3 Squadron STORIES
An illustration of the raid by Jim Turner, showing the moment that Danny Boardman snagged the German telephone wires.
On 18 November 1942, 3 Squadron was based at Gazala, 40 miles west of Tobruk.
An attack was planned for late in the afternoon, using a small formation of six Kittyhawks fitted with long-range fuel tanks. Our target was Magrun, a forward enemy airfield 50 miles south of Benghazi. The enemy would least expect a day-fighter attack at this time and it would be most likely that Me109s would he dispersed around the airfield for the night.
It would he essential to fly out to sea at very low level to avoid radar detection, and then climb up to several thousand feet west of Magrun, turn and dive to ground level to strafe across the airfield, heading east for home.
We were led by Flt/Lt Danny Boardman (FL-292), with Pilot Officer Garth Clabburn (FL-331). Flt/Sgt Reg Stevens (FL-294). Plt/Off Rex Bayly (FL-317), Plt/Off Andy Taylor (FL-309), whilst I was flying FL-335 ("CV-P"), a Kittyhawk Mk II.
We took off at 3.15 p.m. and flew out at 220 mph. west and over the sea around the big Benghazi bulge in the coastline. We had been flying low to avoid radar detection, but now climbed to about 10,000 feet, then turned back towards the coastline and Magrun, flying line abreast.
We came in over the coast and the road at 20 feet, flat out (about 350 mph). Danny Boardman went right through some telephone wires and took the lot with him, with wires and insulators trailing from his wings. I opened up on a Ju52 and damaged a 109. I saw several strikes and flames from a Ju52 that Danny had hit. The anti-aircraft fire was intense, but I thought I had made it through when there was a BANG - seemingly one foot behind my left ear.
My airspeed indicator dropped back to zero, and one rudder pedal was flapping uselessly. The ground was so hilly and rough it was out of the question to try to put her down. I lifted up gently to try for a little more altitude, for time to think, and she seemed to be going quite normally, except for the airspeed indicator and rudder pedal. I pulled back carefully on the stick and the elevators seemed OK. I called Danny, but his radio aerial had been carried away and he could not receive. Garth Clabburn in 'R' flew over near to me and waggled his wings, so I knew he was receiving but could not transmit.
I told him I had no rudder control, no airspeed indicator and would have no toe brakes on landing. I asked him to lead me into a large clear landing space where I could formate with him to get my airspeed right - and it would not matter if I swung after landing. He waggled his wings for 'OK' and flew underneath me to check that my undercarriage and control surfaces appeared in order.
Then I asked him to check my undercarriage when I put it down. I followed him and he led me into an ideal landing ground at Tmimi, an aerodrome that had been used by the enemy before their retreat.
Garth made a perfect approach and I copied him (drifting slightly without rudder control). As we touched down, Garth opened the throttle and climbed away. My aircraft ran straight for 200 yards and then began to swing beyond my control and ground-looped onto its nose, wiping off the undercart. I was quite OK. Garth turned and came low over me, so I clambered out and waved.
My good fortune was incredible. The shell had punched a hole as large as a football in the belly of the fuselage, cutting the rudder wire as clean as a whistle, but missing the elevator wire right beside it. One inch from certain death!
The shrapnel exited behind my head, but I was saved by the armour plating behind my seat.
A small British Army unit appeared from nowhere and I asked if they could take me the 30 miles to Gazala, but I was told to stay the night with the aircraft because Tmimi was surrounded by minefields and they were finding a path through. They left me with a blanket and a tin of bully beef.
The next afternoon I was picked up by our 3 Squadron Engineering Officer [Ken McRae] and his driver. Our raid had been a success, with Danny destroying a Ju52 and an Me109. Andy Taylor had set fire to a Ju52, while Bayly and Stevens got two Me109s and a truck.
Alan Righetti (centre) and Squadron Leader Ron Watt (left) ,
are offered a cigarette by Flight Lieutenant Danny Boardman, DFM (right) .
[Alan Righetti photo collection]
[Article contributed by Alan to the book "The RAAF at War" (published 1999) edited and illustrated by Jim Turner.]
3 Squadron STORIES