25/26.04.1942 70 Squadron Wellington IC Z8984 'D' Sgt. Philip Ronald Darby
Operation: Benghazi, Libya
Date: 25/26 April 1942 (Saturday/Sunday)
Unit: 70 Squadron - Motto: Usquam - Anywhere
Squadron Badge: A demi-wing lion erased. Developed from an unofficial winged lion badge probably derived from the squadron's long dependence on the Napier Lion engine during the 1920s
Type: Vickers Wellington IC
Code: Call sign D
Base: LG 104 Qotafiyah II, Egypt.
Location: Near Berka, Benghazi, Libya
Pilot: Sgt. Philip Ronald Darby 924342 RAFVR Age 24 - PoW No. 248454 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (1)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. George Lockhart Taylor NZ41375 RNZAF Age 22 - Killed (2)
Obs: Sgt. John Kingdon Cleeve A/402521 RAAF Age 20 - PoW No. 225658 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (3)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. William John Douglas Powell 1003964 RAFVR Age 19 - PoW details unknown (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Bruce William Linklater A/402463 RAAF Age 21 - PoW No.225638 Camp: Stalag Muhlberg (Elbe) - 4B (5)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. E. L. Morris 1377621 RAFVR Age ? PoW No. 225638 Camp: Stalag Lamsdorf (now Łambinowice) in Silesia - 344 (6)
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Being Friday morning, 21 year old Schoolteacher, Philip Darby, was probably busy in his classroom, whilst some 2200 miles away in Egypt two Vickers Valentias of 70 Squadron, each carrying four air gunners, were firing on ground targets on the range at Helwan in Greater Cairo.
It was 29 September 1939, National Registration Day in England and Wales and Philip Darby was duly recorded as living in the household of Evelyn Monks at 143 Dukes Avenue in Epping, Essex. He had been born in Aston, Birmingham and his parents still lived there, so presumably he was a boarder at Dukes Avenue whilst written opposite his name in the register is, 'Waiting list of RAF'.
Meanwhile, registered living with his parents in Lowther Road Birkenhead was 17 year old Invoice Clerk, William Powell and in Brighton there lived a certain, E.L. Morris.
On the other side of the world in New South Wales, Australia there lived at Inverell, John Cleeve, aged 18, and at Hurstville, one year his senior, was Insurance Clerk, Bruce Linklater whilst at Edmonton, Christchurch in New Zealand George Taylor, also 19 resided with his parents.
Unknown to each other in 1939, fate decreed that by 1942 they were all members of 70 Squadron in North Africa, their destinies well and truly sealed.
By February 1942 the obsolete Valentias of 70 Squadron were long gone, replaced by Vickers Wellington ICs in September 1940 and the Squadron was now based at Landing Ground 104 known as Qotafiyah II about 5 miles west of El Daba.
Having been driven back by Rommel's forces during January and early February 1942, the Allies established a defensive line between Gazala and Bir Hakeim. Whilst both sides drew breath, regrouped and planned their next moves, a lull in proceedings ensued, lasting from 7 February until 26 May. During Rommel's advance he had captured the port of Benghazi through which he was now able to bring in supplies and reinforcements. The port thus became a prime target for the Allied bombers which carried out almost 1000 sorties against shipping and its dock installations between 7 February and 26 May 1942.
Unfortunately the 70 Squadron Operations Record Book (ORB) only records the names of officers joining or leaving the Squadron. It is therefore unknown when most of this crew joined the Squadron, the one exception being Bruce Linklater, who is recorded in his Service Record as having joined the Squadron on 24 March 1942.
The first record of Philip Darby's time with the Squadron is as second pilot with the crew of Sgt. Morgan on the night of 25/26 February 1942 on a raid on Benghazi, the wireless operator of the crew being Sgt. Pollard. Having previously flown as second pilot in the crew of F/O. Dick, this was Sgt. Morgan's first operation as Captain.
Philip Darby and William Powell flew as part of the Morgan crew on nine more ops in March 1942.
Benghazi was the target on the nights of 2/3, 4/5, 18/19 and 23/24 March whilst 13/14 saw them attacking a motorised division 6 miles North East of Mechili, illuminated by Albacores of the Fleet Air Arm and on 14/15 March the aerodrome at Calato-Lindos on the island of Rhodes was bombed.
Airfields at Berka were attacked twice on consecutive nights on 21/22 and 23/24 March and finally on 30/31 March Derna Landing Ground was bombed. This final raid was the first operation flown by Bruce Linklater, the front gunner of the crew, who had joined the Squadron on 24 March. It was also the last operation flown by Darby, Powell and Linklater under the Captaincy of Sgt. Morgan.
It was almost a month later before Philip Darby, William Powell and Bruce Linklater were detailed for operations, yet another raid on Benghazi by 12 of the Squadron Wellingtons. This time, however, Philip Darby would by flying as Captain of aircraft, his crew being wireless operator William Powell and front gunner Bruce Linklater plus 2nd pilot, George Taylor, observer, John Cleeve and rear gunner, E. L. Morris. These last three, not being previously mentioned in the ORB, are therefore thought to have been flying their first operation.
REASON FOR LOSS
The exact time that Wellington Z8984 took off is not recorded in the ORB but based on the timings of the other 11 aircraft it was between 1955 and 2055 hours on Saturday 25 April. The Squadron ORB records the operation as follows
'12 aircraft set out to bomb shipping and wrecks at Benghazi. 'H' [N2739] and 'L' [Z1045], owing to engine trouble, bombed the tertiary target of Martuba LGs [Landing Grounds] 4 and 1 respectively, bursts being observed on each LG. The rest bombed the harbour installations, no shipping being sighted. Two bursts were seen on or near the wreck 'Harry', and numerous bursts at the base of the Central Mole. In some cases observation of results was difficult owing to trouble from searchlights. Opposition was intense and accurate from the heavy batteries, F/O. Panter's machine receiving several hits. Aircraft 'D' [Z8984] is missing from this operation.
On the return journey aircraft 'L' [Z1045] (W/Cdr. Simpson) was attacked as he was coming in to land with his navigation lights on: his machine was severely damaged by cannon and MG fire (Cat.II) and his front gunner - 1260115 Sergeant Elliot, - W/Optr. AG - was wounded. The attacker, a JU88 intruder, had been hanging round the LG for over an hour and rockets had been fired to indicate the position of the LG as it was reported here as being a Beaufighter in distress.'
The following details of the fate of Philip Darby and his crew in Wellington Z8984 are taken from the liberation statement of front gunner, Sgt. Bruce Linklater RAAF, submitted at 11 PDRC, RAF Brighton on 10 July 1945
'Arrived target (Benghazi) approx 0015 26.4.42. On first bombing run direct hit by heavy flak starboard engine, engine u/s and on fire. 2nd Pilot, Sgt. Taylor G. RNZAF, killed instantly. Perspex in front turret most removed. Captain's windscreen holed. Pipe line from aux[iliary] oil tank cut. Could not ????? (a/c Wellington IC Z8494 'D') 3 500 lb bombs hung up. A/c out of control from approx 10 - 11000 feet to 2000 feet. Steering u/s, light flak hit a/c severely.
At approx 1000 ft captain ordered a/c abandoned. I was second out and at approx 600 ft or less. Hit hard [hand?] and apart from bruises, cuts and slight wound in lower left leg OK. A/c crashed approx. 800 yards west of me or approx 5 miles S of Berka aerodrome'.
He adds that he evaded for 30 days before being 'captured on 27 May 1942 40 miles West of the western desert front opposite Ba Hakeen' [Bir Hakeim].
He was held at Elcarpe until 30 May 1942. The whereabouts of Elcarpe is unknown - if you have any information about this place please contact our helpdesk.
On 20 July he was transferred to Benghazi Hospital where he was treated for malaria, dysentery bronchitis, wounds and general malnutrition until 9 September when he was sent to Benghazi camp.
Transferred to Italy he was held at, PG51 (Prigione di Guerra (Prison of War)), a transit camp located at Altamura Villa Serena 45 km from Bari. He remained there until 14 October when he was sent to PG57 at Grupignano Near Udine, at Cividale del Friuli. Arriving there on 17 October Bruce was to spend the next 12 months in this camp which held mainly Australian and New Zealand other ranks.
Following the capitulation of Italy he was transferred to Stalag IVB where he arrived on 24 October 1943. The camp was located 8 km north-east of the town of Mühlberg in the Prussian Province of Saxony, just east of the Elbe river and about 30 miles north of Dresden
It was to be a long 18 months before he was finally liberated by Russian irregulars at 0800 on 23 April 1945. He finally arrived at 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton on 1 June 1945
Details of his return to Australia can be found in his biographical notes below.
Bruce Linklater's liberation statement OF 1 June 1945 includes the following details regarding the fate of the other members of the crew.
'Darby: Severely injured.
Morris - tail gunner: Told by captors PoW last heard of in hospital Benghazi and flown out to Italy or Germany.
Powell - W/Op: PoW, believed returned to England this year.
Cleeve: PoW with me in Camp 57 Italy and Stalag 4B Germany. Is here in England.
Taylor: Killed, buried at Berka aerodrome in British Sect. Saw grave personally about 24 May 1942.'
Berka Airfield is a former civil airport and military airfield, located in the Al Birkah suburb of Benghazi, Libya. After the Italian invasion of Egypt and the arrival of the German Luftwaffe in 1941, it was used by the Axis as a military airfield. After the seizure of Benghazi by the British Eighth Army during the Western Desert Campaign in early 1943, it was used by the United States Army Air Force during the North African Campaign by the 98th Bombardment Group, which flew B-24 Liberator heavy bombers from the airfield between 26 March-4 April 1943.
It would seem that despite the grave of George Taylor being seen by Bruce Linklater in May 1942, his remains were either not recovered or were unidentifiable when the British graves in Benghazi were investigated post war. Thus George Lockhart Taylor is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial - see below.
Bruce Linklater also stated that he had completed approximately 120/140 operational hours and was on his first tour but it has not been possible to determine when and where he flew operationally prior to the night of 30/31 March 1942, the raid on Derna landing ground mentioned earlier.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) W/O. Philip Ronald Darby MiD was born on 1 November 1917 at Aston, Birmingham, Warwickshire the son of Benjamin Arthur Darby (a Tram Worker) and Ellen Darby nee Brookes.
On 7 July 1941 he married Peggy Mabel Church at Theydon Bois, Essex and lived at 4aEgerton Road Torquay. They went on to have two children: Jillian Ellen Darby born 1946 and Ian Philip Ernest Darby born 1948
In the London Gazette of 31 January 1947 it was promulgated that Philip Darby had been Mentioned in Despatches.
On 25 February 1948 he was Appointed to Commission as a Pilot Officer in the RAFVR Training Branch (London Gazette 25 May 1948) and on 25 February 1951 he was promoted to Flying Officer (London Gazette 14 August 1951). He resigned his commission on 13 December 1957 (London Gazette 1 April 1958)
Philip Ronald Darby died on 12 November 2002 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, at the age of 85.
(2) Sgt. George Lockhart Taylor was born on 28 January 1920 at Feilding New Zealand son of Henry William Taylor and Ellen Taylor nee Currie of Addington, Christchurch New Zealand later of 58 Hazeldean Road, Edmonton, Christchurch New Zealand. He had six siblings:
Maise Taylor (1909-2007), Iris Muriel Taylor (1911-2004, Aubrey Lindo Taylor (1912-1977), Jean Taylor (1915-2008), Inez Doreen Taylor (1916-2008) and Leonie Gladys Taylor (1917-2004).
(3) Sgt John Kingdon Cleeve was born on 9 June 1921 at Inverell, New South Wales, Australia the son of Gordon Nepean Cleeve and Annie Kathleen Cleeve nee Courtney. He had two siblings: James Courtney Cleeve (1924-1990) and Gordon Nepean Cleeve (1926-1968)
In 1946 he married Enid Mary Simpson.
In 1954 he lived at Heretaunga, Wellington New Zealand where he was employed as a Bank Clerk. Later he became a Bank Accountant and by 1969 a Bank Manager living at Island Bay, Wellington. In 1972 he was living at Pahiatua, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand.
He died on 4 October 1974 aged 53, and was buried at Eltham, Taranaki, New Zealand
(4) Sgt. William John Douglas Powell was born on 21 May 1922 at Birkenhead, Cheshire, the son of Thomas C. Powell (a Rigger - Marine shore gang) and Annie M Powell nee Bishop. In 1939 the family lived at 56, Lowther Street, Birkenhead at which time William Powell was an Invoice Clerk.
(5) WO1. Bruce William Linklater was born on 30 May 1920 at Hurstville, Georges River Council, New South Wales, Australia the son of Reginald Errol Linklater and Elizabeth MacGregor Linklater nee Peutherer.
He had 5 siblings: Ronald Linklater (1918-1918), Elizabeth Linklater (1924-2014), John Marchant Linklater (1927-1990) and 2 more whose names are unknown and the family lived at 58 Eighth Avenue, Campsie Sydney NSW
Bruce was educated at Dulwich Commercial School 1931-1935 and Metropolitan Business College 1936-1939 and after leaving school was employed as a Renewal Clerk with the National Mutual Life Association. He enjoyed rifle shooting, tennis, swimming, cycling and gymnastics.
When he enlisted in the RAAF at Sydney on 19 August 1940 he was described as being 5'6½" tall, weighing 123 lbs with a medium complexion, hazel eyes and dark brown hair.
After training at 2 Initial Training School at Bradfield Park he embarked at Sydney for Canada on 30 October 1940, disembarking in Canada on 20 November and the following day, was posted to 2 Wireless School at RCAF Calgary in Alberta. On 26 April 1941 he was posted to 2 Bombing and gunnery School at RCAF Mossbank, Saskatchewan where, on 26 May 1941, he was awarded his Air Gunner Badge and promoted to Sergeant.
He embarked for the UK on 18 June and on arrival, on 17 July, was posted to Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at Bournemouth. On 28 July he was posted to 1 Signals School at RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire. On completion of training he was posted for advanced training to 21 Operational Training Unit at RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire on 7 October, for night bomber training on the Vickers Wellington IC followed on 15 January 1942 with a posting to 15 OTU at RAF Harwell in Oxfordshire.
On 30 January 1942 he was transferred to Middle East Command and left the UK on a Wellington IC ferry flight to Egypt where he arrived on 1 February the journey having involved 22 hours and 10 minutes of flying. Posted to Transit Camp at RAF Almaza on 7 February he was then posted to 205 Group at RAF Ismailia on 12 February. On 24 March he was posted to 70 Squadron at LG 104 Qotafiyah II, Egypt.
During his time as a prisoner of war, he was promoted to Flight Sergeant on 1 May 1943 and to Warrant Officer 1st Class on 1 May 1944. He returned to the UK and is recorded as arriving at 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Centre at RAF Brighton on 1 June 1945.
He embarked from the UK for Sydney on 8 August 1945, finally set foot in his native Australia on 9 September 1945 almost 5 years after leaving. He was demobilised at RAAF Bradfield Park on 23 November 1945 and before the year was out married Margaret Horsburgh Wallace at Canterbury, New South Wales. They later had two children.
Following his return to civilian life Bruce worked in Insurance. In 1974 he was living at 54 Defoe Street Punchbowl, Lng , NSW
where following a burglary on 3/4 October his medals were stolen. Fortunately he was able to obtain replacements from the RAAF.
Bruce William Linklater died at the age of 62 on 3 August 1982 at Hurstville, Georges River Council, New South Wales.
He was buried at Woronora Memorial Park Sutherland, Sutherland Shire, New South Wales and is commemorated on the Woronora Cemetery War Memorial memorial wall - AIF 14 GG, 0302
(6) Sgt. E L Morris.
The RAAF Cypher Message of the accident records the following details re his next of kin.
Wife - Mrs. E. R. Morris 1B Gladys Road, Hore [sic], 4 Sussex
Mother - Mrs. E. Morris 38 Guilmord [sic] Road Brighton Sussex
The 1939 Registration for 38a Guildford Road, Brighton records:
Mary E. Morris born 21 June 1886 a Widow - Fish and chip Shop Assisitant.
One other person closed.
Nothing further known - if you have any further information about this member of the crew please contact our helpde
Sgt. George Lockhart Taylor
Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial, Column 266, El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt
The Alamein Memorial forms the entrance to Alamein War Cemetery. The Air Forces panels commemorate more than 3,000 airmen of the Commonwealth who died in the campaigns in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Greece, Crete and the Aegean, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Somalilands, the Sudan, East Africa, Aden and Madagascar, who have no known grave. Those who served with the Rhodesian and South African Air Training Scheme and have no known grave are also commemorated here. (Courtesy: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - July 2021
With thanks to the sources quoted below.