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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.
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159 Squadron
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

Code: ?

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)


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.

Burial Details

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.Grave inscription: “UNTIL THE DAY DAWN”. Son of the Revd. George Phillip and Elvy Grace Birk, of Croydon, New South Wales, Australia.

The family tragically also lost another son, his brother Flt Sgt. Doric Phillip Birk was killed on the 15th June, 1943. Flying with 460 Squadron on Lancaster III LM324 AB:O, piloted by 31 year old Fg Off. William J. Dennett 413178 RAAF. From Bondi Beach, NSW, Australia - all 7 crew lost.

A third brother, Vivian, served in the Army and survived the war.

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 Next of Kin details for Flt Sgt .Hodge (Apr 2021).

Other sources listed below:

RS 08.04.2021 - Addition of Next of Kin details for Flt Sgt Hodge.

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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', Archiwum - Polish Air Force Archive (on this site), Anna Krzystek, Tadeusz Krzystek - 'Polskie Siły Powietrzne w Wielkiej Brytanii', Franek Grabowski, Norman L.R. Franks 'Fighter Command Losses', Stan D. Bishop, John A. Hey MBE, Gerrie Franken and Maco Cillessen - Losses of the US 8th and 9th Air Forces, Vols 1-6, Dr. Theo E.W. Boiton - Nachtjagd Combat Archives, Vols 1-13. 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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