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08 February 2023 Military Aviation » Royal Air Force Luqa » Major Exercises » 201 Sqd. 1937 Mediterranean Cruise  
 


Mediterranean cruise by 201 Squadron 15-27.01.37

        
 


The cruise was undertaken for training purposes only by four London I flying boats. Air Officer, Commanding-in-Chief, Coastal Command, Air Marshall P. B. Jourbert de la Ferte, K.C.B., C.M.G, D.S.O. accompanied the squadron except for the last stage of the cruise, Hourtin to Calshot.

The aircraft, in numerical order, were K5259, K5260, K5262, K5909, and all carried a compliment of six persons. A fifth aircraft, K5261, was held as a reserve aircraft.

Due to unfavourable weather on 14.01.37, the squadron departed a day later, and to maintain the schedule, their stay in Malta was reduced by a day.

Another delay was experienced when the detachment had to spend two days at Algiers, as opposed to the planned one, because K5260 was delayed in Malta with engine trouble. This was to prevent the crew of K5260 from approaching the Spanish Coast unaccompanied.

Further disruptions to the programme occurred with the Home Fleet arriving at Gibraltar later than expected due to heavy seas and gales were experienced in the English Channel. The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief therefore decided to cancel a planned exercise, and proceeded to Lisbon on the 23rd.

The cruise was considered excellent training for the crews, some of whom had little experience outside of England. Except for emergency situations, the itinerary was considered to be the maximum which could be completed comfortably in the time allowed. A cruise of this nature was considered to be fatiguing for the crew, as by the time they have finished refuelling and inspecting the aircraft by 20:00hrs, they have to be awake by 05:00hrs the following morning to ensure the schedule is adhered to.

Crews were instructed to take aerial photography, with a 14” lens, from outside territorial limits. Private cameras were to be declared, sealed if so required by Customs Authority, and not to be used over foreign territory and ports.

But from the results (approximately 100 photos taken), excellent though they may have been, revealed two rather alarming features, namely:-

That the majority of these were taken in defiance of the order that cameras when carried over foreign territories must be sealed;

That in spite of the statement that territorial limits must be respected, the photographs of Sardinia and Pantalleria were obviously taken from within 3 miles.

To quote from the report. “I agree therefore with the D.D.I. that Coastal Command should be instructed that flying boats on cruises in future must comply strictly with the regulations, though in the issuing of these instructions it will be as well to omit any references to this particular flight in view of the fact that the A.O.C. in C. accompanied it!

        
 


Itinerary

14th January. Departure had to be abandoned due to poor weather conditions, and without signs of improving.

15th January. The four aircraft departed on the first leg of the cruise, Calshot-Hourtin, the distance of 476 miles being covered in 5 hours and 50 minutes, at an average ground speed of 82 knots.

16th January. Hourtin-Berre, a distance of 317 miles was covered in 3 hours and 36 minutes at an average speed of 97 knots.

To quote from cruise report: “At all times, the French were helpful and willing, but there was always cause to feel apprehensive that their promises were made with only a partial understanding of what was required. The early morning calls which were arranged for the next morning did not, in fact, materialise, while the baggage disappeared and was next seen on a jetty some distance from the boats, unattended, a very short space of time before that scheduled for take-off. In extenuation, it perhaps ought to be stressed that it was a Sunday.”

17th January. Berre-Malta, a distance of 665 miles at an average ground speed of 102 knots (air speed 100 knots). On landing at Marsa Sirocco (today pronounced Marsaxlokk), aircraft K5259 and K5262 were found to have a broken valve spring.

18th January. A 20-hour inspection was carried out on all four flying boats.

19th January. Malta-Algiers, 595 miles, at an average ground speed of 80 knots. The starboard engine of K5260 couldn’t be started. To ensure arriving in daylight, the captain was advised to delay departure for the following day if he couldn’t be airborne before 10:30 hours.

For the remaining three aircraft, two of them experienced some difficulty getting airborne in the still air and slight swell conditions prevailing. K5259 had to make four attempts, and K5262 also experienced some difficulties.

20th January. In Malta, the starboard engine of K5260 started without any difficulties, no actual defects having been found. The crew departed for Algiers, landing there at around 15:00 hours.

(This engine would again refuse to start in Algiers, and again in the UK after the aircraft was brought ashore for a routine inspection. Having examined what could have prevented start-up such as carburettor, magneto, sparking plugs, ignition leads amongst others, as a last resort, the rubber joints between cylinders and induction chamber were replaced, which immediately solved the problem. It was suspected that an intermittent air leak had been preventing start-up.)

21st January. Algiers-Gibraltar a distance of 416 miles, average ground speed 90 knots. K5262 and K5909 were able to depart at 09:10 hours, but once again K5260 refused to start, K5259 keeping it company. Finally, whatever problem ailed it solved, K5260 was able to start up, and both aircraft departed at 10:15 hours, arriving safely at Gibraltar Harbour.

22nd January. A 40-hour inspection was carried out on all aircraft.

Due to delays in the arrival of the Home Fleet, caused by inclement weather in the English Channel, it was decided to cancel a night shadowing exercise, but a daylight reconnaissance would be carried by the aircraft on their way to Lisbon, following approval by the Air Ministry in London.

23rd January. Gibraltar-Lisbon, distance 300 miles, average ground speed 71 knots. But alighting on the Tarus Harbour had to be abandoned, with the tide ebbing at 6 knots, and a strong side wind blowing from the side, made taxying to the mooring bouys at the seaplane station at Belem dangerous and difficult. All flying boats anchored at the Canal de Barriero.

24th January. Lisbon. Some of the aircraft had sustained some damage, caused by the weather, which needed to be repaired. The main stumbling block appeared to be refuelling, a rather laborious process of towing out 50-gallon drums in a rowing-boat towed by a tug. Due to the small capacity of the boats, tide and weather, it took two days to refuel the aircraft.

25th January. Lisbon. All repairs completed, the aircraft ready for departure.

26th January. Lisbon-Hourtin. Distance 674 miles, average ground speed 94 knots. Following difficulties in weighing the anchors on K5259 and K5260, all four aircraft eventually departed Lisbon. All landed at Hourtin having experienced bad weather along the way.

27th January. Hourtin-Calshot. Distance 476 miles, average ground speed 84 knots.

        
 
        
 
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