Ready for Battle?

Jacques Chevrier

Colorised photo courtesy Richard Molloy

A group of pilots of No 1 Squadron RCAF, gather round one of their Hawker Hurricane Mark Is at Prestwick, Scotland.
30 October 1940.

The Squadron Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader E A McNab, stands fifth from the right, wearing a forage cap.

Left to Right: Frank Hillock, Toronto ON; Frederick Watson, Winnipeg MB; Robert Norris, Saskatoon SK; Norman Richard Johnstone, Winnipeg MB; Joseph A. J. Chevrier, Saint-Lambert QC; John David Morrison, Regina SK; Sq/Ldr Ernest Archibald McNab, Rosthern, SK; Arthur Yuile, Montréal QC; Paul Pitcher, Montréal QC; William Sprenger, Montréal QC; and Dean Nesbitt, Montréal QC. It is interesting to note that all five men on the right are from Montréal.

No. 1 Squadron RCAF left for Great Britain in June of 1940, with the Battle well under way. After a short period of training in England, they became the only RCAF Squadron involved in the Battle of Britain, first engaging the enemy on 23 August 1940. The following year, No. 1 became 401 Squadron. 401 Squadron ended the war as the RAF 2nd Tactical Air Force’s highest scoring fighter squadron with 186.5 victories—29 of which were earned during the Battle of Britain.

(Photo source – © IWM CH 1733)
Royal Air Force official photographer
Devon S A (Mr)

(Colourised by Richard James Molloy from the UK)

Gil Gillis and Operation Chocolate – The Story Behind a Model Kit

Maybe Gil Gillis was not the one who met the Russians, but I am pretty sure about this story…

The Desert Air War 1939 – 1945

Gil Gillis was part of Operation Chocolate.

Burdette Gillis

An Internet research led me to Gil Gillis’ participation in Operation Chocolate.



Anyone come across reference to this before?

I read the excellent pdf at Kyt’s post here regarding G/C Houle and it mentioned his involvement in Operation Chocolate where Hurricanes operated from an abandoned airfield behind enemy lines for three days harrassing German supply columns etc. They headed home just as an enemy column sent to find them arrived on the scene.

From the PDF:

Friday, November the 13th, 1942 was the beginning of “Operation Chocolate.” Its objective was to harass retreating Axis forces by strafing deep behind their lines. Tasked with the assignment were 213 and 238 Squadrons. Flying their Hurricanes to an abandoned air strip 140 km behind the lines the two squadrons would for the next three days fly sortie after sortie strafing enemy ground forces. They pulled out just ahead of an Axis column coming to intercept them. The mission was a great success. One enemy aircraft destroyed during the operation was a Fiesler Storch, a slow, ungainly observation platform. Houle noted that “I shared an unarmed Fieseler Storch – but never did count it in my score. It did not seem sporting”6

The 6 at the end refers to a reference – Bert Houle, Flying Desert Rats, unpublished manuscript, supplemental to p.253.


Reproduced from the December 1964 (No 3. Vol 20) edition of Flying Review International.

The Desert Hornet's Nest

Two weeks after the Allied victory at Alamein there occurred an incident possibly unparalleled in the history of aerial warfare the mounting of a series of offensive strikes by a whole wing of aircraft from an unprotected base scores of miles behind the enemy’s forward positions.

In the autumn of 1942 plans crystallised for the forthcoming British offensive-the Battle of Alamein. It was decided at Allied Air Headquarters, Middle East, that after the German front had been broken a squadron of twelve Kittyhawk fighter-bombers would be sent to an airstrip just behind the German lines, near Fort Maddalena. From there it was to strike at Luftwaffe transports flying urgently-needed petrol into airfields in the EI Adem complex. The projected operation was code-named ‘Snapper’.

At 21.40 hours on 23rd of October a barrage from over 1,200 guns heralded the British attack. For eleven days the battle raged to and fro until, on 2nd November, the Axis front crumbled. The Germans and Italians were thrown into headlong retreat and the race to the west began. The British advance was faster than expected and within six days the Eighth Army had reached Sidi Barani. The El Adem airfields came within range of British fighters and Operation ‘Snapper’ became superfluous. It was therefore decided to try something more ambitious, to operate a wing of Hurricanes from a landing-ground-code-named L.G.125 deep in the desert behind the German lines, 150 miles east of Agedabia and the same distance south of Derna. The primary target, was to be Axis motor transport retreating westwards along the coast road in the Agedabia. area.

No. 243 Wing, commanded by Wing Commander J. Darwen, was chosen for the operation. It comprised No. 213 Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader Oliver, and No. 238 Squadron, commanded by Squadron Leader Marples. The squadrons left their airfields in the Mersa Matruh area early on the morning of Friday, 13th November-an inauspicious date which did not escape mention in the squadrons’ diaries-and at 11.30 hours the force of thirty-six Hurricanes landed at L.G.125.


On the previous day stores had been dumped at the landing ground by Hudsons and Bombays of Nos. 117, 216, and 267 Squadrons, and on the 13th, aircraft of these squadrons flew in over a hundred groundcrew and more equipment. The Hurricanes were refuelled soon after arrival, and at 13.45 hours twenty-seven aircraft took off for the first strike-a combined strafe of the road from Agheila to Magrun. The wing split into three formations and hit the road at equidistant points, covering it thoroughly. One force,. led by Wing Commander Darwen, took the road to the west of Agheila; that led by Squadron Leader Oliver covered the road between Agheila and Agedabia; and the third, under Squadron Leader Marples, dealt with the section from Agedabia to Magrun.

The attacks came as a complete surprise to the Germans. Troops riding in lorries so far from the front thought themselves safe from air attack, and as the Hurricanes roared along the road at low level the Germans, taking them for Luftwaffe reinforcements, waved to the pilots! The first bursts of cannon fire quickly dispelled their illusions.

There was considerable movement southwards of German and Italian troops, and the initial attack was most successful. More than ninety motor vehicles were knocked out. Just south of Agheila, Pilot Officer McKay saw a Fieseler Storch above the road, flying at 60 feet. Closing to within twenty yards, he fired a one-second burst, and saw strikes on the cockpit; the Storch banked into the ground, cartwheeled, and disintegrated.

Two Hurricanes were lost to ground fire on this operation, and that flown by Squadron Leader Olvver suffered severe damage to the tailplane after hitting a telegraph pole. The aircraft could not be controlled at speeds of less than 180 m.p.h., but by skilful flying Olver managed to bring it back to base.


Now the Germans would be aware that British aircraft were operating from a base somewhere in the area, and accordingly the Wing’s next attack was launched against the airfields from which aircraft might interfere with the Hurricanes’ operations. At 09.05 hours the next morning, Olver led twelve aircraft from his squadron on a strafe of airstrips around Agedabia. As the formation ran in on the first target, Flight Lieutenant Cameron spotted a Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79 flying low to the east. He closed in and gave the Italian bomber an eight-second burst from a head-on position; the centre engine burst into flames and the aircraft dived into the ground and exploded. Squadron Leader Olver saw three Fiat C.R.42s on the side of the airfield, and flew along the line spraying them with cannon shells. One blew up so violently that Olver’s own machine was damaged, and the other two were destroyed. The formation then flew westwards over the town of Agedabia, shooting up some troops in the main square before attacking the airfield on the other side. Pilot Officers Furneaux and Smith jointly destroyed a Fiat C.R.42 and Squadron Leader Olver damaged a Junkers Ju. 87.

On the return flight the squadron ran into trouble. There were no radio homing aids on the makeshift airfield and low Cumulus clouds cast shadows on the ground which made it impossible to identify the dark patch of sand used as a landmark north of L.G.125. The force was soon lost. Six aircraft headed east past the battle front, and landed at Gambut. The remainder force landed in the open desert some fifty miles north of the base. The aircraft which landed at Gambut refuelled and immediately flew back to LG. 125; the others were located during the afternoon by a search aircraft from No.238 Squadron, but nevertheless had to spend the night in the open.

In the meantime No. 238 Squadron had not been idle. At 10.40 hours Squadron Leader Marples led twelve aircraft against the road north of Agedabia, where they found plenty of targets. Twenty-six vehicles were knocked out, and many troops riding in them were killed. During this raid the Hurricanes were shadowed by two Messerschmitt Bf 109s which turned tail whenever they were offered battle. The Germans followed the force on the return flight for fifteen miles, then broke off contact. Clearly the Wing would have to be prepared for more active interference with its operations in the future. However, no enemy aircraft were seen when the squadron launched its afternoon strafe on the road east of Agheila, and fifteen vehicles were knocked out almost at leisure.

The Desert Hornet's Nest 1

On 15th November, at 06.25 hours, Squadron Leader Marples led his squadron against the Agheila airfields. As usual, complete surprise was achieved. Flight Lieutenant Ayerst destroyed a Ju. 52 on the ground, Sergeant Morris destroyed another, and Sergeant Allington scored hits on a Messerschmitt Bf 109. Afterwards the squadron used up the remainder of its ammunition on vehicles on the main road, and knocked out thirty-eight. One aircraft was lost during this attack.

At 09.10 hours two aircraft from No. 213 Squadron flew out to the Hurricanes stranded in the desert. The latter refuelled from the long range tanks of the relief aircraft, and the whole force returned to L.G.125.


During the morning, six Hurricanes of No. 213 Squadron, led by Wing Commander Darwen, set out to strafe the landing ground at Gailo. On the way they chanced upon an Italian column comprising fourteen vehicles, four field guns and an armoured car, only sixty miles from L.G.125. In fact this was the garrison from Siwa Oasis in full retreat, but to the British it looked like a full-scale attempt to wipe out their base. The Hurricanes attacked the field guns and the lorries towing them, knocking out all four combinations. They were then forced to break off the attack as their ammunition was exhausted. The column became the top-priority target, and a shuttle service was organised against it. At 10.30 hours four aircraft of No. 238 Squadron took off to resume its destruction, and, finding the column stationary in the desert, pressed home their attacks. Ten vehicles were destroyed before the ammunition ran out, and the remainder was knocked out just before noon by a four-aircraft strike under Squadron Leader Marples.

Wing Commander Darwen was anxious that the armoured cars should ‘mop up’ the remnants of the Italian force, but owing to the distance involved and the rough nature of the terrain this plan was dropped; the column no longer constituted any real threat to L.G.125.

At 11.35 hours six aircraft of No. 213 Squadron, led by Flying Officer Houle, took off for the delayed strafe of Gailo Airfield. They approached from the south, and the leader opened the score by destroying one Cant 1007 on the ground and damaging another. Squadron Leader Young scored several bits on a Ju.88, which blew up, and went on to destroy two Fiat C.R.42s. One S.M.79 was destroyed by Pilot Officer Carrick, and the destruction of another was shared by Flying Officer Furneaux and Flight Sergeant Wilson. On the way out the Hurricanes strafed a column entering Gailo from the East, and five vehicles were knocked out.

At dusk on the 15th, just as a party of ground crew arrived after driving from Mersa Matruh, the armoured car screen reported nine hostile bombers approaching the area from the west. The vehicles were hastily dispersed, and four aircraft of No. 213 Squadron were scrambled, but no attack materialised. However, it was an augury that the lack of opposition had probably run its course. Owing to its exposed position, L.G.125 could never survive an attack in any strength, and with much regret it was decided to terminate operations on the following. day.


For their final show, on the 16th November, ten 213 Squadron aircraft took off at 08.30 hours for another attack on Gailo airfield, led by Wing Commander Darwen. Except for the burntout wreck of the Ju.88 destroyed on the previous day there were no aircraft on the field, and the only worthwhile target was a solitary armoured car, which the wing commander destroyed. Some thirty miles to the north-west, however, the squadron found a long column of stationary vehicles. Some of the lorries had red stripes across their bonnets as if to create the impression that they were carrying casualties. They were not attacked, but the others were, and twenty-seven were destroyed.

Also at 08.30 hours, Squadron Leader Marples led eleven aircraft of his squadron on a strafe of the coast road near Agheila. They found heavy traffic on the road, and carried out their firing runs without loss in the face of some flak and machine-gun fire. Forty-two vehicles were knocked out, and as the Hurricanes turned for base fifteen fires were counted. Towards the end of the attack a Ju.88 was seen at 5,000 feet, escorted by three Messerschmitt Bf 109s. The latter made no attempt to attack, and it appeared that the German aircraft were there for the express purpose of tracking the British back to their base. If this was the case the attempt was a half-hearted one, for the Hurricanes soon eluded their pursuers.

During the latter part of the morning eight Hudsons arrived to fly out those of the groundcrews not proceeding back overland. At 12.30 hours the transports, escorted by the Hurricanes, took off for more secure bases in the Fuka area.

The three days of operations from L.G.125 had been extremely successful, and had cost the Axis more than three hundred and ten vehicles, fourteen aircraft destroyed, and three damaged. This was at a time when the Afrika Korps needed every vehicle it could lay its hands on for the withdrawal. Many troops and much equipment had to be left behind, and there can be little doubt that the loss of so many lorries was felt.

The squadrons had flown 156 sorties, and lost three Hurricanes and their pilots in action. In addition four aircraft which were too badly damaged to return to Fulca, were destroyed by the ground party before they moved out. Thus ended an extremely bold and successful operation, one carried out in the very best traditions of the Royal Air Force.

The Desert Hornet's Nest map

About RAF 238 Squadron

Source here

History of 238 Squadron:

No. 238 Squadron was formed in August 1918 from Nos 347, 348 and 349 Flights at the seaplane station at Cattewater, Plymouth, and flew anti-submarine patrols until the end of the war, being reduced to a cadre on 15 May 1919. It remained as a storage unit until disbanded on 20 March 1922.

On 16 May 1940, No 238 reformed at Tangmere as a fighter squadron with Spitfires but in June these were replaced by Hurricanes. It became operational on 2 July and spent the period of the Battle of Britain in the Middle Wallop sector, apart from four weeks in Cornwall.

In May 1940, No.238 reformed at Tangmere as a fighter squadron with Spitfires but in June these were replaced with Hurricanes. It became operational on 2 July and spent the period of the Battle of Britain in the Middle Wallop sector, apart from four weeks in Cornwall. In May 1941 the squadron left for the Middle East its aircraft being flown off HMS ‘Victorious’ to Malta while the ground echelon sailed round the Cape of Good Hope. After refuelling in Malta the Hurricanes flew on to the Western Desert where they were attached to No.274 Squadron, pending the arrival of the squadron’s own ground crews. By the end of July, No. 238 was again operating as a complete unit, flying escort missions and fighter patrols throughout the campaign in the desert until after the battle of El Alamein. It was then withdrawn to Egypt for air defence duties and converted to Spitfires in September 1943. In March 1944, the squadron moved to Corsica for sweeps over northern Italy and in August convered the Allied landings in southern France. After moving there for two months, it was withdrawn to Naples and disbanded on 31 October 1944.

On 1 December 1944, No.238 reformed at Merryfield as a transport squadron and was originally intended to fly Albemaries. In January 1945 it received Dakotas and on 14 February its first wave of ten aircraft left for India where they began supply-dropping and casualty evacuation missions over Burma. In June the squadron moved to Australia to provide transport support for the British Pacific Fleet, officially disbanding there on 27 December 1945. Its remaining aircraft left for Singapore on 9 February 1946, others having been flown back to the UK during January.

On 1 December 1946, No.525 Squadron at Abingdon was renumbered 238 Squadron and flew Dakotas until renumbered 10 Squadron on 4 October 1948, during the Berlin airlift.



Collection Gil Gillis

Gil Gillis’s log book has been lost.

Did he fly off HMS Victorious?

In May 1941 the squadron left for the Middle East its aircraft being flown off HMS ‘Victorious’ to Malta while the ground echelon sailed round the Cape of Good Hope.

Click here for the answer.

16 August 1941

16 August 1941

Finding the “Few” – June 30, 1942

Where I got all my inspiration for my Hawker Hurricane II C

RAF 238 Squadron

Why am I searching and writing so much about a RAF squadron lost in history books?

What happened in the life of Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, on June 30, 1942…?

On June 30, 1942, if the caption Gil Gillis, from Pense, Saskatchewan, wrote in the back is correct, this is what happened…

June 30 1942 lost in the desert


Me lost in the desert
June 30/42
heck of a sand storm

 What happened in history books in North Africa on June 30, 1942? (Wikipedia)

On 30 June, Rommel’s Panzer Army Africa approached the Alamein position. The Axis forces were exhausted and understrength. Rommel had driven them forward ruthlessly, being confident that, provided he struck quickly before Eighth Army had time to settle, his momentum would take him through the Alamein position and he could then advance to the Nile with little further opposition. Supplies remained a problem because the Axis staff had originally expected a…

View original post 1,445 more words