No. 81 Squadron in Algieria

Spitfire Site

Here is one othe many official war corespondent photographs that documented the Allied landings in Morocco and Algieria. Initiated by the operation “Torch”, this ...

Here is one othe many official war corespondent photographs that documented the Allied landings in Morocco and Algieria. Initiated by the operation “Torch”, this campaign established a game-changing second front in Africa.

Characteristic of the time, the official narrative in an excercise in providing the news without giving away any information, which makes for an interesting study in rhetorics.

The RAF Take Over “At the Double” in North Africa.

The speed with wich the RAF went into action after their arrival at airfield in North Africa has been remarkable and profitable feature of the Allied offensive. From these airfields the RAF has not only protected Allied land and sea forces, but attack on the enemy troops, airfields, communications and bomber formations.

Picture taken at an advanced airfield in Algeria. Picture shows, Spitfires lined up ready for a sweep over enemy territory.

In sum, another interesting puzzle, let’s dive into it.

Establishing the particulars of a photograph is always much easier if one or more of the of depicted aircraft can yield some clues to their real identity. Fortunately, a close scrutiny of the nearest Spitfire in the photo happily reveals its serial number. It is EP650, a Spitfre Mk. Vb Trop. A lookup in its service roster tells us that this particular aircraft was at the time serving with No. 81 Squadron RAF.

As preparations for the Operation Torch gained momentum, No. 81 was diverted from its inteded deployment to Nortern Russia and instead sent onboard a convoy to Gibraltar. Upon arival it was re-equipped with Spitfires and maintained readiness while awaiting further orders.

8th November ,1942 was the first day of the landings in North Africa. Due to the lack of opposition on the ground, the American troops occupied the major air base at Maison Blanche already at 9 o’clock. No. 81 the squadron flew immediately ashore to this airfield, claiming to be the first squadron to land, closely followed by No. 43 Squadron on Hurricanes and No. 242 on Spitfires.

Together the three units formed No. 322 Wing RAF. Interestingly, No. 43 was at this time commanded by Sqn Ldr Michael Rook, who had been with No. 81 Squadron in Russia a year before. It was a happy reunion for the Russia veterans in an entirely new setting.

Already on the following day British pilots were involved in a mad melee to defend Maison Blanche airfield from raiding bombers. Over thirty Junkers Ju 88s were involved, and No. 81 claimed eleven of them destroyed, Curiously, the ‘Y’ Service confirmed that in fact, only three enemy aircraft returned to base, so the success, shared between No. 81 and 43 Squadron, felt even larger.

On 13th November, the squadron moved to Bone near the Tunisian border, newly captured from the Germans. Unfortunately, they were caught by the enemy bombers on the ground before they had become fully established, and suffered heavy casualties.

Due to a succesful German counteraction, the campaign in Tunisia soon became bogged down, and No. 81 Squadron saw both Christmas, and the New Year at Bone. By the end of December, though, the official score for the squadron stood at fifty-two enemy aircraft confirmed, and many more probables with the loss of thirteen own aircraft and eight pilots.

This photo had most probably been taken at Bone. Note the American troops wandering about the airfield.

The markings of the EP650 are interesting.  The official No. 81 Squaron letters were FL, but this aircraft received non-standard red letters A*R (the “A” being only vaguely discernible on the picture). It also has a red spinner and a camouflage in what appears to be desert colours. Note that the Hurricane in the front has black spinner and markedly darker camouflage, possibly a Day Fighter scheme carried over from Britain. Our knowledge about RAF camouflage and markings in the Mediterranean theatre is still far from definitive.
[Photo courtesy of Mr. Paul Astle]


This Article has One Comment. Add Another!

By Alun Williams  |  2013-12-02 at 15:20  |  permalink

Dear Sir.
As ex serving members of 81 Squadron, RAF, we are in the process of compiling a Scrapbook of the Squadron.
We request permission, to use the photograph, and text of the above site.
It is for private use, for ex Squadron members, and not for commercial use.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Alun Williams

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