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San Angelo, Italy. c. May 1944. The camp site of No. 3 (Kittyhawk) Squadron RAAF in Italy is pitched among shady trees. Seen here is a typical tent, with the occupants enjoying an idle hour off operations. Left to right: Flying Officer (FO) Bruce Burchfield of Deniliquin, NSW; Flight Lieutenant Ian Roediger and Warrant officer A. McDonald of Sydney, NSW. [AWM MEA1759.]
A Storm of Flak over Messina:
Momentous, indeed incredible; the might of the German Army, which had almost cracked the gate to Egypt, the Suez and the Far East, was now, in August 1943, hell bent to get to Messina in the NE tip of Sicily and evacuate across the Straits of Messina to Regio on the Italian mainland.
We, for our part, had to inflict as much damage as we could in daylight hours. In the closing days of August the narrow Straits of Messina and the air space above was an incredible sight. It was estimated that there was more AA fire concentrated in this tiny area than in the Ruhr valley.
88mm, 40mm and 20mm guns were spewing out metal, RN cruisers at a respectable distance were softening up the Regio area; Spitfires, Kittyhawks, Boston bombers and German FW190s and JU88s were in the melee.
We flew into this madness, dive bombing port installations and quite frankly we were very relieved to break away and head for home. Regrettably His Majesty's Kittyhawk CV-L was modestly holed.
Italy capitulated on 3/9/43, her navy went to Malta, her Axis partner Germany dug in and fought a tenacious retreat throughout Italy over many months.
A Horrible Smell of Burning...
A more personal experience:
My diary records, 10th January 1944: our six aircraft were strafing German motor transport - I was 3rd down this valley, had some success and weaving along the valley. I passed over two armoured cars off the road and on a slope. Climbing away, bingo ... holes in starboard wing, two more through the engine and plenty of wind behind my head - a shell had taken my radio right out - about 18" to the rear of me!
The motor was spluttering, engine gauges crazy, black smoke in abundance and I was too low to bail out. Undid my harness - mouth very dry and the landscape most inhospitable to crash-land. Rocked the aircraft, jiggled the throttle and mixture controls - motor picked up in spasmodic bursts and air speed recorded a very slow 120 mph. Weaved along a valley to the Adriatic coast near city of Pescara and noticed that my landing flaps had dropped to about 30 degrees - no hydraulics.
The AA batteries on the coast gave me a warm welcome - a ponderous smoking aircraft but perhaps my laboured progress upset their aim, for the "black stuff" was bursting well ahead. More splutters, so down to water level to ditch - motor picked up - by this time I was over friendly waters and could see our coastal landing strip ahead. Coaxed the aircraft to about 800ft, still barely airborne - a horrible smell of burning...
The duty pilot in the strip could see me - fired a green flare - a great sight. Stuffed the nose down and came into friendly territory, landed with a thump - too fast for landing flaps - they wouldn't lower fully anyway - and at about 40mph the fire in the engine manifested itself.
I had switched off everything, pointed the plane to a sand dune on the beach and went out of the cockpit onto the wing and bingo, on to "terra firma" a great feeling! A momentous happening - maybe; but there are many other air crew who would have been less fortunate and I salute them.
Incidentally, that aircraft was a Warhawk powered by a Packard-manufactured "Rolls Royce" Merlin. There was a fist-sized hole in the super charger housing which exuded fuel mixture into the exhaust stack. Whilst the aircraft was moving at some speed the fire could not take control because of slip-stream. One engine mounting and one ignition bank had been shot away as well... but I will always have a soft spot for Packard Merlins!
Later did a Fighter Pilot Instructors' course at Point Cook and was posted to Mildura as an Instructor. It was here that I heard of the end of the war and in the celebrations that followed many of us paused to recall the mates that did not make it and also pay tribute to the efficiency of our ground staff, both at home and abroad.
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