Letters from Kos

Dear Brother Tom,

Where to start, this has been one of the worst days of my life. How I wish we were still doing escorts in the desert to Derna, but that is long past now.

Map of the German landing sites for the invasion of Kos
Map of the German landing sites for the invasion of Kos.

Last light 17th September 1943, Antimachia airfield Kos

LAC gunner 2909 Sqn

Just over a month ago we formed again as a full squadron at Hadera in Palestine to re-equip with 20mm Hispano cannon. The training was thorough and tough but we picked in up and were all looking forward to Practise Firing Camp. Some hope!

On the night of the 15th we were issued battle ammo including grenades and 48 hrs of rats water and as many fags as we could carry and reported with our Flt Commander to Ramat David. We sat all night and around 06:30 we were emplaned in 6 Dakotas which then took off and headed towards Turkey. The pilot told us because of the range we could not have a fighter escort and had to fly low level to avoid radar. When we arrived at Cos, the Para’s were still mopping up those Italians who had decided to resist. The tracers we saw on approach encouraged us to get out of the aircraft extremely quickly when we landed.  The rest of the squadron will come in by air in the next day or two.. The Paras were very pleased to see us, the reason why was clear when they helped us offload our cannon and then took our place on the Daks to fly back to Ramat David. So we were left…17 men with about a thousand rounds between us in sole possession of an occupied enemy island.

Thankfully, it was only for a couple of hours and the rest of the flight came in. We blagged a couple of ancient Italian trucks and used them to tow our guns into position – 2 at the eastern end of the runway, 2 at the west and 1 north and South. We set about settling in as we knew Jerry would be paying us a visit soon. The ground was terrible, rocky so we could not dig gun pits for protection, but that would not have mattered because the airfield is on a plateau and the approach would mean we could not depress the barrels low enough, I was very worried about this as the German fighters would pick this up very quickly. WO says it’s the first time this new regiment has deployed by air. One of the flight comedians cracked that there wouldn’t be many others that had done so either. This brought a laugh but we were all a bit apprehensive because we know what Jerry can do. At least we had our guns, we had to feel sorry for the RA guys nearly 80 of them flown in but their Bofors are being shipped in by sea when they will arrive no one knows. The other half of the squadron has been deployed to Cos town and harbour to protect. That and a flight to the ammo dump just to the north. We have some Beaufighters in from Cyprus who gave been attacking German convoys. The DLI dug in to the north of the airfield and at the port. It was quiet this morning.

Sept 18th 05:30 stand-to

Dear Tom,

Jerry came today – Junkers 88 came in from the west – single aircraft, had to be photo recce, but he was crafty he flew just out of range on his first pass. However when he turned, he was in range and 5 of 6 guns opened up and we got him! Smoke pouring from his port engine, he desperately tried to break off but the wing snapped off and he went straight into the sea. Our exultation knew no bounds, we had done it. Sadly when we saw the blood wagon scream up to Bill’s gun on the opposite side of the runway we knew something bad had happened. It had, Scouse had been hit with a stray round from the Junkers and had fallen dead across Bills shoulders during the engagement. He was a good mate and a great laugh and Bill’s best mate. We were all gutted. For the next couple of hours we went through the motions, losing a friend makes you that way until just after Lunch time when Jerry came back, mob handed with ME 109s. He came in low, in a pincer attack, we replied with all we had and were rewarded with the sight of one of the red spinners go down into the hills behind us. No more dead but an uncomfortable fact emerges, that because of the rocky ground and the splinters generated by strafing, injuries have been plentiful. The came again at 18:00, we fired again but by the end of the attack only my gun was still firing. Some problems with the striker, I don’t know. It’s dark now and we are replenning ammo. The cook has just been around with a pannier of hot tea and corn beef hash. I am exhausted and Sarge has just been around with the sentry roster. We have done well so far apart from Scouse. Wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Italian Military Hospital Cos 14:00 6th October

I woke to a kick from a German Paratroop majors boot. I had been unconscious for 3 days due to blast and malaria and had been evacuated by the WO to the hospital. I had been unconscious since very early in the battle of the 3rd. The German Major kicked us all out of the ward to make room for German casualties of which there were many. we were dumped in a yard with no food or water save what we can scrounge. I think we could be here for a while.