15.07.1942 159 Squadron Liberator B.II AL566, Plt Off. John Campbell Pottie
Operation: Benghazi, Libya
Date: 15th July 1942 (Wednesday)
Unit No: 159 Squadron (Middle East Detachment)
Type: Liberator B.II
Serial No: AL566
Location: Benghazi, Libya
Base: RAF St. Jean, Palestine
Pilot: Plt Off. John Campbell Pottie 402134 RAAF Age 30. KiA
Co Pilot: Flt Sgt. Hilary (Larry) Eldred Birk MiD 402634 RAAF Age 20. KiA
Observer: WO William Stevenson Miller 521648 RAF Age 27. KiA
Wireless Operator: Plt Off. Henry Leisk 402036 RAAF Age 27. KiA
Wireless Operator: Plt Off. George Gilmour Mallaby 402092 RAAF Age 20. KiA
Air Gunner: Flt Sgt. Martin Costin Fell MiD 402118 RNZAF Age 30. KiA
Air Gunner: Flt Sgt. John Stephen Arthur Hodge 812278 RAuxAF Age 30 KiA
Group portrait of five RAAF servicemen, probably of No 159 Squadron. L to R: Geoff ?, Plt Off. John Campbell Pottie, Ken ?, Plt Off. Henry (Bluey) Leisk, Jock ? (Credit: Australian War memorial)
Informal portrait of four RAAF servicemen outside the Fish Hotel, Tel Aviv. L to R: Flt Sgt. (later Plt Off.) George Mallaby, Fg Off. Roger Phillip Barker 402483 (killed on operations 12 August 1942, 461 Squadron RAAF), Jock Ritchie ?, 2nd Pilot Geoff Hall ? (Credit: Australian War memorial)
Liberator B.II AL579 of 159 Squadron RAF waits on the ground at Fayid Egypt. (Credit: www.worldwarphotos)
REASON FOR LOSS:
On the 15th July 1942 AL566 and five other Liberators took off from RAF St. Jean in Palestine to attack the harbor and shipping in Benghazi harbour.
A report by Sqn Ldr. J. Leighton Beck (flew with 99 Sqn at the same time as Flt Sgt. Birk) of 159 Squadron described how he was leading two formations of three aircraft each on an operational sortie to Benghazi. Aircraft AL556 was flying on his aircraft’s port side, AL544, in the #3 position in the leading formation.
The leading formation encountered heavy and accurate flak over the target and just after the formation dropped their bombs AL556 was seen by Sqn Ldr. Beck’s rear gunner to fall out of formation and lose height. Immediately after this a fighter which was circling in the vicinity dived toward AL556, which made a steep turn to port away from the formation. The two aircraft circled each other for a short time and then AL556 was seen to spiral into the sea.
In Sqn Ldr. Beck’s opinion and of those in his crew who witnessed the event unfolding, it was felt that AL556 was hit by flak, after or during the bombing (his own aircraft was hit in 9 places) which caused it to fall out of formation, and in endeavouring to avoid the fighter, by violent evasive action of steep turns, must have stalled thereby causing the aircraft to enter a spin. None of Sqn Ldr. Beck’s gunners saw the fighter actually fire its guns at AL556.
None of the crew survived the crash. Sgt. Birk’s body was recovered from the sea and is buried in Benghazi War Cemetery; the others are commemorated on the Alamein Memorial.
Plt Off. John Campbell Pottie. Alamein Memorial Column 265. Born on the 10th June 1912. Son of Herbert Allan Pottie and Ethel Brenda Pottie; husband of Norma Beatrice Pottie, of South Yarra, Victoria, Australia.
Above: Flt Sgt. Birk
Flt Sgt. Hilary Eldred Birk. Benghazi War Cemetery 6.E.20. Born on the 31st January 1922. Inscription: “Until the Day Dawn”. Son of the Revd. George Phillip and Elvy Grace Birk, of Croydon, New South Wales, Australia.
WO William Stevenson Miller. Alamein Memorial Column 249. Son of John and Margaret Miller, of Limavady, Co. Derry, Northern Ireland; husband of Christina Miller, of Perth
Plt Off. Henry Leisk. Alamein Memorial Column 265. Born on the 30th October 1914. Son of William and Jane Tait Leisk; husband of Hazel Mavis Leisk, of Merrylands, New South Wales, Australia
Plt Off. George Gilmour Mallaby. Alamein Memorial Column 265. Born on the 21st July 1921. Son of George and Phoebe Vera Mallaby, of West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia.
Flt Sgt. Martin Costin Fell MiD. Alamein Memorial Column 265. Son of Robert Edmund and Edith Ethel Fell, of Hamilton East, Auckland, New Zealand
Flt Sgt. John Stephen Arthur Hodge. Alamein Memorial Column 249. Born in Apr 1912 in Sevenoaks, Kent. Son Harry and Emily (née Drury) Hodge. Husband to Kathleen Pricilla (née Ford) Hodge of Ditton near Maidstone, Kent, England.
Researched by Ralph Snape for Aircrew Remembered and dedicated to the relatives of this crew (Feb 2019). Inclusion of link to Flt Sgt. Birk's evasion report (Mar 2019). Addition of NoK details for Flt Sgt Hodge (Apr 2021).
Other sources listed below: