Saturday, September 17, 2022

Into the Bag

(Source)
For some weeks now there had been no big advances in the desert. Both sides were trying to build up their forces in order to launch an attack. The German goal was Cairo, and beyond. The British goal was to destroy the Afrika Korps, failing that, to drive the Germans and their Italian allies back to El Agheila.

Flight Lieutenant Reginald Morley was leading a flight of twelve Hawker Hurricanes on a dawn sweep down the coast road. Intel reports had a German fuel convoy moving forward to resupply their vehicles. Without fuel the Germans could be chewed up. Without their German allies, the Italians would have no chance at all.

"Right-oh chaps, I make it five miles to the IP¹. Red Element take up position to watch our backs, off you go." Morley sounded tired over the R/T, and he was. He'd flown five times yesterday and today looked no different. After returning from this hop, they were scheduled to escort a flight of Blenheims on a deeper raid against the Axis rear areas.

Morley was effectively the squadron commander since the death of Squadron Leader Herbie Marshall two days ago. His replacement hadn't been named and Wing said they could spare no one else to lead the squadron. He remembered what his chief ground crewman had said before he'd taxied out.

"Damn it Sir, they're going to kill you lads with these constant Ops!" Corporal Willis O'Donnell was himself ragged and damned near dead on his feet. For every hour the pilots flew, the ground crew put in at least eight.

His second on Morley's aircraft was Leading Aircraftman George Frasier, who was back in the revetment getting forty winks. Frasier had protested but O'Donnell had insisted, saying, "At least one of us has to be alert enough to make sure we don't make mistakes. Our mistakes on the ground can kill a pilot in the air."

In truth, Morley was glad to be in the air. The dust, the flies, and the heat of this theater were a constant annoyance. If he never saw another desert it would be too soon. At least he had the clear air and the slightly cooler temperature at altitude.

"Glasgow Lead, Red Element is in position." Tom Baker's flight of four Hurricanes were higher up and trailing the main formation, their job was to keep any enemy fighters off the strafing elements should they be attacked.

"Copy Red Lead. All Glasgows, check your switches, coast road is in sight and from the dust cloud I'd say we're just in time to wish the Jerries good morning."


Gefreiter Georg Hassell was straining to watch the sky ahead. He was driving the lead truck in the convoy so his view was relatively clear. The trucks behind would be half-blind with all the dust thrown up by the vehicles in front of them.

"How far Johannes?" Hassell asked his co-driver, Oberkraftfahrer² Johannes Müller. Müller had been trying to keep track of their position on the map and he was fairly certain of where they were.

"I make it two kilometers to the depot, Georg. We should be there in time for breakfast."

"Good, you can drive on the way back, I'm ..." Hassell paused, he thought he saw something in the air.

"Damn it, aircraft, probably British! I'm going to speed up, there's no place to hide here, being hard to hit is our only chance!"


Morley saw that the lead truck was speeding up, which didn't concern him, his target was the last truck in the convoy, his second element lead was responsible for the lead truck. Hit both ends of the convoy and the bulk would be stuck on the road or have to drive off the road. At any rate, that should make them easy meat for the rest of the squadron.

Though the blowing dust made it hard to see, the vehicles on the road did stand out from the bland desert terrain.

"Here we are!" Morley exclaimed to himself as he spotted what could only be the last truck. At any rate it was close enough to the end of the convoy to make no difference. He triggered his guns.


The men on the 2 cm anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back of an LKW were slow getting into action. The first British flyer flashed overhead and its guns began hammering nearly at the same time. As the crew swung their gun into action, the lead aircraft's wingman also flashed past. The second element of Hurricanes weren't so lucky.


Pilot Officer Ted Norris was focused on strafing the convoy, he had missed the lead truck but had obliterated the second. As his eyes shifted, looking for a new target, his wingman came on over the R/T.

"Break left Teddy! Flak truck on your nose!"

Even as Sergeant Pilot William Sanderson called that out, he shifted his aim to the Flak truck, his thumb pressing the button on his control stick. He flinched as he saw his lead's aircraft blotted from the sky, the wreckage falling onto the convoy and wreaking further havoc.

As he pulled off the target, he couldn't tell if he'd silenced the gun truck, but he could tell that the Germans would not be getting any supplies from this convoy.


Morley's controls felt sloppy, he checked over his right shoulder and there was Billy Preston, on his wing as if welded in place. "Billy, I've got a problem." No doubt he'd been too low when the truck he had strafed had blown up with a great bang.

"Copy lead, you've a bloody great hole in your empennage, probably damaged some of the control cables. I'd look for a place to set her down. If needs be, I'll land with you and you can sit in my lap." Preston radioed back

Morley tried a gentle turn, ailerons only, the aircraft began to wallow. "Rudder's trash, I'm going to land."

As his gear and flaps came down, Morley saw a stretch of desert that looked reasonably flat. "See that darker patch up ahead Billy? I'm going to put her down there."

"Copy."

His wheels hit and he bounced back up into the air, the place he'd chosen was a lot rougher than it had looked from the air. As the bird began to settle again, Morley gambled. When the wheels hit a second time, he chopped the throttle.

He didn't bounce as high the second time, the aircraft was floating in ground effect, which was alright, he judged he had another thousand yards of pseudo-flat terrain.

"Bloody Hell!" he heard over the R/T. "Sorry Skipper, but I'm off, looks like you landed right next to a bivouac, the buggers are already swarming out to meet you! Shall I strafe them?"

The tail of his aircraft had settled, so he judiciously began to ride his brakes. As he slowed Morley looked to his left, sure enough, a swarm of enemy soldiery were advancing towards him.

"Billy, return to base, that's an order. If you strafe these chaps they'll probably take it out on me. See you after the war laddie."

"Damn it, stay alive Skipper!"

Just as the first soldiers reached his aircraft, Morley raised his hands so that they were in plain view. He heard the roar of an aircraft overhead, he looked up to see Preston rocking his wings as he climbed sharply away from the men on the ground.

Morley gestured at one of the soldiers standing on his wing, motioning that he wanted to open the canopy. He then noticed that the soldiers were Italians, not Germans.

Opening the canopy, he kept his hands raised and said, "Buongiorno valorosi soldati italiani.³" While his Italian was rusty, it was sufficient. One of the men, a sergeant from the look of his insignia answered him.

"Good-a morning, English pilot, per te la guerra è finita.⁴" The man then stepped aside and gestured for Morley to get out of the aircraft.

"Per favore," the man said with an elaborate sweep of his left hand.

"Grazie," and with that one word, Flight Lieutenant Reginald Morley became a prisoner of the Regio Esercito.⁵




¹ The "IP" is the Initial Point, the last navigation way point for a strike before beginning the attack run.
² Chief driver, equivalent to a senior private in the infantry. The lower enlisted ranks in the German Army were related directly to the soldier's branch of service.
⁴ The war is over for you. (Italian)
⁵ The Royal Army (Italian), Italy was still a constitutional monarchy in World War II. Mussolini was the Prime Minister. Of course the King, Victor Emmanuel III, had little real power. The King eventually dismissed Mussolini from his office, after the Fascist Grand Council had decided that Mussolini had to go!

18 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Well, they had the benefit of being available.

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  2. Wow Sarge! Bit of a lift-and-shift from Russia on the cusp of winter...
    Better a POW than evaporating under FLAK fire, like the second element leader. Position in the formation can be important.
    Well done, Sarge! Lotta moving pieces...
    Boat Guy

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    1. I needed to touch base with the guys in Africa. No doubt we'll be visiting Blighty and Norway in the weeks to come.

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    2. Hurricanes were famously resilient, 20mm exploding shells were no mere bullets. Anyway, getting captured in Africa was definitely better than being captured in Russia - on any side.

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  3. Meanwhile, back in the rest of the world...

    That landing sounds terrifying. I am not enthused about large aircraft landings at the best of times.

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    Replies
    1. At least we usually have the benefit of a runway!

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    2. Depending on runways...A C47 landed on a rough mountain "runway" behind German lines in WW2 Yugoslavia (I recall it was stomped down out of the snow by Partisans walking with linked arms). Length was less than 600 yards, and at the end was the side of a towering mountain. They flew out 69 refugee children...

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    3. I'm talking about a properly engineered runway of course. Not some hastily rigged expedient for emergency use only.

      If all runways were like that, the airlines would quickly go out of business.

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    4. (I think I mentioned it once before) When the ND missile sites were being constructed, a contractor pilot was based at GFAFB flying people to the sites. Landing in a 6 or 8 passenger Cessna on a 10,000 foot runway made to handle B52s. Plenty of margin.

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  4. When I read today's title I had darker visions than what I found when I got to the end, Italians! Nice touch... In my mind the Italians don't seem as hateful as the Germans. Not to say there are not individuals wearing the Italian uniform who are just as hateful as the Nazis but I don't recall (I'm mostly a product of my public education) hearing about Italian death camps.
    Good job!!

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    Replies
    1. The Italians were far more decent, of course they had their bad apples (as does everyone) but yeah, no death camps.

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  5. A note: Rommel was sent to Africa to keep Italians afloat and Brits busy. His force was not enough to go for Egypt and especially beyond. That didnt stop him from trying, though, ambitious man he was...

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  6. I think maybe the issue may be with boggler, Sarge. Not that koobecaf isn’t a POS.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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