The Squadron was assigned the task of the night defence of the Eastern Mediterranean. This included the Royal Naval base at Alexandria, the Suez Canal, the coast of Palestine and the island of Cyprus. Included in this assignment was the task of mounting intruder raids against the German forces in occupied Crete, Rhodes, and Kos and the smaller Aegean Islands to the north. To cover these areas of responsibility the squadron maintained detachments at Abu Suier in the Nile Delta and St.Jean, Palestine. Each month intruder raids were carried out during the full moon period. They were usually fruitless because of the task of trying to detect enemy aircraft without the assistance of ground control. Because of the secrecy of our radar equipment, there was a standing order that only in the event of carrying out an interception on an enemy aircraft, were we allowed to fly over enemy territory. This eliminated attacks on trucks, trains or ground installations. To avoid the radar falling into enemy hands, it had an explosive charge attached. It was the responsibility of the pilot to detonate this charge in the event of having to abandon the aircraft.
I was a Warrant Officer pilot and my radar/navigator was W/O Ray Graham. We were just starting our second tour of operations in the Middle East, having first been members of No 108 Squadron at Castel Benito in Libya. When our squadron was united with No 46 we moved to Idku. We had been in the Middle East eighteen months and were due to return to England, but decided to volunteer for a second tour. We were in “A” Flight commanded by Flt/Lt Joe Irwin.
On September 24, 1944 the pilots and radar/navigators of “A” Flight attended a briefing by Squadron Leader Robertson, the Commanding Officer of No 46 Squadron. He told us that during the approaching full moon period, our base for intruder raids on the occupied Aegean Islands would be a desert airfield called Gambut. For the first time we would not be alone in our efforts to locate the enemy. An Irish packet steamer, the Ulster Queen, positioned north of Crete, had been fitted with GCI radar and would be protected by Royal Navy destroyers. The ship would act as our ground control. This was excellent news because we knew the Germans were supplying their island garrisons by air, mainly during the night and this new strategy may give us the edge we needed.
The ground staff to man the detachment left on September 23rd.with F/O Kirk in charge. There were three senior non-commissioned officers and twenty-nine aircraft mechanics. They went by road and took all the tents and equipment required for the forthcoming operation. If all went well they would stop overnight at Mersa Matruh which was on the coast about 100 miles west of Idku. There were 16 aircrews going and they would fly in on Tuesday September 26th. We all left the briefing excited and with high hopes.
On Monday September 25th, Flt./Lt. Irwin held another briefing. We were told that one of our aircraft had carried out tests with the Ulster Queen and the radar reception and the R/T was working perfectly. Another important piece of equipment, the homing beacon, had a range of 50 miles. Without this we would have a hard time finding the ship.
The following day, the 26th, we loaded our gear into our aircraft and took off for Gambut located about two hundred miles west of Alexandria and situated on an escarpment a few miles south of the coast. There were three Beaufighters, each carrying two extra aircrew members. A Baltimore came along to transport the remaining crews. I was flying Beaufighter #ND 243. Once airborne we performed the Night Flying Test that was standard procedure on all night fighter squadrons. Having completed our tests, we assembled in loose formation, led by Joe Irwin and flew very low across our airfield, setting a course for Gambut. One other plane was still being worked on and would follow us later, making four available for the impending operation.
Gambut was a typical desert airfield with sandbagged dispersal areas. The maintenance and flight offices were housed in tents. There were no runways and fine sand drifted constantly across the airfield. Except for a squadron of Coastal Command Beaufighters of No 603 Squadron, it had a deserted look. Gambut had changed hands many times during the desert war and I wondered how many lives had been sacrificed to keep possession of such a deserted, lonely place. Our ground crews that had arrived the previous day had erected the tents and everything was well organized. They were happy to see their planes arrive. We were going to Mess with No 603 Squadron during our stay. We loaded our personal gear onto a pickup truck and were driven to the tents that would be our home for the next few days.
After unpacking, we returned to the dispersal area where instructions for the night operations were posted. We would be scrambled at 1½-hour intervals. Allowing for a flight time of 3 hours to reach the target and return, and spending 1½ hours over the target would mean we would be airborne approximately 4½ hours. Graham and I would scramble second and were