17 July 2009 | Draft

Airfield Creation for the Western Desert Campaign



J. W. B. Judge

Royal Air Force

See separate document for:

Contents of Commentary: numbered section headingsAuthor's Foreword
Editorial Note

Timeline of Western Desert operations (1940-1943)

Place names and landing grounds [Map]
Air Force Squadrons
Names of people in Allied Forces
Other people named

Aircraft types

1. Attenzione, attenzione – il Duce parlera dal Palazzo Venezia alle sette questa sera
(10 June 1940)

These were the words which interrupted the programme of dance music from Radio Roma on the 10th June 1940. To the majority of the officers of 211 Squadron who were in their mess at the time, the announcement merely interrupted a pleasant programme and was to be treated with annoyance.

The Squadron had come to the Western Desert on 3rd August 1939, and was then occupying El Daba Aerodrome. All the other Squadrons (three of them) which had moved to their desert stations at approximately the same time, had returned to the high lights of the Egyptian Delta area for a rest period, after which they returned to occupy the aerodromes at Fuka, Qasaba and Mersah Matruh.

It will thus be appreciated that there was some justification for annoyance when one of the few pleasures we had in the desert, was being interfered with after each dance item.

Eventually the Squadron Intelligence Officer, P.O. Helfield who was present at the time, interpreted the announcement which was to the effect that at seven o’clock Il Duce would speak from Palazzo Venezia. Helfield spoke nine languages and could be relied upon to translate, so we decided to hear what Mussolini had to say.

--- 2. RAF Officers Mess (El Daba, June 1940) ---

In the meantime the fellows foregathered at the bar of our two-roomed wooden mess. The mess like the remainder of the buildings on the camp was a sectional hut which, if necessary, could be dismantled and reassembled in one day.

According to Mr. Vasilenko, a Works Department employee, who had originally erected the buildings in 1935 to accommodate the RAF Squadrons during the Abysinnian Campaign, the huts had already been moved to five different positions. “Vas”, whose nationality I never quite fathomed, was a man of infinite patience who was prepared to pull down and re-erect the buildings anywhere. At the same time, he was sufficiently human to overlook the acquisition of additional buildings if these could be sensibly employed.

For instance, the room in which the bar was installed had been acquired unofficially, as so many things are if one desires something achieved. It had been a separate building standing previously in the area belonging to another Squadron, and was then not in use. One evening, the officers decided to increase the size of the mess and a number of the airmen were called upon to assist. It was found that by using two bomb trolleys and careful manipulation, the building could be moved, whilst still erected. Initially the bomb trolleys were steered on diverging courses and this poor navigation caused the walls to slope at an alarming angle, the door to fly open and an ominous sound of badly strained sections protesting. However, we batoned up the door and parallel courses were set towards the officers mess. Each time the trolleys passed over a hummock of grass the building threatened to bisect but eventually to the tune of the “Volga Boatmen” the building arrived at its new location. Had Vasilenko been present or any of the brass hats of the Works Directorate, undoubtedly they would have had much to say.

The officers thus acquired a dining room and bar and doubled the size of the mess. To have asked the Works Directorate for such an amenity would have been natural, to have got it would have been remarkable.

The remaining room of the officers mess was furnished with cane chairs and tables from Alexandria, a camel hair carpet from the Mousky in Cairo and curtains from Ismailia. In addition there was a brick fireplace, which helped a great deal during the winter. For this latter luxury we were indebted to the 42nd Company, Royal Engineers, whose camp was in the vicinity, and the material for the fireplace was obtained quite honestly.

It so happened that one of the R.E. sappers was due for a trade test in order that he should progress in his career. The job chosen for him was the construction of a brick fireplace with chimney. It will be agreed that one should not thwart ambition for the lack of a building, therefore, the officers mess was placed at the sappers’ disposal and after the job was completed the officers were unanimous in their recommendation to the O.C. that the sapper had completed the work satisfactorily. Before the cement in the fireplace had dried and the chimney had been erected, a certain amount of unpopularity was caused. One of the officers undoubtedly attracted by a desire to lean against the mantel, as at home, caused the fireplace to collapse. The sapper however was built of stern stuff and went to work like Robert Bruce’s spider, whilst the remainder of the mess said things to the Vandal. Undoubtedly the sapper had something to say to his friends also, but for reasons of censorship and lack of first hand information the subject will not be dwelt on.

--- 3. RAF Preparations for war (1939-1940) ---

This then was the setting in which Il Duce’s announcement was heard at 7 o’clock on the 10th June 1940. Precisely on time Il Duce spoke, and as P.O. Helfield interpreted for the remainder of the officers, we learned that Italy had declared war. The speech was most confident and as far as Mussolini was concerned success was a foregone conclusion. The Commanding Officer of the Squadron then rang up 202 Group Headquarters which was located at Ma'aten Bagush and informed the Senior Intelligence Officer (Squadron Leader Marsack) that Italy had declared war.

No official signal had been received at that time, but the information was sufficient to cause the Air Officer Commanding, Air Commodore R.J. Collishaw to prepare for immediate operations.

The Air Officer Commanding had amazing vitality. He worked harder than any other man in his Command. It was mainly due to his efficient handling of the ridiculously small force at his disposal that he completely defeated the Italian Air Force in Cyrenaica, with the result that after the capture of Bardia in December 1940, few if any enemy fighters ventured into our forward area during the remainder of the advance forward to El Agheila.

An exercise had been carried out in March 1939, to test the mobility of the Squadrons and each was familiar with its operational base in the Western Desert. 33 Squadron, 45 Squadron and 211 Squadron, together with the Wing Headquarters, were permanently based at Ismailia on the Suez Canal, and their operational bases were Mersah Matruh, Fuka and El Daba respectively with Wing Headquarters based at Ma'aten Bagush. 113 Squadron and 208 Squadron were permanently based at Heliopolis near Cairo and due to operate from Qasaba and El Daba respectively. However when operations commenced, 113 Squadron moved directly from Heliopolis to Ma'aten Bagush, arriving there on 11th June, 1940. 216 Bomber Transport Squadron was also based at Heliopolis but was not considered as part of the mobile force.

When it was known the squadrons would leave for their operational bases on 3rd August 1939, there was considerable activity at Ismailia. Each squadron was allotted its transport assembly area and the order of convoys leaving the camp were Wing Headquarters, 33 Squadron, 45 Squadron and 211 Squadron. The Station Commander having handed over the Station to Wing Commander Addison then became O.C. Wing. At the zero hour he issued forth from his Headquarters to the station waggon drawn up at the head of his small convoy.

Having embarked with such an armful of maps we may well have been undertaking an expedition to deepest or darkest Africa instead of following a main road, the O.C. Wing stood up and with the upper portion of his body protruding through the sunshine roof gave a signal as if initiating a cavalry charge accompanied by the cry “On Men”.

The driver of the three tonner immediately behind in answer to the signal engaged the required gear ratio and the gear box fell onto the road. Apart from this slight hitch the departure was successfully accomplished.

I was commanding 211 Squadron at the time and was fortunately equipped with excellent vehicles. To increase the mobility of the squadron we had trained 100% reserve drivers from among the clerks, cooks and fitters and as a result were the only unit at Ismailia capable of moving complete and in one convoy. The permanent drivers were about the biggest collection of rogues I’ve met. Always in trouble but given a job of work they were marvelous. One couldn’t have wished for a better crowd. In the desert, hours of work to them meant nothing.

I remember carrying out a camp inspection at El Daba and looking inside a vehicle which had been converted into a bedroom. I saw my worst rogue, Mercer by name, swaying on his feet in a half dazed state. Mercer liked his liquor and I thought he may have been drunk. “What’s wrong with you, Mercer”, I said. “Nothing Sir, just got back”. He had been on a trip and was almost asleep on his feet. “Take seven days leave” I said, knowing my worst rogue was also my most willing driver. He took his leave but the rest of the drivers wanted to know whether he had got soft. Mercer was one of the sawn off Englishmen, the type who took his shirt off to work – if you understand me.

--- 4. Conditions in the Western Desert ---

Many people may picture the Western Desert as an area of sand hills and barren wastes as frequently portrayed in movies. This is nonsense. A great portion of the so-called desert is earth not sand and permanently covered with a low growth of scrub. The rain extends to approximately thirty miles inland and after rain the growth flourishes, entirely altering the appearance of the countryside. The Arabs cultivate small portions of this land and with adequate rainfall and less grazing by sheep and goats, the land would yield excellent crops.

All the units in the Western Desert at that time were situated near the Mediterranean Coast and naturally the main attraction was the bathing. Although drinking water arrived from Alexandria by rail as did the rations, the men were extraordinarily fit and after being at El Daba for some months preferred to remain, rather than return to the Nile Delta area for a rest. El Daba was a small but important railway junction between Alexandria and Sidi Barrani.

There were only a few native shops and a police post thus we had to provide our own amusement. We managed to obtain some old aircraft packing cases and with these built an open air cinema which would hold approximately 400 people. We held three shows each week and neighbouring army units patronised us thus providing a source of revenue to swell the squadron’s funds. Naturally, the cinema ceased when Italy declared war owing to lack of black out facilities and this made the Italians even more unpopular.

Prior to moving to Ma'aten Bagush, 202 Group was established at Heliopolis, and it was from there that the A.O.C. visited the desert periodically, to ensure that the maximum degree of efficiency was being reached and maintained in the squadrons. Numerous staff officers accompanied him on these visits, doubtless detailed to do so by the A.O.C. It was his method of ensuring that his staff officers had first hand knowledge of the squadrons’ difficulties. The party always arrived in a Valentia aircraft and was cheerfully referred to as “The Crazy Gang”. Whilst the A.O.C. had the Squadron Commander pinned down, the various specialist staff officers would check up on their respective sections in the squadron. The result was that when the squadrons were called upon to operate they had reached an exceptionally high standard of efficiency.

Visits from Command were less frequent and often instructions were issued from that source which reflected on the writer’s knowledge and experience. For instance tentage was scarce, therefore instructions were issued which were intended to conserve the supply, but had these instructions been carried out would have had the reverse effect.

Units were told that in wet weather tent ropes should be tightened, and during a high wind tent ropes should be loosened. Any personnel who have spent half the night chasing their tent across the desert would definitely have slightly different views on the subject. In addition, personnel who have listened in dismay to the sucking noise made by a tent peg slowly being drawn from the ground due to the shrinking of the tent ropes, could hardly be expected to be in agreement with the instructions issued.

--- 5. First attack on Italians: capture of Fort Capuzzo (14th June 1940) --

The first raid on Fort Capuzzo was carried out in conjunction with the Army at 8 a.m. on the 14th June 1940.

Eight Blenheim Mk I. took part in this raid and they were each armed with 1,000 pound of bombs consisting of four 250 lb bombs. The bombing was carried out by flights. Fortunately, the cloud was low at the time and on the approach to the target we were able to make use of the cloud cover to carry out a surprise attack. The bombs were fused with 16 second delays. At this stage of the War, we were using old stock and unfortunately the delays did not work. The net result was that the bombs exploded on impact causing all aircraft to be hit. All the aircraft returned safely from the raid although one pilot was unable to get his undercarriage down due to shrapnel damage, and landed at Fuka. Fuka at that time held the only Depot in the Western Desert.

Fort Capuzzo was taken by the Army after the raid was carried out but they did not remain long in possession and retired without destroying the Fort [First Battle of Fort Capuzzo, 15-17 June].

--- 6. Moving base from El Daba to Qotaifiya ---

The original airfield at El Daba was situated very close to the railway station. On the northern boundary there was a reserve ammunition depot. On the S.E. boundary there was a bomb dump and on the eastern boundary a petrol dump. This meant that the aerodrome could hardly be called ideally placed.

Without any warning early one morning, a large party of natives was observed at work laying down an additional line which was to run from the Southern boundary of the aerodrome to the Eastern boundary. The officer in charge of the work was questioned and it was ascertained that the intention was to make a large ammunition dump on the Eastern boundary. Generally speaking a gloomy view was taken by the personnel who were then surrounded by bombs, ammunition and petrol, with the result that the A.O.C. was approached and he agreed after considerable discussion to allow the Squadron to move to another site within the same area providing we could construct the airfield and at the same time continue to operate without loss of efficiency. Airfield construction gangs were at that time unknown in the desert and there was no constructional equipment available.

It so happened however that nearby there was a Palestinian labour corps whose C.O. had been presented by the squadron with an ice box constructed from petrol cases and petrol tins. This proved a very good investment for on being approached with our difficulty of obtaining personnel to clear a landing ground, he provided the squadron with 500 men. This enabled the original landing ground called Qotaifiya to be constructed in one day, and one flight of the squadron immediately moved in. This landing ground was situated West of El Daba between the coastal road and the sea.

--- 7. Using protected landing grounds ---

When the Italians commenced bombing our aerodromes, any success achieved by them in damaging aircraft was a serious blow, as the number of aircraft was very limited. However, a number of landing grounds had been located well inland of which the enemy was unaware. These landing grounds with the exception of one, were situated approximately 30 miles to the south of Ma'aten Bagush.

There was no work attached to their construction as they consisted of dried up mud flats. The largest one of these will be known to many pilots as LG60. These landing grounds were originally marked by numbers constructed from petrol tins. This was done by Flying Officer Harry Card, P.A. to the A.O.C. who was later killed in Greece and F/O Aldis, the son of the inventor of the Aldis lamp who was at that time in 208 Squadron. At the time these landing grounds were being used a certain amount of doubt existed as to whether they would again turn into mud during the wet season. They were however situated near the limit of the coastal rain belt and did not in fact become unserviceable.

Each evening all serviceable aircraft from the main landing grounds situated in the coastal area were flown to the mud flat landing ground allotted to each squadron, and there the pilots and crews spent the night. At first light the following morning the aircraft returned. This placed a considerable strain on the operational pilots, as after spending a night with little comfort at a mud flat landing ground, they then proceeded to carry out their normal operational duties. However, it was just another of those things which had to be done, and it was certainly instrumental in preserving our minute force from bombing by enemy aircraft.

--- 8. Navigation in the Western Desert ---

Many pilots coming to the Middle East Command at this time had the impression that flying over the desert by night would be a simple task, but they were not long with the Middle East Forces before they changed their ideas on this subject. The navigational aids were very primitive. There were no beacons at first, other than those constructed from petrol tins, and beam approach had not even been heard of. The success of each raid by night therefore depended entirely upon the navigational skill of the personnel.

The first two Wellington Squadrons to arrive from the United Kingdom were eventually sent to the Western Desert. The commanding officers and flight commanders reported to Air Commodore Collishaw at Ma'aten Bagush and were informed of the landing grounds from which they were to operate, these being landing ground LG 09 and landing ground LG 60.

Being then on the Air Commodore's operational staff and responsible for these landing grounds, I suggested escorting the party to show them where the LGs were situated. This suggestion was not particularly well received, as the personnel considered that having arrived from the United Kingdom they knew all there was to know. However, I accompanied the party on the following day flying direct from Ma'aten Bagush to LG 60 and from there on a direct route to LG 09. On arrival at LG 09 the C.O. of the squadron that was to be situated on that LG said “This is all very fine for you, but how did we get here?” In actual fact the LG concerned was situated only a few miles south of the coastal road and railway line.

The squadrons quickly reconstructed their ideas of the ease of navigation in the desert. Prior to the arrival of the Wellingtons all raids carried out by heavy bombers were executed by 216 Squadron who were then using Bombay aircraft. The squadron also had a few Vickers Valentias whose cruising speed was 90 miles an hour. These aircraft were normally used for ferrying purposes and carrying petrol on occasions to isolated LGs for use on any special operation.

--- 9. Bombing at night: Ma'aten Bagush --

After the Italians had advanced to Sidi Barrani, Air Commodore Collishaw decided that he could make life unpleasant for them by using a Valentia to carry out bombing at night. The method adopted was very much a Heath Robinson effort. The Valentia was filled to maximum capacity with small anti-personnel bombs. These were stacked inside the fuselage. The aircraft then proceeded to Sidi Barrani and flew east and west parallel to the coast road in the vicinity of Maktilla and Nebeiwa camps. Airmen in the back of the aircraft who were stripped to the waist then proceeded to throw bombs through the windows of the aircraft. It was most satisfying that the Valentia operating on this task was never shot down although it did actually meet its fate as a result of enemy action.

The Valentia used to operate on this task from Ma'aten Bagush aerodrome, and one evening at dusk shortly after some Fleet Air Arm Swordfish had been dispatched on a raid, a single biplane aircraft was to be seen crossing the coast at Ma'aten Bagush on a reciprocal bearing to that taken by the Swordfish. At first glance the aircraft looked like one of the Swordfish returning but as it approached it was obviously moving much faster than a Swordfish and was a smaller aircraft. It was in fact an Italian CR 42. The attack was a complete surprise and very well carried out. The Italian pilot dived straight down and opened fire on the Valentia which immediately burst into flames. The CR 42 then commenced to carry out further attacks on other communication aircraft which were dispersed about the perimeter of the aerodrome but with negligible success.

Although the aerodrome was being defended at the time by New Zealand machine gunners not one gun post opened fire. There were no anti-aircraft guns defending this type of aerodrome, this luxury being confined to Alexandria and similar objectives. The sole defence against this attack was carried out by one airman named Baxendale using a .303 rifle, with the result that the CR 42 having accomplished its purpose was able to return to base unharmed. Naturally enquiries were made as to why the New Zealanders defending the aerodrome had not opened fire. It was disclosed that on the day of the attack each man had been inoculated and they were unable to remove the dust covers from the guns in time.

--- 10. Communications and defence: El Daba ---

This incident was not the only one to disclose the farcical defences against air attack. There were in fact very few anti-aircraft guns in the whole Command, and these were naturally disposed of in an order to priority. The result being that owing to lack of liaison between the Army and the Air Force, an Air Force commander in charge of an aerodrome never knew whether he was defended or not. One morning he might be greeted by a Battery Commander who would inform him that he had received orders to defend the aerodrome. Naturally the station commander would welcome the news. A few days later, however, he might issue forth from his tent and find that he was again undefended without having been previously warned of the departure of the guns.

A rather amusing incident actually happened at El Daba where, without warning, our allies the Egyptians set up a gun post on the north eastern side of the aerodrome. They remained therefore a few days during which time telephone communication was established between their gun operations room and the squadron operations room. It so happened that an Italian reconnaissance aircraft came over the aerodrome and presented a very suitable target.

The operations officer on duty immediately rang up the Egyptian gun operations room and said “Enemy aircraft. Fire!” The reply came back however, “No, cannot”. An argument followed after which the squadron operation officer said “Why can’t you fire” and he was informed “We can’t fire because the flashes will give away the position of the guns”. The operations officer, nearly speechless with rage, slammed down the receiver and a little later before he had simmered down, the Egyptian gun operations rang him up and said “From which direction do you expect the next attack”. Knowing they would not fire he naturally asked “Why” and was informed “Because we want to point the guns that way”. Needless to say the officer concerned gave it up as a bad job.

On another occasion, with the same officer on duty in the operations room, he was rung up from the gun control and an excited Egyptian voice cried “He is on you”. The officer naturally answered “What’s on me?” and the cry was again repeated “Enemy aircraft. He is on you”. The operations officer quickly dashed outside and looking into the sky saw a Lysanders aircraft of the Royal Egyptian Air Force. He quickly rushed back to the telephone and said “Don’t fire. Friendly aircraft”. You will appreciate that after his previous experience, his opinion of the efficiency of our defence was not high and when the reply came back over the phone to his announcement of a friendly aircraft “What, English for you”. He said “No, Egyptian for you”!

--- 11. Armoured defences: Mersa Matruh ---

As Army or Allied defence was either non-existent or unreliable we were forced to fall back on our own resources, therefore, defence against both ground and air attack was carried out by squadron personnel. This was before the Army became educated to realize how essential it is to defend an aerodrome and before the formation of the RAF Regiment. Ground gunners had not then been posted to the squadrons, nevertheless by using squadron personnel of all trades each gun post was manned on a 24 hour basis.

The Army at this time was equipped with very little amour. The weapon in which a great deal of faith was placed was the ‘I’ tank. As Army reinforcements arrived in the Western Desert they took up their positions from Mersa Matruh to Fuka and stretching southwards inland to a distance of approximately five miles. Various tracks were gradually formed in the desert and names which were familiar to British people were given to various points, such as Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus, etc.

The Support Group (the only one) which was a very fast and mobile unit, was situated at Bir Qaim with their tents well dispersed and tucked into an escarpment. The flies in this particular area were terrible. Each officer when proceeding to a meal carried a fly swat and the tables from which they fed were literally swarming. However, there was very little complaint and all officers and men were quite content with the exception that they found the war inactivity very irksome.

The Support Group, actually a part of the famous 7th Armoured Division at that time with little armor, later moved forward west of the Mersa MatruhSiwa road and took up a position in a wadi close to an escarpment at Themeida, approximately 30 miles south of the Ishaila rocks. From this position detachments were sent forward which comprised our most forward units prior to our first attack on Sidi Barrani.

At this time Mersa Matruh was a garrison and a considerable amount of time and money had been expended in making tank traps by using concrete blocks and railway lines on the outer perimeter defences. These defences were originally commenced approximately in 1935. At that time, the railway line from Alexandria had only reached Fuka about 53 miles to the east. There was insufficient water in Mersah Matruh for a large garrison to exist self contained, but the Egyptian government had developed the old Roman water channels which had been constructed beneath the sand dunes. Despite the passage of time and the necessity to completely re-dig the channels, the original Roman channels could be followed easily by the workmen employed and these channels produced an abundant supply of excellent drinking water which seeped into the channels from the sand dunes. This work was a closely guarded secret even in 1937 although it was not until 1940 that Italy invaded Egypt.

Eventually the railway was extended from Fuka to Mersah Matruh and at this railhead the bulk of the stores for the campaign were built up. When the Italians had advanced to Sidi Barrani and it was thought that we might have to hold Mersah Matruh as a garrison, extensive mine fields were laid. The main road between Mersah Matruh and Sidi Barrani was ploughed up and mines laid on both sides of the road. This eventually proved to be to our own disadvantage because when the Italians were attacked at Sidi Barrani we had destroyed part of the only existing road. The road however was later repaired.

--- 12. Attack on Sidi Barrani (December 1940) ---

The attack on Sidi Barrani was carried out in December 1940 by Indian and Imperial troops who started off from a position approximately five miles west of Themeida. As a prelude to the attack a bombardment was carried out by the Navy, and bombing by those few squadrons that the Air Force had at its disposal.

The Italian positions in the Sidi Barrani area consisted of camps such as Maktilla and Nebeiwa. These camps had a perimeter wall about three feet high made of stones, and would have been quite useless against a modern tank. As a result of the attack on Sidi Barrani the spirit of the Italians as fighters was disclosed. A large number of prisoners were taken and the Italians rapidly withdrew to Sidi Barrani.

The attack proved such a success, that our Army then commenced to literally chase the enemy. A considerable number of retreating vehicles and personnel were put out of action by our aircraft carrying out front gun attacks.

A further attack was then carried out on Sofafi, south east of Sidi Barrani, which consisted of three stone walled perimeter camps similar to Maktilla. Very little opposition was met, and the Italians rapidly retired on to Bardia.

--- 13. Additional landing grounds: Sidi Barrani, Sofafi, LG78 ---

With the advance of our forces it was necessary to obtain additional landing grounds from which our fighter squadrons could continue to harass the enemy. Sidi Barrani main landing ground was rapidly brought into use, in fact our aircraft were there before the prisoners had been removed from the area.

In the Sofafi area a landing ground was marked out before the Army supply vehicles acting in support of their troops had passed through. The method of constructing the landing ground was extremely simple. Being responsible for landing ground construction I carried out a reconnaissance in a Magister aircraft. As this type of aircraft carries no armor the only method of defence from enemy attacks was to keep very low.

Having discovered what appeared to be a satisfactory area, I landed in the desert. The area proved suitable and I managed to find a piece of green canvas which had once been part of a camp bed, a pole with some nails in it, also a pair of blacksmiths’ tongs. Using the tongs to remove the nails from the pole, the canvas of the camp bed was then nailed to it. In order that the Army – who were very ignorant of Air Force requirements and limitations in respect of suitable landing grounds – should not camp on the site or run their vehicles over it and so cut up the ground, I left a message on the canvas flag. On one side it read “Keep Off! Landing ground for Air Force”. On the other side I let myself go and the flag read “Building blocks for sale, cheap, southern exposure, playgrounds for children!

When the flag was constructed the pole was then driven into the ground so that the site would be located by the advance party of the squadron which was to occupy it. This was 33 Squadron and the landing ground eventually became known as LG 78.

--- 14. Recapture of Sallum (16 December 1940) ---

With the advance, the Army Headquarters under the command of General O’Connor moved from Ma'aten Bagush to a position near Halfaya. The Headquarters was situated in a very large underground cave which had only one entrance, a hole about three feet in diameter. Shortly after the establishment of the Army Headquarters near Halfaya in December 1940, Sallum was recaptured by our forces.

The day after Sallum was captured I flew Air Marshal Tedder and Group Captain Guest to Halfaya in a Procotor light communication aircraft, returning the same day to Ma'aten Bagush. A few days later I returned to Halfaya to pick up Group Captain Grigion*** who was then Senior Air Officer of 202 Group. On arrival at Halfaya he instructed me to to remain and form the advanced headquarters of . 202 Group at Sallum. He said he would arrange for a car, my clothes and other necessary items to be sent from Ma'aten Bagush

--- 15. Recapture of Sidi Barrani (December 1940) ---

Sidi Barrani was then being used by our fighter aircraft in support of our troops whilst Sawani Ogerin, which is a landing ground between Sidi Barrani and Sidi Barrani, **** was staffed by a small R.A.F detachment thus enabling our aircraft to be ‘topped up’ with fuel to give them additional range.

A considerable amount of damage had been done to the township of Sidi Barrani by artillery bombardment and aerial bombing, although several of the buildings still gave a form of shelter. Sidi Barrani is a small seaport in a sheltered bay at the foot of an escarpment. The road leading up the escarpment was demolished in places by the retreating Italians, although within a very short period it was again made serviceable for the passage of our supply vehicles.

At the top of the escarpment the Egyptian Government had established an Army barracks and several married quarters. All these buildings were in a very good state of repair, as the damage to them had been slight. Sidi Barrani was extremely valuable as a port at which petrol and supplies could be landed to relieve the terrific strain, which had been placed on our lines of communication due to the small amount of transport available. The Italians, who at this time still occupied Bardia, were aware of this and brought into play a large gun, with which they were able to shell Sidi Barrani Harbour from Bardia, although this latter town is situated miles distant. This gun was nicknamed “Bardia Bill”.

--- 16. Allied capture of Bardia (3-5 January 1941) ---

Approximately four days after the recapture of Sidi Barrani, we also captured Bardia. With the exception of the Italian gunners, there was little determined resistance to our attack (carried out by Imperial and Australian troops).

It is perhaps interesting to relate that at the outbreak of hostilities, it was desirable to return the Italian consul to his own territory. A senior R.A.F officer, then Group Captain L.O. Brown, accompanied the consul in a car from Sidi Barrani to the perimeter defences of Bardia. There he was met by an outraged Italian officer, who with many gesticulations informed Group Captain Brown that he should not be there; seemingly acting on the principle that it was not playing the game. However, with the safe delivery of the Italian consul the Group Captain again returned to General O’Connor’s Headquarters.

With the capture of Bardia, the allied forces obtained a considerable quantity of equipment, including numerous motor cycles and hundreds of motor lorries, also a large number of small light cars of the Fiat type. With the capture of this equipment, which could have been so useful and was so badly needed, a sad lack of foresight was disclosed. There had been little or no provision made for the immediate salvage of equipment, with the result that many unofficial parties sought out suitable vehicles and absorbed them into their own units.

The majority of Italian heavy vehicles have a large number of gears, and are Diesel driven. With very few exceptions our troops were entirely ignorant of these vehicles, the result being that if an engine started, more by good luck than good management, the driver would select that gear in which he could get the vehicle to move and probably remain that gear, with disastrous results. With the inevitable breakdown of the vehicle, the driver merely got out and sought himself another one. If the vehicle could be started but unfortunately only possess three wheels, it was not uncommon to overturn a similar vehicle for the sole purpose of removing a wheel.

Many thousands of Italian troops were captured at Bardia, and these were shepherded back to Sidi Barrani for transportation to the Egyptian Delta area. They moved in columns from their temporary enclosures at Bardia, and although the columns were perhaps three quarters of a mile long, the escort consisted of a Bren gun carrier at the head and one or two weary riflemen at the end of the column. Many of the prisoners appeared very relieved, and generally speaking they seemed fed up with the war.

With the force which we had at our disposal at the time and the natural defences of Bardia, it was generally considered that we should have been unable to capture the town against a determined enemy. It is perhaps most fortunate that we were not fighting the Germans in Libya at this stage for, if a couple of squadrons of Messerschmitts had been employed on ground strafing the one and only road from Sidi Barrani to Bardia, our casualties would have been enormous. This road after passing Fort Capuzzo is built up and when Bardia fell and our vehicles moved in, they were head to tail and stationary for miles. %%%%

Had the attacks mentioned been carried out, the only alternatives would have been the troops leaving the vehicles and taking to the open ground, or where space allowed, an attempt made to get off the road by driving down the embankment. It must therefore be agreed, that we were indeed most fortunate in having frightened the Italians out of the sky, through the medium of Air Commodore Collishaw’s strategy. When the battle of Bardia was in progress, a lone Lysander aircraft could be seen flying overhead. This aircraft without any fighter escort was acting as spotter reconnaissance for the Army. When it is appreciated that this type of aircraft cruises at approximately 130 miles per hour, a great admiration must be felt for the pilots of 208 Squadron who were employed on this task.

The troops on the ground having only seen the one aircraft were under the impression that it was always the same aircraft and same pilot, and had affectionately nicknamed him. They did not appreciate that an operational sortie for this type of aircraft is two hours.

--- 17. Sidi Barrani as a transport hub ---

With the capture of Bardia and Sidi Barrani, Sidi Barrani was opened up as a port and petrol and food formed the main items which were disembarked. At this stage of the war the liaison between RAF and Army was not particularly good and in the absence of their own transport the Air Force had, to a large extent, to rely upon Army vehicles in order that petrol could be taken to operational landing grounds.

The total number of R.A.F transport vehicles at Sidi Barrani was five, of which two were unserviceable. It was therefore necessary to request assistance from the Army. However, the coordination at Sidi Barrani was so bad that vehicles arriving from Bardia or the forward area full, would return empty, whilst vehicles moving to the forward area full would return to Sidi Barrani empty. It was with the utmost difficulty that any sort of priority was given to the transport of essential fuel to enable the Air Force to operate.

When ships had discharged their cargo at Sidi Barrani, they were then filled with Italian prisoners and returned to either Mersa Matruh or Alexandria.

--- 18. HQ of 202 Group in Sallum (January 1941) ---

The operational Headquarters of 202 Group moved to Sallum and established themselves in the Egyptian Army Barracks, after they had been cleaned out.

Quite frequently the Italians bombed the port of Sallum and the barracks came in for their fair share. On one particular occasion, during the visit of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, then Air Marshal Longmore, a salvo was dropped very close to the Officers’ Mess. The walls of the mess were damaged, but none of the occupants were injured, with the exception of a visiting Army officer who was temporarily absent “powdering his nose”. fortunately his injuries were not serious.

At the time of the raid, an interesting conversation was taking place in the Mess, where an Army, Navy and Air Force officer were discussing their claims in respect of a small Italian car, which had been brought from Bardia which had been brought back from Bardia by my driver. . The naval officer stated that the car would be most useful to enable him to cover the distance up and down the escarpment between the barracks and the port. The Army officer desired to use the car between the Air force and Army Headquarters, whilst the Air Force officer maintained the car was his in any case and what the others wanted it for did not interest him. As far as I was concerned the car, which was a civilian model, was mine at the time, and I was not particularly interested in what the others wanted the car for as long as they did not get it.

With the issue still undecided and without warning, the bombing attack was made. Unfortunately the car was adjacent to the mess and shortly after the raid an inspection was made of the car which was riddled with holes and later burst into flames. However, with the fall of Tobruk I had the opportunity of obtaining two similar models, one of which was subsequently brought into use at Barce and was left in Tobruk when we withdrew to that place later in the year.

--- 19. Looting ---

Early in January 1941, the Italians retired from El Adem on to Tobruk. Knowing that there were hangars and permanent buildings in the El Adem aerodrome, Air Commodore Collishaw detailed an Engineer officer and myself to proceed to El Adem and ascertain what technical equipment and machinery could be used by the Royal Air Force. As in the case of transport there was considerable wastage and loss of valuable equipment.

Whilst we were examining the buildings and their contents, an Army Staff Officer, still wearing his arm band identifying his appointment, approached us with an instrument in his hand. He wanted to know whether the instrument which happened to be a reflector sight, was a compass. The object of this was very plain to us as by this time we were accustomed to the unquenchable thirst of the Army to obtain compasses to attach to their vehicles.

During the whole campaign from Barrani to Benghazi, I did not see one compass in any of the many hundreds of enemy aircraft which were littered about the various aerodromes. This sabotage was not only confined to enemy aircraft. If one of our own aircraft force landed and the pilot left it, all the instruments would be stripped out immediately and the fabric cut off the wings and fuselage as souvenirs. At the time of the visit to El Adem another Army officer had helped himself to two absolutely new instruments such as an altimeter and air speed indicator which he proposed fitting on a vehicle. We pointed out that they would be of no value to him on his car and this yielded a reply “No, but they are beautifully made”. He retained the instruments.

A similar incident occurred with the taking of the aerodrome at Gambut. The Italians had built, near the perimeter of the aerodrome, a large earthen work construction which was covered over and contained a considerable quantity of valuable stores. At that time, many of the Italian tools and parts could be used on Bristol engines, and a large supply was contained in this store house, together with some aircraft pyrotechnics. An inquisitive soldier deciding to investigate the store picked up a recognition flare. In his ignorance of its working, he exploded the flare, and startled himself sufficiently to throw it away. Unfortunately, he was still in the store at the time fire broke out and all the equipment was lost.

I had enjoyed the work of arranging the Headquarters at Sallum and suggested to Air Commodore Collishaw that it would be a good idea to have a liaison officer on the Staff of the 6th Australian Division. Also being an Australian myself, need I go further. A signal was sent offering my services which were accepted. Thus I departed equipped with a car and a W/T listening post vehicle for communication purposes, and located the Australian Divisional headquarters near Bu Amud between Gambut and Tobruk. On this occasion I was to form the RAF advanced Headquarters at Tobruk when that place fell into our hands.

--- 20. Allied attack on Tobruk (9-26 January 1941) ---

The next goal in the campaign was the taking of Tobruk, which was gradually encircled by the Imperial and Australian troops previously mentioned. The morale of our troops was very high at this stage of the campaign, and preparations were quickly put in hand for the capture of the seaport at Tobruk. As far as the sixth Australian division under General McKay was concerned, there was absolutely no doubt about the outcome of the attack. One, Colonel Robinson by name, had quite a problem on his mind. He said that up to date he had captured at least two Italian Generals and was used to the procedure it was customary to adopt. He had, however, never captured an Admiral, and was eager to ascertain the Army equivalent of tossing oars in salute. The officer in charge of prisoners had already made arrangements for their accommodation within the Tobruk perimeter before the attack had commenced.

At approximately 4 a.m. on the 20th January 1941 the attack on Tobruk commenced, and at about 10 a.m. a gap was made in the perimeter S.S.E. of Tobruk. It was, however, not till the following day, that the township itself was completely cleared out. A small compound was used, just outside the perimeter to accommodate the prisoners, who had been captured before our troops had arrived at the town itself.

--- 21. Tobruk: RAF HQ in an ammunition dump (21 January 1941) ---

The following day therefore the compound was made and prisoners began to flow in. I decided to locate the RAF Advanced Headquarters in an ammunition dump when it had been cleared, as it provided excellent concrete shelter. The Army however had decided to form a larger prisoner compound in the vicinity. I was not aware at the time that the Air Force Headquarters and the prison compound would be adjoining and though separated by a wire fence used a common exit which the Army proceeded to close. It therefore came as quite a surprise to find that my party were wired in an enclosure around my own Headquarters. However, the Army kindly knocked a hole in my enclosure so that we had a separate entrance.

Within a few days the remainder of the advance party arrived to empty the ammunition dump and set up the necessary W/T channels. One of the rooms was cleared and turned into an officers’ mess, and a journey was made to the prison compound where Italian prisoners volunteered to act as waiters for the Mess. In a very short space of time they succeeded in making a first class meal and providing first class service. These prisoners seemed quite happy in their work and some of them remained with the Headquarters until we had withdrawn into Egypt.

--- 22. Tobruk: Booby trap at HQ? ---

During the clearing of the ammunition dump a very unfortunate incident occurred, the reason for which was not completely established. At approx. 8.30 a.m. one morning when a party of Palestinian Labour Corps, who were assisting in the clearing of the dumps, were handling a box of detonators, it appears that one of them either slipped or put the box down heavily which resulted in an enormous explosion, the concussion of which caused one of the underground dumps to collapse.

A large number of personnel just disappeared. Several were buried beneath the debris; a fire broke out under the collapsed structure but by digging through the ground and concrete a hole was made and wounded personnel were withdrawn. Unfortunately a number of men lost their lives. It was also stated by an Italian prisoner that the cause of the explosion had been a booby trap which was set between the concrete wall of the underground room and the surrounding earth. As there was a gap of approximately two feet between each of these walls and the earth, a search was made around every other room to be used but no further booby traps were found.

The incident left a most unpleasant feeling and as the blown up structure was a constant reminder, all personnel were glad to leave that area when we later formed our next Headquarters at Benghazi.

--- 23. Tobruk: Italian prisoner breakout ---

By night fall approx. 1.500 prisoners had arrived in the compound. The Advanced Headquarters’ party consisted of one officer and four men. The night was bitterly cold and at approx. 11 o’clock the Italians who were then guarded by twelve Australians in details of three, broke out of the prison compound. The reason for this was that they knew that in the ammunition dump which was to be cleared for the Air Force Headquarters, there was food, wine and warm clothing to be found. The dump contained only a small quantity of explosive and many of the underground rooms had been in use as living accommodation. The first intimation I had of the break out was when sitting in an underground room composing a cipher message, footsteps were heard outside. One of the men went to investigate and reported that there were two or three Italians outside. Two more of the Air Force party then went outside and discovered more Italians, these were held up with revolver with no ammunition in it. There seemed to be no adequate supervision of these prisoners on their custody, so I decided to withdraw my party from the ammunition dump as it could have been quite a death trap at night.

The following morning at day break, we returned and by firing a few revolver shots approximately two or three hundred Italians issued forth from the underground rooms which formed part of the dump. Later an Italian priest who had also escaped came up and asked that the prisoners should not be harmed but that they should be allowed to return to the prison compound. As it was five against two or three hundred there was little alternative but to allow them to do so.

Whilst the Italians were being rounded up by our small party, the kit of the party was rifled by an Australian soldier. Although I had my Royal Australian Air Force greatcoat with my kit, the epaulettes were also stolen.

--- 24. From Tobruk to Derna ---

With the fall of Tobruk the Australians pushed on to Derna where they next made contact with the Italians. The 7th Armoured Division went across country from Mechili towards Solluch and Ghemines ???***. The object of this move was to trap the Italians withdrawing from Benghazi. The Australians were held up for a short time near Derna but eventually the town fell and the Italians withdrew. There was very little damage done and the town on entry was in an excellent condition. The Australians passed quickly through the town in pursuit of the enemy, but despite this their reputation for looting still held. They were accused of looting Derna, but this was not so.

The town of Derna is divided, like many North African towns, into two separate quarters; European and native. In the European quarter many of the houses were exactly as they were left by the occupants. The furniture was intact together with glass ware and crockery, giving signs that the occupants had merely gone away from the house, in some cases without even troubling to pack. The looting of the town was undoubtedly carried out, but it was done by natives. I recall visiting one house in particular, where on a shelf of one room, wine glasses were standing. The following day a further visit was paid to the same house and on approaching, a native in the vicinity quickly disappeared. One entering the house the shelf was empty and dust marks showing the outlines where the glasses had stood were all that remained.

The port of Derna which is very small had been partially blocked by the sinking of a ship near the end of the breakwater. It was possible however for small craft to enter, and by this means petrol for both the Army and the Air Force was brought to Derna, thus relieving the strain on the very advanced operational landing grounds. The total number of RAF transport vehicles at Sidi Barrani was five, two of which were unserviceable. It was therefore necessary to request assistance from the Army. However, the co-ordination at Sidi Barrani was so bad that Army vehicles arriving from Bardia or the forward area loaded with prisoners or troops, would return to the forward area empty. On the other hand, vehicles moving to the forward area full would return to Sidi Barrani empty. It was with the utmost difficulty that any degree of priority was given to the transport of essential fuel to enable the air force to operate.

Derna was by far the prettiest town of any in Cyrenaica. It stands right on the coast and an escarpment rises abruptly from the township. Upon the approach to Derna the advance down this escarpment was held up owing to the enemy having blown up the road. They had also left near the foot of the escarpment and close to the road a small quantity of petrol in drums. A few days after Derna had fallen a soldier wishing to avail himself of some of this petrol was very badly injured as the dump contained a booby trap, the petrol then ignited upon explosion of the booby trap and traffic on the road was held up until such time as the fire was brought under control. A few of the more venturesome did risk the exploding drums and fortunately managed to pass them without injury. ***

--- 25. From Derna to Barce ---

From Derna our forces pushed on through Giovanni Berta to Barce. Barce was declared an open town. The withdrawing Italians prior to our arrival had burnt the M.T. Park but apart from this there was very little damage done either in or around the town. The road down on escarpment to the town had been blocked due to the blowing up of the road, and an effort was made to lower vehicles from the escarpment on ropes, but this was a very slow procedure.

An alternative road was found by branching off a few miles from the escarpment and proceeding along a valley. As this road was not generally known until nearly night fall, the main body of the vehicles did not traverse it that day. The weather had been breaking up and that night there was considerable rain. The result of this was that the valley was churned into a quagmire, and some vehicles took up to two or three days to cover the short distance to the town.

Those who were fortunate to get to Barce on the evening of the day it was declared an open town found life proceeding more or less normally. The hotel still functioned; the cocktail bar was open; a room could be booked in the normal manner, and the main worry of the Italian Manager appeared to be the exchange rate of the lira. I dined and slept there and the following day paid my bill in lira and pushed on to join the 6th Australian Division.

--- 26. From Barce via El-Abiar and Benina to Benghazi ---

The bad weather continued and as it was reported that the main road from Barce to Benghazi had not yet been cleared of mines, we took a secondary road through El Abiar and Benina. To say it was secondary in the prevailing weather conditions was indeed flattering. Speed was reduced to 12 miles per hour, maximum, and frequently we proceeded sideways.

We were fortunate in meeting an Army ration lorry and obtaining food. Perhaps it should be explained that we lived by what we managed to scrounge from the Army and find in the Italian food dumps from the time we left Sidi Barrani until taking up permanent residence in Barce after a short stay in Benghazi i.e. for approximately two weeks. We had little reason for complaint however, as our reserves of bully beef and biscuits, tinned Italian Tunny***?? fish, Macaroni in tomato and bottles of Recoare water made quite a pleasant variety. On rare occasions such as when in Benghazi we obtained tinned fruit. The Italians had formed a good dump in a cinema and though it was guarded by the Army, we managed by persuasion to obtain a pleasing quantity of fruit.

However, to return to the Army lorry. The drivers had taken shelter in barn and we joined them for lunch. After giving us food we pushed ahead being anxious to arrive in Benghazi.

Eventually we came to El Abiar which appeared to be a small Italian Colony. There were no other Army vehicles about as we were off the main route. However we did not appear to arouse much interest in the inhabitants who appeared dazed and uncertain as in the other occupied places. Shortly after leaving El Abiar the road improved and we made quite good time to Benina. We met some Australians on the aerodrome there. They were waiting to pursue the Italians retreating towards Solluch

The hangars and buildings at Benina had been badly mauled by our Air Force but the most impressive sight was the graveyard of aircraft near the aerodrome boundary.

On Benina and Berca (***Benghazi town aerodrome there were more wrecked enemy aircraft than were possessed by our defence air striking force at the time.

--- 27. From Benina to Benghazi ---

We left Benina and proceeded to Benghazi. The going was now perfect as we were on a tarmac road. Shortly afterwards we approached a branch road leading to the Grotto of Lete and we noticed that the Italians had formed a large petrol dump. A few drums were near the road and as we approached a prowling Libyan apparently disturbed one of the drums or a booby trap in their vicinity for we heard a small explosion similar to that of an Italian grenade and the poor fellow fell across a drum.

We arrived in Benghazi approximately 3 hours after the troops and drove direct to the Municipio or Town Hall. The Italian civilians standing on the pavements looked very tired and hungry, yet waved a cheery greeting as we passed in our station waggon. The Municipio of Benghazi stands in a square and although not imposing from the outside was furnished in an ornate manner.

--- 28. Benghazi: RAF use of Berenice Hotel ---

I explained my business to the Town Major, a fellow Australian, and from him obtained exclusive use of the ***Berenice Hotel for the RAF the object being to establish Headquarters there. I little knew that within 12 hours I should have approximately 500 clients. Perhaps there were more, who knows or cares. The clients most certainly didn’t, so why should I. So popular became the hotel that I was lucky to retain my own room. However, I shall reach the episode shortly.

After obtaining ownership of the hotel, I decided to obtain a haircut which I had been promising myself on arrival in Benghazi. After a short search I discovered a hairdresser’s shop which was still open for business. On entry the Italian barber was uncertain of what attitude I would adopt, but he seemed to regain confidence when I sat down to await my turn. There were only a few Italian customers and myself, and I was soon in the chair. Shortly afterwards two soldiers walked in and sat down to await their turn. I watched them through the mirror and one fellow turned to his friend and said in a loud voice “Don’t that joker look like Tom Walls”. It was rather interesting so turning my head I said “Do you think so?” The soldier looked rather astonished and said “Coo, I thought you were an Iti”. Shortly afterwards the barber lifted the wrapping which was draped around me and the soldier saw my flying brevet. “Coo” he said “I hope there’s no pips on them shoulders”. When the wrap was finally removed and he saw my rank, he uttered one more “Coo”, said something which I did not catch to his friend and they both hastily left the shop. I asked the barber how much I owed him but he did not want to accept anything. However I persisted and was informed that the price was 2 lira, which I duly paid and I proceeded back to the hotel.

The Berenice Hotel** is on the Cathedral Mole** and overlooked the harbour at Benghazi, being separated from it by the road only. The hotel contained a few hundred rooms and was very modern, both in design and equipment. The main entrance containing a considerable quantity of glass, had been boarded over as protection from bomb blast. The basement contained Turkish baths and a beauty parlour, also the linen, glassware, crockery etc.

Although many bombing attacks had been made on Benghazi the hotel had not been damaged in any respect. This was due to the fact that it stood next door to the Cathedral and from personal knowledge, all pilots were very carefully briefed to make sure the Cathedral was not bombed. Actually there were a few marks on the stone facings at the rear of the Cathedral but whether this was done by the RAF or the enemy land mine which shattered my bedroom window, I cannot now be certain. One of my men was invited to play the Cathedral organ by the priest and it seemed that despite the fact that there was so much uncertainty and unrest in the City, it could not penetrate into the Cathedral, for inside was calm and peace.

The Australians who had pushed southwards from Benghazi were given orders to return and elements commenced to arrive in the early evening of my first day in the Berenice Hotel. The wet weather continued so that sleeping out was not an enjoyable pastime.

Truck load after truck load pulled up outside the hotel till eventually the place was swarming with troops. Although the hotel was going to be used as RAF Headquarters, these troops had earned some decent shelter and rest as far as I was concerned, and they could have it. I had managed to set myself up in a nicely furnished room with a glass topped table for office work. Fortunately I had the door key and my privacy was respected. Not so the linen and crockery stores. Many Diggers slept on sheets and drank from crockery in lieu of tin mugs for some time after their short stay here. The principal difficulty which bothered me though but not my short-term tenants, was that the sewerage was not working. However, within a few days I managed to get in a local workman who did the necessary adjustments to the water supply. It was not too soon because shortly after the departure of my guests the Germans started their first attacks on Benghazi. In one of the early raids mines intended for the shipping in the harbour, landed on the road near the hotel and burst the sewerage pipe.

--- 29. Benghazi: Attacks on Allied shipping ---

Coincident with the Australians staying in the hotel were the anti-aircraft gunners responsible for the defence of Benghazi. After the first couple of raids they seemed to take a poor view of the hotel’s strategic situation in relation to the harbour and moved their headquarters to the outskirts of the town. From this position the defence of Benghazi was controlled. At first defences consisted of four guns but later it improved to eight. The Germans completely ignored this defence and attacked with impunity.

The object of these attacks was our shipping, and preventing supplies being unloaded for our forward troops. In these attacks they were successful because eventually the few ships which had arrived left without unloading. This again placed a further strain on our already overtaxed transport.

Owing to the ship sunk at the end of the Derna breakwater that harbour could only accommodate vessels of approximately 1500 tons. There were insufficient vessels of this tonnage and in any case Derna is not suitable to accommodate more than a few of these vessels at once. Consequently ships unloaded at Tobruk and the M.T. supply line was lengthened by approximately …****…… miles. The enemy were kept well posted with movements of shipping in Benghazi, either by the Italians or German agents. Naturally our times of sailing were strictly secret but when our ships left the Benghazi harbour, the enemy were informed by some means and within 3 hours an attack could be expected and was in fact carried out.

--- 30. Benghazi: Exposure to bombing ---

The Italian civilians had altered their routine to confirm to the nightly bombing attacks and as evening came families clutching bundles of bedding could be seen moving to the huge shelters which had been formed in the basements of large commercial buildings. The Libyans and some Italians left the city altogether and went out into the surrounding country, returning in the early morning to their normal daily tasks or to the ruins of their houses.

One could not help but feel sorry for these people first terrorised by RAF bombing attacks then by German attacks. The latter appeared more indiscriminate for though little damage had been done to the town itself when we entered, considerable damage was done later. The Jerries were able to come down very low owing to our poor defences and bombing should have been more accurate. There was therefore no necessity to drop 1000 lb land mines into the residential area from 200 to 500 feet. They came so low in fact that on one occasion I saw one aircraft’s shadow go past my window. I had no desire to increase my number of experiences of that type. It was far more comforting to hear the roar of engines from the hotel basement, although, even there, when the mines exploded on the other side of the road the draught felt as though someone had swished a fly swat over one’s scalp.

The Italian Commander, Marshal Graziani, during his stay in Benghazi had a large house also facing the harbour. The decorations were very ornate and a great deal of the furniture was gilt. In comparison with the Duke of Aostas Palace in Asmara Eritrea, the place was pretentious and ugly. Graziani however did have a splendid air raid shelter. Perhaps he had paid more attention to this and spent more time there. The shelter was connected to the house by a passage and contained several rooms. It was of thick concrete construction and the main room was paneled. Mattresses were spread on the floor. Electric light and fans were fitted. The shelter also contained a separate dining room.

--- 31. Benghazi: Operational HQ ---

About a week after Benghazi fell, Mr. Menzies, the Australian Prime Minister arrived and addressed the Australian troops. He was the first allied politician to visit the city after we had taken over.

By this time the hotel had been put into a more or less serviceable condition for operations and the hairdressing saloon with its marble walls had been transformed into an operations room. The staff had commenced to arrive from Tobruk and at any time the Air Officer Commanding could be expected.

Whilst on route to the one remaining Italian hotel which had continued to function under Italian supervision, I saw the A.O.C. Air Commodore Collishaw walking towards me about 50 yards distant. I had no previous knowledge that he was on his way so it was a pleasant surprise. Studying him as he approached I received an impression which I shall retain for many years. This man commanding a very inferior force had by personal effort, character and sheer determination, driven the Italian Air Force from Cyrenaica.

His task had been to get Benghaziand here he was. It was expressed in his face, walk and manner. As he approached his manner seemed to say “I told you I’d do it” and he had. Many times back at Ma'aten Bagush he had said to me in the Operations Room “We’ll fox em Judge. We’ll fox em”. In those days I’ve known him to stay in the Operations Room until nearly 3 a.m. waiting for the night bombers to return in order that he might personally speak to each pilot. Then when they were all home he would turn to me and say “I’m going to bed now Judge, call me at 5.30 a.m.”

After we had visited the bar I took the A.O.C. back to our new Headquarters and showed him the general layout. I also informed him that I did not consider it advisable for the men to continue to be quartered there. During the day it was quite alright but to have to rely on the Jerries dropping their mines accurately into the harbour was not a pleasing prospect. Sooner or later the hotel was certain to stop one.

That evening I slept in the passageway close to the Operations Room and received a stiff neck for my trouble. The following day I decided to carry out a reconnaissance, for alternative sleeping accommodation for the men, outside the town. We eventually found a stone building very much like a small fort. It was very solid and big enough to accommodate such personnel of the advanced Headquarters who were not on duty.

That evening after dinner we set out for our sleeping quarters and after a very short time were settled in for what we hoped would be a peaceful night. However, it was not to be. In the early hours of the morning in bright moonlight the Jerries attacked. Sleep was out of the question. They seemed to be running up their target over our building. As they attacked they blazed away with their machine guns, strafing anything and everything. Personally I felt the hotel, although opposite the harbour, was infinitely more secure. At least we hadn’t to worry about bullets.

--- 32. From Benghazi to Barce ---

Shortly after this it was decided that the Army should set up the Headquarters of the Cyrenaica Command at Barce approximately 40 miles East of Benghazi. It was necessary therefore for the Air Force Commander to form his Headquarters there also, to ensure satisfactory liaison between the two services. General O’Connor who had until that time been G.O.C. Western Desert Forces, handed over to General Neame and left Benghazi for Egypt. Air Commodore Collishaw had also to return to Cairo to establish his headquarters at Heliopolis, a residential suburb of Cairo.

A new RAF Headquarters was then formed in Cyrenaica under the command of Group Captain L.O. Brown. Group Captain Brown had been in the Western Desert since 1939 with the exception of a short period, and had been in command of the Wing at Ma'aten Bagush prior to arrival there of Air Commodore Collishaw and 202 Group. He had acted as the RAF Liaison Officer with General O’Connor during the advance into Cyrenaica and at the time RAF Headquarters Cyrenaica was formed he was at Benghazi. The Group Captain was a great personality. Very cheerful and boyish and always keen to get into the air. To work for him was a great pleasure. He always allowed his staff to use their initiative to the full and if one made a mistake he was so decent about it one felt the privilege of his friendship had been abused.

I met him at the foot of the Berenice Hotel steps when he was on his way to confer with the Air Commodore about the formation of the new Headquarters. I told him my job was finished and that the Headquarters at Benghazi was being split up. He just smiled and went inside. Shortly afterwards I saw him again “You’re staying with me, Digger” he said “You’re my S.A.S.O.” (Senior Air Staff Officer). “We’re forming headquarters in Barce and see you get the place nicely fixed up.” This was wonderful news, an opportunity not to be missed.

About two days later the Group Captain went to Barce with Squadron Leader Black, another Australian, and arranged building accommodation. The operations room at Benghazi was soon dismantled and the equipment together with certain additional acquired amenities for our offices and mess were soon on their way to Barce. On arrival there everybody worked with a will and in a very short space of time the place was in working order. The airmen had suitable accommodation at the HQ but there was none available for the officers. However, Eric Black (also known as Digger) had managed to obtain a farm house about one mile from our Headquarters, suitable for an Officers’ Mess.

The farm house was a communal dwelling centre for four Italian Colonist families. It possessed two grain stores and a large inner courtyard. The buildings were nearly new and quite clean. In the centre of the courtyard was a pumping building and overhead water storage tank. Unfortunately, the belt from the pump flywheel was missing and for a long time water had to be delivered to the Mess by a vehicle. The acquired amenities previously referred to, helped to furnish the Mess and cutlery had been officially requisitioned through the Town Major at Benghazi. Anyone can exist on the bare necessities of life. The art is to live well and comfortably with the same necessities.

The Mess at Barce was a very happy one and the standard of living was particularly high. We sang at meals, in the bathrooms and bedrooms, and generally speaking a good time was had by all. The principal theme song was the “Whiffenpoof song”.

I had a nice wooden bed frame without a spring mattress but when my camp bed was standing inside the frame and covered with two small eiderdowns, it looked quite attractive. The Italian prisoners who had joined us at Tobruk came up with the personnel of the old Group who had been posted to our Headquarters and they waited on us in a very satisfactory manner.

--- 33. Barce: Operational HQ ---

There was a great deal of work to be done in forming the new Headquarters. No. 3 RAAF Squadron (fighters) moved to Benina to protect Benghazi. They were armed with Gladiators and a few Hurricanes. 73 Squadron (fighters) were stationed at Bur Amud to cover Tobruk, with a flight at El Gazala for the same purpose plus the protection of Derna. 208 Squadron (Army Co-op) were based at Barce with a detached flight at Agedabia at the disposal of the Army Commander in the forward area.

*** 5 Blenheim aircraft of 55 Squadron were stationed at Maraua approximately 35 ***? miles from Barce, for medium reconnaissance duties. This comprised the total air strength for Cyrenaica. Sector Operations Rooms to control the fighters were established at Tobruk and Benghazi.

A few weeks after we were established at Barce, 208 Squadron was replaced by 6 Squadron. This latter squadron had previously been stationed in Palestine. Equipment was scarce and valuable and only selected pilots of the Squadron were permitted to fly the few Hurricanes the Squadron possessed. Even more care was taken in the selection of pilots to fly the one Hurricane fitted with the one cine camera for photographic reconnaissance. 208 Squadron were returning to the Egyptian Delta for a rest and they most certainly had earned it. They had done invaluable work since the outbreak of hostilities with Italy and had operated with the Army in the forward area throughout the campaign.

--- 34. Tripoli: Reconnaissance and movement (February-April 1941) ---

From February to April 1941 a close watch was kept on the enemy between Tripoli and El Agheila. Each day the G.O.C. asked for reconnaissances to *** Tripoli Misurata or Tripoli Misurata all of them coastal ports. The frequency was far too great. We had only the five aircraft of 55 Squadron for these tasks and the job had to be done by a single aircraft without fighter protection. Owing to the limited range of the aircraft they were compelled to proceed in a more or less direct route to and from their objective. To give additional range aircraft were topped up with fuel at Benina and landed back at Benina when necessary.

The Germans were now in the El Agheila area together with their M.E. 109s and 110s and the task of reconnaissance became daily more hazardous. From the frequent reports it was obvious that the enemy’s strength of troops, vehicles and aircraft was increasing. Owing to the distance our reconnaissance aircraft had to cover and the absence of alternative routes, the enemy had only to put up a standing patrol and our aircraft would be forced to run the gauntlet. I was at a loss to understand the reason for the continual daily demand for reconnaissance and the only answer forthcoming to my requests to lessen the frequency was “The General wants to know”. Had the Army been making use of this information which was being obtained at such a great cost, I could have understood, but to the contrary.

The 7th Armoured Division our most experienced division in the desert and the only ARMOURED division, was withdrawn and replaced by the 3rd Armoured Division who were quite inexperienced in desert warfare. To make matters worse the tanks traveled hundreds of miles to the forward area from Egypt under their own power. The result was they were in need of an overhaul and new tracks on arrival in their operational area. The relieved division was also compelled to return from the forward area in the same manner. At that time there were few tank carriers to carry the vehicles, and these were mostly used for salvaging unserviceable tanks.

After we had been at Barce for approximately 7 weeks, a German prisoner was brought in for interrogation. He said that the Germans had been sitting in the desert west of El Agheila for quite a few weeks and they were becoming very discontented. (Actually it was thought that this prisoner was a deserter.) He added that if they did not advance within 10 days, they would go back to Tripoli as they didn’t like the sand.

This information he imparted to an airman who was used for interrogation purposes. The German stated that the English were lucky as they had Allies whereas the Germans had only the Italians. Not very complimentary. He also informed the airman that in his opinion the British and Germans should be allies against the Jews. What he didn’t realize was that the airman to whom he was speaking, was a Palestinian Jew whose name it is not necessary for me to mention here.

--- 35. German attacks on Barce ---

The enemy continued to build up his strength west of El Agheila and his air activity in the forward area increased. The 6 Squadron detachment at El Agedabia were absolutely at the mercy of the Germans. They had no properly organised A.A. defences and relied upon dispersal and a few machine gun posts for protection.

At night enemy aircraft commenced visiting us at Barce. This time they were Nazi machines not Italian. No bombs were dropped however. The houses in the Barce area are painted white and whilst they formed a pleasant picture during the day time they were strikingly outstanding at night. A general order was therefore published that all houses were to be camouflaged. As the surrounding ground was a reddish chocolate colour the colonists were instructed to dampen the walls with water and smear earth on them. This proved very effective and at night the houses blended into the landscape. It was fortunate that no attacks were carried out on the Barce aerodrome as we hadn’t any A.A. guns at all defending our aircraft. Actually none of our aerodromes in Cyrenaica were defended by A.A. guns.

--- 36. Coordination between Services: Let's have some air ---

The importance of liaison between the two services had not yet been fully appreciated and the air force’s requirements whilst being agreed by the Army, were not met in respect of defence because the equipment was not available. The vast quantity of enemy equipment that had been captured during the advance into Cyrenaica was collected and withdrawn for use in other theatres.

The transport of aviation fuel to Army dumps which was also an Army responsibility was arranged through sheer persistency whilst adopting a manner of “If you would be so kind”. Individually of course much was done but it depended upon cordial relationship and not appreciation of the necessity to work together or of each other’s difficulties. Few Army officers seemed to realise the potential value of the RAF

I recall a certain Army Exercise held in Cairo in 1938. The various specialist officers were divided into syndicates to carry out one of the iR exercises. I had been detailed as the RAF representative in one of the syndicates to advise on the best method of employing the aircraft which had been placed at the disposal of the Army Commander, in that syndicate. It was really incredible to listen to the syndicate detailing armoured cars to do the work of the aircraft and as I was in an advisory capacity I waited to be called on.

The syndicate was working out its plan in a room which after a time became quite stuffy. Just as the Army fellows had completed their plan the syndicate leader with an intelligent gleam in his eye looked at me and said “Let’s have some air”. As I had been a mere spectator to date I took that as a reasonable request and was preparing to open the window. It then occurred to me that what he really required was advice on the us of his aircraft.

I mention this incident as a typical example. The syndicate had aircraft specifically placed at their disposal but formed their plans without using them. Then considering the aircraft had to be included somewhere thought they had better do something about it.

--- 37. Sabotage and reconnaissance: Barce and Benina ---

To return to Barce. At night mysterious fires appeared, possibly made by Italian settlers with the intention of guiding enemy aircraft. If a patrol was sent to the fire there was never anyone in attendance on arrival of the patrol.

A fair amount of interest was also taken in the farm adjoining the aerodrome. The farmer appeared to plough his field in various patterns. It is known that during the Great War 1914-1918 this was a method of transmitting information but it was never fully established whether this was the object of the farmer concerned.

On various occasions also the telephone line between the Officers Mess and Headquarters was cut, but as this distance was only about one mile it was only a nuisance and did not hinder operations in any way.

The continued reconnaissances over enemy territory disclosed the enemy had increased his strength considerably until shortly after the date stated by the prisoner previously referred to, the enemy under command of Rommel, advanced. His opponents were not the well seasoned 7th Armoured Division, but the inexperienced 3rd Armoured Division. Our forces were compelled to withdraw although both flanks near Agheila were protected. On the right by the sea and on the left by sand dunes. The G.O.C. Commanding Cyrenaica decided to form his lines on the escarpment south of Benina which extended east of Benghazi to just south of Tocra.

The main road from Benghazi eastwards to Egypt comes up the escarpment at Tocra and by means of demolition the enemy could be at least slowed down in this area. Benghazi was not to be defended and the engineers set about demolishing essential services prior to their departure. It was quite obvious the line selected could not hold. The escarpment south of Benina was not by any means a formidable barrier and it offered an alternative route to Barce. It will be recalled that it was by this route I first arrived at Benina and Benghazi.

Although to fight a battle at El Agheila meant a considerable strain on transport and supplies owing to increased mileage, if the narrow line protected on the flanks by natural barriers could not be held, how could we expect to hold a line from Benina escarpment to Tocra ? In addition the back door (the Mechille-Ghemines track) being also open.

--- 38. Coordination between Services ---

At this stage occurred an incident which might have been avoided had the Army Commander of the forward troops fully appreciated his responsibility. The flight of Army Co-operation aircraft of 6 Squadron who were located in the forward area came under him operationally and for defence. The flight commander acted as his advisor on aerial reconnaissance matters and the flight was entirely at his disposal for reconnaissance purposes.

Imagine the consternation of the flight commander when he found the Army had moved off in the night without including him in the plan of movement and some enemy tanks were rapidly approaching within sight. Fortunately on this occasion they all managed to get away in a mad scramble of aircraft and vehicles. Shortly afterwards, I regret to say, the flight was not so fortunately. The Officer Commanding 6 Squadron who was with the flight on this second occasion did not get away.

--- 39. Transportation arrangements: withdrawal from Benina to El Abiar ---

No. 3 Squadron (RAAF) who were stationed at Benina had been responsible for the air defence of Benghazi. At intervals a few of their Hurricanes were used on offensive sorties in the forward area. The limiting factor to these sorties was petrol. In order to increase the period over enemy territory it was necessary to refuel at 6 Squadron’s advanced landing ground. As this detachment transported its own petrol by means of the squadron transport, the stocks on hand were very small and based on the requirements of the detachment.

With the advance of the enemy northward toward Benghazi, and the decision that Benghazi and Benina were not to be held, 3 Squadron were moved to El Abiar which is approx. 15 miles from Benina. No outside assistance in the form of transport was available so the Squadron had to move its own equipment and also to move its own petrol stocks. This latter was to enable the squadron to continue operating. The troops worked like Trojans and moved thousands of gallons of fuel.

It may be of interest to know how the scale of transport was arrived at. In 1939 our vehicles were quite adequate. The majority of the vehicles were 6-wheel Fordson covered trucks with floor space about 14 feet by 8 feet. Each truck had a load capacity of 3 tons. In the majority of cases the maximum load was not reached but the space was necessary owing to the bulky nature of the load. It was decided to reduce the number of vehicles in each squadron and to arrive at the reduction 113 Squadron then at Heliopolis were detailed to carry out “packing up” tests. For this purpose a hangar floor was nicely marked out and each item of equipment comprising the truck load was suitably arranged. Tents in their canvas covers and squashed small, were similarly arranged. The vehicles were then carefully packed and made ready for inspection.

An Air Vice Marshal from Headquarters Middle East HQ then carried out an inspection and made comments as to alternative stowage resulting in further conservation of transport. The vehicles were again unpacked, loads laid out on the hangar floor, readjusted and vehicles repacked. The final result was an amendment to the establishment of vehicles in the form of a reduction.

The fact that each tent once it has been removed from its canvas bag, brought into use, camouflaged with permanganate of potash or sand and water (depending on material available) does not go back into its canvas bag but occupies approximately double the space, did not seem to be taken into consideration.

When it is necessary for a mobile squadron to move rapidly, there is no time to mark out lines on non-existent hangar floors and if material does not get put on, it is left for a second load, if possible.

Shortly after the establishment was altered the body design of the trucks was also altered, several 6-wheel Fordson vehicles were withdrawn from the mobile squadrons and replaced by 4-wheel Fordsons which were about 4 feet shorter in the body. Naturally the vehicles did not hold anything like the quantity of the previous type. You will thus appreciate that the mobile squadrons were not established with sufficient vehicles to undertake additional commitments such as transport of fuel in bulk.

Moreover, during a withdrawal a unit may operate from a landing ground for one day only. There is therefore no time to unpack tentage so that the vehicles will be available for other purposes.

Fortunately, the inadequacy of transport did not have serious consequences prior to our advance into Cyrenaica in 1941. The advancing squadrons were then able to improve their position by the acquisition of Italian Diesel lorries. These vehicles played a big part in our withdrawal from Cyrenaica.

As this was 3 Squadron’s first move in the withdrawal and they had been at Benina for over two months, their vehicles were already unpacked so that the move of petrol was possible.

The aircraft were easily moved, although the squadron put up a very fine show in respect of one of their Hurricanes. Spares were short and one of the aircraft was lacking an inner tube for a main landing wheel. The men were determined that they would not leave the aircraft behind. To do that meant burning it. They jacked up the main plane and took the weight off the wheel. The tire was then stuffed hard with old rags and grass, the wheel was lowered to the ground and the jack removed. Although this improvised packing did not withstand fully the weight of the aircraft, it did enable a pilot to taxi the aircraft in a wing down attitude to a position for taking off. Having waddled into a satisfactory position, the pilot opened his throttle and as the aircraft gathered speed the weight on the makeshift inner tube gradually decreased. The aircraft was thus transferred without damage to a safe area.

--- 40. Withdrawal from Barce to Maraua and El Adem ---

At the Army Headquarters in Barce there was quite an air of uncertainty. Definite information in respect of any moves we were likely to make, where to and when, was most difficult to obtain. As the RAF Headquarters had to conform to the Army plan, the RAF arrangements had to be based on the moves of the Army. Such was the position until approximately the day before we withdrew from Barce. On that day General O’Connor who had commanded the Western Desert Forces during our advance, returned to Barce in an advisory capacity.

The effect of his arrival was like a mother placing a cool hand on the brow of a feverish child. Everything quietened down and moved in an orderly fashion. It was decided that the Army Headquarters should withdraw to Maraua approx. 35 miles east of Barce and also on top of the escarpment. Maraua was an obvious choice as the aerodrome on which 55 Squadron was based was handy to the road. By siting his Headquarters in the area, the Army Commander could receive his aircraft reconnaissance information with the minimum of delay, also the pilots of the aircraft were available for direct questioning.

Our Headquarters was subdivided into an administrative and an operational section. The administrative section together with the bulk of the personnel and records moved out from Barce and proceeded direct to El Adem. Prior to leaving, the Officers’ Mess was also dismantled.

I well remember about lunch time that day we were listening to Winston Churchill’s speech from London. He stated that the enemy had crossed the line at El Agheila in patrol strength. Considering the enemy were well on their way to Benghazi where demolition was being carried out and within approx. two hours of this speech the majority of our personnel were also on the move, the news was greeted with a certain amount of laughter. I felt that the P.M. would have twisted someone’s tail if he had known he was being hoodwinked. Barce is nearly 200 miles from El Agheila.

--- 41. Withdrawal from Barce: Italian prisoners ---

Some of the Italians who had been with us since the fall of Tobruk quietly disappeared. About three however remained. These men were asked whether they would like to join the Italian Army again as they were likely to be more of a burden to us. They stated however that they had no wish to do so and desired to remain with the British and withdraw with them wherever they should go. I was told later that whilst the administrative portion of our Headquarters was withdrawing, one of the vehicles broke down. This vehicle contained the Italians.

It was decided not to wait for the vehicle and the Italians were told that they would have to look after themselves. About half an hour later, in a cloud of dust, the vehicle again rejoined the convoy with the Italians still aboard and smiling broadly, indicating that they had no intention whatsoever to being left behind. These men eventually returned to the Headquarters at Ma'aten Bagush. When I last visited the Headquarters they were still quite happy in their work.

--- 42. From Barce to Maraua ---

The last thing we did prior to leaving Barce was to ensure that every scrap of paper which contained any information which might have been of use to the enemy was destroyed. At approx. 11.30 hrs in the evening Group Captain Brown and I left for Maraua. When we joined the main road leading from Benghazi to Maraua we immediately became a part of a long stream of vehicles. The pace was very slow and it was raining at the time. After traveling approx. 15 miles we halted at a spot where a heavy lorry had slipped off the road and had overturned, pinning a number of the occupants underneath. The vehicle was so heavy that despite the availability of manpower, it was some considerable time before the vehicle could be moved. We rushed on to Maraua and arrived in the early hours of the following morning.

Maraua is merely a name; there is no township. There are two dwellings on the main road, one a disused building the other is a road supervisor’s house. The Italians erected these latter dwellings at frequent intervals along the main coast road between Benghazi and Bardia. The Italian occupying the house was responsible for the maintenance of the section of road in his area. The house at Barce was used as the Army Headquarters and the Group Captain and I occupied the other disused building. We bedded down for the night sharing our bed clothes in order to obtain the maximum amount of warmth.

The following day the remaineder of our then small staff arrived and a temporary operations room was set up. 6 Squadron at Barce had been ordered to Maraua as this Squadron was responsible for tactical reconnaissance. As I have mentioned previously, it had one flight detached and, with the Army Commander, were operating in the forward area. Prior to leaving Barce the personnel of the Squadron had burned all the petrol which could not be moved with the Squadron. The amount was very small. A signal arrived stating that 55 Squadron’s five Blenheim aircraft would be reinforced with a further eight aircraft from 45 Squadron. This gave us a total of thirteen Blenheims and we were now in a position to use these aircraft for offensive action. Coinciding with their arrival, some of the aircraft of 55 Squadron, which had borne the brunt of the commitments, immediately became unserviceable, so that our effective strength of thirteen aircraft was never achieved.

--- 43. Allied air cover and sorties attacks: El Abiar and Maraua ---

In the meantime, 3 Squadron which had moved to El Abiar, had been carrying out sorties over our troops during the withdrawal. I learned in Tobruk later, that despite the air superiority of the enemy, not once were our ground troops attacked during this withdrawal, although at one time for a period of 24 hours, the bulk of the Third Armoured Division got into a wadi which turned out to be a bottleneck. It took them 24 hours to extricate themselves. During this period the enemy did not avail themselves of the confusion and the Third Armoured Division remained unharmed by air attack.

The G.O.C. commanding the Army Headquarters anxiously awaited the return of a tactical reconnaissance aircraft. On arrival the pilot turned in his report and was questioned. A small conference was then held in an outhouse with the G.O.C. present, and I was amazed at the time at the complete inactivity as a result of the information received. The information seemed to be received as a item of interest rather than one requiring energetic action.

Shortly after this some of our Blenheims were sent on a bombing raid. When they were returning they flew quite low and with little warning came upon a convoy of vehicles. They were flying so low that they were able to observe that the occupants were wearing plumed hats and several of the vehicles were flying swastika flags. As they had not located their target on the raid, they were still carrying their bombs. An attack was immediately carried out on the convoy, and the aircraft then returned to base at Maraua. The incident was immediately reported and the position of the convoy made known to the Army Headquarters.

The track on which the convoy had been sighted was one which leads from the main El Agheila-Benghazi road to Mechili, bypassing Maraua. This was one of the roads which I have previously referred to, as being the means by which our 7th Armoured Division was able to cut off the retreating Italians from Benghazi, during our advance.

The Army Headquarters on receipt of the information from the bomber pilots, stated that we had bombed our own troops. Naturally the personnel taking part in this raid felt very depressed about this, considering they were so definite in their identification prior to the attack. Later, events however proved that they were right.

As I have previously mentioned, the Army were not at that time completely educated as to the possibilities of air reconnaissance and air information, and frequently would not believe what they were told. Two days later when we had withdrawn still further, the G.O.C. General Neame in the company of his advisor General O’Connor, who had again moved Headquarters to a position near Tmimi, decided to go back to Maraua. He attempted to do this and as is well known both General Neame and General O’Connor were captured [on 6 April 1941].

--- 44. From Maraua to Derna ---

On the afternoon of our first day at Maraua, 3 Squadron which had previously received further orders to withdraw from El Abiar, arrived at Maraua. They continued to operate from that aerodrome throughout the day.

55 Squadron plus the additional aircraft of 45 Squadron **46?* were ordered to move to Derna. I suggested to the Group Captain that he allowed me to proceed to Derna to operate the aircraft of these two Squadrons owing to the difficulty of communications. He agreed to this and at approx. 11.00 pm that night, I left Maraua for Derna.

Unfortunately, the vehicle which I was then using was one which had previously been stolen by the Australians, ditched, and sabotaged by the Libyans. It had no windscreen and the upholstery had been badly slashed. These faults were really not worthy of consideration; the major trouble with the vehicle was mechanical. After a short distance such as three quarters of a mile, it would develop petrol trouble and slow down to approx. three to five miles an hour. Quite possibly the petrol pump had broken. Eventually I arrived at the outskirts of Derna in the early hours of the morning. As we came down the escarpment I decided to stop before reaching the town in order to get a couple of hours sleep prior to daylight, and hoping that the following morning the vehicle would be able to get me successfully up the escarpment leading out of the town.

When daylight came, we again took the road and arrived at the foot of the escarpment leading out of the town, when to my disgust the vehicle again developed its trouble. Although I was in convoy going up this hill, I had to start the engine about twenty times before finally arriving at the top. As the road was obstructed by the engineers who were preparing to carry out demolition, you can well imagine that I was not popular.

In due course however we reached the top and arrived at the Derna aerodrome which is situated a short distance from the top of the escarpment. After some breakfast with 55 Squadron we then set about operations for the day. Obtaining petrol and bombs was extremely difficult but fortunately the RAF officer in charge of the bomb dump at Tobruk had established an excellent liaison with an Australian captain attached to the Transport Company in Tobruk, and he it was who kept us supplied with the necessary petrol and bombs to enable us to operate whilst we were at Derna. After the difficulties which we had had both in the advance, whilst stationed in Cyrenaica, and during the withdrawal, of obtaining petrol and bombs, I felt very grateful to this unknown officer who was using his common sense.

Telephonic communication was established with the Group Captain at Maraua and a number of bombing sorties were made. During the day 5 Squadron *** arrived. Their aircraft were in a very sad state and badly required maintenance. It speaks highly for the Squadron’s morale that they were able to operate at all. There were not more than three aircraft of this Squadron stationed at Derna, that had a serviceable tail wheel. Nearly all of them were punctured and flat. Some of them were in shreds of canvas and rubber. It was splendid to stand with a group of the Squadron personnel and hear a pilot cheerfully weighing up his chances of getting the tail, of an aircraft with practically no rubber on the tail wheel hub at all, off the ground without breaking the tail of the aircraft. Moreover it was done. Spares were just not available, yet not one of these aircraft was left behind.

The vehicles were still packed, and owing to the rapidity of movement there was no time for unpacking them. One small tent however was erected on the edge of the aerodrome from which operations were conducted. During the afternoon an officer entered the tent and asked for the location of our petrol. Near the tent was a low stone wall and it was on the other side of this that the petrol had been stacked. As we came out of the tent and I was pointing this petrol out to him we happened to see two aircraft about to attack the aerodrome. The aircraft were flying at approx. 300 feet and were M.E. 110s. The alarm was immediately raised and as we had no shelter trenches the troops merely scattered over the surrounding countryside.

Derna aerodrome is situated near the main road. I ran across this road and a major calamity almost occurred. The bowl of my pipe became detached from the mouth piece but it was not the time to start looking for it. Under the road was a concrete drain pipe about two feet in diameter and into this two other men and myself found refuge, whilst the bullets from the 110s spattered harmlessly on the road just above us. After the attack I carried out an immediate search and was fortunate in finding the bowl of my pipe. A few of our aircraft had been shot up and one which was severely damaged had to be burned prior to leaving the aerodrome. The only damage to personnel was a minor flesh injury to an Air Gunner who was hit in the hand.

During the afternoon 3 Squadron passed by en route for Martuba. This is an aerodrome south of Derna. They did not, however, operate from there, as prior to establishing themselves they were moved completely out of Cyrenaica into Egypt. The Group Captain also arrived and we discussed the further move of Squadrons. By this time the Army was moving back at a very rapid pace. It was on this day that the value of our captured enemy transport was proved. Some of the vehicles of our withdrawing Squadrons broke down at the Derna escarpment. The Italian vehicles mostly diesels are extremely powerful, and some of these were sent back and the unserviceable vehicles were taken in tow. By this means the Squadron reached its ultimate destination.

--- 45. From Derna to El Gazala ---

Toward dusk on the same day 55 Squadron was again ordered to move on this occasion to El Gazala. This they proceeded to do in the late afternoon. We were informed that the enemy was then straffing the roads between Derna and El Gazala and had caused considerable damage to a convoy of ambulances. Late that night, accompanied by the cypher officer, I left Derna for El Gazala in order to carry on the operation of the bomber aircraft.

Unfortunately, I still had the same vehicle and did not relish the slow pace in view of the fact that enemy patrols may have by then worked up from the Mechili track to within the vicinity of the Derna-El Gazala main road. True to form the vehicle slowed down on many occasions. Several times we stopped. At about 3 a.m. the following morning we arrived at El Gazala and snatched a few hours sleep. El Gazala is again only a name. There is one building which is the road supervisor’s type of house which I have previously described.

There were two aerodromes. The southern most aerodrome was occupied by 73 Squadron and the other near the coast by 55 Squadron and 45 Squadron. Prior to leaving Derna I had again communicated with Tobruk and asked that petrol and bombs should be made available at El Gazala. Thanks to the co-operation of the Army Transport Captain, whose name I think was Jackson, a large number of ten ton vehicles arrived early the same morning with the necessary petrol and bombs.

In the meantime Squadron Leader Black who had arrived at Derna was supervising the demolition of any petrol or bombs which it had been necessary to leave at that aerodrome. The only items which fell into enemy hands at Derna was one 250 lb bomb and a few 40 pounders. Throughout the day we continued to operate from Gazala. With the rapidity of movement since Maraua, the aircraft were sadly in need of maintenance. The Squadron personnel were still faced with their permanently loaded vehicles which there was no time to unpack. Naturally tool kits were available, but inspections requiring heavy equipment such as trestles could not be carried out.

About mid-day Padre Cox arrived. When there was a job of work to be done one could be assured of this man’s assistance. He asked me if I had had any food to which I replied in the negative, whereupon he produced food and told me to go and get some sleep. I did not realise it until then that I had had no proper sleep for four days. As there was little I could do at that time, I took his advice and despite the flies completely passed out.

--- 46. From Gazala to Gambut ---

During the afternoon the Group Captain arrived. He had left Derna by air and been to El Adem south of Tobruk where he had issued instructions that our administrative unit was to leave Cyrenaica and return to Ma'aten Bagush in Egypt. He also gave instructions for 55 Squadron and 45 Squadron to proceed to Gambut. Again late in the afternoon the Squadron packed up and the ground party moved off. The aircraft left early the following morning on a raid, and landed at Gambut after completion.

At approx. midnight a driver with a ten ton vehicle arrived and said that he was carrying petrol for Tmimi. This petrol was for the use of the Army Co-operation Squadron which would have been operating with the Army Commander had his Headquarters been established at that place. The driver stated that on arrival at the turn off to Tmimi he had been informed by a Military Policeman on duty that enemy patrols were active in the area, and that it was inadvisable to proceed. He therefore turned the vehicle back. I rang up the Army Headquarters and despite this danger they still desired the petrol to be delivered to Tmimi. Obviously, if patrols were active in the area it was no place to station our few and valuable aircraft. It was at this stage that the two Generals Neame and O’Connor were lost.****

As a result of this information re enemy patrols, I became concerned about Squadron Leader Black who was attending to demolitions at Derna and must pass along the section of the coast road which I had considered dangerous if the enemy patrols were active. I therefore decided to send a wireless message to Black instructing him to come by air. I rang the Signals Officer on the field telephone and told him I wished to send a message, whereupon to my amazement he informed me that the cypher officer had left some time ago heading for Tobruk with the code books.

When I investigated this I discovered that the Cypher Officer had been informed by someone unknown that the enemy were very close to the aerodrome and he had better get out quick. Without informing me of his movements and thinking of the safety of his cypher books, he had immediately left for Tobruk. This was our first experience of the enemy operating in allied uniform although instances similar to this occurred in Tobruk a little while later. Fortunately the Cypher Officer had not got too far and a vehicle was dispatched which overtook him and he returned to the aerodrome. Before a signal could be sent however, Black arrived at El Gazala at approx. 3 a.m.

The following morning after the departure of 55 Squadron and 45 Squadron joined their raid, I arranged with Squadron Leader Black to carry out the demolition of any petrol remaining on the aerodrome and then left for Tobruk and Gambut.

On joining the main road our vehicle again became part of a continuous stream of vehicles and progress was thus hindered. In due course we arrived at Tobruk and the Australians were already at work on an anti-tank trench on the perimeter, and greetings were passed as vehicles entered the perimeter. As I still had a job of work to do in supervising the operation of the Squadrons, I immediately pushed on to Gambut.

--- 47. Gambut and Tobruk: Air Marshal Tedder ---

Shortly after arriving at Gambut I met Air Marshal Tedder who was en route for Tobruk. The operations of the two Squadrons was then brought to a standstill, and I returned to Tobruk in company with the Air Marshal. We landed at Buamud which is a few miles outside the Tobruk perimeter and proceeded the rest of the way by a vehicle borrowed from 73 Squadron who were then stationed at that aerodrome having withdrawn their detachment from El Gazala.

A conference was then held in Tobruk with the B.G.S. Brigadier Harding who was acting as G.O.C. in view of the capture of Generals Neame and O’Connor. At the completion of the conference Air Marshal Tedder, who was a very boyish type of person, desired to return to his aircraft at Buamud. At the time I saw him he was walking up the street about 25 yards ahead of me in company with Group Captain Brown. Having ascertained that I was his chauffeur to return to Buamud and despite the fact that we were in the street, he turned round and yelled “Hey, taxi”. We returned to Buamud and again landed at Gambut where I was dropped and the A.O.C. and C returned to Cairo.

After supervising the arrangements for 45 Squadron to return to the Western Desert at Fuka satellite (with ground staff) and 55 Squadron (a/c only) to Bir el Gubi, a landing ground within the Tobruk perimeter, I again left for Tobruk by road. There were three aerodromes within the Tobruk perimeter, Bir el Gubi which in actual fact was two aerodromes, Tobruk town landing ground which was situated very close to the water front and which had been obstructed by disused vehicles and broken down tanks, and El Achroma. 73 Squadron (fighters) were brought inside the perimeter from Buamud to Bir el Gubi, and 6 Squadron (Army Co-operation) were stationed at El Achroma.

--- 48. Tobruk: Operational HQ ---

We set up our operational Headquarters within the barracks at Tobruk and were domiciled in the local hotel. This hotel was very modern, and contained very up to date furnishings. Fortunately, the electric light was still functioning, although not for long. In addition to the Squadrons mentioned, the Sector Operations Room which had been established since the fall of Tobruk during our advance, was in operation under the command of Group Captain Spackman. It was quite obvious that Headquarters Cyrenaica (RAF) would now cease to function as we could not hope to act as an offensive unit from within the perimeter of Tobruk.

Air Commodore Collinshaw who, after Benghazi had fallen, had returned to Cairo, had reformed his Headquarters at Heliopolis using the old name of 202 Group. Operational command was again handed over to him and he again moved forward to Ma'aten Bagush assuming command of the Air Forces in the Western Desert. On this occasion, however, the Group formed at Ma'aten Bagush was called 204 Group, and 202 Group remained at Heliopolis under the command of Air Commodore Elmhurst who was responsible for the fighter defence of the Egyptian delta area.

For a few days however the small air forces within the Tobruk perimeter continued to operate. They were considerably outnumbered and could do very little against the superior forces opposing them.

--- 49. German encirclement of Tobruk (April 1941) ---

From time to time parties of troops were arriving from Mechili, Derna and various other places. The officers in command of the various detachments reported their arrival at Army Headquarters. They had become cut off from the main parties of their troops, and the tales which were told were indeed depressing. It was at this stage that a Lt. Colonel confirmed that which had happened to the 3rd Armoured Division.

As I have previously mentioned a large part of this Division became bottlenecked in a wadi, and he also confirmed that there had been no shooting up by enemy aircraft. Reports were made of men who were cut off in Derna and were unable to get up the escarpment. Other reports of parties of men working their way along the coast line, also of the fight that was being put up by the Indians who were stationed in Mechili. It was ascertained that Generals Neame and O’Connor had been placed in a prison camp situated between Derna and Tobruk, and an attempt to carry out a raid on this camp was put in hand, although this was cancelled later in the evening.

The enemy took approx. three days to complete the encirclement of Tobruk. By this time we had managed to move our air forces back from El Adem and Gambut, although unfortunately one Wellington aircraft of 38 Squadron *** which was unserviceable, did remain on the aerodrome at the latter place. During this encircling period we were still in communication by telephone with Cairo.

Practically as soon as the enemy had completed his encirclement of Tobruk, a number of tanks were assembled in what was thought to be an attempt to crash straight through the perimeter. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, the aircraft of 55 Squadron had been brought into the Tobruk perimeter, and were then stationed at Bir el Gubi. The information concerning the tanks was immediately passed to our Headquarters, and a few aircraft of 55 Squadron took off and made what was one of the shortest raids of the war, by carrying out a bombing attack just outside the perimeter on the assembled tanks. The tanks dispersed and the attack was not made.

After the Germans had completed their encirclement they soon began carrying out bombing attacks on shipping, the township, and troops. One attack which appeared to be completely unnecessary was their attack on the hospital. Fortunately, our anti-aircraft defence was a little more formidable although by no means heavy, and this did act as a deterrent during the daylight hours. Raids, however, were quite frequent, especially at night. Several times during the day and night we were forced into our shelters. The hotel, fortunately, had a basement where there were two walls built very close together.

--- 50. Ma'aten Bagush and Fuka ---

With the arrival of Air Commodore Collishaw at Ma'aten Bagush, command was handed over to him and Group Captain Spackman and Group Captain Brown left for Ma'aten Bagush. The Sector Operations Room was then placed in command of Wing Commander Johnston, who had been commanding the Sector Operations Room at Benghazi. Squadron Leader Black who is a regular Army officer seconded to the RAF and trained in Army co-operation work, remained in Tobruk as the Air Force liaison officer to the Army.

Late that evening I returned to Fuka satellite in one of the operational Blenheims of 55 Squadron. After the Headquarters were disbanded Squadron Leader Black moved the troops which remained with him out of the township into the open, where they dug themselves into the ground. This was fortunate because within a short time the hotel was also amongst the buildings demolished.

On arrival at Fuka Satellite landing ground, which is situated a few miles to the east of Ma'aten Bagush, I managed to obtain transport to take me to Air Commodore Collishaw’s Headquarters. On arrival there, after greeting the Air Commodore, I discovered that the officers were complete strangers and comprised practically a new staff. They had not been there very long and had established themselves in what had previously been the Army Headquarters at Ma'aten Bagush. This consisted of a large number of underground rooms which had been built amongst the sand dunes, quite close to the sea front. The staff were not properly installed, the majority of them being new to the desert. In any case, it is very depressing to set up a camp on a site which has been previously occupied.

After a meal and feeling very tired I went outside and discovered a slit trench. Having made up my camp bed I retired for the night into this. Throughout the night quite a fresh breeze was blowing, and when I awoke the following morning, my mouth, nose and eyes were full of sand, also my bed clothes.

At this stage, I was still under the command of Group Captain Brown who, on relinquishing his Headquarters, proposed to proceed to Cairo. I asked him if I could accompany him, and he agreed. Shortly after breakfast we proceeded by car from Ma'aten Bagush to Fuka, a distance of approx. 15 miles. On the way it was very depressing to observe that the whole area was completely devoid of any form of Army equipment or vehicles.

--- 51. Fuka to Cairo: Air Marshal Tedder ---

The Group Captain decided when we arrived at Fuka, that I should proceed to Cairo by air in a transport aircraft which we observed on the aerodrome. I did not know at the time and have not been able to confirm since, whether he had any previous knowledge which caused him to do this. He then proceeded by road to Cairo. The road leaves the coast a few miles west of Alexandria, and then passes through an RAF Station called Amiriya. This station has its domestic area on one side of the road and the aerodrome on the other. The camp is enclosed with barbed wire, and an airman is permanently stationed on the road near the entrance to the camp.

As Group Captain Brown passed, his car was halted and he was given a message from Air Commodore Collishaw saying that Wing Commander Judge was to return to Ma'aten Bagush immediately. Unfortunately by then I was well on the way by air.

That evening I reported to Headquarters, Middle East. On reporting I was told by senior officers in various departments I visited that I was wanted urgently by Air Commodore Collishaw. The following morning I met Group Captain Brown who had then arrived, and I made known this fact to him. The Group Captain reported to Air Marshal Tedder, and was instructed to write up the RAF side of the campaign in Cyrenaica.

After this interview he told me to meet him at the Heliopolis House Hotel for this purpose. I was then told that Air Marshal Tedder wished to see me. On reporting to him he stated that Air Commodore Collishaw wished me to return to the Western Desert. He said “Apparently you are the only person who knows of the positions of the landing grounds between Ma'aten Bagush and Alexandria. You may think this funny, but I don’t.” Naturally I was not very pleased with this but did not comment at the time. He then explained that Group Captain Brown desired me to assist him in the writing up of the Cyrenaica campaign, and that Air Commodore Collishaw also desired me to inspect all the landing grounds which had been constructed between Ma'aten Bagush and Alexandria. He said he had agreed with the Air Commodore that I should be loaned to him for five days.

Actually all the information concerning these landing grounds was available in a file at Headquarters, Middle East, and after my interview with the Air Marshal, I was able to proceed to the Navigation Section and obtain a copy of the information which I had sent to them some months previously, and before the campaign started in 1940. After completing the job I later made this known to the Air Marshal.

--- 52. Reconnaissance for Air Marshal Tedder ---

For the purpose of my reconnaissance I was given a vehicle by Headquarters, Middle East. My driver LAC Thorburn who had been a driver in my Squadron and who had accompanied me throughout the advance from Sallum to Benghazi, was then at RAF Station Aboukir. I obtained permission to use him again and we carried out our reconnaissance and eventually reported to Air Commodore Collishaw at Ma'aten Bagush. When my report had been made to the Air Commodore, I returned to Cairo. However, before carrying out this reconnaissance, I spent a few days with Group Captain Brown in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel which is under the same management as the Heliopolis House Hotel, and in this place we pieced together the information and operational diary which had been kept of our operations in Cyrenaica.

I later learned that General Wavell in his report, had stated that the failure of the Army in Cyrenaica had been due to the inadequacy of the RAF Group Captain Brown having handed in his official report went on leave prior to taking up a new appointment. After carrying out my reconnaissance for Air Commodore Collishaw, I again reported to A/M Tedder at Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Middle East.

--- 53. Air Marshal Tedder: What do you know,? ---

In the course of our conversation I told the Air Marshal that I had completed the work which was required by Air Commodore Collishaw and also mentioned to him that the information concerning the landing grounds had all been available in his own Headquarters. The Air Marshal then used an expression which I well remember although not exactly the type of expression which one normally hears from an Air Marshal to a comparatively junior officer “What do you know, Judge?” he said. I felt that this was an opportunity which should not be wasted and in reply stated “In my opinion, Sir, your organisation is wrong”. “What do you mean?” he replied.

Here was an opportunity to explain to somebody in authority and who would listen, all the “snags” which had become apparent to me during the time I had spent in the Western Desert. I explained to the Air Marshal that in my opinion each Squadron should have two landing grounds; one as an operational landing ground in the forward area, at which should be stationed only those aeroplanes which were fully serviceable, or could be made serviceable within 48 hours. The second landing ground should be situated well in the rear up to 75 miles or over, at which should be stationed the bulk of the personnel of the Squadron together with the Squadron’s heavy equipment, and at which aircraft inspections and repairs within the scope of the Squadron should be carried out. This would free the Squadron’s transport, the bulk of which should be with the forward or operational landing ground, to enable the Squadron to be highly mobile and to cope with any situation which required transport.

I pointed out that it was very simple for a Squadron to operate during an advance, because any equipment which could not be carried in the Squadron’s transport was safe, and the Squadron was able to send back for a second journey. In the case of a withdrawal, however, any equipment which could not be moved initially had to be discarded because in many cases there was no opportunity to make a second journey.

When advancing, Squadrons should move under Headquarters orders, in an orderly manner and as part of a well considered plan. In a withdrawal there is not always sufficient time for carefully worked out plans to be received from Headquarters and a Squadron may have been forced to move on its own initiative.

Also when aircraft were in need of inspection and were jacked up on trestles, or were unserviceable for some other reason, and they were situated in the forward area they were automatically open to front gun attack by enemy aircraft, whereas if they were situated out of the operational area, the Maintenance work could be carried out in comparative safety and without the danger of enemy strafing attacks. Moreover there was no fear of an unserviceable aircraft having to be burnt because there was insufficient time to remove it.

The Air Marshal heard me out and said “Go and put that on paper Judge.” I explained that I was not his staff and therefore had no office, whereupon he pressed a button for his A.D.C., Flight Lieutenant Bray, and instructed him to get me an office and a stenographer to take down my suggestions. Within a short time I found myself occupying the office of the Turkish liaison officer, and a stenographer appeared.

--- 54. Landing facility recommendations to Air Marshal Tedder ---

At that time I had little knowledge of staff work and was more used to dealing with matters from a practical stand point rather than a theoretical one. However, I briefly dictated my ideas and suggested the areas which could be used as alternative bases for the rear parties of Squadrons.

--- 55. Landing facility implementation for Air Marshal Tedder (April 1941) ---

My article was headed “The Organisation of Squadrons and Maintenance Units in the Western Desert”. Whilst the stenographer was typing it Wing Commander Jackman of the planning department of Middle East Headquarters, arrived in the office. He had apparently been sent by Air Marshal Tedder to obtain the information which I was then having typed. I explained to him that if he cared to wait for a few minutes, the article would be typed, and this he did. He then disappeared for about 10 minutes and when he returned informed me that I was to report to Air Marshal Tedder at 2 o’clock. This was on the 22nd April, 1941. At 2 o’clock that afternoon I reported to the Air Marshal’s A.D.C. and was shortly afterwards shown into this office.

Jackman was present and I was instructed to sit down opposite the Air Marshal. He thereupon drew up the re-organization of the Squadrons in the Western Desert, on the lines which I had suggested. Frequently he would mention a course of action and turning to me for confirmation would say “Can we do that Judge”. Sometimes it was possible, sometimes inadvisable, whereupon I answered accordingly. This went on for some considerable period until such time as the work was completed. On completion I accompanied the Air Marshal into another office and Jackman left us. Here I met Air Vice Marshal Drummond whom I had known for many years. The Air Marshal consulted a map of the area under discussion and informed me that he was expecting to have a considerable increase in the number of Squadrons in the Middle East Command. This being so it was necessary to have a large number of aerodromes available.

I explained where the landing grounds could be constructed and after some small talk with the Air Vice Marshal at my expense he told me that I had better get out and make them. However, at this time I was very much interested in obtaining leave, not having had any rest since returning from Cyrenaica, and bearing in mind that Group Captain Brown had already gone on leave. The Air Marshal however did not think highly of this idea and still maintained that he required the landing grounds. I asked him how many he desired and he informed me 16. I than asked him how long he would give me to make them and he replied three days.

Actually of course he did not think it could be done. In actual fact he got 15 landing ground within three days and would have had the 16th only I miscounted. The three days included leaving Cairo, traveling over a 100 miles and returning to Cairo. These were the landing grounds which the Air Forces used for the ***Battle of El Alamein.

--- 56. Landing facility construction for Air Marshal Tedder (April 1941) ---

The majority of the aerodromes were constructed in a very small area as we had not a great amount of anti-aircraft defence and certainly not sufficient to provide each and every aerodrome with adequate protection. It was therefore surely better to construct all the aerodromes in a concentrated manner and defend the area as a whole. When the Air Marshal instructed me to do this job my position had not been clarified, because I was then an officer without an appointment or base, working directly for Air Marshal Tedder without any written warrant for so doing.

However, I consulted Squadron Leader Springham who was handling the transport section of the Middle East Headquarters, and informed him that I required a motor car. I had known Springham for some considerable time and he provided me, after much persuasion, with a new 1941 uncamouflaged Ford Saloon. This car was fitted with desert tyres and numbered 31679. Having arranged transport for myself it was then necessary to have some personnel to help me to mark out these landing grounds. I therefore gave a list of the equipment I required to the Equipment Branch at Middle East. This consisted of:

10 shovels, 3 picks, 140 tins of paraffin or petrol, 64 drums of used engine oil, rations for three days for one officer and twelve men, two water containers of ten gallon capacity, and two sets of ground strips.

This is the actual equipment which was used in the marking out of the majority of landing grounds for the Battle of El Alamein. I then rang the Adjutant of RAF Station Heliopolis which is situated quite close to Cairo, and asked him if the would lend me twelve men for three days. I explained the work I wished these men to do and the authority for the work to be carried out. At 0700 hours on 24th April, 1941, I left Heliopolis with my twelve men and equipment and a 5 ton Crossley lorry and departed on my job.

We left Cairo taking the road near the pyramids from Mena and passed the frontier post eventually arriving at what is commonly called the half way house, which is situated at Wadi Natrun approx. 90 km from Cairo. Nearer this area I proposed to construct some landing grounds. After surveying the country side, and carrying out several trial runs in order that the required distance could be obtained, I eventually discovered a suitable area. This I numbered LG82. Two other areas were located in the vicinity which were suitably marked after actual runs had been obtained of approx. 1,000 metres. These were numbered LG83 and 84. Having reconnoitered the areas, measured the distances and taken the bearings, it was necessary to mark the corners of the proposed runways or landing grounds. This was done by means of the petrol and used oil.

The corner markings in the form of an ‘L’ were made about 12 feet long by 2 feet 9 inches wide. Petrol was then poured onto the ‘L’ and some of the used oil poured on top of the petrol. By placing a match on the mixture whilst it was still wet, black markings which eventually turned a dark brown were made on the ground. Endeavouring to find suitable areas requires infinite patience and has many disappointments. Considerable runs may be obtained in one direction but not in another. When this occurs the area is often abandoned and a search commenced elsewhere. It must be remembered bulldozers and graders were luxuries. My task was to obtain sites for use without any major work required other than clearing weeds and small scrub or small mounds. Speed of preparation was essential.

The reason the first of these landing grounds was numbered LG82 was that during the initial advance in 1940 now spoken of as **** campaign, I had been responsible for the numbering of all the landing grounds in the Western Desert and the Delta area. In doing this I had commenced with Sidi Barrani on the border of Libya, which I had numbered O1. The ‘O’ signified that the aerodrome was suitable as an ‘operational’ aerodrome, followed by the number allotted to it for reference purposes. The next landing ground number was Buq Buq which was called E2, the object being to differentiate between the operational and the emergency landing grounds. When all the aerodromes had been numbered, including Cairo and the Canal zones, I again worked westwards towards the Libyan border as additional landing grounds were constructed. The last of these landing grounds was LG81, which was in actual fact never completed. LG81 owing to the rapidity of our advance was a landing ground in course of construction in the vicinity of a small mud hut near Sawani Ogerin and near a track running from Buq Buq on the coast southwards towards the escarpment on which was situated the Italian camps known as the Sofafi camps.

After leaving Wadi Natrun the ground is soft and undulating, unsuitable for vehicle and aerodromes. We therefore traveled along the Cairo Alexandria road in the direction of Alexandria for approx. 63 km before coming to ground which appeared suitable for our purpose. This was approx. 29 km due South of Alexandria. On arrival at this area the same procedure for marking landing grounds was followed, namely to select what appeared to be a suitable area, travel over the area by car and measuring distances from the milometer. Again the men were employed on marking the corners of any area which was selected, by using the petrol and oil mixture.

After we had marked out a few landing grounds it was time to consider where we would spend the night. It so happened that in the area in which we were operating and close to the (Alexandria-Cairo) main road there was a vacant building which had been used as a roadside Buffet before the war. There was no tenant at the time and the buffet was locked. This however presented little difficulty and within a short time we had become the new tenants of the building. A satisfactory meal of bully and biscuits was made and the airmen commenced to select their various sleeping sites for the evening. One selected the counter and various others the floor. One lad who had an enquiring nature discovered that in an outhouse, also locked, were some spring beds and mattresses. A loan of these items was taken and the comfort of the airmen for the evening was improved.

Early the following morning we again returned to our task of marking out landing grounds and decided that the building in which we had spent the night was quite a suitable pivotal point for our operations. Throughout the day we brought the total of landing grounds to 12, which included two landing grounds which had been marked out previously but abandoned. We again slept at our Headquarters and the following morning I constructed the last of the series and numbered it LG 96.

These landing grounds were constructed in very close proximity to each other and in doing so a dual purpose was served. It must be borne in mind that throughout the whole of the period of hostilities in the Western Desert there had been insufficient defence at any of the aerodromes, and each aerodrome was very vulnerable to attack from enemy aircraft. By placing a large number of aerodromes into a small area such anti-aircraft guns as could be spared for aerodrome defence, could then be employed on defending the area as such, rather than defending very lightly and inadequately a large number of widely dispersed airfields.

--- 57. Nile Delta vulnerability: "Barrel route" ---

I would now like to refer to the vulnerability of the Egyptian Delta** to ground attack by approach from the Western Desert. In my opinion, there were only two routes by which the enemy could have approached the Delta in strength: a track constructed by the Army before Italy entered the war and which was known as the ‘barrel route’, the other being the main coastal road from Sallum to Alexandria.

The ‘barrel route’ could be used to move to and from Mersa Metruh from the Cairo-Alexandria road, and also to a certain degree as an escape route from the Western Desert thus relieving possible congestion on the main coastal road. The route was marked by means of barrels set in prominent positions. To follow the route one first proceeded to a barrel; scanned the horizon until locating the next barrel, and then proceeded there by picking one’s own way. There was not definite road, in fact the tracks in the area were numerous and if one was not aware of the existence of the marker barrels, it would have been most difficult to have used any of the previous tracks as a guide. It was possible for small quantities of transport only to travel over the area, the thin crust formed on the virgin sand becoming quickly broken and rendering the surface unsuitable for large convoys of vehicles.

One particularly bad spot was the Wadi El Faregh. Apart from this unsuitable route the only satisfactory method of approaching the Delta was over the hard ground in the north, along the coastal belt. This area East of El Alamein to Alexandria stretched approx. 20 miles inland. Near the coast the main road to Sidi Barrani had been constructed.

The three landing grounds which had been formed near Wadi Natrun were suitable and satisfactory to cover any approach by the enemy along the ‘barrel route’. The surface of the landing grounds was sand and it was necessary to preserve the top crust as much as possible. Communications were good and there were ample supplies of good drinking water for RAF requirements. As it was obvious that the main body of the attack must approach along the coastal belt, it was also obvious that the main strength of our aerodromes must be defending that area. If this northern area had not been defended adequately and the Germans had been able to enter the Delta, they would have been able to disperse throughout the whole countryside and it would have been extremely difficult to have prevented them from advancing to the Canal area and Cairo.

--- 58. Landing facility: construction completion ---

The Delta area is very well irrigated and numerous canals make cross country travel extremely difficult. Moreover, had landing grounds not been constructed I the area previously mentioned or in the alternative area at Bahig, which in reality is very close, aircraft operating in support of the Army would have been forced to travel an additional 100 miles from the Cairo area or 145 miles from the Canal area. When it is remember that this distance must be doubled to enable the aircraft to return to their base, the time which could be spent over the enemy would then have been very small indeed. So, by constructing these aerodromes in the Amiriya area, the Royal Air Force was then in a position to offer very close support to the Army and take advantage of any fleeting targets and answer any emergency calls.

On the third day after completing the marking out of the aerodromes I returned with my party to Cairo. By this time the airmen who had been employed handling the petrol and oil had caused a considerable amount of damage to their clothing. Feeling that these men had done a good job of work I made it my business whilst at Headquarters to call in at the Equipment Section there and ask for an additional pair of shorts for each man. The reply I received from a very senior office was “Don’t you realize that there is a war on”.

Later the same evening I approached Air Marshal Tedder in a corridor at Headquarters. He sad to me “I thought I told you to go and make those landing grounds” to which I replied “I have, Sir”. Actually I had made a mistake for whereas the A.O.C. had asked for 16 landing grounds, I had in fact only produced 15. This was purely because I had omitted to count sufficiently carefully. A few days later however I returned and made an additional three landing grounds Nos. LG97, LG98 and LG 99 and whilst returning to Cairo selected another suitable are near Wadi Natrun for use by a Maintenance Group and this was to be known as LG 100.

--- 59. Transfer to Heliopolis ---

Having completed my job for the Air Marshal I asked to see him in order to ascertain my future. He interviewed me and informed me that in his opinion I had been long enough in the Western Desert, and he was sending me to 202 Group which had its Headquarters at Heliopolis under Air Commodore Elmhurst. The job in this Group was the fighter defence of Cairo. I had not realized at the time but apparently Air Commodore Elmhurst lived with Air Marshal Tedder and had possibly received a running commentary on what had been happening in respect of the Amiriya landing grounds and the reasons for the delay in my non-appearance at his Headquarters.

I was not particularly keen to take up an office job, but despite my efforts to persuade the Air Marshal to alter his decision I was unsuccessful. During the course of conversation however he said “Judge, how do I know that this scheme of yours will be a success?” to which I gave him the only reply I could “You have my word for it, Sir”. He then said “Well if it doesn’t, have you seen the gallows I am building for you” to which I replied “No, Sir, but I presume they would be there”. I did not fully realize at the time that the words which were being spoken in jest between us would ultimately come true, for after I had served my usefulness and been responsible for the whole of the Royal Air Force organisation in respect of landing grounds down the Nile in event of failure of the El Alamein line, I was appointed Duty Pilot at Asmara, possibly the most senior Duty Pilot in the Royal Air Force.***

However, I reported to Air Commodore Elmhurst and explained to him the job on which I had been employed by the Air Marshal although he apparently already knew of it, and then took up my duties at his Headquarters as Operations 1 and acting Senior Air Staff Officer. Shortly afterwards another officer was posted to take over this latter post and I held the appointment of Operations 1.

After being employed actively for such a long period, it was somewhat irksome to find that there was so much work to be done outside which was not really within my province, and so little work to be done in connection with the fighter defence of Cairo. Actually the defence of Cairo fourteen months later became quite an important consideration, but at that time we were not within fighter range and there was little active operational work or the Squadrons to employ.

--- 60. Reconnaissance: Qena, Qosier, Suez ---

I therefore decided that in addition to my appointment, I would endeavour to put forward suggestions which I knew should be carried out. Air Commodore Elmhurst was most sympathetic and in every instance backed me fully giving me all the support and every facility I required.

The first reconnaissance I carried out from this Headquarters was down the Nile valley to Qena, from Qena across the Red Sea hills to Qosier, and northwards up the Red Sea and the Gulf to Suez and the Suez town to Cairo. For this purpose I still had my car specially equipped and a driver named Corporal Rowe. At the time I was staying in a pension opposite Groppi’s in the middle of Cairo and asked the Corporal to wake me at a very early hour. This he did and at the same time handed me a cup of tea. I was very surprised at this and asked him how he managed to get the tea. We used to travel self-contained in our vehicle carrying with us food as well as camp kit, spares, petrol etc. and it appeared that the Corporal had set up the Primus stove on one of the main roads in Cairo and brewed his tea which he then produced. I thought that perhaps on this trip I might meet some person who would appreciate a local paper, bearing in mind that in many places which are out of the way people have no access to up to date literature. I kept this paper and as you will see later a small gesture of possible thoughtfulness was entirely wasted.

We left Cairo and proceeded down the Nile for ***….. miles as far as Asyut where we stopped for lunch. We had not traveled over this road previously and one learns a great deal from experience on this type of travel. Firstly, it is much easier to cover distance by traveling very early in the morning and before the natives commence moving their cattle on the roads and before the numerous villages along the road come to life, for when they do, the roads are generally cluttered with gamoos (water buffalo), dogs, fowls, small children, and natives lying on the roadway to rest. However, we had made very good time and after lunch pushed on to Nag Hammadi. We had intended to reach Qena but did not realize exactly what we were in for after leaving Asyut.

The W/D signpost directed us along a road on the western side of the Nile to Sohag. As we were used to bad roads we did not realize that in this particular instance we were not then on the best road which was available. However, as we later learned, such was the case. The road from Asyut to Sohag is built on what may best be described as a top of a wall. It is possibly the embankment of a previous course of the Nile and the road itself is very narrow. Should one meet an oncoming vehicle it would be most unwise to attempt to pass, the most suitable arrangement is to stop having drawn over as far as possible with safety and then coax the oncoming vehicle to attempt to pass you. If this is achieved then all is well. If not, the other vehicle suffers, not you. The road contained 100 turns in 10 kms as I counted them on the next occasion I had to pass along this road. Naturally, under these conditions, our average speed was strictly reduced, and although towards evening when the roads were commencing to clear of the populous and animal life we made increased speed, our chances of making Qena before night fall were very remote.

The roads on which we were traveling were mutti (Nile mud) and these when wet are extremely dangerous but when dry and traveling very quickly throw up a considerable amount of dust. The inside of the car and the outside of ourselves became extremely dirty and our dust stream was approx. 200 yards in length. We approached Nag Hammadi at a great speed and just prior to entering the town a small vehicle behind us endeavoured to attract our attention by continuous hooting. We did not take any notice for a while not knowing it was meant for us but on entering the village the Egyptian in the car asked if he could be of assistance. The village of Nag Hammadi is like the majority of other Egyptian villages; very dirty with unattractive buildings. We asked the Egyptian whether he could direct us to the hotel and he told us to follow him. We did this and the hotel proved to be a filthy native Café probably very bug ridden and in any case not suitable as any sort of sleeping accommodation for us. However, it was the best that was offered and we asked if the hotel keeper could produce for us a meal.

--- 61. Coptic hospitality: Nag Hammadi ---

The Egyptian in the car who had so far befriended us then asked whether we would like to go to his house for tea. Both the driver and myself were absolutely filthy and what we principally wanted was a bath. We could not be any worse off than we were and so thanked the kindly Egyptian and followed him to his house. We went along a narrow track for a few miles outside Nag Hammadi and eventually came to another village. He drove to a small bridge leading to a house within a high wall. We then got out of our cars and crossed the bridge. Sitting near the end of the bridge was a fine looking gentleman in European clothes. The Egyptian then said in English “May I present my father”. His father did not speak English but French and Arabic. After our greetings he said to me, you may go into my house. Not knowing what to expect we then passed through the large gate set into the high wall and to my surprise came to a paved pathway leading up to a modern house.

We entered the house feeling very dirty indeed, more conscious of our appearance because of its restful appointment. We were invited to be seated, then the Egyptian said “My name is Victor Takla, what is yours?” Introductions were effected and he then said “would you care to take Tea first or would you like a bath?” This was too good to be true and I informed him that if it was not too much trouble I would prefer to have a bath. For a few minutes he went away and returned saying “your bath is now ready, I will show you the way”. I accompanied him upstairs and was shown into a tiled bathroom with a porcelain bath, hot and cold water and all modern conveniences. It was delightful to sink into this and having had a nice soak and discovered the tick rim of black grime I left on the bath, proceeded to scrub this off. Having dressed and returned, Corporal Rowe also bathed and we then had Tea. Victor Takla then informed me that his family were Copts, in other words Christians, and he was very active in the promotion of British propaganda in that area.

After Tea we sat outside in the cool of the evening and his mother and father joined us. We had still not made arrangements with regard to accommodation for the evening but I had in mind moving out a little way from the town and sleeping in a field. However, it was now quite dark and Victor Takla said “I have told the Corporal to put the car in the garage. Of course you will stay the night”. I did not wish to impose on the family and having had previous experience of Egyptian food was not looking forward to a feast which means eating oneself into a stupor. I felt however that these people were indeed sincere and so kind that it would have offended them if I did not accept.

I learned that Victor Takla’s father was none other than Kamel Bey Takla who was a gentleman very much respected in the area. During the course of our conversation he ascertained that I spoke Arabic and we became very friendly indeed. Later when proceeding to supper I managed to tell the Corporal to take the smallest portion possible of each particular helping as he had not previously experienced dining in an Egyptian home, but here again I received a surprise. Kamel Bey Takla said “We are Christians, just eat what you would like and make this house your own”. After that it was very simple indeed. We had an enjoyable meal and shortly afterwards Kamel Bey Takla said “You must be tired now, Victor will show you to your rooms. He will awaken you at 5 o’clock in order that you can proceed on your way”.

I had previously explained that it was necessary for me to make an early start in order to cross the railway bridge over the Nile at Nag Hammadi. This bridge is a swing bridge which opens at a certain hour to enable large falukas to pass along the Nile. We proceeded upstairs and found that I had been allotted a large double room, the Corporal also had a large double room and we had a sitting room adjoining. We were very tired after a hard day and it was not long before I was in bed. I then discovered that the bed was almost as hard as a board, there were no bed clothes except the sheet spread over the mattress and the bolster was also very hard. My immediate thought when I touched the pillow was that it was not to my liking.

The next thing I knew however was when I had spent a very restful night’s sleep and was being awakened by Victor Takla. I asked the Corporal how he had slept in the same conditions and his experience was just the same as mine. After shaving and freshing we proceeded downstairs where Victor awaited us and took us into the garden where an English breakfast had been prepared even to the marmalade. During the previous evening meal we had spoken about the Coptic bread which had been served. This is very palatable bread which is baked in the sun and remains moist for quite a number of days. We again consumed this bread at breakfast, and were presented with a couple of loaves to take away with us.

As time was getting short and it would be touch and go as to whether we would arrive at the bridge in time, Victor then rang up the officer in charge of the bridge and told him not to open it until such time as we arrived. We thanked the family most sincerely for their hospitality and Victor escorted us as far as the bridge.

On arrival at the bridge we found that it had already been closed to road traffic, but the bridge had not been pivoted. I was introduced by Victor to the Officer in charge of the detachment guarding the bridge, whereupon we bade farewell to Victor and our way was made clear.

--- 62. Reconnaissance: Nag Hammadi to Qena ---

Perhaps I should explain that the Egyptian Government provided detachments at the various bridges over the Nile to ensure that there was no sabotage during the period of the War. After crossing the Nag Hammadi bridge we proceeded to Qena, a distance of approx. ***….. km. We were still on the dirt roads consisting of Nile mud which is watered by a road gang to keep the surface in a reasonable condition. We passed through a cultivated area in which was situated a native village. The road, such as it was, ran very close to the wall of one of the buildings and then proceeded to take a right angled turn.

We did not realize at the time, but this was also the road of one of the many buses which run from town to town in the cultivated area of the Nile delta. The turning owing to the proximity of the wall was a completely blind one and had we met a vehicle approaching us from the opposite direction undoubtedly there would have been a serious accident. Egyptian drivers can hardly be considered to rank among the safest in the world. However, we continued to pick our way through the cultivated area by map reading and enquiry, where necessary. As this was our first visit to the area, we did not realize that we could have taken an alternative route which would have completely eliminated the slow progress along the winding road in a populated area. In many instances the roads on which we traveled were built on the sites of canals. This of course is only applicable to the cultivated areas. The situation of the road renders the surfacing by means of watering easy, it can however be very dangerous, as one is quite likely owing to the bad condition of the road, to have a serious accident by running into the canal.

Our journey to Qena was however quite uneventful and on arrival there I sought out the police post. The Officer in charge had recently been replaced by a new officer who was a Sudanese and he was most helpful indeed. He was extremely courteous and invited us to take Tea. This we did and it was most welcome to sit in the comparative cool of his office, although the flies were rather troublesome.

In the course of conversation I found that we had a mutual acquaintance in an officer named Abdulla Idrisi. Abdulla, whom I had met in Sallum near the border of Egypt and Libya in 1937, was one of the finest Sudanese officers I have ever met. His life was a most interesting one of roaming around the desert in the vicinity of the Egyptian frontier. His knowledge of the desert was extraordinary. Unfortunately, shortly after the outbreak of War with Italy when the Italians bombed Sallum, Abdulla Idrisi was injured to the extent of his arm being amputated and he had to be retired from the service.

--- 63. Reconnaissance: Qena to Qosier ---

My object in visiting Qena was to investigate the condition of the landing ground and to ascertain the possibility of its enlargement or its suitability for modern aircraft. The Officer in charge of the police post pointed out the position of the landing ground and I proceeded on an inspection. The ground in the vicinity had been badly cut up; the surface was in a very bad condition and of very sandy gravel. Once the top soil had been broken it would have required stabilising by means of runways to have been of any value.

A small Army detachment was then at Qena surveying the possibility of a road from Qena to Safaga. Safaga is situated on the Red Sea coast approx. 65 km north of Qosier. It was my intention to proceed through the Red Sea Hills to both these places after leaving Qena. As I was unaware of the type of road or track which existed from Qena to Qosier through the hills I had previously arranged to take a guide from Qena. This we did leaving Qena the following morning.

The precaution was entirely unnecessary as the road between Qena and Qosier was well defined and the mere presence of the guide took off the enjoyment of travel in unfamiliar surroundings and added additional weight to our already heavily ladened vehicle. Whilst proceeding I was studying the countryside to ascertain whether there were any alternative sites at which a landing ground could be constructed in view of the fact that the Qena site had been spoilt. The spoiling of this site was another instance of the lack of co-operation between the Army and the RAF. Seeing the aerodrome markings, an officer in charge of a party if acquainted with the Air Force requirements, would obviously not have permitted the surface of the aerodrome to have become broken by running M.T. vehicles over it. Unfortunately, owing to the undulating nature of the country, there were no other airfield sites available.

Aerodromes could of course have been made if considerable expenditure had been incurred by leveling and subsequent laying down of runways, but this was not the object of my reconnaissance.

After traveling a considerable distance, we arrived at a police post and where we stopped to fill up with water and quench our thirst. The temperature was well in excess of 100° but one becomes accustomed to this type of heat and the conditions were accepted as being part of the day’s work. The car, however, did not become accustomed to the heat and the engine boiled on a great number of occasions. This became a very common event and the occurrence is due to the prevailing wind.

When traveling across the desert in upper Egypt, it is advisable to undertake any journeys from west to east in the very early hours of the morning, or late in the afternoon. From east to west it appears that the conditions as far as an engine is concerned are much better. Owing to the heat once the engine has boiled it takes a considerable time for cooling to be effected unless the car is modified with a special cooling device. This meant that progress was thus made by short dashes and the distance covered varied between three quarters of a mile to a mile and a half before the engine again boiled and the car was stopped for a repeat performance. As we gained experience, however, where possible driving from west to east was not made if it could be avoided. This heating up also applies to the coastal area, the prevailing wind in the Red Sea coast and the Gulf to Suez is north to south, so that when driving down the coat from Suez boiling conditions are met with whilst traveling at any time during the day but in the reverse direction causes no difficulty whatever.

After leaving the police post, we continued in an easterly direction for quite a few miles before the car engine again boiled as we had allowed it to become fairly cool during our rest period, the inevitable however happened and it was necessary to turn the car in a northerly direction in order to cool the engine. During these periods we topped up with cold water after the car had gone off the boil. Gradually our supplies of water became lower and lower until practically exhausted.

Fortunately, however, we then came to a well. This was obviously constructed to assist travelers but by whom it was constructed I was not able to ascertain. It was of stone construction and had a circular staircase within the external diameter of the well. The stairs were of stone and were well worn by many feet. We descended the stairs for a distance of about 40 feet before coming out onto a small platform immediately above the water. The water was delightfully cool, fresh and very clear. The temperature so close to the water and out of the direct rays of the sun was so pleasant that we were loath to return to the surface. Having replenished our supplies of water we again pushed on and commenced entering the Red Sea Hills.

--- 64. Reconnaissance: Qosier ---

It was a fascinating drive because the surface of the track was now of large pebbles. Over an extended period the few vehicles which had traveled between Qena and Qosier had worn deep wheel tracks so that the loose pebbles were very close to the rump of the car. We were then to all intents and purposes in a groove. It was obvious that the road led somewhere and yet on many occasions it appeared that we were going to come to a dead end by running into the side of a hill, but always the track ran round the base of the hill or passed sharply through a narrow defile. It was a most interesting journey as one’s vision was limited. Interest was maintained in the expectation of what was round the next corner or behind the next hill.

The rock formation is not red, but varies considerably in colour from black to grey and brown. The hills however are very attractive and when later we halted for lunch in the vicinity of a gold mine where work had been suspended during the War, we lunched in the shade of the mountain range and against the base.

It was to have been expected that the heat in this position would have been terrific, but actually it was delightfully cool in comparison to the direct rays of the sun. We noticed during lunch that shrub was quite plentiful and a very pretty flower was also blooming in abundance. After lunch we continued on our way and were pleased to arrive at Qosier at approx. 4.30.

Qosier is a small port on the coast of the Red Sea. Before the War it had quite a reasonable Italian population and Italian school. These had, of course, been closed down. These Italians had been employed at a mine a few miles inland which was connected to the coast by a light railway. At the time of our arrival there was a vessel of about 5,000 tons which was just in the act of departing. A vessel leaving port is always rather an interesting sight so we proceeded directly to the end of the pier and watched the proceedings.

However, we had only been there for a few minutes before an Egyptian policeman came up. He said that the ‘Governor’ would like us to go and see him. We continued to watch the vessel for a short time and then proceeded in the direction which had been indicated by the policeman. The ‘Governor’ proved to be an Egyptian Lieutenant who was really only acting in a temporary capacity. He asked us our business at Qosier and when I informed him that I was not in a position to discuss the matter with him but did wish to have a look at the aerodrome, he appreciated the position and again extended to us very warm hospitality. He said “You will stay in the Rest House. I will have the rooms prepared.” This he did.

The Rest House was situated at the back of the official Government block which also comprised the ‘Mudir’s’ office, Administrative offices, the Guardroom and the Goal. The procedure followed here was that the Rest Room was placed at our disposal including cooking facilities and a cook was to be hired but would also act in the capacity of Suffragi (servant). This was all arranged very quickly although no warning of our arrival had been given. The Lieutenant then invited us to Tea which he had already been partaking of with the local celebrities at the time of our arrival. We joined them in Tea and were later invited to the club house which consisted of one room containing a ping pong table. As we had previously experienced, the Egyptian officer gave us every facility and assistance during our stay at Qosier.

The following day we located the agent for the Shell company and we refueled. We ascertained the whereabouts of the landing ground and started off on reconnaissance. The landing ground was situated about 1 ½ miles north of the town. When we found the place it was quite obviously unsuitable for modern aircraft and again could not be extended without considerable expenditure.

In the area north and south of Qosier the ground is broken considerably by small wadis and gullies. The hills commence about one mile from the place and run parallel to the coast. When it rains the water pours down the mountain slopes to the sea forming hundreds of little streams for the duration of the rains. Thus the area is corrugated at right angles to the desired direction of landing into the prevailing wind.

We searched the area without success and then went south passing through Qosier and proceeding for several kilometers. Again we met with no success. The corrugations were far too numerous. Again we headed north and eventually reached Qosier once more. We had been informed that a certain quantity of ice was manufactured in a building near the waterfront and as we were carrying an ice box we availed ourselves of this very welcome amenity before again proceeding northward towards Safaga. It was very hot indeed but the Red Sea Coast in July cannot be expected to be otherwise. As we were heading north we had no trouble due to the engine overheating. We encountered a few likely spots where a landing ground might be constructed but as these were close to Safaga I decided to see the existing landing ground first.

--- 65. Reconnaissance: Safaga ---

The white buildings of Safaga came into view about ten minutes before we reached the port and soon we were running parallel to a railway line. Before reaching the settlement of Safaga we came to a barrier across the track with a watchman’s hut. The barrier was down and a notice in English indicated the road was private. This of course was absolute nonsense as the track we were traveling on stretches from Suez to Port Sudan. The barrier was soon put up and we passed beneath. In a few moments we reached the group of white houses which were obviously the European residences.

There were only about four of these houses as there was only one company at Safaga. It was my intention to see someone in authority to ascertain certain information in respect of the landing ground. We cruised slowly along towards what appeared to be an administrative block of offices on the water front and near a factory building.

One of the first white houses had a notice displayed “Admission by invitation only”. Coming so soon after the barrier, we wondered what type of people we should meet. We halted at the office block and I got out, leaving Rowe in the car as unless he took refuge on a verandah there was no relief from the sun. I observed two men near the water. One in bathing kit taking the depth of the water and the other in conversation with him. I stood about for a short time and eventually the latter man came up.

Having made myself known to him I enquired the whereabouts of the landing ground. It was nearby and he accompanied us in the car. The surface of this landing ground was very soft in part so much so that the car had a tendency to become stuck. We found however that by backing the car on our original wheel tracks we were running on a hard surface. The more occasions one ran over the same place the harder the ground became. This was my first experience with hygroscopic soil. It has a considerable salt content and forms a surface somewhat similar to the extreme edge of a fried egg. When compressed by rolling it becomes very hard and smooth similar in appearance to a macadamised road.

We then returned to the Administrative Block where I was able to study some meteorological data in respect of the wind. During my conversation I asked the fellow if he would care for the Egyptian Mail (the newspaper I had kept since leaving Cairo in case I should meet someone in an out of the spot). He accepted it and as I had finished my work and poor Rowe was still resting in the car, I thanked him for the information and left for Qosier.

After the hospitality we had received from the Copt, the Sudanese and the Egyptian, this lack of even the offer of a glass of water or relief from the heat of an enclosed car was very marked. I could not understand this lack of courtesy as he appeared to be English. I mentioned this a little later when at Hurghada, an oil settlement 65 km further north. I then learned that these people were well known for this trait. The post was in existence solely as an outlet for transporting the phosphates mined by the Company. The Company’s interest being held by five Scotch relatives all extremely wealthy and one reputed to be a millionaire.

We were not greatly troubled by the lack of hospitality however and having moved away a short distance from Safaga, proceeded to open the icebox and regale ourselves.

--- 66. Reconnaissance: Safaga, Qosier, Hurghada ---

We then returned to Qosier and spent the remainder of that afternoon bathing. On the following day we rested with a view to returning the next day to Cairo. We left Qosier at 8 a.m. and decided to investigate whether a landing ground could be constructed inland of Qosier at the back of the coastal range of mountains. On arrival at what appeared to be a fairly flat area set in the hills we left the track and proceeded across country. The ground was very stony and after a short investigation I decided it was unsuitable for the construction of an aerodrome.

Unfortunately, during this short detour from the beaten track one of the stones struck the exhaust pipe of the car and loosened it from its fitting. We carried on inland with a view to reaching Bir Beida at which the track forked in the direction of Qena and towards the coast of Safaga. There was nothing at Bir Beida except the temporary dwelling of a roaming Bedouin and some wells which provided water for the animals of the Bedouin tribes.

We took the track leading to Safaga and passed back again through the hills until we eventually came to the phosphate mine which I have previously referred to. There was a little more vegetation on this part of the journey than we had previously encountered possibly due to the presence of moisture in the hills. Occasionally we sighted gazelle feeding in the distance. At our approach they quickly made off in a beautifully rhythmical manner. We passed quickly through the mining camp having in mind the previous reception which we had received at Safaga and with very little consideration as to the amount of dust which we caused in our passing.

It was my intention to reach base that day but we were greatly hampered in this due to the fractured exhaust pipe which continued to make an unpleasant sound and it was necessary on occasion to stop in an effort to make the pipe more secure. The track from Safaga to Suez, a distance of ***…. miles, aggravated the fracture to the exhaust pipe as this road was frequently used by lorries. These lorries whilst leaving the road surface level frequently, due to their bad springing caused innumerable corrugations, these corrugations are set between nine and ten inches apart causing a vehicle to judder continuously. In order to ensure a more pleasant passage over the surface of the road it is necessary to increase the speed of the vehicle so that one is driving in such a manner as will avoid the period of vibration due to the innumerable corrugations. Frequently this increased speed with a view to comfort very often nearly caused disaster due to a rut across the road which we struck with very little warning and insufficient time to decrease the speed of the vehicle.

After leaving Safaga we proceeded 65 km north to Hurghada. Just prior to reaching Hurghada I noticed that the road was again showing the impression caused by hygroscopic soil similar to that at the landing ground at Safaga. In this instance however the soil was of a reddish hue but where the ground had been well worn on the track by the presence of pneumatic tyred vehicles it had taken on a macadamised appearance and colour. This area appeared to me to be most suitable for a landing ground. After three kilometers we passed through a gate leading to the oil wells of Hurghada.

--- 67. Reconnaissance: Hurghada ---

I had not visited this place since 1937 and the aerodrome which was then being used had been changed. Another site had been chosen for the aerodrome approx. 600 yards from the sea front. This landing ground was quite reasonable in proportions and could have been operated from in an emergency by modern aircraft. It was unfortunately obstructed to a certain degree on the leeward side by high hill but the landing ground definitely had possibilities. Hurghada, due to the presence of the oil company, had many facilities to offer which were rarely found in such an out of the way place. Moreover, the depth of water close to the shore was considerable and was very satisfactory for the navigation of medium sized vessels. Owing to the decreased output of oil at Hurghada as these wells were gradually petering out, there was a large number of buildings, the property of the Company which were not then occupied.

The manager at Hurghada Mr. Johnson, was very helpful and as it was near midday he asked us to stay to lunch. I informed him that I would prefer to proceed to Rasgharib. Rasgharib is another oil town north of Hurghada and also situated on the coast. These were the new oil wells owned by the same company to which a great deal of personnel and equipment from Hurghada had been moved. After refueling at Hurghada we again pushed on endeavouring to make the maximum possible speed compatible with the road condition in order to maintain our schedule. I had been impressed with the facilities which were available at Hurghada and also with the area situated slightly south of the town as being most suitable for siting an aerodrome.

--- 68. Reconnaissance: Hurghada to Rasgharib ---

The corrugations in the track between Hurghada and Rasgharib continued and, if anything, became worse until such time as we reached the vicinity of Rasghensa where the track ran very close to the coast and intermittently over hygroscopic soil. Between the road and the actual water front I noticed that there was a considerable area of this type of soil which could be developed if the occasion arose. As this area forms a sheltered bay I thought at the time that this would make a very satisfactory sea plane base. We did not stop but the time spent in passing the area was quite adequate for me to form the impression of the potential value of the area.

At approx. 2.15 we reached Rasgharib. I had not previously visited this spot but had been informed by Mr. Johnson at Hurghada that a Rest House was available where a meal could be obtained. We proceeded as soon as possible to this place.

These Rest Houses are a facility which is provided by the Company at both Hurghada and Rasgharib and by courtesy of the Company, Service Personnel in transit are permitted to use facilities which are available. They are beautifully run and the service and food are most acceptable to a weary traveler. Despite the lateness of the hour lunch was prepared and we were again quickly on our way.

We obtained additional fuel from the store house at Rasgharib as consumption when moving in a northerly direction in this area is high due to the very strong which prevails from the north. Shortly after leaving Rasgharib we encountered a signpost and obeying the instructions thereon, as we thought, very soon found ourselves in the foot hills and quite off the track. However, we proceeded back to the position from which we had made our diversion and then carried on taking the alternative road. This road kept close to the coast line and due to the presence of innumerable small waddies, such as we had experienced near Qosier, our speed was greatly retarded. Being unfamiliar also with the road we lost much valuable time.

--- 69. Reconnaissance: Zafarana ---

The next place we reached was Zafarana. Zafarana is a small police post and has a lighthouse on the coast. On various occasions I had visited this area, the first occasion being in 1933. There is a large landing ground just south west of the lighthouse and this landing ground could have been extended in a southerly direction which would have provided a suitable run into the prevailing wind for modern aircraft. It was in fact as a result of a report by myself that this landing ground was brought into use. We paused at Zafarana in order to make adjustments to the troublesome exhaust pipe but as the afternoon was drawing on and I did not wish to be caught in the dark between Zafarana and Suez with black out regulation headlights, we were again soon on our way.

After leaving Zafarana the ground becomes very broken. Although reasonably level it is very soft indeed and it is advisable for one to choose what appears to be the most suitable track. This results in a considerable fanning out over a wide area of the vehicular markings.

--- 70. Reconnaissance: Abduraq, Suez to Heliopolis ---

From Zafarana we made quite good time until reaching Abudaraq which has another lighthouse.

On the approach to Abudaraq it is necessary to proceed much more slowly due to the rocky nature of the ground and the bumpiness of the track. After leaving Abudaraq the mountain range comes right down to the sea and the coast road has been constructed on the side of the mountain just above the water level and has actually been hewn out of the mountain side. The road in itself is very narrow and very dangerous as one is likely to meet a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction without any warning whatsoever. There is insufficient room in places for vehicles to pass and it might be necessary to back. Fortunately, there are small patches of level ground at varying distances and if an oncoming vehicle is sighted some distance away skirting the base of the hills, one is able to wait until the vehicle has passed. The road carries on in this fashion over a distance of approx. 30 km and by this time dusk was falling.

Fortunately, before it became dark we had reached Ainsukhna which is merely a collection of palm trees and a favourite spot for week-end camps in peace time, although there are no buildings or drinking water available. The road then carries on through the police post at Bir Odeib and so on to Suez, which is approx. 45 km further to the north.

It was quite dark by this time and as we approached Suez, Rowe was driving. We very nearly came to grief at a culvert and I asked Rowe to pull up in order that I should relieve him at the wheel. Our system of driving was to change every hour. I did not realize until later that Corporal Rowe was night blind. On arrival at Suez we proceeded to the hotel and obtained a well earned meal. I was not anxious to spend the night in Suez as I had originally intended to return to Cairo, so after a short treat we again took the Suez road for Heliopolis, which is, as I have previously explained, situated just outside Cairo. I had elected to drive on this last portion of the journey as it was now 10 o’clock. Corporal Rowe took up a position in the back seat where he could pass out. This he proceeded to do with his feet in proximity to my face where I was driving in the front seat.

We arrived at Heliopolis at 12.30 and I decided we should then call it a day. On arrival in Cairo I again took up the wearisome task of keeping myself fully employed in a job which had little attached to it and as often as possible was out of the office where I could be usefully employed on aerodrome construction work.

--- 71. Landing ground: Edcu ---

It was whilst employed on this work that I met Squadron Leader Loveday who was on the staff of the Air Ministry Works Directorate in Headquarters, Cairo. From then on, Loveday and I had much in common both in our desire to get work done and mutual interest in aerodrome construction. Our liaison became so good that instructions were issued to the Works Directorate staff at various aerodromes where work was in hand, that without waiting for the written instructions from Headquarters they could accept as executive any instructions which were given to them by myself which appertained to aerodrome alteration, to buildings or the siting of buildings for which approval to construct had previously been given.

At this time, Loveday had on his hands the problem of convincing a certain commander that Edcu aerodrome, which is situated to the east of Alexandria, could be made into a satisfactory operational aerodrome. The existing aerodrome was situated on a narrow strip of land approx. three kilometers wide bordered on the southern boundary by Lake Edcu and on the north by the Mediterranean. Water from the lake, not the sea, penetrated below the surface of the aerodrome so that the depth of earth before reaching water was approx. three feet.

Loveday maintained that this could be made satisfactory for modern aircraft and that the aerodrome would not go unserviceable. We established very close working liaison and I supported him in his theory in respect of this landing ground. When the Nile river is in flood, a large amount of water passes through the various canals finding its way to Lake Edcu. The surface of the lake rises and so does the level of the water beneath the aerodrome at Edcu. After much discussion it was agreed that a trench should be dug on the southern boundary of the aerodrome and a pump installed so that the water below the surface of the aerodrome would flow back into the trench and be pumped back into the lake. The size of the trench was approx. 3,500 yards long and a large pump house was installed approx. half way along the trench. This proved to be very successful and enabled this aerodrome to be used continuously with the exception of periods when unusual cloud bursts occurred, and the aerodrome was made temporarily unserviceable.

--- 72. Landing ground: Cairo ---

This aerodrome was employed for the defence of Alexandria and for Beaufighters operating offensively on enemy convoys and attacks on Crete. An additional aerodrome was also at that time under construction in the vicinity of Alexandria City. This was to be the Municipal Air Port and is called Mariut.

The surface of this aerodrome is cotton soil, a very dusty substance in dry weather and impossible for vehicles to travel over in wet weather. It was therefore necessary for considerable expenditure to be incurred in the laying down of permanent runways for this aerodrome to be of value and this was done. This was the aerodrome which was being used in argument as being suitable whereas Edcu was alleged to be unsuitable. Mariut is situated very close to Alexandria and in fact it might be termed to be in Alexandria. There is a wall constructed around the southern boundary to prevent water from lake Mariut from flooding the aerodrome, the aerodrome itself has been constructed on reclaimed soil. It is badly sited from the point of view of fighter defence and aircraft on taking off were immediately inside the defence zone, and in the most unenviable position if take off were made during an enemy air attack.

The Air Officer Commanding informed me that we were to obtain five aerodromes placed suitably for the defence of Cairo. The areas selected were Kilo 17 which was on the Fayoum road, Kilo 8, Heliopolis aerodrome. Kilo 8 and Khanka were the property of the Egyptian Government and were used by them for the training of Royal Egyptian Air Force pupils. They very kindly made available these landing grounds to the Royal Air Force. In addition, there was a further landing ground called Kilo 11 situated as may be expected, 3 Kilos from Kilo 8 east of Cairo. Kilo 11 was not used however because there was no water available and access to the landing ground was by means of a track unmade and running over a large number of hills.

--- 73. Ismailia: German attacks on Suez Canal area ---

It was at this time that the Germans commenced paying attention to the RAF stations situated in the Suez Canal area and then to the Canal itself. The one and only fighter squadron defending the Canal was then situated at Ismailia, approx. half way between Suez and Port Said.

Ismailia is one of the prettiest if not the most pretty town in Egypt. It is a garden town situated on the shores of Lake Timsah. The population is very cosmopolitan and the majority are in some way or other connected with the administration of the Suez Canal Company. There is a permanent RAF aerodrome situated approx. 2 ½ miles from the town. On the extreme western edge of the aerodrome an airship mooring mast for the R.33 had been constructed. This was demolished in 1934. also adjoining the aerodrome was the Army garrison camp, Moascir (the word Moascir being the Arabic word for camp).

The only other permanent RAF station in the area in peace time was the training school of No. 4 F.T.S. at Abu Sueir. This camp is situated approx. 12 miles to the west of Ismailia. At the outbreak of war training ceased at this station, and No. 4 F.T.S. was moved to Habbaniyah in Iraq. RAF Station Abu Sueir was then converted into a large maintenance unit. The available reserve aircraft and other essential spares in Egypt were held in three areas one of which contained a very small holding indeed. The two largest of these were RAF Station Aboukir situated to the east of Alexandria and Abu Sueir in the vicinity of Ismailia. A small quantity of stores was also held at Helwan.

--- 74. German raids on Ismailia and Abu Sueir (May 1941) ---

It will be appreciated therefore that the loss of one of the larger installations would have been a serious blow to our war effort. At the time the Germans paid their attention to the Suez Canal area stations, a large number of our reserve aircraft, such as they were, were stationed at Abu Sueir. New aircraft arriving in the Command at Suez were being erected at Abu Sueir and it was the policy for these aircraft to be stored at that place.

In May 1941, the Germans commenced raids on Ismailia and Abu Sueir. As in many other installations, there was practically no defence whatsoever in the form of anti-aircraft guns. The enemy were thus able to, and did, descent to approx. 33 to 500 feet in bright moonlight and carried out devastating attacks, particularly at Abu Sueir. The fighter squadron situated at Ismailia was unable to get off the ground, but fortunately the initial attack at Abu Sueir did not damage very many of the reserve aircraft which were dispersed there.

--- 75. Landing grounds for air reserves ---

Naturally, the authorities became greatly disturbed about the attack on this Maintenance Unit, and the necessity to find an alternative position for the reserve aircraft which were then commencing to arrive in large numbers. As the area of Abu Sueir came under No. 202 Group for fighter defence, we were naturally very concerned with the safety of the equipment, although the equipment was not our direct responsibility.

I therefore proceeded to Headquarters, Middle East to the Chief Maintenance Staff Officer’s branch, and was there seen by Air Commodore Boswell. He also was greatly disturbed about finding an alternative site for his aircraft, and I suggested to him that we should visit Kilo 17 on the Fayoum road. It will be recalled that Kilo 17 was under preparation as a fighter aerodrome to be used for the defence of Cairo, and wooden huts suitable for the accommodation of a fighter squadron, together with aircraft shelters made of sand bags, were then being constructed.

We arrived at Fayoum Road after about 40 minutes, and when I pointed out the aerodrome to the Air Commodore, he was highly delighted. This indeed was the answer to his trouble. At that time, there were in excess of 100 aircraft at Abu Sueir and these had to be dispersed immediately. The aerodrome at Kilo 17 was ideal for such dispersal. It is situated on the western side of the Nile south of the Pyramids at Giza. It is approx. 2,300 yards long by 1100 yards wide, but these distances are only limiting factors for aircraft to land and take off. An area of several square miles is available, if necessary, for the dispersal of aircraft. On the eastern side of the aerodrome was a line of low hills into which aircraft could be tucked in order to obtain shelter. The aircraft shelters were also invaluable and the accommodation which was then nearing completion could be used immediately.

The Air Commodore’s outlook on life was completely altered. As soon as he had seen the site he was most anxious to return to Headquarters, Middle East, to inform the Chief Maintenance Staff Officer, Air Vice Marshal Dawson also Air Commodore Cook who was the officer in charge of the Maintenance Group by which Abu Sueir was administered. Aircraft were immediately transferred to Kilo 17 and the stores at Abusueir also removed from the area. It was most fortunate that this action had taken place for the Jerry continued to pay his attention to the Canal zone stations, and subsequent attacks on Abusueir were of a most determined nature. Practically every operational building on the station was damaged and many of them were completely destroyed. The object of these attacks, in addition to the destruction of our reserve of aircraft and spares, was to completely destroy the units defending the Suez Canal.

--- 76. Unsuitability of Port Said ---

Early in 1941, whilst the fighter squadron was at Ismailia, it was considered that this aerodrome was unsuitable owing to its distance south of the coast (79 km). After consultations with the Squadron Commander, it was decided that the Squadron could operate from Port Said although this aerodrome was by no means desirable. At that time, there was no alternative aerodrome between Port Said and Ismailia. The move to Port Said was carried out.

Port Said is bordered on the north by the Mediterranean and on the south by Lake Mansallan. The Canal is on the east of the town although the residential area does extend to the eastern side of the Canal. On the west the sea and Lake Mansallan do their best to join, but are separated by a small strip of land approx. 800 yards wide in one part. In this narrow area is situated Port Said aerodrome. It was approx. 750 yards from north to south, and approx. 800 yards east to west. It was bordered on the north by the coastal road, and on the south by a wall which had been built to prevent the waters of the lake from flooding the aerodrome. There were also walls on the west and east side of the aerodrome, but the latter was later removed so that the aerodrome could be extended.

With such a small aerodrome it could not be considered as ideal for the operation of modern fighters at night. It must always be borne in mind that the size of the aerodrome must be suitable for the worst pilot in a squadron, and not for the more experienced types.

Whilst the Squadron was at Port Said, a Sector Operations Room to control the fighters and co-ordinate the ground defences of the Canal was formed approx. three miles from Ismailia on a new strategic road. This Sector Operations Room was under the command of Group Captain Turton-Jones. He considered that although Port Said and Ismailia aerodrome both had certain disadvantages, Ismailia was the more preferable for the operation of fighter aircraft at night. However, after the attacks on Ismailia aerodrome by enemy aircraft the extension which has been referred to was effected on the eastern boundary of the Port Said aerodrome, and the Squadron was again moved to Port Said.

The position of the Port Said aerodrome was by no means ideal for fighter defence owing to the limited warning which was then received of the approach of enemy aircraft. The ideal position for the aerodrome to be situated would have been in a position between Port Said and Ismailia. Unfortunately, Lake Mansallan stretched inland for a number of miles almost to Kantara which is approx. half way between Port Said and Ismailia, and is the junction for rail traffic from Egypt to Palestine. South of Kantara is soft sand and a small amount of cultivation. This soft sand extends all the way to Ismailia except at one place approx. 16 miles north of Ismailia. At this place Ballah, there is an area which at one time had been swamp land. When considering the problem of whether another aerodrome was beyond the bounds of possibility, I remembered this swamp area.

--- 77. Potential of Ballah ---

I had first been posted to Ismailia in 1933 as a Pilot Officer, where I remained until December 1935. From 1936 to 1939, I was at Abu Sueir and was then reposted to command a squadron at Ismailia. It will be appreciated, therefore, that during this period I should have accumulated a certain amount of local knowledge. As I had been to Hurghada and been greatly impressed by the hygroscopic soil and its reaction to rolling, I thought that perhaps there might be just a chance that an aerodrome could be constructed at Ballah. With the object of investigating this area I paid a visit to Ismailia. I picked up a Works Directorate representative in the area and we proceeded along the strategic road. This road was constructed with the object of making an alternative route to Port Said. The existing road runs along the western bank of the Suez Canal, and was very vulnerable to bombing attacks. All the facilities connecting Port Said with Ismailia are, in certain areas, contained in a distance of less than 100 yards. These facilities are the railway line, the sweet water canal which provides Port Said with drinking water, the main road and the Suez Canal.

On arrival at the site I had in mind, we left the road and endeavoured to cross the area. The ground was very soft but it contained a large salt content. Due to the salt drying on the surface, the earth crackled under our tyres. We were using the car equipped with desert tyres and found we could make headway. The area was very large being approx. 2,000 yards by 2,000 yards. With additional construction work the east west dimensions could have been extended to approx. three miles. We found, however, when running over the area that due to the softness of the surface, the car engine was almost boiling. I noted, however, with a great deal of satisfaction, that similar to Safaga when we backed the car over our original tracks, the soil immediately consolidated. We also observed that a track was in existence which ran towards the gypsum factory which stood alone in the desert to the north of the site. Where vehicles had run over this track it had consolidated the earth into a road with a bitumenised appearance, and this was very hard and smooth.

I was very pleased with this area and as there appeared to be no other alternative in the district, we returned to Ismailia. I later called on a friend of mine, Captain O’Brien who was employed by the Suez Canal Company to pilot ships passing between Port Said and Suez. Knowing that he had passed along the Canal in the vicinity of Ballah for a number of years, I asked him whether in his experience he had ever seen this area under water when standing on the bridge of a ship. His reply was encouraging without being absolutely assured that the area would withstand the rainy season.

I then returned to Cairo and at the earliest opportunity saw my friend Squadron Leader Loveday whom I knew would be employed on any constructional work which would take place on a new landing ground. We arranged to visit Ballah again as soon as possible and he was also impressed by the potential value of this area. The example of the worn track across the soft soil was encouraging and he offered to supply every assistance in the construction of an experimental airstrip to ascertain the possibility of turning the area into a landing ground.

Light solid rollers, heavy rollers, concrete rollers, and pneumatic rollers were tried, until eventually Loveday informed me that officially it could not be done, but unofficially he was not going to give in. He persevered with the pneumatic rollers. A pneumatic roller consists of about sixteen old tyres which consolidate the ground in the same way as the passing of a large number of vehicles. Eventually he informed me that he had constructed a strip and would like me to try it out with an aircraft. This we did with Loveday as passenger, and on arrival over Ballah we saw the clearly defined strip running in a north-south direction. We experienced no difficulty whatsoever in landing, and noticed that the aircraft wheels further improved the consolidation. We were both very pleased and particularly Loveday who had again achieved another success.

The Air Officer Commanding and Group Captain Turton-Jones were then informed. The work of constructing two runways by means of pneumatic rollers was then pushed ahead at maximum speed. Communications were laid onto the area and in a very short time a squadron was moved from Port Said and occupied the landing ground at Ballah.

The Principal Medical Officer of Air Headquarters, Egypt visited the area to ascertain the danger from malaria. It was my intention that buildings which were being constructed to accommodate the squadron, should be placed on the western side of the strategic road, leaving the whole of the area of the aerodrome on the eastern side of the road free with aircraft dispersed in aircraft shelters, so that the aerodrome should attract as little attention as possible. Unfortunately, the Principal Medical Officer in consultation with the Squadron commander interfered and decided, using his authority as a medical advisor, that the camp was to be constructed on the same side of the road as the aerodrome.

On his return, he reported to the Air Officer Commanding and as a result I was called in. He then said “We will be duck shooting on this in the winter time”. It did seem extraordinary that despite the necessity for providing emergency facilities, people without sufficient initiative to offer constructive suggestions should be so ready to criticise any efforts made without being in a position to clarify their statements.

--- 78. Landing grounds in rainy season ---

Group Captain Turton-Jones some months later and after the rainy season, wrote a report on the suitability of the aerodromes in his area. In regard to Ballah he stated “This aerodrome is impervious to rain”. When the file was eventually passed to me, I put a short note on the side “P.M.O. to note” but as was to be expected from persons of this type, the matter was not referred to.

Even had this aerodrome been inundated during the rainy season, the expense incurred in its construction was only that of the consolidation of the ground by native labour employed on the pneumatic rollers and the construction of the aircraft shelters. The buildings were portable sectionized buildings and could be removed to other sites. Providing Ballah aerodrome served its purpose, namely that of defending the Canal until such time as our defences could be improved, or even until the rainy season, its construction was warranted.

As in the case of Edcu, the water was very close to the surface, the water level being approx. three feet down. On one or two occasions an aircraft, badly handled, had broken the surface and a wheel had gone in. In these cases the aircraft was jacked up under the wings and removed to solid ground. Wing Commanding Stainforth who was later commanding 46 Squadron equipped with Beaufighter aircraft at Abu Sueir was also attracted by Ballah and landed on the aerodrome with a Beaufighter which has a wheel loading of 70 lb per square inch. By locking one wheel with his brake, he deliberately turned through 360º in order to ascertain whether the surface would stand up to the weight of the aircraft. The ground did withstand the weight and on hearing of this test I examined his landing marks. When I observed what he had done, I would not have been surprised if the locked wheel had gone through the surface. However, the Beaufighter Squadron did not operate from this aerodrome.

94 Squadron, the Hurricane Squadron then situated at Port Said, moved to Ballah and the Squadron was sited on the same side of the strategic road as the aerodrome. From this site the defence of the Suez Canal was carried out, and a German pilot shot down and brought to Ballah expressed his surprise at the position of the aerodrome saying that the Germans did not know of its existence. It may later have been discovered as a result of reconnaissance owing to the position of the tents erected on the site.

Owing to the presence of water so close to the surface, it was not possible to dig slit trenches more than about two feet down, the remainder of the shelter trench had to be built up by means of sand filled petrol cans or sandbags. When the Squadron was moved from the aerodrome it was later decided that Ballah should be formed into an Air Firing School, and the aerodrome extended. Once these extensions were made it was found that the departed squadron, with the assistance of the Principal Medical Officer, had been sited at the position which was then approximately in the centre of the new aerodrome. Unfortunately, one achieves nothing by adopting an “I told you so” attitude, and the damage caused the aerodrome surface by the construction of the slit trenches just had to be repaired without comment.

--- 79. Siting landing grounds in Egypt ---

With the taking over of Kilo 17 by the chief Maintenance Staff Officer’s department, and bearing in mind that it was desired to obtain five aerodromes for the defence of Cairo for which four had originally been obtained, it was necessary to carry out further reconnaissance with a view to finding an additional two sites.

The conditions connected with the siting of landing grounds in Egypt are:

This latter for a normal mobile squadron is not essential. There are only five roads in Egypt in the vicinity of which aerodromes can be constructed. These are:

This latter includes the strategic road, and it is not possible without interfering with the irrigation system in the Delta area to construct any aerodromes in the cultivated area in the triangle formed by Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. Aerodromes can be and have been formed on the coast in the area at Aboukir, Edcu Buselli, Basandila, Baltim, Port Said. All these aerodromes are on the coast. In order to obtain the two additional landing grounds, I decided to carry out a further reconnaissance on the Cairo-Alexandria road.

--- 80. Reconaissance: Cairo-Alexandria ---

28 km from Cairo on the eastern side of the road, I discovered a site which I considered would be suitable for the construction of an aerodrome. This was close to the main road, but whilst telephone communication was assured, the nearest water supply was at Mena near the Giza Pyramids, roughly 18 km distant. Nevertheless, I decided to submit this area to Headquarters, RAF Middle East for consideration.

A further reconnaissance was made along the Suez-Cairo road and here an additional area was selected. Although this site was by no means ideal, it could be used for the dispersal of reserve aircraft. The surface of the latter area was hard sun baked clay, and the area itself was very close to the hills on the north of the Suez-Cairo road, 61 km from Cairo. Strangely enough Squadron Leader Loveday although not required to carry out reconnaissance, had also observed the same area within a few days of my visit, and he remarked at its suitability in an emergency. Again, in the case of this site road access was obtainable, telephone communication available and it was possible by means of crossing the hills to reach a small station on the Cairo-Suez railway at which there were water tanks. The journey across these hills, however, was quite an adventure, and could only be considered in an emergency as a means of conveying water from the railway to the site.

At the next conference at Headquarters Middle East at which I was present, I informed the Air Officer Administrative, Air Vice Marshal Maund of these two further possible sites. The Air Commodore Directorate of works who was also present at the meeting together with other departmental heads said “Is there any water Judge”. In respect of Kilo 28 I replied “No, sir” and explained that water would have to be conveyed from Mena. I remember his reply quite well, it was one word only “terrible”. Some months later Air Commodore Elmhurst sent for me and informed me that he had been instructed to obtain immediately a landing strip of 2,000 yards long which could be used at once and was situated within 15 miles of Cairo.

--- 81. Landing grounds: Kilo 26 and Kilo 28 (November 1941) ---

At that time landing strips of 2,000 yards were just coming into being in Egypt and were for use by large aircraft. This was possibly necessitated owing to the infiltration of inexperienced pilots into the Service. The aerodrome which the Air Officer Commanding had been asked to provide was for a Liberator aircraft service which was to be established for a route from the United Kingdom to Cairo, thence to Russia. The Air Officer Commanding explained that the reason for the extreme urgency was that this service was about to commence almost immediately, and the object of siting it so close to Cairo was in order that the pilot and crew could be immediately transferred to very comfortable quarters in the centre of Cairo after their long and arduous flight. This was the commencement of the non-stop flights between England and Egypt.

I explained to the Air Officer Commanding that what he had been asked to provide was impossible for the following reasons. To the north of Cairo was cultivation, to the south of Cairo the Mocattam hills, to the east of Cairo the Khanka sand dunes, and to the west of Cairo the suburbs and the pyramids of Giza. Beyond all this soft sand. The Air Officer Commanding then informed me to do the best I could and obtain a site as near as possible. Our conversation took place just before lunch one day early in November 1941. I immediately informed my driver to pick me up at 2 o’clock at Headquarters, as we were going on a short reconnaissance. I had in mind Kilo 28 on the Alexandria-Cairo road.

We proceeded to this site and after running over the area a few times, I felt convinced that I could obtain the landing ground required. After several attempts I discovered a suitable run of a bearing of 330º which would provide a run of 2,000 yards with a 500 yard clear undershoot space and a 500 yard clear overshoot space.

A further runway could be obtained with a little filling in of a small rain wadi on a bearing of 30º. This run would also be 2,000 yards. Having carefully noted the area and that its position was between 26 and 28 km from Cairo, I decided that I would rename this area Kilo 26, in view of what had been said when previously submitted as Kilo 28, also that it was exactly 15 km from the check post gate which was situated on the main Alexandria-Cairo road just prior to reaching Mena.

At seven o’clock that evening I had placed a report on the Air Officer Commanding’s desk stating that if a hole approx. 18” across was filled in and a small bundle of sticks which appeared to have been used for marking purposes at some time was removed, a 2,000 yard run on a bearing of 330º was available for immediate use. It must be again impressed on the reader that these sites which were being obtained, were those which could have used without any major works services being carried out, I did not include sites which could have been made by the removal of enormous quantities of earth and major leveling services.

--- 82. Landing grounds for 4-engine aircraft (December 1941) ---

At that time, I had had no experience of four engine aircraft and the hardness of the surface which would be required. The next thing to do was to carry out a test on the aerodrome to ascertain its suitability. The surface was beautifully smooth and in my opinion was suitable to take any type of aircraft. I approached Headquarters, RAF Middle East to obtain an aircraft to carry out a test on Kilo 26. They would not supply one and referred me to the Officer Commanding 205 Group ***who was then stationed at Shallufa just north of Suez. This Group were the proud possessors of three or four Liberators recently acquired, but they again would not supply an aircraft to carry out a landing on Kilo 26 which was supposed to be so urgently required. However, despite this, a test was carried out. At that time, America had not entered the War but an American Liberator was then at Heliopolis aerodrome, and the pilots of the aircraft were staying at the ***Grand Hotel in Fuad El Awal Cairo. I managed to get into touch with the pilots of the aircraft and they agreed to accompany me by car to Kilo 26.

We proceeded to the site which had then been marked out by means of white markers, and the ruts on the 330º runway had been smoothed. I tried to encourage them to carry out this landing and whilst they were quite willing to cooperate they had the additional responsibility of risking their aircraft should the test prove unsuccessful, as they were not then at War. The pilot demonstrated the softness of the ground by digging his heels into it, and I countered by explaining that an aircraft wheel did not have spikes on it and therefore the passage over the surface of the ground would be smooth. Owing to the size of the aerodrome it was not necessary to brake viciously and in any case the surface would have stood up to heavy braking provided the pilot did not turn unnecessarily with a locked wheel. I also explained that the car which I was using would make a bigger indentation into this type of sand owing to the tread, than would a wheel of a Liberator aircraft. After some time in which the pilot consulted his second pilot, he turned to me and said “Alright Buddy, we will give it a go”. We returned to Cairo where they proceeded to Heliopolis. The Air Commodore Directorate of Works was informed and I again returned to Kilo 26. At the time appointed the aircraft arrived in the area and the Air Commodore and I together with a few other officers, watched the landing. Owing to the wind prevailing at the time this initial landing was carried out on the worst of the two runways, i.e. the one which had had its surface disturbed by the leveling operations on the small waddis. I remember well feeling a real apprehension lest my judgement should have been faulty whilst watching the aircraft come in to land.

However, it touched down and ran along quite smoothly until finally coming to a halt. I rapidly drove over in my car to where the crew were then disembarking. The pilots and crew were as happy as children and highly excited at the success of the experiment. Undoubtedly the pilot’s relief at the successful landing was also great in view of the aircraft being in his care. “Boy, what a surface” the pilot said “Can we move over here immediately. The aerodrome at Heliopolis is not a patch on this.” I did not blame them for their desire to leave Heliopolis aerodrome in view of the fact that that aerodrome is located in a built up area except for the southern side which contains the Mocattam hills. I then held out my hand and said “We are happy to have you with us. America has declared War.” They had landed on Kilo 26 on 7 December 1941 shortly after the declaration of War by the United States of America.

I then asked them to get into the car and I would show them their wheel marks as compared with the wheel marks of my car. We carried out this demonstration which, as I expected, proved my point. After a short time they again took off and returned to Heliopolis. I measured the take off run and they became airborne after approx. 650 yards. The aircraft was stripped of surplus weight for the trip. The Air Commodore Directorate of Works then returned to Cairo and from then on work on this aerodrome was made of first priority. Nothing was too good for it.

He was unaware of the fact that this was the “terrible” aerodrome which I had submitted a few months previously at the conference at Headquarters, RAF Middle East. This landing ground later became known as LG 224 and was the aerodrome at which Winston Churchill landed when he arrived in Egypt. Its name was again changed later and it is at present known as Cairo West.

--- 83. Disagreement over landing grounds with Air Marshal Tedder ---

After the blitzing of Abu Sueir and the removal of the aircraft to Kilo 17 Fayoum road, I wrote out a scheme which was based on the same idea as I had spoken of to Air Marshal Tedder. I suggested that as our installations in and around Cairo were within an area of enemy bombing attacks, our reserve aircraft should be removed from this area to a position out of the range of enemy aircraft but where they could become available within two hours. I had in mind Hurghada which, as I have previously stated, had an aerodrome situated approx. 600 yards from the coast at the position where medium sized steamers could be berthed right alongside, a small pier. I did not disclose the name of the place but merely its position, as I had no desire for persons to make use of my brains when I preferred to do the job myself. I also explained the facilities which were available such as tar, water, light, communications, and the reason for the suggestion.

Having written out the scheme I approached Air Commodore Elmhurst, the Air Officer Commanding 202 Group. We discussed it freely and he was also of the opinion that it was an idea worthy of consideration, and whilst I was in the office he rang up Air Vice Marshal Dawson and informed him that he had an officer on his staff who knew Egypt fairly well and had put up a scheme for alternative sites. It was arranged that I should proceed immediately to the Air Vice Marshal’s office. He, prior to coming to Egypt, had been on the staff of Lord Beaverbrook and had adopted his method of handling people.

On arrival at Headquarters Middle East and whilst waiting to see the Air Vice Marshal who was then engaged, I met a friend of mine (Simms) who was staying at the same place as I was at Cairo, and who had also been in the same Squadron at Ismailia in 1934. He also desired to see the Air Vice Marshal and was on the operational staff of Headquarters, RAF Middle East. When it was his turn to go in and as soon as he entered the office the Air Vice Marshal said to him “Where are these aerodromes?” to which my friend replied “I am afraid I do not understand sir, I have come to speak to you about another matter.” The Air Vice Marshal realised his mistake and proceeded to deal with the question under discussion by this officer.

When Simms came out of the office it was my turn. Having saluted the Air Vice Marshal he fired the same question at me “Where are these aerodromes?” I explained that they were not aerodromes but they were sites at which aerodromes could be constructed with very little work. I told him of what I considered to be a suitable site at Hurghada. Adopting his Beaverbrook attitude he tore into me in no mean fashion. I said that my idea was to construct a suitable site at which reserve aircraft could be placed. “What reserve aircraft?” he said to me. This was rather awkward because the obvious reply was “If you as Chief Maintenance Staff Officer don’t know, how should I?” Unfortunately, the remark could not be made.

He continued in his bullying attitude by saying that he was not interested in aerodromes situated “thousands” of miles to the south, and finished up by saying that it was even hotter there than at Wadi Halfa. Wadi Halfa is a notoriously hot aerodrome situated on the upper Nile and is possibly one of the hottest places in the whole of Egypt. By this time, I was very annoyed as I was purely there with a suggestion to be accepted if it was considered to be of any value. I had not yet been given an opportunity to fully explain the merits of the suggestion and its obvious advantages. When the Air Vice Marshal made his last remark I said “I am afraid I cannot agree with you sir.” I was unceremoniously dismissed from the office and returned to my own Group.

Shortly afterwards I was in Air Commodore Elmhurst’s office and he said “How did you get on at Headquarters, Judge?” I replied “Not too well sir, I am afraid at the end of our discussion neither the Air Vice Marshal nor myself had a very high opinion of the other person’s ability.” He said “You must not talk like that Judge.” I thereupon explained the rough treatment I had received and he became most sympathetic. I told him I had been summarily dismissed and he said “Were you? I will speak to him about that.” I did not realize at the time that Air Commodore Elmhurst, Air Vice Marshal Dawson and Air Marshal Tedder were all living together. I later learned from someone present at the table at lunch that day, that the Air Commodore in course of conversation during lunch said to Air Vice Marshal DawsonI believe you gave Judge a pretty rough handling when he came over with his suggestion.” Before the Air Vice Marshal replied Air Marshal Tedder said “There is a chap who knows something about landing grounds.” This rather threw the Air Vice Marshal off his stride as he did not realize that the Air Officer Commanding in Chief knew of me. “Well” he said “I will see him again.” “I do not know that you will” said the Air Commodore “I may not let him come over again.

--- 84. Resolution of disagreement with Air Marshal Tedder ---

However, shortly afterwards I was in the Chief Maintenance Officer’s branch at Headquarters, RAF Middle East, in the office of Air Commodore Boswell who was the assistant to the Chief Maintenance Staff Officer, when Air Vice Marshal Dawson saw me. He opened his door to the adjoining office for a moment and bounced on me saying “What do you mean by getting me into trouble?” and then returned to his own office. I had no alternative but to follow him in order to reply.

I explained to the Air Vice Marshal that I had come round to his Headquarters with a suggestion and instead of me explaining it to him, he had done the telling. He said “Didn’t you have this scheme written down?” “Yes” I replied. “Well then why did you not show it to me?” “Sir” I said “You seemed to show so little interest in what I had to say that I felt that if anyone was going to tear up my scheme and put it in the waste paper basket, I would prefer to do it myself.” That remark almost tore the ceiling off the office, and he said “Where is this place?

I explained again that Hurghada was situated some 200 odd miles south of Suez. Aircraft could be placed there, if necessary arriving there in ships and being erected, and could be available to fly to the Delta area as and when they were required. “Go and arrange the details.” he said. I explained that I was not on Headquarters Staff but merely there with a suggestion. However, after further discussion I said I would put the construction of the landing ground in hand and left the office. Just as I was leaving he called out to me in a loud voice “and remember this time that I am interested.” It was thus decided that Hurghada aerodrome should be constructed and I again arranged with Squadron Leader Loveday to meet me at Hurghada.

--- 85. Incident: Accidents on the road ---

The area on which we proposed to construct the landing ground was to be surveyed so my driver and I proceeded by car leaving Cairo very early in the morning and arranging a rendezvous that same day with Loveday at Hurghada. The driver I had at this time was LAC Dennett. This lad was a real rough and ready type of Englishman. He suited me admirably however, and he never failed to do or attempt anything which I required of him. We had absolute faith in each other and irrespective of the hours of work on not one occasion did he grumble at discomfort or fatigue. He realized that we were working always against time and was very proud of this job. The other M.T. drivers nick-named him the “Spring Breaker” because quite frequently after returning from desert trips or when we traveled over hills and bolder strewn country a new spring had to be fitted.

On one occasion when returning from Alexandria and I was dosing in the back of the car, a small convoy was approaching us proceeding in the direction of Alexandria. When about 300 yards distant the back spring of our car broke. The chassis locked the brake tyre road. Dennett had two alternatives, one to carry on and risk hitting the oncoming convoy or, two, swinging off the road into the loose sand. Unfortunately, our position at the time was just between Cairo and Wadi Natrum where the ground is very broken.

We swung off the road and broad siding struck a wire stanchion supporting a telephone post, and the car overturned. During this procedure I had been bouncing around like a pea in a pod in the back of the car. The car came to rest in an inverted position and whilst I was trying to get out Dennett who had managed to get out of the car opened one of the car doors and said to me, quite naturally “This way out sir”. I have great admiration for this lad who, when we were driving on a trip in July 1942 which I will discuss later, said to me “Everything is going black sir” and passed out alongside me. After a few months he recovered but from then on appeared to be in a very run down condition, and at that time my job on aerodromes and reconnaissance having been completed, we did not undertake any further work of this type.

--- 86. Hurghada as a landing ground ---

In order to meet Loveday we left Cairo in the early hours of the morning and arrived at Hurghada at approx. 2.30. The existing landing ground which I have previously referred to in close proximity to the coast and Hurghada village was not considered in every way suitable owing to the presence of hills just to the south of the aerodrome and near which the approach to land had to be made into the prevailing wind. On arrival of Loveday at this landing ground we carried out a reconnaissance of the hygroscopic area I had previously noted when traveling from Safaga to Hurghada on a previous trip. For some extraordinary reason we could not locate a sufficient length of run during our visit. I could not understand this as the area in itself seemed quite large. After unsuccessful reconnaissance I informed Loveday that I would not return to Cairo until I had made a further reconnaissance of the same area, whereupon he took off.

The following morning Dennett and I went over the area once more and this time were successful. We returned to Cairo and such was my liaison with Loveday that he put the work into operation without further question and dispatched to the area a foreman called Vasilenko to supervise the preparation of the site in the direction I gave him. Vasilenko, incidentally, had had much service in the Western Desert in the construction of wooden buildings for the camps of the squadrons in the Desert in 1939 and we knew each other quite well. Within a short period, Hurghada was ready for occupation and the aircraft of Maintenance Unit were placed on this aerodrome. A fleet of aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm was also stationed there on anti-submarine patrol against enemy vessels which may possibly have ventured into the Red Sea or the Gulf of Suez.

--- 87. Administrative obstacles to landing ground construction ---

Shortly afterwards 202 Group was reformed into Air Headquarters, Egypt and the establishment upgraded to that of Air Vice Marshal in command. The post of Staff Officer in charge of Administration was upgraded to Air Commodore. This brought about changes in the Headquarters with the result that Air Commodore Elmhurst was posted to Air Headquarters Western Desert and Air Vice Marshal Park assumed command of Air Headquarters, Egypt. Group Captain Ryley previously Staff Office Administrative of 202 Group, was posted to Malta and replaced by Air Commodore Saunderson as Air Officer in charge of Administration.

From this time on, the life and spirit in the Headquarters changed completely. Whereas I had in one day approved the siting of the whole of the buildings at Deversoir aerodrome on the Suez Canal, where the Canal runs into the Great Bitter Lake, plus additional accommodation for a considerable increase at Shandur, a new station also near the shore of the Little Bitter Lake, considerable opposition was now met with. Within the first 24 hours I had received no less than three ‘raspberries’ from the new Air Officer in charge of Administration, whose principal objection appeared to be the use of initiative by others.

Whereas previously the Organization Staff desiring to place a squadron or other type of unit on an aerodrome had merely walked across to my office and asked what would be the most suitable aerodrome in the desired area and received a verbal reply, everything had now to be done in minute form. By this means considerable delay was caused also confusion, owing to the apparent lack of faith in the word of a fellow Staff Officer. Naturally as I had in the past suggested schemes to be put into operation with a view to forming new installations, there was a certain amount of kudos which went with each accepted suggestion.

The Air Officer Administrative therefore informed me that in future any suggestions I had to make would be placed through him. I objected to this most strongly at the time and although being subordinate, was able to point out that as I was on the Air Staff as opposed to the Administrative Staff and my work should be placed through the Senior Air Staff Officer. I was also instructed by the Senior Air Staff Officer that my work should be passed through him, the result being that an inconclusive argument took place. Inconclusive because although I was on the Air Staff, the Air Officer in charge of Administration was of higher rank than the Group Captain Senior Air Staff Officer. Further, the Air Officer in charge of Administration instructed me that I must inform him before I left the Headquarters of what I was going to do. As in the past I had the confidence of the Air Officer Commanding and was able to proceed with the object of carrying out a reconnaissance and returning with additional suggestions, or had merely proceeded to investigate the progress of certain work in hand on aerodromes being made, or buildings constructed, providing I was doing my work conscientiously my actions had not been questioned.

However, I informed the Air Officer Administrative that I was about to proceed to Edcu to allocate the site for a new dispersal hut and instruct the builders to go ahead with the building. The reply I received was “Who gives approval for the construction of this hut?” I explained that I did. I was then told that I could not do so and that the matter had to be referred back to the Air Officer i/c Administration who would give the approval. After the vetting and approval of the sites at Shandur and Deversoir the cost of which had been over a quarter of a million pounds, it was most annoying to find that under the new regime I was unable to approve of the erection of a portable wooden building valued at approx. £250. However, this was the procedure to be adopted and as must be appreciated, progress was considerably impeded.

--- 88. Landing grounds for emergency services ---

We carried on under this system for some months during which the aerodrome at Basendila was constructed. This aerodrome is in the vicinity of Baltim on the Mediterranean coast and although having a runway of 3,000 yards was not very satisfactory owing to the dampness of the soil and the area being very bad in respect of malaria.

In the course of frequent visits to the Delta area when I had again to approach it from the direction of Alexandria, I became aware of an area of ground situated on the main road from Alexandria to Rosetta and about one mile to the north of the Buselli hospital. At Buselli the Third General Hospital, the South African Hospital and the Indian Hospital were located. The area which I observed was not of operational size but gave two runs of approx. 800 yards.

About this time when the Beaufighter aircraft were operating from Edcu 16 km to the west, a pilot returned with his Wireless Operator badly shot up. The undercarriage would not work and it was necessary for the aircraft to crash-land on Edcu aerodrome. The injured airman was then conveyed by ambulance 16 km along the road to Buselli Hospital or 42 km to the Alexandria Hospital. Ambulance aircraft from the Western Desert returning with stretcher cases for the base hospital in the Cairo area were traveling from say Mersa Matruh to Cairo, 424 km.

On arrival at Heliopolis which is a very rough aerodrome due to having been cut up years ago by Vickers Victoria aircraft fitted with tail skids, and having a slightly uneven surface, patients were then being transferred by ambulance from Heliopolis to the Helmieh Hospital a distance of approx. 5 km, whereas if the ambulance aircraft only traveled from Mersa Matruh to Buselli the distance would be 313 km. I was given to understand that a few minutes might mean the difference between life and death when dealing with the case of an individual who has been gravely injured and therefore if it was unnecessary to travel the additional say 111 km an aerodrome in the vicinity of Buselli Hospital to which personnel could be brought, should be of value. Further, if such an aerodrome were constructed and a pilot from Edcu was returning from an operational sortie with one of his crew injured, he could land at Buselli in the vicinity of the Hospital instead of his own aerodrome and be transferred 16 km by road.

With this in mind I examined the area to the north of Buselli Hospital and considered that with a small amount of work this area could be made into a suitable emergency landing ground for receiving hospital patients. I next consulted the commandant, Colonel …***.., who referred me to Lt. Col. Sandy Man Allan, the surgeon of the 3rd General Hospital. I asked him if I were to have an aerodrome constructed in this area and pilots could be advised that if they desired to land at the landing ground and fired a Verey light when passing over the Hospital, would the Hospital immediately prepare their operating theatre and send the ambulance to the landing ground along the main road – a distance of one mile. By this means it would take approx. 5 minutes from the time the aircraft landed to a patient being admitted to the operating theatre. Sandy Man Allan thought this was a good idea and being keen on his job was most willing to cooperate.

I therefore returned to Cairo and put forward my scheme to the Senior Air Staff Officer. Having read the scheme and given it his blessing, he passed it to the Air Officer Commanding, Air Vice Marshal Park, who agreed with the suggestion. The next stage of course was that the work would be initiated by the staff of the services operating under the Air Officer Administrative who apparently had paid a short visit to the Air Officer Commanding when the subject was raised, whereupon he came storming into my office and the total result of the well meant suggestion in respect of saving men’s lives by this additional facility was another ‘raspberry’. However, the aerodrome was constructed and it was not until 1945 when in casual conversation with a doctor who was employed by a South African unit, that I ascertained that the aerodrome had been used in 1942 for the purpose for which it was constructed. This indeed was most gratifying.

--- 89. Landing grounds in Sinai (March 1942) ---

In March 1942 it was desired to ascertain the possibility of constructing aerodromes in Sinai. A certain amount of this work in the vicinity of the Ismailia-Palestine road was being undertaken by 205 Group then with Headquarters at Ismailia. I was interested, however, to ascertain the possibility of making aerodromes in the north portion of Sinai. At the same time, I proposed to pay a visit to an R.D.F. Station which was then stationed at Bir El Abd.

The Officer Commanding this unit had been a Consul in Brazil in peace time named Fenton, and I rang him up and informed him that I would be appearing for lunch on a certain day. He told me that so many had got lost in the desert that he would send a vehicle down to Kantara to show me the way. Traveling with a guide takes all the fun out of this type of work so I declined with thanks and asked him if he required any green vegetables or additional supplies for his out of the way unit.

A few days before leaving an Army Officer of the Staff of Hammersly Bey, Governor of Sinai, visited our Headquarters and I spoke to him with the object of obtaining any additional information in connection with my proposed trip. The one thing on which he was most emphatic was that we should take a guide and by all means a second vehicle. However, I preferred to drive with my own car alone plus LAC Dennett.

We left Cairo early one morning and arrived at Ismailia for breakfast and then pushed on to Kantara. On arrival at Kantara we made sundry purchases for the unit at Bir El Abd and crossed the Canal to Sinai. We followed a road for a short way and this eventually turned in a northerly direction. I decided to follow some camel tracks in a north easterly direction and carried on by means of compass bearings.

The sand was quite firm although undulating considerably over the various dunes. There were some camels ahead of us and when topping a sand dune in their tracks we suddenly lurched sideways and found ourselves bogged in a small wadi. The reason for this was that in this type of driving it is essential to keep the car laterally level. Unfortunately, the dune was deceptive and the soft sand slid sideways. Once stopped in this type of sand it requires careful handling for the car to be got safely under way again. We progressed slowly after jacking the car up several times using sand mats and bracken, and eventually got safely out of this wadi.

Continuing on our compass bearing we carried on and just passed from one sand dune to another. In order to test the ground I ran ahead of the car in numerous places in stocking feet. Eventually, we came to a spot where an old barbed wire fence was partly submerged by the moving sand and upon which hung an old skeleton draped in a portion of galabier. This barbed wire was part of the defences possibly used in the 1914-18 war when the Australians were on active service in Sinai. Shortly after passing the fence we found that we were then on the top of a sand dune with a drop of approx. 25 feet at a very sharp angle into a small oasis.

Leaving Dennett sitting at the top with the car, I worked my way to the bottom of the dune and surveyed the area to ascertain whether once having got down we would be able to get out of the oasis. I decided that provided we went very fast at the bottom of the oasis we could pass through some very soft soil and by careful manipulation between some date palms we stood a reasonable chance. In any event over the top of the dune we could then see the railway line in the vicinity of Romani. The sand after leaving the oasis was very soft and it was quite on the cards that we would become stuck. However, we were so close to the railway line that it was indeed worth attempting.

Dennett brought the front wheels of the car on a level with the edge of the sand dunes and then came down with a rush. With him of course came tons of sand. We negotiated the bottom of the oasis and manipulated the car towards the trees. Unfortunately, a certain amount of speed had to be lost in order that I could get into the car and as we were then running up a slope the car began to lose way until finally it once more became bogged in soft sand. Owing to the type of sand, the car being on an upwards with a sideways slope, it was obvious that it would be extremely difficult to again get on our way. \

I therefore left Dennett to jack the car up and walked about half a mile to the railway line. Before I had gone very far I came across a Bedouin camp and without any difficulty at all soon had a large party of cheerful natives and the inevitable *** wallads (boys) gathered together. We returned to the car and with all these bodies gathered around it, it required but the initial motion for us to be on our way again, on this occasion smothered with passengers as far as the railway line. From then on we had no difficulty whatever and arrived at Bir El Abd after lunch.

--- 90. Reconnaissance: Bir El Abd and Mosefig ---

It must have seemed very amusing and most out of place to see a beautifully kept light blue limousine arriving out of the desert at Bir El Abd. Flying Officer Fenton merely stood in front of us and laughed. He was astonished that we had made the journey unguided and more than astounded that we should arrive in such a car. One of his own vehicles which arrived shortly afterwards from Ismailia contained his technical Warrant Officer. The Warrant Officer told Fenton that he had seen the marks of a car disappearing into the desert but arrived at the conclusion that someone had got off the track and he certainly was not going to follow.

Fenton joined us again whilst I was having my lunch and said “I don’t know where you have been or how you have done it, but I am quite sure that no one has ever been that way previously.” Apparently the advice I had received telling me that I should take a guide was because they thought that I might get into difficulties. Their insistence on this had made me consider that the track turning northwards shortly after Kantara could not possibly be the one I was supposed to have taken. Had I taken this, it would have been a straight forward trip and the warnings I had had about taking a guide had merely served to impress upon me that the track was not well defined, therefore it could not be so simple as to follow a well worn track that had turned northwards.

That afternoon in company with Fenton we visited the aerodrome at Mosefig. This aerodrome is close to the coast and situated on the north of the main railway line running from Kantara, El Arish, Gaza, Haifa. It was very soft and only used for emergency purposes. We therefore carried out a reconnaissance to the south of the railway line and visited an area which it was considered could be improved and used for operational purposes. At this site two runways could be prepared with very little work. The site was noted and the bearings of the proposed runways were taken. Owing to the lack of coordination of effort it was later ascertained that at the intersection of these runways it was also proposed to erect an R.D.F. Station. I am not able to say however what the outcome of the ensuing argument eventually resulted in.

--- 91. Siting R.D.F. Stations ---

The siting of R.D.F. stations frequently caused a lot of amusement. At that time these units were considered to be highly secret and the executive staff responsible for their siting and operation had formed themselves into a very water-tight and hush-hush department. They had given it out that these installations could only be sited in certain pre-selected positions, and it was these positions which invariably caused the amusement.

For instance at Port Said it was found that according to the powers that were the most suitable site in one instance was right on the edge of the water, to the west of Port Said and between Port Said and Baltim on the narrow neck of land which I have previously referred to. There was no possible means of protecting such a valuable installation unless concrete blocks were sunk into the ground.

As the defence of these installations was of primary importance arrangements were quickly put in hand after visit by the Air Officer Commanding to the site to have barbed wire erected. However, by the time the barbed wire had arrived the unit had again moved to what was the most suitable site being approx. 103 km distant. The barbed wire was again sent to the new site but before arrival the unit was again on its way to the most suitable site. This time in such close proximity to the railway line that anyone so desiring could have thrown a bomb from the train onto the installation. However, undoubtedly it was the most suitable site.

The other most suitable site for an installation of a different type was found to be on the roof of the Club in Port Said. In the Alexandria area the most suitable site was found to be at a position in a date palm grove. In Egypt the date palm is the means of existence for several of the local population, and although the land may belong to a certain individual, he may not own the date palms. In quite an officious manner and without any consideration, the order was given for the destruction of one hundred date palms. The ridiculousness of this in view of the fact that the sites being selected were really trial and error was pointed out, and that installation or possibly another one, eventually finished up on the roof of a tomb in the Alexandria harbour.

It so happened that at that time a very important installation, in fact the ace of all installations, arrived in the Command, and the one and only site in the whole of Egypt as stated by the powers that were, was selected just north of Amiriya aerodrome. It so happened that there was an agreement between the Army and the Air Force that no installation of either of the two Services should be located within two km of any existing installation without prior reference to the other Service. However, such was the importance of this installation under discussion that without any reference whatsoever it was erected.

It so happened that the Army had a large fuel supply dump just to the north of this and within the stated limits. They had railway lines laid down for transporting the fuel to the area, however, as far as the hush-hush circle was concerned, this was of no consequence, and if necessary, the railway lines would have to be removed. Naturally much argument ensued as a result of this and it was finally settled that the railway line should be deviated. Shortly afterwards this installation was removed to the best site, this time approx. three km east of Abu Sueir, and, I am quite sure, to the relief of all concerned it finally came to rest.

--- 92. Reconnaissance: Bir El Abd to El Arish and Cairo ---

Fenton and I returned from Mosefig and spent the night at Bir El Abd. It was our intention to go on the following morning commencing at 6 a.m. to El Arish and Fenton decided to accompany us on this journey and return from El Arish by railway. We left shortly after six and arrived at El Arish for lunch. For a great part of the journey there was no track at all and after ensuring from the Railway Station that there were no trains coming, we drove the car on to the railway track and proceeded over the sleepers for several kilometers. Fortunately, the drift sand had brought the level of the ground up to nearly that of the sleepers and whilst the journey was somewhat uncomfortable, it was certainly a practical means of getting to our destination, and ensured that the car would not become bogged.

After lunch at El Arish and bidding farewell to Flying Officer Fenton, we passed down the Wadi El Arish to El Arish landing ground. Extension work had already been put in hand by Loveday and was progressing quite satisfactorily. The surface of this landing ground is of a hard baked clay which is very smooth but becomes dusty when constantly used. From El Arish we joined the main road in the vicinity of Um Shinan. There used to be a landing ground at this place built by 208 Squadron in approx. 1932, but this landing ground was too small for the operation of modern type aircraft.

We then passed along the main road leading to Ismailia across Sinai. Suitable areas which may have been used for the construction of landing grounds in the vicinity of this road were noted and whilst there is water to be found in Sinai by sinking wells, there is very little readily available, and landing grounds constructed in this area would require to have water carted to the site. However, as 205 Group were carrying out a reconnaissance in this area, it was unnecessary to duplicate the work.

Towards evening we experienced difficulty with the car due to the fact that the petrol pump had become unserviceable. This delayed us considerably and it was not until 4 a.m. the following morning that we arrived back in Cairo. When passing along the Ismailia road to Cairo we struck an Army lorry under black out conditions, but fortunately the only damage which was done was that the handle of the door of our car was wrenched off. As a result of this reconnaissance, it was decided that the only two landing grounds which could be of immediate value would be the site south of Mosefig and El Arish aerodrome when completed.

--- 93. Early use of Hurghada ---

By this time, the aerodrome at Hurghada had been completed and it was most fortunate that this work had been done because it was then found necessary to station Fleet Air Arm aircraft to operate against enemy aircraft harassing shipping in the Red Sea. A flight of a Fleet Air Arm Squadron was therefore detached to Hurghada and No. 113 Maintenance Unit was established under the command of Squadron Leader O’Connor.

Aircraft at this time were arriving in ships at Port Sudan which is on the Red Sea, … miles from Suez and were being erected at Port Sudan. These aircraft, after test, were being flown to Kilo 17 on the Fayoum road or to Hurghada. The route followed by these aircraft was from Port Sudan on the Red Sea to Wadi Halfa in the Nile valley, then up the Nile valley to Luxor. From Luxor they proceeded to Kilo 17 whilst those aircraft intended to be operated at Hurghada were then flown back to the coast a distance of …***.. miles.

It occurred to me that the aircraft proceeding from Port Sudan to Hurghada were traveling an unnecessarily long distance owing to their existing route in leaving the Red Sea, traveling to the Nile valley and eventually back to the Red Sea. I therefore suggested that a reconnaissance should be carried out south of Qosier to ascertain whether it was not possible to establish landing grounds in order that aircraft could fly directly up the Red Sea by a very simple route namely following the coast line direct to Hurghada without the undue wastage of engine hours and without flying over the extremely unpleasant country between Port Sudan and Halfa***. I submitted this suggestion to Air Commodore Elmhurst who agreed that I should carry out the reconnaissance.

--- 94. Reconnaissance: South of Qosier to Hamata ---

Having little information in respect of the area south of Qosier, it was arranged that in the event of my non-return within five days, an aircraft flown by Squadron Leader Murray should carry out an aerial reconnaissance to ascertain my whereabouts. I duly dispatched Dennett and a relief driver by car with the intention of meeting them at Hurghada and some hours later left Heliopolis by air. A few miles north of Rasgharib I observed my car proceeding slowly in a southerly direction. As I have previously explained, when driving north to south in this hot climate, the engine boils and it was obvious that this was what had been occurring and had slowed down the progress of the car. We therefore landed at Rasgharib and when the car eventually arrived the relief driver returned with the aircraft whilst Dennett and I carried on south.

Late in the afternoon we arrived at Qosier. It was not my intention to remain overnight as I wished to push on with a view to getting the work completed. I had previously worked out my requirements for this journey and realized it would be necessary to carry sufficient petrol and oil to remain self-contained for 960 km. We had, therefore, reduced our equipment to absolute essentials in view of the weight on the springs which would be caused by the amount of petrol being carried.

Having refueled and loaded up our reserve stocks of petrol we proceeded south leaving Qosier in the afternoon. We found that the track leading south from Suez to Qosier continued on and that the surface was quite good and enabled us to travel at a speed of approx. 65 km per hour. It will be appreciated that although we had already traveled a considerable distance that day, it was more advisable to continue on in the cool of the evening despite the physical strain, rather than endure the slow progress in the southerly direction due to the overheated engine. At approx. 10 o’clock that night we pulled off the side of the track at what appeared to be a small bay. Here we had an evening meal and settled down for the night. In reducing the weight of the vehicle we had no camp beds and that night we found the ground hard and it was very cold.

At approximately first light the following morning, we ate a hasty breakfast and continued on our journey south. After approx. one hour’s driving we passed a small settlement on the coast at Mersa Umbarek. We noticed that there was a small landing ground on the coastal strip and although it could not be extended for operational purposes for the route I had mind, it was of value as an emergency field.

We did not stop at this place but continued south and after traveling approx. 100 miles, arrived at another small settlement called Hamata. Here we were greeted by three Europeans. They were members of the staff of the Hamata Mining Company and mined talc. These people were most hospitable and invited us to partake of a meal. During our stay I enquired as to whether there was any ground in the area which was suitable as an aerodrome, and they informed me that such an area did exist very close to their settlement.

I then made further enquiries as to their domestic arrangements in such an outpost, and they informed me that a small steamer periodically left Suez and brought water and supplies. This was most useful and I took down as much information as I was able to glean from them. Hamata is situated approx. 250 miles south of Hurghada and 360 miles north of Port Sudan. Therefore, by establishing an aerodrome in this area it would be possible to proceed direct from Port Sudan to Hurghada stopping only once for refueling purposes if a landing ground could be established at Hamata.

After obtaining the maximum amount of information from the people at Hamata, they then informed me that a British Army lorry had passed through about two weeks previously and that this lorry was heading in the direction of Port Sudan. It contained two soldiers and they had been given directions on leaving Hamata of the road which they should take. They had subsequently become lost and returned to Hamata, the Europeans there had provided the soldiers with a guide. Up to date the guide had not returned and they asked if on our journey south we would try and obtain news of this man as his relatives were then becoming worried. The natives in this part of the country are of the Fuzzy Wuzzy type. They have an enormous mop of hair, occasionally with one or two sticks protruding and they are very fierce of countenance. They wear across their chest a robe which they roll into a form of bandolier which crosses in the front of the chest.

--- 95. Reconnaissance: Ras Benas and the Red Sea Hills ---

In order to further reduce the weight which we were still carrying we decided to leave a portion of our fuel at Hamata. This we did and pushed on further south. After leaving Hamata, we discovered that, as we had been informed, there was an area of hygroscopic soil red in colour approx. three km to the south of Hamata and which could be easily described to pilots using the proposed route as it was at the junction of the track leading south on which we were traveling and another track leading to the mine of the Hamata Mining Company. Further, Hamata is situated only a few miles north of a large promontory known as Ras Benas.

After passing this road junction the track again forked and we had been advised by the people at Hamata to take the inland route as opposed to that which led to Ras Benas. This we did and shortly were working our way through the hills which border the Red Sea from Suez to Port Sudan. The track was well defined and after proceeding for approx. ten miles, we came out into a large sloping plain. This area was suitable for aircraft to force land on, but was not immediately suitable for operational airfields owing to the slight slope in the ground which sloped away from the hills which we had just passed through, and secondly small rain waddis were running in an east to west direction. These, although only a few inches deep, were sufficient to make ordinary landings uncomfortable and likely to cause minor damage.

--- 96. Reconnaissance: Berenice and Shalatein ---

It was my practice to continuously note, whilst driving, any areas which favourably impressed me whether from the point of view of forming aerodrome, sea plane bases, or satisfactory as emergency landing grounds, and I was of the opinion that aircraft could easily force land in this area and be salvaged without difficulty owing to accessibility from the coastal track. We continued on our journey south past the ancient ruins of Berenice.

Although this place is well marked on maps there was absolutely nothing there. Moreover, there was no fresh water in the area. Frequently we were forced to stop the car owing to the engine overheating and progress was very slow. It was my intention to endeavour to make the aerodrome at Hassa Lagoon before night fell. This landing ground was one which I had known of for many years. However, owing to the small rain waddis crossing the track, we were unable to proceed at sufficient speed to overcome the following wind and thus the overheating of the engine and our progress was thus further slowed down.

From Berenice south to Shalatein aerodromes could have been constructed but of course there was no fresh water to be had and as far as we could gather no suitable places for ships to bring this necessary item to any detachment which may be formed in the area. After traveling a further 50 miles we were then approx. two miles inland from the coast and the track turned at this point and headed directly to the coast line. It was then late afternoon and I was anxious that we should reach Hassa Lagoon before it became completely dark. At the place where the track joined the coast it is known as Shalatein. I do not know why they gave the place a name as there is absolutely nothing there except that on the occasion of my visit there was one native hut. There were quite a few camels which were the property of a wandering Bedouin tribe and on our arrival an old man issued from the hut and asked us for some food. When he spoke he shouted and I found myself shouting at him in return. We managed to hold a conversation in Arabic and he told me that Hassa Lagoon was quite near at hand. This man was also of the Fuzzy Wuzzy type and dressed similarly to the natives at Hamata.

From Shalatein we headed directly south not realising that the track which at this part was not very well defined ran closer to the coast line and we very soon found ourselves amongst numerous sand hills. These we eventually left behind and we continued searching for the main track which we knew must undoubtedly be in the vicinity, as there was absolutely no reason whatever for it to peter out at this place and obviously it did continue towards Port Sudan. We failed to find the track however, so on reaching level ground a little further south, we decided to halt for the night and carry on the following morning.

After our evening meal Dennett and I went for a short walk in the desert to ascertain if we could pick out the track we should take the following morning. There was a considerable amount of dried scrub in the area and we soon gathered sufficient together to make a fire with the object of keeping warm. We had no idea at the time but this served another purpose. It having been a long day and having little else to do, we then turned in for the night.

--- 97. Incident: Bedouin encounter ---

The following morning at day break we set about an early breakfast when we noticed that two Bedouins of the Fuzzy Wuzzy type were squatting on the ground quite close by. When they knew that we were aware of their presence they then approached our camp. One was a fine looking man of about 25 years and was slim and wiry. He was dressed as the other Fuzzy Wuzzies I have previously described. The other was a younger boy of about 19-20 years. We greeted them and after a short conversation I ascertained that the elder of the two was the guide that had left with the Army vehicle from Hamata.

After arriving at Halaib which is situated north of Port Sudan and from which there is little difficulty in reaching Port Sudan, the two British soldiers had dismissed the native to return to Hamata on foot, a distance of approx. 280 miles, without giving him any food or water. This was their gratitude for being put on to the right road to their ultimate destination. The native had picked up the younger man whom he termed as a relative but who was possibly another roving Bedouin of the same tribe, and was then heading back to Hamata having already covered a distance of 120 miles. He did not ask for any food but did ask for water. He was carrying the usual goat skin water bag which is a skin sewn up and tied at either end with a piece of string and slung across the shoulder. We supplied him with water and a tin of bully beef and beans until he became quite firm that he did not want any more food, almost giving the impression that we had overloaded him with an excess amount.

We asked him which route he was taking and he said that he would remain close to the road. I explained that very shortly I would be turning north myself and would again see him. It was my intention to go no further south than Hassa Lagoon. We also asked him if he knew of a landing ground for aero planes by describing what a landing ground looked like to him, and he indicated the direction which we should take. Having been supplied with water and food, both he and his companion were very, very happy indeed and proceeded on their way towards the coastal track. Following his directions we arrived at Hassa Lagoon landing ground within approx. 10 minutes.

--- 98. Reconnaissance: Hassa Lagoon ---

I was not impressed with the existing landing ground as the surface was not good and in my opinion could not be extended satisfactorily. On the edge of the landing ground stood a concrete building. This was obviously a petrol store in which a small quantity of fuel had been put down for use in an emergency by any aircraft having to land at this place. The door was of steel and it was impossible to see any of the contents of the building. There were no windows. We set about to ascertain whether it was possible to find an alternative aerodrome site in the vicinity of the existing building and were successful in finding such a site close by and in a northerly direction which could be cleared and made suitable with very little work as a landing ground for modern type aircraft.

We ascertained the dimensions of the area and having noted these and the geographical position of the area, we then turned north. We had approx. …to go to reach Qosier and it was my intention to arrive at that place that same evening. We had no difficulty I finding our way as the track which we had lost had once more been found running close by the Hassa Lagoon landing ground.

Shortly afterwards we again met the two young Bedouins who were walking at a very brisk rate in a northerly direction. On seeing our approach they took shelter under a tree and I again held conversation with the elder. I explained to him that I had seen the people at Hamata. I told him that I was returning to Hamata and if he would tell me his route I would arrange for them to send some camels to pick him up. I explained that I could take him in the car but not his friend.

Knowing that he had left Hamata alone and that invariably they claim each other as relatives, I thought it quite possible that the younger lad was merely a traveling companion. Here however I saw again an exhibition of loyalty and friendship which exists amongst these primitive people. Although he knew that he could receive a lift in the car and return quickly to Hamata, he refused to leave his friend and preferred to walk if I was unable to take them both. I was not anxious to place too great a strain on the springs of the car in view of the fact that any breakdown could not be overcome by hailing a passing car or ringing up a garage for assistance, and therefore reluctantly left with the promise that I would notify his friends who could then send camels for them.

--- 99. Reconnaissance: Shalatein to Hamata ---

On reaching Shalatein I again met the old Fuzzy Wuzzy who on this occasion asked for some food. We gave him a small quantity. I then enquired whether there was any water should we contemplate using Hassa Lagoon as a landing ground. I ascertained from him that the only water available was sour and most unpalatable for drinking purposes. I also made enquiries of him in respect of the key to the building on the Hassa Lagoon landing ground he informed me that hew as the ghaffir (watch keeper) of the landing ground but the key to the building was held by the Police at Halaib, approx. 120 miles to the south. It will be appreciated that getting access to the building in which the petrol was stored would have been useless with the key at Halaib in the event of an aircraft landing at Hassa Lagoon in an emergency.

After leaving Shalatein we continued northwards by a alternative route which kept closer to the coast than our southwards route which was situated a few miles inland. We saw one or two possible sites for landing grounds on this route but the absence of water again presented a problem which could not have been readily overcome. As we were then proceeding in a northward direction and the prevailing wind was favourable from the point of view of keeping the engine cool, we were able to make a speed of approx. 65 km per hour. This enabled us to reach the vicinity of Hamata shortly after mid-day.

Before proceeding to the settlement we carried out a reconnaissance of the area which we had noted on our southward journey but considered that the hygroscopic soil situated at the intersection of the roads was far too soft and appeared to be too low lying to be converted into a satisfactory landing ground. However, nearby and bordering on the junction of the two tracks which I have previously referred to, was a suitable flat area covered with small black pebbles, and this, after close examination, I decided could be made serviceable with a very small amount of work indeed, in fact if native labour could have been made available by the Hamata Mining Company they would have been adequate for the carrying out of the necessary work prior to bringing this area into use as a landing ground.

We then drove into the settlement and on greeting the three Europeans once again, made known to them that we had located the missing guide and that he had stated that he should be proceeding northwards in close proximity to the track, therefore if they sent camels southwards they would meet him. They were quite pleased with this news and after once again taking on the fuel which we had left at Hamata, we proceeded on our way.

From Hamata, we continued northwards and shortly after passing Mersa Umbarik the light failed and it was necessary to use our headlights. The car was of course fitted with the regulation black-out lights and as traveling under these conditions was extremely dangerous in view of possible accidents, and that there was little risk to anyone other than ourselves, it was decided that we should remove one of the black-out screens. This improved matters considerably and at approx. 9.30 we arrived at Qosier.

--- 100. Reconnaissance: Qosier, Zafarana, Abudaraq, Suez to Cairo ---

We spent the night at Qosier and the following morning proceeded northwards through Safaga to Hurghada and on arrival at Hurghada we stopped for a short time with Squadron Leader O’Connor and then again continued our journey northwards. We found that with the opening up of Hurghada the track between Hurghada and Suez was beginning to get cut up. For the greater part of the journey, this was not noticeable but was most apparent on the soft soil north of Zafarana which I have previously referred to.

Approx. 15 miles south of Zafarana we met a monk from a monastery which is situated in the hills, and as he was wishing to proceed to Zafarana we most willingly gave him a lift.

After leaving Zafarana and passing Abudaraq we once again wound our way around the foot of the cliffs by means of the road which has been built close to the water and about an hour later arrived in Suez. After a meal and a rest in Suez, we once more proceeded on our way to Cairo.

As a result of this reconnaissance and my report on return to Cairo, work was put in hand on the site which was suggested at Hamata and a detachment installed there. Aircraft were then routed as suggested from Port Sudan to Hamata and direct to Hurghada which saved a total of …*** miles.

--- 101. Protecting Suez shipping: Abuzenina and Ayun Musa ---

The Germans having at this time commenced to pay attention to shipping in Suez and the Gulf of Suez, it was deemed advisable to have an additional aerodrome for the protection of shipping passing up and down the Gulf. Also on occasions a certain amount of shipping could not be received in the Suez roads and these required to anchor well away from the Suez defences. The Navy therefore desired the vessels to anchor in a position where the shipping could receive fighter protection and in this connection it was suggested Abuzenina.

Abuzenina lies on the coast of Sinai approx. …***. miles south of the Suez. I had visited this spot on various occasions since 1933 and on one occasion acting as escort for the High Commissioner of Palestine who had proceeded to the landing ground at Abuzenima when on a holiday. I was instructed by the Air Officer Commanding to carry out a reconnaissance on the west coast of Sinai to ascertain the possibility of finding additional landing grounds and enlarging the present landing ground at Abuzenima. We therefore left Cairo and proceeded towards Suez. A few miles north of Suez and on the original Canal Company’s road is a ferry which crosses the Canal for vehicles proceeding to Sinai and Akaba. Having crossed on the ferry we then turned south and searched for suitable areas for the construction of landing grounds.

There was one possible site practically opposite the town of Suez itself, but as this was situated very close to the gun defended area of Suez, and the surface of the landing ground was slightly soft, we decided to look for an alternative. Shortly afterwards we arrived at Ayun Musa which is a small Arab plantation ten miles south of Suez. Just near this area was a suitable site of semi-hygroscopic soil which, with the necessary pneumatic rolling, could have been turned into a satisfactory landing ground. This area was slightly more soft than the other hygroscopic areas and we very nearly met with disaster due to the softness of the surface. We continued the journey south siting no other suitable areas and eventually arrived at Abuzenina. The track running south on the eastern side of the gulf of Suez roams between the mountain and the coast, whereas the track on the western side when in the vicinity of Abuzenina has a mountain range between it and the coast, so that the approach to Abuzenina itself is made along a valley and crossing to the base of a line of hills and having skirted the bottom of these hills proceeds to run in exactly the opposite direction to that the western side. A track then leads through the gap in the mountain range and comes out at the coast approx. ***…. miles north of Abuzenina.

We carried out a survey of the landing ground and I decided that it was too small for the operation by night of modern fighter aircraft. It was therefore decided that this landing ground should be extended to the north and these extensions which were of a tapering nature, were recommended and subsequently put in hand. In order to ascertain the possibility of a site more suitable than Abuzenima itself, we continued our journey southwards, but the ground became more broken with the exception of an area which we found approx. 15 km south of Abuzenima.

This area was recommended for clearing but it was subsequently decided that the extensions to Abuzenima landing ground itself were more satisfactory and the landing ground south of Abuzenima was used as a satellite aerodrome only.

After lunch at Abuzenima, we again turned northwards on our return journey to Cairo. Some minutes north of Abuzenima but still in a position where a landing ground could be found suitable for defending shipping anchored at …****., I had noticed a road which passed through the hills towards the coast and which led to an alabaster quarry. When we arrived at this road junction, we turned back again through the hills until eventually arriving at the coast to ascertain if the area in the vicinity of the quarry could be utilized to advantage. This however proved unsuccessful and having satisfied ourselves that the best site was in fact the existing Abuzenima landing ground, subject to the necessary extensions made, we again returned to Cairo.

--- 102. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: in the event of withdrawal (June-July 1942) ---

On the 29th June, 1942, the day prior to the El Alamein crisis, Air Vice Marshal Park, A.O.C. Air Headquarters Egypt, held a conference at which he instructed his staff that I was to proceed up the Nile valley to find, construct, organize and make necessary arrangements for the accommodation of our Squadrons should a withdrawal from the Egyptian Delta area be necessary in the event of the El Alamein line failing to hold.

I was instructed to organize the trip and be prepared to leave at first light the following day. Any facilities which are required were to be made available. Aerodrome construction personnel were also to be placed under my command and acting under the orders of Squadron Leader Jackson, who would carry out instructions with regard to the construction of new landing grounds or the extension where possible of existing landing grounds, not then suitable for modern operational aircraft.

It was considered that on this occasion I would require an assistant together with a W/T pack set and cypher books. I was informed that I could have as my assistant any officer in the Headquarters. I therefore chose a young Flight Lieutenant who was very energetic, keen and conscientious. The officer I chose was Flight Lieutenant D. Collins who was an equipment staff officer.

I was informed that in all probability it would not be possible for me to return to Cairo, and depending on the situation existing after the completion of my job, I was to endeavour to rejoin the Headquarters wherever they may be at that time. If necessary, I was to hire faluccas (large native boats) and cross the Red Sea to Akaba in the Gulf of Akaba and carry on from there to Maan and Amman in Transjordan. It might even be necessary to proceed to Aden and to rejoin the Headquarters from that place. I was issued with a certificate which was to be used should the occasion arise to facilitate my rejoining the Headquarters by any means available.

I decided that it would be necessary to take four vehicles in our convoy in order to remain self-contained over a lengthy period. The vehicles however were not all satisfactory for the type of travel I knew to be ahead, and such was the situation existing at the time that having sighted what I considered to be a more satisfactory vehicle from my office window, and having made the fact known that I required it, enquiries made to the driver quickly ascertained to whom the vehicle belonged and the unit was informed that the vehicle had been transferred. Unfortunately, it was not fitted with desert tyres, and I appreciated that it would not traverse the same type of country as the rest of the convoy. At least the vehicle was fairly new and could be depended upon from the point of view of serviceability.

--- 103. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Samalut ---

The following morning we left Cairo and proceeded south. Being accustomed to the road which we were taking we had made an early start in order that our progress would not be impeded due to the animals and children which litter the roads later in the day. As we were traveling in convoy, it was not possible to cover the same distance as I was able to do when traveling alone, and owing to the necessity of detailing Collins with his vehicle for a certain duty, it was not until night fall that we arrived at Samalut.

We knew that a landing ground existed in this area and it was my intention to camp at that place that night. With the exception of Helwan which is 18 km south of Heliopolis and on the eastern side of the Nile, the only other landing ground prior to Samalut which could be used was Ecrus. This latter landing ground had been made fit for operational aircraft some months previously and required no additional work to be done. Once a withdrawal from Cairo commenced, Helwan on the eastern side of the Nile was in a very bad position indeed. There is no road down to the Nile on the eastern side which leads to a bridge across the Nile and therefore unless a temporary structure was erected it would be necessary for vehicles to proceed northwards towards Cairo before crossing to the western side of the Nile, and then proceeding south.

Having arrived at Samalut we enquired from the Shell agent at that place of the direction and approximate position of the landing ground. This we knew to be on the edge of the desert on the western side of the cultivated strip of ground which runs along the western bank of the Nile. We proceeded along narrow roads in the direction of the landing ground until such time as we came to a large canal.

The only means of crossing this canal was by using a native sandahl. This is a punt which will accommodate two vehicles at a time. A chain was stretched across the canal and made fast at both sides. The chain then passed through a wheel on the sandahl so that an individual pulling on the chain and bracing his legs would propel the punt across the canal. This obstacle was not simple, as the approaches on both sides of the sandahl were very bad indeed and as it had not been constructed to take the width of a three ton lorry, it was quite obvious that this means of crossing the canal would be unsuitable and an alternative would have to be arrived at before any landing ground facilities on the opposite side of the canal could be used. This was the only means of arriving at the aerodrome from Samalut. After considerable time had been wasted, we eventually arrived on the other side of the canal and proceeded in the direction of the landing ground.

We then found that the road which was very narrow and broken was built up about 7 or 8 feet above the surrounding ground, and was indeed extremely dangerous. For this road to be subject to the wear of a Squadron’s transport, improvements would have had to be made. When nearing the desert we approached an area of soft sand at a position where the road fortunately was approx. 18” above ground level.

Owing to the soft sand the nearly new vehicle which we had acquired in Cairo and which was not equipped with desert tyres, slewed sideways and became bogged. I decided that there was no point in pressing on any further as having arrived at the aerodrome we would not be able to serve any useful purpose that night, therefore we set up our camp beds, had an evening meal, opened up the W/T watch and then retired for the night. Mosquitoes in this place were very bad, and the absence of sanitation in the nearby native village made the atmosphere anything but pleasant.

Early the following morning we found the inevitable crowd of natives, children and dogs gathered close by. With natives in these areas time appears to be of no object whatsoever, and they merely squat on the ground and watch what is happening without any purpose behind their actions. Having breakfasted and ascertained that the aerodrome was approx. two km distant, Collins and I went for a short drive to ascertain the possibility of extensions.

We found the landing ground guarded by an Egyptian policeman and that a telephone was already installed on the site. This additional facility added to the value of the aerodrome and within a short time we had disclosed that it would be necessary to extend the landing ground in order to operate operational aircraft. On proceeding further into the desert, another suitable site was located within three km and we then returned to our camp.

In summarising the Samalut area I had concluded that up to three squadrons could be accommodated on the landing ground but before operations could take place, a pontoon bridge must be constructed across the canal and the road from the canal to the aerodrome would require to be improved.

A signal to this effect was sent to Headquarters. This was the only occasion throughout the whole reconnaissance that I had asked for any instructions, namely whether a pontoon bridge would be made available. No reply was received. I felt that it was necessary to locate somewhere in this area or slightly closer to Cairo an additional site to accommodate other Squadrons, having in mind that this would possibly be the first stage of our withdrawal, and we could not afford to proceed any further south without being too far distant to offer protection to our troops during their withdrawal.

I therefore instructed Collins to proceed with the remainder of the convoy to Minyah which is 23 km further south, while I proceeded north to ascertain whether any suitable areas existed at Bah Nassa which was 20 km distant.

--- 104. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Bah Nassa ---

The governing factor of these areas was the facilities which existed for crossing the Canal which I have previously mentioned and which is called Bar Youssef. This Canal runs parallel to the Nile having commenced at Asyut and branched out into many tributaries at Fayoum 200 km to the north. At Bah Nassa, there is a bridge which crosses this Canal and was quite suitable for service requirements.

Before splitting our convoy on leaving Samalut it was necessary to unbog the vehicle which had become stuck the previous evening. It was then that I discovered that all the drivers, with the exception of Dennett, were fairly inexperienced in Desert driving. This added to the weight of responsibility being carried by Dennett whom I had placed in charge of the maintenance of the vehicles and equipment. However, by hitching the bogged vehicle to my own saloon car, Dennett and I soon managed to get the vehicle free.

We then proceeded to Bah Nassa and on arrival there found that we were unable to cross the bridge without the permission of the local police officer. He was most obliging however, and within a short time we had crossed to the desert where we commenced to carry out our reconnaissance. We were fortunate in this area in locating a further two sites which could be brought into use with a small amount of work only. A police barracks was situated approx. 500 yards from where Wing Headquarters could be set up and these barracks already had existing telephone communications.

It was decided therefore that Bah Nassa would definitely be of value if a withdrawal should be necessary. I enquired from the local police officer whether there were any further bridges across the Bar Youssef to the north and he informed me that such a bridge did exist approx. 20 km to the north. We proceeded there arriving at a time when the police officer in charge of the village in the vicinity of the bridge was taking his afternoon sleep.

The bridge contained no barriers but on crossing over it we were hailed by the Egyptian policeman. He asked for our identity cards which we produced, but these did not seem to satisfy him. He then proceeded to arouse the police officer who issued forth in his pyjamas and who also saw our identity cards and asked us what was our business in the area. I did not explain to him the reason for our being in the area other than to say that we were on duty. This did not satisfy him and we were then escorted to the local goal.

After further discussion I informed him that we had been to Samalut. He therefore put through a phone call to that place and was able to establish our bona fides. Once he had decided that we were not there for the purpose of blowing up the bridge, we were allowed to proceed on our way, however, it had been a futile visit because having crossed the bridge the road ended in soft sand and the area was entirely unsuitable for the construction of landing grounds.

--- 105. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Minyah and Bar Youssef ---

I had arranged to meet the remainder of the party in Minyah and we therefore again turned south to that place. The standing arrangement I had with Dennett during our trips of this type was that we should drive at intervals of one hour each. Returning to Minyah I was driving when Dennett remarked to me that everything was going black. He then fainted but as beads of perspiration were standing out on his forehead and there was nothing I could do except get him to Minyah as soon as possible, we continued driving. Prior to arriving there, however, he had recovered and stated that whilst he felt fairly groggy, he was not ill.

The remainder of our party had established themselves in a hotel and we did likewise having been informed that Squadron Leader Jackson, the Officer Commanding the Airfield Construction party, would be arriving the following day to receive any orders in respect of landing grounds in the area. Collins informed me that he had been to the aerodrome at Minyah and this contained quite a few facilities but he was doubtful as to whether its size would allow it to be used for operational purposes. We therefore drove to this aerodrome and discovered that it was in a built in area with very little possibility of making extensions. The aerodrome had several permanent facilities and a permanent staff and was operated by Misr Airways. A slight extension could have been made on the southern side of the aerodrome. Owing to the difficulty of interfering with an existing Egyptian landing ground and in any case the field when fully extended would not have been entirely satisfactory, we decided to look elsewhere for an alternative site.

The following morning however, we found that although we could cross the Bar Youssef, there was no suitable track on the other side, it was therefore necessary to proceed several kilometers to the south before finding an alternative crossing and a road on which a service vehicle could travel. We then discovered that when on the fringe of the cultivated area in the vicinity of the Bar Youssef, the sand hills encroached almost to the commencement of the cultivation. This area therefore was considered to be unsuitable and we returned once more to Minyah.

--- 106. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Bah Nassa and Asyut ---

On arrival we ascertained that Squadron Leader Jackson had already arrived with subordinate officers. After discussion we decided that he should proceed south to Asyut and that the officer whom he had deputised to be responsible for construction in Minyah should accompany him that afternoon to ascertain the work required on Bah Nassa and Samalut. We proceeded direct to Bah Nassa that same afternoon and again having met the obliging police officer at that place and taken tea with him, we proceeded to visit the areas in which landing grounds were to be constructed.

I then decided that as there is only one main road leading south from Cairo and this road would be extremely congested during a withdrawal, it would be to our advantage and greatly assist the speed with which Squadrons moved from one landing ground to another, if they were able to proceed across the desert from Bah Nassa direct to Samalut. We therefore returned by this route and found that although the sand was slightly soft in parts, we had no difficulty whatsoever in arriving in Samalut.

Having explained the work to be carried out in this area we once again returned to Minyah. I had already instructed Collins prior to leaving for Bah Nassa that he should take our two heavy vehicles and proceed to our next stopping place, Asyut, which is approx. 145 km to the south. At approx. 6 o’clock the remaining two vehicles left for Asyut and at 8 o’clock one of the vehicles punctured a tyre and it was found that we would have to change the tube. This we did and eventually arrived at Asyut at 12.45 the following morning.

When Collins had arrived he had opened up his W/T watch and the following morning we received further instructions from Headquarters. Jackson had considered that the existing landing ground at Asyut could be extended and had tentatively chosen an additional site on which he had used his initiative to commence work on clearing, but required the site to be confirmed as suitable. It was extremely stony but the number of natives being employed would very quickly clear the area and level it suitably for operational purposes. We carried out a further reconnaissance nearby to ascertain whether there were any other suitable places where landing grounds could be constructed, but met with no further success in this area.

--- 107. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Nag Hammadi ---

Asyut I considered would be the second stage in the withdrawal. As the work which was necessary was well in hand we decided to proceed direct to Nag Hammadi, but on this occasion we would use the road on the eastern side of the Nile as opposed to that on the western side where the road runs on top of a wall and contains 100 turns in 10 km. There were no suitable sites anywhere in the vicinity of Asyut on the eastern side of the river, therefore we carried on direct to Nag Hammadi. The road on the eastern side runs between the Nile and on the banks of the canal. The surface of this road was excellent although only of mud construction. We paused for a short time at a village to procure some eggs with a view to improving our bare rations, and continued on our way. The canal runs close to the base of the hills so that it was obvious that there would be no point in wasting time in this area seeking flat ground suitable for landing grounds.

I decided that we would make for a landing ground which was shown on one of my maps at El Karnak which was situated near a light railway running to the oasis at Kharga. Although north of Nag Hammadi it was necessary to first proceed to that place in order to cross the Nile, at the Nag Hammadi barrage. The road from here took me past the house of Victor Takla but as the afternoon was well advanced and I desired to reach our destination before night fall we did not stop on this occasion. The light railway line passes through the village of Karnak and was so close to the mud walls of the buildings, that we had difficulty in finding a passage for our vehicles. Having achieved this however we once more struck into the desert but as it was by this time growing dark, we decided to set up camp for the night. This was done and W/T watch was established.

The following morning it quickly became apparent that this area would hold very little suitable alternative sites if the existing landing ground could not be extended. After a search in the area we located the landing ground which was extremely poor; the ground was soft and undulating and the area was not suitable for extension. The remainder of the area was also very broken indeed. Having completed the reconnaissance prior to mid-day, we again broke camp and I decided to call on Victor Takla to ascertain whether he could inform me of any suitable areas where landing grounds could be constructed.

After lunch therefore we returned to Nag Hammadi where I again met Victor and both he and his father warmly extended their hospitality once again, and insisted that we remained there for tea. I explained to him that I had six other men besides Collins and myself and Kamel Bey Takla then informed me that he had already arrange for them to have refreshments in a certain room. I proceeded to this room and discovered the men were very happy indeed drinking sherbet. I learned that the following day Victor was to be married and he insisted that we should stay for his wedding. I explained to him that we were extremely busy but to have refused him would possibly have offended so we decided that we would attend the wedding and push on directly afterwards.

I enquired about the possibility of finding suitable aerodrome sites and he explained to me that there was a possibility of such a site in the area of Qus, a few miles south of Nag Hammadi. On enquiring whether he knew of a suitable place where my party could be accommodated he then told me of the Nag Hammadi sugar factory. This factory is a very large organisation with its own settlement for employees. It has very attractive houses and a large club, its own cinema, and a private hotel. Victor offered to escort us to the factory and introduce us to the manager. This he did with the result that the manager stated that he was only too pleased that we should be accommodated in the hotel and invited both Collins and me to drinks with him that evening. After sleeping on the ground and out in the open, all of the party were highly delighted to find themselves in a very comfortable hotel and being able to sleep on spring beds, have decent meals and hot baths as required.

The following morning the Manager of the Sugar Company introduced me to one of his staff who had previously been interested in finding a private landing ground to enable the staff of the Company to fly to Cairo and Alexandria, and in the company of this gentleman we proceeded to the site. After quite a few trial runs in order to obtain the necessary length for each runway we managed to locate an area which would be suitable for the purpose for which it was required. The surrounding ground however was undulating and there were no additional sites available. We therefore returned to the hotel.

As Dennett had previously been to Qena, I instructed him to proceed in charge of the convoy to that place, and we would meet him there later in the evening at the compound of the RAF detachment which had been established about two miles from the town. As neither Collins nor I had been expecting to return to Cairo we were carrying with us our available kit and were thus able to make ourselves presentable to attend the wedding of Victor Takla. this was a Coptic wedding and was indeed very interesting and quite unlike any English wedding ceremony. After the ceremony champagne flowed freely and as soon as we were able to do so, we bade our host farewell and proceeded to Qena, arriving there at dusk and found that Dennett had selected a site and erected a tent for our accommodation.

--- 108. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Qena ---

W/T contact had been established with Air Headquarters, Egypt and additional messages were received. I still had not received a reply as to whether the work in respect of Samalut was to be carried out in view of the difficulty in crossing the Bar Youssef and as I desired also to give instructions to Squadron Leader Jackson at Asyut in respect of the landing ground at Hiw and to arrange a further meeting place with him in order that he might carry out the necessary work as a result of our further reconnaissance, I decided to return to Cairo by train. Jackson was therefore contacted and told to meet the northbound train at Asyut station and his Assistant to do likewise at Beni Mazar. The following day we carried out a further reconnaissance in the Qena area along the new road which had since been laid down between Qena and Safaga on the Red Sea. There were, however, no suitable sites available within the vicinity of Qena. It must be appreciated that it was necessary to construct these landing grounds in such a position where water could be readily carried to the site or some sort of telephonic communication could be made available, this to a certain extent limited the area to be searched for suitable sites.

During the afternoon a further reconnaissance was made to the Qena-Qosier road to what was considerd to be a maximum distance at which an aerodrome could be advantageously sited. Again we met with no success, and that evening having informed Headquarters of my proposed action I left Qena for Cairo.

On arrival in Cairo it was found that the Headquarters had undergone many rapid changes and the Administrative Staff of the Headquarters had already been moved to Ismailia. The South African WAAS personnel had been evacuated to Aswan to the Catarac hotel and those personnel who still remained were ready to move out at very short notice.

I submitted a report of the landing grounds which had beren found and the work involved on each, their data of completion, facilities available and road communicatins. Copies of these reports were also being forwarded to Headquarters RAF Middle East and I was instructed to report to the combined operatins section which had been formed there. I was still unable to obtain from the Air Officer in charge of Administration a definite answer in respect of the pontoon required to cross the canal at Samalut, but pending this reply the work was being satisfactorily carried out and at that time had it been necessary to withdraw, so far as the landing grounds were concerned they could have been used. After submitting the necessary reports and making known that the area for 417 miles south of Cairo in the vicinity of the Niile valley had been reconoitred for suitable landing grounds where areas were accessible, I once again returned to Qena and rejoined my party.

--- 109. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Qena, Luxor and Edfu ---

During my absence Collins had carried out an additional reconnaissance south of Qena and located what he considered a suitable site at Quift. We therefore paid a visit to this site to confirm its suitability and found that the area located by Collins could indeed be turned into a very satisfactory landing ground. We returned to Qena where I arranged with the RAF detachment that if it was found necessary for them to evacuate, they would leave 250 gallons of petrol in the ground below a water tank situated near a branch railway line. This was agreed upon. My object in this request was that if I could not get back to the Egyptian Delta area, we might be able to make Qena, pick up the petrol and proceed then by road to Qosier on the Red Sea.

The following morning we left Qena for Luxor. There wre no sites readily available between Qena and Luxor and as Dennett and I had previously carried out a reconnaissance in the Luxor area I did not expect to find any suitable areas in that place either. Nevertheless, as it was essential to localize as many landing grounds as possible, I decided to carry out a further reconnaissance in the desert to the south of the existing aerodrome. We found hwoever that there were no suitable sites in which a landing ground could be constructed other than those already located.

Having replenished our stock of fuel, we started the following day at an early hour and continued to get off the main road owing to the presence of a very large canal, and in any case the ground was of a broken nature and unsuitable for landing grounds. We continued south for 33 miles until arriving at ESM*** where we found that we would not be able to carry on on this road, but that it was necessasry to return on the same road for a few miles and cross to the other side of the canal on to a track which had been constructed by the Army and ran through the desert at Aswan.

We followed this road for a further 32 miles until arriving opposite the village of Edfu . Whilst still driving across the desert we rounded the base of a very large hill and to my surprise came across a modern house with a well kept garden and rose bushes. The house itself was completely out of place in its surroundings and I decided that it would be a good idea to ascertain the exact position of the Edfu landing ground from the occupants. I walked up the garden and on arrival at the door discovered that the occupant whoever he or she may be was endeavouring to make this isolated property as nearly resembling a suburban house as possible.

Still wondering what would happen I rang the bell and to my surprise the door was opened by an Army officer. It appeared that the occupant of the hosue had been interned and a detachment of engineers had a few men carrying out a geological survey in the hills and were treating the house as their headquarters having obtained the necessary permission to use the property. The Army opfficer informed me that each room in the house had its own private bathroom, and from what I was able to see myself the house was delightfully furnished in a very modern style.

I enquired from him the direction of the Edfu landing ground and having obtained the necessary particulars proceeded in the direction indicated. Although the surrounding area was not particularly good it was possible to obtain a run more or less in the direction of the prevailing wind which was suitable for our purpose. There did not appear to be any further sites in this area, so without further loss of time we continued on. After leaving Edfu , another possible site was seen approx. five miles south but a considerable amount of work would require to be done to the west of this area and it depended entirely upon the shortage of landing grounds and the amount of time available to put the surface into suitable condition.

--- 110. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Komombo and Aswan ---

From this place on although occasionally suitable sites were seen, but owing to the absence of water and any other fiacilities, this area was not considered worth any expenditure of manpower. After a further 60 km the road passed in the vicinity of Komombo. From here onwards the track became very bad, so bad indeed that the generator for the wirless and same of the W/T fittings broke away from their housing and it was later necessary to carry out repairs after arrival at Aswan. We eventually arrived at Aswan at approx. 9.30 that evening and feeling very dirty and tired sought out a suitable hotel to accommodate us for the night. We arranged for the men to have some food sent to them and Collins and I wended our way to the Bar for a well earned drink.

Whilst in the Bar, we were approached by an Army Captian who had a very impertinent manner and who asked who we were and what was our business in Aswan. We explained who we were and in view of his manner also explained that our business was something which we did not propose discussing with him. He then said that he was the Officer Commanding the transit camp in the area and we arranged, in accordance with service custom, to report offically the following day. This we did but by this time he had spoken to an RAF Officer who was the Embarkation Officer at Shelal, and incidentally an Australian. Johnson, the Australian officer, who knew of me and who I had met before he joined the Air Force, explained to the Army Captain the equivalent Army rank to my own. It was therefore a very much different atmosphere when we called at the transit camp the following morning. Having decided that the hatchet was buried, I was then prepared to enlist his assistance if possible for the work of reconoitering the area.

There was a landing ground already in existence at Shelal which is slightly south of Aswan and is the point of disembarkation from the train from Cairo and the embarkation to the Nile steamer for passengers proceeding further south to Wadi Halfa. It was decided that providing the ruins of an old building situated near the southern boundary of the existing landing ground were removed, the landing ground could be considerably run into the prevailing wind. apart from this extension there were no further sites available in the aera as the country round about is very broken and contains numerous hills. This was as far south as we had been instructed to proceed. After having carried out the necessary repairs to the wireless set and set up our camp just outside Aswan, we established W/T contact with Headquarters, and I received a signal which requested me to ascertain whether there was any road by which we could get through from the Nile valley to the Red Sea.

--- 111. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Aswan through Burrumurrum Valley ---

That same evening it was reported to me by one of the men that LAC Dennett could not be found. Knowing that since passing out in the vicinity of Samalut he had not been very well, but had kept going rather than be put into hospital, we feared that he may have been sick and wandered away from the camp and got lost. A search was immediately organized and eventually Dennett was found lying in the desert. It was decided that the man was more sick then he had made known to us and we therefore removed him to the sick bay in the transit camp. In a very short time, however, he was later removed to the Native Hospital at Aswan.

The following day we called on the Police to ascertain whether there was any road leading to the Red Sea from Aswan. We were eventually informed that such a road did exist but it was most inadvisable to proceed over the road unless a guide was taken. Arrangements were made for a Sudanese Sergeant to accompany us and the following day we set off with two vehicles both equipped with desert tyres. I left Collins in charge at the base and the Sergeant police guide accompanied me in my car. He was not very pleased at the prospect of traveling in the desert with an “Ingleese” until such time as he found that I spoke Arabic. From then on he was very much at ease indeed and told me that he was quite enjoying himself. His main worry had apparently been that owing to the softness of certain bad patches in the road, I would not be able to understand the direction he showed me to take in sufficient time for us to avoid any danger of getting bogged.

We left Shelal and very soon were out in the desert, the road having ceased. Shortly afterwards we turned eastwards into a wide valley known as the Burrumurrum. At the entrance to this valley is a large area of very soft sand. However, this did not stretch for a very great distance and could be by-passed by a column of vehicles providing the vehicles did not follow in each other’s tracks and so make the surrounding area even more soft. When traveling along the Burrumurrum, we saw a car approaching us. This proved to be the desert police patrol car which had been visiting Bir Abrag in order to change the outpost and was then returning to Aswan.

We continued on and eventually wound our way through a series of wadis until arriving at Wadi Garara. This wadi is ***…. miles long and about three miles wide. It has a smooth soft sand surface and the glare from this surface places a considerable strain on the eyes. We were traveling in a west to east direction and were experiencing considerable trouble due to the car engine overheating. This, strangely enough, applied to the Ford only. The Humber which was the second vehicle did not overheat. We were carrying two camel tanks of water and the rate at which this was being used in the radiators would have been most alarming had we not had the assurance of the guide that water was to be found at Bir Abrag. Owing to the frequency with which we had to halt we were still in the Wadi Garara after mid-day and therefore decided to take the opportunity of allowing the engines to cool as much as they would do in such excessive heat, by stopping in the shade of an overhanging escarpment, for lunch.

After lunch, we proceeded on our way still experiencing the same difficulty from time to time with the engine until at approx. 4.30 we arrived at Bir Abrag. We did not stop at the police outpost but proceeded direct to the well which was indicated to us by our guide. We had very little time to lose for we were to get right through to the Red Sea that same day.

On arrival at the well at which a wandering tribesman was watering some camels, we decided that the smell of the water was very, very bad indeed. Our guide, however, was not dismayed at all and proceeded to fill his water bottle. I decided that this water was not fit for drinking although it was necessary for us to fill our camel tanks so that the water might be used in the car radiators. After calling at the police post, we again proceeded on our way as the afternoon was rapidly drawing to a close. I spoke to our guide about the water which he had without hesitation placed in his water bottle, and to my amazement learned that there was no smell whatsoever attached to the water once it had been removed from the well, and in fact it was not brackish in any way.

--- 112. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Bir Abrag to Hoteit ---

After leaving Bir Abrag and nearing the Red Sea hills there appears to be more plant life in the form of shrubs and bracken and occasionally a gazelle could be seen. Up to date I had considered that the track over which we had come could have been used by a column of vehicles provided they spread themselves out in off places and it may have been necessary to use sand mats or wire mesh, despite the fact that some of the vehicles may, through bad driving or other causes, become temporarily bogged, they could have been easily towed out by other vehicles. We now however came between two hills and here the track had been hewn and it was very narrow.

I decided that this would require to be widened by an additional two or three feet as a trailer or wide lorry could not negotiate the narrow passage. Shortly afterwards we came to a well and then reached a well defined road. This, the guide informed me, led to a gold mine at Hoteit and was in the direction which we desired to follow. We were now able to make better time on this track and approaching dusk arrived at the buildings of the Hoteit gold mine. these however were deserted and there was one gafia (watchman) to ensure that no damage was done to the property by wandering tribesmen. This man incidentally had not been paid for months and as far a I was able to gather it appeared that the gold mine had been closed for the duration of hostilities.

Leaving the remainder of the party at Hoteit, I pushed on with the guide to ascertain whether I could reach the coast by nightfall. We were now however on a well defined road which whilst unmade, was bordered on both sides by stones so that the way could not have been mistaken. I understood that this was the road used by the gold mining company to proceed to the Red Sea coast for the purpose of obtaining supplies from the small steamers which operated from Suez and brought supplies to the various outlying settlements such as Safaga and Hamata.

Very soon the light failed altogether and we were driving by means of headlights. The guide assured me that the road continued in this condition right to the coast and as there was obviously no reason to doubt the guide’s statement and as we had proceeded several kilometers since leaving Hoteit and there was no change in the condition of the road, I decided that no useful purpose would be served by covering the remaining distance at night. I therefore turned about and returned to Hoteit. We slept the night at this place in a workshop lean-to and having supplied the gafia with some food we left the following morning on our return to Shelal.

--- 113. Reconnaissance up the Nile Valley: Shelal to Cairo ---

On passing the wells that were used by the Hoteit mining company and learning that this water was quite good, we filled our tanks and water bottles and proceeded on our way. On this occasion we ere traveling in an east to west direction and were therefore not greatly troubled by overheating of the engines. After pausing for a short time at Bir Abrag outpost, we continued on our way and the return journey to Shelal was without incident.

We arrived at Shelal in time to partake of lunch. This will give the reader some idea of the amount of time which is lost over the same distance due to the overheating of the car engine.

Having completed this reconnaissance, I reported to Air Headquarters, Egypt that I would now be returning to Cairo. This we did leaving LAC Dennett still in hospital at Aswan having been assured that he was gradually improving from his illness.

On the return journey we met Squadron Leader Jackson at Qena and explained to him the work which was required at Shelal and Edfu landing grounds, and received a progress report in respect of the other work which had been undertaken by him.

We then left Qena in order to push on as far as we could that day and as dusk was falling we found ourselves between Nag Hammadi and Asyut. We approached what appeared to be rather a superior farm house and decided that we would camp in the vicinity for the night. I enquired of the occupant whether there was a suitable place in which we could camp as we were more or less confined to the road owing to the canal on one side and the cultivated area on the other. He invited us to partake of a meal and said that he thought he could provide our party with shelter for the evening.

During the meal he informed us that the farm was the property of an Egyptian princess although she was not in residence at the time. He had arranged for rooms in an outhouse to be cleared so that shortly after our supper we thanked him for his courtesy and proceeded to survey the quarters which had been placed at our disposal. They were reasonably clean and the rooms although being situated in close proximity to the stables, were thought to be excellent temporary accommodation for the night. Shortly afterwards we were in our bed but not to sleep for both Collins and I were almost eaten alive by mosquitoes. They seemed to be the most aggressive type which I had struck during the whole of my tour in Egypt and in spite of the defensive measures we took we were unable to free ourselves from them. Eventually, both Collins and I decided that the only alternative by which we might be able to obtain sleep was to set up our beds in one of the vehicles and seal up the windows. This we proceeded to do and spent a more or less comfortable night.

The following morning after a hasty breakfast, we left this place and after a few hours driving gain passed through Asyut. After a more or less uneventful run we arrived in Cairo at Air Headquarters, Egypt at approx. 18.45 hours. Shortly after my arrival, I reported to the Air Officer in Charge of Administration and found that the tension by now had been greatly eased as Rommel’s advance had been held at El Alamein. I was asked by the Air Officer in Charge of Administration whether I had had an enjoyable holiday.

--- 114. Allied advance and German withdrawal:
strained relations between Services (October 1942) ---

During the four months our strength of both aircraft, tanks and guns were considerably increased until eventually in October it was decided that we should advance. At that time, we had so much material and such an enormous superiority that it was a foregone conclusion that we should not do anything else but advance.

Once having broken through the German lines at El Alamein, their retreat quickly turned into a rout and they were rapidly pushed as far as Mersa Matruh. Shortly after this, however, the weather deteriorated considerably and made the aerodromes near the coast which were being used during our advance, unserviceable, and the enemy accordingly drew out of the range of our fighter aircraft, except for aircraft fitted with long range tanks.

At this stage, feeling between the Air Headquarters Western Desert and Air Headquarters Egypt was not of the best as the Western Desert forces considered that they were doing all the work and the organisation which had been previously prepared for them and the preparation of their Squadrons was a very little consideration. However, when they were held up due to the unserviceability of aerodromes, I asked the Air Officer Commanding, then Air Vice Marshal McClaughry, whether I could be permitted to proceed to the Western Desert Headquarters to show them certain landing grounds which I knew to exist on the top of the escarpment and which I have previously referred to in this book ***. Two of these landing grounds were situated near Themida and two further areas situated approx. 15 miles further west plus LG78 situated near the Sofafi camp.

The Air Vice Marshal pointed out to me that owing to the strained relationships between the two Headquarters should I arrive at Western Desert forces Headquarters to make a suggestion, although I was known to certain of the staff, they were bound to take exception, and say “who is this man”? It was unfortunate because the landing grounds which were known to me had previously been used, and had been known to Headquarters Middle East. They were situated in a position where they would not have become unserviceable due to the coastal rains and as there were no other serviceable aerodromes available, the enemy were able to enjoy a certain amount of immunity from air attack, during this stage of their withdrawal.