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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R J Fowler

 

Reginald John Fowler was born on 22nd March 1918 and joined the RAFVR about June 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot and carried out his pre-war training at 22 E&RFTS Cambridge.

He was called up on 1st September 1939 and completed his training at 3 FTS South Cerney on No. 31 Course, which ran from from 20th November 1939 to 20th May 1940.

 

 

He arrived at 5 OTU Aston Down on 21st May. Fowler crashed in Spitfire P9500 on the 29th and was admitted to Yatesbury Hospital.

He joined 247 Squadron at Roborough on 16th August, operating Gladiators in the day and night defence of Plymouth. He was serving with the squadron until May 1941.

On 13th September 1941 he flew a Hurricane off HMS Ark Royal to Malta, to join 126 Squadron. He was serving with the Malta Night Fighter Unit (later 1435 Flight) there in December 1941.

Commissioned from Flight Sergeant in March 1942, his subsequent service is currently undocumented until he was released from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant.

He died on 22nd June 1983.

 

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Additional research and images courtesy of Joanne Riley (grand-daughter) who kindly provided an account, written by her grandfather, of his Battle of Britain and Malta service, reproduced below:

 

 

 

THE LONELY INTRUDER

I have been reflecting on my past, which I think one tends to do the older one becomes, and drew a conclusion that, from my experience, becoming a World War Two fighter pilot was something of a hit and miss affair. When you are twenty-one years old and employed as a clerk in the office of a firm of London Stockbrokers, a sudden urge to fly an aeroplane needs some thought.

As always luck has to play a certain part in all our lives and in my particular case the rumblings of Hitler’s impatience, and the poor judgement of our politicians since 1935, resulted in a sudden general panic in the country to increase our ability to resist outside aggression.

Advertisements began to appear in the Press at the beginning of 1939, urging the population to partake in some sort of voluntary part-time service. In my particular case of course the RAF Volunteer Reserve offered immediate prospects of some flying to suitable applicants. I quickly sent off my application to enrol as a pilot and my good physical condition enabled me to meet the searching medical, whilst my grammar school education eased me through the Selection Board Tests and interview.

To my great satisfaction I was accepted for the post and duly enrolled in March of 1939 at an RAF Centre in London, off the Tottenham Court Road. The initial term of engagement was for attendance once each week to that centre for instruction in the subjects of general responsibility for the aircraft we were to fly, theory of flight, aircraft recognition, tactical flying and armaments.

In July of 1939 I was assigned to the De Havilland School of Flying at Hatfield to receive instruction in flying, on alternate weekends and any evenings that I was able to attend.

By this time the country was feeling the effects of nerve jitters and the possibility of an approach-ing war. It was apparent to me that the reduction in Stock Exchange dealings would soon affect my job as a relatively junior clerk with my employers.

When I commenced flying instruction at Hatfield it was pointed out to me that as a reservist I could apply to enlist on a two-month course on Tiger Moths in order to complete the initial flying training. I would then be able to continue with the intermediate training on the Hart and Audax, prior to spending some time with an RAF Squadron each year. These steps of course meant the cess-ation of my civilian job, in order to be available at any time to take part in these several stages. This obviously put me well on the road to my ambition but the wages side would be a little spasmodic between each step.

As a single person living at home with my parents on the outskirts of North London, I had no real responsibilities and so I opted for this programme. On the 24th August 1939 I was posted to 22 Elementary Flying School at Cambridge, run by Marshalls,, for the initial training of the regular Short Service Commissioned Pilots of the RAF. Towards the end of October 1939 I had flown some sixty hours and passed the initial training as an average pilot.

During this time you will realise that on the 3rd September 1939 that war against Germany was declared and my future was now apparent; I was in the RAF and there to stay, like it or not.

My next step was to No. 3 Flying Training Schoool at South Cerney near Cirencester, to receive courses on Intermediate and Advanced Flying. These combined courses were quite extensive and continued until mid-May of 1940.

I applied during that time to be trained as a bomber pilot, influenced by the thought of possibly joining my sister’s husband who was a regular RAF pilot on a squadron flying the Whitley bomber. However on completion of these courses I was classified as a keen but erratic pilot, and posted to No. 5 Operational Training unit to be further trained as a fighter pilot, stationed at Aston Down near Minchampton.

This course was to be of only a short duration as by now the path of the war in France was looking decidedly shaky, the galloping Hun was eating up resistance at great speed and their attendant air strength called for an acceleration of trained pilots to all our squadrons in this country. To date of course I had only flown biplane types of aircraft and was first given some five hours flying on the noisy Harvard monoplane before the introduction to the Spitfire, our single-seat leading fighter.

I was assigned to a Flight which had but three serviceable Spitfires and I was only able to scrounge two hours flying during my first two days, the second flight introduced me for the first time to the hazards of flying. The second aircraft that I flew had a distinctly doubtful engine when I was airborne, but being new to the type I thought perhaps I was being a little too critical. I found however that it would not climb higher than 23,000 feet although it was still in a climbing attitude.

I did however decide to continue with the full hour of flying time allotted to me. On my approach to land, when only at some 100 feet and a quarter of a mile from the aerodrome boundary, the engine died on me completely. I was forced to touch down some 100 yards from the boundary, but that was the place that someone had decided to build one of those low Gloucestershire walls. The wall arrested my forward speed of 90 mph in 20 yards, ripping off the undercarriage in the process and making the aircraft leap 25 feet into the air and hitting the ground nose first, finishing up at ninety degrees to my original path. The impact of hitting the ground broke my safety harness wire and I was knocked unconscious by my hitting the gun reflector-sight, which made rather a mess of my face. I recovered consciousness, swearing that never again would I fly one of bloody Spitfires, most probably prompted by the sight of all the blood down the front of my flight-suit and the fact that I could not see the end of my nose.

This unfortunate accident put me into hospital for ten days and I was given a further three weeks sick leave, before another medical to make sure that I was fit to resume flying duties. On my return to Aston Down in mid-July I found that all the friends that I had trained with had been posted to squadrons and that the pilots of No.1 Squadron, recently returned from the holocaust of France, were now my instructors during what for them was a rest period from operations.

My Flight Commander thought it would be a good idea if I was to tow a drogue with Fairey Battle aircraft, which gave me an easy route back into flying and be of benefit to the new pilots being trained, giving them the chance to fire at moving targets in the air. After a few trips I found that a signal in the orderly room was asking for five Gladiator pilots to be posted to 247 Squadron at Plymouth.

I applied and fully expected to be posted to the Middle East area of war. This proved not to be the case for, although 247 Squadron was equipped with Gladiators, they were to be permanently based at Roborough aerodrome, on the northern outskirts of Plymouth.

By mid-August the Germans had already started to launch their vicious attacks on southern England and the Channel coastal shipping. The duties of 247 Squadron were to defend the area bounded roughly by the coastline from Torquay to Lundy Island off the north-west coast of Cornwall. On our left was a Hurricane squadron based at Exeter and on the right a Spitfire squadron based at St.Eval, a Coastal Command aerodrome on the west coast.

The night task was however to be the sole responsibility of 247 Squadron and during the winter weather of 1940, flying in such atrocious conditions, we soon became expert in the art, as survival was the spur and we were the only teachers in those lonely cockpits on such dark and dirty nights.

With no aids except some very vague instructions on the radio from the Operations Room on the ground, we carried out many ineffective night patrols, mainly over Plymouth and Falmouth. The aerodrome at Roborough was too small to operate from at night and each evening we flew over to St. Eval, making use of the dispersal hut used by the day Spitfire squadron. In January of 1941 we said goodbye to the faithful Gladiators and were re-equipped with Hurricanes, much to our delight. The trees at one end of Roborough were cut down and we were then able to operate at night with safety.

My adventures with 247 Squadron were cut short by a posting to 79 Squadron based at Pembrey and Fairwood Common aerodromes on the north coast of the Bristol Channel, to guard the western approaches to both Swansea and Cardiff, assisted by a Polish squadron, 316, during the day but only 79 Squadron operating at night.

After three months with 79 Squadron, I was again posted on the 10th August, with instructions to collect a Hurricane from Aston Down, aerodrome of my previous days, and fly it to Abbotsinch aerodrome on the south bank of the Clyde, there to be embarked with the Hurricane onto the aircraft carrier Furious, together with about thirty other pilots and aircraft. The exercise was to set sail to Gibraltar, and there transfer all but nine aircraft to the carrier Ark Royal.

Both carriers would transport us to a point south of Sardinia in the 'Med' and we would take off and fly to the Middle East as much needed back-up pilots and aircraft.

The flight from the carriers was to be interrupted by a stop at Malta for refuelling and an overnight rest. The aircraft were fitted with long-range fuel tanks for the trip, which took three and a half hours. I was to be the first pilot to take off from the Furious, out of the nine aircraft crowded onto its short deck and in view of the inexperience of the other pilots I had already decided to be the first to land on Hal Far aerodrome on Malta. I was delighted to be greeted by some of the No. 1 Squadron pilots that I had met at Aston Down and Don Stones, a pilot I had served with on 79 Squadron.

During talks with them it was suggested that, in view of my experience with night fighting, I would be an asset to MNFU (Malta Night Fighter Unit) and representation was made to the Air Officer Commanding the Mediterranean, who readily agreed to the suggestion and I was forthwith posted to that unit.

I had now served one year with operational fighter squadrons and had learned the art of swallowing fear and the nauseating feelings in the stomach, which occur for periods of up to thirty seconds from time to time during operational flying and will be well known to all fighter pilots of that period. I am also over halfway through the 200 hours operational flying needed to complete my first tour of operations, which will no doubt be completed by the time I am ready to leave Malta. I have also received confirmation that my rank is now that of Warrant Officer Pilot, the highest in the NCO ranks.

My first night scramble in Malta took place just one month after I had left 79 Squadron and at that time the Italians were operating against the island from bases in Sicily. I feel on reflection that the MNFU pilots and ground crew were the finest that I served with during the whole two and a half years I flew with squadrons during the war, their courage and determination left nothing to be desired. They had already earned the respect of their fellow 'Day Boys' and the civilian population of Malta.

 

Above: Hurricanes of the MNFU

 

I made close friends with two other pilots of the MNFU during our time off together and we cultivated some Maltese civilians in our circle who held us in high regard and each morning at church would offer a special prayer for us. One of our three was shot down one evening by Me109s whilst he tested his aircraft and the grief of our Maltese friends could not have been greater if he had been their own son.

During November of 1941 the Germans began to build up the Luftwaffe strength on the Sicilian aerodromes, because of the harassment meted out to Rommel in North Africa and the damage caused to his supply ships from Europe across the Med by our bombers and the Royal Navy based in Malta.

The only military targets on the island were the three aerodromes, the Grand Harbour and the dockyards in the area surrounding Valleta. History also tells us of the severe attacks made against the Merchant Navy in the Med, who were desperately trying to ferry much needed food and supplies to the now beleagured island.

Royal Navy units, such as the cruiser Penelope, would return to Malta after defending the merchantmen from such attacks, with empty gun cases piled high on her decks and the population in the area of the Grand Harbour would crowd onto the battlements overlooking the harbour, sad at the sight of the one or two Merchant Navy survivors of the unceasing attacks hurled at them. The shortages of aircraft spares to keep the squadrons flying, of food, shells for the overworked anti-aircraft units of the army and petrol were the concern of both the civilian population and armed services.

As night-fighter pilots not employed during the day, we were able to witness many air battles between the 'Day Boys' and the German packs, and the first hand knowledge we gained from these would no doubt stand us in good stead at some future time when we may be employed on day fighting.

It was a constant source of dismay to us to see the mauling the 'Day Boys' were receiving and their gradual weakening by losses and shortage of replacement parts at the hands of the enemy. It was like a nagging toothache to me, surely there ought to be something that we could do to give them some relief. The idea came to me that if we were able to visit the aerodromes on Sicily at night, we could carry out strafing operations on the aircraft parked on the ground with no opposition and write-off or severely damage those aircraft, which to some extent must reduce the numbers hurled at us during the day. In any case it would break up their beauty sleep and maybe knock some of the arrogance they showed during the day from their system.

I talked over this possibility with Don Stones, a fellow MNFU pilot, as to the worthwhile point of such escapades and he readily agreed with me. At the first opportunity we visited the Operations Room in Valetta and spent an afternoon studying the terrain, the aircraft parks and the anti-aircraft gun positions of Coraiso aerodrome on Sicily. I had pointed out Don that if we attacked on a very light or moonlit night I would formate on him at a height of 10,000 feet to the aerodrome he could peel off and make the first low-level attack, then I would follow close behind to make my attack from a slightly different line and approach.

We presented our detailed plan with enthusiasm but were told by the Senior Air Staff Officer, on behalf of the Air Officer Commanding Malta, that whilst he fully appreciated our enterprise and initiative he could not give his consent at that present time. He did relent however a month or so later, by permitting the MNFU pilots to partake in night intruder patrols to the Sicilian aerodromes with a view to killing off, for a two-hour period each patrol, any aircraft taking off or landing at the bases. This did not meet the emergency we were trying to control but it was at least a kick back at the enemy.

All due praise to the AOC, he came down to the aerodrome when we were operating one night to tell us of his decision and wish us all luck. He had obviously had to weigh up the possible losses against the small number of aircraft now available to meet the day assaults. We were to start the operations at the full moon period from mid- to end-January 1942.

I think perhaps the above insight has given some idea of the desperate days faced by the armed forces and civilians during the time that Malta earned its George Cross for Valour in nightmare times, which were similar in scale to those endured by London, and other large towns, during and after the Battle of Britain. This will become more apparent if I tell you that during my ten month stay in Malta, the island suffered one thousand air alerts, mainly during the five months period from November 1941 to end-March 1942.

During that first period of intruder patrols we carried out I flew three missions, all in very bad weather conditions, but in spite of this the MNFU pilots shot down four aircraft and damaged another. I think that before I close this account it may be of interest if I recounted some of my patrols as it occurred to me, showing the effort involved by all the pilots.

You will recall that Don Stones and myself had already made a careful study of the terrain and gun positions only a few weeks ago. Now for a little more detail, as in air warfare the element of surprise is paramount for success. This meant flying our missions, from take off to landing, at as low an al-titude as possible at all times.

My particular flight is to take place this evening and we are to fly from Luqa aerodrome instead of our base at Takali, where the surface is only grass and the rain has made night landing rather tricky. The aircraft are already at Luqa, left there from the previous night, but unfortunately only three are available tonight as daylight attacks today have damaged two at their dispersal points.

Having already carried out the main strategy of my trip, I now need to pay a little more attention to details, I have noted a small lake on the coast of Sicily about five miles west of Cape Passero, which would make a convenient landfall for either of the two targets to be covered, that is Comiso and Gerbini aerodromes. Travelling due north from this lake to the top of a range of hills 3000 feet high would also be a common point to start either patrol, being some twenty miles inland from the lake. I have decided to make the sea crossing to the lake at 500 feet and a steady climb at 180mph with a steady rate of ascent of 500 feet per minute will put me nicely on top of that ridge in seven minutes from the lake.

That's a piece of cake, all I need to know now is the target allocated to me. My course from Malta to the lake is also simple as at a speed of 210mph, on a heading of ten degrees east of north I will hit the lake in twenty five minutes. We are going to Luqa by bus and our parachutes and helmets will already be on the bus which picks us up at our Mess in Rabat. On the way over I have been told that I will be the second pilot to patrol Comiso and I will be taking the aircraft of the first pilot to return.

I'm not over-delighted at this news as this means a three hour nagging wait at the dispersal hut and the first aircraft obviously can catch the enemy unawares before they are forewarned. No point in stewing, there is tea in the dispersal hut and there will be a hot meal waiting on my return.

There are some Wellingtons taking off for a night raid on Tripoli, the North African town on the coast. Let's have a lay down on the beds provided in the hut and have one more think on that Goraiso target. My ridge of hills behind the lake position will put me due west of the town of Ragusa, which is some two hundred feet higher than the aerodrome. If I patrol over the town, I am in an ideal position, at five hundred feet, to intercept any aircraft landing on the aerodrome, some one and a half miles farther west into the prevailing wind. This will also be an ideal spot to pounce on any aircraft which might take off when the flare path is lit.

I think that is a Hurricane I hear, approaching the circuit, yes, there he is, good, I shall be off in about twenty minutes. The pilot has been patrolling the other target at Gerbini but has returned early due to the poor weather conditions. I might as well take out my parachute and helmet as I can get off in a few minutes now.

Trying to describe this flight to you, and talk you into the correct mental condition, does not appear to be an easy task. The problem is that of conveying the situation where you are completely alone with the aircraft as your only companion. Everything will depend on your eye messages being correctly filtered by your brain with sufficient speed to produce body reactions as almost instantaneous movements. Remember that the weather conditions are far from normal and accurate flying essential for staying in one piece, particularly over enemy territory, flying so close to the ground.

It is very easy, when making a tight turn for instance, to over-bank sharply, pull the stick back into the stomach to make the turn and find yourself cork-screwing into the ground, which with only three hundred feet of height is about one and three-quarters of a second away, with only ten degrees of over-bank. So whatever you do, please concentrate fully at all times, even though your nerves may be a little on edge.

Good, the aircraft is ready and I see the second returning aircraft is taxying in, I will just have a quick word with the pilot before I take off. He has been to Comiso , our target, and says that the weather is poor but he did get a shot at an aircraft taking off but is only claiming a damaged.

Up into the aircraft, where the ground crew strap me in after a check that the undercarriage is locked down, I go through the motions of starting the engine which fires quickly, being still warm from the previous trip. The next thing is a quick and accurate cockpit check, it can perhaps save us gallons of sweat later on. Check that all fuel tanks are full, the propeller is in fine pitch ready for take-off, check that the flaps are in the fully up position, also that the radio is on and all instruments reading normal. Switch on the gunsight to check that it is set at a maximum range of two hundred yards and that its reflected image in the windscreen is not too bright to 'blind-out' an aircraft against a dark background.

We are now ready to go so wave the chocks away and out to the runway for take-off. The flare path is switched on and clear; adjust the elevator trim to the take-off position, open up the throttle fully to the greeting of a healthy snarl as we accelerate down the runway to lift-off.

Select undercarriage up, climb to cloud base which is just one thousand feet. Now ease back the throttle to zero boost and reset the propeller revs to 2100rpm, adjusting the elevator trim for easy level flight, without the need to keep any fore and aft pressures on the stick. Set the compass to ten degrees east of north and turn left back over the aerodrome onto that heading.

Re-check that all instruments say that everything is normal as we cross the coast on our way to Sicily, knowing that the next two to three hours may be very exciting, but very lonely, we just don't have any friends in this world.

The cloud base seems to be settling down at five hundred feet above the sea as we fly just below the clouds for comfort. We are travelling at a steady 210mph with the visibility quite good as luckily there is no mist or rain on this westerly wind.

A check on the clock shows that we have now been on course for twenty three minutes and that dark line ahead must be Sicily. The lake stands out quite well ahead, smack on our course. The surf stands out well as a white line just below us,

it is time to pull up the nose into a five hundred feet a minute climb, increasing the throttle and propeller settings to maintain a speed of 180mph. We hit the cloud base at one thousand feet and continue to climb on instruments, easing our nose on to due north at the same time. A quick mental sum tells us that we will be on top of the three thousand foot hill-top in four minutes from now. It is getting darker ahead and, thank you very much, we have broken cloud on top of the hill and the trees are just about three hundred feet below.

Now we must turn due west towards the town of Ragusa, which is about a half a minute flying time due east of Comiso aerodrome, an ideal place to sit and wait for aircraft on their landing approach, and also an ideal spot to pounce on any aircraft which may take off as the flare path is lit. We are now flying into a west pointing valley, with the cloud sitting on top of the hills on either side, but it is quite safe as the valley is roughly one mile wide at cloud base.

The cloud base is gradually lowering and I see the valley splits in two ahead. This is definitely the time to get out quick so throttle and revs on and enter a five hundred feet a minute climb right away into cloud, and slowly turn now onto a heading of due south. Keep climbing up to three thousand five hundred feet for safety, we are now flying due south and ready to level out at three and a half thousand feet. It is getting dark ahead, good, we have broken cloud and there is Comiso aerodrome on our left.

That must be about two miles away and we need to get off some of this height, say down to five hundred feet, and stay that way on to the coastline, now three miles ahead. That brought on the sweat, I think the best thing to do is to fly out to sea for about two minutes, just to settle down, before trying again.

We are just crossing out to sea below, how the hell did I miss that valley when I did my terrain check in Valletta a few weeks ago. That is a green Verey light just been fired from an aircraft, it must be a Jerry. We might be lucky yet, keep those eyeballs well skinned. Our two minutes out to sea is up, let's keep on for one more minute.

No luck there, lets turn left onto due north and that should point us back to Ragusa town. The coastline is just coming up below, there is Comiso to our left, with Ragusa about three miles due ahead but the cloud is very low now.

We need to climb at five hundred feet a minute now, the town is coming up just ahead and we are hitting wispy cloud, the flare path on the aerodrome has just been lit, hells bells, we are back in thick cloud, keep on climbing and turn slowly onto due west, making our height three and a half thousand feet again.

We have made our height and are now leveling out still on due west and start to lose height, let us turn due south, we must be about twelve miles west of Comiso by now. It is getting dark again ahead, yes, we have broken cloud over the coast line. I can see Comiso now, the cloud only looks about six hundred feet there now.

It is very uncomfortable flying round in this muck, the best thing is not to try flying inland for more than a couple of miles but we could turn right now towards the lake which is about four minutes east. Ease back along the surf line to the lake, yes the cloud is low over Comiso now, and the town of Ragusa is hidden in cloud on our left. On second thoughts, if we continue on over the lake until we hit Cape Passero, where the coast turns north, we can do one run west then one more run east before calling it a day. We do at least have a chance of intercepting any aircraft setting course south for Malta and any that might be returning to Comiso.

Thats the radio just switched on from Malta - 'Hello Red 2, there are night-fighters in your area'. Blimey, thats the last thing we need, do a tight three hundred and sixty degree turn and keep those eyeballs skinned, start to weave when we are back on course east; its your tail you need to worry about. No wonder Jerry was using Verey flares to identify themselves, I should have realised that before.

We are over the lake now still flying east to Cape Passero, about seven miles ahead. Keep those eyeballs skinned, I am getting a touch of tennis umpires neck, looking left, right, then up and down. We are now flying at five hundred feet just below cloud base and Cape Passero is below us. Drop down to two hundred feet and do a tight turn to the left, back over the Cape, for our last run east.

I will just give them a call back at base 'Red 2, your message received, many thanks'.

Ease back to five hundred feet as we hit the Cape, watch your tail on this run, fly on five miles east of Comiso before turning back for the last run. The lake is just below again, what a pity the cloud is so low, the visibility is great, it could have been such a very pleasant trip. The town of Ragusa is still in cloud on our right and there is Comiso two miles to its west, still under very low cloud. This constant weaving is getting very tiring, but so necessary, it will be a relief to finally set course for home. There was no sign of the flare-path on that run and it is time to turn, to make a last run back to the lake. There is Comiso ahead and left, I bet Jerry is not enjoying operating from there with such low cloud. This is my last chance to have a go, so be extra diligent with the search and keep a good watch on your tail.

Nothing doing unfortunately, the lake is just coming up ahead, reset the compass to two hundred and twenty degrees ready for the trip back to Malta. Sharp right hand turn now onto course, keep that weave going for at least ten miles out to sea and ease our height down to two hundred feet for better protection.

The cloud base is only three hundred feet and we are now at least ten miles out to sea, stop weaving and increase speed to two hundred and sixty mph, we have plenty of petrol left. Hello, there is stick of bombs hitting the sea ahead and left and there is another on our right. It looks as though Jerry has called it a day; I can't see anything, they must be in cloud, it could be risky dropping bombs below cloud, every chance of blowing oneself up in the process.

We can only be twenty five miles north of Malta, I had better give them a call, in case they think I am a Jerry - 'Hello, this is Red 2, now twenty five miles north, course two three zero, speed two sixty. Stop anyone else taking off'.

I can see the coast of Malta ahead and they deserve another call -'Hello, this is Red 2, now over St. Pauls Bay'. 'Thank you Red 2, come straight in'.

'Too right I will, put the kettle on, Red 2 out'.

The cloud is now seven hundred feet as I pass over Rabat, turn left now to hit the Luqa circuit. Throttle back to one hundred and forty mph, propeller into fine pitch to land, select undercarriage down, trim the elevators to hold the nose up. Turn left again now to line up with the runway, select flaps down and trim elevators for landing.

The flare path is now on as we cross the aerodrome boundary, we are a little high, kick off some height with rudder, that's fine. Hold it there, ease the stick back for touch down, a glorious feeling as we three point down onto the ground. Start to brake as the turn off intersection comes up, select flaps up.

Turn right and taxy back fast to dispersal where the ground crew are waving me in with a torch. The ground crew signal me to swing round, switch off, what a relief, brakes on now and it has all gone quiet. Undo my straps, stand up on the seat, have a good stretch before stepping out onto the wing and jumping to the ground.

A cheery 'Any luck ?' from the ground crew -'No, it was bloody awful'.

Undo my parachute straps and walk over to the welcoming light coming from under the dispersal hut door and the barrage of questions from the other pilots. Out with the cigarettes and a gorgeous cup of sweet tea. How nice it is, to be back once again in the land of human companionship.

It is midnight as I light my second cigarette, I can hear a Hurricane taxiing back to the dispersal, my message was just too late to stop him taking off. They tell me that the Wellingtons were recalled from Tripoli, the weather must have been just as lousy there.

It is time to push off to the Mess for that long awaited meal. Gosh, am I tired; the lorry will be turning up soon to take us back to our Mess at Rabat, not before time, it is on the way to two o'clock and my bed is calling me loud and clear.

I do hope that you enjoyed the trip as much as I did taking you. We won no medals, but a great deal of satisfaction.

On later reflection I have asked myself if I see that trip as worthwhile and my conclusion is yes. You see that, although I did not achieve the prime objective of shooting down an enemy aircraft, I have no doubt that Jerry suffered plenty of heartburn, sufficient to induce him that fighter patrols were necessary to protect his bombers even in such stinking weather. It was also a pleasure to see the bombs they carried only churning up the sea instead of the soil of Malta. I was secretly pleased that I had carried out the major part of my own mission, although our Wellington bombers were forced to abandon.

END

 

 

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