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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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40 crest
12/13th July 1942 40 Squadron Wellington IC HX373 Sq/Ldr. Steel

Operation: Tobruk

Date: 12/13th July 1942 (Sunday/Monday)

Unit: No. 40 Squadron (motto: Hostem acolo expellere - 'To drive the enemy from the sky') 238 Wing. 205 Group.

Type: Wellington IC

Serial: HX373

Code: N

Base: LG 213. Kabrit, Egypt

Location: Qattara Depression, Egypt

Pilot: Sq/Ldr. Freeman Jesse Steel NZ/391370 RNZAF Survived (Later DFC)

Pilot: F/O. Kenneth Randal Holmes NZ/411898 RNZAF Survived

Pilot: F/O. Donald Arthur Adams NZ/41859 RNZAF Survived (Later MiD)

Obs: P/O. R. Sharp RAFVR

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. A. Aldersey RAFVR

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Sgt. G. Herford RAFVR

Air/Gnr: P/O. E. Procter RAFVR


Taking off to bomb the harbour at Tobruk.

However, due to the compass becoming unserviceable they failed to find the target so attempted to return to Shaluta base.

When they finally ran out of fuel due to the compass issue that were forced to crash land the Wellington on the salt pans of the Qattara Depression - all the crew survived this incident.

Sq/Ldr. Steel and P/O. Adams left the remainder of the crew at the crash site to seek assistance. Wellington HX373 was spotted by a recbonnasaince aircraft and the crew rescued.

Sq/Ldr. Steel and P/O. Adams assisted by Arabs walked for three days before being spotted an an Arab encampment at El Magra.

A 40 Squadron Wellington landed in the desert and rescued the two New Zealanders.

Sq/Ldr. Freeman Jesse Steel Born on the 7th July 1918 at Masterton, Wairarapa. Joined the RNZAF on the 20th November 1939. After war ended became a founding member of the Civil Aviation Authority from which he retired in 1977. He passed away on Monday the 12th July 2004 in Wellington, aged 86

Note; The publication by David Gunby 'Sweeping The Skies' covers this incident and much more on 40 Squadron. ISBN 978-1858211909. Published by The Pentland Press 1995.

Burial details:

None - all survived this incident.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of crew with thanks to Tracey Michele Steel and to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Weekly News of New Zealand, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 23-01-2021

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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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