Post war use of the Mosquito in the M.E.A.F.
After the home night fighter defence had been reorganised in 1948 using the Mosquito NF 36, attention was turned to the Middle East and 39 Squadron was reformed in May 1949 at Fayid in the Suez Canal Zone. This was also equipped with the Mosquito NF 36, and the first C.O. was Sqdn Ldr R. D. Doleman DSO DFC, an experienced night fighter leader. After some initial problems with seized superchargers he rapidly turned 39 into a most efficient unit.
The Sqdn was moved to Kabrit on the Great Bitter Lake in February 1951 and was joined by a reformed 219 Sqdn, also flying the NF 36, resurrecting a famous wartime night fighter Sqdn number. They joined 13 Sqdn which was equipped with the Mosquito PR34, and which used this Mark until replaced by the Meteor PR 10 over the period Jan-Mar '52, and so for a while Kabrit was home to 3 Mosquito Sqdns.
In October '51 the Egyptian parliament abrogated the treaty, by which British Forces were stationed in the Canal Zone, and they sent in a force of tanks, guns and infantry to throw us out, and a very unpleasant situation arose. A 39 Sqdn aircraft discovered this force some 20 miles from Kabrit, and the G.O.C. arranged for a Lancaster to drop a message urging them to return home or face the consequences. This they very sensibly did but a very tense period followed. Sqdn Ldr J.C.Cogill DSO DFC took over from Sqdn Ldr Doleman at this very inopportune moment. With my pilot, Flt Sgt Joe Halkiew, I and another crew joined 39 as normal replacements in Feb '52.
The first attempt by the Egyptians to remove us was inspired by the notorious King Farouk in a desperate attempt to gain some popularity, and when he was deposed by General Neguib in July '52, there was another half hearted attempt and an increase in the so called "terrorist" activity. Eventually Neguib was replaced by Colonel Nasser in mid '53 which led to yet another stand off. It was rumoured that General Festing of Berlin Blockade fame, who was then G.O.C., had personally spoken to Nasser by telephone and told him that "If your tanks are not back across the Nile in 48 hours we will attack you". This produced the desired result. Each time we would sit in the crewroom with the aircraft armed up waiting for the orders to carry out our part in a grand plan which would see Britain attack and sort out the Egyptian military once and for all.
In the meantime we had been to the Armament Practice School at Nicosia in Cyprus for the annual concentrated gunnery practice for the pilots, we navigators of course had a grand holiday although we could fly when we liked. A big escape and evasion exercise was laid on in which we had to cover about 40 miles of the Island with the army and civilian population looking for us. My pilot and I almost reached the designated safe house, after running away from a squad of paratroops up a gully, and were last to be captured. One of our pilots was less fortunate and, while creeping behind a hedge at night was mistaken for a robber by a Turkish farmer returning from market. He let fly with his old shotgun and our man spent the next few days face down having shot picked out of his backside.
Apart from the APS there was considerable attention paid to gunnery, especially air to ground, and we had a range at Shallufa some 15 miles from Kabrit. Here we would regularly go firing both by day and at night. The night air to ground was very interesting and navigators had to fly to read off the altimeter to persuade the pilots to break off at a briefed 400 feet. The targets, a ten foot canvas square, were marked at night by three gooseneck flares, one each side and one at such a distance to the rear as to be invisible if the dive angle was less that the briefed 30 degrees. My pilot was a press on Pole and would go a bit closer, but he normally managed a good score. It was necessary after firing to pull up and turn sharply to avoid ricochets from the rocky desert, and 219's CO had a very unnerving experience. He had closed the throttles to reduce speed to get a good steady run at the target, on breaking away he opened up abruptly while turning port and the aircraft promptly rolled on its back. He had the presence of mind to hold the stick over and complete the roll, but at well below 400 feet at night his nav was not best pleased. Incidentally during day firing it was normal to see local women and children, who were extremely poor, running about underneath the aircraft, picking up the spent 20 mm brass cases as they fell. We also had a range over the Sinai desert, for use when a Beaufighter TT 10 would be detached to us for a few days on odd occasions, for air to air practice.
Most of our time was spent on practice interceptions under GCI control, doing the odd cross-country, much cine gun work and single engine practice. The pilots were required to do one single engine landing and two single engine overshoots per month so that they could cope when the real emergency arose, luckily for Joe and I it never did. These were fun at night when a decision to land had to be made while at 800 feet when on one. As for the cine, the NF36 had a simple ring reflector site and the film had to be laboriously assessed, frame by frame, to rate the pilots. I was friendly with our gunnery leader and did a lot of this assessing for him. As a reward he would let me go clay pigeon shooting with the pilots on Saturday mornings, the real object of course being to teach the pilots deflection shooting.
We were to be re-equipped at the start of 1953 with the Meteor NF 13 (a tropicalised NF 11), but there was some delay in producing them. The Mosquito had a "glue joint" inspection at set intervals and if an aircraft failed to meet the required tolerance it was scrapped. So eventually we ran short of Mosquitos and in late 1952 219 was temporarily re-equipped with the Meteor NF 11, a technical conference was held and the "glue joint" tolerance was increased to allow us to continue with the Mosquito. In due course we ran short again and another technical conference decided that perhaps this glue joint problem was not important and could be ignored!
Eventually the Meteors arrived in March '53, the ferry pilots who brought them out taking back our Mosquitos, apart from the few left under repair in the M.U. These were ferried home in dribs and drabs by Sqdn crews getting some well earned leave. Sqdn Ldr Cogill appropriated the very last one, RL141, and he took me with him. We ferried it back to Benson via Luqa and Istres on the 24th-25th July 1953, and as far as I know this was the last occasion that an RAF crew flew the nightfighter version of this famous aircraft. At Benson I understand they ended their days on the fire dump, and, to the RAF's eternal disgrace, not one was saved for a museum.
Peter Verney (ex Sgt nav/rad), December 2000
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