THE FLYING ELSAN

Cyril Pearce - Pilot
142, 70 Squadrons
Cyril died in 2006

During the summer and autumn of 1943 the marshalling yards, the docks and the airfields of Naples were frequently visited by the six Wimpy Squadrons operating from Kairouan in Tunisia.

Our maximum effort was 120 aircraft. At briefing we were just given the deadline for bombing. The height and direction from which we attached was our own choice. We had to drop flares to identify the target which was not too difficult because of the wonderful visibility in the Mediterranean.

It was a tradition, strictly forbidden by the top brass, that every sprog crew dropped one bomb down Vesuvius on their first trip to Naples. Strangely enough Vesuvius erupted in 1944.

On 26th July 1943 the target was the airfield, Capodichino at Naples. I was making my initial run with Jack Morvell, my WOp/AG standing at the flare chute ready to release the flare when the blue master searchlight suddenly flicked on with good old C-Charlie smack in its beam. As all aircrew know, if the master searchlight gets you, you have to get out of its beam very smartly. If you don’t you will be coned by it and a dozen others and you are done for. Every flak gun will concentrate on you and you will be shot to ribbons.

I yelled, “Hold on!”, into the intercom, opened the throttles and made an extremely violent diving turn away from the beam. We escaped.

Everyone who served in North Africa will know that gyppy tummy is endemic. The trillions of flies always managed to land on your food no matter how hard you tried to stop them and you got the screaming abdabs.

Every Wimpy carried an Elsan chemical toilet. They were only used in great emergency by the aircrew but quite frequently by the poor old groundcrew who worked under the most arduous conditions and they often forgot to empty them

I had lost 2,000 feet in the dive so I climbed back to 7,000 feet, our choice height for bombing. I made my bombing run because the target was well illuminated by now, hit the target and returned to base.

Poor old had Jack stayed at his post so that we could drop the photo flash and take our photograph. He then returned to his WOp/AG’s table for the return trip. He was covered with chemicals well mixed with excrement. He and the interior of the Wimpy stunk to high heaven.

He was not allowed into the debriefing tent. The intelligence officer who debriefed us rapidly spread the news and everyone thought it hilarious. The poor groundcrew did not because they had to clean up C-Charlie the following morning.

Jack was taken to the water bowser where he was drenched wearing all his flying gear. He then undressed and had another good soaking so that he smelt of violets by the time he reached his sleeping bag.

Links & Notes

142 Squadron http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/h142.html
Kairouan Airfield, Tunisia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairouan_Airfield

page last updated 5 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010