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Thread: Long shot - B-17 transport flight from Tunisia to the UK in Nov 1943

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    Default Long shot - B-17 transport flight from Tunisia to the UK in Nov 1943

    Hi all,

    I have found in a Log Book of a fighter pilot serving in Tunisia record of being flown to the UK as a passenger on aircraft he noted as „Fortress II 542“ during 23+24 Nov 1943.
    The route was: La Marsa – Maison Blanche – Gibraltar – St. Mawgan – Mount Farm

    First I was thinking about B-17 delivered to the UK (Fortress II) but I was unable to find any B-17 RAF serial with such number...
    Then I was able to decode somehow the name of the pilots which I think are: Capt. Larsen + Lt. Jenkins - what made me think it was an USAAF B-17.

    So some of my questions:

    1) was it normal that a fully operation RAF pilot would be send back to the UK for some reason? As he was a PR pilot, maybe he saw or photographed something of big importance?
    I know nothing about his truip except he has returned back to his unit in early January 1944 when his squadron was already in Italy.

    2) was it normal that an RAF pilot would travel in B-17 belonging to the USAAF?

    3) would it be a normal operational aircraft or there were B-17 modified for transport purposes?

    Any help much appreciated and any ideas much welcomed (I know I should try also another forum like 12 O'Clock High! forum as this looks more like an USAAF problem than a RAF one)

    TIA

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Pavel, Hi (and HNY 2019!)

    You give the flight route. La Marsa is, presumably, now Tunis-Carthage Intl? Maison B is Houari Boumediene Intl? Gib is N Front? St Mawgan is Newquay A/P?, and Mount Farm is Chalgrove A/F? That is a trip of just over 2000nm. Probably re-fuelled at Gibraltar. I’ve ‘officially’(?!) ‘hitched lifts’ on a/c going where I needed to be regardless of the fact they were not, per se, RAF passenger a/c.

    The interesting thing about this flight is the question “Did it terminate at Mount Farm?”, or did it just ‘lob-in at Mt Farm’ in order to drop this RAF PR Pilot off? RAF Mount Farm was the USAAF PR base. RAF Benson was the RAF PR base. Mount Farm is 3.5 miles from Benson (You could walk it, sticking to paths/roads, in under 2 hrs).

    If you can find some PR Units at La Marsa (either USAAF or RAF) then there may be a good reason why a B-17 trip was especially laid on? La Marsa is very near Bizerta. Bizerta was the last place the Germans left when they were kicked out of N Africa. The PR/INT guys may have found something of importance in the stuff abandoned by the Germans!

    All supposition and possible/maybe! But you have to think ‘outside the box’ when confronted with ‘odd’ flights like this. They (neither the USAAF, nor the RAF) would not put on a 2000nm flight just because somebody, after a few beers in the bar, thought it might be ‘a good idea’! Got to be a reason?

    I have posed a possibility! There may be others! Don’t blame me if you end up chasing wild geese up gum trees!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Last edited by Resmoroh; 7th January 2019 at 16:14. Reason: QSD/Additions
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Hi Peter,

    thanks for your ideas. They have opened more questions but they helped me to thing about the flight from the other point of view.

    1) I have no proof, but I am pretty sure it was an official and authorised trip (not just a private lift).
    2) good point! I was thinking the same way -was he going to the RAF Mount Farm or any other station, possibly RAF Benson? I am afraid I would be never able to established that BUT I think there is a little bigger possibility he ended at RAF Mount Farm as after his return to Italy his squadron was in January frequently used for the flight requested by the 5th US Army Intelligence (according to the ORB). So maybe he went to RAF Mount Farm as an US PR base (possibly with some other pilots from his squadron?) for some kind of instruction?

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Hi Pavel,

    Just a wacky theory..........

    As your man says specifically Fortress II it suggests RAF rather than USAF ? As you say though 542 is not a known number. If he wrote it down wrong the most obvious one would be 452 or FL452.
    FL452 went to Lagens, Azores 24.10.43 as F of 206 Squadron. On 19.11.43, very close to your date , it was damaged by friendly fire from a convoy and subsequently despatched to Scottish Aviation for six months of repair. This is detailed with ORB extracts in Robert Stitt's"Fortress in Coastal Command" by MMB.
    Could it be that after temporary repair (damaged elevator cable and hole in rear fuselage) it was sent north with a ferry crew, of which there were many in the Azores at that time and picked your man up intentionally or not en route ?
    regards Peter
    Last edited by PeterColwill; 21st January 2019 at 17:36.

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    Hi Pavel, in your opening post you state first he is a fighter pilot, then you say PR pilot. What is the individual’s name?

    Best regards

    Andy Fletcher

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    Hi Pavel:

    Checked the ORB but nothing more there, as one would expect for a ferry flight.

    The Form 78 says FL452 was allocated to Scottish Aviation on December 21, 1943, a month after its friendly-fire incident.

    Intriguing theory from Peter and FL452 sounds like a reasonable candidate. Wondering if it's likely that a USAAF crew would have ferried an RAF aircraft. Lagens was starting to ramp up as a transit point but I wonder too if there were spare pilots around who could have ferried an aircraft to the UK for repair - I would think that in those early days ferry crews were tied to the aircraft they were delivering.

    Robert
    Last edited by robstitt; 29th January 2019 at 21:32. Reason: Corrected Form number

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    Hi all, thank you for your posts:

    @ Andy - check your mailbox

    @ Peter - thank you for your theory... well it was also my first idea but then I was confused with the ranks of pilots which make me think about USAAF aircraft. So my next thought was that he has noticed the aircraft with the name he know from the RAF terminology even it was an USAAF aircraft. As for the numbers transposition - good idea I was not thinking about it BUT why he would not notice the letters FL too? He always noticed the full serial of his Spitfires xxyyy.

    @ Robert - thank you for additional info. But from all the infromation (damage, repair, Azores) I am not able to make any reasonable picture why it would be in later November 1943 in Tunisia?

    From the USAAF aircraft as suggested on the 12 O'Clock High forum I was able to put together 10 serials ending with 542... but 9 of them never left USA, were delivered after the flight or were destroyed before the flight... So the only possibility: B-17F 42-3542 was from September 1943 till July 1944 with 509th Bomb Squadron 351st Bomb Group, Polebrook, UK and it also does not looks to me as a possible candidate.

    I was also thinking about checking the Stations ORBs but... I have found none for La Marsa and Mount Farm which was an USAAF station at the time, I have found only:
    AIR 28/511 MAISON BLANCHE 1943 Nov.- 1945 Aug.
    AIR 28/753 ST. MAWGAN: (ex Trebelzue) 1941 Dec.- 1944 Dec.
    but I think there is nearly zero likelihood there will be anything mentioned nor the serial. On the top of it they are not digitised and I have no possibility to check them at the moment.

    So it seems to me the little mystery still remains...

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Hi Pavel:

    Have reviewed the scan you sent. My observations:

    FL452 was a Fortress IIA but these were often collectively noted as just 'Fortress II', as recorded in the logbook.

    'Fortress' was an RAF term and I would expect any record for a USAAF aircraft to appear as some version of 'B-17'.

    As we all know, '542' is incorrect for an RAF Fortress but the timing for FL452 being returned to the UK for repairs, as Peter noted, is right.

    They do appear to be American's on the flight deck of an RAF which is perhaps unusual.

    St Mawgan (incorrectly recorded as ' St Morgan' and 'St Morgan's') was a jumping off point for Azores-bound Fortresses at this time so as to avoid the Bay of Biscay, not that that proves anything here.

    If it was FL452, it seems odd it would end up at Mount Farm when it was destined for repair. But FL452 wasn't allocated to Scottish Aviation until later in December so perhaps this was for temporary storage or just dropping off your subject en route to somewhere else. Having said that, there's nothing on the Form 78 between the incident in the Azores and FL452's allocation to Scottish Aviation on December 21.

    Robert
    Last edited by robstitt; 29th January 2019 at 21:37. Reason: Corrected Form number

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    Hi Robert, thank you for your analyze.

    Well I agree FL452 looks like a possible candidate but there are two BUT which worry me:
    1. if FL452 was damaged it seems to me it would not be normal to fly it from Azores to Tunisia via Gibraltar at first and then back to the UK for repairs?
    2. American pilots (whom I am also not able to indetify properly due to lack of information) flying the FL452.

    Anyway many thanks once more for your observations.

    Pavel
    Czechoslovak Airmen in the RAF 1940-1945
    http://cz-raf.webnode.cz

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    Hi Pavel,

    Agree entirely with your reservations.

    Robert

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