28.11.1941 No. 11 Squadron Blenheim IV L1317 Lt. S. Patterson
Operation: Army Co-operation
Date: 28 November 1941 (Friday)
Unit: No. 11 Squadron - Motto: Ociores acrioresque aquilis - ('Swifter and keener than eagles')
Badge: Two eagles volant in pale - approved by King George VI in May 1937. The badge commemorates the unit's First World War operation of two-seater fighter-reconnaissance aircraft, eagles being chosen to symbolise speed and strength
Type: Bristol Blenheim IV
Code: Not known
Base: Landing Ground 76, Bir el Malla, (30 miles south of Sidi Barrani), Egypt
Location: Near Tobruk-Bardiyah Road, 13km east of Gambut, Libya.
Crew of No. 11 Squadron Blenheim L1317
Pilot: Lt. S. Patterson 47847 SAAF - PoW (details not known) (1)
Observer: P/O. Geoffrey Shuttleworth Burgan Aus/407284 RAAF Age 24 - PoW (Escaped and returned to his squadron) (2)
W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. James Frederick Morgan (Jim) Bennett Aus/404195 RAAF Age 23 - PoW No.80031 Camp: Stalag Görlitz - 8A (3)
Crew of No. 11 Squadron Blenheim Z5906
Pilot: Fl/Lt. John Pringle-Wood 81019 RAFVR PoW. No. 3089 Camp: Stalag Luft Sagan and Belaria - L3 (4)
Obs: Sgt. N.R. Powell 751672 RAFVR - PoW (Details not known) (5)
W/Op: Sgt. B.P. Collins 629665 RAF - PoW (Details not known) (6)
Pilot of No. 1 SAAF Squadron Hurricane Z4065
Capt. Hendrik Christoffel Weideman Liebenberg 102706V SAAF - PoW (Escaped and returned to his squadron) (7)
We appeal to anyone with further information and/or photographs to please contact us via the HELPDESK
REASON FOR LOSS:
Took off from Landing Ground 76 at 07:40 one of 9 Blenheims detailed to attack German armour on the Tobruk-Bardiyah Road.
Attacking the armoured column one of the Blenheims, Z5906 piloted by Fl/Lt. John Pringle-Wood was brought down by ground fire and crashed near the Tobruk-Bardia Road. The downed crewmen evacuated their aircraft expecting to be taken prisoner by the enemy but Lieutenant S. Patterson the South African captain of Blenheim L1317 on seeing their plight had other ideas. In a most daring and courageous manoeuvre he landed his aircraft near the downed Blenheim, in the middle of the ground battle and in close proximity to the enemy positions. The three downed crewmen now became four as they were joined by another South African, fighter pilot Captain Hendrik Liebenberg who's Hurricane Z4065 had also been shot down and all four men raced forward and quickly scrambled aboard. Lieutenant Patterson wasted no time in getting airborne but just when he was beginning to think they had got away with it his aircraft was shot down* and crashed 150 metres from a German encampment near to the road and 15km east of Gambut; the crew of Blenheim Z5906 now having achieved the dubious distinction of being shot down twice in the same day.
* Bomber Command Losses in the Middle East and Mediterranean by David Gunby and Pelham Temple records that the aircraft was shot down "by a Bf109 fighter which had seen the Blenheim take off..."
Correspondence in the National Archives of Australia (NAA: A705, 166/5/809) however, records that according to P/O. Burgan the aircraft was shot down by Ack-Ack.
Scale: 1" = 20 miles
All seven airmen miraculously survived the crash, the only injury being to Sergeant Bennett who having sustained a foot injury was also trapped. He was freed but all seven men were captured by the Germans and henceforth were to enjoy mixed fortunes.
Australian Geoffrey Burgan escaped during his first night of captivity and after an 80 mile trek across the desert finally made it back to base at LG 76 on 4 December. In recognition of his feat he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 7 April 1942 (London Gazette 7 April 1942. The citation reads:
"This officer has shown outstanding ability and keenness during campaign in the Western Desert. On one occasion he was shot down and taken prisoner but displaying great daring and initiative succeeded in escaping and returned to [his] unit with much valuable information. Whether in air or on ground he has displayed tireless and efficient organising capacity."
The News (Adelaide) of 8 April 1942 whilst reporting the award of his DFC added the following further details of his exploits as revealed in letters to his parents.
"After escaping from his Nazi captors in Libya, Pilot Officer Burgan returned and took the tent in which he was held captive, and an Italian lorry. After the Germans had been pushed back across the Cyrenaica he returned to the scene with others and found the tent intact. He retrieved letters and documents which had been buried for safe-keeping. When the party found an abandoned Italian lorry, Pilot Officer Burgan repaired it and drove it to the base. Next day he used it to return and pick up the tent. It sheltered the party in one of the worst dust storms in the desert a few days later".
Somewhat ironically, Geoffrey Burgan was killed the day after the newspaper was published (see his biography below).
Sergeant Collins escaped from Campo 59 Servigliano, Ascoli Piceno on 14 September 1943 when Italy capitulated and eventually rejoined allied forces.
South African fighter pilot Captain Liebenberg escaped from a train taking him to Germany in late 1943 and after reaching Allied lines in early 1944, returned to his squadron.
Sgt. Bennett was also taken as a prisoner of war to Italy but it was more than eight months before his whereabouts were known. In July 1942 his mother received a postcard (dated 20 March 1942) in which he says "after being shifted about between Greece and Crete for three months he had just reached Italy and was in a transit camp" and on 29 July it was communicated that the address of the transit camp was Campo 65 PM3450 Gravina-Altamura, Bari but again no prisoner number was given.
On 1 May 1943 he was promoted to Flight Sergeant.
Notification was received the following year that he had been transferred to Camp 52 PM3100 at Chiavari, Genoa on 28 May 1943. In November 1943 he was taken to Stalag VIIIA in Germany and now had the PoW number 80031. In March 1944 he was again transferred, this time to Stalag 344. On 1 May 1944 he was promoted to Warrant Officer.
But on 19 April 1945 his mother received the heart-breaking news that her son had lost his life during an aerial bombardment on 19 February 1945.
It was six months later on 1 August that Mrs Bennett learned of the circumstances surrounding her son's death. RAF Warrant Officer 1010561 Hall, having recently returned to the UK, had been interrogated regarding Jim Bennett's death and he had reported that a number of prisoners were being transported by train to Stalag XIB when they were attacked by Mosquito aircraft at Halberstadt. The train was carrying 900 sick PoWs in cattle trucks with no Hospital or Red Cross markings.
Sixteen men including Jim Bennett had lost their lives in the attack.
Another statement from 915230 W/O. M.J. Jenkins (below) corroborates that given by W/O. Hall as well as including further information about the cause of death of Jim Bennett.
The statement by W/O. Jenkins (left) and an extract from W/O. Hall's statement (right) concerning the circumstances of the death of W/O. Jim Bennett.
BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS OF THE CREWS
The crew of No. 11 Squadron Blenheim L1317
(1) Lt. S Patterson - Nothing further known, can you help?
(2) F/O. Geoffrey Shuttleworth Burgan DFC was born on 7 July 1916 at McLaren Flat, South Australia the son of Charles and Mary Carolene Burgan later of 22 Coombe Street, Allenby Gardens Adelaide, South Australia.
When he enlisted as an airman at Adelaide on 17 August 1940 he was described as 5'11" tall, weighing 161 lbs with a dark fresh complexion, brown eyes and dark medium hair. He had been a General Vineyard and Farm worker, an Insurance Agent and recently a Transport Driver.
His service record reveals that he trained at No. 1 Initial Training School Somers, Victoria: No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School, Parafield, South Australia: No. 1 Air Observer School, Cootamundra, New South Wales: No. 1 Bombing and Gunnery School at Evans Head, New South Wales and No. 1 Air Navigation School, Parkes, New South Wales.
He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 6 June 1941.
He embarked for Overseas Service on 27 June 1941 disembarking at Egypt on 31 July and was immediately posted to 37 Squadron.
On 3 August he was posted to No 70 Operational Training Unit and to 115 Squadron on 16 October. On 6 December 1941 he was promoted to Flying Officer. He was posted to No. 11 Squadron on 10 March 1942.
A summary of his log book however records that he flew with No. 11 Squadron in the Middle East from 18 October 1941 until 25 February 1942. The squadron was then posted to Ratmalana, Ceylon where he commenced flying duties on 3 March 1942. The squadron relocated to Columbo Race Course on 2 April 1942.
On 9 April 1942 he was the Navigator of Blenhein IV Z7896 which was one of a formation of 4 Blenheims on a mission from Ceylon to attack a Japanese invasion fleet, 175 miles east of Trincomalee. None of the Blenheims returned and no further information was ever obtained.
Flying Officer Geoffrey Shuttleworth Burgan is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial Column 421.
The Singapore Memorial at Kranji War Cemetery (left) commemorates 24313 casualties of the Commonwealth land and air forces who have no known grave
(3) Sgt.James Frederick Morgan (Jim) Bennett was born on 18 January 1918 at Oakey, near Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia the son of James Frederick William and Gladys Morgan Bennett later of Beechcroft, New South Wales, Australia. He enlisted at Brisbane 21 June 1940. He is buried at the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery - Grave 6-C-27
The crew of No. 11 Squadron Blenheim Z5906
(4) Fl/Lt. J. Pringle-Wood was from Southern Rhodesia. He was granted a commission as a Pilot Officer on probation for the duration of hostilities on 26 May 1940 (London Gazette 27 August 1940). He was confirmed in the appointment and promoted to Flying Officer (war subs) on 26 May 1941 (London Gazette 25 July 1941)
(5) Sgt. N.R. Powell - Mentioned in Despatches announced in the King's Birthday Honours of 1945. Nothing further known- can you help?
(6) Sgt. B.P. Collins - Mentioned in Despatches announced in the King's Birthday Honours of 1945. Nothing further known- can you help?
The Hurricane pilot
(7) Capt. Hendrik Christoffel Weideman Liebenberg was born c1918 probably in South Africa. He was killed on 17 April 1947 aged 29 whilst flying as a passenger in Lockheed PV-1 Ventura 6501 JS-P when the aircraft crashed at 19:30 hours, sixty miles South West of Khartoum in the Sudan. The aircraft was on a flight from Pretoria to Cairo taking ferry pilots to Cairo to collect Spitfire aircraft that were to be flown back to South Africa. There were no survivors. All the passengers and crew were originally buried in a communal grave at Shugeig in the Sudan but on 7 February 1949, the bodies were relocated to the Khartoum War Cemetery where permanent maintenance could be assured.
They now rest in the Khartoum War Cemetery, Sudan - Plot 5. Row C. Collective Grave 10
The crew of Lockheed PV-1 Ventura 6501 JS-P and passengers were:
Pilot: Major Frederick Welgemoed DFC & Bar P/5843
Co-Pilot: Lieutenant Hermanus Gerhardus van Rooyen 15154
Flight Eng: Air Mechanic Petrus Andries Burger 7985
W/Op: Air Corporal Leslie Donovan Case 8777
AIRCRAFT PASSENGERS (all Pilots)
Major Andrew Christian Bosman DSO DFC P/102696
Lieutenant Ronald Leslie Crisp P/853
Lieutenant Jacobus Stephanus Gericke 103937V
Lieutenant Robert Cecil Hirst 103518V
Lieutenant Hermanus Johannes Kritzinger DFC 328642V
Lieutenant John Jurie Landman 206572
Captain Hendrik Christoffel Weideman Liebenberg 102706V
Lieutenant Peter David Nelson 542996
Lieutenant Peter Nicolay DFC 103538
Lieutenant Norman Peter Prinsloo DFC 206113V
Captain Trevor Richard John Taylor DSO DFC 103704
Researched by Aircrew Remembered researcher Roy Wilcock for all the relatives and friends of the crews - April 2016
With thanks to the sources quoted below.