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A personal memoir of the Second World War

By Herbert (Henry) P. Hall

(Continued - 6)

One major task entrusted to me was to take several RAF radio and radar units from Cairo to Aleppo in northern Syria near to the Turkish border. The Allies had reached an agreement after some long negotiations with neutral Turkey to allow them to station some of our air force units in their country to bolster their defences in the event that Germany decided to attack Turkey. At the same time the Turks were worried about the reaction of the Germans to this move so the Turkish Government insisted that the Allied forces came incognito. This operation was code named Saturn. To protect the fighting units of the airforce it was necessary to include radio and radar formations and these were the ones I took to Aleppo. The only way into Turkey was by rail but due to the low height of the railway tunnels the equipment cabins had to be removed from their vehicle chassis and both parts set on flat rail wagons. This I had to organise quickly with teams of mechanics and cranes and a very interesting exercise it turned out to be. I got a great deal of satisfaction out of doing a good job within a tight time schedule. However I was disappointed in not being allowed to go through to Turkey with the equipment and operational crews, but had to return to my base at Tura after they left.

All the RAF personnel going into Turkey had to be in civilian clothes and these were flown out from the U.K. having been supplied by the well known Marks & Spencers. They consisted of grey flannel trousers, sports coats, pork pie hats, and with cheap-looking suitcases, and although the colours and patterns were a little different, it was obvious to any enemy agents who might be watching the departure at the Aleppo railway station, that they were a para-military force going into Turkey! However, as far as I know, and I tried to find out more after the war, all went according to plan, and the Germans failed to react to this Allied move.

In November 1943 the Cairo Conference was held between Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt, and naturally tight security measures were taken to protect these important personages from any chance of a German air attack. To assist in this our Unit installed a small temporary radar equipment right on the summit of the Great Cheops Pyramid as the conference was being held at the nearby Mena House. Electric power was provided by a small generator and petrol for this had to be lugged up the side of the Pyramid in four gallon cans, not an easy task by any means. Occasionally, as with all electronic equipment, the radar incurred a few faults and in two instances the local mechanics could not repair the trouble so a message was sent to our Unit for an expert to assist. Due to the importance of the occasion, our Chief Technical Officer, F/Lt Martin Manson, who shared a tent with me, was called upon to go, and each time it was in the middle of the night. The rest of us technical officers were very glad we had not been chosen to go, as it was a most formidable task to climb up the Pyramid in the dark with only a shaded torch for guidance!

One interesting task I was detailed to handle in March 1944, was to recover a 7 ton truck belonging to a radar station near Damietta right on the northern coast of the Nile Delta. The truck had been returning from Port Said travelling along the foreshore as was the custom (there being no roads), when it got stuck in the sandy beach and despite attempts by the local RAF lads, remained fast and as time went sunk even lower. Speed was essential as the tides would soon overwhelm all recovery efforts, so I quickly rounded up half a dozen airmen under F/Sgt Passmore and loaded up our four-wheel-drive rescue vehicle with a winch, cables, blocks and tackle and everything else we could think of, and set off for the site, a distance of about 100 miles. Well by a supreme effort by all concerned we managed in three days to overcome the problems and successfully salvaged the truck, much to the satisfaction of the Commanding Officer of the station as thereby he avoided a possible court of enquiry and perhaps something even worse. I took a complete set of photos of the whole operation to attach to my report for my Commanding Officer, and I retain another set for my own records.


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Constructed by Dick Barrett

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ęCopyright 2000 - 2002 Dick Barrett

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