Bristol Blenheim I (Type 142M)
The 1930s background
Progress in military aviation was very rapid in the mid to late 1930s. In that short period, stressed-skin monoplane designs became increasingly common: with flaps, retractable undercarriages, powered turrets, increasing engine power, and variable pitch propellers to match. A revolution in design in a time of rapid expansion, while some aspects of operational doctrine languished. A glance at the types available in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the USA between the Munich crisis and the outbreak of war reveals the heights of success and the depths of failure which these challenges brought forth.
Bristol Type 142M Blenheim I 211 Squadron El Dabaa 1939 (CFR Clark)
L1490 LJ-R leading. This aircraft survived operations from June 1940 in the Western Desert to March 1941 in Greece.
In Britain, the metropolitan airforce grew rapidly with the successive expansion plans of the period, the Blenheim for example being one element of Expansion Scheme C of May 1935 and confirmed in Scheme F of February 1936, aiming to be ready to fight an air war against Germany by the Spring of 1939. In the flurry of rapid growth, the Air Ministry and Air Staff struggled to juggle resources and to rethink requirements as better designs came into being through the specification system and through private venture.
Here, too, lay the roots of somewhat confused progress among the sound, the not so sound and the ill-judged, with fatally slow development for some projects (like the Fairey Hendon and the Boulton Paul Defiant), effectively none for others pressed into production (like the Fairey Battle), and comparatively speedy development for others (like the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley and the Blenheim).
Many a woolly story continues to circulate about the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s Blenheim and its origins. In contemplating a fast twin-engine civil transport, by July 1933 Frank Barnwell and his design office staff were already preparing the preliminary specifications and design sketches for the Bristol Type 135 cabin monoplane.
Among the so-called Press Barons of the early 20th Century United Kingdom, the Harmsworth brothers were prominent if not pre-eminent as owners of The Daily Mail, The Times, and The Daily Mirror. The younger of the two, Lord Rothermere, had earlier been the first Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force in the turbulent World War I period under Lloyd George.
Still actively interested in aviation, Bristol's Type 135 design for a 2 crew, 6 passenger twin (2xBristol Aquila) came to Rothermere’s attention in 1934, his interest in a fast British-built personal transport having been piqued by the order of fellow media magnate Beaverbrook—for a Lockheed 12 from America.
In the end, after some cautious discussion with both the Air Ministry and with the press baron, Bristols offered and in March 1934 Rothermere ordered the up-rated Type 142 private venture (2xBristol Mercury), which as built became his personal aircraft Britain First. This, the sole Type 142, was donated by its owner to the Air Ministry shortly after delivery.
The original Bristol Type 135 design was never built, proceeding instead to a further development, the Type 143 with 2xAquilas and slightly enlarged to 8 passengers plus 2 crew. A single Type 143 was built in parallel with the Type 142. A militarised transport version of the Type 143 was also proposed (the Type 143F with 2 Mercury IX).
With an interchangeable nose/armament option and provision for a “free-mounted Lewis” in a dorsal position, the Type 143F design attracted the attention of the Finnish government who opened negotiations to buy 9 of the type. However, the Finnish proposal was overtaken by the RAF's initial order for 150 of the Type 142M Blenheim (which the Finns subsequently both bought and license built). Likewise, Bristols were unable to take up Rothermere's offer to order a replacement for his donated Type 142.
As delivered, the Type 142 Britain First was a 6 seat, low-wing transport with a crew of 2. To transform this sleek civil demonstrator into the Type 142M Blenheim bomber was not the simple task sometimes suggested.
The task was a major redesign: of the wing centre-section and fuselage (raising the wing to mid-fuselage to provide for a bomb-bay stressed for 1,000lbs); of the nose (to provide navigating and bomb-aiming positions beside the pilot); of the rear fuselage (to add the dorsal turret and radio operator's position); of provision for all the associated military equipment (turret hydraulics, flares, bombing and gunnery hardware, radio, hatches, dinghy, external hard points); raising the tailplane by 8", and re-stressing the airframe for military use. Result: a 19% increase in empty weight (from 6,300lb to 8,100lb), for a 2,400lb or 24% increase in all-up weight (to 12,200lb, although weight reports vary). A major redesign, by any standard.
Development was quick in the sense that production orders were placed straight off-plan: that is, off the Type 142M plans. Following the Britain First first flight at Bristol Filton in April 1935, Bristol's July 1935 Type 142M proposal was met with Air Ministry Spec B.28/35 (bomber) in August, incorporating the modifications described above and followed immediately by the first production order for 150 aircraft. The first flight of the Type 142M/Blenheim I prototype K7033 took place on 25 Jun 1936, 14 months after the Britain First flight.
Service trials followed, and the design was given final production approval in December 1936. The first service delivery (K7036) on 10 March 1937 was just short of 2 years development since the "Britain First" flight, and not far short of 4 years from Barnwell's initial twin design. Successful conversion: no doubt. Quick? Perhaps. A tribute to Barnwell's expertise? Certainly. But let's not pretend it was simple.
The fabled top speed of 307 mph (and more realistically, of 285 mph with maximum load) were in fact those achieved by Britain First, and in its as-delivered condition. Mischievously, Jane's 1938 edition quoted the latter as the Type 142M/Blenheim I top speed, often re-quoted since, alongside the equally unattainable 295mph for the Mark IV.
While the new design was expected to offer much better performance than RAF bombers then in service, Bristols were more realistic: in November 1935 their advice to the Air Ministry was that the Blenheim might reach 268mph (maximum speed, presumably) and
“that it would be able to carry its 1,000lbs of bombs for 810 miles and home [sic] at 234mph and for 980 miles at 200mph”
The RAF in the Bomber Offensive Against Germany Vol I Pre-War Evolution of Bomber Command 1917 to 1939 p105.
Although there was some temptation among the Air Staff at the time to treat the 268mph as if that were a realistic all-occasions speed with war-load, on service entry the more practical estimates that Bristols had put forward were not far off the mark. In war conditions, after hard use, all such speeds would be rather less.
2xAquila. Design only July 1933. None built.
2xMercury. One ordered March 1934, and built: Britain First. Allotted civil registration G-ADCZ but unused. Flown 12 April 1935. To the RAF and allotted R-12 experimental June 1935, until taken on charge and allotted K7557 July 1935.
2xAquila: test bed. One only built. Allotted G-ADEK March 1935, flown January 1936 and to the RAF as R-14 but retained at Bristol Filton.
2xMercury VIII. Proposed July 1935. Design August 1935 Air Ministry Spec 28/35. Air Ministry production order 150 aircraft September 1935. First Type 142M Blenheim prototype: K7033 June 1936. First service delivery K7036 March 1937.
The Bristol Blenheim I (Bristol Type 142M) thus entered RAF service in 1937 described (CAS to Air Ministry 1935) as a “twin-engined high-performance medium bomber”—a day bomber, in short. To the RAF, even post Munich Crisis, a biggish twin like the Blenheim was a medium, and was so described throughout the war (Air Ministry Pilot's Notes, all marks). Hinds were still in operational use for some time to come: that was a light bomber. So too, was the single-engine two-seat Hawker Henley—on the drawing board. It was a design concept that the Air Staff, under pressure to juggle striking force, production capacity, and ability to actually reach a defended target at any sensible range at long last found wanting. The Henley became a target-tug.
Blenheim Mark I cutaway (Aeroplane)
For the period between its service entry in March 1937 and the arrival of Hawker Hurricanes in 111 Squadron at Christmas that year, the Blenheim was as fast as any fighter in the RAF. Bristol figures show, for production Blenheim Mark Is, a maximum full-load speed of 279 mph at 15,000 ft and of 265 mph at 10,000 ft. For the Mark IV, Bristol data show a maximum speed of 266 mph at 11,800 ft.
By 1941, ageing operational aircraft could not have achieved such speeds in level flight. In action, fully laden aircraft on a long sortie might cruise at 180 mph or 200mph for an endurance of around 5 hours. At high power settings, the consumption of the Mercuries made daunting inroads into the 280 gallon fuel capacity of the Mark I. While cruising with the mixture set fully lean, you might eke out 40 gallons of 87 octane an hour but pull on +5lb of boost in rich mixture to dodge an unwelcome visitor and you might be looking at 160 gallons an hour or more (though the Mark VIII Mercuries were only rated to stand this treatment for 5 minutes!).
By the time Mark IV Blenheims entered service at home in early 1939, Mark Is had found their way to the Middle East and the Far East. By 1940 in Europe, and by 1941 overseas, the Blenheim's place as a fast medium day bomber had been eclipsed by later developments. Under-bombed, under-gunned and under-powered, Mark Is and Mark IVs alike were obsolescent if not obsolete. Even so, the Blenheim had been built in large numbers and was very active in the early part of the RAF’s war.
Operating in every conceivable role and in literally every Home and Overseas Command, the Blenheim recorded many “firsts”, apart from the early technical achievements already noted. Its service as the first radar night fighter may stand as exemplar for them all. With the Battle of Britain and the beginning of Luftwaffe night bombing attacks, 6 RAF Squadrons were equipped with Blenheim IFs converted to the night fighter role, fitted successively with Aerial Interception (AI) Mark I, III and IV radar sets. At the time, a nimble multi-seat twin was highly desirable as a night fighter, the early AI radar sets weighing around 600 lb. The first successful radar night interception was achieved by a Fighter Interception Unit Blenheim IF with AI Mark IV on 22/23 July 1940, guided to AI range by Ground Controlled Interception (the standard technique). The Blenheims continued radar night fighter operations with modest success until April 1941, even as Beaufighters were being introduced. As radar development continued, Blenheim Mark IFs with obsolete AI sets accompanied Mark IV bombers on offensive night intruder operations over occupied Europe.
The Blenheim paid the price for being conceived in that period of rapid development which saw it arrive as the premier medium day bomber of the time (with the similarly tasked Battle its contemporary), just as equally radical development in fighter design was bearing fruit. The Air Ministry and the Air Staff had contemplated and successfully encouraged rapid development of high speed monoplane bomber and interceptor designs virtually simultaneously in 1934,1935 and 1936.
The tension between urgent need to expand with modern equipment, the rationale for pressing ahead with lightly armed day bombers in quantity, all while developing eight-gun fighters capable of destroying them: these issues were certainly recognised by the Air Staff, the Cabinet and their various Committees considering the re-armament levels and aims of Schemes F and H through 1936 and 1937. The issues were complex: firepower, bomb load, weight, range, production volume and production lead times were all in play—among a host of other concerns.
In the end, the sort of medium bomber that the Blenheim represented was a compromise: it was what was available to produce in 1937, in numbers sufficient over the next few years to be ready for a war in 1939. Their defence was seen to lie in speed, powered turrets, and defensive formations. If the powered turret of the Blenheim was then at the forefront of technology, the entry to service of high speed, single-seat multi-gun monoplane fighters was soon to render the lightly defended fast medium day bomber role untenable for the time being. Speed, power, armament and endurance all advanced very greatly in those few short years before war finally came again to Europe. All were to advance again in the press of war.
Blenheim Is in the Middle East and Far East
In the late 1930s, with Egypt a British Protectorate and the Italians bombing the herdsmen of Abyssinia in a drive for Empire and Mare Nostrum, RAF Middle East had long-since matured from putting the fear of God into desert tribesmen. The Command’s remit included Iraq (the oil), Egypt (the canal), Aden (the Red Sea port), Palestine and Trans-Jordan, The Sudan and East Africa.
When Italy entered the war in June 1940, the RAF Middle East order of battle included nine Blenheim squadrons:
- five in Egypt (Nos. 30 (Mark IF), 45 (Mark Is), 55 (Mark Is), 113 (Mark IVs), and 211 (Mark Is));
- No 84 in Iraq with Mark Is; and
- three in Aden (Nos. 8, 11 and 39 (all with Mark Is)).
8 Squadron still rejoiced in the possession of one flight of Vickers Vincents at that time.
In India and the Far East at the same date Nos, 34, 60 and 62 Squadrons operated Blenheim Is. For No. 27 Squadron, it was to be November 1940 before their mixed bag of Wapitis, Harts and Tiger Moths could be exchanged for Blenheim IFs (the fighter version, created by the addition of a four Browning gun belly pack under the bomb bay).
By May 1941, RAF Middle East had at its disposal the following 11 Blenheim Squadrons:
- No 39 at Shandur
- Nos 45 (now with Mark IVFs) and 55 (Mark IVs) at Maaten Bagush
- Remnants of 11, 30 and 113 Squadrons in Crete or en route to Egypt and Palestine
- 84 Squadron and 211 Squadron already re-established in Palestine, having withdrawn from Greece
- 203 Squadron (Mark IVs) with detachments all over the Command
- At Port Sudan, 14 Squadron having disposed first of its Wellesleys then its Gladiators between September 1940 and March 1941, had re-equipped with Blenheim IVs
- In Aden, 8 Squadron was still operating a mixed bag that included Blenheim Is and IVs and still soldiering on, a flight of Vincents.
In December 1941, Japan opened hostilities across the Far East and Pacific. Re-equipped in strength with Mark IVs, 84 Squadron and 211 Squadron (now released from 72 OTU duties) were in transit to the Far East from mid to late January 1942. 113 Squadron had already departed the Middle East in early January with their sixteen Mark IVs, to operate from Burma. There they were joined in February by 45 Squadron to fight against the advancing Japanese until forced to withdraw to India.
By March 1942, disaster had befallen the Blenheim Squadrons in the struggle for Singapore, Sumatra and Java (Nos 27, 34, 60 (Mark Is and Buffalos), 62 (Mark Is and Hudsons), 84 and 211 (Mark IVs); and for Burma (45 and 113 Squadron, Mark IVs). Transferring to Colombo that month, 11 Squadron (now with Mark IVs) also had anxious moments but survived.
The best in-print sources recognise that the official records of the Far East units, their movements, their place in Orders of Battle are incomplete and occasionally in conflict, as are later interpretations of the state of play. It was a difficult period of World War II.
By April 42, RAF Middle East was still operating Blenheim IV units at various posts in Egypt and the Western Desert, for example 203 Squadron, 55 Squadron, 14 Squadron.
Medium day bomber. Twin-engine, mid-wing cantilever stressed-skin monoplane.
Fabric-covered control surfaces.
Pilot; Observer (ie Navigator/Bomb-aimer); Wireless Operator/Rear Gunner. The well in the wing centre-section carry-through could take one passenger or freight. In emergency, it was possible to carry at least 6 passengers.
2xBristol Mercury VIII 9-cylinder radial. Single-stage supercharging to maximum 840hp at +5lb boost (maximum 5 minutes) with 87 octane (DTD 230 spec) fuel.
One fixed, wing-mounted forward-firing .303in Browning machine gun. One turret-operated .303in Vickers ‘K’ gun. About 200 converted to Mark IF with 4x.303in Browning machine gun belly pack.
Empty variously quoted and depending on “fit”: 7,400lb (without military equipment?) 8,100lb, 8,840lb (Mark IF)
All-up variously quoted as above: 12,000lb, 12,200lb
Overload (maximum take-off): 12,500lb
1,000lbs variously disposed, as 4x250lb GP, 2x500lb GP, or mixed with the standard Small Bomb Container (SBC) for incendiaries, 20lb F or 40lb GP bombs, or with the external Light Series Carrier (LSC) commonly fitted in RAF Middle East.
1,125 miles (at 220mph with full load), an endurance of 5 hours.
2x140 gallon inner-wing tanks
Flaps & undercarriage up: 70mph. Flaps and undercarriage down: 60mph
120mph (also initial climb speed and maximum speed for flaps)
Variously quoted. 265mph at 10,000 ft.
Vne quoted as 285mph or 287mph
211 Squadron Blenheim Is
In 1939 the Blenheim I was passing out of Squadron service in Home commands for use by training units. Equally, many were sent to bolster the RAF in the Middle East and Far East in place of the older Hinds, Vincents, Wapitis and the like.
The date and place of 211 Squadron conversion from the Hawker Hind have each been variously reported, however, Jefford's date of April 1939 is that recorded in the Squadron operations record book: by mid-April 1939 S/Ldr JWB Judge had collected the first aircraft, at Ismailia (very possibly the dual-control aircraft, one of which they certainly received as part of the conversion process).
Blenheim I fitted with dual controls 1938 (Bristol Aeroplane Co)
A Bristol works shot, taken pre-war to illustrate the firm’s quite lavish booklet “Bristol” Blenheim Bomber.
In late April, the Squadron moved briefly to its war-station at El Dabaa before returning to Ismailia on 1 May to complete the conversion. By the end of the month they had taken all 18 Blenheims on charge from the Aircraft Depot, RAF Aboukir (12 as Initial Equipment and 6 as their Immediate Reserve).
A busy and somewhat frustrating period followed, as the Squadron also undertook servicing of newly-arrived Blenheims air-ferried in from the UK by Blenheim Delivery Flights, consequent local ferrying duties, servicing of its own Blenheims while addressing local equipment difficulties; and limited flying of its own machines. Still, by July 1939 their training programme was in full swing, though they were still bedevilled with technical shortages, particularly of W/T sets for the aircraft and of the tools and servicing equipment needed for maintenance.
The office of a Blenheim I (Bristol Aeroplane Co)
The best Mark I cockpit shot in existence, from Len Cooper’s fine collection: he had worked for the Bristol Aeroplane Co. Here the aircraft is not only factory fresh, it is actually at the Bristol Filton works, one of a number taken for the firm’s booklet, as above.
The Observer’s seat and his fold-down perch while at the bomb-sight are clearly shown. The aircraft may be ready for delivery, but ready for operational service it plainly isn’t. The bracket for the absent Mark IX bomb-sight can be made out on the lower right side of the instrument panel, likewise the wiring loom for the bomb selector unit yet to be fitted on the starboard fuselage side, right, beneath the forward glazing.
By early August, whatever the problems, the tense political situation saw RAF ME Squadrons adopting a state of readiness and moving forward to their war stations. On 10 August, 211 Squadron returned to Daba and desert life.
Meanwhile, Blenheim Delivery Flights from the UK to the Middle East continued, the air-ferry task offering an opportunity for a spot of adventure and Home leave for 211 Squadron aircrew. A number were detached to the UK for BDF duties, and these carried on until war broke out. The result of these late jaunts was, however, unfortunate from the Squadron’s point of view, as the two crews absent on BDF duty at 4 September were promptly shanghaied in the UK: F/O WH Edwards and P/O Pat Burnett, along with their Observers (Sgt Allan and LAC Tickner) and W/Ops (F/Sgt Horwood and AC W Wright).
Edwards was promoted and went on to be decorated for his service in 2 Group until falling PoW. Burnett did eventually return to the Squadron, arriving on 4 January 1940 and command of 'B' Flight for a period, certainly flying in late February, and resuming as Adjutant on 21 March 1940. The last 211 Squadron ORB entry for him being a sortie on 23 April 1940 to search for a suspect submarine. Pat Burnett went on to serve elsewhere in the Desert and as an Instructor at Ismailia, before returning to the UK where he completed a further 45 sorties and was twice decorated (DSO, DFC) for his service with 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron and 9 Squadron. He retired an Air Commodore, and passed away in March 2004. It was February before Wright and Tickner were able to return, having wangled a Wellesley Delivery Flight back with ex-113 Squadron Sgt pilot Marpole, who joined 211 Squadron soon after.
Blenheim Is in 211 Squadron service
These lists of aircraft flown by 211 Squadron personnel were primarily sourced from the Operations Record Book and from aircrew Log Books, copies or transcripts.
While these are good primary sources, they may nevertheless suffer omission or error (as may later accounts, despite the care taken in their compilation). Further, in the press of events, aircraft recorded as flown by 211 Squadron crews may not have been recorded elsewhere as on 211 Squadron charge, while aircraft on a Squadron’s charge may not appear in the Operations Record Book unless actually flown on an operation—and perhaps not even then.
Drawing on these sources and on Operations Record Books for other units, the lists that follow have now been recast into the Squadron’s main operational periods and reconciled once more against the invaluable work of Halley, of Gunby and Temple and of Warner, as well as other published sources.
Aircraft with Air Ministry serials in the range L1097 to L1546 were of the second batch of 450 aircraft, built by Bristols from February 1938 to March 1939, a further batch of 34 being built by July 1939 numbered L4817 to L4822 and L4907 to L4934. Later batches were built by Avro from August 1938 to March 1940 (250 aircraft, L6594 to L6843) and by Rootes Securities from November 1938 to August 1939 (250 aircraft, L8362 to L8731).
Some 90-odd Mark I Blenheim aircraft are now recorded here in 211 Squadron use from May 1939 to December 1941. Of these, 55 aircraft were in use from June 1940 to June 1941, during which time 15 were lost on operations against the enemy.
May 1939 to May 1940
L1480, L1481, L1482, L1483, L1484, L1487, L1489, L1490 LJ-R, L1491, L1492, L1493, L1496, L1526*, L1528, L1535, L1539,
L8389, L8403*, L8523
*Recorded by Sgt Wright on delivery flights from Ismailia to Aden in May and June 1939.
Bristol Blenheim I, 211 Squadron, Ismailia 1939
(RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum Image P890897)
Codes painted over, Vokes filters fitted and ready for desert work: running up at a permanent RAF station, Ismailia from the RAAFA Aviation Heritage Museum caption. The aircraft serial is only faintly visible and may be L1528 or L8523. The overall state of the aircraft may be consistent with recent arrival, perhaps after a Blenheim Delivery Flight.
On 13 March 1940 P/O CPR Collier had taken 526462 LAC CE Thomas up for aircrew experience at night but having encountered difficulties, undershot on landing. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and Collier and Thomas seriously injured. Collier survived the war, as apparently did LAC Thomas.
Night landing accident L1486 (EL Cooper)
Photographs of the accident were held by a number of Squadron men:
Cooper, Grierson, Hoyes, Sainsbury, Sharratt and Wingrove.
DBR in heavy night landing 13 March March 1940, P/O E Garrad-Cole safe.
With Sgt RW Pearson at the controls, took off from El Daba on 27 September 1939 on a practice flight. On landing at Qasaba, Sgt Pearson accidentally retracted the undercart in mistake for the flaps. The aircraft was subsequently repaired, to be struck off charge in August 1942
June 1940 to October 1940
L1496, L1528, L1535, L1538, L1539, L1540, L1541,
L6634, L6650, L6651, L6658, L6670,
L8382, L8383, L8389, L8449, L8466, L8511, L8533, L8536, L8537, L8541
Blenheim close-up: note Light Series Carriers (37-4) (CFR Clark)
A fine Mark I air to air shot somewhere over Egypt. Possibly around September 1940, if taken by my father rather than a collective print.
The serial number, in the L4xxx series, cannot quite be made out. The UQ code, most likely in grey, gives a date sometime after September 1939. The aircraft apparently wears an individual letter, almost completely obscured, possibly Y-Yoke. Apparently in European paint, Type A roundels, no under-wing serials and the full fin-flash. Turret raised ready for action, as usual. Vokes filters for the engines against desert dust and the external bomb carriers typical of the time.
L1481 UQ ‘B’
This aircraft flew over 20 sorties with the Squadron in the Desert and Greece, and very frequently by CO Gordon-Finlayson from late January to the end of February 1941. It was DBR on Crete while serving with 11 Squadron on 22 April 1941.
UQ-B First night night-flying. Mersa Matruh May (sic) 1940 (RJ Dudman)
This 1940 incident, involving a 216 Squadron Bristol Bombay, went unremarked in the then sparse 211 Squadron record and was recalled variously by those present as in May, June or July 1940. It did rate a bare mention in the RAF Narrative, dated to 12 June 1940.
The 211 Squadron identity UQ ‘B’ is faintly visible in this print copy. Geoff Grierson and Mike Sainsbury also had good close-ups, as did Len Cooper (one of which is seen in James Dunnet’s Blenheim Over the Balkans p257 with UQ-B plain but serial not visible). The aircraft is identified as L1481 (by Thomas), apparently confirmed by a photograph of Len Cooper’s, but recorded by Warner as L1487, later lost in Greece. See also L1481 below: on balance, UQ-B seems most likely the identity of L1481 in the desert and in Greece.
One of nine aircraft tasked for a 25 July morning strike on a landing ground South of Derna, crew P/O KCVD Dundas, P/O E Bevington Smith, and Sgt Jones. This aircraft and L8541 (F/Lt Doudney, Sgt Kavanagh Sgt Wright) were the subject of somewhat confused reporting between the Form 540 and Form 541 for the day.
From the former, it might seem that it was Doudney’s L8541 that suffered loss of an airscrew and a collapsed undercart on forced landing at Fuka after the raid (where an Aircraft Repair Section was based). From the latter, it appears that it was in fact L1482 of Dundas and co, confirmed in the negative sense by Sgt Wright’s Flying Log entry of the day for L8541, simply recording the Derna raid without further remark (depending on the event, Titch Wright did include terse notes of, for example, other forced landings).
In any event, it seems that L1482 was repaired in good order and returned to the Squadron by 4 August to be active thereafter until Boxing Day 1940 in Greece.
L1487 UQ ’B’
Lost after an early morning Squadron raid on Ain el Gazala 15 July 1940, forced-landing due to petrol shortage near El Adem. P/O Eric Garrad-Cole 39871 and his crew LAC Walter Braithwaite Smith 566173 (Observer) and AC2 Eric Pearce Doolin 640566 (WOp/AG) were taken captive by the Italians. Garrad-Cole gave a very brief account of the action in Single to Rome, his book telling of his captivity and successful escape:
UQ-S in Italian hands, July 1940 (LR Moretti collection)
Some years ago I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Luigi Ricci Moretti, grandson of Cpt Umberto Ricci RA, CO SRAM El Adem from June to December 1940. Cpt Ricci is the central figure in this, one of two remarkable photographs of their rather forlorn Blenheim. He dated the images to July 1940.
Although the serial cannot be made out in either image (the other of which has since been published at least twice, commercially), the date and the appearance of the aircraft in situ matches Garrad-Cole’s own brief description, above.
Although Sgt Wright recorded in his Flying Log Book that Doolin was later killed in an escape attempt, he was in fact mistaken. An April 1939 RAF volunteer, Doolin was liberated in Italy in 1943 although no details were recorded. By 17 December 1943, he was back safe in the UK and returned to service: he was commissioned from Warrant Officer in 1944 and made Flying Officer by year’s end. He remained in the RAF until at least 1948.
His opposite number, LAC Smith, had enlisted in 1934 and was a Wireless & Electrical Mechanic by ground trade, when not flying as Observer. Walter Smith was liberated in Italy in November 1943 to reach Egypt on 22 November (likewise without details of the circumstances being recorded). By 11 December he was safe in the UK and returned to service.
While PoW, both men had been advanced to Sergeant, in accord with their aircrew status, and on return to service soon made temp Warrant Officer. Smith, too, was commissioned in July 1944 but sadly did not survive the war. He died with two others in the crash of Wellington LP665 of No.105 (Transport) OTU on 28 October 1944.
This raid was singularly unfortunate, as all eight participating 211 Squadron aircraft were forced to land short of petrol on the return leg, before reaching Daba. Landing thus at Buq Buq, S/Ldr Judge nosed over his aircraft, though without injury to self or crew.
Undershot night landing 17 September 1940, hitting the COs car and damaged beyond repair (Sgts Hutt, Pollard, Munro safe). In another quirk of Operations Record Book writing, the incident was made part of the 16 September entry while carefully noting that it applied to the next day.
Night operations accident: Blenheim I L6660 Quotaifiya 17 September 1940 (Grierson collection)
The aircraft remained in this state long enough for the forlorn angle of the wing to appear as a distant marker in some other shots across the airfield.
Lost on night raid on El Adem 22 July 1940, Sgt GB Smith (Pilot), Sgt RA Steele (Observer) and Sgt GA Sewell (WOp/AG). Only Sewell’s body was recovered, washed ashore, his El Daba funeral among Wingrove’s photographs. Today, he rests in El Alamein War Cemetery, his crewmates commemorated there on the Alamein Memorial.
L8376 UQ-D “The Porpoise”
Damaged by CR.42 attack in an early afternoon raid on Derna 4 September 1940. Forced-landed, wheels up, nearby. S/Ldr ARG Bax, Sgt RA Bain 561042, AC1 LEC Wise 640708 all survived but taken PoW—Bax with a broken leg.
Bristol Blenheim UQ-D c 4 September 1940 (Pavan/Searle family collection)
Good accounts of the exchange were recorded by the Squadron and, in cordial post-war correspondence by Bax’s opponent, Sergente Pavan.
Appears four times in September 1940 operations with various crews, including Campbell and Co. Also noted as an 84 Squadron aircraft by Halley. No further information.
Damaged by CR.42 attack 4 September 1940 as above but returned safely to Sidi Barani leaking oil. Crew Sgt Marpole, P/O Smith, LAC Alcock.
Raid from Qotaifiya I on Tobruk 25 September 1940, to bomb the harbour. After about 100 miles on the return leg, the starboard engine caught fire. Gordon-Finlayson was able to nurse the aircraft to Qasaba, where a Landing Ground (LG 11) was sited near the railway. There, some 40 miles short of Qotaifiya, GF made a forced landing with fire under control, with port engine seized, without hydraulic power, and without injury to himself, Observer Sgt Richmond and WOp/AG Sgt Jones.
There are at least two images apparently of this aircraft, taken sometime after a forced landing on a sandy desert plain, to be seen from time to time on-line. In both cases the aircraft is by then in very weathered state. One image shows the starboard engine removed while a partial serial can just be made out, apparently ending in - - - 23 and clearly carrying the identity UQ-R.
Towards last light on 4 August 1940, S/Ldr Bax and crew in L8533 and F/Lt “Potato” Jones in L8532 with Sgt Peter Dennis and Sgt McIntosh took off from Quotafiya to attack a large concentration of Italian vehicles near Bir El Gobi. Bombing from 10,000ft the pair were set upon by Italian fighters. Sgt McIntosh was wounded in the arm, however, both aircraft returned safely to base, according to the Operations Record Book Form 541 (yet also reportedly crash-landed at Sidi Barrani to be recovered later by 51 RSU).
211 Squadron Blenheim UQ-? (via I Carter)
This incident has been the subject of several illustrations over the years, in at least two published photographs and in a painting by Australian war artist Ivor Hele. This particular image has itself been published more than once over that time.
Hele’s painting and one other published photograph show the same aircraft from the other side, still in situ but partly disassembled, with for example turret and engines apparently removed—presumably by the attentions of 51 RSU (on salvage work in the Western Desert from June 1940). The place is variously described as within “Axis lines”, or as Tobruk, or as a 113 Squadron aircraft at Bardia, The aircraft has also been said to be a Mark IV: simply not possible in the Desert for 211 Squadron.
Although plainly coded UQ and thus with virtual certainty of 211 Squadron, sadly no amount of peering can confidently resolve either the aircraft letter (which may be B or G but probably not S) nor the aircraft serial (which might almost be seen as in the L1nnn range), however, there don’t seem to be any feasible 211 Squadron candidates in the L1nnn series from the fairly sparse records available. For example, L1491 might have been an appealing solution were it not for Garrad-Cole’s own description and Cpt Ricci’s images. Likewise, L1482 might have seemed possible were it not for that aircraft’s return to service to end in Greece, while the wreck above remained in situ to be gradually cannibalised.
Almost neatly inserted in the front of the villa, in such a way that suggests a relatively low speed impact, one thing is certain: the tailwheel is plainly broken. Given the uncertainties of detail in identity and place, impossible to resolve with unqualified confidence but just possibly L8532, which does not appear in the Squadron record after the incident of 4 August.
November 1940 to March 1941
L1434, L1481, L1496, L1528, L1537, L1538, L1539, L1541, L1542,
L6634, L6647, L6654, L6657, L6658, L6866,
L8449, L8477, L8478, L8513, L8525, L8526, L8534, L8541, L8631, L8664
In this aircraft, GF led the 22 February 1941 raid over the Busi-Gualla road which included L8478 (P/O Cox, Sgt Observer GH “Gerry” Martin and WOp/AG “Ace” Martin). This seems most likely Gerry Martin’s first operation with the Squadron (and with a very experienced crew).
“GF’s Kite” [GH Martin]
One this occasion, Sgt Martin took several fine shots while his pilot flew in close formation with the aircraft noted as “GF’s Kite” (that is, CO S/Ldr Gordon-Finlayson’s machine).
“GF’s Kite” [GH Martin]
The close formation is notable and in it lies their confidence in defence against fighter attack: concentrated fire from the gunners in their turrets.
The identity of Gordon-Finlayson’s aircraft is plainly UQ-B and although the aircraft serial is obscured in the gloom, from the sequence of shots (and likely on Martin’s first op as noted above), this seems good confirmation of L1481 as UQ-B. It is also clear from these images that the aircraft were carrying the Standard Small Bomb (SSB) loading of 2x250lb and 2xSBC canisters of 20lb bombs. For these loads it was usual practice to remove the bomb-bay doors as seen here.
See also L1481’s fate with 11 Squadron below.
On Boxing Day 1940 eight aircraft took off in the morning from Menidi for reconnaissance of the Valona-Himare road and to bomb Krionero. The formation was attacked by Italian fighters and six of the Blenheims were damaged. All returned safely to Menidi, however, in L1482 P/O Herbert, Sgt Dunnet and Sgt Hughes landed with undercarriage retracted owing to hydraulic system damage. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair. See also L1482’s earlier adventure on 25 July 1940.
L1487 “The Maestro”
Nine aircraft took off from Menidi on the morning of 6 January 1941 to bomb the Valona foreshore from 4,000ft. The bombing was good, but the formation was met with intense accurate AA. Intercepted by six RA Fiat G50bis fighters they sought refuge in the cloud cover. Two aircraft failed to return: L1487 of Campbell and crew, and L8536 of Delaney and crew.
In L1487 “The Maestro”, F/O RD (Bobby) Campbell 41373, Sgt John Beharrel 751077 and Sgt Ray “Apple” Appleyard 613211 were at No 3 in C Flight. Last seen in cloud near Valona, their aircraft had been hit in the starboard engine by fighter gunfire. With that engine dead and the port engine also losing power, Campbell was forced to ditch “Maestro” in the sea, South of the port area.
The three were able to get onto the wing of the floating aircraft but the dinghy failed to inflate. Campbell’s leg was broken, his crew both injured. Beharrel was rescued by an Italian destroyer, while Campbell and Appleyard were able to swim ashore. All three were ultimately made captive and held in various PoW camps in Italy, including Campo PG78 at Sulmona, where S/Ldr ARG Bax was also held for a time. In the Sergeants Compound at Campo 78, Ray Appleyard was one of a group to attempt a tunnel escape, only to be detected after a month’s digging.
Two Home Runs
After several earlier attempts, on 9 September 1943 Campbell was the first of The Maestro’s crew to escape. At Modena, German troops were already taking control of Campo PG47. Early that morning, parties of officers succeeding in getting away from camp. Travelling with several other officers, Campbell was able to reach Allied lines some six weeks later as his own report recounts. Soon returned to service, he transferred to the RNZAF and was repatriated to New Zealand about February 1944.
In the meantime, Sgt Appleyard (who had been transferred to Campo PG102 Aquila) was also successful in escaping. On 10 September 1943, two days after the Italian Armistice, a party of prisoners was marched from the camp by their Italian guards. That night, after bivouac, Appleyard and seven others simply crept away in the dark. With assistance from Italian civilians, they reached Maddaloni near Naples and on 5 October made contact with a US Army advance patrol. He was soon repatriated to the UK, reaching RAF Hendon on 26 October 1943.
A draughtsman from Bradford in civil life, Raymond Appleyard had joined the RAF on 10 June 1938, shortly before his 20th birthday. He had flown at least 19 operations with the Squadron in the Western Desert and Greece before the loss of L1487 on the Valona raid. He was commissioned in September 1943 and promoted to Flying Officer in February 1945.
Following the Armistice in Italy, Johnny Beharrel had the misfortune to be transferred to Germany and Stalag Luft III as PoW No 260669. Sgt Observer JH Beharrel 751077 had joined the RAF sometime in the Summer of 1939, hoping to be a pilot. Another old hand from the Desert days, he had flown at least 25 operations before 6 January 1941. He was to see out the war in captivity.
Thus all three men survived to return to home and family.
Destroyed on the ground at Paramythia by RA attack, 22 March 1941. See also L8531.
At 13:00hrs on 7 December 1940, nine aircraft of the Squadron took off from Menidi near Athens for the second raid of the day on Valona in Albania. Since the morning, the Winter weather had deteriorated: rough, with low cloud over the hills and severe icing. On the outward journey, two aircraft struck the hills near Lamia less than 100 miles North of Menidi. In L1535 P/O Jerdein (“The Airedale”) and his crew, Sgt Barber and Sgt Munro of ‘B’ Flight, were all killed. See also L4926 and crew.
The two aircraft able to reach Valona were intercepted by enemy fighters but returned safely. Five aircraft turned back without reaching the target.
Nine aircraft attacked targets South of Valona on New Year’s Eve 1940. Intercepted by several fighters, on the return leg the port engine of L1540 was seen to be on fire. The aircraft was last seen leaving the formation but under control some 20 miles South of Valona. Sgt Bennett, Sgt Tunstall and Sgt France were posted missing believed killed and are commemorated on the Alamein memorial. It was many years before the crash site and probable resting place of the crew was found, near the Albanian village of Mavrove.
‘B’ Flight leader F/O Pickersgill with his crew Sgt Taylor and Sgt Hallett, outward bound on the 7 December 1940 Valona raid, flew into the hills near Lamia. None survived. See L1535 and crew.
Although recorded by Warner as a 211 Squadron aircraft, suffering a collapsed undercarriage at Paramythia on 18 February 1941 with F/O K Linton RAF, neither the aircraft nor Linton appear in any Operations Record Book entry for 211 Squadron. However, the aircraft L6662 is recorded by Halley as of 84 Squadron.
Further, the 84 Squadron Operations Record Book shows that F/O Linton was a member of that Squadron at this time, he and his crew appearing often in various entries at Menidi from December onwards. So, for example, Linton and his crew did take part in an 84 Squadron Flight sent to Paramythia on 18 February. One of the Blenheims did suffer some sort of incident there but neither the aircraft identity nor the crew were identified exactly. Linton was among the 84 Squadron crews to return to Menidi on 21 February.
Plainly an 84 Squadron man in February 1941, it seems that by February 1942 he was a member of 211 Squadron. F/O K Linton RAF and his crew died on operations in Sumatra with 211 Squadron on 7 February 1942.
After the loss of L8511 on Corfu in November 1940, Squadron Leader JR Gordon-Finlayson (GF or “The Bish”) and his crew P/O Davis and P/O Geary returned in triumph to the Squadron. Within five days, GF had settled on L6670 as his regular mount.
The aircraft been on operations with the Squadron in the Desert from early October for five sorties in all (none of them in GF’s hands). Taking it up for an air test on 29 November with F/Sgt Bagshaw (IC ‘A’ Fight groundcrew), GF seems to have liked his “new war horse”. Seven times in the first three weeks of December, he and the boys flew L6670 from Menidi to raid the Italians, deep in Albania.
Other crews flew two sorties in this machine, the last of these on 15 December in bitter weather by P/O Herbert & co. On return to Menidi from a recco over ports in Albania, the port engine seized. With hydraulics thus u/s, Herby had no option but to put the aircraft down wheels-up. Although without further injury to his crew, in his turret WOp/AG Sgt Duffy had suffered frostbite and was hospitalised. The aircraft, which had returned safely from 14 operations in 10 weeks, did not appear again in the Squadron record of operations.
Shown here with the Squadron's war-time UQ code but without an individual letter, L6670 apparently operated as UQ-R for some period. In the RAF phonetics alphabet (up until 1942, at least) R was voiced as "R for Robert"—a name The Bish was wont to use of himself. At some period in 1939, L1490, too had operated as R-Robert: but wearing the codes LJ-R and not in The Bish’s hands.
L6670 coming in to land (RAF official)
One of the best known pictures of a 211 Squadron aircraft, shown here in desert paint (Middle Stone, Dark Earth and blue undersurfaces apparently lighter in tone than the Azure Blue of the Mark IV seen on the late Len Cooper’s page. This photograph has been been published on a number of occasions captioned as “at a forward landing ground” or “at Paramythia”, but see the next photograph.
L6670 coming in to land: Menidi (Tatoi) late 1940 (RAF official)
Compared with the highly cropped state so often used, here the original full-frame photograph shows L6670 caught mid-flare and within feet of the ground, quite plainly at Menidi (Tatoi).
In an earlier shot in the collections of both Len Cooper and Jim Fryatt, what seemed to be a tent clearly lay across the field, pretty much where the blurred mass below the aircraft lies in this image. However, once seen at high resolution, the motion-blurred object in this shot turns out to be an RHAF Ju52!
Not only that, it turned out from those other shots that the view here is to the East, towards the Pentelikon, not West towards Parnes. For other pictures of Menidi (Tatoi) topography see Clark, Cooper, Fryatt, Tatoi today. It seems that the enlarged, cropped version is the source of the confusion in reference works and illustrations about the correct Squadron code at this period: UQ has often been misinterpreted.
Photo source: Royal Air Force in the World War, Volume 3 1940-1945, N Macmillan (Harrap 1949). This is an official photograph, of which there are a great many versions in print and on-line.
On 2 December 1940, all three Flights of the Squadron made a successful early afternoon raid on Valona. At about 1600hrs on the return leg, P/O Pickersgill forced landed at Araxos. He and his crew, Sgt Taylor and Sgt Duffy were unhurt. As an indicator of the quirks of operational records, the Form 540 summary referred to this as occuring on the outward journey. Then again, Warner recorded the aircraft as L4866 (which had been damaged at Upwood in the UK on 12 October).
L8466, which had previously seen service with 8 Squadron, was made operationally serviceable and later retrieved from Araxos. While it did not appear again in the Squadron Operations record (itself incomplete from March 1941 onwards), Sgt W Wright recorded the aircraft’s return to Paramythia on 25 March from the brief withdrawal to Menidi. There Sgt JG Sharratt recorded three raids with P/O JGM Hooper as pilot in April 1941, the last an early morning sortie to Ochrida on 13 April, quickly returning with one engine unserviceable.
Forced-landing of L8511, Corfu 24 November 1940 (Gordon-Finlayson collection)
Incorrectly recorded as L8411 in Operations Record Book for 24 November 1940. Damaged by flak while over Valona that day, ending in a single-engine wheels-up forced landing on a beach at Corfu. S/Ldr JR Gordon Finlayson DFC, P/O Davies, P/O Geary DFC safe and returned to Squadron. The sketch appears in GF’s Epitaph for a Squadron.
Returning from a 14 December three Flight raid on Valona, bogged and tipped up on nose on landing at Araxos owing to fuel shortage. F/Lt Buchanan, Sgt Stack and Sgt Pattison safe. Misrecorded on the Squadron Form 541 entry for the day as L8541.
Apparently on Squadron charge from 10 December 1940, then eight raids in February alone, total sorties unknown, the later Form 541 record having been destroyed as ordered during withdrawal.
L8531 at Paramythia cMarch 1941 (GH Martin)
By this date, rather weathered. Another great shot by Sgt Observer GH (Jerry) Martin. The aircraft was destroyed on the ground in the Regia Aeronutica attack on Paramythia 22 March 1941, as photographed by CFR Clark, RJ Dudman, and HF Squire.
8531 all thats left (CFR Clark collection)
For Sgts Marshall, Clark and Baird, L8531 had been “their” aircraft for much of February 1941, to the extent that my father sent and kept two telling fragments:
L8531 before and after (CFR Clark collection)
Before: On the left, a small 2in x 2in piece of metallic foil in excellent condition, taken from the starboard wing as a keepsake, inscribed with an undated tender message to my mother and apparently successfully sent to her in the UK by letter! The surface of the foil is impressed with the weave of pinking-shear cut fabric: aileron, perhaps.
After: On the right, a burnt fragment of parachute silk retrieved from the remains, tersely inscribed and kept in his Log Book down all the years since. Keeping packed chutes ready in the aircraft was not unusual in this sort of forward operating. No hangars or permanent stores at Paramythia!
Reported in Warner as another loss to the RA attack of 22 March, however, Sgt Clark’s Flying Log shows L8533 flown on four occasions on 14 and 15 April, flyable for non-operational tasks although operationally u/s with it’s turret removed. On 14 April 1941 Sgts Marshall, Clark and Baird thus flew L8533 as escort for the JKRV S.79 aircraft carrying HRH Peter King of the Yugoslavs from Paramythia to Athens. After returning from Menidi via Agrinion to Paramythia on 15 April, their aircraft developed engine trouble (Port magneto failure) on take-off for a further flight that day, successfully landed by Sgt Marshall on one engine. Abandoned at Paramythia 16 April.
F/O LS “Duke” Delaney with Sgt Vic Pollard and Sgt TA McCord took part in the 6 January 1941 raid on Valona, on which Campbell and co in L1487 were forced to ditch into captivity. In L8536, Delaney was able to nurse his badly damaged aircraft, on starboard engine only, as far as the ancient Silver Castle: Argyrokastron (the modern Gjirokastër) in Albania, about 15 miles from the Greek border and some 50 miles short of Ioannina. There, on forced landing, Delaney’s aircraft unfortunately ran into boulders and overturned, killing the crew and destroying the aircraft.
P/O “Pip” Cox, with Sgt Bill Stack and Sgt Martin, were on the large Berat raid of 20 February 1941. Although well escorted, the formations were attacked by Fiat G50s and L8542 was badly damaged, for which the Hurricanes soon wreaked revenge. Cox was able to nurse their aircraft back to Paramythia and land safely. Having survived prior service with 30 Squadron and with 55 Squadron, it was abandoned either there or at Menidi on withdrawal in May 1941.
The Squadron Engineer Officer’s Report, Appendix K of 19 January, noted dourly this aircraft as one of three “allotted to the Squadron but not yet received”. As Sgt Observer GH Martin’s fine image shows, the aircraft was on operations some time after 22 February 1941 (his first recorded).
‘C’ Flight (GH Martin)
A very fine image indeed from the Observer’s seat back over the engine nacelle. The near aircraft is certainly L8664 UQ-S, the further clearly UQ-Q but serial not resolvable. This seems to show ‘C’ Flight flying in echelon starboard, rather than the usual attack formation vic. So the day’s task is done, by the looks: bomb-bay doors off again but here with only SBCs visible and apparently empty. Bill Baird had a print, which he later shared with Graham Pitchfork (writing about RW Pearson DFC) and with Andy Thomas (in writing his Bristol Blenheim booklet). The aircraft and its crew were among the six lost on Easter Sunday 1941.
L8466, L8533, L8541, L8677
Recorded by P/O JCR Hooper Paramythia—Menidi 9 April, Sgt James pilot; on 24 April in Egypt Ismailia—Heliopolis with brother JGM Hooper pilot, and by Sgt Wright post-evacuation, Heliopolis—Abukir 26 April F/O Cox pilot.
Recorded by P/O JCR Hooper Menidi—Paramythia 7 April, F/Lt Browning passenger; on four evacuation flights 21 and 22 April to and from Crete with Sgt Kearns WOp/AG and seven passengers; on to Ismailia 23 April, to Aboukir 25 April with Kearns and W/O Fogg.
Recorded by Sgt Wright on evacuation Menidi—Heraklion 22 April F/O Cox
Recorded by Sgt Stack on raid 18 Apr, Sgt Baker pilot, possibly in error for L1387.
Noted in RAF Aircraft L1000-N9999 as “Missing between Heraklion and Menidi 22 April 1941” with 211 Squadron, Gunby & Temple record that the aircraft was with 11 Squadron, when P/O AT Darling, having flown with evacuees to Heraklion, suffered a burst tyre on landing there. The result was a violent swing that collapsed the undercarriage, with some injury to Darling. The aircraft was abandoned at Heraklion on evacuation.
Sgt Stack logged a mid-afternoon photo recce to Valona with Hooper and Geary on 13 April from Paramythia. Later that day enroute to Menidi, Hooper diverted to Elevsis, forced-landing there on one engine.
Recorded by Halley as serving with, successively, 55 Squadron, 84 Squadron, 211 Squadron, 113 Squadron, then lastly 84 Squadron where recorded as “ran out of fuel and crash landed Araxos” on 10 January 1941 and “presumed lost on evacuation” and so recorded by Gunby & Temple.
The 84 Squadron record confirms the 10 January event in less dire terms and inconsistently on location: “Forced landed at Araxos” (Form 541) vs “...landed at Larissa through lack of fuel. The aircraft was damaged the crew being unhurt” (Form 540), the remaining seven aircraft returning to Menidi from this daylight operation to Kelcyre.
Shown in this 211 Squadron account as with the Squadron at some time in the period June 1940 to April 1941 in all editions from July 2005 to July 2015, in refining the date periods at the July 2016 revision, L8501 was noted (by serial only) in the new April 1941 section. In fact the aircraft was recorded operating with 211 Squadron twice that month, by Sgt Observer Clark in his Observer’s Flying Log Book:
16 April, pilot Sgt Marshall, Agrinion to Menidi, escorting a JKRV S79 to Eleusis
20 April, pilot Sgt Marshall, solo night raid against Kozani aerodrome, with 4x250lb “in long stick in area”.
The inconsistencies and omissions found in scant source records of aircraft allocations at this difficult time are well-known.
Easter Sunday 13 April 1941
On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, 13 April 1941, six of the Squadron’s seven remaining serviceable Blenheims took off from Paramythia for an unescorted daylight attack on German forces some some 120 miles away to the NNE, advancing South via the Monastir Gap through Florina in Northern Greece.
On the return leg, the formation was intercepted by Luftwaffe Me 109s of 6/27JG shortly after 16:00hrs. All six aircraft and 16 of the 18 aircrew were lost: 14 of them were 211 Squadron men of considerable experience, the remaining two being senior officers of Western Wing HQ, observing the scale of the German attack.
The six aircraft of the Easter Sunday unescorted daylight operation:
In L1434, F/Lt LB “Buck” Buchanan DFC was thus accompanied by the Deputy OC Western Wing, S/Ldr LE Cryer DFC, as Observer. Buchanan himself had joined the Squadron in April 1940 from 113 Squadron. By April 1941 he had flown at least 40 operations. Since August 1940, Sgt G “Geordie” Pattison had flown at least 35 operations as WOp/AG in the turret for senior 211 Squadron pilots, latterly most often with “Buck”.
Shot up and reportedly in flames, Buchanan was able to forced-land his damaged Blenheim in the shallows at the SE end of Lake Mikri Prespa. Geordie Pattison was dead in the turret. Buchanan and Cryer are reported to have later died in an Albanian hospital. Despite the efforts of 5 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit post-war (and, in later years, by Messrs Bryce and Marshall, Quill, and Dunnet and Nourse) none of these men were ever identified. They are commemorated on the Alamein Memorial. The wreckage of L1434, recovered from the lake by a Greek inter-services team in 1993, is displayed in the HAF Museum at Dekelia-Tatoi.
Near the village of Karies (Karia) F/Sgt Jimmy James, F/Sgt Andy Bryce and Sgt AJ “Pongo” Waring came under Me 109 cannnon-fire. His crew dead, James was able to bale out at low level, spraining an ankle. The aircaft crashed just South of the Mikrilomni—Karies road, near Karies, about 2 miles from Lake Mikri Prespa and the village of Mikrolimni. James was able to reach Larissa with the other survivor, P/O Alan Godfrey, having buried those of their friends they could find. Waring was not among them.
Evacuated from nearby Kazaclar on 15 April aboard two 208 Squadron Lysanders, they were again attacked by the Luftwaffe. Lysander L4690 was shot down, P/O JW Stewart surviving slightly injured. His passenger, Jimmy James, did not survive and remains missing to this day. Andy Bryce lies in Phaleron War Cemetery, identified thanks to the efforts of his brother and Jock Marshall DFM. Jimmy James and Pongo Waring are commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.
Flying as Observer to Pilot P/O RV “Herbie” Herbert was the OC Western Wing, W/Cdr PB “Paddy” Coote. Having given the ops order for the raid, Coote went to “have a look” at the situation himself, as he was wont to do from time to time. In doing so, he took the place of Sgt James Dunnet. In the turret was F/Sgt WN “Jock” Young. Dunnet and Young had been Herbert’s regular crew since February. Under attack, Herbert took evasive action and turned East, climbing to avoid the hill-tops. Nearing the village of Trigonon, his aircraft hit, Herbert gave the order to bale out. The Blenheim crashed close to the village. It was the last aircraft to be shot down. Only one parachute was seen, partly open, descending into the forest where the airman was later found dead in the branches. All three men lie in Phaleron War Cemetery.
L8449 “The Saint”
Blenheim I L8449 “The Saint”, Greece c 1941 (Chignall & Checketts collections via Ian Carter)
In Greece, late 1940 or early 1941, most likely, from the working RAF blues. Sgt Gordon Chignall WOp/AG perched on the cabin, left; Sgt Jack Wainhouse WOp/AG standing on the wing, right.
Jack died in L8449 on the awful Easter Sunday raid in 1941, along with Sgt Observer JBT “Peggy” O’Neill, their aircraft shot down in flames, to crash not far from Mikrolimni on the shore of Lake Mikri Prespa. His pilot F/O Alan Godfrey, ‘B’ Flight leader, was able to bale out and, with the help of Jimmy James, buried his crew—who today rest in Phaleron War Cemetery.
Godfrey and James both made it back to Larissa, with assistance from the Greeks. At Kazaklar on 15 April Godfrey was lucky to escape with two fingers shot off and an injured leg when the 208 Squadron Lysander in which he was passenger (F/O DB Waymark’s L4719) was shot down. Jimmy James had died in that same attack, leaving Alan Godfrey the sole 211 Squadron survivor of the Easter Sunday raid. In August 1941, he was awarded the DFC (having flown by then on 35 operations) and later, the Greek DFC.
S/Ldr Alan Clement Godfrey 39820 DFC
Godfrey had joined the RAF in the Summer of 1937 and was granted a short service commission. In February 1938 he joined 14 Squadron in the Middle East. The Winged Crusaders, so long based in Palestine and Trans-Jordan, were then converting from the Fairey Gordon to the new Vickers Wellesley. Pilot Officer Godfrey remained with 14 Squadron until at least March 1939. On 6 July 1940 he was gazetted as Flying Officer.
By November 1940 Alan Godfrey had joined 211 Squadron in Greece. Up to the end of February 1941, he had already flown 20 operations, all of them with Sgt “Peggy” O’Neill as Observer and Sgt Jack Wainhouse as WOp/AG (and, on one occasion, with Tommy Wisdom “sitting in”).
Godfrey was promoted to Flight Lieutenant in July 1941 (by which time he seems to have left the Squadron), to Squadron Leader in July 1943, and in April 1944 transferred to the Reserve of Air Force Officers in the usual way. After the war, Godfrey was one of many RAF aircrew to take up a secondment to fly with BOAC (from 24 May 1945), and with its BEA subsidiary from 1946.
On the morning of 7 August 1946, BEA Douglas C-47A G-AHCS took off from Northolt on a scheduled flight to Gardermoen in Norway, then the international airport for Oslo. With a crew of five and ten passengers aboard, shortly before 2:00pm the aircraft was approaching the airport in unpleasant weather, with 10/10ths cloud down to 1,000ft. Shortly after 2:00pm that afternoon while on approach some 12 miles from the airport, G-AHCS crashed into trees on the Eastern slopes of Mistberget mountain at about 2,000ft. Flying under control in poor conditions while guided by Radio Range procedures, the Captain had apparently commenced let-down too soon. The cockpit crew of four had all joined BEA on secondment from the RAF. Three were killed outright at the scene, the fourth later dying of his injuries:
Captain LK Fennell DFC (killed)
First Officer AC Godfrey DFC (killed)
Navigator GC Charman (seriously injured, died 17 August)
Radio Operator AC Parker (killed)
Seven of the ten passengers were slightly injured, as was the BEA Steward, TA Teare.
By the custom of the CWGC for then serving RAF personnel, Squadron Leader Alan Clement Godfrey DFC is commemorated at Golders Green Crematorium Cemetery. Likewise, Warrant Officer George Charles Charman, who lies in Kensall Green All Souls Cemetery and Warrant Officer Alfred Gordon Parker (who lies in Kensall Green St Mary’s Cemetery). Their dead Captain, ex Flight Lieutenant Lewis Kenneth Fennell DFC, had left the RAF on 6 June 1946 and was privately buried.
Gordon (Chig) Chignall passed away in 2004, George (Check) Checketts in 2005.
Formation led by the Squadron CO, S/Ldr AT Irvine in L8478. Irvine had been with the Squadron in the Hind days from August 1937 to June 1938, later serving with 14 Squadron in the Sudan and with 113 Squadron. He took command at Paramythia in late March after the unfortunate death of S/Ldr Nedwill AFC. His Observer and Gunner were the experienced P/O Gerry Davies and P/O Arthur Geary (who had been Squadron CO Gordon-Finlayson’s crew on many adventures, including the swashbuckling return from Corfu after GF put L8511 down on the beach there in November 1940).
At about the same time that Herbert and co’s L4819 crashed near Trigonon, Irvine was seen to be circling above the small hamlet of Vigla, near the village of Alona. The Blenheim was seen to climb into low cloud up the mountainside—the last of the six 211 Squadron aircraft that grim afternoon. The wreckage of the aircraft was found the next day just below the summit, with the crew dead. Buried there by the villagers and recovered post-war, the three are among the 211s who lie at rest in Phaleron War Cemetery.
About the same time as Godfrey and co in L8449 were under attack, in L8664 F/O CEV Thompson DFC, P/O Hogarth, F/Sgt W Arscott were also severely hit and also in flames. Their aircraft crashed on the Northern side of the Mikrilomni—Karies road, near Karies, about 2 miles from the lake, not far from the crash-site of Jimmy James’ L1539. The three men did not survive. Godfrey and James were able to bury their friends, however, they are among the missing 211s commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.
Karies: also referred to as Karia, Karya, and Karie.
May and June 1941
L8443, L8667, L8390
On 5 June, as the Squadron returned from Palestine to Egypt to re-equip on moving to The Sudan, flown by new C/O S/Ldr Blomfield (Sgt Clark navigating) from Aquir to Heliopolis. See also L8443 below.
Recorded by Sgt Stack on 19 May at Aquir, crashed while taxying, F/O Clutterbuck pilot. Serial garbled: L8410 lies in a black-out block.
A dual control Mark I, collected by P/O JCR Hooper and P/O GG Furmage from Abu Sueir and flown to Aquir on 17 May 1941 for training use by ‘B’ Flight.
Blenheim Is at Wadi Gazouza
While at Wadi Gazouza in The Sudan, from June 1941 until mid-November 1941 the Squadron undertook Blenheim Operations training for mainly Australian crews.
Ultimately, the Squadron formed the nucleus of No 72 Operational Training Unit, being absorbed briefly into 72 OTU from 18 November until 19 December 1941. On that date, a number of former 211 Squadron aircrew and almost 300 groundcrew (most of them former 211s) were posted out of 72 OTU, to re-establish 211 Squadron at Helwan on 20 December to work up for movement to the Far East in January 1942.
Les Payne was one of the RAAF pilots on the early 211 Squadron (soon to be 72 OTU) Blenheim Operations Course at Wadi Gazouza from July 1941. 404114 Sgt PL Payne was referred to as “Perce” in the service, by eg Bill Burnside and others. Les, now aged 103, lives in retirement in Queensland.
From his time at Middle East Pool, 211 Squadron and 11 Squadron, he has dug out some magnificent prints of airmen, aircraft, and scenery from his collection, which he has kindly shared with Adrian Fryatt and with me.
Mark I Blenheims in formation practice, Gazouza (PL Payne) Caption: Payne
The same shot is among the personal papers of Bill Burnside in the Australian War Memorial archives. Two Blenheims in close formation at Wadi Gazouza in mid to late 1941. From the position, it is shot from the Observer’s seat in the aircraft of the flight leader of a vic formation, looking starboard to his no. 3, who is well tucked in here.
This tight formation again points to the roots of their optimism about the power of combined defensive fire from the turrets: the closer the better. For flying like this, the pilots needed not only a bit of daring but the skill and confidence in each other that came from practice. Done well, it could even be made to work in cloud. Pretty hairy stuff.
The RAAF boys suffered a spate of accidents, and also occasionally got lost. These are terrific photographs.
June 1941—Dec 1941, Wadi Gazouza
At Wadi Gazouza the Squadron (and hence 72 OTU) had a mixed bag of Mark Is and Mark IVs on charge. Known Mark Is to date, from Log Books and Air Britain sources, are as follows:
L1097, L1386, L1482, L1492, L1520, L1533, L1542,
L8390, L8443, L8517, L8539
This aircraft, after much prior service, was allotted to 211 Squadron in the Sudan when setting up as an Operational Training Unit at Wadi Gazouza before the establishment of 72 OTU. She was already on strength in July 1941 as recorded in the Log Books of RAAF men Charlie Pailethorpe (Navigator) and Bob Barclay (in the turret):
“23/7/41 Blenheim K7096: Pilot Taffy Watson [Watkins], WOp RMB [Barclay]. To Wadi Gazouza 0.50 [50 min]”
Of this flight, Bob recalled that “...we had spent a night freezing in Asmara (6,000 feet) and then down to boiling Port Sudan to pick the old girl up and home to Wadi Gazouza”.
James Halley’s K File: The Royal Air Force of the 1930s (Air Britain 1995), a valuable and mostly reliable reference, records K7096 as arriving in the Middle East at "Air Depot Aboukir 1 Dec 1937, erected and deld to 30 Sqn, presumed lost in Greece Apr 1941". Warner’s Bristol Blenheim account suggests the aircraft was destroyed on the ground by enemy aircraft in Greece (no date or place recorded). While both reports of the fate of K7096 are in error, given the partial state of the records of the time that is unremarkable. The subsequent fate of K7096 is not recorded in any record presently available to me.
K7096 with 30 Squadron in the Middle East (LS Wyse)
Jim Wyse’s late father Leslie Scott Wyse 515885 served with 70 Squadron as a Sgt Observer in the Middle East until late 1939. This is one of a number of shots of 30 Squadron and other aircraft included in his album of photographs, taken while with 70 Squadron in the Middle East and Far East before the war.
This nice shot was apparently taken at a large permanent RAF station in the ME, possibly Ismailia or possibly Habbaniyah from Sgt Wyse’ service dates and 70 Squadron moves. The turret is not only retracted but apparently with the VGO unmounted. This, with the presence of personnel in civilian clothes, suggests a peace-time date perhaps between 1938 and 1939.
The aircraft is shown in the factory-issue European camouflage of that period. The undersides are night black, the upper surfaces dark earth dark/green. There are no under-wing roundels, while the serials are in the original large white style. Possibly taken on orthochrome film, suggested by the tones of the fuselage roundel, apparently Type A.1 with the yellow comparatively dark, the (dark) blue outer rather light, and the red centre comparatively dark. Although ortho film prints can be hard to interpret, in this case it is plain that the yellow Type A.1 outer is present rather than overpainted with camouflage. The outer ring is uniform in tone and discontinuous with the borders of the dark earth/dark brown pattern just forward of the roundel.
No. 30 Squadron operated Blenheims mainly out of Ismailia from Jan 38 until the outbreak of war in the ME, and then in the Western Desert along with Mark IFs.
About the time that war finally broke out, Sgt Wyse returned to the UK to further service with 59 Squadron, who were to operate with Blenheim IVs in France in 1940. Awarded the DFM for his efforts in assisting his wounded pilot P/O Hitch to a safe return in their damaged aircraft along with Gunner AC Frost, Wyse survived the Battle of France to escape from Dunkirk aboard one of the “little boats”.
Sgt Wyse was made Warrant Officer in 1942. Commissioned in 1943, he rose to Squadron Leader rank and survived the war. Appointed to an extended service commission as Flying Officer in August 1946, he soon rose to Flt Lieutenant in the post-war Air Force. Granted a permanent commission in 1953, Wyse remained in the General Duties Branch until at least 1957. F/Lt LS Wyse DFM 48552 finally retired from the RAF, retaining the rank of Sqdn Leader, in December 1963.
Blown over in gale, Eleusis 25 February 1941 while serving with 30 Squadron in Greece but recovered. Later to 211 Squadron in The Sudan operating as an OTU, where crashed without loss at Wadi Gazouza after damaging the undercarriage on take-off, 28 Sep 1941.
Another ex-30 Squadron aircraft, which was also to suffer a series of indignities, first in belly-landing at Habbaniya 5 May 1938. In later service with 211 Squadron and 72 OTU, belly-landed again at Wadi Gazouza 16 November 1941 and repaired on site. Later to 1 Middle East Training School, El Ballah, where the undercarriage was retracted in error on landing on 7 February 1943. Reduced to instructional airframe 4026M in August and SOC 30 September 1943. Apart from occasional failures, it was easy to mistake the hydraulic controls in the Blenheim I.
Look, Mum! No Wheels! (PL Payne) Caption: Payne
Les went on to remark that this unidentified Mark I Blenheim had hydraulic failure and that after fitting new props and oil coolers (and Vokes air filters, presumably!) it was back in the air: very possibly then, K7105. By late 1941, the Mark Is were getting decidedly worn and the hydraulics, tricky enough on their own account, could also fail with the result seen here.
On return from an hour’s dual instruction on 10 November 1941 at Gordon’s Tree near Khartoum, the pilot taxied in and throttled back. Flames then appeared around the starboard engine. Damaged beyond repair.
Following engine failure in flight on 27 June 1941, F/O CWS Thomas 40189 RAF forced landed with the undercarriage retracted, some 16 miles North East of Wadi Halfa (hydraulic power depended on the port engine to drive the ancillary pump). Later struck off charge, 20 May 1942.
As noted above, the formal establishment of 72 OTU in mid-November was followed in late December 1941 by the mass extraction of experienced aircrew and groundcrew, on posting back to 211 Squadron, in preparing to resume operational status at Helwan for the urgent move in strength to the Far East in January 1942.
Having seen prior service with 211 Squadron and with 55 Squadron, L1492 survived a mid-air collision with Mark IV Z7695 near Wadi Gazouza 17 January 1942 but was lost on 16 October 1942 at Nanyuki when it dived into the ground, cause unknown.
A dual control Mark I on charge since May 1941 in Palestine, at Wadi Gazouza on 28 January 1942 the aircraft suffered a burst tyre on take-off, collapsing the undercarriage.
Later 72 OTU Blenheim aircraft and aircrew training losses, after March 1942 at Nanyuki in Kenya, are beyond the scope of this account.
72 Operational Training Unit Operations Record Book TNA AIR 29/686
84 Squadron RAF Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/695, AIR 27/696
211 Squadron RAF Operations Record Book TNA AIR 27/1302, AIR 27/1303.
211 Squadron personal accounts and Flying Log Books (Baird, Bax, Barclay, Burnside, Checketts, Cuttiford, Clark, Close, Furmage, Gordon-Finlayson, Grierson, Hooper JCR, Hooper JCM, How, Marshall, Sharratt, Stack, Wright)
Appleyard TNA Account of Escape by [...] 613211 Sgt Appleyard (WO 208/3316/1509)
Carter personal correspondence with author
Clark original ms notes of 211 Squadron aircrew, Greece
Garrad-Cole, Smith, Doolin & L1491 TNA AIR 81/1132 via @rcre; M Barrass Air of Authority Aircrew Losses 1944
Gordon-Finlayson photographic copies of original sketches for Epitaph for a Squadron
Martin images docs & family corresp
Moretti images and personal correspondence with author
Temple data files and personal correspondence with author
The Air Force List March 1939 (Air Ministry HMSO)
Flight 23 January 1947 (page 96)
London Gazette entries, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946
National Archives of Norway correspondence with author
National Archives of Norway Crash Report BEA Aircraft G-AHCS 7 August 1946 (Reference S-3443 Luftfartsverket D513)
National Archives UK Accident to Dakota aircraft G-AHCS; near Oslo, Norway, 7 Aug 1946: investigation and report by Norwegian authorities (BT 217/748)
Orange & Deramore Winged Promises: A History of No 14 Squadron RAF 1915—1945 (RAF Benevolent Fund 1996)
Blenheim Society Journal Issue 59, November 2007.
Bristol Blenheim Bomber (Bristol Aeroplane Co c1937)
Bristol Blenheim Aeroplane AP 1530A Vol I (Air Ministry 1937) TNA AIR 10/2108 via @rcre
Bowyer Bristol Blenheim (Ian Allan 1984)
Dunnet Blenheim Over the Balkans (Pentland 2001)
Garrad-Cole Single to Rome (Wingate 1955)
Gunby & Temple RAF Bomber Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean Vol I 1939—1942 (Midland 2006)
Halley The K File: The RAF of the 1930s (Air Britain 1995)
Halley RAF Aircraft L1000-N9999 (Air Britain 1993)
Marr A History of 208 Squadron (Marr 1966)
Mercury VIII, VIIIA and IX Aero-engines AP1491B Vol I 2nd Edn (Air Ministry June 1939)
Neate Scorpions Sting The Story of No 84 Squadron RAF (Air Britain 1994Thomas Bristol Blenheim I (Warpaint No 26)
Pilot’s Notes Blenheim I Aeroplane AP 1530A PN (Air Ministry 1939)
Pilot’s Notes Blenheim IV Aeroplane AP 1530B (Air Ministry 1939)
Pilot’s Notes Blenheim V Aeroplane AP 1530C (Air Ministry 1942)
RAF AHB Narrative Middle East Campaigns Vol I: Operations in Libya and the Western Desert Sep 1939 to June 1941 [MLRS]
The RAF in the Bomber Offensive Against Germany Vol I Pre-War Evolution of Bomber Command 1917 to 1939 (AHB RAF/MLRS)
Thomas The Greyhounds: No 211 Squadron RAF in Aviation News 12 Oct 1990
Thomas Bristol Blenheim (Warpaint 26) (Warpaint Books)
Warner The Bristol Blenheim: A Complete History (Crecy 2005)
Warner Forgotten Bomber (PSL 1991)
Wright The Elephant on My Wing (Woodfield 2011)
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Site created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 31 Jul 2023. Page created 15 Apr 2001, last updated 31 Jul 2022
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