Library Reference Number: 102
Malta Memories with No. 283 Squadron, R.A.F.
Bob Locke's story lives up to the descriptive `Foreword' in the book "Well- You Wanted to Fly" written by Air Marshal Sir Christopher Coville, who stated that aircrew could find humour - even in the most serious situations. In this account, we have a glimpse of Bob's time spent in the `George Cross Island' of Malta:
"Strange as it may seem, several RAF Squadrons were never based in the United Kingdom; I found myself a member of such a Squadron, No.283. Formed in February 1943 at the Algiers seaplane base, life began for the squadron flying Air Sea Rescue missions, having been equipped with `Walrus' aircraft, two hangars and a slipway. The Commanding Officer did not arrive until 25th April 1943, and soon after this date, the squadron moved out to fly its amphibians from land bases. Air Sea Rescue operations were carried out across N. Africa.
By its very nature, Air Sea Rescue aircraft are based in the most likely areas where the greatest casualties are expected, and by August 1943, the squadron moved to Sicily to enable crews answer emergency calls from Allied aircraft operating over Italy from North African bases. Detachments were also sent to Sardinia and Italy, and in December, the squadron moved to Corsica to cover the sea areas off southern France and northern Italy. Major changes occurred again in March 1944, when 283 Squadron was equipped with Warwick aircraft, and one month later a move was made to Malta.
This is where I entered the realm of 283 Squadron, reporting at their base, Hal Far, Malta, on 16th December 1944. I was impressed by the friendly reception and the many different nationalities involved. New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Canadians - and one Maltese Air Gunner. I discovered whilst the main base was in Malta, we also had detachments in Sardinia, Algiers, Bone and South of France.
By the time I arrived in Malta, 283 was a `Warwick' Squadron with one Spitfire. Later in 1945, the Warwicks had their Rolls Royce `Vulture' engines replaced with Pratt & Whitneys, the latter pleasing some of the pilots. Our C.O. was Reg Crampton, a formidable Australian who was held in great respect both by ground and aircrews. Among the many incidents I recall while serving with 283, one potentially serious situation, had its humorous moments as well.
We had been called out to attempt the rescue of an Australian Spitfire Pilot, who had ditched his aircraft close to Sicily. This gave us the opportunity of trying out some 'Air-borne Lifeboats' which we had received, with the assurance that they were unsinkable. I was given the task of spotting the Pilot in distress and throwing out a smoke-float to mark his position in the sea. Unfortunately on this occasion, I was rather too accurate with my aim, and nearly clobbered him out of his dinghy. He was a rather quick-tempered man, and made his feelings abundantly clear by his animated arm gestures.
To make matters worse, other Warwicks had by now arrived on the scene to photograph and record the first use of the Air-borne Lifeboats for crew-training purposes. For us, it was indeed a grand sight to see several other parachutes glide very close - perhaps too close - to our bad-tempered Pilot. Suddenly to our horror, the Lifeboat we had dropped sank like a stone!! The ditched Pilot was subsequently rescued by an Air Sea Rescue Boat.
Back on dry land, this unfortunate man detailed what he was going to do to the Air Gunner who had nearly knocked him out of his dinghy with a smoke-float in the first place - that was me! Happily, before he could carry out any of those threats, we managed to involve him in a game of `Cardinal Puff.' Fortunately he did not understand the rules which resulted in him drinking a measure of beer every time he made a mistake. In no time at all, he was happy as a lark, and if I remember correctly slept well into the next day. Having adequately rested and calmed down, he proved to be a most delightful guy.
No.283 Squadron went on to operate an anti-submarine role as well as Air Sea Rescue duties, and detachments were sent to Greece, Italy and Libya. Our Motto was the Maltese Cross with the words "Be alert and on Guard." Our Squadron was disbanded in Malta on 31st March 1946, and the people there said that those who fought for the liberation of Malta will never be forgotten. The Anglican Cathedral in Valletta still displays the original RAF Ensign, holed by battle damage, that flew proudly at RAF Luqa during World War Two.
For my part, I wish to stress that whilst we had a serious job to do, the friendships enjoyed and the adventures we experienced, made up for any dangers involved. I still keep in contact with a few of the 283 Squadron guys who are still alive, and I feel it has been a privilege to have been part of No.283 Squadron, RAF."