16 November 1940

16 November 1940

Northern Front

Taking advantage of bad weather (with a cloudy ceiling of just 1 200 meters above the Eritrean mountain) Flight Lieutenant John K. Buchanan, of No. 14 (RAF) Squadron, takes off at 10h10 aboard the Bristol Blenheim T1877 for lead an attack on Gura, then carry out a photographic reconnaissance of Massawa in search of naval movements. A hit was reported on a depot in Gura, while three Italian fighters took off. Flight Lieutenant John K. Buchanan can, however, use the clouds to hide and escape.[1]

Flight Lieutenant John K. Buchanan of No.14 (RAF) Squadron. He later commanded the unit. Wing Commander John K. Buchanan DSO DFC* will be killed, on February 16, 1944, when his Beaufighter is forced to land in the Aegean Sea. Collection : Imperial War Museum.

A crew of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron had an eventful mission. At 16h25 hours, Pilot Officer Colin T. Campbell and Sergeant Alan P. Burl took off aboard the Hawker Hardy K5915 for a mission in support of the Gazelle Force still operating between Gallabat and Metemma. During a bombing run, the aircraft was hit on the radiator by fire from the ground. Unable to return to their lines, the pilot was forced to make a forced landing. Nightfall prevented any search, but the next day several aircraft of No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron took off in the hope of finding the missing crew. It was only on 18 November that the aircraft was spotted by Flying Officer Alec T.R. Hutchinson and Sergeant H.L. Maltas (Hawker Hardy K4310). Several rations were dropped on the two men, but they had to wait until the next day for a rescue team to arrive. Although Pilot Officer Colin T. Campbell suffered a minor facial injury, both men were relatively well and were evacuated to Khartoum. The nature of the terrain, however, prevented any recovery of the aircraft.[2]

Southern Front

The No.11 (SAAF) Squadron is having a similar adventure. Lieutenant Cornelius A. van Vliet, Air Sergeant P.J. Lamont and E. Murphy take off aboard Fairey Battle Mk L5078 (n°916), at 09h00 from Archers Post, to reach the Lokitaung field near Lake Turkana. From there, they are responsible for carrying out a reconnaissance of the Todonyang – Washa Waha sector for the benefit of the 2/4th Kings African Rifles.[3]

According to Lieutenant Cornelius A. van Vliet :

 « I had a full bomb load of small anti-personnel bombs in containers, which meant that they were instantly live when they left the container, and therefore were not a very pleasant load with which to carry out a forced landing – especially a belly landing !

I took off from Lokitaung with Air Sergeants L. Lamont and E. Murphy as rear-gunner and observer. We flew at a fair height above what appeared to be a military encampment of sorts, but at that height I couldn’t observe any particular activity or detail, and so made a low-level pass over the area. Too late I realised that there were machine-gun nests on either side of me and I collected a shot in the glycol radiator. My pass over the encampment was fortunately in the direction of home so I continued flying low and straight ahead with white smoke pouring out. I considered I probably had about five minutes of flying before my engine packed up. With mixed feelings of trying to get as far as possible but yet not wanting a forced landing with a probably white-hot engine, and still lots of petrol around, I decided to get a little more height. I also still had to make a decision about a belly landing with a full bomb load, as I certainly would never make the necessary height to jettison the bombs.

The area was fairly level with scrub bush, and as the temperature gauge left the clock, I let the wheels down and took a chance on what lay straight ahead. Just before landing we saw hostile Merille tribesmen ahead. They were the Italian mercenary counterparts of the Turkana tribes supported by us. The Merille in particular had a reputation for performing certain anatomical operations on their victims, and certainly would not have been very partial to us in view of prior bombing raids.

As we touched ground, the left wheel hit a bump. The wheel was torn off, hit the tail of the aircraft and came bounding forward past my head. The aircraft slid along on its belly on a dry mud swamp, and we held our breath, hoping the bombs wouldn’t explode. Our luck held, and we scrambled out to see smoke coming from the engine. We quickly collected two water containers holding about 2,5 gallons but, fearing that flames might burst from the engine at any moment, we did not wait to collect food. I took my rifle.

We cracked a hole in the internal fuel tank (with the axe carried on board) before leaving, and heaped our maps and other documents in the cabin. I fired a Verey pistol into it and the machine blazed up.

We cleared off for all we were worth, covering more than half a mile before we looked back, when we saw a mushroom-shaped column of smoke 50 feet high and heard the rumble of explosions. We made for a hill, knowing that the Merille tribesmen would easily track us across the soft, dried mud of the swamp. After an hour’s walking and running we crossed the border. Later we saw a lorry approaching. A small advance party of one officer and two Askaris came forward and our anxiety about their identity was dispelled, for they were friends. They had seen us come down and had come forward to rescue us.”[4]

Airfield of Lokitaung (Kenya) with a Junkers Ju.86 of No.12 (SAAF) Squadron. Collection : SAAF Museum Swartkops via Tinus le Roux.

[1] No.14 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kiew : TNA, AIR 27/192 ; SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p. 78 ; CANWELL, Diane ; SUTHERLAND, Jon. Air War East Africa (1940 – 1941). The RAF versus the Italian Air Force. Barnsley : Pen and Sword Aviation, 2009. p. 77.

[2] No.237 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kiew : TNA, AIR 27/1450 ; SALT Beryl. A Pride of Eagles, The Definitive History of the Rhodesian Air Force : 1920 – 1980. Johannesburg : Covos Day, 2001, p. 71 ; SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p. 78 ; CANWELL, Diane ; SUTHERLAND, Jon. Air War East Africa (1940 – 1941). The RAF versus the Italian Air Force. Barnsley : Pen and Sword Aviation, 2009. p. 77.

[3] November – Narrative Norther Operations SAAF. Kew : TNA, AIR/54/8 ; No.11 (SAAF) Squadron : War Diary. Kew : TNA, AIR/54/3 ; SHORES, Christopher ; RICCI, Corrado. Dust Clouds in the Middle East – The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940 – 1942. London : Grub Street, 2010 (Reprinted). p. 78 ; CANWELL, Diane ; SUTHERLAND, Jon. Air War East Africa (1940 – 1941). The RAF versus the Italian Air Force. Barnsley : Pen and Sword Aviation, 2009. p. 77.

[4] TIDY P.D., South African Air Aces of World War II, Major Cornelius A. van Vliet ; in South African Miliaty History Journal, vol 2, n°6, décembre 1973 : http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol026dt.html 

One Response

  1. a gray says:

    Two interesting posts of forced landings and survival. Thank you.

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