Spit/Hurr 1943 - 1945 (2)

…... red letter day – we were to be equipped with the Spitfire V and a few days later they arrived. But not to El Bassa, as the runway was too short and there were some high trees on the approach. So we had to fly our Hurricanes to Megiddo some distance away to convert to the Spit – they were every bit as good as we thought they would be – beautiful to look at, positive to every slight movement of the controls and no vices whatsoever. The only drawback was a long nose, which restricted our vision when

taxying. As in the Hurricane we had to sit in the cockpit reading and digesting the pilots notes as there were no dual control aircraft – mistakes could be fatal. The undercarriage lever on a Spit was on the right hand side of the cockpit, while on the Hurricane it was on the left hand side. Initially until you got used to it you could see the wings wobbling while changing hands on the control column on take off. Soon after the Spitfires arrived we also had a new commanding officer – Lt Col Johnny Blaaw DFC of the South African Air Force.  He had been with 40 S.A.A.F. in the desert and was a first class leader of the Squadron.

Come March 1944 and the call came to send 208 to Italy (6). So everything began to hot up and the ground staff departed. On 13 March the Squadron started the long flight to Italy from Megiddo. First to LG 244 in Egypt, then on to El Adem, to Marble Arch in Libya and then to Castel Benito near Tripoli. Between Marble Arch and Tripoli two aircraft collided, but the pilots baled out and I visited them in hospital in Tripoli. On from Tripoli over the Mediterranean to Catania in Sicily, a long flight over water; you listened very carefully to your engine and noted the instruments constantly. From Catania into Italy and our base at Trigno.

Trigno was an interesting airfield – well it was not an airfield as such – the Royal Engineers had laid PSP (Pierced Steel Planking) on sand near the shore and if you ran out of PSP you were in trouble as I found out once when a tyre burst on landing and I ran off and pitch polled to land upside down. We started ops the next day and the first one I recorded was an offensive sweep, and my initiation into German Flak. Over 60 years on I cannot remember much about it but we went on for several weeks working with the 8th Army on TacR’s and ARTY R’s (ARTY R’s are artillery shoots with the army on specified targets). We had a Major and two Captains attached to us who used to brief us on what the army wanted us to do. Shoots are bracketing a target by observing the smoke on a shell burst and either upping or dropping so many yards until the target is hit.


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