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108521 - Lieutenant Edward Theodore Strever

(South African Air Force, No. 217 Squadron)

Remembering The Kipper Fleet, RAF Coastal Command in World War Two

Remembering The Kipper Fleet, RAF Coastal Command in World War Two July 2, 2014 · 108521 - Lieutenant Edward Theodore Strever (South African Air Force, No. 217 Squadron) The World's First Air Hijack- Lieutenant Edward T. Strever (SAAF) and his crew. On 28th July 1942, a Beaufort of 217 Squadron RAF captained by Lieutenant Strever, a South African seconded to the RAF and based in Malta, was engaged on attacking Italian Merchant shipping off Southern Greece. In the spring of 1942. Ted took off in his Bristol Beaufort bomber 'I' L9820, on one particular mission in late July to intercept an Italian supply ship. He was shot down at sea after scoring a direct hit on the supply ship, which managed to severely damage Ted's plane, with his Beaufort hit in both engines. As the stricken bomber plunged towards the sea the crew had the satisfaction of seeing their torpedo run true against its target, a 6,000-ton merchant vessel forming part of an enemy convoy. The task of escaping from the aircraft, which sank within ninety seconds, then claimed their full attention. Despite the fact that the pilot was in the submerged nose all four men managed to struggle into the dinghy, and after a brief stocktaking, they then paddled in the direction of the shore. They were still paddling when an Italian float plane (Cant Z506B) appeared overhead, circled, and put down about a hundred yards away. Ted promptly swam across and was hauled aboard, where he was given brandy and a cigarette. The rest of the crew were then picked up and treated likewise, after which the plane taxied to a harbour in the island of Corfu. What followed next is the stuff legends are made of! On landing, the prisoners were taken to a camp, where the Italians again showed them every consideration. There followed a mid-afternoon meal of steak, tomatoes and wine; an excellent supper, with more wine and cigarettes; comfortable beds in rooms vacated by the Italian officers; and eggs for breakfast in the morning. Their captors then informed them that they would be taken to a prisoner of war camp in Italy by aircraft. At this their hearts sank, for, unlike a journey by train or car, the mode of transport by air seemed to offer no chance of making an escape. The only possibility, they decided, was to capture the plane; but they had no idea how to do this. A few hours later they were taken back to the harbour, where their aircraft turned out to be the float plane of the previous day. The Italian crew of four was also the same, with the addition of an armed corporal to stand guard over the prisoners. The seaplane took off and set course westwards, and for a while the flight proceeded uneventfully. Suddenly, one of the New Zealanders, Sergeant J. A. Wilkinson, who in the manner of New Zealanders had been quietly working things out, leant forward and smashed his fist into the face of the Italian wireless operator. Leaping over the latter's failing body he then flung himself on the corporal and wrenched away the revolver, which he at once passed to Ted. Not to be outdone, the other two members of the Beaufort crew, Pilot Officer W. M. Dunsmore and Sergeant A. R. Brown, promptly tackled the engineer, while the Italian pilot tried to draw his revolver and the second pilot began fumbling with a tommy gun. This danger Wilkinson countered by advancing up the fuselage holding the corporal in front of him as a shield, while Ted followed brandishing the captured revolver. A few more swift moves and the Italians were disarmed and tied up with their own belts, and Ted had taken over the controls. All this proved too much for the corporal, who was on his first flight, and who now added to the confusion by being violently sick. The next problem was how to fly a strange aircraft with no maps, no charts and no knowledge of the petrol consumption. Ted soon found it easier to free the Italian second pilot, and asking kindly (at gunpoint) to fly to Malta, and taking a chance in the matter of petrol. Ted at once ordered the pilot to turn south. At this the Italians, who were fully aware how Malta's fighter aircraft, and ground defences would greet an Italian seaplane registered great alarm. Their fears were soon justified. As the float plane came in low, three Spitfires swept down upon it. Normally the sight of spitfires off the wing of his torpedo bomber would have been a comforting sight, however this was clearly not a Bristol Beaufort bomber and with holes being shot in his tail this was definitely not comforting. All efforts to explain the position including those of Pilot Officer Dunsmore, who took off his vest (the only white object handy) and trailed it behind the aircraft as a sign of surrender, proved unavailing, the Spitfires continued to attack. and racked the Italian plane with a stream of bullets that poured through the wing. Ted decided the time had come for a more decisive gesture, and he ordered the Italian pilot to put down on the water. The floats met the surface safely, then the propellers spun idly in the air as the last drop of petrol spluttered in the jets. It remained only for the four airmen to climb out and signal frantically to the Spitfires. An Air Sea Rescue Launch HSL 107 from Kalafrana came out to them and took the plane in tow. Astonished to see four RAF's in the Italian plane a member of the launch team towing them back to St Paul's Bay said "We thought it was old Mussolini coming to give himself up!" An old Brooke motorboat then took over from HSL107 and took the plane to St. Paul’s Island, where the five Italian crew members and the four airmen were taken ashore, the Beaufort crew, who were feeling a little conscience stricken at the way they had repaid the Italians' hospitality, offered their apologies and promised do all they could for the comfort of their captives. One of the Italians, cheerfully recognizing that war is war, took everything in good part, and produced from his suitcase a bottle of wine, which he insisted on sharing with Ted and his crew. Ted then looked in on the Spitfire squadron, 603 Squadron RAF, where he had the doubtful pleasure of hearing the pilots slated by their commanding officer for bad shooting. Ted Strever received a DFC for his achievement in the war. He died in Haenertsburg, South Africa in 1997 at the age of 77. The other three airmen were • Pilot Officer, William Dunsmore, Navigator, Royal Air Force, from Maghull, near Liverpool. • Sergeant John A. Wilkinson, Wireless op/Air gunner, Royal New Zealand Air Force from Auckland. • Sergeant Alexander R. Brown, Wireless op/Air gunner, Royal New Zealand Air Force of Timaru. For their actions Ted and William Dunsmore were awarded the DFC, John Wilkinson and Alexander Brown the DFM. All four survived the war. The London Gazette dated Friday 4th September, 1942, regarding the award of the DFC. Lieutenant Edward Theodore Strever (108521), South African Air Force, No. 217 Squadron. Image : Weapons and Warfare, No. 217 Squadron RAF 1942-45

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