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Thread: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

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    Default Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    I've read that aircraft of C Flight of 45 Squadron had names of pubs of the Nottingham area, but would anybody recognise 'Rita' or have any record on what this particular Blenheim Mk1 was doing in Khartoum in 1940, and more particularly the dates it was there?


    neg003 by Sandeha Lynch, on Flickr

    Other shots in the sequence show Emperor Haile Selassie and his son inspecting the aircraft.

    Thanks for looking.

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    Jagan (19th November 2020)

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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    One of the fascinating images from your father's collection, Sandeha.

    Playfair The Mediterranean and Middle East (Vol I) gives fair mention of the Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie, and records his arrival in the Sudan at Khartoum on 3 July 1940, his return to Ethiopia on 23 Feb 1941 and to Addis Abbaba in May.

    This would make 45 Squadron indeed possible for the 1940 period (and Khartoum), as they were at Helwan and had a detachment in The Sudan until Dec 40, thereafter returning to Egypt and ops over the Western Desert from eg Fuka.

    During the East African campaign to mid-1941, 8 Squadron was active: up to the time of Haile Selassie's return to Addis Ababa.

    It seemed to me the puzzle might now be solved by looking at the 45 Squadron Summary of Events Form 540 and maybe Record of Events form 541 for Jul 40
    Access to the Squadron Ops Record Books digital copies is free at National Archives at present.

    No such luck
    Although there are two sets of 45 Squadron Operations Record Book Summary of Events, one for Helwan, the other for the Sudan/Erkowit detachment, neither mentions the Emperor in July 1940 - and indeed, the Sudan det set is quite muddled and omits virtually all July. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D8412278

    If no-one else here can help, you could try asking The Blenheim Society, and if you were so inclined, they'd likely be very interested in this and any other Blenheim shots you might like to put in an article for their Journal. https://blenheimsociety.com and see Contact page form.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 19th November 2020 at 21:48.
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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    Nothing jumped out from Wg Cdr C G Jefford's massive tome - The Flying Camels - History of No.45 Sqn RAF

    But it did have photos of two other Blenheim I bombers with names written on the nose panel - similar to the above .

    Four examples are given, all starting with "The ".. "The Black Boy", "The Chesire Cheese", "The Red Lion"

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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    How could I forget to browse Flying Camels? Who knows, but agree.

    The names listed/illustrated are the pub names noted by Sandeha.
    More or less similar in style between them but all unlike the cursive script of Rita.

    Jeff Jefford has been unfailingly helpful in all my past contact with him, though not in touch since 2014.
    He's The Man for 45 Squadron and very interested in the Blenheim.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 19th November 2020 at 21:56.
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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    Quote Originally Posted by Jagan View Post
    Nothing jumped out from Wg Cdr C G Jefford's massive tome - The Flying Camels - History of No.45 Sqn RAF

    But it did have photos of two other Blenheim I bombers with names written on the nose panel - similar to the above .

    Four examples are given, all starting with "The ".. "The Black Boy", "The Chesire Cheese", "The Red Lion"
    Those sound like pub names - so if they were C flight, how many different flights might the squadron have had?

    Don, one possible explanation of the lack of records on Selassie is simply that his presence was considered too sensitive and kept secret. I gather that he went by the name of Mr Strong on leaving the UK (Imperial Exile: Keith Bowers), but by 1946 my mother was told that he had been known as Mr Smith while in Sudan.

    Certainly the portrait standing in front of some cars, a print that Selassie had signed as gifts, was dated 4/9/40, and it's known that he took a day trip flight to Gedaref on the 6/9/40. There may be no way of knowing the date of his inspection of the Blenheim without first identifying Rita and its movements. :)

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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    Quite common for a ME Blenheim Sqn of the time to operate as A, B and C Flights: 211 Sqn eg and for 45 Sqn Flying Camels also the case: Flights up to C noted.

    The C Flight named aircraft listed/illustrated there are stated to be and are checkably all public house names.
    While The Chequers is also known for 45 Sqn, off hand I can't see or recall named aircraft of the Sqn's other Flights, or their theme if any.
    At Annex L Jefford gives a roster of Blenheim Is on Sqn charge Jun 39 to Feb 41, by serial with brief service history, but shows just one name (The Chequers) and occasional Sqn id letters.

    I don't recall in the UK but in the ME c 1939 1940, Blenheim Sqn a/c names were quite common, either appearing on the nose glazing blind panel as Rita, or low on the forward fuselage side
    as eg The Porpoise of Bax & co 211 Sqn 1940 (a ref to his nickname) or Blue de Roi (a race horse) of Bateson's time on 113 Sqn 1939. Plenty of others.

    One thing's pretty certain: Rita might have been a barmaid but hardly a pub. Or a popular song or...
    Without a clear sight of the serial no (at best) or at least the full Sqn id letter set, or some other imagery, tracking the aicraft from the nose photo is likely to take even longer than it already has.

    Jeff Jefford may well know more, and Andy Thomas may well have more examples...though I've not been in touch for several years in either case. Graham Pitchfork is another possibility and we've been in quite recent contact. All top chaps with deep knowledge of the time & aircraft who may be able to id Rita. Just drop me a line if you wish to try them.

    On Mr Strong and Mr Smith, I'd forgotten that ruse de guerre: Playfair also remarks on the deep secrecy of his return such that his arrival in The Sudan caused some consternation!

    Sources as noted and prior knowledge
    Last edited by Don Clark; 19th November 2020 at 23:16.
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    Sandeha Lynch (20th November 2020)

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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    I forgot to check the 2009 Corrections/Amplifications slip that Jeff kindly sent me back around 2014 for his magnificent Flying Camels.

    Here there is a big hint as to Flight at least, which I'll transcribe:

    "p. 142 The caption to the group photograph notes that C Flight named its aeroplanes after pubs in Nottingham (a photograph has turned up indicating that another one was called The Marquis of Granby). It should be recorded that B Flight also named its aeroplanes, in their case after things that could always be relied upon to 'turn up' or 'come back', examples included Boomerang, Bad Penny and Dud Cheque. It is not known how, or indeed whether, A Flight identified its aircraft but there may be a clue in a photograph showing one of the squadron's Blenheim Is named Little Gel, which does not appear to conform to either of the patterns established by A and C Flights."

    Looks a fairly clear pattern here, by Flight: as A Flight also had Little Gel, clearly call for closer attention to Rita.

    Looking at neg007, gives the fullest side-view of the several shots of the Blenheim under inspection by the Emperor at Khartoum.
    The shot shows two, but only two, of the a/c Sqn id letters: probably V and O, roundel central.
    This gives two possible combos:
    HV-O which would be 8 Squadron - rather out of its ground from Aden!
    or
    V-OB which is certainly good for 45 Sqn, at Helwan and at Erkowit and Wadi Gazouza about the right time, with Khartoum (as HQ 203 Group ex AHQ Sudan) a quite usual "visit" for Blenheims of The Sudan.
    See https://www.flickr.com/photos/sandeha/49945347422/


    This now looks to be a very likely partial solution:
    Rita 45 Squadron Blenheim I of A Flight probably OB-V
    (and named akin to Little Gel of A Flight)
    It may be possible to get the a/c serial from here, by asking Ian Carter and Jeff Jefford, which I have now done.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 20th November 2020 at 22:11.
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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    That sounds good, Don. And thank you for contacting them. I wrote to The Blenheim Society this morning.

    The curious thing is that the photographic print gifted to both Pelly-Fry and to my father was signed by Selassie and dated 4/9/40. Was that the date the shot was taken, or the date the gift was made, or was that date an accidental mistake? Selassie was certainly there on the 6/9/40 when he took a morning flight to Gedaref and back, possibly inspecting Rita in Khartoum that same afternoon. Or perhaps not. I look forward to hearing if Ian or Jeff can help with the ID.

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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    Welcome, Sandeha. P'raps something will "turn up".

    As to Sep: the dates are a bit of a puzzle but non-fatally and at least lie in range cf Playford's summary.
    If Rita was on a jolly/comms/transport duty to Khartoum, quite as usual to be not on a Form 541, but might appear on a Form 540 Summary.
    Checked 45 Sqn and 8 Sqn for Sep 40: nothing doing, either set.

    Wish I'd been a bit sharper on this one, then and now.
    That's all for now until/if I hear back.
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    Default Re: Blenheim Mk1, 'Rita' ... possibly 45 Squadron, in Sudan, 1940

    Regret to report, despite kindly replies all round, no further information on the Blenheim Mark I Rita.

    45 Sqn OB-V remains a possibility but only that, with no a/c serial match from the scant 45 Sqn a/c data to hand, while noting that Little Gel was in the common small caps style, not the cursive flourish shown by Rita.
    The date is another puzzle, re Sqn movements eg. Signed and dated might refer to the day of giving out the prints, rather than the actual (earlier) date of the event. This doesn't help re a/c id, though.

    Source
    Personal corresp with Messrs Carter, Jefford, Pitchfork plus own observation.
    Last edited by Don Clark; 12th December 2020 at 01:41. Reason: Source!
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