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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
Further data available at Allied Losses & Incidents database

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252 Squadron crest
06.12.1942 252 Squadron Beaufighter VIc T5045 Flt.Lt. Albert D. Frecker

Operation: Strafing runs, Sirte, North Africa.

Date: 6th December 1942 (Sunday)

Unit: 252 Squadron

Type: Beaufighter VIc

Serial: T5045

Code: BT:F

Location: Desert, near Tamet, North Africa

Pilot: Flt.Lt. Albert Derek Frecker 62647 RAFVR. Survived (1)

Nav: Plt.Off. Thomas "Tom" Armstrong 134035 RAFVR. Survived (2)

Passenger: Sgt. Paddy Clark. Survived

REASON FOR LOSS:

Two pairs of Beaufighters took off from Berka, near Bengahazi to strafe the coast road in the region of Sirte. The first Beaufighter ditched 3 miles from the coast. Wg.Cdr. Peter Hugh Bragg (37151) survived and became a PoW at an unknown camp but his navigator Fg.Off. Eric George Nichols (116960) lost his life and is remembered at the Alamein Memorial on Column 248.

They had been strafing a radio station and were about to attack an enemy airfield at Tamet when they were hit in the nose by flak. They crash landed in the desert abut 20-30 miles away. The starboard engine was put out of action and the air cooler was smashed. They were carrying a passenger Paddy Clark, who was the crews mechanic and he had persuaded the CO to let him fly on this sortie. All three were unharmed but they were behind enemy lines with very little rations.

They took a can of water, half tin of bully beef, some sardines and began the long walk towards Allied lines. During the walk they watched Italian soldiers mining the coast road. Hiding from enemy transport whenever they came near and huddling together in parachute silk during the freezing nights.

Seven days later they met up with some Senussi Arabs who gave them food, water and shelter. Fifteen days after the aircraft crashed they were rescued by an armoured car of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards who rewarded the Arabs for their work in providing assistance.

Tom Armstrong (left) Derek Frecker looking remarkably cheerful after their Beaufighter had crashed behind enemy lines. This photograph was taken by their passenger Paddy Clark. (photo courtesy of Andrew Deacon)

Plt.Off. Armstrong had a lucky escape on an earlier occasion when he was wounded after being attacked by Macchi fighters on the 28th July 1941 - he then contracted a fever whilst in hospital but recovered some time later to join 216 Squadron flying DH86B's (Large version of Dragon Rapide) as transport. He then managed to rejoin 252 Squadron after a few months.

"Rosolino Pilo" 8,326 Tons on fire after the Beaufighter attacks.(photo courtesy of Roger Hayward)

On the 17th August 1942 Sq/Ldr Frecker attacked the Merchant ship "Rosolino Pilo" as a part of a group of nineteen planes: six Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers of 86th Squadron, escorted by five Beaufighters and eight Supermarine Spitfire of Squadrons 235 and 252.

Left: Flt.Lt. Frecker after his Flying Boot presentation. (courtesy Andrew Deacon)

Part of the Beaufighters and Spitfires drove off the air cover of the convoy - several Junkers Ju 88 - and the others strafed all three ships, while the Beauforts dropped their torpedoes from port astern of the convoy - the two destroyers were both ahead of Pilo, Maestrale on port side and Gioberti on starboard side, for ASW escort and protection against attacks coming from that direction, and indeed the escort leader later criticized the lack of a third destroyer, which should have been positioned astern of the Pilo - and one of them hit the Pilo.

In addition to the 112 vehicles and 101 soldiers, the ship was also carrying 17 cannons, three motor boats and 3439 tons of materiel. There was only one casualty among her crew and troops aboard (not known if it was caused by the strafing, or by the torpedo hit - extra information courtesy Lorenzo Colombo). Bound for Tripoli being escorted by the destroyers Maestrale and Gioberti. Both of these were also attacked and damaged but the destroyer Gioberti more so, with fires braking out.

The destroyers were ordered to make for Trapani in Sicily with the German personnel. At sunset the crew of the "Rosolino Pilo" took to the lifeboats and escaped before the submarine "HMS United" which had surfaced, fired a torpedo at such a close range that her own hull was damaged by debris. The "Rosolino Pilo" sank shortly afterwards.

The attack on the train by 252 Squadron and 15 Squadron - reported as totally destroyed. (photo courtesy of Armstrong DFC)

On the 9th October 1942 Flt.Lt. Frecker and Plt.Off. Armstrong were on a sortie to attack an Axis forces train along with three Bisleys of 15 Squadron (SAAF) The target was huge with 26 carriages and was totally destroyed.

Bristol Blenheim V (Bisley) - same type as flown by 15 Squadron (SAAF) on the raid described above.

(1) Flt.Lt. Frecker was awarded a DFC whilst with 252 Sqn, gazetted on the 22nd January 1943. Flt.Lt. Frecker DFC, relinquished his commission under the provision of the Navy, Army and Air Force Reserve Act, 1954, and was granted permission to retain his rank of Sqn.Ldr. with effect from 27th September 1958, gazetted on the 31st October 1958.

(2) Plt.Off. Armstrong was awarded a DFC as a Flt.Lt. whilst with 235 Sqn, gazetted on the 19th January 1945. Citation reads: "As navigator Flight Lieutenant Armstrong has participated in many sorties, involving attacks on a variety of targets such as enemy airfields, road communications and shipping. On one occasion, early in his operational career, Flight Lieutenant Armstrong was wounded when his aircraft was attacked by enemy aircraft. Upon his recovery he soon resumed operational flying and participated in many successful missions. More recently, Flight Lieutenant Armstrong has taken part in several determined attacks on shipping and has set a fine example of skill, courage and devotion to duty "

Burial Details:

None - all crew and passenger survived.

Contacted by the son of Sqn.Ldr. Frecker, Andrew Deacon in December 2015 who kindly supplied photographs and additional information. With thanks also to Lorenzo Colombo for additional information. Roy Nesbit for also supplying information and the photographs - please contact us for information where you can purchase the 9 books he has written on Aviation History. Updated by Aircrew Remembered (Nov 2020).

RS 15.11.2020 - Updated narrative with new information

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling Archive Reports include: Bill Chorley - 'Bomber Command Losses Vols. 1-9, plus ongoing revisions', Dr. Theo E.W. Boiten and Mr. Roderick J. Mackenzie - 'Nightfighter War Diaries Vols. 1 and 2', Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt - 'Bomber Command War Diaries', Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Tom Kracker - Kracker Luftwaffe Archives, Michel Beckers, Major Fred Paradie (RCAF) and MWO François Dutil (RCAF) - Paradie Archive (on this site), Jean Schadskaje, Major Jack O'Connor USAF (Retd.), Robert Gretzyngier, Wojtek Matusiak, Waldemar Wójcik and Józef Zieliński - 'Ku Czci Połeglyçh Lotnikow 1939-1945', Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of CWGC, UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, New Zealand National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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