Loss of Wing Commander F.A. Harte and No. 107 Squadron crews, 9 Oct 1941

Background

No. 107 Squadron R.AF. operated from Malta through the whole of September to December 1941, suffering extremely high losses in planes and men. A more detailed history of the squadron is in an earlier article at this link. The squadron accounted for a large number of enemy shipping through its strike operations, but its men suffered heavily from it, knowing full well that they were considered expendable, as is set out in this older entry on the Blenheim IV at this link.

107 Crest

No. 107 Squadron Crest, 1944. IWM CH13929

9 October 1941

On 9 October 1941 No.107 Sqdrn lost its CO, Wing Commander Harte in a strike on Sicily. There were two strikes on this day. In the morning, two Blenheims captained by Sgts. Leven (papers at the IWM at this link) and Broom, the latter to eventually command the squadron as a Sergeant, and due to rise to Air Marshal Sir Ivor Broom (oral history at the IWM at this link). They dropped 2,000lbs of bombs on Axis vehicle convoys on the Via Balbia in the Homs Sector, east of Tripoli, half-way to Misurata.

On the second mission of the day, four Blenheim light bombers of the Squadron took off from R.A.F. Luqa air base in Malta on a shipping strike in South Italian waters at an unspecified time. Two of the planes returned with engine issues and the other two were not heard of again. A search was conducted the next day with no result.

WgCdr Harte

ORB No. 107 Squadron, October 1941. TNA AIR27/ 

What happened was that the two planes, Blenheim Z7638 and Z7644, had proceeded to the Straits of Messina where they collided, coming down in flames, possibly as a result of anti-aircraft fire, off Cape San Alessio on the east coast of Sicily, between Messina and Catania. One plane crashed on land, the other into the sea. There were no survivors. The Italian war diary notes that at 1550 hrs one plane came down on a garage, damaging it. This may have been Z7638 of Wg Cdr. Harte with the plane of F/O Neville Whitford Walders coming down into the sea. All are buried at Catania Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.

Harte Map

Suspected Crash Site. Google Maps.

Crew Losses

Wing Commander Frazer Apsley Harte DFC was a South African, and 29 yrs old. The other crew members of the two planes killed were F/O Neville Whitford Walders (pilot of Z7644, 24), F/O Thomas Wewage Smith (no age), F/O Charles Oscar Bloodworth (28), both in Harte’s plane, and Sergeants William Karl Hunting (20) Royal Canadian Air Force, and Stanley Jones (26).

107 Blenheim

Blenheim Mk. IV OM-J of No. 107 Squadron at Leuchars, Scotland. Date unknown but probably first eight months of 1941. IWM CH2482

The 7th Passenger

Also killed was Lt. Ellis Edward Arthur Chetwynd Talbot R.E., M.B.E., G.C. Lt. Talbot had been awarded an Empire Gallantry Medal in 1940 and attached 107 Squadron. In August 1940 he noted a new bomb type that failed to explode and carried it 200 yards on his shoulders to a safe spot in case it should go off. On this day 21-yr old Lt. Talbot came along as a passenger, to better understand what a raid was like. The details of his work on Malta and his death are recounted by his friend, Lt. Carroll R.E., who had taken over from him as UXB officer in Malta, at this link.

“Because Edward didn’t have a job any more, after I had taken over, he got attached to the RAF as an Intelligence Officer. He was taking in reports of returning pilots and he decided that, with this responsibility, he should know something about what it was like to be on a raid. So he volunteered and went off, in a Blenheim I think, and didn’t come back. That was how he lost his life, after being in Bomb Disposal.”

The aftermath

It appears that Malta intercepted radio messages from the Italian forces reporting that two enemy planes had collided off Sicily, confirming that the overdue planes had been lost. In an instant, No. 107 Squadron had lost four officers, including its commander, in one raid. To note, this was a highly unusual crew composition, with two officers to a plane. It is also of interest that Lt. Talbot was not mentioned in the ORB. I am wondering if the flight was seen as a familiarisation ride against the generally easier targets in Sicily. 

Sources

  • The Ship Hunters, Gillman
  • War Diary Comando Supremo, October 1941
  • TNA AIR27/842 ORB No. 107 Squadron
  • RAF Commands
  • UXB Malta

 

IMG 0580Cover of R.E. Gillman D.F.C. D.F.M. The Ship Hunters, W.H.Allen 1979 Gillman was a Sergeant in No.107 Squadron at the end of 1941.

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