No. 272 Squadron R.A.F. was the only unit in the Middle East equipped with the Bristol Beaufighter IC, one of the most successful British WW2 designs, developed as a private venture utilising parts of the Beaufort light bomber. The plane had a 2-man crew, was fast, sturdy, and had an immense amount of fire power. It also had a good range, so was used for long-range infiltration missions, ranging deep into Libya from forward landing grounds in Egypt. In the run-up to CRUSADER, No. 272 Squadron’s main task was to shoot up supply lines and airfields in the Axis rear. Its main base was Idku (or Edku), just east of Alexandria in Egypt.
In order to operate far into Libya, landing grounds closer to the border were used as jumping off points. On 1 November 1941, the squadron’s forward elements, consisting of 12 planes, 15 crews, an intelligence and a cypher officer, were ordered to be based at L.G.10, Ghrwla/Gerawala, which was about 13 miles SE of Mersa Matruh. For more information about the L.G., you can find the map location and information at this link, and an aerial picture at this link. The German target information indicates that there was nothing other than the airfield, and some tents, indicating that most of the crews must have lived underground.
Typical activities in the period were patrols covering the sea between Derna and Crete, known to be a flight route for German supply planes, and ground strafing activities on the Via Balbia (e.g. 15 November four planes on the road between Giovanni Berta and Barce in the Djebel Akhbar), or on Axis airfields (e.g. 16 November on Tmimi airfield – this is the raid giving rise to this post)
Those Pesky Telegraph Poles
As I had written in an older post (at this link), if there’s one thing the young men crewing the light bombers of the RAF could not be accused of, it was cowardice, or overly careful flying. As the little excerpt from the Squadron ORB below shows.
16/11/41 1150 hrs
Three more Beaufighters took off on a ground straffing raid on TMIMI aerodrome and the road leading north from the aerodrome. The crews and the aircraft were as follows:-
A/c “R” F/O. Morris, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Hilton
A/c “O” P/O. Hammond, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Bryson
A/c “N” Sgt. Ross, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Hoadley
P/O. Hammond returned early at 1510 hours with his aircraft damaged. While flying low over the road at TMIMI “straffing” vehicles, his starboard wing hit a telegraph pole and about two and a half feet of the wing was broken off. Some telegraph wire and pieces of china insulation were found in his aircraft when he landed. The three aircraft attacked the aerodrome, damaging two J.U. 87’s and a mobile W.T. Tender. They then proceeded to beat up vehicles on the road leading north from the aerodrome. Thirty vehicles were damaged and some personnel were killed. During the attack upon the aerodrome, a dust storm was in progress and visibility was consequently poor.
Aircraft “R” and “N” landed safely.
Sgt. Lowes took an aircraft up to GHRWLA and returned with “O” which had its wing tip broken off yesterday by colliding with a telegraph pole while “ground straffing”. In order that it might be flown safely back to EDKU, two and a half feet of port wing was removed. This new version of the Beaufighter with square wing tips looked quite impressive, with an enormous stalling speed, and would no doubt horrify FILTON.
After having come across the entry above, I noted Daniele Gatti asking a question about No. 272 Squadron crew members on the 12 o’clock high forum (in this thread), and to my surprise, losing pieces of the wing in a collision with a telegraph (and returning to base) wasn’t a one-off. W.Op/Obs Sgt. Forrest from Edinburgh, also of No. 272 Squadron, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for a similar stunt when his aircraft “B”, piloted by P/o Bartlett collided with another telegraph pole.
Citation link provided by 12 o’clock high forum member udf_00.
The details of the incident from the ORB below:
25/11/41 0630 hrs
Five Beaufighters left at 0630 hours to carry out a ground straff at JEDABAIA. The crews were as follows:-
A/C “A” W/Cdr. Yaxley, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Sproates
A/C “B” F/Lt. Bartlett Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Forrest
A/C “S” P/O Hammond, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Bryson
A/C “C” P/O Crawford, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Taylor
A/C “T” P/O Watters, Pilot; W.Op/Obs. Sgt. Gill
The five aircraft carried out a low flying attack on JEDABAIA aerodrome and damaged two C.R.42’s and a CA310 on the ground. They also destroyed a large petrol tanker there. A convoy of about 8 vehicles was also attacked on the AGHERBA road, and some were damaged. An enemy transport aircraft was also seen to crash in a hurry about 30 miles E. of the aerodrome. It was not fired upon until after it had crashed. F/Lt. Bartlett collided with a telegraph pole and returned to Base with about 3’6” of starboard wing missing. The assistance of his observer was necessary to enable him to retain control. A/c “C” kept company with this damaged machine throughout the return journey.
Nothing about Filton this time, my guess is the presumption was that this was by now a normal occurrence…
Unanswered questions (not quite serious):
1) did anyone take the pieces of wire and insulation china back to base as squadron mementos?
2) what did the Italian wire repair crews make of the damage when they came to repair the poles…
The Commanding Officer – Wing Commander Robert Gordon Yaxley RAF, D.S.O., D.F.C., M.C.
Wing Commander R G Yaxley, Commanding Officer of No. 272 Squadron RAF, standing in front of one of the Squadron’s Bristol Beaufighter Mark ICs at a landing ground in the Western Desert. Date unknown. IWM Collections.
W/Cdr. Yaxley (promoted to this temporary rank on 9 September 1941) had already earned an M.C. and a D.F.C. (gazetted on 17 October 1941, see this link and this link) at the time of the 25 November raid, and on 27 November was noted in the ORB to have been awarded the D.S.O. as well (gazetted on 12 December, see this link). The award of the D.F.C. relates to the service of a detachment of No. 252 Squadron Beaufighters to Malta during the HALBERD convoy operation in September 1941.
Wing Commander Robert Gordon YAXLEY,M.C. (33130), No. 252 Squadron.
This officer commanded a detachment of fighter aircraft which recently carried out a series of sorties with the object of assisting in the safe passage of our convoys in the Mediterranean. Attacks were made on certain aerodromes and seaplane bases which resulted in a loss to the enemy of at least 49 aircraft and a further 42 damaged. The successes achieved undoubtedly contributed largely to the fact that the convoys were able to proceed without loss; only one ship was damaged but it succeeded in reaching port. The courageous leadership and determination of this officer is worthy of the highest praise, and throughout he set an example which proved an inspiration to his fellow pilots.
Wing Commander Robert Gordon YAXLEY,M.C., D.F.C. (33130), No. 272 Squadron.
Since the operations in the Western Desert. commenced this officer has led his squadron with conspicuous success. Enemy aerodromes, as far west of the battle area as Benghazi, have been attacked daily and other serious damage has been inflicted on the enemy. On the opening day of the operations a number of Junkers 52 aircraft, carrying troops, were encountered and 7 of them were shot down. In addition to a daily toll of enemy aircraft destroyed, heavy casualties have been inflicted on ground crews while lines of communication have been harassed and petrol tankers set on fire. Altogether, within a space of 6 days operations, no less than 46 of the enemy’s aircraft were destroyed. Much of the brilliant successes achieved can be attributed to the courageous leadership and determination displayed by Wing Commander Yaxley. Throughout, he has set a magnificent example
He died about 2 years later, aged 31, as a Group Captain and C.O. of No. 117 Squadron, when shot down on a return flight to the Med, in a Hudson over the Bay of Biscay on 3 June 1943 (see this link).
Loss details (thanks to udf_00 from 12 o’clock high):
Hudson FK386 No. 1 OADU 3 JUN 1943 flown by Group Captain Yaxley, shot down by a Ju 88 C flown by Lt Hans Olbrecht of 15./KG 40
Among those lost : BURTON Howard Frizelle 33227, HANBURY Osgood Villiers 81357.
Other information from this Portuguese site indicates that this was a massacre of middle-ranking RAF officers, with the following killed:
- F/O J. B. Bukley +
- F/O E. J. McSherney +
- F/Sgt D. V. Edwards +
- G/Capt R. G. Yaxley (Pass) +
- W/Com H. F. Burton (Pass) +
- W/Com E. Paul (Pass) +
- W/Com D. T. Cotton (Pass) +
- W/Com J. Goodhead (Pass) +
- S/Ldr O. V. Hanbury (Pass) +
- S/Ldr J. K. Young (Pass) +
Finally, to remember the brave crews by, a beautiful 1943 colour picture of Beaufighters above the Med.
Even with the modification, I am reasonably certain it was an ‘interesting’ flight back to Edku for Sgt. Lowes, and probably quite a high-speed landing on account of the stall speed change (some tech specs for the Mk. X can be found at this link).
Filton was an airbase (see this link for a history), but also the site of the Bristol Aircraft Corporation, manufacturers and designers of the Beaufighter. So the remark was probably aimed at the designers of the plane.