No 46 (UGANDA) NIGHT FIGHTER SQUADRON,
GAMBUT DETACHMENT — NORTH AFRICA
SEPTEMBER 26TH until OCTOBER 10TH 1944
The following describes an attack by No 46 (Uganda) Night Fighter Squadron, Royal Air Force, against German forces occupying the Aegean Islands during World War II. The attack was mounted over several nights, starting toward the end of September 1944.
The names and exploits of the members of No 46 Squadron are factual, as are dates, and details of our aircraft. They were all recorded in newspaper articles and Intelligence reports obtained from the Public Records Office in London. Having this information has allowed me to be very precise with times and weather conditions etc…. something I could not otherwise have done after a period of nearly 60 years.
Roy T. Butler
Spring Hill, Florida USA
July 24, 2003
In September 1944, No 46 (Uganda) Squadron (we had been ‘adopted’ by the country of Uganda) was headquartered at Idku, Egypt, an airfield situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea about forty miles east of Alexandria.
No 46 Squadron flew Bristol Beaufighter Mark VI aircraft equipped with Mark 10 radar. The Beau’s armament consisted of four 20 mm. Hispano cannon mounted in the fuselage nose, with a combined rate of fire of 2,400 rounds per minute and six .303 in. Browning machine guns in the wings, with a combined rate of 7,200 rounds of fire per minute. This gave a total combined weight of fire of 780 lbs. per minute and made the Beaufighter the most heavily armed fighter in the world at that time. The MK 10 radar was state-of-the-art and very accurate up to a range of ten miles with very little ground return interference. These combined elements made the Beau the most lethal night fighter in the world and on the cutting edge of 1944 technology. The Beaufighter carried a crew of two, a pilot and a radar/navigator.
The Squadron was assigned the task of the night defence of the Eastern Mediterranean. This included the Royal Naval base at Alexandria, the Suez Canal, the coast of Palestine and the island of Cyprus. Included in this assignment was the task of mounting intruder raids against the German forces in occupied Crete, Rhodes, and Kos and the smaller Aegean Islands to the north. To cover these areas of responsibility the squadron maintained detachments at Abu Suier in the Nile Delta and St.Jean, Palestine. Each month intruder raids were carried out during the full moon period. They were usually fruitless because of the task of trying to detect enemy aircraft without the assistance of ground control. Because of the secrecy of our radar equipment, there was a standing order that only in the event of carrying out an interception on an enemy aircraft, were we allowed to fly over enemy territory. This eliminated attacks on trucks, trains or ground installations. To avoid the radar falling into enemy hands, it had an explosive charge attached. It was the responsibility of the pilot to detonate this charge in the event of having to abandon the aircraft.
I was a Warrant Officer pilot and my radar/navigator was W/O Ray Graham. We were just starting our second tour of operations in the Middle East, having first been members of No 108 Squadron at Castel Benito in Libya. When our squadron was united with No 46 we moved to Idku. We had been in the Middle East eighteen months and were due to return to England, but decided to volunteer for a second tour. We were in “A” Flight commanded by Flt/Lt Joe Irwin.
On September 24, 1944 the pilots and radar/navigators of “A” Flight attended a briefing by Squadron Leader Robertson, the Commanding Officer of No 46 Squadron. He told us that during the approaching full moon period, our base for intruder raids on the occupied Aegean Islands would be a desert airfield called Gambut. For the first time we would not be alone in our efforts to locate the enemy. An Irish packet steamer, the Ulster Queen, positioned north of Crete, had been fitted with GCI radar and would be protected by Royal Navy destroyers. The ship would act as our ground control. This was excellent news because we knew the Germans were supplying their island garrisons by air, mainly during the night and this new strategy may give us the edge we needed.
The ground staff to man the detachment left on September 23rd.with F/O Kirk in charge. There were three senior non-commissioned officers and twenty-nine aircraft mechanics. They went by road and took all the tents and equipment required for the forthcoming operation. If all went well they would stop overnight at Mersa Matruh which was on the coast about 100 miles west of Idku. There were 16 aircrews going and they would fly in on Tuesday September 26th. We all left the briefing excited and with high hopes.
On Monday September 25th, Flt./Lt. Irwin held another briefing. We were told that one of our aircraft had carried out tests with the Ulster Queen and the radar reception and the R/T was working perfectly. Another important piece of equipment, the homing beacon, had a range of 50 miles. Without this we would have a hard time finding the ship.
The following day, the 26th, we loaded our gear into our aircraft and took off for Gambut located about two hundred miles west of Alexandria and situated on an escarpment a few miles south of the coast. There were three Beaufighters, each carrying two extra aircrew members. A Baltimore came along to transport the remaining crews. I was flying Beaufighter #ND 243. Once airborne we performed the Night Flying Test that was standard procedure on all night fighter squadrons. Having completed our tests, we assembled in loose formation, led by Joe Irwin and flew very low across our airfield, setting a course for Gambut. One other plane was still being worked on and would follow us later, making four available for the impending operation.
Gambut was a typical desert airfield with sandbagged dispersal areas. The maintenance and flight offices were housed in tents. There were no runways and fine sand drifted constantly across the airfield. Except for a squadron of Coastal Command Beaufighters of No 603 Squadron, it had a deserted look. Gambut had changed hands many times during the desert war and I wondered how many lives had been sacrificed to keep possession of such a deserted, lonely place. Our ground crews that had arrived the previous day had erected the tents and everything was well organized. They were happy to see their planes arrive. We were going to Mess with No 603 Squadron during our stay. We loaded our personal gear onto a pickup truck and were driven to the tents that would be our home for the next few days.
After unpacking, we returned to the dispersal area where instructions for the night operations were posted. We would be scrambled at 1½-hour intervals. Allowing for a flight time of 3 hours to reach the target and return, and spending 1½ hours over the target would mean we would be airborne approximately 4½ hours. Graham and I would scramble second and were scheduled for takeoff at 8:00 p.m., following P/O Steele and W/O Clay. Following us would be W/O Phelan and F/Sgt. Baldwin, and W/O Hammond and F/Sgt. Harrison would man the last plane.
A small tent had been taken over by the I.O. and we went in to get briefed about the night’s operation. Our route would be almost due north from Gambut. After flying across the Mediterranean we were to enter the Aegean Sea through the Straits of Kythera at the western end of Crete. This route avoided flying over Crete and if we kept our height to a minimum, we might be able to slip under enemy radar and arrive undetected to the target area. We were given the “colours of the day”, so in the event a ship of the Royal Navy challenged us, we could identify ourselves by firing the correct Verey cartridge. We were always meticulously aware of the colours of the day, but through experience we never felt comfortable in approaching a naval vessel even after showing the colours. The Royal Navy was notorious for firing first and asking questions later… we always approached with extreme caution after allowing them to have a good look at us as the Beau looked very much liked the German Junkers 88. We were given the call sign of the Ulster Queen, which was Trademark, and as usual were reminded to destroy our radar equipment if we had to abandon our aircraft and to keep strict radio silence once we were airborne so as not to advertise our mission to the enemy.
We would be flying aircraft number #ND 243, the same one we had flown from Idku. Our parachutes and helmets were still inside and we went to the plane making sure everything was in place for our take-off a few hours later. Flt./Lt. Irwin was at the dispersal area making sure that preparations for the coming night were proceeding smoothly and he recommended that we go to our tent and try and get some rest before dinner. I did not envy the “A” Flight Commander. He would not be flying tonight in order to make sure everything was organized throughout the next twelve hours. He would see us off and would wait at the dispersal area until the last plane returned. We were all quite young and he was not much older, yet it was comforting to know he would be there.
We went back to our tent, but it was impossible to rest. As soon as we knew dinner was being served we went to the Mess tent to eat. It was the usual RAF Middle East fare, the main ingredients being canned Spam and hard tack biscuits… the appeal being very much dependent on the imagination of the cook. After our meal we went back to our tent to get dressed ready for night flying.
It got dark quickly in the desert, so we lit a hurricane lamp hanging from the tent pole. We put on khaki slacks underneath a cotton flying-suit, which we tucked into calf length, suede desert boots, commonly known as brothel creepers. I had a small knife scabbard in my right boot. This wasn’t for anything more lethal than to stab and deflate my Mae West if it inadvertently inflated on takeoff. Most of us followed this precaution after hearing a horror story (never confirmed) about some poor soul having his Mae West inflate on take-off and crushing his chest under the safety straps! I also wore a silk scarf and put a pair of lightweight leather gloves in my pocket. There was a standing order to wear gloves while flying for protection against fire. Also, in case of fire, we had aviators goggles attached to our helmets in order to protect our eyes. I carried a tube of Gentian Violet in the pocket of my flying suit to use as first aid against burns. (I believe I read later that the worst thing to do with a burn was to put this greasy stuff on!)
About 6:15 p.m. we made our way to the dispersal area. When we arrived, Steele and Clay were walking out to their aircraft and we wished them luck and jokingly asked them to save some for us. Sonny Steele and I had been friends for a long time. We had been together at Initial Flying Training School Canada and 54 O.T.U. in Scotland. His usual navigator had been posted home just before we left for Gambut and this was his first time being crewed with W/O Clay.
Now that it was dark, the dispersal area took on a different appearance. The moon was starting to rise and our all-black aircraft looked very menacing in the dim light. Shadowy figures were gathered around Steele’s plane getting ready to strap him and his navigator in and start the engines. A truck was running across the airfield placing and lighting flares ready for takeoff. The flares were made from used gasoline cans that had been cut in half and filled with sand. Gasoline was poured on the sand and ignited. About a half a dozen were used for the take-off run and their main purpose was to give the pilot a straight line to follow. At best, it was a very crude type of flarepath, but it was sufficient and typical of desert practice.
By now there was a few crews gathered at the dispersal area and we watched Steele taxi to the end of the flarepath, turn into the wind and begin his takeoff run. We were all silently praying that Steele and Clay would return unharmed and at the same time wishing that we were the ones taking off. Waiting was the worst part of an operation and it was at a time like this when everyone felt the close camaraderie of a combat squadron. We felt comfort by being part of this tightly knit group and any nervousness was covered up by a lot of horseplay. It wasn’t too bad for Graham and I because we were next off, but some of the crews would wait for two or three hours. Steele’s plane left the ground and he immediately extinguished his navigation lights. We stood in a group until the sound of the engines died. He was gone, hopefully to return in about five hours.
Graham and I went into the I.O. tent for last minute information. A signal had been received confirming that the Ulster Queen was on station and waiting for us. The latest meteorological information was good. The forecast was for a clear, starlit night with almost a full moon. We got the latest wind speed and direction and worked out a course to the western tip of Crete and I wrote it down on a scrap of paper. This was the extent of our formal navigation, as Graham had not been trained as a navigator in the truest sense of the word. Nevertheless, once we neared land, he was able to map read by using his radar. Also, I could call on the R/T when returning to our base and be given a course to fly to get us home. This worked well providing all of our equipment kept working properly! (Toward the end of the war, I was in Transport Command and my new navigator had been in a Pathfinder Squadron of Bomber Command. He was used to very precise navigation where the timing of course or altitude changes were calculated in seconds. He was appalled at the haphazard way I approached getting from A to B!).
Tonight we’d fly at our economical altitude of 6000 feet until we were about 75 miles from the enemy coast. We would then descend to 50 feet in order to try and stay under enemy radar. The I.O. and Joe Irwin wished us good luck and said they would be waiting for our return. We told the I.O. to have the brandy ready, for it was his custom to have a glass ready for returning crews during the debriefing. (Was this the start of “Cheeeriooo!! No 46. First today!”?) (No-it is from WW1 –Ed).
I signed the Form 700 and we made our way out to the dispersal area. There was a group of ground crew waiting for us at our plane and we started our preparations for take-off. Graham climbed up a hatch located halfway down the fuselage into the radar compartment and started checking the equipment. I walked around the plane with a flashlight and made sure all the locks on the moveable control surfaces and the pitot head cover had been removed. . I looked at the tires to see if they had moved on the wheel rims (there was a yellow mark painted across the tire and the rim. If they did not line up, it indicated, “tire creep”, which could cause a blowout). Next, I checked the engine nacelles for traces of oil leakage. The last check on the outside was to ensure that the gun ports in the nose and along the wings were sealed over with aircraft fabric to avoid sand getting into the gun mechanism on take-off. The first round on the cartridge belt was always non-explosive because it would break through the cover without causing damage to the plane when the guns were fired. On night fighter squadrons our main firepower was explosive shells. We did not use tracer ammunition because it destroyed the pilot’s night vision.
One of the senior NCO’s, Flt./Sgt. Clark, who was in charge of the ground crew, was there to see that everything was in order. He was his usual boisterous self and we knew that he would love to come on this intruder raid… he flew as a passenger at every opportunity. Clark was very efficient and popular with the aircrew. He had recently managed return to the squadron from one of our planes that had crash-landed in the desert, many miles from our base. As was customary in the RAF, for finding his way back to base on foot, he was presented with the Flying Boot (a silver badge in the shape of a flying boot with wings). Both the aircrew had been killed in this incident.
Satisfied, I climbed up the hatch under the nose, gripped the bars positioned on either side above the seat and swung myself over the seat back onto the parachute that was already in place on the seat pan. Flt./Sgt. Clark followed me up the hatch and as I pulled the lever to elevate the seat back, he handed the safety belt straps over my shoulders. I pulled the remaining straps up between my legs and pushed all four into the retaining ring and inserted the locking pin. I then strained forward as far as I could to be sure that my head would not hit the gun sight that was located immediately behind the windshield. I turned on the instrument panel lights, put on my helmet, switched on the radio and spoke to Graham on the intercom to make sure it was working. Satisfied, I gave the thumbs-up sign to Nobby Clark who stepped down and slammed the hatch shut.
Before starting the engines, I asked Graham if the radar equipment appeared to be working OK. He said it was, which was a relief as it could be quite temperamental. I started the engines and let them idle at 1200 rpm. While waiting for them to warm up, I called the Control Tower and checked the local channel of my radio. I also made sure that the gun sight light rheostat was in working order, ran the engines and checked the magneto drop. Everything looked good, so I flashed the navigation lights to signal the ground crew we were ready to go. The ground crew removed the wheel chocks and signalled that all was clear to start taxiing. I pulled away from the dispersal area and headed toward the first flare of the runway. I stopped perpendicular to the row of flares, put the propellers into fine pitch, rechecked the fore and aft trim and called the tower and asked for permission to take-off.
I turned onto the runway, opened the throttles and concentrated on keeping a straight run with the flares on my left-hand side. This was the time to pray that a truck had not been inadvertently parked on the runway! We became airborne and I called the tower, turned off the navigation lights, set course almost due north and started climbing. The time was 8:10 p.m. After a few minutes we crossed the coast and headed out over the Mediterranean.
As we reached 6000 ft., I levelled off, trimmed the aircraft to fly straight and level at 230 m.p.h. and settled down for the 200-mile flight across the water. This would take us to within about 75 miles from the coast of Crete. At that point, we would have to lose height and prepare to go into enemy territory.
It was a beautiful night. The moon was almost full, there were no clouds and the stars were extremely bright. From this height the Mediterranean looked like a vast mirror. I mentally began figuring what would be the best approach to make an attack on another plane, assuming we were lucky enough to find one. We were trained to keep on the dark side and never get in a position where we were silhouetted against clouds. The classic night fighter attack was to approach from behind and below. Then identify the target from directly underneath, throttle back and climb…at the same time raking the enemy aircraft with gunfire as it moved through the gun sight. On a night like this the best approach would be to keep the target silhouetted by the moon if possible.
In slightly less than an hour I throttled back and started to lose height. As we got to about five hundred feet it was possible to see the whitecaps on the waves and now that we were a long way from our base, the sea looked a lot more menacing. I carefully lost altitude until I judged we were about fifty feet above the water and set the altimeter to read zero. At the same time, I trimmed the plane to be slightly tail-heavy. Every pilot at that time had his own method of low flying over water at night…this was my approach to do it as safely as possible. When the altimeter registered zero, I knew we were still about fifty feet above the water, while at the same time the plane had a tendency to climb away from danger. (Radio altimeters were non-existent at that time) Maintaining the height at fifty feet we approached Crete.
As we neared the coast we started to hear a low humming noise on the intercom system. It was enemy radar sweeping the shoreline. This did not unduly concern us because we had experienced it before. However, it had been rather disconcerting the first time we had heard it, when we realized that this meant the enemy was searching for us. Tonight our plane was low enough not to send back a signal. We were still holding height at 50 feet and airspeed steady at 230 m.p.h. All the instruments appeared normal. The gun button was on the right hand side of the control column and I operated the switch to arm the guns. Then I turned on the gun sight and rotated the rheostat to adjust the brilliance until I could clearly see the ring with a cross in the middle, but without it being too bright to blind me. The theory was, that a wingspan of 50 feet would fit into the ring at a range of 250 yards. All the firepower of the cannons and machine guns was synchronized to fill a ten feet square at a range of 250 yards, making this range the most devastating. If you encountered a plane with a wingspan of 100 feet, then only half of the span would be required to fit into the ring to be at a range of 250 yards, and so on. Graham switched on our radar and I concentrated on flying by instruments, even though it appeared bright enough outside to fly visually.
Approached the Straits of Kythera, we sighted Cape Gramvonsa at the western end of Crete. The time was 9:45 p.m. and we had been in the air 1 hour 35 minutes. Graham announced that he was picking up another aircraft on his radar at a range of just over 10 miles. The other plane was showing the I.F.F. (Indicator Friend or Foe). We deduced it could only be Steele and Clay and I decided to find out. I pushed the transmit key and quickly asked if they had seen anything. Steele replied that there was bags of trade. He sounded excited and I would like to have talked some more, but it was not the time to be holding a conversation.
Graham said that the homing beacon on the Ulster Queen was showing very clearly on the radar at a range of ten miles. I called Trademark and gave my call sign, which was Pistol Five Zero. Immediately the reply came back that they were receiving us loud and clear and we were to patrol on an east/west course at 500 feet. The QFE was 1010.6. I reset the altimeter to the QFE. The time was 9:50 p.m. and we were now under the control of the Ulster Queen.
We climbed to 500 ft. and started the patrol. Trademark was giving instructions to Steele, who appeared to be having difficulty locking on to a bogey. A few minutes later we heard Trademark tell Steele to go to Angels 10 and head for base. We faintly heard Steele acknowledge and suddenly we felt quite lonely as we thought of them going back to base. We had no idea of what success they had experienced on their patrol and wouldn’t know until we also returned. We now had the patrol and Trademark turned his attention to us.
Communication between the Controller and us now became very relaxed. There were no verbal formalities during an interception and all that was required was quick, concise directions. This was also the case between Graham and me. During the two years we had crewed together, we had developed and practiced a certain patter to use during an interception. Typically, after the Controller had given directions to get us to within ten miles of the target, Graham would expect to see the target on his radar. At this point he would follow the target until he was comfortable that he had it firmly established. Then he would tell me to inform the Controller we wished to take over the interception. I would do this by using the code word Tallyho. The Controller would then follow the interception and be ready to help us if needed, but he would not talk to us. Graham would continue giving me directions every few seconds until he had talked me into a position where I should be able to see the target. He would relay such information as slight changes of course to follow, the approximate speed of the target, the range as it diminished, and changes in height as required. I had become so familiar with the way he presented all this data during an interception that I could usually tell by the inflection in his voice how the interception was proceeding. Sometimes, from the mental picture that was forming in my mind, I was able to anticipate the directions he was going to give me. As we got closer to the target and before I could see it, I would tell him where I wanted the target to be in relation to us. This would depend on the weather conditions and was intended to keep us unobserved as long as possible. The bond between pilot and radar/navigator was very important and was the reason why night fighter crews liked to stay together. For me, it was exciting to be led along blindly on a dark night and to suddenly see another aircraft appear. We had practiced interceptions for hours with other members of the squadron, taking turns being the fighter and the target, always hoping that some night our training would pay off. At 9:50 p.m. the Controller told us to change altitude to 1000 feet.
It was almost an hour later at 10:48 p.m. that we were beginning to doubt we would encounter any enemy aircraft. We had patrolled back and forth and nothing had come within radar range of the Ulster Queen. We had been in the air nearly three hours and were beginning to get a little tired and depressed. Suddenly, as we were on our eastern leg I saw two green lights cross our path from port to starboard on a southwesterly course. I turned hard to starboard to investigate. Trademark called and said there was a bogey in our vicinity. I replied that we had seen the bogey and were turning to intercept.
Again from Trademark telling us to flash our weapon. He wanted me to push our IFF button that enlarged our radar blip, thereby allowing him to see which was the friendly and which was the bogey. This was often done to help the Controller when the blips were too close to tell one from the other. I told him we had the bogey on our radar and were intercepting. He would now monitor our progress and be ready to give us assistance if required. I could no longer see the lights, but Graham was directing me closer to a position where I could see and identify the other aircraft. We were slowly losing altitude and the target was coming closer. When we were 200 feet above the water, Graham said I should be able to see the other plane dead ahead. I turned my head from side to side, using my peripheral vision. Quite suddenly another plane came into view about 300 yards dead ahead, 100 feet above me. When the range was down to 250 yard it was not necessary to go any closer to obtain identification. It was a Dornier-24 flying boat. I could clearly see the three engines and the twin tails. The Dornier-24 had a wingspan of just over 100 feet and looked huge. To attack from optimum range the wingspan had to appear to be twice the width of the ring on my gun sight and we were at that position already. I told Graham to take a look and he confirmed the identity.It was at this stage of the interception that we started to receive gunfire from the enemy and tracer shells seemed to be lazily curling over us. I centred the gun sight on the middle engine and fired three short bursts of about two seconds each. It was a relief when all the guns fired because I had often imagined being this close to the enemy and having the guns jamb! I saw strikes on the port wing and engine and as our range was now reducing rapidly I turned away to port. The enemy glided down, struck the water and immediately burst into flames. The time was 10:50 p.m., two minutes after first sighting the enemy. I called Trademark and told him there was a plane down with many people in the water and he told me to go to Angels One and vector zero nine zero. I turned on to our new heading, somehow reluctant to leave the scene. It did not seem possible that we had caused such devastation.
We flew back and forth at the direction of the Controller for almost fifteen minutes. At 11:08 p.m. we sighted two destroyers and I informed him. By the way he told me to keep clear of them I assumed they belonged to the Royal Navy and were probably acting as part of the escort for the Ulster Queen. A couple of minutes later we were on a northerly course when Trademark called and said there was a bogey crossing port to starboard, range 5 miles. I quickly acknowledged and started a turn to starboard. As we continued to turn slowly, Graham obtained a contact at a range of 3½ miles. The bogey was still to starboard and much lower than we were. I kept turning and started to lose height while Graham continued to give me directions until we were down to a height of 100 feet on a heading of 150°. Although our airspeed was down to 140 m.p.h., we closed in on the target rapidly. When our range was down to 1000 feet the other aircraft came into view. It was a 3-engine Junkers 52 land plane and we were closing very fast. I lowered the flaps a few degrees to give us more stability, but I could see that unless we acted quickly we were going to overshoot and probably lose the opportunity to get him. I told Graham to look and confirm my identification, while at the same time I lined up to attack. Graham agreed with me that it was a Junkers 52 and I immediately fired a long burst. We were now closer than 200 yards and the effect of our attack was terrifying. The enemy exploded in a huge ball of flame. There was no way to take violent evasive action and the fact that I had lowered some flap was a lifesaver because it allowed us to turn slightly quicker than normal. Without the flaps we probably would have gone into a stall because we were too low to dive to pick up speed. We flew right through the edge of the ball of fire expecting any second to be engulfed. We circled the burning wreckage for about ten minutes but there was no sign of life, which was not surprising considering the violence of the explosion. Graham and I concluded we had seen enough action for one night and it would be a good thing if things remained quiet until it was time to return to base! At 11:28 p.m. we had a call from Trademark. There were two bogeys north of us. Vector 035° and investigate. The Controller gave us directions for about seven minutes and at 11:35 p.m. Graham had a contact slightly to starboard and 3 miles ahead of us. We were just under 1000 feet altitude and closing nicely at a range of 2000 feet when the bogey disappeared hard to port. I went into a steep turn to port and called Trademark and asked for help, but he had also lost contact and we had to give up the chase. We had barely gotten back to straight and level flying when Trademark called again and said there was another target 18 miles west of us. He controlled us to within 2½ miles of the new bogey and Graham got a contact hard to starboard of us. The time was now 11:33 p.m. and we had been under Trademark’s control over our allotted time of 1½ hours.
I turned hard to starboard and the range started to reduce rapidly. I again lowered some flap to reduce the speed, but now the target was only 100 feet ahead of us. It was a Junkers 52 seaplane flying very slowly. To avoid colliding I pulled along the right hand side of the enemy plane and could clearly see the unique corrugated skin and the swastikas painted on the side. The time was now 11:35 p.m. and Trademark called and told us it was time to return to base. I called back and told him we were in contact with an enemy plane and would talk to him later.
There was no way we could slow down enough to get behind the enemy so I told Graham that I was going to set my gyro compass to zero on our present heading and execute a 360° turn to starboard back to the same heading. If all went well we should pick him up again a few miles ahead of us and have a chance to do a more controlled interception. We agreed to try it, so I started the turn. As we completed our circle Graham picked him up at a range of 4 miles. We were both very excited because this was a manoeuvre we had not practiced. It was a great job by Graham to pick the target up so quickly.
This time we made a good approach, but because of his slow airspeed we were still overtaking quite rapidly and I knew that we would probably only get one chance to attack him. The enemy was on an east-south-easterly course keeping about 3 miles off the coast of Trypete and slowly losing height. It looked as though they were heading for a seaplane landing area. I got a visual at about 1000 feet and as we got to within 250 yards, I gave one short burst of fire. I observed strikes on the starboard engine, which caught fire. I gave another longer burst and then went into a hard climbing turn to port intending to try and come in for another attack. The enemy was losing height quite rapidly and as we completed our turn it struck the sea and burst into flames.
The time was 11:40 p.m. and well past time to go home. We had been in the target area nearly two hours, destroyed three enemy aircraft and had come very close to being destroyed ourselves. It had been a busy night so far and we were still a long way from our base. I called the Controller and told him what had happened and that we were returning to base.
Whole chasing the seaplane, we had got in the middle of an area that was surrounded on three sides by land. We didn’t have enough fuel to make our way home through the Straits of Kythera, so the only way back was to turn south from our present position and climb over the mountains that would confront us going across the Crete mainland. Graham would have to lead us through and over the terrain with the radar. Not the most pleasant thing to do at night but we had no choice. We were not supposed to fly overland, but it was a decision I had to make and was sure that our Flight Commander would back me up. The biggest worry was that if anti-aircraft batteries were deployed in the hills, we might get caught in crossfire.
I turned south and started to climb as fast as possible. Graham was reading off the distance to the enemy coast as indicated on the radar. If we could get to about 4000 feet by the time we reached the coast, we should be able to reach the altitude required to clear the mountains. After a few minutes we were over land with the high ground a few miles ahead and I estimated that we still had another 1500 feet to climb to be safe. I could vaguely see the ground beneath us in the moonlight and it looked ominously close. Graham kept assuring me that according to his radar all was well, so we pressed on. So far there had been no hostile response from the enemy. When we reached a height of 6200 feet Graham announced that we should now be clear of the highest point and that from now on it was a piece of cake. After a few more minutes, I told Graham that if he was sure we had cleared the highest point I was going to put the nose down, build up speed and race for the southern shore and the comparative safety of the Mediterranean. He agreed and we made a run for it. As we were almost over the sea we faintly heard W/O Phelan, who had just entered the target area tell the Controller that he had a contact. Our Squadron was putting all their training to good use tonight!
When we were safely over the sea I kept the height at 50 feet until we were well clear of the enemy coast. We weren’t particularly concerned about their night fighters because we believed we had a superior radar system. However, we had a long way to go to our base and as our fuel was getting low, we didn’t want to get involved in any more action. We talked excitedly about the exploits of the last few hours and how we had managed the hat trick. Our score would be confirmed by the Controller because he had seen the blips disappear off his radar tube and it was possible that the crew of the Ulster Queen had seen the fire and explosions.
A few miles south of the coast of Crete, we saw a fairly large ship very well illuminated and we noted the position in order to report it to our I.O. When we were about 70 miles away from the enemy coast I slowly climbed to 6000 feet to conserve fuel. The remainder of the journey was uneventful and when we were 25 miles from base Graham picked up the beacon at Gambut and we changed course slightly to head for the airfield. The weather conditions were still good. The moon was visible, with 3/10ths.cloud at 1000 feet and visibility was 10 to 15 miles. I called Control and received permission to land and after a few minutes we could see the flares on the runway. The time was 1:05 a.m. and we had been airborne for 4hrs. 55mins. We taxied to the dispersal area and switched off the engines. The ground crew could see that we had seen some action because the gun ports were exposed and they started to gather round.
Nobby Clark was the first to come up the hatch to help me out. I pulled the lever that retracted the seat back and unlocked the safety harness. The next thing was to grip the overhead rails and swing myself backwards onto the steps of the hatch. I was so stiff after sitting in one position for 5 hours that it was hard to do and Nobby helped me to get to the ground. Graham was already out and was surrounded by a group wanting to hear an account of our trip. Sonny Steele appeared out of the darkness grabbed me in a bear hug and wanted to know if we had been lucky. When I told him that we had gotten three he couldn’t believe it. He said they had chased a lot of bogeys but had not got close enough to attack. I must admit the thought went through my mind that his lack of success could be due to not having time to practice with W/O Clay because they were both very experienced aircrew …a good example why crews stayed together.
Joe Irwin was also there waiting for us, as we knew he would be. He already knew something had happened because of the excitement around the plane. When I told him the news it was like a tonic to him because the squadron had not had any success in many months. I broke Graham away from his group that were now discussing “radar”, (the usual subject when more than one radar/navigator got together) and went to report to the I.O. We were given a small glass of brandy and started the debriefing. The information in this account came from these intelligence reports that were saved exactly as the I.O.wrote them. They were obtained from the Public Records Office, London, released to the public after a period of thirty years.
By the time we were finished it was 2:45 a.m. We heard that W/O Phelan and Flt./Sgt. Baldwin had just landed at El Adam due to Gambut now being unserviceable because of a ground mist. There was more excitement…they had shot down another Junker 52! The total was mounting. We went back to the dispersal area where the ground crews were finishing servicing our plane. Nobby Clark told me I must have been pretty low at times because the windshield had dried salt spray on it. I told him not to tell Graham…he wouldn’t fly with me any more! By now we were both feeling very fatigued and went off to our tent to try and sleep.
The next thing we knew it was daylight and there was a crowd of people outside the tent. I got up and looked and it was Terry Phelan and Denis Hammond with their navigators. They had both been diverted to El Adam and had just flown in from there. It felt like the middle of the night, but it was 10:00 a.m. We quickly dressed and went to the Mess tent to get breakfast and compare notes. As we had heard, Phelan had destroyed one plane and Hammond had chased one but it had gotten away. The total score for the night was 4 aircraft destroyed.
On September 27th, we spent the day trying to catch up on sleep. We were not flying that evening, so after dinner we relaxed and had a couple of Egyptian beers. There were four planes going again tonight and we went to the dispersal to see the first two off. The first one went at 6:55 p.m. and there was the usual boisterous group giving advice! F/O.Kirk was flying our plane of last night and we asked him not to scratch it. The ground crew had already painted three swastikas on the side of the cockpit.
We didn’t stay up to see them return and we found out the next morning that the score had increased. F/O. Kirk and Flt./Sgt. Carr got a Junker 52 land plane and Flt./Sgt. Chapman and W/O. Briginshaw also destroyed a Junkers 52 and damaged another. The Squadron score was now 6 aircraft destroyed and 1 damaged.
On the morning of the 28th, Squadron Leader Robbie Robertson flew in from Idku in a Hurricane. He asked to see Graham and me. We presented ourselves to him and saluted. He shook hands with us and told us that His Majesty King George VI had graciously awarded each of us the Distinguished Flying Cross. We were unprepared for this and at a loss for words. We managed to stammer our thanks and I thought it would be appropriate to salute again, so I did. When we thought about this afterwards we would burst out laughing. It was such an unlikely situation…standing virtually in the middle of the desert being presented with a gong, and all sorts of saluting going on while the sand swirled around us!
After having a night off, it was our turn to fly again. We went into the flight tent and found that we were scheduled to fly #ND 243 again. We were going to be last off tonight, leaving around 10:30 p.m. Our takeoff time would depend upon the crews before us being on time because we had to be 1½ hours apart in order not to have more than one plane at a time in the target area. Our plane was not ready for us to do our NFT, so we waited around the dispersal area. Even though we had always prided ourselves on having good morale in our squadron it was amazing what a little success had done. There was a different air about everybody and it was wonderful to be a part of it. In spite of this, a few minutes later something occurred that scared the daylight out of all of us. Our dispersal area was directly across the airfield from 603 Squadron and they were arming their planes with rockets, which were attached on rails under the wings. Rockets were a new innovation and still quite unpredictable, so the armourer’s were not supposed to connect up the firing mechanism until the plane was started and at the end of the runway ready for takeoff. The reason for this precaution was because they had found that occasionally the action of starting the engines did something to the electrical system and caused the rockets to fire. On this particular day they had omitted to observe the precautionary measure and four rockets roared a few feet above our heads and landed in the desert with some beautiful explosions! Of course we had all flattened ourselves in the sand and we got up looking very sheepish!
The day dragged on, but as soon as it got dark and we had eaten dinner we prepared for flying and went to the dispersal area with Steele and Clay. Two crews had already gone, starting at 6:10 p.m. and it looked as though we would all be leaving as scheduled. After Steele had gone we had 1½ hours to wait. We checked with the I.O. and discussed the possibility that we may run into more opposition in the form of German night fighters tonight. We refreshed our memory on the characteristics of the Junkers 88 (their standard night fighter) and the Junkers 188, which was a souped-up version of the 88. We must have been psychic because this discussion would stand us in good stead later that night.
We went to our plane and completed our pre-flight inspection and took off at 10:45 p.m. It was a beautiful night and the flight to the western end of Crete was uneventful. As on the first night, we reduced altitude to 50 feet as we approached the enemy coast. We made landfall at Cape Gramvansa and at 12 minutes after midnight we contacted Trademark. We were told to patrol on a north/south course at 500 feet. We carried out this patrol for just over a half an hour and at 12:55 a.m., we received a call from Trademark telling us that there was a bogey approaching on a northerly course and we should go to Angels Five. I acknowledged and we started climbing as hard as we could. Shortly after, we were told to turn on to 150°, then a few seconds later to turn hard to starboard to 320°. At 1:05 a.m. we obtained a contact 3 miles ahead, to the right and very high above us. We immediately starting climbing and started our chase. Our speed was 200 mph. and we were slowly closing on the target. This was obviously not a slow moving Junkers 52. When we were at 6700 feet and a range of 2000 feet, I obtained a visual. The time was 1:10 p.m.
We kept gaining slowly until the range closed to 700 feet and I recognized it as a Junkers 188, one of the enemy’s fast fighter/bombers that we had heard was being used as a night fighter. It was a very fast plane and could outrun us at heights over 6000 feet. I opened fire from dead astern and saw numerous strikes on the fuselage and the starboard wing. We were getting some return fire from the enemy’s tail, but it was not very accurate. The target turned to the right and started to lose height rapidly and I followed him into the turn and tried a long deflection shot. To my surprise it worked, because black smoke started pouring from the starboard engine.
It was at this crucial time of the attack that our radar was affected by the gunfire and stopped working. I kept turning in the direction that we had last seen the enemy and requested help form the Controller. He replied immediately that the target was two miles to the north of us. I kept reminding Graham to keep looking behind us because I was concerned that we may have encountered two night fighters working as a pair, which turned out to be not the case. We turned north and regained contact at 1:15 a.m. The target was two miles away, below us and to starboard. We kept gaining steadily, following him down to 1500 feet. We were 1000 feet behind when I obtained visual contact again. He was now on an easterly course and appeared to be heading for the west coast of the island of Melos. I opened fire from dead astern scoring numerous strikes on the tailplane and starboard wing. Debris was breaking off the enemy and floating past us, and then the starboard engine caught fire. I broke away when we were directly above the badly damaged plane and turned to starboard. He was diving steeply toward the sea just off the coast of Melos.
When we had completed our orbit we could see no further sign of him and I assumed that he must have dived straight into the water. I talked to Trademark and he said that the enemy blip had disappeared off his radar screen, which backed up our belief that he had gone in the water. We resumed patrol at 1:20 a.m. Five minutes later Trademark called and reported more trade coming in from the south and we were to go to Angels Five and vector 180°. We started climbing and heading south. We knew that if the bogey was coming from the south we were on intercepting courses and we would soon have to reverse direction. Trademark called and told us to turn onto 290° and keep climbing.
At 1:30 a.m., Graham got a contact directly above us as the bogey crossed our path. We started to turn and regained contact hard above us, but he again disappeared. I requested help from Trademark but he couldn’t give assistance. Graham and I decided that it was probably another night fighter using his radar to take evasive action. By this time we were at 8000 feet and the Controller called and told us to resume patrol southward at our present height. It was an extremely clear night and at 1:35 a.m. I saw another plane cross the moon track on a course of about 020°. I could clearly see his shadow on the water, so deduced his height to be about 50 feet. I turned to the right and started a steep dive to go after him, at the same time I called Trademark and asked for help. Again they could not help me. We went down to 100 feet and turned from side to side to try and pick up the contact, to no avail. After a while we gave up the search and resumed patrol. At 1:51 a.m. Trademark called and told us to vector 180° at Angels Ten for base.
The journey back to Gambut was uneventful, although I did ask Graham to watch our rear until we were well clear of Crete! We discussed the fact that we did not think it was going to be a piece of cake from now on because it appeared the enemy was deploying opposition in the form of night fighters with some type of radar on board. We were lucky to have gotten the Junkers 188 as it had been taking some quite violent evasive action indicative of radar control. However, every time we needed help the Controller stepped in, which of course was how it was supposed to work.
As Graham picked up the Gambut beacon about 50 miles out, we started losing height, ready for landing. The weather was still fine with a slight haze, the moon had almost set and there were some strata cumulus clouds at 5000 feet. Visibility was about 10 miles. We touched down on the runway at 3:30 a.m. having been in the air for 4¾ hours…the last plane to return.
We got our glass of brandy from the I.O. before we started the debriefing. He told us that Phelan and Baldwin had got a Junkers 52. We found out later in talking to Phelan, that all the time he was in the target area his starboard engine had been acting up. It had been cutting out for no apparent reason, but he stayed there and pressed home his attack. This was very commendable because being that far from base with only one good engine could be a very nervous situation. A lot of pilots would have headed for base immediately and would not have been criticized for doing so. We also learned that Steele had chased what he thought was a 188, but wasn’t successful in getting close enough to attack.
We went over our attacks with the I.O. He was especially interested in the head-on interception because these were the most difficult to accomplish, requiring a lot of trust and cooperation between the pilot, controller and navigator. We finished our debriefing about 5:00 a.m. and it was time for bed. The Squadron score was mounting. It was now 8 destroyed and 1 damaged.
We were not scheduled for flying the night of Sept.29th. having just returned that morning. The crews going tonight were W/O.Griffin and Flt./Sgt.Green, W/O.Hammond and Flt./Sgt. Harrison, Flt./Sgt.Bays and Flt./Sgt.Battiste, and lastly F/O.Kirk and Flt./Sgt.Carr. Flt./Lt. Bradley and Flt./Sgt. Forrester flew in from Idku bringing another Beaufighter, but did not go on operations that night. Griffin and Green claimed a probable JU 52, Hammond and Harrison destroyed two JU 52’s and damaged one other, Bays and Battiste damaged a JU 52, while Kirk and Carr were unlucky. It was September 30th, and the Squadron total had grown to 10 destroyed, 1 probable and 3 damaged.
We awoke the next morning to a blinding sandstorm. Sand was sand piled on our beds and blowing through every crack in the tent. The journey to the Mess for breakfast was an ordeal. Visibility was down to a few feet and sand was blowing in our mouths and eyes. Upon reaching the Mess tent, the situation was not much better; there was sand on the tables and in the food. We stayed in the Mess tent most of the morning. Four crews were scheduled for operations that evening of the 30th. They were Flt./Sgt. Chapman and W/O.Briginshaw, Flt./Sgt.Grimshaw and Flt./Sgt.Waller, Flt./Lt.Bradley and Flt./Sgt. Forrester and lastly P/O.Steele and W/O. Clay. The ground staff was not able to work on the planes to get them ready for air test and flying was out of the question. There was nothing to do but wait for the weather to improve. In the afternoon the wind dropped and everything was back to normal and work was hurriedly resumed to get the planes ready. Our ground crews were doing a wonderful job, especially with the radar because it was so susceptible to damage from sand. We were lucky because sometimes sandstorms went on for days and there was nothing we could do but wait it out.
The planes went off as scheduled, Chapman being first off at 9:50 p.m. and Steele was the last to land at 6:10 a.m. on the morning of Oct.1st. The crew of Bradley and Forrester destroyed a Dornier 24 seaplane, which brought the Squadron score to 11 destroyed, 1 probable and 3 damaged.
Some of the other crews taking part in the night’s operation had intercepted the enemy but had opened fire before they were close enough to do real damage. It had become obvious to the crews that were being successful, that it was very important to get within 250 yards before opening fire. Hammond and I had compared notes and had agreed that the best attack was to get as close as possible and move the control column around slightly while firing. This had the effect of spraying the shells and meant that the cone of fire was larger. Crude but effective, as was borne out by the results we were getting!
There was one sad note about the night’s operations. 108 Night Fighter Squadron had sent three planes into the target area; one of them crewed by W/O Knight and Flt./Sgt. Harwood. We all knew this crew because they had been with No 46 Sqn. before being posted to 108. They failed to return. The Ulster Queen last heard from them as they chased a bandit toward the island of Melos. This turned out to be the only casualty of the whole operation.
On the evening of October 1st, Graham and I were first off and we were airborne at 8:05 p.m., followed by Joe Irwin and his radar operator P/O.Watson. This was their first patrol and we were all hoping they would have success. They would be followed by three more crews, which meant that this would be our busiest night with a total of five aircraft being used. As we left the dispersal area, it was a hive of activity, with planes being readied for take-off. Once airborne, we started climbing to our cruising altitude of 6000 feet and headed for the western end of Crete on a course of 343°. This was our third night on patrol and I kept reminding myself not to get too complacent because we had been very lucky so far. It didn’t seem possible that we could dominate the enemy airspace night after night without some kind of opposition.
We were in a different plane tonight, our usual having been returned to Idku for service. It was easy to get attached to an airplane and I hoped that this one would serve us as well. As usual we lost altitude as we approached the enemy coast and I went through my routine of setting the controls for very low flying. Graham turned on the radar while I armed the guns and set the rheostat on the gun sight. We were as ready as we could be when we made landfall at Elaphonisi on the coast of Crete. We turned on to a course of 50°, which would take us toward the Ulster Queen. After a few minutes I made contact with Trademark and was told to patrol east/west at Angels One.
The time was 9:35 p.m. There was thunder and a lot of lightning flashes in the patrol area. At 1000 feet there was a layer of strata-cumulus cloud and the moon was full. Lightning was illuminating the clouds, creating a beautiful but eerie scene. We flew back and forth under the Controller’s direction for the next 30 minutes, during which time we had been increasing altitude to 4000 feet. At 10:05 p.m. Trademark informed us of a bogey on a course of 330°. Range 12 miles. Speed 150 and height 4500 feet. Vector 310° to intercept. This indicated we would be on a slightly converging course and the bogey would be on our right hand side as we got closer. At 10:13 p.m., we obtained a contact on our radar 4 miles ahead and closed in slowly. Three minutes later we still had not gotten a visual contact when the Controller told us to break off pursuit. The target had broken away and he didn’t think we could catch him. There was another bandit coming north at low level. He told us to reduce height to 500 feet as quickly as we could and watch for target to cross from port to starboard. We dived down to 500 feet and at 10:16 p.m. we again obtained radar contact at a range of 5 miles and I informed the Controller we were taking over the interception. The target was still slightly below us. Graham directed me to turn on to 330°. Our airspeed was 220 m.p.h. and we were closing slowly. At 10:24 p.m. I got a visual contact at a range of one mile, slightly above us. We were about 10 miles west of the island of Melos.
We closed to 700 feet and I recognized the target as a Heinkel 111. He was on a course of 330°, speed around 200 m.p.h. and his height was 250 feet. I asked Graham to look and confirm my identification. He agreed with me and we commented on how we could clearly see the unusual design of the joint where the rear edge of the wings met the body. Just as the instructor in aircraft identification class had stressed! We closed to 200 yards and I gave a three-second burst from dead astern. I saw strikes on the tailplane and pieces started breaking off and floating past us. Fire started at the starboard wing root and smoke began to pour from the starboard engine. The HE 111 had a top waist turret but they did not return our fire, probably because of the damage that we had already done to them. We broke away to port and watched the enemy glide down and strike the sea with a momentary burst of flame and then the water engulfed the wreckage. We did not observe any survivors as it disappeared. The time was 10:30 p.m.
For the next 35 minutes we patrolled under the direction of Trademark with no further incidents and at 11:05 p.m. we were told to return to base. We faintly heard our replacement calling as they came into the area. The weather was still very threatening as we turned onto 180° and started our journey back to base. The flight back was uneventful, with the weather improving the further south we went. When we approached Gambut, the visibility was 15 to 20 miles with a full moon and we could have almost landed without the aid of flares. We touched down at 12:40 a.m. having been airborne for 4hrs. 35 mins. Later on that morning we learned that Hammond and Harris had destroyed a JU 88, and Bays and Battiste had got a JU 52 and a DO 24. They were the last plane to return from the previous evening’s operations, landing at 8:25 am. The Squadron count had increased to 15 destroyed, 1 probable and 3 damaged.
Graham and I were not scheduled to go on operations the coming evening of October 2nd. There were six planes being prepared, the first to take off at 5:55 p.m. Our C.O. Robbie Robertson had flown in from Idku and was going for the first time. In the evening, we went to the dispersal area and watched the first few planes takeoff. First off were Chapman and Briginshaw and we decided to wait for their return. They landed back at Gambut at 11:25 p.m., having damaged a DO-24. This turned out to be the only claim that night. The last plane to land came in at 7:45 a.m.on the morning of Oct. 3rd. The Squadron score now stood at 15 destroyed, 1 probable and 4 damaged.
On the night of October 3rd, five aircraft were due to go on operations. Sqn/Leader Robertson scheduled himself to fly again, even though he had not returned from the previous night until 4:15 a.m. Our Flight Commander, Joe Irwin would also be in the air again. The first plane took off at 5:00 p.m., and we were to be the last off. We took off at 12:29 a.m. and two planes had already returned by that time, one of them being Robbie Robertson, who, once again, had not had any luck. We contacted the Ulster Queen at 1:55 a.m. and then patrolled on an east and west pattern at 500 feet from 2:15 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. without any sign of the enemy. At the end of our allotted time Trademark called and wished us goodnight. I did not realize that it would be the last time that anyone from our Squadron would be talking to them because it was not until later that we learned that the Ulster Queen would be leaving the Aegean. They had done a wonderful job and it was a tribute to the Royal Navy for having kept them safe, especially during the daylight hours. As they had played such a key role in all that we had accomplished, it would have been nice to meet them personally and compare stories.
We decided we would make our return by flying over Crete, the way we had the first night… but without the urgency of having to gain height quickly as on that occasion. It was a beautiful clear night and I didn’t know at the time that it would be the last time I would see the island of Crete until many years after the war. We arrived back to Gambut without incident and landed at 5:14 a.m. We learned that all our aircraft had returned safely without encountering the enemy except Flt./Lt. Irwin and P/O Watson. They had shot down a JU 52 landplane. On October 4th, the Ulster Queen was withdrawn from the target area. At this point, the No 46 Squadron Gambut Detachment final score was 16 destroyed, 1 probable and 4 damaged. From then on, until the 10th, two planes were deployed every night. Unfortunately, without the support of Ground Control, the chance of locating enemy planes was very small. On the last two nights a Royal Naval vessel, HMS Colombo was used as a Control, but still without success. The moon was waning and there was barely enough moonlight to sustain two intruder patrols each night. The aircrews were gradually being returned to Idku… the operation was coming to an end.
Graham and I flew a plane back to Idku on October 5th. We were taking an army officer with us who needed to get to Alexandria in a hurry. There was no room for a passenger to sit in a Beaufighter, so he had to stand behind me in the escape hatch and hang on to the rails that I used to swing myself into the pilot’s seat. We took off, circled around, and came across the airfield very low to buzz our dispersal area. The idea was to pull up steeply and try to blow the tents down with the slipstream. As we did this, I looked around to see how the army officer was faring and found he was sitting on the floor of the escape hatch unable to stand — the “G” force had driven him to his knees! Probably the last time he hitched a ride in a Beaufighter!
The trip to Idku was uneventful and when we arrived, I again buzzed the airfield. It was traditional at this time to do a victory roll over ones base. However, we couldn’t do slow rolls in a Beaufighter but we were part of Fighter Command and we made our statement by buzzing the airfield! As I sat in the silence waiting for the hatch to be opened, I realized that a lot had changed since we left here a few days ago. Ground staff and aircrew had proved we were an efficient night fighter squadron, (which we always hoped we were, but never knew for sure), four of us had been given a decoration by His Majesty, and most important, we had survived to tell the tale.
The next few days, after all the squadron had returned, were a constant round of parties. There was one in the Sergeants Mess, the Officers Mess, the Airman’s Mess, and the Hurricane Squadron that shared our airfield, not to be outdone, also threw a party for us! The press and photographers visited us. All kinds of line shooting pictures were taken, to the embarrassment of all concerned. The highlight for me was when Air Marshall Sir Keith Park, Air Officer Commander-in-Chief, Middle East visited us to offer his congratulations. He had commanded one of the sectors during the Battle of Britain 1940, and was a big hero of mine from when I was teenager.
One of the pictures taken during this euphoric period found it’s way into a British national newspaper. It was of Graham and me and described our recent exploits, the fact that we had been decorated, and was complete with our home addresses. This was how my family learned what had happened, a fact I was not aware of, until I returned home a few months later. There was no way I could let them know because all of our letters to home were censored. It was a big surprise to me when they knew all about it.
The final result of the Gambut Detachment was as follows:
* Butler/Graham, 5 enemy aircraft destroyed.
* Hammond/Harrison, 3 enemy aircraft destroyed, 1 damaged.
* Bays/Battiste, 2 enemy aircraft destroyed, 1 damaged.
* Phelan/Baldwin, 2 enemy aircraft destroyed.
* Chapman/Briginshaw, 1 enemy aircraft destroyed, 2 damaged.
* Irwin/Watson, 1 enemy aircraft destroyed
* Bradley/Forrester, 1 enemy aircraft destroyed.
* Kirk/Carr, 1 enemy aircraft destroyed.
* Griffin/Green, 1 enemy probably destroyed.
Total destruction to the enemy: 16 aircraft destroyed, 1 probably destroyed and 4 damaged.
Ray Graham, Denis Hammond and I, as Warrant Officers, were each awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Flt./Sgt. Harrison was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.
W/O Knight and Flt./Sgt. Harwood of 108 Squadron were killed in action.