'The White Liberators of Tripoli'.

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Roger Freeman, Apr 7, 2021.

  1. Roger Freeman

    Roger Freeman Member

    ‘The White Liberators of Tripoli’.

    My late Uncle was a Gunner in the 30th Regiment LAA (Light Anti-Aircraft) Royal Artillery during WW2 and saw service in North Africa and Italy from 1941 until 1945. He had over the years recorded meticulously in a diary (then against the rules) his service life throughout North Africa and Italy right up to when he was de-mobbed in Austria in 1946. After his death in 2017 his diary was published in a book entitled ‘Tobruk to Trieste, Life of a Bofors Gunner 1941-45’.

    In June 1943 he wrote that his battery of LAA 40mm Bofors Guns was spread around the perimeter of Castel Benito airfield just outside Tripoli in Libya. At the time there was still the risk of air attack by the Luftwaffe based in Sicily. There was however very little action and the bored gunners soon made friends with the RAF ground personnel who serviced the aircraft rotating through Castel Benito, mainly he noted DC-3 ‘Dakota’s’. After a few weeks of this boredom the gunners noticed the arrival and departure of a ‘White Consolidated Liberator’ (B-24/LB-30 aircraft) at Castel Benito regularly twice a week. Out of curiosity more than anything else they asked the RAF ground crews what the aircraft did, to be told it was a ‘mail plane’. Arriving from England by way of French Morocco, Algeria and then Tripol. One of the RAF LAC’s then told my Uncle that the previous week he had flown home to England for four days on the plane at a cost of ten Pounds !. Asking for more information my Uncle was told that the pilots would drop you off at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and bring you back from there, with the understanding however that if you were caught you were on your own. But how about getting out, and back into, Brize Norton without an appropriate pass or paybook they asked ?. You exchange paybooks with one of the AA gunners at Brize Norton for a Pound as long as you are only away 48 hours they were told. The gunners were not closely monitored at Castel Benito and would only be reported AWOL after a few days by their Sergeant. Of course ten Pounds and the few additional Pounds required for the Paybook and train fares in England to get home was a lot of money considering a gunners pay was ten shillings a week but a ‘short term loan’ with interest could often be had from the ‘rich’ non-smokers in the troop who sold their cigarette ration. The end of this story however had a rather sad outcome. One of my Uncle’s fellow gunners attempted the trip and all agog with excitement they watched him leave on the ‘White Liberator’ one Wednesday morning. There numbers were not checked by an officer and the following Saturday the Liberator duly arrived back at Castel Benito with the errant ‘passenger gunner’ full of his account of the successful escapade (his family lived in Kent). A few weeks later the ruse was tried again, and a Liverpool gunner climbed aboard the Liberator on a Sunday morning, they waited for his return the following Wednesday but the plane never arrived. There was a rumour that it had been shot down en-route to England ?. A few days later the unfortunate gunner had to be reported AWOL and no more was heard of him. A week or so later the 30th Regiment LAA moved southwest to Al Azizia.

    My main reason for relating this story is to try and find out if such an air ‘postal service’ did operate to Tripoli in 1943 ?. Of Course, as to if the story is entirely accurate is a matter of conjecture now, some of the facts may well be distorted by time and memory, my Uncle is no longer with us in order to verify this.

    There may be a number of possibilities of course and I raise these questions :

    Are there any records indicating that the RAF did operate a mail/transport service with Liberator aircraft from England to/routing through Tripoli Libya ?.
    The ‘White Liberator’ statement may not have been correct and it could have been mistaken as an aluminium unpainted aircraft, or it could have been a grey/white RAF Coastal Command Liberator ?.
    I believe BOAC operated an intermittent service throughout most of the war from England to Cairo Egypt via neutral Portugal (Lisbon), Gibraltar, Morocco, Algeria and Tripoli, especially after the Germans/Italians were defeated in Libya (1943). I also believe they used both Liberator Mk 1 (unarmed transport) and DC-2 & DC-3 aircraft on the Lisbon route at different stages ?.
    I have been an avid reader of the ‘Aeroplane’ journal for the past fifty years and I thought many years ago I read in the journal of unarmed Liberator aircraft during the war taking and returning forces mail to the Middle East for the British ‘Post Office’ ?.
    There was also of course the well documented incident of BOAC Flight 777-A that was shot down by German aircraft over the Bay of Biscay in June 1943 while on a flight from Lisbon to Bristol (Whitchurch). One other definite documented incident relates to an unarmed BOAC Liberator Mk 1 returning from Cairo and being shot down in error by an RAF Polish fighter pilot while over the English Channel in January 1942 ?.
    I also believe there was a second unconfirmed incident report of an allied unarmed Liberator aircraft crash landing in Portugal in 1943 ?.

    Any further information or help in clarifying the story will be much appreciated.
  2. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Welcome to the forum

    Is it possible that it is one of the stories of war that are slightly fabricated by the Family/Others and just did not happen. Over the years bits get added to it.Sorry to sound so negative about this.
    There may possibly be Liberators operating in the area
    about BOAC here
    Have you checked casualties for 30th LAA
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  3. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    Not the easiest Royal Artillery formation to pin down, so after a few minutes I found this, which at least places them in North Africa:
    From: https://www.britishmilitaryhistory....124/2019/04/2-Anti-Aircraft-Division-1940.pdf

    In unrelated research I have found references to a worldwide network of support flights, moving key personnel, papers and mail etc which involved the RAF and USAAF. With staging posts in North Africa and other, often remote places, e.g. Aden for the USAAF. The Mediterranean Sea was not a safe place to flyover for sometime into 1943.

    Caveat: slightly related as this refers to VIP transport in 1944:
    From: Apr 2016 – The 24 Sqn RAF Association BLog Book
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2021
  4. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    Do you have a copy of his service records you could upload to the forum??

  5. Roger Freeman

    Roger Freeman Member

    I only have the the War Diary's of the 30th Light Anti-Aircraft Regt RA (copies obtained from National Archives Kew several years ago).
    It appears that the 30th LAA Regt arrived in Tripoli on the 26th Feb 1943.
    In the diary for August 1943 a '30 L.A.A uns (c) L.G. Misurata West with 6 guns (c) L.G. Mellaha with 6 guns. 118 L.A.A Bty will defend Castel Benito (my Uncle was a member of 118 Bty). Movement required will be completed by 2000 hrs 20 Aug 43. The diary also contains a 1:12000 map of the dispersion sites around Castel Benito airfield of the 18 guns of 118 Bty. The diary for August 1943 obviously conflicts with my Uncles personal diary statement that REGT.R.A. OPERATION ORDER NO 19 states 30 L.A.A. Regt will defend (a) Tripoli Harbour with 18 guns. (b) L.G. Castel Benito with 18 ghe was at Castel Benito airfield in June 1943 ?.
  6. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    In another thread you say "Even his own Army Record" which leads one to believe you have a copy of his Army service records - if you could upload them please, if not I would recommend you obtain a copy - they can only be obtained from the MOD and the forms you need are here - Request records of deceased service personnel you will also need a copy of his death certificate

    These records will provide official evidence of what units he was with, where and when, and corroborate the details within his diary

    The service records will also show the transfer to any other unit(s) and when

    CL1 likes this.

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