16.12.1942 No.14 Squadron Marauder IA FK367 J Sgt. Leonard Alexander Einsaar DFM
Operation: Offensive Patrol
Date: 16 December 1942
Unit: No. 14 Squadron - Motto: "I spread my wings and keep my promise", an extract from the Koran suggested by the Emir of Transjordan.
Badge: A winged plate charged with a cross throughout and shoulder pieces of a suit of armour - approved by King George VI in May 1937. The badge represents a crusader in association with the Cross of St George because of the Squadron's close First World War ties with Diospolis, Palestine, the reputed burial place of the Saint, and its location in the Middle East at the time of submission to the Chester Herald.
Type: Martin Marauder IA
Code: Call sign J
Base: Berka III near Benghazi, Libya.
Location: Mediterranean Sea 15 miles west of Benghazi, Libya.
Pilot: Sgt. Leonard Alexander Einsaar DFM Aus/407318 RAAF Age 29 (1)
2nd Pilot: Sgt. Leslie Reginald Dixon 591714 later 56069 RAF (2)
Obs: Sgt. Tom Ellis Exell Aus/401305 RAAF Age 21 - Killed (3)
Obs: F/Sgt. Ralph Isaac Ploskin 1186032 RAFVR Age 21 - Killed (4)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Percival Cockington Aus/407707 RAAF Age 21 - Killed (5)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. Leonard Basil Willcocks 1183698 later 197730 RAFVR Age 22 (6)
Air/Gnr: Sgt. Alan Edwin Watts 1301739 RAFVR Age 27 - Killed (7)
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REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from Berka III Airfield, Benghazi at 08:45 hours to carry out a shipping strike between Zuara and Tripoli. No shipping was sighted and at approximately 12:00 hours was turning in a northerly direction to a ded reckoning position from Tripoli. Approximately half an hour later the aircraft was attacked by what at first [was] thought to be a strong formation of M.R. 1090s and M.R. 210s [Messerschmitt 109s and 210s]. Three attacks were made and upon each attack the aircraft was hit. The Main planes, Tail planes, elevators and ailerons were all badly damaged. The aircraft at this time [was] about 2 hours flying time from Benghazi and [on] the way back one engine ran out of fuel. After getting within 20 miles of Benghazi, the remaining engine ran out of fuel, the tanks [having] being holed by cannon fire and the transfer pump unserviceable. The pilot was forced to 'belly land' on the water and on impact the aircraft burst into flames. Sgt. Watts was killed outright at the time of the attacks. Sgt. Willcocks was hit in the leg and also severely burned at the time of the landing. Sgt. Exell whose "Mae West" was rendered unserviceable presumably by the explosion on impact, was semi-conscious and unable to speak but was supported in the water by Sgt. Einsaar (who was uninjured) for 1½ hours, when he was compelled to release him. Sgt. Cockington and Sgt. Ploskin although apparently unhurt prior to the sea landing, were not seen again. Flying Officer Slade in another Marauder dropped out of formation, circled the scene of the landing and dropped a dinghy. A dinghy was also dropped by Sea Rescue Flight but both landed too far away for the survivors to reach them. Sgt. Einsaar, Willcocks and Dixon, were picked up by a torpedo boat at approximately 19:00 hours and subsequently admitted to the MRS [Medical Reception Centre] at Benghazi. Sgt. Einsaar has now rejoined the squadron. (Circumstantial Report from Wing Commander Commanding No. 14 Squadron to Headquarters, RAF Middle East 23 December 1942).
The loss report adds that the aircraft was shot up 50 miles north of Tripoli at 14:00 hours and flew on until lack of fuel caused a forced landing in the sea 15 miles west of Benghazi.
Scale: 1 inch = 80 miles
Presumably based on interviews with the surviving crew members, the Circumstantial Report would seem to be a reasonable explanation of events if it was not for the phrase, "the aircraft was attacked by what at first was thought to be a strong formation of Me109s and Me210s". The report thereby clearly states that it had been found that the attackers were not Messerschmitts but equally fails to elaborate as who did attack the Marauder or what else was known of the incident.
In the book "249 at Malta" Aviation Historian Brian Cull says that on 16 December 1942 eleven Spitfires and five Beaufighters, having left Malta at 11:00 hours on an offensive reconnaissance, saw a flight of three twin-engine aircraft. As the Spitfires closed on them they were fired upon causing damage to Fl/Lt Robert Seed's aircraft. Seed returned fire but then turned away when he recognized the bombers as Bostons (sic). The three bombers then identified themselves by firing the colours of the day.
14 Squadron history however puts forward a slightly different version of events as follows: "A Spitfire pilot did not recognise the Marauder and attacked Einsaar's aircraft...... Sergeant Carr of Flying Officer Brown's Marauder had returned fire and damaged the Spitfire's undercarriage, forcing it to make a belly landing at Luqa [Malta]".
The two accounts of the incident would seem to be at odds with each other as to who fired first. The 249 squadron crews claiming that the bombers fired first and Fl/Lt. Seed returned fire, whilst 14 squadron records indicate that Fl/Lt. Seed fired first and Sgt. Carr returned fire.
According to the Circumstantial Report the Marauder was attacked three times but it is not clear whether these attacks were all made by Fl/Lt. Seed or whether other fighters were involved. The attacks were certainly very severe judging by the damage inflicted.
Sgt. Einsaar's report of the incident states that they were "attacked by a formation of fighters". Is it perhaps significant that the report is non-committal as to who the attackers were?
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, correspondence between RAF, RAAF and indeed letters to the next of kin of those killed, consistently aver that Marauder F367 had been attacked by 'enemy' fighters and even in a report to the Commonwealth Graves Commission dated as late as 7 November 1947 No.5 Missing Research and Enquiry Unit states "they were attacked by enemy fighters and badly damaged".
There is no doubt that the loss of Marauder F367 was a result of friendly fire but the precise details of what led to the loss will perhaps always remain in dispute.
There is also a doubt as to whether the next of kin were ever informed of the truth regarding the loss of their loved ones.
THE MARTIN MARAUDER AND THE RAF
Left: Martin Marauder FK375 in January 1943 - Courtesy IWM.
In 1942, a batch of 52 B-26A Marauders (designated Marauder IA by the RAF) were offered to the United Kingdom under Lend-Lease. Like the earlier Martin Maryland and Baltimore, these aircraft were sent to the Mediterranean, replacing the Bristol Blenheims of No. 14 Squadron in Egypt. The Squadron's Marauders, first flown operationally on 6 November 1942, were used in a variety of roles i.e. long range reconnaissance, mine-laying and anti-shipping strikes as well as proving useful in disrupting enemy air transport, shooting down considerable numbers of German and Italian transport aircraft flying between Italy and North Africa.
The Marauder operated with a seven man crew i.e. Pilot, 2nd Pilot, Air Bomber, Navigator/Radio Operator and three Air Gunners. To accommodate this 14 Squadron simply put together two Blenheim three man crews and added a tail gunner. Although the conversion to the Marauder was fairly painless the combining of crews created a certain amount of animosity in that one of the two pilots now being the second pilot, was no longer the captain of the aircraft as he had been when flying the three crew Blenheim and his crew were now placed in a position of uncertainty as to whom they owed their loyalty.
Marauder FK367 was on the strength of 14 Squadron from 8 August 1942.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREW
(1) F/O. Leonard Alexander "Toppy" Einsaar DFM(left) was born on 28 May 1913 at Awaba, New South Wales, Australia the son of Gustav Einsaar of 59, Lyons Road West, Five Dock, Sidney, New South Wales. He enlisted at Adelaide in September 1940. Standing 6'4" 'Len' Einsaar was a giant of a man and before enlisting was a policeman in the tough mining town of Broken Hill. He was also an Olympic oarsman and rowed in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin.
DFM CITATION LONDON GAZETTE 26 FEBRUARY 1943
Sergeant Einsaar is a skilful and determined pilot who has completed many sorties. In November, 1942, during a reconnaissance over the sea, he saw two enemy convoys, and reported their positions accurately. Some days later, he executed a low level attack on some barges in Benghazi harbour, setting two of them on fire. He skilfully accomplished the return flight of 700 miles to base, being the first member of his squadron to achieve this in the type of aircraft he was flying. During a sortie in December, 1942, his aircraft was severely damaged when attacked by enemy fighters.
(P/O. Leonard Einsaar - Courtesy AWM )
When his aircraft could no longer be flown, whilst over the sea, 50 miles out from Benghazi, Sergeant Einsaar skilfully came down on the water. The aircraft caught fire but he managed to get clear of the blazing wreckage and some 3½ hours later was picked up by a naval launch. This airman has invariably displayed courage and fortitude of a high order.
On 12 April 1943 he was the pilot of Marauder FK378 shot down by enemy fighters and landed in the sea 6 miles north of Malta. Picked up by an Italian fishing boat the crew were made a prisoners of war and after being held at Interrogation Camp Pioggio, Rome from 15 April to 2 May Sgt. Einsaar was sent to Pow Camp 53 PM3300 Macerata. The armistice signed with Italy on 8 September 1943 however did not result in his release; the Italians continuing to hold the prisoners there by force. It seems that on or about 24 September 1943 he escaped and spent the next few months trying to get into allied held territory. This he did in May/June 1944 and was eventually repatriated to Australia on the Donnatar Castle arriving 10 September 1944. The navigator of the crew and also held with him at Macerata was Sgt. John Cyril Buckland who describes their time as PoWs and escapees in his book Adriatic Adventure published by Robertson and Mullins of Melbourne.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer and later promoted to Flying Officer (dates unknown). In the London Gazette of 14 June 1945 it was announced that he had been Mentioned in Dispatches.
He was discharged from the RAAF on 16 November 1945.
After the war he married Vera Isabel Lean. Vera was the licensee and Leonard the Manager of the Agricultural Hotel in Singleton, New South Wales.
Leonard Alexander Einsaar died 24 June 1994 at Singleton, NSW, Australia aged 81.
(2) Fl/Lt. Leslie Reginald Dixon. Next of kin: Mr Dixon 122 Old Bethnal Green Road London E19; also to be informed; Miss Callen 19 Lewis Buildings, Dalston Lane London E8.
591714 Warrant Officer L.R. Dixon was commissioned as a Pilot Officer (56069) on probation (emergency) on 6 July 1944 (London Gazette 24 October 1944), the appointment being confirmed and promotion to Flying Officer (war subs) 6 January 1945 (London Gazette 9 February 1945). Granted substantive rank of Flying Officer from 1 November 1947 with seniority of 6 July 1945 (London Gazette 6 January 1948). Promoted to Flight Lieutenant (short service commission AMO A899.47) from 4 October 1948 with seniority of 6 January 1948 (London Gazette 22 October 1948). Appointment to commission as Flight Lieutenant made permanent under AMO A.499/52 18 January 1953 (London Gazette 10 July 1953).
Fl/Lt. L.R. Dixon's retirement from the RAF on 15 May 1965 was announced in the London Gazette of 25 May 1965.
(3) Sgt. Tom Ellis Exell was born 5 July 1921 at Kensington, Sidney, New South Wales, Australia the son of George Percival Excell and Margaret Frances Exell. An Electrical Engineer in peacetime he enlisted at Melbourne 1 February 1941 and embarked 2 November 1941. He named his next of kin as his sister Miss Peggy Exell of 108 McConnell Street, Kensington Victoria, Australia and at the time of his death his mother lived at 111 Domain Road, South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
(4) F/Sgt. Ralph Isaac Ploskin was born in 1921 at Kings Norton, Staffordshire the son of Mr Ploskin and Mrs Ploskin nee Levin later of 118 Russell Road Birmingham 28
(5) Sgt. Percival Cockington was born on 3 August 1921 at Pennington, South Australia the son of Mr Frederic Cockington and Mary Elizabeth Cockington later of 42 Cedar Avenue, Woodville, South Australia. A Clerk in peacetime he enlisted at Adelaide 4 January 1941 and embarked 8 November 1941.
(6) Fl/Lt. Leslie Basil Willcocks was born in 1921 at Newton Abbot, Devon the son of Wilmot L Willcocks and Annie E Willcocks nee Boyne and later of 8 Mill Lane, Teignmouth, Devon.
1183698 Sgt. L.B. Willcocks was appointed to commission as a Pilot Officer (197730) on probation on 21 April 1945 (London Gazette 19 June 1945) confirmed in this appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 21 October 1945 (London Gazette 4 December 1945).
In 1946 he married Phyllis M. Hawker at Exeter, Devon. They later had two sons Malcolm and Adrian.
On 23 August 1950 Leslie Willcocks relinquished his commission on transferring to the Technical Branch of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force where he was appointed to commission as a Pilot Officer for five years plus 5 years in the reserve (London Gazette 18 May 1951). Promoted to Flying Officer 23 August 1951 (London Gazette 16 October 1951) his period of service was later extended by 2 years from 23 August 1955 (London Gazette 7 October 1955) and on 1 August 1956 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant with seniority of 15 April 1956.
He transferred to the General List R.Aux.AF on 11 March 1957 to complete his period of service (London Gazette 7 September 1957).
Leslie Willcocks died at Exeter, Devon in 1985 aged 63.
(7) Sgt. Alan Edwin Watts was born in 1915 at Sheffield the son of Harry Watts and Jane Watts nee Gregory of Sheffield.
Next of kin; Mr Watts, Firth Park Hotel, 127 Page Road, Sheffield; also to be informed; Miss Little, The Beeches Lowdham, Nottinghamshire
Sgt. Tom Ellis Exell - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial Panel 266
F/Sgt. Ralph Isaac Ploskin - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial Panel 250
Sgt. Percival Cockington - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial Panel 266
Sgt. Alan Edwin Watts - Having no known grave he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial Panel 262
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the members of this crew - February 2016