Portreath is safely reached after a flight of about 1 hour 10 minutes – by all, that is, except Phil Kendall and Charlie Hill whose combined navigational skills had enabled them to visit the Scilly Isles and Portsmouth before joining the others at Portreath after 2 hours 40 minutes flying. The official record then briefly states that the next stop was to be Gibraltar and naval charts were issued, accompanied by a brief revision of the difference between Nautical Miles and Statute Miles. But the unofficial record is again more revealing, emphasising the fact that both Spain and Portugal, whilst nominally neutral throughout WWII, were deemed hostile in terms of both political sympathy and military intelligence-sharing.
An American officer dished out some pukka gen on what to do or not to do when taken prisioner or in the event of a forced landing in Portugal or Spain and we also learned how to outstare any Arab who might show himself reluctant to continue the friendly conversation which we hoped would follow our introductory “Salām alaïkum” (Peace be upon you).At Gibraltar they learned that their next stop would be Maison Blanche (now Houari Boumediene Airport) near Algiers. Seventeen of the eighteen Beaufighters made that 'hop' on the 15th, Flying Officer Gloster (Pilot) and Pilot Officer Oswald (Navigator/Radio) being delayed by water in the fuel they took on at Gibraltar.
On the long leg between the Scillies and Cap Finisterre the cloud base varied from 1000' to 3000' but instead of deteriorating as had been predicted, the weather steadily improved as we went southward and a good time was had by all. Rumour has it that S/Ldr Player and P/O Phillips espied some Arado seaplanes en route but considered it beneath their dignity to join battle with such inferior prey.
The formation flying might have been uneventful had it not been for a the *Führer’s last minute decision to carry Aldis lamps. Having waggled his dihedral tailplane in the most cunning manner, thereby attempting to induce Nos.2 and 3 of his section to form Line Astern, Line Abreast, Vic, Echelon Port or Echelon Starboard according to the violence of the wiggling or some other mysterious code, and having failed to produce the desired result, the Führer called upon his stooge and bade him to work the miracle with the aid of the above mentioned blinking instrument. A gallant attempt at signalling ensued, causing even greater confusion than before. On receiving "IMI" from Charlie Hill’s position for the 33 and ⅓rd time the Masterly Manipulator – urged on in no uncertain manner by the commanding voice in front – did his level best to convey the message "Line Abreast" by sending one letter at a time.... However, when at the end of this procedure the resulting formation turned out to be Line Astern the Aldis lamp was finally discarded in disgust.Maison Blanche was reached before lunch. 255 had arrived in Africa – minus all ground crew, minus their radar sets and minus one Beaufighter. But, for now, all safe and well!
* Not a reference to Adolf Hitler – it was the Squadron Leader’s slightly tongue-in-cheek nickname!
Black = Axis occupied + co-belligerents.
Green = Allied occupied.
Grey = The neutral countries of Eire, Portugal, Spain, Spanish Morocco, Sweden and Switzerland.
Orange = Parts of French Colonial North Africa formerly under the control of Vichy France, invaded during Operation Torch.
Purple = Flight path, approximate.
Berkswell Station, photographed in 1947.
Copyright © Science and Society.
Copyright © International Maritime Organisation.
The evening of this day will not easily be forgotten by those who were on the aerodrome, for it brought to them the first major blitz. It was a bright moonlit night and conditions were all in favour of the raiders as the visibility was excellent and there were no AI equipped aircraft available; nor was there a GCI Station working at the time. Although it is thought that only a dozen or less German bombers carried out the raid on the aerodrome they did considerable damage, scoring hits on hangers and aircraft, and starting many fires. It was during this intense period of the raid that the squadron suffered a great loss: F/O Hugh Wyrill, DFC (of 'B' Flight) was killed by shrapnel as he was going out to his aircraft to take off. His Navigator Radio, F/S J. Willins, DFM, who was already waiting in the aircraft, fortunately got away with severe fractures of his right arm and splinter wounds.The loss of aircraft was considerable; five Squadron Beaufighters were either totally destroyed on the ground or damaged beyond repair and a further four were damaged but subsequently repaired. Freddie Lammer, the Senior Radio Navigator, first helped haul a Flying Fortress clear of the destruction, using only a jeep to tow the 16 tonne aircraft. Freddie then assumed the untutored role of pilot in a valiant attempt to taxy a Beaufighter clear of the destruction. Undeterred by the mistake of spinning the whole aircraft through 360° without actually going anywhere (full throttle on one engine and hard braking on the opposite undercarriage wheel does tend to produce ground loops!), he soon got the hang of adjusting the controls more gently and saved that aircraft too.
There is nothing more galling than to fly about near the flak, with parachute flares dropping from the Hun aircraft, on a bright moonlit night, and yet see absolutely nothing owing to being without the RDF equipment. The Huns on these nights would have been sitting birds if only our AI equipment had been fitted in the aircraft.The presence of AMES Type 6 VHF ground-based radar equipment (also known as Light Warning Sets) alone did not prove sufficient to enable proper night fighter interceptions to take place.
Accommodation. The aircrews were, during this period, entirely on their own without any tentage or other unit equipment. Fortunately two empty buildings were found near the aerodrome. For the first week the officers and NCO aircrew slept on the concrete floor which, compared with the floors of many other buildings, was tolerably clean. Later some beds from the French Air Force Barracks were used; they had no matttresses and having parallel metal strips left the occupants "branded" for some hours after rising every morning. Before these beds were brought into use, it was necessary to remove "crawly creatures" by pouring 100-octane over them and igniting. After a fortnight living in these sheds... washing under a tap with a petrol tin for a basin, it was a great relief to take up residence in the Hotel St.Georges...Come 2 December 1942, the first of the new Beaufighters arrived from England, followed on the 4th by the much-needed AI sets. Then, on the 5th, the start of a change of tactics...
Order received for three crews to go to our most forward aerodrome in Tunisia, Souk-el-Arba. The idea of working a night fighter squadron so close to the front is a novel one, the tradition being a restriction of its activities to home defence. The more courageous policy adopted by the powers-that-be in this particular instance may well become an eye-opener to the hitherto unexplored possibilities of night fighters being used so close to the front in direct support for our attacking forces.The adjacent village has, since 1966, been known as Jendouba. By the end of hostilities in North Africa, there were two airfields at Souk-el-Arba. The original (as used by No.255 Squadron) was located immediately to the South-East of the town and was captured by paratroops of the British 1st Parachute Brigade on 16 November 1942. A second airfield was constructed later by US military engineers, located about 4km to the South-West of the town. Click on the camera icon to see a Luftwaffe aerial photograph of the Souk-el-Arba complex as it was at the beginning of May 1943.
Fortunately, there were no horses, but unfortunately there was a large accumulation of evidence of their recent presence, much to the disgust of all concerned.On the 18th it was decided to camp at Macdonald (since re-named El Mahdia) about 8km to the west and thus well clear of any Axis air attack on the town of Sétif or the airfield at Ain Arnat. For three nights, whilst the tented camp was prepared, squadron personnel slept in a hanger on the airfield. The Officers Mess was established in a villa requisitioned from the Mayor of Macdonald, where it would remain until 6 April 1943. 
Who parked that Hurricane there?
Emerging the other side F/O Greaves found his cockpit completely blacked out and, according to his instruments, he was doing a steep turn to starboard. Putting the wheel fully over to port the turn to starboard continued at rate 1 in an inexplicable and alarming manner... Pilot then throttled back the port engine and managed to fly the aircraft straight. He then opened one of his clear vision panels and contrived to scrape quite a lot of the newly acquired camouflage off the windscreen. Although the controls were exceedingly bad owing to the fact that the starboard aileron had been burnt off completely, the pilot succeeded in flying the Beaufighter to Bône...This feat of survival was later to feature in the citation relating to the award of the DFC to Flying Officer Greaves.
Flying Officer D H Greaves (far left) and Warrant Officer F M Robbins (fifth from left)
display a trophy cut from their fifth victim, a Cant Z1007bis. [Photo: IWM. Public Domain]
Beaufighter aircraft. Intruder Report. Resta 33. Took off 20.00 from Bone landed 23.10 at Setif. Scrambled for Forfar (Controller S/L Brown) vectored from Cap Takouch on 340° at 8,000' for 40/50 miles. Given course of 040° at 280 mph I.A.S. for Elmas. Put on to a Bandit at 5,000'. Given various north and north vectors [sic]. Instructed to make a complete orbit and then vector 040°. Target speed 120 mph. Shortly afterwards told to abandon chase as target was very difficult. Given 070° and 040° and height increased to 12,000'. R/T silence was maintained from Algerian Coast. Coast of Sardinia crossed at 20.55 hours west of Cap Spartivento at 9,000'. On nearing coast peculiar noise heard over R/T, may have been R.D.F. sweeping. This interference was heard at intervals all the way to Cagliari. Many lights seen on ground, black out poor. Several lighthouses seen operating. What appeared to be two flares seen in Sant Antioco direction and later others over Cagliari harbour. Flying at 9/10,000' flarepath of an aerodrome seen, believed to be Decimomannu. Pilot flew north of aerodrome to get reflection of moon on water to pin point position. Two aircraft with navigation lights seen orbitting aerodrome. Height reduced rapidly to 1,500'. Lights seen approaching rapidly. Pilot turned away quickly as a Ju.88 passed just over from starboard to port 50' away. Six to eight aircraft were seen orbitting aerodrome burning very bright navigation lights, one aircraft having cockpit lights. Singals with downward recognition lights seen. Several aircraft passed very close to Beaufighter which took avoiding action. Two yellow single star Verey lights fired from ground, then as Beaufighter went round a green was fired as if giving permission for the Beaufighter to land. Aircraft in front of Beaufighter made frantic signals with navigation lights and turned in. Beaufighter followed, and attacking from starboard and astern fired at lights. Range difficult to estimate, thought to be approximately 100 yards. Two one second bursts with all guns given. Strikes seen on enemy aircraft believed to be port wing. No silhouette seen and pilot found it difficult to estimate deflection. It was thought too little deflection given. After second burst Beaufighter pulled away to starboard diving to ground level. Navigator Radio saw silhouette of twin engined aircraft against sky with smoke coming from port engine. Beaufighter flew north west behind hills. Flarepath still on as Beaufighter went to full speed along a valley below level of hills. After attack pilot saw a red star cartridge which appeared to have been fired by another aircraft. Route taken round Mount Linas and down coast, crossing coast at GULF OF PALMS at 21.40 hours. Pilot set course of 200° at Toro flying at 2,000'. Forfar was heard loud and clear over Decimomannu when at 8,000'. No return fire, no searchlights, or flak. Speed of Beaufighter over Sardinia maintained at 240/250 mph I.A.S. Evasive action taken whole time whilst over Sardinia by diving turns of from 30/60° with changes of 1,000' in height. Very bright lights circled the aerodrome, probably round the perimeter track. Resembled Neon lights. Claim: One twin engined enemy aircraft damaged.Meantime, other members of the squadron were engaged in many convoy protection patrols, all of which were uneventful. But the non-appearance of the enemy meant success and the navy appreciated it, conveying a message of thanks on the 29th that made particular mention of callsigns Resta 31 (111570 Flying Officer Leslie James Leppard) and Resta 27 (Flying Officer Geoffrey Humes).
|1. ^||TNA : AIR27/1521 folio 2 side 1. The whole of AIR27/1521 is available online from TNA website as a single .pdf file.|
|2. ^||TNA : AIR27/1521 folio 3 sides 1 and 2. Available online from TNA website, detail supra.|
|3. ^||United States Military Academy (West Point) briefing document dated 1948.|
|4. ^||Kelly family archive.|
|5. ^||Blog concerning the Tabacoop, text in French.|
|6. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folios 110–117. Available online from TNA website, split between .pdf files AIR27/1518/43 through AIR27/1518/45.|
|7. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 111 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|9. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 111 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|10. ^||Adapted from the personal memoirs of Alfred Lammer, unpublished. Lammer family archive.|
|11. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 112 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|13. ^||The London Gazette (Supplement) no.35284. p.5568|
|14. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 112 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|15. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 113 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|16. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 113 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|17. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 114 side 2 et seq. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/43 supra.|
|18. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 117 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/45 supra.|
|19. ^||Kurowski, F. (1982) Endkampf in Afrika, Leoni-am-Starnberger See : Druffel-Verlag, p.54. ISBN 3806110247 (German language).|
|20. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 117 side 1 supra.|
|21. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 119 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/45 supra.|
|22. ^||Pers.Corr., Institut National de L’Information Géographique et Forestière, 73 Avenue de Paris, 94160 Saint-Mandé, France.|
|23. ^||Wisdom, T.H. (1944). Triumph over Tunisia. London : George Allen & Unwin. Chapter 14 – "Hunters of the Night Sky". Publication pre-dates ISBN catalogue system.|
|24. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 156 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/53.|
|25. ^||Kelly Family Archive.|
|26. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 118 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/45 supra.|
|27. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 119 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/45 supra.|
|28. ^||Lammer Family Archive. Unpublished memoirs (Op. Cit.), p.153 of the hand-written draft.|
|29. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 127 sides 1 & 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/46.|
|30. ^||The London Gazette (Supplement) no.35904. p.812|
|31. ^||The London Gazette (Supplement) no.35904. p.813|
|32. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 130 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/47.|
|33. ^||Lammer Family Archive. Unpublished memoirs (Op. Cit.), p.155 of the hand-written draft.|
|34. ^||Pers.Corr. with Squadron Leader Mike Dean, MBE, of the Historical Radar Archive. See also the history of No.255 Squadron in Sicily (next chapter of this website); the problem recurred as between aircraft of different squadrons, resulting in a non-fatal "friendly fire" incident on the night of 09/10 September 1943.|
|35. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 144 sides 1 and 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/51.|
|36. ^||The London Gazette (Supplement) no.35976. p.1682 (Joint citation).|
|37. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folios 145–146. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/51 supra.|
|38. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 152 sides 1 and 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/52.|
|39. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 147 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/51 supra.|
|40. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 156 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/53.|
|41. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 157 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/53 supra.|
|42. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 157 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/53 supra.|
|43. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folios 177 side 1 and 180–181. Available online from TNA website, split between .pdf files AIR27/1518/55 and AIR27/1518/56.|
|44. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folios 186–192. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/56 supra.|
|45. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 196 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/57.|
|46. ^||Lammer Family Archive. Unpublished memoirs (Op. Cit.), p.156–159 of the hand-written draft.|
|47. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 209 side 1. Available online from TNA website, part of .pdf file AIR27/1518/59.|
|48. ^||TNA : AIR27/1518 folios 209–211 and 220. Available online from TNA website, split between .pdf files AIR27/1518/59 supra and AIR27/1518/61.|
|49. ^||It has been suggested that these aircraft would actually have been C47 Skytrains. However, the Squadron’s ORB says DC3 so that is what is noted here. TNA : AIR27/1518 folio 221 side 2. Available online from TNA website, part of file AIR27/1518/61 supra.|
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