The mis-adventures of Pilot Officer 'Fat' Freddy Alemaster and Flight Lieutenant H Keel.Somewhere over the Mediterranean, S-SE Malta, June 11 1940
"That was a ripper of a takeoff, eh Flt Lieutenant?"
I nearly choked, "You mean, the way you left the deck of the Illustrious with insufficient power, plummeted toward the sea, only recovering as the blades of your propeller churned up the tops of the waves and then spent fifteen minutes getting into formation?"
"Um, just as an aside, my fuel tank is dry as a dingo's bum, are we getting close?"
"See the brown bit to our left?" I asked him.
"That is Sicily. There be Indians. Or in your case, Aboriginals."
"Malta is somewhere ahead."
"And how far, would you say, roughly...Sir?"
"Put it this way, I hope it is less than 9 gallons away, Freddy."10 minutes later
"This is not the navy Freddy, but thankyou, yes, I see it." I keyed the R/T, "Malta ground control this is Yeoman flight off the Illustrious, requesting permission to land at Hal Far."
"...glad to see you Yeoman! You are clear to land. Keep your eyes open, we have some Gladiators and a Walrus buzzing around, but if you see anyone coming at you, it will probably be the Eyeties. They are always either on their way over, or on their way home."
"Very well, Malta, will contact you again when we have Hal Far in sight."
MEANWHILE OVER SICILY
"Lieutenant! I see a warship, ours or theirs?"
"Is he shooting at you?"
"Then it doesn't matter, does it Freddy?"
"Malta control this is Yeoman flight, vector to the airfield please? And request permission to land..."
"Malta control here, vector 060. Sorry, permission denied, we are tracking an inbound raid. Are you chaps in a position to lend a hand?"
I checked my fuel level. 7 gallons. "We have a little fuel, but our guns aren't harmonised Malta. We're on our way to Alexandria, we weren't expecting a dust up."
"Then stay out of the way Yeoman," the ground controller replied curtly. "We'll get back to you shortly."
Rude blighter. Down below I saw a formation of a paltry 3 Gladiators rising up to meet the incoming raid. For wont of a better idea, I nosed down to follow them.
"Nice big landing field," Freddy observed as we crossed over Hal Far.
He wouldn't be much use to me with unharmonised guns and no fuel anyway. "Then why don't you put your machine down?" I suggested.
"But the controller..."
"Won't be our problem, Freddy, we are just here to refuel, have a cup of char and then head off to Egypt. Get down there."
He broke away to begin a landing circuit, but not for long, "Er, Sir? I'm seeing ack ack down there!"
I peered through my sights, and sure enough, about 1,000 yards below, a formation of bombers was boring in, and as I watched, they unloaded. Above them, a swarm of fighters was climbing to meet us.
It was Freddy's first operational flight. He had about 20 hours behind the stick of the Hurricane and no combat experience at all beyond a few sweeps over France which had been uneventful.
"Wait for those bombs to go off, then get your machine on the ground," I ordered him. "I'll see what I can do."
If I'd expected an argument, I didn't get it, "Right you are Sir!" He peeled off.
I closed on the Italian bombers, ignoring the fighters - with the advantage of height I would be in and out in a flash. As I closed to 300 yards, I opened up.
The tracer sprayed like a garden hose. Bullet streams criss crossed in front of me. It was like swatting a flying gnat with a cricket bat.
The bombs fell across the Hal Far airfield, shredding hangars and vehicles...and men.
I pulled around in a long circle and got in front of the Italian bombers again. This time I got even closer, counting on short range to at least give me some hits.
As I swept low and looped up behind the formation I noticed that unlike the German Heinkels I'd faced over Britain and the Channel, these blighters had a rear gunner in a low slung open gondola. And he was blazing away at me fearlessly, not a shred of metal or perspex between us.
I even hesitated as I closed on the belly of the bomber, knowing the man could not survive what was about to come.
But it was war.
I opened up...just as a huge flak round exploded in my left ear hole!
I ducked. I was so close to the bombers now, our own flak was as likely to kill me as the enemy gunners were!
I saw the brave Italian gunner slump over his gun. Kept my finger on the trigger, rounds sawing into the airframe of the bomber...
And suddenly it came apart!
The rear section flew past underneath me and I looped up and over to get out of range of the rest of the formation.
"Malta control this is Yeoman 2, I have a fuel emergency, coming in to land, orright?"
Below me, Fat Fred lowered his wheels.
"Oh cripes!" he yelled, "I've picked up a tick!"
An Italian fighter barrel rolled past him, guns hammering.
"I'm out of here," he yelled, and pulled up sharply.
"You'll stall Yeoman 2, get your wheels up, or get your machine down!" I ordered him.
I had problems of my own. Another fighter flashed over my canopy. I hadn't even seen him. As he zoomed past, I let fly with guns, just by reflex, not with intent.
Fat Freddy had chosen the safer route, and dropped toward the airfield.
"Yeoman flight this is the Hal Far Flight," I heard a calm voice on the radio, "Thanks for the help, we can take it from here."
The three biplanes had finally caught up, and zoomed down on the fleeing bombers.
I had the Italian fighter in my sights now, and with what ammo I had left, I gave him a few bursts.
But I couldn't hang in behind him too long, his amico was close behind me.
"Uh, think I've got a bit sideways on this one," I heard Freddy mutter.
I put a final burst into the G50, and pulled up and away.
"Repeat please, Yeoman 2," I asked.
"Err, literally, sideways Sir. All this dirt looks the same from down here!"
Sure enough, I could see he was coming in at right angles to the landing field.
"Pull up Freddy!" I yelled.
"Too late cobber," he said, quietly. His machine sailed crosswise over the landing strip,
Low on altitude and energy, flaps and wheels down, he made the beginners mistake of trying to pull around hard to align with the airfield...
The machine hit the dirt hard, nose and wingtip first, ripping the engine from its nacelle.
Miraculously, his machine spun laterally on its axis, once, twice and then stopped perfectly still in a small cloud of dust.
"Down safely Lieutenant," he reported. "That went better than I expected."
If I hadn't been otherwise occupied, I'd have given him my opinion about how well that had gone. But I was rather busy at the time.
The next few minutes were a blur. I was hit by the Italians, but without critical damage. I got hits of my own on one, then another, and grunted with surpise as he bellied over and went in.
But it had been my last burst. first my port guns stuttered, then the starboard... and I was guns dry.
Time for me to get down.
I took the Italians now over the airfield, which was a maelstrom of flak, and they backed up into the sky. I dropped my wheels. I was down to 5 gallons of fuel now as well.
The strip was a little hard to pick out down low, but not that hard...
Flak followed the Italian fighters as they pulled away, chasing after their bombers again.
About fifty yards away my number two was sitting on the wing of his cauterised machine, discussing his lucky escape with a group of erks. I threw open the canopy and yelled at the top of my lungs, "Mister Alemaster! Get your fat backside off that machine and over here so I can personally kick it
As he ambled over, he was actually smiling.
I searched my cockpit for my service pistol.