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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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601 Squadron Spitfire Vb ER972 P/O. William George Sweney

Operation: Scramble

Date: 07th April 1943 (Wednesday)

Unit: No. 601 Squadron (The Millionaires' Squadron (1) 244 Wing. 211 Group. Northwest African Tactical Air Force

Type: Spitfire Vb

Serial: ER972

Code: UF-?

Base: RAF Gabès Main, Tunisia

Location: Gulf of Gabes, Tunisia

Pilot: P/O. William George Sweney NZ/411001 RNZAF Age 23. Missing - believed killed


Axis troops began to retreat from the Wadi Akarit and the British entered Mezzouna. 1st Army at this point opened a new offensive in an effort to join up with the spearheads of the 8th advancing from the south. During the day a patrol from US II Corps driving eastwards from Gafsa, met the armoured cars of 12th Lancers from 8th Army's 1st Armoured Division. After dark the 1st Army's IX Corps was to attack the Fondouk Pass. 128th Brigade captured Pichon almost at once, but the US 34th Division was repelled when attempting to take the Djebel Aoureb.

Spitfires of 601 Squadron were also in the air early, escorting an air-sea rescue Walrus amphibian searching for a downed pilot. At 07:25 hrs four Polish-flown Spitfires of 145 Squadron took off to relieve them, but failed initially to find them.

A warning call of 'bandits' near Kneiss Island was then received and here the Poles saw five Bf 109s engaged with the 601 Squadron Spitfires. One Spitfire had a Messerschmitt on its tail and Sq/Ldr. Stanisław Skalski dived on this, causing it to break away. W/O. Bronisław Malinowski gave chase to this aircraft which he reported went vertically into the sea.

A little later at 07:40 hrs ten more 601 Squadron aircraft were scrambled to intercept a formation of bombers near Skhira, but here the squadron became involved with the Bf 109 escort.

F/O. Sewell attacked one Messerschmitt from astern and saw glycol and oil spurt out before he had to break away. He evaded a fighter which attempted to attack him and fired at another from above, reporting that this went spinning down and burst into flames as it hit the ground.

Meanwhile Fl/Lt. John Hamilton Nicholls DFC, flying Spitfire KP980 attacked a Ju 88, believed to be an aircraft of II./KG 30, from astern, his first burst setting the port engine on fire, the second doing the same to the starboard engine following which the bomber went down and was seen to hit the ground.

Another Messerschmitt was then observed firing at a Spitfire from close astern and hit it with several strikes. The pilot was not seen to take evasive action and the aircraft rolled onto its back, pouring glycol, and went down straight into the Gulf of Gabes, two miles off the coast south-east of Skhira the pilot, P/O. Sweney, being killed.

It is possible that he was shot down by Lt. Armin Köhler (shown left) of II./JG 77, but his claim was not confirmed. (Kracker Archive)

(1) The Squadron was initially known as 'the millionaires squadron' a name-tag gained because of a reputation for filling their ranks with the very 'well-heeled'. Most of these affluent young pilots had little regard for the rigid discipline of the regular service, they lined their uniform tunics with bright red silk and wore blue ties rather than the regulation black. They played polo on brand-new Brough Superior motor cycles, drove fast sports cars (the squadron car park was said to resemble a Concours d'Elegance) and most of the pilots owned their own private aircraft).

The other nine pilots taking part in this scramble:

Spitfire KP980 Flown by Fl/Lt. Nicholls DFC landed at 08:20 hrs. Spitfire ER556 Sgt. M. Pashen landed at 08:20 hrs. Spitfire ER586 W/O. W.D Gwynn landed at 08:20 hrs. Spitfire ER341 W/O. F.D Schofield landed at 08:15 hrs. Spitfire ER303 Fl/Sgt. P.F Griffiths landed at 08:20 hrs. Spitfire ER220 F/O. W.R.P Sewell landed at 08:10 hrs. ER153 Sgt. E.H Moore landed at 08:15 hrs.. ER313 P/O. K.J Lusty landed at 08:20 hrs. Spitfire ER502 W/O. D.C Gordon landed at 08:20 hrs.
Seven from the squadron took off again on another scramble in the same area at 13:05 hrs, all returned safely at 14.05 hrs with no incidents reported. Eight aircraft took off at 18:00 hrs. to escort 'Tank Busters' and patrol the area, all returned safely, landing at 18:50 hrs. No incidents reported although large fires were observed left by the 'Tank Busters'.

Burial and personal details:

P/O. William George Sweney. Alamein Memorial. Column 277. Born on the 23rd April 1919 in Hokitika. Educated at Hokitika High School and Christchurch Boys High School. A draughtsman for the Land and Survey Department in Wellington. Enlisted at Levin as a pilot under training on the 09th February 1941. With No. 3 Elementary Flying Training School on the 24th March 1941, quickly having his first solo on the 01st April 1941!

Embarked for Canada on the 26th May 1941. With No. 10 Service Flying Training School on the 16th June 1941. Awarded his pilot badge and promoted to sergeant on the 01st September 1941. Embarked for England on the 18th September 1941. With No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre on the 28th September 1941.

With 58 Operational Training Unit for training on the Spitfire on the 06th October 1941. Joined 501 squadron on the 25th November 1941 and carried out 11 operational sorties. Joined 134 squadron on the 20th March 1942 flying the Hurricane. With the squadron by sea to Egypt in around April/June 1942.

Joined 213 squadron flying the Hurricane on the 28th August 1942 flying 25 operational sorties. Joined 601 squadron on the 01st December 1942 and carried out a further 44 operational sorties. Awarded his commission on the 21st January 1943. A total of 365 flying hours logged and 80 operational sorties completed.

Son of Herbert William Reid Sweney (died 09th September 1951, age 72) and Lilian Sweney (died 22nd January 1980, age 96), of Hokitika, Westland, New Zealand.. His brothers, Merle, Jack, Fred, Norris Alfred (died 29th July 2010, age 85), Harry and Ray Sweney, and his sisters, Lily McGeorge, Myrtle Chinn and Thora Ellen Chinn (died 06th May 2016, age 99).

Above: Short film of 601 Squadron in Tunisia (no sound)

Letters home from Bill: (Courtesy Liz Hay and family)

Typed letter (presumably a carbon copy, or typed out later, on very light paper, similar to greaseproof luncheon paper)

Wednesday 7th July
Transit Camp
Middle East

'We have been in Egypt about a month now, but as we have nothing to do and one day seems, and is the same as the next, I have lost all track of days and dates. When we first arrived we spent about a week in camp where we were initiated to the heat, sand and flies. Later we went up near Cairo and after spending over a fortnight there, we are now back not far from our first place. The heat so far has not got me down, and is not yet as bad as I expected. The sand is most unpleasant and the flies worse. However after being on a British troopship I can put up with quite a lot. At least the air is fresh.

We only got ashore once on the trip out and that was at Durban which is a really nice place, very modern and pleasing to the eye after England’s drab towns. There was plenty of fruit and sunshine. We were there nearly a week then came up north.

When we got up near Cairo we were not very far from a NZ hospital where I found one chap I knew (censored).

Since I started this we have moved to another camp near (censored). again. We seem to average about one camp a week, it is as bad as boarding in Wellington. It takes quite a time to find anything to write about here, as if I said what I would like the powers that be would take a poor view of my criticisms. However, they may be recorded elsewhere. There will be a lot of dirty washing done at the finish of this business.

During the present activity we have been more or less overlooked and our sleep only disturbed by two visits from the Hun. We did not see or hear anything of him, but our own Ack-Ack made plenty of noise to compensate for that! The first time we had a Bofers gun just near our tent and we received full benefit when it opened up in the early hours.

Above: Merle and a much younger Bill tramping - unknown location. (Courtesy Liz Hay and family)

At our last camp before this we were near the (censored) and managed to get in some swimming. We had about 5 miles to go but as there was quite a lot of traffic we could always manage to get a lift. The water was very salty and made your eyes and nose sting. However if you could raise the energy, it was worth going. Now we are not so fortunate and have to go through town to find decent baths.

The New Zealand Club is very good here(censored) and is exceedingly popular with the troops and so is always crowded. You can get almost anything you need there and the food and service the best.

This time I have met many of our Air Force lads who have got out of England. Nearly all the survivors of our original course are over here. I met some Army lads from the West Coast Regiment and as they had just come in from the desert they were able to give me some news of chaps I knew (censored).

During the day the flies and the sweat make it difficult to write but tonight it is not so bad so I am getting this finished at last. Now I have got started again I hope to write more often, but that is no guarantee. Most of the lads find there is so little to say that they send cables frequently(censored).

When we start on the job again it will be quite strange and I will most likely have to do some dual again as it is now three months since I last flew. No doubt we will get plenty when we do start. Meantime we just have to sit and wait with the others.

I am slowly acquiring a tan and have lost one coat of skin. The sun is tough on my hide and I have to do it gently. Apart from being very lazy these days I am well but not as fit as I would like to be. Some more swimming will put me in shape though (censored)'.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot, thanks to the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, New Zealand Cenotaph, Weekly News of New Zealand, Air Museum of New Zealand, Museum of Transport and Technology, Kracker Archive, Auckland, Christopher Shores 'Mediterranean Air War', The National Archives 'Air-27-2078/9, also to Liz Hay and family - relatives of the pilot, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 28-09-2022

KTY 02-10-2022 Addition of letters

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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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I’m blown away by this page, and by the efforts that have gone into creating it. It was humbling and enlightening to read and answered a lot of questions. My only regret is that my parents, Fred and Audrey Sweney, and Bill’s siblings have now all died. It was a long time before Dad (who was the closest of his brothers to Bill) got any idea as to what had happened. All they knew for some time was that he was missing, believed killed. The research on the webpage coheres with what my Dad was told later, and fills out the details.

However I am very pleased to be able to forward this webpage on to the next generation, some of whom are now in their 80s, and to a younger cousin, Rob, who has taken a particular interest in Bill’s story.

I am very, very grateful for all the research that has been done.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them. - Laurence Binyon
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Last Modified: 02 October 2022, 12:15

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