ACA Woking News by Bill Bawden, PRO

21 February 2006


Sqn Ldr JimmyJames
Jimmy James

The members and guests at the very well-attended February meeting of the Woking Branch of the AirCrew Association, which covers a large part of Surrey, Hampshire and the surrounding areas, were given a gripping account of a World War II incident by former branch chairman, Squadron Leader "Jimmy" James, AFC and bar, DFM.

The fateful Bristol Bombay
Bristol Bombay L5858
In August 1942 Jimmy, then a 19-year old sergeant pilot, had flown his obsolete Bristol Bombay transport to deliver supplies to a forward landing ground near the El Alamein front and had collected wounded soldiers for evacuation to the rear. At the last moment he was given an extra VIP passenger, Lieutenant General William "Strafer" Gott, who was Winston Churchill's choice to succeed Gen Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army and who had been recalled to Cairo to meet the Prime Minister.

Flying just 50 feet above the ground on the return flight, the lumbering Bombay was intercepted by six Messerschmitt 109's. The fighters' cannon fire set the Bombay alight, disabled one engine and forced Jimmy into making a desperate, but superbly executed, landing in the desert. Uncharacteristically, two of the German planes returned to fire again at the stranded and already fiercely blazing Bombay. By the time the fighters had disappeared westwards, eighteen men, including Gen Gott, were dead and Jimmy and the four other survivors badly wounded.

Eric Smith presented Jimmy James
with a model Dakota
Eric Smith & Jimmy James
The official Army version was that Gott had died in an air accident and that the possible presence of the Luftwaffe was simply a coincidence, but Jimmy has always believed that the tactics of the Messerschmitts pointed to something more sinister. His suspicions were confirmed at a meeting last year in Germany with Emile Clade who led the Me 109 flight. Herr Clade told Jimmy that two extra aircraft were added at the last moment to his original four and that it was these planes that broke away to carry out the final attack. On return to their base the Messerschmitt pilots were congratulated on killing the British general before Gott's death was known on the other side of the front line. It now seems almost certain that the Germans were aware of Gen Gott's movements and set out deliberately to ambush and kill him.

A replacement to command the Eighth Army had to be found quickly and the then little-known Lt Gen Bernard Montgomery was sent out from England to fill the post. The rest, as is said, is history.

In the last few weeks Jimmy James has returned to the scene of his adventure in Western Egypt and visited the desert graves of General Gott and the other passengers and crew members who died in 1942.

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