Tim Elkington - 2010 Annual Dinner of the Joint Harrier Force
"I left the RAF College, Cranwell for No 1 Squadron, Northolt in July 1940. Fifteen hours flying later, I was on patrol over the Channel.
A few months later, having survived the Battle of Britain with only one unfortunate incident, I was enjoying life with 601 Squadronn at Manston - interception patrols, Search & Rescue escort & later, Sweeps over France. Too good to last: in July 1941 came a posting ‘for overseas’.
Aboard HMS Argus, 18th August, the First Sea Lord gave us a briefing which, I must assume, told us that we, as 151 Wing, had been promised by Churchill in response to Stalin’s demands for support. Our role was to be “the defence of the naval base of Murmansk & co-operation with the Soviet forces in the Murmansk area. We were to instruct the Soviet authorities in the operation & maintenance of our aircraft & ground equipment, which was then to be handed over to them”.
Whilst in Scapa Flow outbound, from 20th August, we received typical Naval hospitality on several of the ships anchored there.
For a few days, we were down to 7 knots in thick fog. On 3rd September, the weather cleared & I have noted that Martlets from Victorious ‘got’ a Do17. One Fulmar was lost in the engagement. Then more days of thick fog.
Flying off Argus at 0600 hrs on 7th September, some 200 miles north of Murmansk, our compasses were unreliable & we were told to pass over Argus, then a positioned destroyer & keep going! After over-flying miles of desolate tundra, we landed at Vaenga, a vast expanse of pot-holed sand which, later, became a soggy mess. Breakfast, however, was more welcoming - Caviar, Smoked Salmon, Finnish Ham, Wine & Champagne. The ensuing diet is well documented in Hubert Griffith’s book, RAF in Russia.
The weather was not helpful. Some days were balmy –
- but so many were unflyable. In the first month, we were unfortunate, as a squadron, to miss out on engagement with the enemy. Apart from reconnaissance, our first real work did not come until 17th September, with 3 patrols on that day over the front line. Even then we saw nothing but flak, directed both at us & the bombers we were escorting. A few days later, close to Petsamo, one Pe2 was hit & crashed in flames after the crew had jettisoned their bombs & bailed out. Their bombs came close to hitting the ships that were firing.
October opened with attacks on our airfield. No advanced warning system existed. On the first occasion, some 20 Ju88s dropped their load & we took off to intercept through a hail of bullets, dodging the bomb craters. One 81 Squadron pilot, whose engine was stopped by a blast on take off, was then blown off the wing by another blast. Of 134 Squadron, I was first away & managed to catch up with them at 7000’. My No2 joined me & we damaged one Ju88 which later failed to reach home. The excellent DVD on the Russian episode, by Atoll Productions, has an over-generous simulation of the event showing a ‘flamer’ which we did not achieve. No surprise - I was rated below average in air gunnery.
The weather was now closing in & our efforts were devoted more to the conversion of the Russian pilots who seemed oblivious of fog, snow & ice, & the instruction of their technicians. We watched with disbelief as a protégé attempted his third approach in dense fog.
Came the time for return home, & the most testing time of the expedition, for me at least, began.
Next day, up to Polyarny and a drink on board the submarine Seawolf before she left on patrol.
Transferring to an icebreaker, captained by a very large lady, & following the Lenin – the world’s largest – we struggled through 6” deep ice for the last 20 miles into Archangel. We were passed by one merchantman loaded with crated Hurricanes & tanks. On the icebreaker I made the acquaintance of General Gromov – the pre-war long distance flyer.
24th November – transferred to MV Empire Baffin, a 10,000 ton cargo ship. Despite the icebreakers, moving yards at a time, it was not until 28th November that we were steaming past the Gorodetski light & into the open sea. We were held to 7.5 knots for the Russian boats with us – their first convoy to the UK. It was only then that we found the 2 Esthonian stowaways who had crossed the ice at night to board us.
29th November – HMS Kenya, with most of the Wing personnel on board, joined us.
30th November – hove to in gale & heavy seas – lifeboat washed away & slag ballast on deck shifting. We had to rope ourselves into our bunks at night. No chance of sleep. Everything heavy with frozen spray which had to be constantly chipped off with shovels. We were sleeping in our clothes in case we had to get Vic Berg – who was in full plaster after his terrible crash – to the lifeboats.
1st December - attacked by U-boat – destroyers depth charged - no casualties, but an outgoing convoy later lost several ships. Ballast shifting again. Our airmen helped to re-locate it.
4th December – engines cut out with propellers racing in the heavy seas. Steering gear damaged. Still semi-dusk all day. Several mines seen – one uncomfortably close.
8th December – Iceland.
16th December – Scotland & home!!
After all the operational jazz, I must add that the expedition gave me my truest wartime friend – Vladimir Krivoschekov - the Russian General’s 19 year old interpreter (on the right) ‘K’ the Capitalist. His purity of English put us to shame!
More than 50 years later, we re-engaged at our home in the Cotswolds – screenshots from BBC’s coverage.
We corresponded for many years until his untimely death.
A truly lasting memory."
... Tim Elkington
One day in India, Tim's P-51 suffered engine failure while taking off.
Victories Include :
2 - 1.? / 1 / 0.5
* This plane failed to make it back to base & might be considered shot down
--- English Aces ---
Thanks go out to Tim Elkington for the photos & infos !!
these pages I use info from the London Gazette Archives,
newspaper articles via the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC)
as well as other sources both published and private