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The customary ‘blue note’ of their Daimler Benz, fuel-injection engines, was transmitting its ominous message to the ground. It was a chilling spectacle. We flew those old Hurricanes against the hordes of 109Fs for a month before the first Spitfires began to filter through from the carriers. It was a daunting interlude and taught us what the pilots had been enduring day after day during the last few, tortuous months. Visions of another Crete began to unsettle our sleep. * * * There are, in my experience, several certain ways of getting to know a man as he really is.

30 pm that night two strike forces of twelve and nine Swordfish, carrying torpedoes, took off from the Illustrious, 180 miles south east of Taranto. Surprise was absolute, and for the loss of only two Swordfish, the battleship Cavour was torpedoed, later being beached and abandoned. The battleships Duilio and Littorio were seriously damaged. Two auxiliary ships were badly damaged, and two cruisers had taken a heavy list. 10 Information like that brought back by Warburton was invaluable before attacks were launched.

Woodhall, the outstanding fighter controller of the war. He had learnt the art the hard way – with Douglas Bader at Duxford and Tangmere during and just after the Battle of Britain. Woody, by his master-minding of the operations from the ground, took us by the hand in the air and set up the opportunities. David Douglas-Hamilton’s leadership – and, indeed, that of Stan Grant, my exceptional predecessor in 249 – was never seen to better purpose than during the great air battles of 9 and 10 May 1942.

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Afrikakorps


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