I was recently contacted by Fred Morsheimer, son of Sgt Joe Morsheimer, who is researching his father’s service career. Joe joined 611 Squadron on 27 February 1942 after training in Canada and then at No 59 OTU at Crosby-on-Eden, Carlisle where he converted on Hurricanes to undertake operational training prior to posting to a squadron. He was accompanied by another American from 59 OTU, Sgt Arthur Ferrand Nitz plus two others specifically posted as supernumerary pending posting to Malta – Flt Sgt W H L Milner, and New Zealander Flt Sgt W L Miller.
He reached 611 with a total of 205.15 flying hours, of which 121 hours were solo, in a mixture of Fleet-Finch, Harvard Mk II, Mister 3 and Hurricane Mk I and Mk II aircraft and no Spitfire experience! 611 was based at Drem in Scotland for a rest after fierce fighting as part of the Hornchurch Wing. Joe converted to Spitfires on the Squadron at Drem with his first flight in Spitfire Vb BL593 on 2 March 1942 for 20 minutes of circuits and bumps. His first operational sortie was a scramble and patrol on 26 March. He only flew one more operational sortie, a convoy patrol on 29 March, before a bombshell was dropped on 611 by HQ 13 Group, Fighter Command, telling them that 20 pilots were to be posted overseas with no information about where or why. The Squadron diary states this put 611 on a non-operational basis as it left only four operational pilots! However there was a promise of more pilots to be posted in. Oddly enough there was no mention of Flt Sgts Milner and Miller being part of this posting! Joe’s total Spitfire time was 15.50 hours.
The requirement stated they must go as a Flight and all must be operational. Those posted out were:
Flt Lt C R Dwight DFC – Flight Commander
Fg Off R Van Den Honert (Netherlands Indies)
Plt Off R H Turlingham
Plt Off A S Yates (Australian)
Plt Off W J Johnson
Plt Off R O Jones (USA)
Plt Off H F Withy
Plt Off J A W Gunn (Canadian)
Flt Sgt D A Bye
Flt Sgt A R Boyle
Flt Sgt H Haggas
Sgt D E Llewellyn
Sgt C E Graysmark
Sgt C A M Barbour
Sgt L J Morsheimer (USA)
These pilots were sent on leave and were notified on 11 April that they were to proceed to No 1 Personnel Dispatch Centre at RAF West Kirby, Wirral. Cheshire (near Birkenhead) the following day by 15.00 and not by 18.00 on Tuesday 15th as previously arranged. The list had changed and the following went:
Acting Flt Lt J P Winfield
Plt Off A S Yates
Plt Off R H Turlington
Plt Off W J Johnson
Plt Off R O Jones (USA)
Plt Off J A W Gunn (Canada)
Plt Of E L Hetherington
Flt Sgt D A Bye
Flt Sgt A R Boyle
Flt Sgt H Haggas
Sgt D E Llewellyn
Sgt C A M Barbour
Sgt C E Graysmark (Aus)
Sgt F R Johnson (Aus)
Sgt L J Mosheimer (USA)
Fg Off R Van Den Honert was posted to 167 Sqn as a Flight Commander on 27 April
We now know that Joe and the rest of the Flight ended up in Gibraltar, embarked on the Crusier HMS CHARYBDIS and transferred to HMS Eagle at Gibraltar to fly Spitfires off the deck and take them to beleaguered Malta as part of Operation Bowery. We know that on 9 May 1942 he flew tropical modified long range Spitfire Vc BR169* off HMS Eagle off Algiers and flew in a formation of eight aircraft to Malta, 700 miles with a flying time of 3.55 hours, landing at Luqa airfield. He notes that 16 plus 16 ME 109’s tried to intercept the formation and two Spitfires were shot down in the circuit and another crashed on landing at Luqa; Joe was unscathed. He flew back to Gibraltar on 17th May in BOAC Curtiss CW-20T G-AGDI, named St Louis then on 3 June he left Gibraltar and when west of Algiers took off from HMS Eagle again, this time in Spitfire Vc BR315* for another delivery to Malta. This ferry trip of 750 miles was flown in formation of nine aircraft and took four hours. On this trip they were again intercepted by the Germans and they were jumped by two ME 109’s west of Gozo, he notes Flt Sgt Foo McPherson was shot down and baled out and Blue Section and Red 2 were also shot down – no other information is available from his log book except he landed at Hal Far airfield and returned to Gibraltar on 6 June in an RAF Lockheed Lodestar; a flight lasting 6 hrs 30 minutes.
*BR169 was a Mk V, built at Eastleigh, Southampton and first flew on 7 March 1942. moving to No 8 MU Little Rissington on 15 March, on to No 82 MU at Lichfield on 25 March for packing for overseas and is next noted on SS Empire Heath to Gold Coast but noted at Malta on 8 June with No 603 Sqn. Minor accident/damage on 17 May but Flying Accident Cat E on 18 Aug and struck off with 68.25 flying hours
*BR315 was also a Mk V and was also built at Eastleigh, first flight 3 May 1942, to 29 MU High Ercall same day, then three days later to No 47 MU Sealand (packing Depot) for packing for overseas and noted on SS Empire Conrad on 10 June, Cat E on ops on 27 June and struck off two days later. There is no mention of how it got to Malta It may be that these aircraft were taken by merchant ship to Gibraltar and transferred to HMS Eagle then.
The Squadron Diary for June states that Joe Morsheimer and Sgt Patterson returned to the Squadron on 27th and it reports that they returned due to their lack of operational experience; it infers that the others stayed because they did have experience. It continues: ‘they report that the ex-611 pilots who were posted ‘en bloc’ to Malta have done very well and are credited with 12 confirmed with only one loss – that of Sgt Graysmark who was machine gunned and killed in his dingy when paddling ashore.’ Sgt (Pilot) Charles Edward Graysmark was posted to 601 Squadron and died on 12 May, he lies in the Protestant Section (men’s) Plot F Coll, grave 3 at the Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery.
The story does not end there, Plt Off L A M Gunn returned to the Squadron on 1 July with a comment that ‘his operational experience is not considered sufficient to permit of his fighting Me109’s at Malta although he is expected to fight FW 190’s over here!’
Another 611 pilot, Sgt Haydn Haggas, stayed in Malta and was transferred to No 185 Squadron but was killed on 7 July 1942 when intercepting a group of Italian bombers with fighter escort and he was shot down and crashed into the sea. His body was not found and he is commemorated on the Malta Memorial. The Malta Memorial is situated in the area of Floriana and is easily identified by the Golden Eagle which surmounts the column. It stands outside the main entrance to Valletta. The Malta Memorial commemorates almost 2,300 airmen who lost their lives during the Second World War whilst serving with the Commonwealth Air Forces flying from bases in Austria, Italy, Sicily, islands of the Adriatic and Mediterranean, Malta, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, West Africa, Yugoslavia and Gibraltar, and who have no known grave.
Of the other ex 611 pilots; two other American pilots, Flt Lt Ripley Ogden Jones and Plt Off James Baraw were killed on operations. Jones in Malta on 17 October 1942 serving with 126 Squadron; he shot down seven enemy aircraft in Malta and shared two more. Baraw was killed on 17 May 1942 whilst serving with 64 Squadron at Hornchurch. Another American pilot (who did not take part in Operations Bowery or LB) was Sgt William McAbee who transferred to the USAAC on 22 September 1942 serving with 31st Fighter Squadron.
Meanwhile Joe Morsheimer returned to operations at Kenley, Surrey with 611 flying six non operational flights in July including a Sector Recce, formations flying and an abortive air firing exercise at Martlesham Heath between 13 and 15 July. August appears to have a non flying time for him and in September he spent one day, 11th, with six trips in the Squadron Magister L8092 converting, flying to and back from Northolt and giving two ATC cadets 15 minutes air experience each, all in one day!
Joe was posted away from 611 on 22 September going to No 53 OTU at Llandow in South Wales for a refresher course prior to going to join the USAAC on 30 September 1942.
(from Website http://www.killifish.f9.co.uk/Malta%20WWII/Operations.htm)
US Navy carrier Wasp & Royal Navy carrier HMS Eagle deliver 64 Spitfires, 4 of which failed to make the Island.
The mistakes of Operation Calendar were ironed out in this Operation. prior to leaving Gibraltar experienced pilots were flown in by Hudson (piloted by Flying Officer Matthews) from Malta to train the new pilots in what operations were like over Malta & to instruct them in new procedures where each aircraft on landing would be met by ground crew carrying a numbered sign which they would follow to a safety pen where they would be re-fuelled & re-armed as fast as possible & get back in the air to meet the Axis aircraft sent over to destroy the new aircraft on the ground.
HMS Eagle returned to Gibraltar & loaded another shipment of 16 Spitfires & returned to Malta as Operation LB.
This was the turning point. I believe they only had 10 operational planes prior to receiving these. The plan was so good, the pilots were swapped out, fuelled and back up fighting in minutes. This point can't be overemphasised. It was the strategic moment in the Battle for Malta.
HMS Eagle flies off 16 Spitfires all of which arrive safely. 76 Spitfires arriving in these 2 shipments give heavy reinforcements to the Island & mark a turning point to control the skies above Malta.
HMS Eagle & HMS Furious deliver 226 Spitfires to the Island, 13 were lost en route.
Below from website http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_spitfire_mkV.html
The Mk V was the first Spitfire to be used in large numbers outside Britain. The first such deployment came on 7 March 1942, when fifteen Mk Vbs were delivered to Malta in Operation Spotter. This operation also saw the Spitfire launched from an aircraft carrier. On Malta the Spitfire was used to hold off the Bf 109F, while the Hurricane attacked the lower level bombers. Loses were heavy. Despite a second delivery of Spitfires on 21 March, by the end of 23 March there were only five serviceable fighters on Malta. HMS Eagle, the carrier used to deliver them had now been damaged, and so the next attempt to reinforce Malta was launched by the U.S.S. Wasp. This time 46 Spitfire Vcs were ferried to Malta on 13 April in Operation Calendar. Sadly, many of these aircraft were destroyed in German bombing raids, launched to coincide with their arrival. It would take one more major supply effort, Operation Bowery, to properly boost the defences of Malta. This time sixty Spitfires reached Malta, and the island was ready for them. The same Spitfires that had just flown in were now scrambled to deal with the inevitable incoming raid. Operation Bowery helped to ensure the survival of Malta, thus playing a major role in the successful allied campaigns in North Africa.
Below from website: http://www.naval-history.net/xAH-MaltaSupply02.htm
Operation BOWERY - Faced with such an extreme situation, there was no option but to mount another, immediate, operation and WASP was again lent to the RN for this purpose. Having arrived at Scapa Flow on 26.4 she returned to the Clyde on 29.4 and this time loaded 50 Spitfires, a very tight stowage. WASP sailed for Gibraltar on 3.5 escorted by the destroyers ECHO and INTREPID and US destroyers LANG and STERETT. This escort was relieved in 39.13N, 14.20E by the destroyers ANTELOPE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER pm 7.5. On 8.5 the force was met by the carrier EAGLE which had loaded 17 Spitfires from stock at Gibraltar, battlecruiser RENOWN, cruiser CHARYBDIS (Joe sailed on her) and the destroyers ECHO, GEORGETOWN, INTREPID, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE, VIDETTE, SALISBURY and US destroyers LANG and STERRETT.
On 9.5 WASP flew off 47 Spitfires and EAGLE 17, three crashed during the passage (one in the sea on take off, one crash landed onto WASP and one off Malta, a fourth lost its way and arrived in North Africa) but 60 Spitfires were in action within thirty five minutes of landing AND prior to the main German attack; planning on the British side having outwitted the estimated time of arrival made by the enemy. Thirty German aircraft were destroyed in this action for the loss of only three Spitfires. All ships returned, EAGLE to load further Spitfires and WASP to return to Scapa Flow escorted by RENOWN, ECHO, INTREPID, LANG, SALISBURY and STERETT, the destroyers fuelling at Gibraltar, arriving at Scapa Flow on 15.5. ITHURIEL provided additional escort from Gibraltar until detaching 12.5 to meet MALAYA.
Whilst on passage, WASP flew off RAF personnel and spare gear on 10 May using six Swordfish aircraft flown out from Gibraltar for the purpose
Operation LB - Matters in Malta having been eased by the preceding operation the opportunity was taken to maximise upon that, so EAGLE loaded 17 Spitfires (15 of these remaining from PICKET II) and the 6 Albacores left at Gibraltar by ARGUS on a previous occasion.
In company with ARGUS with Fulmars for Fleet defence, both carriers sailed on 17.5 escorted by the cruiser CHARYBDIS and destroyers ANTELOPE, ITHURIEL, PARTRIDGE, WESTCOTT, WISHART and WRESTLER. The destroyer VIDETTE, delayed at Gibraltar with defects, joined 18.5 but was later obliged to return to Gibraltar with further defects.
Aircraft were flown off on 19.5, unfortunately the Albacores had to return, and were taken back to Gibraltar for a second time.
During this operation, Vichy French fighters attacked a patrolling Catalina and downed it, also a Fulmar sent to protect the ITHURIEL who rescued the Catalina crew.
The squadron returned to Gibraltar on 20.5.