Rob P wrote:I know nothing of this story.
Just to edit this. Having a clear-out of my stack of Britain At War
Magazines I came across the June 2018 / Issue 134 which carries a six page article by John Nichol covering this very story.
Paraphrasing as best I can, a combat pilot 'Bamby' Taylor was forced to land his Spitfire IX on a beachead temporary airfield with engine issues but otherwise undamaged. He was marooned there and under shellfire.
'Greggs' Farish, the engineer in question, had a couple of hours dual instruction on an Italian biplane. nothing more. He didn't want to lose the pilot and he didn't want to lose the IX, and there was a Spitfire V squadron hack sitting out on the airfield.
Why nobody challenged an engineer seen heading towards an aircraft with Mae West and chute is not recorded. Especially as on his way to his jeep he asked a pilot sunbathing nearby "A Spit's landing speed is round about 90 mph, isn't it?
" He was told 85 mph with flaps extended.
The story then goes on to include a hair raising take off with one attempt to get airborne prematurely. In upper air he wondered about the howling noise he could hear, eventually realising the gear was still down and the canopy open. He also couldn't resist firing off a few rounds of 20mm.
The flight took him forty minutes. the landing was astonishingly uneventful. "The ground came rushing up to meet me, I waited for the last moment then pulled the stick back. The huge nose came up and obscured my vision entirely. I bounced once then settled down, then felt a violent swing to starboard and jammed on full brake and rudder. I was very surprised the legs didn't fold up
After he'd regained some steadiness he went looking for Taylor, only to find he'd hitched a lift out on a Dakota. Having nothing else to do he wandered across to the IX and set to work.
While he was working the strip was bombed and strafed by Luftwaffe 109s, missing both of the potentially flyable Spitfires. Then later, a 93 Squadron Spitfire flown by 'Screw' Rivett crabbed in to land with some problem. 'Greggs' suggested he get the Mark V out of danger. "There's a five over there. Take it back and tell them I'm OK
" Rivett asked if it was serviceable, to get the response "Of course the bastard thing's serviceable. I've just flown it up here! And tell them I'm not going to fly anything back myself.
Overnight he slept in some Americans' trenches, in the morning resuming work on the original IX. Mid-morning a 93 Squadron Spitfire flown by 'Richy' Richardson belly landed. Asked what he was doing there Greggs replied "Fixing Spits. I have a spare one over there but it still needs a bit of fixing
" They completed the work, Richardson passing spanners as required, all the time under shellfire that was landing around the airfield.
Finally Richardson was able to get this Spitfire, the original IX from the start of the story, airborne and away; almost simultaneously a jeep with white helmeted American MPs who'd been instructed to put him under arrest. With the arrival of a further two Spitfires needing work the arrest was forgotten about temporarily, and it was agreed that Farish would be given a lift back in a Fairchild four-seater that had recently arrived. He set to work on the new arrivals, restoring both to serviceability
When the Fairchild finally got him back to base he was immediately sent to the hospital in an attempt to establish his sanity, or lack of.
At the court martial he was charged with Improperly and without authority taking off in and flying an aircraft, and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. His mitigation plea of having got four combat pilots airborne and returned to service three combat Spitfires was not accepted. The sentence was a severe reprimand and six months loss of seniority. The Air Council later decided this was too harsh and decided to remit the seniority loss.
It's a cracking story, worthy of a comic book or Hollywood, but fully verified. If you want to read the whole thing back issues are available from Key Publishing I don't doubt.
Full acknowledgment to John Nichol for the story I have hacked to death above.
Farish's own book, the snappily titled Algiers to Anzio with 72 and 111 Squadrons: An RAF Engineer Officer's Experiences in North Africa and Italy with 239 Wing DAF During World War II
is available secondhand on Amazon and possibly also as an e-book.