yet to provide replacement crews. It was evident that we should have to continue to do our own training, as well as operating against the enemy, for some time to come.
Just as we were moving the five Fleet Air Arm pilots were recalled to their own service after all of them had been trained up to the stage of being able to fly Wellingtons solo at night. This was a serious set-back entailed re-crewing and meant a considerable waste of effort as far as we were concerned. P/O. Bannerman was selected for traincr as an Armament Specialist and was replaced by F/O. Spuli Squadron Gunnery Officer. By this time, we had got together a promising squadron football team led by F/Sgt. Williams. We had also raised our own squadron dance band under P/0 Freddy Green. While at Bircham Newton our advanced training had included over 150 operational sortees involving 750 flying hours, so already we had managed to make quite a useful contribution to the war effort.
MAY, 1941-SEPTEMBER, 1941
DURING our first few weeks at Limavody we encountered extremely difficult conditions owing to the incompleted state of the aerodrome. On the airfield only the runways and perimeter track had been finished and work had not yet begun on technical buildings, while the domestic 4ccommodation was less than half completed. A small number of temporary wooden huts were used for Flying Control and Operations Room Offices. One of these was obtained as Squadron Headquarters. A completely hare dispersal area was allotted to the Squadron in the middle of which there was a small Irish farm house anti out-buildings, which had just been requisitioned. The farmhouse was adapted to serve as flight offices and crew rooms while the pig sties and cow Sheds were eventually transformed into passable accommo¬dation for the technical sections. Until the advent of summer weather, everywhere was a sea of mud and we were far from comfortable. However, everyone did his best and several issues of rum helped to restore morale. The Station was commanded by G/Capt. Freddy Pearce, who had won for himself a great reputation as an operational squadron Commander, and he did everything in his power to help us.
Operating from such an aerodrome was extremely difficult since the ground which bounded the runways and perimeter track was too boggy to support the weight of an aircraft, so there were plenty of taxi-mg troubles. In addition there was an unpleasant little mountain right in the circuit, which later became known affectionately as Ben Twitch. Close co-operation with Flying Control and good local knowledge was essential if aircraft were to get down safely in bad weather. The runways were only 1,200 yards long and the old Wellingtons only just staggered off the' ground at the end in near stalling condition. Operations con¬sisted of anti-submarine sweeps and providing escort to the North Atlantic convoys. We suffered a very early setback when P/O. Catley failed to make a proper descent through cloud over Loch Foyle and crashed into the hills in Donegall. The entire crew lost their lives. Another disaster occurred when F/O. Jimmy Robinson and his crew were lost in a crash shortly after taking' off one night. It is believed that he ran into' a line squall and temporarily lost control of the heavily loaded aircraft which crashed and exploded, with the loss of the entire crew. To offset these troubles we began to find an occasional U-boat which was attacked with varying degrees of success.
Close liaison was obtained with the Naval Escort Groups based at Londonderry, and they provided us with a submarine for intensive practice attacks. Trials were also carried out with an experimental aircraft fitted with the first Leigh Light, F/O. Bliss and his crew being detailed for this purpose. This crew was eventually absorbed into the Coastal Command Development Unit, but it is worth recording that the early trials were made in 221 Squadron of this device which had such far-reaching effects when it was introduced operationally later on. The Squadron was asked to provide two crews to be transferred to the newly formed 120 Squadron which was being equipped with Liberators. F/Os. Jimmy Proctor and Jimmy Ray and crews were selected and transferred. Jimmy Ray and his crew were killed in a crash early on in their training on Liberators by hitting a piece of solid cloud in Scotland. Jimmy Proctor joined up with us again later as a member of an attached flight of Liberators in the Western Desert.
In June, the Squadron was instructed to detach six aircraft to St. Eval in accordance with plans to try and intercept U-Boats proceeding to and from bases in the Bay of Biscay. Very few U-Boats were sighted on operations from Limavady at this time, since they were intercepting convoys beyond our radius of action. Accordingly, the instructions were interpreted to mean main¬taining six serviceable aircraft at St. Eval and the whole of A Flight was transferred! Our patrols from here met with greater success and quite a number of sightings and attacks were made. F/O. Watson and his crew first found, then ipst, and subsequently
regained contact and attacked a U-boat entirely with the aid of A.S.V. This is believed to have been the first action on which A.S.V. was used to such good purpose. Patrols in the Bay of Biscay often encountered enemy aircraft, and several inconclusive combats took place. F/O. Sanderson was shot down just south of the Scilly Isles, and F/Lt. Cakebread failed to return from a patrol. At about this time P/O. Johnson, a 608 Squadron Sergeant Pilot who had just won his commission, failed to return off patrol to Limavady. it is possible that he was intercepted by a Focke-Wulf Kurrier.
Replacing the crews we lost on operations and on postings involved continuous training at Limawady until a Wellington training unit was formed at Silloth, to which we had to send P/O. Jack Hoskins, an old 500 Squadron Sergeant Pilot who had just got his commission, to act as senior instructor. In July and August we also sent several detachments to operate from Iceland when important convoys were passing through within our radius of action from Reykjavik. One combined sweep by aircraft of 221 and 502 Squadrons from Limavady and Iceland resulted in at least three U-boat sightings and attacks. In this action F/O. Blip Anderson was flying with F/Lt. Pat Green and himself picked up a U-Boat on the A.S.V., which was considered a most popular and successful effort by the Squadron Radar Officer. Following on trials made by the .C.O. in an' Anson at T.R.E. Hum, of blind bombing with automatic release equip¬ment, we were ordered to detach a crew to carry out operational trials of this equipment in a Wellington. F/Lt. Lazell and crew were detailed for these duties and, as in the ease of Bliss, they were eventually absorbed into the C.C.D.U. Subsequently F/Lt. Lazell returned to duties with B .O.A.C., while P40. Job became captain of the crew and they were lost over the Dutch Coast on the first patrol which the equipment was tried out operationally.
In each of the months of June, July and August, the Squadron put in more flying hours than any other in Coastal Command. We also had the lowest accident rate per 1,000 flying hours, while putting in about 1,000 hours on operations and 250 hours training flying each month. The secret here lay in the close co-operation we had with the Vickers factory at Weybridge, who gave us a representative to remain permanently with the Squadron. Whenever an aircraft suffered minor damage which required repair by contract with the manufacturers, this good friend included in the list of spare parts he required, all the bits and pieces we needed to keep our other aircraft service¬able. We thus bye-passed the service maintenance organisation which was far too slow in providing us with spares. In September, W/Cdr. Vickers was ordered back to Signals Specialist duties and W/Cdr. Murdock, R.A.A.F., seconded temporarily to the R.A.F. to obtain operational experience, assumed command of the Squadron. Almost immediately afterwards, we were ordered to cease flying from Limavady and St. Eval and prepare to move to Reykjavik. At the same time, we were ordered to select three crews to be posted to Malta. F/Lt. Milton, F/O. Watson and F/O. Tony Spooner and crews were selected to go and show the boys what A.S.V. could do in the Mediterranean. Tony Spooner subsequently won the D.S.O. and D.F.C. and it is clear that the party did not let us down.
By this time, the Squadron had won a good name for itself in Coastal Command, having sighted an attacked 16 U-Boats' and having earned a special commendation from the A.O.C. in C. for the amount of flying hours and the low accident rate previously mentioned. Conditions had by now greatly improved at Limavady and we were well dug in there. Strenuous efforts were made to persuade the powers that be to allow the Squadron to remain based here, where good aircraft maintenance facilities had been created, and work as a detachment from Iceland. However, our protests were unanswered and so began the first of the moves with which we later became so familiar.
OCTOBER1 1941 - DECEMBER, 1941
HAVING ceased operations from Limavady and St. Eval at the end of September, the squadron moved up to Iceland during the first week in October. It seems that we were singled out for this move because it was thought that our Wellingtons were more adequately fitted with de-icing equipment than the Whit~ys. In fact, both were fitted with sprayers over the propeller blades and windscreens and nothing else! It was finally agreed that our major servicing party should remain and carry out aircraft inspections at Limvady, where we now had one hangar all to ourselves and a good build-up of spares. This decision undoubtedly made a great difference to the flying effort we put in from Iceland, which could now be regarded in the nature of a forward base. Several personnel changes took place at this juncture. S/Ldr. Monty Smith remained in England for family reasons and Eric Starling took over command of "A" Flight. Joe Spiller, our gunnery officer, left us on being accepted for pilot training and G. A. Stocker, our engineer officer who had contributed so much to our early efforts, went to Air Ministry on promotion to Flight Lieutenant.
The aircraft were flown up directly to Reykjavik in several parties, while the squadron headquarters and remainder of the crews with all the ground equipment and spares which we could muster went by sea from Londonderry. We were based on an aerodrome which was still very much under construction by Army Royal Engineers just outside Reykjavik, the capital town of Iceland. Both technical and living accommodation was in Nissen huts and was very sketchy and primitive. We were fortunate in finding as A.O.C. Air Commodore Primrose, our previous station commander at Bircham Newton, and the newly appointed station commander at Reykjavik was Group Captain Revington, under whom "A" Flight had already been operating at St. Eval. We were thus assured of plenty of good will and assistance from the top. We were still under the overall operational control of Air Vice Marshal Robb, A.O.C. 15 Group, and he was there to meet our first air party to arrive.
We continued on the same type of operations, consisting of anti-submarine sweeps and convoy escort patrols. U-boats were known to be operating in considerable numbers in the new area now within our radius of action from Reykjavik. Sightings became more frequent and some very promising attacks were made. Notable among these was an effort by Eric Starling, who actually photographed' the submerging U-boat with his own Leica camera, and an attack by P./O. Ramsey on a U-boat spotted while it was already submerged. Our old friend Captain Ruck-Keene, Captain (Destroyers) London-derry, was at sea in the co-operating destroyers after Starling's attack and later came ashore to tell us that it was a " considered sunk." This caused great rejoicing as it seemed to be our first positive success.
Our operational flying was handicapped by the lack of diversionary airfields under the prevailing weather conditions, the short hours of daylight and the almost complete lack of radio navigational aids. Several crews had very harrowing experiences due to severe icing and bad weather. In spite of these difficulties, the squadron completed 950 hours' operational flying in November (our only full month in Iceland), which speaks volumes for the pertinacity of the aircrews and the work of the groundcrews in keeping them in the air. We had brought with us two training aircraft, but conditions did not permit giving much advance training and night flying instructions to new crews. Luckily, the training arrangements for backing the Squadron were improving at the Cranwell O.T.U., where vie had placed two experienced pilot instructors in Jack Phillips and Jack Iloskins, so that our own training commitment was falling off.
Reykjavik was only the size of a small English provincial town and boasted few amusements. However, there was a fine heated indoor swimming bath fed from the natural hot springs, and one main hotel, The Borg, was the gathering place for the drinking types. Expeditions into the hills behind the town on ponies to see the hot springs were sometimes possible and a roster was worked out for crews to take aircraft back to Limavady for inspection and then proceed on for leave at home. During our comparatively short stay in the place the novelty of the surroundings never hardly had time to wear off and morale remained very high.
Freddie Parr organised a wonderful scheme for free beer for all which came to nought, possibly because Pat Greene purchased a barrel in Liverpool during a flight back there, which was found at the last moment to be too large to introduce into the aircraft through the mid-under turret opening. Those waiting anxiously at Reykjavik never saw their money or the beer! P/O. Ramsey and his crew spent many hours reading all the books on local marine life in the town library, since he contended that he could tell his whereabouts by the type of fish he saw if he got lost and all other methods failed. Incidentally, Ramsey had several thousand hours' pre-war civil flying experience and was soon to leave the squadron on posting to No. 24 Squadron for V.I.P. communication flying work. Later he met a most tragic end when a D.H. Flamingo broke up in the air and crashed with fatal results to all on board.
Early in December, just as we had really got into our stride in Iceland a bombshell arrived in the form of a signal recalling the Squadron to England to reform and move out to the Middle East. It seems that the G.R. effort in the Mediterranean needed re-enforcing and a Squadron had to be given up by Coastal Command at home. Wellingtons were already in use in M.E. and so we, the only Wellington Squadron in the Command, had to go. Operational flying ceased on December 8th, and we made a really rush move hack to our old "home from home," Bircharn Newton, to be re-married to a new overseas establishment and have our aircraft refitted with tropicalised engines or, in some cases, completely replaced. Everyone was delighted to get back to England and real civilisation just in time for Christmas, although there could be no special leave with so much to attend to.
Our departure from Iceland was marred by one tragedy. On the very last operational flight carried out there, FIO. Ewart Speke returned while the town was practising its first black-out. He evidently thought some lights in the bay to the north were those of the town and, while circling, crashed into high ground nearby. The wreckage was discovered late next day by army troops and the whole crew were brought in later for burial in the military cemetery. The funeral was attended by Sgt. Obbert and his crew, who were the last to leave in our old dual aircraft "E" for Edward.
This old lady never reached England again. She had been robbed of bits and pieces to get the others away and had had a good towsing. She finally took off in a barely serviceable condition, loaded to the gills with everything the others had left behind and all the Squadron's Christmas mail. Shocking weather, a sickly engine with an excessive thirst, unserviceable W/T and various other troubles beset them. They were lucky to fetch up after nightfall at Port Ellen, where Sgt. Obbert had to make a belly landing on the little grass runway aided only by the lights of some M . T., which had been mobilised hastily by the chaps on the ground. All escaped with only minor cuts and bruises, but poor old "E" was wrecked and burnt out.
And so another chapter closes. Our short stay in Iceland may be regarded as highly successful and worth while from the paint of view of the operational results achieved, and gave further proof of what a jolly fine crowd there was in the Squadron. Our place was taken by No.612 Squadron with Whitleys from Wick. In the following months they were most of them wrecked in a gale of unprecedented force, which carried away aircraft, whole Nissen huts and much other equipment, leaving a trail of havoc behind it. Perhaps we were lucky to get our marching orders when we did!
So, once again we were back at Bircham Newton, the "cradle 4of the Squadron; but what a healthy child had developed from the baby that left the nursery eight months previously! Many old friends were still at and around Bircham, and those of us unable to get home for Christmas were well looked after locally. We were
soon visited by our former C.O. (Wing Commander Vickers), interested as ever in Squadron events, and a night out in the "Wheatsheaf" at Heacham resulted.
Middle East conditions called for mobile units fully self-supporting, so the Squadron was increased in numbers and for the first time included cooks and M.T. drivers. A few of the old hands were found to be medically unfit for overseas. Iceland was not overseas from a Service point of view, although later the Middle East authorities agreed to recognise it as such in counting towards the overseas tour
Some of the aircrews were considered "tour-expired" on the new 500 hours' tour, and were posted away to O.T.U.s and other training establishments to act as instructors. Ian Brolly was promoted Wingco" and posted to 16 Group Headquarters in time to become involved in the Scharnhorst-Gneisnau Channel passage panic. "A" Flight was taken over by Eric Starling, now Squadron Leader, and Gorringe-Smith took over "B" Flight. An old face reappeared, when Jack iloskins returned to 221, having swapped jobs with Flight Sergeant "Tubby" Smith, who was now tour-expired. Fortunately, all the old leaders, Bungy Williams, Chiefy Barratt, Dixie Dean Squib Squires, Kitch, Stanley and Miliward, to mention a few, were medically fit for overseas, and thus the hard core of the Squadron remained.
The bulk of the groundcrews, and all the spare aircrews, were to proceed to the Middle East by sea. After the usual round of inoculations, vaccinations, re-kitting and how romantic we looked in those topees! all were ready, and in early January, 1942, the party started the long voyage under the care of Freddie, Parr, Spinky and Doc. Tait. After a train journey we arrived at Liverpool, where we embarked on the troopship Otranto, which was to be our new home for the twelve long weeks in convoy to Suez via the Cape.
I am sure most of the sufferers will not wish to be reminded of the days and weeks spent in the most cramped conditions in a war-time blacked-out trooper. One small consolation was that troopships were still "wet" at the time, and Housey-ilousey plus those songs so famed on troopers did help to pass the evenings. One really bright spot was the three days spent at Durban. The hospitality of the local people, the joy of being ashore again, were remembered and spoken about months afterwards when we were in surroundings almost as lonely as the ocean.
The aircrews waiting at Docking for aircraft to be prepared and serviced were soon wishing themselves overseas in a warmer climate. The months of January and February, 1942, were really severe; snow and frost almost continually, and a colder spot in England than Bircharn Newton would he difficult to find when a
cold north-east wind blows. The "Crown" at Fakenham and "The Wheatsheaf" at Heacham were almost the only warm spots in the district.
The aircraft were prepared, tropicalised and tested one by one. The first four were ready early in January, and set out for the Mediterranean under Eric Starling's guidance on January 4th.
The last United Kingdom stop was Portreath, where all were briefed and controlled by 4+ Group of Ferry Command, so each had to take its turn with other reinforcing aircraft. First stop outside the United Kingdom was Gibraltar, where the one short runway, of little over 900 yards at that time, could cause trouble to less experienced crews. Here the stay was the briefest possible, as the airfield was small and the authorities did not want any more aircraft than necessary lying around, but anyway there was time to visit the town, and to sample some of those oranges we had almost forgotten about.
The next stop on our journey East was Malta, the besieged isle, which was a small target in "Mare Nostrum." To avoid the attentions of German fighter aircraft the trip to the island was completed by night, but few crews could resist the temptation of going close to the North African shore and looking at towns such as Algiers, all lit up, no black-out at all, for it was not until nine months later that they were to become involved in the war for the second time.
At Luqa, the Maltese aerodrome, were several old Squadron membe~s who had been there since the previous autumn, when Tony Spooner had taken out a flight of three aircraft to form the Special Duties flight. These boys were kept very busy, and as their aircraft were getting old and worn out, they rapidly pounced on several of the nice new "kites " passinQ through. Complaints from the disappointed owners bore little weight as Malta rightly had priority for aircraft. Nevertheless our white Wimpies were not popular around Luqa, for they attracted too much attention from the enemy, so they were either rapidly despatched to Egypt, or else given a coat of duller paint; but not before several were written off or badly holed on the ground.
A few of the Squadron aircrews were ako retained on the island. Peter Rothwell, Basil Key, Bill Martin, Lemasurier, wireless operators Dunstone and Williams joined the little band. Others did a trip or two, and then proceeded to Egypt, but Gorringe-Smith and crew were unlucky and did not return from an operational flight. The hoys remaining on Malta still looked upon themselves as a 221 detachment, until finally being absorbed into 69 Squadron during August, 1942.
On arriving in Egypt we found a theatre of operations very different from the Atlantic. Gone was the home base from which one always operated. From now on it was to be detachments up forward in the Western Desert, and we discovered that Sidi Barrani really did not exist as such. We followed on the heels of the Army, si as to cover as much as possible of the Eastern Mediterranean. Flight Lieutenant Hankin and crew soon followed the 8th Army into Benghazi, only to leave hurriedly a few days later when the town once again had to be evacuated.
Our first real base in Egypt was L.G. 86, which we shared with 47 Squadron (Wellesleys), a veteran Middle East Squadron, who gave us much useful assistance and advice. Here we began to experience the doubtful pleasure of desert life. We discovered that sand ruined engines despite those bulbous filters on the carburettor intakes, we found that sand flew in clouds, it was to be our pillow, and often we thought was half our food.
The Squadron ground crew advance party had flown out in the operational aircraft, two or three per aircraft. Theirs was a hard and busy task, until the arrival of the sea party late in March. With the arrival of the main party we moved our base to L.G. 89 which was to be our little patch of desert. The first days at L.G. 89 were very busy ones. All sections had to set up their workshops, messes had to be arranged, tents dug-in, and washing facilities manufactured. Despite the wide expanse of desert many found living conditions crowded at 7 or 8 to a small ridge tent no room for those frail wicker work frames which were supposed to serve as beds. We also had to be on guard against those "silent Arabs who pack up their tents and silently steal away" for they were certainly not adverse to packing up ours as well.
Thus the move to a new theatre was completed and more laurels added to the Squadron's history, as no aircraft was lost or damaged, except by enemy action, during the long journey. At this time many transit aircraft were being wrecked on route owing to the difficult aerodromes and change of flying conditions. Another sea was being swept by the A.S.V. radar of 221, and helping to bear out the Squadron's motto: "From Sea to Sea."
MARCH, 1942 - JANUARY, 1943
O jr~ previous chapter en(led with the arrival of the complete S(ltiadron in Egypt, at ~ 89 to he more precise, and for those of our readers who were riot with 221 " at til at time, don't look it rip on the map as it is not market!. "'e were, in fact, some four or five miles to the west of the Alexandria-Cain) desert road, and some hour and a half's " gliarri " run from Alex.
As far as desert landing grotinds go, l~.G. 89 was as good as any' other-they rie~tr differed. Some (A) to Vo sinai! ridge tents for sleeping iii, arid a few larger E.l'.l.l'.s for use as messes, workshops, and the various sections. 'l'lie ra(lar aud signals sections, as usrial, became snohhish '' arid fotIri(l a trailer apiece. Between the tents there was san(l, camel scrirli arid desert lilies. 'l'lie runway's " were (listiligrlislia1)lv, as the serrili, such as there was, had l)eeri removed; lint I do riot think anyone reallv worried rhorit niwirurig otit of rim-way', for there was tisrially another couple of miles if need he of fairly level going, and always the riggers a~'ailahIe to fit a new tyre.
',Ve were all greenhorris to this type of life, arid perforce it was necessary to learn most things tire hard way~by exIwnence. ~ose hearitiftil ices iii Alex., or tIii~se liaskets of fririt, were slicer temptation, but how we suffered later with "gyppy tummy "! ~Ve learnt to look into the hed hefore leaping in, just in case there shorild be a
SCI)(1i1()ii nicked 'iway fur warmth. 'Ilac annourers, ahove nil, tuscovered that calivis is very iiillanunahlc nincit their wtirksh{ip went up in flames ouc morning just about tea-swindle time. Many and ~arietl were the excuses put fonvard to erplain the series of hangs auti explosious coining from the fjr~~for outside there was the otlicial: " No live rounds to be brought into this Armoury."
No one 51)eaks of the desert without thinking of sarid-storijis we also had those. Of all Nature's dirty moods, that must l)c
tilie of the worst. It was hat! esiougli eating sand and driukirig s'tiitl, litit trying to find one's way hack to the lent froin the mess was Ii)5Ol&ite lieu, even though it was only a matter of yards. One fellow tilt! 'tettially wander completely away, discovering Ibirraseif at last ttn the iflttlii road fotir miles distant. S1)iliky " swore the only mctlitici was to gral) tire zie'irest tele1)liorie ethIc arid go to the exclraIi'4e, tucic trinsferririg to tIre right lure
(~orne what ii)ir)', the Stltradrt)n hat! alw£'rys had tliaicta1.i~. tit cope with, arid icier had they liecri iii soft tltrarters. l~ittle by little diflietrities were overcoirre, arid having settled iii, thoughts turned tri relaxaticrir purstuts. One liberty rini l)CC week to Alex. w'rs riot entitigh to cool the ardent sJ)irits, so 'i footlillI Icigire was trrg'iriised, and rnct with instaritaricoirs apjirov£'il. lii spite of ugh temj)erattrres -No's arid 9()'s~antl rc'rlly hard going in three or four indies of soft sand, teirus ~vere itririrti I'i'orii all tire scctittiis intl gotiti c()inl)ctitii'c grilles i;crc 1)1.1)' cl,
i3/4rr lutist (if the til)er'itit)rral tiyirrg at tins period 'rireraft arid cre%vs, both air arid ground, were detached to I~.(;. 05, or in other ~t'tirtls Sitli ISarrani--sliades of ~i itch Binding." From this ad~anccd tiase night iiatrtris ~verc fltrwri oii rectirrnarssance for enemy sltip~iirig iii tIre ltenghazi-'i'riptili area. Sightings were fret1tieiit, l)tit tin ftirttiriately at that tune there was little to Liii 'rhotit it htrt report. It v.'ns at this tune that the first castr'rlty tiectirred when (;erry ( )h~ett 'hit! crew, all trr'igiii;tl irrerrilbers cif the' 8'.iir£'itirttii, went itt 55£ irir, \ little later Ser~earit Nixon lilt! crew were 'ilsir r'el)Iirtell missing, i)ttt f'irttrriately tlic3' ir;id tiltelietl hr fi'ierrtll)' witer's rut! were 1iickcti liii after sever£'rl days iii a dinghy; stliii)tlrlit lint ritirerwise hone the weirse.
l1crlr ajis (Ire luggest (' Ir!).'' tif tIns jicritid w;is (lie £ittclrtlit (it run a L'i)iii£e I)' ilrreirit,'lr tar ~ Ia! t~i err r'.'ttlter twir cirrivo}'s tine [re un ( i'ihr,'iltar antI tIre tither fr'tiiri .'\lexaritiri£i. ( )iir ail{rtteti task was a pirailel swee~i liv six aircraft tr~i (lie ( ircek etiast (tryvards ritiraritir in 1taly~, iii an attempt ti) iriterectit tire I tal ian fleet should it tr}' to interfere with the Alex. Malta cttrit'tiy. Altliotigh ritine Of our air'cr£'ift made contact, the Italian Navy tilt! iriake tine tif its rare sorties, antI the ctirivo}' was forced to retire tti ;\lex£'rriclria.
'i'lrtise of us whir went (ti l~.( ;. Os will Itave, I think, tilt ly true I)leasant memory (if the place--the wiirrtlcrftrl liathing. 'l'liarik gireiti-
ness tile sc£'i was handy-, for all (lit' fresl~ water liril (I) lie l)r(flIglit II) from ~1crsa ~l'itriili 1)5' tinker, arid was coiiset1irewitly rati()Ilcd to half 1 gilluzi per head per cl.'ry for all ptirpi)ses. '1'his left really riutlurig for wisluvig atul slia~'iiig 1)5' ilcirnial means. At Sidi I~arraii ive were siluti to firul 'iii 1)1(1 fricud of (liC SililaCI run, (;rotll) ( Salitaili l{evington, our former Statiun ('inninarider at St. I£val arid ill Iceland. Al)oirt this time also, the S(lti'rilrori (S.( ). changed. \\'ing Ciunmarider ~1iirCIock left us, and in his place came \~'ing Commander l~evel, an ex-flying boat pilot and new to \Vellingtons.
( )ne arririsirig iriculceit (if (his ricricul was alsii (lie ver~', ver~' late ri-i val of the jireviotis C -'Ii ristiiias's niall (Ii it hail all liecri sent to Iceland, only to follow the S(liia(1r(in to the ~1iddle ~Sast. 'I'lie chaps, (in ojiening their parcels, found heaps of bug wiiiilleri stockings, balaclava helmets, etc., etc., all for coping with the rigotirs of an Icelandic winter, bitt simiewliat utit 'if lilace in the N~'es(erri l)esert
iii May.
In June we tiegan to hear t:ilk uf a larl(l battle going on
flirward, arid after several day's of sirsjiense, when rumour had it (hat (lungs were riot too satisfactory', ortlers were given to leave l~.(;. OS and return to the main camp at ~ 89. Flying hack along (lie coastal road it was very evident that the main movement of traffic ivas eastwards away from (lie front --a retreat?
\\re were not long iii ilotilit. Soon orders came to start preparing for a move from 1~.(;. 89 even farther eastwards. \Vhen one evenuig the fighter squadrons liegan to settle in on (lie surrounding ilescrt we guessed that (lie situation was r:itlii.r black. J'S"eiittrally. liii June 30th, 1942, we left I.E;. cX() for Sliaii&Iirr, on (lie Suez (~iial. Some elements of the move are amusing, i)r rather amazing, iii retrosliect. All of our 20 ~~'.ellirigtoris must lie fluwn away~-they had toti iiill)ortant radar eqirijinient 'ihuaril to risk fall mg into enemy. liarius. Nineteen were l)rorlrirrnced serviccalile, 'nit' drily loaded 11!) to (lie lii It. Several pilots macfe rio engine checks for, as they said afterwards, there would have licen no one and no time to remedy' any faults discovered. Some (if these rirci-aft literally' staggered into the ur after brimping across aliorit twice as much desert as usual. 'l'lie tweutieth aircraft was on a major inspection and could not he gut ready in tinie with the rest. Not to lie defeated, Squib Squires and '1 maintenance gang st;iyed lie hind and, sirre enough, twenty-four hours later cieri that ~ellingtrin took uff to join (lie rest.
One small officialli' unrecorded incident involving one of our ~Vellingtons during the retreat from the desert might have had serious c()iiseiliIences. Some time previutisly one of our \Vimpeys was prariged at I,.(~. OS when a ty're burst on take-off. I)rre to (lie secret nature of the radar gear aboard, this could not he left behind for the enemy, nor even burnt, as the metal aerials, etc., would in all proha
l;ility have reitialited. (l'Iiin, it was itecessary to l)i.iiig it iliek tllsinantled oat a Quecit Alar)'." At osie stage of its returti jonritey, when well aitixed up with the retiring army on the only road to the l)elta, the driver, for some reasoit or other, got stuck across the roid ~~itIi (lie drivitig wheek well bedded in tlte saud atitl tile vehicle completely blocking both traffic lanes. Several following vehicles atteaupted to pass on the sand and also became "bogged" down. In 1)0 time a considerable traffic jam built up, but as luck would have it the l,tiftwaffe were 1)01 capable of exploiting the sitttation~-or the ~vhi)le story of the retreat might have becit e~~en blacker.
After the retreat from the desert, the Squadron had a period of rest at Shaniltir, being engaged mainly on anti-submarine work along the l~evant coast. New plans and theories were, however, being evolved, atid til allow fttll 5C01)C for our future operations we were e~'entually moved to Shallufa, aloilgside 38 Squadron, with whi)m 've were to co-operate iii seekuig out and destroying German atid Italian sluppitig.
Land transport in I~ibya aud Cyrenacca from Tripoli to Egypt was alwa)'s a slow antI difficult task, as to all intents and purposes there was just osie road down which all the tons of supplies re(juired hy the armies could pass. Both sides therefore macic the maximum use of sea trasisport, l)tit there again good Itarhours were limited. Our jith now became to locate antI assist iii destroying enemy convoys and ships britigitig sltl)l)lies to the Afrika Corps from Greece, Italy anti Tripoli.
At first we met with little success. The ships were there, we found and reported them, but the practice of night torpedo attacks on shipping was in its infancy, and no satisfactory method had been evolved. Slowly plans were made, theories put into practice and iml)ro'.ed, arid I)y September some encouraging results were achieved. I' t tlt is tilite we wel'e tisiug ( ijiit;icl is, i ie;i r Alcx;iitilri'.i, 15 jilt aiIv,'tite.eil l)ji5~, which we shared with 38 Stluadron, 203 Squadron and various others, all engaged on the task of hitting Rommel's supplies by sea.
Our main trouble at this time was technical. The operating conditions in the heat and sand were really cruel on engines. The nornial life per engine was 60 to 70 hours, before excessive oil consumption forced an engine change. Airerews were taking up with them as mai)y as six four-gallon tius of i)il to recharge the auxiliary oil tank. Often three gallons ~ier hour oC more had to be l)Uin1)C(1 into each engine tank~aiid many were the blisters from pumping 90 strokes per gallon, six gallons per hour, dtiring the cotirse of nine- aud ten-hour trips. Sticky valves were also a bughear, antI huw ofteii the symptoms eutirely disappeared on the ground, so that it was difficult to convince the ground crews that anything was wroug!
In the mouth befure the battle ~*l' Alainein we were kept extremely 1)115)', arid in spite of (;ermaii attempts to jam the radar, the joint ciforts of all the anti -shipping sqti'i&lrons really stopped the enemy 'S sea-borne supplies. It was said that every attempt to run a tanker through to the Afrika Corps, iii the three or four weeks before Alainein, was frustrated. I leuce, by the time the Eighth Army had won their niagititicent ~'ictory, Itommell lia(I 110 fuel to either fight (iii or retreat.
\Vitli the rapid advance after the break-through at Alarnein, otir itrain task had gone. 'I'he enemy was 50011 driveii from all the jiorts from ~lersa ~latrtih to Berigliazi. "4'c were given a variety of tasks, from ferrying oil tip forward, to escorting the first convoy to Malta since the abortive attempt earlier in the year. Our final advancc(I base, after a spell at Gambut, was lienghazi, but there was a definite lull in operations.
Christmas was soon with tis. 'l'lie St1uadron was divided some 'it Besigliazi, the rest at Shallufa. 'l'liose tip forward had to be content on somewhat hard rations, for N.A.A.I.'.l. had not had time to become orgaitised. 'I'he cooks did, however, prodtice a very ereditible iricil from' 'the ijiobile kitchen, even if there was but one bottle of litter ~ier head to wash it duwn.
hack at Slialltifa an excellent idea was thought tip - a 221 Stttiadroii 1)111), open at iiorrnal hours, where all could foregather, irrespective ('f rank, anti really' feet at hoilie. It was approved by 'ill, arid once again proved the friendly spirit that existed all through the unit.
After ('bristinas, however, disqtiieting rtimoiirs began to get abroad. 'flic airerews heard rtimotirs of aettially carrying torps, whilst talk was heard (if SOiliC major shuffles and a niove. These were all too soon confirmed. The Stlir.'idroil was to go to ~alta litit, 'irid here caine the rub, not all the preseilt members were to go. Only about half the aircrews, and e~'en less groundcrews, were going, the full Squadron strength being niade good by postiugs of other squadrons' airerews and by grotinderews already on Malta. Th(Jsc left behind were most despondent, as well they might be after two solid years with the ~~1 u~id ron. I Iriwever, changes are sometimes necessary for tire good of the cause, arid there was 110 redress.
'l'liiis ended aiit)tlier drirliter iii tIre Scitiadrori's life, litit liv 110 means the final. It was still a ~'ig'iriitis hotly', iii spite of some graftiirg arid blood transfusious.
JANUARY1 1943-MARCH, 1944
IHE New Year, 1943, brought another major change in the life of the squadron. The Western Desert and Cyrenaica was at
last cleared of the enemy, and the front line was now at El Agheila on the border of Tripolitania. It was patently obvious that the squadron would not remain inactive in the Suez Canal long. Thus it was with no surprise that word was received that there was to be a move to Malta. The surprise and disrnay came when it was heard that a drastic reorganisation was to take place.
The period of five months during which the squadron was based at Shallufa was the longest period it had so far spent at one station during the two years of its existence. The period had been very fruitful both from the operational and the more social side of activities, and the grand finale of the latter aspect was achieved when the soccer team won the Canal Area unit tournament by winning the final match played at Kasfareet.* What a day that was, and what a night of celebration
There were many long faces when the details of the move to rvlalta became known. The aircrews heard that instead of having solely " Goofingtons "or search and shadow aircraft, "Fishingtons" or torpedo carrying aircraft were to be added. To enable the crews that had been selected to go on to Malta to cope with the latter role as well some conversion courses were completed at No.5 M.E.T.S To keep a balance of experienced crews in both
roles, there was, to the dismay of many, a re-shuffle of crews between ourselves and 38 and 458 Squadrons. From the ground-crews side the disappointment camo because Malta, after months of seige, was still only partly relieved, and although usable to an increasing extent as an aircraft base, was already well supplied with servicing crews. The island theme was: "Give us your aircraft and aircrews and we will finish the job." Thus only a small cadre of groundstaff was selected to accompany the aircraft and amongst those left behind was our grand disciplinarian and socccr organiser, "Bungy
On about the 20-21st January the operational aircraft took off foi Malta led by Wing Commander" Jock " Hutton. Each machine was loaded full of aircrews, groundcrews, equipment, and a brace of torpedoes. The remainder of the accompanying groundcrews travelled luxuriously on the tin seats of a Dakota and a Hudson. and for some it was their first experience of night flying, for it was still not safe for passenger aircraft to be in the Malta air in daylight. As if for our special benefit, though we were soon to learn other¬wise, a brilliant searchlight display was seen over the Grand Harbour during our arrival, but on landing the searchlight beams only helped the ghostly moonlight to sflhonette the ruins all around.
Life on Malta at that time must be indelibly stamped on the memories of those who were there, but the strongest impression must be the food, or rather the lack of it. It was just awful, and so strictly rationed.t How many looked at the chunk of bread issued, thought it looked small, but on checking on the scales discovered it weighed heavy! If one was in the know an egg could sometimes be got in exchange for 3s. 6d., and then there were th ls. pancakes from Safi village, fried in hydraulic oil, with which to ease the appetite and one was always hungry.
The groundcrews lived in the Poor House-how appropriately that was named-and the three tier bunks of scaffold poles and wire netting took a bit of getting used to. The aircrews, fortunate souls, lived down in Sliema away from the airfield. Transport between Balluta Buildings, the sergeants quarters, the Imperial Hotel, the officers quarters, and the airfield, Luqa, was provided by the most war-scarred twenty seater buses imaginable, but how obliging and faithful were the drivers.
After the squadron's arrival on Luqa there was not much of a breathing space before getting on with the allotted task of denying the seas of the Central Mediterranean to Axis shipping. The first sorties were ordered on the night of the 23-24th January against
an enemy convoy off the north west coast of Sicily. As if to prove our mettle to our new controlling authority, of the two ships in the convoy one tanker was hit by a torpedo launched by Wally Hernung and quickly went down in flames, whflst the other and one destroyer of the escort were damaged.
This initial success was very encouraging, and during the next three or four months we continued the job of harassing enemy shipping around the coasts of Italy, Sicily and Tunisia in an effort to prevent the passage of supplies to the Axis forces in North Africa. The squadron crews ranged from Naples to Sardinia, Messina to Taranto and Ban, but the main hunting ground was the Sicilian Narrows, between Sicily and Tunisia. The ship passage here between Europe and Africa could easily be accomplished in one night, so that here was the last chance to stop relief to Rommel.
The operational system of search, illumination, and strike, so carefully conceived and practised at Shallufa, proved its worth. Few enemy convoys got through without being discovered, unless the weather was really" Q.B.I." and most of the convoys discovered were attacked by the striking force. In their endeavour to get supplies to North Africa the enemy sent single merchant ships escorted by three or four destroyers. Attacks against such heavily defended targets could not be made without losses, and many of the finest crews were not de-briefed. Bob Fraser, Don Cochrane, Gery Waite and their crews who had been with the squadron since L.G. 89 days were among those lost, as also were newer comers like Mike Foulis, Buchanan, Ross Bertram, and Wally Hernung, but how many lives were saved in North Africa because of their efforts?
In order to counteract the successful attacks on his ships the enemy attempted to make it more difficult for the search aircraft to locate the convoys by jamming the radar. These counter-measures began to be very effective, especially on dark nights when radar was the only method of locating targets.
Once again we were able to overcome our troubles by seeking the co-operation of aircraft and crews from 179 squadron in U.K. This squadron was equipped with the latest type of radar that was not susceptible to the jamming, so once again we had our full faculties.
Malta itself, although a really fine operational base. did not at that tim possess perfect airfields. Luqa, our base, was still look¬ing terribly sorry from the terrific hammerings it had received during the previous summer. W/O Stone's "chain gang," the duty gang
plus janker-wallahs, spent a couple of hours every evening clearing away the rubbish and debris from the aerodrome, and will long be remembered by the groundcrews for it was one bind that from time to time could not be avoided. It did a good job, but there was so much to do. For the aircrews the various quarries, especially that at the Safi end of the North-South runway, will always remain to haunt them in bad dreams, as many came to rest in or very near these horrors. Pranged aircraft that did not finish in the quarries by their own volition were eased into their grave by a couple of Churchill tanks. These same quarries were often the only source of spares, and many a repair was done using bolts of both American and British thread scrounged from the wrecks of past battles now resting in the quarries.
By May the land battle in Tunisia was nearly over, and the enemy was no longer interested in pouring stores into Tunis and Bizerta, but rather in the reverse procedure of getting out as many troops as possible. For this purpose smaller craft were used, often too small for torpedoes, and patrols now became "rovers" with bombs, and the smaller ports of Western Sicily were alternative targets. The land battle in Tunisia finished at the end of May but the next campaign was just beginning.
In June, Wing Commander "Jock" Hutton finished his tour, and returned to England for a well-earned rest. His replacement out from England but already well known to many of the aircrews, \\as "Mickey" Shaw.
During June and early July the island really began to fill up with aircraft. Every airfield was crammed, and the Americans bull-dozed a new one on Gozo in next to no time to give more room. For ourselves the procedure was reversed, for about seven aircraft were detached to Prolville in Tunisia to be better positioned for the next phase. From there patrols were carried out around Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. The rest of the squadron on Malta still roamed around the Italian coast and carried on the Taranto "bl~ck" to keep watch oh the Italian fleet, and give due warning of any sortie it attempted.
The invasion of Sicily took place with no excitement as far as 221 was concerned, and this was followed by the invasion of the Italian mainland. The enemy's sea lanes were now beyond our reach, and our main task reverted once again to anti-submarine escort, a task that was to keep us occupied, if not enthralled, for the rest of the year.
After August life on Malta slowly began to return to normal. Rations gradually improved, though the butter always seemed to be rancid, and the only vegetable issue seemed to be pumpkin-that purveyor of "Malta Dog." Many will remember the first party given at the Poor House, with what seemed a veritable mass of cakes, bans and sandwiches, but how quickly it all disappeared. It was said that much of it was tucked away inside the blouses of the local girls who could not miss such an opportunity of replenishing the family larder, and who can blame them if it was true, for two years of starvation rations cannot lightly be forgotten.
One by one the "resident" squadrons left the island either for Sicily or Italy, and when, late in the year, No.69 squadron departed we rather felt left in the cold as they bad been our counterparts on the reconnaissance and later anti-submarine work during daylight hours. Christmas came and we were still at Luqa, and it looked as though we were to become a "garrison" squadron. A change in command took place at this time, Jack Hoskins, one of our Flight Commanders, taking over from Mickey Shaw. Then at last during March 1944 we were told Co move up to Grottaglie near Taranto.
For over a year we had been a static squadron and had relied on the station for all the domestic chores, but now we became a self-cobtained unit again. Tents and kitchen equipment were obtained, transport and bowsers, and the equipment, transport, and medical sections were reconstituted. When all was collected from various caves it was shipped to Taranto under the care of the Adj. Geoffrey Rankin.
At Grottaglie we were fortunate to be allocated a very modern Italian farm as headquarters and camp site. The modern cowsheds, granaries, and stables, were soon transformed into various sections, and messrooms. To the delight of the chief "chef" there was even an old-fashioned brick baker's oven which was soon put to excellent use. Perhaps the "piece de resistance" was the bath tub and boiler. The former was a large horse trough, and the latter a steam engine, but what a luxury to have hot baths daily!
The change of station and a change of job worked wonders in raising the morale and general efficiency of the squadron. Once again groundcrews, aircrews, airmen and officers, got a chance to get to know each other, and to appreciate the other> fellow's task and outlook-all so essential to an efficient organisation. An intet-section football league was organised and Some gruelling matches were played, especially the later games when summer was well advanced.
The weather during the first few weeks was very changeable. There were days of bright sunshine, when the almond blossom looked really wonderful, but then would come days of rain, when the airfield and the surrounding country became a quagmire, and it was impossible to move the aircraft. Life under canvas was not too pleasant when it rained, but the sick parades were extremely small. Recreation off the camp was rather limited, and although liberty buses went into Taranto there was really very little to do in that port except quaff some demon "vino." The N.A.A.F.I. had not as yet got the beer supplies organised and the issue was only one bottle of beer to each aircrew a week. However, we had not been on Malta, with its own brewery, for a year without making any contacts, and an occasional flight back to the island was found to be necessary to collect "spares." Those who were at Grottaglie at this time will remember the "beer garden" organised one evening in the farm courtyard, and the impromptu acts on the balcony by various nonentities and "Sister Anna." This same courtyard was also an ideal volley-ball court, thanks to Canadian Comforts equipment.
From the operational aspects the tasks were much more interesting. Instead of the convoy escorts and anti-submarine work, it was reconnaissance and anti-shipping. The bulk of the sightings wcre barges, seibel ferries, and E-boats, but it was a cat-and-mouse game finding them amidst the numerous small islands of the Dalmatian coast. With practice, results were obtained even against these small targets, and for full measure from time to time an odd small merchant ship was found and hit. At the beginning, if no shipping targets were found, bombs had to be brought home, but soon permission was obtained to bomb alternative land targets such as port facilities at Corfu, Preveza and Durazzo. One such alternative target attacked one night seemed particularly well defended for a small port. Later we learnt that the Adriatic head¬quarters of the German Navy had been bombed out of Trieste, and had sought protection by installing themselves at a less well known spot.
When th& summer arrived the day temperatures soared and thoughts turned to sea bathing. A reasonable site was found some miles south of Taranto, but it involved quite a journey by truck over dusty third-rate roads. Nevertheless, the lads wer5 enthusiastic, and most afternoons three lorry loads were packed off to enjoy a couple of hours in the sea. To enable the hot afternoons to be free work started at 06.00 hours and continued to 13.00 hours and again for a couple of hours in the evening if required.
To afford leave facilities a Rest and Leave Camp was also provided by the authorities near the sea. Apart from quiet medi¬tation, gramophone and radio permitting, there was little to do at the ~inn, but there was never any difficulty in filling allotted vacancies. The really adventurous types preferred to hitch-hike to Ban or even Naples for leave, but it was usually found that the southern Italian towns left much to be desired.
For festive occasions "vino" was easily obtained, but one and all would willingy have exchanged it for a bottle of Naafi "sludge"
and have felt very much better for the swop the next day.
Early in July, Wing Commander "Paddy" Simpson arrived to take over the squadron, when Jack Hoskins became "tour expired." This change of C.O. was the signal for another move, up to Foggia-perhaps the worst area in Italy in mid-summer. As a rule it was nothng but dust, dust, dust, which was sometimes laid for a few hours by thunder storms that blew from off the mountains during the afternoons. It was a poor exchange for our previous camp and, as the object for the move, the support of the Southern France invasion, no longer existed by the end of August, we once again packed up camp and returned to Grottaglie.
By late September the "cookhouse rumour" was of another move, another country, but that is another chapter in the Squadron's story.
* Unfortunately neither the writer or our Secretary remembers the name of the unit which the squadron defeated on this occasion and time has not permitted us to contact "Bungy" Williams on the subject.-Ed.
t Our Secretary recalls that some comments of his on the subject, mis takenly construed as casting doubts on the parentage of the caterer, resulted in him being before the Station Commander on a charge, which was, however, dismissed.-Ed.
OCTOBER, 1944~APRII, 1945
EARLY in October, 1944, the Squadron came under orders to move from Grottaglie to a new and tuidisciosed destination
popularly held to bQ Greece, although just what functions we should perform could not even be guessed at. About the middle of the month a move was made, stores, etc., were packed, and a "main party "under 5/ Ldr. "Dickie" Prior, lately promoted from FILt., consisting of six Officers and some 150-200 Senior N.C.O.s and men, went to Taranto, where they had to wait a few days before embarking on H.M.T. "Worcestershire." After a "cruise" of four days we entered Grecian waters and lay off Piraeus. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and disembarkation had been planned to commence almost immediately, but there occurred the only spot of excitement of the trip. The ship was drawIng slowly nearer to the shore when "panic" arose, the vessel stopfled and almost at once went astern. Shortly afterwards the anchors were dropped and there we were. It appeared we had been heading for an unswept minefield!
On Monday disembarkation actually began, but, as is usual on such occasions, there was much waiting. However, our turn came around midday and we took our places in a landing craft to be ferried to the quayside at Piraeus.
More waiting was the order, for our own transport, whiqh had travelled in convoy with us, was not landed at once, and we had to rely on that provided by the Army or such other R.A.F. units as had already arrived. Our C.O., W/Cdr. "Paddy" Simpson, with some of his crew, had flown in from Italy a day or so before and had set about the task of organising billets, etc., to such good effect that at least we had somewhere to go. Our new home was at Kalamaki (later to be known as ilassani) airfield some five Ifliles to the south of Athens and quhe close to the coast, whilst we were billeted in an Athenian suburb-Phaleron-lying between the city and the 'drome. It was a very pleasant place even Cn late October, and our thoughts went ahead ahead to the pleasant times we'd have iF we were there the following Sj}ring and Summer.
Everyone carried emergency rations and we had perforce to make do with them, for there was no other food available to us yet. But the true Airman can be trusted to fend for himself, and we were soon sampling the local wines and drinks-" Retsina" (of blessed memory), "Ouzo," "Mavrodaphne," "Samos," etc., etc., as well as various mixtures of some (or it may have been all) of tese. Perhaps some of the mixtures were invented on the spot, but we topk: them all in our stride. The following day we were fed by 337 Wing until our own messing arrangements were set up and got intd something like working order. Befote long we had settled down to a more or less "comfortable" existehce. The rest of the Squadron flew in from base or from detachment and we became, once more, a complete unk. It is interesting to record that the detachment just mentioned had been located at Gambut and had provided anti-submarine protection for the convoys taking' part in the initial landings in Greece earlier in the month, whilst the convoy in which we travelled had also been so "protected' '~' by our own aircraft.
Almost at once we were plunged into action, and within 4~ hours of landing we were asked to put up six aircraft to bomb railway communications which the enemy was using in the Northern part of the country to withdraw his men and materials. No spectacular results were recorded, near misses being all that, we could claIm, but the targets were not of the type to which we' had been accustomed. Even so, the Squadron, with this and' several further similar operations, played its part in har4ssing the enemy's retreat up to, and even beyond, the Greek frontiers.,
After the evacuation of Salonika by the Germans, an R.A.F.' unit was detailed to occupy the airfield (there, and "221 " was called in to transport the bulk of the stores and equipment they
needed. Again, when Crete (apart from the extreme western part, which still contained Germans at V.E. Day) was re-occupied, we were responsible for transporting men and materials to Heraklion Airfield. Afterwards trips to Sedes (Salonika) and Heraldion with passengers, mail, stores, etc., became regular (almost daily) features, as did similar flights to Araxos, near Patras. On occasion, too, we carried bullion to these cities. The Araxos run frequendy fell to FIO "Dick " Goulding, one of our Australian pilots, and this gave rise to the. name "Goulding's Araxos Air Lines" but it had its uses other than strictly official ones which will appear later.
Numerous riiine-spotting sorties were also flown to help the Navy in ,clearing the waters around the coast
Thus life went on until eafly in December the threatened storm broke. For some time the left wing elements of Greek politics had been troublesome, and the storm came to a head on Sunday, December 2nd, with an outbreak of shooting, etc., which soon developed into a Civil War. British Forces, in Greece primarily for maintaining law and order and the general rehabilitatIon of the war-ravaged country, were drawn in, and this, in its turn, involved us. We were virtually isolated~along with other Squadrons and 337 Wing-in the area of the 'drome and our billets, and life became rather grim when the rebels got control of the Power Station and promptly cut off supplies of electircity and water. Athens was out of bounds except for essential duty trips the collection of rations was one such-and although each journey was a hazardous one, the writer does not think we suffered any casualty.
Communications in the country, never good by our standards, were now, of course, very poor, and the Anglo-Greek Information Service, an organisation sponsored by the British Government, published small "hand-outs" with a resume of the news (in Greek, of course). The problem was to get these distributed, and the Squadron again came to the rescue. Rights covering all parts of the country were undertaken and the leaflets were dropped over town and country districts. The people in the remoter parts were not troubled by the revolution to the same extent as those in Athens, Salonika, etc., and, in general, gave our planes a friendly welcome by waving whenever they appeared. As the fighting was mostly centred on Athens our appearances over the capital were not always so appreciated, however. It was on such a raid that we suffered our first casualty. "Wingco". Simpson and a "skeleton" crew had almost completed the mission when he was fired on from the ground by, presumably, an "E.L.A.S." supporter.
It was a lucky shot, for the rifle bullet entered the cockpit and struck the C.O. in the arm, also damaging his shoulder. With the help of his crew W'/ Cdr. Simpson kept control of the aircraft and managed to put the 'plane down safely on the 'drome. At once he was transferred to a waiting ambulance and rushed off to hospital. The journey thither meant traversing territory held by the rebels, and one might have expected a free passage for a Red Cross vehicle, but such was not to be although no further damage was suffered. S/Mr. Prior took over control of the Squadron temporarily, and none of us thought we had seen the last of "Paddy." But on his discharge from hospital some time later he did not return to us. Shortly afterwards 8/ Ldr. Prior was promoted W/Cdr. and given command of the Squadron.
Many night operations were undertaken by the Army, and in order to help them locate infiltrations by "Elas" and to try to dislodge them, illumination by flares was called for, and ,we answered the call. Each night crews were detailed to stand by
'the planes loaded up with flares-to take off as and when requested by the ground forces. On one of these flare-dropping sorties we suffered another casualty when a flare blew back and exploded in the fuselage, burning the Navigator, F/O Abbott, on the arm and causing minor injuries to other members of the crew. Letters received later from G.H.O. Greece, praised our efforts and assistance on these sorties.
Bombing of ammunition dumps and hide-outs also came into our operations, and one raid on a mountain stronghold was reported to have been responsible for eliminating a source of trouble which it would otherwise have been very difficult to deal with.
The rebels controlled a light railway running from Athens to Eleusis, and were using it to supply their forces in the capital until we temporarIly put a stop to their actions when W'/ 0 Earthy dropped a bomb on the track and cut it. By dint of a considerable amount of "overtime," however, the track 'was repaired and brought into use again and, despite one or two further attacks, we were not able to do serious damage.
After the rebels had succeeded in cutting off A.H.Q. we undertook the task of dropping supplies, etc., to what was virtually a beleaguered garrison, but unfortunately we were not able to prevent the capture of the buildings and personnel who, just before 'Christmas, 1944, were started on their series of forced marches wh;ch took them from Athens into remote districts of Greece. Their "Eas" guards and captors treated them shamefully and, with weather conditions becoming atrocious, the feelings
of those compelled to undertake the marches is best left to the imagination.
At once we kept a stream of aircraft flying in efforts to locate parties and to drop supplies to such as were found. These flights went on, mostly by day, until the end of January, when, peace having been restored, the captives were returned to Salonika and shkpped home. Several "supply-drops" were successfully carried out, and the lot of those receiving goods~lothing, food, cigarettes and, above all, news was we think thereby somewhat lightened. Much ingenuity was displayed by both airerews and those whom we were trying to help, whenever a party was sighted, in the exchange of news and "gen" likely to be of assistance.
Our own food supplies were now getting rather low, and we were almost back to "front line" rations of biscuits and "bully" as the staple diet. As Christmas approached it was wondered how we should fare, but Naafi did their best and we were also indebted to Dick Goulding (mentioned earlier), for on his trips to Araxos he had made contacts which resulted in his being able to obtain several turkeys. These were flown over to Athens in good time so that when the day came "a good time was had by all" in conditions none of us would have dreamed possible two months previously.
About mid-January, 1945, a truce was arranged, and the period of hectic activity gave way to an easier way of life. Conditions gradually became more normal and once again we were carrying out our trips to deliver the news and our regular trips to Salonika, Crete, etc., which, even at the height of the fighting, had been regularly maintained.
When the country had settled down somewhat a Red Cross organisation provided bundles of clothing which they wanted delivered to distressed folk in outiying country towns and villages. As on so many other occasions, "221" was just what was wanted to effect the deliveries. The bomb bays of our 'planes were loaded with bundles, whilst others were carried in the fuselage, stacked around the main hatch. At first the inhabitants of the receiving towns were rather suspicious of what was happening, despite having been warned in advance by leaflet raid of what to expect, but they soon found that ours was an errand of mercy. Several times during the rest of our stay in Greece we carried out sSmilar missions.
News of some V.V.I.P.s being in the vicinity caused a stir of excitement which increased when it became known that the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, and the President of the U.S.A.,
of those compelled to undertake the marches is best left to the imagination.
At once we kept a stream of aircraft flying in efforts to locate parties and to drop supplies to such as were found. These flights went on, mostly by day, until the end of January, when, peace having been restored, the captives were returned to Salonika and sh~pped home. Several "supply-drops" were successfully carried out, and the lot of those receiving goods~lothing, food, cigarettes and, above all, news-was we think thereby somewhat lightened. Much ingenuity was displayed by both aircrews and those whom we were trying to help, whenever a party was sighted, in the exchange of news and "gen" likely to be of assistance.
Our own food supplies were now getting rather low, and we were almost back to "front line" rations of biscuits and "bully" as the staple diet. As Christmas approached it was wondered how we should fare, but Naafi did their best, and we were also indebted to Dick Goulding (mentioned earlier), for on his trips to Araxos he had made contacts which resulted in his being able to obtain several turkeys. These were flown over to Athens in good time so that when the day came "a good time was had by all" in conditions none of us would have dreamed possible two months previously.
About mid-January, 1945, a truce was arranged, and the period of hectic activity gave way to an easier way of life. Conditions gradually became more normal and once again we were carrying out our trips to deliver the news and our regular trips to Salonika, Crete, etc., which, even at the height of the fighting, had been regularly maintained.
When the country had settled down somewhat a Red Cross organisatian provided bundles of clothing which they wanted delivered to distressed folk in ouflying country towns and villages. As on so many other occasions, "221 " was just what was wanted to effect the deliveries. The bomb bays of our 'planes were loaded with bundles, whilst others were carried in the fuselage, stacked around the main hatch. At first the inhabitants of the receiving towns were rather suspicious of what was happening, despite having been warned in advance by leaflet raid of what to expect, but they soon found that ours was an errand of mercy. Several times during the rest of our stay in Greece we carried out s?milar missions.
News of some V.V.I.P.s being in the vicinity caused a stir of excitement which increased when it became known that the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, and the President of the U.S.A.,
Mr. F. D. Roosevelt9 were meeting Marshal Stalin in the Crimea. Further interest was taken when we were required to provide a detachment to be based at El Adem to provide cover for the U.S. Naval Vessel on which the President was making his. return journey after having stopped in Egypt for a short conference with"" H.M. King Farouk. Dawn to dusk escort was carried out unM the ship had passed out of our sector.
Training flights were now re-introduced whilst, on occasion, we had to undertake Air-Sea Rescue duties. One such was to try and locate one of our own crews who failed to return from ,a training flight one night in March, 1945. They, along with other aircraft and crews, had been carrying out an exercise in conjunction with some Naval Vessels on passage eastwards along the Mediterranean. On completing the exercise, Fl Lt. Steele set course for home, but unfortunately' never reached base. Searches were immediately laid on and continued for some days, but no trace either of the 'plane or any of the crew was found.
As in the case of Crete, several of the Dodecanese Islands were still in German occupation, one such being Leros, and we carried out night bombing attacks on food stores on two successive n3ghts, but weather conditions, with low cloud, militated against accurate bombing. Still, we must have given the occupying forces some anxiety even though the war seemed to have receded far from them.
During March we were scheduled for another move, this time to Idku (Egypt), there to relieve 294 Squadron on A.S.R. work. The move was to be made early in April, and a few days before we packed up a 'plane was taken up for airtest by Dickie Goulding but never returned. It was not likely that the pilot would wander far afield, and once the aircraft was reported as being overdue searches were undertaken both by air and along the roads kading south and east from the 'drome, but no news could be obtaIned as to what had happened. Thus our six months' sojourn in Greece, which had not been uninteresting, ended on a note of sadness and tragedy
Several of our aircrew members had become tour-expired and at this time they were posted away from the Squadron. In their places we received several complete crews from 78 0.T.U. and were able to welcome several old friends who had previous service with
221. Hail and farewell, indeed.!
APRIL, 1945, saw the Squadron preparing to return to Egypt-to Idku-to become an Air-Sea Rescue unit. At the time we were
commanded by W/Cdr. R. H. Prior, D.F.C., with S/Ldrs. J. W. Roll and 3. J. Deverill as Flight-Commander. All the senior officers were detained in Greece on matters connected with happenings during the latter days of our sojourn there, and the duty of shepherding the main party across the Mediterranean-by steamer, of course, devolved upon F/Lt. E. E. Hopkins, who had the able and ready assistance of the Adjutant, F/Lt. G. A. Greathurst. The accommodation provided on the vessel was not what any of us would have chosen, but light was made of any discomforts in the knowledge that the trip would last at most only 2-3 days. In the event it happened that the latter was the better estimate, for instead of making port at Alexandria as we had expected, we were diverted to Port Said. Unfortunately there were no arrangements there readily available for onward transport, and we thus must spend three or four days in a transit camp at Port Fouad. However, the time passed, and eventually we found ourselves entrained at Port Said late one night with the prospect of a 12-hour journey facing us. This was not so wearying as it might have been, and breakfast time next morning found us at Victoria, on the outskirts of AlexandrIa, where a canteen supplying "char," etc., etc., served us with supplies for the inner man. Whilst waiting there something of a gloom was cast over us when we read in the morning paper of the death of that great friend of this country-President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Shortly our train chugged along again, and by midday we had reached Idku, our new "home."
During the time that we had spent wandering around, FILt.
H. D. Goodman had led a small flight of aircraft with essential personnel acting as "advance party." and since landing at Idku had put in good work in the preparation, etc., of tent sites. In this it is only fair to acknowledge the help given by members of 294 Squadron-whom we had come to relieve. Very SOOn then we were able to settie ourselves in, and with the arrival of the others of our aircraft and staff we were all set to begin our training for the new work.
As already noted, we were there for Air-Sea Rescue duties, and the area to be covered extended from Palestine to Benghazi, we to maintain detachments at Agir (Palestine), El Adem, and Benina. Before, however, we could commence taking over it was necessary that we should be prope4y "genned up," and here again members
of 294 Squadron came to our aid. Day and night training flights were laid on and lectures, demonstrations, etc., of various items of equipment were given. Again, odd aircraft were at times invited to assist with operations in which.294 were engaged-very valuable practical training.
It was not very long before we undertook our first operation on our own account,' but this was rather different from what we had expected. It was reported to us that a party of officers from Cairo had gone on a "hike" in the foothills leading to the northern end of the Red Sea, and had not made rendezvous at the appointed time of return. We were given two poss1ble areas for search-not an easy task when the nature of the ground is remembered. Aircrews were briefed and duly took off, followed by two relieving aircraft, but all returned without being able to report any sighting. Certainly small parties of "wanderers" were seen, but none which seemed to correspond to that we were seeking. However, by the time our last aircraft was returned a message came in saying that our "prey" was safely back in Catro, having been picked up at the appointed place but not at the appointed time. They had actually given a wave to our craft flying over them, but with nothing to show that they knew they were being sought. Such unfortunate lack of co-operation was to become only too typical-a state of affairs not conducive to getting the best out of those engaged in what after all is a vital service.
By early May we were all set to take over full operational control; detachments were organised and commanders appointed as follows:-Benina F/Lt. Goffer.
El Adem-FILt. J. Mt Williamson.
Agir-F/Lt. E. E. Hopkins.
In some instances part of our equipment for the detachments must travel by road convoy, and fortunately all got through safely, although there was a slight mishap attending the journey of Fl Sgt. McVeigh.
Just before the final take-over, however, we were all heartened and overjoyed at the news of the capitulation of Germany-news that had been hoped for for several long and weary years. As might be expected, we celebrated the event, although in a somewhat less boisterous manner than might have been thought possible. Nevertheless I am convinced that the feeling of most of us was that the primary aim had been achieved, although there was still much work to be done.
And so we settled down to our jobs. There was noth~ng sensational happening and lIfe became somewhat "hum-drum" although we were ever ready for a call. Besides maintaining "readiness" aircraft and crews, training flights day and night were constanfly undertaken, with lectures and demonstrations of various items of equipment to give those responsible for their handling the greatest degree of familiarity with such things.
Shortly, changes in staffing of the Squadron were made. W/Cdr. Prior was posted away and in his place W/Cdr. Geo. Taylor was appointed. He was familiar to most of our aircrew members due to his having been C.F.I. at Ein Shemur wbere many p'lots had been trained. Other aircrew members too were posted-tour expired-and we welcomed replacements from both 294 Squadron and from Em Shemur.
The Dominion Air Forces got off to a flying start in the matter of demobilisation, and this, too, caused several alteratfons in our dispositions, not only at base but also in the outstations. However, we contrived to keep a full readiness state at all points and every call was prompt]y answered, even though the number of
unnecessaries or "false alarms" turned out to be high.
W/Cdr. Taylor unfortunately had to enter hospital shortly after joining us due to an injury to his leg, and S/Mr. Roll thereupon took over temporary command. When, however, it became known that W/Cdr. Taylor's stay in hosp'tal would be longer than at first anticipated, together with the knowledge that his return home for release would also he coming along, we had a new C.O. appointed-this time an ex-member of the Squadron, WI Cdr. Hankin.
As may be imagined, there was a fair amount of leisure time available, and each section organised sports teams, football (despite the heat) and cricket being most popular. Many enjoyable games were played, and the Squadron cricket team had a number of "outside" matches with clubs in the Alexandria region, including one match against the Alexandria Club, on whose pleasanfly situated ground, with its green turf, one could almost imagine oneself back at home!
The detachments too were able to take part in sports matches against other service teams (n their particular areas, all of 'which helped to relieve the tedium and boredom of" waiting for something to turn up."
One Sunday we co-operated with three or four training squadrons from the Canal Zone in a large-scale exercise. We were one of the "Key" Un~ts in the scheme, and it is good to
record that everything for which we were responsible went "according to plan," even to entertaining visiting crews!
On another occasion we had a "shadowing" and "attacking" exercise with several of H.M. Ships sailing along the Med. The subsequent reports showed that our crews had quite a good standard' of proficiency in such "warlike" operations.
But our life as a squadron was rapidly drawing to a close, and towards the end of July came the news that we were to disband. A squadron of South African Venturas was to take over our commitment on A.S.R. Our detachments were withdrawn, and for a short time therefore we were again a full squadron as a complete unit, but under rather less happy circumstances than when this had been the case previously. After collecting all equipment and disposing of this according to instructions, the movement of personnel commenced.* 80me~ue for early release-returned home, whilst others were posted "en bloc" to transit camps or other units. As is only too common in the Services, thIs meant in many instances the break-up of friendships which had been forged over the complete life Of the Squadron, and during which they had travelled from Iceland in the North to Egypt. Eventually came the day when there was nothing left to speak of "221" but the~ remembrance of the not inglorious part it had played in the bitterest struggle of all time.
Can we not, through this magazine and the Old Comrades' Association, recapture some of the thrill we had at serving on the Squadron and re-live, at our meetings-infrequent though they be
-some of the episodes, be they gay or grim, through which we passed together?