In the previous post I have described the Army Co-operation (or direct air support) system of the Western Desert Air Force in detail. This post will provide an insight into the issues faced by the air crew at the sharp end in delivering these attacks. The source is AIR54/51, ORB of No. 12 Squadron S.A.A.F. No. 12 Squadron S.A.A.F. was equipped with US-built Martin Maryland Mk. II light bombers. These were a relatively smart design (for its time), combining a high speed with a reasonable bomb load and range.
Martin Maryland, ‘O’, of No. 21 Squadron SAAF flies over the target as bombs explode among poorly dispersed enemy vehicles of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions east of Sidi Rezegh, where they had assembled with the intention of breaking through the British positions at Bir el Gubi. Courtesy of the IWM[/caption]
The Maryland was superior in this regard to the Bristol Blenheim Mk. IV. The Marylands could carry twice the bomb-load for about the same range, and at a considerably higher speed. Accordingly, they were also used as fast reconnaissance planes and light bombers up to 1943, but from early 1942 onwards they were superseded by the US-built Douglas Boston III, the first of which entered service with No. 24 Squadron S.A.A.F. in North Africa in time for CRUSADER as well. From that point on, Marylands would be replaced as sufficient numbers of Bostons became available, and No. 12 Squadron S.A.A.F. converted to the new type in March 1942.
Douglas Boston Mark III, AL691 ‘VL-W’, of No. 12 Squadron SAAF being refuelled and readied at Bir el Beheira, Libya, for a bombing raid on enemy transport. In the foreground, armourers prepare 500-lb GP Bombs for loading into the aircraft. AL691 was lost on 25 1942 when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire and spun into the ground near Sidi Baarrani.
(Picture from Imperial War Museum – CM 3099)
In November 1941 No. 12 Squadron S.A.A.F. was part (together with the Blenheims of No. 11 RAF (1) and the Marylands of No. 21 S.A.A.F. Squadrons) of No. 3 (South African) Wing, whose task it was to support 30 Corps in Army Co-Operation missions, besides the normal raiding activity on Axis landing grounds and supply infrastructure and columns.
SECRET Operation Report Copy No. 3
(O.O. 237) Date. 29/11/41
Map Reference. MATRUH and TOBRUK 1:500,000.
Date of Operation. 29th November, 1941.
NO AND TYPE OF ARICRAFT. Nine Marylands.
Squadron. 12 Squadron S.A.A.F.
NATURE OF DUTY. Bombing attack on tents and M.T. round pinpoint 430400 (2)
Result. The aircraft took off at 1315 hours and flew in Squadron formation to L.G. 123 where an escort of 21 fighters was picked up. They then flew to the target area.
The leading subflight dropped no bombs as they could locate no worth while target in the position given. The second and third subflights however bombed a few M.T. seen at this position and at pinpoint 435399. 48 x 250 lb G.P.N.I. bombs were dropped scoring two direct hits on vehicles and causing one small and one medium fire. Bombing was done at 1440 hours from a height at 8,000 feet.
The formation then returned to base.
time of departure from base. 1315 hours
time of return to base. 1540 hours
Air defence encountered. One enemy aircraft made a single diving attack on the fighter escort at 1440 hours.
Ground defences encountered. Intense to moderate medium A.A. fire from target area.
own casualties aircraft and personnel. Nil.
Aircraft and Crew. [not included]
What the report shows quite well is the trouble of finding relevant targets for light bombers engaged in horizontal bombing, the time it took to get to the target, and the relatively small observed effect. In this case, an effort by 9 light bombers and 21 fighters, a total of 30 planes, or about 5% of the air strength of the Western Desert Air Force, probably produced no relevant result at all.
M.T. – motor transport
O.O. – Operation Order (?)
- In 2011, No. 11 Squadron, operating Eurofighter Typhoons, engaged again in combat over Libya when it supported the enforcement of the no-fly zone.
- In the Tobruk – Bardia – Bir el Gubi triangle