4 January 1941

4 January 1941

Northern Front

After the accident of the day before, No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron lost two more aircraft. Three Hawker Hardy take off, at 14:10, to attack Italian troops in the vicinity of Metemma (Jebel Miriam Waha). They are escorted by five Gloster Gladiators (Captain Gerald J. le Mesurier; Lieutenant Thomas Condon; E.A. Jarvis; P.H. Smith and Leonard le Clues Theron) of No.1 (SAAF) Squadron.

The first aircraft (K4314) is hit by anti-aircraft fire (reported as intense in the mission reports) and began to catch fire. Fortunately, Sergeant Kenneth Murrell (despite a knee injury) managed to contain the fire (using his hands), allowing Flying Officer Ronald J.D. Christie to land the aircraft at Heston Forward Field, near the border. Damage appeared to be moderate as the crew is able to return the aircraft to base. Sergeant Kenneth Murrell will be awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for his actions on 11 February 1941 :

“On the 4th January, 1941, this airman was air gunner of an aircraft which led divebombing attacks on enemy objectives. Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered and, on pulling out of the second dive, Sergeant Murrell was hit in the knee by a piece of shrapnel which he removed with a screwdriver. He then began to deal with a fire which had broken out. He discovered that the airscrew covers had evidently been lighted by hot shrapnel and had flared up as a result of the increased draught in the rear cockpit. He threw these covers overboard and beat out with his hands the smouldering fire which had extended to the bomb-aimer’s breast rest. The pilot had signalled to him to land by parachute, but he declined the invitation and continued to deal with the fire. The pilot then landed and the fire was extinguished by water, and the aircraft flown safely back to base. Sergeant Murrell displayed courage, initiative and devotion to duty of a high order.”[1]

At the same time, the second aircraft (K4067) is hit by several shots, causing the engine to shut down and forcing the crew to make a forced landing on the road between Gedaref and Gallabat. The crew (Pilot Officer Billy Miller; Aircraftman Giles) is unhurt. The Hawker Hardy K4067 is severely damaged as it will be no longer in the squadron’s inventory.

The third aircraft (K4316) returned safely to Blackdown airfield at 17:00.[2]

From Aden, No.8 (RAF) Squadron remains active during these first days of the New Year. Bristol Blenheim Mk I L8456 (Flying Officer Fry ; Sergeant McRobbie ; Pilot Officer Lewington) took off, at 08:00, for an armed reconnaissance over Assab. The bombs are dropped (without results), various photos of the port are taken and the aircraft returned safely at 11:35.[3]

[1] The London Gazette, 11 Fevruary 1941 : https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35073/page/832/data.pdf

[2] No.237 (Rhodesia) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kew : 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. 94 ; ; CANWELL, Diane ; SUTHERLAND, Jon. Air War East Africa (1940 – 1941). The RAF versus the Italian Air Force. Barnsley : Pen and Sword Aviation, 2009. p.86.

[3] No.8 (RAF) Squadron : Operations Record Book (Form 540 and Form 541). Kew : TNA, AIR 27/114.

Leave a Reply