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Who’s a Hero? Three WW2 Special Operations Part Two

Posted By PK Hope-Lang , 15 August 2018

Airborne Blockade Running

Aircraft

No. 9621 de Havilland DH98 Mosquito FB Mk IV (G-AGFV) owned by BOAC.
Between 1943 and the end of the war civilian registered Mosquitos were operated by BOAC as transport aircraft on a regular route over the North Sea between Leuchars in Scotland and Stockholm in neutral Sweden. To ensure that the flights did not violate Sweden's neutrality the aircraft were unarmed, carried civilian markings and were operated by crews who were "civilian employees" of BOAC. In the bomb bay the outgoing loads were mail, newspapers and magazines to counter propaganda; the return loads were ball bearings.

Bomb-bay used as passenger compartment.

On several occasions important passengers were carried, locked in the bomb-bay with a supply of refreshments, reading material and oxygen. One such notable passenger was the nuclear physicist Niels Bohr who was evacuated from Stockholm in 1943. The flight almost ended in tragedy since Bohr did not don his oxygen equipment as instructed and passed out. He would have died had the pilot not guessed from Bohr's lack of response to intercom that he had lost consciousness. The pilot descended to a lower altitude for the remainder of the flight; Bohr's comment on landing was that he had slept like a baby for the entire flight.

Flight

Track between Leuchars and Gothenberg.

The flight described here was made by Capt White and Radio Officer Gaffney on the night of 28 Aug 1944. White/Gaffney left Leuchars for Stockholm in Mosquito G-AGKR and they were followed by two more Mosquitoes, Longden/Miller in G-AGKO and Carroll/Weir in G-AGGC.

When they approached the Swedish Grebbestad radio beacon, just short of Norway, the weather turned bad; it was the worst they had ever encountered on this route. They flew into storm clouds with lashing rain, strong winds and turbulence and they had about 60 degrees drift on track to approach the beacon. They changed course to the south for Gothenburg and so strong was the tail wind that they sighted the airfield beacon almost immediately. The airfield was experiencing a blustering gale with driving rain.

Whilst loading the aircraft the crews consulted the Gothenburg Met officer on the prospect of returning to Leuchars. White/Gaffney decided to return to Leuchars although their artificial horizon was unserviceable and Longden/Miller decided to follow. Carroll/Weir decided not to go any further.

White/Gaffney took-off for Leuchars and Longden/Miller followed fifteen minutes later. Longden decided to fly through the Skagerrak at 10,000ft instead of the usual 20,000 feet. However on reaching the Grebbestad radio beacon they were surprised to find the weather had cleared. Longden eased back and climbed to 20,000 feet; their flight time from out had been 3hr 8min but the return flight only took 2hr 30min.

When Longden/Miller landed at Leuchars they were surprised not to see White/Gaffney. Longden/Miller waited in the flying control room for news until they knew White/Gaffney would have run out of fuel. They then went to their lodgings. 

What happened? 

Likely return track

Next day Miller, who had navigated Longden, went to the RAF radar centre who had reported an unusual plot of an unidentified aircraft approaching the north coast of Scotland from the direction of Norway but well north of the normal Mosquito track. Before reaching the Scottish coast just north of Aberdeen, the aircraft had altered course 45deg to starboard and headed for Wick. It disappeared from the plot about three-quarters of the way there about the time White’s Mosquito would have run out of fuel. It seemed quite incredible that White’s aircraft would have been so far off course and heading on a north-westerly track.

The Swedish airline ABA was agent both for BOAC and Deutsche Luft Hansa DLH. The BOAC representative unofficially asked ABA to ask DLH to ask Luftwaffe HQ in Oslo if they had shot down White’s Mosquito. Very quickly came the reply that Luftwaffe had not taken any action that night but the same night the Luftwaffe station at Lister, on the southern tip of Norway, reported hearing an aircraft flying westwards very high in bad weather. The time of the report seems to indicate that it was White’s Mosquito.

Miller later said, in an interview just before he died, that he thought the White/Gaffney Mosquito flew as if it had no nav-aids. This would be the case if they had lost electrical power. The battery had a nominal endurance of 30 minutes but Miller said that in his experience the battery would not power the radio for more than 5-10 minutes; the aircraft would then lose the artificial horizon and the ability to take radio bearings. The instrument lights would probably fail within the half hour and the compass would then only be readable with a torch.

Miller thought that, when north of Rattray Head, they may have expected to be in sight of Scotland. Seeing nothing they presumably thought they were way south of track so altered course northwards. It looks as if the Mosquito missed Scotland altogether, ran out of fuel and crashed in the North Sea.

By PK Hope-Lang


Acknowledgements for this three-part series:
Ralph Barker, 1976. ‘The Blockade Busters’. Chatto & Windus, London.
Norman Malayney, who had served in Vietnam with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing, had a great interest in the BOAC Mosquitos and had interviewed all the crew that he could find.
Alan S Milward, “Could Sweden have stopped the Second World War?,” The Scandinavian Economic History Review, vol. XV, 1967, 127‐138.
Ernest Schofield and Roy Conyers Nesbitt, 1987. ‘Arctic Airmen’. History Press, Stroud.
Jeff White of The Old Tautonians Association

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