TRAVELS WITH 152 (HYDERABAD) SQN SEPT 1942 – APRIL 1944
As Sergeant Shelton I was posted to 152 Squadron in Sept 1942, then based at RAF Wittering. The unit was preparing to go to an undisclosed overseas posting, destination still unknown. We were kitted out with the army khaki battle dress, but retained our RAF cap, shirt and tie and then sent on embarkment leave.
On returning we were kept fit by doing route marches, usually from Colley Weston to Stamford and returning by a route which followed the stone wall of Burghley House, built for William Cecil, Chief Secretary of State and Principal Adviser to Queen Elizabeth 1. Termination for the outward journey invariably being one of the many Public Houses in Stamford, and why there is mention of the stone wall, over the wall, and the rest is left to the reader’s imagination. Good use was put to the use of the Bell Man Hangers on the airstrip. Climbing over these aided our fitness after run across a length of the airstrip, which incidentally was 3 ½ miles long, from Wittering to Colley Weston, and used as an emergency landing field for operational units of Bomber Command.
Nov 9th groundcrews left RAF Wittering for Stamford Station at 19.00 hours and boarded a troop train and made for our port of embarkation, travelling by night via Carlisle, and arrived about 10.00 hours at Glasgow docks bypassing the town.
We immediately started to embark on our troopships. The “Nea Hellas” was formerly a Greek boat, but British built. We were among the first aboard, being given a berthing card. I still have mine.
Our “other ranks” were allocated to D deck after Senior NCOs on B deck, five to a cabin. Everything worked like clockwork, that is, until Senior NCOs of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards came aboard a little late. They tried to take over our accommodation on B deck. “Algy” one of the Guards decided I needed a hair cut!! Later, several Guards returned with the companies barber, and after a rough house, my hair was shaved off. After they had had their bit of fun, they settled down and proved good mates, but I remained “hairless”.
Next day we sailed to Greenoch and we gradually built up as a convoy. On the 14th Nov at 1600 we set sail, and by 15th Nov we reached the open sea. We counted 17 merchant men and 5 Destroyers as escort.
17th - 18th . Our ships engines broke down and we fell out of the convoy, no sign of it. Engines fixed, and later we reformed the convoy. On the 19th depth charges were dropped by the escorting vessels, but no action.
21st – 22nd We passed Gibraltar and later sighted Oran where part of our convoy left us and later we arrived at our destination, the port of Algiers.
During the day we disembarked and marched to our transit camp Hussandye. We erected two men bivouacs. That night the dock area was attacked by enemy aircraft. Our first sight of action overseas, a JU88 was shot down in flames, and we learnt afterwards, that our transport had been sunk in the harbour, and we had lost our deep sea kit.
23rd . In skeleton order, we made our way to Maison Blache airfield which had been under attack and its buildings destroyed. Sappers were just setting off anti personnel time bombs. A Heinkel stood on a hardstanding u/s. The runway was still intact and RAF and USAAF units were being used to fly in Spitfires from Gibraltar. Our groundcrews started servicing to the best of their abilities, hampered by heavy rain, mud, cold and lack of equipment.
28th . An advance party made for the local Algerian Railway Station where we boarded goods trucks. One NCO and 28 men and rations, tea made from the engines boiler. After three days, we arrived at Constantine. Later transport picked us up and we went to Kroubs Airfield.
3rd Dec and we are still without Squadron equipment. By the 10th we were moved to Souk e lArba. This took until 14th Dec, by which time our aircrews had arrived and been on ops, and on the 16th Dec we were able to start maintenance of the aircraft. During the day ME109s and FW190 strafed, damaging some tents, but personnel escaped unharmed. The strip is made up of coconut matting and metal netting. Again on the 20th ME109 and FW190s came over, bombs were dropped. Our Beaufighters were in action but subject to American fire.
22nd .72 Squadron shot down a JU88.
Christmas Day . We had a whole tin of M and V for dinner with biscuits.
28th . P/O GRAY is missing and P/O GLENRIGHT shot down over our airfield!! 152 got an “88” and a HEINKEL.
31st . We have only three Spitfires, so we have been instructed to return to Constantine to refit. This time we are travelling by road via Souk Ahras.
4th Jan 1943 . A liberty lorry was arranged to visit Constantine, unfortunately the wagon was hit at a level crossing beyondKroubs and a number of lads were taken to hospital with injuries. Worse though, several were killed at the scene of the accident. I believe 7 were killed including W/O BARLOW “Sqn Sgt Major” CPL WHITESIDE (instrument repairer). All were buried in THE EUROPEAN CEMETERY, CONSTANTINE.
15th . . We left Kroubs Station, travelled all night to Setif (Algeria) where we were re-equipped. Our billet for this stay was L’ECOLE PRIMAIRE SUPERIEURE de JEUNES FILLES.
The first time we were able to undress to retire.
22nd . We were able to go to the “COLISEE” in Setif to watch a concert put on by RAF units, part of the towns garrison. Only part of 152 went to Setif, the remainder were left at Ghardimoura on the Algiers/Tunisia border.. Setif is about 3000 feet above sea level, we left here 2nd Feb and the journey was through mountains and very picturesque, although there is very little vegetation on the way to La Merna and on to our destination at Souk el Khemis. Our strip was “PADDINGTON” and our campsite was in a wadi about 1 ½ miles from the Setifs. Here we set up camp with electric light supplied by our generator for battery charging for our aircraft and MT vehicles powered by a ‘Meadows’ engine.
23rd . The Grenadier Guards were sent over to Kasserime to assist the Yanks, and 152 to give support.
3rd March. F/LT SMITH and P/O GILROY touched in mid air, poor GILLY crashed and was killed.
24th . F/SGT ROBERTS engaged on a sweep hit by anti aircraft fire control cable shot away, he was killed, very popular with groundcrews. Squadron left 32A Wing became part of 322 Wing.
25th . 20+ BANDITS over the air field. Spitfires and AA drove them off.
3rd Apr A busy day, over 30 enemy aircraft were over the airfield. 152 Squadron scrambled, and ENEMY arrived. 81 Sqn arrived back off a sweep, and another Squadron was just taking off to escort some American bombers. What a sight!!
We got five down and seven probables, one damaged. Later in the day the enemy returned and we got two more making a total of seven down. During the morning our Spitfires fitted as bombers bombed a house where Jerry was holding a conference.
8th . Air Marshall CUNNINGHAM paid us a visit, chatted to us and said to us “See you all in Tunis by the middle of next month” he also told us “you have a superiority of 5-1 now” and that we were originally intended to make a beach landing with the 1st Army and fight with the French in Algeria, before joining up with the 8th Army.
9th . The squadron on Tack R and over Besa and went on bombing trips.
11th . 36 Bombing sorties and American medium bombers are becoming busy from rear bases.
12th . The 8th Army took Sousse in the night and today Bostons, Mitchells and Marauders in hundreds were escorted by our Spitfires and Jerry was bombed from dawn to dusk.
13 – 16th April. Still escorting large numbers of bombers.
17th . Jerry retaliated with a small attack with fighter-bombers, and on 17th a raid was made with about 8 aircraft, but our AA defences are good and drove them off.
20 – 22nd April. Strong forces of Allied bombers out every day and 152 and other units did escort duties, and hundreds of sorties were made.
23rd .Early in the day we escorted Hurri-Bombers as fighters, and later went out as fighter-bombers and did strafing.
24th .Went out in pairs on Rhubarb, bad day, we lost 4 pilots but Sgt SMITH shot down an ME109
26 – 30th . 152, as Spit-Bombers, got good results destroying enemy transport and tanks.
May 1 – 4th . Squadron still at Souk el Khemis (Paddington)
6 – 7th .1st Army advancing to the Northern hills and Bizerta fell to our 1st Army and the Americans
8th . 1st Army still advancing with the French troops. 152 shot down 2 ME109’s, and as fighter- bombers got a direct hit on an enemy schooner. Shot-up German held airfield and damaged 2 JU52’s 1st Army took Pon du Fahs.
9th . Today we got orders to stand by to move forward.
10th . Packed up equipment, but still operating from Khemis.
11th . We are to move 0400hrs on the 12th
12th . Struck camp, moved off in convoy with Wing 322. 170 lorries via Souk el Khemis village, on to Beja past POW camps. On through Messez el Bab and more enemy POW cages and marked-off mine fields, and part of the 8th Army complete with POW’s and trucks. On via Dneida and again past knocked-out tanks, both enemy and British vehicles including Bren Gun Carriers.
Eventually we arrived at Protville airfield, 72 hours ago in Jerry’s’ hands. The Hun had left in a hurry discarding clothing and documents all over, and aircraft partly destroyed, mainly FW190’s, tools and beware booby traps.
13th . Our pilots flew in from Souk el Khemis and we received 2 Italian POW’s who came in with one of our officers, and for a time, worked as batmen !
Protville bridge had been blown up during Jerry’s’ retreat, and we made our way in a stolen car towards Bizerta. We passed ammunition the enemy had left during their retreat, broken down vehicles, and crashed aircraft including a Spitfire between Bizerta and Tunis.
14th . Our Squadron flew on Ops and did convoy work all day. I went out to find any useful equipment left behind and located plenty of Field Telephone cable.
15th . The OC pranged a Spit a couple of days or so ago, so I took a wagon to rob it of spare parts.
Later we passed through Tunis and had a quick look around,
16 – 20th . There was plenty of aircraft maintenance necessary. Bizerta was heavily raided at night and we could watch the AA guns and hear the aircraft involved from our camp.
21st . For us, the war in North Africa had been won and HQ has given us 3 days rest.
Liberty wagons have been arranged and a party of SNCO’s visited Carthage, a lovely day, we also went to La Marsa, went swimming, had lunch and vin rouge, after which we went to look around La Goullette and an Arab town on a hill named Sidi Bousaid, and a close-up view of El Alouin near Tunis where there were hundreds of wrecked German and Italian fighter aircraft.
22nd . Visited La Marsa. Went swimming followed by a visit into Tunis and a Lido.
23rd . Visited Ferryville close to Bizerta. Came back via the Mateur road and went as far as the blown-up Djeida bridge.
24 – 25th . Squadron moving again. Both days spent packing Unit’s equipment and personal kit.
27th . Left for Sousse at about 1700 hrs travelling in convoy by road.
28th . Went through Enfidaville during the night and arrived at Sousse in the early morning and made camp in an olive grove.
29 – 31st . Jerry over Sousse and our camp was a blaze of light from flares he dropped.
Heavy AA firing, tin hats the order of the day, shrapnel a plenty, and a few misdirected bombs for the Landing ships and Corvettes in the nearby harbour.
June 1st . A rest day, swimming at a sandy beach outside Sousse.
2nd . Left Sousse aboard a Tank Landing Craft with transport and equipment. We had 3 TLC in our convoy, each with 2 RAF Squadrons on board. Sailed all night, during which our RN escort dropped depth charges, and reached MALTA. Sailed around the island and then we sailed in line astern into the Grand harbour of Valetta. Shortly after our arrival we were on our way along the dusty road through Hamrun to our airfield on the island, Ta Qali. We were soon found billets in Sliema for other ranks, and SNCO’s were accommodated in Messina House in Rabat close to Mdina.
4th . Our pilots arrived at Ta Qali and went on convoy patrol, and between the 5th and 17th was a quiet period.
18 - 21st . The Squadron flew from dawn on sweeps over Sicily.
22nd . I personally, was in 90th General Hospital at Imtarfa.
23rd . We were preparing for another move. With minimum equipment during this period, we had a little spare time.
24th . Half day free. Visited Sliema and went swimming. Crossed to Valetta and had tea at Command Fair and went to a cinema show. Visited Birkirkara, Ibkara, Helfar, Mosta andKalafrana.
Squadron flew over Sicily.
July 7th . All packed up and awaiting movement order.
9th . Successful invasion by our trrops from Malta, of Sicily and other landings from North Africa and Gibraltar.
10 – 11th . 322 Wing RAF including 152 patrolled Sicilian beaches. Americans were landing in the South – no opposition.
12th . Two of 152 pilots missing, one crashed over Sicily and was safe. Our CO got an ME109.
13 – 15th . Groundcrew keeping aircraft serviceable, Squadron over Sicily.
16th . We groundcrews embarked on an Infantry Landing Craft and sailed at 2000 hrs in bright moonlight with 3 ILC and 5 TLC in convoy.
We arrived on 17th July at 1000hrs at Syracuse. Went into temporary dispersal in lemon and almond grove and fields of tomatoes. American Sherman tanks had been destroyed nearby, and Jerry anti – tank guns also. Syracuse was raided in the early evening.
18th . Left Syracuse at 1730hrs moving north.
19th . We went through Carlentini and reached Lentini. Camped on the perimeter of an area being converted by the Pioneer Corps into an airfield, Lentini East; SW of Catania near Gerbini, where the enemy had airfields and behind the 51st Highland Division. The Field Marshal (Monty) had his HQ close to our strip.
22nd . Our aircraft flew into a grass strip at Lentini and made sweeps and acted as bomber escorts from dawn to dusk.
On 26th our pilots arrived back and were interrogated by the Intelligence Officer, as was customary, and reported 2 ME109 and 10 JU52’s had been bought down. Later in the afternoon, another ME109 down and 2 damaged. 242 Squadron reported 8 downed and 81 Squadron another 5.
27th . Our squadron on bomber escort and 30 minute readiness. We received mail from UK.
There were large fires to be seen over Catania, and Augusta was raided.
28th . Heavy guns in action, and heavy bombers in action now and our fighters active.
29th July – 3rd September . Our squadron busy doing sweeps and Army Co op from Lentini.
3rd Sep. We left Lentini and proceeded north via Catania and that night slept on Mt Etna
4th . Proceeded over Etna and joined the coast road through Randazzo until we reached a landing strip at Milazzo where we awaited the arrival of 152 pilots and aircraft from Lentini
6th . 152 fitted with 90 gallon overload tanks and the squadron went on long range offensive sweeps over the Naples area of Italy.
7th – 12th . Long range sweeps continued
13th – 16th .We packed up equipment and were sealed in a marshalling yard, awaiting an LST to go to Italy
16th . We left Milazzo on a LST bound for Salerno, arriving on the 17th. I drove a vehicle from the LST to an airfield at Asa, under shellfire.
18th – 20th . Shelling continued but our flying continued, but on the 21st we left Asa for Serre –telle, where we billeted in a tobacco factory below leaves of the plant being dried.
Oct 5th . An advance party left Serre-telle and on the 7th we, in the remaining part, left for Naples with our power unit. On the previous day, some of us went via Batapaglia, a destroyed site, en route to Salerno. For a short stay we were billeted at Castoria, north of Naples. Returned to Serre-telle and on the 10th Oct 43 we left for Portenza on our way to the airfield at Giola del Colle, not far from Bari, which we visited, and also Capurso.
Nov 3rd . Packed up and went to Taranto, where we embarked on a ship , the ‘Talma’ at 1600hrs and the following day arrived at Augusta in Sicily to take on water
5th . In the early morning at 0630hrs we left Augusta and in the early evening arrived off Malta where we were picked up by a convoy sailing towards the Libyan coast, and spotted Benghazi on our journey east, and by the 11th Alexandria, Egypt, where we were transported to Abour Quir. A couple of days later we went overnight by train to Port Tufic on the Suez Canal, opposite Suez, to a transit camp.
16th . We 152 ground crews were embarking another troopship and another conflict in the Far East.
The ‘Strathmore’ took us down the Red Sea passing the Twelve Apostles, small islandsin the Red Sea.
We overtook the troopship’Devonshire’ on which were 81 Squadron, and on board with us were 203 and 134 Squadrons, all on their way to Bombay. One night the ship stayed at the port of Aden.
So until Nov 27th we had been at sea and at 1600hrs arrived in India. The following day we disembarked and, via The Gateway To India archway, made our way to Worli transit camp where we were re-kitted, had lecture by the M.O. on tropical diseases and another by a Padre on welfare! We were able to visit Bombay and Lever Bros(India) Ltd granted us a visit to their soap works, where most of the produce was supplied to the sub continent.
December 4th . Our stay here ended and the following day I was given charge of 70 airmen and we went from Victoria Terminal to Calcutta, arriving after 3 days on the train. We were sent by the RTO to St James Transit Camp on the Lower Circular Road. I was given instructions as to the procedure by the Officer i/c, and we were able to go in to Calcutta and see Chowringee in the dark and visit the Metro cinema, and I believe we may have paid Firpos a visit for a grand meal.
8th . We were directed to travel by MT to Baigachi Airfield, this was out beyond Dum Dum Airport some 30 miles at a guess, where we were first introduced to our bashas, billets Indian style. Thatched roof, the rest mainly constructed of bamboo, a concrete floor, a verandah on one wall, open and close wooden shutters in place of windows.
10th . Our Squadron aircraft were due any day, Spitfire Mk VIII. A number of us went to Kantimara for an issue of Squadron equipment for aircraft maintenance.
11th – 24th . Spent building up equipment and preparing for the arrival of our pilots, who had been at Red Road in defence of Calcutta.
Christmas Day 1943. Work came first, then the airmen had Christmas Dinner in the evening. SNCO’s , as is customary, waited at table and this was followed by a Concert compered by Claude Furlonger and Corporal Craig.
Boxing Day. F/O Mcdonald and P/O Pattison, both Aussies, claimed the Squadrons first Jap, a ’Dinah’, between them. SNCO’s had Christmas Dinner and then were invited to the Officers Mess.
All January 1944 spent at Baigachi.
On 17th Feb, groundcrews left Baigachi, entrained at Sealda Station Calcutta and travelled all night to Calunda river rail head where we all transferred to a river boat on the River Brahmaputra. We sailed down river to Chandpur where we transferred to the Bengal & Assam narrow gauge railway, after which we arrived at Chittagong and were then driven to Double Moorings. Later in the month we had to return to Chittagong Main to a concrete strip because of Monsoon flooding.
March 2nd . Visited Bhatpara and Feni airfields about 80 miles from Chittagong.
4th . I went to Comilla via Feni. Visited 333 MU and 211 Squadron. Stayed overnight in Comilla.
5th . Travelled back to Chittagong, arriving late as the MT broke down and took 4 hours to repair.
April . Saw General Wavell
April . We reached Ramkapalan.
14th . I left 152 Hyderabad Squadron and was posted to 4 Indian Air Force Squadron who were at Feni. But that is another part of my service in the Regular RAF and IAF !
Many thanks to Frank & his family 23.02.08
© 152(Hyderabad) F Squadron 1939-1967. All Rights Reserved.