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Library Reference Number: 022

A Great Diversion

Vivian Thomas, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

In Autumn 1943, the Middle East heavy bomber force consisted of two squadrons, ourselves No.462 RAAF with Merlin-engined Halifax 1c and No.178 with Liberators. In November that year, the R.A.F. occupied three islands in the Aegean Sea; Cos, Leros and Samos. The Germans thereupon set about recovering them. To do this, they were using among others, the small Greek port of Khalkis, north of Athens.

M.E. Command decided to try to do something about this and on the night of 18/19th November, sent two Liberators to lay mines in Khalkis harbour, and two Halifaxes were sent to create a diversion by bombing the swing-bridge there. We found the target on time, and I decided, thinking of the poor Liberators down in the harbour, to drop our bombs in four sticks from 5,000 ft. There was only one gun, but the sight of the tracer coming up towards him much impressed Ernie Page, my Australian Observer, lying in the nose. I think the fact that this was the only gun made it seem a bit personal. We must have spent at least a quarter of an hour messing about over the target to take the strain off the Liberators.

When we eventually got back to base, we learned the other three aircraft had returned early on being unable to find the target in the poor weather. It turned out we were the only crew to show up, - but at least it had been 'a great diversion'.

P.S. It was recently discovered that, in fact, the two 178 Squadron Liberators did turn up, and more than that, one of our own Branch members Jack Latimer from Milton of Campsie, was navigator of one of them. Perhaps the 'diversion' was some good but Jack Latimer does not seem to think much of it! He would have been too busy at the time to notice. Sadly, Jack is very ill at the moment in the Marie Curie Hospice, Hunters Hill, Glasgow.

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