South African Military History Society


Last year's meeting on 9 November brought us the final part of Pat Wells' entertaining talks on his personal experiences in WW2, filling in spaces left open from his previous presentations.
He made Malta his starting point where he flew Hurricanes on a rotation basis, but, since there were more pilots than aircraft, left soon on 17.9.41 and travelled via Abu Qir to Cairo. Taking a train to Luxor, a river boat, to Wadi Halfa and again a train to Gordon's Tree, he arrived at the desolate training station for fighter pilots and aircraft for the Desert Airforce in North Africa.
Pat immediately began leading young, inexperienced pilots ferrying Mohawk 75 from Nairobi to Gordon's Tree, a job that not only required 25-30 hours of flying, but was made even more hazardous by the tendency of Tomahawk's engine bearings breaking down, leading to costly and time consuming recovery operations.
A few months later he was posted away to Takoradi in West Africa and, despite his seniority, continued ferrying planes across the South of the Sahara desert. The young pilots could not manage on their own, and so experienced pilots had to step in to lead as the planes were urgently required up north. As a sideline and, no doubt, to break the monotony of his existence and make some money to reduce his high mess bill, Pat ferried snakeskins to Cairo and sold them to Bazaar traders where they were in great demand.

From 1942/43 he served in No.73 Squadron equipped with Hurricanes for nightfighter duties. They undertook night intruder work on ships as well as ground targets, going as far afield as Pantelleria, and also attempted night sorties from Malta over Sicily and leaflet drops on enemy troops, but these proved too costly. In the summer of 1943 the squadron was equipped with Supermarine Spitfires which were used principally in the defence of naval installations, like Bizerta, and convoy patrols. During the Sicilian invasion their Hurricanes were sent out to destroy searchlights and protect their own gliders and paratroopers, though not very successfully.
When Italy deserted the Axis Rome-Berlin and threw in his lot with the Allies, the Spitfites escorted the surrendered Italian Fleet to Malta.
Pat then joined No.255 Squadron, equipped with Beaufighter Mk VIF's, with Mk 8 radar, based at Borizzo near Trapani on Sicily. He commented that the Beaufighter was a powerful aircraft with heavy armament, and a pleasure to fly. His Squadron provided cover over port installations including Taranto and troop positions. In passing, he spoke about what was probably the best kept secret of WW 2, i.e. the German bomber raid on the port of Bari in Italy. The bombs hit a tanker which exploded, setting off gas bombs and causing 17 other ships to be totally destroyed and 8 damaged. The casualty figure was extremely high, with thousands injured. The Squadron also covered Naples and Salerno and the allied landings at Anzio.

Eventually Pat was relocated to Algeciras, he had done his three years, and a long wait followed, until he managed to obtain a passage with a hospital ship to the U.K.
He stepped into a new world, an unknown officer severed from his unit and friends, wanting nothing more than to go home to South Africa. Instead he was detached to an instructor's course with the prospect of having to take a Mosquito nightfighter Squadron to the Far East.
Fortunately, the "Bomb" was dropped, peace came, and Pat was at last able to return home.
Thank you very much Pat for your most entertaining talks about a period which is still with those of us who lived through it and survived, not to glorify war bat to remember the old values which seem to fade fast.



9 November 2000

Sq Ldr Patrick Wells DSO will continue his talks about his personal experiences in WW 2

December 2000

In recess

18 January 2001

Please note that the first Society Evening will be on the THIRD THURSDAY OF JANUARY.
Talk by Cdr Les Sin RN (British Naval & Air Attache)
8 February 2001
The Angolan War
Talk by Stephen Fourie
8 March 2001
THE LONGEST RETREAT: The retreat from Burma, January to May 1942
Illustrated Talk by Lt Col "Dickie" Bullen MC (Middlesex Yeomanry), Member of the Burma Star Association
12 April 2001
Illustrated Talk by Rodney Constantine
10 May 2OOl
Illustrated Talk by Johan v.d. Berg

We will feature another Potpourrie-Evening of talks later this year. Any member wishing to be a 15-minute speaker is asked to contact our Chairman with his choice of topic.

Meetings are normally held on the 2nd Thursday of each month at 20h00 in the Recreation Hall of the SA LEGION'S ROSEDALE COMPLEX, Lower Nursery Road, Rosebank, (off Alma Road), opposite Rosebank Railway Station, below the line. Visitors are welcome, donations R 3.00, students and scholars free. Tea and biscuits will be served.

John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167

South African Military History Society /