Beaufighters and Operation Crusader - part 2

Autor: Miroslav Šnajdr 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 8.523

November 19, 1941. The second day of Operation Crusader , an Allied offensive on the North African battlefield aimed at releasing besieged Tobruk . At the murmur of powerful engines, four Beaufighters Mk.Ic of the 272nd Squadron of the RAF took off from the LG.10 Gerawla field base in the morning at 6.40 am. The weather was unfavorable, as few would have imagined when saying the word " desert." Visibility was limited by low clouds, during the day it rained and a strong wind blew. Previous rains flooded the enemy's airfield in Libya, and most enemy aircraft continued to be trapped on the ground (similar to November 18, when British 8th Army troops went on the offensive). This was a huge tactical advantage for the beaufighter crews, as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 F posed a truly deadly threat to their slower machines.

Now, after two hours in the air, a quartet of British aircraft is approaching the enemy Libyan airport Tmimi in flight low over the terrain. Here is the goal! Extensive flat area in the inhospitable desert, planes parked in the open air, tents nearby.

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GW Morris and Sgt were the first to attack F / O. NJ Price. They lowered the blunt, short bows of their rugged twin-engine monoplanes and detonated a battery of four 20mm fuselage cannons during the run-off. Firepower was one of the great advantages of the beaufighter. Grenades whipped the ground. And they also intervened. According to his postoperative report, each of the pilots left behind two burning Ju 87s . Sgt. Price added two more "wild-burning " Bf 109s to his pair of dive bombers.

Then the second pair of beaufighters attacked. F / L GL Campbell hit one stucco on the ground. However, the enemy had already been warned and his flak opened fire furiously. Campbell's " beau ", individually marked " U ", collected a hit on one of the propulsion units. The pilot maintained control over the machine and returned in one engine flight to his desert base LG.10 . Also Beaufighter Q Sgt. Haylock was hit. The pilot sustained a leg injury. In order to ensure the fastest and highest quality medical treatment, he headed straight for the permanent base of the squadron further from the front, to Idko , Egypt. Here, due to damage to his machine, he landed with the landing gear retracted. The other beaufighters landed at 11.45 am at the LG.10 field airport.


Beaufighter Mk.Ic serial number T3314 About the 272nd Squadron at the Egyptian airport Idku

Target: Tmimi

Also on November 20, the target for the beaufighters of the 272nd Squadron became the airport in Tmimi . Five British heavy fighters tried to capture the Luftwaffe on the ground here in the early afternoon. They took off from LG.10 at 11:45 a.m. At 1:55 p.m., the beaufighters took a low flight over the target. They carried out four raids. In the postoperative report, the pilots reported the destruction of 14 Ju 87 and one Bf 109 on the ground. They could observe the fire in the fuel depot on their return from a distance of 30 km.Only anti-aircraft fire resisted, which damaged the aileron on the left half of the bearing surface of the P / O Snow machine.


Beaufighters repeatedly attacked German Ju 87B Stuka dive bombers during Operation Crusader. Here the machine I./StG 3

Despite the claimed great success, the German documents are silent about possible losses (similarly to the one after the blow of November 19). It seems that the pilots did not evaluate their results realistically enough and most likely fired on previously incapacitated aircraft, serving as twigs, or directly on models, also designed to deceive the enemy.

The 272nd Squadron was more successful the very next day. Four heavy fighters took off as early as 10.00 am. And the target identified as "Martuba Satellite" (satellite airport base Martuba ) had sight five minutes before noon. P / O ML Bartlett, P / O J. Watters, Sgt. JS Ross and Sgt. After the attack, NAJ Price claimed three Ju 87s , one Ju 88 and an unspecified upper wing as destroyed. They also fired at trucks observed near the airport. North of the target, the beaufighters encountered a lone stucco in the air. It was attacked by F / O Bartlett and Sgt. Price. Together they claimed her downing. This time, in addition to the flak, enemy fighters also tried to counteract. During the return flight, the New Zealander P / O Watters was chased by a pair of Bf 109 . The Messerschmitts made six attacks, but Watters managed to escape them with vigorous maneuvers low above the ground. His beaufighter escaped from the dangerous situation only slightly damaged. Meanwhile, Sgt. On the way back to the base, Price suddenly flew over a large concentration of enemy units and tanks. His machine became the target of heavy fire, which wounded observers Sgt. Hobbis and the kite were destroyed by 24 shots. Price led the damaged fighter to the home airport. During the landing with the chassis extended, the beaufighter went into the wild " clock " due to the flat tire.

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Beaufighter Mk.Ic 252nd or 272nd Squadron in the care of ground personnel

The Germans lost three planes that day during attacks by British aircraft on the ground: Hs 126 , W. Nr. 3397 ( damage range: 80% ), from Staffel 2 ( H ) / 14; He 111 , W. Nr. 1626, and Fi 156 , W. Nr. 5114 ( 70% damage ), both from Kourier Staffel Trop. It was probably the result of an attack by beaufighters. However, the downing of the stucco remained unconfirmed by German documents.

The intensity of air battles over the desert battlefield gradually increased in proportion to the increasing involvement of the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica . Both sides suffered quite heavy losses during the air battles. Under these conditions, the beaufighters continued their long-range offensive actions. The successful operation took place on November 23, when four British heavy fighters attacked the airport in Barce around noon. The pilots claimed the ignition of one S.79 and the destruction of three other machines of the same type. F / L GL Campbell, F / O AA Salter, P / O NK Lee and Belgian Sgt. RJGDemoulin.

In fact, three Italian machines were damaged: one S.81 governor of Libya, one S.79 unspecified unit and one bomber BR.20 1 and Squadriglia from 11 ° BT Group. The subsequent bomb blast killed eight pilots, including one 13 ° Stormo BT pilot. Beaufighter P P / O Lea was hit by a flak. It crashed in Bir el Gubi and burned down completely. The uninjured crew returned to the unit after marching through the desert two days later. Anti-aircraft fire also damaged the aircraft R. F / O Salter crashed with it during landing.

Against the Italians

While heavy and often confused fighting continued on the ground near the Egyptian border for the abundant use of tanks, at 6.30 a.m. on November 25, five beaufighters ( W / C RG Yaxley , F / L MLP Bartlett, P / O DH Hammond and P / O HH Crawford ). According to British crews, two CR.42 and one Ca.310 were damaged in Jedabia. It was probably CR.42 160 ° Grupa CT , which, according to the Italians, were damaged in number three on the ground in Ajdabiya . The British also saw a transport plane about 50 km southeast of the airport. Although no pilot was able to fire on him, the fleeing enemy machine crashed or landed in an emergency, right in front of their eyes. During the action, the F / L Bartlett machine was damaged by a collision with a telegraph pole while flying low over the terrain.

Six beaufighters of the 272nd Squadron returned over Ajdabiya the very next day. The pilots claimed to have shot down one capron. It was a machine Ca.309 Ghibli MM.11270 ( serg. Guido Degli Esposti ), which made an emergency landing 40 km from Sidi Magrun. On the ground, the British claimed the destruction of four CR.42 . The success was shared by: F / L GI Campbell, F / O GW Morris, P / O KB Orr, P / O JH Baker, Sgt. NAJ Price. Letoun E Sgt. Price did not return. The British believed that his fateful hit had happened to him. In reality, however, a twin-engine heavy fighter was sent to hell by the Italian Fiat CR.42 from 375 and Squdriglie 160 ° Grupa CT . Pilot s.ten. Giuseppe Cantù won one victory and a serg. Aurelio Munich joined in with a probable victory. The crew of the affected beaufighter ended up in enemy captivity. F / L Campbell also intervened in the fight with the Fiat, claiming damage to one CR.42 .


RAF planes attack one of North Africa's Regia Aeronautica airports ( beaufighter raids looked similar )

On November 30, four beaufighters (the recent bearer of the W / C Yaxley Air Merit Cross , F / L Bartlett, P / O HH Crawford and P / O J. Watters ) moved closer to the battlefield, to LG.122 Field Airport.The planes set out from there the same day to attack the enemy's airport in Martuba . The pilots claimed damage to eight aircraft on the ground - two of them were seen burning. In fact, six S.79s were damaged and one Italian pilot was killed. During the attack, the V F / L Bartlett machine collected a hit on the tail surfaces. The pilot was able to bring the damaged fighter back to LG.122, despite two-thirds of the shotgun and the damaged elevator. The aircraft then flew for repairs to LG.10 .


The wreck of an Italian S.79 Sparviero bomber at one of the desert air bases

Another successful hunt over the enemy's rear took place on December 2. Three beaufighters attacked Barce Airport after taking off from LG.10 . The pilots shelled seven machines, considered BR.20 bombers. They claimed the destruction of one unidentified machine and the damage of six other aircraft. The blow hit Regia Aeronautica again . The Italians lost the destroyed transport S.75 civilian license plates " I-LUSS ". Furthermore, one BR.20 bomber from 13 ° Storm BT suffered heavy and the other light damage. The Beaufighter F / O AA Salter ( it was an aircraft of serial number T4665, borrowed from the sister 252nd Squadron ) was hit by a flak and crashed at the target. The crew was captured.

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Beaufighter Mk.Ic 252nd Squadron shows its characteristic shapes

On the morning of December 6, after starting from LG.10 , four beaufighters headed for Tmimi . After a long time, she made herself known again to the Luftwaffe. Dangerous Bf 109 F began to chase and shot down Beaufighter Mk.IC T3246 J P / O Snowa. The comrades watched his emergency landing with a burning left engine north of Tmimi . The pilot and his observer Sgt. J. Dalton were captured. Four messerschmitts attacked the A1 F / O Roman. The Belgian managed to escape despite severe damage. Also the N Sgt. Lowes escaped from an awkward encounter damaged. Oblt scored on the German side. Rödel from 4. / JG 27 ( shot down a beaufighter at Tobruk at 11.55 am ).

Four more beaufighters repeated the attack at 11:15 a.m. This time, the pilots claimed damage to five Ju 87s on the ground. The enemy defended itself with intense anti-aircraft fire. The hit F / L Campbell had to make an emergency landing 65 km south of Tmimi. The New Zealand pilot P / O Hammond (he joined the RNZAF in June 1940, ended the war as commander of the 489th Squadron ) bravely decided to save his colleagues and landed nearby. The crew helped the comrades with an emergency repair, and Campbell was able to take off again.Unfortunately, he did not reach the airport - he made an emergency landing 145 km behind the Egyptian border due to an engine failure. Faithful Hammond landed nearby again and took Campbell and his observers aboard his machine. Despite the damage to the spur wheel, he was able to take off successfully with the overloaded machine. He then fired and destroyed a colleague's machine and returned to base. Above the target, meanwhile, flak fire also affected Pea O Stephenson's beaufighter. The pilot was injured in both legs and his observer Sgt. Olive suffered a fatal wound. With the engine down and the machine damaged, Stephenson flew straight to Idk to provide his observer at the rear base with proper treatment. He crashed here during the landing. Despite his efforts, Olive became unconscious and died.

On December 7, the commander of the Panzergruppe Africa gen. Erwin Rommel ordered the battle-exhausted German-Italian forces to retreat back to the Gazal line (the 272nd Squadron attacked enemy vehicles on the Benghazi- Cyree road that day and F / L Bartlett's beaufighter was badly damaged by flak ). Three days later, after eight months of siege, the Allies finally broke through the siege of Tobruk . The troops of the 8th Army then continued to pursue the retreating enemy until the beginning of January, when the front stabilized again at positions near El Agheila .


Crews before the event. In the background is captured Beaufighter Mk.IC with marked kills on the bow

Against transport aircraft

Meanwhile, a new task arose before the beaufighters of the 272nd Squadron. The British intelligence service registered increased traffic on the air route between Crete and North African Derna . The Axis transport planes transported valuable fuel to the desert battlefield. The first success in trying to capture them was won on December 11 by Sgt. JS Ross, who damaged two four-engine aircraft over the sea of an unspecified type.

Similar events had a more dramatic course on 12 December. In the morning, W / C Yaxley and P / O Hammnod collided with five Ju 52 / 3m heading for Derna . Hammond shot down one tricycle in flames and damaged the other. Yaxley damaged three others. The Germans defended themselves with machine gun fire and marked both attackers. Yaxley's observer was wounded in the lungs. Hammond headed to Idk with the damaged machine, where he crashed during the landing. Later, before noon on the same day, the pilots of the 272nd Squadron claimed damage to six or seven more Ju 52 / 3m . South African Marylands have also been involved in prosecuting transport junkers 12.SAAF Squadron ( Lt. Ruse claimed to shoot down two Ju 52 / 3m ).

The Germans did suffer heavy losses: KGr.zbV 102 lost two missing machines between Crete and Derna (W. Nr. 2958 Lt. Himmler and W. Nr. 6721 Uffz. Sandera ). KGr.zbV 400 near Derny lost downed Ju 52 / 3m , W. Nr. 7210, Obfw. Buska and the missing machine of the same type, W. Nr. 6583, Uffz. Josef Bordlein.

On December 13, the Belgian F / O C. Roman claimed above the sea 65 km from Derny damage to one Do 24 flying boat and the probable downing of the Bf 110 . On the contrary, the Beaufighter T3250 F / O Morris did not return. He was shot down south of Crete Bf 110 Obfw. Sommera z I./NJG 2 . Morris and his observer fell.

On December 15, the operation complicated the need to move from LG.10 to Bu Amud , as the original airport was flooded by heavy rains. Of Bu amud Beaufighters sweep conducted in the area west of Derny at which bombard vehicles. F / L Lydall and Sgt. Ross probably shot down one Ju 52 / 3m during the action and damaged the other 25 km west of Derny . Ross then crashed during landing due to damage.

The next day smelled of gunpowder was December 19. Five beaufighters shelled vehicles and units on the Tocra - Benghazi road and on the road south of Barca . Fire from the ground hit the T4783 E machine of New Zealander P / O Crawford ( he joined the RNZAF in October 1939, fell during the operation on February 6, 1942 ) and shut down the right engine. Accompanied by F / L Bartlett, he headed home to Crawford; but he failed to maintain altitude and made an emergency landing 60 km southwest of Barca . Bartlett landed with him and took the crew with him on the plane. During this time, the machine came under fire from two tanks and two armored cars. He tore the damage, but was able to take off and return to base.

Losses continued on December 22. During the shelling of targets on the road to Adegabia, anti-aircraft fire hit two beaufighters of the 272nd Squadron . P / O Orr was shot down and together with observer Sgt. Captured by Jackson. In the second damaged machine, pilot Sgt suffered a serious injury to his leg. Lowes. During his return, he briefly lost consciousness twice, and on both occasions his observer, Sgt. CF Cutting. The pilot eventually managed to keep the damaged machine in the air for a full 480 km and land at one of the Allied desert airports. He immediately received the DFM award.


Beaufighter Mk.Ic T4767 codenamed " BT-T " served in early 1942 from Idk Airport at 252.RAF Squadron

During Operation Crusader, the 272nd Squadron wished good luck for a long time, and the beufighters generally escaped the attention of German fighters during their raids. However, his rate was exhausted on December 23. During the offensive against the targets in the area of Ajdabiya - Agheila, he overtook five beaufighters Nemesis in the form of Bf 109 F. Oblt. Gerhard Homuth of 3. / JG 27 shot down two beaufighters east of Acra Philenorum between 14.00 and 14.10. JH Baker's F / O crew fell; F / O NK Lee and his observer escaped. The next fight ended in a draw the next day, without losses, although the Belgian F / O Roman claimed at 14.05 in Ras Lanuf to kill one Bf 109 ( and the pilot of the 8th / JG 27 Lt. Nitzsche, on the other hand, reported the victory of one beaufighter ).

The last success in 1941, the 272nd Squadron won on December 31, when pilots F / O Roman, P / O Hammond and Sgt. Y. Tedesco recorded a Fi 156 Storch victory at 14.25 in the Ras Lanuf area.

The sad point of the 272nd Squadron's participation during Operation Crusader was the death of one of the successful pilots, F / L MLP Bartlett. The man, who risked landing on enemy territory to save his comrades and achieved considerable success in combat, died on January 1, 1942, by accident in a tent fire at the LG.10 field base. He was posthumously awarded the DFC ( his award was published in the London Gazette on April 7, 1942 ).

Sources ( selection ):
Ellis, K .: Celebrating Bristol's Versatile Warrior Beaufighter. Stamford 2012;
Rawlings, JD: Coastal, Support and Special Squadrons of the RAF and their Aircraft. London 1982;
Shores, Ch .: A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940–1945, Vol. 1. London 2012;
Shores, Ch .: Malta: The Hurricane Years, 1940–1941. London 1987;
Thomas, A .: Beaufighter Aces of WW 2. Oxford 2005.

Published with the kind permission of the author.
Published in Military revue 4/2015 by Naše Vojsko.

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